No Safe Harbor: A novel in the making

A murder mystery in the making, released one chapter at a time.

Ned Hickson

You’re invited to join me each week on my latest writing journey…

After 23 years as a journalist, 16 years as a syndicated columnist and now semi-retired and owner of Easy Writer Editing Services, I’m writing my third novel. I like to practice what I preach. I tell authors it’s important to have a regular writing routine and not to fear creating less-than-perfect work; you can write crap as long as you edit great.

This is an exercise in holding myself accountable to the advice I give to authors. I’m publishing this draft of my novel — in weekly installments as I write it — for anyone who wants to read it. Please feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, impressions, critique and questions.

Oh, and kudos are acceptable, too.

Now, let’s get started… shall we?

____________________________________________

Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

Part One

The absent

are never without fault.

Nor the present without excuse.

  — B. Franklin

Chapter One

As flashing red and blue erupted across Lynda Bettington’s rear window, her panic turned to desperation. Dampness just short of rainfall blanketed thin layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. Hands trembling, she fought to hold the road as the balding tires on her rusted Dodge squealed through fishtails over the slick streets. She pressed the accelerator closer to the mat anyway, racing onto Highway 99 toward Lake Washington. She knew she’d never outrun them — but if she could make it there, the roads were dark with streets spurring off every few blocks. 

Losing them was her only real chance.

In the back seat, suitcases bounced and shifted, slamming against the rear doors as the car careened onto another pitted avenue along one of Seattle’s many industrial districts. The strobing police lights reflected in the rearview mirror grew wider across her face as the cruiser steadily closed the gap. Bettington spun the wheel into a hard turn, causing the car to pinball off of a concrete barrier before she righted it and accelerated through pale lamplight into a maze of narrow back alleyways. Glancing quickly into the rearview, she saw only darkness sliced by yellowy streams of alley lights. A shallow breath of relief escaped her as she turned her eyes back to the alleyway.

“Shit!”

A blue metal dumpster appeared in her high beams, straddling the middle of the pavement. Her foot mashed the brake peddle as she cranked the steering wheel, causing the car to swerve uncontrollably. The Dodge’s back fender rebounded off the heavy 2-yard dumpster, the impact echoing between the buildings and sending a momentary shower of sparks into the air. Bettington fought to straighten her trajectory but the car hydroplaned, pinwheeling onto the roadway as the cruiser approached a short distance away. Her grip locked onto the steering wheel. For an instant, red and blue flashing seemed to be all around her — until an explosion of glass and buckling metal replaced all thoughts of color.

The police car swerved to an angled stop.

The emergency lights went dark, its high beams spilling over the mangled Dodge.

Officer Dan Perkins sat forward and crossed his arms over the steering wheel. Next to him, his partner Jerome Taylor tossed aside his seatbelt and cracked the passenger door, planting his foot on the road. 

He remained seated, staring at the wreck.

The rear of the Dodge lay crumpled against a concrete divider, leaving the front portion jutting onto the left side of the road. From their vantage point, the patrolmen could see into the front seat where suitcases had toppled, one breaking through the glass. The wipers aimlessly swept back and forth, skittering over the cracked windshield and slapping against a corner of the suitcase. They watched Bettington slowly emerge from the car and fall palms-first to the pavement. Shaking, she crawled over the oily blacktop, swaying in and out of consciousness, gazing into the high beams through blood-streaked blond hair.

Perkins pursed his lips, paused for a moment, then loudly exhaled as he reached past Taylor and into the glove compartment for a pair of Latex gloves. “As of now, we’re in pursuit of a yellow Dodge Aries, plate number LPQ-182,” he instructed. “Call it in.” 

He stepped from the cruiser and paused to looked down the roadway in both directions before walking to the rear of the vehicle and unlocking the trunk. Reaching inside, Perkins removed a waist pouch wedged beneath the spare tire. He unzipped it and removed a small revolver along with two sandwich bags filled with white powder.

“This is six-zero-eight,” Taylor began reporting from inside the patrol car. “We’re in pursuit of a yellow Dodge Aries, plate number alpha, Lincoln, Quebec, zero…”

Bracing herself against the fender, Bettington struggled to remain on all fours as a dark figure approached from the light. She thought there was something shiny in the silhouette’s hand, but her vision was cloudy. Her bangs and eyelashes were sticky. The world was at angles. A siren was wailing.

Perkins approached Bettington’s huddled form. He scanned the distance again and saw the road was dark in all directions. Placing his foot against her shoulder, he shoved her off balance.

“…Suspect is heading onto Route 99. Wait, we’ve entered an alley,” Taylor reported from the patrol car. His tone then became dramatic. “They’ve lost control. Dispatch EMS. They’ve hit a concrete barrier.” 

He flipped off the siren as Perkins waved Taylor out of the patrol car, mic still in hand. 

Slipping the .38 into her palm, Perkins tightened his grip over Bettington’s trigger finger then fired a shot through the open driver-side door.

“Shots fired!” Taylor yelled into the mic, dropping it as a second bullet pierced the windshield.

Perkins checked Bettington’s hand to make sure the revolver was secure. “You’re a real desperado,” he said, peeling off his rubber gloves and shoving them beneath his slacks. He walked away quickly, letting her arm fall to the ground.

Bettington’s ears held the thunder of gunshots as she watched the figure fade into the lights, her hand weighted down by the revolver. Gazing past the barrel, she could make out the white door of the police car etched with black letters. Above it, someone was positioning themselves, arms extended over the door frame.

A loud pop, and Bettington’s head jerked upward, knocked into the opposite direction before dropping back onto the asphalt with a fleshy thud. Though her eyes no longer faced the patrol car, the words they read held her final thought.

To Protect and Serve.

Perkins holstered his pistol. “How long until the medics get here?”

Taylor picked up the mic from the ground and tossed it back into the front seat. “Five, maybe eight minutes.”

Perkins nodded as he walked back to the trunk and slid the waist pouch beneath the spare tire. “I.A. is going to crawl up our asses. Probably assign a homicide detective,” he said, closing the trunk. “They’ll both ask questions and scratch themselves a while, but we’ll get a clean shoot. Self-defense.”

“What about the gun?”

“Took it from some shit-head last month. He even had the numbers filed off already. It’s probably changed hands fifty times.”

“And the motive?” asked Taylor. 

“Heroin,” Perkins answered. “We’re just about to find some on the floorboard.”

* * * * * * * * 

Within ferry boat distance of Seattle on Puget Sound were Vashon and Bainbridge islands. While Bainbridge was reserved primarily for wealthy hermits, Vashon had its own cultural boundaries. At the northern tip was Vashon Heights, featuring condominiums, gated subdivisions and chic eateries serving empty plates at full prices. Complete with a ferry to Seattle every thirty minutes, the Heights was home to power players needing to be within reach of their power sources in Seattle and Tacoma.

Claiming the southern tip of the island was Magnolia Beach Bay, a small port community skirting the thin waterway of Colvos Passage where, tucked within its splintery docks and rusting tie posts were a number of fishing boats, bait shops and a gathering spot known as Sam’s Chowder Nook. Serving the best chowder around The Sound, The Nook was chic — Magnolia style. Resting along the far end of the wharf was Colvos Cove, a quiet inlet of fisherman-owned houseboats littered with as much tackle as empty beer cans.

Among them was one neatly kept vessel that was home to Shane McPearson.

A private investigator, Shane had begrudgingly become an early riser out of necessity rather than choice after moving to the cove. He’d made that realization within the first week. Ben Spears owned the houseboat next to him, and the old fisherman’s day always started with a piss over the stern at sunrise. Soon, cursing and flatulence eased into the morning like crickets at nightfall.

Ben, along with Flip Marlo, would join the other boat captains on the dock before grumbling and shuffling their way to The Nook with empty coffee mugs. Sam, the owner, described it to Shane as her ritual of “giving alms to the poor.”

After a few steaming cups and a quick check over the rigging, Ben would lead the procession of trawlers into Colvos Passage, stirring the quiet waters into a series of wakes that rocked the bow of Shane’s houseboat.

“That’s why they call them ‘wakes,’” Sam told Shane that first week.

This morning sequence was repeated each morning, along with a Thermos of hot coffee brought by Sam after the wharf had cleared. 

