I was walking along the bay, searching for serenity, when the first body was discovered.
It was a cold December day—especially for North Florida, and the breeze blowing in off St. Ann’s Bay stung my face and brought tears to my eyes. The sun was out, and though it was bright enough to make me squint, the day was dull and had a grayish quality I associated with the muted colorlessness of winter.
Taking a break from the demanding duties of prison chaplaincy at a maximum security facility, I had come to the small coastal town of Bridgeport following the second breakup of my marriage, which had come on the heels of two homicide investigations that had taken more out of me than I had realized.
Raised in a law-enforcement household and working as a cop to pay for seminary, I found myself continually getting involved in investigations.
Though chaplaincy was draining enough, it was dealing with crime day after day as an investigator that had left me depleted and depressed, unable to deal with the second death of my marriage.
I had been fighting a losing battle against a powerful undertow, but rather than drown I had washed up on the shores of St. Ann’s Abbey, a secluded retreat center among the ubiquitous slash pines of the Florida Panhandle.
Now, it was no longer just my pride or career or even my marriage, but my very soul I was trying to save.
A crime scene was the last place I needed to go, but from the moment I saw the flashing lights near the marina, I found myself moving toward them—irresistibly drawn, like an addict, to that which threatened to destroy me.
L. L. Ward
Friday, July 8—Day 1
“Flinch, just once, you are gone,” the raspy voice declared into Jesse’s left ear, jolting him from good sleep; warm breath brushing the back of his neck, goose bumps down his spine. Sneaking a glimpse, Jesse slowly turned his eyes to the left.
“Ah, ah…eyes forward, let’s settle some business. Understand?” Jesse slowly nodded, changing the direction of his gaze.
“Better. Now, you are aware a pistol barrel rests upon your temple, correct?”
Jesse nodded, a sweat bead trickles down his forehead.
The intruder grinned. “No need for nervous, my young friend. You must learn to relax. Now, back to our business. You are traveling alone, yes?” Jesse nodded. “Grand. Are you currently sought after by the law?” The cowboy shook his head.
“Magnificent. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly.” Jesse hesitated, unsure what this strange character wanted from him.
“Mister, do I know y—”
“Go on,” the intruder interrupted, nudging him.
Now unsure why, the bewildered cowboy did as he was told. Jesse drew a long, deep breath, slowly letting it out.
“Wonderful. Feel better?” Jesse nodded in surprise. The intruder let out a laugh. “Mmm, amazing how a breath of fresh air revives one’s senses…simply exhaling expels debilitating tensions.”
This threw Jesse for a loop. Talk of this nature didn’t surface much in these parts. This much was clear to the cowboy: A hardened criminal this man wasn’t. Jesse was a yup and nope kind of man, not one to chew on his words. “Mister, state your business or shoot me. I’m beat and need sleep. I’m in no mood to be fooled with.”
More amused, the intruder let out a strange bellow of laughter, slightly easing grip on Jesse’s head, not pressure to his temple. “Commendable character. I like you, my friend. Feel I’m in the presence of my Western self.”
“Now, now. So, have you eaten these last few weeks, my boy?”
“Yes I have!”
“No offense, it does appear you may have missed one or two…what is your phrase? Chow calls. I could remedy that. If you would be kind enough to share your fire, I’d gladly repay your generosity by sharing this fine rabbit I had the good fortune of crossing paths with. What do you say?”
“Fair ‘nuff, get offa me!”
Hugo Duchamp lowered his foot onto the first step and realised he could go no further. Though he deplored the use of the word ‘literally’ he felt for the first time in his life it was quite appropriate. He was literally frozen to the spot. From behind him he heard an irritated ‘tut’, and then another. Still, despite his own silent cursing and chastising himself, he was unable to move his feet in a forward motion and despite his best intentions, he was, at that point, not very hopeful of being able to step forward anytime soon. Yes, he appeared to be literally stuck. He inhaled deeply, the intoxicating smells caused him to start, the air mixed with hundreds of different scents flowed around his body, filling his lungs and causing him to hold his breath.
