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Broken Water Series - Book One

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The Rare Pearl ~ chapter one ~

1988

 

Thick fog came out of nowhere consuming daylight. It extinguished the shimmer that gleamed off the ocean’s surface and pressed the waves flat as glass. The thirty-five-foot, cruising vessel cradled in silence.

Margret Parker slid sunglasses down her nose bewildered at the unexpected change in weather, asking her oldest and dearest friends, “It’s supposed to be a nice sunny day. Where on earth is this fog coming from?”

Harry stepped onto the bridge of his Pilothouse boat and tried the radio, but it crackled and fuzzed. “I dunno. I’ve lost the radio.”

Compressed, moist mist continued to enclose the boat. Margaret could barely see Harry’s wife sitting next to her.

“Curse this New England weather! Harry, maybe we should cut our pleasure cruise short. It’s not so pleasurable if you can’t see anything,” Harry’s wife complained before she moved to the helm to switch on the cabin’s interior lamp. Lighting the fixture didn’t help; the glare made the fog opaque.

Margaret stood just as something solid bumped the port side.

Wobbling, the ladies squealed.

“What is that? Another boat!” Harry’s wife cried.

Harry grumbled at his wife’s frantic voice. “No, it isn’t a boat. I don’t hear any motor. I dunno.”

“Maybe it’s a shark?” his wife whispered to Margaret.

Nothing could be seen around the boat’s perimeter; only a splash revealed something big was out there.

The boaters strained their ears, listening.

Before anyone could propose further theories, the water began to boil like a lobster pot. Something was rising to the surface.

No shark makes this commotion or that glugging noise, Margaret thought.

“Maybe it’s a whale?” Margaret said, knowing the whale-watching tour boats passed through these waters. Something large was surfacing. That’s no whale! Her gut twisted, and the hairs on her arms stood on end. With rising panic, Margaret recalled the stories her grandmother told her about the ancient water god and how he would send his sirens and sea monsters to collect the souls of his victims. Heart ramming against her ribcage, she placed a sun-spotted hand over it. In an attempt to control her fear, she murmured a silent prayer to the ancient water god. “Give us safe passage. Give us safe passage.”

“What the hell is that? Sounds like a submarine broaching!” said Harry, a World War II navy veteran. The sound, like steel banging against steel, rang in their ears. Harry opened a storage compartment and yanked out orange vests. “Ladies! Put these on!” He locked eyes with this wife of forty-four years, the flotation device between them. She stared back with confusion.

A turbulent blanket of water made the boat dip and spin. Something thrust upward with tremendous force. From far above they were showered in sea spray, as if from a surrogate rain cloud. The boat rocked dangerously, and Margaret, Harry, and his wife each grabbed on to something solid, trying to maintain their footing. The spray hissed around them. Another unearthly sound was unleashed, like the blast of a fog horn. The passengers fell to their knees, hands pressed to their ears.

Margaret squinted at the orange vest on the deck by her knee. With a trembling hand she snatched for it, but the rolling vessel sent her crashing into the bench seat. Slumped to the deck, she could just see her dear friends clinging together. Her eyes searched up into the fog. The blast rolled out over the open sea like a fading echo until she heard only fear pounding in her ears.

Through the impenetrable fog, they never saw what capsized the boat and sent them to their watery graves. The water god looked on. His sea serpent collected one very important soul that day.

 

1989

 

A waning moon winked behind fast-moving clouds above the tiny island town of New Castle, New Hampshire. Harmony Parker slowed her bike and eyed the enormous silhouette of the old Wentworth-by-the-Sea hotel. The vacant, decaying building had been in a state of hibernation for almost seven years, no company willing to take on the investment to repair and reopen her. This fact weighed heavy on Harmony’s heart.

How could anyone want to tear down this place? One hundred years of history would be gone.

The main portico, three iconic towers and Victorian section gave the hotel a hulking dominance over the hillside. New Castle encompassed about five hundred acres, and the hotel and grounds occupied three hundred of those acres. This snip of land tucked into the protective cove was connected to the mainland by two squat bridges, one just below the hotel and the other off the tip of its cape. Harmony lived on the other side of the island, but something about this vacant shell haunted and beckoned her. Perhaps her family’s historic connection to this place lodged her fascination.

The Wentworth-by-the-Sea hotel sat on the hilltop, the ocean at its face and a bay at its back. The swift Piscataqua River hugged the far side of the island. On a clear day visitors could see the peak of Mt. Washington and three states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts—from their guestroom windows.