Shane was wriggling into a pair of boots when he spotted her traversing a plank onto the dock, this morning’s Thermos in hand.

“Hey Sailor,” she said, hopping onto the rear deck. “They almost sucked it dry but I saved a bit.”

Shane pulled the jeans down over his boots and held out a mug. “Modern chivalry,” he said, watching the steaming black liquid fill his cup.

“Hmmm, creased pant legs. Must be official business,” said Sam.

Shane nodded. “City hall. I need some information from public records. They always treat me nice when they know I dressed up.”

The two of them reclined in matching oak barrel chairs, watching the sun edge across the bay while sharing a few moments of simplicity before rousing a day of complications. With or without words, they enjoyed each other’s company and had forged a relationship that was uniquely… confusing to both.

Within days of his arrival in Magnolia Bay, Shane had been declared “okay” by Sam and the two rapidly became friends. But from the beginning, Sam observed the way he sidestepped his past, avoiding it like a minefield strung with emotional tripwire. The one — and only — time she pressed him occurred on the same spot while sitting in the same oak barrel chairs a couple of months into their friendship. After a few beers had relaxed them one night, she tried opening the door to his past.

“This isn’t a fishing boat,” he’d said. “Please don’t cast any lines.”

She never pressed him again. It was clear he was a man back to square one with his life. At the time, he was new to investigation and business in general — couldn’t afford an office, worked through pay phones and a cheap pager — yet he exuded a confidence and determination that she admired.

And also found herself immediately attracted to.

For the last year, she had become part of Shane’s business, keeping track of his books and accounting, as well as taking messages through a separate line at the restaurant. Somewhere along the way, they had also become occasional lovers — something that neither of them acknowledged beyond morning-after conversations that still included certain boundaries for Shane.

He was never rude, always sensitive in his request to avoid discussing the past. But it bothered her that the door to that conversation remained as tightly sealed now as the day he’d arrived.

With a subconscious shrug, Sam shook away those thoughts and offered more coffee and a smile before tightening the lid on the Thermos. “When are you heading in?”

“I’m going to catch the 7 o’clock ferry from the Heights so I can beat traffic downtown. Maybe kill some time in Lincoln Park until nine.” He took a sip. “Feed some donuts to the ducks or something, anything to stay out of that mess.”

“You wanna have dinner tonight?” Sam asked.

“Who’s cooking?”

“You are — it’s your turn.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, and finished the last of his coffee. “Remember the cioppino? That was me. Nice try though.”

“Okay, it’s my turn.” Sam thought a moment, then offered “How about chowder?”

“Seriously? I eat so much chowder I shit clams.” Shane set the mug in the small deck sink and reached for a tan, canvas jacket. “You think on it. Come up with something good and we’ll talk dinner.”

After checking for his keys and pager, Shane climbed onto the dock. “Thanks for the coffee. You’re the best.”

He crossed the gravel parking lot and climbed into the driver’s seat of a slightly dented — but otherwise immaculate — 1981 Jeep Wrangler.

“How about lasagna!” Sam yelled from the houseboat.

“Now you’re talkin’!” he yelled back, then twisted the ignition, pumped the engine to life and headed to catch the 7 a.m. ferry to Seattle’s waterfront.

* * * * * * * * 

Shane sat among the Beamers and fancy town cars being freighted across Puget Sound, straddling the hood of his much-less-fancy Wrangler. All around him from behind tinted windows, wealthy men and women were using mobile phones and car phones, making deals, planning mergers and exchanging Poupon while Shane masterminded a way to hold the Metro section of the Seattle Times in the open breeze. The wind was racing through The Sound as gulls squawked overhead and targeted the nice, shiny cars.

He loved taking the ferry and seeing those movers and shakers barricaded in their vehicles, tethered to their offices and getting crapped on. To him, they all shared a common debt: The price one pays for grabbing — and keeping — wealth. His own decisions earlier in life, mostly mistakes, had set a different course for him. And while that course had brought him to a very dark place, he had come out of it on his own terms, with the fine print of those terms leaving him with absolutely nothing. But it was “nothing” that allowed him to truly and completely start his life over again. Though he didn’t have a lot, what he did have was real, with no strings, no guilt and no hidden price tag.

Folding the paper, he caught sight of a police-involved shooting and skimmed the article: High-speed chase. Unidentified woman. A shootout and drugs. Justifiable homicide. Both officers expected to be cleared.

Chalk one up for the good guys, he thought.

He had no idea how wrong he was.

But he would.

Before Ben Spears would take his next morning piss over the stern.

Chapter Two

Seven hours had passed since an officer-involved shooting dragged Roy Hollins from his bed a little after midnight. He had driven up the mid-section of Seattle to the seedy West Industrial District along Highway 99, where “Circus of the Stars” was well underway when he’d arrived. Acting as ringmaster had been Capt. Bill Whitmore, shining the spotlight on the appropriate stages while amazing feats of speculation drew gasps from the crowd. Two clowns — one from homicide and the other from Internal Affairs — separately questioned the two patrolmen involved in the incident.

In all the hoopla, the main event was practically forgotten.

Lynda Bettington was still lying under a damp canvas blanket when Hollins began his initial walkthrough of the crime scene. As lead crime scene technician, he’d been with the department for sixteen years, the last ten of which he’d spent picking through crime scenes. He still attended every seminar he could and lectured at a few of his own. Police shootings always required his presence. He was thorough, unblinking and unbiased in his investigations.

Except for Chief Hammond and Internal Affairs, he answered to very few.

Every movement over a crime scene was deliberate. In his eyes, the area was a collection of evidence, each with an expiration date; items about to expire received first priority. He immediately bagged the victim’s hands and swabbed those of the two officers. The revolver was taken from the victim and placed in a brown paper sack. Both 9mm Glocks and their clips were collected from the patrolmen and bagged. A preliminary tape lift was done over the body to gather any fiber or hair on the victim’s clothes, followed by a lift from the car seats. Shell casings were tweezed into gauze and sealed in plastic. Video was shot and photos taken, recording the scene and his observations.

A little over seven hours ago, Hollins returned to the lab and began the real work: figuring out what it all meant. He finished up his last few tests slowly shaking his head.

He didn’t like what he was seeing — or in some cases, what he wasn’t seeing.

A revolver always blew primer residue back over the hands when being fired. Only a faint trace amount of blowback was found on Bettington. He even checked the swabs taken between her fingers and found practically nothing. It was as if her hand was covered during the exchange of gunfire. While it was possible the damp weather might’ve destroyed some of the residue, it wouldn’t have washed away almost every trace. Especially since her body had been covered and he’d made sure to bag the hands upon arrival.

Also, along with the finger prints, he’d found some kind of talc or baby powder on the grip of Perkins’ firearm — hands, too. And though both his and Taylor’s stories matched, the trajectory of things didn’t fit their account of the incident.

Lynda Bettington was on her side when Perkins’ bullet entered her brain. He was almost certain of it; Perkins’ version had her firing over the hood.

This all only added up to speculation, however. None of these things were conclusive of anything. Tomorrow, he’d perform a rod test with the M.E. to check the exact pathway of the slug to chart precisely where it entered and exited. He would also recommend an acid test to restore the serial number on the revolver.

All of this would be in his report.

Russ Braden knocked, entering the lab before Hollins could answer. “Morning, Roy. How’re things going?” he asked, closing the door behind him.

It took a beat for Hollins to respond.

He knew someone from Internal Affairs would come calling. He expected Bill Parnelle since he had been at the crime scene interviewing the two patrolmen. Having the captain of I.A. show up instead was more than unusual; it was unheard of.

“Almost done,” Hollins managed. “Just another hour or so. I still need to type it all up and have someone file the property records.”

“You must’ve worked straight through, huh Roy?” 

“Started a little after 1 a.m.,” Hollins answered, starting to feel more curious than surprised. “Nice thing about working at that hour is fewer butts in the way.”

Braden joined him at the table, arms crossed. “What did you find?”

Hollins reached for his notes and flipped through them, recapping them to emphasize his findings. “Obviously, it’s too early in the process to confirm any suspicions, but I think – ”

Braden slowly, deliberately removed the legal pad from from Hollins’ grasp, stopping the seasoned crime tech in mid sentence. Laying the pad on the table, Braden guarded it beneath a thick forearm. 

“Roy, we need to talk,” he began, then waved it away. “Actually, I’ll talk. You listen.”

