Read The Black Feather Online

Authors: Olivia Claire High

The Black Feather (9 page)

BOOK: The Black Feather
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Uh, Suzanne?”

“Hmm? Oh! The colonel is Nanadoo’s husband,” she said, scrambling off the bed.  

“Is he retired military?”

“No, it’s his nickname because of how he looks.”

“Let me guess, a Colonel Sanders look alike?”

“Yes. You heard the conversation. I’ve got to get to Nanadoo’s before Dad decides to take off. I’m beyond furious with him for going to them. He’ll have to answer to me if they get hurt.”

Thad walked into the room.

“I’ve noticed you’re quick to want to protect your friends from your father’s antics.”

“I’ve had plenty of practice. Are you saying that’s a bad thing?”

“No. I just wonder why you don’t look after yourself when he uses you.”

“Doesn’t one of the Ten Commandments say we’re supposed to honor our parents?”

“Yes, but I don’t think there’s anything about enabling them.”

 

Suzanne came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, her hair still damp from her shower.

“I better see about going on one of the ferries. I should have done it sooner, but I’m kind of rattled. We can either do the Catalina Flyer, which only leaves from Newport Beach. It takes a little over an hour. Or we can use the Catalina Express. It gives us more options because they go from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. They also have like twenty-five departures a day. Tell me which one you think would be best, and I’ll call to make sure the schedules haven’t changed.”

“Neither. I took care of our transportation while you were in the shower. We’ll be using the Island Express Helicopter Service. It only takes fourteen minutes, and we have the choice of going from Long Beach or San Pedro.”

She clutched at her towel.

“Did you say helicopter?”

“I did. Have you ever flown in one before?”

“No, but I’m sure it’ll be way more expensive than the ferries.”

“Is that your way of saying you’re afraid to fly?”

“No, but I’m not sure I can afford it, that’s all.”

“I have it covered.”

He glanced at his watch.

“A car will be here to pick us up in twenty minutes. Let me just take a quick shower.”

Thad appeared less than fifteen minutes later, dressed and ready to leave. He frowned when he found Suzanne pacing in the living room, chewing on her thumbnail.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m worried about Nanadoo and the colonel.”

“I told you don’t go anticipating trouble. You’ve got enough on your plate as it is.”

 

Suzanne barely stopped herself from pressing her nose against the window of the helicopter, as she looked at the scene below. Living in southern California made it easy for her to visit Nanadoo’s home on Catalina Island over the years. But she’d always gone by boat. Viewing it by air gave her a whole new appreciation of the bay with its variegated navy blue water shimmering with colorful hues of emerald green. Lines of various watercraft bobbed at their mooring sites. A large cruise ship sat majestically with its bright white paint glistening in the sun while the ocean rippled quietly against its graceful hull.

The island’s most recognizable landmark, the circular iconic Catalina Casino outside Avalon Harbor, caught her attention. She smiled remembering the first time Nanadoo took her on a tour of the beautiful old building. Suzanne could still recall how awed she’d been staring at the rose-hued walls, arching fifty-foot ceiling, and the five Tiffany Chandeliers.

She leaned closer, studying the rocky coastline, the chewing gum magnate Wrigley’s mansion, and the herd of North American Bison that had scattered themselves among the hills. The beasts were introduced to the island from a movie filmed there in 1924. Nanadoo told her the buffalo ended up faring better than the film.

Suzanne knew other movies were filmed on the island since the silent movie era and that stars still liked to vacation here. Nanadoo rarely missed an opportunity to finagle an invitation to the various movie sets and had an impressive collection of filmdom autographs and photos for her efforts.

Thinking of her godmother drew her attention away from the sights. They were getting ready to land. Her stomach muscles began to tense up, anticipating what she should say to her father. How could she convince him to give up his dangerous scheme? She hoped she would find the right words.

As soon as the helicopter touched down, Thad helped her climb out. Suzanne put her hand up to shade her eyes from the sun while she looked around.

“I don’t see the colonel’s golf cart.”

