Excerpt from Stargazey Point

Chapter One

Hate. How many times a day did that word come up in conversation. I hate these shoes with this outfit. I hate jello with fruit. People laugh and say I hate it when that happens. Hate could be a joke. Or an all consuming fire that singed your spirit before eating your soul.

Abbie Sinclair had seen it in all its forms, okay maybe not all, and for that she was thankful, but in too many forms to process, to turn a cold eye, to keep plugging away in spite of it all.

A sad commentary on someone who had just turned thirty. Somehow, Abbie thought that the big three-oh would set her free, leave the crushed, dispirited twenties behind. But as the therapist told her during her first session, she wouldn’t be able to go forward until she came to terms with her past. She didn’t go back—to the therapist or the past.

So here she was five thousand feet above Indiana, Kentucky or some other state on her way from Chicago to South Carolina, thinking about hate instead of worrying about what to have for desert instead of jello or what shoes would go with this outfit.

Abbie knew she had to jettison her hate or it would destroy her. But no matter how many times she’d written the word, torn the paper into little strips, shredded it, burned it, ran water over it until it disintegrated, stepped on it. No matter how many times she’d symbolically thrown it away, forced it out of her heart, there seemed to be just a little left, and it would grow back, like pus in an infected wound.

Pus? Really? Had she really just made that analogy? Abbie pressed her fingers to her temples. The absolute lowest. Purple prose. Bad writing and ineffective emotion, something her mentor and lover insisted had no place in cutting-edge documentaries. Something her post flower child mother insisted had no place anywhere in life. And something that her best friend, Celeste, said was just plain tacky.

Besides, it didn’t come close to what she really felt.

Abbie had been full of fire when she started out. She’d planned to expose the evils of the world, do her part in righting injustice, make people understand and change. The Sinclair’s youngest daughter would finally join the ranks of her do-gooding family. Instead, that fire had turned inward and was destroying her. How arrogant and naïve she had been. How easily she’d lost hope.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Celeste said when Abbie showed up at her apartment with one jungle-rotted duffle bag and a bucketful of tears. “You can probably get your old job back. Want me to ask?”

Abbie just wanted to sleep, except with sleep came dreams peopled by the dead, asking why, why, why of the living.

They decided what she needed was a change of scene. At least that’s what Celeste decided. Somewhere comfortable with people who were kind. Celeste knew just the place. With her relatives in a South Carolina beach town named Stargazey Point.

“You’ll like it there,” Celeste said. “And you’ll love Aunt Marnie and Millie and Uncle Beau. They’re really my great or maybe it’s my great great . . . but they’re sweethearts and they’d love to have you.”

It did sound good; quiet, peaceful, sun and surf. “I’ll go,” Abbie said.

She was a basket case. She needed therapy. She went on vacation instead.

Celeste drove her to O’Hare. “You’ll have to take a cab from the airport. I don’t think they drive anymore. It’ll take about forty minutes if there’s no traffic and cost about sixty dollars. Here.” She thrust a handful of bills at Abbie then tried to take her coat. “You won’t need it there.”

Abbie refused the money and clung to her coat. She didn’t need it. That burning emotion she couldn’t kill was enough to keep her warm on the coldest day.

There was a mini bottle of unopened chardonnay on the tray table before her. She was still clutching her coat.

She wasn’t ordinarily a slow learner. And she usually didn’t run. That had changed in a heart beat. And that’s when the hate rushed in.

She hated the company whose arrogance had washed away an entire schoolroom of children and the boy and his donkey, hated the security people who had smashed their cameras, hated those who stood by and watched or ran in terror, who dragged her away when she was only trying to save someone, any one. Those who arrested Werner and threw him in a jail where he met with an “unfortunate accident.”

For that she hated them most of all. Selfish, but there it was. They had killed Werner on top of everything else.

And there was not a damn thing she could do about it. There was no footage, no Werner, she’d barely escaped before they confiscated her visa. Others weren’t so lucky.

The tears started, she forced them back. How could she allow herself tears when everyone else had suffered more.

