Heart of Ice
Part I: Chapter One
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Pocket Books
What love is now I know not; but I know
I once loved much, and then there was no snow.
—Augusta Webster, "The Snow Waste"
Wednesday, December 31, 1969
He was staring at the frozen lake and thinking about his mother lying on a table somewhere screaming in pain.
He was remembering what she told him, how they had kept her in that little room and held her down, how it felt like her insides were being torn in half and how it went on and on and on for two days until she begged to die.
He was thinking about her and how much he had loved her. But he was also thinking that if she had been able to stand the pain for two more minutes—two damn minutes—his life would have been so very different.
But she couldn't. So he was pulled from her womb at two minutes before midnight on September 14, and because of that everything now had changed.
The ferry was coming in. He heard its horn before he saw it, a white smudge emerging slowly from the gray afternoon fog. It was running late. The straits had frozen over early this year because of the long bitter cold snap and the ferry was forced to stay in the narrow channel that had been cut by the coast guard icebreaker Mackinaw. It was cold, far colder than it should be, even for December. He pulled up the hood of his parka and looked down at the duffle at his feet. Had he remembered his gloves? Everything had happened so fast he hadn't given much thought to what he had packed. Now he was so cold he didn't even want to open the duffle to look so he stuffed his red hands into his armpits and watched the ferry.
It was taking a long time to get to the dock, like it was moving in slow motion. But everything was like this now, everything was moving as if time no longer existed. But it didn't really, he thought. Not anymore. Time was nothing to him now. By tomorrow, he would have all the time in the world.
But what world?
He looked around. At the clapboard ticket house of the Arnold Line ferry, at the docks, at the empty parking lot and the boarded-up pastie shack. He looked past the park benches and the bare black trees still wearing their necklaces from last night's ice storm. He looked back toward town where the fog blurred all the places he had known during his nineteen years here, and he tried hard to burn everything into his memory because he knew that once he got on the ferry there would be no way to come back and he would forget all of this and the person he had been here.
He turned and looked left.
Canada. It was just fifty miles away, less than an hour's drive up I-75. He had never been there before.
Until now he had never had a reason to.
The ferry docked. No one came out to take his ticket so he picked up his duffle, sprinted up the gangplank and boarded. The cabin was empty and but at least it was warmer. He set his duffle on one of the wooden benches and sat down. He wanted a hot cup of coffee but there was no one at the snack bar. The clouded glass carafes sat empty on the coffee machines. There wasn't a soul to be seen anywhere and he had the weird feeling that he was the only human being left on earth.
But then the metal floor began to vibrate beneath his feet and the ferry pulled away from the dock. He leaned his head against the cold glass of the window and closed his eyes.
He slept. And for the first time in weeks, he dreamed.
Dreamed of a bald man in horn-rimmed glasses and a blue suit. Dreamed of shooting a rifle that looked nothing like the one he used to hunt deer with his dad. Dreamed of lying naked on a cold steel table in a white room with his intestines pouring out of his gut. And then the bald man was holding up a big bright blue capsule and smiling and telling him that if he just took it all the pain would go away.
He was jerked awake by a jabbing on his shoulder.
He looked up into the red face of an old man wearing a navy pea coat with the ferry line emblem on the pocket.
"Time to get off, son."
The window had fogged over. He rubbed it with the sleeve of his parka and saw something in the mist. It was the boarded-up pastie shack. They were back in St. Ignace.
"Hey!" he called out to the old man who was heading toward the door. "What happened? Why did we turn back?"
"No choice," the old man said. "Got out aways but it was frozen solid. Got a call in to the cutter but she's working the shipping lines and can't get here until tomorrow morning." He turned and started away.
"But I have to get to the island tonight!"
The old man stared at him then shook his head. "No one's getting over there tonight, son."