Thad frowned.

“Golf cart? Is he planning on taking us golfing?”

“No. Golf carts are a popular mode of transportation on the island. The colonel loves driving his around. He prides himself on being punctual. He should be here by now. I’m going to phone them.”

“Good idea,” Thad said, and waited while she made her call.

“No one answered. I left a message telling them we’re here, but I think we should go to the house ourselves.”

She saw her own worry mirrored in his eyes.

“I think you’re right,” he said, quietly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine

 

Suzanne gave the driver the address and leaned slightly forward in her seat, as though that might somehow make them get to her godmother’s sooner. They wound their way up into the hills. Thad instructed the man to let them off a few houses short of their destination. While he paid the driver, Suzanne fumbled with her seatbelt and opened the door ready to start running, but Thad stopped her.

“Call again, and say you’re still waiting to be picked up. Leave another message if you have to.”

“Why? I thought we were in a hurry to get to the house.”  

I don’t want to announce our arrival in case anyone else is listening to their calls.”

Suzanne made her call and waited. One ring. Two rings. Three rings and on for six full rings. She paused, gripping the phone, and left a quick message before tucking her phone away.

“Please, can we go to them now?” she pleaded.

He took her by the hand, and they jogged the short distance until she stopped just short of the condominium, and pointed toward the Mediterranean style condo sandwiched between two other similar units. Suzanne dug a house key out of her purse and was ready to rush up the four cement steps leading to the front door.

“Hold onto it for now,” Thad said. “Tell me about the layout.”

“The ground level has a patio in back with a sliding glass door to the living room. The kitchen, an office, and a half bathroom are also on the main floor. The second story has a couple of bedrooms with bathrooms. Both bedrooms have sliding glass doors leading to outside decks with stairs going down to the patio on either side of the house. The front door opens into an entryway that leads into the living room. Oh; and there’s also a door going outside from the kitchen.”

He squeezed her hand.

“Good job. Do they have access to the beach from here?”

“Not unless they hack their way through a lot of plant life. They take the road we just used.”

“All right. We’ll go around back and try the door leading to the living room. Do not, I repeat, do not try to muscle me out of the way until I know it’s safe inside.”

“Muscle you out of the way? It’d be like trying to move a Mac truck with a toy bulldozer.”

They made their way along one side of the house adjusting their feet to the gradually sloping terrain. Suzanne kept close to Thad, as he flattened his body against the wall until he could peer through a corner of the glass door. He tested the slider and found it unlocked. The door slid silently open on its track when he nudged the handle.

He eased himself into the empty living room, motioning for Suzanne to stay outside. Thad stood for a moment listening, assessing his surroundings. The house was eerily quiet for someone who was supposed to be expecting company. He inched his way down the short hallway to the kitchen.

What he saw made him feel like he’d been punched in the stomach. Had they been too late? Two elderly people sat in chairs with their upper bodies slumped onto the kitchen table. Two tea cups, one tipped on its side in the saucer sat in front of them on the table and two others were placed near empty chairs. Cookies, arranged in a neat little pile lay on a plate in the center of the table.

Thad hurried over and pressed a couple fingers gently against first the woman’s neck, and then the man’s. Relief flowed through him when he felt the distinct throbbing of a steady pulse in each of them. He ran from the room and bounded upstairs, going quickly knowing Suzanne wouldn’t be content to wait outside much longer despite his warning for her to stay put.

Both bedroom doors stood open to empty rooms. He entered the one on the right and found everything to be in neat order and the bathroom empty. Thad didn’t bother to linger, as he headed across the landing to the other rooms where he discovered an unmade bed in the bedroom and towels thrown on the floor in the bathroom.

It would seem Suzanne’s father decided to take off and ruin any chance of a family reunion. Not only that, he had to go tell her it looked like they’d had a tea party before they left and spiked the old couple’s brew as a farewell gesture – which just went to show some people were lousy houseguests.

Thad found Suzanne peering through the sliding glass door. She moved away when she saw him. He slid the door open and stepped outside.

