The View from Rainshadow Bay
One Year Later
She never got tired of this panoramic view. Shauna McDade dipped her helicopter, a six-passenger Airbus, low over the tops of the trees lining Puget Sound and saluted The Mountain that stood sentinel over Seattle, Mount Rainier. The glorious September color juxtaposed against the sky and sea made her reach for her camera. A ferry loaded with cars and passengers chugged through the waves toward Whidbey Island, and she snapped pictures of that too. With any luck, she could sell them as postcards.
She headed her chopper back toward Lavender Tides, the small town of four thousand residents that looked like it had been plucked from a Thomas Kinkade painting. Most of the Victorian buildings and storefronts had been constructed in the 1880s, and the town often drew in tourists searching for a short stopover on a trip from Port Townsend to Sequim.
Many aging hippies had found its charm irresistible enough that they'd moved in and opened everything from coffee shops to pottery studios. In the golden glow of the late-afternoon sun, the town looked magical with its bustling pier stretching out into the blue water. The last of the Dungeness crab vendor trucks were closing and heading home for the night, leaving the pier to lovebirds and tourists.
She took a few more pictures, then flew her bird toward the municipal airport. After landing, Shauna stepped out onto the helipad and squared her shoulders. The piece of mail in the pocket of her denim jacket reminded her of the battle ahead. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. She'd deal with that once she got through the next half hour.
The small airport office was a simple metal Quonset hut that was beginning to rust. Through the window she saw Zach Bannister staring at his computer. The thought of asking him for help made her cringe, but she had no choice.
The wooden door boasted a new coat of blue paint, and the doorknob turned easily in her hand. Zach believed in keeping everything in tip-top shape. After he had gotten out of the Coast Guard, he took some Apple stock he'd inherited from his dad and built Hurricane Roost Airport. Though small, Hurricane Roost boasted a nice, flat runway and several helipads. It was a busy airport since Zach operated an emergency plane transport business out of here.
He stood when she entered, and surprise lit his deep-blue eyes. "Shauna, is something wrong?" He wore jeans and a flannel shirt that hugged his six-one, muscular frame. His hiking boots left flecks of mud on the concrete floor when he came around the desk toward her. A scabbed-over cut decorated his forehead, probably from his latest daredevil escapade. The last adventure she'd heard about had been BASE jumping off a bridge.
A flood of conflicting emotions swamped her just like always. Shauna and Zach been friends once, but all she felt now was distrust and hatred. He'd ruined her life.
Her face burned, and she squirmed inside at what she had to say. For the past year she'd gone out of her way to make sure she didn't run into him. "I need to talk to you."
"Sure, have a seat." He indicated the chair across the desk as he retreated to the other side and regained his seat.
She forced herself to perch on the edge of the chair. "It's about Alex." Her five-year-old son was worth every bit of discomfort she felt in this moment.
Zach's eyes darkened, and he started to rise, then sank back. "Is he okay?"
She nodded, then shrugged. "Well, as okay as he can be without a dad." She should be ashamed at the sense of satisfaction she felt when he flinched, but she wasn't. He should flinch and feel some kind of pain. "There's a father-son hike at Freshwater Bay next Saturday. Alex cried himself to sleep last night because he can't go. I told him my dad could take him, but he just cried harder. So when he asked if you could take him, I promised him I'd check with you. It would mean the world to him."
Her son had gone through enough the past year, and he adored Zach, who had been like another father to him. Her dad was more of an embarrassment, and even if he agreed to take Alex, Dad was likely to show up drunk. She had been backed into a corner.
"I'd be happy to take him." His eyes narrowed as he stared back at her. "That hurt to ask me, didn't it?"
"More than you can imagine."
"Are you ever going to forgive me, Shauna?"
"Can you sit there and tell me it wasn't your fault my husband is lying in his grave?"
He leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "It was an accident."
"You egged him on! If he hadn't been in such a rush to beat you, he never would have fallen."
"You think I don't know that?" He ran a hand through his dark, unruly hair. "Every time I close my eyes, I see his face as he fell." Zach's voice broke and he looked away. "I'd take his place if I could."
She squeezed her eyes shut against the horrific death scene playing out in her head. Even thinking about Jack's last moments brought immense pain.
After a long silence, she opened her eyes and exhaled. "The hike starts at nine, and the kids are supposed to meet at the Whale Trail sign. You can pick him up at eight thirty, and it should be enough time to get out there. Just don't let him out of your sight. He's all I've got left."
The Freshwater Bay hike was a safe trail, but little boys could scamper out of sight in a heartbeat, and the thought of leaving Alex in Zach's care made her heart want to pound out of her chest. She couldn't coddle Alex, though. It wasn't fair to deny him normal childhood fun because of her fears.
