- Pub. Date:
Loner James Malloy is a ferry captainor used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.
When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such “improvements.” But despite Brenton’s nickname as “Cooperation Island,” he’s used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he’ll have to learn to cooperate with other islandersincluding Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that’s been kept from him for years.
This salt-sprayed fourth novel by 2004 Olympic Sailor Carol Newman Cronin celebrates wilderness and water, open space and open-mindedness, and the redemptive power of neighborly cooperation.
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|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Carol Newman Cronin is an award-winning writer of stories about boats and waterfront personalities. A lifetime sailor, she won two races at the 2004 Olympics and continues to compete at events around the world.
Read an Excerpt
James wasn’t actually reading the newspaperhe was hiding behind it. Hiding from the crowd surrounding him, on the outside deck of the Brenton Bean. Hiding from the blinding glare of May sun on glassy harbor. Hiding, most of all, from what lay in between: that empty ferry dock.
If only the flimsy paper could block out sound as well. Tucked into the most protected corner of the coffee shop’s open deck, chair backed up against shingled exterior, he was still well within earshot of the stranded commuters who’d washed up at tables along the outside railing. Their worrying pecked at his hangover like a seagull feeding frenzy: without the ferry, how would they ever get ashore to their jobs? They were all so desperate to get off this island. And for the first time in sixteen years, James was too.
He should’ve delivered them to the dock in Newport just over two hours ago. Right now he should be motoring back to Brenton, spray flying and diesels rumbling, already tasting his daily bagel-and-coffee reward. But yesterday he’d been fired. So instead of clutching a wooden wheel, he was crushing limp newsprint.
The rumors were partly true; he had been caught with one tiny bag of marijuana, bought to ease a friend’s pain. But he hadn’t attacked his boss; he’d made a feeble attempt to reclaim the baggie. Reach, grab, hold up his hands as soon as Lloyd started screaming. Nothing that merited calling the copsthe guy just had a screw loose.
So there’d be no ferry this morning, a complete upheaval of Brenton’s usual Wednesday routine. Even non-commuting locals had drifted down here in search of newsand then lingered to enjoy the first warm day of the year, filling every open seat. Which led, of course, to speculating with their neighbors: What really happened between James and his boss yesterday afternoon? Could the ferry even run without Captain James? Did I hear James was dealing drugs? Each time he heard his name, the scar on his left temple throbbed.
Though that could be last night’s beers.
To his left was the door to inside, and just beyond it was the least popular table out hereoccupied by a pair of stranded tourists. The wife proposed a bet on the ferry’s exact arrival time, loser to buy the first round of martinis once they made it safely ashore. Birdwatchers, probably. The husband swiveled his head around to ask the regulars, “When’s it supposed to get here again?”
Over at the big table, the animated weather discussion went quiet. Five pairs of eyes dropped down to stare into white china mugs. Only Mayor Frankwho just couldn’t leave anyone’s question unanswered, even when he was wrongreplied: “Eleven-ten.” Adding with less certainty, after a glance at his watch, “Might be a little late today.”
The storm door opened, whacking into the birdwatchers’ table. “Oops, sorry!” Patty said, smiling. “Busy as Fourth of July out here.”
James lifted his newspaper back into guard position, but those light blue Crocs stopped beside him anyway. The waitress carried a steaming glass coffee pot just above that huge apron-covered belly. Twins, maybe?
Mugs were already waving over at the big table, but Patty focused on James. “Still have to eat, ya know.” She topped off his coffee and set her pot down next to his plate. “Or did you finally realize peanut butter just doesn’t go with pumpernickel?”
“Bagel’s hard as a rock.”
“That’s ‘cause it’s yesterday’sBarb didn’t make her delivery this morning.” Those brown eyes bored into him. “I heard you two had words last night.”
More than words. His fortieth birthday meal, dumped into the bakery’s trash bin. An overreaction, even for Barb.
Patty rubbed a ringless hand against the left side of that baby-bulge. “Billy got ‘stuck’ in Newport last night.” Her fingers made air-quotes. “He was way too happy about”
She swiveled toward the big table just long enough to shake her head at Mayor Frank. When she turned back to James, a frown had wrinkled up her forehead and she opened and closed her mouth twice, before finally managing, “No hat today? And those eyebrows! One of these days, a laughing gull’s gonna fly in there, build a nest.” Her own brows had been carefully plucked. “How about a quick trim, once this crowd gets tired of waiting for their ferry? Betcha don’t have any other plans today. . . just sayin’.”
