Retired U.S. Marshal Dean Honeybone, his life-partner Jean-Luc, and their daughter Kaia have started a new life in Austin, TX. Jean-Luc has taken over a restaurant and has hired their neighbor, Manda-Jane Witten, as part of his kitchen staff.
Dean, Jean-Luc, Kaia, and even their dog Michael have come to adore Manda-Jane and her husband, Parker. During violent storms that shake Texas, Dean learns that Manda-Jane is deathly afraid of water, and when the couple’s home is flooded, Manda-Jane and Parker come to stay chez Honeybone, which serves to deepen the bond between the two families.
But when a mysterious cousin of Parker’s namded Ronnie arrives to help the Wittens repair their home, Dean becomes suspicious of him, convinced the guy has done serious prison time. Though Ronnie soon returns to his home in Birmingham, strange things start happening over at the Witten home.
And then the couple disappears.
Dean becomes worried for their safety and teams up with an active U.S. Marshal to track them down. Kaia, however, seems to think he’s too late. She keeps saying they’re gone and that Dean has to listen to the song “I Love You, Goodbye” to understand the reason why...
It was eight o’clock that bizarre Wednesday night, and the damned tornado alarm kept ringing every fifteen minutes, driving me nuts. It had a piercing, aggressive sound that tore right through a person’s brain, and since the city of Austin, Texas, had activated the alarm, it couldn’t be lowered in volume or switched off. I didn’t need the constant reminder that we were in a state of emergency. My husband was out there in the ferocious storm, and it seemed to me the alarm rings were getting closer, as though Mother Nature was about to give birth and her water would break everywhere.
“Daddy,” my daughter Kaia announced from the safety of our living room windows, “There’s a river on our street.”
I rushed over and looked, and in the half hour since we’d last checked, the water was about to swamp all our front lawns. It was moving fast and had risen as high as the curbs. Suddenly, a dog came streaming past, looking panicked as it tried to paddle out of the current and onto our lawn. I opened the door instinctively and ran for the stranded animal, but his owner ran past me, sloshing through the torrent.
“I got him,” he shouted above the deafening noise of wind and rain. “I got him.” at the end of our block he grabbed the dog and hauled him to the sodden lawn of somebody else’s home. I turned to check on Michael, but our family dog was inside, glued to the front window with Kaia, watching me with huge, frightened eyes. Something made me turn back to the street and I stared at the house right opposite. Manda-Jane Witten seemed to be home alone. She kept pacing, then peering through the window. Didn’t look like her husband, Parker, was home. It was still light in spite of the time but the dark clouds and torrential rain seemed Biblical. The summer storm felt like some sort of cosmic revenge. For two days it had raged across Texas, and I suspected Manda-Jane was petrified.
I might have been a retired U.S. Marshal, but my instincts were still sharp. I was certain she was alone and scared. I suddenly remembered Parker led a teen youth meeting at our local church on Wednesday nights, and Jean-Luc had insisted on going out to his restaurant on South Congress Avenue to make sure his questionable roof hadn’t caved in. We’d had a big fight about him going. I’d wanted him home where he was safe. He wanted to go and promised he’d come right back.
“I’ve put everything into this restaurant, Dean,” he’d reminded me. I wanted to go with him, me and Kaia. He went crazy and made me promise I’d stay home. And wait.
Across the road, Manda-Jane seemed to be going a bit nuts herself. We’d only known her and Parker a couple of months but we already adored them, and Manda-Jane was Jean-Luc’s newest employee. I rifled through my phone for her number, moving under cover of the porch as a fresh downpour began.
She moved away from the windows and picked up after a few rings. “Hello?” She sounded panicked.
“Manda-Jane, it’s me, Dean Honeybone. I just want to check on you. Are you okay?”
She came back to the window and stared at me as she spoke into the phone. “Yes,” she said, then burst into tears. “I’m so scared! I’m afraid of water. I can’t swim and... and water’s everywhere. It’s coming round the side entrance and through the backdoor. I’m gonna drown!”
“You’re not going to drown,” I soothed, making a mental checklist of the sandbags Jean-Luc and I had stored in the garage in preparation for disaster. I was pretty sure Parker had some, too. “I’m coming to get you,” I said. “Grab what you need. Any medications, your cell phone and charger. Come over here and stay with Kaia. I’ll secure your house.”
She just stood there, phone in hand, and looked out at me, her expression bleak.
“Come on, sweetie, don’t freak out on me now. It’s going to be okay.”
She must have been in shock.
“Move!” I barked. Being a parent’s supposed to teach you patience, but not me. I’m still a curmudgeon.
She sprang into action. I went inside our house and told Kaia what was going on. I felt so bad that her first week of summer vacation had turned out like this. “I’m going to get Miss Manda-Jane—Jean-Luc and I had taught her to address all adults as Miss or Mr. Whatever.” My daughter looked impressed.
“Wow, Daddy. You’re so cool!”
I gave her a hug and said, “Stay right here. I’m going over to get her. You can watch from the windows, but don’t come outside, okay?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. And neither will Michael. He hates getting his feet wet.”
“Okay, baby girl.” I knew it was true and that Kaia would never leave him home alone. My sweet little twelve-year-old and her trusty sidekick watched as I went out front again, closing the door behind me.
I cursed the moment I agreed to Jean-Luc’s suggestion that we seize the opportunity to move from Europe to the forward-thinking city of Austin. He felt he could make his dreams come true here and build the perfect life for our daughter. I could just see it all vanishing before our eyes.
The rain hadn’t come over the curb yet, thank God. I ran across the river, surprised at how frigid the water was. Manda-Jane cowered inside her house, huddled by the window. She was in tears as I led her outside. I’d forgotten about an umbrella, not that one would do us much good in these conditions.
The rain stopped. It had been like this for two days. Deluges followed by long dry spells, but the torrents were getting worse. I led her as gently across the road as I could.