Chapter One~November 2007
“Clare, take a look at those people. Who are they?” Clare followed her younger brother’s curious gaze out the window of their father’s pub. Her eyes settled on a small group of people. Five men and one woman. The shaved heads of the men glistened in the sun, and gusts of wind whipped their thin robes and bedraggled beards. Four of them gestured in the direction of Harrigan’s Irish Pub. A fifth man stood and glared. The woman shivered as she huddled in the doorway of a coffee shop across the street. She tugged at a white veil that shrouded most of her face.
“Are they some religious cult? She looks like a nun…or what, I don’t know. What the hell…” He stretched his lanky frame across the table to get a better look.
“That’s exactly what they are. They call themselves The Evening Star, but I’ve never seen them in Amelia Bay before. There’s a compound somewhere along the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. Look at the backs of their robes. They’re embroidered with emblems of the sun and a star. I wonder what it means? They sure as shootin’ seem upset about something on this side of the street.”
Clare felt a sadness wash over her for the woman. The dampness of winter in the Pacific Northwest cut to the bone. She watched as Bibi, the owner of the coffee shop, opened the door and motioned her to come inside. The woman shook her head and shifted away.
“Hmm.” Finn’s curiosity satisfied, he moved his gaze to the waitress who brought their lunch to the table. He had the attention span of a teenager viewing a documentary on the territorial habits of the platypus. Clare watched her brother give the waitress a lingering look as she set their lunch plates down. When it came to young and pretty, his attention span significantly increased.
Finn had come home for the holidays. Clare felt something was amiss, but he had not yet fessed up, and told her why he was here for such a long time. Normally he whipped in and out for a few days over the holidays, usually with the latest femme du jour in tow. He preferred to spend most of his time in Los Angeles or some exotic locale with the beautiful and glamorous people of Hollywood. Making movies held Finn’s attention, and he was dynamic at producing box office hits. Yet here he was, the second week of November, with Thanksgiving a stone’s throw away, and Christmas just around the corner. Him being here for about six weeks was…unquestionably odd.
“You’re new here, what’s your name?” Finn’s eyes slid to the waitress’ hand—a ring third finger left hand. Finn drew the line at married women. He learned a hard lesson at the tender age of seventeen, when an irate husband came after him intent on doing great bodily harm to Finn’s most private and sacred parts. He escaped injury through the intervention of their father and vowed never to cross that particular line again. Finn claimed he didn’t know she was married and twenty-five. Clare wasn’t so sure, but the dressing down their father gave him kept him on a straight and narrow. He was a man who simply loved women—all women of all shapes, sizes, and age. And they adored his fresh-faced good looks. Their mother’s friends had twittered and fluttered around him like a flock of happy birds from the time he was a babe in arms.
The pretty waitress smiled. “Yup, I was hired this morning. My name’s Lynn. Bev Hawkins recommended me. I used to work with her at the Amelia Bay Hotel. Bev’s a friend of yours, right? And your father, Mr. Harrigan, owns the pub?” she asked, looking at Clare as she placed their plates on the table. Clare nodded. “Anyway, when I came in to apply this morning Bev’s dad hired me on the spot. One of the regular waitresses, Bets I think, was a no show today. My lucky day.”
Lynn was a tiny girl with a shining cap of dark hair that framed her face. Large brown eyes peered out from behind the slim rectangular frames of her glasses. The glasses suited her strong square jawline.
“I’ll be right back to refill your coffee,” Lynn said. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, just the coffee. Thanks.” Clare looked at the expression on Finn’s boyish face. “What’s the matter, Finn? You look puzzled about something.” She cocked her head to one side and stared at him across the scarred table. Their father had kept a few of the original tables and wooden booths in the bar area from earlier days. He said they reminded him of how far he had come.
“It’s nothing, Clare. I’m fine.” She continued to look at him. He was bothered about something, but thoughts of Finn’s discomfort flew out of her mind when the heavy wooden doors of the pub crashed open and slammed against the walls. Lynn screamed and dropped the glass coffee carafe she was carrying. Clare watched it explode into tiny shards of glass and spew out its scalding liquid.
A blast of cold air followed the swirling mass of blue and white robes as the members of The Evening Star filled the pub. The men fanned out through the dining room with the exception of one who stood in the bar area. The woman hesitated, then walked through the open doors and pressed herself against the wall to the left of the doors. Clare heart pounded. Every one of the patrons’ eyes filled with fear as the scene unfolded before them. The glowing warmth from the old stone fireplace, the murmur of pleasant conversation, the soft laughter, and gentle sounds of people enjoying good food with good friends in a pleasant atmosphere had vanished.