“I checked the carport. The colonel’s cart is gone. We must have missed him. Is Nanadoo here?”

“Yes.”

She let out a ragged sigh. “Thank God. Did you find my dad and his little chickee?”

“No.”

Suzanne started to push by him. Thad seized her shoulder making her scowl at him.

“What are you doing? I want to go inside and see Nanadoo.”

“Your Nanadoo . . . he stopped. “What’s her real name? I’ll feel like an idiot calling her that.”

“Nesta, and the colonel is Liam. Liam and Nesta Harold. Now will you please let me go? I’m surprised she hasn’t come looking for me. She’s probably wondering why I’m still standing out here.”

“No, she’s not. They’re both in the kitchen.” He kept hold of her. “They’ve been drugged.”

She cried out. Thad made her face him, as she pushed at his hands trying to break free.

“Listen to me,” he said in a sharp voice when she continued struggling. “They’re alive. I’m sure they’ll be fine as soon as whatever they took wears off. But you should call a doctor to have them checked out to be on the safe side. I’ll take you to them now.”

He held her by the hand and led her inside. Suzanne pulled away as soon as they entered the kitchen. Thad let her go. A gasp escaped her as she touched them each on their backs before looking at him again.

“I never expected my dad to stoop this low,” she said in a shaky voice. “Did he take off?”

“Yes, as far as I can tell.”

“Good riddance.”

 

Thad and Suzanne sat in the living room drinking coffee. Late afternoon shadows put them in semi-darkness. The doctor came and went, satisfied with his patients’ vital signs. Thad helped him carry them upstairs to their bedroom while Suzanne saw that they were comfortably tucked beneath the blankets.

She explained that Liam and Nesta hadn’t been sleeping well lately and misjudged the dosage for a sleep aid. Thad hoped the doctor was convinced because the last thing he wanted right now was to have the local authorities asking questions. Enough people were already involved in this ever growing muddle.

It reminded him of a stain that just kept spreading wider and wider.  

“Leave it to my dad to skitter away like the rat that he is. Wait till I get my hands on him.” Suzanne set her mug down with a bang. “I think I’ll go talk to the neighbors. They may know something.”

“I already did. No one is home at the condo on one side, and the old woman in the other said she didn’t see or hear a thing.”

“Her name is Mrs. Neal. She has a little trouble seeing and hearing.”

“That was seemed pretty obvious when I saw from the thick glasses she wore and the hearing aids in both ears. I damned near had to pound the door down before she answered. She thought I was the bottled water guy.”

“We’ll have to wait awhile until before we can question Nanadoo and the colonel. I still have to find out what happened to his cart.”

 

As soon as they finished their coffee, Thad stood up and took their mugs. “I’ll take these to the kitchen and start on our dinner.”

Suzanne eventually moved off the sofa, still massaging
her head with the tips of her fingers.

“I’m so upset I don’t think I can eat, but I should help you,” she murmured.

“I’ll manage,” Thad said, putting his arm around her shoulder and squeezing softly. “You go check on Liam and Nesta.”

“See,” she said, smiling as her body straightened a bit. “I told you that you were a nice man.”

“Well, don’t let it get around. I wouldn’t want to spoil the tough guy image I’ve been cultivating.”

Suzanne came into the kitchen with an armful of sheets and towels. Thad turned from the stove to watch her.

“What’s all that?” he asked, pointing toward the massive
bundle she carried.

“Sheets and towels my Dad and his girlfriend used. Not a
very tidy couple.”

Thad choked back a chuckle, coughing instead.

“How are the patients doing?  Awake yet?” he asked.

“They woke up enough to talk to me a little bit.”

“That’s good.”

“Made me feel a lot better, I can tell you.” She sniffed the air. “What is that heavenly aroma?”

“My quick version of Steak Diane. The potatoes are in the toaster oven, and I threw together a salad.”

“I’m suddenly finding my appetite again. Thank you for doing all that.”

