Read Against the Tide Online

Authors: Melody Carlson

Against the Tide

EXPOSING THE TRUTH

Returning home for her father's funeral, big-city reporter Megan McCallister is brutally attacked—confirming her suspicions that her father's mysterious death was no accident. But only her childhood friend, Garret Larsson, believes her theory. The teenager she once knew has grown into a brave, honorable man...but can he keep her alive long enough to find the truth? Garret needs Megan to leave town, but he
wants
her to stay. He knows about the secrets her newspaperman father uncovered and the dangerous exposé he was writing. And now Megan has vowed to finish her father's final article. Someone's determined to kill the story—and Megan along with it—but he'll have to go through Garret first.

“I'm not safe here.”

Garret reached for her hand. “I can't guarantee it, but I believe you're safe with me. For right now anyway.”

“Then you're worried, too.” They stepped onto the terrace that overlooked the river. “Do you know what's going on?”

“I don't believe your father died of natural causes,” he confessed. “And then you show up in town and you're attacked at the newspaper and at your dad's house… It's starting to add up.”

“To what?”

He sighed. “I'm worried, Megan. Worried that just knowing about it might put you in danger.”

“I'm already in danger.”

He gazed out at the river, questioning just how much to tell her. Wouldn't her father want Garret to keep her safe? Keep her alive?

Before he could decide what to do, she screamed.

“Garret, get down!”

Melody Carlson
has worn many hats, from preschool teacher to political activist to senior editor. But most of all, she loves to write! She has published over two hundred books—with sales of over six million copies, and she has received the
RT Book Reviews
Lifetime Achievement Award. She and her husband have two grown sons and live in Sisters, Oregon, with their Labrador retriever, Audrey. They enjoy skiing, hiking and biking in the Cascade Mountains.

Books by Melody Carlson

Love Inspired Suspense

Perfect Alibi
No One to Trust
Against the Tide

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AGAINST
THE TIDE

Melody Carlson

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness:
thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress;
have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

—Psalms
4:1

ONE

M
egan McCallister thought her emotions were under control by the time she reached Cape Perpetua on the Central Oregon Coast, but seeing the familiar newspaper office produced a dark well of sadness within her. Dad was gone. She slowed her car as she drove past the old shake-sided building, taking in a quick breath as she glimpsed the faded sign above the front door.
The Perpetual Pre
ss. The building looked sad, almost like it, too, was grieving the loss of its owner.

This family-owned newspaper had survived the Great Depression, the recent recession and even the news-source domination of the internet. The weekly paper's old press machines would soon grind to a complete halt. Just like her father's life. She sighed, trying to grasp this. Was it only yesterday that Dad's fishing boat had gone down in the Pacific?

The sound of a blaring horn reminded her that, thanks to Memorial Day weekend, Main Street was crawling with traffic. She needed to keep moving.

When had Cape Perpetua gone from being a sleepy fishing town to this bustling place? Parking her Prius about a block from the newspaper office, she blinked back tears and attempted to steady herself.
Just get through this. Do what needs to be done and move on. Buck up!
That was what her no-nonsense dad would tell her.

As Megan got out of the car, she could hear strains of music mixed with the sounds of jovial voices, happy folks out enjoying this unusually warm evening. Of course, she realized as she locked her car, the busyness of town was due to the holiday. These oblivious tourists had no idea that one of Cape Perpetua's heroes had died yesterday. Why should they?

Feeling conspicuously lonely, Megan averted her eyes from the out-of-towners as she hurried toward the office. She knew it was closed and locked up. But she still wanted to go inside, to look around and maybe, she hoped, to feel her dad's presence again. She unzipped her oversize purse, feeling around for the key.

The sound of a car's backfire made her jump, and that was when she noticed the sunset. Rose-colored light reflected on the river that flowed alongside the town, past the jetties, and into the ocean.
Red sky at night, sailors' delight...
The pretty image was blurred by her unshed tears as she dug for the key. It had to be there—she always kept it with her. To her relief, she felt the rounded oblong shape of the wooden fishing lure. Extracting it, she saw that it was still attached to the old-fashioned brass key. Unless Dad had changed the locks, and she felt certain he hadn't, this key should get her inside.

She paused for a moment in front of the office, staring up at the unimpressive single-story building. It all looked the same. The big front window and glass door, the grayed cedar shakes and white trim, which as usual needed painting, had not changed. In fact, little had changed since her great-grandfather built the humble structure almost a hundred years ago. Dad had been planning a centennial celebration for the upcoming spring. That probably wouldn't happen now. Or if it did, it would be in the hands of a new owner.

