How do you save a town? It was a question that had troubled Fred Baxter ever since he had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a young minister himself many years ago. Things had changed so much since then. Back then drinking and drugs weren’t an issue. Sure, there was always the town drunk, and kids might try a sip of champagne at their parent’s garden party, but no one ever got sloshing drunk. And young people had different ideas and goals; they wanted to make something of themselves. As it stood, and much to his dismay, all three of his teenage daughters seemed to be floundering in that area. In the rear-
“Now I want you girls to be on your best behavior at all times,” he announced as he, his wife Phyllis, and two daughters, Tara, 17, and Gillian, 15 were settled in the large older blue Chevy Van and still about two hours away from the pretty lake side town, Steep Rock Cove. So far the trip had gone well, he thought, without incident. The weather had been good up until now, and it looked as if dark clouds were rolling in behind them from the west. But since it was mid June at least he didn’t have to worry about icy roads to add to the many other stresses of making another move to another town. The girls had been pulled out of school two weeks earlier, had finished their exams, and would now enjoy an extra two week summer vacation. But he knew it wouldn’t feel like a holiday. Moving never is.
“Remember, you’re preacher’s kids and people will expect to see you lead an exemplary life. So that means no parties, no worldly involvements, no boyfriends, no low cut tops or dresses, or too-
“A good attitude,” Gillian piped up. But Tara stiffened at her dad’s list of impossible demands, and just kept reading a romance novel she had hidden between the pages of a large black leather-
“Tara, are you listening?”
“Yes dad. I heard.” What was the point of saying anything? He wouldn’t listen, and it would just erupt into an ugly argument like every other time she dared disagree or suggest something different.
“Okay, then I won’t expect any trouble from either of you girls.”
Trouble? What possible chance did she have for trouble? He wouldn’t allow any boys her age near her. If she were allowed to go out at all, he would keep an eye on her. Everything revolved around church life, and ministry as he called it – whatever that meant! Would there ever be any escape out of this prison of strictness and demand for perfection that her father continued to impose on her? And as far as trouble went, it was more often Gillian that got into trouble, and it was Tara that tried to protect her, and then would take the blame. But this time around, she would try and keep a much closer eye on her!
Her father had uprooted them yet again from another small town, Mayville, which was further north about 200 miles away. Fred had announced it over dinner one night about six months earlier that they would be moving to a town he had grown up in. Fred’s wife and family had never been there because both his parents had died before he was even married, and he didn’t even know where his older brother Isaiah was and hadn’t seen him for many years. He explained to his family that Steep Rock Cove was part of the Interlake mecca of towns and villages situated sparsely along and around two of the largest in-
Since it was situated beside a vast, beautiful lake, it was both a haven for city dwellers who lived south about two hours away, otherwise known as summer “cottagers,” and also held a long tradition of being the permanent home to many commercial fishermen and their families. The fisherman, busy during the long, hot summer days, far from shore, hauling in several kilograms of walleye, pickerel and even catfish over the season, are a familiar sight at the marina during July and August. They, along with many thousands of yearly tourists, provide the economic base of the small town. Since their work is only seasonal, many of them, along with other local seasonally-
But Tara cringed at the thought of having to go through moving to a new place, starting another church, and attending a new school, all over again. Nothing could be worse than being a preacher’s kid, she thought, never feeling as if she fits in, and sometimes the other kids her age would shun her thinking they had to watch what they said or did when they were around her. Even though, her dad said it was a privilege to be persecuted by people that don’t know any better, she hated being treated as a religious freak. And when she did try to make new friends, her dad would up and move them again. She wished they would just keep driving and keep on driving until they dropped off the edge of the earth to a place where they wouldn’t have to move ever again. When she was younger, her parents never allowed a TV in the house, so she read books, mostly ones she would read in the library and then later she’d write about mysterious places in her journal. All her stories were about escapes to some beautiful place where everyone was happy, and there were no domineering fathers around to spoil everything. But when she was twelve, her father caught her writing and demanded that she give him her journal. When he read the beginnings of one of her stories, he gave her back her journal and said, What a frivolous waste of time! Is this what they are teaching you to write about in school? A fantasy world devoid of all truth? That was when he had told her to memorize the first five chapters in the Book of John and rewarded her with the leather-
The older rusted red Dodge Caravan lurched and sputtered, sending Seth Foster’s half-
Seth climbed out of the van, grabbed his toolbox out of the back, and walked around on the sidewalk to the front of the house. He noticed fresh flower beds had colorful impatience planted in front along the long veranda and flower urns had red geraniums sprawling out of them spilling down the side. He climbed the steps onto the veranda of the large older two-
He was climbing through the large window in the master bedroom when he thought he heard the downstairs door open.
“Hello, anyone here?” The question echoed through the large rooms and wafted up the stairs. It was Lucy Jorgenson, the secretary-
“I’m up here.” He was already on the gray-
“You might as well stop what you’re doing.” Lucy stuck her head out the window.
“Why what’s up?” He noticed the dark clouds moving in.
“I just found out that the Baxters might not be able to move in today.” The robust red-
“What?” He stopped the hammering to look at her.
“How Bill Hatfield ever got to be mayor, I’ll never know. This morning I got a call from the Town Office saying they wanted to see me about the deed for this place. Well I couldn’t find it in any of the church records, and no wonder, since I’ve been working out of that cubby-
“But I thought the church put a down payment on it months ago and bought it from the town who took ownership of it by default when the previous owner moved away and just let the taxes go unpaid for too long.”
“Yes and the mortgage was approved by the bank. In fact, I put up my own house as collateral. We got a great deal on it considering who we’re dealing with, and since the town would like to start collecting on the taxes again.”
