Weather forecasters in Florida are keeping an eye on a tropical storm forming in the middle of the Atlantic. They’re saying Agatha, the first big one of the season, could hit us sometime this weekend. And you know what I say, boys and girls, who knows what will happen tomorrow—party hearty now! This is WAVE radio: the voice of the shore. “Cara, I am worried about little Urchin.” Josie Pigeon placed her coffee mug on the kitchen counter and looked over to her landlady standing in the doorway. “Isn’t it a bit early for you to be up and dressed?” she asked.
“In an emergency, I am like the Boy Scouts. I am prepared. That is, I will be prepared. Today I go off island early to shop for supplies.”
“The storm they talk about on the radio.”
“I wasn’t really listening,” Josie admitted.
“There is a storm coming. A big storm. I am stocking up on food, batteries, water, candles. And I worry. What are you going to do about Urchin?”
At the second mention of her name, a small brown cat, busy absorbing the first rays of sunlight as they came through the window of Josie’s apartment, turned her head and stared at the two women. They were an unlikely pair. Josie was dressed for work in faded jeans, a worn chambray shirt, and brand-new work boots. Her unruly red hair was barely controlled by a frayed green cotton scrunchy; her freckled nose was sunburned and peeling. Risa, her Italian landlady, had unique ideas of what to wear when grocery shopping: layers of iridescent silk formed her skirt, and instead of a shirt, she wore an embroidered poncho, which kept slipping off one elegant shoulder. She had on espadrilles and carried a voluminous straw bag. As always, her long dark hair was impeccably groomed, and she looked chic and sophisticated.
Urchin wasn’t impressed. The cat yawned, stretched, and got back to the serious work of staying warm.
“Why should I do anything about Urchin? She’s fine,” Josie insisted.
“Now she is fine. Now the sun is shining; there is no rain, no wind. But in a storm, she will be a problem. And not a happy problem. You read the evacuation procedures notice that was with the mail I brought up to you a few days ago?”
Josie glanced over at the pile of unopened bills, notices, and flyers that was threatening to fall off the tiny dilapidated table by her front door. She had been too busy to pay attention to anything other than the infrequent postcards her son, Tyler, sent from the computer camp, where he was spending the summer. And, since she wouldn’t have any extra money until the next installment on Island Contracting’s summer job was paid, she hadn’t bothered to look at the bills.
Risa followed the direction of her gaze. “If you’d read those emergency instructions, you would know that if we are evacuated, you are supposed to let Urchin out of the house. All alone. To fend for herself,” she added ominously.
“Urchin’s not an outdoor cat,” Josie protested.
“That’s what I’m telling you. I worry all night long. And then I come up with solution to your problem. Evacuate Urchin now.”
“So she will be okay when we are ordered to leave the island,” Risa explained patiently.
“Why would anyone order us to leave the island?”
“Because of that storm. The storm they talk about on the radio!”
“Risa, there’s no reason to pay attention to those guys on the radio! They have to talk about something. Every year the weathermen blab on and on about storms coming up the coast, and every year those storms either go out to sea or hit an island in the Carribean or Florida—”
“Not always. Sam says—”
“Don’t pay any attention to Sam.” Josie sighed and ran her hands through her unruly hair. “He’s spent the last month reading books about storms: The Hungry Ocean, The Perfect Storm, Isaac’s Storm. He’s obsessed with storms. And he seems to think I should be, too. He passes the books on to me as soon as he’s done.” Two of those books were still on the coffee table, where Sam Richardson, retired prosecuting attorney, current liquor-store owner, and Josie’s significant other, had left them over two weeks ago. The third sat, unopened, on the nightstand in her bedroom. “But just because he’s reading about storms doesn’t mean a hurricane will hit the island this summer.”
“But the emergency evacuation directions—”
“Risa, you know those things come out every few years or so. All the rental properties on the island have them posted someplace—usually on the refrigerator right next to the DPW schedules for garbage and recycling pickup.”
Risa gathered her various layers of silk closer to her body. “I still shop today. Supplies will last for long time if this storm hit someplace south. There will be other storms. There always be other storms. And you, Josie, will think about Urchin. Tyler not be happy if something happens to his little cat.”
