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Author Archives: alibifolio

About alibifolio

David A. Crossman is a modern-day polymath who – in common with polymaths throughout time – has yet to be sufficiently beguiled by any one sphere of endeavor to apply himself to it exclusively. As a result, he’s a best-selling novelist, an award-winning lyricist and composer, a writer of short stories, screenplays, teleplays, poems, and children’s books, a television producer/director (also award-winning), a video producer, radio/television talent, award-winning graphic, computer graphic artist, advertising copywriter, videographer, publisher, music producer, musician, singer, performer and … well, you get the picture. He’s shiftless – in all things but his devotion to Barbara his wife of…well, let’s say over 35 years and leave it at that.

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World

CLIMATE CHANGE:

NOTE: The following was written in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal in which the writer stated, in support of the political football of Climate Change that “50% of Republicans accept climate change”.

Curious: I fail to see how the argument for climate change is somehow ratified by the statement that: ‘over 50% of Republicans accept climate change.’ I should think 100% of any party would accept climate change – because it does. If it didn’t we’d all be dead within months.
First there was the threat of global cooling (late 1950s – mid-1970s), which filled a lot of coffers, but eventually – since no scientific verification could be jinned-up to support the theory – the academic/scientific community had to invent another crisis with which to pick Uncle Sam’s pockets.
I’m sure there was a meeting and equally sure that if someone could dig up the notes of that meeting, the text would reveal that someone said something like – “We need a new crisis; Global Cooling is losing traction. How about Global Warming?” Eureka! Thus were opened the floodgates for a financial windfall that flowed unabated for decades, despite scientific evidence to the contrary – (Consider this) – But finally Chicken Little was called to account for the fact that nature refused to cooperate with computer models and their dire prognostications.
The result: Was there outrage at the scientific/academic community for this monumental ruse – as might be expected of a rational populace? No. Instead, blind, blithering, froth-mouthed hatred is leveled at those who point to the fact that the sky isn’t falling!
The pro-calamatists, however, seeing the writing on the wall – even the most deeply self-deluded climate-warming fundamentalist must, eventually, tumble to the fact that none of the predictions were coming true – performed a brilliant marketing pirouette. That meeting, I imagine, went something like this: “We need a new disaster. Global Warming is losing traction. How about Climate Change?” Everyone at the table smiled evilly – visions of new Teslas dancing in their heads. It was the perfect, perpetual, demonstrable crisis: a license to print money! After all, no one could prove that the climate wasn’t changing! I mean, it changes every day!
Perverse kudos to those who fooled us not once, not twice, but three times!
What does that make us?

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Alibi-Folio

 

A Terrible Mercy

SPOTLIGHT FEATURE

“To conquer the demons without, one must first recognize those within.”
Tertullian – 148 A.D.

It is Christmas Eve in Rome, and the Pope is dying. Among millions of faithful who have come to share in his final Mass, is an American doctor on a mission; to bring the world to an end.
A mismatched quartet of ordinary people are unwillingly stitched together by events over which they have no control, and propelled toward battle with an unseen horror that threatens to cast the world into an Kitumian darkness in which only Ebola thrives. As the world crumbles about them, one thing becomes certain: trust no one – especially those you trust most of all.

Best-selling author David Crossman’s A Terrible Mercy, is the world’s first real-time novel; a thriller to be updated every three months in order to reflect the most recent developments relative to the story: Ebola, ISIS (the Islamic State), the sectarian battle for the soul of Lebanon, the war in northern Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria – and the efforts of hapless governments the world over to contain the twin viruses of disease and Islamic fundamentalism – whose mutual aim is to overturn the world order, wipe out at least half the population, enslave the remainder, and turn the clock of civilization back eight hundred years.

CLICK HERE to ORDER YOUR KINDLE OR PAPERBACK COPY

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in Alibi-Folio

 

Failed Lobotomy

To: Billy Ray Cyrus
Re: Miley
Subject: The lobotomy didn’t work.

Billy Ray’s daughter, Miley, is a popular girl, with a crazy schedule. I mean, getting her gynecology exam mixed up with her appearance at the MTV Awards is perfectly understandable. It could happen to anyone and I, for one, think it’s reprehensible that there are those who believe she appeared as she did on purpose! I mean! To imagine that any human being, or even a pop star, could be so desperate that they would debase themselves so thoroughly for attention – and in their grandmother’s underwear! – is demeaning in the extreme.

The heartlessness exhibited by those who publicly ridicule this precious child, despite the advanced case of tongingus hyperactimus, (TH) – whose sad victims are unable to constrain the activities of their tongues – with which she is so obviously afflicted, is inhuman.

I, for one, applaud Justin Timberlake for his support of Ms. Cyrus. His energetic contributions to the elevation of moral standards is legendary; had he been there, I have no difficulty imagining him standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. King on that historic march whose 50th anniversary we celebrate, flanked by twelve voluptuaries in various stages of undress twerking their way up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, exemplifying the freedom of expression for which so many fought, bled, and died, to the edifying strains of We Got Booty!

I contend, ladies and gentlemen, that this is our Greatest Generation; the culmination of the Great American Experiment, indeed, of all the progress of the great human pageant of which we are, to greater or lesser degrees, a part. And I am confident that, one day – having reviewed the their video scrapbooks with their wide-eyed children and grandchildren, these offspring and the offspring of their offspring will gaze up at them in wonder, their eyes milky with tears, and say ‘Mimi? Pops?, what the hell were you THINKING?’

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Alibi-Folio

 

Storyteller (Sampler)

Storyteller fantasyOnce upon a time, newspapers printed short stories and serializations; a tradition that gave us the writings of Charles Dickens, the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the acerbic wit of Mark Twain, and the intricate imaginings of O. Henry.

Reviving that tradition, The Free Press of Rockland, Maine, challenged best-selling mystery novelist David Crossman to write an original short story every week for 24 weeks. Here, in book form, is the result: Storyteller (originally titled A Propinquity of Opposites), a novel, a collection of short stories, “a literary tour de force unlike anything you’ve ever read” and worthy of the heritage that brought it into being.

Briefly: A private plane crashes in the south Pacific. The lone survivor, rap star Rat Badger Junkmouth Flash, washes up on a desert island where he is confronted by a most unexpected resident.

The island’s only habitation is a magnificent mansion in which are twenty-two rooms. In each of these he will encounter a dimension of existence – and of himself – that he never imagined.


