He could hear them behind him, moving with unnatural ease through the dense fog surrounding the boat harbor. The fog was so thick one could reach out and touch the cold icy mist that hung like an eerie smoky curtain across the small Island. The streetlamp not ten feet away, glowed like an unholy moon, making the man’s form a shadowy apparition in the dead of night. He moved raggedly, repeatedly turning to look behind him. His stomach began to burn like molten fire.
Despite the late September chill, the man was sweating profusely. Unable to clearly see in the swirling fog, the man stumbled, losing his footing on the wet, slippery rocks that broke free and tumbled down the small cliff into the sea below. He could hear his heart thundering in his ears, pounding furiously in his chest. His breathes were strangled, as sharply hissing, raspy sounds issued from his swollen throat and he realized in panic that his tongue was beginning to swell rapidly. He could still hear them and knew they were getting closer... Primal fear overwhelmed every cell of his body, until he was literally humming with it. He had to get back to her. She could remove this curse; he just knew it. Nothing had turned out the way he had planned, and his heart broke 3 with the knowledge there would be no more opportunities to fix anything with his children. He thought he had forever to repair the damages he had wrought, but now he would never have that chance. Those thoughts slipped away as Ellen’s face appeared in his mind’s eye and he reached for her, falling to his knees.
Speech was impossible now. He latched on to the image of his former wife holding on to it like a lifeline in a raging sea. His entire system sized up as someone pushed him from behind. He fell heavily onto his hands, his arms trembling with weakness as he struggled to breathe, his eyes bulging. A shadow fell across him and he fought vainly to look up at his assailant, breathing raspily. A cold, mirthless laugh rang hollowly through the fog and he knew he would never make it to Ellen now. The distant howling of many dogs came to his ears, swiftly moving closer.
He felt a heavy foot on the back of his head pushing his face into the rocky wet dirt. As the laughter echoed through his numbing brain. He smelled the strong pungent odors of earth, the sweet smell of the sea. Someone rolled him over onto his back. He stared up into the darkness, barely making out the shadowy figure as the foot settled on his forehead, holding him down.
He heard them then, knew who they were, and he was shocked. He knew then what they would do to him. He should have known; he should have seen this coming weeks before. He kept the images of Ellen and his children in his mind as he felt himself slipping beyond the edge of mortality. His throat closed completely as he lay dying, his glazing eyes saw the hounds of hell leap from the swirling mists upon him, he could not scream as they tore his soul from his astral body. As the deadly curse consumed him, he slipped into the darkness of death.
My father was murdered. My entire life was forever changed in that horrible instant. I saw him in my dream, as I lay in my bed in New York City, unaware that at that second, he had passed from the living to the dead. I believe he was able to cross over through the veil that separates the living and the dead and plead for justice. Everything had seemed normal in this dream as I stood at the top of the tall rocky cliff looking out over the ocean. Cool, salty wind tossed my long red hair, whipping wildly as my skirt and blouse became plastered to my skin by the sea spray of the crashing waves.
Breathing deeply; a yearning homesickness overwhelming me as I inhaled the tangy sea air. Sea gulls screamed, as they careened in wide circles overhead. Turning to leave, I thought I heard my name being called from faraway. I looked back over my shoulder and saw nothing. As I started to leave, a movement caught my eye and I turned back to the sea. There, several feet in front of me stood my father. He appeared much older than I remembered him. He stood there staring at me; his mouth moving, yet no words were spoken. He suddenly spoke, his voice oddly strange and hollow, telling me to come home. His eyes stared into mine as if he were looking through me as one would look out a glass window. A chill raced through me, raising the tiny hairs on the back of my neck. Then suddenly, he screamed along harrowing scream that still rings with a chilling clarity in my ears.
I watched, terror filling his eyes and mine, as six extremely large silvery black wolves leapt from the thick grey smoky mist that had quickly rose, swirling in evil intensity around my father. Stiff wiry silver tipped black fur reflected an unseen eerie light as the wolves circled him, with heads down. Long, gleaming fangs snapped at the thick curtain of fog, their red glowing hellish eyes moving over me. Turning their attention back to my father, the wolves attacked him as one, watching at me with red glowing eyes as they pulled him into the building mists and disappeared. It was then that I realized that he had been standing twenty feet from where I stood at the edge of the cliff.