Hollins absently eased onto a tall metal stool, its wheels squeaking loudly across the linoleum as he pulled it under him.

“Roy, no one sees this report. As soon as it’s finished, bring it to me. No copies. No supplemental reports. No memos. Everything in one file, in my office, in one hour.” 

Hollins nodded, brows furrowed above a questioning gaze. “What about Chief Hammond? He’ll want a copy. So will detective Parnelle. I can’t just — ”

Braden firmly tapped the notepad. “No one sees this report but me. Do you understand?”

It wasn’t a question.

“Yes… sure. But I have to file something.” 

“And you will. Something thorough, by the book…”

He handed notepad back to Hollins with a thin smile. “…And squeaky clean.”

Hollins slowly took his notes.

Braden read the expression on Hollins’ face and gave his shoulder a firm pat. “It’s in our hands now, Roy. Just finish up and I’ll see you in an hour.” He turned to leave, then paused at the door before opening it. “I’m sure I don’t need to say it but I’m going to anyway: this conversation stays between us. In fact, it never happened.”

**********

The Vashon Ferry airhorn blasted into the crisp morning air, echoing against the waterfront that hugged 98th Street near Lincoln Park. Shane folded the newspaper and tossed it into the front seat of his Wrangler as the ferry began its approach. The 20-minute crossing left him plenty of time to grab fresh-baked crullers and some more coffee from Jensen’s Donuts off Henderson Street before heading to the park. There, he could kill time feeding the ducks before the records office opened at 9 a.m.

The ferry emptied quickly, with commuters on foot and in cars spilling onto Fauntleroy Way. Traffic was already getting thick in both directions as Shane headed north for a quick stop at Jensen’s before making his way to Lincoln Park, leaving him about an hour before the King County Recorder’s Office flipped over its sign to “open.” He found an empty picnic table and opened the pink and white paper sack, lifting out a chocolate-frosted cruller and dipping it into black coffee. Straddling the wooden bench seat, he watched as a dozen Mallards waddled toward him, heads bobbing, looking for a handout. Reaching back into the sack, he grabbed a handful of donut holes he’d purchased for the ducks and tossed them into the grass. 

He envisioned the pandemonium downtown as thousands of office-bound commuters coursed through the arteries leading to the heart of Seattle. He was glad to be in the park, sipping coffee, feeding himself and the ducks. Once the dust settled, he’d scoot into the records office and hopefully get copies of good news for his client. Though things could go either way, Shane decided against a back-up plan for bad news; he would deal with that if necessary.

It wasn’t until hearing the cough that he noticed a small boy had seated himself several yards away in the grass. Dressed in a soiled windbreaker with matching sweatpants, he broke eye contact with everything but the donuts. Shane gave a quick glance around looking for a parent or older sibling.

No one but a few joggers and a guy on rollerblades who looked as if he’d teleported in from the 1970s. On the hill behind him was a set of brick public restrooms. 

Whoever was with the kid must be there, he thought.

A little perturbed, Shane decided to keep an eye on him until someone returned. With the boy’s eye line still locked onto the sack of donuts, Shane’s first instinct was to offer one to him. But he hesitated; he could see himself being arrested as a park pervert, “enticing young victims with donuts, huh? Cuff him!”

No thanks.

The boy gazed at the donut holes, then back over to the sack on the tabletop, straining to see without being seen.

Shane looked around again.

Still nobody.

“Screw it,” he mumbled to himself and held out a donut. “Hey kid, you want one? I’m getting full.”

The boy appeared startled, then answered, “I’m not supposed to.” Then, as an afterthought, “My mom said.”

So, it was Mom up there, Shane concluded. “I tell you what. Are you a good catch?”

The boy hesitated. “Mostly.”

“Good. I’ll toss one to you. But you have to be quick. These ducks show no mercy,” Shane said. “And if your mom gets mad, I’ll take the heat.”

And I’ll grill her for leaving you here alone in the first place, he thought to himself.

“Well… I guess so.” The boy climbed to his feet, ready to catch.

Shane folded the sack closed over the remaining donut holes and underhanded it. The boy caught it in his chest and immediately ripped the sack open, shoving donut holes into his mouth one after the other, hardly pausing to breathe. Shane guessed the child to be around seven or eight. His blond hair was matted from the dampness, sweat or both. His ruddy cheeks offset a fair complexion, suggesting he’d been there for a while.

“How long have you been here, kid?”

“I don’t know,” the boy answered between gulps. “I’m waiting for my mom. She’s coming back for me.”

“When?” asked Shane, keeping his questions short, encouraging the boy to carry the bulk of the conversation.

“I don’t know. Pretty soon I guess.”

“Where is she?”

The boy shrugged.

Shane had had enough. It’s one thing to leave a child alone for a few minutes while you take a leak. It’s another thing to leave them with no idea of where you’re going or for how long.

“I’m coming over there and we’re going to find your mom,” Shane said.

In the middle of the park, the boy looked especially small and vulnerable. He could be a lunatic cuddling up to this child for the price of a few donuts. The more he thought about it, the madder he became. Damned if he wasn’t going to return this boy without giving the mom a piece of his mind.

“My name is Shane,” he told the boy, coming to a stop a few feet away, allowing some space between them. “What’s your name?” 

The boy thought a moment, eyes darting back and forth, then up to Shane. 

“Jacob,” he answered, his voice just above a whisper. He cleared his thought and repeated it. “My name is Jacob.”

“Jacob what?” Shane asked.

The boy clasped his hands together against his chest, uncertain, rocking back and forth on his heels. “I shouldn’t tell you that.”

“You’re a smart kid, Jacob.”

Shane surveyed the area, looking for the mother.

Only the rollerblader again, performing crossovers as he made another loop.

“I have an idea…” Shane began. As he spoke, Jacob avoided eye contact, looking around nervously. It wasn’t until the term “police officer” was mentioned that his eyes darted upward, meeting Shane’s. It was then that Jacob broke into hysterics in the middle of Lincoln Park — rousing the day’s complications just after 8 a.m.

**********

A patrolman escorted Richard Bettington down the hallway of the King County Medical Examiner’s building and through a set of double doors lined with plastic. There was a distinct temperature drop; a wall of cold separating the living and the dead. Det. Parnelle and the medical examiner greeted him with somber, icy handshakes. Behind them were rows of steel drawers making a wall resembling a human filing cabinet, each with a numbered index card.

One of them matched the form on the examiner’s clipboard.

After a brief exchange, they moved to a drawer that wobbled as it rolled out, revealing a sheet-covered body. Pulling it back, number “1994-227” officially became Lynda Bettington.

Wife.

Silently, Richard took a seat across the room as the drawer was rolled shut with a metallic thud.

Parnelle folded his hands, watching the examiner showcase a practiced look of sympathy as he exited. After a few minutes, Richard took a deep breath and stood.

“What about my son,” he blurted, the words reverberating in the room. “He was with her. So… where IS he?!”

Parnell’s hands drifted apart. A transformation had occurred.

“We weren’t aware of — ”

“Don’t you play fuckin’ games with me! Where’s JACOB!”

During the next 10 minutes, a door broke, orderlies were called, a mop bucket flew the hall, and Richard Bettington was eventually wrestled to the floor. Soon after, Parnelle made a phone call.

And an eight-year old named Jacob Bettington was officially declared missing.

[Previous Chapters]

Chapter Three

Detective Bill Parnelle’s black leather shoes and white tube socks mounted the stairs as he entered the squad room. During lunch, he’d accessorized his tie with ketchup and was personalizing it with a napkin when he saw Det. James Kazad from the missing persons division waiting for him. “I figured you’d get the Bettington case,” said Parnelle. “When did they call you?”

“About an hour ago. Apparently, they had to calm the father down before they could be sure about the boy and get more info,” Kazad said. He moved around to what appeared to be the front of Parnelle’s desk. Except for the chair, Kazad couldn’t be sure; piles of paperwork, candy wrappers and condiment-stained napkins made it a toss-up. “You got anything for me?”

Parnelle licked his fingers and then tossed yet another stained napkin onto his desk. “A little, but not much,” he said while shuffling through papers and wrappers. “My part of the investigation is over.”

“Already?” said Kazad. “It just happened last night.”

