Prologue

 

The story began with the wind.

It rolled across the surface of the greatest of the Great Lakes; far below night, but fathoms above secrets and shipwrecks. It rode the waves onto the shoreline, spilling up the streets of the quiet Wisconsin town. It drifted to the corner of the two-story brownstone and crept, rock by rock, up the wall to an open ledge. There, it paused to tease a small chime that hung from the latch.

A child’s voice pleaded, “Tell me the story. Again!”

Inside the tiny bedroom, two figures sat on a single bed. One was shrouded in covers — a young girl with hair the color of beach sand. Beside her sat a copper-haired woman in her twenties. As the woman began to speak, her face changed from merely pretty to deeply lovely, as if years of weariness had drained away.

The wind slipped into the room to listen. It tickled the corners of cartoons taped to the wall — childish sketches of a pirate, a boat and a beautiful maiden.

The story fell from the lips of the woman to the ears of the wide-eyed girl. The 7-year-old shivered under her comforter, but not because of the wind.

Because of the story.

The rustle of bedcovers became the sound of waves as the story took shape in the girl’s imagination. The woman’s voice rose like a song.

“I was sailing with the Pirate.”

The girl could picture it: a lofty clipper ship silhouetted against a glittering turquoise lake. The sun was a ball of flame, low in the northern sky.

In the cockpit stood a dashing pirate, dressed in an elegant coat and plumed hat. Sunlight gleamed off his single gold earring. One hand gripped the wheel; the other circled the waist of a lovely lady in modern-day clothes.

The young woman beamed at the Pirate. Her smile was radiant, her copper hair whipped by the wind.

“Suddenly, cutthroats boarded our ship …”

In her mind, the girl could see them, though she knew the Pirate and the woman could not. Shadowy figures tumbled out of the wind, over the ship’s bow. Some clenched knives between their teeth. Others hauled out daggers. Silently, they crept toward the cockpit.

“We were surrounded!”

The invaders, brandishing weapons, circled the two sailors. The woman cowered against the Pirate. For a moment, he feigned surprise, but then…

“The Pirate drew his cutlass.”

Bright metal sliced, villains scattered!

“He slew them all.”

“Blood everywhere!” The girl interrupted. She couldn’t help it. She knew the story word for word. And she knew what came next. She knew the Pirate would sheath his cutlass and pull the woman close.

“He held out his hand and said…”

“I’m here for ye, Lass,” the girl finished. She saw the Pirate and the woman kiss with cinematic passion, two figures framed against a magenta sky.

“And we sailed into the sunset.”

The picture faded. The wind died.

The girl sighed. She opened her eyes, deep and blue as Lake Superior.

She sat up. She was back in her tiny bedroom, its open window pointed compass-north toward the lake. The woman — whose name was Gina — smiled. The girl was sure that Gina knew more about the story than anyone else in the world.

Except, perhaps, for the Pirate.

The chime at the window gave a ting as the wind rolled in again. The girl’s hair danced like a sandstorm around her face. Irritated, she pressed it down. If only she had romantically wild copper hair, like her mother’s.

But no. Her hair might have come from her father.

The girl asked the question, the same question she had to ask every time she heard the story.

“You think he’ll come back some day?”

Gina picked up a brush from the nightstand and tried to tame her daughter’s hair. Her gentle strokes reassured the child, as did her answer. “I know it, kiddo.”

The girl settled back into her pillow. “I dream about him sometimes. He scares me a little.”

“Don’t be afraid to dream, Kacie.” Gina set the brush down. Her fingers touched the chime on the window latch, and her smile grew wistful. “Trust the wind.”

She kissed her daughter and stood up.

Kacie yawned. “Night, Mommy.”

Gina crossed the room and paused. “Sweet dreams, Kacie.”

She flicked off the light and closed the door.

Kacie closed her eyes. Pirates and ships sailed into her thoughts. She heard the ting of the wind chime, felt the breeze and moonlight on her face. She turned over.

The sheet fell, revealing a sketchpad beside her pillow. A cartoon of the Pirate grinned from the page.

Outside her daughter’s door, Gina silently wept.

• • •

 

On the opposite shore of Lake Superior, in another tiny bedroom, in another country, a young man jerked upright in his bed and screamed.

It was a scream to wake the dead.

The tenants below thumped angrily at their ceiling, his floor. He could hear their muffled curses. He ignored them. Instead, he focused on his racing heart, willing it to slow. He forced himself to breathe — deep, steady, calming breaths.

After a time, he gazed out his open window at the moonlight on the lake. It sparked and shimmered like prisms, like promises.

It glinted off the single gold earring he wore.

Then, the wind shrieked with laughter. It shattered the promises, swallowed them under the gnash of whitecaps.

The man slammed the window shut. He ran his fingers through a sandstorm of hair and sank into the shadows of his bed.

Out of sight, out of mind.

As if sinking beneath a wave.

 

Chapter 1

 

Everyone who came to Bayfield was searching for something.

That’s what Kacie’s mom said. They all came to the northern Wisconsin town by land, wind or wave. By luck, chance or calling, they all came searching.

First came green plants and trees, searching for rich soil to root into and moisture to quench endless thirst. They found glacially carved sandstone and the largest body of fresh water in the world.

Behind them came hungry birds and beasts, searching for fruit or shelter. They welcomed the generosity of the green things and helped to spread their seed.

Next came Anishinabe — the Native Americans — searching for the sacred Megis shell that would help their people prosper. They discovered a bountiful land and all their animal brethren who had come before.

Then came voyageurs, searching for beaver pelts to trade. Then came missionaries, searching for new worlds and souls to save. Then came more settlers — loggers, miners, quarrymen, farmers, fishermen and merchants — all searching for wealth.

