Words: Jack Teague

Directly overhead, struggling to emerge through the lingering haze of the day’s tropical heat, stars winked on/off, on/off in the July night. Conner floated on his back to conserve energy, only his face above water. A slick of spilled fuel coated the surface of the water around him, filling his nostrils and stinging his eyes. Far out on the southern horizon, heat lightning illuminated the cumulus clouds stacked above the Gulf Stream. The threat was distant and miniscule compared to his current predicament.

At 65 miles per hour, the collision had launched the cigarette boat more than 10 feet in the air into a pirouette that dumped and ruptured the two 55-gallon spare fuel drums from the deck and scattered more than half the passengers into the sea, slamming the vessel upside down into the Atlantic. There were no personal flotation devices aboard the stripped-down, overcrowded, 30-foot Scarab; the smugglers had foregone life vests for the space needed to squeeze in a couple extra passengers. At $10,000 to $20,000 per soul, cargo trumped safety every time. Unable to swim, some were trapped by the vortex beneath the hull after it flipped, sucked under and quickly gone. Near him, other survivors wailed sometimes, wept softly sometimes.

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