Devastation was all he felt. Everything else within him, numb.
He knew he’d never belonged here, not at Hatcher’s, not in Cane’s Inlet and definitely not pretending to play host at the upscale Medusa Lounge. In way over his head, the people around him too forceful, too powerful and easily able to toy with his chance at happiness. It was like the truth had become his enemy, destined to keep him from uncovering what lay beneath hidden tendrils. Maybe he didn’t want to know. Maybe he shouldn’t know. In a single moment, he’d left betrayal in his wake. Yes, total devastation.
His last word reverberated in his mind, it’s cry awful as he was left alone in the stateroom. Both men gone, though seared into his mind like a bad memory. The pain he felt ate at his insides as he ran out of the stateroom, down the corridor, where he darted past the entrance to the lounge, where he could hear the joyous sounds of the party, laughter, celebration, the popping of a fresh bottle of champagne. He had nothing left in which to celebrate.
Again, the word…that name, hit him hard. Nearly toppling him to the ground when he ran off the gangway of the Medusa and onto the dirty footpath. The trees absorbed him, thankfully hid him.
He kept running, his suit still a tangled mess. Forced to throw on the ink-stained shirt which had been the catalyst for what had transpired. Buttoning it as he ran, the tie forgotten on the carpet of the stateroom, along with his dreams and probably a few drops of Parker St. John’s thick load. He reached the dock, breathing heavily, and thankfully saw the schooner, and in terms of people, only Willy. He wouldn’t be able to face anyone else.
“What are you doing here? Ain’t it your big night?”
Noah looked up. The glow from the full moon must have caught his tear-streaked face.
“Just take me back to the mainland,” Noah pleaded.
Willy silently welcomed him with a simple hand gesture.
Once on board the schooner, Noah tried his best to keep from gazing back, but as they sailed toward the peninsula, the billowing sails and towering masts of the Medusa peeked up over the trees, almost as if they were playing with him. Shooting him a reminder of what an outsider he was. He wiped a series of tears from reddened eyes. Hatcher’s Island was in his rearview mirror. So was the life he’d attempted to forge here. Noah was done. Finished.
Cane’s Inlet would fade into view, too. All that it represented would fade from his life.
He’d lost everything.
As he crouched near the stern of the boat, it was like he was willing himself to the shore faster, Willy left him alone with his thoughts. The old sailor knew when a man didn’t want to talk. What had happened during the last hour had seemed unreal, its events unfolding like in a movie, the pivotal scene down in cinematic slow motion. He was reliving it, vividly and relentlessly.
Parker’s threat, his manipulation. His undressing before him, exposing his muscular, thickly furred body, his powerful erection and asking, no—demanding–that if Noah desired to keep him from revealing to the Hatchers what he’d discovered, Noah agreed to have sex with him. Parker was sexy, sure, and Noah had always found himself jealous of the man’s easy confidence. Slightly attracted to the idea that Parker wanted him.
Noah had been weak, and afraid. Caught between a rock and hard cock.
He’d given in, had dropped to his knees. Taken the meat into his mouth.
Then just as Parker’s big cock was climaxing all over him, that’s when Demetri had arrived, finding them together. And this only hours after the two of them had declared their love for each other. What possible explanation could Noah have given? Not that Demetri remained for a half-assed explanation. He had run, disappeared. Would he have gone back to the party? Certainly, he hadn’t caught the boat, because Willy wouldn’t have had time enough to go and return given the time passed between then and now. Not even fifteen minutes.
Parker too had excused himself moments after Demetri had run off, his tone as cold as ever. His attitude self-satisfied. “Clean yourself up. I expect you back at your post.”
Fuck him was Noah’s thought as the boat reached the pier on the eastern edge of Cane’s Inlet. Willy was barely given the time to secure his boat before Noah was leaping off, running again. He’d have to offer his apologies later, but then again, that probably wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen.
He’d decided. Noah Sanders was leaving Cane’s Inlet, and he was leaving this minute. His car was parked in the lot, and thankfully the keys were secure in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He didn’t need any other thing, just keys, a car, and an open road. Zander’s Bridge awaited him, and then he’d be gone, never to be heard from again. All he’d sought, all he’d learned, none of it mattered anymore. His mind was a jumble of thoughts, his heart a mixture of emotions. His soul empty of everything but embarrassment.
