A Star Tribune serialized novel by Jane Fredericksen

Chapter 1

The story so far: Kacie meets up with her sailor friends Ronnie and Pete, and walks home to Thea's Place.

Kacie sighed. She pushed open the screen door. The wind chime on the door gave a cheery — tingle — tinkle.

Thea — a formidable woman in her late 50s — stabbed at the register keys with a pencil. Her blonde curls were lacquered into an elaborate beehive, which housed several more pencils. Kacie always suspected she kept them there as weapons, just in case.

Thea glanced up as they entered. She brightened as she saw them, swept a wayward curl into place. "Hi Pete, Kacie."

Her smile faded as she noticed the ice pack. "What happened to you?"

Before anyone could answer, Thea yelled toward the kitchen in a voice that could shatter glass, "Ginaaaa! Your kid's been at it again!"

Gina hurried through the kitchen door.

"Oh kiddo, you OK?" Gina pulled the ice pack away from Kacie's cheek, inspecting the scrapes.

"Claims she was bushwhacked," volunteered Pete. "By buccaneers."

Gina shook her head. "Let me guess. Laura Binkler."

"It wasn't my fault!" Kacie protested.

"She's a brat," said Gina. "Bet I'll hear from her mother, the lawyer."

Kacie sighed. "Sorry."

"Her mom's a brat, too." Gina stood up and began to untie her apron. "Thanks, Pete." She handed him the ice pack.

"Where do you think you're going?" demanded Thea.

"Oh, come on, Thea." Gina pointed at Kacie. "Sick kid."

Kacie crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue.

"She's sick all right," said Thea. "Sick in the head. Go on, take her." She winked at Pete. "Stuffed trout today, Pete. Your favorite."

He smiled. "There's a come-on line, if ever I heard one."

Gina grabbed Kacie's arm and steered her outside. "You come on, too. We have to fix you up before we go to Bernie's."

Kacie's heart sank. "Bernie's? We're going to Bernie's?"

Gina beamed at her brightly. A bit too brightly. "That's right, kiddo. His boat, dinner tonight. Remember?"

Oh yeah. Bernie's.

Kacie wished she could forget.

* * *

Across the lake, in northern Ontario …

He drank to forget. Or at least to sand the sharp edge of memory.

A prickly wind had chased him across the Canadian shoreline all day, knocking the boat halyards, shoving him every time he tried to make headway, like a bully who could not be ignored.

Remember me, it said, though he tried to forget.

He finally took refuge in the darkest pub he knew and solace in the strongest liquor. Even so, the young sailor could still hear the wind goading him as he sat at the bar, loud enough that it seemed to have followed him inside.

"Hey, Earring."

Not the wind, he realized. That was the problem with whiskey. It could dull all your senses, not just the ones you wanted it to. And that could be dangerous.

"Yeah, I'm talking to you."

He'd spent his life searching for safe harbor. That was all he ever wanted — that, and to be left alone. But trouble always found him. It rode the wind like a stowaway.

He tilted his head.

To his left stood a goateed hunk of driftwood: Mid-thirties, near 300 pounds, wearing a hockey jersey for some pond league team. Behind him, seated at the counter, four others in similar gear were watching, sneering. Maybe three. One might be a double image.

The goon. They sent the goon to get me, he thought.

"Didn't that single earring thing go out in, like, the eighties?"

The door was to the left, but he would have to pass the goon to get to it. He killed the last of his drink and slapped down a wad of cash as the bartender's eyes widened.

"For damages," the sailor explained.

The goon poked him.

"Don't touch me." The sailor's voice was soft, but drenched with menace. "For your own sake."

He heard the intake of breath around the bar. For a moment, it was dead still inside, but he could hear the wind rattle the glass panes.

He could always hear the wind.

The goon's hand moved toward him, but the sailor connected first. It was a good clean shot, maybe the last he'd have as the others spilled toward him. He surrendered to the storm inside and let it carry him to darkness.

Sometimes, he had no choice. He hoped they'd understand, but it didn't really matter.

What mattered was survival. It was all he had left.

Outside, the wind listened to the crash of bodies on tables, like the crash of waves upon rock, endlessly repeating, echoing into the night.

Tomorrow: Chapter 2.