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Authors: Olivia Claire High

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BOOK: The Black Feather
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Enter good old Captain George, a boozed up, washed out ex ferry captain with a small yacht that looked and smelled worse than he did. But he worked cheap, and if you gave him a bottle of booze, the price went down even further. He also didn’t ask nosy questions.

Suzanne blushed now, remembering how Nanadoo had caught her trying to swipe the whiskey from Liam’s liquor cabinet. She never made that trip, but she’d heard about other people using Captain George over the years. She didn’t know if the man still had his business, or if he was even alive. But she would mention him to Thad in the morning on the off chance her father had taken advantage of this resource.

She walked slowly back inside and tumbled onto the bed. It felt good to come up with some information that might help. Suzanne also reminded herself to call Heather and apprise her of the latest development. She knew Thad didn’t want her giving out her new cell number, but he couldn’t have meant Heather. She was her best friend. They’d always looked out for each other.

He may not understand their special bond, so it’d probably be best if she didn’t mention the call.

 

“It’s about time you called,” Heather scolded. “I’ve certainly left you enough messages.”

“I didn’t know.  I haven’t been ignoring you. I don’t have my usual phone.”

“What are you talking about? Where are you? I went by your house, but no one was home.”

“I’m at Nanadoo’s.”

“Oh. I guess I can’t blame you for wanting to get away after your aborted cruise.”

“I didn’t come for fun. Dad and his girlfriend showed up here.”

“He did? I sure wouldn’t have expected that. What about all the money he took? I hope he gave you some of it, considering everything he’s put you through.”

“I don’t have it because he and his woman left before Thad and I got here.”

“Damn that wily old devil. Did he say anything to Nesta and Liam that might help you find him? I mean, he must have left some kind of clue.”

“The only thing my dad left was some dirty sheets and towels. He also thanked them for their hospitality by drugging their tea before he left.”

Heather sucked in a breath.

“What a rotten thing to do. Are they all right?”

“Yes, thank the lord. They’re downstairs with Thad. They haven’t been able to give us much help about what happened. He thinks my dad could still be on the island. I don’t agree. I hoped to talk to a guy who used to run private trips, but Liam said he died.” 

“Well, be sure to keep me in the loop. I get so worried when I don’t hear from you.”

“Thad got me another phone. I’ll give you the number. But please don’t share it, and I’d rather you didn’t use it unless you really have to. He thinks it’s safer that way.”

“He’s probably right. You know you can trust me. I’m so glad he’s looking after you, Suzie.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but so am I.”

“I’ll keep an eye on your house, since you don’t know when you’ll be back.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t go near the place. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt because of me.”

“This is all your dad’s fault. I want to do what I can to help you. Do you still keep your house key in the same spot?”

“No. Thad had me move it to the garden shed.” Suzanne told her the location. “You don’t have to do this. Knowing him he probably has someone watching.”

“Okay, if you think that’s for the best. Now give me your new cell number and remember what I said about keeping me in the loop. We’re in this together, girlfriend.”

Suzanne gave her the number, and they said their goodbyes.

She put fresh sheets on the bed her father and Muriel used during their brief stay. She did this as quickly as possible, not wanting to linger and think about them sleeping together. Cleaning the bathroom was next on her to-do list. She certainly didn’t want to leave any of these household chores to her godmother or the colonel considering how her father treated them.

Suzanne also thought it might help if she stayed up here for a while rather than be downstairs. She didn’t want to be a distraction while Thad gently probed the old couple for any information that might help to find their errant houseguests.

Captain George’s death created another dead end in their search for her father, frustrating Suzanne, even more. Anger swirled around inside her when she remembered how Nesta and Liam looked, slumped over the kitchen table. The painful image made her hand jerk on the sponge she was using to wipe the bathroom counter, causing a small decorative box to tip over, spilling its contents of cotton balls.

She set the sponge aside when she spied a small slip of paper under the box. Suzanne eased it out and saw a single name and a local phone number written there. She wouldn’t have thought anything of it except for one very important detail.