SAMPLE CHAPTERS

Storyteller
by David A. Crossman

Prologue
A Propinquity of Opposites

ooooCummings stood at casual attention on the beach of the desert island and stared out to sea in the direction where he’d seen the plane go down just before dawn.
 He was dressed every inch the proper Victorian butler, from his shoes – polished the bottomless sheen of black chrome – to the perfectly starched and pleated collar and cuffs that protruded exactly five-eighths of an inch from the neck and sleeves of his perfectly-tailored Dege and Skinner swallow-tailed coat. The creases in his trousers could have sliced apples and the seven brass buttons on his waistcoat reflected the rising sun with seven tiny lighthouses of welcome to the survivor.
ooooHe stood and waited, a carefully folded white towel draped over the crook of his left arm. His right hand held an ornate silver serving tray, upon which rested a siphon of seltzer, a decanter of hundred and twenty year old scotch whiskey, and a sparkling glass of cut crystal which waited, like Cummings, with expectant, if not discernibly excited equanimity.
 One glass would suffice. There was never more than one survivor: a regrettable reality of this uncharted corner of creation to which Cummings had long resigned himself.
ooooIf he was warm beneath the wide-eyed stare of the inquisitive sun and his own butlery livery, not so much as a pore bespoke anything but a man perfectly at peace with his world and his place in it. He was a butler and would soon have someone to butle. The best of all worlds.
ooooHe waited.
ooooRat-Badger Junkmouth Flash, nee Harold Erasmus Jackson and still called ‘Little Harry’ by the grandmother who’d raised him, was known simply as Rat to his friends and fans. At the moment he was floating aggressively. That is, his arms and legs had begun moving earnestly as the upward-tilting wing tip of the plane to which he’d walked himself, slipped with a gentle wave into the terrible blue-gray grip of eternity below; a sleek, multi-million dollar coffin for the eighteen souls of his entourage. Perhaps, like the mummies of ancient Egypt, they would be found one day amid the luxury of their burial chamber, leaving their discoverers to ponder the sea-crusted detritus of the funerary objects by which they’d hoped to be accompanied into that Duat-N-Ba of ancient repute.
ooooIf Rat Badger entertained such notions, it was but briefly as he was struggling to keep his head above water. Not a natural swimmer, he was nevertheless sufficiently buoyed by his thrashing to keep adrift.
ooooThe thing about thrashing though, particularly in the South Pacific, is that it attracts the attention of unwelcome marine specimens. One of these, to Rat’s horror, began rubbing against his leg like an over-affectionate puppy dog. The hide of this puppy, though – much the texture of 20-grit sandpaper – was wearing his seven hundred-dollar trousers to shreds.
ooooRat stopped flailing, buoyed briefly by the shocked intake of air that filled his lungs. To his aquatic companion he might have seemed an oversized blowfish, though this is speculation. He stared at the sky with wide, pathetic Buckwheat eyes that would have awaken at least a twinge of conscience in the hungriest shark, were sharks given to sentimental introspection, which this shark, at least, was not. Instead, it seemed to be leisurely removing the wrapper from an afternoon snack.
ooooOne benefit of having his eyes thus widened was that it allowed Rat Badger a broader perspective of his surroundings. At first glance, these had seemed an endless, unbroken expanse of horizon spreading infinitely in all directions. Now, however, he saw that there was in that long, salty sentence – that liquid requiem – one pearl-edged emerald of punctuation. An island not a mile away.
 So close and yet, as a sandpapery pass at his torso reminded him, so far away.
ooooThe proverbial straight-flying crow would sneeze at such a distance. Many of the creatures in God’s menagerie, in fact, would have closed the interval without raising a blush. Rat Badger was none of these. But when a giant white-gray fin rose menacingly from the water and began surrounding him as if it had all the time in the world, he found that, much to his surprise, he could swim after all, and at a commendable clip. In between strokes he screamed at the top of his lungs, which may or may not have aided in his propulsion.
ooooNevertheless, he must have taken comfort in the display for he performed it with gusto.
ooooGraceful he was not. But apparently the shark was not judging as much on style as overall affect, for it held back a moment in thoughtful deliberation. Were this North Dakota in the bleak midwinter and there very little likelihood of a fresh meal elsewhere in the vicinity, it would undoubtedly have scarfed the rap star whole and, burping a little cloud of residual profanity, sallied off amidst the snowdrifts as contented a shark as ever toured the Badlands. But, as observed, this was the South Pacific and meals much less likely to spoil the digestion were not hard to come by. So the shark, pursuing lethargically for a stroke or two – more out of curiosity than gastronomic intent – eventually called an end to the game and undulated away with only an occasional backward glance. No doubt he considered the experience axiomatic and would, later in his lair, compose an appropriate parable for the edification of his fellow omnivores.
ooooCummings knew the shark – which he’d nicknamed Hodgekins after an old public-school chum with particularly bad teeth – by the peculiar double-vee notch that had been taken from its dorsal fin in some long-distant sub-marine confrontation. The animal, to Cumming’s way of thinking, was possessed of an unpredictable nature, sometimes pursuing his quarry with an almost playful malice, allowing the unfortunate individual to nearly feel the sand under their feet before dispatching them in a few rude gulps. Other times, as now, simply losing interest for no apparent reason.
 Whatever may be said of the beast, it was not British.
ooooAs Rat Badger windmilled frantically toward the shallows, Cummings adjusted an eyebrow slightly, indicative of mild surprise. He had never attended a gentleman of color. There had been the French Canadian, Gascard Montrose, who, given the swarthiness of his complexion, may have had a Corsican or two among the lower branches of the family tree, but his tastes were capable of anticipation, after a fashion – though running a little more to sauces than Cummings would have liked.
ooooBut he was French.
ooooA Negro though. Cummings had no personal experience of the race, they being conspicuous by their absence among the upper classes whom he’d served in the days, long ago, when he’d been a butler in London. His eyes drifted casually to the siphon and whiskey and a small, skeptical thought fluttered across the placid landscape of his mind.
ooooPerhaps he should have brought gin.
ooooHis gaze returned to the spume-bejeweled figure of Rat Badger as, getting his feet under him a good distance from shore owing to the gradual declination of the sea bed, he began a kind of spastic marionettish lope through the surf toward the beach.
 Rat Badger, for his part, may be excused for not noticing Cummings until this moment, the bulk of his attention having been otherwise occupied. Emerging victorious from the battle for life and limbs – of which a quick inventory assured him he was still in possession – his eyes clapped on Cummings as on an apparition and he halted suddenly amid a corona of foam. His mouth gaped to accommodate the superfluity of sensation his eyes couldn’t handle. He uttered a word often found spray-painted on subway walls – a thesaurus to which he referred often during his speech and which, if represented by blanks in the narrative would result in a lengthy story of empty pages.
ooooSufficient to say this edition has been abridged to move the story along.
ooooOne might not say it is anthropologically possible for an individual to express formidable hospitality unless one saw Cummings from Rat’s point of view at the moment. Beneath the rap icon’s overt contempt for anything white was a nameless, unexamined fear which manifested itself as suspicion and he knew at a glance he’d never seen anything more white – hence more suspicious – than the butler who stood waiting on the beach.
oooo“What are you lookin’ at?” inquired Rat by way of greeting. He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hands, but the apparition remained.
ooooIf Cummings was asking the same thing of himself, nothing in his demeanor betrayed the fact. With a flip of the wrist the towel unfurled from his arm like a flag of welcome. Rat Badger snapped it up and, eyeing the butler warily, dried himself.
oooo“Your trousers would appear to need mending, sir,” said Cummings.
ooooRat Badger emerged from his towel and looked at his sartorial remains.
oooo“If you would remove them, I shall attend them presently.”
oooo“You want me to take off my pants?”
oooo“Heavens no, sir. Only your trousers.”
