The Cane's Inlet Mystery
A secret rocks Noah Sanders' life, sending him back to a coastal town he never knew, one in which he may have been stolen from.
In a tiny Adirondack village, a secret is about to be exposed. Noah Sanders learns from his mother - on her deathbed - that he is not who he thought. Suddenly, the unassuming Noah finds his entire life called into question, and only he can separate the truth from the lies.
He'd been given one clue: his real name. But what is the reason for his abduction from the family he should have known. The coastal paradise called Cane's Inlet is where Noah finds himself, trying to keep a low profile as he quietly begins his investigation. But Demetri, a sexy diner owner, catches his attention almost immediately, as does the local police chief when Noah stumbles across a corpse on the beach.
Cane's Inlet is known for its sunny shores, the lush waves of the ocean. But a deeper mystery lies beneath the surface, and Noah is the unwitting key to unraveling a long-held truth. Insinuating himself into the ways of the locals, Noah learns of the feud between the founding family, the Canes, and to the rich newcomers, the Hatchers. With no one to trust, Noah tries to fight his attraction to Demetri, all while desperately trying to keep secret his reason for coming to town.
SCANDALOUS LIES is the first part in a trilogy that will lay bare stories of the past, and in the end, no one will escape the web of deceit that has defined Cane's Inlet for more than one hundred years. Scandalous, sinister, suspicious, the Cane's Inlet Mystery is a tour-de-force tale of two families, one secret, and, ultimately, one man's discovery of his own true self.
The room was dark, outside moonlight drawing shadows across their faces.
She spoke, not easily. "You are not who you think you are. You are not my son."
"No, my love. To you, I am only Barbara, and soon, I will be gone."
Her words penetrated through the cold that already pervaded the small bedroom. Why had he allowed her to return here to her home when what she needed was a hospital, where professionals dedicated their days to saving lives. Except deep down he knew there was nothing anyone could do for her. His mother was not long for this world. His mother...his rock, his lifeline, the only family he'd even known. And now, here she was, lying in bed, weakened, sweat beading on her brow and a nervous tic affecting her face, spewing fiction. He blinked, trying to imagine himself anywhere else. Because nothing she said was making any sense.
"You're talking crazy. You raised me."
She garnered enough strength to lift her thin arm. Her hand grazed his cheek, long enough to make him smile. Like she had done his entire life, more when he was a child and she would read him a story before bedtime. With this gentle touch, she kept alive their familial connection. One she was now, inexplicably, denying. Her hand fell to the bed, a sigh of exhaustion escaping her lips. The brutal cancer was eating at her, devouring her with each passing minute, determined to win. She knew it would and he, sadly, knew it would, too. The morphine drip at the side of her bed, the one inserted into her arm, was doing its best to ease the pain of her fruitless battle. He gently took hold of her hand. Her fingers weren't strong enough to return the grip.
"You were my angel, the one who gave me the reason to live. Now it's my turn to give you back the life you should have had," she said between breaths.
"I have a life already. I'm your son. Noah. Noah Sanders."
Barbara Sanders, with her thinning scalp of gray wiry hair, shook her head, her effort the last bit of energy she could muster. "How I wish in my heart that was true. There are things you don't know. Terrible things, my beautiful boy."
Noah was no boy, not any longer. He was twenty-seven. Five feet ten, with thick brown hair and a dark shadow of beard that his mother had told him reminded her of the man she'd loved. Not his father, she never phrased it that way. Sometimes her fiancÃ©; they'd never had the chance to marry. Noah scratched at his chin, the touch making him think of last night when someone else had done that. A man.
He had stroked his face, enjoyed the stubble, and said so. Not love, it hadn't been a romantic date in the conventional sense, just a hook-up. One Noah needed. A release. As well as a confirmation of who he truly was. A gay man. It had taken so much for him to admit it all these years. It's funny how life works, he thought, here he was now at his mother's side on what was surely her deathbed, ready to confess his truth about last night when she one-upped him. Suddenly it didn't matter that he was gay or that he'd never confessed his sexuality to her. If what she was saying was truth, his entire identity was called into question, sexual and familial. To hell with the fact he liked men. He wasn't her son. He felt that chill again.
