Eleanor Weever glanced back down for the hundredth time at the brochure she was reading.
“Nora, get your nose out of your reading. It’s almost time.”
She snapped her head up and blinked owlishly at her blurry best friend before remembering she needed to lower her chin to see over her new bifocals. “What?”
Gracie William wagged a bony finger. “I said it’s almost time.”
Nora still didn’t believe the write-up in the brochure did the lighthouse justice, despite all the edits she’d insisted on to add more information. And Gracie didn’t understand.
She closed the pamphlet and traced a finger down the cool wall of the structure, not liking how badly her age-spotted hand was trembling. She supposed it was just an indication of how much today mattered to her.
Everything needed to be perfect.
Noble Lighthouse was special. It hadn’t been set on top of a hill to maximize its ability to warn sailors of danger. Instead, the fifty-foot structure had been placed in its current location out of good old-fashioned spite.
Over a century ago, before Shadow Island became populous, the residents of a small cottage on prime real estate had refused to sell. That had pissed the other island folk right off. When a ship crashed off the shore, island officials used the accident to get their revenge on the cottage’s owner by placing the lighthouse directly between their home and the ocean.
The tallest structure on the island rose from a ring of bald cypress trees, which had also been added to obstruct the neighboring cottage’s view of the Atlantic. Both buildings were now landmarks with histories and lore embedded in the island’s appeal. And if Nora could get her way, they’d soon become federally protected monuments.
She flipped a page in the brochure, smiling down at the image her own son had taken.
Unlike most others, this lighthouse was octagonal. Built near the mid-1800s, the framework was still solid despite the centuries of maritime abuse. Nora had worried herself sick that Hurricane Boris was going to topple the ancient structure. In the end, it remained.
Most of it anyway.
Even before the hurricane had come through, the lighthouse needed much repair. She looked up as far as the arthritis in her neck would allow. The blue July sky looked back.
Well, at least it isn’t raining.
Gracie took the brochure out of Nora’s hand and placed it on the stack of others. “Does the table look okay?”
Nora took off her bifocals, letting them hang from their beaded chain, and examined the array of finger foods Gracie had put together. Cheese and crackers were nestled next to bites of pepperoni and ham. Grapes and strawberries provided pops of color.
Gracie clasped her hands together. “I think it’s the best cootie board I’ve ever made.”
Nora giggled. Gracie couldn’t say “charcuterie,” and her substitute for the word tickled her every time.
“What about drinks?”
“I’ve got an array of juices and,” Gracie lifted a large bowl, “I’m going to fill this with ice and little bottles of water.”
Nora hugged her friend. “You’ve always been the perfect hostess.”
Gracie pecked Nora on the cheek. “And you’ve always been the perfect bullshitter.”
Nora didn’t take offense because it was true.
She was the president of the Shadow Island Preservation Society, promoting today’s event. If they had any hope of restoring the lighthouse to its former glory and turning it into the tourist attraction she knew it could be, she had to impress these people.
She just hoped her bullshitting was extra shitty today. There was so much resting on her ability to be persuasive and knowledgeable. The presentation had to go perfectly.
Picking up a lantern she wanted to use for the centerpiece, Nora shuffled back to the table and set it down. “Did you know the first lamps were from burning oil? And they used whale oil and other animal fats to fuel them? They…” Nora cut her oration short, lifted a hand to her chest, and inhaled as deeply as she could.
Gracie narrowed her eyes. “I told you to bring your oxygen with you, you old bat.”
Nora sputtered a laugh. “It makes me look old.”
Gracie snorted. “You are old.” She traced her hand up and down the center of her chest, breathing with the movement. “In…out.” She repeated the orders until Nora felt better.
Gracie rolled her eyes. “Stick to the script we wrote. Remember, we’re here to describe to the fundraising board how amazing this place will look in the future, not the past. They need to agree to release that money for the repairs.”
Nora knew her friend was right, but truth be told, at eighty-one, she had many more years behind her than she did before her. It was sometimes hard to see too far ahead.