James snapped the newspaper up between them, mixing burnt coffee aroma with his own unwashed sweatshirt and the ebb-tide odor of drying-out seaweed.
Patty picked up her glass pot. “Yesterday’s Journal, toonot that you care.”
Of course. . . today’s newspapers wouldn’t arrive unless the ferry did.
Sighing, James let the paper drop and raised his left hand to pat down the hair standing off his forehead. It just stood right back up again.
The harbor was a windless mirror, from empty dock out to rocky breakwater. Beyond the entrance, eddies of ebb tide swirled out toward Bird Island, the uninhabited rock that kept this harbor so well protected. Out there, on the water, he knew what to dobecause boats were so easy to handle: Goose the throttles forward to cruising speed. Adjust for set and drift. Listen for the port engine’s ping, telling him it needed oil again. What he couldn’t navigate was people. . . and all this damned uncertainty.
Starved for fresh news, the chatter around him faded, revealing more normal island sounds; wavelets tumbling pebbles along the tide line. An osprey chirping overhead. The whack of storm door against square metal table. Yesterday, it all would’ve blended together into a comforting symphony. Today, not knowing when he’d leave the island again, each noise clanged like a jail cell door.
“You tell him?” Mayor Frank was mostly hidden behind Patty’s bulk, but his raspy voice still carried.
Patty glanced back at James, shaking her head. “Didn’t dare.” She poured the last of the coffee into the mayor’s waiting mug.
Tell him what?
To avoid any additional grooming tips as Patty carried her empty pot inside, James stared down through the black grate of tabletop until he heard the door click shut behind her. If only the dried paint on his jeans could be read like tea leaves.
When he looked up again, he caught Mayor Frank frowning at himuntil those thick glasses swiveled back out to check the harbor.
“Ah! Thar she blows!”
Beyond the breakwater’s jagged top edge, two white bumps motored steadily north. Radar dome and life raft canister, riding proud on top of the ferry’s wheelhouse. Their familiar shapesand the slate blue superstructurewere surprisingly distinct against the dark backdrop of Bird Island. For Mayor Frankand everyone else out here, except Jamesthis was the view of a normal morning: his ferry, steaming proudly home.
But today he watched, steaming, from the beach.
The commuter chatter started up again, giddy with relief. First thing tomorrow morning, their ferry would be there to take them ashore. Which meant that today, they could all enjoy an unexpected day off.
“Told you it would be here,” Mayor Frank said, to no one in particular. “Just like Lloyd promised.” Lloyd. James’s bossex-bossmust’ve dragged some drunk captain off a Newport barstool last night.
But as soon as the white hull cleared the end of the breakwater, the bow wave diminished. Drunk or sober, the scab of a captain knew enough not to come into a strange harbor above idle.
“It’s slowing down,” the birdwatcher wife said.
“Gotta be at least five minutes away still,” her husband replied, smiling.
Four and a half, James silently corrected, sliding back his sweatshirt cuff to check his watch. Already eight minutes late.
“Guess I’m buying those martinis.” The wife was smiling too. “But I don’t carewe’re getting off this island at last!”
Some damned stranger had started those quirky engines. Pressed his own thumb and forefinger into the two varnished dents on the wheel’s king spoke. Soon he would pivot into the dock and smile at his departing passengersif there even were any, on a Wednesday morning in May.
From the far end of the big table, Harbormaster Mack caught James’s eye and shrugged, as if apologizing for what he was about to say. Then he drained his mug, clunked it down, and stood upwaking Chester the dog, who’d been asleep under the table.
“Ferry’s here!” Mack announced in his public servant’s voice, as Chester shook himself to standing. “Everything’s back to normal now.”
Brenton Harbor’s channel was wide and obvious, Courtney saw with relief; dark sticks to starboard, white mooring balls to port, deep water right up to that long pier in the far corner. Easy.
Easy was good. Screw up this very first ferry run, and Captain James Malloy would be all over her like rats on a lifeboat.
Studying the island chart early this morning, Courtneysleep-deprived, with first-run jittershad imagined a sea monster biting into the northeast corner of a horizontal kidney bean to form this harbor. Which would explain the jagged, unfriendly shoreline; from breakwater to pier, non-stop frickin’ rock. And every house a monochrome gray with white trim.