“I know, I know,” said Parnelle, still rummaging. “But I.A. was all over it and both the crime scene and medical examiner’s reports were like Windex — not a streak.” He suddenly stumbled onto the file. “Ah, here. Take a look. It was a clean shoot.”

“Still. Just one day?” said Kazad, flipping the file open.

“Jim, it’s not like 10 years ago. Nowadays, guys like Hollins can smell a bad shoot in a couple of hours. This one was wearing perfume.”

“All the statements were taken?”

Parnelle nodded. “I did mine on the scene. Internal Affairs chatted with them this morning.”

“They seen the psych yet?”

“Went in a few minutes ago,” Parnelle answered. “If she checks all the boxes, they’ll be back on duty as early as tonight. Tomorrow at the latest.”

“Any burn marks?”

Parnelle looked at Kazad, confused. “Burn marks?”

“On your hands. The way these guys rocketed through here…”

Parnelle gave a half smile. “Listen, I didn’t say I agreed with it. But when I.A. says I’m done, I’m done.

Kazad shuffled through the file, scribbling down names and addresses from the face sheet, then fingered through the supplementals. Statements from each officer were there, along with references to the area they were patrolling and what time the Dodge was first spotted. No mention of the boy in the vehicle. The next report was an interview with Richard Bettington, stating he believed his wife had run off with Jacob after he left for work. According to him, she was always doing crazy things. He was unaware of her apparent drug habit. She had a sister living near Lincoln Park.

Kazad copied down the name, Sharon Reese, and her address. He knew the place. Nice condos.

He then noticed there were no copies of the I.A. interview of the patrolmen in the file.

Typical, he thought.

Next, he studied the crime scene report: Her prints on the gun. Weapons trace impossible. Trajectories matched the officers’ account. Tape lift from passenger seat revealed fibers and hair from a source other than the mother.

Maybe Jacob’s, he thought. But who knew how old they were?

Fingerprints on the dash. Child sized. Lack of smudging suggested recent occupation of the vehicle. Possibly made three to four hours prior to the incident.

If the husband’s suggestion was accurate, the mother had been driving around all day with the boy. Then, for some reason, he was either let out or ran away.

Or was traded away.

He hated the thought, but it was possible he’d been traded for the heroin. If the print analysis was correct, he disappeared between 8 and 11 p.m., which were prime dealing hours.

The last report was from the medical examiner essentially underlining what was already known: Lynda Bettington’s death was the result of a single gunshot to the forehead, resulting in massive brain and tissue damage. The examiner went on to describe her weight, height, race, blue eye color and general physical condition: tan complexion, early thirties, slight birthmark on her left shoulder, thin scar on the left palm near the wrist, and a discoloration — presumably from a wedding band — on her left ring finger.

Approximate time of death was 11:55 p.m.

Closing the file, he handed it back to Parnelle. “Thanks Bill. I think I might have a few leads here.” He checked his watch. “The father ought to be here soon. I should get downstairs.”

“Hey Jim,” Parnelle called from his chair. “Watch him.”

Kazad slowed his stride and looked back at Parnelle. “Possible suspect?”

“No. Hair-trigger temper. The guy just ignites.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep an eye on him,” said Kazad.

“Better keep two on him. Something’s not right there.”

Kazad nodded over his shoulder and began ascending the staircase.

In the last two years, he had located many children and juveniles. The exact number was tallied on a small chalkboard tacked to the side of his desk. A white chalkline separated those found living and dead. While other detectives described it as a scoreboard, Kazad saw the numbers differently.

Wins and losses.

His compulsive nature and eye for detail had always given him an edge when it came to finding people. Something told him he would need all of that and more to find this child.

Reaching the main floor of the station, he turned left, passing the soda and junk food machines. As he walked down the hall to the interview rooms, he was unable to shake two things about the M.E. report that bothered him. 

One was the scar on Bettington’s left hand.

The other was something not mentioned in the report at all.

**********

Only thirty minutes earlier, callused and sun-broiled hands were ripping soft garlic bread as fishermen packed The Nook before heading out for the day’s second run. When it was over, “The slurp and blow hour,” as Sam called it, had claimed seventy-seven bowls of chowder — two of which had been eaten by Jacob. A slice of peanut butter pie with a milk chaser was now in front of him.

As the boy ate and grinned, Shane motioned Sam outside where the two leaned against the dock rail overlooking the bay. Shane crossed his arms and looked back at Jacob through the large oval windows.

The boy had an infinite stomach it seemed.

Sam joined Shane’s gaze. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said, absently tapping the heel of his boot against the dry planking. “I know I should let the police handle it. But you didn’t see his reaction. He was terrified, almost hysterical. More than just a kid who’s not comfortable around cops. This was… different.”

“Did anyone notice?”

“A couple if people. There’s probably an A.P.B. out for a child molester with cowboy boots and donut holes.”

They chuckled together in the breeze.

“How’d you settle him down,” she asked.

Shane hesitated, then let out an audible sigh. “I promised I wouldn’t take him to the police.”

“You what?”

“It was the only way to calm him down.”

Sam thought for a moment, looking at Jacob then back at Shane. “Do you think he might’ve been faking it?”

“It crossed my mind.”

“People can fake lots of things,” Sam said.

Shane saw her giving him a wry smile. 

“Maybe so,” he said, reaching up and gently squeezing her shoulders. “But reactions of that magnitude — from extreme fear or extreme pleasure — just can’t be faked.”

Sam smirked. “So what now? Hire him on as a dishwasher under an assumed name until he turns 18?”

“First, I have to finish what I started this morning,” he said. “I promised Patricia Collins I’d bring information from public records today.”

“What about your promise to Jacob?”

“On the ferry, I coaxed the last name from him,” Shane said. “It’s ‘Bettington’ with two t’s. After I finish with Collins I’ll find out what I can. An address or something.”

During their conversation, Jacob had admitted to spending the night alone in Lincoln Park, waiting for a mother who promised to return. Though he’d recounted the night in the park vividly, Jacob offered nothing about the events prior to that. Further inquiry brought a clear reaction: Back off

Looking at him now, the story was hard to believe. But until he knew for sure, he would keep the boy safe.

Inside, Jacob set his empty glass on the table and wiped his chin with his wrist, then spotted Shane and Sam in the window. He waved across the empty dining room.

Shane waved back, studying the kid with the peanut butter mustache.

No more nights in the park, Shane thought. No more broken promises.

He hoped he was making the right decision.

**********

  

The 8th Precinct resembled a hive most hours of the day, suspects, victims and police swarming over and around each other, pausing only to make contact with the desk sergeant before scurrying into catacomb hallways. Kazad entered the squad room and slipped through the buzzing activity to meet up with a well-dressed, Black detective named Walter Aames.

Only recently promoted, Aames possessed an eagerness Kazad regarded as an essential — although at times annoying — quality that had earned him a spot as the youngest detective in the precinct.

It also made him Kazad’s first choice for a partner.

“We need a bigger squad room,” said Aames.

“No, less crime,” replied Kazad, hurrying out the doors and down the steps with Aames. “The father wasn’t much help in the interview. I don’t think he’s telling us everything.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I’ll explain in the car.”

Crossing into the garage, Kazad tossed the keys to Aames as they approached a two-tone Mercury Sable. Kazad didn’t drive when he had a partner; a benefit of seniority. 

Aames knew this and took the driver’s seat, backing up the Sable. “So, what’s the father’s story?”

“His account of the events, which were mostly speculation, matched his first statement verbatim,” said Kazad. “Figured she ran off with the boy after he left for work. She did a lot of crazy things, etcetera, etcetera. I’d read it all before so I tried a different line and asked what might’ve set her off.”

“What’d he say?”

“Nothing at first,” said Kazad. “He just started fidgeting with his belt buckle. Some gaudy rodeo type thing with a Texas flag on it.”

“I heard he freaked out at the M.E.’s office. Tore the place up,” Aames said.

“Not this time. Just when I thought he was about to crack and offer something, the guy remembers his cue, offers up the drug theory and becomes Mr. Cool. Says he heard about the heroine found in the car, that he didn’t know she was a user but that it explained why she went nuts sometimes. I told him it looked like she was running away from something.”

Aames smiled, visualizing Kazad verbally circling his prey. “What was his reaction?”

