Authors: Kristine Mason
Celeste Files: Unjust
Copyright © 2015 Kristine Thompson
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 13: 978-0-9906543-7-7
For my father-in-law, Scott.
Let’s hope you never have a fishing trip like this one!
My creative son, Sam, has become awesome at brainstorming. Thanks, Sammy, for helping me come up with a few ghostly ideas. As always, thank you, Jamie Denton, for your honest critique. Thank you, Sherry, for proofing Celeste Files: Unjust. Thank you, Tessa Shapcott, for your editing skills. Elle Rossi, from EJR Digital Art, I love these paranormal covers.
How about a shout out to psychics and ghosts? Thanks for the inspiration!
“WHERE’D YOU GO, girl?”
Celeste Kain’s hand trembled as she dragged in deep breaths.
To the bottom of the bay.
She dropped the sodden fishing net at her feet. Images of being tangled in it, then yanked into rough waters by a strong current rushed through her mind. She took a quick step back to avoid touching the source of the terrifying vision, and slipped on the puddle of water the net made.
Barney Newton, the grisly yet sweet boat captain, caught her arm before she fell, then sat her on the bench near the starboard side of his fishing boat. He glanced from her to the net, then out at the calm waters of Chokoloskee Bay. When he looked at her again, he took off his ball cap, which had a Vietnam Veteran logo across the front of it, then adjusted his eye patch. “You okay?” he asked, and covered his thick curly gray hair with the cap. “You zoned out on me for a few minutes after you reeled in the net.”
Sweat beaded along her upper lip and forehead. Even as the hot Florida sun blasted her skin, a chill passed through her. She hadn’t zoned out, she’d watched a man drown.
“I did?” She used the back of her forearm to wipe some of the sweat from her face. “It must be the heat,” she said, and started to rise. “I’m sure I just need some water.”
“You sit tight.” Barney reached into the cooler for a water bottle. After he handed it to her, he checked the net.
Olive-colored sea grass and silt coated different parts of the nylon mesh. When she’d touched the net, it had a slimy film, giving her the impression it had been submerged for a while. How long ago had the man drowned?
a man drowned?
To hide her panic, she took a long drink from the water bottle. Damn it. This couldn’t be happening now. Not here. Yesterday, she and her husband, John, had flown to the Florida Everglades for a much needed vacation. Granted, this was more of a working vacation for John, but for her it was a chance to decompress, relax and forget about her responsibilities. Here, under the Florida sun, she didn’t have to worry about her bakery, the Sugar Shack. She didn’t have to deal with the laundry, grocery shopping, the dog, bills or changing her daughter’s diapers. This was her chance to reconnect with her husband and, with any luck, not just practice their baby making skills, but actually make a baby.
She drained the water bottle. Hopefully, the dead man would leave her alone. She hadn’t had lost souls creeping into her head since she’d regained her psychic visions four months ago, and didn’t want them bothering her now.
“Dang, girl, you got yourself one hell of a catch,” Barney said with a chuckle. He pulled a soggy leather boot from the tangled net. “It’s more than I caught today or yesterday.” When he held up the boot, he looked over his shoulder. His smile fell. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Really,” she said.
Barney went back to inspecting the net. He really was surprisingly sweet, and not what she’d pictured. When John, a criminalist for the investigative agency, CORE (Criminal Observance Resolution Evidence), had told her Ian, her father and the owner of CORE, wanted him to head to Everglades City, Florida, to train the agency’s southern counterpart, she wasn’t happy. The last time John had been to Everglades City, he’d been shot.
Plus, CORE’s southern counterpart wasn’t exactly legitimate. They actually called themselves ATL, or Above the Law. The name of their underground organization, along with the history of some of ATL’s agents, had worried her. While she knew their leader, Lola Tam, since she was the daughter of her dad’s fiancée, two of the members of ATL’s team had prison records, and one was a former hitman wanted by the Russian and U.S. governments. So she’d been leery when John had suggested she join him on the trip, until she’d met the ATL team. They were all great and had made her feel welcome, but for whatever reason, Celeste had immediately connected with Barney, an airboat captain and the group’s Jack-of-all-trades. When he’d invited her fishing today, she’d jumped at the offer to spend the day on the water, and maybe catch dinner. Now she wished she had stayed back at the condo she and John were renting and hung out at the pool. Call her selfish, but she didn’t want the dead ruining her vacation.
Barney let out a low whistle. “Unbelievable,” he said as he stared at the boot.
He glanced at her, then pointed to the letters D and C etched into the leather along the side of the boot. “Five days ago we were hit by a bad storm. Weather guys said we ended up with forty-mile-an-hour winds and twelve-foot waves. The Cajun Lady was out on the Gulf that night and got caught in it.” Barney shook his head. “I don’t know why she was out there. For days them weather guys were callin’ for a storm. Anyway, the Cajun Lady went down around midnight.”
“Do you think this net belongs to the Cajun Lady?”
He nodded. “And I think this boot belongs to her captain. His name was Denis Comeaux, and he liked to carve his initials into just about everything.”
Dread slithered up her spine. She looked from the boot to the net. “Did he survive?”
Please, God. Let the man be alive.
“No.” Barney stood, then moved into the boat’s cockpit. “I need to call the Coast Guard and Gabe.”
