Trinity Island – Chapter 9

December 31, 2012 at 10:19 am (Trinity Island)

“Father?” Claire recognized him, though it had been ten years since she’d even seen a picture of him. Mac had removed them all from Wallis House, seeing as it belonged to Claire now.

Reginald Wallis hadn’t changed much since her childhood. His dimples has turned into creases and he had crow’s feet around his eyes. He was still fit and nicely tanned. His blonde hair had some white in it, but it remained thick and full. Claire waited for him to say something, not quite sure what she was expecting.

“I absolved the board last year, because I have decided to oversee the foundation’s business myself.”

Claire was momentarily stunned. Recovering quickly from the fact that he hadn’t acknowledged her in any real way, she focused on what he had said. “Why would you do that? You’ve never run the business before.” She thought that was as polite a way as she could put his lifetime of loafing about without a care for anyone or anything.

“My wife wants to implement a few changes and we couldn’t do that with the board in place, so I absolved it.”

Claire didn’t know what was more interesting, the fact that he’d remarried and hadn’t contacted her about it, or that he was actually willing to do some work for a change. She wondered if this was the wife’s influence and how long it would last. Still, it didn’t answer the main question. “How does your absolution of the board allow my mother to extort money from business owners?”

“Your father married Trent West’s sister,” Mrs. T. said.

Claire’s mind ticked through a few possibilities, wondering if Trent and his sister were in some way trying to use her father to get to the foundation. They’d learn quickly that her grandfather had tied things up very tightly if they tried. Claire’s father owned nothing. He had a lump sum of money from the estate, that saw an influx of cash each year from investments that Claire oversaw. He had the right to absolve the foundation’s board and could oversee the distribution of funds if he so chose, but those were about the only rights he had. He couldn’t pull money from the foundation for his personal use. If she wanted to get bitchy about it, Claire could pull control of the foundation away from him and his new wife.

“Well, congratulations, father. I hope she makes you happy. However, I have a few reservations about the current processes that the foundation is running and I would like to discuss them with you or your wife, at your convenience.”

Reginald waved that away. He couldn’t be bothered with most of what the foundation did. His wife wanted to run it, so he let her. “You can take it up with Emma.” He picked up the order he’d called in earlier and left the store without another word to his daughter.

Claire felt a little deflated. She couldn’t have pictured her first meeting with her father after almost twenty years going quite so smoothly. He’d sent her away from the island and she’d hated him for that. At the same time, she’d continued to try to be the boy she’d thought he’d always wanted, in an effort to win his approval. She’d always assumed that their first meeting would be more volatile.

Mrs. T. came back around the counter and wrapped Claire in her arms. The girl looked lost and who could blame her. Her father walked into her life after so long and he didn’t even ask how she was doing. “He’s always been a careless man,” Mrs. T. soothed.

“Yes, he has. He was careless and my mother was a bitch. Thank God for Mac,” she whispered.

Mrs. T. silently concurred. If not for Mac and his wife taking care of Claire, she doubted the girl would have grown into such a sweet, lovely woman. She gave Claire one last squeeze before letting her go.

Claire stood and asked where the bookstore was supposed to be. Mrs. T. pointed out the cafe at the end of the block, furthest from the ferry. “It’s a great location,” Claire said. It had a terrific view of the mountain and it backed onto the water.

“Sarah has plans to add a patio over the water, just as soon as she has enough money and can get the zoning approved.”

Claire waved to Mrs. T. as she left the bakery and headed straight for the cafe. Sarah had called it Page Turners, even though she didn’t carry many books. It was a great space; the building had twelve foot ceilings with exposed duct work and beams. She’d painted the ducts black and left the beams their natural dark wood. Paintings from local artists lined the walls and several sculptures took up floor space around the various seating arrangements. Half the space was empty shelving and Claire found it a little sad. She stepped up to the counter and asked to speak with Sarah Miller.

“I’m Sarah Miller.”

Claire turned around and found herself staring at a woman who could have been her sister. Claire was a couple of inches taller, but they had the same eye color and similar features. Sarah’s hair was light brown with blonde streaks and cut in an angled bob to her shoulders. The longer she looked the more she could pick out the differences, but it was the eyes that told her.

