hothead. Not exactly an impressive resume.
How wouldthat help the castaways through the most terrifying experience of their lives?
Day 23, 1:25 p.m.
Charla shinnied quickly up the narrow palm tree. Twenty feet below, Luke, Lyssa, and Ian craned their necks, regarding her nervously.
“Quit staring!” she called down in annoyance.
But they continued to follow her effortless progress up the trunk. Did they expect her to fall and kill herself? When were they ever going to figure out that this waseasy for her? Compared with a back giant, long-hang kip dismount from the uneven bars, this was nothing!
She continued her climb up the smooth trunk. The tree was tall fifty feet, she guessed. But she wasn’t going all the way to the top. There she’d be lost in the canopy of the rain forest, out of touch with the ground. When she was about thirty feet up, she stopped and signaled the others.
It wasn’t exactly a panoramic view in heavy jungle there was far too much foliage in the way. But this was the closest thing to a lookout spot they were going to find on this side of the island. She couldn’t see the Quonset hut, of course. The plant life around It was too dense. But she’d see the smugglers when they came to continue their search for the money. At least she hoped she would. Charla’s signal would tell the others where to drop the suitcase. She had to pay careful attention. Their lives depended on it.
An hour earlier they had found the suitcase exactly where Luke and Charla had left it on the edge of the small clearing.
“How could they miss it?” Luke had asked in disbelief.
From the clearing, it was the most obvious thing in the world. But Charla could see how, just a few short yards into the jungle, it disappeared in the thick weave of foliage.
The waiting began. Nowthat was every bit as hard as being a star athlete. Hanging in a tree was easy, but hanging there forhours , knowing that if you let your guard down
No,don ‘fthink about that .
Hours. It felt more like months. Thirty feet below, she could see the others talking among themselves. The image made her feel alone and resentful. Stupid, she realized. Who else could do this?
It was amazing that, even after all these weeks, she was still so suspicious of the others. Were they talking about her behind her back?
About how she was the poor girl whose father worked three jobs to support her training, and who went into debt to pay for CNC?
She shook her head to clear it. Yeah, they knew. But why should they care? They had their own problems to worry about. If there was a bright side to their terrible predicament, this was it: Being shipwrecked was a great equalizer. According to J.J., his father made thirteen million dollars a movie twenty working lifetimes for her dad. But here they were both castaways. And neither was better, richer, safer, or more comfortable than the other.
When she saw the movement, it took a moment to identify it. Tiny gaps in the leaves and tall grasses gave glimpses of colored shirts, almost like staccato pulses of light.
Deep shock. She wasn’t surprised that the smugglers were coming, but by howclose they were before she spotted them. She tried to give the signal the hooting of an owl. But she was breathing too hard and couldn’t seem to manufacture the sound. Thinking fast, she kicked off a tattered sneaker and watched it drop.
Coming from thirty feet up, when it hit Luke in the shoulder, the impact knocked him to his knees. By this time Charla was already scrambling down the trunk. She leaped the last five feet, stepping into her shoe.
“They’re coming?” Luke whispered.
“They’reherel” Charla hissed back.
Lyssa and Ian looked around desperately.
And then they heard the swishing sound of legs plodding through the vines and bush.
Luke mouthed the word:Freeze , but the command was unnecessary. Fear had turned the castaways to statues. There wasn’t even time to duck down into the