“I know. I know. I just…well, whale oil is obviously not something we’d use anymore and some of the committee members might find it interesting.”
Gracie waved her off. “Go practice your speech. Bob and Chuck will be here soon. They promised to be here by ten thirty to help with last-minute things.”
Doing as she was told, Nora wandered over to the entrance, imagining what she’d say after the full committee was here in—she glanced at her watch—a half hour. She already knew many of the committee members. She’d been privately trying to get them on board with her society’s plans to bring the history of their island back into public knowledge.
With all the recent crime and death in her community, Gracie just wanted folks to focus on the more positive elements of the island and see the future that she envisioned.
“Welcome, everyone.” She held out a hand, pretending to shake with an imaginary committee member. “Please take a look around so you can see for yourself what we’ve been telling you. As the lighthouse has aged, the structure has remained solid, but the interior landings and stairs, which were made primarily of wood, have fallen apart. Contrary to what that nasty reporter wrote, the lighthouse is decidedly not on the brink of collapse.”
Bob Dolan appeared at the door. “Well, thank you, Nora.”
Nora jumped and might’ve wet herself a little. She placed a hand over her racing heart. “You scared me, you devil.”
Bob apologized but didn’t look the least bit sorry as he stepped inside. “I was dared to climb to the top several times when I was a kid but never made it higher than the second turn. Everything past that was just too rickety.”
Chuck Anderson came in behind him. “I did the same thing, which might be what’s driven my desire to see this wonderful monument restored. So that one day we can safely walk all the way to the top of the lighthouse and see the view that enticed us all as children. That’s why we’re all here today.”
Nora blew out a breath that felt too heavy in her lungs. “As I was attempting to say, before Bob nearly scared me into my grave,” she shot him a baleful look, “I’m planning to have each committee member take a moment to inspect the walls as they enter. You can see the pitting that’s started there. Don’t let this molting fool you. The base is made of cut stone, while the tower is made of brick. Both sides are faced with stucco. It’s only the outer skin that’s crumbling, not the stone or brick.”
She frowned as a person she didn’t recognize stepped into the lighthouse. He was young, baby-faced, barely a man. He almost looked familiar with his shaggy brown hair, but she couldn’t place him.
Was he a tourist who’d wandered in? He certainly wasn’t on the fundraising committee.
Nora took a step toward the young man, prepared to tell him to leave. She stopped after noticing how he stared at everything with open wonder and joy.
That. Every person who comes to this island should be allowed to go inside this structure so they can feel exactly that way.
A young man interested in helping to preserve their city’s heritage wasn’t someone she wanted to shoo off. They needed to engage people of all ages. She hoped it looked rustic instead of run-down. She and the others had worked hard to clear out as much debris as they could, but there were still piles of wood along the walls mixed with the boxes of swag they’d paid to have made.
The merchandise included bells, thimbles, spoons, decorative plates, mugs, and even hoodies and ballcaps for the younger crowd. All the knickknacks tourists could possibly want. And all of them were decorated with the artist’s version of what the lighthouse would look like once repairs were made.
Nora had spent so long working with a committee member’s grandson using one of those flashy programs on that design. It was rewarding just seeing the image on something other than the young man’s computer screen.
They were supposed to have had the samples up and on display already. But that hadn’t worked with the days they’d lost to the storm. Now she was hoping an unpacking party would be enough.
As the young man stared up at the open sky, she resumed her speech.
“Now imagine this place once the changes are made. Couples on day trips, camping enthusiasts, and RVers can enjoy the views and amenities we’ve planned for our newly renovated Shadow Lore Lighthouse and gift shop!”
Shaggy stepped forward. “What did you say?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was rehearsing a speech I need to give a bit later on.” Nora coughed into her hand and dabbed at the corner of her mouth with her linen handkerchief. “Today, we’ll be talking about the exciting updates planned for this amazing lighthouse. We’re rebranding the structure to reflect its new function and purpose. We even have mugs and t-shirts printed with the new name and likeness, Shadow Lore Lighthouse.” Nora gestured toward the samples on display. “Are you someone’s grandch—”
The cry snapped Nora out of her rehearsed talking points and made her jump. “What?”