Risa was tripping down the staircase before Josie could think of a suitable reply. Oh, well, she had to get down to the office anyway, Josie realized, getting up and stretching. Island Contracting was scheduled to start a new project in a few days, and there were many details to be checked out before then, and, with an entirely new crew for the summer season, most of the checking would be left up to Josie, as owner of the business.
Josie knew she should get going, but she poured herself another mug of coffee. “I feel like shit today,” she announced to the cat.
If Urchin was at all interested, she hid it well, not even bothering to move. Josie yawned and then coughed. She sure hoped she wasn’t catching a cold. She didn’t have time for a cold. She didn’t, in fact, have time to sit here drinking coffee. She slid off the stool next to the counter that separated her kitchen from the living area of her small apartment, feeling an unaccustomed pinch as her big toe hit the front of her new boots.
“Oh, good, a summer cold and a blister. This just isn’t going to be my day,” she muttered. But she took the time to empty a packet of cat food into Urchin’s bowl and to pat her head before starting off to Island Contracting’s office, a few blocks away.
She flipped on the radio as she drove, but the obsession with heavy winds south of the Bahamas seemed to be universal. By the time Josie had found a station playing her preferred music, she was at work.
Island Contracting’s office was a small fishing shack that hung out over the back bay of this seven-mile-long barrier island. The company’s founder, Noel Roberts, had remodeled the building, and one of Josie’s joys was keeping it in tip-top shape. She jumped out of her truck and glanced up at the roof. Last winter, she had given the building a Christmas present—a copper weather vane in the shape of tools. A hammer pointed north and south. An old-fashioned handsaw indicated east or west. As she watched, a slight breeze caused the vane to move, and sunlight glinted off its brilliant surfaces. Josie smiled and tripped over a large oblong box blocking the wooden pathway to the front door.
She picked up the box and studied it. j. pigeon—island contracting was printed in large block letters on the front. There was no indication of the sender’s identity. She tucked it under her arm and headed down the boardwalk to her office.
Island Contracting, besides being one of the best building contractors in this wealthy seaside community—Josie’s opinion—was the unofficial kitten adoption agency. A basket of calicoes had been dropped off anonymously the week before, and Josie plopped the package on the large desk in the center of the room before taking the time to provide the mewing creatures with food and fresh water.
Then she opened the package.
“Hudson House.” She said the words aloud. Why had someone sent her a sign for someplace called Hudson House? A very expensive sign, she realized, running her finger along its edge. The mahogany was smooth and, she suspected, had been sanded by hand. The copper letters were forged and had been inlaid instead of merely nailed on. “Hudson House . . . Who the hell sent me this?”
“What is it?”
Josie looked up and saw Betty Jacobs standing in the doorway. The last time she’d seen her friend Betty was at the woman’s wedding to a prominent New York City lawyer. That was over a year ago, and the passing time didn’t seem to have done Betty any harm. Her blond hair was, perhaps, a few shades lighter. And she was certainly better and more expensively dressed than in her days working as a carpenter for Island Contracting. In fact, Betty was positively glowing.
Josie rushed to the door to give her friend a big hug. “Betty, I can’t believe it’s you! Why are you here? How long can you stay? Where’s your husband?”
“He dropped me off and went up island to find Sam. We want you two to join us for breakfast at Sullivan’s. Don’t tell me you’re busy. I’ve been craving greasy fried eggs and hash browns for the past month.”
Josie hesitated. She did have things to do.
“And we have to go back to New York tonight—”
“No, not so soon! We have so much to catch up on.”
“So say you’ll go to breakfast with us.”
Josie laughed. “Okay. I will. But why aren’t you staying longer?”
“It’s that overprotective husband of mine. Ever since he heard about the storm, he’s been saying we have to get back to New York. . . .”
“Oh, damn that storm. Betty, you grew up here. How many storms were predicted and how many actually arrived?”
“I know, but I’ve been here longer than you have, Josie. And we did have some whoppers when I was a kid. And I remember my parents talking about the big one that hit back in the sixties. There were miles of sand dunes before that storm. And you know how few are left now.”
