Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books


Swimming Alone

by Nina Mansfield

"Swimming Alone by Nina MansfieldThe Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending the summer with her aunt (who happens to be mystery writer Roberta McCabe.) Although thrilled to be away from her psychotic, divorcing parents, with no cell phone or internet access, Cathy is positive that her summer is going to be wretched. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes. When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question: has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?






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Chapter One

The Sea Side Strangler Strikes Again!


Leave it to my mentally unstable, common sense impaired parents to ship me off to the only town in America with an active serial killer on the loose. I could so easily have the life squeezed out of me by some deranged killer. Now that would be the ultimate revenge. I mean, talk about a guilt trip—not that I’d be alive to benefit from it. And quite frankly, I’d prefer to die peacefully, in my sleep, at the age of one hundred and eight, thank you very much.

But seriously, what kind of psychos send their only daughter, their bundle of joy, the light of their lives away to a town where dead bodies keep washing up on shore? My parents, that’s who—all so they could strangle each other without having to worry about me getting in the way. Not literally, just legally. You know—the “d” word: Divorce. The week before they shipped me off, Mommy dearest smashed one-half of the Tiffany china when she found a foreign thong in Daddy’s glove compartment. Now the lawyers are trying to figure out whose half she smashed. (I’d find the questionable thong far more intriguing if I wasn’t totally skeeved.) These are the atrocities they are trying to shield me from.

Serial killers weren’t exactly on their radar when they decided to ship me off.

This particular serial killer wasn’t on my radar either until I saw the headline splashed across the front page of the Beach Point Gazette.

Beach Point, Rhode Island. My current abode. On my own? No such luck. I’m fifteen, but my parents still think I’m five and need a babysitter. I’m staying with my Aunt Bobbie. You might know her as Roberta McCabe, mystery writer extraordinaire. Yeah—that Roberta McCabe. She decided to rent a bungalow this summer here in Beach Point—lock herself in to complete her current masterpiece. I know what you’re thinking—bungalow, beach, mystery writer. Cool, right? Except, there’s a catch.

No TV. No internet. Landline long since disconnected. My only beacon to the world beyond: Aunt Bobbie’s cell phone, which is A) hers, and B) usually off and in her purse and not loaned out to her niece. That would be me—teen girl. Stranded. Cell phoneless. (Long story. There was a toilet involved.) I’m jonesing for a text. I can literally feel my thumb muscles atrophying.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I’ve been forced to find a job. What is the point of spending my summer by the beach if I actually have to work?

The rationale behind this inhumane treatment: “So you stay out of Aunt Bobbie’s hair.” She made it sound like Aunt Bobbie would spontaneously combust if I interrupted her flow of creative juices. But a job? Thanks a lot, Mom. Turns out all the good jobs in Beach Point were already taken. I tried the Smoothie Shop. The Taco Shack. The skeevey guy at the Speedy Link Internet Café wouldn’t even stoop to look at me. He was too busy drooling over his computer monitor. Can we say porn much? (And yeah, who knew internet cafés still existed. I guess it stuck around for all those people who thought they could unplug for the summer, and then realized they couldn’t.)

That’s how I ended up at Ocean View Books one lovely June morning, staring at the aforementioned headline and a picture of a bright-eyed brunette who had apparently washed ashore just days before. The caption read: “Pauline Krystal, 19, Rhode Island State University freshman found dead last Thursday.”

Last Thursday I’d been arguing with my parents. “What do you mean you won’t get me a new cell phone?” I had figured divide and conquer would work. It didn’t. One too many lost or damaged cell phones apparently. The ’rents wanted me to learn some responsibility. And when I had a job (they reasoned independently of each other), I could afford to buy my own.

“But...but...” The whining hadn’t worked. Neither had the stomping to my room and the dramatic slamming of my door. Staring at the newspaper though, I felt lucky...lucky to be alive. Breathing. Not front-page news, gory details of my demise entrancing total strangers. And I was entranced. So entranced I didn’t hear her.

“Can I help you?” I finally heard her say. It must have been her third time or something. She seemed annoyed.

I looked up at a freckle-faced girl who was forcing her lips to curl into a smile and raising her eyebrows as if to say, what’s your problem? The freaky thing was she looked remarkably like the girl in the picture, sans cap and gown and cheesy senior photo smile. For a moment, I thought I was staring at a ghost.

“I know, the resemblance is uncanny.” She sighed, like she’d already heard it a million times. “Is there something I can help you with?”

She seemed peeved with my presence. I was going to have to get on her good side fast. “Um, yes, actually...” Total brain freeze. I stalled for time, setting the newspaper back on the rack. She began to straighten it.

“Sorry,” I muttered. She ignored me. I tried to Zen out. Deep breathing. Unfreeze my brain. But now the girl was just ignoring me, so like some un-socialized primate, I stared at the back of her head.

“Look, I know I look like her, but I’m not Pauline Krystal,” she spat when she finally turned around.

“No, it’s not that...I saw the sign in your window. I’m looking for a job,” I managed to blurt out, terrified I’d fail to make meaningful contact.

The girl let out a snort and then a smile—kind of devious—the way Mr. Grady, my history teacher, used to do right before he gave us a pop quiz. “You want a job here? Why?”

