Read Chesapeake Tide Online

Authors: Jeanette Baker

Tags: #Novel, #Fiction, #Contemporary Romance, #Adult, #Sex, #Law Enforcement, #Man Made Disaster, #Land Pollution, #Water Pollution, #Radioactivity Pollution, #Detective Mystery, #Rural, #Small Town, #Suburban, #Urban, #Wilderness, #Louisiana, #Maryland, #Christianity-Catholicism, #Science-Marine Biology, #Social Sciences-Geography, #Fishing-Fresh Water, #Fishing-Salt Water, #Boat Transportation, #2000-2010, #1960-1969

Chesapeake Tide (7 page)

Something flickered behind Verna Lee's eyes. “Really? You don't look like a Delacourte. Your hair's beautiful.”

Chloe nodded. “Thanks. I look like my dad.”

Verna Lee opened the door. “Come on in and sit down.”

Chloe followed her inside and looked around appreciatively. The decor was pure eclectic with deep couches, low tables and bookshelves filled with interesting titles. Two glass cases offered various dried leaves and twigs, all neatly labeled. Colorful china and crockery sat on the shelves and the tables, along with candles, beads and incense of every imaginable scent and color. “I like this,” said Chloe reverently, grateful for the cool air blowing from the vents. She sat down on one of the couches.

“Thank you. Where are you from?”


“Ah, California.”

“Have you been there?”

Verna Lee nodded. “I went to school in San Francisco.”

Chloe's blue eyes slanted in surprise. “Why did you come back here?”

“My grandmother is old. There was no one else to take care of her. She needed me.”

Dubious, Chloe nodded. Selflessness to such a degree that one would sacrifice San Francisco for Marshyhope Creek was beyond her.

Verna Lee moved efficiently, as if the heat and humidity had no effect on her. She set two sweating glasses of ice cubes and golden liquid on the table in front of Chloe. “Taste that and tell me if you like it. I'll join you if you don't mind.”

Chloe sipped it tentatively. “It's delicious,” she said. “You put sugar in it.”

Verna Lee shook her head. “It's naturally sweetened with cinnamon and spices. My own recipe. You should feel better in a minute.”

“I feel better already.”

Verna Lee sat down beside Chloe and crossed her legs. “Tell me about yourself, Chloe Richards. How long will you be here?”

“I'm not sure. My mother said two weeks, but it may be longer. We thought my grandmother was dying, but she's nowhere near that. Not that I want her to be,” she said hastily. “It's just that now everything is up in the air and I had things going on at home.”

“Occasionally, life throws us a loop.” Verna Lee touched Chloe's leg briefly, gently. “Sometimes, in the end, it works out for the best.”

Chloe changed the subject. “Do you know someone named Bailey Jones?”

Verna Lee's smile faded. “I do.”

“What's wrong with him?”

“Nothing,” said Verna Lee stiffly. “Bailey hasn't had an easy time of it and folks around here have long memories.”

“He gave me a lift into town,” Chloe explained, “but he made me get out before anyone saw us. He said it wouldn't be a good thing to be seen with him.”

Verna Lee sighed. “Bailey Jones doesn't fit the mold of a good ol' boy. He's his mama's only son and sole support. Lizzie Jones is half Cherokee Indian, one of the few left around here. Some say she's got a drop of African blood as well. Whatever the case, she's in poor health. They live in a trailer on the other side of the marsh. No one knows who Bailey's father is. The boy's got more than his share of pride. That's his only flaw. Otherwise, he's a hardworking kid who deserves a break. It isn't pleasant being on the outside looking in.”

“Are you saying I should try being his friend?”

“How are you at swimming against the tide and taking on lost causes?”

Chloe lifted her chin and smiled. “I like a good challenge.”

Verna Lee lifted her glass in a toast. “Go for it, girl.”


uss Hennessey flicked the end of his last cigarette into the ashtray and ran his hands through his hair. Pushing back his chair, he extinguished the office lights, locked the door and stepped out on to the dock. He was through for the day and it wasn't yet time to pick up Tess. It would be too much to hope that the regular Friday evening poker game at Taft's Hardware was still in existence.

