Having finished off a half gallon of orange juice and most of a half gallon of Stolichnaya for breakfast, Tyler Strong was now struggling to load the family Ford Explorer. An observer, had there been one, would have puzzled at the methodology, which appeared frantic and, at the same time, utterly random; Tyler was tossing whatever was at hand into the back of the SUV, talking to himself as he did so.
Suitcases: Got mine. Where are Pete’s? Where’s Two’s? Where’s that girl, Justine? She’s old enough to help, dammit. Tennis gear. Got it. Water skis; where the hell are they? Can’t find them. Emptied the fridge. Well, most of it anyway and filled the cooler. Shoved it to the back. Crammed stuff around it for insulation. Need more stuff. And the toys…never know which go and which stay… Shouldn’t have to sort this all out myself.”
He thought he heard his mother Amanda’s low, cigarette-ruined voice, with its usual rasp of disgust:
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Tyler ducked out of the rear of the SUV to find not Amanda but Old Adam behind him. The old man was standing, legs apart for balance, in the middle of the crushed oyster-shell driveway, cane in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other.
“Did you even hear me? What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Old Adam repeated.
Given the extremity and baffling discontinuity of his present circumstance, a condition which made the space around him seem to ripple like heat waves off an asphalt road, Tyler had no idea what the old man was talking about, no idea even how he’d got there.
“Hello, Adam,” Tyler said, buying time and trying to steady himself by leaning on the edge of car’s rear hatch.
“Don’t ‘Hello’ me, you bastard; do you have any idea where your wife is?”
“Nope.” The younger man held his hands up in the universal gesture of helplessness and grinned, the picture of ease. “Went for a walk early this morning, I guess, and hasn’t come back yet. Left me to do all the heavy lifting, her and those kids. How about that?” He wasn’t at all certain this was the truth; he was finding truth to be elusive.
Old Adam was about to tell him where Pete was, but something—his old prosecutorial instincts, perhaps—held him back. Tyler was drunk; that must be it. But why would you be drunk on the morning you’re supposed to be driving home? Crazy. He was also acting, or covering maybe; that was obvious, too. What was he disguising?
Adam switched subjects, an age-old technique to throw a defendant off his game: “Guess who just paid me a visit?” It was less a question than an accusation.
For a moment, for just a fraction of a second, for the merest blink in the stately procession of time from present to past and back again, he saw fear in Tyler’s eyes. And just as quickly, Tyler’s eyes went blank again.
“No idea, Adam. Is this a game? Maybe I should get Two. He likes games.”
Adam stared at him. “Two? What the hell are you talking about?!”
Tyler didn’t know. He didn’t know where everyone was, why no one was helping. He looked around and listened for their voices, but the beach was silent except for gulls’ cries and the distant keening of an eagle. He couldn’t hear Amanda anymore either. Suddenly, he found the old man’s questions infuriating, and the noisy dissonance in his head rose painfully.
“Get on with it, Uncle; I’m trying to pack the car.”
“Odd how there’s no one here helping you, isn’t it?”
A part of his brain, the part on autopilot, agreed but he wouldn’t acknowledge it. “Was there something you wanted from me?”
“Oh yes, there is. There is. A legal messenger just mistakenly delivered a package of documents to me. But they were meant for you. Guess who they’re from?
Tyler crossed his arms against his chest but said nothing. It was all a mystery to him, this entire encounter. He tried to be separate from it. It wasn’t hard. He had only the slightest grip on the present.
“Soren Sorensen. Remember him? General Manager of Pacific Pioneer? Your wife’s family’s firm? Of which you’re CEO?”
“Now why do you suppose old Soren would resort to sending documents to you via a receipt-requested legal messenger service? Never mind; don’t bother fabricating, I’ll tell you. Thanks to your incompetence, Pacific Pioneer is effectively bankrupt and Pete is ruined.”
Tyler slipped into another prism of the present, found a bit of text, and waved a breezy hand. “Whole industry’s in collapse, Adam. Nothing we could do. Fuel prices through the roof, customers dropping like flies, creditors snapping at our heels…”
“Soren and me. And frankly, that old coot Soren—what is he, in his late fifties now? Older?He’s lost it. Completely. Can’t keep on top of the invoices. We’re forever in arrears. Supposed to be the general manager but can’t be trusted to make timely payments. Have to cover for him all the time.”
“Curious of you to say that, Tyler, because these documents include increasingly desperate letters from Soren to you, pleading that you act to take charge of the company’s financial crisis. If anyone’s ‘lost it,’ it looks like you.”
Tyler thrashed around in his crowded head for a response. “Oh Christ, Adam, the guy’s a Chicken Little. The sky’s always falling with him.”
Adam leaned on his cane and fixed Tyler in his gaze.
“Funny how the sky never fell until Harlan gave you control of Pacific Pioneer…”
“That’s my fault?”
“Well, you tell me. Whose is it, then? Harlan’s? Maybe Pete’s? Because you know what, nephew? I know you’ve made Pete the guarantor of the firm’s loans. I don’t know how you did it, but I’ll find out. Pete’s smarter than that. My guess is you forged her signature, but that’s easily checked and you can be damned sure I’ll have it checked. Now that the company’s failed, you’ve left her holding the bag.”
Tyler thought, Hey, this is like being in court! As if addressing a jury, he said, “Let us all remember that this is not my company; it’s hers.”
“Who’s ‘all?’ This is you and me, and don’t give me that bullshit! The general manager reports to you. The management decisions are yours to make, and what these documents show is that you’ve dodged those decisions for months. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Now Tyler suddenly felt himself in the witness box instead of arguing his client’s case before the judge. He didn’t like it.
He stepped out of the witness box and lunged for the documents, misjudging the distance. Old Adam pulled them away, stepped to one side, and swatted Tyler’s back with his cane. Tyler went down.
“Let me tell you something else,” Old Adam growled at the drunk struggling to his knees before him. “I’m not going to let you ruin my niece. I’m going to use every connection I have, every string I can pull, to exonerate her and make it clear that the burden of this failure rests upon your shoulders. What is more, nephew, I’m writing you out of my will. You got that? You’ve taken down the Petersen fortune; you won’t take down the Strong’s. Out of honor to my brother and love of your father, I’ve been carrying you for years. Pure dead weight. That’s done. Over. Got that?!”
Old Adam turned toward his house.
Tyler decided he’d kill the old man before he got away. He found his feet, promptly tripped on the cedar driveway edging, regained his balance, and plodded after the hobbling old man. He had no plan; he dimly figured the cane would suffice as a weapon.
Every summer for generations, three families intertwined by history, marriage, and career have spent “the season” at their beach cottage compounds on an island in Puget Sound. Today, Martha “Pete” Petersen, married to Tyler Strong, is the lynchpin of the “summer people.” In childhood, she was the tomboy every girl wanted to emulate and is now the mother everyone admires.
Colin Ryan, family friend and the island’s veterinarian, met Pete first in London, years earlier, when she visited his roommate, Tyler. He’s loved her, privately, ever since. Born in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, son of a bar owner, he’s always been dazzled by what he sees of the sun-kissed lives of the summer people.
But this summer, currents strong as the tides roil: jealousies grow, tempers flare, passions clash. Then, on the last day of the season, a series of betrayals alters the combined histories of these families forever.
As in previous novels, The Long Walk Home and Water, Stone, Heart, with Seasons’ End, Will North weaves vivid settings and memorable characters into a compelling tale of romance and suspense.
Buy Now@ Amazon
Genre – Women’s Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG-13
More details about the author