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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2273950
A detective finds his paradise to be more than he bargained for.

Patrick/Safe Harbor 22

S. Patrick McCully about 4200 words

6210 Teresa Ln

Rowlett, TX 75089



Welcome to Safe Harbor

By Stephen Patrick

"Welcome to Safe Harbor: The Safest Place On Earth." The flyer for the floating resort made a bold promise,

all in bright yellow print. I was heading to my first vacation in nearly twenty years and every investigative instinct I had told me that I was far from home.

The flyer promised safety and comfort in a completely controlled environment, hidden away from the troubles of the world. The Safe Harbor folks were equally committed to staying out of the normal tourist circles. I never even found a website, just the laminated flyer that came with my ticket. That sort of privacy and security meant a lot for someone trying to get away from it all.

Before I ever picked up a badge, two tours with the U.S. Rangers and another with a Spec Ops Task Force had given me a perspective on safety and security. Human beings, though, particularly drug-addled ones, have a way of challenging your perspectives on the world. It started with a kid in an ugly yellow sweater climbing the steps of the Texas State Capitol. I thought he was just a tweaker, maybe a low-grade protestor, until he pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under that sweater and pulled the trigger. I took the blast square, then put him down before he could fire again. They dug five pellets out of me, three more from my ballistic vest, and pried one from the center of my badge. I met the governor and shook a lot of hands before they sent me home to Dallas to recover.

Despite the surgeries, the muscle spasms in my arm continued and the scars still itched whenever I wore a tight shirt. The shakes made it hard to hold or aim my pistol and I was warned that it might be time to retire.

I was too young to hang it up, though. Being a cop was who I was. The worst part was the tiny tickle in my mind, the clock ticking away and stealing my borrowed time.

The Safe Harbor ticket had shown up as a surprise on my desk, addressed to me with all bills paid. The boys on the Task Force said the ticket was probably a gift from an anonymous supporter, someone with money to "back the blue". When we got married, Charlene and I loved planning vacations, but we never actually went. I never felt safe in strange places, and she never wanted to spend too much money on ourselves. Even after the cancer took her, it never seemed right to go alone.

The directions led me to Galveston and to the edge of an isolated pier. There were no signs or banners or anything and I was about to leave when I saw a white double-decker boat sailing in. It was a 60-footer, with seating and viewing platforms on both decks. Every seat was empty and tinted windows covered the cabin. A muted horn announced its arrival as it coasted to a stop at the end of the pier.

A woman in a blue pantsuit stepped from the cabin onto the pier. She looped a rope line around a bare wooden post to hold the ship close to the pier. The tag on her jacket read "Frances".

"Detective Princett," she began. "I apologize for the sparse directions, but discretion is a key piece of our services. I will be your guide and concierge. Consider it my job to keep you happy."

She turned toward the boat, but stopped and held out her hand. "I'm sorry, Detective, but we do not allow weapons onto Safe Harbor. I must insist you leave your sidearm behind. It is a cornerstone of our safety plan."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I left my gun locked up in my truck. I'm on vacation, you know."

"That's good to know."

I hated to lie, but I stopped short of telling her about the one tucked inside my boot. It wasn't much compared to my duty weapon, but the shakes had made my aim a bit wonky. Besides, the five rounds were mostly for close-up, just enough in a pinch. Rules are rules, but I wasn't about to give up everything to this strange woman.

Frances led me to the aft benches and sat across from me. "Det. Princett, privacy is important to us. It is unlikely that you will see anyone but me for your entire time at the resort."


The brainchild of self-described techno-security savant Dr. Michael Niraj, the island resort sat southeast of Houston, beyond the deep-water platforms pumping oil back to the mainland. Accessible only by a two-hour boat ride from Galveston and three-times the size of a cruise ship, the half-mile-wide artificial island offered oceanside views in every direction and was wrapped by a walking deck that offered pristine views of sunset and sunrise.

After the boat docked at the floating oasis, Frances led me down a metal gangway and onto the island. There were no other boats or even sounds beyond the dull roar of water lapping at the edges. There were no smells of people anywhere, no cigarettes or B.O. or even the hint of food wafting by, only Frances' faint perfume and the salty sea air.

