Authors: P. J. Alderman
Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #pacific northwest
Most of the patrons were typical of any waterfront tavern—hard-working, decent people. He'd been looking for just that kind of place when he'd come through the door, and he hadn't been disappointed. He'd looked forward to relaxing, getting a handle on the locals.
The atmosphere in this place, though, was beyond tense. He'd already been sizing up a few hard-looking locals and monitoring the brewing fight when the blonde had jumped in. She was damn lucky, even if one of them
her brother—she easily could've gotten roughed up.
He grimaced, reaching down to rub Zeke's stomach. The dog moaned appreciatively in his sleep. Christ. He'd learned his lesson, hadn't he? He had no business wondering what secrets these people were hiding.
He'd moved out west to find some measure of peace in his life, not to take on someone else's troubles. All he had planned for the next few days was to move his belongings, which had finally shown up several days late, into the Victorian fixer-upper he'd purchased for Zeke and himself on the east side of town. To renew his acquaintance with a few carpentry tools.
Shoving aside his half-eaten burger, he pulled out his wallet, adding an extra five for tip. As he did, he glanced around the bar, noting the closed expressions. Felt the undercurrents. And, in spite of himself, was intrigued.
Those guys hadn't been fighting about anything as minor as Kaz Jorgensen had wanted him to believe. This town had secrets.
Too many secrets.
Kaz arrived at the family's vintage 1900's bungalow above town to find the house dark, the driveway empty. After a moment's thought, she reversed onto the street and headed back in the direction she'd come. When Gary needed space, he sometimes slept on the
She drove down steep hills, skirting the historic downtown district, then turned east on Marine Drive, passing shadowed, abandoned warehouses that were remnants of a more prosperous era. Even though the rain had let up, the clouds were moving low and fast, and she had to hold the wheel firmly against the gusting wind. Gary was nuts to be sleeping on board—even moored, the boat would be pitching hard.
But then lately, Gary
been acting nuts.
When Lucy had called sounding worried last month, Kaz had assumed she'd spend her annual two-week vacation the way she always did—hanging around the waterfront and working on the never-ending list of boat repairs. And while home, she might try to feel out what was bothering Gary. But immediately upon her arrival, she discovered a family business on the verge of bankruptcy, and a stranger inside the skin of her brother.
If anything since she'd been back, Gary had become even more reclusive, more prickly. Admittedly, since she'd had to spend so much of her time out on the
she hadn't had that many opportunities to sit him down for a real talk. But he hadn't made himself available, either. She'd even begun to wonder if he was actually avoiding her.
Gary had a tendency to hole up like a wounded animal when he was hurting—he'd taken "time-outs", as he called them, more than once since he'd returned from Iraq. His recent behavior was out of character—he typically wouldn't avoid her, and he wouldn't pick fights in bars. He'd withdraw instead—heading for the hills where he could be by himself.
And she was certain the fight six months ago had been an aberration. But if Jim Sykes used the fights tonight to revoke Gary's parole, she
be concerned about his state of mind. He'd never be able to handle more jail time, not after what he'd been through in the war.
Spying his truck on the wharf of the East Mooring Basin, she heaved a sigh of relief and turned in, pulling in behind it. It was locked up tight, so she headed toward the docks. Using the palm of her hand, she slapped the chain-link gate that opened onto the docks, running into it when it refused to budge.
She took a step back, perplexed. Someone had chained it from the inside. What idiot would do
Then she heard an odd, percussive, whooshing sound, and the wheelhouse of the
exploded into flames.
Lucy drove to the new police headquarters located on the east side of Astoria, having second, third, and even twentieth thoughts about having encouraged Kaz to come home. She'd hoped Kaz would be able to ferret out what was going on with Gary. Instead, the persistent prickling on the back of her neck was telling her she'd put Kaz in danger.
Astoria had changed—it wasn't the same town they'd all known from their time growing up here. In recent years, they'd experienced an influx of rich vacationers who had bought up many of the old Victorian homes, using them as weekend getaways. The newcomers brought with them too much disposable income, as well as a thirst for parties where the flow of controlled substances went unchecked. In reaction, "We Ain't Quaint" bumper stickers had quietly shown up on many of the locals' trucks, and not-so-quiet clashes between the old and the new had become more commonplace.
From the looks of it, Gary had landed right in the thick of those culture wars. Lately, his behavior had given Lucy some really bad moments late at night. And though she'd be the first to admit he'd been giving her bad moments ever since high school, this was different. Whatever he'd gotten himself into, she now realized she didn't want him involving Kaz. Which was why she dearly wished she'd minded her own business and never placed that call.
Gary was a big boy, and he could take care of himself. In fact, it was about damn time he handled his problems on his own. He needed to be shaken out of the rut he'd been in ever since the war—needed to acknowledge that the aftereffects of being a POW
made him unfit company, for the fishermen
for the right woman. Lucy snorted and pulled into the left-turn lane, hitting her blinker. Yeah, right. He'd admit to
the day pigs flew over the Columbia.
Lucy pulled into the brightly lit parking lot, suppressing a pang of homesickness for their old headquarters in the heart of Astoria's historic downtown district. Progress, she reminded herself, was good. Smiling hello to Joanne, she used her keycard to open the secure door to the squad room.
