It was supposed to be a hurricane party. It turned out to be an invitation
a problem. Me.
been a problem for the boy. Yes, yes, I love my main man, but there’s this
thing between us, a guy thing that weighed heavily on my mind as I peddled
my bike through the rain of the approaching storm. While I’m out chasing
down the bad guys, Chad can’t be satisfied with merely building some of
the most beautiful boats to be found along the Grand Strand.
You can tell your
man just so many times how proud you are of his accomplishments, but always
in his head is the fact that I’m the one who kicks in doors and brings
in the bad guys. I carry a Lady Smith & Wesson; don’t leave home without
it. Chad carries a briefcase filled with designs of his latest watercraft.
You’d think being that creative would be enough, but it’s not, and that
brings us back to the hurricane party.
It was September
and hurricane season had been busy. Charleston had already been threatened,
as had Myrtle Beach, and a storm by the name of Josephine was wandering
around in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing had hit us. Yet. But Hurricane Lili
was on her way. She was going to smack right into the Grand Strand, and
people were headed inland. The smart ones, that is. Evidently, I was engaged
to one of the other sort. My fiancé had accepted an invitation to
a hurricane party.
Why were we riding
bicycles? Well, motorbikes and cars don’t run all that well after being
submerged in salt water when a storm has passed through. We had left Chad’s
Lexus on the Myrtle Beach bypass, parked at Broadway at the Beach, and
ridden in from there, avoiding any safety patrols trying to protect us
It had been tough
sledding. Sometimes the wind was in our faces, sometimes it tried to blow
us over. We rode in low gear most of the way, and because of the rain,
we wore the appropriate attire, laminated Gore-tex: Chad’s a bright blue,
mine a dull lifeguard red. Large packs on our backs held in place by frames
made us an easy target for gusts up to twenty miles per.
My rain gear was
a holdover from the days when I’d been a lifeguard and finder of runaways,
before graduating to private investigating and finally to SLED, the investigative
arm of the government of South Carolina, officially called the State Law
had been my party and once was enough. The sound the wind makes is like
a train rumbling through, or whispering to you—all night long. And you’d
better have your house boarded up because it could end up in the second
row. Second row is anything off the beach, and when hurricanes come ashore,
they tend to move wooden structures into the second row, boats even farther.
After taking my
boat, Daddy’s Girl, inland, I returned to the Grand Strand to find Chad
brimming with excitement.
“We’re going to
a hurricane party.”
been to one. I want that experience.”
“I don’t think
so.” Glancing around the landing, I saw most of the boats were gone.
My berth mate,
Harry Poinsett, and I had already sailed southward and inland, as most
hurricanes come ashore and move northward. It had been a real traffic jam
of river craft pushing into the wind and rain. Everyone along the Grand
Strand remembered Hugo. Everyone--but my boyfriend, it would appear.
was to weather the storm in a house that had been built in Victorian style
just after the Second World War: three stories, gables, two staircases,
one a spiral, and ten-foot ceilings. It had a wraparound porch, fifteen
rooms—five to each floor—and some of the most beautiful furniture I had
Ever since I’d
gotten it through my thick head that Chad Rivers really loved me, I’d bent
over backwards to make our relationship work. This time though, as I pedaled
along in the wind and the rain, I felt I was meeting him more than halfway,
and it really chapped me.
When Chad and I
arrived, people were busily shuttering the place. One car—a yellow Nissan
sedan—sat in the crushed shell parking lot behind the house. As we rode
up on our bicycles, a young redhead I recognized ran down the steps and
into the parking area. The girl, now in her twenties, was someone I had
once gone looking for during the early days of my searching for runaways
along the Grand Strand.
She was in tears
as she rushed to her car and kept chanting, “I can’t do this! I can’t do
this!” She hopped in the yellow Nissan and was out of there.
“Need I say more?”
I asked, turning to Chad as rain hit me in the face.
He gave a snort
A bearded guy
wearing a yellow slicker straightened up from where he stood near an opening
under the house. The foundation of the house was made of concrete, awash
with sand, and about three-feet high.
the redhead go, he waved to us and raised his voice over the wind. “There’s
chains under here for your bikes.”
Chad and I locked
up our bikes alongside several others under the house, then wandered around
to where we had seen two guys moving a ladder from one second-story window
to another. Chad said the house had plenty of tongue-and-groove lumber
throughout and hurricane straps holding the trusses together. He said it
had been built to withstand hurricanes.
With a hurricane
you’re most concerned about shutters and escape routes. Since none of us
was smart enough to leave the beach area, that meant we’d be worried about
shutters, along with provisions once the storm had passed. Nothing much
works once a hurricane passes through, and all the stores would have already
been cleaned out of food, lumber, and purified water. I intended to check
our host’s provisions. I did not want to be dependent on what I’d hauled
in on my bike and my back.
homes don’t usually have shutters, but this is the Grand Strand, so there’s
always a likelihood of storms. Black galvanized steel shutters had been
added, and unlike most add-ons, these actually worked. The paint had been
baked on at the factory.