He found his car in the crowded lot; so many guests still out at the Medusa had left their vehicles here. And why not, the night was young still, not even ten o’clock. Not one to believe in superstitions, Noah couldn’t help but think the full moon high in the black sky had something to do with the twist of events tonight. Or maybe it was fate finally intervening, telling him he’d been foolish to think he could outsmart the entire town. Find out his truth with most of the residents unaware of his reason for coming to town.
He’d trusted the Cane’s. And then gone and betrayed them. Or at least, one of them.
Trying his best to push the image of Demetri’s wounded expression from his mind, he got behind the wheel of his car, needing to focus. He gunned the engine, at last ready to disappear into the ether, just as his mother…no, not his mother, only the woman he’d thought for forever had been his mother, but really was just a woman who had stolen him. Could he do as she had done? Never to be heard from again. Was that the legacy he wanted for himself? To repeat the mistakes of the past, especially as he remained unaware of why it had all happened in the first place. Again, he fought against bitter tears, and he wiped them away with his hands, like wipers on a windshield.
“Shit,” he said aloud, the sound of his voice loud inside the confines of his car.
He couldn’t just run. He needed something vital—his laptop, back inside his room at the Ocean’s Breeze. No way could he leave that, because there was too much on it, website searches and notes about whom he talked to, what he’d learned, a full write-up of his luncheon with Stefan those couple of weeks ago. While it was password protected, Noah had little doubt someone would be able to get beyond his firewall, and then the Hatchers would learn everything.
Just run in, he told himself, pack his bags quickly, throw them in the car. And then he’d be gone. Which he tried to do, but after pulling into the lot and parking right up against the stairs that led to the porch, he noticed the Ocean’s Breeze was darkened; not even a porch light lit, much less one kept on in the lobby. Few people were staying here now, the season’s residents not yet in town. Which is why he’d been able to secure his room for cheap. But he’d never seen the old Victorian so black; it was almost like no one was there, no one even on duty.
He took the stairs, approached the front door. He tried the door and found it locked.
Where was Renny? Wasn’t he always on duty when Cilla was out?
Then he remembered what Cilla and Demetri had told him earlier tonight. Something had been off about Renny, he’d been upset and began throwing things. He’d calmed down, they’d said, but perhaps he’d experienced a relapse after they’d left. Noah peered through the small windows on the front door but again, all he saw was darkness. Should he knock? Or maybe call? Then he remembered yet another detail about Renny’s meltdown—he’d thrown a vase and in turn had broken a window. Demetri had needed to patch it up, making them late for the gala.
Moving along the darkened porch, his shadow barely visible from the moon’s glimmering light, Noah located the broken window. All the glass had been cleared out, the window secured by cardboard and tape around its perimeter. An idea formed in his mind, one he tried to dismiss. He couldn’t do such a thing as break-in. Could he? Turning his head, looking, listening, for signs of anyone lurking, he wiped sweaty palms on his suit pants, then began the process of removing strips of tape from the edges. Seemed Demetri had been thorough, taping the window from both inside and outside. Soon, though, the cardboard came free, leaving a gaping hole that gave Noah access to the lobby of the Ocean Breeze.
This was the moment of truth. Was this him breaking the law? Gaining illegal entry?
Except he was a legitimate tenant, he did pay rent on his room. He just didn’t have a key to the front door and had never needed one. Cilla or Renny had always been there, the door never locked. Again, a cursory look around him revealed no one watching him. So, he crouched down and stepped over the sill, seconds later finding himself inside the Ocean Breeze. As he made his way across the floor, stealth accompanying him, he listened for any sounds of life. But the place was deserted, the office door closed, no light coming from within. He reached around the check-in desk and retrieved his room key from the wooden slots. Nothing to stop him now.
