Read Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace Online

Authors: Colleen Coble

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Suspense, #Mystery, #Adult, #ebook

Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace (8 page)

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
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Suomi Café overlooked Lake Superior from its perch on the steep slope of Kitchigami Street. Named for the Finnish word for Finland, the humble café offered no exterior hint of the culinary delights inside. Just thinking of the possible menu choices made Bree’s mouth water.

She quickened her step and had almost reached the café entrance when a squawk came from overhead. Bree looked up as a starling flew down at her. She ducked, suppressing a scream and barely avoiding the dive-bombing bird. The bird peeled around and came at her again.

“What’s the matter with you, stupid bird?” Bree waved her arms, trying to frighten it away. She liked birds fine as long as they stayed in the trees. This one must be psychotic. It dived at her a third time, and she turned quickly for the door. Samson whined then barked at the bird before following Bree inside the restaurant.

She tousled her hair to make sure there were no feathers in it. The head waitress, Molly, a full tray in her skinny arms, nodded to her. In her forties, Molly was a whirlwind of activity every time Bree came in. It was no wonder she carried not an ounce of spare flesh on her thin frame.

Molly set the steamy plates before her customers then stopped beside Bree. “You look wild-eyed, kid. Why’s your tail in a knot this morning, eh?” she quipped as she patted Samson’s head. Having received his welcome, Samson went to lie down at the door.

“Some stupid bird was after my hair. It’s hanging around outside your café.”

Molly grinned. “Other customers have been complaining too. I think it’s someone’s pet. It landed on my shoulder this morning and took some crumbs right from my hand.”

“Well, they ought to keep it home then!” Bree glanced around the restaurant. “The place looks packed this morning.”

Every booth and table was taken. Bree looked over the pastry case. Suomi’s specialty was
pulla,
a Finnish sweet roll made with sourdough
bread that Bree was particularly fond of. But she didn’t really want to take it back home. She’d spent too much time alone lately.

“It’s usually not this busy until later. You might see if there’s anyone willing to share a table,” Molly said before hurrying off to the kitchen.

Bree glanced around the restaurant again. Fay sat in a corner booth with her elbows on the table. She caught Bree’s eye and motioned to her. Today Fay looked like a fifteen-year-old on her way to school, her hair casually windblown and her pale complexion devoid of makeup. A backpack even lay at her feet. An ashtray holding two cigarette butts sat next to a cup of coffee between Fay’s elbows.

Molly scurried by with a cup of coffee for Bree and a plate of half-eaten eggs for Samson. “For our hero,” she said.

“You look a little green,” Bree told Fay. “Try eating some toast or crackers.”

“How long does this last?” Fay moaned. “I don’t have time to be sick.”

“Going climbing again today?” Bree asked, pointing toward the backpack. Though the U.P. didn’t offer world-class mountains, there were some pretty good cliffs in the area.

“I might as well, if I can muster the energy. Steve is working, and I’m bored.” Fay fiddled with one of the distinctive gold hoops that adorned her ears. Then she dropped her hand and sighed.

“Are you sure it’s safe for you to climb?”

Fay grimaced. “I told you last night, I’m not going to change my life for this baby. I’m still me. The doctor said I could do whatever I’m used to doing.”

Bree felt a twinge of guilt for the judgment in her question. No need to dig her hole any deeper. “Have you remembered anything more about the cabin and the airplane seat?”

Fay scowled. “No. Steve and I had another fight last night, and I didn’t get a chance to think about it. Give me a few days. If there’s anything worth remembering, it will come to me.”

So the story about the woman and the airplane seat
was
just a bid for attention. Bree doubted the same could be said of Fay’s encounter with Eric the night before. Bree had a feeling she should know something about Eric, something she’d read or heard. She wanted to ask Fay about him, though it was none of her business. She decided against it.

They drank their coffee and talked about last night’s party, carefully skirting the arguments Bree had overheard. Fay kept glancing at her watch and fidgeting. Finally, she stubbed out her fourth cigarette and rose. “I’d better get going. I hope you find something.”

Fay’s diffidence made Bree second-guess whether she really did know something about Rob’s plane. Her usual mode was high drama, and this understated comment seemed out of character.

Fay stepped into the aisle and right into Palmer’s path. He stopped abruptly. “Just who I was looking for. I have the papers ready for you to sign. Is it okay if I drop by tomorrow night?”

