Authors: Kathleen Ernst
Tags: #mystery, #chloe effelson, #murder, #Wisconsin, #light keeper, #soft-boiled, #fiction, #kathleen ernst, #ernst, #light house, #Rock Island
The Light Keeper’s Legacy
© 2012 Kathleen Ernst
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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition © 2012
E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-3539-9
Book design by Donna Burch
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
Cover illustration © Charlie Griak
Interior map by Llewellyn Art Department, based on Map of Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Parks
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For the Friends of Rock Island, and for park staff,
past and present, with admiration and gratitude.
Rock Island State Park is a real place. I’ve tried to describe the island, Pottawatomie Lighthouse, the Viking Hall and Boathouse, and the site of the former fishing village accurately. The lighthouse has been magnificently restored by the Friends of Rock Island State Park, working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. My husband and I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving as live-in docents at the lighthouse for several week-long stints. Since this is a work of fiction, however, I fabricated events to suit the story—including moving the restoration process back in time by a decade. Chloe’s experiences as guest curator are completely imaginary.
Most of the places mentioned on Washington Island are also real: The Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum, The Washington Island Farm Museum, The Washington Island Historical Archives, the Jacobsen Museum, and Nelsen’s Hall.
You can learn more, and plan your own trip, by visiting these websites:
Rock Island State Park:
Friends of Rock Island State Park:
Washington Island Visitors’ Guide:
You can also find photos, a tour guide, and maps of relevant places on my website: www.kathleenernst.com
“This trip of yours
bad idea,” Roelke said soberly.
Chloe Ellefson sighed. “You sound as if I’m disappearing into some trackless wilderness. Rock Island is a state park, for God’s sake.” They stood in her driveway. She’d already locked the old farmhouse she rented.
“An island with no roads. No houses. With Labor Day past, there might not be anyone in the campground.”
“That seems unlikely,” Chloe said, with sincere regret. She picked up her backpack and stowed it in her Pinto. “Now that school’s started, I imagine that lots of people who like peace and quiet are heading out for excursions.”
“Weather on Lake Michigan can turn nasty with very little warning.”
Chloe removed the tent pole she used to hold the Pinto’s hatch open. It slammed closed. “I know that. Remember, I’ve got a nice old lighthouse to sleep in.”
He leaned against her car and folded his arms. “A lighthouse without electricity or heat or running water—”
“Geez Louise, Roelke, I’m not a child!” Chloe frowned at him,
trying to stifle her exasperation. Roelke McKenna was a cop. She kne
w he had good reason to anticipate trouble anytime, anywhere. Still. “Look, you’ve only known me for a few months, but I’ve done a lot
of camping. In all kinds of weather, and in places a lot more remote
than Rock Island. I’ll be fine.
don’t go all Neanderthal about this.”
“Are you sure this isn’t going to get you in trouble at work?”
A sensitive question. Chloe busied herself by re-tying the ribbon on the end of her long blonde braid. She’d only been collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, the state’s largest historic site, since June. Her relationship with site director Ralph Petty might euphemistically be called “strained.” “I am still on probation,” she acknowledged. “But the request for research assistance came from another state agency, so I’m officially on loan. I get to be guest curator at a lighthouse! It’s a real honor.”
“What about Olympia?”
An even more sensitive question. Chloe kept her back to the house, afraid she’d see her kitten at the window with a frantic
Please don’t leave me!
expression. “Dellyn is looking after her.” Dellyn, a good friend, had jumped at the chance.
“Well, I got you something.” Roelke fetched a book from his truck. “This one just came out. It is sort of a cop book, but the main character is a woman.”
Chloe accepted the gift:
A Is For Alibi,
by Sue Grafton. “Thank
you, Roelke. That was thoughtful. Just the thing for quiet evenings.”
“Anyway.” He looked away. “I wish I could go with you. I wouldn’t mind a little R and R. There’s no way I can ask for vacation, though.” After four years of part-time status, Roelke had only recently been awarded a permanent position with the Village of Eagle Police Department.
“I’ll only be gone for a week, Roelke.”
Roelke tapped the heel of one hiking boot against the toe of the other. “Here’s the thing. I feel like we’re treading water. We can try being friends, or we can try going out. But I need to know which it’s going to be.”
It’s a reasonable request, Chloe thought, even as she struggled with a flash of panic. “We’ll talk when I get back, OK? I promise.” She slapped her palms against her jeans. Time to get moving.
Roelke straightened and stepped behind her. Chloe hesitated before letting him pull her against his chest. They were about the same height, but somehow her head nestled perfectly against his shoulder. She had no idea if she and Roelke had any kind of future. But she had to admit, they fit well together.
Before she could get too comfortable, she pulled from his arms. “I’ve got two ferries to catch,” she reminded him.
“Call me when you get home?”
“I will.” She watched as he walked back to his pickup truck. He was off-duty today, wearing faded jeans and a snug blue T-shirt.
In his own uptight way, Roelke McKenna was a good-looking guy.
Chloe turned away and got into her car. Thoughts like that were exactly why she needed to get on the road.
Ragna Anderson had not
expected to quickly become one of the best net makers on Rock Island, but to her surprise, she had. Everyone said so. She needed only three days to make a gillnet, five feet by one hundred twenty. She charged a dollar each and no one complained.
“A thing of beauty,” Anders declared each time she handed him
a new net, whole and perfect. She learned how to pack a net too, floats
on one side and weights on the other so they’d flow smoothly from their wooden boxes when he set them. The nets came back torn and fouled with lake weeds, algae, bark from the lumber drives, clinkers tossed from passing steamships. She found blood spots on the mesh as well—perhaps from struggling whitefish, perhaps from Anders’ wet and cold-cracked hands.
Back in Denmark, Anders had grown wheat and potatoes, and she had excelled at
—needle lace. When Anders took cartloads of produce to sell in the busy market near Copenhagen’s harbor, she brought table linens and handkerchiefs, folded into muslin to keep them clean. Her lace sometimes graced wedding dresses and baptismal gowns. Her handiwork had made people happy.
Anders had not expected to be happy in their new home, but to
surprise, he was. He took joy from being on the water and satisfaction from each lift. Ragna took pleasure in knowing that she and Anders had survived the journey and settled here in Wisconsin. They would work hard here, put down new roots. Their children would never go hungry or whimper from want of a warm blanket. Usually such thoughts were enough.
Sometimes, though, as twine unspooled from her netting needle and her fingers danced among the mesh, all she saw was inevitable death.