Still, he felt he had to act fast. Up the stairs he went, dreading their creaking noise. But he made it to his room undetected and let himself in. He nearly turned the lamp on, a natural instinct. Except he had to think differently now, he was a cat burglar set upon stealing his own possessions. With his eyes adjusted to the darkness, seeing was surprisingly easy. He went over to his desk and took hold of his laptop, placing it under his arm. As he turned, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and saw what a mess he looked. Tear streaked cheeks, the black ink stain on his shirt, buttons uneven. With his attempt to run from Cane’s Inlet, anywhere he went he’d no doubt receive strange glances.
He made the decision right then to change. Off went the suit and he quickly donned a pair of comfortable jeans and casual shirt, his leather jacket the last piece. The rest of his clothes would just be forgotten. Like he hoped he was, once the residents here knew he was gone for good. It was his only option. Before leaving the room, he took one last look, at where he’d lived these past few months, his eyes landing on the discarded suit on the bed. He thought about what might have been. A new life, a glamorous one. So much potential. All of it destroyed.
Noah Sanders bid farewell to the Ocean Breeze, his room and the stairs, slipping out again through the window. Still not seeing a soul. Was everyone in town at the Medusa opening? And where had Renny gone running off too? None of this was Noah’s concern anymore, and so, with the laptop comfortably under his arm, he made his way back toward his car.
That’s when he heard the blaring of an alarm. Fear struck him as he stared back at the grand house he’d called home, wondering if he’d tripped a wire. But no, the sound wasn’t coming from here, but certainly nearby. He thought of the other times he’d heard sirens in Cane’s Inlet, both instances revealing the bodies of two slain women, their necks sliced. The killer still not caught to this day. My God, he thought, could there be another victim?
Yet the sound was different. Not police, not an ambulance. More like a security alarm.
Whatever the type, this was none of his business.
Noah dashed to his car, fearing discovery, as though the alarm was meant to alert the cops about his escape. Out of the parking lot he went, taking the side streets instead of the access road to the shore. He needed to get to the downtown area and ultimately find his way over Zander’s Bridge. As he drove past the Little Liffey, an establishment he’d miss, he thought he detected a shadow running on the sidewalk, a lone figure caught ever-so briefly under a streetlight before becoming absorbed in the black night. Noah then realized where the person—man or woman. he couldn’t be sure—had come from, the blaring alarm that much closer.
He noticed which building’s alarm had been activated.
“The Historical Society,” he said aloud.
For some reason, he pulled to the curb. He shouldn’t have, but he did. Cane’s Inlet still had a pull on him, most notably its connection to the long-ago past. Out of the car he went, dashing up the pathway to the porch. Unlike the Ocean’s Breeze, not only was there a light on beside the door, but the front door was wide open., shards of wood indicating a break-in. The alarm was deafening. Noah wondered if there was a switch he could find to shut it off. Then he would call anonymously call 911 before driving off again.
As he entered the museum, he realized he dare not touch anything. This was a crime scene. All he wanted was to turn the alarm off. But his efforts in the dark proved fruitless, the piercing sound penetrating his ears, seemingly growing louder with each step he took. A stream of light caught his attention, and so he moved further into the room, finding himself drawn to the Medusa Room. The door was ajar, the source of the light found inside. Another couple steps and he eased open the door, finding before him a mess of destruction. Shelves had been torn down, books lay on the floor, broken picture frames whose shards of glass had fallen to the dark carpet. But what he most noticed was he’d found the source of the alarm, the sound at his loudest inside this room.
The famed Star Diamond case had been smashed, no doubt such action tripping the alarm.
Noah breathed deeply, shock consuming him, as he realized that the diamond was gone.
“Who would have stolen it, and on a night like this?”
There was no answer, not from him, nor from the intruder he suddenly heard behind him. The footsteps startled him. He tried to spin around, but the alarm had aided in the person’s stealth-like approach. So, Noah never saw what happened, he only felt it.
A quick, hard blow to his head. And then came darkness. He never ever heard the thud of his body crumpling to the floor.
* * *
A beep. That’s what heard. Persistent, droning. He wanted to turn it off but he didn’t know how. Didn’t know where the sound was coming from.
Hell, his mind a jumbled mess, he didn’t know where he was.
Still just darkness, perhaps a slit of light giving him a sense of hope he didn’t know that he even needed.
Nothing made sense. Except that his head hurt. That much thundered inside him.