Was one of those drab places the captain’s cottage? She’d been told it was right near the ferry landingnot that anything could be too far away, on an island only two miles long and a mile wide. Plenty of vertical, though, and at the top of the hill stood the hotel she’d heard about, all shiny glass and witch-hat dormers.
Courtney shivered, mostly from the cold. What was she doing out here on this cold New England island, so far from the friendly sloping lawns and bright-colored houses of her Chesapeake home?
She’d told her new boss she didn’t know squat about the Rhode Island coast, expecting him to ride along on the first run or two. Instead, Mr. Lloyd Wainwright had handed over a slip of paper with the ex-captain’s phone number, “for emergencies only.” Adding, without a pinch of irony, that the guy probably wouldn’t answer her call.
“James Malloy thinks he owns this ferry,” Mr. Wainwright said. “Once you drive up to that dock, consider yourself dropped into enemy territory.” Thenwithout even asking if she had any questionshe’d skedaddled out the wheelhouse door so fast, he’d banged his bald head on the frame.
So, eyes glued to the chart plotter, Courtney had felt her way out of Newport Harbor, down Narragansett Bay, across four miles of open water, and around the east end of a small island that stood between Brenton Harbor’s breakwater and open Atlantic. If the harbor had been formed by a sea monster’s bite, then Bird Island would be what the monster spat out.
She’d just started to think she was home free when she spotted a string of rocks dribbling out into the channel, the outermost one topped by a cormorant with black wings spread like judge’s robes. No sign of the red nun marking deep water, though. How close to those rocks was too close? Smelling ammonia, she’d first thought it was her own fear. But no, it was the reek of bird shitof course. Even with the wheelhouse doors firmly closed against morning chill, she could hear all those gulls laughing at herthey knew exactly where the damned buoy was.
Just as two cups of diner coffee backed up in her throat, she’d spotted it at lastfaded and half-sunk, safely off the starboard bowand almost cried with relief. Minutes later, she’d rounded the end of the harbor jetty and pulled the ferry’s scarred throttles back to idle.
This last quarter mile across empty harbor would be a walk in the park, no matter how unfriendly or territorial the natives were. Fingering the shell at her throat, Courtney heard her dad’s baritone inside her head: Run her like you own her. After five years of covering for his failing eyesight, she knew how to handle a boat like this. But that was on the Chesapeake, where if you happened to go the wrong side of a buoy it was just a gentle mud-bump, quick back down, and Bob’s your uncle. The Homer S. Morgan already had plenty of rock-sized dents in her rusty hull. It wouldn’t be hard to punch a hole right
The starboard wheelhouse door slid open, letting in a blast of cold air. Her new deckhand was a tall drink of water, with a seaweed-limp handshake. Billy, she remembered.
“Want me to take us in?” he offered, jaw smacking away at a piece of pink gum. “Like the back of my own hand, this harbor.” His accent turned the word to “hah-buh.”
Yeah, right. If the kid was so skilled, why would Mr. Wainwright dig up an out-of-work outsider to run his damn ferry?
She shook her head, dislodging the Brenton Ferry Company cap she’d grabbed off a hook on the aft bulkheadway too big, but still a better first impression than the light brown tangle of her unbrushed hair. “All set, thanks,” she told Billy. “Could you close that door? Losing all the heat.”
“Heat running, in May? Boss Lloyd won’t like that. He’s”
“Door! Now!” she barked. It slammed shut against the wood frame.
Touching her lucky shell again, Courtney took in a deep breath and blew it out, trying to quiet her racing heart. She could do thissafely pilot six passengers from fancy-pants Newport out to cold gray Brenton Island, with nothing to count on but her own navigational skills.
A string of golf carts had already lined up along the pier. She could also see a ramshackle building with outside tables, all full despite the cold. Thirty-six year-round residents, she’d read somewhere. Did every single one always come down to watch every single ferry docking, or only when the new captain was so scared she might puke?
The pier was long enough for two ferries, but her goal was obvious; the six open pilings at the end. Once she’d brought the starboard side alongside those well-padded posts, gentle as eggshells, she’d be bow to bow with a white powerboat that said “Harbormaster” on the hull. Just a walk in the park, she repeated to herself.
Not sure of the ferry’s handling, she started her turn a little early. The driver in the first golf cart instantly threw his arms up in the air: what the hell are you doing? “Bringing in your stupid ferry,” Courtney muttered. But she slid the throttles back to neutral, suddenly uncertain. Local nutcase?