On the ground
floor the shutters had been easily secured. The second story was a bit
dicier. A guy wearing a camouflage poncho and baseball cap gripped the
top of a twenty-foot ladder, held at its base by two other men. An “oops!”
by one of them holding the ladder sent Chad tossing his pack on the wraparound
porch and running to their assistance. I clutched my backpack and shook
my head. I truly did love this guy and I could only hope I wouldn’t pay
for my devotion.
The one with the
billowing poncho held two steel rods in his free hand; with the other he
clutched the top of the ladder. Very quickly he reached up and placed one
rod across hooks already in place on opposite sides of the closed shutters.
The other rod he dropped across a pair of matching hooks at the bottom.
in the billowing camouflage poncho was up and down the ladder in less than
a minute. While his helpers, now including Chad, moved the ladder, the
climber jerked down tightly on the bill of his baseball cap, picked up
two more steel rods, and returned to the base of the ladder. They’d repeated
this routine on all four sides of the house.
annoyance, I headed in the direction of the crushed shell parking lot and
found the guy in the yellow slicker hauling a sheet of half-inch plywood
from under the house. The wind didn’t make this easy so I dumped my pack
on the porch, caught up with him, and grabbed one end of the rectangular-shaped
piece of wood.
in appreciation, and we carried the board over and placed it against the
door where I’d seen the redhead exit. As I held it against the door, the
guy with the beard looked for where the predrilled holes in the plywood
matched the holes in the frame of the house.
he informed me. On this side of the house facing the road, you didn’t have
We flipped the
board over, and almost lost the sucker in a gust of wind. The guy caught
his end before it whopped him up against the head.
he said with a nervous grin.
He let go
of the board, put a shoulder into it, and slipped his free hand under the
slicker, reaching into his jeans’ pocket. Out came the screws, and from
his back pocket he produced a Phillips head screwdriver and went to work
fitting the screws through the holes while I held the board against the
door. Matching the holes was tricky, but once he had one screw inserted
and a second diagonally across from it, he fitted the rest easily in place.
Now the rear entrance of the house was secured.
the Phillips under his slicker, he extended a hand. “Jeremy Knapp.” He
regarded me with his soft, brown eyes. His round, tanned face was partly
hidden under the hood of his yellow slicker and the beard. “Didn’t you
hang around the Pavilion?”
I took his extended
hand. “Susan Chase, and it was The Attic.” A place where teens hang to
get away from their parents and vice-versa.
“Now I remember.
The girl who loved to dance. Didn’t know there were going to be any girls
at the party except for the witch.”
What he said threw
me off my stride and I entirely forgot about the redheaded female. “The
“Lady Light. You
know, the witch on the Web. She’s going to make the hurricane go away.”
I looked in the
direction of the storm. The three-story structure sat on a point with breakers
running from a sand beach. Now there was no beach and you could barely
see the craggy rocks that formed the jetty that protected the point. Thick
gray clouds lay low above a dark and angry sea, palm trees leaned in a
wind that often changed direction, and oily-looking waves crashed ashore.
wish her luck.”
“That’s why I’m
here. Two experiences for the price of one.”
“I’ve never attended
a hurricane party.”
“So I figured.”
“You went through
“Yes, but I was
“What was it like?”
“Don’t let me
spoil your fun.”
He looked at the
churning seas less than a hundred feet from where we stood. “Think we’re
in any real danger?”
“That has a certain
appeal to you?”
“I don’t want
to die. I’m like anyone else.”
“Anyone else left
“Why didn’t you?”
“I’m with the
guy over there.”
gestured to my great-looking fiancé, who, with a skinny guy dressed
in black, brought the ladder around the house. As we watched, the ladder
was rested on hooks on the back wall that snapped over, trapping the ladder
I nodded as Chad
and his new friend disappeared around the front of the house.
“Standing by your
man?” asked Jeremy with a smile.
I shrugged. “What
did you mean about two experiences for the price of one?”
We were behind
the house where the diminished sounds of the wind and surf made it easier
to speak. Still, the rain had the nasty habit of sneaking under the bill
of my baseball cap and tickling my face.
“My mother and
father had government jobs and they hated them,” he said. “Their parents
had drummed into their heads what it had been like living through the Great
Depression, so my folks opted to work for Uncle Sam.” He laughed. “My brother
and sister both have government jobs they hate.”
“And a pretty
good retirement plan.”
He regarded me
as we headed toward the front of the house. “And what do you do for a living,
if I might ask?”
“Yeah,” he said,
“if I remember correctly, you always had a great tan.”
I didn’t mention
my job with SLED because some people don’t care to have cops at parties,
and several times I’ve had to ask Chad to leave because of what people
were doing, or what they wanted us to do. But there was no way we could
leave this party, so Chad and I’d agreed I would use the story of my former
career as a lifeguard and runaway finder.