My father had been standing as if he had been on land with nothing but ocean ten feet below him. I knew I had just seen the Hounds of Hell. Someone had called upon Hecate, goddess of the underworld, and I knew instinctively those implications. A shiver of sheer terror possessed me. Awaking with a start, my heart racing, I glanced at the little digital clock on my nightstand. Three am. I got up and padded with bare feet into the kitchen for a glass of chilly water.
Opening the fridge, I reached in for the pitcher of water and poured a glass. I heard an odd shuffling, and turned as my seal point Siamese, Tara raced past me and leapt up on the counter to stand next to me, hissing furiously through her teeth. I glanced in the direction she had come from and felt the glass slip through my fingers before it hit the hard tiles, shattering into a million shards at my feet. The smell of sulfur and an odd sweet herbal smell invaded my lungs and I gagged, trying to breath unable to take my eyes off the image before me; Ten feet in front of me stood my father, his face twisted in agony, his mouth open in a silent scream .
I should have known better, and listened to that tiny nagging voice in the very back of my mind. But being me, I didn’t. I have discovered that when you do not, unseen forces will arrive and kick you in the teeth. I awoke with no coffee in the house, mainly because I had just arrived back in my hometown of Ketchikan the day before from New York, bringing nothing but my beloved cat and a suitcase. After the spectral appearance of my estranged father, I had sat up the remainder of the night unable to sleep, drinking the strongest pot of coffee ever made as I watched the empty space where he had appeared.
The tiny hairs on the back of my neck remained on alert, and I noticed there was an unusual spooky surreal feeling to the apartment. Tara refused to leave my side, following me into the bathroom, hovering close, either out of protectiveness or an uneasy fear. My mother called before the sun had fully rose to tell me my father was dead, and to come home immediately. She refused to elaborate further, except to say that she knew he had been murdered on the Island.
This was strange to me, for him to return now. Why after so many years did, he decide to come back? I had never really understood why he had left in the first place. I had been Daddy’s girl and it had torn my soul when he left without a word. There had been no birthday cards, no calls, no nothing.
To me it was as if he had dropped off the earth itself. Though I had denied it to myself, I knew I still loved him deeply and I knew the dream had been real, though I could not fully explain that even to myself. I said nothing to my mother about the dream, knowing she would spend the next hour explaining the mystical ramifications, possible meanings and I was in no mood to hear it. I wanted to be alone to cry and mourn my father and his lost soul.
I came up with a lame excuse and hung up the phone. I don’t know how long I sat in front of his photograph, surrounded by candles as sobs racked my body. The feeling of loss and helpless rage was overwhelming, tearing a fist sized hole in my soul. I went home, leaving behind my career as the lead actress on a weekly wildly popular television cop series. I would not miss it much; after five years, I had become tired of the daily grind, rising at three am for makeup and wardrobe, the endless re-shoots. Returning to the small fishing Island would restore me, it always had.
Peaceful seas and normal people, as different from New York City as night and day. I moved into my father’s old yellowing Victorian house that sat quietly at the end of the street. It was the house where all my childhood memories with my father played with me and my older brother Nico, still lived.
As I walked through the old house, the memories of the past seemed to cling to the very walls, inhabiting the structure like a living thing. My mother hated the house because it was where she had shared her life with him. She moved long ago to her own house several blocks away. I stood staring out the bay window that looked out over the turbulent sea below.
The narrow straights that ran between our Island and the mountainous Islands directly across from it was called the Narrows.
In some areas, stretches of open sea as could be seen. It was raining, which was usual for Southeast Alaska. Ninety-seven percent rain always. I dressed quickly, realizing all my clothing was far too chic for this little fishing town, so I threw on pair of black leggings and a thick black cable sweater; black was my favorite color, but I also felt it was my way of showing my father respect at his death.
I fed Tara, my faithful kitty, who had instantly fallen in love with the old house. My guess there were probably a lot of mice who were rethinking their safety, as she prowled endlessly through every room. Grabbing my trench coat and umbrella from the hook by the front door, I ran out through the slanting rain to my car to meet my mother at the Cafe downtown. I had to borrow my brother’s old car while I waited for my own to arrive on the barge.