The old man shuffled off, the metal door banging behind him. The young man's eyes went again to the window. His mind was spinning, trying to figure out his options. Stay here and wait? No, because tomorrow would be too late. Go home and try to explain? No, because he couldn't look his father in the eye and tell him one more lie. Leave and try to start over somewhere new? No, because she wouldn't be there.
And it was all about her.
Cooper Lange reached for the duffle at his feet but paused. The name stenciled on the green canvas was so faded it could barely be read: CHARLES S. LANGE. It had belonged to his father and U.S. Army sergeant Charles Lange had put everything he needed in it to survive—heating tablets, rations, mittens, compass, bullets, and a picture of his wife and baby son. When he came home from Korea Charles packed it away, emptying it and himself as best he could. Even his wife couldn't get him to talk about what had happened over there and when she died three years later Charles Lange withdrew into himself even more. When his son turned sixteen he brought out the duffle and gave it to him.
Cooper had never used the duffle until last night when he hurriedly packed it with the things he guessed he might need to survive. A change of clothes, matches, some Mounds bars, the three hundred and two dollars from his bank account, an extra pair of gloves, his father's old Army compass.
He grabbed the bag and hurried from the ferry. The temperature had dropped since he had boarded and the cold was a hard slap against his face. He glanced at his watch. Almost four. It would be dark soon. He had to figure out something fast. The dock was deserted and there were no cars in the lot. Chartering a plane in this weather was out of the question, not that he could afford it.
The weather was getting bad fast, a bank of heavy pewter clouds building on the horizon of Lake Huron. His eyes caught a spot of something dark on the frozen lake just off shore. Then he spotted another dark spot beyond the first.
Trees. The dark spots were trees. That meant someone had started laying out the ice bridge. But was it finished?
There was no time to check. If he was going, he had to go now. He unzipped the duffle and found his gloves. He cursed himself for not bringing a flashlight and screwdrivers—it was crazy to cross the bridge without them—but he hadn't planned on having to do this.
He hadn't planned on doing any of this. But she...
God, had he forgotten it? Digging beneath the clothes, he found her picture. It was her senior class portrait. Perfect oval face framed by long black hair, somber dark eyes and not even a hint of a smile. He turned it over to read what she had written even though he knew it by heart. When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. And when he speaks to you believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. —Julie.
He started to put it back in the duffle but instead slipped it into the chest pocket of his parka and zipped it shut.
He put on his gloves, slung the duffle strap over his shoulder and headed across the parking lot. At the snow-covered beach, he stopped. Someone had tamped down a path that led to the shoreline, creating a crude entry to the ice bridge beyond.
The huge gray expanse of Lake Huron lay before him. And somewhere out there lost in the fog was Mackinac Island.
It was only four miles across, but he knew what he was up against. He had grown up in St. Ignace and spent the last five summers over on the island making good money slapping fudge in the shops on Main Street and cleaning the stalls at the stables. When the tourists left in October, the island closed down and the hard winters left the couple hundred residents there isolated and dependent on the coast guard icebreakers. But when it was cold enough the straits between the island and St. Ignace would freeze over. Someone on the island would venture out onto the lake with spud bars to test the ice's thickness. If he made it to St. Ignace he'd call back with the news that it was safe. The townspeople would take discarded Christmas trees and plant them in the ice to mark the safe path across.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the red brick coast guard building on Huron Street. There was a light on inside. The coast guard guys didn't want people out on the ice bridge but they couldn't stop them so every year they sent out the same warning—tell someone if you go out on the ice bridge. For a second, he thought about going up to the station.
But he couldn't. He couldn't tell anyone where he was going. That was what they had decided. She wouldn't tell her parents and he wouldn't tell his father. No one could know.
He hoisted the duffle and stepped onto the ice. It groaned but held firm. He pulled in a deep breath and headed toward the first tree, just a dark shape in the mist.
At the tree, he stopped and looked back. The lights of St. Ignace were just yellow blurs in the fog. Looking ahead again, he spotted the next tree and started toward it.
