CHAPTERS THREE, FOUR AND FIVE by Linda Maria Frank
Find Chapters One and Two here: http://lindamariafrank.com/reading-lindas-new-book-author-tips/
The rest of the day went as usual. George Washington was deemed to be a great candidate for Baptism into the Roman Catholic Church, a moot point, since he was dead. Sister JoAnn put the kibosh on any discussion of whether the Father of our country made it to heaven or not.
The dismissal bell found me high-tailing it home. I walked in on what looked like a Mexican stand-off between Boots, my Scotch terrier and Fish, our Tabby cat.
Boots positioned herself between Fish and Fish’s food dish. She crouched, facing Fish, rear end up in the air, stubby little black tail wagging. A low gurgly little groan announced she was ready to challenge the cat to a fur-flying, caterwauling, barking melee.
Fish, her tail expanded to resemble my mom’s styling brush, executed two swift moves, vaulting onto the kitchen counter and leaping to the top of the frig.
From that lofty perch, she proceeded to lick her tail into a more manageable style, all the while glaring down her cute orange nose at Boots who was now running around in circles in frustration. This little tableau was repeated so often that I was beginning to believe Boots was either retarded or suffered from canine Alzheimer’s disease.
“Wanna treat,” I called, clapping my hands.
Before you could say Jon Buccleigh’s teeth, my two little buddies sat at attention at my feet.
Slipping off my backpack, I jiggled the treat jar. Behind me eight little paws did a tap dance on the tile floor. Treats accepted, truce declared, peace reigned in our home, Windalee Cottage.
The door to the porch that faced the beach on the other side of the house banged shut.
“Mom?” I called.
Her bare feet slapped along the tiles as she made her way to the kitchen.
“Lily. I’m glad you’re home.”
I didn’t like what I saw. Her hair clung to her face in sweaty ringlets. Her tee shirt and shorts were streaked with some black stuff. And she looked at me with an expression that said, “I’m so sorry your goldfish died.” Only I haven’t had a goldfish since the one she told me died when I was five.
“Mom?” My knees were beginning to feel watery. If my heart hadn’t stopped, it would be pounding.
“What’s wrong, for Pete’s sake. You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“Oh, Honey! She was coming at me with open arms ready to hug me.
“What is it, Mom. You’re scaring me!”
“There was a fire today, just before lunch, and it was your beach shack.”
The beach shack was our clubhouse. The Buccaneers held our meetings there.
“Whaa . . . Who? Do the firemen know what happened?”
“They think it was a homeless person who was living there during the day when you and your buddies were in classes.”
I pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down hard.
Could this be connected to the stolen money, I wondered.
“I know the homeless beachies, and I don’t think anyone of them would set a fire so carelessly. It’s never happened before.”
Things were beginning to make no sense. The first thing I needed to do was to figure out how to get the Buccaneers together, and where, so we could get down to business. This was spinning out of control.
THE CRIME SCENE
I heard Mom’s voice from some echo chamber.
“I’m getting up. Stop shaking me for Pete’s sake!”
“You fainted,” Mom announced as I picked my head off the kitchen table.
“I have to get to the Buccaneers, Mom. Can you help?”
“You need to tell me who they are, and I can use the telephone chain from the mother’s auxiliary to contact the mothers who will tell their kids.”
“No! No! No! Mom, I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry in on this. Everyone will be out there checking out the fire, as it is. Evidence will be destroyed. Sorry. I’m not thinking straight.
I’ll call Win-uh-Frank and have him use our own secret messaging system.”
“If I tell you, it won’t be a secret system anymore.”
Mom glared. I looked at my shoes.
Since my dad died in a boating accident two years ago, Mom has begun to lean on me, wanting to know every little detail of my life. My choices are telling her what she wants to know, tell her I need to have some privacy, or just lie. A mental picture of my guardian angel weeping in the corner, pointing a finger at me, and calling me a liar, tries to lodge in my brain. I banish it. I have work to do.
“Mom, it’s no big deal. It’s just a way to get in touch on this very insulated island. I can’t tell you without breaking trust with the other Buccaneers.”
She nodded, looking resigned and rejected.
“Mom?” She looked up.
“I love you, but everyone needs something of their own.’
She nodded again. “Do you feel okay?” she asked, getting back to business.
“I think so.”
She left me to do what I needed to do. The telephone sat on a small table in the hallway off the kitchen. I pulled out the small chair Mom had restored from a dumpster-diving expedition on Main Island.
All the phones on Fred were on a party line, but you could call a person’s number, and if no one else was on the line, the call would be private. We had a way of getting around that. Code, of course.
I dialed Wing-Nut’s number, waiting for the rotary dial to return before sticking my finger in the next number’s round hole and rotating the dial again.
There’s gotta be a better way to do this. Anyone ever think of push buttons?
Wing-Nut picked up and I heard three other clicks, a dead give-away that others were listening in. Friend or Foe? Who knows?
“The weather in Bermuda is approaching gale force, Beaufort nine.”
We used the Beaufort scale to indicate what level of emergency we were facing. Nine is the ultimate emergency.
Wing-Nut hung up and would then call the next number in our chain.
Mom returned with clean clothes and a towel wrapped around her head. She was very pretty, even with the tired frown lines between her brow.
“I’m going to take a look at what’s left of our shack.” I grabbed a jacket, but Mom pulled me back.
“It’ll be dark before you can get back. Wait until tomorrow. I don’t like this situation one bit.”
“I can’t, Mom. What if someone comes in and destroys evidence? If the fire is arson, that’s exactly what they’ll do. I heard that arsonists are known to linger around the fire or visit the scene later.”