“Speaking of sand dunes . . . You’ll never guess what building Island Contracting is going to be remodeling this summer!”
Betty, who had been Josie’s best carpenter before she moved away, picked up the excitement in Josie’s voice. “What?”
“The Point House!”
“You’re kidding. When was it sold? Who bought it? What have you been hired to do?”
“It’s a complete remodel. Fabulous job. I’ve never done anything so big. The blues are here. Do you want to see?”
“Of course I do!”
When Sam Richardson and John Jacobs arrived a few minutes later, the two women were stooped over massive blueprints, which completely covered Josie’s desk.
“I guess you can take the girl out of the carpenter’s shop, but you can’t take the carpenter out of the girl,” John said affectionately.
“Honey, wait until you see this. Josie’s remodeling the Point House!” Parted for almost half an hour, John and Betty embraced for a few seconds.
“What is the Point House?” John Jacobs asked, his arm still around his wife’s shoulders.
“It’s the biggest house on the island. Up in the dunes, on the point up north. You know it!”
“The big gray monstrosity that we used to see when we jogged up to the inlet?”
“Wow. It’s gonna take someone a whole lot of money to fix up that place.”
“Cornell Hudson seems to have it—hey, Hudson House! That’s what the sign must mean!” Josie said.
“What sign?” Betty asked.
“That one.” Josie pointed.
“Where did that come from?” John asked, looking in the direction Josie had pointed.
“Why don’t you tell us over breakfast,” suggested Sam, who knew Josie’s indirect method of conveying information.
“Good idea. I’ve been dreaming of food cooked on Sullivan’s griddle for the last few weeks. I’m going to have bacon, eggs, sausage, and potatoes,” Betty said enthusiastically.
“Watch out, you’ll gain weight,” Josie kidded her weight-conscious ex-carpenter.
“Well, I will anyway,” Betty said, smiling up at her husband.
“You? I can’t imagine you with an extra pound. You’ve been thin all your life. Why would you suddenly put on weight?” The light that clicked on in Josie’s mind showed on her face. “Betty, don’t tell me you’re pregnant!”
“When did I find out, or when is the baby due?”
“I found out last week, and the baby is due in February. February twenty-sixth is the doctor’s prediction.”
“Are you going to find out ahead of time if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“We haven’t decided yet,” Betty said, smiling at the beaming future father.
“Have you thought of names?”
“I hate to interrupt, but I’m famished. Why don’t we all go to Sullivan’s in one car, and we can catch up during the drive?” Sam proposed.
“I really think I’d better take the truck,” Josie said. “I should stop at the hardware store on the way. I need to check on a delivery, and it will only take a minute.”
“Oh, I want to go with you!” Betty cried. “I’d love to see all the guys who work there.”
Sam and John exchanged looks. “Okay. Betty and Josie in the truck. Sam and I will take his MG,” John said. “You’ll drive slowly, won’t you?” he asked Josie.
“You know there’s a twenty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit here on the island,” she answered, grinning.
“And Josie doesn’t get along with the local cops, so she has to stay within it,” Sam added.
“We’ll be five minutes in the hardware store. No more,” Josie promised.
But they arrived at Sullivan’s over half an hour later.
“Where were you?” Sam asked as John leaped from the booth and embraced his wife.
“At the hardware store. I told you.”
“But why did it take so long?”
“It seemed like everyone on the island was there.”
“And I wanted to say hello,” Betty explained.
“It was amazing! Would you believe they’ve sold out their entire supply of lanterns, flashlights, and batteries?” Josie added, sliding in next to Sam.
“Agatha—,” he began.
“Oh, that damn storm,” Josie interrupted him. “It’s all anyone’s been talking about ever since I got up this morning. Why is everyone so sure it’s going to hit here?”
“No one knows what a storm is going to do. They’re just being prepared.”
“An entire island of Boy Scouts. Who knew?” Josie muttered.
“Hey, at least you’re getting your delivery extra early,” Betty reminded her. “That probably wouldn’t happen if everyone didn’t think the storm was on the way.”
“Yeah, it’s a first.”
“Josie, what sort of delivery?”