My new Android lost all signal, and I was sorely tempted to throw it out the car window as I rounded the curve of the tunnel. Irritated, I tossed it into the passenger seat and looked up in time to slam my brakes. Police and Fire personnel suddenly appeared, directing the early morning traffic around the broken-down tour bus that sat near the docks awaiting the cruise ships filled with thousands of tourists that would soon be arriving.
I saw my old boyfriend from my teen years, Charlie MacAvoy. He was dressed in a police uniform, standing in the middle of the narrow street directing traffic. His green eyes widen when he saw me, a brilliant smile flashing across his narrow face as he directed me to drive around him. He had aged considerably, and he was only two years older than me.
I glanced quickly in the rear-view mirror at my own face, fearful I would see the same weary bags beneath my eyes. Hissing between my teeth when I saw the very beginnings of crow’s feet. I looked around, recognizing almost everyone I passed.
This town had not changed much over the past five years. Making my way through the traffic, I noticed the cruise ships were coming into view through the haze of early morning sea fog as they traversed up the Narrows to the docking port. It was mid-September, and the skies were their characteristic cloudy with a chance of wetness. It truly rained most of the time here, and I would have to get use to that again. A dense fog hung close by, hovering across the white capped sea, Small fishing trollers faded in and out of view. I loved the smell of the small fishing town. I had missed the ocean.
Everything, really. I parked in a small cubbyhole facing the dock and went into Emily’s Cafe, owned by my best friend since third grade, and my brother’s wife, Emily Thomas. The Cafe was built right on the dock, overlooking the Narrows, as many of the towns little shops and cafes were. The smell of rich dark coffee and warm croissants met me at the entrance and my stomach rumbled in anticipation.
Emily greeted me with a squeal, her lovely face flushed with excitement, and her shoulder length golden red hair glowed like fire under the florescent lights. She was the only woman in the entire world who could make me feel like I should have put more makeup on, even now, with her eyes swollen and red from crying.
Emily was a whirlwind of sheer energy, creating a powerful bubbly vibration that could be felt as well as seen. Everybody loved Emily. We sat down at a booth and she poured the coffee I so desperately needed. Her face crumpled and she threw her arms around me, her voice thick with tears.
"God, I’m so glad your back! I’m so sorry about your father... he was kind to me..." She sobbed, letting me go. "Your mom is in the restroom. She’s not taking this very well, Claire."
I was surprised by that. I had always felt that she disproved the attachment Nico and I had always felt for our long-lost father.
Emily dried her tears and tried to change the subject, "I’m so glad your back, Claire. Those phone calls to New York were tedious."
I looked at her amused. "Thanks. Better than not talking at all though."
Emily nodded "yeah, but five years is a long time! Did you quit that detective show you were on?"
I laughed. "So many questions. Well, to tell the truth, I’ve wanted to try something different for a long time now. I am tired of being an actress, and all those long hours. I just want peace and quiet for a while." I smiled at her impish grin and sipped my coffee.
She started to stand and thought better of it.
"You hear about the tourist that got ran over this morning down at the tunnel? Flattened him like a pancake. What is this world coming to! I heard it from the grapevine just ten minutes ago."
I jerked my head around at her.
"What? Emily, the ships aren’t even in yet."
Her excitement ebbed as she stared at me. I could see the wheels turning in her head as she suddenly frowned.
"Darn it! That Agnes Jenkins! Next time she comes around here I’m going to tell her she’s full of clam dip!"
“Em, you do realize most of the gossip is made up with tidbits of truth sprinkled in here and there?”
Emily stared down at me in silence, setting the coffeepot down in front of me with a sharp clatter before marching off to serve another customer. I just shook my head. Emily was a notorious gossiper. She thrived on it. But then again so did half the town.
Obviously, that had not changed either. I was soon to find out that gossip is sometimes especially useful in solving a murder.
I sat sipping my coffee and staring out the large window overlooking the narrows as the Cafe had beautiful breathtaking views right from the edge of the dock. It was gorgeous. Sea gulls soared and dipped, fighting for any scrap of fish they could steal from each other. I secretly love those sea vultures, and the little pigeons, too.
Emily hurried back to my little table in the corner nook, half hidden from the rest of the room by a thick ficus tree. It was my favorite spot. She grinned at me and set down a huge tray with more coffee and chocolate croissants she had made that morning.
