A challenge that could help redeem his life–if he doesn’t lose it first.
A private investigator, kayak adventurer, and whale watching tour guide who specializes in salvage operations based out of an old, purple church, Jake Rikker is caught off guard by the request of his new client. Up-and-coming jewelry designer Elise St. Dennis wants him to find not a valuable object, but the menacing ex-con who has traced her to the small town of Fog Point.
Elise is desperate and afraid to go to the police. So, seeing the job as an opportunity to take his focus off his divorce and his relationship with his estranged daughters, Jake throws himself into helping someone who clearly needs him. The fact that Elise is pretty, vulnerable, and unattached doesn’t hurt either.
Aided by his business partner, May–a crusty widow–Jake sets out in pursuit of the stalker. But as they draw ever closer to their prey it becomes terrifyingly clear that they have become not the hunters but the hunted …
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On the day Wesley Stoller got out of jail, the phone at Elise St. Dennis’s house rang four times. But no one was there to answer it. Elise was driving the fifty miles or so down the coast highway to Ridley Harbor to deliver an order of her jewelry to Misty Gifts and Gallery. She was singing “Slip Slidin’ Away” along with Paul Simon on the radio.
Her daughter, Rachel, along with twenty other sixth graders, was writing in her journal. Bent over, elbow pressed hard into the ruled pages, forehead in her hand, she wrote in her tiny, careful script.
And on the day Wesley Stoller got out of jail, the minke whales,
which were making their way up to their summer feeding grounds,
had been spotted somewhere off Thunder Island. Two Fog Point fishermen also saw a small pod of endangered North Atlantic right whales near the breakwater out by the lighthouse. They had seen the whales’
V-shaped blow in the distance and had investigated.
It would be a good season for whales, and Jake Rikker was scrubbing away at the transom of his boat and wondering if he could get away with not repainting the words The Purple Whale for one more season.
A day like today, this luscious late-spring day as warm as taffy, was enough to make even the most pessimistic person hopeful. Clusters of locals talked about the weather as they drank coffee down at Noonan’s
Café. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a long, hot summer with just enough rain to keep the farmers happy, but not enough to keep the vacationers away. It would be a good season for tourists.
And on this day Elise braked to a stop at a yellow light and steadied the cardboard carton on the passenger seat. Inside the carton three dozen tiny green boxes bore the name Elise’s Creations scripted in gold beneath a stylized dragon–her trademark. The boxes held varieties of gemmed barrettes, brooches, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or silver coiled snakes with emerald eyes.
She looked back to the road and thought about changing the name. She’d never particularly liked the name Elise’s Creations,
which, in her estimation, could refer to anything from cake decorating to teddy bears. Yet at this point, changing it would probably be more trouble than it was worth. She pondered that as the light turned green.
She’d been Elise’s Creations for eight years, ever since that first
Summer Solstice Craft Fair when she’d breezed in pulling a wooden wagon containing her two-year-old daughter and a few boxes of her handmade jewelry. She’d needed a name then, quick, for the program.
(No one had told her that when she rented the booth.) Elise’s Creations had been the first thing she could think of. She’d made enough money that first year to almost pay for the booth rental. It had been that way for a while. Waitressing by day at Noonan’s Café in Fog
Point and, by night, bending over her wires and beads with her soldering iron.
She’d finally persuaded a Fog Point bank manager to believe in her. She secured a loan and rented a huge and expensive studio on the boardwalk. She covered the floors with lush deep-lavender carpet, the most expensive on the market, and set her pieces on faux-marble pedestals with backlighting. With Enya playing in the background, a little waterfall sculpture in the window, and displays of bracelets,
Celtic crosses, and her dragons, the shop offered a bit of an oasis from the hot, loud music and skateboarders out front.
She marked up every single item, and all the tourists from California thought they were getting a bargain. It was starting to make
Elise’s single life with her daughter just a bit more bearable. Two years ago she’d doubled the prices for a second time. Life was beginning to be good.
She was one of the few Fog Pointers who was on a first-name basis with a lot of the rich and famous “summer people,” as the locals referred to the summer residents. The summer people raved about her stuff to all their rich and famous friends, and Elise found herself busier than she had ever intended to be. She was slowly building a name for herself. All of her hard work was finally paying off.
She learned to dress the part too. No more hippie funk with gauzy brown skirts and clogs; her costume could now be described as bohemian chic with mismatched gold chandelier earrings and delicate lace-up-the-calf high heels. Two years ago she’d had her waist-length hair chopped to within an inch of her scalp. Sometimes she slicked it away from her face with gel, adding bits of color to the ends. Sometimes she wore it in spiky chunks all over her head, blue or green.
Odd punk shades they were, but coupled with the expensive clothes and her delicate footwear, she looked hip and endearing–an artiste.
Two years ago she hired a business manager who had just graduated at the top of her class in business and advertising. Jess was vivacious,
spunky, and had a flair for marketing. Her personal goal was to take Elise’s Creations to the next level. “The sky is the limit now,” Jess said. “Harry Winston move over.” These kinds of statements always made Elise just the teeniest bit uneasy.
And while the manager at Misty Gifts gushed over Elise’s latest designs, Wesley Stoller walked free after serving only ten years of a life sentence for murder.
The telephone-message button was flashing when Elise finally arrived home much later. Two calls, one right after the other. Blocked numbers. No messages. Jess? No, Jess would’ve left a message. The school? Something to do with Rachel? She pressed the school’s number into her phone but hung up before it could ring. If it was the school, if Rachel was having problems again, the caller would have left a message.
She poured herself a glass of water and stood beside the kitchen window. Across the backyard Lenore Featherjohn troweled up winter weeds, her red cotton shorts pulled high and taut across her white thighs as she dug. A pile of scrub lay beside her.