"Yep," Joanne replied, with no hesitation in the rapid clicking of her computer keys. A single mom with three young boys, Joanne was fond of telling anyone who'd listen that her job of police dispatcher was merely relief duty.
The door closed behind Lucy with a hollow click. The place was empty except for her partner, Ivar, who sat at his desk, studiously working his way through a stack of files. A mug steamed gently at his elbow, and soft classical music played on a boom box confiscated from the evidence room.
Lucy dropped into the desk chair facing his, sniffing at the pale green liquid. "I hope that vile-smelling crap is for poisoning some perp, or else I'll have to request a transfer to the state police."
"Green oolong tea," Ivar rumbled in his soft, deep voice without looking up. "Full of antioxidants. You should try some."
"Over my dead body."
He nodded while he calmly made a note in the margin of the page. "A real possibility, since you insist on eating red meat." Setting his pen down, he leaned back, lacing his hands behind his head and stretching his legs out so far that his feet crowded hers. He eyed her with his typical air of quiet aplomb.
Her partner was tall, thin, pensive, and when he bothered to speak at all, laconic. In the five years Lucy had been teamed up with him, she'd never once seen him lose his cool. Which actually made him the perfect foil for her, because she lost her cool as often as possible. In fact, she considered a well-honed rant a work of art.
"Chief would like to talk," he informed her now.
"Any idea what he wants?"
"Any chance I can delay this and go home for a good soak in the tub?"
Ivar shifted his gaze over her head in warning, and she glanced around to find Jim Sykes approaching her desk. He'd changed out of the tux he'd had on earlier for some kind of political fund-raiser. His "day" suit was baggy and rumpled, and he looked as if he'd been living in it for too long.
Sykes was an okay boss, mostly staying out of their way and letting them do their jobs but providing support when they needed it. She might not agree with how he'd handled Gary's prosecution, but to be fair, Gary had set himself up for a fall when he'd landed that punch. With Sykes standing no more than ten feet away that night, Gary might as well have handed him an engraved invitation to arrest him. The hotheaded idiot.
Sykes settled his large frame heavily against the edge of her desk. "I'm hearing rumors about the fishermen," he said without preamble. "That whole community is tense—they're hiding something."
Lucy sneaked a peek at Ivar, who wore a surprised frown. She'd heard hints of something big going down, but she hadn't heard about any connection to the fishermen. And she had yet to discover anything concrete. So far, the only people talking were a couple of small-time junkies who were trying to bargain their way into their next fix.
What surprised her was that the rumors had made it up to Sykes' level—few locals felt comfortable confiding in him.
"I'm making you the primary on the investigation," Sykes informed her. "See what you can dig up."
She hesitated, taken aback. She was the rooky detective on the force, so surely, this assignment should go to Clint Jackson or one of the other, more experienced detectives. Besides, this didn't feel like a solid investigation—at least, not yet. "I don't know if that's warranted, Chief. Why don't I do some unofficial poking around and—"
"What I'm hearing indicates otherwise," Sykes interrupted. "You may not want to believe that your friends might be involved in anything illegal, McGuire, but my sources say they are."
"They're decent folks, just trying to make a living," she said quietly.
"Yeah, and until the government makes good on its buyout promise, that living is damn poor. I need you to use your contacts within the community to find out what they're up to. We don't want this thing exploding in our faces."
She glanced at Ivar again, to see his reaction. He was still frowning. So maybe that was what this was all about—the fact that her contacts with the fishermen were better than Sykes'.
Before she could frame a suitable response, Joanne poked her head into the room.
"Not now, Joanne," Sykes said over his shoulder, then stood. "Something's going down, I can feel it. Take Ivar with you, question the fishermen. Get results."
Michael Chapman was driving east on Irving Avenue, only a block from his new home, when the two-way radio crackled to life. He eased his foot off the accelerator and listened intently.
Swearing, he cranked the steering wheel hard, pulling a U-turn in the middle of the street and throwing Zeke across the back seat. He stomped on the gas, searching for a through street that would take him down to the waterfront.
For one stunned moment, Kaz simply stared at the roaring inferno. Then she threw herself at the gate, jerking it back and forth.
The flames leapt higher.
Backing up, she vaulted, hitting the top half of the gate with enough momentum to drag herself over, then ran down the ramp.
She glanced around for someone, anyone. The docks were deserted.
The entire deck of the trawler was burning now, flames roaring off the bow and around the winch, aft of the wheelhouse. She strained to catch a glimpse of her brother, but all she could see silhouetted against the orange glow were the boat's mast and boom. A gust of wind shifted the flames toward her, and she fell back from the searing heat, flinging an arm up to protect her eyes.
"Gary!" she tried again.
The wind switched again, propelling the flames toward their other trawler, the
. Kaz took advantage, leaping onto the
deck. Flipping open the nearest seat cover, she reached for the fire extinguisher.
The flames whipped toward her again, and she dove behind the wall of the wheelhouse.
She pulled herself into a crouch, coughing, then tried to look through the open door to see if the passage to the engine room and galley was clear. Twice she had to pull back.
The boat's aged timbers crackled. The wall beside her, when she touched it, singed her fingers. She pounded on it with her fist. "
Edging around the corner, she assessed the stairs. Flames were burning down one side of the risers, but they were still partially clear. Pulling the hood of her coat over her head, she dove into the darkness below.