Zach stood and came around the desk toward her. "I won't take my eyes off him for a second." He looked deep into her eyes. "Thank you, Shauna. It took a lot of courage to ask me."
If he only knew how little sleep she'd gotten last night. It had been hard to keep her attention on f lying today.
The crackle of the envelope in her pocket as she rose reminded her she had one more battle to fight after she left here. "Yes, well, Alex will be thrilled. I'll pack lunch for both of you." She hesitated. "If you don't mind, I'd appreciate an occasional text just to set my mind at ease."
"No problem." He stuck out his hand. "I hope this can be the beginning of putting the past behind us."
She didn't take his hand. "Don't get your hopes up about that." She spun on her heel and rushed for the door before she disgraced herself by crying.
Nothing he said or did could bring Jack back to her. She could only try to go forward.
* * *
Shauna parked outside the quaint two-story with cedar shakes weathering to a soft gray. The home stood on a hill and overlooked the waves of Rainshadow Bay as they rolled in to pound the rocks with foam before receding. In the old days Lucy would have met her at the door with warm cookies and hot coffee, but the death a year ago of the Glennons' daughter, Darla, had torn their marriage apart. Shauna prayed the current separation was only temporary.
She rang the doorbell and heard heavy footsteps heading her way. The door swung open, and Clarence greeted her. "Shauna, thanks for coming so quickly." At fifty-two, his blond hair was thinning on top, and his belly strained the black Harley-Davidson T-shirt he wore.
As he stepped back to allow her to enter, he kept putting his hands into the pockets of his jeans, then yanking them out. His normally florid face was pale, and his light-blue eyes held a trace of moisture. "It's terrible, terrible."
"Clarence, what's wrong?"
He didn't answer, so she followed him down the hall and spared a glance at the family pictures portraying a happier time before Darla's death. As she passed the doorway to his office and darkroom, she caught the faint stench of some kind of chemical and saw his mechanics overalls draped over a chair. He must have been working on his car, though it didn't exactly smell like gasoline or oil. There was a vague familiarity about the odor she couldn't place.
When they reached the living room, he sank onto the sofa. "I need a favor, Shauna."
She moved closer and looked him over. "Of course. What's wrong?" She'd never seen him in such a state. His hands trembled, and he kept glancing out the window.
Clarence had been her mentor and surrogate father ever since she got out of the navy eight years ago. He'd taught her everything she knew about mechanics and photography. He had been there when she got her chopper, and he'd held her when Jack died. Clarence and Lucy loved Alex like their own grandchild.
He reached toward the coffee table and picked up a box. "I need you to mail this box to Lucy. I'd do it myself, but I have to disappear for a while. I think he's on to me."
Her pulse sped up at the dread on his face. "Clarence, you're scaring me. What's this all about?" She took the box from him.
He shook his head so hard a lock of hair he'd combed over his bald spot fell down on his ear. "I can't tell you. I still can't believe it, but if I'm right, I don't want you in danger too. Once I know for sure, you'll be the first to know."
"You can't leave it like that. I can keep a secret."
He shook his head again. "I have to figure this out before I go to the police."
His mention of the word police spiked her adrenaline, and she yanked out her phone. "Let's call Sheriff Burchell now. If you're in danger, let him figure out whatever this is."
His hand shook as he finger-combed his hair back into place. "I can't risk it. Not yet."
He rose and went toward the door, and she had no choice but to follow him. Clarence had always been his own man. Focused and intelligent, he generally knew what was right and tried to heed his conscience in everything. She'd never seen him scattered and scared like this.
He held the door open for her. "I'll be away for a few days, but try not to worry. Here, write down this phone number. I got a throwaway phone that can't be traced."
She copied the number into her phone and tagged it as Unknown. "I wish you'd tell me what this is all about."
"I will as soon as I can." He gave her a gentle push out the door. "Now get out of here before someone sees you."
"Who?" But the adamant expression on his face told her he wouldn't budge in his determination to keep her in the dark.
Her knees felt shaky as she went to her truck and climbed inside. She started the engine and pulled away from the house and down the long driveway leading to the road. She heard a distant thump, and it almost felt as if an invisible hand pushed her truck forward.
She slammed on the brakes and looked in the rearview mirror — smoke poured from the open front door and flames shot through the roof. She gasped, then gunned the engine and wheeled the truck around. The truck tires slewed sideways, grabbed hold, and hurtled the vehicle back toward the house, where flames had engulfed the structure.
In front of the house she stopped the truck and threw the transmission into park before she leaped out. "Clarence!" She ran toward the house, but the intense heat drove her back. The place was a raging inferno. No one could get through. Maybe he'd gotten out the back way. She ran around to the back door, but the porch roof was already caving in.