Against his better judgment, he headed in the direction of Main Street. Sure enough, the door of the hardware store was invitingly ajar and the voices inside were rowdy, male and somewhere on the harmless side of tipsy.

Russ stepped inside and grinned down at four familiar faces. “Where can a man find a good poker game in this hick town?”

Two hours later Fletcher Sloane threw down his cards, turned his head and spat a six-foot stream of tobacco juice out on to the street. “Jesus Christ. Where'd you learn to play poker, Hennessey? I lost nearly half my paycheck tonight. Shelby'll kill me.”

Russ laughed. “Stop pretending you're henpecked. You always were a lousy player, Fletch. Stop torturing yourself and find some other way of passing the time.”

The other men, Luke Chartier, Gus O'Bannion and Horace Taft, slapped their thighs and chuckled. Fletcher couldn't keep it going. He folded too fast and Russ always won. Their rivalry was good-natured and of long standing. No one ever lost more than a twenty and a case of Coors. It was their tradition to meet every Friday for a friendly game of poker. Taft would close up shop early and whoever was in town would turn up for the game.

Luke Chartier brought the subject up first. “Clifford Jackson's back in town.”

Russ leaned back in his chair and lit his first cigarette of the night. Tess was after him to quit, but it was going to be harder than he thought. “So?”

A customer wearing the sweat-stained overalls of a farmer wandered into the dry goods store.

“I'm closed,” Horace shouted. “Can't you see the sign?”

“The door was open. I need a linchpin for my tractor.”

“You ain't gonna do no plowin' tonight,” said Horace. “Come back first thing in the morning and I'll see what I can do.”

The man grumbled and turned to go.

“Close the door behind you,” Horace ordered. “We're in the middle of a card game here.”

“Actually, we're finished,” Russ reminded him.

Chartier resurrected his initial subject. “Are you still hiring for the fleet, even with Jackson in town?”

Russ frowned. Had they always been so suspicious of government agencies or had the restrictions of the last few years changed them? “What's Jackson got to do with my hiring practices?”

“He's EPA,” said Gus O'Bannion. “Don't do no good for us to sign on if we're gonna battle the EPA.”

“Cliff will go by the book as long as we do. I'm not planning on bucking the system. Why is the EPA here, anyway?”

The men looked at one another. Horace spoke first.

“Some people, tree-hugger types, think the bay water's got chemicals or something in it. Some of the fish and crabs have turned up bad.”

“Any truth to that?” Russ asked.

“There's always some truth to rumor,” replied Gus. “Nothing serious as far as I'm concerned.” He frowned. “What if Cliff closes you down?”

Russ blew out a blue-tinted swirl of smoke. “Why should he? I won't be doing anything illegal. More than likely the government's sent their boy down to pacify those who have questions. That way they can claim they're working on the problem.”

Fletcher Sloane shook his head. “They got all kinds of rules and regulations about when and where we can fish. It ain't a free country anymore.”

“Let me worry about that.”

“You always did have a soft spot for ol' Cliff Jackson,” Gus said. “Who'da thought he'd end up a big shot in Washington?”

“Cliff always was bright and he had talent,” Russ reminded him. “He's worked hard to get where he is.”

Horace wiped the sweat off his gleaming forehead. “Christ, it's hot. I hope you're still sayin' that in three months, Russ. Mitch and your daddy had a hard time with the bastards.”

“I'll be all right.” He stood and stretched. “I'm calling it a night.”

“Hell, Russ, it's only eight o'clock,” Fletcher complained. “I got to recoup my losses. Shelby won't let me in the door.”

Russ grinned. “My advice to you, my friend, is to stop right now and go home to your wife. You lost twenty bucks. Suck it up. Buy Shelby some flowers and take her for a walk around Main Street.”

Gus O'Bannion chuckled. “So speaks a man who signed divorce papers before the ink was dry on his marriage certificate.”