With Frances leading the way, the metal pier gave way to the wooden planks of the boardwalk that wound around the island. The interior of Safe Harbor looked more like a small town than an artificial island. The wooden planks transitioned to cobblestone sidewalks that snaked in front of souvenir stands, sea outfitters, and a bizarre combination of curio shops. All of them had "open" signs to invite folks in, but I did not see another soul.

Frances caught me peeking and pointed to some black domes on the sides of the buildings. "You shouldn't notice it very often, but everything is monitored here. Dr. Niraj designed all of the systems to work together seamlessly: cameras, scanners, sensors, analytics and AI; everything to make sure you are safe and able to enjoy your time away from the world. Your safety is our biggest concern."

In the center of the island, a futuristic white tower awaited. It stood four stories high, with six buildings jutting out like a star from a central tower.

Frances led me to my room, a balcony room that faced the east. Despite the pitch-perfect exterior, the furnishings were spartan, the opposite of the luxury I had expected. The floor and all four walls were plain white and there were no windows. Matching white furniture added to the cold, sterile feel.

I snuck a look at my watch and realized that Texas was playing Baylor, a game I'd normally watch back home. Oddly, there was not a TV anywhere in the room. Frances waved for me again, ushering me to a hard, metallic chair against one wall that faced a blank white wall. I took a seat, surprised at the comfort as the hard surface seemed to crush beneath me, forming a cushion of tiny spheres that cradled my body like a baby in a mother's arms. I waited for an explanation, some reply to my astonishment, but Frances was gone, leaving me alone in the white room.

"Any chance there's a place to catch the game around here?" I called out, speaking to no one in particular.

The wall in front of me shimmered, revealing a floor-to-ceiling bank of high-definition images. The white wall was replaced with an oversized view of the game, somehow clearer than being in the stadium. A digital scroll bar appeared on the armrest of my chair, crawling with the scores of basketball games that had already been played and updating me on how terrible I had picked my brackets. It even gave projections, with second-by-second updates based on the health of the coaches, the physical conditions of the court, weather at the arena, and even the current study habits of the athletic trainers.

It was an overwhelming amount of data. I started to laugh, imagining who this was built for, when the wall to my left blinked to life, displaying a TV interview with Elmore Leonard, a trio of ready-to-play selections from my DVR back home, and two documentaries that I'd been putting off watching for too long.

To my right, a coffee table I had not noticed before held a ceramic coffee mug. I grabbed it and took a sip, finding it already sweetened to my taste and bearing the perfect flavor of the boutique coffee Charlene had ordered for me that one time in San Francisco. I was never afraid to drink coffee deep into the day, but I had come to Safe Harbor to relax, which might require something a bit stiffer.

Before I could process that thought, the wall in front of me blinked and changed to a map of Safe Harbor, including the boardwalk that followed the waterfront around everything and the tower where I was sitting. A small ant-trail of red footsteps spread across the wall, showing a path from my room to a bar called "Center Point." A promotional ad appeared in the corner of the screen, with men with perfect teeth reveling in their "discriminating tastes" while buxom women hovered around them.


Before leaving, I checked around for any prying eyes or cameras. I ducked behind the door, just in case,hugging it close to hide any prying eyes and pulled the gun from my boot, readjusting the holster and tucking it into my waistband. The map had seemed easy enough to follow, but red footprints appeared on the floor, guiding me like breadcrumbs to the bar.


The building was bathed in green neon, like a dive bar from a detective movie. I slipped through the front doors, flinching as the bell above the door announced my entrance with a shrill "ding". The bar was deserted, so it thankfully alerted no one. I found a stool at the far end of the bar which gave me a perfect view of the place.

A casual glance showed the bar to be a bit too perfect. I smiled at Dr. Niraj's attempt at recreating a suitable bar, but it lacked the ruggedness and lived-in feel of my favorite places back home. I checked my watch again. 6 pm was not too early to start drinking, even if I was alone. Besides, I was on vacation.

