Summer is here and the lake beckons. From tourists coming to splash their feet in the water to local teens who spend their summer on the beach, everything about the lake calls, “Come to me!”
The town plays host to the Chelsea Grand Prix, an annual event that draws bicyclists from far and wide. Many have come to get the treacherous metric century ride on their resume. Will everyone make it to the end of the journey?
A couple pretending to be on their second honeymoon have hired Ray and The Escape for two day-long fishing trips. Ray backs off because of the weather. Is every captain as cautious as he?
A wedding party plans a moonlight cruise. Once the weather clears, Ray sets off for a day and night of beautiful skies and the sound of slow lapping water. Will something mar the nuptials?
Annie continues to look for her roots amidst the ebb and flow of the hospitality business in this resort town. Will she ever be rid of her enemies? Will her family of cats ever be truly safe?
Once again, the moon is full, and it happens during the summer solstice. The strawberry moon seems to bring out the best – and the worst – that humanity has to offer.
Excerpt From Splash
Henrie had a light morning. One guest. Her room, the back bedroom on the main level of the KaliKo Inn, had access to the beach. Henrie knew she went for early morning walks and that she would return in about a half hour.
She was not just a guest; she was a friend. On days she was the only guest, Henrie served breakfast in the kitchen.
Henrie paused to look out the kitchen window. The cloudless sky was as blue as sapphire. He could almost feel the cool June breeze on his face. He promised to walk to the lake himself after breakfast. It was time to splash around barefoot at the edge of the lake.
Henrie heard Annie come from her apartment on the third floor to the second floor landing. He assumed she sat down at the computer to check email or Facebook.
Henrie was an enigma. He came with the highest recommendations from a five-star hotel in New York. He seemed quite content to live in this small resort community and work at this Inn, where he was chief cook, bottle washer, toilet bowl cleaner and concierge.
He did not invite confidences and spoke little about himself. Most people, townsfolk and tourists alike, came away thinking, what is that accent? French? Cameroon? Rwandan? They also went away with the eerie feeling that he could read their minds. Indeed, whatever was needed or desired, he offered before a request was made.
Today, breakfast would be French toast stuffed with cream cheese and fresh strawberries, oatmeal with walnuts and cranberries, coffee and juices. And bacon. He had to make bacon for another reason, so he made enough for breakfast.
Henrie heard what could have been a herd of wild horses come down the stairs. Annie was already at the kitchen door. Seven cats and a little dog came in at a run. They pranced around Henrie and looked up with expectant, adoring faces.
“Do you ever feed them?”
“Yes. They’ve had breakfast. Well, I didn’t feed Tillie. I expect his own momma fed her, but the cats have eaten.”
“I do not believe you.” The stern look on Henrie’s face didn’t match the smile in his voice.
He picked up a small bowl and a platter of shredded bacon and walked into the dining room. A table beside the door had a covering over it and a sign that proclaimed this to be the Seven Cats Detective Agency. Henrie picked up a corner of the table covering, leaned over, and dribbled bits of bacon into seven little cat dishes, one for each cat. Henrie put the last of the bacon into the small bowl and put that on the floor for the little dog.
Bacon gone, the eight friends pranced around, asked politely for “more, please,” but eventually realized that was not going to happen.
Tiger Lily looked up at Annie. Annie looked down at Tiger Lily.
“It’s Monday. Don’t you have someplace to be? I imagine the breakfast rush is in full swing at the Café.”
Tiger Lily gave Annie a quick blink, then whirled to bop a few cats on the nose. With the exception of two dilute calico cats – two very large dilute calico cats – they turned and ran to the front door, out the cat door, down the porch steps, and up The Avenue on their way to work.
The little dog, Tillie, looked confused. She made up her mind and followed the herd outside.
The two large cats flicked their tails and walked sedately to the library, where they jumped to the windowsill, cleaned their paws and faces, and curled up to take a nap in the sun.
This was Chelsea, a resort town on the eastern coast of one of the Great Lakes. The town was snuggled into the lake on one side and the wooded acreage of a state park on two other sides. It had the feel of a village separated from the rest of the world.
Annie, Henrie and the cats lived at the KaliKo Inn, a bed and breakfast with beach-front access to the lake. The Inn was just one of the businesses owned by Annie, who had inherited this building and another building, long enough for five storefronts, just to the east of the Inn.
Each business bore the name of a cat – or two – who acted as the titular managers. Heaven help the human managers if they ever thought they were responsible for the places. The cats themselves knew better.
Tiger Lily, a pretty tabby cat, reigned at Tiger Lily’s Café, the gateway to Sunset Avenue and the premier gathering place for Chelsea natives and tourists.
Little Socks, black with white markings, sometimes called a tuxedo cat, “managed” a yoga studio, Lil’ Socks’ Virasana. Mo, litter mate to the two dilute calicos, was a handsome long-haired gray cat. He spent his days at Mo’s Tap, an upscale blues bar.