His eyes flickered but failed to fully open. The effort was painful, so he stopped.
At least his ears worked.
“Well, look who’s coming around.”
The voice was familiar to him, except his mind couldn’t process the face behind it.
Could he speak? He tried to move his mouth and even that hurt. His entire head felt like an anvil had fallen on it. His mind randomly inserted an image of the Road Runner cartoons, and even as tried to fight the laugh he felt inside, knowing it would be painful, he did anyway. A short, loud bark that sounded dreamlike to him.
“Ow,” he said, his first word. He tried to suck down air.
“That’s an appropriate one, I guess. Rest easy, you’re going to be fine.”
Again, that voice, soothing now, resetting his breath. Normal and easy, and his eyes closed. Gentle murmuring around him, lulling him to sleep, or perhaps a far worse place. Thoughts of his mother carried him down a path, dark, tree-covered, no sunshine and no warmth. He shivered and thought of snow, and then blackness found him. Again.
Then came that persistent beep once more, relentless in its efforts to annoy him.
“Can you turn that off?” he heard, and realized the words had somehow come from him.
“No, Noah, it’s monitoring your vital signs. Don’t think about it.”
“Thinking is the last thing I can do.”
He was speaking but still unable to open his eyes, still unable to decipher the source of the voice. It was female he’d figured out, his brain beginning the slow process of healing. Or cognitive function. What he most knew was that his head still hurt. Not an anvil hitting him, his head replaced by one.
He shifted his body, deciding he was lying on his back, slightly angled. One of his fingers felt funny, like a clamp was around it.
“Where am I?”
“Cane Medical Center. It’s nice to have you back among the living.”
So, he was still in Cane’s Inlet. Last he knew, he’d been running from it, his intent to never return. What had happened to make him stay? And who was this woman?
That was a good next question to ask. He formulated it first in his brain. He struggled before saying, “Who are you?”
“Noah, it’s Ginette Hatcher. Just go easy, don’t push yourself.”
He heard a slight laugh. “Good to know nothing has changed on that front. No killing your relentless politeness.”
He was processing what had happened to him by her choice of words. Killing, back among the living, relentless. Cane Medical Center. Just how close had he come to dying? Suddenly he wondered what time it was; he didn’t sense any light in the room, so it must still be dark, perhaps only an hour or so since…since…that part of his memory was blank. A good thing, he surmised.
He recalled the full moon. Shadows all around him. The thought of that piercing alarm worse than the beeping sound around him.
“What time is it?”
“It’s just after ten o’clock.”
He let that sink in, realizing she hadn’t said whether a.m. or p.m. It couldn’t have been p.m. because it had already been after ten when he’d made his escape from Hatcher’s Island. A chill hit his body courtesy of the onslaught of memory and the fact that he might have been unconscious for nearly twelve hours. He’d never been in a hospital before, at least not for himself. The antiseptic scent hit him like a brick just now, his mind taking him back to White Pine’s medical center, where his mother had endured poking, proding, so many tests that ultimately were unable to save her.
“Mom,” he said, softly, to himself.
That’s when his eyes flickered open, wide and questioning. The word a shock to his system. Like the fear washing over him had awakened him. His vision was blurry, the woman at his bedside more shape than human.
“Sshh, just rest. It’s too soon, don’t push yourself.”
He tried to shake his head, a gesture usually so effortless. He felt his brain rattle. He spoke. “Tired of rest. Ironic, right? I need to know, how long have I been asleep?”
“I’ll let the doctor know that you’re awake and talking. It’s more his job than mine anyway. He’s the professional.” He felt a gentle squeeze to his hand that bordered on the maternal. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. If you need anything, there’s a call button in your left hand. Just press your thumb down on it.”
His eyes closed without him trying, his hearing heightened. He heard the click of heels on hard tiles, the opening and subsequent closing of the door. He strange it was, he thought, the very woman he’d been running from, fearful of what Parker St. John might reveal to her, she was now at his side, none the wiser about who he was but behaving in a manner that could only be defined as maternal.
