A Miracle in Far Haven
“Pulling that off will take a Christmas miracle.”
Tess Visser glanced over her shoulder at her smart-aleck son, who was pointing to the banner over the café’s kitchen window: A Christmas Miracle Fundraiser. The community fundraiser that was supposed to take place in twelve hours. Here. In her café.
Leave it to fifteen-year-old Eric to make light of the devastation confronting them. Instead of entering the through the back door, as she usually did, she'd come in from the street, intending to make it easier on Eric to clear the sidewalk. She'd flipped on the main lights, adding to the security lights that dispelled the four a.m. darkness. Two paces in, she’d stopped so suddenly, Eric plowed into her back. Toys were smashed and strewn about the café. Wind blew snow across tables through the shattered side windows.
Chairs had been smashed against tables, bending, cracking. Heart sinking, she rushed to the kitchen, again flipping on lights. More devastation there. The door of the walk-in refrigerator stood wide open. Same with the freezer. Packages of meat, fruit, vegetables had been thrown on the floor, tables, and against the walls. The waste was unimaginable.
Stunned. So stunned she couldn’t speak. Or stand. Her legs turned boneless. As she held onto the wall, she slid to the floor. Who could’ve done such a thing? Why? Who could be so angry at her? Why today of all days?
“Mom?” Eric’s panic barely penetrated the fog in her brain. “Mom?” He cried out, louder this time, as he stooped next to her.
“Problems?” A male voice came from the street door. “Good Lord, what happened here?”
That voice. She knew that voice. Even after twenty-five years, that deep baritone still made her insides quiver.
Pushing out thoughts of the man she almost ran away with, she recalled the reason she was sitting on the floor. Tess couldn’t believe the destruction. The townsfolk had trusted her with their donations. Gifts, food, everything. Destroyed.
Oh God, the donation jar. Had she emptied it last night?
“Please, mister. Help me. My mom just collapsed. She won’t talk.”
Tess saw the empty jar, or bits of it, on the floor. Money gone. As if the vandals hadn’t done enough, they took the donations.
“All right. Let me see.” A large hulk of a man stooped next to Eric. His heavy black wool coat flared out around him as he knelt on one knee. When he picked up her hand, he smelled of antiseptic. Smells from a hospital, smells of sickness and death, reminding her of her dad.
“I’m all right.” She struggled to rise, but with two men on either side of her, she had no place to go.
Before she could scramble away from them, strong arms easily lifted her up. She remembered those arms, had fantasized about them around her when she was an idiot teen. And later when she’d melted into them.
Tess edged out of his arms. “Please go away.”
“Mo-om,” Eric groaned. “He’s here to help. You fainted.”
“I did not faint.” She backed away from the one person she never thought she’d ever see again. “Go away, Gabriel Summer.” Leave me to deal with my misery alone.
“Hello to you, too, Teresa Barnes.”
“Visser,” Eric corrected him. “Her name is Tess Visser. Who are you?”
“A royal pain. Go away, Gabe. I have a mess to clean up.”
He surveyed the kitchen before turning around to look at the café itself. “Did you call 911?” he asked. When they both shook their heads, he ordered them outside. “On the sidewalk. Both of you. Then call the police.”
After hooking her arm, he frog-marched her out to the sidewalk.
“What are you doing? I—We have work to do in there.” Tess dug in her booted heels to stop his forceful action. She shouldn’t have wasted her energy. The guy she knew as a lanky nineteen-year-old had filled out into a hard- muscled man.
“Not until we know for sure nobody is still inside. Stay here. I’ll secure the premises.” He left them out there in the dark and cold. After two long strides, he turned and stared hard at her. “I mean it, Teresa. Stay out here. You—” He pointed to Eric. “Keep your mother out here.”
“Yes, sir.” Eric never responded like that. He clutched his cell phone to his ear. “Yes, Miz Rose, it’s an emergency. There’s been a break-in at Main Street Café. Okay. No. We’re outside, but this guy went in to check. I don’t know. Some guy my mom knows, Gabriel Summer.”
The dispatcher squealed so loud Tess heard it from two feet away.
“Mom, Miz Rose says he needs to get out of the building.”
At the same time, a siren blared close by. That was quick. Since the Public Safety building was only over a couple of blocks, it didn’t take long for a police car to pull alongside the snow-covered curb. Deputy Ron Dawson stretched his short legs out of the squad car, then reached inside for his hat, which he promptly seated on his head with self-importance. He hitched up his utility belt, straightened his shoulders to appear taller, and strolled up to her on the sidewalk.
Tess groaned. Deputy Dawg. Far Haven’s Barney Fife. To think she babysat him when he was a toddler.
“What have we here?” He looked around. “Dispatch said a break in?”
“Vandals. They destroyed everything.” Tess shivered in her parka, hat, and boots, her heart breaking. She’d organized the fundraiser to help the homeless in memory of her father, her predecessor as owner of the café who’d passed away last Christmas. He said those who had needed to share with those who didn’t. Each Christmas Eve, they'd closed the restaurant and cooked for the rescue mission.
“Anyone inside?” The deputy rested his hand on the butt of his weapon.
Tess returned her mind to the present. “Gabe Summer went inside to look around.”
“Summer? What’s he doing back in town?”
“Is that relevant, Deputy? Vandals tore my restaurant apart. They wrecked—” She broke off on a sob. Eric put his arm around her shoulder in an awkward hug.
“Wait here.” The deputy drew his revolver before cautiously walking into the café.
“Be careful,” she called after him. “Don’t shoot Gabe.” She might have wanted to years ago, but she’d gotten over that.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of "A Miracle in Far Haven."