I returned her grin and we chatted for several minutes, as she filled me in on her marriage with my older brother, Nico. I already knew he was the new temporary M.E. for the Island, but allowed her to brag to me. I was pleased to learn they had got it together after all this time, and it had taken them awhile to figure it out.
I didn’t know any better way to ask Emily about my father’s death except straight out. As Emily stopped to take a deep breath, I interrupted her train of thought.
"What do you know about my father’s murder, Emily?"
Emily paled as she focused on me, her eyes welling up again with tears. "It was horrible, Claire! He had decided to come back to your mother, from what I understand he believed he had some sort of curse on him put on by his wife and her friends. He left your mother’s house around midnight and went back to the Hotel; Nico went with him. Halfway there, Nico said he was struck on the head from behind. When he came to, he went looking for your Dad and found him dead near the cliffs. He had been shot."
Her voice wavered as she forced herself to continue. "He had always kept his life insurance policy in Nico’s name and now, Sutton, that horrid friend of his wife’s is claiming I killed your father to get the money!"
Emily burst into tears again, grabbing a handful of napkins from the dispenser on the table. I looked at her in shock, trying to comprehend.
"Why on earth would they blame you of all people?" I wanted to know. Emily Thomas was well known and loved by nearly every resident on this tiny Island. She had a heart of gold and went out of her way for others.
No one in their right mind would accuse Emily of something so horrific. Emily didn’t need Dad’s money, she owned the Cafe and had other investments. I scowled deeply, running everything, she said through my mind.
"Why would he accuse you? Do you know this creep?"
Emily shook her head. "All I know is that he is some sort of voodoo priest out of New Orleans. He’s hanging pretty tight with the widow and her friend. There’s something odd, almost intimate in their interactions with each other. They all arrived on the Cruise Ship together with your Dad three days ago, and holed up in the Hotel. Your Dad was killed the night they all arrived." She waved one of her waitresses over to refill the coffee carafe.
We remained silent as the girl arrived, soft sympathetic eyes glued to her boss’s face. Emily gave her a watery smile and waved her away.
"Emily, what about the kids?" I suddenly thought about my father’s other children all in their late teens by now.
She raised her brows at me. "I really don’t think those poor kids had anything to do with murdering your Dad, Claire."
I shook my head, "No... no. I wanted to know if they are here. Poor things. This must be hard on them." I had two half siblings I hadn’t met yet and now we had all lost our father. It also occurred to me that they might have information that could shed some light on this case. "Yes, they are. The girl, Allie, is a little gothic looking but extremely sweet if a little high handed. Sutton and her mother treat her badly. She looks about sixteen. The boy Josh is about seventeen, and so kind. He sticks up for his sister when Sutton and their mother are verbally abusing her. They appear awfully close. They both look very much Like Harlan."
I raised quizzled brows at Emily.
"Why are they treating her like that?"
Emily shrugged. "It looked as if they don’t like Allie much."
I set my cup down with a thud. "Her own mother!" I protested. Emily looked at me with sad eyes.
"Claire, you know some mothers are like that. I personally don’t understand it, but we both know that they exist."
I nodded; sympathy filled me for my poor half-sister as I thought of how miserable her life must be with that kind of parent.
"You must have seen them around quite a bit" Emily gazed at me, an odd look on her face.
"Claire, they come in here every day, the whole group of them. You seem to forget how small this Island really is." I laughed, realizing she was right. Five years in New York had blurred some memories, obviously.
"They are staying in your Hotel Hamilton Heights." She offered, a sly grin on her pretty face. "In case you were wondering."
I grinned back. It was nice to have a friend who knew your thoughts so well. We both turned at aloud sharp voice that suddenly filled the Cafe. A table of tourist sat arguing, several looked red with rage. Emily whispered in a strained voice.
"That’s them! The entire group. Look how they treat that poor girl!" I turned back with interest as the voice raised again and the whole Café fell silent. I heard Emily suck in her breath as a tall middle-aged man shoved back his chair with a loud screeching noise as it scraped the stone tiles. His back to us, he slapped a hand hard on the table, the sound loud and deafening in the small dining area. A young dark-haired girl, probably sixteen years old jumped from her chair so fast that the chair toppled to the floor behind her. She threw her napkin on the table, and it landed in her plate of half-eaten pancakes. I glanced around the room and saw everyone was watching the scene play out in front of us.