“You’re a Wallis,” Claire said.

Sarah pursed her lips and looked around at the customers before motioning for Claire to follow her into the back. She gestured Claire over to a couch, but Claire didn’t feel like sitting. She stepped up to Sarah and held out her hand.

“I’m Claire Wallis.”

Sarah shook her hand. She stepped away and looked out the back window. Water glinted in the sunlight, but she didn’t really see it. “My mother refuses to admit it, but I assume she had an affair with your father. My father had brown eyes.”

“Had?”

“He died when I was fifteen. We moved away just after I was born, over to Gibsons. When he died, mom moved us back here. You’d left by then and so had your dad. In fact, there were no Wallis’ left on the island, except for the few times your mother showed up. Then a year ago your dad arrived with his new wife. And not long after that, your mother showed up again and stayed. Now you’re here.”

“Has my father acknowledged you?” Claire hoped she said no, but felt terrible for that hope.

“No, he never has. He knows, of course. He stopped dead in his tracks when he came in here for a coffee and I was working the till. He turned right back around and left and hasn’t been back since. My business loan was turned down three days later.”

Claire drummed her fingers on her thighs. It was true that her father could have done that, but she couldn’t think of any reason why he would. She doubted that his wife would hold any adult offspring against him. Sarah wasn’t able to claim anything from the estate unless he acknowledged her and there was no reason for his new wife to think that he would. Anyone who had grown up on the island knew that he’d never done so before. Claire didn’t know how many illegitimate children he’d fathered, but he’d never admitted to a single one. As far as the estate was concerned, Claire was his only heir.

There was definitely something screwy going on with the foundation and Claire intended to get to the bottom of it. She had no idea how long that would take though, and didn’t think Sarah should have to wait for her to wade through all of the legal malarkey.

“How much was your loan application for?”

“I petitioned for $75,000 to purchase my store stock and to build the patio off the back of the building.”

It was a perfectly reasonable amount of money and there should have been no trouble getting the loan. Claire wrote Sarah a cheque for the money and handed it to her, pressing it into Sarah’s hands when she tried to hand it back.

“It’s a loan, just not through the foundation. I don’t know what’s going on there, nor do I know how long it will take me to fix it. In one day I’ve found out that my father is back, he’s remarried, he’s absolved the board and he’s attempting to run things. That alone should have given me some clue as to why things are a mess.”

“His wife is pregnant,” Sarah said. “If you’ve only just learned of her, you might want to know that, too.”

Claire plopped down on the couch. Would the surprises never end? Not only was she standing there chatting with a half-sister she’d not known about, now she learned her father was expecting another child. And this one he couldn’t help but claim as his.

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said. She sat next to Claire and patted her knee. “I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that.”

“It’s fine. It’s better that you told me,” Claire decided.

“You might want to hang on to this money,” Sarah suggested, holding the cheque out. “I’ve heard rumors that Emma West has her sights set on Wallis House and everything else that your family owns. If she has a boy, she thinks she can get it all.”

Claire raised an eyebrow at Sarah before bursting into laughter. God, what a mess her family was. Claire pushed the cheque away. “Don’t worry about my finances. Everything was locked down when I was eight. My grandfather saw to that. Emma West can try all she likes, but she’ll never be able to get the house or anything else, outside of my father’s personal fortune, son or no son.”

***

Mac met Galen at the ferry and they headed down a trail that ran along the edge of the island. To their right was the cold blue water of the inlet and to their left was the start of the forest that carried up over the mountain and around to the pinch point between the islands, and Claire’s property. They figured that anyone trying to get away from the campsite with someone who was either unconscious or dead would not head toward the ferry. They could head into the denser forest, for cover, but it would make the trek quite difficult. They could head down to the water to dump the body, but they ran the risk of someone spotting it before it sank.

Mac had suggested two other alternatives that Galen wanted to check out. One was the forest road. A heavy duty truck could make it through the deep ruts and thick muck that never quite dried out no matter how hot the summer got. The other was the marina. Anyone could tie up along the docks closest to the campsite and leave their boat for hours without anyone noticing. A motor would be a common sound out there. It wouldn’t necessarily prove anything, but it gave Galen a starting point.