ooooThis illustrates how two cultures can be divided by a common language, for in Cumming’s England pants were trousers and underpants were pants. At no time during the exchange that followed, however, did the unflappable butler give the slightest indication of flapping. Discerning from the late arrival’s indignation that there must be some misunderstanding relative to terms, he quickly and quietly got to the core of the problem and an international incident was averted.
ooooAt the conclusion of negotiations, Rat’s trousers had taken the place of the towel on the crook of Cumming’s arm and the rap star was standing in his leopard skin briefs, sipping appreciatively at the scotch and soda.
oooo“How come you ain’t sweatin’?”
oooo“Beg pardon, sir?”
oooo“‘Beg pardon, sir’,” Rat mimicked. “I like that. You keep it up and we’re gonna be friends. Even if you are a mirage.” Which is what he suspected. The scotch, especially, convinced him that at any moment he’d wake up in his plane, surrounded by his comforting coterie of sycophants. It was going to be one King Kong of a hangover, but anything was better than a dubious dreamland inhabited by white butlers up the whazoo. “I asked you how come you ain’t sweatin’ like a barbecued pig, all dressed up like that. It’s hot here. Look at me, I’m smokin’.” True, steam was rising from his ebony flesh in soft, mesmerizing clouds. “And I’m from Alabama.”
oooo“One becomes acclimated, sir.”
oooo“One does, does one?” Rat Badger laughed, finished his drink and put the glass on the salver. “Well, that’s the best mirage scotch I ever tasted. Now, let’s get down to business. Who are you, what are you doin’ here, and where is here anyhow?”
ooooCummings nodded slightly and, clearing his throat, began. “Taking your queries in order, sir, I am Cummings, the butler. I came to this island in nineteen hundred and six. As to the third point, I’m afraid I’ve never been able to ascertain with any degree of geographical accuracy exactly where this island is located. An educated guess (I must qualify my estimate by saying that I am guided by my memories of Captain Cook’s journals, which I read as a schoolboy) is that we are in the South Sea, somewhere between the island’s of Tahiti and New Zealand. The stars confirm, at least, that we are in the southern hemisphere.”
ooooRat was still several sentences behind. “1906 you say?”
oooo“Just so, sir.”
ooooThe skepticism with which Rat Badger had been regarding the butler took on a deep, new dimension. He did some quick math – which meant converting all figures to the common denominator of dollars and cents – and named the resulting figure. “You tellin’ me you’re that old?”
oooo“I was forty-seven at the time of my shipwreck, in 1906. I have not aged perceptibly since. Not externally in any event, though I hope I am not immodest to suggest that my experience in the intervening years has made me a wiser, deeper man. Be that as it may, to all outward appearance I am as I was.”
oooo“Shipwreck?”
oooo“Pardon, sir?”
oooo“You say you shipwrecked.”
oooo“You understand correctly, sir.”
oooo“Then, you must know where we are. I mean, where were you went you went down?”
oooo“Just off the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. I was attending the master and mistress upon their return from Belfast to Southport.”
oooo“The Irish Sea?” said Rat Badger who, though geographically challenged, was having difficulty reconciling his impression of that body of water with his present surroundings. “That ain’t near here, is it?”
oooo“No, sir.”
oooo“You swam all the way from there to … wherever we are?”
oooo“Not that I recall, sir. I did swim, for a bit – having determined that the master, mistress, and silver plate were beyond rescue, of course.”
oooo“Of course,” said Rat, as if he’d have done no less.
ooooCummings inclined his large head inscrutably. “Just so. When I emerged from that exercise – which seemed no more than five or ten minutes – I was here.”
ooooRat tucked that enigma away for future reference. “And you haven’t aged since?”
oooo“As I said, not outwardly, sir.”
ooooRat Badger had to get a longer rope for his mental bucket as he dipped even deeper into his well of doubt. “Right. And you’ve been here for …” and he named the number of years his calculations had brought him to.
oooo“As to that, I take your word, sir. It is, together with my own apparent longevity, one of many curious anomalies of this place that it is impossible to measure the passage of time. No mark or device so intended will last a night. My previous visitor, a very spirited Argentinian woman named Ana Maria Consuela Conchita Sanchez de Juarez Ortia, arrived in 1983, so she said. She never gave me reason to doubt the veracity of her assertion.”
oooo“Where is she now?”
ooooCummings demurred. Was it Rat’s imagination, or did the butler whisk away a tear with his gloved finger? “I expect you are desirous of dinner, sir. I regret our menu is limited to those comestibles the topography supplies, but I shall endeavor to see such as we have is prepared to your satisfaction.”
oooo“Are you gonna keep talkin’ like that?”
oooo“Pardon, sir?”
oooo“The more you talk the less sense you make. You gotta use up the whole dictionary every time you open your mouth?”
oooo“I shall endeavor to be less loquacious, sir. This way, if you please.” So saying, Cummings led the way from the beach up a beautifully groomed path through thick foliage, punctuated at regular intervals by unlit lanterns of conch shells.
oooo“Where’s the nearest phone, Jack? I gotta call my agent.”
oooo“Phone, sir?”
oooo“Telephone. Cell phone, e-mail, iPhone, YouPhone, MePhone. I ain’t fussy. Whatever you got.”
oooo“Previous guests have requested similar devices, sir. For communicating with the world outside, I deduce. I’m afraid you must share their disappointment. I have not so much as a telegraph to offer.”
oooo“No phone! You’re jerkin’ me around.”
oooo“I would presume to do no such thing,” said Cummings, concealing his alarm. “In the other instances to which I refer, I have suggested depositing a message in a bottle and casting it into the sea in hopes the current would carry it to some inhabited country.” He lowered his head slightly. “I regret to say response was not forthcoming. However, should you wish to make the attempt . . . ” He cocked an eyebrow at the decanter.
ooooRat studied the butler with one eye closed, as if this would reduce Cumming’s superabundance of whiteness by half. “Maybe later. First things first. Let’s get to the grub. Lead on, Jimbo.”
oooo“Cummings, sir,” Cummings corrected.
oooo“Whatever. I’m right behind you.”
ooooThey walked the upward-winding path in tandem silence for a few steps.
oooo“Say, who’s the chief honcho around here?” Rat asked conversationally.
oooo“You mean the master?” Cummings appreciated the hazards of misunderstanding and wished to diminish them with clarification.
oooo“Master!” Rat’s atavistic corpuscles bridled at the word. “What are you talkin’ about, master?”
oooo“That would be you, sir,” said Cummings.
ooooRat sifted the notion. This was different. “I’m the master?”
oooo“Indubitably, sir. There is no other on the island.”
ooooI’m the master, you’re the slave?”
ooooCummings cleared his throat into the back of his hand. “Servant, sir. The distinction is an important one.”
oooo“Right. Hey, you don’t have magical powers, do you? You know, like I Dream of Jeannie or Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”
ooooCummings gave some thought to his response. “Not that I have discovered, sir. Not directly, at any rate.”
oooo“Not directly. What’s that supposed to mean?” Rat curvetted around an overreaching oleander.
oooo“Well, things do seem to happen, sir.”
oooo“What kind of things?”
ooooCummings reserved further comment for several steps. “Perhaps the type of phenomena to which I refer will make itself evident presently.”
ooooFurther comment on Rat’s behalf was stifled as, rounding a final corner in the path, the vegetation abruptly gave way to a wide expanse of lawns and gardens – with gently gurgling fountains – sweeping gracefully to a hill in the near distance. Squatting atop the hill was an Edwardian mansion, its broad wings embracing an immense courtyard of crushed stone, sprinkled here and there with Greco-Roman statuary. Rat halted in his tracks and breathed a scatological epithet.
oooo“Sojourner’s Hall,” said the butler, anticipating his companion’s wonder. It was impossible not to detect a trace of pride in his voice.
oooo“Who lives there?” Rat demanded, sensing that things were getting whiter and whiter.
oooo“You do, sir.”
ooooMe? That’s my crib!”
ooooSo overcome was Rat Badger at this development, that only as they began the long ascent through the verdant parklands toward the mauve brick mansion did he realize he was fully dressed. Faux leopard-skin briefs had been supplanted by the full dinner attire of an Edwardian gentleman, exquisitely cut, and perfectly tailored to conform to his athletic physique. The discovery, while not unpleasant, was nonetheless alarming. He spun in circles several times, as if trying to get beside himself, the better to take in the sight.
oooo“What did you do!”
oooo“Nothing, of which I am aware, sir,” said the butler, not breaking stride. “You have experienced one of the phenomena of which I made note. If I may suggest, it is best to get used to it.”