“Russ never wanted to marry Tracy Wentworth in the first place,” observed Horace. “Forgettin' the marriage license on their weddin' day was the first sign.”

Russ ignored the ribbing, pocketed his winnings and made his way toward the door.

“Hey, Russ, what's the hurry?”

“I'm supposed to pick up my daughter. Tracy will figure out something else for her to do if I show up late. It's a pattern with her.”

“Jesus.” Fletcher shook his head. “He ain't even married to her anymore and she's still got him jumping through hoops.”

Russ stubbed out the remains of yet another cigarette, finger-combed his hair and threw his now-dry piece of chewing gum out the window. Tracy could smell beer on a man's breath from clear across a room, twelve hours after he'd had one. He wanted nothing to provoke her into refusing this rare visit with his child.
His child.
The jury was still out on that one. Reserved, self-absorbed and devoid of any resemblance to him at all, Tess was still his daughter and he loved her desperately. An entire weekend with her was rare. Tracy usually had her scheduled so tightly he couldn't get in more than a few hours. That would change. Somehow he would make it change now that he was home for good.

With a hollow in the pit of his stomach, he approached Judge Wentworth's white-pillared colonial mansion set on a spectacular finger of land jutting out into the bay. Tracy had never seen the point of living on her own with Tess, not when she had an elegantly appointed suite with all expenses paid.

Tracy answered the door herself, another rare occurrence. “You're late,” she said pointedly.

He refused to take the bait. “I'm sorry. I got held up.”

“Tess has a mighty bad sunburn. I don't want her down at the dock.”

“She won't be down at the dock,” Russ mimicked her dutifully.

Tracy handed him a bottle of pills. “This is her medication. She takes it two times a day.”

Russ took the bottle. “What's it for?”


Russ's brows knitted. “Depression? What's this all about?”

“Tess has—” she paused delicately “—problems.”

“Problems? Hell, Tracy. She's fifteen years old. What kind of problems can a teenager have that would require antidepressants?”

“She has an absentee father, for one thing. Girls get their self-concept from their father's opinion of them.”

“Well then hers must be pretty good because I'm crazy about her.”

Tracy rolled her eyes and, once again, Russ wondered what he'd ever seen in her. Quite possibly he'd been interested because her pale, delicate looks were the antithesis of Libba's warmth. She was different in other ways as well and the comparison wasn't a favorable one. He hadn't seen it at first, mostly because there was no one quite like Libba. The quivery brightness that Libba Delacourte brought into a room was missing from every other female he'd ever known. But she'd chosen someone else and Russ had to marry somebody. Tracy had been available and interested. It was his worst mistake. He'd known it well before the wedding day. His mother had warned him. “She's not for you, Russ,” she said. “That woman is flighty and selfish. She'll bring nothing to you. She's a taker.”

In the end he'd balked at leaving a church full of wedding guests, limiting his feeble protest to forgetting the marriage license. There was a flurry, a twenty-minute wait while Mitch, his brother and best man, retrieved the license and the wedding commenced not too far off schedule. There was something to be said for Freudian slips, however. Everything had deteriorated from the day he'd said “I do.” By the time their first anniversary rolled around, he had to be drunk to even climb into bed with her and get it up. He wasn't proud of it, but he hadn't been faithful and Tracy knew it. Neither of them ever discussed divorce. He hadn't the guts. The Hennesseys were Irish Catholic. Not a one had ever been divorced.

Surprisingly, Tracy had turned up pregnant. How, he had no idea. As far as he knew Tracy took care of their birth control, not that three minutes once a month, the average frequency and duration of their sex life, required much in the way of birth control. Somehow, however, she'd conceived and Tess was born. If he'd bothered to think about it, his daughter's brown eyes might have raised some questions in his mind. But in the end it hadn't mattered. The moment he held Tess in his arms for the first time, he was caught. That feeling hadn't changed in fifteen years.

“Are you going to cooperate and make sure that Tess takes her medication?” Tracy demanded.

Russ gritted his teeth and mentally counted to ten. “Yes,” he said softly.