“So you feel there are ten women who are unaccounted for,” Galen said.

Mac nodded. “I’m sure not all of them have come to some dreadful end. People do leave the island and not tell anyone, though I don’t know why anyone would be that cruel to their families. But ten is too high a number to ignore.”

“Why does the mayor try to convince everyone that they have?”

“He’s up for re-election soon and wants everyone to think that things are running smoothly under his rule. And he thinks if word gets out then tourists will stop coming to the island.”

So far, the camper was the only person who was missing who hadn’t been a resident. Tourists wouldn’t take that into consideration though. Just because a killer hadn’t taken a tourist yet didn’t mean he wouldn’t. What puzzled Galen the most, aside from the blasé attitude towards these women, was that no bodies had turned up. He didn’t know if he could read that as a positive sign. There was a lot of land to check on the island. A lot of places where a body could be buried and no one would find it. Even searching for it, it would be difficult to spot if the body was buried really well. Lime would help it decompose faster and would keep scavengers at bay.

They came upon the campsite which was nearly full. The missing camper’s gear had been removed. Galen had requested the use of a building two blocks off Main that had sat empty for the past several years. He had stored the gear there and locked it up tight. He’d brought in white boards, a desk, and had had a telephone and fax line hooked up. As far as offices went, it suited his purposes fine.

He and Mac skirted around the campsite, not wanting to disturb anyone. They’d opted for the marina first, because it was a contained area. The forest would take days to search. Galen had given Mac a copy of the camper’s picture. They split up the marina into two sections and each canvassed the boat owners in their section. Many of the boats were out sailing; it was a beautiful day. Mac made note of each slip that he’d have to return to. He got a nibble about a third of the way through his canvas.

“Yeah, I saw him the day before he disappeared. He offered to buy a fish off me.”

The fisherman owned a cruiser big enough to sleep half a person, at best. Most of the stern deck area was taken up by a apartment-sized freezer. He explained that the camper had watched him come in and saw that he had a good catch, so he’d offered fair market value for a goodly-sized salmon. They’d exchanged a few pleasantries while the fisherman had wrapped the fish in brown paper and then they’d parted ways.

“He didn’t say anything in particular, just that he was enjoying his visit to the island. Mentioned that he was staying in the campsite and thought his neighbors were either newlyweds or horny kids.”

It wasn’t much, but at least it put the camper on the island the night before he’d disappeared. Remnants of the fish dinner had still been in the fire when Galen had checked the site. By the time he completed his section of the marina, Mac was waiting for him. Mac hadn’t come across a single person who remembered seeing the camper. Galen didn’t find that unusual. People, in general, were bad at retaining details of people directly after having met them, never mind if it was someone they had seen in passing.

With the marina completed, they made a plan to tackle a portion of the forest later that afternoon. It wouldn’t get dark until after 9pm and they wanted to use that light.

***

Claire returned to the main room of the cafe in time to see a handsome man standing at the till ordering a coffee. He turned at the sound of the door closing and stared at both women. Claire assumed he was noticing the similarities between them. When Sarah groaned softly beside her, Claire cocked her head to the side.

“Who is that?”

“That’s the mayor,” Sarah whispered.

“Not a good one?” Claire asked. She only knew what Galen and Mac had said about the man. He was trying to brush off the disappearances as nothing more than a few girls deciding to leave the island.

“He could be good, if he spent half as much time on the job as he did conquering the female population of the island.”

Claire snorted. That sounded just like her father. “Is it something in the water?”

Sarah turned to her, not understanding. And then it clicked and Sarah burst out laughing. She bent over double, grabbing her gut to try to regain control. She had tears in her eyes when she finally managed to control her laughter. “God, that felt good. I guess I’ve been a little wound up lately.”

“Sarah, it’s lovely to see you. Who’s your friend?”

Claire stepped forward and held out her hand, introducing herself. She didn’t flinch when Mayor Anglove enveloped her hand with both of his, but she wanted to. He had soft hands. Hands that said he didn’t do anything with them. Claire hated soft hands on a man. She extricated her hand from his grasp and resisted the urge to wipe it on her jeans.

