Release date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 143
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
CATastrophe in the Making
Friday, October 22
“Five days and counting,” I said to Tara O’Brian, my almost sister-in-law, best friend, and business partner who was standing next to me in the empty cat lounge of the newly rebuilt Coffee Cat Books, watching sheets of moisture fall from the dark and brooding sky into the harbor beyond the wharf. The room would usually be occupied by cats needing to be rehomed, but with all the rain, we’d decided to just leave them at the cat sanctuary where it was safe and dry.
“I guess we should have used some of the money from the insurance company to build an ark,” teased Willow Turner, our newest business partner. “Or if not an ark to escape this soggy nightmare, we should have postponed the book fair we spent most of our monthly advertising budget promoting.”
“Cait assured us that the rain would stop in plenty of time for the book fair,” my sister, Cassie, said as she glanced in my direction.
“Hey,” I defended. “The weathermen predicted a brief bout of rain, a day or two at the most, and then sunny skies the rest of the week. Can I help it if they were wrong?”
“I hate to throw in the towel, especially when the only towels at our disposal are already soggy and won’t help in this situation, but I think we should just close the store tomorrow,” Tara said. “We’re closed on Sunday and Monday anyway, so hopefully, it will have dried out enough by Tuesday that we can regroup and try to salvage the rest of the month.”
“I think closing tomorrow makes sense,” I agreed, resting my elbows against the windowsill. “Even if the rain stops, the whole island is so saturated that I doubt there will be a lot of people out and about window shopping.” I slightly turned so that I was facing the bookstore and coffee bar portion of the establishment. It had been a long road back, but after almost a year, the bookstore was finally up and running after having been destroyed in a bombing this past Christmas. “It really is a shame about the book fair. We did order a bunch of extra inventory. I guess we should reschedule.”
“Yeah.” Tara sighed. “We’ll wait until the rain stops and look at the calendar. Right now, I think I’m going to start closing things down. Sitting here in an empty store watching the endless rain is depressing.”
I got up and followed Tara into the main room of the enterprise. The place was decked out for autumn and the Halloween season, providing a cozy feel even with all the rain. Tara started breaking down the coffee bar, Willow began straightening bookshelves, and I headed toward the Halloween village. “I really like the haunted carnival you decided to add to the display,” I said as I turned off the extension cord that ran the Ferris wheel, haunted carousel, and pumpkin bumper cars.
“I thought it was a fun addition,” Tara responded. “In the past, I focused on the little neighborhood with the trick-or-treaters, but this year, I decided to expand, and not only did I recreate the little neighborhood, but I added the haunted carnival and the spooky graveyard.”
“I saw these really cute figures online,” Willow said as she walked over and stood next to me. “They were in the Department 56 catalog and basically featured kids along with a few dogs and cats dressed for a Halloween parade. I almost bought them to add to the village, but I wasn’t sure they’d fit. It does look as if we could simply add them to the leafy street already set up in the neighborhood.”
“I think that would be cute,” Tara said. “It’s probably too late to add them this year, but if you can still find them, we can buy them to add next year.”
“I’ll look and see if they’re still available.”
Tara finished washing the coffee pots and then started wiping down the counters while Willow closed out the cash register. I felt my decision to take a step back from the bookstore in order to divide my time between the bookstore and the newspaper was a good one since it gave me more time to spend with my husband, Cody West, who owned the newspaper, but sometimes I missed the ordinary moments such as this one spent with friends.
“Hey, guys,” Cassie, who’d been looking out the window while we talked, said from the side of the building overlooking the wharf. “Isn’t that the rescue barge?”
I walked over to Cassie, squinting to try to get a better view of the approaching vessel through the heavy rain. “I think it is.”
Tara joined us from the coffee bar. She agreed it appeared that the rescue barge had entered the harbor.
Cassie moved around to the window at the back of the building for a better look. “They’re towing a boat,” she added.
“It looks like a fishing boat,” I commented.
“I think it might be the Fish Stalker,” Willow provided after settling in next to us as we watched through the large picture window that overlooked the bay.
The Fish Stalker was a charter fishing boat owned by a man named Crawley Carson. Crawley had two crew members: Hammerhead Hitchcock and Meatball Michaelson. The fact that they’d needed rescuing wasn’t all that surprising. The Fish Stalker was functional, but it was older than the combined age of the three men who worked it. What was surprising was the fact that the boat had left the marina on a day like today.
