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Dark Waterby Linda Hall
On the day Wesley Stoller got out of jail, the phone at Elise St. Dennis’s house rang four times. But no one was there to answer it. Elise was driving the fifty miles or so down the coast highway to Ridley Harbor to deliver an order of her jewelry to Misty Gifts and Gallery. She was singing “Slip Slidin’ Away” along with Paul Simon on the radio.
Her daughter, Rachel, along with twenty other sixth graders, was
writing in her journal. Bent over, elbow pressed hard into the ruled
pages, forehead in her hand, she wrote in her tiny, careful script.
And on the day Wesley Stoller got out of jail, the minke whales,
which were making their way up to their summer feeding grounds,
had been spotted somewhere off Thunder Island. Two Fog Point fishermen
also saw a small pod of endangered North Atlantic right whales
near the breakwater out by the lighthouse. They had seen the whales’
V-shaped blow in the distance and had investigated.
It would be a good season for whales, and Jake Rikker was scrubbing
away at the transom of his boat and wondering if he could get
away with not repainting the words The Purple Whale for one more
A day like today, this luscious late-spring day as warm as taffy, was
enough to make even the most pessimistic person hopeful. Clusters of
locals talked about the weather as they drank coffee down at Noonan’s
Café. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a long, hot summer with just
enough rain to keep the farmers happy, but not enough to keep the
vacationers away. It would be a good season for tourists.
And on this day Elise braked to a stop at a yellow light and steadied
the cardboard carton on the passenger seat. Inside the carton three
dozen tiny green boxes bore the name Elise’s Creations scripted in
gold beneath a stylized dragon–her trademark. The boxes held varieties
of gemmed barrettes, brooches, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or
silver coiled snakes with emerald eyes.
She looked back to the road and thought about changing the
name. She’d never particularly liked the name Elise’s Creations,
which, in her estimation, could refer to anything from cake decorating
to teddy bears. Yet at this point, changing it would probably be
more trouble than it was worth. She pondered that as the light turned
She’d been Elise’s Creations for eight years, ever since that first
Summer Solstice Craft Fair when she’d breezed in pulling a wooden
wagon containing her two-year-old daughter and a few boxes of her
handmade jewelry. She’d needed a name then, quick, for the program.
(No one had told her that when she rented the booth.) Elise’s Creations
had been the first thing she could think of. She’d made enough
money that first year to almost pay for the booth rental. It had been
that way for a while. Waitressing by day at Noonan’s Café in Fog
Point and, by night, bending over her wires and beads with her soldering
She’d finally persuaded a Fog Point bank manager to believe in
her. She secured a loan and rented a huge and expensive studio on the
boardwalk. She covered the floors with lush deep-lavender carpet, the
most expensive on the market, and set her pieces on faux-marble
pedestals with backlighting. With Enya playing in the background, a
little waterfall sculpture in the window, and displays of bracelets,
Celtic crosses, and her dragons, the shop offered a bit of an oasis from
the hot, loud music and skateboarders out front.
She marked up every single item, and all the tourists from California
thought they were getting a bargain. It was starting to make
Elise’s single life with her daughter just a bit more bearable. Two years
ago she’d doubled the prices for a second time. Life was beginning to
She was one of the few Fog Pointers who was on a first-name
basis with a lot of the rich and famous “summer people,” as the locals
referred to the summer residents. The summer people raved about her
stuff to all their rich and famous friends, and Elise found herself
busier than she had ever intended to be. She was slowly building a
name for herself. All of her hard work was finally paying off.
She learned to dress the part too. No more hippie funk with
gauzy brown skirts and clogs; her costume could now be described as
bohemian chic with mismatched gold chandelier earrings and delicate
lace-up-the-calf high heels. Two years ago she’d had her waist-length
hair chopped to within an inch of her scalp. Sometimes she slicked it
away from her face with gel, adding bits of color to the ends. Sometimes
she wore it in spiky chunks all over her head, blue or green.
Odd punk shades they were, but coupled with the expensive clothes
and her delicate footwear, she looked hip and endearing–an artiste.
Two years ago she hired a business manager who had just graduated
at the top of her class in business and advertising. Jess was vivacious,
spunky, and had a flair for marketing. Her personal goal was to
take Elise’s Creations to the next level. “The sky is the limit now,” Jess
said. “Harry Winston move over.” These kinds of statements always
made Elise just the teeniest bit uneasy.
And while the manager at Misty Gifts gushed over Elise’s latest
designs, Wesley Stoller walked free after serving only ten years of a life
sentence for murder.