Fay nodded. “I suppose so. We’ll be around.” Her voice seemed lackluster, and Bree wondered if it was just her morning sickness or if she wished she wasn’t selling the mine. Did Fay and Steve need the money?

She moved past him. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a cliff calling my name.”

Palmer winked at Bree then joined two men at the back table.

“I’ll come with you,” Bree told Fay impulsively as she started to walk away. “We can talk while we hike.” Though climbing was out of the question for Bree, they could talk on the way.

Fay shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I really need some alone time this morning.”

Fay could be as immovable as a thirty-foot jack pine, and her obstinate expression warned Bree to let it go. The thought crossed Bree’s mind that Fay was adamant because she was meeting someone, maybe Eric.

“Sorry to be a pest,” Bree said. “I’ll talk to you later.”

Fay gave her a distracted smile before she hurried out the door.

Molly appeared at Bree’s table. “Fay is upset, eh? She looked like she’d been crying when she came in.” Molly’s speech was typical of a Yooper. A blend of Finnish and Canadian cadence and an accent that Bree found charming.

Bree picked up a menu. “You know Fay. No one understands her moods.”

Molly sniffed and nodded. “What will you have, eh? The
panukakkua
just came out of the oven.”

Panukakkua
. The thought of the custard pancake dripping with hot raspberry sauce brought a Pavlovian response from Bree. The
pulla
would wait. “You know my weakness,” Bree said, nodding. “And more coffee.”

“You got it.” Molly tucked the order pad in a pocket of her apron and went to the kitchen.

Moments later Hilary rushed up to Bree’s table with Mason in tow. Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “I knew I’d find you here. You’re as predictable as an atomic clock.” She dropped a newspaper onto the table. A picture of Bree and Samson stared back at Bree from the front page of the
Kitchigami Journal
. “Just the publicity my office can use!” she crowed. “It even mentions you’re the mayor’s sister-in-law.”

Bree looked at the paper but didn’t pick it up. Newspaper articles were nothing new to her and Samson. Something of a nuisance, actually.

Hilary and Mason sat down. “Where are you searching next?” Hilary asked.

“I’m starting a new sector, west of the gorge.”

Mason cleared his throat. “We need to attend to the debriefing for yesterday’s search as well. I thought you might come by yesterday. What can you tell me?”

She’d meant to but had forgotten all about it. Glad to get Hilary off the search topic, Bree told Mason of the clues they’d followed, the areas they’d searched, and how they had found the children. Molly brought Bree’s breakfast and coffee. Mason took notes in backward looping letters simple enough for a grade-school kid to read.

Ten minutes later Hilary tapped her fingernails on the table. “Are we about done? We’re going to be late for church if we don’t get going.” Gathering her purse, she slid from the seat and waited for her husband.

Mason shrugged. “I reckon we are now. Call me if you think of anything else, Bree, eh?” He nodded to Bree and followed his wife out of the café.

Bree lifted her cup and took a gulp. Hilary was happy with her now, but it wouldn’t last long. Nothing would satisfy her but for Bree to find little Davy and Rob so they could all move on. Sometimes she felt stuck in an old black-and-white episode of
Twilight Zone,
facing a life that had been twisted by her own hands into something unrecognizable.

She shivered and looked at the
panukakkua.
It was cold.

5

O
utside, the autumn sunshine lifted Bree’s spirits. She’d better enjoy it while she could. Once winter hit, days of sunshine would be replaced by gray clouds. On her way to the hospital, she passed folks raking leaves and mulching flower beds. Rock Harbor Hospital, catty-corner from Siltanen Piano Repair, was an unimaginative square brick building that didn’t do justice to its setting. Manicured grounds at the rear of the facility swooped down to a peaceful beach. Bree pointed to a blazing red-leafed tree close to the rear entrance and told Samson to stay. He sat obediently while she went inside.

Emily was flipping through TV channels when Bree poked her head into the room. “Hi, sweetheart. Remember me?”

Emily’s face brightened. “Bree! I was just thinking about you. Where’s Samson?”

“He’s waiting for you in the garden.” Bree turned off the TV and glanced at the other bed. Timmy’s small face was turned into the pillow, and a slight snore issued from his nose. “How’s your brother?”

“Okay. I get to go home when Daddy gets off work.” The little girl bit her lip. “I asked Daddy to stay with us today, but he said he didn’t get inventory finished yesterday because of my sen . . . sh . . . shenanigans. I think he’s still mad at me.”