Usually, the Fish Stalker docked in the Harthaven Marina, which was located on the western shore of Madrona Island north of the peninsula where Cody and I lived. A lot of the commercial fishermen in the area had slips there, whereas the marina just beyond the wharf where Coffee Cat Books was located tended to be populated by pleasure craft or sightseeing boats. I supposed the rescue barge might have chosen to tow the boat into the Pelican Bay Marina, which is where the ferry docked since there was more room to move around.
“The barge is pulling up to the ferry docking station,” Cassie said.
“I guess they’re going to offload the passengers there before mooring it,” Tara commented.
The four of us continued to watch as the rescue barge pulled up and its crew tied the Fish Stalker to the structure opposite to the side where the ferry usually docked. The ferry wasn’t running today because of the wind and rain, but it was protocol not to block its right of way. There didn’t appear to be anyone on board the Fish Stalker, which was odd, but if the vessel had been in need of a tow, perhaps the guys who’d been aboard had hitched a ride back to the island with someone else.
“What on earth do you think the guys were doing out there on a day like today?” Willow asked. “You know the sea isn’t safe when even the ferry isn’t running.”
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense that they would have gone out,” I agreed. “Crawley, Hammerhead, and Meatball aren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, and while they have been known to make reckless decisions from time to time, I would think even they would know to stay off the water on a day like this.”
“I suppose they’re regretting their decision now,” Cassie said. “That tow bill isn’t going to be cheap.” She walked away from the window and headed toward the hallway where we’d left our coats and personal belongings. “I have a shift at the bar.” She worked part-time at the bookstore and at O’Malley’s, the bar our brothers, Danny and Aiden, owned. “I should head over there. Unlike the bookstore, I predict the bar is going to be slammed.”
“I’m going to head over as well once we finish cleaning up here,” Tara informed her. “Danny worked late last night, so we didn’t really have a chance to talk, and I still need him to help me nail down a date for the wedding so I can book a venue.”
Tara and Danny had been doing the on-again/off-again thing for years, but this past summer, they’d decided to give all that back and forth “I love you, I hate you” stuff up and get hitched. I just hoped it worked out for both my brother and my best friend. They really did seem to love each other, but they also seemed to be the sort of couple with deep-seated issues to work through.
“I’ll call Cody and see what he has going on. If he’s free, we’ll join you.” Cody was mainly a one-man show at the newspaper he owned and kept an erratic schedule.
“I imagine he must have been busy this week with all the flooding and auto accidents,” Tara commented.
“It has been a busy week,” I agreed. “I know Cody’s been trying to post up-to-the-minute updates on road conditions, flooding, and even evacuations.”
“Evacuations?” Willow asked.
“I guess there have been high wave warnings on the north shore. A few of the homes in the area were put under a voluntary evacuation. The marina on the north shore is basically inaccessible as well. While the entire island has suffered from the endless rain, it’s the north shore that has suffered the worst wind and surge damage.”
“This has been the oddest year in terms of severe weather.” Tara sighed. “First, we had record-breaking heat over the summer, and now we’re having the wettest October on record, and we’re only halfway through the month. I hate to see what sort of winter we’re in for.”
“Let’s not even talk about winter just yet,” I suggested. “The way this year has gone so far, we’ll probably have record-breaking lows to round out our record-breaking high temps from July.”
Cassie pulled her rain slicker on and then stepped toward the door leading out to the dock. “It looks like Finn just pulled up and is heading toward the Fish Stalker.” Finn was both the island’s deputy and our oldest sister, Siobhan’s, husband. “It looks like he’s going aboard.”
“That’s odd,” I said, crossing the room and standing next to her. “I can’t see how a broken-down boat would be the sort of thing Finn would be interested in.”
“Maybe there’s more going on than we know about,” Tara suggested. “I guess it is sort of odd that the rescue barge brought the boat back, and we haven’t seen any sign of the guys.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “At first, I thought the guys hitched a ride, but it seems like whoever they hitched a ride with would have dropped them off.”
“You don’t think something happened to them, do you?” Willow asked.
“I hope not,” I responded. “All three men are knuckleheads, but they’re good guys. I’d hate to think they got into any real trouble out there.”