"Emily, you need to stop this..." I whispered to her. "What’s taking mom so long?" I wondered out loud, looking around the room. She shook her head furiously, keeping herself behind the ficus tree next to my table, her round eyes glued to small group. My mother slid into the seat across from me, her eyes on the scene before us.
"My God, that’s Andrew Sutton, the infamous voodoo priest! I knew it!" Mom whispered to us, nodding towards the tall grey-haired man. The young girl’s face had turned a crimson red as she glared at the man at the other end of the table.
"He tricked us! I should have known you two were scheming again. Family! What a laugh!" Her voice was high pitched, trembling with unshed tears. The man stared coldly at her for a second before ordering her to sit down. She refused. His voice thundered across the Café.
"Sit down, now Allie!" She flinched and picked her chair up off the floor to sit down. A young man seated next to her glared angrily around the table.
"What, are you all just going to take this lying down? Andrew did what he has always done! He was just going to leave us here! Did you think my mother would just marry you after what you did to my dad?" A willowy blonde woman, who sat next to him, did not answer her son. Her blue eyes raked the man sitting across from her in icy hatred.
"I expected as much. Your father didn’t want us anymore, Josh. He was going back to that...woman...Andrew saw to that." Her voice held no emotion, flat and cold. A beautiful, carved stony face. The man threw a glance at her that held impatient contempt. The other three people at the table seemed to sit in stunned silence, looking back and forth between them.
"I suppose your taking that bitch’s side..." the younger man said to his mother, his eyes on the other woman at the table. The other man, a debonair looking gentleman, with striking silver temples in coal black hair spoke up.
"Now, Josh, that isn’t so. We need to just hear Emma out." The woman next to him smiled sweetly at Josh from across the table, saying nothing as she reached up to pat the heavy upswept hairdo where the caramel blonde strands had begun to come loose. The boy next to her appeared to be the same age as Josh. He remained silent, but his thin mouth was drawn tight on his thin narrow, sunburned face. His green eyes hard as he stared at his mother. Emma waved a dismissing hand.
"I don’t need your help, Adam. You’re a lousy lawyer and a lousy husband."
Adam inhaled, the air hissing loudly through his teeth as his eyes narrowed at his wife. He shot a look at Josh, then Allie, his gaze softening slightly. He stood up, tapping the boy on his shoulder.
"Aaron." The boy rose at the same time Allie did. Charlene commanded her to sit down again. Allie ignored her as she bent to pick up her purse. Charlene was out of her chair attempting to shove her daughter into her’s before she could straighten up. She leapt back from Charlene, fear widening her eyes as she shoved her mother away. Everyone at the table except Emma was on their feet as Josh thrust himself between his sister and their mother. Allie leaned around her brother, shouting at Charlene.
"I hate you! If you ever touch me again, I will kill you!"
Charlene laughed mirthlessly, letting Josh’s arm go.
"Not now. Don’t worry, I will protect you, sis.’ He led his sister past us and out the door. When his wife refused to get up, Adam pulled his son towards to door.
"That bastard needs killing, Dad." Aaron threw a hate filled look at the tall man before sending a worried glance back at his mother who sat through it all as if nothing were happening. Emma looked coolly across the table at the other woman and raised her winged brows, in what appeared to me to be a challenging gesture. The other woman stood up and walked to where Andrew stood several feet away from where Emily and I sat. He reached out a hand to stop her from passing him.
"Charlene..." Charlene looked at him coldly, pulling her arm free. She leaned towards him and said in a steady clear voice.
"You touch my daughter again, and I will kill you myself!" She spun on her heel and walked out of the Café, her back ramrod straight. Emily was staring at the man with fascination as he stalked back to his table, waving a waitress over for more coffee as he sat back down.
"I hope they do kill him." Emily said, her whisper so low I barely caught it. If she heard, mom pretended otherwise. The man, Andrew Sutton sighed heavily and tossed his napkin on the table in front of him. The woman next to him placed a small hand on top of his and smiled up into his face. Andrew scowled and jerked his hand away as if burned. The woman frowned, pulling her hand back.
"Darling, they didn’t mean it... they were just upset and..."
"Leave me alone, Emma." Andrew interrupted anger clear in his voice. Emma sat back; her thin lips pulled tight across her uneven teeth. She drank her coffee, never taking her eyes off the man in front of her.