The plaintive note in Emily’s voice touched Bree’s heart. “He’s just glad to get you home,” she said. “But I’ll keep you company for a while. The nurse says it would be okay for me to take you down to the garden to visit with Samson. Would you like to do that?”

“Sure!” Emily hopped from the bed.

Bree found Emily’s fuzzy raccoon slippers under the bed. “Let’s hope these raccoons don’t lead you into trouble like the last ones.”

Emily’s cheeks flushed. “I won’t do that again,” she said. She tiptoed to Timmy’s bed and touched his head. “I’ll be back in a little while, Timmy,” she whispered.

Her brother just muttered in his sleep. Though his lashes fluttered on his cheeks a bit, he didn’t awaken.

“Do you think we should leave him?” Emily asked. “He’s my ’sponsibility.”

Bree put her hand on Emily’s head. “The nurses will take good care of him, sweetie. We’ll only be gone a few minutes.” Emily carried a heavy burden, and Bree wished she could ease it.

Emily leaned her head into Bree’s hand. “That feels so good,” she said. “Mommy used to braid my hair before she went away. I miss her.”

Bree swallowed hard. Did Davy miss her combing his hair, or were there angels to do it for him in heaven?

Emily smiled up at Bree. “Do you think Samson will remember me?”

“I’m sure he will. He was very excited when we got to the hospital. I think he smelled your scent here.” Bree took Emily’s hand. “I have a wheelchair right outside the door. The nurse said you had to ride down to the garden in it.”

“Cool!” Emily raced to the door and climbed into the wheelchair. Her feet stuck out in front of her, and she wiggled her raccoon slippers.

Bree wheeled her past the nurses’ station and into the elevator.

“Have you ever been to Florida?” Emily asked Bree as the elevator jerked into motion.

The look on Davy’s face when he saw Mickey at Disney World flashed into Bree’s mind. “Yes,” she said.

“Did you go to Disney World? Daddy says he’s going to take us someday, and we can see our grandma.”

Bree nodded slowly. “W—we took our son to Disney World for his first birthday.”

“Oh, you have a little boy! I wish you could have brought him along for me to play with,” Emily said. “How old is he?”

“He’s in heaven now, but he would be four.” She was quite proud of herself for holding her voice steady.

Emily contemplated this news. “Timmy’s four.”

The elevator door opened, and Bree wheeled Emily into the lobby and down a hall. Through the glass doors, Samson watched them come, and he stretched as he stood.

“What kind of dog is he? He has a curly tail.”

“What we call a ‘Heinz fifty-seven.’ He’s a mixture of several things, some German shepherd, some chow, maybe a bit of Border collie.”

Bree wheeled Emily through the doors and into the sunshine of the hospital’s garden area.

“Samson!” Emily cried. The dog trotted to her and licked her chin. Emily laughed and rubbed his head.

“You want to sit under the tree?” Bree asked. Emily nodded, and Bree rolled the wheelchair along the brick walk to a huge tree whose trunk was covered with ivy.

“Can I sit at the picnic table?” Emily asked.

“How about we play ball with Samson?” Bree produced a ball from her jacket pocket. Samson barked excitedly. “Samson, quiet!” Bree commanded. The dog instantly stopped barking.

“I bet you’re a good mommy,” Emily said. She took the ball and threw it as hard as she could into the yard.

Bree swallowed. What could she say to that? If she were a good mother, wouldn’t she have thought of Davy before she called Rob? If only she hadn’t upset him before he got into the plane, wouldn’t they both still be here?

Samson raced across the grass, snatched up the ball, then carried it
back to Emily, his tail waving proudly. He dropped it in her lap. Emily picked it up. “Oh, gross!” she said. “Dog slobber.”

Bree laughed. “But it’s full of love.” She took off her jacket. “That sun is getting hot.”

“I was cold in the woods. I didn’t want to leave the cabin,” Emily said.

Bree stared at her. “What cabin?”

“The witch in the woods took us to her cabin. I told you.” Emily’s lip trembled. “You don’t believe me either!”

“You keep talking about the witch in the woods. There is no witch, Emily. You must have dreamed it.” Bree was beginning to wonder if she should talk to the doctor about Emily’s peculiar obsession. There was no way the story could be true. No one would have fed the children just to abandon them in the forest again, especially with Timmy so sick.

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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