“He got real shifty. Crossed his arms and closed himself off. I don’t think he realized his fingers were digging into his shirt. That’s when I knew he was hiding something. Still is. I’m just not sure what.”

“While you were playing 20 questions with him, I looked for any priors and found some interesting things,” said Aames, speeding through a yellow light. “He’s had a couple of DUIIs and a disturbing the peace charge filed against him by a neighbor. What if he got ahold of the kid, accidentally killed him in a rage and the wife panicked?”

Aames was on his way to solving the case. “She loads her stuff, buys a couple of dime bags of trail mix for the road and becomes a victim of circumstance. Meanwhile, our man here has a brainstorm and reports a missing kid he knows will never turn up and uses his dead wife as a patsy?”

He looked to Kazad, eyebrows raised.

Kazad nodded, faintly impressed. “Only three things wrong with that theory,” he began. “One, this guy isn’t that smart. Two, I’m not convinced she was a user.”

Aames’ expression grew quizzical. “Why not?”

“The medical examiner’s report didn’t mention anything about drugs in the toxicology report. Also, no marks of a user either. Nothing.”

“You think the drugs belonged to the husband?” Aames asked.

“I think it’s a possibility. Could be another reason he’s holding back information.”

Aames thought about this. “But if the drugs weren’t hers and she wasn’t a user, why the shootout?”

“Good question,” said Kazad. He had a suspicion. It turned his stomach and he kept it to himself for now.

“You said there were three problems with my theory,” said Aames. “What’s the third?”

Kazad pointed left toward Lincoln Parkway. “When looking for a missing child, never assume they’re already dead.”

Aames slowed, cruising one of the more recent developments in Seattle. High-rise apartments and condominiums dotted a two-block radius of spotless sidewalks lined with evenly spaced maples, all centering a large duck pond and jogging path along Lincoln Park.

“There it is,” said Kazad, pointing to a set of condos. “Reese lives in A-2.”

Aames pulled to the curb, switched off the ignition and peered up through the windshield at ten stories of glass-front condos painted mint green with white trim. “Life looks a little different for Lynda Bettington’s sister. “You really think she knows anything?”

“Bettington was killed between here and the industrial park. If she was leaving town yesterday, there’s a chance she visited her sister,” said Kazad. “If the boy was with her, we could narrow the window of when he disappeared.”

“And where it might’ve happened,” Aames finished.

Kazad tapped his nose. “Stick with me, and you’ll become the youngest, Blackest and second-best detective on the force.”

“Uh-huh, and you’ll always be the oldest and whitest.”

They took a quick pace over the narrow sidewalk and up the steps to the foyer where a brass panel housed a series of labeled buttons, each with a speaker. Kazad pressed “A-2.”

After a pause, a women’s voice answered. “Yes?”

“I’m Sergeant James Kazad with the Seattle Police Department. I called earlier. Detective Aames and I would like to ask a few questions.” He lifted his finger from the button, waiting.

“Sure, let me buzz you in.”

The doors leading inside hummed, and Aames quickly pushed them open.

After a brief climb up a covered staircase, they found A-2. Matching ferns were suspended in macramé on either side of the door. As Kazad began to knock, the handle turned and Sharon Reese greeted them through a six-inch gap held by a small brass chain.

“You guys have I.D.?” she asked.

“Sure,” said Kazad, producing a badge from his inside jacket pocket. “We just need a few minutes of your time.”

The door closed, a chain rattled, and the door re-opened as Reese stood holding the top of her robe together. “Come in.”

They followed her through a tiled entry and into a spacious living room with black leather sofas, beveled glass tables and a panoramic view of Lincoln Park. Reese motioned toward the sofa, taking the love seat directly across from it. She brushed the silk robe aside and brought her legs onto the couch, then lit a cigarette. Taking a long drag, she exhaled then sat back, resting one arm along the top of the couch. Both men were momentarily taken by her long auburn hair and hazel eyes, and the way the turquoise silk robe accentuated her tan skin.

Kazad could tell she was used to the attention. “Ms. Reese, we’re trying to narrow down the time of your nephew’s disappearance. Did Lynda visit or contact you at any time yesterday?”

“No. We hadn’t talked in weeks. Maybe a month.”

“I see. She didn’t call, drop off a note or give any indication she was leaving,” confirmed Kazad. “No contact whatsoever.”

“That’s right.” She took another drag as the folds of her robe shifted slightly, revealing a glimpse of deep, tan cleavage. “She had a family. My job keeps me very busy. We got together when we could but sometimes months would pass between calls or visits.”

“If you don’t mind me saying, I get the picture you two weren’t particularly close,” said Kazad.

“Well, yes and no. We cared about each other. We just had our own lives.”

Kazad nodded. “I see. Did Lynda ever confess having a drug addiction or involvement with drugs in any way?”

Reese shifted, causing the leather to whine. “Yeah, Linda was involved with drugs. Dealing a little here and there. Sometimes using it herself. I told her to get help. Pleaded with her, actually.” Reese drew from her cigarette. “It was one of the things that kept us apart.”

A red flag went up for Kazad. “You say she was an occasional user. Any idea how often?”

“It’s hard to say. Once or twice a month? Maybe more?”

“Did you ever see her using? Or high?”

Reese thought carefully before answering. “Uh, yeah. Once or twice.”

Based on the examiner’s report, she was lying. And Kazad knew it.

“What do you do for a living, Ms. Reese?” he asked.

The sudden shift in topic threw her. “What? Oh, I’m a legal secretary.”

“Do you mind if I ask for whom?”

“Actually, I do.” Reese’s answer was abrupt.

“Are you usually off in the middle of the week?” asked Kazad, who was now leaning forward toward the loveseat.

“I didn’t feel well today,” said Reese, eyes moving between the two detectives.

And you’re looking worse by the minute, Kazad thought to himself.

Reese brought her legs off the love seat, planting her feet on the floor in front of her. “What does this have to do with finding Jacob?”

“I checked your file, Ms. Reese. Two arrests for solicitation, one as recent as last year. And it wasn’t for selling magazine subscriptions,” said Kazad. “I suspect you’re lying about your occupation.”

Face reddening, Reese closed the folds of her robe and clenched it tightly at the neck with her free hand. 

“I also suspect you’re lying to me about Lynda’s drug habit,” Kazad continued. “This makes me a bit curious.”

Reese jammed the tip of her cigarette into a jade ashtray. “Well, you know what they say about curiosity,” she said, exhaling a final puff of smoke.

“Is that… a threat, Ms. Reese?”

She took a deep breath, composing herself, then smiled as she brushed her thick hair back over her shoulders. “Of course not. But I’m telling you everything I know and you’re calling me a liar.” She propped her elbows on her knees and rubbed her temples. “Do you have any more questions? Because I really need to get back in bed.”

“Just one for now,” said Kazad, allowing the reference to another round of questions hang for a moment. “Lynda’s car had a lot of bags in it, like she was running away from something. Or someone. Any ideas?”

“Probably Richard, her husband. They had their problems.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“He’s got a bad temper. It got out of hand a few times. Maybe one too many and she got fed up,” Reese said, then looked at them both. “Is he a suspect? He should be.”

Kazad placed his business card on the coffee table and rose from the couch. “Until we find Jacob, everyone’s a suspect,” he said, heading toward the door with Aames. “We’ll be in touch. If you think of anything else, you have my card.”

Reese outpaced them, opening the door and ushering them out. As she was about to close it behind them, Kazad stopped just outside the doorway. “Just one more thing, Ms. Reese.”

She stopped the door just inches from the jamb. Her graciousness was becoming a struggle. “Yes?”

“Lynda had a pretty deep scar near her left palm. Any idea how she got it,” Kazad asked.

“In a fight.”

“With her husband?” Aames suddenly chimed in.

Reese sized him up, smirking. “No, Chip Conway. He bullied her in the seventh grade until she beat the hell out of him one day. He wasn’t ready for a southpaw, especially from a girl. Lynda’s first punch was a bit off and she sliced herself on his braces.”

She eyed them both from the doorway. “Is Chip a suspect too?”

“Not officially,” said Aames. “We’ll keep you posted.”

He and Kazad turned and descended the stairs as the door closed behind them.

“I tell you. This thing gets weirder and weirder,” said Aames as they reached the foyer. “We’ve got a missing kid whose mother dies in a shootout with police, apparently over drugs like some thug momma. Then we have a father who’s likely an abusive husband and seems more interested in keeping secrets than finding his kid.”