The sun was now just a pale pink glow above the gray horizon and out on the exposed lake the wind hit his face like needles. But he kept moving in a tentative shuffle, trying not to think about the deep cold water beneath his feet.
His head was throbbing by the time he reached the fifth tree. Its web of fake silver icicles danced in the wind. One small blue Christmas ornament clung to a branch.
Seeing it brought back the dream about the blue capsule and he realized now what it had meant. Just one month ago he had sat with his father in front of the TV watching a man pour hundreds of blue capsules into a huge jar. No "Mayberry RFD" tonight, just Roger Mudd staring back over his shoulder into the camera and whispering as a man in a suit and horn-rimmed glasses pulled out the first blue capsule.
September fourteenth, zero zero one.
His father, sitting in the shadows, had said nothing, just got up and went into the kitchen. Alone, Cooper watched as they put the little slip of white paper with his birthday on it up on a big board next to the American flag. He had never won anything in his life—except this. The luck of being among the first young men drafted into the Vietnam War.
His eyes drifted left, again to where he imagined Canada was. He would be there soon enough, but right now he had to get to the island. Julie was waiting for him.
A loud crack, like a rifle shot.
He froze. Afraid to look down, afraid to even take a breath. Another crack.
Suddenly the world dropped.
Blackness. Water. Cold.
His scream died to a gurgle as the water closed over him.
He groped but there was nothing but water. Everything was getting heavy and darker. He had to get some air. He pushed the duffle off and kicked upward. But his hands hit only a ceiling of ice. He couldn't find the hole, he couldn't see anything, he couldn't breathe.
He could almost feel his heart slowing in his chest, his blood growing colder.
Mom, I miss you.
Dad, I'm sorry.
Friday, October 21, 1990
He stood at the railing of the ferry, the sun warm on his shoulders but the spray on his face cold.
Twenty-one years ago he had stood at the bow of a ferry much like this one. Then, the air had been filled with the smell of diesel but now the ferry left nothing in its wake but a plume of white water and shimmering rainbows.
Then, it had all been about leaving behind the ugly memories of his foster homes in Detroit and going "Up North" to the magic island just off the tip of the Michigan mitten. It had been about eating all the fudge his stomach could hold, seeing a real horse up close and racing the other foster kids around the island on a rented Schwinn.
Now, it was all about her.
Louis Kincaid looked down at Lily. She was peering toward the island so he couldn't see her face. But he didn't need to. He knew what this trip meant to her. He wondered if she had any idea what it meant to him.
Only seven months ago had he found out he was a father. It had been a shock, but from the moment he saw Lily he was grateful Kyla had not done what she had threatened to do that night in his dorm room. He could still hear their angry words.
Hers—I'll get rid of it.
And his—Go ahead.
He looked down again at Lily's crinkly curls.
The case seven months ago that had taken him back to Ann Arbor had left him no time then to get to know Lily. And once he returned to Florida the twelve hundred miles between them had felt like a million. He spent the next six months trying to convince Kyla that he wanted to be a part of his daughter's life.
He sent Lily postcards from every place his work had taken him, from the glamorous mansions in Palm Beach to the dilapidated Gator-Rama in Panama City. At first Lily had sent nothing back but then the letters began. Always short, always filled with drawings, always signed "Lily Brown."
What had he expected—Lily Kincaid?
What was he expecting now?
He had no idea, but he was just glad Kyla—and Lily—were finally giving him a chance.
He hesitated then touched her hair. She looked up.
"Are you cold?" he asked.
She shook her head and looked back to the island. It was late October, weeks past prime tourist season for Mackinac Island. Weeks past the date he had promised her he would come for her tenth birthday. But there had been an important case to finish and testimony to give.
"I'm sorry I couldn't come up last month," Louis said.
"You already apologized," Lily said.
"I know. And I know how much you wanted to come to Mackinac Island. But we're here now."