“She should be here any minute now, Sister, and you haven’t gotten out the tea service. Do you think it’s goin’ to polish itself? And look how you’re dressed.”

Marnie Crispin glanced down at her dungarees and the old white tee shirt that Beau had put out for the veteran’s box, then looked at her younger sister and sighed. Millie was dressed in a floral print shirtwaist that had to be twenty years old, but was pressed like it had just come off the rack at Belks Department Store.

“I know how I’m dressed, the garden doesn’t weed itself. I’m planning to change. And I’m not getting out the tea service.”

“But, Sister.”

“You don’t want to scare the girl away do you?”

“No,” said Millie, patting at the white wisps of hair that framed her thin face. “But she’s come all the way from Chicago, poor thing. And I want everything to be just perfect for her. Beau, you’re dropping shavings all over my carpet.”

Their younger brother, who would turn seventy-nine in two months, was sitting in his favorite chintz-covered chair, the ubiquitous block of wood and his pocket knife in hand. He looked down at his feet and the curls of wood littered there.

“Oh.” He attempted to push them under the chair with the side of his boot.

“How many times have I told you not to drop shavings on my carpet?”

Beau rocked forward and pushed himself to his feet.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Beau looked down at the carving in his hand, back at Millie. “Going to watch out for that taxi cab from the front porch.”

Millie pursed her lips, but there was no rancor in it. Beau was Beau and they loved him. “Just you mind you don’t drop shavings all over my porch.”

Beau shuffled out of the room.

“And tuck that shirt tail in,” Millie called after him.

Cabot Reynolds heard the car go by. They didn’t get much sightseeing this time of year, a few fishermen, an occasional antiquer, a handful of die hard sun worshipers, though most of them preferred the more upscale hotels of Myrtle Beach.

There were a few year round residents and hearing a car wasn’t all that unusual. In the year he’d lived here he’d come to recognize the characteristic sound of just about every car, truck and motorcycle in the area. And he didn’t recognize the one that had just passed. Which could only mean one thing.

Wiping his hands on a well-used chamois, he climbed over the engine housing and looked out between the broken lattice of the window. Whoever it was had come and gone.

He tossed the chamois on his work table, lifted his keys off the peg by the door, and stopped to look around as he did at the end of every work day. For a full minute he just stood and breathed in the faint odor of machine oil, mildew and childhood memories.

He tried to imagine the time when he’d stop for the day, look up and see all the work he’d put into the old derelict building gleaming back at him; the colored lights refracting off the restored mirrors bursting into fractured reds, blues and yellows, while music swirled around his head and the smell of fresh saw dust curled in his nostrils.

So far he only saw a dark almost empty room, locked away from the world by a sagging plywood door. Right now he only saw how much more there was to do. But never once since he’d returned had he ever looked over the space and thought, what the hell have I done.

Cabot padlocked the door then crossed the street to Hadley’s, the local grocery store, bait shop, and gas station. He jogged up the wooden steps to the porch and was just pulling a coke out of the old metal ice chest when Silas Cook came out the door, a string bag of crabs slung over his shoulder. He dropped the bag into a bucket of water and sat down on the steps. Cab sat down beside him and took a long swig off the bottle of coke.

“You see that taxi cab drive through town a while back?” Silas asked.

“I heard it. Did you?”

“Sure did. Me and Hadley came right out here on the porch and watched it drive by.”

“See the passenger?”

“A girl come all the way from Chicag-ah.”

Cabot nodded. Like Chicago was the end of the earth.

“You goin’ on over there?” asked Silas, nodding down the street toward the old Crispin House.

“After I get cleaned up. I finagled myself an invitation to dinner.”

“Well, you in luck there, cause I just dropped off a dozen of the finest lady blue claws you’ll see this season. Told Ervina she oughta just drop em in de pot but Miz Millie, she want crab bisque. So she make crab bisque.”

Cabot leaned back and rested his elbows on the top step. “Fine dining and a chance to get a good, close look at the Crispin’s guest. Find out just what she’s up to.”