“It’s the Noble Lighthouse!”
Nora gaped at the young man, who was no longer staring dreamily at the sky through the damaged top of the tower. He glared at her with a fury she’d never before experienced. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a black object, pointing it at her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bob lunged at Shaggy, grabbing for his arm. A second later, they were tussling.
Chuck shuffled over, raising his cane over his head in what looked like slow motion.
Nora couldn’t do much more than stare in horror as the fight raged on. It all ended with a loud bang. When a second shot rang out, Bob staggered back and threw his hands into the air in surrender. Chuck’s cane fell to his feet.
Gracie’s hand wrapped around Nora’s arm, pulling her back.
“Get back,” Shaggy yelled, the gun pointing every which way.
Why’s everyone yelling?
Nora gazed in confusion at the wild, angry brown eyes directed at her.
“You can’t change the name! You’ll ruin it!”
A third explosion followed his demands, and Nora fell backward. She hit the ground hard, and pain flared up her back and settled in her arm.
A burning, stinging throb nearly took her breath away, and she looked down. Blood pooled out from between her fingers, and she stared in horror as it soaked into her sleeve. Her arm didn’t move when she attempted to lift it.
Nora tried to get to her feet with no luck. She didn’t want the others to see her in such an undignified position, but she also had to get through to Shaggy. “Now, young man, calm down. We’re here to help.”
“You’re in shock, Nora. He’s got a gun!” Gracie screamed and tried to drag her dear friend away, pulling at her good arm while frantically keeping her eye on the crazed, gun-wielding man.
Nora looked around. Everything that had just happened snapped into place in her mind, and she realized what was going on. She’d been shot!
She tried again to get up as Gracie kept pulling at her. Her legs trembled, and her feet slipped, but Gracie wouldn’t let go as she scooted backward, increasing the distance between them and the shooter. At least she was wearing trousers today and didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing her underthings.
Shaggy whirled around, wildly waving the weapon at the cowering group. “I know what you’re all really up to. I won’t let you get away with this!”
Gracie stopped pulling, and Nora collapsed in a heap.
“Nora, your arm. Oh, God. Someone, call for help!”
Shaggy stomped closer, the barrel of the gun growing as big as the world. “No one is calling anyone or going anywhere! You’ll stay right here. No one will ever destroy my family’s leg-a-see. I won’t let you!” He picked up one of the mugs and threw it. The ceramic burst into a thousand pieces.
“I don’t understand.” Nora’s voice came out wispy. She tried to clear her throat but couldn’t catch her breath. “The tour is just beginning. We want everyone to see…”
See what? She couldn’t remember.
“Leave her alone!” It was Chuck.
Shaggy threw another souvenir mug, and Chuck barely ducked in time to avoid the missile. It exploded against the crumbling stucco.
Gracie screamed, and Nora looked up at her, terrified she’d been hurt. Gracie was staring across the room and Nora followed her line of sight. There was something wrong with her eyes. It shouldn’t be so dark in the lighthouse. It was late morning, and the overhead sunlight poured down from the opening above them, where the keeper’s hatch stood in disrepair.
Whatever happened that scared Gracie so badly was on the other side of the room. Nora tried to stand, but her legs were too weak.
“I’ll leave her alone when she leaves my lighthouse alone. This is my lighthouse. My only home. My family leg-a-see!” Shaggy slammed the door closed and lowered the plank that locked the world outside. “You can’t take it from me. It’s all I have left of my mom!”
He spun around, shaking his gun at Nora again, and she looked into the dark tunnel that would deliver her death. Or maybe it already had.
“Your family?” Nora gasped. That couldn’t be right. “This lighthouse was built by the Pickworths in 1832. They were paid by the Shadow Island township fund to protect the ships that would dock or pass by on their way to the mainland. Are you one of the Pickworths? I thought they’d all moved to the mainland by 1940. You’re entirely too young to be one of them.”