ooooThe next instant proved Cumming’s suggestion a wise one, for Rat found himself transported to the mansion’s cavernous dining room, of the type in which Queen Victoria could have comfortably swung any of the larger felines in her extensive dominions without imperiling the Royal Dalton. The center of the room was occupied by a table of burled walnut, roughly the length of a regulation basketball court. There was only one chair, however, at the head of the table, and in that chair Rat Badger sat masticating the last bite of a sumptuous meal, the courses of which – like the ephemera of a dream – he couldn’t recall. Nevertheless, he was completely sated, in indication of which he burped as was his wont at the conclusion of a satisfactory repast.
ooooThe percussive echo bounced around the room, doubling, tripling, quadrupling, until it became the relentless, rhythmic thumping of a bass drum, which brought to mind the lyrics of the misogynistic ditty Love ’em and Eat ’em, that had earned his first CD the vociferous (and well-deserved) censure of the Southern Baptist Convention; hence chart-topping success.
ooooThe song had been inspired by a nature program he’d seen on PBS which featured the conjugal habits of the praying mantis. Reversing the role of the sexes and applying the principal to himself, well . . . it was a very big hit among the easily entertained.
oooo“How many bedrooms does this place have?” he asked, sensing Cumming’s presence in the shadows.
oooo“One can never say with any degree of confidence, sir. The configuration changes, you see, according to the . . . needs . . . of the inhabitant.” A table bearing a cigar and a snifter of brandy appeared at Rat’s elbow. “I shall count them, if you like.”
 Rat ran the cigar beneath his nose and crinkled it by his ear. “Havanah,” he said appreciatively. “Light me, Jeeves.”
oooo“Cummings, sir,” the butler remonstrated gently.
oooo“Then count away, Cummings. And be quick about it.”
oooo“There are twenty-two bedrooms, sir.”
ooooRat Badger started as if he’d fallen into a doze. “What?”
oooo“You directed me to count the bedrooms, sir. There are twenty-two . . . at present.”
ooooRat’s gaze fell to his cigar, which was burned to a nub. He didn’t remember having taken so much as a puff. “I must’ve nodded off. It’s dark in here. Turn on some lights.”
ooooCummings directed his steps toward a gas sconce on the wall. “It is not the first time I have seen this configuration,” he said. “If I deduce correctly, you may be in for an unsettling experience, sir.” He twisted the valve and the jet of burning gas leapt to attention, staking a small principality of illumination at the edges of which misshaped shadows surged toward the darkness.
ooooOnce his eyes were accustomed to the brightness, Rat received the jolt which Cummings had prophesied. The walls, before, behind, and around him – were made of mirrored glass in which the majesty of the room and its accouterments were multiplied in hallways that disappeared into infinity. Likewise, armies of Cummingses were strung out in endless array toward each of the cardinal points.
ooooIt was by none of these optical phenomena that Rat was jolted, however, but by the fact that his own reflection was – in all those infinities of images – absent, and in it’s place was a rodentish-looking gnome with anxious red eyes, ragged grasping claws, and a vile, gaping maw.
oooo“It is as I anticipated,” Cummings said, more to himself than to his master.
ooooRat started from his chair. “What’s that?” He snapped. The timbre of his voice registered a heightened degree of consternation. “Where’s my reflection?”
oooo“Ah,” Cummings sighed knowingly. “As to that, I fear my response may disquiet you, sir. Are you sure you wish to know?”
oooo“Of course I want to know!” Rat protested. “Where’s my reflection?” Impulsively he ran to the nearest wall and waved himself around in front of it, which activity was perfectly mimicked by the creature in the glass. “And what’s that ugly thing?”
oooo“I can only predicate my conjecture upon previous experience.”
oooo“This has happened before?”
ooooCummings inclined his head slightly. I, myself, cannot see what you see, sir, but I am not without certain events from which I may infer. One being the brief residency of a carnival barker named Ignatius Flang, sir. His arrival was much like yours though, as I recollect, the misadventure that brought him to these shores involved the wreck of a ship called the Royal Tar . . . ”
oooo“Skip the specifics,” Rat commanded. “What’s he got to do with this?” He gestured broadly at the mirrors, from which the grotesque figure gestured back.
 “Well, I hesitate to be so bold as to apply Mr. Flang’s experience in the present instance, sir, but, since you ask, it was demonstrated by bitter evidence that- in his case – these mirrors reflected his soul.”
oooo“Soul?” Rat flashed a panicky glance at the walls. “That is my soul?!”
oooo“Your immortal, incorporeal essence, yes sir. So it would seem.” Cummings regarded the reflections critically. “In Mr. Flang’s case the creature was, I understand, reptilian, with a slight magenta cast about the eyes.”
ooooRat was no theologian, but he inferred that this condition did not bode well from an eternal perspective. “That ain’t good.”
oooo“Philosophers, and theologians may dispute the point, sir, but no. To my way of thinking, it ain’t good.”
oooo“Well, what are you gonna do about it?”
ooooCummings nearly raised an eyebrow. “There’s nothing I can do, I regret to say.”
oooo“What did this Horatio guy do?”
oooo“Ignatius,” Cummings corrected, sighing heavily. “A regimen was prescribed which, I fear, he was not assiduous in performing.”
oooo“Once more, in English,” said Rat, fighting back a wave of desperation.
oooo“It was suggested that if he were to occupy a different bedroom each night for as many nights as there are bedrooms, his soul might somehow be redeemed.” Cummings lowered his chin. “Midway through the second night, he fled the house with his soul, more rapacious and reptilian than ever, in hot pursuit, if you will pardon the vernacular.”
ooooRat didn’t want to know the answer to the question he was compelled to ask. “What happened to him?”
ooooCummings began collecting plates on a large tray. “Only a few bones, an ossified heart and a tin of curiously strong breath mints were recovered for burial.”
ooooRat Badger gazed in horror at the reflection of his soul. “What’s in those rooms?”
oooo“I don’t know, sir.”
oooo“But you’re sayin’ I gotta sleep in all them rooms to get me a half-way decent looking soul?”
oooo“As to sleep, I make no guarantee. Spend the night in each of them, though. Yes. That would be my recommendation.” He was solicitous. “It is my understanding that the task must be completed in concurrent nights. I gather it is a rigorous exercise, sir.” Cummings hesitated but a moment. “‘If t’were done, t’were best t’were done quickly’. Shall I prepare the first, sir?”
ooooRat Badger thought how like his sobriquet was the creature that leered hungrily at him from the mirrors. “Call me Harold,” he said.
ooooWhether he was ready or not the echo of his voice hadn’t died before he found Cummings tucking him beneath the plush duvet of a canopied bed in a grand, heavily rococo room, from the wall of which a gas candelabra glowed warmly. “Things happen fast around here,” he commented.
 oooo“Some things do indeed transpire with alarming alacrity,” Cummings replied. “Is there anything else you require?”
ooooHarold scanned the room at a glance. “No MTV, I guess?”
oooo“I am not familiar with the acronym, sir.”
oooo“Nevermind. Shove off, then.” Harold wanted nothing more than to ask Cummings to stay in an adjoining room with the door open and, while he was at it, to see if he had a teddy bear lying around anywhere, but the proposal was argued down by pride. “See you in the morning.”
oooo“’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” said Cummings, stepping into the hall. “Pleasant dreams, sir.”
ooooThe door closed behind the butler, revealing, on its reverse, a full-length mirror – in the darkened recesses of which Harold perceived something faintly stirring. Battling the urge to plunge beneath the covers, he climbed from his bed and approached the mirror tentatively, only to be confronted by the image of a raggedly dressed young girl, approaching him with equal trepidation. Behind her, the mirror reflected not his room but an African wasteland of charred trees and dust. The girl’s face was so black that her features were not discernible at first.
ooooHow it happened, he couldn’t comprehend, but he knew the reflection was his own. In a manner that is usually confined to dreams, he had fused with the girl’s subconscious. Her world was his. Her experiences – a waxworks of horrors stretching into the deepest recesses of her young memory – were branded on the synapses of his being as were her fears, her sense of loss, of abandonment, of aloneness and the perpetual, gnawing hunger that formed the core of her being.
ooooIn the near background, seemingly guided by the girl, a full-grown elephant loped contentedly, now and then tossing trunkfulls of dirt in the air, as if to test which way the wind was blowing.
ooooHarold Erasmus Jackson had entered upon the first of his twenty-two nights.