She fumbled to get her key into the keyhole. She knew it was the right key, but it refused to slide inside the lock. She bent down to see better in the dimming light, making sure that the dead bolt lock hadn't been changed. But it looked the same. So, once again, she shoved the key in, but it only went partway before it stuck. In complete frustration, she kicked the door with her foot.
“Come on!”

“Excuse me?” A
deep voice gave her a start.

Megan turned to see a dark-haired man standing behind her. Several inches taller and dressed casually in faded jeans and a dark blue jacket, he was peering at her with what seemed a suspicious expression.

“What?”
She stepped back from the stranger, bumping into the glass door as she held up her key like a defensive weapon—a trick she'd picked up while living in the big city these past seven years. But the yellow wooden fish lure with its buggy eyes swung back and forth as if to mock her. As if to say she was really a wimp.

“Excuse me.” His voice grew warmer. “But the newspaper office is closed in the evenings.”

“I
know
it's closed,” she said in a slightly terse tone.

“But you're kicking the door?” His brow creased.

She waved her key under his nose as if to make a point. “This is my
family's
newspaper,” she declared. “The stupid key isn't working.”

He leaned forward, peering curiously at her in the light coming from the nearby streetlamp. “Hey, are you Rory's daughter?”

“Did you know my father?”

“I did.” He slowly nodded as he looked at her with what now seemed compassionate eyes. “And I knew you, too.” He stuck out his hand. “I'm Garret Larsson. And you're Megan.
Megan McCallister.”

“Garret Larsson?” She gingerly shook his hand, trying to remember why the name rang a bell.

“I was a couple years ahead of you in school. I doubt you'd even remember me.” He grinned. And she had to admit it was a handsome grin. “Maybe you recall my grandparents, though. They owned Larsson's Marina.”

“Oh, yeah.” She nodded. “I remember now.” The truth was she only vaguely remembered this guy. But she did remember Dad had kept his boat at that marina.

“I'm so sorry about your dad,” Garret told her. “Such a huge loss for everyone. But especially you.”

“Thanks.” She held up her key again. “I just wanted to go inside—to, you know—just to, well...you know.” She felt the lump returning to her throat.
Don't cry, don't cry,
she told herself.

“Yeah.” He nodded sadly. “I know.”

“I guess I'm still trying to absorb the news,” she confessed. “I mean, it's so hard to believe. How could my dad, the indomitable Rory McCallister, have drowned while fishing? It just doesn't make sense.”

Garret nodded. He didn't speak, but his eyes seemed understanding. She felt his empathy, probably the reason she continued talking.

“I checked the weather on the internet last night,” she blurted, “and it sounded like it had been a beautiful day here—calm seas, no wind, no fog. No hazards or warnings of any kind.”

Garret rubbed his chin with a thoughtful expression. “A perfect F
isherman's Thursday.”

“You know about Fisherman's Thursday?”

“Sure. The paper comes out on Wednesdays, and Rory celebrates by going fishing on Thursdays. Rather, he used to.” He cleared his throat.

Megan blinked. “Yeah. That's right.” Garret really did seem to know a lot about her dad. And although that seemed slightly odd, it was also a relief. She'd been so eager to talk to someone—
anyone
—who knew her dad. Someone who knew about what had happened yesterday. Who could commiserate with her and perhaps answer some questions. She had many.

And so, like liquid from an uncorked bottle, they poured out. “I just don't understand,” she began. “How could his boat have gone down? And on such a nice clear day? It makes no sense. Even if his boat had developed a mechanical problem out there, which seems unlikely. I mean, my dad was meticulous about his boat engines. And safety, too. So why would his boat go down? Even if he did have a problem, why wouldn't he have radioed someone? Or sent out a distress signal? And why didn't someone go out there and rescue him?”

“Maybe he didn't have time to send a signal.”

“Yeah, that's what Lieutenant Conrad suggested.” She pulled out a tissue to dab a straying tear. “He's the one who called last night with the bad news. He suggested that while Dad was out fishing by himself he might've suffered a heart attack. He said the coroner is doing an autopsy, but they don't expect to find anything beyond natural causes. But that still doesn't explain his boat going down,
does it?”
She shoved the tissue back into her purse. “I mean, on a clear, calm day
how does a boat just sink?”

“It can happen.” He pursed his lips as if weighing his words. “For instance, if your dad did suffer a heart attack or stroke or was somehow incapacitated, there'd be no one at the helm. The boat would start drifting. Even on a calm sea, there's a tide. There are waves. Even what's known as a rogue wave, although I hadn't heard of any yesterday. But with no one steering, a boat can get rocked and tossed. It might even be rolled and then it would take on water, capsize and sink.” He frowned. “It happens. Even in good weather the ocean is the ocean—it can be unmerciful on a disabled boat.”