There was no bartender behind the bar, though. Even worse, there were no flirty waitresses making the rounds. I scanned the shelves behind the bar to sort out my options. When I turned back, I noticed the leather seats had visible tears and the tables were now well-worn with names carved into the top. The scent of cigar smoke and cheap perfume wafted by, and I noticed the bar beneath my arms was cracked and charred with cigarette burns and coated in thick layers of varnish.

Despite my unease at the new setting, the place seemed familiar. I knew that a drink would seal the deal. Nothing pedestrian, though, I wanted the good stuff: Pappy Van Winkle, neat-no ice. I'd had one in Vegas once, courtesy of a training assignment. Ready to order, I spun back around to face the bar and found a small glass in front of me, filled with a brown liquid. Behind it was a bottle of Pappy's, unsealed. I checked the room for the bartender or the owner of the bottle, but I was still alone.

What the hell, I thought. I deserved an indulgence, so I lifted the glass and took a sip. It was perfect, even the perfect temperature, just a tad cooler than the bar. The perfection made it easy to forget the mainland and almost enough to forget the dull ache in my shoulder.

"Enjoying your little escape from the real world?"

I turned to see Frances sitting three stools down from me, stirring a tall drink with a paper umbrella. Her pantsuit had been replaced by a red strapless dress. My left thumb unconsciously ran across the familiar surface of my gold wedding band.

Frances ran her finger around the rim of her glass. "We all need to escape sometimes." Her lithe arm grabbed a red purse from the bar, and she slipped the strap over her shoulder. She turned and walked toward the door, her heels clicking against the worn wooden floor. At the door, she made a quick turn back, just to catch my eye before she slinked out onto the street.

I craned my neck to keep her in sight through the green-hued front window. When that vantage point failed me, I decided it was time to go. I checked for the bartender to settle my tab, but the bar was still empty. I grabbed a pair of twenties from my wallet and slapped them on the bar.

I was on the street in seconds, but it was already deserted. There were no footsteps or voices, nothing beyond the breath heaving in my chest.

A scream tore through the silence, coming from an alley beside the bar. Two decades of police work meant my body was moving before I could think. I turned the corner and into a thick cloud of smoke. Stepping cautiously, I squinted through the cloudy darkness until it cleared enough for me to see a large man in a black overcoat. He was standing over Frances with his right hand wrapped around her throat. A thin trickle of blood seeped through his fingers. I stayed in the shadows and shortened my steps, moving deliberately as I drew my back-up from my waist.

I did not want to give a warning, but my footsteps creaked against the wooden boardwalk. The man turned, his eyes wide, bloodshot, and raging. A jagged blade in his left hand dripped with fresh blood.

I drew my pistol and tried to level the sights on the man. My arm shook wildly, and I fought with my body like a fisherman trying to land a marlin in rough seas.

The man looked down at Frances and then raised the knife over his head. The blade gleamed in the dim light as he turned the sharp edge down toward her.

My first shot struck the man in the left shoulder, sending a spray of blood against the wall behind him. As the man spun, he released her and her limp body fell to the wooden planks. His hand glistened with her blood as he turned toward me.

My arm was on fire, but I fired three more times, each striking the man in the chest. I waited for him to fall, but he kept smiling, acting as if nothing had changed.

The murmur of a crowd grew somewhere beyond the alley, followed by the wail of a police siren coming closer. The man turned and ran down a side alley. I started to give chase but a moan from Frances stopped me.

"Please," she moaned. "Go get help."

I knelt beside her, cradling her head. A man with three slugs in him would bleed out soon enough. If he survived, the police would pick him up. The island wasn't that big. I knew I had no choice but to leave her and find help.

The wail of the police siren faded away as I raced back to the bar. I called out for help, hoping to alert the crowd that I had heard, but the streets in front of the bar were deserted. I darted into three different stores, desperate to find someone to help me, but found no one.

I raced back to Frances, darting through the smoke and shadows into the alley, but she was gone. Not dead, but gone, not even a trace of blood on the boardwalk.

Suddenly, I was bathed in bright light from four spotlights, one on each side of me.

"Detective Princett! Drop the gun! Drop it now!"

I remembered the gun in my hand and dropped it. It hit the ground at my feet with a thud and I raised both hands into the air.

