Big Sky Siren, first chapter


Keeva Ryan dropped her forehead on the palms of her hands. She knew her friend meant well, but after a long day of work, her back ached and her feet felt like someone had put hot coals in her shoes. She wanted a hot bath, not a night out.
“Keeva, come on, everyone is meeting at Rick’s Bar for a drink. You are being such a stick in the mud.” Lucy stood, one hand hanging on to her shouldered purse, the other holding the rear door of the kitchen open.
Keeva raised her head from her hands, trying not to convey her frustration. “I’m not being a stick in the mud. I have a business to look after and things to finish up here.”
She thought of the long list in front of her and the hours it would take to get through it. She searched Lucy’s eyes, all she could read was concern. “You go and have fun. I’ll go along another night,” she tried softening her tone.
Lucy’s gaze shifted to the floor, disappointment evident in the shaking of her head. She pursed her lips before looking back at Keeva, “That’s what you said last time everyone went out.”
Keeva knew her life had become tedious, even boring, but she had a business to run. Trying to find patience she didn’t feel, she closed her eyes and began counting to ten.
The old wooden screen door of Keeva’s Cyber Café slammed, and Keeva jumped, her shoulders wincing up while her hands smacked down on the tall, wooden work table. “Damn it.” Walking to the now empty doorway, she closed the heavy inner door.
A pain began behind her left eye; the beginnings of a headache she knew would exacerbate the stress of the upcoming work. Lucy, her best friend and manager of Keeva’s Cyber Café, deserved to hear the truth about finances, but Keeva could not think of a good reason they both needed the burden. She sighed, staring at the inventory, mentally adding the supplies she needed and weighing the total against the bank account balance. Her shoulders slumped. A night on the town would worsen her predicament.
Three hours later, Keeva shut off the computer. Having walked to work, she dreaded the walk home. She didn’t worry about crime in the small city of Helena, MT, but her tired fatigued muscles already protested from the effort of standing, never mind walking two miles.
She stretched and spied the window seat overflowing with plump cushions, telling herself a few minutes rest wouldn’t hurt. Wrapping one of her grandmother’s quilts around her shoulders, she snuggled into the cushioned seat.
As the tranquility of early sleep enveloped her, a loud thud shocked her awake. Bolting upright, she blinked to ward off confusion. She listened but didn’t hear anything now. What could it have been? The old building had many creaks and groans, but Keeva was sure the sound she had heard had been louder than the normal settling of aging trusses.
Not sure where the sound had come from, she checked the upper floor. Nothing looked out of place. She wondered if the noise had come from downstairs. Stepping off the steps into the dining room, the slap of cold air startled her. Had the furnace gone out again? The hall light cast eerie shadows over the unlit room, but provided enough illumination she could see everything in the dining room looked untouched.
Maybe an employee had come back. “Lucy, is that you?” she spoke to the kitchen door. Not getting a response, she moved closer to the door. Still unsure of the noise, she called, “Tighe?” She wondered if the night baker had come in on time, instead of his usual late arrival.
Entering the kitchen, she flicked the light switch. A blazing white glare from the industrial light blinded her. As her eyes adjusted, she saw the back door standing wide open and hoped the thump she had heard had been the door blowing open. She remembered shutting it earlier but on most days she never bothered locking the door from the inside. There had never been a need to. Perhaps the wind had blown it open again. One night last week she’d found the door open, and she’d attributed it to a cold north wind. Casting a glance out the kitchen’s lone window, the tree branches remained unmoving. Moving to close the door, she spotted the tall baker’s rack, pushed over and the pans it had held scattered on the floor.
She froze. She was unable to move them as the realization someone had entered the café sunk in. But why would someone break into the cafe?
She recalled the cash she kept in the safe. Keeva gulped, unable to take a breath. If someone took the cash, it would mean the end of her business. Every penny she’d inherited had gone into purchasing and remodeling the café. She couldn’t lose it now. A tightening in her stomach rose like a serpent and constricted her throat. Tears pushed at her eyes at the thought of losing everything she cherished.
She ran up the stairs and slid to her knees in front of the safe. It looked locked. Feeling a small thread of relief, her trembling fingers fumbled over the round knob. She heard the click, but hesitated before opening the small door. Seeing the envelope, she grasped it and clutched it tight to her chest.
Her relief was short lived at the recollection of the scene downstairs. Someone had entered the café and brought renewed concern. Maybe it had been some teenagers playing around or someone looking to get out of the cold. Neither scenario made sense to her. She often worked late and the night baker came in at midnight, the surrounding buildings were all nine to five so they would be empty at night. Why would someone come into the occupied café rather than one of the unoccupied buildings?
She pulled the utilitarian pocketknife from her pocket, flicked it open and secured the lock. The small blade wouldn’t cause much damage, but it gave her a sense of security as she moved through the building rechecking the locks. By the time she stepped back into the kitchen the temperature had dropped. She rushed to the door and closed it with a slam, locking the handle and deadbolt.
Nausea rolled in her stomach. She would have to report it to the police. She didn’t want to make an issue of it, but she had to report it. If the intruder had stolen something, and she didn’t report it, the insurance company would question her lack of action.
As she dialed the number, a sharp high pitched, female scream from the vicinity of the alley across the street pierced her ears. She jumped. “What the hell?”

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