“Oh look, here comes Cody,” Cassie said.
I watched as my husband pulled up, parked his truck, and headed toward the boat Finn had just boarded.
“I’m going to find out what’s going on,” I said, pulling on my rain slicker. “If Finn and Cody both showed up, you know something’s up.”
As I neared the location where the boat had temporarily docked, a large orange cat went running past me. Where on earth did she come from? Cats hated rain. I couldn’t imagine any cat I knew willingly running around in the sort of downpour we’d been experiencing all day. As I approached the boat, I found Finn and Cody standing on the deck talking.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Cody turned and pulled me under the overhang where he and Finn were standing to protect themselves from the worst of the rain. “The Coast Guard received a call about a seemingly abandoned boat aimlessly floating around several miles out. They went to check it out and found the Fish Stalker.”
“Abandoned?” I asked.
Finn nodded. “The Coast Guard vessel was able to confirm that there were no crew members on board, so they called the rescue barge to bring it in. I boarded after they docked, hoping the guys were holed up below deck, but the only passenger I found was a big orange cat who took off running once I opened the door to the lower level.”
I felt my heart sink. “So, what do you think happened to the guys?”
Cody put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me in close, but he didn’t answer my question.
“You think they’re dead, don’t you?”
Finn’s lips tightened. “Maybe. I suppose it’s possible that they could have run into trouble, and someone came along and rescued them, but if that had been the case, why did they leave the boat? Even if the storm was too intense to tow the boat back, you’d think that if the guys had been rescued, they would have found a way to call the Coast Guard. Everyone knows the Coast Guard has vessels that can weather even the worst storm. The only explanation I can come up with as to why the guys would simply abandon the boat is if they’d all gone overboard.”
“But that makes no sense,” I argued. “The guys are all seasoned fishermen. Yes, it was a horrible idea to be out on a day like today, and if they had hit a bad patch, it’s even possible that one of the men could have been washed overboard, but all three?”
“Maybe one went over, and the other two tried to save him and got into trouble themselves,” Cody said.
“They would have used lines to tie themselves to the boat,” I argued. “Something else must have happened out there. I’m not sure what actually happened, but all three men being washed overboard doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t disagree,” Cody said.
“And what about the cat?” Finn added. “Where on earth did that cat come from? As far as I know, none of the men have a cat, and even if they did, they wouldn’t take it out for a cruise on a day like this.”
“That is odd,” I agreed.
“I’m going to hang out here with Finn while he looks around,” Cody informed me. “There’s no reason for you to get any wetter than you already are, so why don’t you head back to the bookstore, and I’ll join you when I’m done here.”
“Actually, we’re closing early. Cassie has a shift at the bar, so Tara and I decided to head over as well. Maybe you can just meet us there when you’re done here.”
Cody gave me a quick peck on the lips. “Okay, I’ll meet you there. It’s been a really long day. I could use a beer with friends to round things out.”
After arriving at the bar, Willow, Tara, and I grabbed a table large enough for Cody and two others to join us. Cassie was working, but she promised to pop back and forth between serving customers and chatting with us so she could keep up with the conversation.
“Have you heard from Cody?” Danny asked as he slid onto the vacant chair between Tara and me.
“No, not yet,” I answered. “I’m not sure what Finn and Cody hope to find, but if the guys were washed overboard during the storm, I doubt there’s much evidence to explain what happened.”
“It makes no sense the guys would even be out on a day like this,” Danny said as he slid an arm along the back of Tara’s chair. “Meatball can be impulsive, but Hammerhead has a good head on his shoulders, and Crawley has been around long enough to know that when the sea’s a-rollin’ the way it has been for the past few days, you safely stay in the harbor.”
“Maybe someone made Crawley an offer that was too good to pass up,” Cassie said after heading over to listen in. “I can’t think why anyone would want to go out on a day like this, but I can see Crawley taking a chance for the right amount of cash.”
“I don’t disagree with that, but if the boat left the marina with passengers, where are they?” Danny asked.
Cassie admitted that he had a point and that it was unlikely there had been passengers aboard when whatever happened occurred unless both the crew and passengers disappeared into thin air.
“Have you talked to Siobhan?” Danny asked about our oldest sister, who, as Finn’s wife, oftentimes knew the details of whatever was going on before any of us did.