Jack Hawkins placed both hands on the bar and swung himself over. He landed nimbly in front of the solitary man who stood by the bar. Clare marveled at the dexterity he displayed, considering Jack was in his late sixties.
“Let’s calm down here, sport. You’re disturbing my guests.” He pulled himself up to his full height of six feet three inches. Jack towered over the man.
Another robed man stepped behind the first man. He was larger and gave Jack a menacing look. Both men stared at him—defiance burned in their eyes.
“Don’t call me sport. I am the leader of The Evening Star. We are God’s chosen ones. His arm swept toward the dining room. “People who come to a place such as this, a place that serves liquor and caters to sinners, deserves to feel anguish.” He turned back and glared into Jack’s dark eyes. “They and you should feel shame!” His voice boomed and reverberated off the walls. The other three men began to crisscross the room and scowl at the diners as they wove their way in and out of the tables.
“Okay. Sir. I’d like you to leave…right now.” Jack sensed real trouble and shot a quick look at Finn and gave him a barely discernable nod. Finn reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. One of the robed men stepped up to the table and glowered at Finn.
“That is a tool of the devil.” His voice quivered as he stared at Finn’s phone.
“Look pal, if you don’t want to deal with the cops, I suggest you take your band of merry men and leave this establishment.” Finn stood up and slid his phone over to Clare without taking his eyes off the man. “Clare, call the police while I help Jack escort these gentlemen outside.”
The man in front of Jack spoke in a threatening tone. “I want my daughter. I want her out of this Satin’s den.” His voice started low and swelled. “Elizabeth, come out here right now! You’re coming home with us.”
Jack responded, “There’s no one working here by the name of Elizabeth.”
The spokesman of the group turned with terrifying fierceness to the woman who had come in with them. She pushed herself further back against the wall, as if wishing she could squeeze through the cracks in the paneling and disappear. “Wife, you told me this was the place,” he said, as he strode over to her. The blur of blue-robed men stopped their circling of the room and stared at their leader.
The frightened woman’s hands involuntarily reached up to shield her face.
“Bets, she goes by the name Bets.” She looked down—fearful to meet the man’s eyes. Clare could hear a tremor in her voice, then she noticed an ugly bruise on the woman’s cheek when her veil slipped back.
Clare’s fingers flubbed the numbers for the police station three times, before getting it right. It was a number she knew by heart, because of the terrible murders she had been involved with only two months ago. She realized too late she should have dialed 9-1-1.
“Please, please send someone to Harrigan’s Pub on Main Street,” she said. “We have a disturbance here and need some help. Hurry. Please.” She listened for a moment. “Harrigan, Clare Harrigan,” she told the woman whose voice she didn’t recognize. “My father owns the pub. Yes, on Main Street. Thank you.” She placed Finn’s phone on the table, she was mystified because she knew everyone who worked at the station, but the woman she spoke to didn’t know her either.
Chef Ollie Moran came out of the kitchen clutching a billy club, one of a couple leftover from days gone by when the pub had been a raucous place. Finn held up his hand to stop him at the door. Ollie nodded and stepped back into the kitchen. Clare hoped he was not going back to the storeroom where her father kept a gun.
“Bets didn’t show up for work today. I have no idea where she is. Now I’m asking you again to leave. The police are on their way,” Jack said, as the man turned away from his wife and walked back to him. Finn edged over to Jack and stood next to him. The men of The Evening Star fell in line behind their leader.
“I have no fear of police,” he said in a booming voice. “The Lord is the only One. His judgement you should fear.” He poked his finger close to Jack’s chest, but was wise enough not to touch him. “I am on His side. I do His work.”
“Y’all don’t have no need to fear the police, sir. Less maybe you broke some law here about.” Chief Bradshaw maneuvered his considerable bulk through the door with several uniformed officers behind him. “Let’s just step on outside and let these nice people finish their lunch.”
The policemen moved in behind the group, and tried to guide them to the doors. They stood firm until, with a final penetrating look around the room, their leader began to move toward the door. With a rough shake, he pulled away from the guiding hand the chief had placed on his back. Clare could feel the tension drop as the doors closed behind them.
