Feather for Hoonah Joe

Sal Kindle has been sprinkling the pages of the feather series with so much homespun grit, that it’s hard to imagine that an octogenarian can really develop any more facets to her earthy personality. Her husband, Joe Michael, doesn’t think so either, which makes life all the more interesting when the two of them not only take on a new business venture, but also discover there’s more to Sal than anyone dared imagine.

Within the scenarios of Hoonah, Alaska, Rhinebeck, New York, and brief moments in Sitka, Alaska, and New York City, new adventures for Mara, Doug, Joe, and Sal lead to even more new adventures--right up to the clifhanger of an ending that will leave you either grabbing the arms of your chair, or frantically checking the battery level of your e-reader to make sure you can make it to the end of the story in time to find out what really happens.

Feather for Hoonah Joe is the fourth in the Feather series of mystery novels and some say it is one of the best in the series.

 

Chapter One

Where’s Sal?

Doug Williams threw the last piece of luggage into the back of the Suburban just as the rapid‐fire sound of three gunshots, followed ten seconds later by a single shot, sent him ducking for cover behind his vehicle.

Frozen in place by the gunfire, he stopped himself from calling out to Mara, while saying a silent prayer that she was okay. Maybe this was only someone messing around with seals or doing some of the other stupid things that people seemed to do every spring after a long, dark Alaska winter had kept them cooped up for too long. He hunkered down, waiting to see if the gunshots resumed. Instinctively he reached inside his vest pocket for his pistol, racked a bullet into the chamber, and then said another prayer that she was okay.

He heard her call before he saw her.

“Mara!” he yelled, stepping out from behind the Suburban, his hand still on his pistol, as he watched her run toward him from the opposite end of the boardwalk that held their cabin. He pointed the gun at the ground, afraid to put it away just yet. Behind Mara hurried their equally frantic, elderly, and most special friend, Joe Michael.

Doug had seldom seen his wife as beside herself as she was right now. Something was wrong.

Mara huddled beside him, and then quickly inched over to make room for Joe Michael. The old man raised himself up onto his toes to meet Doug chest to chest, as if to ensure that their eye contact would be as clear and forthright as his words. He balanced himself with one hand on the deck rail, while he used the other one to push his eyeglasses up onto the bridge of his nose. Then he took a long, deep breath followed by two shorter ones, steadied himself, and spoke.

“We gotta find her, Doug. We only got a coupla more hours before dark.”

“What’s this about, Joe?”

“Sal’s missing,” Mara said.

“That’s why I fired off the shots,” Joe added, lowering himself to his normal standing position before finding a nearby bench to sit down on. “That’s our distress signal— three quick shots and then a fourth. She didn’t fire back. That’s our other signal—if one of us fires and the other doesn’t fire back, then something’s wrong.” Doug put his pistol back into the shoulder holster he wore 90 percent of the time. Its comfortable weight rested against his chest.

Joe Michael put his head down into his hands looking deflated, diminutive, and frail. A lifetime of tragedy had taken its toll on the seventy‐four year‐old man. After spending much of his life looking out for others, he now needed to ask others to help him—not that he ever had to ask Doug and Mara for anything. There was no question that they were there for him and it had been that way ever since Joe had given Mara the feather that had changed her life. But it went against his nature to lean on others, and that included the young couple that he considered as dear as a son and a daughter.

“Settle down, okay? We all know that Sal takes off all the time,” Doug said.

He paced back and forth and then did it again. Could either of them sense how much he was struggling to remain calm, how desperately he was trying to find the right words—the right actions—to make everything okay? He listened as Mara spilled out the details of what had just happened.

Just minutes earlier, she had come home from shopping to find Joe frantic and pacing outside their cabin door. He had told her that Sal was missing. She had helped him search for her, walking around both cabins, and then searched inside them only to find no sign of Sal—not even a note or message of any kind.

“I’m really worried, Doug,” she said. “I’ve never known Joe to be this upset.”

Doug stared at the tired‐looking old man. The old Joe would already have been in his skiff out looking for his wife.

He tightened his jaw, increasing his grip on Joe and Mara’s shoulders at the same time. He had almost lost them before, too many times to count, and he would not— could not—risk losing either of them again.

“Couldn’t Sal have just gone out to run some errands? Maybe she went for a walk,” he said.

“Then why didn’t she respond to my signal?” Joe said, looking up at them both.

“But I just saw you two working on your cabin this morning, Joe. It got me to thinking that you two were just about done getting Stu’s cabin fixed up just the way you want it. Sal seemed fine then.”