Lily leaned her head back to look at him. Her caramel-colored skin was damp with mist, her ringlets frizzed around her forehead. She was a pretty girl with Kyla's broad forehead and full pink lips. But it was her gray-felt eyes—his eyes—that brought a catch in his throat. He couldn't read the look in her eyes now but felt the need to explain one more time.
"I was testifying in a trial," Louis said. "Trials are important things, not just to the person in trouble but for the prosecutors, too. You can't just not show up if you're a witness."
"Was it a murder trial?"
This was the first interest she had shown in his work.
"No," he said, "it was insurance fraud. Do you know what that is?"
"Some kind of cheating?"
"Yes, it's when—"
"Daddy solved a murder this week."
She didn't wait for his reaction, just turned away and waved to the other ferry that was crossing their wake.
Louis sighed. Lily's stepfather, Eric Channing, the man who had raised her, was a police officer in Ann Arbor. He was a good man—no, he was more than a good man. He had been the one who convinced Kyla to tell Lily about Louis.
Louis and Lily hadn't discussed their relationship during the five-hour drive up north. She had talked about school and ballet classes, her mother's hat business. And about how Daddy had just been promoted to detective and how he now handled the important gross stuff like robberies and shootings and that she sometimes worried about him getting hurt. She'd also let it slip that her mother had told her that private eyes like Louis didn't have to worry about getting hurt.
Louis had been tempted at that moment to tell her about his plans.
He had taken the first steps to go back into uniform. Filled out the application for the Florida police academy to be recertified. Approached Sheriff Lance Mobley about a job with the county. Bought a second gun. Cleaned up his credit. He even joined a gym because he knew that going back in at thirty put him up against ex-Marines and kids who had been pumping iron in their basements since they were twelve.
He hadn't planned to tell anyone until he had a badge on his chest. But he didn't like that Lily had turned away from him when he talked of his work.
"Look! Look!" Lily squealed. "I see the horses!"
They were close enough to the island now to see the sign for the old Chippewa Hotel. The engines cut off and Lily broke away from him, heading toward the gangplank. He kept her bright yellow sweatshirt in view and finally caught up with her on the dock. As they walked up to Main Street, her eyes widened.
Victorian storefronts advertising fudge, souvenir T-shirts, fancy resort clothes and oil paintings of Creamsicle-colored Lake Michigan sunsets. A horse and carriage clopped along the street right in front of them and Lily watched as if it were Cinderella's coach.
"Where's the cars?" she asked.
"They don't allow any cars on Mackinac Island."
"We have to walk everywhere?"
He pointed to the bike rental shack and her eyes lit up. She took off again and he followed her, watching as she wandered down the rows of bikes. She looked up at him.
"These are all old," she said softly.
"Well, we're not entering the Tour de France," Louis said.
His words were out before he thought about it and he didn't know her well enough yet to tell if he had hurt her feelings.
Those gray eyes slid up to him. "I bet you think I don't know what that is."
He sighed. "Knowing your mother I bet you know exactly what it is. Now pick out a bike. Please."
She settled on a purple Huffy with a white basket. Louis chose the largest mountain bike, glad he had borrowed his landlord's bike last week to practice. Lily sped off ahead of him, the sun glinting off the silver barrettes in her hair as she wound her way through the pedestrians, bikers and horses.
They kept to the eight-mile road that circled the island, biking past the ramparts of an old fort, ancient limestone formations, and steep hiking paths that led up into the dark pines. And always, there on their right, was the deep blue expanse of Lake Huron.
Suddenly Lily stopped her bike.
Louis pulled up behind her. They were about three-quarters around the island. There was no one else on the road and the whisper of the surf was the only sound.
"Look at that," Lily said.
Louis looked up to where she was pointing. Up on a bluff was a huge log building. It looked like an old hunting lodge with a high peaked roof, dormer windows and verandas wrapping two of the three stories. A rusted iron fence rose from the weeds in front.
"It looks like a haunted house," Lily said.