“Folks, I’m real sorry for what just happened here. Everyone’s lunch is on the house. I’ll get the staff out here to refill your drinks and bring you some fresh, hot food,” Jack stepped behind the bar and flipped a switch on the stereo. The melodious strains of Kenny G filled the room and people visibly relaxed. Chatter slowly resumed as the diners started to discuss what they had witnessed. Clare stooped down to pick up the glass fragments on the floor and Finn grabbed a towel from behind the bar to soak up the coffee mess. Eddy, the handyman and all round good guy, walked out of the kitchen with a broom and mop. Clare felt protective of him. He smiled and shooed her away. He was back to his old self after the brush with death the poor man suffered a couple of months ago. It could have been her or her friend, Bev, in the car that night, and they might not have been as lucky.
“Jack, where’s Bets?” Clare asked as she walked up to him and Finn with a napkin full of bits of glass.
Jack didn’t answer her, but instead bent over in front of Lynn. When he straightened up, he said, “There’s a bathroom off the office, Lynn. You’ll need to go to the clinic to make sure there’s no pieces of glass imbedded in your legs. I don’t see any, and the cuts don’t look too deep, but the burns need attention.”
Clare looked down and saw blood on Lynn’s legs where shards of glass had sliced her skin when the carafe shattered. Nasty blisters were already beginning to form from the hot coffee.
Jack walked her back to the kitchen and called to Ollie to soak some towels in cold water and wrap them around Lynn’s legs, being careful to check for bits of glass.
Bets had been working at the pub since last summer. Clare knew her to be a sweet, attractive young woman who was taking a break between finishing her master’s degree and starting her doctorate. Clare pictured her innocent face with its sprinkling of freckles, that was framed by a soft cloud of strawberry-blond hair. She worked hard and charmed everyone she met. Clare had served with her a few times whenever extra help was needed at the pub.
Jack raised his eyebrows at Finn, as he took the napkin from Clare’s hand and tossed it into the trash can next to the bar. Finn responded with a shrug and said, “Come on, Clare, let’s finish our lunch.” Clare looked back and forth between them, then turned to walk over to the table when Chief Bradshaw came back through the door. He was followed by an attractive man Clare didn’t recognize.
“They’re gone, Jack. Least for now anyways,” Chief Bradshaw said. “What’s the story with the girl he was lookin’ for?”
Jack explained about Bets not showing up for work, and how long she had worked at the pub—about four or five months.
“Where does she live, Jack?”
“Down by the marina in one of those new apartments. I’ll check in the office for whatever information we have for her. I didn’t want to tell them where she lived. I’m pretty surprised, Bets never mentioned family to me. But I guess now that I’ve seen the family…I understand why.”
“Okay, I’ll have my people check out her place. Make sure she’s okay. Let me introduce you to this fella first. This here’s the man who is takin’ my place when I retire at the end of the year. All the final papers aren’t finished yet, but I don’t see no problems with this fine man.” The chief stepped back and put his arm around the shoulder of the man standing next to him. “Meet Jake Fleming, the Acting Chief of Police of Amelia Bay. Hell, I’ve got so much vacation time built up, I’m headin’ outta here tomorrow and won’t be back till my retirement party after Christmas.
Clare stood listening for a moment to the good ole Texas boy, who had been a member of the Amelia Bay Police Department for decades. She checked to make sure Eddy had the clean-up under control and didn’t need any help before she sat down. She shifted her gaze to Jake Fleming.
“Close your mouth, Clare. Remember Mom always tells us it’s rude to stare.” Finn followed her to the booth and signaled for a waitress to bring fresh coffee. “He’s a great looking guy.” He paused and looked the man over. “Rugged, not too good looking or smooth. Yeah, he looks like someone central casting would send over. A little short, though, wouldn’t you say?”
“He is not too short. He’s normal. Not everyone has to be a giant like you and the rest of the family, Finn.” Why did she feel defensive of this guy?
“Those all-American good looks—clean-cut. He looks athletic too. Probably just about the right size for you, little one.”
Clare had always been patted-on-the-head by the rest of the family because she had to stretch to reach five-feet-two inches. She wasn’t the youngest in the family, but her sister and two brothers treated her that way. Clare took after their Irish father, Mike Harrigan. She had his loopy auburn curls and emerald green eyes, while the others had inherited the long legs and blond hair of their Scandinavian mother, Grace. Their mother’s fair, creamy skin was a gift they were all blessed with.
“Don’t be silly. I’m surprised, that’s all. I heard the new chief was single. I never expected him to be so young. I thought he’d look more like Bradshaw.” She took a bite of her grilled cheese sandwich. Jake Fleming caught her gaze and smiled. She nodded and smiled back as best she could with a mouthful of food.