Mr. Bean, the youngest, a muscular gray kitten, danced in the windows to bring customers into his Confectionary, where the best baked goods and chocolates in the state could be found.
Sassy Pants, whose maker apparently took a paint palette and threw it at her, played with whatever fell on the floor at Sassy P’s Wine & Cheese. Usually, what fell on the floor was a wine bottle cork that one or another employee would “accidently” drop. Or throw.
The two calicos, Kali and Ko, stayed right here, at the KaliKo Inn. Here, they greeted guests, sniffed luggage, made sure Henrie cooked a proper breakfast, tested the chocolate truffles left in guest rooms every evening, and slept.
Tillie, a Jack Russell Terrier, was a regular guest of the Inn. She belonged to Isabel, but for the past several months she lived with Isabel’s fiancé, Carlos.
Carlos managed Mr. Bean’s Confectionary. While Tillie lived with him, he took her to work every day. Tillie now lived with Isabel at the Inn, but the little dog often went to Mr. Bean’s during the day to dance in the widows, competing with the kitten for attention.
Annie helped Henrie set the table, which was ready just as Isabel came in from her walk on the beach. She smiled and said, “Good morning,” but Annie and Henrie, rather than responding, looked at one another, then back at her.
Henrie spoke first, using the formal tone everyone knew so well. “Sit down, let me pour coffee, and if you would like, please tell us all about it.”
Isabel sat on one of the tall chairs set around a butcher block table. Her English had a beautiful Mexican lilt. “There’s nothing to tell.”
Annie sat beside her. “Don’t mind us. You don’t have to tell us everything. For goodness sakes, you’re getting ready to be married. You have a lot on your mind.”
“I don’t mind that you ask, really. I just don’t know what to say. How to say it.”
Silence reigned as the trio ate breakfast. Henrie and Annie were of the same mind in this regard. Sometimes, silence is golden.
Isabel sighed. “It’s, well, it’s Daniela and the girls.”
Daniela lived in Mexico. Not only was she Carlos’ mother, she had been a surrogate mother to Isabel. “The girls” were hardly girls anymore. Rosa and Valeria, sisters to Carlos, were young adults with jobs.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s…it’s so difficult. Carlos and I both want her to move here, but she won’t.”
“It’s her home. It has to be hard to consider moving.”
“It hasn’t been her home for more than a decade. The cartel took everything she owned, including the life of her husband. They took her home, her business. They put her in a hovel and they ‘allow’ Rosa and Valeria to work. I haven’t even been able to tell Carlos that they take a percentage of everything he sends as payment for their largesse.”
Annie and Henrie looked at Isabel, eyes wide.
“What? All these years, and he’s been paying the cartel without knowing?”
“All this time. And because she’s been such a good little soldier, they ‘allow’ her to visit Carlos every now and then. I guess that’s their way to assure the money keeps coming.”
“Why won’t she move?”
“She doesn’t think they will let both of the girls come.”
“How can they stop them?”
“They have their ways. If someone won’t stay willingly, then…well, then they resort to more compelling measures.”
“Why do they need the girls to stay?”
“They have some education, and their jobs pay as well as any in the country. They have been able to stay out of ‘the life’ by paying a percentage of their salary to them. Carlos thinks their jobs are low-paying. He doesn’t know how much goes into the pockets of someone else.”
Annie thought about the previous December. “They were all here for Christmas. You, too. Why didn’t they stay then? Why didn’t you all stay?”
“It’s not so simple. Daniela lives better than most because of Carlos, but the whole town lives in poverty. No one else can afford to travel freely. She has family there. Sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, and all of the relatives of her late husband. They can’t afford to move. If Daniela and the girls were to disappear, come here and not return, the extended family would pay the price. And the price would be steep. Arms, legs, even their lives would be taken in payment.”
“Carlos was able to move. How did that happen?”
“He moved before the cartel moved into town. He was already out of reach.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Only if you have enough money to move the entire town at one time. Under cover of darkness.”
“And you haven’t talked to Carlos?”
“What would I say?”
Henrie, who had remained silent throughout the exchange, spoke up. “You would say, ‘Carlos, we need to talk.’ And then, tell him everything. Allow him to be a part of the solution.”
“He’ll go down there and start trouble.”
“This has been going on for years? No one is in imminent danger. Start with that.”
Isabel sighed, pushed her plate away and stood. She looked at both Henrie and Annie. “You have no idea how often I’ve thought that very thing. It has to be done. We have to talk. Right now, I need to think. Thank you for breakfast, and thank you for being my friends.”
Isabel left the room, headed down the hallway to her own room. She stopped and turned, “By the way, have you seen Tillie this morning? She left as soon as I fed her.”
“You’re going to have to get used to the animals on The Avenue that are small enough to use the cat doors. She left with the cats. She’s probably at Mr. Bean’s, dancing for customers.”
Isabel smiled sadly and shook her head. “I wish we were all that free to move around.”