Elise watched until she finished her drink. Then she pulled on her jacket, got in her car, and headed down to her studio. She walked in the back door still humming “Slip Slidin’ Away.”
A man stood there.
“Oh!” She nearly fell but quickly righted herself and grabbed the doorjamb. She recognized him. Jake something-or-other who ran a whale-watching business and sporting-goods store. He kept shoving his hands into his pockets and taking them out again as he looked at her.
“I came in the front door. No one seemed to be there. So I came back here.”
“My assistant’s not here?” She blinked and tried to steady herself.
Three years ago she had installed a state-of-the-art alarm system,
which, when activated, notified the police department of any illegal entry. She was always careful about security. She had to be.
“You must be Elise. I’m sorry I startled you.” He walked toward her. “I’m Jake Rikker. I know who you are, but I don’t think we’ve ever formally met.”
“I can’t believe no one’s around.” Then she looked back at him.
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to forgive me.” She forced herself to stay calm.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I came to buy some jewelry.” He grinned. He was a big man and wore a slouchy gray sweater, uneven at the bottom, and round wirerim glasses. “For a couple of very special ladies.”
“Two?” Elise struggled to regain her composure. “You have two special ladies? What a lucky man you are.”
“Ah, doubly lucky, then.” She smiled up at him. “How old are your daughters?”
“Eleven and thirteen.”
“How lovely! I have an eleven-year-old. A great age. Well, I’ve got some teddy-bear necklaces that I make especially for little girls. Plus there are my dragons. Follow me out to the front.”
He followed her through the door to the showroom and to a display of charm bracelets. “Have I seen your daughters in town?” she asked. She steered him toward several display cases, still uncertain about the security breach, still wondering if there was something she should do about the unlocked door. Call the police? She scanned the place. Everything looked in order. When Jake left she’d have a good look around, especially in her workshop in the back where she kept gemstones, diamonds, gold, and chemicals she used in her work.
“I don’t think you would’ve seen them. They spend most of the school year with their mother,” he said, “and some of the summers with me.” He picked up a box while Elise ducked behind the counter and unlocked a glass display case.
“Here, let me see what I can find,” she said.
Jake turned over a box. “Whoa! Is that the price?”
She nodded. “My pieces are all handmade. Every one is different;
every one unique. That’s why they might seem expensive. Plus, I work exclusively in gold and silver now. I’ve got a similar piece in silver, and it’s slightly less expensive.”
She chose a few small barrettes and necklaces and bracelets and spread them out on a black cloth on the glass counter.
“I can see why movie stars like your stuff.” He put the box down and continued to browse. He turned over another box and looked at the price. He turned over a lot of boxes, something her rich clientele never did.
“I have to ask you something,” she said. “Did you happen to call earlier? My house?”
“Nope.” He didn’t look up.
“And the front door here was unlocked?”
“I got a call, but no one was there.”
“That happens to me all the time. Telemarketers. I think I like these.”
“What’s nice about charm bracelets,” she said, “is that you can add charms anytime. Makes Christmas giving easy. And I have charms for many occasions: birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduation,
Christmas, even for a good report card. These are some I designed and cast. They’re available in either gold or silver.” She spread the charms out on the cloth.
He picked up one of the bracelets and jingled it in his hand.
“Okay,” he said finally. “These are nice. Two of these, in silver. Gold’s a little beyond me.”
“Would you like a special-occasion box? I have jewelry boxes for birthdays, special anniversaries, you name it. Or would you prefer an all-occasion box?”
“A regular box. No special occasion.” He grinned at her. It was a nice grin, warm. He leaned over the counter. “Unless you have summer-vacation boxes.”
She smiled up at him, perhaps for a moment longer than necessary.
Then quickly, nervously, she looked back down at her boxes.
And while she was placing two silver charm bracelets into satin drawstring bags and then onto beds of tissue in the gift boxes, in another place Wesley Stoller was sitting at a window booth, drinking a large Pepsi, no ice, and relishing a steak–rare, with onions. He’d looked forward to this for ten years–a huge juicy steak with all the trimmings. Loaded. He licked his lips and then ordered dessert.
Reading Group Guide
1. Whales make up a large part of Dark Water. Knowing what you know about these animals by reading parts of Rachel's school report, why do you suppose the author chose whales as the backdrop for this novel?
2. Dark Water introduces a whole cast of characters who inhabit the coastal town of Fog Point. Whose story are you interested in knowing about and why?
3. If you could sit down and talk to May, what advice would you give her? What would you say to Jake?
4. What character do you identify with the most? Which character do you least identify with? Why?
5. Much of the character of Elise is revealed through the diaries of her daughter, Rachel. Why do you suppose the author chose to reveal the mother in this way?
6. Elise was able to run away with her daughter and begin a new life. Have you ever felt like running away and starting over? Talk about the circumstances.
7. Elise grew up in a very strict religious home. Do you think she was justified in leaving and snubbing her father by cutting her hair and wearing jewelry? Is it ever permissible to defy one's upbringing?
8. Fog Point seems to be inhabited by people who have turned their back on God. When Jake's wife left him, he left God. When May's husband died, her faith died, and Elise couldn't leave her childhood religion fast enough. Do you know people who have left God or the church because they were hurt or angry? Why do you think people do this? Do you think this response is valid? Why or why not?
9. "All who wander are not lost," said by Shakespeare and later used by Tolkien, is quoted by Ben to Jake. Why do you think Ben said this to Jake? Is it possible to wander and not be lost? Do you believe this to be true in your own life?
10. Is Fog Point a place you'd like to visit? Would you like to live there? Why or why not?
11. If you could visit Fog Point six months after the ending of Dark Water, what would you like to see?