Tears filled her eyes, and her hands shook as she pulled out her phone and dialed 911. All she could do was pray he'd died instantly.CHAPTER 2
Zach plotted the logistics for the f light from here to Alaska, then back to Seattle. It was a good way to keep his thoughts from drifting to Shauna's coldness.
Zach's greatest joy in life was f lying his medical plane back and forth to Alaska, and it had become especially pivotal for his mental health since Jack died. The majority of his patients were kids, and helping take care of them made him happy. He'd always thought he'd have kids of his own by now, but life had kept him busy, and he'd never found the right woman. At thirty-three, he was beginning to think he'd always be alone, but helping hurt kids had filled that void nicely.
"Hey, buddy, want to grab some dinner?"
Zach looked up from his computer as Karl Prince's voice boomed from the front door. Zach stretched out his cramped back and shook his head. "Wish I could, Karl, but I just got a call that a little boy with a badly broken leg needs transport from Wrangell to Seattle. I need to figure out logistics for the crew."
Zach had always thought his friend's voice sounded like he was six four and built like a linebacker, but in reality, Karl barely reached five nine and had a thin frame he worked to keep by jogging. His wife, Nora, sold the best raw honey in the area. Karl's dark hair still showed no signs of thinning, and only a few threads of silver ran through the sides. CEO of Olympic Paper Mill, he was in his midsixties and had been a great encouragement to Zach after Jack died.
Karl shut the door behind him, blocking out the sound of fuel being pumped into Zach's plane. "What's got you upset? You've got those lines between your eyes like you're worried."
"Shauna visited me today. She asked me to take Alex to a father-son picnic next Saturday."
His friend's dark brows winged up, and he dropped into the chair on the other side of the desk. "Whoa, what's gotten into her? I thought she always crossed the street to avoid talking to you."
"It's the first civil word we've exchanged since Jack died. She let me know it wasn't her idea. I guess Alex cried and begged until she agreed." His heart hurt at the mental image of the little boy crying for his daddy. And it was all Zach's fault. He'd wanted to be there for Alex, but Shauna hadn't given an inch in her determination to make him pay for his crimes. He couldn't blame her.
Before Karl could offer up some wisdom, Zach's pager went off. "There's a fire. Gotta go." He grabbed his jacket and headed for his truck, with Karl behind him, then stopped as the address sank in. "Holy cow, that's Clarence's place!" He punched in a quick text to his friend, asking if he was okay.
Karl wheeled around and headed toward his SUV, a gleaming white Lexus. "I'll follow you there."
Karl and Clarence had been friends most of their lives, so Zach knew nothing would keep Karl from rushing there as well.
It was only a five-minute drive to the Glennon place, but it felt like an hour. He saw the smoke when he was still a couple of miles away. It looked bad, very bad. Clarence hadn't answered Zach's text, and by the time he turned into the dirt driveway, Zach's stomach was in knots.
Firemen were already hauling hoses from two trucks toward the fully engulfed structure. The smoke obscured most of the figures standing around watching. Zach parked his truck and grabbed his turnout gear before he jumped out. Where was Clarence? He scanned the crowd as he pulled on his jacket. He ran for the closest fire engine.
The fire chief, Stuart Ransom, motioned to him. "Haul that other hose around back."
Zach nodded and reached for the hose. "What about Clarence? Anyone seen him?"
Stuart, a muscular man in his forties, shook his head. "A witness saw him just moments before the explosion. We're afraid he didn't make it, but we won't know for sure until we get in there."
Zach felt light-headed at the chief 's grave manner. Didn't make it? That couldn't be. He struggled to maintain his equilibrium as he moved into position. Water shot through the hose, and he aimed it at the back windows. The fire had too much of a head start, and he doubted they'd save more than some timbers. The water began to beat back some of the f lames, but others sprang to life and devoured more of the roof like a giant dragon.
If Clarence was inside, all hope was lost.
* * *
The conflagration had died to smoking embers. Spent from sobbing, Shauna sat on the wet grass and watched the firemen carry the body bag from the ruins. She should get up and do something, but she was numb.
Lucy. Shauna cringed at the thought of being the one to tell her. Even though the two were separated, Lucy would grieve terribly.
"Shauna, you okay?"
She looked up to see Zach's eyes peering down at her out of a smoke-covered face. His helmet dangled from his hand, and he still wore his firefighting uniform. "You tried to save him."
"The home was too far gone when we got here." His voice broke, and he rubbed his eyes. "Sorry, it's hard to take in. I loved Clarence."
They all did. "There was a bomb."
His blue eyes sharpened. "How do you know?"
"I'd just been here. It shook my car, and I saw everything erupt behind me." Her voice wavered. "Only a bomb could cause an explosion like that." Why was she even telling him all this? He was her enemy.
"Did you tell the sheriff ? I don't think it's possible to know for sure what happened yet. Clarence had that darkroom where he worked with chemicals. It could have been an accident."