Adam winced at the slashing rain, his gaze transfixed on the endless expanse of flooded field under siege from the powerful storm. Hunched in the center of a twelve-foot Jon Boat, he covered himself with a plastic tarp while a frail-looking man in glasses and a hooded windbreaker operated the small outboard at the stern. Near the bow, a bald man with a ragged beard and crooked teeth baled water with a plastic bucket.
“We have to keep looking,” Adam pleaded. “Tomás needs our help.”
The bald man signaled for the driver to circle the pavilion one more time. “The rain’s too heavy,” he said, scooping the plastic bucket at his feet.
“Tomás!” Adam shouted when the first sign of daybreak cast a faint glow on the horizon. Trees swayed violently as heavy winds and rain continued to carve an indelible mark on the storm-ravaged region. “TOMÁS!”
“We need to find your parents.”
“Not without Tomás.” Adam’s voice started cracking. “I saw him standing over me.”
The boat slowed to idle speed and continued trolling the area around the park.
The bald man lifted the tarp off Adam’s head to see the boy’s face. “You’ll catch your death in this rain.”
“My brother’s at a movie in the mall. Tomás was supposed to pick him up.”
“We can’t get there from here in this boat.”
“What about Tomás?”
“We need to find your folks.”
“We have to find Tomás!”
The man looked over Adam’s shoulder toward his driver at the stern and signaled to end the search. “We’ll keep looking after we take you back. Chances are, your friend’s already home.”
* * *
Leland paced around the school gymnasium and tried Nicole’s number again. “Can you hear me?” he asked loudly when the call finally went through.
“Where are you?” Nicole asked, her voice distorted by the weak connection. “I can’t believe how much rain—“
“Is Abby with you?”
“Is Abby with you?”
“I’m in Georgia.“
“So she’s not with you?”
“Why would she be with me?“
“Has she called you? Do you know where she is?”
“I haven’t talked to her.“
“If she calls you, tell her to call me immediately.”
“Just tell her to call me,” Leland stated again emphatically. “I need to know she’s okay.” He ended the call and gave Melissa’s phone back.
“She hasn’t seen Abby, either. I have no idea where my daughter is.”
“I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably glued to the TV playing Xbox Live.”
“What about your boys?”
“Sid’s still looking for them. They’re not answering their phones.”
Leland took Melissa’s hand and approached another Red Cross volunteer. “Excuse me,” he said to the sleep-deprived woman in a wet poncho. “Is there any kind of truck or van we can borrow?”
“I’ll be with you in one second,” the volunteer acknowledged Leland and redirected her attention to the family of four circling to claim an empty cot in the crowded gym.
“We need transportation right away.”
“The roads are closed,” the woman replied tersely. She wiped a strand of wet hair from her face. “We’ve got busloads of people coming in. This is the safest place for you to be right now.”
“What about the rescue team who brought us here?” asked Melissa.
“They’re on another run.”
“When will they be back?”
“Whenever they get back.”
“Please! My daughter’s missing.”
Melissa tugged at Leland’s arm. “Forget it…”
Leland walked away.
“Wait,” the woman replied. She produced a Ford key from her pocket. “I’m an empty nester. My van’s a beater but it runs. Chances are, you won’t make it very far in this storm.”
“How much?” Melissa asked.
“I can’t take your money.”
“I’m good for it. My name’s Melissa Ham—”
“I know who you are. I recognized you when I saw you come in. My son was in love with you.”
Melissa reached inside her purse and fetched a soggy hundred dollar bill. “This is all I have on me. Call it a down payment or donation. Name your price, and I’ll send you the difference.”
* * *
Melissa plodded with Leland through shin-deep water in the parking lot outside as swirling winds blew heavy rain across blinking yellow traffic lights that rocked back and forth above the flooded street beyond the high school. “Over here.” She directed him to the Ford Aerostar with faded paint and missing hubcaps.
Leland unlocked the van for Melissa and got in.
Melissa whisked the water off her sleeves and fastened her seatbelt. “I can’t see anything…”
Leland started the van and put the wipers on high. He scanned the radio for weather updates and drove slowly toward the main road, where high water engulfed smaller cars. In the distance, a pair of kayakers paddled toward a bucket truck stranded near a concrete culvert.
Leland cranked up the volume. The van’s speakers crackled and hummed.
The National Weather Service has issued several tornado warnings for parts of Middle and Western Tennessee, including Davidson, Williamson, Sumner, and Rutherford Counties. Police are advising everyone to stay home while emergency officials continue to evacuate residents from the hardest hit areas in southeast Nashville as substantial flooding continues to engulf low-lying homes, churches, schools, apartment buildings, and small business centers impacted by more than twelve inches of accumulation since yesterday. So far, eight deaths have been reported since the flooding started while dozens of local Davidson County residents remain missing. Officials are preparing for more rain as the Cumberland and Harpeth Rivers continue to crest above flood stage. Portions of I-24 remain closed in Antioch. I-40 remains closed near mile marker one-eighty. I-65 remains closed in Franklin. Members of the Red Cross, National Guard, Salvation Army, and local law enforcement have staffed more than twenty shelters in Davidson County. More than thirty thousand Nashville Electric Service customers remain without power. We’ll have more at the top of the hour as we continue to monitor this unprecedented weather phenomenon some are calling the storm of the century…
* * *
Melissa answered Sid’s incoming call with a terse, “Where are you?”
“Traffic is completely gridlocked. I can’t get through.“
Melissa tapped Leland’s shoulder and put the call on speakerphone. “Did you find the boys?”
“I can barely hear you.”
Melissa’s phone signaled another call from a number she didn’t recognize. “Hold on,” she told Sid and switched callers. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Hamilton? This is Sergeant Nichols with the Nashville Metro Police Department.“
Melissa sank in her seat from the tone of the officer’s voice, afraid the next words would shatter her world.
“Are you there?“
“We’ve been trying to reach you. Your son Adam was admitted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.“
“Is he okay?”
“He’s got some bumps and bruises—“
“Can I talk to him?”
“He’s with the ER doctor at the moment.“
“Is his brother with him?”
“No ma’am, but we’re still searching. Your son made reference to his brother and a girlfriend at a movie in Opry Mills.“
“You have to find them!”
“We’re doing everything we can.“
“What about my driver, Tomás? I haven’t heard from him since yesterday. My boys were with him.”
Melissa heard the call drop out and redialed to hear an out of service message. She looked at Leland, who kept his focus on the road barely visible in the violent rain. “I’m worried about Jonathan and Tomás.”
Leland slowed at an intersection with flashing red lights. “The police will track them down, assuming Sid doesn’t find them first.” He waited for a tractor trailer to cross in front of him and thought back to his last words with Abby before he left her at home alone. She’d argued with him to take her to the mall. She’d practically begged him to let her go.
He looked both ways and headed south toward Belle Meade. “We need to get to Opry Mills!”
“Opry Mills is north of here,” Melissa corrected him. “You’re going the wrong way.”
“We’ll never get there by car.”
“We need a boat,” Melissa grumbled.
Leland put his hand on hers and said, “I know where we can find one.”