Storm Warning

Storm Warning

by David Bell
Storm Warning

Storm Warning

by David Bell

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Overview

A man living on a Florida barrier island must protect his family from both an approaching hurricane and a relentless killer.

Jake Powell is racing to get off the island as a powerful hurricane approaches. When he finds his best friend Dallas, the building manager, dead from a blow to the skull, Jake realizes there’s more than the storm to fear. There’s a murderer on the island, maybe even still inside the nearly abandoned building.

Dallas had repeatedly run afoul of the wealthy owners of the building by complaining about code violations and the precarious state of the condos. But he’d also once told Jake that every resident had a secret they’d come to Florida to escape. Had one of them killed to conceal their sins? As a dozen people shelter together in hopes of surviving the deadly hurricane, a second murder makes it all too clear: one of them is a dangerous killer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593549995
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/25/2024
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 35,781
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

David Bell is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple languages. He’s currently a professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Read an Excerpt

One

5:14 p.m.

Rain smacks my windshield.

The wipers fight a losing battle. The Elantra's on its last legs, and there's so much water it's almost impossible to see the nearly one thousand feet of causeway ahead of me. Waves pound either side of this narrow link between the mainland and Ketchum Island, sending foamy water sloshing across two lanes of pavement. Constructed of dirt and boulders built up and reinforced over the years. Foot-high guardrails offer only a hint of protection to drivers. The water on the road isn't too deep.

Yet.

I left work early to beat the storm, but I'm barely going to make it back to the island. Even from here, I can see the scattered lights burning in my building. We still have power.

For now.

"Hang on a little longer." I'm talking to myself, and the words help calm my nerves.

The wind whips the car, makes it wobble. The newscaster on the radio provides a grim update: Hurricane Kylie could soon be upgraded to a Category Three storm. It's bearing down on the east coast of the state and is expected to make landfall in the next few hours.

"Slow down, Kylie," I say out loud. "Slow down."

She was supposed to go up the Gulf side of the state, leave us alone. But Kylie has a mind of her own. She's already a bit of an outlier-a strong early-November storm, arriving when the season is supposed to be winding down. Now she's made a sudden right turn, cut across the bottom of Florida, and turned north. She's lashing the Atlantic coast, gathering strength, leaving me almost no time to pack and get out before she makes landfall.

The car slams into a pothole, bounces across the pavement like it's a trampoline.

"Shit."

My teeth clap together so hard I wonder if I chipped one. But I keep driving, hands gripping the wheel so tight they hurt.

The sky is almost pure black, the color of charcoal. It's only just past sunset, but there's no light at all. The sun's gone dark. It's a scene straight out of a postapocalyptic movie.

A gust of wind shoves the car suddenly to the left. I lose control. The Elantra careens toward the guardrail. I fight as hard as I can, steering into the wind and righting course just before I'd go over the side of the causeway and plummet into the water below.

"Shit."

My heart pounds in my ears. The air-conditioning blasts, but I'm sweating like a pig.

I reach the far side of the causeway. The island is a narrow spit of land. Fifty years earlier, a developer planted his flag, cleared the land, forcibly removed the alligators and deer, drained the swamp, and erected three large apartment buildings.

Fifty years ago, this place was a dream. A paradise.

Now . . . well . . .

The apartment buildings on Ketchum Island have run their course, spent too many days withering in the relentless Florida sun and fighting the unforgiving winds of hurricane season. It's gotten so bad that all three buildings are scheduled to be demolished within six months.

The palm trees bend one way and then another, nearly kissing the roadway. Garbage blows across the slick, sodden grass. I guide the car right, to the place where I've been living the past six months, the ridiculously named Sunset Manor. I pull into the parking garage underneath the building. The rain stops pounding me, and I ease into my designated spot.

Not that it matters. Only ten units remain occupied in this, the last operational building on the island, and there was plenty of parking even before Kylie set her sights on us.

I step out of the car. My shoe sinks into two inches of water, soaking my foot to the skin. Water backs up out of the storm drains, flooding the parking garage like an oil gusher.

"Lovely."

I splash through the water, rushing for the stairs, while running through my to-do list in my head.

Grab my shit.

Say good-bye to Dallas.

Check on Hazel.

Get the hell out.

Hope like hell the causeway holds.

Pray the cops haven't blocked the roads on the other side (even though I don't pray).

