As the waves crashed in due to the storm, she felt a rising sense of panic.....(Photo property of Rachel Cotterill)
Usually Catherine loved to stand and watch the water along the coastline as a winter storm moved in. As she stood there, the wind whipped her long auburn hair against her face and her coat against her legs. The only sound that could be heard was the water and the wind. As the waves crashed in due to the storm, she felt a rising sense of panic, what if the police didn't arrive in time! Unless a helicopter brought them out, the sea was the only way onto the island, and in this weather, Catherine knew it would be impossible for them to fly out.
As she stood there deep in thought, the thunder and roar of the water hitting the rocks covered Jackson's approaching footsteps. Catherine wasn't aware he was there until he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him.
"A penny for your thoughts."
For a moment she stiffened, then relaxed, knowing that he mustn't suspect she knew what he had done. That the man she had fallen in love with, the man she was engaged to, was a killer.
"I love to watch the sea as a storm moves in. It will be dark before long, so I thought I would watch for a while."
Jackson turned her to face him, "Your nose is cold, and I bet your feet are freezing. Your mom sent me to bring you back to the house and a nice warm fire. She said you'd lose all track of time and miss supper if I didn't come to get you."
He kissed her on the forehead, released her and taking one of her hands, they started back to the house.
As they started up the path, he asked, "Will you miss living on the island once we're married?"
"Yes, but I'll be with you so that will help."
"Catherine, what will happen to the island once your parents die?"
She stepped over some rocks on the path before she answered, "It will come to me, along with the house in Maine, while my brother Barry will get the law firm and Susan will inherit the house in New York. Why"
" No reason."
Catherine wasn't fooled, she knew he had a reason for asking. Jackson had told her he was from Ashville, Alabama. Monday while she was on the Internet she had typed in Asheville rather than Ashville. A story, along with a photo, popped up of a manhunt for a man suspected of killing his mother, father and wife who had escaped while on trial for their murder, she knew what he planned to do. Thankfully she had managed to talk with Sheriff Bailey last night before the phone and power lines were knocked out by the storm.
They stomped their muddy feet against the top step before entering the kitchen. The warmth spread over them as they stepped toward the fireplace that took up one wall of the kitchen. The kitchen was so inviting with the smell of the cooking bread and roast.
She took off her coat and hung it on the peg by the door. Then went to stand in front of the fire, stretching her hands toward the flame.
Her mom came through the door, "I can't believe Sheriff Bailey was on the island hunting when this storm hit. He asked if he and Joseph could spend the night. I'll make pallets in here after supper for them to sleep on. I hope that will be alright as all the beds are taken."
I glanced at Jackson standing beside me, his face had a quick look of anger, "Beggars can't be choosy. Do they hunt here much, and why today?"
Her mom pulled bowls from the cabinet as she readied the food to be placed on the dinning room table, "That's what I asked him. He said being the Sheriff he had to take any chance he could to relax, and today was his day off."
Most of the meal was eaten in silence as the storm raged outside. Each thinking their own thoughts, only occasionally looking up from their plates. Once when she glanced up, she caught the Sheriff's eye. He acted as though nothing was wrong.
When she went into the kitchen for the coffee, he offered to help. As she poured the coffee into the cups, he only had enough time to tell her "not to worry" before Jackson came through the door.
He walked over to the table, "I thought I would see if you needed me to bring in the milk and sugar."
Catherine pointed to the counter by the refrigerator, "Sure, it's over there."
Finally the table was cleared, pallets made and everyone in their rooms. She lay there, still dressed in her clothes, waiting for any creaking boards, and she wasn't sure what else.
She felt stiff as she opened her eyes to the bright sun shining through the windows. Turning over onto her back, Catherine realized she still had on her shoes. She felt cold and tired from a poor nights sleep. She sat straight up and threw back the covers as she remembered that the Sheriff was downstairs. She couldn't believe nothing had happened during the night.
After unlocking her bedroom door, she peered out into the hallway. She could smell the coffee and cooking bacon. As she stepped off the last step of the staircase and headed toward the kitchen, she heard her mother ask, "Why do you think Jackson stole your boat?"
"Mattie, I'll explain everything once Catherine comes down. That way I'll only have to go over it once."
"Well I'm here now, so explain."
She walked across to the coffeepot and poured herself a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table.
Sheriff Bailey was sitting beside her mom, his elbows on the table, taking a sip of coffee, "It seems that Jackson murdered his family back in Asheville eight years ago."
Her mother gasped, "What!"
"One afternoon after a court session as he was being driven back to the jail, the van was involved in an accident, which allowed Jackson to escape. They've had a manhunt out for him ever since. There's a pattern that he's used since his escape. It's happened twice before, he meets a wealthy woman, they get married and he murders her family and her, allowing him to inherit their money."
Her mother starred at him, "He was going to kill us and then kill Catherine?"
Her mother continued, "But how did you know he was here?"
"Catherine called me."
Her mother turned to her, "You called him?"
Shaking her heard, Catherine explained about finding the story on the Internet.
Her mom reached across the table and took her hands, "Oh, Baby, I am so sorry".
Catherine looked at the Sheriff, "What did mom mean when she asked about Jackson taking your boat."
"I'm not sure how he got past me and Joseph, but he managed to steal the boat and head for town. What he didn't know, though, is that because of the storm, we didn't take time to fill up the tanks with diesel before we left to come over here. I thought we could do it this morning before we left. He might make it halfway across the channel, but he won't make it back to town. With those waves rolling like they were, there's a good chance the boat will be flipped over."
We all turned toward the window as we heard the sound of a helicopter approaching.
Standing, Sheriff Bailey pushed his chair back and headed for the door, "That will be Andy. The phone service is back on and I gave him a call telling him what was going on."
Mom and I followed him down to the landing, anxious to find out any news. We watched as the Sheriff stood by the open hatch door, talking with Joseph, holding onto his hat as the wind from the rotor blades tried to blow it off his head.
Finally he slammed the door shut and headed our way as the whine of the motor picked up as it rose into the air, banked a sharp right and headed back across the channel.
He stopped in front of me, "They found the boat three miles down stream. It had crashed onto the rocks just around Baker's Bend. His body was down in the cabin. They're not sure yet whether he died from drowning or trauma. They'll have to wait for an autopsy to be sure. I'm sorry, Catherine. But I'd it rather be him then you and your family. I've got to head back, Darrell brought over the other boat, so I'm going back to notify Asheville and deal with getting it settled. When I find out anything more, I'll give you a call."
As I watched him walk away I realized for him all the lose ends were tied up, but for me, there were so many more answers to questions I needed, but would probably never have.
Mom touched my shoulder, "Come on Catherine, let's go inside where it's warm."