Or maybe James Malloytrying to confuse her! Gritting her teeth, Courtney shifted into gear again.
A black dog ran out to the corner piling, barking at her. The wheelhouse door opened.
“Um, we need to go in port-side-to,” Billy said. “Only way the gangway works.” He slid the door closed without waiting for a response.
“Shee-it, Billy! Coulda told me that before I made an ass of myself!” She threw both throttles into reverse, sending prop wash swirling around the pilings, and eyed the new approach. Putting the port side of the ferry against those sturdy pilings required a tight U-turn between moorings to port, rocks ahead, and the harbormaster’s boat. So much for that walk in the park.
Was it really enough open water to spin a fifty-two foot ferry?
Must be, unless Billy was lying.
Once she was as close to the moorings as she dared, Courtney spun the wheel to starboard until it stoppedthree full turnsand pressed the throttles forward. Nope, that would take her bow straight into the boat. Back into reverse.
Any pointers? she silently asked the dark-haired harbormastertan shirt, khaki pantswho’d jumped down onto his boat. The dog had followed, and now he barked twice at Courtney, front paws up on the rail. Pulling both throttles into neutral again, she slid open the port door in case his owner said anything in a language she
Both throttles. . . two propellers!
Starboard throttle reverse, port throttle forward. Bow turned tighter this time. Harbormaster guy nodded, but also crossed his arms over his chest. Worried about his boat, or just trying to stay warm? The breeze coming through the open door felt like a blast from her dad’s bait freezer. At least the dog had stopped barking.
When the guy turned away to help his canine assistant up onto the pier, Courtney knew the ferry’s bow would spin through without hitting anything. The rest was routine: slide throttles into neutral until the Homer coasted in close enough to catch a thick line. Watch out the port doorway for Billy to cleat it off and give her a nod. Push port throttle into gear again to pull the steel hull in against those six well-padded pilings. Done.
Through the blood pounding in her ears, she heard a distant cheer. Seventeen minutes late, but she’d made it. Thanks, Dad. Rubbing a finger along the jagged edge of her lucky shell, she watched the dognose down, tail wagginglead his owner back across the pier and up the steps onto that crowded deck. Just like her father’s black dog yesterday afternoon, when she’d glanced in the rear-view mirror as she drove away, and spotted him leading the way up the front steps of their house.
(Only yesterday? Really?)
Billy pulled a sturdy aluminum ramp down onto the side deck and tied it off just aft of the wheelhouse door. Passengers had already queued up, and as soon as the safety rope dropped the first couple pressed forward.
“Thanks for riding with us,” Courtney told them. Tourists, for sure.
The next woman stopped so suddenly the passenger behind bumped right into her. “Where’s James?”
“Been asked to replace him,” Courtney replied.
“Is he ill?” She was clutching a leather tote bag with all ten polished fingers.
“You’ll have to ask ashore.”
“We just left ashore,” Designer Bag Lady answered cryptically, before heading up the steep ramp at last.
A stout blue-hair followed. “Very nice ride, my dear.” She had rum on her breath, and it wasn’t even noon yet. “Did you stay in that awful hotel last night too? Such a relief to be home. . .” Her equally stout but sober husband grabbed her elbow to help her off the ferry.
Courtney could do with a few pulls at the rum bottle herself. Landing wrong-side to, in full view of all her customers!
As soon as the final couple got offbirding binoculars already hanging around their necksan acne-faced kid pushed away from a rough-shingled shack on the pier and swung himself down the metal railings. “Hi! Patty asked me to grab today’s papers.” He headed aft, reappeared with two twine-tied bales, and followed the passengers up the pier, whistling.
The first golf cart pulled up, dark green with a scattering of gold script right at Courtney’s eye level: “Everything’s Prime at Prime’s Grocery!” Billy dropped an armful of plastic crates onto the cart’s back ledge, and by the time he’d stepped back onto the gangway, the pot-bellied driverthe guy who’d waved at her like she was a total idiot, for coming into the dock the most obvious wayhad turned around and headed back up the pier. Not a word had been said.
The next cart stopped inches from the end the gangway. Billy laid a hefty brown bag labeled “All Purpose Enriched Flour” gently on the back seat.
“Careful, Billy!” The woman turned, frowning. “Remember how you busted open the last bag.”
“Wasn’t me, that wasJesus!”
Billy had to jump out of the way to avoid the backing golf cart, which reversed into a tight turn and then zoomed off. At the top of the landing, it screeched left onto the main road, forcing a smaller cart to slam on its brakes and swerve onto the grass. A wimpy horn tooted.
