THREE DAYS LATER
Jacob had been on the road two and a half hours and still had another hour to go before he reached the island, but he didn't mind, he had a lot to ponder.
His stomach growled, reminding him he had skipped breakfast. Since the car's gas gauge was a steady red light, he decided it was time to locate a rest stop with a gas station, so he could kill two birds.
The sky was grey. Ominous clouds hung low in the sky and threatened an afternoon storm. After another ten minutes of driving he found a diner. As he parked, the clouds released their heavy burdens, and Jacob jogged toward the front door of the diner dodging puddles as they formed in the asphalt parking lot.
Every head turned as he burst in, before returning to their business. A young waitress bounced past, stopping only long enough to say: "Hello there! Take a seat wherever you like, and I'll be right with you."
"Thanks." Jacob removed the long-sleeved shirt he'd been wearing over a darker tee and shook it out. Then he plopped down on a stool at the island counter since he wasn't planning on sticking around. Locals, farmers and truckers patronized the diner which was a good sign that the grub was decent. The blare of a distant foghorn reminded him he was a long way from home.
"Okay, stranger. What can I get you?"
"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
"It's no problem." Jacob turned to the counter, where he found himself staring into a pair of adorable blue eyes. He looked at the nametag. "Erin."
"All right, then, what can I get you? We've got a special today on a stack of pancakes with link sausage on the side."
"Sounds perfect. With lots of black coffee."
"You got it." Erin winked at him as she started to turn away.
"It's pretty busy in here. Is it always like this?"
Turning back, Erin leaned an arm on the Formica countertop. "Yep. And thank goodness, too. I'm putting myself through college with this job."
"Where's the closest Police Station?"
"Why? You need to report a crime or something?"
"Yes, Erin. You stole my heart from the minute I walked in." He kept a straight face for a moment, but then smiled.
She poked him with a menu. "Oh, you. You had me going there for a minute! The closest Police Station is Sacred Harbor, but the officers there never leave the island."
"Well, that's where I'm headed. What can you tell me about the pla --"
A great clap of thunder sounded. A flash of lightning lit up the interior of the diner like brightest day, then thrust it into blackness. There was a round of silence, broken only by the heavy pattering of rain outside the building.
Jacob felt swept into a vacuum, as if he were the only patron left in the restaurant. He thrust out a hand, but couldn't see it. "Hello? Erin? Hello! Is anybody there?"
His ears tingled and his senses were on high alert. The rain was slowing, and gradually became so quiet he could have heard a pin drop. "Hello?"
A blast of wet, cold air hit his back as the front door slammed open. He heard a thousand angry locusts and the disturbing giggle of children. He remembered the sounds. He vividly remembered the sounds. He wanted to run, but reminded himself he was a grown-up now. The buzzing grew louder as it came toward him.
A hollow voice snarled at his collar: "It will not be long now, Jacob Skylar." There was a moist, sticky heat on the back of his neck. "We are waiting." The heat surrounded him.
Jacob awoke on the floor.
"Hey, you okay?" A large man was standing over him. Sweat was beading on his red forehead. He hollered off into the distance. "Someone call 911, will you!"
Jacob tried to shake the cobwebs from his head as he sat up and did a mental inventory. "No nine-one-one. I'm okay. What happened?" The man offered him a hand and Jacob was not too proud to take it. He rose to his feet and wiped himself off, looking for any injuries.
"Honey, you dropped like a sack of potatoes," said Erin. Worry etched itself across her brow.
"Are you sure that you don't need medical attention?" asked the diner's cook and owner. "I don't need trouble."
Erin brought him a glass of water. "Here, this might help. Sit down." He did.
"How long were the lights out?"
"Only about two minutes, I guess. They came on right when you hit the floor. Boy, you gave me the fright of my life!"
"Sorry. I have no idea what happened. I guess I've been driving too long." Jacob knew no such thing. But he knew he hadn't fainted, for heaven's sake! "How long was I out?"
"Just a minute or so."
"Well, that's a first for me," Jacob said uneasily. "I hope it was the last."
"I don't blame you. That could be dangerous."
"You have no idea."
Lots of concerned faces met his as he looked around the diner. The storm had grown in intensity and it rattled the windows of the diner, beat against the door.
Erin listened to the noise of the storm for a moment then looked back at her new customer. "You think you still feel like eating?"
"Yeah, maybe. But let's just make it toast and coffee."
"Yeah. Let's do that." She smiled and looked like she was starting to feel easier about the situation. "You said you were headed over to Sacred Harbor?"
"That's my plan. I'm taking a job there. Sheriff."
"It's about time they got rid of that low-down, worthless, murdering sheriff they had over there."
"That man was my uncle."
"Oh.” Erin blushed pink. “Well, I'm sure he had some good points. Everybody does."
"Don't worry about it. I plan to set a much better example. Have you ever been to the island?"
She stared at him with those baby blues so hard he thought she didn't hear the question. He started to ask again, but she walked away to take care of another customer. All he needed to know was clear in her reaction. But when she brought his toast, he pushed the question.
Erin said, "To tell you the truth, I've never been to that island and I never plan on going."
"Mind if I ask why?"
"It's something we don't really talk about and that an outsider like you wouldn't understand. But I'll tell you this much: if you were smart, you'd think twice about accepting that job."
"I don't have much choice about it. I'm considering taking this position to uncover some truths about my uncle. He might have been a hard man, but I don’t believe Uncle Joe was a murderer. That's plain fact. There has to be more to the story and I'm going to find out what it is."
"The plain facts have a way of getting twisted up on Sacred Harbor. I'd watch my step if I were you."
"Worried about me? I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."
"Famous last words." Erin smiled, and then held up the coffee pot. "More coffee?"
Jacob watched as Erin entered the kitchen. For the first time since Nikki’s death, he'd actually had fun cutting up with a woman. He supposed asking someone out would be the next step, but he was a long way from that yet. Besides his mind was on the tasks that awaited him just a half-hour away.