The Elephant Walker
The first night

ooooHer name was Bedpinny. That was all of her own story she knew. The perpetual warfare in southern Sudan had consumed her family in savage bites. Of all her relations, she was the only survivor. The bodies of her mother and grandmother had shielded her from the blast that killed them. She had waited for a long time for them to move. But they didn’t. Beyond the acoustic cushion of their flesh the gunfire thudded like blankets being beaten with straw brooms. In time the screams died away. There was no one left to make them. Only Bedpinny. Bathed in the blood of her ancestors, she crawled from beneath the corpses and stood looking at them.
ooooHer mother and grandmother.
ooooMinutes ago they had been singing, and laughing and teasing her about the baseball cap she was wearing. She had found it in a pile of clothes spread out on a table in front of the Presbyterian mission. It had a ‘B’ emblazoned on the front, but she was too young to know a ‘B’ from any other letter. She liked the color. She took it, put in on, and proudly wore it home.
 Her mother and grandmother were in high spirits. They had caught a rabbit in their snare. “We’ll have meat tonight!” they had told her. “Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had meat?”
ooooThey skinned the animal and prepared it for the pot. Bedpinny couldn’t remember ever having had meat. She knew beans, both white and red, and rice. And onions. She loved onions. And course bread of sorghum meal. Sometimes cabbage. Sometimes kale. Most of all, she knew hunger: a ravenous, insatiable beast that burrowed in the belly and ate holes as deep as the grave.
ooooShe had only a vague awareness for the purpose of setting the snare, but they’d been doing it all her life, so she didn’t think it strange. It was a tradition; one of those inexplicable rituals in which adults engaged. A primitive lottery.
ooooNow Beepo, her grandmother, was lying face down on the clay floor of the tukl, her long, skinny arms and legs at impossible angles. Mamma was lying on top of her, draped backward, facing the ceiling. Her right arm, hacked away in the mindless orgy of bloodlust, was a foot away, the rabbit’s intestines still grasped in its fingers.
ooooThe rabbit was nowhere to be found. Perhaps, skinned and eviscerated, it had run away.
ooooMama’s eyes, still moist with tears, were open. She was looking up – as if to watch her soul away. Bedpinny’s gaze drifted toward the smoke hole in the thatch. Motes of dust descended leisurely from the straw roof, and floated this way and that as a hot, overweight breeze nudged its way through the oppressive atmosphere.
ooooBedpinny picked up the baseball cap and put it on. She didn’t think about what to do next. Her actions were intuitive. Grabbing fistfuls of dead ash from the edge of the fire, she sprinkled them over her mother and grandmother. The wordless requiem of a three-year old. She left the hut.
 ooooOutside, the air was hung with languid wreathes of smoke. A group of soldiers sat on their haunches around a hot, low fire, in the coals of which the rabbit was roasting. They didn’t notice her. They were intent on the rabbit. Beyond them, seven young women, bound hand and foot, were tied to trees. Bedpinny knew them, but not why they were tied there. Fifty dollars each. Soon they would be shipped north to the outskirts of Khartoum and distributed throughout the Middle East to serve in the homes and commercial enterprises of Muslims; a commodity with a long tradition. Tribal Africans had been selling each other to the Arabs for a thousand years. And killing one another. Partially dismembered bodies littered the common space between the huts.
ooooBedpinny feared the soldiers. There was something evil about their laughter amid the carnage and destruction from which her spirit shrank. She walked away from them. Not along the road, where troops were still coming and going – their arms draped over the rifles suspended behind their necks – but down the familiar path toward the river.
ooooShe was nearly out of sight when one of the soldiers by the fire spotted her. At first he thought she was a wild pig. His eyes, tinged with the red tracery of malaria and teared with smoke, were blurry. He unslung his gun from his shoulder, aimed through the miasma and fired. The bullet stung the back of her hand like a wasp. She swatted at it reflexively, and looked with detached curiosity at the bulging thread of blood that oozed from the scratch. She didn’t run, though. She stumbled a little, and kept walking.
ooooAn animal would have run. The soldier knew this. As his eyes cleared, he realized he had just shot at a human being. Scrawny. Fleshless. A wasted bullet. Little more than an infant, she would die soon enough without the assistance of an ounce of lead. His comrades laughed at him and resumed poking at the rabbit in the coals. The marksman slung the gun over his shoulder and blushed inwardly.
ooooAs Bedpinny walked away, every step was like the stroke of a brush of forgetfulness, wiping away the memory of all she had seen, all that had gone before – the death of her father and brothers in the wars, the disappearance of her older sisters and aunts to slavers, the disease that claimed her cousins and her uncle. By the time she arrived at the river, she didn’t know what had brought her there, where she was to go, or what to do. But she wasn’t to fetch water. She wasn’t to return home; the sticky blood that caked her flash and matted her hair told her so in whispers.
ooooShe was Bedpinny. That was all she knew. The memories were still there, of course, folded deep in the recesses of her subconscious, but remembering was not. She continued along the river until the path ran out, then she walked through the tall grass, making a path of her own. She walked all day and into the night. The moon was full, and presently she found herself on another path. With nothing to do but follow, she followed.
ooooSoon she was stumbling over her own feet in exhaustion. She never thought to lie down in the tall grass, or climb into the protective arms of a nearby tree and sleep. She walked until she collapsed. And where she collapsed, she slept.
 She was awakened by a large, gentle nudge against her lower back. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring up an elephant’s trunk. She didn’t startle. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrists and looked again. The elephant was staring back, swinging its head slowly, slightly from side to side, fanning the air with large, leathery ears.
ooooBedpinny had never seen an elephant. Like most animals, they had long ago been driven across the border into Uganda and the Central African Republic by constant warfare and the perpetual fires that raged out of control across the landscape, inhaling the nourishing grasses in leaping infernos of waste. She reached out and touched the trunk. The animal didn’t flinch, but returned the touch, brushing the back of her injured hand with cool, healing mucous.
ooooThe elephant seemed to be waiting. Bedpinny stood up, adjusted the hat on her head, and studied the deep brown eyes that returned her gaze. Set in folds of creased and furrowed flesh, they sparkled with moisture as if with laughter. She was reminded of someone she had known, someone old and wise. The memory wouldn’t awaken but left, in its stead, a comfortable feeling.
 There was nothing Bedpinny could do with the elephant. It was too big to eat, though her hunger was big enough to swallow it whole.
 Hunger was the engine that drove her. She looked in the direction from which she’d come. She didn’t remember it, but something told her there was nothing for her there. She looked ahead, and followed her eyes with her footsteps. The elephant followed behind, every now and then nudging her playfully at the base of her back. Her heart wanted to smile, but her soul wouldn’t let it. She just walked on, never looking back at her unlikely companion, but confident it was there.
ooooThe first village she came to smoldered in its own ashes. A cloud of vultures and crows feasted on the fat of humanity, a humble meal. Looking neither right or left, Bedpinny followed the path threaded between the charred remains of the tukls, accompanied by the syncopated tamps of the elephant’s feet and the deafening buzz of flies.
 She walked on. At the end of the day they came to a river. The elephant waded eagerly in among the sweet grasses and, punctuating its meal with trumpet blasts and jubilant explosions of spray from its trunk, made itself comfortable.
ooooBedpinny peeled the husk from a waterlogged cassava root, as she had helped her mother do many times. Rather than boiling it and beating it into a paste, as mamma had done, however, she ate it raw. The plant had as little taste as nutritional value, but the sound of chewing went a long way toward filling her belly. She climbed a hillock of soft grass, lay down and slept. The elephant stood watch.
ooooThe next day, about mid-afternoon, they discovered a secluded field of sugar cane, and ate their fill. Bedpinny peeled, and sucked, and chewed, and spat out chewy wads of fiber and was soon drenched in sweet, sticky juice that made her a magnet for flies. The elephant, too, enjoyed the treat, bundling five or ten stalks at a time in its trunk and feeding the furnace of its mouth which curled at the edges in a perpetual smile. That night they walked as long as the moon allowed. When it gave out, Bedpinny rode the elephant’s trunk to the low, blackened branches of a teak tree that had been half burned for charcoal, and slept. The elephant slept, too.