Some were careful about what they harvested, but many were careless. They took all they could from the land or lake and moved on.

Finally, tourists came. They searched for luck at reservation casinos, at game fishing, at bargain shopping. Some found success, others failed.

Every group that came brought good and bad to Lake Superior, and the lake remembered. For in the end, it was the lake that always brought them back — the unsurpassed beauty of the rocky shoreline, the glorious sunsets. And, just offshore, 22 emerald gems known as the Apostle Islands.

Gina came to Bayfield when she was 15 years old. When Kacie asked her mother what she had been searching for, Gina smiled.

“A fresh start,” she said.

Kacie, now 12 years old, wondered why anyone would need a fresh start at age 15.

Gina never elaborated. “Some things are best forgotten,” she told Kacie. “But I found what I needed.”

Kacie was relieved. She didn’t want to live anywhere else. She loved the small harbor town, hemmed in by the smell of evergreens and basswood. She loved the great lake in all its moods: stormy, restless or serene, with the hint of adventure arriving on the next wave.

To Kacie, Bayfield was a town made for searchers and dreamers.

And Kacie Aldrich wasn’t afraid to dream.

On this warm May afternoon, tourists wandered along City Dock, clicking snapshots or hauling luggage in wooden tow wagons. Some ducked into local restaurants or shops, others island-hopped by ferry or boat.

Gulls circled in a sapphire sky.

Boat halyards clanked gently in the wind, as sailors tied up or cast off lines.

A handsome wood-hulled sloop sailed along the pier edge. The name on her stern read, “Redemption,” and a sign in her cabin window read, “For Sale.” Some old-timers stopped to admire her classic lines, as if watching a pretty girl pass. The boat drifted on toward the marina.

Uphill, shops and businesses lined Rittenhouse Avenue. A two-story brownstone anchored one corner. Its lower-level restaurant bore the title, Thea’s Place. A small wind chime on its door sang in the breeze.

Outside the restaurant door, Kacie sat propped against the wall. She balanced an art pad on her knees as she sketched, tongue between her teeth in concentration. The rough outline of a pirate appeared on the paper, with a blank oval where his face should be. Kacie’s pencil paused.

A roguish voice rumbled, “Make sure ye get me good side.”

Kacie glanced up. The Pirate lounged on a bench before her, primping his shoulder-length locks.

“You have no good side,” she said. “You’re a pirate.”

He laughed. “Aye, but I am what ye made me.”

Kacie chewed her eraser tip. “Then I’ll call you Captain … Hook.”

The Pirate held up all ten of his fingers and waggled them at her. “Not me name, Lass.”

Kacie narrowed her eyes. “Never mind. I’ll find it someday.”

“Ye worry far too much about me face and name,” he pointed out. “Ye name me, ye control me. Can’t have that. Like ye said, I’m a pirate.”

A boat horn sounded from the harbor. “Pete’s in!” Kacie jumped up. “Gotta run.”

The Pirate sighed. “Story of me life, Lassie.” He instantly vanished, leaving only the empty bench. None of the passing tourists seemed to notice.

Kacie grabbed her sketchpad and scampered down the sidewalk.

She was just about to break into a sprint when something — or someone — blocked her path. Kacie tried to veer, but another body cut her off. She looked up, irritated.

Kacie recognized most of them. Canary-blonde Laura Binkler, with her matching fuchsia nail polish, lipstick and designer sweatshirt. Laura’s overly average sidekick Dot Fegmeister. Dot’s lump of a sometimes-boyfriend, Calbert.

A step or two behind them all stood a kid she didn’t know, a slim boy with charcoal-black hair and Native American features. The kid seemed uneasy.

Laura stepped forward. “Look,” she sneered to Dot. “It’s Krazy Aldrich. Off to the dock. What a surprise.”

“Move, Laura,” snapped Kacie. She tried to angle past, but Dot and Cal closed ranks.

The shy kid still hung back. Laura’s latest accessory, Kacie figured.

Beyond Cal’s lumpy shoulder, Kacie could see Pete’s boat. She tried to wedge her way between Dot and Cal, but the two leaned together in a sweaty wall of flesh.

“Move,” repeated Kacie, impatient.

Cal snorted. “She’s looking for trouble,” he huffed.

Dot snickered. “Or looking for sailors.”

Kacie clenched her fist. She sensed what was coming next.

Laura smirked. “Looking for sailors.” Then her fuchsia lips pouted and formed the words Kacie dreaded.

“Just like her mommy.”

Kacie’s sketchpad became a cutlass in her hand. She swung it at Laura, who shrieked as it connected with the edge of her nose. A thin streak of blood spurted over Laura’s pink shirt.

Cal grabbed Kacie’s arms. Dot’s fingernails raked her face, but Kacie pivoted, yanked one arm free and slammed it into her attacker’s chin. Dot howled and doubled over.

While Cal gawked at the two girls, Kacie delivered a kick to his ample gut. Calbert’s face turned leaf-green and he staggered back, gulping air.

Laura and Dot sprinted up the hill and Cal staggered after them, still panting.

“Avast, ye cowards! Stand and fight!” Kacie screamed at them.

The shy kid hadn’t moved. His brown eyes were big as searchlights.

“What are you staring at?” Kacie demanded.

She took a menacing step.

The kid raced after the others.

Slow applause made Kacie turn. The Pirate stood there, grinning. “Well done.”

Kacie shook her head. “Easy for you to say. You’re never around when I need you.”

The Pirate shrugged. “Me? I’m here for ye, Lass.”

Kacie rubbed her scratched face. “But gone like the wind.” She retrieved her sketchpad and strolled toward the harbor, the Pirate sauntering behind.

Tomorrow: Chapter 1 continues.