“She was, okay?” Joe answered. “But lately—look, having you and Mara next door is the only reason we even come to Juneau and bother with my brother’s old place. Sal hasn’t been herself for about a year now. I don’t know if she’s unhappy or just losin’ track of where she lives . . . I don’t know. Maybe I should just think about selling the cabin and keeping her at home in Hoonah. Maybe it’s all too much for people our age.”

“Wait, now—you think Sal’s run off because she’s unhappy, or worse yet, because she’s losing her faculties?” Doug asked. “Well, at least you don’t think its foul play of some kind. Right?”

Joe shook his head.

Doug paced the dock for several minutes while Mara sat next to Joe on one of the benches that lined the boardwalk. Joe was not one to make flippant comments. What was going on? Had he and Mara missed the signs of mental decline that Joe was alluding to? Was Sal not only missing, but also no longer competent enough to find her way out of whatever mess she had gotten herself into?

“Let’s get Thor and see if he can track Sal down,” Doug said. “Thor! C’mere! We gotta go!”

“Thor’s gone, too,” Mara answered, “and so is my skiff.”

Thor would have done everything to keep Sal from harm, and would have come for him if something bad had happened to Sal. That meant that none of this could be an accident, unless Thor was injured or something.

“Did Sal say anything this morning that might help us figure out where she went?” Doug asked.

“She said something about needing to keep an eye on the shoreline,” Joe said. “She’s been saying that a lot since they had that TV special about the tsunami debris from Japan moving this way. She seems kind of fixated on it if you want the truth. I don’t know why. I told her there’s nothin’ we can do about it anyway.”

Doug put one arm around the old man’s shoulders and guided him back to his cabin, while Mara went ahead to check once more for any sign of Sal—scurrying from their cabin to Joe and Sal’s, and then back again to their own.

He understood Mara’s distress. Sal had been like a mother to her in the same way that Joe had been like a father. The two elders had married only a few years before and, well, that was another story . . .

Now that he thought about it, though, there had been small signs that something was amiss with Sal. Just a few weeks ago, he and Mara had taken the Driftfeather over to Hoonah to visit Joe and Sal and had noticed that she had seemed distracted—maybe even forgetful. He hadn’t thought much about it at the time, but now, in view of what Joe was saying—well, maybe there was something odd going on with her.

Then there was the time a few months ago when Sal had come aboard the seiner like she always did, but had referred to it as her own, and referred to Joe as Bert—the name of her deceased first husband with whom she had once owned the Driftfeather. Quickly realizing her mistake, she had laughed the whole thing off, while hugging Joe and reminding him that he was her sweet baby now.

Doug laughed wryly and out loud. He knew that no one but Sal would get away with calling Joe Michael sweet baby. The thought made the fact that Sal was missing seem as though a ship had been lost at sea. Sal was bigger than life, and her presence in his world and Mara’s was the reason they were together right now—at least that’s what he chose to believe.

He watched Mara check both cabins for the second time. She, too, had mentioned a couple of strange incidents with Sal, but Sal was eighty now, and it had been easy enough to chalk the missteps up to the fact that maybe all of them were getting a little forgetful now and then.

Sal had always been self‐reliant, and it was not unusual for her to disappear and return when she was good and ready, but this time something about her disappearance was alarming her normally stoic husband, and that was its own concern.

“Since the day we married, Sal’s never left my side without leaving me a note in that hen scratch she calls writing,” Joe said, forcing out a weak chuckle. “Half the time I couldn’t even read it, but there was always a note.”

Sal might be feisty, but Doug had never known her to do anything to worry the man she called her Joey. And she often took Thor along with her, so that alone was not a concern except for the fact that she usually told someone she was taking him. No, something was wrong and now he was as concerned as Joe and Mara were. He would immediately launch the rescue for the 5‐foot‐1‐inch old lady with the 6‐foot‐ 4‐inch persona who they all knew as Sal Kindle. When Mara came out of Joe’s cabin he announced his plan of action.

“I’m gonna get the skiff off the Driftfeather and we’ll take a look around the shoreline. Pack up a couple of extra blankets, too, Mara. Snow’s forecast for tonight and they say that isn’t any April fool, even though it would make a good one if only Sal weren’t out there having to face April under who‐knows‐what condition she’s in. And Joe, you stick with me. We’ll find her. I promise you that.” Joe raised his head and flashed Doug a hopeful look before again staring at the ground as he shuffled along behind him.