Mary Feliz's Cliff Hanger: Excerpt #2

Belle takes part in an emergency rescue in this excerpt from Cliff Hanger

Belle takes part in an emergency rescue in this excerpt from Cliff Hanger

This excerpt first appeared July 19, 2019 at:


A quick look round while holding my breath confirmed my initial impression. The now-empty condo had once housed a chain smoker and a slob. Flies circled plates half-filled with food. Untended garbage pails swarmed with maggots. The stench was overwhelming. Dust covered every surface. Piles of clothes or lengths of fabric lay jumbled at one end of a grubby sofa. Packages of fiber fill spilled from a cardboard box. Styrofoam balls and safety pins mingled with dust bunnies under the coffee table.

Someone was a crafter, but this apartment was no vacation rental.

Based on the smell and my past experience, I hunted for a dead body. Relieved to discover that the flies were chowing down on a rotting hamburger, rather than a corpse, I left as quickly as I could. I sat on the steps facing the ocean, sucking in fresh salt air to clear my lungs and calm my breathing before phoning Renée.

Was this the last straw? It came close. The apartment didn’t meet expectations in any way. Not in size, location, or basic standards of cleanliness. If this dreadful condo was any indication, the rental association needed to attend a customer-service boot camp. Renée was in way over her head and the organization’s problems were more than I wanted to tackle.

I was surprised the neighbors hadn’t complained about the stench from the apartment’s rotting garbage. Or maybe other owners and visitors had protested and management had failed to respond. Renée still hadn’t phoned me back. No part of this situation made any sense, and I wondered how hard I wanted to work to untangle the mess. I had plenty of customers at home I could be working with.

I looked up and down the beach for Belle and the boys, wondering how I’d break the news to them that our summer plans had tanked.

I couldn’t spot them anywhere, but my cell phone chirped before I had a chance to wonder where they could have wandered.

Mom!” Brian yelled when I answered the phone. “Call 9-1-1. We’re okay, but this guy is in bad shape…” He wheezed, struggling for breath.

“Are you and David okay? Who’s hurt?”

“Hurt doesn’t cover it. We need an ambulance. Maybe a helicopter. It’s that guy we saw with the ultralight. He crashed.”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know any of these landmarks. We’re up in the cliffs where it’s really steep, maybe half a mile north—towards Santa Cruz from the state park.”

“Are you near a lifeguard station? What can you see?”

“Mostly ocean and strawberry fields.”

“Did you try 9-1-1?”

“Of course,” said Brian. “I had a terrible connection. You may need to call on a landline. I don’t know if I got through. There was no voice response from their end. I told them everything I could anyway, in case they could hear me.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Call for help first, Mom. This guy”—His voice broke. “He may not make it.”

Mary Feliz