Tracy turned away. “Tess, your father's here.” She did not invite him inside.

Tess walked slowly down the spiral staircase and across the foyer to stand before him. “Hi, Daddy,” she said listlessly.

His heart lurched. “Hi, sweetheart. How are you?”

She shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”

He picked up her overnight bag. “I'll have her back on Sunday night.”

Tess's eyes widened and she looked at her mother.

“She has a party tomorrow evening,” Tracy announced. “You'll have to bring her home before six.”

“Before five,” Tess said quickly. “I have to get ready.”

Russ felt the familiar rage course through him. “I haven't seen you in three months, Tess. Surely you can miss the party this time.”

“I can't, Daddy,” she wailed. “I really can't. It's Celia Merritt's party and if I don't go everyone will talk about me. She wasn't going to invite me in the first place, but Dixie Ryan got sick and can't go.”

Her logic escaped him. “Why would you want to go to a party where you're not wanted?”

“You wouldn't understand, Russ,” explained Tracy. “Girls are different. It's hard to fit in and harder to stay in. It would be foolish for Tess to pass up an opportunity like this.”

“What opportunity?” His voice was cold now and furious. “Merritt owns a diner. He barely got through high school.”

“Nevertheless, his daughter is powerful. Tess has to live here in this town. It's important to keep the right connections.” Tracy crossed her arms tightly against her chest. “Now, if you're going to be difficult and refuse to bring Tess back on time, she won't be able to go with you.”

Rage consumed his brain. He could barely see. “Tess, honey.” He fought to control his anger. “Do you want to come with me or not?”

“I do, Daddy, I really do.” She looked at him hopefully. “But maybe this isn't the best weekend. Maybe you could pick me up the weekend after next.”

“What's wrong with

“Skylar Taft is having a sleepover. Her party is even more important than Celia's.”

He set down her overnight bag, reached out and hugged her. “All right, sweetheart,” he said gently. “We'll get together the weekend after next.” Without a word to Tracy, he turned and walked back to his car.

Libby forced her eyes open and stared at the ceiling. One more minute, she promised herself. I'll stay in bed just one more minute and then get up. Exercise wasn't practical in the heat of midday and Marshyhope Creek had yet to become progressive enough for a gym. Either she had to rise at dawn or forgo exercise completely. Six extra pounds wouldn't disappear by themselves. The French desserts Serena had been feeding her for a week didn't help, either.

Groaning, Libby threw aside her sheet, the only bedcover she could tolerate in summer, and stumbled to the bathroom. She splashed water on her face, brushed her teeth, dragged her hair back into a ponytail and pulled on her shorts and tank top. Carrying her socks and tennis shoes in her arms, she tiptoed downstairs. It was a few minutes past six. No one would be awake yet.

She chose the meandering river path for her run. Already, the water shone a silvery blue under the spreading rays of morning sun. The woods, nesting grounds for cranes and ospreys, rang with birdcalls. Trawlers heading south to the island fishing grounds churned their way from the calm waters of the bay to the rougher ones of the Atlantic. Dewdrops bubbled on grass and shrubs and the cicada's tick-ticking had given way to the singsong chirping of crickets.

After the first half mile, Libby came alive. Pain and breathlessness disappeared and the ground fell away from the soles of her tennis shoes. She felt the beating of her heart, the blood in her temples, the bunching of her muscles, the sweat beading her brow, flowing down her back and between her breasts. The flush of well-being began in her brain and spread down from her chest to her stomach, her arms and legs. She passed the harbor, the peach grove and Blue Crab Beach, where she and Russ would swim naked, catch crabs, roast fish in the sand, drink beer and make love behind the rocks on that last summer he was home.

She was honing in on the docks now. Two trawlers, decks empty of watermen, their engines silent, were tied to their moorings. A movement caught her eye. A man, dark-haired and tall, with lean, ropy muscles, climbed from the cabin to stand on the deck, his profile to her. He wore faded jeans that conformed to every movement of hard, straight leg muscle, and a denim shirt rolled to the elbow. A cigarette was clamped in his teeth.

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