Resisting sleep was futile, so he gave in. Worry ceding to healing. When he woke up again, his eyes flickered open and this time he could see better. Ginette Hatcher looking as lovely as ever, her graying hair perfectly styled, her outfit a crisp blue. She appeared to be dressed in work clothes, as opposed to the glittering gown she’d worn just hours…no, not hours…could it have been days? Panic set in and his thumb found the call button and he began to press it.
“Noah, it’s okay…Dr. Delvecchio is here…right next to me.”
Blinking away a blur of fresh tears, he looked up and saw a kindly older gentlemen standing next to her. He wore a white coat, and a stethoscope hung around his neck. A thick white mustache highlighted his face, aided by kind eyes. But his physical details weren’t what piqued his curiosity, but rather…his name. There was something familiar about it.
“Do I know you?” Noah asked, his eyes trying to focus on the elderly man.
“Not unless you remember the events of Friday night, when you were brought in. I was on duty—and a rare night at that.”
“Dr. Delvechhio is mostly retired,” Ginette explained. “I asked him to consult.”
“Oh, uh, thanks,” Noah said, more confused than ever. Trying to decipher what he’d just heard. Still unsure what day it was. Surely wasn’t Friday, since he’d referenced it as the past. Also, that Ginette’s presence here wasn’t recent. It sounded like she’d been here for a while…which had him asking, internally, for how long had he been here, both her being here and himself. The words he thought became the words he said.
“It’s Sunday night,” Dr. Delvecchio said. “You’re been here for forty-eight hours.”
“I lost two days?”
“You rested for two days. Now, what do you say I run some tests and ask some questions, if you’re up for it?”
“Uh, sure.” All he’d wanted since coming to Cane’s Inlet had been answers.
Now it was just more questions.
“What year is it?”
“Are you unsure?”
“What’s your name?”
Now that was a complicated answer and he felt his brain swell again. “Noah.”
“How about a last name?”
“Sanders. My name is Noah Sanders.”
He looked at Ginette Hatcher as he spoke those words. She nodded.
“Do you know who the President of the United States is?”
Noah frowned. “Do I have to admit to that?”
Both Ginette and the doctor laughed. “Ok, we’ll keep things local. What town do you live in?”
“White Pine,” he said.
“Is that where we are?”
“Where are we, Noah?”
“Cane’s Inlet,” he said. Despite his efforts the other night to escape. He was still here, and the truth of the matter was he’d lost two days of his life. Had he just been laying in this bed? That awful beep the only sound, he unable to hear it until only recently. Thoughts of the beep brought it back to the forefront of his mind; he heard it again, loud and invasive.
“Well, why don’t we have a looksee at you,” Dr. Delvecchio said.
“Should I leave?” Ginette asked.
“She can stay,” Noah said. “I’d like her to stay.”
“That’s fine,” the doctor said. “Why not give us a little breathing room though.”
Noah watched as Ginette took a seat in the corner of the room, assuring Noah she’d be near if he needed anything, and he thanked her, his inner self feeling an unfamiliar warmth. She’d never been so friendly in all their dealings while at Hatcher’s. What had changed? His injury, or maybe Parker had told her what he’d learned? He forgot his questions as he felt a shock of cold against his skin. The doctor had begun his examination, placing the metal end of the stethoscope directly against his chest, Noah took a deep breath, tried to relax as his head fell back against the pillow. The doctor then checked his lungs, asking Noah to inhale, exhale, then repeat. A check of his blood pressure came next, then a pinpoint of light shining in his eyes. That hurt, making him blink, close them.
“It’s okay, Noah. Just open your eyes again. Just stare forward.”
Noah did, fighting against the light, knowing it was important to get an accurate diagnosis.
At last, Dr. Delvecchio was done, Noah thankful for his gentle bedside manner.
“Am I gonna live, doc?”
“Keeping a sense of humor does the mind wonders, but regardless, yes.”
“So, what happened to me?”
“Before you arrived, I don’t know? You were brought into the Center with a head wound, a bit of blood leaking. We sewed you up quickly. Nothing serious, but there was a slight gash. The stiches will dissolve on their own, doubt even your barber will notice a scar. What most concerns me is in your eyes; your pupils remain dilated, which is the sign of a concussion. You’ll need time to heal, but you’ll be fine in a few days. You may suffer blurriness, faintness, or nausea.”