The note had been written in her father’s handwriting.

“It can’t be this easy,” she muttered, as she ran into the bedroom clutching the paper in her hand. Suzanne swallowed a few times, trying not to get too excited before she called the number.

“Hello?” a man’s gravelly voice answered after three rings.

Suzanne’s palms felt clammy, and her heart pounded like a tennis ball against the walls of her chest.

“Is this Dewey?”

“Who’s asking?”

“A friend.”

“I have lots of friends, lady. Just which one might you be?”

Suzanne bit her lip, hoping what she was about to say would tell her what she needed to know.

“I have a lot of friends, too. You may have met a couple of them recently.”

“That so?”

“I’m referring to an older, distinguished looking gentleman and a young pregnant woman traveling together. I was supposed to meet with them on the island, but I arrived later than I expected, and we missed each other. It’s very important that I talk to them. They, um, might need my assistance.”

Seconds ticked by. Suzanne was about to say something else when he broke the silence.

“Meet me at the harbor where the private boats are moored. Thirty minutes. Come alone, or don’t come at all,” he instructed and severed the connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten

 

The receiver slid from her fingers and landed on the bed with a soft thud, freeing her hand to press against the front of her blouse where her heart still hammered. She breathed in deeply, holding it a few seconds, before releasing the air, taking calming breaths. Her fingers clenched around the scrap of paper. She looked down and blinked, surprised to find it still there. Was this the break she’d been hoping for? Could this man lead her to her father? The only way to find out would be to keep the meeting he’d set up.

But how could she leave here without alerting anyone else in the house about this new development? Thad would probably know if she tried to sneak out considering his watchful nature. She also realized if she didn’t go downstairs pretty soon someone would be coming up here wondering what was keeping her so long. Suzanne knew she had to find a way to get them all out of the house. It’d have to be some kind of an emergency, but barring setting the house on fire, that wasn’t likely to happen.

She stood up and started pacing while stealing anxious glances at her watch. The man gave her thirty minutes. Precious seconds elapsed, as she tried to think of a way to solve her dilemma. She caught a movement through the sliding glass door and walked over just in time to see a calico cat nimbly leap onto the railing outside.

She recognized the feline as Mrs. Neal’s wayward pet, Toby. She knew he often wandered over here in search of food, as the old woman didn’t always remember to feed him. Nanadoo and the colonel not only looked out for the cat’s needs, but were also diligent about checking up on their elderly neighbor as well. The thought of their concern for Mrs. Neal’s welfare suddenly sparked an idea on how to get everyone away from the house. She dashed over to the phone and called Heather back.

“I have to meet with this Dewey. He may know where Dad is. Will you help me?” she pleaded after explaining how she’d found the man’s name and phone number.

“You know I’d like to, but what can I do being so far away?”

“Remember Mrs. Neal, the elderly woman next door? You’ve met her a couple of times when you were here with me.”

“You mean the old lady who can’t see or hear very well?”

“Yes, that’s the one. I want you to phone and tell Nanadoo that you just received a call from Mrs. Neal saying she fell and needs help. Explain that I gave her your number from your last visit. Tell Nanadoo she must have called you in confusion. I hate to ask you, but you did say you wanted to help me. Can you make it sound convincing enough?”

“That won’t be problem for a drama queen like me. You just get yourself ready to leave.”

“Thanks, Heather. I owe you.”

“Then you won’t mind when I collect my payment as soon as you find your dad.”

“If I know you, it’ll be a large piece of chocolate fudge cake. Please hurry. I’m running out of time.”

“Hang tight for a few more minutes.”

Suzanne sat on the bed digging her fingers into the bedspread, staring at the phone. She actually jumped when it rang. She barely remembered to breathe waiting until Liam yelled upstairs.

“Mildred Neal’s had a fall. We’re going over to check on her.”

“Oh gosh, I hope it’s not serious,” Suzanne called back. “Better take Thad with you in case she needs lifting. I’ll be right there as soon as I change my shirt. It got wet while I was cleaning the shower.”

“All right.”