He checked the street then crossed to the driver door. “Then we have a sister — very attractive I might add — ”

“I wasn’t sure you noticed,” said Kazad, climbing into the Sable.

“Anyway, a sister who is definitely lying about her career pursuits. What’s the tie-in? What are we missing?”

“I don’t know yet,” said Kazad, buckling up.

Aames checked the rearview mirror and pulled from the curb. “You probably hate to admit it, but my theory’s sounding pretty good about now. The abusive husband fits Reese’s testimony. It doesn’t explain why she lied about her sister’s drug use, but that’s minor. The drugs could’ve been Lynda’s. She could have been selling the dope for the cash she needed to run away. The father could’ve done something to the boy, which would mean Jacob was never in the car to begin with — and our window of fifteen hours would widen.”

“That’s right,” said Kazad, “except the prints in the car place him there sometime yesterday.”

“Which leads us back to the mother,” said Aames, accelerating through another yellow light. “If the heroine was hers, it might explain where she got it. A street trade for the boy.”

“Maybe,” Kazad replied. “There’s just something that shuffles the deck for me. It could be nothing, but…”

“What?” asked Aames.

“Chip Conway.”

“The poor kid she beat up in seventh grade?”

“Yeah. The one K.O.’d by southpaw Bettington,” said Kazad.

“What about it?”

Kazad fingered his lip. “Bettington’s gun was found in her right hand.”

[Previous Chapters]

Chapter Four

By the time Shane was kicked out of the records building, the sun was a lick of fire on the horizon but he’d gotten most of what he wanted. He’d spent the entire afternoon following a paper trail through birth certificates, deeds, utility bills and voter registrations. At 5:30 p.m., he called his client, Patricia Collins, with good news. After eleven months of waiting, Collins was the proud daughter of a new mother.

The biological one she never knew.

He gave her the last known address and, thanks to some help from a contact at Pacific Bell, had tracked down a recent phone number. No guarantees but it was a start. Though he wished her the best and was glad to provided a chance to fill what she had described as a life-long void, he slid the pay phone receiver back into the cradle with mixed emotions. It had been his search for his own parents that spurred him into private investigation years earlier. And while that decision had changed his life’s trajectory for the better, there was no small irony in the fact that it was the same void Collins felt that had set his early life on a much different, self-destructive path.

As a young man moving from foster home to foster home, he had struggled finding a sense of identity or belonging. He filled the void with anger one bitter shovel full at a time, eventually burying himself deep enough that no one could reach him. Deep enough that he didn’t need to feel anything. 

For anyone. 

It made him ripe for making the wrong decision — the worst decision. The kind of decision that, if not for being a juvenile and drawing a merciful prosecutor, could’ve meant a decade in a California state prison for negligent homicide. Instead, he got 36 months and was out in 18 because of counseling and good behavior.

The day he was released was the loneliest day of his life. No place to go and he knew no one would be waiting for him. When he saw Robert Keedy, the prosecutor, outside the gates, arms crossed and leaning against the fender of a gold Honda Civic, Shane’s 18-year-old mind wondered if his release was just a cruel joke. That he would be turned around, cuffed and escorted back inside the gates by laughing prison guards.

“You’re one bad decision away from a lot more time in that shit hole,” Keedy had said. “You need to decide whether your next decision will be the right one or the wrong one, son.”

Shane instinctively tried to stare the man down. Show his toughness. Instead, he felt himself beginning to cry — then wept for the first time he could remember.

“That’s a good start,” Keedy had said, and put a steady hand on his shoulder. Over the next week, he helped Shane find a low-rent studio apartment and a dishwashing job at a small diner where he could get all the hours he wanted. But most importantly, he helped Shane turn the anger that had sent his life spiraling downward into something productive and a way up. 

To this day some 20 years later, he still had nightmares about prison and the events of the night that sent him there. As a reminder of what it took to get to where he was now — and the man who helped him find that path — was a tattoo scripted along his right forearm starting at the wrist. It read: One Bad Decision.

He took Route 16, which connected with the Ruston Ferry. From there, he could ride it directly to the south side of the island and into Magnolia Bay. In the time it would take to cross the bay, Shane knew he would have to reach a decision about Jacob. The work for Collins had taken longer than expected. The sun was gone and so was his opportunity to gather more information. Someone, somewhere had to be looking for this boy and was worried sick. As much as he wanted to hold on to Jacob until he could determine the reason for his seemingly irrational fear of the police, Shane knew there was a strong possibility he would have to break his promise to Jacob and contact the authorities.

If the boy was a missing child, he’d be reunited with his parents; if he was abandoned, the parents would get the consequences they deserved. In either case, Shane would be there for Jacob every step of the way. He would never let the boy feel the kind of abandonment or lack of belonging that he had felt.

He sighed and shook his head, looking out over Puget Sound as the ferry slowly edged toward the southern tip of Bainbridge Island.

Ordinarily, he was decisive. Quick to form a plan or approach and follow through without second thoughts or second guesses. Yet here he was, guilty of both today. He knew it was because he felt a connection with Jacob; they were kindred spirits in a way.

The caution lights of the Ruston Ferry strobed yellow and white as the vessel nudged itself into the docks and was secured in place before slowly lowering its large metal ramp onto the vehicle exit landing. Shane climbed back into the Jeep and twisted the ignition, easing the Jeep forward. 

Tonight, he and Jacob would talk things through and, first thing in the morning, Shane would call the police. On the short drive between here and The Nook, he’d have to come up with a plan for how to approach that conversation.

********** 

News of Jacob Bettington’s disappearance quickly became the top story throughout Seattle and Tacoma. Calls from reporters wanting details flooded the phone lines of the 8th Precinct. Realizing the need for a press conference, Chief Hammond had all chairs removed from the press room.

Uncomfortable reporters were easier to control and less likely to linger.

Hammond confidently entered the press room in a few long strides as camera lights converged on the podium. He leaned forward slightly to accommodate the cluster of microphones jutting toward him. “Good evening everyone. Let me preface things by saying that this is not a press conference in the traditional sense,” he began. “Because of the ongoing nature of this investigation, there will be no Q and A.”

Murmurings of disapproval swept through the gathering of reporters, prompting Hammond to raise his voice as he continued. “We still do not know the circumstances surrounding eight-year-old Jacob Bettington’s disappearance. He was last seen yesterday morning by his father. We have good reason to believe he was with his mother who, as you already know, was unfortunately killed in a shootout with police officers late last night. Jacob was not in the vehicle at the time of the incident. Currently, we are investigating this as a missing person or possible runaway situation.”

He paused, then added, “However. We can’t rule out the possibility of an abduction.” 

**********

Shane led Jacob to one of the wooden benches on the patio outside of The Nook. A thumbnail moon marked the horizon, its light catching a few whitecaps suspended in the darkness as the surf filtered between pilings under the pier. The two of them sat, Shane on the tabletop and Jacob straddling the bench in silence. Shane gave a quick glance over his shoulder at Sam, who was leaning against a counter inside the restaurant, hand on her hip. She gave him an encouraging nod and then headed into the kitchen.

“We need to have a talk,” said Shane. “Man to man.”

“Okay,” said Jacob, who looked up at Shane, then down at his palm and began tracing it with his finger.

During the ride home, Shane had crafted an approach to this talk. “I need your help with a big decision.”

Jacob looked at him. “What kind of decision?”

“Well, I made a promise I realized shouldn’t have. Now I need to break it in order to do the right thing. Do you follow me?”

Jacob squirmed a bit. “Sort of,” he said, looking back down into his palm. “You mean about calling the police, don’t you?”

“Yeah. That’s right.” Shane braced himself for a possible meltdown.

After a long pause, Jacob got up from the bench and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I sort of knew this would happen,” he mumbled.”

“I’m sorry, Jacob. But for your own good, the police need to be involved in this.”

Jacob slowly nodded.

“So do I have your okay to break the promise I made?” Shane asked.

Jacob’s small shoulders gave a quick shrug.

A seagull observed them from the top of The Nook, standing one-legged and resting. As Jacob began to answer, the gull dropped its second leg.

“If I say okay, can we wait until morning before you call?”