“Well, I like books.” Wow, that sounded lame.

“Good answer.” She batted the sarcasm in my direction with her too-long lashes.

“No, really, I do.” I was beginning to sound desperate. Who was I kidding? I was desperate.

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.”

“So, there’ve been a lot of applicants?”

“” Smirk. Squint. Bitch or cool, I couldn’t decide. “Here, fill this out.” She pulled out a clipboard with an application from behind the counter.

It looked just like the last three I’d filled out right before being told, “We’ll keep this on file in case anything opens up.” I was seriously beginning to develop a callus from all this unnecessary writing.

“You guys are actually hiring, aren’t you?” I asked. I wanted to be sure this time.

Sigh. Nod. “Yeah, we are.”

Made me wonder if they were replacing someone.

I borrowed a pen that was practically dead. I scribbled it back to life in the margins. I parked myself outside on a bench and began to fill in my life story:

Name:  Catherine (call me Cathy—let’s leave out the middle name) Banks. (Used to be Bankovsky, but it got shortened way back when on Ellis Island.)

Date of Birth:  Gemini. Old enough to have a job.

Address:  Upstate New York, but currently, somewhere off of Broad Street in Beach Point, Rhode Island.

Former Employer: None. (I’m 15!)

School/Degree:  Just finished the 9th grade.

Why would you like to work at Ocean View Books?  Mom and Dad told me to get a job this summer. Why they care what I do when they aren’t around, who knows. Oh, and the only other place I’ve spotted with a help wanted sign is a burger joint, and I’m a vegan (except for ice cream).

Favorite Author:  Well that’s easy—my aunt!

Availability:  Unfortunately, totally open.

I think you’re intelligent enough to figure out that isn’t what I really wrote, but you get the picture. All those impersonal blanks, and they were going to decide my fate for the summer. Seemed unfair. And then I thought of Pauline Krystal again, and I decided to cease and desist with the negativity. At least I could apply for a job, even if the rejection was starting to get to me.

When I’d dotted my last “i,” and crossed my last “t,” I handed the clipboard back to that girl, who stood with this condescending look frozen on her face—like she was the queen of books and I was just some peon who didn’t stand a chance in hell of getting hired.

“Hi, Catherine. I’m Lauren. Lauren Spade.” She extended her hand and...was that a smile I detected?

“You can call me Cathy.”

She gave me a once over before slipping into the back room, leaving me by my lonesome to check out the store. There wasn’t much to check out. It looked like a bookstore. Rows of books, displays in front, the notorious magazine and newspaper rack off to the side. It had this nautical color scheme going—blue and white with a splash of pale yellow. Exactly what you’d expect from a beachside bookstore. The place was small, not like those mammoth chains. Homey, clean, air-conditioned. If I had to work, I figured this place wasn’t the worst place in the world to slave away.

Lauren returned empty-handed. “Mr. Hopper will be right out.” At this point, she had turned on her customer service personality, which I chalked up to the impending appearance of her boss.

We stood there for a moment, waiting. I wondered if I should say something, and what I should do with my hands.

Lauren broke the awkward silence. “My birthday is in May, too.”

My first thought: she’s psychic. She was infiltrating my mind using the top-secret knowledge she’d acquired as a sleeper cell agent for some international terrorist organization. Either that or she wasn’t entirely human and possessed all sorts of powers I would never fully comprehend. She was actually waiting for me to read her mind but realized I was just another pathetic human—OK, I’ll admit it now. I have a slightly overactive imagination at times. It usually helps make life a little more interesting—but then I figured out the mundane reality, which, to anyone but me, would probably have been pretty obvious:  She’d read my job application.

“And I noticed Roberta McCabe is your favorite author.”

“Actually, she’s my aunt.”

“No way! I loved The Private Lives of Serial Killers.”

“You read it?” The true extent of my aunt’s fame never ceased to amaze me.

“Yeah. I mean, there’s something about serial killers—crime in general. You wonder why people do it, what motivates them to kill.” Her eyes blazed, like someone had lit a match inside them.

“I know what you mean.” The truth of the matter is, murder is one of the few things that keeps my attention these days. I’ve read every FBI profiler book out there—and of course, all of my aunt’s mayhem-inspired fiction. But Lauren actually seemed more into it than me, if that was possible, which was either cool or freaky. I couldn’t decide.

“Your aunt—is she working on a new book?”

“She always is.”

“What about?”

That, I didn’t know. I never knew. Aunt Bobbie never divulged the details of her handiwork until she’d printed out the last page, so to speak. “Couldn’t tell ya,” I said to Lauren, then added, “She keeps it secret,” so she wouldn’t think I was being a bitch. “I’m staying with her this summer, and I honestly haven’t the foggiest idea what she’s writing about. She thinks it’s bad luck to reveal even the tiniest detail, like it will spin her into serious writer’s block.”

“No way! Roberta McCabe is in Beach Point this summer?” For a second, I thought Lauren was going to hyperventilate. I imagined a brief, yet disturbing, vision of her face turning blue. But she contained herself and continued. “Well, she’s come to the right place if she’s writing about another serial killer.”

Before I had the chance to respond, Arnie Hopper slithered onto the scene.