“She said she didn’t know anything. She thought about coming over to the bar, but since she’s nine months pregnant and it’s raining cats and dogs, I convinced her to stay home where it was safe and dry. She agreed to call me if she heard anything.” I took a sip of my beer. “I keep hoping Cody will call.”
“Crawley must have been into something illegal,” Danny said. “It’s the only thing that even sort of makes sense. He wouldn’t risk his boat and crew for a simple fishing charter. Big bucks have to have been involved, and big bucks usually equate to illegal activity.”
“Like what?” Tara asked.
“Drug running,” Cassie joined in. “You know it goes on more than any of us know with international waters being so close.”
Cassie was right. Canada was a short boat ride away, and that meant international waters were close by as well.
“Was Crawley into drugs?” Willow asked.
Danny shrugged. “Crawley was into making a quick buck. If the way to make that buck was drugs, he’d probably say yes if approached to smuggle the darn things.”
“I gotta go,” Cassie said, glancing behind her. “Aiden is waving at me from the bar. I’m sure my orders are stacking up. If you hear from Finn or Cody, wave me over. I’m dying to know what’s going on.”
Tara and I promised to do that. Willow decided she should get home to her husband and her son, and Danny decided to head back and help Aiden, leaving Tara and me alone at the table.
“I guess the wedding date conversation will need to wait,” Tara said. “I should have anticipated that it would be busy, and Danny would need to help Aiden with the customers.”
“I’m kind of surprised you still don’t have a date,” I said, admittedly worried that the lack of having a date meant a lack of commitment on Danny’s part.
“When we first decided to make it legal last July, Danny and I talked about a quickie ceremony at the justice of the peace. We were going to do it right away and had even talked about the following weekend, but then your mother found out about our plans, and it became apparent that a quickie wedding wasn’t going to do. We then discussed something somewhat larger in the early fall. Maybe September, but Michael and Maggie were in the middle of their move back to Madrona Island in September, and the bookstore was set to reopen that month as well, so it just didn’t seem the best time to try to plan a wedding. Then we discussed doing the wedding in November, but not only did you and Cody have a Thanksgiving wedding, but Aisling is due in November.” Tara referred to Finn’s and Siobhan’s daughter, who was due in just a little more than two weeks. “Again, the month just didn’t feel right. I considered a Christmas wedding, but I think that might be too much. December is one of our busiest times at the bookstore. And that brings us to January or maybe February.” Tara looked me in the eye. “What do you think?”
“I think you and Danny should have the type of wedding you want to have when you want to have it. I let the whole wedding planning thing overwhelm me to the point that I almost didn’t go through with it. The important element here isn’t the ceremony, the dress, the date, or the reception; it’s your commitment to each other and the family you plan to build. If I know my brother, and I do, he’s not going to want anything big and fancy. To tell you the truth, I worry he’ll get cold feet like I did if the whole thing gets too complicated. You initially planned to elope, but then you changed your plans because of my mother. If you both want to do something simple, then do it and don’t worry about anyone else.”
Tara hugged me. “Thanks, Cait. I guess I needed to hear that.”
Cody showed up a short time later, looking like a drowned rat. The poor guy looked exhausted. Initially, he’d been trying to cover the news and be around for Mr. Parsons, the elderly man Cody and I live with, but when the one-day rainstorm turned out to be five days and counting, Cody decided to ask Mr. Parsons’s good friends, Banjo and Summer, to come and stay with him. They lived in a shack on the beach, so having a solid roof over their heads worked out better for them as well.
“So, what do we know?” I asked after Cody ordered a beer and sat down on the stool next to me.
“Not a lot. Finn and I looked around, but we didn’t find anything that would definitively explain why Crawley and the guys would take the Fish Stalker out in a storm like this. Finn plans to make a few calls and then head over to Crawley’s house to confirm he isn’t there. We discussed the fact that it was possible that someone stole the boat from the harbor, and Crawley and the guys hadn’t actually gone out.”
“Maybe we should go with him,” I suggested.
“Go with him? Why?” Cody asked.
I shrugged. “There might be a story to be had. You never know what we might stumble across. Besides, we can back Finn up. Just in case.”
“Okay,” Cody said. “I’ll call him and let him know to swing by the bar and pick us up.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...