If I make it that far-and that's a big if-find something to eat. Fast food. A Coke. It's a long drive back to Ohio. I'll need to stay awake.

Keep moving . . .

I just need enough time to get out.

Get out. Get home. Start over.

Again.

My building-building C-rises ten stories in the air above the parking garage. There are ten units on each level. Each floor is circled by an external walkway. Three sets of stairs, exposed to the elements, rise to the top, on both ends and in the middle. The slow-moving elevator reeks of burning oil and breaks down every other day.

I don't like elevators in the best of circumstances. No way I'm trying my luck in that thing with a hurricane bearing down on us.

My shoes squish on the exposed stairs. At the landing on the second floor, I come to an abrupt stop.

Dallas' door is slightly ajar. Rain blows against me, soaking my clothes. I hear the waves on the other side of the building crashing against the island like god-sized cymbals.

I knock below the sign that says Manager. But there's no way anyone could hear me over the wind, the waves, the rain.

"Yo, Dallas. You still here?"

His apartment is spare. Secondhand furniture, nothing on the walls. It's also neat as a pin. Dallas Bryant knows how to take care of things. He's the only one keeping Sunset Manor standing. I don't know how he does it.

"Dallas?"

He comes out of the bedroom. When he sees me, he stops. Surprise appears on his face. "Well, holy fuck. Why are you still here, Jake?"

He wears cargo pants and a Bears T-shirt. Chicago-his hometown. Still hasn't lost the accent.

"I need to grab my shit."

"I figured you'd be long gone. Barreling up the turnpike for Ohio."

"I know, I know."

"Have you been listening to the news? Storm's getting worse. What on earth could be so important that you'd risk your hide for it?"

"Just things."

"Shit." Dallas studies me. He's fifty-five, my best friend in Florida. Maybe my best friend in the whole world. Okay, he's more like a big brother than a friend. Or maybe both. We've spent many an evening together in the six months I've been in the Sunshine State trying to reassess my life and figure out what comes next.

He reaches up, adjusts his paint-splattered cap. "What things?"

"You know, clothes and shit."

"I told you I'd look after Hazel. I've been doing it since long before you got here."

"I need my toothbrush too."

"Really?"

"Are you going to make me say it?"

"I am." He laughs a little. "Go on."

"Okay, dumbass. I came back, you know, to say good-bye."

He laughs louder. "How bad is it out there? Really."

"It's bad. Getting worse."

"The causeway?"

"Hanging in. But getting hammered."

"One beer," he says, turning to go to the refrigerator. This is what we do. Drink Jai Alai and watch the Marlins play. "Your last beer as an estranged husband before you return to the land of domestic bliss."

I look outside. The wind slows. A break. Kylie's taking a deep breath before she delivers the knockout blow. Well, maybe she won't be that bad.

Dallas turns around, two bottles in his hands. "Ready?"

"Okay, one last beer before I go."

Two

The beer's cold in my hand.

We clink bottles and drink. The liquid feels great going down. A pleasant burn. I'm hungry-but there's no time to eat.

I wish Dallas and I could sit on the landing one more time. Watch the sunset. Talk about the past, the present, the future, the what-ifs. But my life is calling me.

Home.

Family.

A chance to fix the past.

I can see our house in Ohio shimmering like an oasis. The red brick and black shutters. Jordan's garden. Mackenzie doing her homework, headphones tuning out the world. My endless list of household projects . . .

Dallas will have his hands full through the night, keeping an eye on the building and its few remaining tenants.

"We're in the crosshairs," Dallas says. "Sitting ducks. I thought with it being November we could breathe easy. But not these days, with the weather the way it is . . ." Dallas looks past me. The rain continues to hit the walkway, splashing right up to his open door. "Well, hell." He takes a long drink.

"I know you won't listen, but I still think you should get out of here. Tonight."

"No, no-"

"Seriously, listen to me. What have you been telling me since the day I showed up here?"

"I told you to figure things out with Jordan and get back to Ohio. To let the past be the past and make a new future together."

"Okay, yes, you told me that. But-"

"And you're doing it, right? You listened to your uncle Dallas. You always said you're never sure when to stay and when to go. That you don't trust your own instincts."

"I don't."

"Does anybody?"

"I don't know."

