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The Beachcomber
by Josephine Cox
Avon, 2003

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Chapter One

"WHAT THE HELL DOES HE THINK HES DOING!" as the car lurched forward, Tom fought to keep control. He had been taken by surprise when the car following seemed to deliberately crash into his bumper.

"He's coming at us again, Daddy!" The two children in the back were thrown hard against the seat-backs by the first bump. They screamed a warning as the other car surged toward them a second time. There was a moment of chaos before the impact sent them hurtling toward the clifftops. "JESUS!" He couldn't hold it! They were going over ... dear God, they were going over, and there was nothing he could do!

In that split second as he tried desperately to swing the car round, Tom glanced again through his rear-view mirror, needing to know who his attacker was, why he would want to hurt them. The car was a blue Hillman Minx, he thought, and the driver was crouched over its steering wheel, with a Homburg hat pulled low over his forehead and dark glasses hiding his eyes. It was impossible to get any idea of what he looked like. "Crazy bastard ... back off. BACK OFF!" In response Tom felt the violent impact as they were hit again, and again. Wrenched out of his hands, the steering wheel seemed to spin out of control.

"God help us!" His wife's frightened voice penetrated the chaos of his mind. "Children! Get down behind the seats!" she ordered fearfully. He heard the pitiful whimperings of his two children as they clung to each other. He saw his wife, strangely silent now, her face shocked with disbelief as she glanced back at their attacker. "My God!" Suddenly she was on the seat, frantically attempting to reach the children, but it was too late.

When the car rammed them yet again, they lurched forward, the windscreen shattering all over them, the other driver showing no mercy. Determined, he stayed with them, revving up, sending them forward toward the edge, fast and furious.

Everything was happening so quickly ... a matter of seconds, no more. There was no time to escape. By now the car was badly dented; the doors were jammed tight. Tom had tried everything in his power and it wasn't enough. All manner of powerful emotions swept through him: disbelief; helplessness; and now sheer horror as the car became airborne.

There was a moment of eeriness, when the car appeared to pause in midair before the nose dipped and they fell into a downward plunge toward the rocks below. "Oh, dear God!" Throwing himself across his wife, he yelled for the kids to "STAY DOWN! HOLD ONTO EACH OTHER!" He could hear them sobbing, and now the soft, shivering sound of his wife's voice in prayer. Death was only a heartbeat away.

He would not remember the thud as they bounced onto the rocks and rolled over and over, crashing and breaking toward the beach; nor would he recall the screams of people who scattered in all directions as the car skidded at breakneck speed toward the sea-edge. The clanging bells of the ambulances and police cars as they rushed to help fell on deaf ears. Like his wife and children, he was beyond all that.

The next thing he knew he had awoken in the hospital. Bruised and battered, both his legs were broken and his neck was in a brace. When he woke it was with a scream for the children to "GET DOWN, KIDS ... HOLD ON!" In that unbelievable moment, his mind was alive with the memory of what had happened.

"It's all right ... ssh!" Gently the nurse settled him down again, her heart aching for what he must soon learn. Later they told him that there was nothing they could have done to save Sheila or the children. "We tried and failed," the surgeon told him, hands outstretched and an expression of hopelessness on his kindly face. "I'm so sorry."

The car had turned over on top of them. Tom himself had been thrown clear ... lucky to be alive,they said. But he wasn't "lucky!" He was angry, seething with a need to kill. Then he was sobbing, crippled with utter loneliness.

All through that terrible night the questions had burned bright in his mind. Who was the madman who had run them off the road? Why did he do it? WHY?

There were no answers, because in the months that followed, in spite of the police relentlessly pursuing even the minutest clue, the driver of that car was never found, nor was the car itself. Tom had described both as accurately as he could, but it was as though they had vanished off the face of the earth. They had spoken to owners in the area whose cars had been stolen around the time of the accident, but until and unless they found the vehicle itself, that wasn't of much help.

When eventually Tom was released from the hospital, he too made every effort to trace the man who had taken his family and ruined his life. Time and again in the following months, he returned to the scene, speaking with anyone who would listen. All to no avail. The evil that had visited him and his family seemed to have gone as swiftly as it came.

But the consequences of that fateful day would never leave him. Neither would the hatred he felt.

Now, almost a year later, all that was left for Tom was the awful nightmares when, in his deepest sleep, he would reenact the terrifying scene, hearing his children screaming, and Sheila, at first strangely silent, then frantically reaching out to protect her children ... and all of them, helpless.

The dreams were so real and vivid, he would often wake up, arms flailing, yelling for the children to, "Get down on the floor, kids! FOR GOD'S SAKE, HOLD ON TO EACH OTHER!"

Excerpted from The Beachcomber by Josephine Cox. Copyright © 2003 by Josephine Cox. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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