Callahan Banks returns to her beloved Timicau Island near Charleston, South Carolina, to settle her mother’s estate. Her grief is compounded by Pepper Dade’s plans to develop the island and destroy the only home she’s ever known. When the body of a bikini-clad blonde washes up on the beach, Callahan is pulled into a web of intrigue that has her questioning all she thought she knew about her own life.
Struggling to resist her attraction to Pepper, Callahan suspects he may be involved in the death of the blonde. She ignores her misgivings until nine-year-old freckle-faced Harry Applegate, her sidekick, disappears. Now Callahan must muster all her skills as a naturalist and tracker to find the little boy before it’s too late.
Here’s a new kind of sleuth with an ecological bent and an unlikely sidekick–a sometimes tense, sometimes funny murder mystery with a touch of romance.
—P.B. Parris author of Waltzing in the Attic and His Arms are Full of Broken Things.
Three peanut butter sandwiches, five glasses of lemonade, three Reese’s Panut Butter Cups, two apples, and four bags of popcorn later, Callahan finally hears the squeal of golf cart brakes below her house. And she’s almost sorry to hear them.
She checks her watch. Pepper left Harry here around eleven this morning. It’s six o’clock now, so in seven hours she’s fallen hopelessly in love with a brash nine-year-old scientist whose stomach is bottomless.
Between lemonade refills and trips to the microwave for more popcorn, it’s taken her most of the day to extract the complete details of yesterday’s adventures from Harry. There’s been no further sign of Juby today, but he’s definitely the man who chased Harry yesterday. After hearing Harry’s story, Callahan has little doubt:
Seduced from the road by the snowy underbelly of a large osprey, Harry had followed the bird to its nest on the raised platform, where Callahan and Honey later found the cart. In search of a higher vantage point for viewing the osprey chicks in the nest, Harry left the cart and climbed the tallest sand dune buffering the beach, where he crouched to hide from the screeching osprey adults. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when he began to unfold himself for a peek down into the nest, that he noticed two men behind and below him. They were lowering something long, white, and clearly heavy into a boat at Ruby’s dock.
The scar-faced man knocked his own hat into the water and begun yelling at, “a black guy big as Shaquille O’Neal,” who fished the hat out of the water with the end of an oar. Then, they untied the boat from the pier and, with their load, headed up the creek and out into the ocean. The female osprey spotted Harry again and began screaming. Juby must have noticed because he looked up, saw Harry, turned the boat around, and sped towards the dune where Harry had been hiding. The boat roared onto the sand, and Juby jumped out, running up the dune after him. “He was saying lots of cuss words, including taking the Lord‘s name in vain, which even my dad’s not supposed to do. He was real mad about something, Callahan.”
Harry had stopped telling his story long enough to rock back and forth in the chair and take another fistful of popcorn. “I couldn’t think of anything bad I did really, well anything they‘d know about, but that guy had a mean voice, so I decided it was time to act like a genie and disappear.” Nodding agreement with himself, Harry removed a popcorn kernel from his mouth, then put it back in and cracked it between his teeth. “That big guy, after he tied up the boat, I could hear him coming, too. So, I headed into the trees where I already knew some good places to hide and watch deer.” Harry’s mouth curved into an affable smile as if, upon review, he was even more pleased with himself. “I could hear sticks cracking and crashing behind me. My first hiding place I got to was a big rotten log. They weren’t that far back, so I crawled into it like this.” He got up from the chair, walked solemnly around behind it, and lowered himself between the back rockers and chair seat, curling into a surprisingly compact ball. “Then, I pulled a bunch of pine straw in around me for camouflage“–he mimed that action with his eyes squeezed tightly closed–“and they ran right by my log.” Grinning, he emerged from under the rocker and stood, his eyes straying to the last uneaten Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on the table.
Callahan handed it to him. “That must have been so scary. Wasn’t it buggy in the log? And hard to lie still?”
“You bet.” Harry nodded soberly, sat down in the rocker and began unwrapping the candy. He pointed to the wound on his wrist. “This one’s the itchiest. I could hear Scarface and Shaq shaking the ground, running all over the place, shouting, and about a hundred female mosquitoes all started biting me at once. I couldn’t move or slap ’em or anything.” He paused for a big bite of candy and cocked his head inquiringly at Callahan, who was sipping her lemonade. “Did you know that only female mosquitoes bite? They need blood to make muzzie for their eggs. Males just suck on plants.”
“Yes, Harry, I did know that.” Smiling at his precocity, Callahan still felt horror at the thought of the vulnerable child stuffed into a log. “No snakes in there, I hope. What happened next?”
I know this is going to end alright, and I’m still terrified for him.
“No snakes.” His teeth were completely coated in peanut butter and chocolate, but his smile was magnificent. “They kept running around, yelling and shouting swear words. Sometimes, Tommie and Dick and I practice being super heroes. So that’s what I did.” His round brown eyes locked into hers. “I turned my body into stone so it couldn‘t move.” His chest inflated. “The Shaq guy fell down once pretty near me.” Harry’s eyes brightened and widened. “That time he said ‘shit’ and something I couldn’t understand about his mother. But”–Harry threw both arms over his head joyfully–“they had no hope of catching a super hero turned to stone.”
He bestowed another charming buck-toothed smile on Callahan. “I did hear you and Honey yelling, but I figured they were such evil villains that they had captured you and forced you to yell to get me to come out. I made a plan to stay stone till dark, but then, my Dad came.”
“Harry, you were amazing.” Unasked, Callahan refilled both their lemonade glasses and took the empty candy wrapper. “You made several very brave decisions. I’m curious”–she loved getting into the head of this clever child–“what would you have done if Shaq or Scarface had found you inside that log?”
Harry’s nose looked like someone had rolled it out of play dough and stuck it on his face. He wrinkled it confidently. “Oh, I had that figured out, too. My mom says one of the best things I’m good at is making noise.” He took three straight gulps of the lemonade, and dried his mouth on the red and yellow striped fabric of his tee shirt’s upper arm. He was wearing the tee shirt both backward and inside out but seemed oblivious to the shirt label positioned directly under his chin. “If those guys found me, I was gonna open my super hero mouth and holler bloody murder!” Harry demonstrated that for her, too, issuing forth a shriek so startlingly loud and piercing that it spooked the night herons on the far side of the pond.
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