“It wasn’t difficult. The Harolds keep a well-stocked kitchen. I hope they won’t mind, but besides taking their steaks, I also raided their wine cabinet.”

“They’d want you to help yourself. I’ll take care of this then set the table.”

Suzanne walked to an alcove in the kitchen and shoved open a folding door, revealing a washer and dryer inside. Lifting the lid to the washing machine, she began stuffing soiled laundry inside. A few minutes later while she was setting the table, the telephone rang.

“I’ll answer that in Liam’s office,” she said, suddenly
animated as she moved toward the sound.

“Check the caller ID before you answer. Let it go if it looks at all suspicious,” he yelled at her disappearing back.

Just as Thad was pouring their wine, she returned, with a satisfied look on her face.

“Now, I know what happened to the colonel’s cart,” she smirked. The guy who owns the golf cart rental place at the harbor found it among all of his carts. It must have been put there when his back was turned. He’s going to drive it up here.”

“He’s certain it’s Liam’s?”

“Yes. He didn’t even have to check. The colonel fancies himself an artist and painted some beach scenes on the sides of the cart. Most of the permanent residents recognize it.”

“All right. In the meantime, let’s eat while it’s still hot.”

Thad waited until they’d taken their first few bites of
food before speaking.

“So,” he queried, thoughtfully, “this guy doesn’t have any idea when Liam’s cart showed up?”

Suzanne shook her head.

“Doesn’t he check his own stock?”

“He said he was busy with so many people coming ashore from the cruise ship to rent carts. He works alone, so once the people paid, he gave them keys, and they got the carts themselves. Dad must have driven the cart down there and took one of the ferries.”

“Or he may still be hiding on the island.”

She took a sip of wine and wiped her mouth on a bright red cloth napkin.

“That would be stupid now, wouldn’t it?.”

“Not necessarily. Haven’t you ever tried to find something you misplaced only to find it was right there in front of you all the time?”

 

Later, Suzanne thought about Thad’s theory that her father may not have left the island. She supposed it was possible they’d stayed. After all, her dad wasn’t a young man, and he had a pregnant woman in tow. They were probably worn out from being on the run for so long. Still, the idea seemed kind of farfetched to her; staying on the move was part of his strategy to keep one step ahead of the Montanes.

Her restlessness drove her out of bed. She walked across the landing to check on Liam and Nesta. They were both sprawled on their backs, softly snoring. She leaned over and gave them each a kiss on the forehead before tiptoeing from the room.

Pulling open her room’s slider, Suzanne stepped out onto the deck. Twinkling lights from the harbor boats sparkled like tiny diamonds in the midst of the casino’s brightly lit building glowing like a giant gem. Her thoughts wandered to Thad, sleeping on the living room sofa. Being awake wouldn’t be so bad if he was up here with her. But she knew he was right where he said he’d be.

“Better if I stay downstairs,” he’d said, “just in case anyone decides to come calling during the night.”

Suzanne still didn’t know who he worked for and how it was he had access to so many resources. But she did know she’d never met anyone like him before. He seemed to be able to do almost anything he put his mind to. Excellent cook, fantastic lover, and a handy guy to have around when things got dicey.

And she’d been thrust into some pretty serious situations lately, no thanks to her father. The more she stood there thinking about her dad, the more she was convinced he was gone. He’d want to leave under the cover of secrecy, which meant looking for a less commercial mode of transportation other than the passenger ferries or via air transport. He’d want to go by private boat.

Suzanne straightened up and gripped the railing. Of course. Why hadn’t she thought of this before? Once, when she was here visiting while on a college break, she received a call from a friend inviting her to a party in Long Beach. Her friend had waited too late to call. A boat was the only way Suzanne could get off the island.

BOOK: The Black Feather
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Hidden Window Mystery by Carolyn Keene
New Mercies by Dallas, Sandra
Alien Virus by Steve Howrie
Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien
Pib's Dragon by Beany Sparks
The Man Who Owns the News by Michael Wolff
Sunset Boulevard by Zoey Dean
Immortal Light: Wide Awake by John D. Sperry