The lights were blinding but I knew the drill.

"Detective Princett," the voice repeated. "Come with us."

Two lights swept across the boardwalk like air traffic controllers, motioning me back toward the bar.

"No cuffs?" I asked, immediately worried that they might take my advice.

"We trust you, Detective. But follow us," said the voice.

The pair of lights turned toward an unmarked grey door. Once inside, the door slammed and locked behind me and the beams pointed toward a chair in the center of an otherwise vacant room. An open set of handcuffs dangled from the chair.

"You can put them on, Detective," the voice said. "Or we can do it for you."

I was never a gambling man, so on the cuffs went. I left them a bit loose, but once in place, a final click pulled my arms tight against the chair.

The lights moved in front of me, blinding me again.

"Listen, guys," I said. "I know you've got a job to do, but you've got the wrong guy."

Suddenly, the lights were gone. The wall in front of me showed the face of a man in a Chief's uniform.

The Police Chief's face flickered, and he began speaking. "Detective, welcome to Safe Harbor: 'The Safest Place on Earth'. Every part of our resort is monitored, measured, and controlled. We work hard to provide security and safety here. It's part of our guarantee to keep every person on this resort safe and satisfied."

"How is that? I haven't seen anyone other than Frances, so I'd say your security folks are asleep at the wheel. The wall displays are a nice trick, but who's looking for the guy who attacked Frances?"

"We are, Detective, and we've found him."

The wall blinked and revealed a new bank of video images. I recognized the locations from the island: the boardwalk, the shops, even the boat moored at the dock. The Center Point bar appeared, specifically the front door when I stepped inside. I could even hear the tiny chime of the bell. On the screen, a scroll of blue text described the scene: Subject: Male, 6'1", 210, blonde, blue, concealed weapon in waistband."

"I'm not going to apologize for bringing a gun. Afterall, none of your folks were gonna help her."

The video changed, showing me running down the alley, followed by another video of me skidding to a stop on the boardwalk, gun drawn. Frances was in the corner of the image, standing right in front of me.

The video stopped and the screen split into six images, different angles of the same scene. Whatever they showed next, they wanted to be clear that it was a complete picture. In the corner of one image, my DMV photo was overlaid alongside Frances's, but hers displayed "Deceased".

"Detective Princett, Frances Dolene Gray was murdered in that alley."

"She was being attacked. What was I supposed to do? None of your fancy tech gadgets or systems were gonna help her. And now, once the shooting is over, you guys come out of the freaking woodwork."

"Before I continue the video, is there anything you want to say?"

"Play your little video. Play every single second of it. I was there. I know what happened. And I know that none of you were there. None of your little security team or toys did a thing. Now, you're just trying to cover your ass because you didn't do anything, and I did."

"Very well, Detective. After this, there's no turning back."

The monitors flashed to life. Half of them focused on me while the other focused on Frances. There was no one else in the alley.

The scene unfolded exactly as I remembered it, but there was no stranger, no armed man leaning over her. There was only me shooting wildly and Frances kneeling, then slumping to the ground, blood pouring from her neck.

"Where did he go? Where's the man with the knife?"

"Yes, yes. Of course, a man, with some sort of knife, right? A jagged, scary knife, the sort of killer all cops want to find and stop. Safe Harbor is not a place for fantasy, Detective. There was no one else in the alley. Now, is there anything you'd like to tell me?"

"I saw what I saw."

"And yet here we are."

The video monitors refreshed, showing live images of the resort, still deserted.

"There is no one else on this island, Detective. Only you and Frances. There was no man with a knife, no psycho killer, just a past-his-prime cop with an unauthorized weapon stumbling around drunk, trying to forget his failures. That's what I see."

My head sagged into my hands. I pressed hard against my temples as if I could wake up from this nightmare and go back to my vacation. Time seemed to stop as I lost myself in the cocoon of my fingers.

The streets of Safe Harbor still filled the wall to my right, all except one. I saw a tiny shadow, moving quickly across the boardwalk. The dark, featureless figure slipped in and out of the edges of the camera views until it came to the boat. There, beneath the "Welcome to Safe Harbor" banner, I saw the face of the shadow. It was Frances.