“I just saw your father and he didn’t mention that you’d returned to the island.”

“No, I’m sure he didn’t.” Claire stared Jeff Anglove directly in the eyes and waited to see if he’d try another tactless avenue for conversation.

“His lovely wife is pregnant, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” Thank God Sarah had told her.

Mayor Anglove turned from Claire to Sarah and squeezed her shoulder. “You know Sarah, if you need assistance with your business loan, I can always put in a good word for you at the bank.”

“Thank you, Mayor, but I’ll be fine.” Sarah didn’t mention the cheque she had in her pocket. It would get around town soon enough.

Mayor Anglove took Sarah’s hand and pulled her away from Claire without a word of apology. He smiled, something he no doubt thought was charming. They huddled over by the door. Claire couldn’t hear what was being said, but Sarah was shaking her head and getting redder in the face. Claire didn’t know her well enough to determine if she was embarrassed or angry. Sarah finally wrenched her hand free from his grip and walked back to Claire. Once the mayor had walked out of her shop and the door closed behind him, she let out a loud exhalation and started pacing.

“He’s such a dirtbag,” she muttered.

“Because he goes through women like candy?” Claire asked.

“That, and because he’s a married man.”

Claire wasn’t as shocked by that as she figured she ought to be. Fidelity was a rare commodity these days. Her ex, Jackson, had proven that to her. Her parents were no better. She doubted her father had ever been faithful to her mother. That thought brought on two sobering ones. The first being that Jackson was exactly like her father. She’d been about to marry a man so much like her father he could have stepped in as a replacement and she wouldn’t have felt any different. That was appalling. The second thought was a little touchier.

“Sarah, how old are you?”

“I’m 31, why?” She was still pacing back and forth, muttering under her breath.

“When were you born?”

“June 8th.” Sarah had stopped pacing to look at Claire.

“I’m three months older than you.” Her father had impregnated two women at around the same time. Claire didn’t know why she was surprised, but she’d assumed that her parents had been faithful to each other at the very beginning and that something had broken down along the way. “Were you born on Trinity?”

Sarah nodded her head. “Mom had a home birth with a midwife.”

“So my mother would have heard about it. Maybe that’s why she blocked your loan application with the foundation. If she hadn’t known before that her husband was a faithless fuck, your birth would have done it.”

“God, what is wrong with these people?” Sarah demanded. “My parents, your parents, the mayor, and God only knows who else.”

“Your dad?” Claire asked.

“Yeah, he had a brief fling with a woman from the mainland and my mom found out, which is why she turned to your dad, apparently. My dad didn’t care that I wasn’t his, but my mom never let him forget it. I wonder if he died just so he’d have a little peace.”

“You knew, growing up, that your dad wasn’t your biological father?”

Sarah nodded. “My mother used to scream at him when she was drinking. I didn’t understand what most of it meant until I was nearly ten. My baby brother caught on faster and took mom’s side. To this day, he’s still a momma’s boy. He’s a good guy, mostly, but he caters to my mother far more than she deserves.”

“Ok, so no dating your brother because I’d have to deal with your mother,” Claire started ticking them off on her fingers. “The mayor is out because he’s married and quite hooked on you. Trent West is out because that would just be too weird, his sister as my step-mother and my sister-in-law? So, who does that leave?”

The door tinkled as a customer pushed it open. Claire looked up and smiled as Mac and Galen stepped in. They both stopped short upon seeing the two women standing so close together. Claire grinned and linked her arm around Sarah’s waist. Sarah smirked at the men, who could only stare.

“Well now, don’t you two make a lovely picture,” Mac said.

“Mac, have you met my half-sister, Sarah?”

“As a matter of fact,” he said. “Has your father claimed her then?” He already knew the answer to that, but figured the people openly eavesdropping on the conversation could learn a lesson or two from his girl.

“No, of course he hasn’t, but I don’t need words to prove what I can already see with my eyes. We’re sisters and that’s that.”

Sarah nodded once in agreement.

“Well now,” he said. “Well now, and that’s a lovely thing.”

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