She followed after Barney. After he reported what they’d found, and had given the Coast Guard their location, she asked, “Who’s Gabe?”
“Gabe Jackson was Denis’s deckhand, and was on the Cajun Lady the night of the storm. Gabe said they thought they’d beat the storm, but it came at them too fast. The Cajun Lady was tossed about and started taking on water. He said Denis got his leg caught in the net and a wave knocked him overboard before he could get on his lifejacket. Gabe tried to save him after he took care of putting on his own lifejacket, but the boat was sinking too fast. He jumped overboard and was in the water for nearly thirteen hours before another boat found him.”
Thirteen hours? “How scary.”
“Ain’t that the truth? But Gabe’s been fishin’ all his life. He was smart enough to know which direction to swim and told me by morning he could see the coast. Thing is, if that passing boat hadn’t picked him up, Gabe would’ve had to swim a solid fifteen miles to reach shore.”
Celeste could maybe doggy paddle for a half-mile, but fifteen? “I’m sorry to hear about your friend, Denis, but I’m glad Gabe survived.”
“Since Denis is gone, this might sound bad, but I never liked the man. Gabe’s good people, though. He was shook up over what happened. He was even saying he didn’t think he’d step on a boat again.” Barney looked at the radio. “On second thought, I’m gonna hold off on calling Gabe. No point in upsetting him. The Coast Guard might not find anything.”
“Are you planning on sticking around to see if they do?” she asked, anxious to head back to her condo. She needed to call Maxine and tell her about the quick vision. Her psychic mentor, Maxine Morehouse, had taught her several exercises to help keep the dead away. But Celeste’s nerves were a scrambled mess. Without having her dog, Ruth, by her side to pick up on impending and uncontrollable trances, Celeste worried about hurting herself again. She also wanted no part in this search. The boat captain had been in the water for five days, and she didn’t even want to imagine what the water and fish had done to his body.
“No.” Barney shook his head. “We’ll show the Coast Guard what we found, then be on our way.” He walked to the port side, and began removing his fishing rod from where it had been secured to the boat. “Might as well clean up.” He reeled in the line. “I was hoping we might catch us a redfish or snook. The female snooks have been fattenin’ up for their spawn, and are big at this time of year. A buddy of mine who runs fishing charters told me one of his customers caught a thirty pounder just the other day.” When the rod bowed, he stopped reeling.
“Did you catch something?” she asked.
“Don’t know.” He looked over his shoulder. “Whatever I’m hooked to ain’t struggling.”
Barney pulled his old station wagon into the parking lot of the condominium complex, and parked in front of the condo Celeste and John were renting. When he let out a weary sigh and parked the car, she unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to him.
“Please don’t feel bad,” she said.
“Daggonit.” He pulled off his cap, and slammed it against the steering wheel. “We were supposed to catch fish, not a dead body. I feel awful about this. I’ve had plenty of strange things happen to me, but there ain’t never been nothing like this.” He faced her. “I’m sorry. This ain’t a way to spend a vacation.”
After the Coast Guard had arrived, they’d investigated what Barney had hooked, and had discovered the remains of Denis Comeaux. With her back turned away from the scene, she’d stayed in the cockpit of Barney’s boat as the body had been removed from the water. Although she’d been unable to see what they were doing, she’d sworn she knew the exact moment Denis’s body had surfaced. Not by sound, or smell, but intuition. The air around her had become heavier, muggier. Breathing had grown difficult, as if something had surrounded her and squeezed.
Fortunately, the moment the Coast Guard had realized they’d found the boat captain’s body, they had taken the Cajun Lady’s fishing net, along with Denis’s boot, and had dismissed her and Barney.
“It’s not like you planned any of this,” she said. “Please don’t worry about it. Honestly, up until the dead body, I had a great time. This will be one fishing trip I won’t forget.”
He chuckled. “Well, it’s nice to know you’ll always remember me. So what do you want to do tomorrow?”
“What do you mean? Wait, did John ask you to entertain me while he was working?”
His smile faded. “If I answer yes, is he gonna get in trouble?”
She grinned. “No, but I also don’t expect you to play tour guide.”
“Oh, hell. I don’t mind. It’s nice hanging out with a pretty lady. I’m enjoying your company. So, what’d you say? Do you want to go to the beach? Or maybe we can drive up to Naples. If you’re into shopping, there’re plenty of places.”
“Since you give airboat tours, how about taking me on one of those? They look like fun.”
He frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” Barney worked for Lola’s fiancé, Ryan Monahan, who owned an airboat tour business, and was also part of ATL. She and John had stopped by Cap’n Ryan’s Airboat Tours when they’d arrived yesterday. Since she’d seen families with small children exiting one of the airboats, going on a tour shouldn’t be too dangerous.
“With your condition and all, I don’t think traveling through the Glades is a good idea.”
“And what condition would that be?” she asked. “I’m not pregnant and I don’t have any issues with my heart.”
He leaned toward her. “On account of your psychicness,” he said, his tone hushed as if it were a dirty secret. “Sorry, I overheard Lola tellin’ Ryan about you, and I’m just trying to look out for you is all.”
“Look out for me how?” she asked, amused by the direction of the conversation.