“What do you think she’s up to? She’s a friend of their niece’s, like they said, come on vacation.”

“Maybe. But what do we know about their niece? They haven’t seen her in years. Maybe she sees a gold mine waiting to be exploited.”

Silas pushed to his feet and looked down at Cab. “Go on Mr. Cab. You don’t trust much of nobody, do you?”

Cabot was taken aback. “Why do you say that? I trust you, and Hadley, and Beau and . . .”

“I mean other people.”

“Sure I do.”

“You more protective of this town than folks who’ve lived here all their lives, and their daddies and granddaddies, too.”

“You gotta protect what’s yours, you should know that, Silas.”

“Yessuh, I know it. And I learnt it the hard way. I just don’t get why you knows it. Well, I’d best be getting these gals in my own pot.” Silas started down the steps; when he got to the bottom, he turned back to Cabot. “You tell Mr. Beau, I’m going out fishin’ tomorrah if he wanna come.”

“I will.” Cabot gave the older man a quick salute and finished his coke while he watched Silas walk down the street. Then he went inside to pay for his drink.

“One co-cola,” Hadley said, punching the keys of an ancient cash register. “You see Silas outside?”

“Yeah,” Cab said. “I’m getting crab bisque at the Crispins’ tonight.”

“Did he also tell you we seen their visitor?”

“Yep.”

“She was a pretty thing as far as I could see. Pale as a ghost though, even her hair, kinda white-like. She looked out of the window just as she passed by and I swear it was like she looked right into me. It was kinda spooky.”

“Spooky or speculative? Like someone planning to cheat the Crispins out of their house and land?”

“Don’t know about that. Silas says they’re expecting her. Friend of their great niece’s or some such.”

“Maybe,” Cabot agreed. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Know you will, son. Know you will.”

Cabot walked home, thinking about the Crispins and his uncle Ned, who was the reason he was here. Or at least the reason that brought him to Stargazey Point this last time. Ned had died and left Cabot everything.

He’d hardly seen his uncle since he’d graduated from high school over fifteen years ago. But before that, he’d spent every summer with Ned, working long hours at the now defunct boardwalk.

He’d driven up from Atlanta to settle Ned’s estate. It wasn’t much, the old octagonal building, a small tin-roofed cottage in the backside of town. And the contents of a shed situated inland and watched over by an ancient Gullah man named Abraham.

That discovery had sealed his fate. The memories of the magical summers he’d spent with Ned broke through the high-pressured, high-tech world he inhabited, and he knew he had to recapture that magic. He gave up his “promising” career as an industrial architect for an uncertain future. Traded his minimalist designed, state of the art apartment for a rotten porch, broken windows and peeling paint.

According to his Atlanta colleagues, he’d lost his mind.

When he asked his fiancée Bailey to move to Stargazey Point with him, she accused him of playing Peter Pan. Just before she threw her two karat engagement ring at his head.

Peter Pan or crazy, he didn’t care. He was working longer hours than he had in Atlanta, but he fell into bed each night and slept like a baby until sunrise. Woke up each morning with a clear conscience and he felt alive.

Things had changed in the years since he’d been here. People had been hit hard. Houses sat empty, where their owners had given up and sold out or just moved on. All around them, real estate was being gobbled up by investors.

Hadley was right; he didn’t trust people. Especially ones who came with big ideas on how to improve their little, mostly forgotten town—starting with selling all your property to them. He knew those people, hell, he’d been one of those people.

And now suddenly, out of the blue, a friend of the niece shows up, which was a stretch considering they hadn’t seen their great niece in years. He’d tried to convince the Crispins not to let her stay in the house. They knew nothing about her; she might have ulterior motives and he’d be damned if he’d let those three be taken advantage of. They were proud, slightly dotty, and close to penniless. Vulnerable to any scam.

Abbie Sinclair. Just the name sounded like pencil skirts and four inch heels. A calf skin briefcase attached to a slender hand with perfectly manicured fingernails, talons just waiting to snatch away their home and way of life.

 

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