She looked up, surprised at the serious expression on Sam’s face. “What do you mean, ‘What sort of delivery’? It’s the stuff I need at the beginning of a project . . . lumber, Sheetrock, plumbing supplies. They usually come separately, but this is a huge project. It’s a monstrous order. And, for once, everything will be on site early!”
Sam frowned. “You know, that might not be such a good thing in this case.”
“In this case? Oh, you don’t have to worry. I’ve already deposited the first payment. I’m paying for everything with cash.”
“But what if the storm hits?” Sam asked.
“I . . .”
“I see where you’re going,” John said to Sam.
“What do you mean?” Betty asked.
“Josie, who is responsible if something happens on the work site—something happens to your equipment, your supplies, whatever?” Sam asked.
“I am, but nothing’s going to happen.”
“And what if your supplies are damaged or destroyed before they are delivered?”
“That would be the problem of the supplier, of course. Sam, you know this. Why are you asking me these questions?”
“Josie, I know you don’t want to worry about the storm, but think for a second. If Agatha does hit and if it is a dangerous storm, where would you rather all the lumber and such was located? On your work site or awaiting delivery at the lumber company?”
“There’s not going to be a big storm,” she insisted, getting up.
“Where are you going?” John asked.
“To make sure that Island Contracting doesn’t get that delivery too early—just in case . . .”
When Josie returned to the booth, Basil Tilby had joined them. Basil, flamboyant owner of the island’s three best restaurants, had just finished telling a story that had his companions laughing loudly.
“Josie, you’d better hear this! It has to do with your son,” Sam said, moving over so she could sit down be- side him.
“Tyler!” Josie looked around as though she might actually see her seventeen-year-old son burst into the room.
“He’s got some sort of new scheme,” Basil explained. “According to my sources, he’s been calling a lot of his old friends on the island and telling them to get prepared in case Agatha hits.”
“What are they going to do?” Josie asked.
“That’s just it,” Betty burst out. “Basil was just explaining. Apparently no one knows. All Tyler is saying is that it has something to do with the hurricane. But everyone has faith in Tyler, and a bunch of kids have already agreed to mobilize when he tells them to.”
Josie frowned. She knew her son, and his harebrained schemes regularly came to fruition. “How do you know about it?” she asked Basil.
“One of my new busboys was recruited,” Basil responded, getting up from the chair he had pulled over to their booth.
“Can’t you stay for breakfast? We haven’t had a chance to visit!” Betty protested.
“Come to dinner at the Gull’s Perch tonight. In fact, why don’t you and Josie come, too, Sam? As my guests, of course. We’ll have a prestorm party.”
“John wants to leave this afternoon . . .” Betty glanced at her husband instead of finishing her sentence.
“Okay, we’ll spend the night. But don’t expect to get a lot of sleep. I plan to keep an eye on the Weather Channel all night long. And if that storm starts moving closer, we’re going to head back to the city whether it’s the middle of the night or not,” he warned her.
“Where are you staying?” Sam asked.
“The Island Inn.”
“How is it?” Basil paused to ask.
“We just arrived, but so far so good. We made reservations a few days ago and were promised the moon—luxury room with a view of the beach, satellite TV, spa, indoor pool, the whole bit.”
“You’ll find everything is as promised. It really is a world-class resort,” Josie said. “I just wish the owners had hired Island Contracting to do the remodeling job.”
“Who did the work?” Betty asked.
“Some company from off island.” Josie, still annoyed that such a big and prestigious job had gone to a competitor, looked around. “I’m starving. How come we haven’t even seen menus?”
“As though you need a menu here,” Betty teased.
“Besides, I ordered for you while you were out—your usual,” Sam explained. “And here it is.”
Josie looked down at the plate the waitress put before her. Eggs, bacon, sausage, and French toast were piled high. “There’s more food here than normal, isn’t there?” she asked.
“The cook is trying to use up supplies before the storm hits,” the waitress explained, putting identical plates in front of the others.
Josie picked up her fork, a smile on her face. If an extra large meal was the result of all this hurricane panic, it couldn’t be all bad.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Murder in the Forecast by Valerie Wolzien. Copyright © 2001 by Valerie Wolzien. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.