The young man gaped at her. “No, I’m not a Pickworth. I’m a Noble.”
Chills ran through Nora, even though she felt so warm. It was silly to shiver like this in July. “Oh, like the last keeper of the lighthouse. This grand building was named after him in honor of his lifetime of service.”
“Nora.” Gracie yanked on her left arm, the one that hadn’t been shot. “Now is not the time to go on one of your rambles.”
Her head spinning, Nora looked away from the silhouette of the nice, young Noble boy and at her best friend. Gracie was fading.
Nora reached for her friend’s face. “Don’t go.”
“Help, please,” Gracie cried. “She’s dying. We have to call 911.”
Nora closed her eyes.
Oh, dear. That wouldn’t do. They couldn’t have someone die at the lighthouse. It would make it so hard to get the insurance they needed to turn this delightful landmark into a true tourist attraction.
Sheriff Rebecca West chugged down the last dregs of coffee as her senior deputy pulled his cruiser into a gravel driveway that was half weeds and all deep ruts. She longed to be back in her little sheriff’s department, finishing up the remaining paperwork from their last big case.
She was exhausted from the events following a double homicide, as well as from the constant cleanup still needed after a hurricane plowed over the island. A few extra days to recuperate and get some additional sleep would be a godsend.
Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, it was.
“Didn’t you say the call was for the old Alton Place?” Rebecca leaned forward, examining the construction site. The sign at the front declared it the future site of The View at Shadow Inlet.
“Yeah, this is the old Alton Place. They tore it down to build this new…whatever the hell it’s supposed to be.”
Hoyt Frost waved his hand at the driveway flanked by six partially built cottages and an army of construction workers on various tiers of scaffolding, literally throwing up brickwork faster than she thought possible. Two men in different colored hard hats noticed their arrival and walked over from where they’d been standing near a cement mixer.
“Nothing here looks old anymore,” Rebecca muttered under her breath as she got out of the passenger seat.
It was a shame too. Back when she was a child, Rebecca’s parents brought her to Shadow Island each summer. She remembered the houses being few and far between.
Now? Eager for a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, houses and condominiums were practically stacked on top of each other with yards no bigger than postage stamps.
“Sheriff?” The man in the white hat stuck his hand out to Hoyt.
The senior deputy pointed at her. “Sheriff Rebecca West.”
The hand shifted her way, and he gave Rebecca’s a solid shake. “I’m Stan Folton, in charge of this construction site. My foreman, LeRoy Bloom,” he hiked his thumb over his shoulder at the man in the blue hat, “called me right after he called you guys. Said he had a man show up ranting and raving about us destroying his house.”
“You weren’t here during the incident?”
“No, ma’am. I just arrived a few minutes ago. I didn’t want my guys getting harassed while trying to do their jobs. I brought the permits and a copy of our contract with the owners of this property. We didn’t do the demolition. It was a scraped lot when we got started.”
Rebecca turned her attention to Bloom. “Did you see the man?”
He squinted at her in the late morning sunshine, his blue hard hat doing little to keep the light out of his brown eyes. “Yes, ma’am. I heard him ranting as he walked up the road here. Then he started screaming.”
Folton tried to hand her his clipboard of paperwork, and she waved it over to Hoyt to look through. It would be incredibly unusual if they were, in fact, working on the wrong site. Right now, she wanted to focus on what happened.
“Could you hear what he was saying?”
Bloom laughed. “Oh, yeah. I heard him just fine. He walked right up the middle of the construction, acted like he was opening a door, then stood there staring and screaming about everything being out of place.”
“Out of place?” She looked around at the mess of building materials. “What could he possibly think was out of place here?”
“The couch. Grandpa’s chair. Ma’s painting.” Bloom waved his arms, as if pointing at different things around him. “Said the carpet was all covered in dirt too. Said he’d been robbed. That the trees took everything from him.”