Harmony stashed her bicycle behind an overgrown bush, her Reeboks crunching over the sparse grass. No Trespassing signs were posted, but she circled around the property and slipped through a crudely cut opening in the chain-link fence. She snuck in numerous times as a teenager, but nobody bothered her roaming the halls in wonder of bygone days. Something compelled her to visit here tonight, even though she was mature and too old to be breaking and entering.

Entering her usual way, she snapped on a flashlight. Everything was gone. At the four-day auction held in 1982, hundreds swarmed to claim a piece of the Wentworth’s history. The investment company sold off all the furniture, linens, kitchen equipment, and silverware—everything, down to the last muffin tin. Later, they salvaged the architectural details, the interior doors and light fixtures. This shell was all that remained of a handful of surviving Gilded Age grand hotels along New England’s coast.

Crossing to a window on the second floor, she beheld the tranquil waters of the Atlantic Ocean. She was out there somewhere, her grandmother, Margaret Parker. Lost at sea, her body never found. Harmony remembered the day last fall when she’d been informed about the drowning.

Sat in a lecture hall listening to her college professor drone on about Mesopotamian architecture, she was tapped on the shoulder. A woman in a dusty-rose suit with boxy shoulder pads waved her from the room. Recognizing the woman as one of the counselors on campus, she grabbed her stuff and left the auditorium.

The counselor introduced herself and said gravely, “We’ve just received a call from the Portsmouth Coast Guard in New Hampshire. Apparently there’s been a boating accident involving your grandmother, Margaret Parker. I’m very sorry to inform you the boat she was on has sunk, and all three passengers are presumed drowned.”

Harmony honed in on the fact her grandmother drowned! Another family member drowning couldn’t be a coincidence.

She blinked dislodging the unpleasant memory and focused on a cobweb stretching across the windowpane. Warding off eerie thoughts of drowning, she inhaled the unpleasant scent of mildew and rotting wood. She lifted her flashlight and circled the perimeter of the guestroom. The plaster walls had crumbled and the slatted boards behind them rose like an old picket fence. Something metallic reflected between them as the beam of light swung by. She slowly refocused her torch on the area.

There it is again! What is that?

Dirt shuffled under her feet as she stepped closer. She slid her fingers between the two-inch-wide boards and yanked. Immediately she withdrew her hand, rubbing the grime on her fingers. Still curious, she tried again, and the board cracked—a little. Putting her shoulder into the next tug, a long brittle section snapped. Dust billowed and plaster jingled down the wall. She placed the rough panel at her feet and angled her flashlight inside.

Hmm, it looks like a bag of some kind. Maybe a purse?

She snapped more boards away, enough to fit her hand inside the wall. The jagged wood scratched the tender skin of her forearm. She bit her bottom lip to stifle an oath. Grasping the bag and ignoring the grimy feel of the fabric, she let out the breath she’d been holding. She lifted it gingerly toward the opening, but her hand got stuck. Wedging the flashlight between her knees, she used her free hand to pop another board.

Ha! I got it!

She examined the pouch with her flashlight. Its long strap could be worn across the body and a front flap secured its contents with a buckle. The metallic buckle had given away its location. The bag appeared to be leather, but caked in dirt it was hard to tell.

Wow, how did the scavengers miss this?

 

She laughed gleefully at her good fortune. Before she could open it, she heard the whoop, whoop of a police siren. Her luck had changed.

The cruiser parked in front of the building, on the ocean side. Police patrolled the abandoned hotel to scare away squatters and teenagers. They offered a warning with their siren and gave the fence a onceover, but mostly they used this quiet spot to stretch their legs.

Oh no…time to go.

Harmony clicked off her flashlight and slipped it into her back pocket. In the dark, she maneuvered her way to a room at the back of the hotel. Peering out the open window, she checked to see if the coast was clear and then slipped out onto the fire escape. Her sneakers clanked against the metal steps, and she prayed the patrol officer couldn’t hear her. She trekked down the remaining stories. Reaching the ladder, she managed the rungs hand over foot, the satchel awkwardly clamped under her arm. She swung as if on a trapeze from the last rung onto the overgrown grass and crouched, listening. A long inhale of salty air replaced the dank smell of the Wentworth’s interior, calming her erratic heartbeat.

Harmony picked her way through the dead grass until she reached the chain-link fence. She guessed scavengers, or teenagers wanting a place to party, made the opening years back. Bare-handed, she rolled the bouncy metal links, bunching them in her hands as best she could, so the pointed edges wouldn’t catch her clothing. She ducked down and slipped through, out of the caged grounds.

Retrieving her bike, she placed her new-found treasure into the basket hanging off the handle bars. She slipped away undetected.

 

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