“Susan, I’ve been
up the Amazon, ridden on the Orient Express since they’ve gotten it up
running again, and traveled to the North Pole.”
I could only stare,
then follow that with a “Wow!” Glimmers of what I could do if I wasn’t
engaged flashed through my head.
“My brother and
sister put me down because they’re jealous of what I’ve done.”
He shook his head
as we trudged through the rain. “According to my parents I haven’t accomplished
anything. I got hooked on Marco Polo when I was a kid and used to hitch
up and down the East Coast. It’s more than a kid’s game played in swimming
pools. Did you know that Marco Polo spent years in the Far East working
for the emperor and mastered several languages?”
“And how many
languages have you mastered on all your jaunts?”
stopped. “Why would I? Everyone speaks English.”
“What’s your connection
to Lady Light?” Lady Light, or Helen McCuen, had not been mentioned when
Chad had brought up the subject of attending a hurricane party.
He was more guarded now. As we continued toward the steps of the wraparound
porch, he asked, “What do you mean?”
was invited, probably because he and Helen attended the same high school.
I imagined you knew Lady Light from a past life.”
“Helen and I met
at Carolina.” Meaning the University of South Carolina, or the real USC,
as it is called in these parts.
“You were collecting
the experience of being Joe College?”
Just trying to please my parents. Lady Light was studying broadcast journalism;
me, the traditional print stuff. We used to argue about who’d have the
greatest impact on society. She wanted to be the next Jane Pauley. Then,
summer before her senior year she interned at a local TV station. When
she saw all the backstabbing and turf wars that go on behind the scenes,
she opted to move to Hollywood and become a movie star. If she was going
to go through all that garbage, she might as well make a run at the brass
ring. It sounded like a pretty cool gig, so she and I spent a couple of
years in L.A. trying to break into the movies.”
“I take it that
didn’t work out.”
He shook his head
and rain fell from the hood of his yellow slicker as he went up the porch
steps. “Out there, blondes are a dime a dozen, and me, I don’t have the
looks. No cheekbones.” He picked up my pack and I let him. “But I had the
chance to travel to Hawaii and up the Pacific Coast.” He glanced out to
sea. “You know, they have an entirely different beach up there.”
“I’ve heard there’s
“You’d be pretty
close to correct.”
Rounding the corner
to the front of the house, we raised our shoulders, as if that could protect
us from the storm. “I’ve kept up with Lady Light through her Web site.
She got into witchcraft about the same time I left for Alaska.”
“Summer or winter
visit?” I asked with a smile.
“I’ve done both,”
he said with a smirk.
“So you asked
to come to the party.”
“Pretty much so.
I spent last spring chasing tornadoes.”
"Like in the movie
“Just like that,”
he said with a nod.
Chad and the other
three men huddled at the front door, somewhat protected by the porch. Water
dripped from their rain gear and puddled at their feet. If the hurricane
came ashore there would be more than puddles on this porch.
Chad flashed me
a smile as I approached more members of the party, and I tried to return
the smile but failed miserably. Behind him, the shutters for the double
doors were still open, hooked in place, waiting for the last person to
reached the others, I asked, “When you think you’ll settle down?”
at me. “Now you sound like my mother.”
“Just making conversation.
We’re not going anywhere soon.” I took my pack from him as the ocean slammed
into shore. The wind had really gotten up, and the rain came at us on the
horizontal. I turned away from the stinging drops.
find a woman who likes to travel.” He stopped before we reached the others,
and that had the intended result. I stopped, too, and my wet Nikes squeaked
on the wet surface of the porch. “What about you? Like to tag along?”
“Not a chance,”
I said, extending the hand with the engagement ring. Water dripped from
my finger and made the rock glisten. “I have to make sure my invitations
“Sorry to hear
He glanced at
Chad, who had pulled back the top of his rain gear. “So you’ll marry, have
the house, the kids, and the picket fence—that appeals to you?”
“I’m an orphan,
Jeremy. Any kind of family appeals to me.”
“With no ties
to the community, you could take off anytime.”
“I’d lose my job.”
“It’s not much
of a job, but that’s not my point.”
“Your point is
that I should have the same interest in roaming the globe as you do. It’s
like parents who give their kids weird names—because no one ever made fun
of their names while growing up, why not give their kid a zippy-sounding
name. You couldn’t understand the attraction of having a family because
you’ve always had a mother, father, and that brother and sister you blow
He laughed before
heading for the group standing near the front doors. “This is going to
be an interesting party.”
“It’s an oxymoron
to call a hurricane party a 'party.'"
“You think we’re
“Before this is
over, you’ll all think you’re nuts.”
Copyright Steve Brown 2002
All Rights Reserved
Order from your local bookstore with ISBN 0-9712521-5-7.