“Hold up.” Hoyt moved several paces away, frowned, and looked around. He focused on the road and a few bald cypress trees still standing where the original driveway had been. Then he shifted a couple feet to the right and turned to face them. “Was he standing here?”
“Yeah, right about there. Then he walked off thataway,” he pointed to Hoyt’s left, “and started screaming that his bed was gone and that his dad had promised he’d always be welcome home once he got out.”
Hoyt tapped his foot on the ground, marking a spot. “This is where the Alton house was. Right over there, that’s where Mason’s childhood bedroom was. We got called out here often enough before he got committed.”
“Committed?” Stan Folton straightened, his focus settled firmly on Hoyt, all amusement draining from his face. “Why was he committed? Are my men in danger?”
“Not sure what the diagnosis was. I know he was never on great terms with reality, but he was never really violent either.” Hoyt readjusted his hat lower on his forehead. “He’d throw temper tantrums and get loud. Act like he was hurt when he clearly wasn’t. We were called out for disturbing the peace. And to double-check that he was okay, since he’d sometimes scream and wail so much.”
Rebecca was concerned. She didn’t want to question her deputy’s tactics in front of these witnesses, but she needed to know what had happened inside the house. “What did you find?”
Hoyt shrugged. “Mason was never hurt that we could see. No one was. But he’d get plenty loud, and his dad couldn’t always get him calmed down. There were a few times he’d bang his fists on his knees, and he’d bang his head on the wall after we arrived, but he never went after anyone.”
“What about his mother?”
Hoyt wrinkled his nose at her question. “She ran off. Which, I suppose, is why his dad placed him in a home.”
“When was that?”
“Nine or ten years ago. I don’t remember exactly how it all went down. Not sure if I ever knew.”
“You think the site’s visitor is Mason Alton, and he was confused and thought he still lived here?”
“That’s what it sounds like to me.”
“Where’s his dad now?”
Hoyt scratched his jaw. “Dennis moved out of town years ago.”
Rebecca turned back to the construction workers. “Do you have any idea why Mason, if it was Mason, left? Did you chase him off? Threaten him?”
Bloom shook his head. “No, ma’am. Once we realized he wasn’t right in the head, we just left him alone and called you guys. He didn’t seem violent to us either. But he was loud and ranting, just like the deputy said he’d been in the past. I felt pretty bad for him, truth be told. He looked so distraught. Like he’d lost everything that mattered to him, then someone hauled off and kicked his puppy to boot.”
“Sheriff West, what’s your location?” It was Viviane Darby, Rebecca’s day shift dispatcher and friend.
Rebecca stepped away from the construction workers to answer the radio. “Old Alton Place, now known as The View at Shadow Inlet. What’s going on?”
“We’ve got two reports of a disturbance up at the old Noble Lighthouse.”
Rebecca turned to Hoyt, but it was the foreman who spoke up. “Did she say something about a lighthouse?”
Bloom’s face paled. “Before the guy took off, he was ranting about the Noble Lighthouse and how that was his real home anyway.”
Rebecca frowned. It wasn’t the first time the lighthouse had been the focus of attention that day. She remembered reading that today the Preservation Society was supposed to be doing the tour of the lighthouse before arguing their case for renaming it.
All four of them jerked as a blast rang out in the distance. Then another.
Fireworks? Please, God, let it be that.
The Fourth of July celebration was only a few days ago, so kids shooting off some leftover fireworks was a reasonable assumption. But deep in her gut, Rebecca knew they weren’t that lucky.
A few seconds later, Viviane confirmed her fear. “Sheriff, update. It’s a possible hostage situation with multiple shots fired. The gunshots came from inside the lighthouse, and the door is now closed. There are also reports of people screaming inside.”
When you’re a hostage of your own nightmare…
As the Shadow Island Historical Society prepares to raise funds to restore the island’s beloved lighthouse, someone else has other lethal plans. Instead of the presentation the group hopes for, they attract the attention of a madman claiming the historic monument is his family legacy before firing several shots and barricading the doors.
Now, one hostage is dying and the rest fear for their lives… Read More