“So I’m stuck here?” Noah asked.
“Hardly. We’ll keep you one more night for further observation, but you should be good to go in the morning, barring any overnight setbacks. I’ll check in on you again. Make sure you have someone to pick you up and take you home. You have a roommate, a wife? Someone to stay with you”
Noah tried to process all he’d just heard, but what most struck him was the fact that he was being released tomorrow. He decided not to answer any of the doctor’s questions, instead closing his eyes, faking sleep while his mind tried to ascertain just what the next day would hold for him. Sure, while only two days had passed since the party at the Medusa, so much had gone down, most of all his living arrangements. Demetri had asked him to move in, but that was no longer an option; betraying your lover had a way of killing a relationship. And Cilla, siding with her nephew, would surely kick him out of the Breeze.
He heard a scrape of a chair, the click of heels again.
“Thank you, Dr. Delveecchio. I knew I could count on you to help out.”
“Lucky for us all I was on duty that night. I may be retired, but I’ll tell you being home alone makes for long days.”
“I think I’ll retire when they carry me out,” Gineete said. “Thank you for always being there for our family.”
Then he heard the door close, leaving Noah wondering had both departed.
A creak of the chair next to him suggested otherwise. He fought against the pain by taking a chance of opening his eyes. He saw Ginette Hatcher again by his side, again questioning why she was being so caring. No boss showed this level of concern toward an employee.
“You don’t have to stay here,” he said. “I’ve got nurses. The call button.”
“Now is not the issue,” she said. “Tomorrow is.”
“We don’t even know that I’ll be released.”
“If it’s not tomorrow, it’ll be the next day. You’ll be leaving the hospital soon.”
He allowed a small laugh, feeling the pain rattle inside his brain. He reminded himself he’d have to avoid any emotion that produced a physical result. A laugh, a sneeze. They seemed to rattle him, and not just his brain. Because at the moment, even his heart hurt too, from all that he’d lost. Demetri, his residence, probably his job, too. He’d run out on the biggest party of the year, ditching his post on what was essentially his first night.
“I’ll figure something out,” he said, and then, unable to fight the tears inside him, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“In the Army, I believe they call it dereliction of duty. Being AWOL.”
“We’ll deal with all that later, Noah. For now, I have some arrangements to make.”
“No, your housing,” she said. “Because I’m guessing you need a place to stay.”
“Yeah, uh, sort of, I think.”
“The last thing you need when healing is further stress. You’ll stay at Hatchers.”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to give up a room, I mean, not with the season coming…”
“I don’t mean the resort, Noah. I’m referring to the house. We have many rooms.”
Her words couldn’t have surprised him more if she added the words “what else is a mother to do for her son?”, but those he failed to hear. Still, her invitation reverberated inside the echo chamber that was his hurt brain. He recalled Emerson’s words about mixing business and pleasure, a warning for him to maintain a fair distance between the resort and the house. This was dangerous territory, and all he wanted to do was say no.
Except he had no other option.
“I don’t want to intrude…Mr. Hatcher…”
“You leave him to me,” she said, “Besides, there’s someone I’d like for you to meet.”
“Who is that?”
“My son, Stefan.”
“I’ll think you’ll get along brilliantly. He’s quite a smart boy.”
This confused Noah even further. Had Parker not exposed him for the fraud he’d been all these months? Was Ginette Hatcher unaware that her son lay in this hospital bed, soon to rest his body inside the house which should have been his home all along?
Now his head truly hurt; in fact, it throbbed. So too did his heart.
Adam’s new Cane’s Inlet Mystery trilogy includes SCANDALOUS LIES, SINISTER MOTIVES, and the forthcoming SUSPICIOUS TRUTHS.
His acclaimed Jimmy McSwain detective series includes HIDDEN IDENTITY, CRIME WAVE, STAGE FRIGHT, GUARDIAN ANGEL. and FOREVER HAUNT, in eBook and print. The first two titles are available on audio as well. Jimmy will return in FRESH KILL.
To find out more about author Adam Carpenter’s books, click on his photo above!