"Chief," I screamed. "She's still alive! She's right there."

"Frances has served us well. But we found her to be a bit undermotivated and more than a bit desperate to leave."

"Then I'm leaving, too." I tugged at the handcuffs.

"Not quite, Detective." The image in front of me shimmered, then changed to the face of a lanky mocha-skinned man in a white lab coat.

"Who the hell are you supposed to be?" I asked.

"I am Doctor Michael Niraj. My fortune and my life have been spent designing and building this resort. This island, its amenities, the security system, and the ability to anticipate and satisfy needs, were designed by me to make this a floating oasis."

"And now I screwed it up for you? By saving the life of someone who is clearly leaving this island?"

"Safe Harbor was designed to be a safe place, for everyone. Even after my death, it must live on, keeping my dream alive, even though I am not."

"What does that have to do with me and Frances?"

"We need your help."

"Who is we?"

The face of Dr. Niraj was replaced with an aerial view of the island.

"'We' are everything around you in Safe Harbor; the computers and software, the hardware, the holograms, and a few facsimiles that are as good as the real thing. Your liquor took some quick work, but we got as close as we could. When he was still alive, Dr. Niraj was concerned that perfection can seem sterile and intimidating. He knew we needed credibility to keep our oasis going. Without that, all of this will turn to ruin. However, the presence of a decorated police hero would be perfect to promote our claim that Safe Harbor is the safest place on earth."

"And if I refuse?"

The video screen returned to the alley, still showing me firing my weapon, striking Frances down.

"A drunken, traumatized cop, a spurned lover, a sordid affair, really. The state authorities would have ample evidence for a conviction. Perhaps you could avoid a lengthy sentence due to your service. Perhaps not."

"You're blackmailing me?"

"No. We are asking you to make a choice. Leave and face the consequences of the video you just reviewed or stay and become part of our paradise. Think of it as a retirement job."

"And Frances?"

"She's safely off to resume her old life. She's done her job to find a replacement."

"So, you traded me for her?"

"You were trying to save her life, were you not? Why are you so afraid of what we have built? Safety and perfection, is that not what brought you here in the first place? And the amenities you've enjoyed so far? With your help, they will never end."

I felt the itch return in my shoulder, but it only served as a reminder that they had my gun.

"So, when can I leave?"

"Why would you want to leave? This is paradise."

"This is a prison."

"Detective Princett, I hate to be a bother, but we...I mean you, have a guest arriving."

The screen quickly changed to the docks where my car had been parked. A small red Ford was parked beside mine and a woman stood beneath the "Welcome to Safe Harbor" sign, her face hidden behind a wide-brimmed hat.

"I'm afraid you must make your choice. Ms. Diana Nelson has booked a stay at the island," said the computer voice. "A widow for two years, she's wanting to move on with her life. She's paid a pretty penny for our services and has arrived early for two weeks of uninterrupted privacy and security. Solace on the ocean and plenty of time for her reading and her music."

"So, what do I have to do?"

"Simple. Just tell her the truth. Show her what you already know. Show her that Safe Harbor is the 'Safest Place on Earth'."



"Detective Princett, welcome to Safe Harbor. 'The Safest Place on Earth'."

I'd heard the tagline before, but all I was concerned with was the fate of the woman on the screen in front of me.

"Before I continue the video, is there anything you want to say?"

"Play the video!" I screamed, channeling the pain from my hands. My wrists strained at the handcuffs that held me down in the metal chair. I was all alone in the room, being interrogated by an image on the wall. It was a crystal-sharp image of a man in a crisp police uniform, complete with a chest full of ribbons and a pressed 8-point bus driver hat. His badge had "Chief" on the bottom of a gold shield and a plaque behind him read "Safe Harbor Chief of Police". He might have looked the part, but he didn't look like any Chief I'd ever seen before. "I was there. I know what happened. And I know that none of you were there. None of your little security team did a thing. And now Frances is dead. Her blood is on your hands. Not mine! You've got the wrong man. So, play your little video. Play every single second of it."

"Very well, Detective. After this, there's no turning back."

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