Suzanne waited a few more heartbeats until she heard them leave. She sprinted downstairs, looked through the window to be sure they were inside the Neal condo before she ran out, and climbed into Liam’s golf cart. He usually left the key inside and luckily today wasn’t any exception.

She dared a peek at her watch and inhaled a quick breath between her teeth. Thank goodness the route was downhill all the way to the harbor. She should be able to make her secret appointment with the mysterious Dewey, if she drove like a maniac. Suzanne gripped the wheel and spun around a curve. It wasn’t until she was halfway to her destination when she realized she had no idea what the man looked like. Thad wouldn’t have let something so important slip his mind.

Thinking of him made Suzanne wince with guilt for sneaking off again without telling him. She hoped her decision to leave him behind wouldn’t damage the new budding closeness they’d enjoyed since making love. Thad, on the other hand may not be so ready to forgive her once he found out about her latest trickery. And what about the colonel and Nanadoo? They probably weren’t going to be too happy with her, either.

But what other choice did she have? Dewey made it clear he wouldn’t help her if she didn’t show up solo. Sometimes you make choices, and sometimes choices make you. Surely she couldn’t be blamed for seizing this opportunity to follow up what could turn out to be a major clue in finding her father.

 

Liam took a moment to give a couple of courtesy knocks before trying the handle.

“I usually get after Mildred for not locking her doors, but this time I’m glad she didn’t,” he explained to Thad when the door swung open and they stepped inside.

“Millie? It’s Nesta. Are you all right?”

No answer. She gave the two men a worried look.

“You two split up and start looking down here while I check the upstairs,” Thad suggested.

Liam found her seconds later lying on a lounger outside. He yelled to let Thad know, while Nesta scurried over to peer closely at her friend.

“Oh dear. She must have fallen here and managed to crawl onto this lounger before she passed out. I just hope she doesn’t have a concussion.”

“I just hope she’s alive,” Liam muttered.

Thad joined them and immediately checked for a pulse.

“Her breathing is good,” he said, “and there isn’t any evidence of injuries. It looks to me as though she’s asleep. Why don’t you see if you can wake her?”

Nesta gave Mildred’s shoulder a gentle shake.

“Millie? Can you hear me?”

Mildred’s eyes fluttered open then blinked several times behind her thick glasses, as she tried to focus on the faces in front of her.

“Nesta? Is that you?” She struggled to sit up. “Did you tell me you were coming over?”

“Easy now. We don’t want you doing any damage until we know if you’re hurt from your fall.”

“What fall? I came out here to take a nap.” She pushed her glasses further up her nose. “Forgot to remove my glasses again, I see.”

“We’re here to find out if you’re all right. I understand you took a tumble,” Nesta explained.

“Tumble? What in the world are you jabbing about?”

Liam turned his head away and whispered to Thad.

“She gets confused sometimes.”

Thad nodded and got down on his haunches next to the lounger. “Hello, Mrs. Neal. Do you recall seeing me here before?”

She squinted her eyes. “Oh yes. You’re the nice young man from the water company. I don’t need a refill just yet.”

Nesta patted the woman’s hand.

“He’s not from the water company, Millie. He’s a friend of Suzanne’s. They’re visiting us right now.”

“That’s nice. How is your daughter? Such a sweet girl.”

No one corrected her that Suzanne was the goddaughter. The main priority had to be finding out whether or not the woman had fallen and didn’t realize it.

“Suzanne is fine. We just received a phone call from a friend of hers saying you contacted her because you’d fallen and needed our help.”

“What nonsense is this? I didn’t have a fall,” she said, moving her legs off the lounger.

Thad stood up and helped her.

“Are you saying you didn’t call a friend of Suzanne’s?”

“I did not. If I needed help I’d call Liam and Nesta myself. I don’t have numbers for any of Suzanne’s friends. Why would I?”

“Why would you, indeed?” Thad looked at Liam and Nesta. “Speaking of your goddaughter, in case you haven’t noticed she’s conspicuously absent.”

“She said she had to change her blouse.”

