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Broken seashells

Previously: Paisley, rosemary, and time

The best time to search for seashells is after a big storm, after torrential winds and surging waves churn up debris from the ocean floor. Whole shells and a myriad of fragments littered the beach, scattered over the sand like so much discarded chaff.

Paisley and Jane walked along the wet sand. The little girl and her protector were alone on the beach, save for a few hungry seagulls and two finicky pipers fighting over coquina clams at the water’s edge.

Despite the late season, a warm Indian Summer had settled in and Paisley and Jane were still in shorts. Jane carried their shoes and Paisley was in charge of shell collecting.

The handle of a colorful plastic bucket hooked over her arm, Paisley occasionally stopped to pick up another conch or scallop for her growing assortment. The girl’s constant stream of consciousness monologue was more than a child’s imaginative chattering. Jane was listening for clues to what happened to the girl’s parents.

Jane, a social worker assigned to Paisley after her parents were murdered, was working closely with Det. Sean Webster to help solve the brutal crime. Paisley had been asleep in the next room when the crime occurred.

So intent on finding more shells, Paisley and Jane didn’t notice Boris as he approached them from the opposite end of the beach. He looked out-of-place in his suit, pants rolled up to his knees, jacket slung over one arm, and dress shoes held in the other.

Boris slowed his walk, watching his quarry. The crashing ocean waves and cawing seagulls drowned out any conversation between Paisley and Jane. It didn’t matter, he was intent on only making himself known to Jane and to remind Paisley of their previous meeting.

He was almost upon them when Jane looked up, startled at his nearness.

“I apologize,” he said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Jane instinctively put herself between Paisley and Boris.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I just didn’t expect to see anyone else out today.”

Paisley peeked out from behind Jane, nervous at seeing a stranger. Boris smiled at the girl, wiggling his fingers in an awkward wave.

Stepping around Jane, Paisley held up her bucket.

“We’re hunting for seashells,” she said, proudly showing off her discoveries.

Shifting his coat to his other arm, Boris poked a finger into Paisley’s bucket, stirring up the small shells.

“That’s a lot of pretty shells,” he said. “Can I add one to your bucket?”

Paisley looked expectantly at Jane.

“I guess it’s okay,” Jane said, keeping Paisley close.

Boris rummaged in his pants pocket, drawing out a small, battered conch shell, and dropped it into Paisley’s bucket.

“Happy hunting,” Boris said walking away.

“Thank you,” Paisley shouted after him, taking Jane’s hand.

“That was nice,” Jane said, watching behind them as Boris moved farther down the beach.

“Oh!” Paisley suddenly stopped, pulling away from Jane.

“What’s wrong sweetie,” Jane knelt to speak to Paisley.

“I remember now,” the girl said.

“What do you remember?”

“That man,” Paisley pointed at the dwindling Boris.

“What about him?’ Jane felt the hair on her arms tingle.

“He was the man who made me the paper bird,” Paisley said. “That night before mommy and daddy…. “

Before Paisley could say anything else, Jane was calling Det. Webster.

“Sean, meet me at Crystal Beach pavilion,” Jane said, trying to keep her voice even. “Paisley is with me. I know what your suspect looks like, I can give you a description.”

Jane took Paisley’s bucket so they could walk faster, switching her phone to her other hand.

“I know,” Jane said, as she and Paisley reached the boardwalk leading to the pavilion, “because we just met him here on the beach.”

Inspiration: “Ralph lifted the conch and peered into the gloom.”

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