“Bradshaw’s been here around twenty-plus years. Maybe he looked like…” They looked at each other and laughed. “Uh…no.” The retiring chief looked like an ex-prizefighter who stayed too long in the ring, opened a bakery, ate all his mistakes, and then some.
“Single, you say? Hell, if I wasn’t straight, I’d fall for him myself. Of course, maybe he’s looking but not for a woman.”
“Finn, the man is an officer of the law, and divorced. I believe, I also heard he had a son,” Clare said, with a slight edge to her voice.
“Clare, you lead a sheltered life. Most of the guys in LA who look like him are gay. Some of them have even been married, hell…are still married and have kids.”
“Well, this isn’t LA, and the people here are not actors you hire for your movies.” She had just taken another bite of her sandwich when Chief Bradshaw approached their table with Jake Fleming.
“This here young lady is somebody you gotta watch out for, Jake. She’s been known to go meddlin’ in police work.” Bradshaw chuckled. “Clare, Finn, I’d like you to meet Jake Fleming. He’s the Acting Chief of Police of Amelia Bay. But if all goes well, this fine man will take over my job. Can’t think of a reason why not.” Both men stood next to the table looking down at Clare as she chewed and tried to swallow her sandwich. She took a quick sip of coffee and swallowed as gracefully as possible—gracefulness never being her strong suit.
“I did not meddle in your case, Chief. I first had to convince you that you even had a case, or a murder would have gone unsolved.” Clare wiped her hands on her napkin and reached out to shake Jake Fleming’s hand as Chief Bradshaw cleared his throat and sputtered a bit.
“Clare Harrigan, and this is my brother Finn Harrigan. It’s nice to put a face to a name. The town’s been buzzing about you. I understand you’re from Portland.” A fleeting look flashed across his face. Pain or something else? It was gone in an instant, and replaced by a smile.
“Yep. I retired last January after twenty years on the force down there, but you can only do so much fishing,” Jake said. “I guess news sure travels fast around here.”
“That’s the way all small towns are. The fishing here’s great, and it’s usually a quiet town. Too quiet for my taste,” Finn said.
“Their daddy owns this here place.” The chief jumped into the conversation. “Won it in a poker game back in the fifties. Isn’t that right, Finn?”
“Yes, sir, that’s a true story. Of course, it’s changed and expanded considerably over the years. Please, join us.” Finn motioned to the empty seats next to himself and Clare.
“Nah, but thanks anyway. We promised those strange folks we’d try to track down that young lady. Make sure she’s okay.”
Clare noticed Finn looked down and become very interested in his sandwich.
“Who were those people, Chief?”
“The old fella says he’s her daddy. The Woodman guy. The younger one who was standin’ behind him claims to be her fiancé.”
Finn’s head snapped up. “Fiancé?” Clare looked at him. He dropped his eyes back down and picked up his sandwich.
“Yep. The lady I’m assumin’ is her mama.”
“What about the others? They tried to frighten the people here in the dining room by rushing around the tables and glaring at everyone. They sure made me nervous.”
“One of the fellas said his name was Elder Josiah Bergman. His son, True Bergman, was the one who claimed to be the betrothed.”
“Did you see the bruise on the woman’s cheek, Chief? She was very meek, like a woman whose husband is violent. He didn’t even call her by name, just wife. Maybe Bets doesn’t want to be found. Not by them anyway. Bets isn’t a child. She’s old enough to legally down a beer, cast a vote, and make her own choices in life.”
“I don’t go lookin’ for problems, Clare. Plenty seem to find their way to me without my searchin’ for ‘em.” There was a finality in his voice. “If y’all hear from Bets, tell her to give me a call. We’ll see you folks later.”
“It was great to meet you both,” Jake said. “Hope to see you again…soon.” His eyes lingered on Clare for a moment, then he turned to follow the chief. They stopped by the bar on the way out, and Jack handed the chief a card with what must have been the information about Bets.
Clare waited until they were out of earshot then turned to Finn who had finished his sandwich. “I’m sensing something a little off kilter here, Finn. Each time Bets’ name is mentioned you pull your head in like a turtle. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Leave it alone. I’ve got to go home and help Mom get some boxes out of the barn. The chief’s right, you just go looking for trouble.” He stood and tossed his napkin on the table. “Will I see you later at the farm?”
Clare held him there with her eyes for a moment. “Not tonight. I’m going home. I plan to curl up with a good book next to a cozy fire.”
He turned and collided with Bev Hawkins in his rush to get away from Clare and her questions. “Sorry, Bev.” And he was gone.
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