Chase stood, pointed the gun toward the sky, un-cocked it, opened the cylinder, spun it, dropped the rounds onto the driveway, then tossed it into the open cooler amidst the cluster of golf bags in the trunk. It settled down in the half-melted ice with a slight gurgle.
“You have a foul mouth,” Chase said to the man he’d disarmed. “You need to rein it in.”
The man’s eyes darted to the distinguished man first, then hook-nose, which gave Chase an idea of where the power lay here. He didn’t bother with the guy who’d picked up the golf club, so that made him low man on the totem pole.
The woman was now striding up Chase’s long gravel driveway. She was older than he had initially estimated. Her pageboy cut was for someone a decade younger, but for some reason it looked just right for her. “Come on, girl,” Chase said to Chelsea, escorting her between the stands of bamboo and clusters of palmetto that dotted what he assumed was the property line, and toward the house.
He heard voices embroiled in argument behind him, but couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. Chelsea hunched down and crawled under the angled oak tree trunk barring their way to the front door, and Chase climbed over it. Most of the tree rested on the center of the old single-story house, the roof ripped open where the heavy limbs had punched through. Strangely, the tree was alive, enough of the roots still maintaining their reach into the soil to nourish it.
Some inheritance, Chase thought. Then he reconsidered, given he’d just been offered two million for the property by the jerk next door. Being military and constantly moving, it had never occurred to him that a single piece of land could be worth a lot of money. He’d fought and watched men die over other pieces of land in other places, but often those scraps of hard-earned turf were just as easily abandoned by the latest order coming down from up high, as units were maneuvered around on a map by those distant from the battlefield. He’d always viewed land in terms of attack and defense and tactical concerns and blood spilled, never in terms of money.
A voice shook him out of his dark thoughts. “Excuse me.” The voice was low, feminine, and one that absolutely caught the attention.
Chase turned, looking at the woman. Mid-thirties, he decided, with green eyes that had him fixed in their gaze. “Yes?” He noted the wedding band and large, glittering diamond on her left hand.
“Are you all right? I saw what happened. There are some crazy people on this island.”
Crazy people everywhere, Chase wanted to say, but checked it.
She looked past Chase, taking in the tree that had fallen on the roof. “God help this place if they ever get a hurricane.”
“Been well over a hundred years since they had a hurricane here,” Chase said automatically, remembering first getting that nugget from Kono during one of their expeditions deep into the barrier islands during their childhood adventures. Chase had always checked in the years since then, to see if the area had been savaged by Mother Nature, something that now struck him as odd. Why had he cared so much about this place?
“A hundred years? Really?”
“We’re just about the westernmost part of the East Coast,” Chase said, “and the water in the Atlantic gets real shallow as it comes up to these barrier islands.”
She cocked her head. “And what does that have to do with hurricanes?”
Chase shrugged. “Damned if I know. An old friend from here told me that when I asked him about it years ago.”
The woman laughed. “It sounded good, though. I’m Sarah Briggs. We’re renting a house down the street.”
‘We’re,’ Chase processed. Husband and at least one son. “I’m Chase. I just got here today.”
She held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Chase.”
Chase shook her hand, feeling warmth and the slightest bit of moisture from her workout.
She turned her head, hearing the angry voices, then returned her gaze to Chase. “How did you know he wouldn’t shoot?”
Chase tried to analyze something that was second nature to him. “The guy with the gun—he’s a man who rules by bluster, money, and fear, and he was posturing in front of the other three. He’s a man who has others do his dirty work, probably the short guy who grabbed the club. And others.”
“Pretty theoretical, and a bit of psycho-babble.”
Chase smiled. “Most importantly, he never cocked the hammer, and it was still on safety.”
“You know guns.”
She was staring at him, much in the way the hook-nosed fellow had watched the confrontation. Chase stood there uncomfortably. Chelsea was eyeballing him too, probably wanting to be fed. Finally, Sarah smiled again. “You’re moving in here?”
“It’s pretty,” she said, taking in the large tree and bush-covered lot that sloped down to the half-mile wide Intracoastal Waterway. A large catamaran ferry was racing by, a cluster of tourists on the deck taking pictures. It was heading to Dafuskie Island, across the Intracoastal and slightly south.
“Thank you.” Chase was surprised at the comment, not just because of the tree nearby resting on the roof, but because the un-kempt, wild nature of his lot contrasted dramatically with the manicured lawns and exquisitely landscaped domains of all of his neighbors.
“I hope you still feel welcome after what just happened.”
“I’m already feeling more welcome,” Chase said. Chelsea whined. “I’ve got to go. Feeding time.”
“Can’t leave a lady waiting,” Sarah said. “I’ll see you around.”
Chase considered that as he watched her walk away down his long, potholed gravel driveway.
* * * * *
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG