Excerpt: Homeplace

Book 1 : Coldwater Cove Series

Homeplace (Coldwater Cove Series) by JoAnn Ross

Coldwater Cove, Washington

It was a damn three-ring circus. And Olympic County sheriff Jack O’Halloran had gotten stuckwith the job of ringmaster. Despite the cold spring drizzle, the hillside was covered with people, many carrying cameras. Some bolder or more curious, individuals pressed as close as they could to the white police barricades. Kids were running all over the place, laughing, shrieking, chasing one another, having themselves a dandy time. The mood couldn’t have been any more electric if a bunch of TV stars had suddenly shown up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to tape and episode of NYPD Blue .

Ignoring the rain dripping off the brim of his hat, Jack scowled at the vans bearing the names and logos of television stations from as far away as Spokane. Which wasn’t all that surprising. After all, Coldwater Cove had always been a peaceful town. So peaceful, in fact, it didn’t even have its own police department, the city fathers choosing instead to pay for protection from the county force. Crime consisted mainly of the routine Saturday night drunk and disorderly, jaywalking, calls about barking dogs, and last month a customer had walked off with the ballpoint pen from Neil Olson’s You-Pump-It Gas’N Save. It definitely wasn’t every day three teenage girls barricaded themselves in their group home and refused to come out.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ida Lindstrom, their court-appointed guardian and owner of the landmark Victorian house, had apparently set off this minicrime wave when she’d been taken to the hospital after falling off a kitchen stool. Although the information was sketchy, from what Jack could determine, when a probation officer had arrived to haul the unsupervised kids back to the juvenile detention center, Ida had held an inflammatory press conference from her hospital bed, adding fuel to an already dangerously volatile situation by instructing the girls to “batten down the hatches.”

Having grown up in Coldwater Cove, Jack knew Ida to be a good, hardworking woman. Salt of the earth, a pillar of the community, and unrelentingly generous. During her days as the town’s only general practitioner, she’d delivered scores of babies –including him. Since lumbering was a dangerous business, she’d also probably set more broken arms than any doctor in the state, and whenever she lost a patient — whether from illness, accident, or merely old age — she never missed a funeral.

She’d inevitably show up at the family’s home after an internment with a meatloaf. Not one person in Coldwater Cove had ever had the heart to tell her that her customary donation to the potluck funeral supper was as hard as a brick and about as tasty as sawdust. Ida Lindstrom had many talents, but cooking wasn’t one of them. Six months ago, when they’d buried Big John O’Halloran, Jack’s father, who’d dropped dead of a heart attack while hiking a glacier on nearby Mount Olympus, Jack’s mother had surreptitiously put the heavy hunk of mystery meat and unidentifiable spices out on the back porch for the dogs. Who wouldn’t eat it, either.

Jack admired the way Ida had taken to opening her home to at-risk teenagers at a time when so many of her contemporaries were traveling around the country in motor homes, enjoying their retirement and spending their children’s inheritances. But the plan, agreed to by the court, the probation officer, and Ida herself, dammit, had been for the retired doctor to provide the kids with a stable environment, teach them responsibility and coax them back onto the straight and narrow. Not turn them into junior revolutionaries.

“I still think we ought to break down the damn door,” a gung ho state police officer insisted for the third time in the past hour. Jack suspected the proposed frontal attack stemmed from an eagerness to try out the armored assault vehicle the state had recently acquired at a surplus government military auction.

“You’ve been watching too many old Jimmy Cagney movies on the Late Show,” Jack said. “It’s overkill. They’re only juveniles.”

Juveniles whose cockamamie misbehavior was proving a major pain in the ass. The standoff was entering its sixth hour, television vans were parked all the way down the hill, the satellite systems on their roofs pointed upward, as if trying to receive messages from outer space. Jack figured he was a shoe-in to be the lead story on the six o’clock news all over the Pacific Northwest. Hell, if he didn’t get the girls out pretty soon, they may even make the national morning programs. And while Eleanor O’Halloran would undoubtedly be tickled pink to see her only son on television, the idea didn’t suit Jack at all.

“They’re not just your run of the mill juveniles,” the lantern-jawed officer reminded him unnecessarily. “They’re juvenile delinquents.”

“Minor league ones. The most any of them are guilty of is truancy and shoplifting. Want to guess how a bunch of grown men wearing combat gear staging a military assault on three little girls would play on TV?”

“Crimes’s crime,” another cop from neighboring Jefferson County grumbled. Although the standoff wasn’t occurring in his jurisdiction, that hadn’t stopped him from dropping by for a look-see.

He wasn’t alone; Kitsap, Island, Clallam, and King counties were also well represented. Even the Quinault and Skokomish reservations had sent uniformed men to offer backup and gain experience in hostage situations. Not that this was exactly a hostage situation, since the girls were all alone in the house. The assembled cops were having themselves a grand old time. Jack was not.

“He’s right,” another cop agreed. “You may not consider shoplifting a punishable offense in your county, Sheriff, but in my jurisdiction, we view teenage malfeasance as a slippery slope to more serious crimes.”

“Got a point there,” Jack agreed dryly. “One day a kid’s swiping a tube of Mango orange lip gloss from a Payless Drugstore and the next day she’s toting an Uzi and holding up the Puget Sound National Bank.”

He took the cellular phone from its dashboard holder and dialed the Lindstrom house again. The first time he’d called, the oldest girl, Shawna, had informed him that Ida had instructed her not to speak to him. Then promptly hung up. From that point on, all he’d gotten was a busy signal. Suggesting they’d taken the phone off the hook. And dammit, apparently still hadn’t put it back on.

“There’s always tear gas,” one of the Olympic County deputies suggested.

“In case you’ve forgotten, one of those girls is pregnant. I’m not willing to risk harming any unborn babies.”

“So what do you propose to do?” a grim-faced man asked. His belted tan raincoat with the snazzy Banana Republic epaulets on the shoulders made him stand out from the local crowd clad in parkas and Gore-Tex jackets. He’d introduced himself as being from Olympia, an assistant to the governor. Unsurprisingly, the state’s chief executive was concerned about the public relations aspect of this situation.

Jack shrugged and thought of his six-year old daughter. He imagined how he’d want the cops to respond if Amy took it into her head to barricade herself in their house.

“They aren’t going anywhere.” They’d also refused to speak to anyone but Ida. Deciding the contrary old woman would only get them more stirred up, he’d instructed the hospital to remove the phone from her room. “The way I see it, the best thing to do is wait them out. For however long it takes.”

No one argued. But the grumbles from the assembled lawmen told Jack that he was all alone, out on an increasingly risky limb.