"Trust me. They don't. But I know-you need to go home. Now is the time." Something flickers across his face-a thought? A memory? "You know, a person's lucky to have a place to go, especially with the holidays coming up. That's where you need to be. With your family."

He holds his bottle out. I have no choice but to clink it again.

Dallas has mentioned-obliquely-having been married once. A daughter he's lost touch with. Grandchildren he's never met.

I can't imagine. My deepest fear would be to never see my family again. It's the stuff of nightmares.

"Okay, Uncle Dallas, I'll go. But what about you? This place?" I gesture to the walls behind us. "You keep saying the building's in shit shape. They've already boarded up and condemned the other two. You said, if a hurricane ever really came through here-"

"If a hurricane ever really came through here and hit us directly, this place might not be standing when it's over. I did say that. Many times. And this one that's about to land . . . Well, shit."

"So get the hell out of here. Tonight. Ride off the island with me. I'll drop you wherever you want to go. Hell, come to Ohio for a while."

Dallas smiles. He takes a long drink and sits in an overstuffed recliner. "We've got-what?-ten units still occupied here, including yours?"

"That's right."

"And who are our fellow tenants? What's their status in life?"

"You know as well as I do." I scan the list in my head. It's an eclectic collection, typical of Florida. Some retirees, some transplants. A married couple down on their luck, a woman in her early twenties with no savings to speak of, a man hobbled by a workplace injury. An elderly curmudgeon, a shut-in, and a quiet middle-aged guy I can't figure out. We're an island of misplaced people. They don't have anywhere else to go. That's why they're hanging on here, in a building that's crumbling around us and slated to be razed. "Everyone still living in this place is only here because they've got no other choice."

He half shrugs, as if the implication of what I'm saying is obvious. It is. I know exactly what he's thinking, but he says it anyway. "Who's going to look out for them if I leave? That's my job."

"But that's not-"

"Even before this hurricane was coming for us, they needed to vacate. The building's being blown up in a few months. To make way for-what's it called? Banyan Tree Villas? Or is it Stingray Suites?"

"Atlantic Estates."

"Atlantic Estates. How could I forget? Luxury condos starting in the fifteens." He points at me. "That's at least one and a half million. And that's where the price starts. If you want cabinets or light switches, you're going to spend more. You know as well as I do, the people who live here can't afford that. They've all been handed bad breaks they can't get out from under."

"And then there's Hazel."

"Hazel." Dallas scratches his head. "What is she? Ninety?"

"Ninety-one."

"Wow."

"Exactly." And then I say what he's already thinking. "With nowhere to go."

"And now this hurricane has turned our way."

The wind picks up, blows rain in the front door. As if to support what Dallas has been saying, the building makes a low groaning sound.

"Shit," I say. "Still . . . outside of the wind, this storm seems kind of quiet."

"Hurricanes don't produce much thunder or lightning." Dallas gestures toward the door. "Close that, why don't you? I want to tell you something."

I do what he asks, shutting the storm out. For now.

I remain standing. I'm going to be sitting a long time once I get into the car. I'm not stopping until I see Jordan and Mackenzie again.

"I am leaving," Dallas says.

"Great. Glad to hear it."

"After the storm. As soon as it's over. I told you about the job my sister mentioned in Chicago? The one downtown?"

"It came through?"

He nods. "It did."

"Holy shit, that's great."

"No more lizards. No more humidity," Dallas says. "I'm heading up there after Thanksgiving. The building in Chicago is in great shape. And I'll be closer to my sister and her kids. I don't have any other family, you know? I mean-family I talk to. It'll be nice. I kind of miss the snow. And the changing leaves. And a Chicago summer." He lets out a laugh. "All two weeks of it." He takes another drink, emptying his bottle.

"Well, holy shit. I never thought you'd go. I never thought you'd actually make the move."

"I have some surprises left in this middle-aged body." He puts the empty down and holds up his index finger. "And I have one more surprise for you." He stands and leaves the room.

As soon as he's gone, the building groans again.

I put my bottle to my mouth and throw back the rest of my beer.

Three

Dallas holds a light blue half sheet of paper when he returns. A key fob dangles from his other hand.

"Here." He holds the paper out to me. "This is for you."

The paper has a decorative border and there's the faint image of a seal in the middle.

"What's this?"

"Take it."

I run my eyes over the document. "I can't take this."

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