"Why is this window open? It's January...it's freezing outside," he asked.
"I like it. I always enjoyed winter. The falling snow. The comfort of blankets."
While Barbara feebly grabbed at the thick blanket atop her, Noah guiltily stole a look out the window. It wasn't snowing tonight, and instead he was presented with just bitter cold. The high temperature today had been ten degrees, the night colder, perhaps the worst day of the year so far. Cold enough to claim her. But the harsh weather wasn't unusual in the upper regions of New York State this time of year. There were several inches of hard-packed snow already on the ground from the most recent storm to pass through.
As far as Noah knew, he'd lived his entire life in White Pine, found deep in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. He was born here, went to school, had his higher education of maybe being a lawyer cut short when his mother grew sick. She'd lasted a cruel eight years of highs and lows, spending them in and out of hospitals, enduring chemotherapy, radiation, surviving but barely living, until they had reached this inevitable moment. Not once had she ever indicated that they were anything other than mother and son. The two of them, together against the world. There was no getting around the fact that he'd be on his own soon. No father, no siblings. Not even a grandparent. It was one of the reasons he'd impulsively given in to sex last night while she was in wasting away in the hospital. As though he was looking for something from the future. He'd never been alone before.
"Mother, I think you should just rest."
She started to laugh, which turned into a phlegm-filled cough. "Oh, my boy. I will. Soon."
He squeezed her hand. "So enough of this nonsense."
"It's not nonsense. You must listen to me. I did a horrible thing. A selfish thing."
He wanted to quiet her, to ease her pain. Except he knew, deep in his core, she was telling the truth. And she needed to speak her mind, to release the demons of her life before she passed to another world. Trying to calm the growing fears within him, he sat on the edge of the bed, deciding to no longer interrupt her with words meant to soothe. The only thing that would bring her comfort now was, first, to unburden herself, and second, to die.
"Noah...how I always loved that name. A man who saved the planet, bringing aboard the animals two-by-two, ensuring a continuation of all species. Call it a fairy tale, a myth, or religious truth, it always spoke to my heart. The idea of twos, even of twins. Back when I was pregnant, how I wished the doctor would have told me I would be having twins. It wasn't to be."
"No, you just had me. The two of us."
"Stop," she said, finally bringing voice to what she'd been holding back. "I stole you."
The chilling words sunk deep within his soul. But they felt uncomfortable, wrong. Like the cancer that lived inside his mother now invaded him. He wished to take back this entire evening. From when he arrived at the home he'd always known as a child, the only place he had ever felt at peace. Taking her home this morning, getting her settled with the aid of a duty nurse. What he'd done last night...staying until the wee hours of the morning and indulging a desire that should have gone ignored. It should never have happened. He didn't realize the end was this close...or perhaps he had known, and it was why he'd gone for such an affirmation of life He stared now at the only person who'd ever truly known him. She was speaking awful words. Were they honest ones?
"Stole? How is that possible?"
"They were terrible people. They didn't deserve you. I took you. To live a life of honor."
It was an ironic twist of words. How did one live an honorable life based on a lie?
"Noah, my sweet. Just listen. What they did...how they lived, it was wrong. So wrong."
"Who? Who are they?"
"I can't say."
"You have to. If I have another family...my God, my whole life, it's a lie."
"Except for the fact I loved you. From the moment you were born."
"What are you saying?"
"I took you from the nursery. You were there not a day. We disappeared into the night."
Noah tried to process her words, yet none of them made sense. Had he been just a newborn and been taken from his crib? What was his mother's relationship to this phantom family? A caretaker, a nanny? Hired to protect, only to steal? His mind reeled, wondering where tomorrow would take him. There was little denying it, she was dying. Right now, in front of him.
"You filled my life with light, with love. You and me...just us."