ooooBefore sunset the following day, they came to the outskirts of an inhabited village and their appearance caused considerable excitement. A lone boy came upon them as they were emerging from the woods and immediately, as if news of the arrival had been communicated telepathically, children from the village swarmed ’round, poking the elephant with sticks and leering and making faces at Bedpinny as if she was something grotesque and unnatural.
ooooThe elephant turned aside the assault on its person without comment, but when the children began threatening Bedpinny with their sticks, it stepped forward, sheltering her between its legs, and trumpeted a warning, instantly widening the perimeter by several yards.
ooooThe general tumult emptied the village and soon the clearing was filled with people. One of the older boys, excited to rash action by the possibility of imminent death, was still taunting the animal, lunging from a safe distance, jabbing, retreating. Upon arrival, with a gesture, his mother put an end to the exercise.
ooooPresently the crowd parted and Cosima, the headman of the village, stepped into the clearing.
oooo“It’s an elephant,” observed Twal, the chief’s right-hand man.
 Cosima withered him with a glance.
ooooHe stepped toward the intruders, but the elephant sharply warned him away. He stepped back. “Where do you come from?”
ooooBedpinny pointed up the path behind her.
oooo“Where did you get the elephant?”
ooooBedpinny did not respond. She’d done nothing wrong. Somehow, she felt the elephant had always been with her.
oooo“I haven’t seen one in a very long time,” said the chief.
ooooBedpinny wondered when was the last time he’d eaten meat, but she didn’t know where the thought came from.
oooo“Where are you going?” the chief continued. Probably no more than forty-five, he looked seventy. His features were marked by the wrinkled, faded dignity that comes with the realization that one’s authority extends only to the edge of the village, and how large was the world beyond those borders. To Bedpinny, though, he just looked old and imposing. Flesh sagged from his bones in miserly folds, as if there was no adhesive of fat to connect his skin to his sinews.
ooooBedpinny shrugged again. She was going in the direction of her next meal, that was all. Of course she hadn’t thought to hoard sugarcane against the journey. She was only three. She hadn’t eaten all day and her head was light, her knees weak. Familiar sensations.
oooo“Stay with us. We have rice,” said Cosima. Some of the women mumbled protest, but the chief silenced them with a wave of his hand. “Come.”
ooooBedpinny followed the headman, the elephant followed Bedpinny, and the villagers followed the elephant, who seemed unconcerned by the hunger in their eyes.
ooooReturning to his tukl, the chief found an unexpected guest, a British missionary lady of advanced years and kind heart. With the promise that any day now – perhaps tomorrow – he would convert to Christianity, he had been harvesting the resources of this pleasant woman to the tune of a new well, twenty bags of seed, and seventeen chickens. He would play fast and loose with his salvation until he was assured her bag was empty then . . . well, there were many missionaries in the area.
ooooHe was a desperate man, and as far as he knew, his soul was his only marketable commodity.
ooooDespite the missionary’s advanced years and failing eyesight, she noticed the elephant. “What have we here, Dada Cosima?” she said, employing the patriarchal term of respect. “An elephant? Are they returning to Sudan?”
oooo“So it would seem,” Cosima said, a little nervously. He leaned close to her and whispered. “If you stay, we will have meat soon. Praise God.”
oooo“And who’s this?” said the woman, ignoring the implication for the moment. Her name – befitting a missionary – was Mary. “I haven’t seen you here before, have I my love?” She knelt so that she was looking Bedpinny more or less in the eye. “No, I’m sure I haven’t.” She lapsed into Arabic. “Where are you from?”
ooooBedpinny had never seen a white person at close range. She had seen people with diseases that turned patches of their skin this awful, sickly pinkish color, but never a whole person completely consumed by it. She backed away a step, and would have retreated further, but for the elephant’s leg.
oooo“Is that blood?” said Mary, lifting the corner of the t-shirt that constituted Bedpinny’s entire wardrobe. Bedpinny looked down, then up at the lady’s kind, gray eyes.
oooo“The elephant came with her,” said Cosima. “It is a gift from God. Hallelujah!”
oooo“Hallelujah!” said several of the villagers, practicing grace.
oooo“Indeed,” said Mary. She’d been a missionary a long time and knew the hearts and minds of those among whom she labored better than they thought she did. She also knew the hunger that motivated them. Feeling it important that she understand their suffering, she had, early in her ministry, fasted for forty days and forty nights, as exemplified by the founder of her faith. However, the exercise had not lead to heightened spiritual awareness, as she had hoped. All she thought about was food. Indeed, things she had never considered in that light began appearing on her mental menu. She dreamt of it. Wept for it. Ached for it. Still, in her depths, she knew there were those to whom she could appeal for food at any time and in minutes a feast would appear before her.
ooooNot so for the villagers. They woke with the fist of hunger pressing hard on the hollow around which they orbited; lived throughout the day tossing leaves, beans, bugs, any organic matter that came to hand into the massive hole that defined them; slept with dreams of food while the hunger ate away at their lives. Those were the good days. Other times they feasted on memories.
oooo“She’s starving.”
 The chief looked at the elephant as if to say ‘not for long.’
ooooThe missionary discerned his intent. She had no Bambi complex. If she thought that elephant steaks would save the villagers, she’d have killed it and cut it into bite-sized pieces herself, without a qualm. But, as a nurse, she knew the sudden infusion of elephant meat into their diet would make most of the villagers sick. Some would glut themselves and die. Most of the animal would rot and be wasted. She racked her brain. There had to be a better idea, some way to turn the animal to advantage. She said a quick mental prayer, and received divine inspiration in reply.
oooo“This elephant can earn you money, Dada Cosima,” she said. “The NGOs are clearing the forest for farmland. The stumps and roots are impossible to remove. If this elephant could be trained to do it, and they would pay you every day.”
oooo“Elephants cannot be trained,” said Cosima. He had heard of elephants in India being trained to work, but African elephants were too wild. “It is not possible.”
ooooMary didn’t know anything about elephants, but this one seemed docile enough. She argued her point. The possibility of a daily income was a powerful inducement.
ooooCosima considered. Intellectually the plan had appeal, and he could see its long-term benefits. But it was telling the drowning man that a ship could be expected in a day or two. Mary understood the dilemma, she fished through her pocket and produced a 20,000 schilling note – which she had intended to give him anyway. “I’ll pay you for today. Bring the elephant to the YWAM compound and we’ll put it to work.”
ooooContrary to his impulse, Cosima didn’t lunge for the note, but received it with stern dignity – a jungle god receiving his due offering – and folded it in his palm, where he gripped it like salvation. “It may be a good plan. The animal seems tame, but as to its working on command, I make no promises.”
oooo“Of course not,” Mary replied, hoping that, for its own sake, the animal would perform. “I’ll go tell them to expect you. We’ll have hay for it. In an hour?”
ooooCosima glanced at the sun and nodded gravely. Mary climbed into her road-ravaged Landcruiser and drove away. The rearview mirror reflected a world under control.
ooooIt was not.
ooooNo sooner was the missionary out of sight than Cosima took two decisions. First, he gave the money to his wives and sent them to Yei, four miles distant, for food. Secondly, he appointed Twal to take the elephant to the YWAM compound. What followed would have appeared comedic to an outsider unaware of the villager’s desperation. Twal approached the elephant with the intention of taking it by the ear and leading it away. The elephant flapped its ear, lifting Twal off his feet and depositing him in a pile several feet away. He cast an appealing glance at his chief. Cosima, cloaked with authority, ducked into his tukl. The order had been given.
ooooAn hour later, despite the application of teak switches, shouts, threats, and insults, the elephant hadn’t moved. Twal, dripping sweat, stood outside Cosima’s door and waited for permission to enter. This formality observed, he burst in almost in tears.
oooo“It won’t move! It’s grown roots and started to eat the roof off my house! There is nothing I can do, Dada Cosima. It is a willful and obstinate beast.”
ooooCosima looked past Twal at the still life framed by his door. The elephant, the semicircle of dejected, defeated villagers dropping their sticks and prods to the earth in exhaustion, the strange little girl sitting at the edge of the clearing eating a fistful of cold rice. He began to wish she’d never brought the elephant.
ooooThen it occurred to him. She had brought it!
oooo“It will follow her,” he said aloud, unaware that he was speaking.
oooo“What did you say, Dada?”
ooooCosima stood and raced to the door. “The elephant will follow the little girl. You lead her to the compound, and it will follow.” It sounded too simple as he said it, but sensible all the same.