The rain was coming down now and, Seth grabbed his tool box and climbed back through the window, now feeling like an intruder in someone else’s home even though he had been working in it for a few months now.
They made their way down the stairs. “I’m going back to the town office to see if there’s some way they can stay here without us getting charged with a trespassing lawsuit and heaven knows what else, and then I’m going to go and see Ollie Arnason and pray that he’s having a good day and see what he knows about it, if anything.”
“Okay. I’ll stay here and fix the inside of that spare bedroom window casing unless you want me to come along for support.”
“No. You stay here. And if all else fails, I guess I can temporarily put them up in my basement.” She closed the door and rushed to her newer navy SUV before she got soaked with rain.
Seth went back upstairs and turned the hall lights on now that the dark clouds gave the appearance of night. How he would have loved to go with Lucy and give Bill Hatfield a piece of his mind. It wouldn’t be the first time either. Bill and his dad, Jordan Foster, were good friends, and the two of them were always scheming together to get what they wanted. Collectively they owned most of the town and often tried to own the people that live in it. They grew up together and went to law school together, but Bill had turned to politics rather than law because he felt that it would give him more power. And now this is what Jordan Foster was pushing Seth to do, live the life of the corporate lawyer with all the financial perks and power that went with it. But Seth had made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with that life since it had only gotten him into trouble, having whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. So his father with the help of Bill, had worked to make sure that Seth never got a good-
Fred glanced at the clock on the dashboard, 1:00 p.m. They were behind schedule by about an hour since he had to stop twice due to the pelting rain and hail that had suddenly come upon them. They should be in Steep Rock Cove in about an hour and a half. He glanced at his delicate 39 year old wife who had drifted off to sleep, tired from all the upset in the move and never really recovering from the many moves they had made since they were married 20 years ago. When he had announced this move six months earlier, she had remained pensive and quiet until later when they were in bed, and the girls were asleep. She always had a way of getting him to look more closely at his true self.
Fred are you running away from something? You seem so restless, never content to stay in one place. You know I’ll always support you and stand behind you whatever you decide, but I worry about the girls. They’re at that age where they need stability.
Run away from something? He wanted to be honest with her and tell her that he was finally running to something and that it would be the last move as far as he was concerned. He would finally put to rest the nightmares that had stalked him and kept him awake at night for these past 30 years. He would find out the truth about that fire that ended his father’s ministry in Steep Rock Cove, and drove his mother to an early grave. And what of his older brother by two years, Isaiah? He hadn’t seen or heard from him since even before the fire. Drinking or anything else sinful or worldly was never allowed by his minster father, yet Isaiah had broken all the rules and his father had kicked him out in his last year of high school. No one had heard even a word from him ever since. He never showed up for their mother’s funeral, and even after their dad passed away three years ago, Fred had to take care of all the arrangements himself.
They passed a sign that said, Steep Rock Cove, 80 kilometers. He heard a stir in the back and looked in the rear-
“Dad, can I drive the rest of the way?” Anything to break this boredom.
“Drive? Are you sure you can handle the hard rain? It’s pretty windy and, harder to steer. Might be a bit slippery. No. I don’t think so. Not this time.”
Tara sighed. Normally he would have let her drive. Driving was the one thing they both shared in common since no one else liked driving. Her mother had a license, but rarely drove and Gillian was too young by a year and wasn’t really interested in driving. And Stephanie, her older 19 year old sister, had already moved away to the city in spite of the fact her dad had forbidden her to even though she had already graduated. She told him, she was going to work part-
How could everything have gone so wrong for her? Everything had changed 10 years ago when her little brother Dylan, only two, had accidentally died. She was seven. Everyone loved Dylan. He was the hoped-
Lucy Jorgenson sat in a brown leather chair across from Bill Hatfield, who was comfortably seated behind his mahogany desk. She combed back her hair dripping from the rain that had now ceased, and wiped off her wide-
“It’s all in here. The law office of Foster & Associates faxed it to me this morning.” He opened the folder and showed her the deed to the manse.
“There’s nothing I can do.”
“You mean there’s nothing you WILL do.” Lucy could feel the color rise to her cheeks, and tried her hardest to keep calm.
“Look, I can’t re-
“But they’re going to be here any minute, and we can’t just leave them on the street or living out of their vehicle. Can’t they just stay temporarily until we, or I, find them another place to live until this all gets sorted out?”
“You’re best bet is to check them into my hotel …”
“No offence Bill,” she had called him by his first name since they knew each other so well from the Chamber of Commerce meetings Lucy regularly attended as a town merchant who owned a thriving home-
Lucy got into her SUV, the sun now shining, and the air humid, put on her prescription sunglasses, turned on the air conditioning and sped away. The Steep Rock Cove Senior Home was to the east of town, situated close to the lake with a beautiful view of the marina and lake that stretched as far as the eye could see into the horizon. Residents had a large common room on the fourth floor where they held special dinners, movie nights and otherwise provided the town with a place for conferences, art shows, craft shows and so on. Many of the residents were brought up to the fourth floor by the elevator to spend the afternoon watching the sailboats or see fishing boats come in with their catch of the day. The last minister the church had hired would come here to hold brief Sunday afternoon services for the residents. She had hoped Fred Baxter would agree to do this as well. She had met Fred at a province-
By a stroke of good fortune, there was a parking space right in front of the newer senior’s home. She rushed in past the gift shop and tea house, down the gray carpeted hallway to the clean, white floors, and hospital-
“I’m looking for Ollie Arnason.”
“That way.” The receptionist pointed down the hall towards the dining room where the residents were having their afternoon tea and cookies. When a dietary aide in a pale pink uniform and net on her brown and bleached blonde streaked hair pointed him out to her, she slowly approached his wheel chair where he was sitting alone by a large window staring blankly towards to the lake.
A sample chapter from the book