Taken aback by Jacob’s calmness, Shane stammered a bit. “Uh, s-s-sure. Absolutely!”

“Okay, permission granted,” said Jacob. “Promise broken.”

A screech from the patio door caught their attention as Sam opened it, causing the seagull to take flight. “You guys want some hot chocolate?” she called from the doorway.

“Sounds great!” Shane called back, giving her a subtle thumbs up. “You got marshmallows?”

“Of course I do! What kind of place you think I run here?”

Sam returned carrying a tray with three steaming mugs of dark chocolate topped with fluffy, white whipped marshmallow topping. Wedged beneath her left arm was some folded clothing. They each took a mug, spooning at the gooey mounds of marshmallow and sipping.

Jacob managed a few mouthfuls before his curiosity kicked in. “What’re those?” he said, pointing his spoon at the clothing still being guarded under Sam’s arm.

“Thought you’d never ask,” she said and set her cup on the table. She unfolded an extra-large blue T-shirt imprinted with a bushel of clams and the slogan Hooked by the Nook. “This is for you to sleep in tonight. It’s yours.”

Jacob held up the shirt, the bottom dropping past his knees. “Thanks!”

“I figured you guys could stay with me in the apartment tonight,” offered Sam. “You can even have your own room, Jacob.”

“Cool! Can I have the big room?”

Sam shook her head. “Sorry, that’s for grown-ups.”

“I tell you what, Jacob,” said Shane, “why don’t you finish that up then head inside and change. We’ll come tuck you in.”

Jacob gulped the rest of his chocolate then tossed the shirt over his shoulder, heading for The Nook. “Thanks, Sam!” he hollered, then disappeared inside and up the stairs to the apartment.

“So how’d it go,” she asked, taking a sip of chocolate.

“Better than expected. Much better. No fits. No crying. He just listened, thought about it and went along with it.”

“He trusts you,” said Sam.

“I guess so,” said Shane.

The two of them got up from the table and began a slow walk to the door when Shane asked, “So, about those sleeping arrangements…”

“I just figured a 40-something-year-old man — ”

“You mean 30-something,” Shane clarified.

“ — sleeping on a boat with an eight-year-old boy in nothing but a T-shirt is how rumors get started.”

“I see,” said Shane, offering a wry smile. He turned to Sam and placed his mug on the pier railing.

Sam immediately snatched it up. “Hey! Do you know how many of those I lose over the side? The hermit crabs have started wearing them instead of shells.”

Setting their cups down, she pulled out the second shirt still tucked under her arm, innocently sliding the curve of her hip against his. She unfurled the shirt and held it up. “I wasn’t sure if you had something to sleep in, so I brought you this,” she said, smirking.

Shane studied it. “Looks a little short.”

“Nope, just right.”

“To be honest, I hadn’t really given much thought to sleeping arrangements or attire,” he said.

“Not to worry, because I have,” said Sam. She let the cotton shirt fall to the deck and weaved her fingertips through Shane’s hair, bringing him closer. “In fact, I’ve given it hours of thought.”

She brought him closer still, her lips stopping a whisper’s distance from his.

“And you conclusion?” he asked softly.

She smiled and met his lips. His hands found their way to the back of her jeans, navigating her curves. She walked her fingers down his chest before coyly stepping back, ending their slow kiss with a teasing suck on his bottom lip. “As for my conclusion, it’s lying at your feet.”

She knelt down and grabbed the cups, then headed inside, leaving him alone with his T-shirt.

Shane tossed the shirt up with the toe of his boot. He didn’t need to read the slogan. 

He already knew he was “Hooked by the Nook.”

And especially by the woman who owned it.   

[Previous Chapters Here]

Chapter Five

On Saturday mornings, Ben Spears and the other captains slept late, not shuffling into The Nook until 8:30 a.m. Sam had grown accustomed to this routine and remained in a fetal position next to Shane as the sun began a lazy stretch across the hardwood floor toward the foot of the bed. He watched the sunrise, concluding that the view from Sam’s place was probably the best in Magnolia Bay. Originally a large storage area above the restaurant, Sam converted the area into and expansive living space complete with two bedrooms, a full bath, office and an oversized living room with bay windows from end to end. The contractor had suggested adding a kitchen during the remodel. Sam contended that they were standing on it.

Her bedroom overlooked Colvos Cove with its collection of grubby houseboats and trawlers resting along the mouth of the harbor. Another hour or so, and Ben Spears would take his morning position over the stern.

Shaking the thought from his head, Shane slipped out from beneath the covers and brought his feet to the throw rug beside the bed. He looked back over his shoulder at Sam nestled among the sheets and blankets, her long hair a beautiful mass of tangles.

He grinned.

Last night while changing, she made him sit on the end of the bed with his eyes shut. When he opened them, the first thing I saw was the back of her long, smooth legs rising up into a blue T-shirt that was stretched nicely over her rear. She peeked over her shoulder, meeting his gaze with a suggestive smile. Biting her bottom lip, she had slowly turned around to reveal her newly customized sleeping attire. Across the front was the familiar slogan, altered with a black marker to read Hooked by the Nookie.

Chuckling to himself, he slid the blankets back over her bare shoulders and paused to stroke her hair before heading to the restroom to wash up. It was while pulling on his boots a short time later that the thought of vanilla crullers hit him and he decided to make an early run to Vashon Heights. In the living room, he grabbed his things from the coffee table, stopping to check on Jacob as he headed out. His door was cracked, providing a glimpse of the bed. He could see Jacob’s outline beneath the covers, the top blanket pulled over his head.

He was safe in his little cocoon; Shane hoped today would allow the boy to emerge into a more secure world.

Leaving down the back staircase, Shane climbed into the Wrangler and nursed it to life, then rumbled over the split gravel lane to the main road en route to Vashon. A knee-high fog drifted over dunes and clumps of tussock grass, reflecting colorful hues that would eventually burn away with the rising sun. It was a perfect morning. Fresh ocean air whipped through the cab and out the open back, causing a plastic tarp to flap noisily over his jack and small collection of tools behind the back seat.

He’d need to cinch the tarp down once he reached the donut shop in Vashon.

Bill’s Donut Hole was wedged stubbornly between Gibran’s Furniture and an Office Depot. Bill had once told Shane that, when he was finally tired of making donuts, he’d retire and sell the land. Eleven years later, he was content just being an eyesore to his neighbors. The 18-foot-high donut on his roof had them stopping by weekly with blank checks. This refusal to conform, along with the fact that Bill had the best crullers on the island, kept Shane coming back.

It wasn’t long before the giant brown donut was in view, its top laced with what Bill called “bird-drop frosting.” The stores on either side were still hours from opening, leaving a vast area of black asphalt in front. It made Bill’s tiny donut shop seem microscopic.

As Shane pulled in front, he could see Bill waving from inside. Shane came to a stop out front and held up eight fingers, prompting Bill to start loading crullers into a paper sack. “You’re donut’s looking better and better,” he said as he came inside. “Someday I’m going to buy that sucker.”

“Someday, I’ll give it to you. The frosting will be extra, though.” Bill wrapped the last cruller in tissue and placed it in the sack. The cash register chimed. “That’ll be $4.50.”

Shane laid a ten-dollar bill on the counter. As Bill made change, a small television babbled from somewhere in the kitchen. It wasn’t until the name “Bettington” echoed over the stainless steel prep tables that Shane took notice.

…it isn’t known whether the eight-year-old is simply lost or is the victim of a kidnapping. Again, if you have any information, call the number on your screen…

“Is this a tip?”

Bill stood holding out change.

“Uh… thanks. Keep it for now. I’ll probably be back for more tomorrow,” said Shane.

He exited quickly, leaped into the Wrangler and pulled out of the parking lot.

It was time to make that call.

**********

From beneath the overhang of Gibran’s Furniture, Jacob watched the Jeep race onto the two-lane road. 

An airhorn blasted in the distance and Jacob knew it came from the ferry they’d taken to the island — and that it would bring him back to Seattle. He scanned the highway in both directions before running across it, following the sound of the ferry whistle down side streets until he could see the red stack through the trees. The pavement sloped to the bay, where a small line of cars waited, along with a group of joggers and skaters catching the ferry to Lincoln Park. A wooden sign straddled the divider:

Cars — $2.00

Adults — $ 1.00

Children under 10 — Free

As the dockworkers tied the ferry off, Jacob made his way into the crowd. With his windbreaker and sweatpants now clean thanks to Sam, he figured he could pass as a jogger’s kid. The trick would be to stay close enough to “belong” to someone without them knowing it. Studying the crowd, he picked a fat man with an outfit that kind of matched his.