He swallowed hard. Emotion rising within him. Thinking of the wild story she'd told him of his father. An experienced hiker, he'd challenged the mighty Adirondacks often, except on one day when the mountain range won. He'd fallen. Died instantly. She'd been four months pregnant, a month away from their wedding went the tragic story. Now, if what she was revealing was truth, then his father had not been Edward Miller, the man who was buried in the graveyard behind St. Agnes's Church. How could she have pulled off such a scam to fake out her son, not to mention the entire town? But those mysteries would have to wait. For now, Noah set his eyes upon the woman he'd always thought had given birth to him. She was weak, the light beginning to dim from her eyes.
"Mother, who am I?"
She paused, as though trying to fight the words within her. They won out. She said, "Your name is Stephen."
Stephen. It felt so wrong, too plain. Lacking that strong biblical connection his mother so believed in. He didn't like the way it sounded in his mind, nor did he wish to speak its bitter sound on his tongue. He liked Noah. He was Noah. He recalled the sound of his name when the man last night had cried it out during orgasm. Life made no sense at the moment, because he had no sense of self, of purpose. He was at this woman's bedside, trying to ease her transition into a new world, one of peace and acceptance, yet she was leaving him rocked by supposed truths and hidden lies. He turned away, doing his best to fight the stinging tears welling up. But tears for what? For her, for him, for what he'd had, or for what might have been? For what he'd been denied?
"Stephen who?" he finally asked.
"Promise me, Noah. Promise me you will not seek them out. It will only lead to danger."
"I knew, from the moment I saw you, that you were special. Meant for bigger things."
"I've done none of that. I'm just me. An average guy, a line cook. Just going through the motion of life." He paused, his inner thoughts turned into verbal admittance. "If I was meant for something great, you have to tell me. Mother...Barbara...who am I? What was I born into? Who named me Stephen?"
There was an escape of breath from the woman in the bed. It was clear she hadn't long in this life. She should have been transferred to hospice. To ease her pain during her final days, on a life of lies she'd only just confessed to today. But not confessed enough, Noah thought. So many of her days, of his, were a mystery, soon to die on the lips of the only person who had stood by him through twenty-seven of them. All of them now called into question.
"I love you," he suddenly said. He kissed her cheek, let their touch linger.
"Oh, my boy. You filled my heart with so much. I have no regrets. You deserved better."
"Better than what?" Even he heard the begging in his voice.
"Better than them, the Hatchers." She paused, sought a breath that wouldn't come to her. A shock to her system had her body bolt upright. "They are evil."
Evil was the last word that Barbara Sanders would utter, the last word that Noah Sanders would ever hear from her. It was a shocking moment he couldn't absorb, cradling her even though she'd already gone. He allowed the tears to stream down his cheeks. He didn't bother to wipe them away. He wanted them; welcomed the emotion behind him. Her passing had happened with such silence, almost like the transition from one world to the next was as easy as the day turning into night. Noah dropped his head, still holding the hand of the only mother he'd known.
Except welling inside him was another truth. Somewhere out there, he had another mother. His biological one.
Could it be true? And if so, why had Barbara Sanders taken him from them? Did they still miss him? Had there been an investigation? So many questions, so many unknown truths, and not an answer to be found among them. None would be forthcoming from the quiet soul laid out before him. She was at rest, perhaps at peace, now that she'd unburdened herself on her deathbed. She'd known what fate awaited her.
For the man known as Noah Sanders, his own fate was still unknown, unwritten.
He would pay tribute to the only mother he'd known, lay her beside the grave of the man she had claimed was his father. Even in death, still living a lie. And afterwards he would begin the process of unearthing the story of his own past; he had to, didn't he? There had to be a reason his mother had finally revealed his identity. Not just because with her death he'd be alone. Had she known, too, about his sexuality? Feared he would end up alone? Conflicted, as he'd been for most of his adult life? But looking beyond these issues, he'd learned he had a family out there. Barbara never spoke his full name. Stephen, she'd uttered. Then the Hatcher family, she'd said, a decided edge to her dying voice.
Which he assumed meant his real name was Stephen Hatcher.
Even in his heart, the name sounded hollow. Who was he? Who were these Hatchers?