ooooAnd it worked. Twal took the girl by the hand and led her down the road, and the elephant tagged along.
ooooAnd so from this humble and inauspicious beginning grew the curious career of Bedpinny and the elephant. It happened that whatever task Bedpinny could be made to understand, she could communicate to the elephant with a gesture. Early on, those who hired the elephant’s services from Cosima learned that instructions had to be very specific. A slight misunderstanding on Bedpinny’s part could result in the wrong tree being uprooted, or an entire tukl or fence being trod down before the startled owner could get his tongue back and protest. All in all, though, the arrangement worked well. Cosima’s village became Bedpinny’s home – though she lived apart, beneath a thatched lean-to of her own, always within reach of the elephant – and prospered to a modest extent.
ooooThe village women took good care of her, without grudging, though always a little in awe of her inexplicable control over the elephant that haunted the environs of the village like a spectral mountain, and would allow no one else near. The children left her alone, and she them. This was not the place she belonged, it was simply the place she was.
ooooIn time they ceased to cause a sensation, except among newly arrived relief workers, and became a fixture in the woods and fields around Yei. They worked long, hard hours through both the dry and rainy season, and farmers and NGOs in the area found more than enough for them to do.
ooooAnd so the years tumbled by. The war had become distant and only now and then made itself known when a plane or helicopter would drop a bomb into someone’s backyard or blow a gaping, pointless cavity in the forest. Villagers ducked, dove into ditches and waited, then crawled out, buried the dead, and lived their lives.
ooooBedpinny was nine years old and the people called her the elephant walker.
oooo“What is this? A great beast,” said the old man. He sat beside the road on a stump and inclined his ear rather than his gaze toward Bedpinny and the elephant. “And a child.”
ooooBedpinny stopped in front of him. The elephant stopped behind her. Though she’d often traveled this road, she’d never seen the man before. He was wrinkled, like Cosima, but his eyes were white, like a dog of her acquaintance. “Are you blind?” she asked.
oooo“In my eyes, yes,” said the man. “But not my ears, or my nose. That is an elephant?”
oooo“Yes.”
ooooThe man smiled and nodded. She watched the wide, floppy brim of his hat go up and down. “He is very heavy on the ground. And the smell. Only an elephant smells like an elephant. It has been a long time, but it stays in the mind.”
ooooBedpinny didn’t notice the elephant had any particular smell, but she lived in its presence. She was reminded of something Mary had said about sin; “the longer you live with it, the less obvious it is. It even seems homey after a while. As comfortable as home cooking.”
oooo“Where are you going?” asked the man. His light blue cotton shirt was clean with long sleeves that protected against mosquitoes, as did his blue jeans and beige Timberland boots. His hat was of irregular design and cast a shadow that made his black face impenetrable.
oooo“To Miriya,” Bedpinny replied, nodding up the road.
oooo“That is where I am going.”
oooo“Were you resting here?”
oooo“No. I was waiting for someone to guide me. The roads are so bad. If I fell in one of these potholes,” he gestured at the road, “I might never be seen again!”
ooooBedpinny considered. The road was bad? She had nothing to compare it to. The elephant didn’t seem to mind. But the holes were deep. “We will guide you.”
ooooHe put his weathered hand on her shoulder and so began the second magical encounter of Bedpinny’s short life.
ooooAs they walked they talked of this and that, inconsequential things as strangers do, to begin with. But before long, in response to the blind man’s guileless questions, Bedpinny had surrendered all she knew of her life’s story.
oooo“And before the day the elephant found you, you don’t remember anything?”
ooooShe shook her head.
oooo“Nothing at all?” He was insistent on this point.
oooo“I remember eyes in dreams sometimes. But that’s all.”
ooooThe blind man reciprocated briefly with tidbits from his own life he thought the girl might find entertaining. She was a good audience. Very accepting of everything he said, however unlikely. Not that being unlikely made it untrue.
ooooEventually they lapsed into a companionable silence.
oooo“Bedpinny,” the old man said.
ooooShe looked up at him, and he sensed it.
oooo“That’s an unusual name.”
ooooWas that so? Bedpinny had never thought about it. She didn’t know anyone else called Bedpinny, that was true.
oooo“I knew a woman once, and a man in a village far from here who had a child called Bedpinny,” said the blind man.
ooooBedpinny accepted this. “Where was the village?”
oooo“Oh, very far away,” said the man. “It’s not there anymore. Everyone is gone. Dead. Sold.” The statement could be made of countless villages in the region. “Gone.”
oooo“Gone,” Bedpinny echoed. “Even Bedpinny?”
ooooThe man shrugged. “No one knows what became of her. Too bad. Her family came from kings.”
oooo“From kings, like Cosima?” She had told him about Cosima.
oooo“Cosima? A king?” the blind man laughed. “Cosima is only a village headman. No. Bedpinny came from kings who ruled the world!”
oooo“Tell me.”
ooooThere are no words a storyteller loves more. The blind man, like Homer, rose to the occasion, dipping into a past no one could recall . . . or challenge. He spoke of ancient days when Nubian kings held mighty Egypt in their grip, of the battles in which his Bedpinny’s royal lineage was forged, of alliances poorly formed and revenge hopelessly plotted; of the collapse of kingdoms; of heinous treachery and selfless fidelity; of love and betrayal. The magic of his language brought generations of the girl’s colorful ancestor’s – men, women, boys, and girls, dancing and surging to life, spinning and swirling until the air was choked with them and Bedpinny could hardly breathe. The next instant, they were swept away by the onslaught of a new generation. Even greater warriors, even lovelier princesses, even more star-crossed lovers, as the blind man fell under the spell of his telling.
ooooAdventurers, too, leapt and bounded across the telling, weaving wondrous, frightening strands that struggled against the pattern of the whole; white explorers from Europe – a continent of eccentrics, with their strange ways, mighty deeds, and pointless wanderings. Arab traders and slavers from the north, and from Zanzibar, that bloodthirsty island where souls were bought and sold and the devil gleefully totted up the score. Of gods and goddesses, lusting for blood and fear, that warred ruthlessly for the soul of the continent. The stroke of the blind man’s brush swept through history in broad, daring strokes, making of the blank canvas of his Bedpinny’s past a grand, tumbling tapestry of human endeavor, peopled with human beings whose love, and hurt, and joy, and pain, and hope, and fear, and loss was enlarged in the throes of their battle with destiny – sanctified, baptized, and made noble.
ooooBedpinny didn’t know the emotion that seized her when the blind man came to the end of his telling with the very parents and grandparents of the little girl. She had never been envious before. Oh, to be the blind man’s Bedpinny. To have a place not only in the present, but in the past! A strong foothold for the future. Where was this fortunate girl? The blind man must find her. She must be told. She must know. It was impossible to think she might be going through life unaware of the greatness that coursed in her blood!
oooo“Ah, there,” said the old man as they reached their destination and prepared to part ways, “how can she be found? As I said, everyone is gone. All I know is that, before he died, her father the last king of his line, gave her a cloth hat, with the first letter of his name sewn on it.”
oooo“A ‘B’!” said Bedpinny breathlessly. “Was it a ‘B'”?
oooo“Why, yes, it was,” said the blind man, seeming surprised. “His name was Bebijay. How could you know?”
ooooBedpinny began rummaging madly through the bag she carried on her back. She pulled out the baseball cap. “Here,” she said, thrusting the cap into the blind man’s hands and forcing his fingers over the embroidered letter. “It’s a ‘B’. It’s a ‘B’!” Mary had taught her letters.
oooo“Why, so it is,” said the blind man, his smile deeper and happier than any she had ever seen. “Then, you are my Bedpinny,” he said, his enthusiasm hushed with reverence.
ooooShe hugged the elephant’s trunk, as she often did for comfort. “I am,” she whispered softly for fear of shattering the moment.
oooo“And the people I’ve been telling you about … they are your people.”
ooooThe awareness oozed magically into her bones; seeped into her spirit. “My people.”
ooooThe blind man placed a hand on her head and stroked her hair gently. “How proud they would be of you, Bedpinny.
oooo“Thank you for being my guide.”
ooooBedpinny almost didn’t hear. As she and the elephant padded down the dusty road, the voices of all those generations were shouting, singing, and rejoicing in her ears. They had found her!
ooooThe blind man inclined his head in the direction of their departure and waited. When he could hear their footsteps no longer, he smiled. He had learned the story of the elephant walker from the elderly missionary lady on her last day in Yei. Even as he spun Bedpinny’s tale, he wondered how he could weave the baseball cap into the telling. It had all come together nicely.
oooo“It could have happened that way,” he said. “Why not?”