Billy came back down the gangway, shaking his head. “Miss Barb’s even grumpier than usual today.”
Courtney pointed forward, to the bow deck full of gray cylinders. “What about all those propane tanks?”
“Grocery’ll be back to pick ‘em up.”
“And the gas cans?” Before leaving Newport, she’d walked around the ferry’s entire deck. Three red jerry jugs had been tucked almost out of sight, between the wheelhouse and the passenger area.
Blushing, Billy mumbled, “Those are for the Inn.” What could possibly be embarrassing about delivering gas?
“You always carry more cargo than passengers?”
“Spring stock-up. Just be glad you missed last Friday’s run. Irreverend’s new guinea hens squawked like a bastahd!”
Irreverend? Guinea hens?
“Billy! Where’s my contract?” a skinny blonde called, fingers drumming impatiently against the white plastic capping a nearby piling. “Fedex package? Supposed to be here yesterday. . .” Courtney smiled up at her, but the woman didn’t notice; she was too busy frowning down at her right hand, and then pulling a brown paper napkin out of her pocket. More bird shit, no doubt.
Billy stepped into the wheelhouse and came out with an overflowing mail crate. “Right on top, Miss Lizzie.” She waltzed down the gangway just far enough to grab the large envelope. “Hey, wouldja mind. . .” but the woman had already headed off again, so instead Billy held the crate out to Courtney. “Can you manage this? It’s heavyneeds to get up to the Bean.”
“The Bean?” The plastic handles were cold. She set the crate down on the deck long enough to slide her jacket cuffs over her hands.
Billy had picked up two jugs of milk from somewhere, so he raised one to point at the nearby building.
“Brenton Bean. My girlfriend’s mom owns the place. Best coffee on the island!” He seemed to be smirking, though the words were friendly enough.
“Okay. I’ll, um. . . see you for the afternoon run.”
Deck shoes squeaking, she trod up the ramp, inhaling first the sharp creosote smell of wood pier and then a far more tempting aroma: fresh-brewed coffee. Pausing to glance back at the ferry, all she could see was the top of the wheelhouse; faded blue paint, chipped life raft canister, chalky radar dome. The two-week trial she’d signed on for might be plenty, especially since the air creeping inside her jacket collar felt more like March than mid-May. You’d definitely have to be desperate to sign on for this gig year-round.
And when Mr. Wainwright called out of the blue yesterday afternoon, Courtney had been desperate with a capital D. Thirty-four, living over her parents’ garage, still working as a deckhand six months after earning her license. She’d been too excited to haggle; now she wondered if she should’ve held out for more money.
Two weeks, she reminded herself. And the hardest parther first solo runwas already behind her.
The coffee shop was only a hundred yards away, just past where wood planks ended and clamshell parking area began, but to get inside she’d have to navigate across that crowded deck. A whole island’s worth of eyes tracked her progress, and the crowd fell silent enough to hear the creak of wooden steps.
“Welcome to Brenton!” a white-haired man called, trying to swivel around enough to smile right at her. Courtney smiled back, vaguely, at that table of sixuntil she noticed the wild hair and ragged sweatshirt just to the left of the doorway. Out of uniform, face hidden behind a newspaperthe only guy sitting solo had to be Captain James Malloy.
Make friends with the old captain, her dad had said, and your life will be much, much easier.
Four steps across the deck; Courtney readied a smile for when he dropped the paper. There wasn’t room to set the heavy mail crate down on his round table, so she shifted it onto her left hip and slid her right hand out of its jacket sleeve.
“Captain Malloy?” she said, reaching around the paper. “Courtney Farris.” Captain Courtney Farris, she rememberedtoo late. Her heart was pounding.
James kept all ten fingers and both eyeballs locked on the news. All around her, she could feel the eyes on themeveryone waiting for him to respond.
“Love to pick your brain,” Courtney blundered on, bringing the mail crate back in front of her, like a forward guard. “That nun off Bird Island was a bitch to find, and they make the rocks kinda hard up this way.” She nodded at the other seat. “Got room? I’ll grab a cuppa, be right out.”
She waited. He snapped the newspaper even higher.
“Say hello at least, James!” someone called from the big table.
When one of her passengers held open the door for her, Courtney gave up and carried the mail inside. What an ass! Mr. Wainwright was rightshe’d driven her new ride right into enemy territory.