He closed her eyes, closed his, too. He prayed for her soul. And for his.
Then Noah Sanders shut the window, perhaps in doing so on his own life, his old life. The cold had grown so invasive. He wished for time to stand still, or reverse itself. But there was no stopping the arrival of tomorrow, or any of its unknowns.
Six weeks since she'd left him. Six week of agonizing over what to do.
He'd decided to become a man of action. A new Noah, set for change.
He was leaving.
After enduring another brutally cold winter in the Adirondack region, it was a shame he wouldn't get to enjoy the lush scenery that came with summer's arrival, its golden sun and the swimming hole that was so much of his childhood. But just as nature was readying to spring back to life, Noah Sanders felt as though he, too, were dying inside, metaphorically set to join his now-departed mother, who had died with mysteries on her lips, perhaps lies, more probably those awful truths she spoke of. Fact of the matter was, he wanted to know--he needed to know--exactly who he was. A man named Noah, or an infant named Stephen.
At last, he'd finally made plans to leave, and tomorrow was the day he'd chosen to launch this crazy adventure. It's when everything would change. He was uncertain when, or even if, he would ever return to the only home he'd ever known, or remembered. Admitting to the only truth that existed: White Pine held nothing for him anymore. A town full of people, none of whom knew the torment that rocked him.
It's not that he was leaving all that much behind, an empty house and an even emptier heart. The latter would accompany him on his journey, seeking to be filled. He had to ask himself if that was why he'd decided to go out on the town, such as the nightlife was in White Pine, on this final night. Did he seek something--or someone--who would allow him to bury his pain for a couple of hours? The last time he'd indulged his own desires had been six weeks ago, the night before his mother passed. He wondered if he would run into that magnetic, sexy man again. He supposed he was hoping yes. Why else would he be returning to the scene of where they met, a dive bar in the center of town?
Sally's Dive was a popular watering hole for many of the village's residents, in particular with the men of the White Pine Fire Department, whose red-brick firehouse was around the corner. Some of the men had reputations for being quite randy, something Noah could attest to. If the man he'd met, a hunky beast named Joey Silva, fought fires with the same intensity he fucked, then the citizens were in good hands. Noah almost swooned at the thought of being with Joey again. It had been a memorable night. He could deal with another, just one last night, before he hit the road for an adventure into an unknown past that may just be littered with fictions. He still couldn't wrap his mind around why his mother would tell him such a tall tale, or at such a time, when taking her last breaths. But didn't religion dictate you confess your sins before going to the Lord?
At the moment, his sin was desire.
And it was with such a hyped-up determination that he opened the wooden door to Sally's and entered a dimly lit bar that reeked of stale beer and a musky, manly scent. Perhaps it was sweat off the bodies of the construction workers sidled up at the bar, sipping at bottles while their yellow hardhats kept them company. A couple of people turned to see who had arrived, turned back with disinterest at the sight of Noah. Hardly a regular patron, so most people here wouldn't know him. The flood of light he'd allowed in dissipated as the door closed. He ambled over to the bar, asked for a draft.
"Got a favorite?" asked Sally, long-time proprietor of the bar, ever since a factory accident had ended her assembly-line profession and given her a nice payday. She walked with a permanent limp because of the accident.
"What do you recommend?" Noah asked.
She grabbed a tab that said Saranac, filled a pint glass. "I think you'll like this. Four bucks."
Noah dug out a ten and handed it over. He left a dollar tip from the change, and then took up a seat at the end of the long bar, away from some of the big men. A couple of young guys were already grizzled looking, stubble and thick arms in contrast to the lines on their faces. They could be thirty, forty, hard lives blurring the years. They couldn't be less interested in Noah, and he with them. So, he sent his wandering gaze around the rest of the bar. It wasn't very crowded, just after seven o'clock on this Thursday night in early March. The time between the end of happy hour and the start of a night of a partying. He considered this wasn't such a good idea. Had he come here just hoping for a random hook-up? Not like White Pine had its own gay bar, so you just had to take a chance here, catch someone's eye, hope they spoke your language.