The cars and the crowd edged forward as Jacob tailed the fat man like a caboose.

**********

It was 6:45 a.m. when James Kazad entered the detective squad room and sprinted to the phone ringing on his desk. “Sergeant Kazad.”

“Are you working on the Bettington case?” a voice asked.

“That’s correct,” Kazad answered, pressing the record button. “You have some information?”

Shane wedged the phone between his neck and jaw. “Yeah. I have good news. He’s with me and he’s fine.”

“Could I get your name please?”

Shane thought about this. The last thing Jacob needed was a mob of police descending on The Nook. “I’d rather not give my name. You’ll understand later.”

“No, you need to understand something now,” said Kazad. “Unless I get a name, you’re going to become the prime suspect in what is now a kidnapping. Do you understand?”

Aames entered the squad room and saw Kazad point to the phone, then touch his fingers together, signaling him to have the call traced. Aames snatched a phone and buzzed downstairs.

“Are you clear on what I’m saying?” Asked Kazad.

“Detective, this isn’t a ransom demand,” said Shane. “I just want you to know he’s alright and I’m bringing him to you later this morning.”

Kazad heard a pager begin shrieking in the background; he made a mental note of the sound.

Aames was motioning for Kazad to stretch the conversation.

“How do I know this isn’t a crank call?” asked Kazad.

“Listen, just tell the father his son is okay and we’ll see you in an hour.”

The phone line clicked and Kazad looked to Aames, who shook his head.

**********

Shane checked his pager and saw Sam’s number displayed with a 9-1-1 area code. Fumbling for more change from his pocket, he fed it into the payphone and called The Nook. “It’s me. What’s up?”

“Where are you?” Sam asked nervously.

“I’m down the road from Bill’s. What’s going on?”

“Jacob’s gone. I can’t find him anywhere,” said Sam, her tone uncharacteristically alarmed. “I looked all over the restaurant and along the docks. He’s completely disappeared.”

“Sam, I just saw him in bed less that 30 minutes ago.”

“No, you saw a row of pillows and a fishing buoy he got from the hall closet,” she said.

“What?”

“I found it a few minutes ago,” Sam said. “There’s no telling how long he’s been gone.”

“Terrific. I just got off the phone with the police. I said I’d bring Jacob to them in an hour,” said Shane. “I just found out there’s a massive search going on for him. So, as of now, I’m a kidnapper. I think they might’ve traced the call.”

“What are we going to do?”

“You keep looking,” said Shane. “Maybe Ben or Flip saw him. I’ll head back and meet you at the dock — Hey, did you check my houseboat?”

“Nothing,” Sam replied.

“Keep looking. Page me again if you find him.”

Shane tossed the receiver into the cradle, ran from the booth, fired up the Jeep and tore onto the highway. He knew their talk had gone too smoothly. Jacob probably started planning his escape the minute his butt left the patio.

The tarp began flapping again.

His eyes suddenly widened. He hit the brakes and the Wrangler skidded to an angled stop. Throwing aside the tarp, he could see the tools had been moved. In the center was a small set of sneaker prints. Jacob must’ve been hiding there the whole time.

Tires squealing, he circled back in the direction of the donut shop. Unless Jacob leaped from the vehicle at 60 miles an hour, he had to have gotten out at Bill’s.

But why there? He wondered. Why would he… 

The realization hit him with sickening force.

Cutting right on Puget Avenue, he floored the accelerator and raced in the direction of the ferry. Within minutes, he could see the entrance. The Jeep slid to a stop as the ferry pulled away, announcing its departure into Puget Sound.

Dock workers stared as Shane leaped from the cab and sprinted through the gates, calling after Jacob.

**********

Jacob peaked from behind the fat man.

He couldn’t hear what Shane was yelling. It didn’t matter anyway. Even though he felt bad about lying to him and Sam, it was like Shane had said: Sometimes you have to break your promise in order to do the right thing.

There was no way he was going to the police. Not after what he’d heard them say to his mom and Aunt Sharon.

And he wouldn’t ever go back to his father, either. He was the reason they had run away in the first place.

The right thing to do — the only thing to do — was to find his mom. She was out there, driving her yellow car and looking for him. If they could find each other, they’d leave like she planned and things would be okay.

Looking across the bay, he wondered where his mom might be in the growing Seattle skyline.

[Previous Chapters Here]

Part Two

From principles

is derived probability;

Truth and certainty

only from fact

  — Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter Six

COMING April 1

38 thoughts on “No Safe Harbor: A novel in the making”

  1. What? I have to wait a week! When you mentioned this yesterday I mentally prepared to spend a few minutes of my day off curled up in my beloved reading chair, in my quiet house, coffee in hand, dogs lying at my feet, ready to be engrossed in at least one chapter. You failed to mention the first drop was next Saturday! Now, I’m gauging the importance of family breakfast against curling up with the first chapter… hmm.

      1. Thanks for your feedback, Sandra! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it and I appreciate you coming along. After Chapter 3, I’m going to try posting two chapters at a time, so I’d love your thoughts on the characters (who will all be introduced by then). Thanks again and I’ll “see” you Saturday!

  2. I was torn between waiting for the book or reading the chapters here. I am not known for my patience. I’ll still buy the book (if it is sold in India), there’s nothing like curling up with a book in a soft comfortable bed.

    I can’t wait for next week. I have already planned the pose in which I will recline to read this, in addition to the snacks and beverage I will have next to me as I delve into your first chapter.

    Excited.

    1. I’ll make sure there is at least one copy available in India. I’ll let you know where. More than likely it will be from a guy on a scooter. In the meantime, strike that pose and thanks for coming along!

  3. OK – You’ve hooked me in! What a nice way to start a Saturday morning. Looking forward to next week . . .

        1. No need for that, Sandra — Haha! But I AM looking to post two chapters next Saturday. Fingers crossed. Really glad to hear you’re enjoying it so far 😉

  4. Terrific visual descriptions! I could see it all happening from right here in the comfort of my recliner! Love a good story that grabs you right from the beginning and this one sure does. Can’t wait ’til Saturday rolls around again!

  5. Finally, I was able to get to this, not disappointed, great start, Ned! Unfortunately, I wound up with a stomach bug. Had I read this earlier my review might look different than it does. 😉 Your description of the docks and the characters took me right back to my youth and working the docks of Windy Bay. The same characters seemingly hang around docks up and down the west coast. All that to say, spot on! I already have hopes and sorrows for each of the characters. Will there be redemption? Are the bad guys really all bad, the good guys all good? Will she get through to him? All the questions! I look forward to an actual cup of coffee with the next chapter. Only 5 days if I don’t count today or Saturday. I can’t wait!

    1. I’ve heard that bug is going around, and it’s not my neighbor’s VW without a muffler. Stay on the mend!

      And thanks for confirming the descriptions of the docks. I drew upon past experiences when Florence was a working fishing dock, researching, plus some time spent visiting Seattle. It’s good to hear I was on from someone who would know 🙂 And I promise all those questions will be answered in due time! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that cup of coffee on Saturday!

  6. Yep am hooked!! I like you didn’t wait around with the action. I was thinking goody? Baddy? What?? Like Shane already although he is not as flippant as I expected. Perhaps give this man of mystery time!!

    1. Great observations, Gillian, and much appreciated! And yes, Shane is complicated but trust me; underneath it all he’s got a humorist’s perspective 😉 Thank for reading and I’ll meet you here again next week!

  7. I was on the edge of my seat! Too cliche!
    But really, it looks like the beginning of a great thriller! I love mysteries and I can’t wait to get into this one!

      1. Hahaha! That’s great to hear! Going to try to keep two chapters coming at a time now. And yeah, it’s time for Jacob to shine a little as he starts coming into his own 😉

      2. Quick question, Sandra: Near the last part oof Chapter 5, did the short sub-chapters going back and forth between the action between Shane, Jacob and Det. Kazad work? Could you follow it easily and did it have a good flow? My intention was to build suspense by making those jumps in action shorter and shorter.

No one is watching, I swear...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s