She dropped my arm with a sigh. “Alright, but I’m going with you.” Taking the towel off her head and cramming a wool cap over her damp her, she grabbed keys, locking the door as we left.
She was upset. We never lock doors here, I thought.
The path that would take us to the shack was easily accessed from behind our house. It let along the beach. It was quiet, a fog gently rolling off the surf as it did almost every day in late afternoon. A few dog walkers dotted the line along the surf.
A few minutes into our walk I picked up the odor of charred wood. Mom said nothing and I was glad. My brain churned, trying to make sense of all the unanswered questions.
“Was it an accident?” I didn’t think so.
“If it wasn’t, who did it?”
“Was it related to the stolen money?”
“How was I going to protect the ruined club house until tomorrow? Especially, since we had school.”
The smell got so strong that I looked up expecting to see the smoldering ruins. A figure was appearing and disappearing among the burned timbers that remained upright. I ran toward the sight and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hey, stop. Who are you?”
The figure came out of the ruins and as I got close enough, I saw who it was. It was Sebastian (Sibby) Fintail, one of the local Fredites who lived off the land and the sea. He inhabited one of the other shacks used by others like him. He was a character, really eccentric, but a good guy.
“Sibby! Find anything interesting?”
“Not yet, Spro…er…Lily,” he said, quickly deciding not to use my code name, in case Mom was not in on our little “organization”.
“I am that sorry that you lost your clubhouse.”
“Did you see anything? Do you know how this happened,” I asked, hoping he had. The beachies were the best observers around. They were always out and about.
Sibby was probably 35 to 40, but looked 60 or so, just older. He was so weather beaten. Since he didn’t serve in the war, I knew he was older than my dad, but not an old man.
He was wearing his yellow foul weather pants, held up by suspenders, over a black and red plaid shirt. Dark green sea boots completed his nautical ensemble. His hair was sandy brown with gray and white sprinkled all over. His blue eyes peered out from pockets of reddened wrinkled flesh. His face was always bright red from wind and sun. As burly as he appeared, he was always clean-shaven.
That clean shave reminded me of my dad, smooth, but with a hint of a coming new beard. I tried to remember that face. I had to look at some photos we had of him to really remember. I sure wish he was here now. He’d have something to add, a suggestion, a plan, a shoulder to lean on. I looked over at Mom. I knew she must be thinking the same thing.
Sibby was looking at Mom too. I couldn’t read that look.
“Well, Lass. I’ve been looking. I found this.” He opened a paper sandwich wrapper and showed me four cigarette butts, Camels.
“Any of your clan smokers?’
“Not that I know of.” I reached for them, but he closed the paper wrapper and the package disappeared into his pocket before I could protest.
“I’ll be holdin’ on to these,” he said.
“But. . . ‘
“No buts, Lassie. I think something is real off here, and I’m stronger than you.”
He had a point, but I wish he would lay off the Lassie bit. I keep thinking of the dog, not Scottish girls.
Arf, played across my mind’s eye.
SIFTING THROUGH THE ASHES
“It’ll be dark soon. I wanted to get back to the house while it’s still light out. This whole thing makes me nervous. What if it is an arsonist and this is just the first fire in a series?” Mom said this while pacing around the burned-out shack, kicking little puffs of sand here and there.
I could see that she was agitated. She had been looking around, rubbing her hands together. Taking care of everything since Dad’s death was tough on her.
She kept the island’s only newspaper, The Foghorn, going, relying on the good will of past contributors and with a few clever ideas of her own. I thought the best one was a medical column that had recruited a local Native American healer to provide advice that many islanders had faith in.
“I’ll take you and Lily back home,” Sibby declared.
Hmmmm. This wasn’t the first time Sibby seemed to want to help Mom out.
Her shoulders dropped, and she looked up at Sibby, “Thank you. I would feel much better if you could look around the house with us to make sure nothing seems off.”
Sibby smiled. A very bright smile indeed. “It’s my pleasure, Ma’am. Don’t want anything to happen to you or Lily here.”
It was settled. With one last look at the rubble left by the fire we headed to the surf line where we would walk back to our house with our stalwart protector.
Mom and Sibby chatted about The Foghorn. Sibby seemed to be praising a headache cure that the Native American healer featured in the last column. I remembered that she was the mother of one the students at Saint BS. Her name was Tabitha Bluesmoke, and her daughter, Janet. I mulled these names over, and realized Tabitha is an old English name, Bluesmoke is Native American, and Janet is Scottish. Wonder what Ancestry.com would do with that?
Janet’s family and the North Breeze tribe have been living on Fred, well forever. Before the settlers came. St. Frederick Island was never attractive to the settlers. Too remote, ugly weather, and I think they were afraid of the Native Americans. Main Island was a better choice.
So, what brought the inhabitants who live here now to Fred? Many are descendants of the tribe. Some are free spirits whose families have lived off the farms they wrested from the forest here and the seafood that is plentiful in the waters around the island and the near-by ocean. Others, like my dad, who worked for the State Fish and Wildlife Service were assigned here. My mom and dad loved, love, it here.
There were no actual houses owned by the state for us to live in. Mom and Dad were able to claim one of the abandoned beach shacks and turn it into a reasonable place to live.
St. BS was claimed by the Roman Catholic Church in a bankruptcy deal. It was originally slated to be an old age home for nuns, but complications arose when residents who had children were not sending them to school. Because, let’s face it, it would be impossible, given the logistics of the island.
St. BeSillius became the logical place for a school, and a small clinic. The Church made a deal with the state to give the facility “not for profit” status, including all the tax exemptions and other goodies involved. In other words, it would cost the Church very little to run the buildings as church, school and clinic.
That’s where Janet’s mom comes in.