"Could be," Louis said with a smile.
"Can we go up there?"
Louis remembered enough about Mackinac Island to know that most visitors kept to the lakeside road. Only the adventurous and well-muscled took their bikes into the hilly woods. He looked down at Lily, meeting her expectant eyes.
"It doesn't look like there's any way up," Louis said.
"Maybe there's a back way," Lily said.
She jumped back on the bike and was off, her skinny legs pumping. About fifty yards up the road, she pointed left and turned.
Her sweatshirt was just a blur of yellow in the dark woods as Louis followed her up the dirt road. At the top, he stopped to catch his breath. The trees were thick, the air at least ten degrees cooler here out of the sun.
There was no sign of her.
"Lily!" he called.
But he couldn't see her. He rounded a curve and pulled up at a chain link fence. There was a big red sign: NO TRESPASSING. He was at the back of the old lodge. Lily's purple bike was lying in the weeds near a gap in the fence.
"Lily!" he shouted.
He dropped his bike and ducked through the fence. As he trotted through the weeds, he caught sight of an empty swimming pool littered with leaves but he was sure she had gone to the lodge.
He jumped onto the wide wooden veranda. All the windows were shuttered. He went to the front of the lodge. The heavy wood front door was boarded shut and padlocked. There was one window with no shutter but covered with two boards. He peered through the crack between them. He could make out a table with an old oil lamp but no sign of Lily.
Where the hell had she gone? His heart was racing. He had never felt this kind of fear before. He didn't even understand it.
He spun toward the yard but there was nothing to see but the iron fence and beyond that the lake.
No sound except the buzz of insects.
He headed around the side of the lodge, going so fast he almost missed it—a small metal door about five feet from the ground. It was ajar and there was a cinderblock beneath it. It was a milk chute.
He jerked the door open and stuck his head inside.
"Lily! Answer me!"
Her voice was small and far away but he let out a huge breath of relief.
"Come back to the milk chute. Now!"
"But there's a reindeer head."
"Come in and look. There's a reindeer head over the fireplace. Come look, Louis!"
"I can't. Now get back here now!"
"Oh, all right."
Louis stayed at the chute, peering into the gloom for that spot of yellow sweatshirt.
A sharp crack, a muffled scream.
Louis tried to wedge into the chute.
"Lily!" he screamed.
He frantically scanned the back of the house. No way in.
He ran back to the front, back to the one window that wasn't shuttered. He ripped the two boards off and used one to smash the glass. Inside, he took a second to get his bearings then headed toward the back where he figured the milk chute was. The dark hallways were narrow and he kept calling Lily's name. But there was no answer.
Then he saw it—a ragged hole in the floor boards. He dropped to his knees but it was pitch black below.
"Lily!" he shouted. "Lily!"
A muffled, kitten-like cry from below.
"Lily! Are you okay?"
He let out a painful breath. "Are you okay?"
"My arm hurts."
He could hear her crying now.
"Don't cry," he said quickly. "I'm coming down to get you. Don't move!"
He jumped to his feet, scanning the dark room. It looked like it was a kitchen but with no light he couldn't be sure. And because the shutters were on the outside, he couldn't even break the window. His mind raced and then suddenly he remembered the oil lamp he had seen through the window. He ran back to the front and grabbed the lamp. He shook it and let out a breath of relief when he heard a sloshing sound.
Matches...goddamn it, matches.
He took the lamp to the kitchen and started yanking open drawers. Nothing. He was about to give up when he spotted a small tin box on the wall near the stove. He thrust a hand in the bottom and pulled out a handful of wood matches.
"I'm coming, honey!"
It took four strikes against the fireplace to finally light a match. The old kitchen shimmered pale gold and he dropped to his knees at the hole in the floor.
He carefully lowered the oil lamp into the darkness.
A spot of yellow. Then Lily's tear-streaked face looking up at him.
Oh my God.
She was lying on a pile of bones.
© P.J. Parrish