It wasn't like Noah was unattractive, far from it. He was often told how cute he was, which to him sounded like he was about to be patted on the head like a puppy, not pounded in the ass. He had a nice body, slim, like a runner, dark brown hair that was easily styled into the latest fashion. He'd had it cut just today in anticipation of presenting himself in a new town, perhaps a new and unfamiliar family. He caught himself in the mirror behind the bar. He supposed cute was the right word after all, his boyish looks belying his twenty-eight years. He'd just celebrated a birthday. Spent it alone, in fact, which had been the final factor in his decision to seek out a new truth. He wasn't getting any younger, was he? Rubbing his freshly shaven cheek, he wondered what type of man he'd attract, if any, here.
"A friend was asking about you, just the other day."
Noah looked up to see Sally loitering behind the bar. "Um, me? I'm sure you're mistaken."
"I knew your mother, sorry to hear of Barb's passing. You're Noah."
"Thank you for your kind words. I miss her."
"The next one is on me. And who knows, maybe the third will be on Joey."
Sally smirked when Noah felt his face turn red. "Now I know you have the wrong guy."
"It's okay, kid, lot of stuff happens at Sally's, and none goes beyond the walls. No one here cares who you sleep with. Hell, Sally's has been responsible for some lasting relationships being formed here, not just one-nighters, you know. Though I caution you, Joey's not the settling down type. He arrived from neighboring Honor Hills with more than a bit of a reputation, and he wasn't shy about claiming his conquests." She paused, checking her watch. "But if that's your type, you may be in luck tonight. Tonight's Thursday, his usual night off. It's possible he'll be making an appearance." She offered up a sweet, knowing smile, touched his hand. "Buck up, kid, life's gonna get better."
"How do you know I'm..."
"What do they say, bartenders are like psychiatrists. We read moods."
Noah went back to his beer, his mind both heeding her words about Joey and wishing the man would walk through that door right now. He stole a few looks at the entrance, which remained closed. No one entered for about fifteen minutes and by then he'd finished his first and Sally had replaced his empty with a buyback.
As he took a sip, Noah grabbed for his iPhone and went to the maps app, where he typed in the name of a town. Not the first time he'd done so in the past week. The GPS recalibrated, and soon he was looking at a grid of the Township of Cane's Inlet, situated on a barrier peninsula on New Jersey's north coast. He'd never been down that neck of the woods before, so his adventure would be one of discovery, not just of his past but of a region of the world he'd never given a thought to. He'd vowed to travel there, but it was once he stepped foot on its sandy shore that his future remained elusive. Secrets were what defined his life now. Until only a week ago, he'd been a mild-mannered line cook at Shiner's Diner over on Main Street, thinking he could one day be a chef. His dreams extended only to the unachievable, like that sexy guy who had popped through White Pine a couple weeks ago. A detective from New York, Noah would have welcomed a chance to be with him. But he'd left abruptly and it wasn't his nature to go chasing after anyone. Because Noah rarely ventured beyond the borders of White Pine. An ailing mother had also come with its responsibilities, which meant his fantasies were often on hold.
But now he was freed from the shackles of duty, also of being the man he'd always thought he needed to be. Now he could do what he wanted, go wherever he wanted, and it was Cane's Inlet calling to him. Forced upon him. A dormant inner determination had now found its way to the surface, like an angry wave finally making it to the shore, crashing in a foamy rush. Only one word had kept his decision to go to Cane's Inlet at bay: evil.
Was Barbara's proclamation a dramatic exaggeration? Or reality? Just what had she meant by evil? So far he'd held off researching this so-called Hatcher family beyond knowing their location. His only clue for where they were from were memories of his mother and her childhood spent in New Jersey, days she rarely spoke of. The details were too much to absorb, all while the mother he'd believed to be his flesh and blood settled into her permanent resting place. Cleaning out the house had taken precedence for the past month. As though his birthday last week had come with a forced deadline. So focused on his issue was he, he failed to see the man take up a seat next to him.
"This stool taken?"