The telephone-message button was flashing when Elise finally
arrived home much later. Two calls, one right after the other. Blocked
numbers. No messages. Jess? No, Jess would’ve left a message. The
school? Something to do with Rachel? She pressed the school’s number
into her phone but hung up before it could ring. If it was the
school, if Rachel was having problems again, the caller would have left
She poured herself a glass of water and stood beside the kitchen
window. Across the backyard Lenore Featherjohn troweled up winter
weeds, her red cotton shorts pulled high and taut across her white
thighs as she dug. A pile of scrub lay beside her.
Elise watched until she finished her drink. Then she pulled on her
jacket, got in her car, and headed down to her studio. She walked in
the back door still humming “Slip Slidin’ Away.”
A man stood there.
“Oh!” She nearly fell but quickly righted herself and grabbed the
doorjamb. She recognized him. Jake something-or-other who ran a
whale-watching business and sporting-goods store. He kept shoving
his hands into his pockets and taking them out again as he looked
“I came in the front door. No one seemed to be there. So I came
“My assistant’s not here?” She blinked and tried to steady herself.
Three years ago she had installed a state-of-the-art alarm system,
which, when activated, notified the police department of any illegal
entry. She was always careful about security. She had to be.
“You must be Elise. I’m sorry I startled you.” He walked toward
her. “I’m Jake Rikker. I know who you are, but I don’t think we’ve
ever formally met.”
“I can’t believe no one’s around.” Then she looked back at him.
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to forgive me.” She forced herself to stay calm.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I came to buy some jewelry.” He grinned. He was a big man and
wore a slouchy gray sweater, uneven at the bottom, and round wirerim
glasses. “For a couple of very special ladies.”
“Two?” Elise struggled to regain her composure. “You have two
special ladies? What a lucky man you are.”
“Ah, doubly lucky, then.” She smiled up at him. “How old are
“Eleven and thirteen.”
“How lovely! I have an eleven-year-old. A great age. Well, I’ve got
some teddy-bear necklaces that I make especially for little girls. Plus
there are my dragons. Follow me out to the front.”
He followed her through the door to the showroom and to a display
of charm bracelets. “Have I seen your daughters in town?” she
asked. She steered him toward several display cases, still uncertain
about the security breach, still wondering if there was something she
should do about the unlocked door. Call the police? She scanned the
place. Everything looked in order. When Jake left she’d have a good
look around, especially in her workshop in the back where she kept
gemstones, diamonds, gold, and chemicals she used in her work.
“I don’t think you would’ve seen them. They spend most of the
school year with their mother,” he said, “and some of the summers
with me.” He picked up a box while Elise ducked behind the counter
and unlocked a glass display case.
“Here, let me see what I can find,” she said.
Jake turned over a box. “Whoa! Is that the price?”
She nodded. “My pieces are all handmade. Every one is different;
every one unique. That’s why they might seem expensive. Plus, I work
exclusively in gold and silver now. I’ve got a similar piece in silver, and
it’s slightly less expensive.”
She chose a few small barrettes and necklaces and bracelets and
spread them out on a black cloth on the glass counter.
“I can see why movie stars like your stuff.” He put the box down
and continued to browse. He turned over another box and looked at
the price. He turned over a lot of boxes, something her rich clientele
“I have to ask you something,” she said. “Did you happen to call
earlier? My house?”
“Nope.” He didn’t look up.
“And the front door here was unlocked?”
“I got a call, but no one was there.”
“That happens to me all the time. Telemarketers. I think I like
“What’s nice about charm bracelets,” she said, “is that you can
add charms anytime. Makes Christmas giving easy. And I have
charms for many occasions: birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduation,
Christmas, even for a good report card. These are some I designed
and cast. They’re available in either gold or silver.” She spread the
charms out on the cloth.
He picked up one of the bracelets and jingled it in his hand.
“Okay,” he said finally. “These are nice. Two of these, in silver. Gold’s
a little beyond me.”
“Would you like a special-occasion box? I have jewelry boxes for
birthdays, special anniversaries, you name it. Or would you prefer an
“A regular box. No special occasion.” He grinned at her. It was
a nice grin, warm. He leaned over the counter. “Unless you have
She smiled up at him, perhaps for a moment longer than necessary.
Then quickly, nervously, she looked back down at her boxes.
And while she was placing two silver charm bracelets into satin
drawstring bags and then onto beds of tissue in the gift boxes, in
another place Wesley Stoller was sitting at a window booth, drinking
a large Pepsi, no ice, and relishing a steak–rare, with onions. He’d
looked forward to this for ten years–a huge juicy steak with all the
trimmings. Loaded. He licked his lips and then ordered dessert.
From the Trade Paperback edition.Copyright © 2006 by Linda Hall
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