“Oh...” She honestly hadn't considered any of that.

“I heard from a friend in the coast guard that they spotted the debris while doing a routine flyover in the helicopter yesterday. From the air, the scene had all the earmarks of a sunken vessel. Swirling gas and oil, miscellaneous items from the boat—ice chests, flotation devices, that remained on the surface while the boat went down.” His brow creased. “And they discovered your dad only a mile or two away—thanks to his orange life vest.”

Megan felt fresh tears filling her eyes as she envisioned this scene. “Well, thanks for telling me. I—I still can't quite believe it.”

He nodded with a troubled brow. “I've had a hard time accepting it, too. The only reasonable theory seems to be heart attack or stroke. Something instant. That makes sense.”

“Maybe it makes sense to you,” she declared hotly. “But Dad grew up fishing this ocean. Just like his father and grandfather before him. People always said the McCallister men had seawater in their veins. But they were never careless. They respected the changeable weather. They took red flag warnings seriously, always kept their radios tuned, knew the tide schedules almost intuitively and, until yesterday, none had been lost at sea.”

He simply pointed to the key still dangling from her hand. “How about I help you with that?”

She shrugged as she handed it over. “If you think you can.”

To her surprise, he spit on it. “Sorry about that,” he said as he worked it into the keyhole. “But it usually works. Not as good as WD-40 or even a chalk stick, but these old locks can get cranky. You know how the salt air can corrode.” And just like that, he turned the key and the door creaked open. He removed the key, wiped it on the back of his jeans and handed it back with a sheepish smile.

“Thanks.” She dropped it into her purse. “And thanks for listening to me.” She sighed. “I didn't mean to go on like that.”

“No problem.” He tipped his head toward the slightly opened door. “Want any company in there?”

“No,” she said briskly. “I need to do this alone.”

He nodded. “I figured.”

She thanked him again and then, pushing the door fully open, she suddenly felt a bit reluctant about going inside. Was she truly ready for this? Maybe she didn't really want to be alone. She turned to see Garret crossing the street, waving to someone on the other side as he headed for Beulah's Café. She glanced over to the bay, which was now dark with the sun fully down. Several boats were cruising slowly through the calm water with running lights on. Normally, this made a pretty picture, one that she used to enjoy. But tonight it just made her sad.

She took in a deep breath, knowing what she had to do. She needed to go inside the newspaper office, to walk through the building—with no one else there. Partly to say goodbye to her dad, and partly to prepare herself for what she knew must be done in the next few days. The closing of the newspaper. As painful as it would be, she just needed to get it over with.

With only the streetlight to illuminate the small entry area, she could see Barb's tidy reception desk still sat across from the door; the three orange vinyl chairs in the waiting area stood in a row with the stodgy little coffee table and its usual neat stack of this week's paper; the faded fake ficus tree still stood in the corner—just like a time warp. Even the smell was the same, a combination of ink, paper and dust.

Megan flicked on the fluorescent overhead lights, causing the scene to pop at her in a way that twisted her heart even more tightly. It was all still here—just like she remembered it—but Dad was gone and it would be her unpleasant job to shut the place down. She didn't look forward to that meeting. She'd need to get her bearings to prepare the dismal announcement. Without her dad to run it, the paper would need to close. It would be the end of an era.

As she walked past the staff desks, she wished for another way. If only
The
Perpetual Press
wasn't so old-fashioned. But Dad hadn't listened to her encouragement to offer an online news source for additional revenue. He had stubbornly insisted on running the paper the way his dad and grandpa had done. He hadn't even owned a computer. She paused to remember the clickity-clack of his old typewriter—and then she froze at the sound of something else. She was not alone!

The scuffling noise came from somewhere in the back of the building. Was Arthur here? The old print operator sometimes liked to clean the press at night when no one else was around to complain about the smelly emollients he used. But the door to the printing room was closed and she spied no ribbon of light beneath the door.

“Arthur?” she called out as she reached for the doorknob. But before she could open it, she heard fast footsteps behind her.

“Arthur?”
With a racing heart, she spun around. In the same instant a dark figure lunged toward her. She let out a scream as he tackled her to the floor. Swinging her fists and kicking her legs, Megan screamed at the top of her lungs as she fought her attacker. But bigger and stronger, he soon had her facedown on the old pine floor. Pressing her head down onto the boards with one hand, he used his knee to pin her tightly, pushing so hard she could barely breathe and felt her ribs were about to snap.

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