“Well, it’s certainly taking her long enough,” Nesta added.

“Yes, and I think I know why. Liam, it’s time we check to see if your golf cart is still here.”

“I don’t know why it wouldn’t be.”

“Did you leave the key in after the last time you used it?”

“I always do.”

“I suppose Suzanne is aware of that.”

“Yes. Did I do something wrong?”

Thad flashed him a frustrated sigh.

“No, but I did.”

 

Suzanne brought the cart to a shuddering halt arriving at her destination three minutes late. She flipped off the seatbelt and hopped out, landing with both feet smacking against the smooth asphalt. She made sure she parked close to the harbor. It was the only way she could think to connect with this Dewey.

She fisted her hands on her hips and looked around. The area emptied out pretty fast once the cruise ships left taking the hundreds of tourists with them. She could see a few people walking in front of the shops and several men dressed in gray pants and shirts cleaning up litter.

A pelican landed on a nearby rock drawing her attention. The bird flapped its large wings to dry them out. He stretched his neck and wiggled his head back and forth, causing the gray pouch hanging from his beak to flop back and forth like an empty laundry bag. She watched as he folded his wings snug against his body, closed his eyes, and settled down for a nap.

Suzanne turned from the bird to focus her attention on the harbor when a small takeout food box landed at her feet making her jump back seconds before a long handled grabber picked up the carton.

“We tend to frown on littering here, miss.”

Her head jerked up at the sound of the gravelly voice. Suzanne realized she was staring at one of the cleanup men. He stared back, scrutinizing her shorts and sweat streaked blouse, with his dark eyes lingering long enough to make her cross her arm over her breasts.

She wanted to go, but steeled herself to stay. She’d gone to a lot of trouble to find out if this creepy looking man might be able to tell her something about her father. Suzanne shifted from one foot to the other, bringing her a bit closer to the cart. She’d left the key in the ignition. At least she wouldn’t have to fumble around for it if she ended up having to leave in a hurry.

Suzanne gave him what she hoped came across as a confident look, as she lowered her arms to point at the tool he’d used to lift the dirty box into the bag he carried.

“I don’t litter, but you obviously know what it’s like to have to clean up messes other people leave.”

He nodded.

“Yeah, and sometimes those people leave a long, dirty trail of garbage.”

“Yes they do. So tell me. What can you do to help me clear up my particular mess?”

“I have a boat. I dropped them off in San Pedro.”

She gulped in a quick breath.

“Did you ask him where he was going exactly?”

“He paid me not to ask questions, but I heard the woman say something about staying with friends there named Martinez.”

“Did the man look all right? I mean, as far as you could tell, he wasn’t hurt was he?”

“There are all kinds of ways of being hurt, lady. Some just showed themselves more than others. But he looked okay as far as I could tell. Maybe a little tired, but not bad otherwise.”

“Thank goodness.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me about the girl?”

“No. She’s nothing to me. I don’t know her, and I don’t want to know her.”

He lifted bushy brows.

“You sound pretty sure. How do you know if that won’t change someday?”

“It won’t if I have anything to say about it. I appreciate your help, but I don’t have any money to pay you. I should have thought about that. I’ll bring you something later. Where can I find you?”

His hand tightened on the bag.

“I don’t want your money.”

“Then why did you agree to meet with me?”

“Because I know the kind of things the Montanes do to people who cross them.”

Suzanne couldn’t stop herself from raising her own eyebrows.

“You know the Montanes?”

“Yeah, and they know me.”

She caught the unmistakable sound of bitterness in his voice and watched the almost savage way Dewey rammed his stick against the bare ground.

“What did you mean by
the kind of things they do to people
?” 

He shook his head.

“Forget it.”

“Tell me. Please.”

He surprised her by thrusting his face so close to her that Suzanne could smell nicotine on his breath. She stumbled back bumping her hip against the side of the cart.

“You don’t want to know. Ever.”

He turned around and walked away, leaving Suzanne’s insides shuddering at the implication of his harsh words.

 

 

BOOK: The Black Feather
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