Day 17, 4:35 p.m.
Will Greenfield sat up on his raft, working with a knife to cut open a mountain of the plum-sized fruit.
Mangosteens! In the world of naming foods, who had come up with that one? It sounded like a partner in his father's law firm: Berkowitz, Greenfield, and Mangosteen.
They were good, though. Actually, they were delicious. But that was beside the point. Six lives were in danger. Important work had to be done for their very survival. And what was Will's job? A mangosteen fruit salad.
Just because he'd had the bad luck to get shot. And now this fever. 99.8 degrees, and everyone was treating him like he was on his deathbed.
He'd run higher fevers from a bad cold.
For an instant, a sense of foreboding replaced his irritation. His thigh didn't hurt exactly, and the numbness was gone now, so that was a good sign, wasn't it? But still it felt somehow — wrong. There was a strange rhythmic throbbing, almost like a second heartbeat down there. One minute the leg would seem strong enough for him to get up and dance. The next, it would be so weak he wasn't sure it would even support him.
No way! It was all in his imagination. And no wonder, with Lyssa moping around, looking at him like he was dying. He was perfectly okay. He could be helping — contributing! Not cutting up some fruit with a name that sounded more like a pediatrician. Dr. Mangosteen will see you now. . . .
He looked around the beach. Everyone was busy. Even J.J. was fishing. Lyssa was fiddling with the lifeboat's broken radio. If they got off this island, Lyssa was probably going to end up the hero somehow. It was just the way things went for her — Lyssa, the beautiful, talented, straight-A student. And her older brother, the awkward, freckled slug.
He could picture his sister on the front page of every newspaper. Even on TV:
"Lyssa, how did it feel when you fixed the radio and made a long-distance antenna out of a banana to call in the marines to save you?"
After a long interview, the cameras would turn to Will. "Weren't you shipwrecked too? What was your job on the island?"
What would he tell them? Oh, I sat around and cut up mangosteens.
And the reporter's face would go suddenly blank. "Cut up what?"
That was the story of his life with Lyssa. Will never had a chance to succeed. What kind of contribution could you make by sitting on a beach staring off into space?
And then he saw the black speck move. It was just over the horizon and getting larger every second.
Forgetting his wound, he leaped to his feet and immediately crumpled back to the raft. "Plane!" he bellowed. "Plane!"
On the surface, it looked like pandemonium. But in reality, it was a carefully planned and well-practiced drill. Lyssa and J.J. dropped everything and raced to fill pots with seawater. Ian ran for the tarpaulin in the jungle. It was made of four rain ponchos sewn together and filled with dead leaves. He grabbed it and hauled it over to the bonfire.
If those leaves were thrown on the blaze and then the water dumped on top, the result would be a column of thick gray smoke that would extend hundreds of yards into the sky — an SOS that would be seen for miles around.
It was a moment the castaways had played over in their minds dozens of times — their chance at rescue.
Will had never felt more helpless. This could mean his life — all their lives! And he couldn't even walk. He got on his hands and knees and crawled across the sand to the bonfire.
Don't blow it! he tried to will the others. Do everything exactly right!
Still, they hesitated. They did not dare signal until they knew for sure whom they were signaling to. If they sent up the smoke, and the plane turned out to be carrying the smugglers, they'd be giving away their presence on the island. And that would be fatal.
Lyssa peered through the binoculars that had come with the survival kit. Will tugged at the legs of her fatigues. "Can you see it? It's rescuers, right?" She shook her head. "They're still too far off."
"Let's just go for it," urged J.J. "Get this over with one way or the other."
"Don't you dare!" snapped Lyssa. "Maybe you've got a death wish, but the rest of us want to live to grow up."
"This is awful," said Ian. "I wish we could just know."
"Wait a minute." Lyssa squinted into the binoculars. "It's banking to the side . . . it's definitely a floatplane . . . oh, my God!"
"What?" squeaked Ian.
"It's them! The smugglers!"
"Are you sure?" Will asked breathlessly. "All planes look alike!"
His sister shook her head. "Single engine, with a fat cargo hold underneath. It's them, all right."
Her words triggered more frantic action. But if the last drill had been fueled by hopeful anticipation, this one was driven by disappointment and dread. The castaways, even Will, began throwing sand on the bonfire. Soon the flames were smothered to nothing, and not a trace, not so much as a whiff of smoke, remained.
Will held on to his sister's shoulders and began to hop toward the lifeboat under cover of the trees. J.J. was hot on their heels. Ian brought up the rear, brushing their footprints from the sand with a leafy branch.
All four looked up. Through the canopy of the rain forest, they watched the floatplane descend over the island. As it swept overhead, suddenly one of the doors burst open. A dark object fell out and plummeted to the jungle below.
The castaways ducked, even though the thing was nowhere near them. They stayed down, bracing for — what? An explosion?
"Was that a bomb?" hissed Will.
"How could it be?" scoffed Lyssa. "They don't even know we're here!"
J.J. was the first to get up. "We're such saps. The guy was probably having a Big Mac and he tossed the bag so he wouldn't have to mess up the air base."
All at once, Lyssa froze. "The air base!" she exclaimed. "That's where Luke and Charla are!"
Will frowned. "What are they doing way over there?"
"Looking for medicine," she replied. "For you."