Noah noticed, standing over him, a hulking gift of sex and heat. The very man he'd met so many weeks ago. Assistant Fire Chief Joey Silva, his heavily bearded face as unmistakable as the allure in his brown eyes. He was dressed casually, just a pair of jeans and a gray V-neck shirt that revealed tufts of dark chest hair poking out from underneath. Noah felt his hand grow shaky, nerves winning out. He set down his glass to avoid any kind of spill. Too bad, the beer would have helped his suddenly dry throat.
"Oh, uh, hi."
"Noah, right? How's it going?"
"You remember my name?"
He smiled. "I kind of said it a lot that night."
Noah nodded. "Nice to see you again, Joey."
"Ah, so you remember mine, huh?"
"As you said, I said it a lot."
"More like cried it," Joey Silva said. "Buy you a drink? Here, or elsewhere?"
Noah didn't immediately answer the invitation. He wondered what it was like to own such confidence, that within seconds of seeing someone he could proposition them so casually. Like he knew the answer before even posing the question. The heat pulsing off his body a language all its own. Noah could smell the scent of burned wood on the man, as though his life as a firefighter was so ingrained in him he breathed it. A willing wooziness settled over Noah, perhaps from the two beers, probably because what he'd come here for would be reality if only he said yes.
"A drink, yes. Anything else, I don't think I'm really up for it."
The words surprised him even as he spoke them aloud.
He saw the surprise on Joey's face and thought the man was about to ditch him. A man like him, he wasn't one for challenges, for games. Yet he sat down on the stool next to him anyway, signaled to Sally for two, and moments later Noah had his third beer and Joey his first. Noah looked over at the man, at his thick forearms covered with dark hair. He felt a stirring within him, suppressed it with a sip of his beer.
"It's not you, Joey...I mean, definitely not," he finally said. "I'm just going through stuff. In fact, I'm leaving White Pine. Tomorrow."
"And yet tonight you're here, rather than packing?"
"I don't have that much to pack, really. It's a personal issue, kind of distracting me now."
"So let me distract you from your distraction. Give you a proper send off. Wherever you're off to, I doubt their firefighters are as...accommodating." Joey knocked his knee against Noah's, left it linger, the intent clear. A connection re-established.
Noah's eyes flashed with sudden heat. His loins battled his common sense.
"Finish up, we can head over to the motel next door. You remember that, right?"
Hell, Noah remembered everything about that night. The man's kisses, his touch, the way he'd spread him open when entering him. As he'd thrust at him. The fieriness, the furriness, all of it building up inside Noah until his body arched with desire, with release. How they had lain there in the dark, catching their breath before doing it again. They had, three times, a memorable night of mind-blowing sex that had awakened Noah to a different way of thinking about himself. That maybe one day he could be forceful in life, in love, and in bed. This upcoming journey of his, it was all about discovery. Why not begin his adventure with a literal bang?
"Okay," he said.
Joey's grin widened as his fingers scraped against his thick beard. Noah's eyes darted down and he could see the growing bulge in the man's pants, a sizable one. That much he remembered, too; the biggest one he'd ever seen, much less had.
"I'm gonna finish my beer, you go first. Room 10." He slid over a key.
"You had this already set up?" Noah said.
Another grin, this one devilishly wide. "It was gonna be someone. Glad it's you. You had a certain...innocence to you. Meant you were open to ideas."
Noah finished his beer, got up and walked out of the bar and into the mid-March air. The sky was darkening, and not just from the night but from storm clouds rumbling in. He thought he heard a crack of thunder and figured that rain was coming. Was that a metaphor for his life? Was he flying into a storm, or taking it by storm? Joey Silva would soon take charge of him, but maybe, just maybe, he might find the energy, the drive, to control certain matters. Tonight, and into the future. If not, this entire trip into the unknown existence of Cane's Inlet could expose, rather than a newfound aggression, his usual passive impotence.
Impotence. A strange word to cross his mind considering his cock was rock hard and ready to unleash a goodbye to White Pine with one last blast of satisfaction.