‘Excusez-moi monsieur, je suis pressé’ came the first voice behind him. He glanced over his shoulder at a middle age grand-dame. Her lips were pinched tight and her eyes had narrowed into two pins encased in a harsh kohl outline. He opened his mouth poised to offer some response, but as it appeared that his day was now to be a combination of disappointment in himself and blind panic not even a low groan escaped his dry throat. How could he explain it to the coiffured lady when he could not explain it to himself. An English man behind her had the bright idea of nudging her with his shoulder hoping for a domino effect that would surely push Hugo onto the platform. The grand-dame spun on her heels and fixed
“This is so exciting,” Nora exclaimed, as she pulled her jacket coat tight around herself. “A real Viking Festival!”
“I’d say it’s a pretty major deal,” Tina Scott said. “The committee has been trying to make it happen three years in a row, but something always came up.”
Nora had set up her stall early that morning, by the Crystal Lake’s meadow, where the fair was scheduled. She’d worked hard the week before, making sausages and kebabs from fresh ground meat and spices, preparing the batter for her crepes, and learning to make authentic Lefse–traditional soft Norwegian flatbread made with leftover potatoes, flour, butter, and cream.
Now, her stall was among the first ones up, a festive purple, with silver ribbons spiraling up its poles, and a large placard displaying photos of the goods.
“Mmm,” Tina took a deep sniff and smacked her lips appreciatively. “I tell you, Nora, you can chuck my paycheck and just start paying me in food. These Kebabs smell divine. It’s like my nose has found a new reason to live. I’m trying to tear myself away from it all, and I just get drawn to it.”
Nora laughed. Tina’s words made her think of old-timey cartoons, the black and white kind, where a character wandering around the street would suddenly inhale a fluffy white cloud, and then get pulled by his nose to drool over the display of a bakery or restaurant.
“You’ve been a great help, Tina. I would never have been able to set up the stall without you. I might not even have participated if you hadn’t pushed me to,” Nora smiled up appreciatively at her new friend.
“Oh. It was the least I could do. To be honest, I felt genuinely bad about the way some of us treated you when… when the whole Raquel thing happened.”
Joe B Parr
The gun in his hand was still warm, his feet stood in a pool of blood that had expanded outward from under the body. His face reflected in its smooth surface, distorted, almost unrecognizable.
His nose filled with the copper scent. The room swirled and shadows danced as his mind consumed the scene around him. His pulse pounded in his ears as he looked down at the man he hated, the vacant eyes, the open mouth, the gaping wound in the middle of the chest.
For a moment, he was calm as he thought about the carnage this man had inflicted.
You got what you deserved, bastard.
The satisfied smile evaporated as the sound of sirens growing louder jerked his head up. He froze in place and stared at the inside of the front door willing the sound to fade. Tires breaking hard on the pavement dashed those hopes. His heart rate jumped and his chest tightened. As if some revelation was hidden just out of sight, he looked frantically around the room. He found none, only metal shelves crowded with industrial parts, boxes and junk.
Car doors slammed, footsteps and voices filled the air outside. He saw shadows stretch across the dust covered blinds.
What do I do? They won’t understand. I have to get out!
He breathed so hard that when he looked at the gun in his hand, his eyes could barely focus. On autopilot, his hand shoved it in the pocket of his hoodie. He turned and ran for the back door. Barely able to control his movements, his muscles twitched as he stumbled over a step and banged into a shelf. Junk flew in all directions and metal crashed to the ground, tripping him down the short hall.
“It’s here!” Maddy squealed, jumping up and down.
In her hands, she was clutching a large brown package stamped with signs from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. “This is it, Nay-Nay! We’re really doing this!”
Nora gave a squeal of delight–the kind of squeal a girl only makes with her best friend. The kind of squeal you give when the dream you’ve been working at steadily for ten years is finally coming real. She grabbed her best friend and danced around with her, the two of them laughing and talking in short, frequently interrupted sentences.
Raquel Madden, dressed in a baggy red sweater with dark navy tights, her hair pulled up in a messy bun, still managed to look every bit the rockstar that she secretly thought she’d one day become. She finally dropped the package on the carpet and sat down in a yoga pose. Nora, dressed casually in a boat necked t-shirt and jeans, dropped down beside her.
“Ready?” Raquel asked. She rubbed her hands together. “Ready for the beginning of the rest of our lives?”
“You sound like you’re proposing to me, you know,” Nora laughed.
“Marriages aren’t always forever,” Raquel laughed, “This will be.”
“Let’s give it a few years first,” Nora said, but there was a huge smile plastered on her face. At this moment, she felt invincible. How could she not? It was finally all coming together–the bank loans, the delays, the messy construction work, the necessary permits–she and Raquel had climbed over every hurdle together.