ooooAs the mists cleared from his sight and Bedpinny’s consciousness slipped slowly from his brain, Rat Badger found himself staring at the mirror on the back of the bedroom door. He had no idea how long he’d been there. He became aware that he’d been holding his breath. Something was tugging at him, something so deep inside it was beyond himself. In the mirror, the room was reflected in all its particulars, except for him. There was at first no discernible change in the wretched gargoyle that occupied his place among the images. The anxious red eyes were the same. The ragged grasping claws were the same. Then its lips parted in a stupid, inscrutable grin, revealing a brand new tooth.

oooo“You slept well, sir?” said Cummings, who had sifted into the room as unobtrusively as that quality of mercy which falleth as a gentle dew from heaven, and materialized at Rat’s bedside. The golden rays of the sun, sliced into neat oblongs, inquired through the large French window at a respectful angle, creating a shadow-laden still life of the silver salver in the butler’s left hand and the lightly frosted glass of papaya juice it held. It was morning, the first day.
ooooCummings placed the glass on the bedside table.
ooooRat Badger, rap icon, hadn’t slept a wink, as far as he knew. Nor, if the crust that coated his eyes was any indication, had he blinked in a very long time. Draped awkwardly over the mahogany footboard, his feet tangled in the sheets, he had been staring at the mirror on the back of the bedroom door.
ooooThe images that haunted its depths the previous night had dissipated when Cummings interspersed himself, but a disturbing effluvium remained. Rat breathed a blasphemy – as was his wont when at a loss for words to express deep emotion – blinked a few times, and massaged his sandy eyes with trembling fingers.
ooooHe was about to commend himself, somewhat shakily, on having survived the night, when he awoke to the fact that he was in another bedroom — this one rustic and humble — and that Cummings was, once again, tucking him in.
 It was night. A soft, cool breeze, scented delicately with sea rose and salt, brushed the white curtains aside and waltzed about the room with the haughty command of a corpulent duchess.
oooo“It’s time already?” he said.
oooo“Yes, sir.”
oooo“I missed the whole day?”
oooo“On the contrary, sir. You had a very active day — the events of which I shall be happy to recapitulate at some future date, should you so desire. It is another of the peculiarities of this island that the days are often no sooner completed than forgotten. Night and day trade places; are juxtaposed, as it were, with the events of the night branding themselves upon the brain while those of the daylight hours dissolve like a dream – forgotten – ” Cummings added with a politic clearing of the throat into the back of the white glove on his right hand, “except by me. Thank you for the daisy chain, by the way.”
oooo“Say what?”
oooo“It’s of no consequence. Is there anything you require, sir, before you sleep?”
ooooRat considered. “Shouldn’t I be hungry?”
oooo“No, sir. You ate most heartily at luncheon.”
oooo“I did?”
oooo“Yes, sir.”
ooooWell, he wasn’t hungry. He was tired, though, and said as much.
oooo“It is to be expected, sir. You have been greatly exercised.”
ooooRat’s head, suddenly the density of overcooked oatmeal, sank into the abyss of his pillow — which smelled of mothballs. It was then he noticed the mirror on the ceiling. The room began to roll slightly as his sleep-besotted numen drifted upward. Seagulls cried in the distance and he was aware of the taste of stale tobacco and Budweiser on his tongue and an alcoholic fogginess that taunted the suburbs of his brain. Nevertheless, he untied the sheepshank with practiced, work-worn hands — white hands, he was surprised to see — and, stumbling only slightly, pulled his way to the middlemost seat of the rowboat, little suspecting that he was about to partake of . . .

An Omelet of Fishermen
The second night

ooooThe first thing tourists observe as they cross Penobscot Bay in the ferry to the islands is the lobster buoys. Recreational boaters also remark on them in Anglo-Saxon terms. In fact, the bay is so carpeted by these multicolored impediments to navigation that it’s almost possible to walk upon them like stepping stones from Rockland to the islands without getting your feet wet.
ooooThere is an exception, however, an area of about one mile in radius that the fishermen call, simply, the Deep. Ancient experience has told them that this particular quarter is bottomless, and many a fisherman’s gear has been lost in the attempt to prove otherwise.
ooooPartly Smith — who earned his nickname by virtue of the fact that his mother was a Smith, but his father was unknown — had spent the day at the Lobster Festival and was going back to the island as night descended.
ooooDespite being drunk he had managed to make it to the end of the pier, find his skiff — or at least one that looked enough like it to make stealing it excusable — row to his lobster boat (which must have been his because the key worked), undo the mooring without falling overboard, and crank ’er up.
ooooEmboldened by these successes — and wanting to be home before Maggie, his wife of thirty-odd years, got home from the crab factory — he chose to fly in the face of local wisdom and take a short cut across the Deep, which commercial fishermen, wisely it turned out, had come to avoid.
ooooBacchus had few surprises in his bag of tricks for Partly, who had come to regard hallucinations as an acceptable side-affect of his liquid lifestyle.
 Thus, when an island or two turned up in the wrong place, or mermaids frolicked in the phosphorescence of the wake on his evening forays across the bay, he winked and, laying a finger knowingly aside his nose, plowed on.
ooooAs the bow of the Vengeful Maggie cleaved the placid waters of the Deep, however, he was met with a novel apparition: a configuration of lights that floated just below the surface. His first thought — describing the random firing of the synapses in his brain in liberal terms — was that he was looking at the reflection of stars. He looked up. Clouds blanketed the sky.
ooooThere were no stars, or anything else that could account for the lights. He looked down. There they were. He closed his eyes and shook his head in a manner that had long ago proven useful in dispelling vagrant islands and wandering mermaids, and opened them again. Still there.
ooooPartly pulled the throttle all the way back and in a moment the boat gathered in her foaming skirts and squatted down in the water like a somnolent duck. He shut off the engine — as if silence would help him see better — and leaned over the rail for a closer look.
ooooThe lights were of a soft aquamarine hue — what an interior designer, had there been one aboard, might have described as a dusty seafoam green — and about the size of a baseball. They pulsed subtly, hypnotically, and those nearest the surface were no more than three or four feet deep. So it seemed.
ooooAfter a brief monosyllabic soliloquy, Partly decided he’d grab one and take it home to show the boys down at the lobster co-op next morning and see what they made of it. He took the gaff from under the gunwale and, leaning over as far as his gut would allow, plunged it into the water. His first swipe passed below the nearest object. He tried again. This time the hook connected, telegraphing a tantalizing gelatinous sensation up the pole. At the same time, the orb sank a few inches. He leaned over a little further and took another stab, and the process repeated itself. Another touch.
 Another slight retreat.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I hope you’ve enjoyed these sample chapters of Storyteller and are sufficiently intrigued to download the rest of Rat’s journey to your Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone or other reading device for only $4.95. To do so, simply click here or the book cover at the top of this page to be taken to Amazon.com where you can place your order safely and securely. Meanwhile, PLEASE Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail everyone you know, tell them how much you enjoy Storyteller, and send them to this site! (www.davidcrossman.com).

My thanks,
David

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Alibi-Folio

 

Parker Riley’s Millions

ooooParker Riley’s Millions is a short story that was written at the request of the good readers of The Free Press of Rockland, Maine, in response to that paper’s challenge for me to write a short story based upon one of three titles that the paper proposed. Complying with the results of the poll, I wrote this story which appears in ten parts. Enjoy!
David

Parker Riley’s Million
by David A. Crossman

Part One

gregory from Parker Riley's Millions a short story by David Crossman

Gregory

ooooNobody knew Parker Riley had won seventeen million dollars in the Lottery; not even Mercy, to whom he’d been married over forty years. That year when she mentioned, like she did every spring — to no avail — that she’d “sure like to go down to Portland and get some things for the garden” and he told her to go ahead and get whatever she wanted and just put it on the MasterCard — right up to a hundred dollars, if she wanted — she blabbed it around town like it was a miracle. And not a little one, either. As far as Mercy was concerned, the Lord might as well call off his plans for the Second Coming, as it would be “anticlimactical.”
ooooParker didn’t change his routine much. He still went out to haul his traps, as he had since he got his first boat when he was thirteen. But life and death no longer hung in the balance over what the traps contained – or didn’t contain. Well, maybe not life and death, exactly, but need and want, at least. Not that he and Mercy hadn’t shared some mighty slim winters. They had. But that was all behind them now. If he drew a trap that had nothing in it but crabs and starfish and shorts, well, so what? More lobsters for someone else.
ooooHe sat on the 2 x 4 steps of his fishhouse, where his boney fanny had worn a comfortable groove over the years, mending nets — a lost art — and, for the thousandth time, considered what to do with all that money.
ooooSeventeen million dollars. After taxes. Of course, the newspaper headlines declared “Unknown Mainer Claims 26.5-million-dollar prize,” but that was before taxes — 9.5 million. Parker figured the government won that part of it. As far as he was concerned, he’d only won seventeen million. That’s what the check said. That’s what he put in a private account in the Caymen Islands. (He’d already made the U.S. government 9.5 million dollars richer – without so much as a handshake or a thank-you, mind – and figured that was enough.)
ooooApart from Mercy, for whom he had a deep and genuine affection, Parker had only one passion — one not too common among lobstermen, who tend to be a pretty head-down-and-chew crowd — and that was watching. Observing. He’d observe people, animals, nature, the ocean. The boats in the harbor. Anything that breached the porous borders of his senses was fair game.
ooooThis particular course of study had, over long years of practice, provided him with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, a master’s in physics, engineering, hydrology, biology, economics, and carpentry, and at least a Ph.D. in psychology, theology, philosophy and what he called ‘Fibology’ — the ability to tell when someone was coloring the truth. That particular skill got a lot of exercise during the long winter months when fishermen spent most of the time lying to each other about how much — rather, how little — they’d caught the previous season.
ooooParker put the net down. He took out his pipe and filled it with Edgeworth, and lit it. His eyes watered as he looked through the smoke at the harbor. The sun was setting over Green’s Island, a few hundred billion megatons of nuclear energy tiptoeing overhead so quiet a blind man wouldn’t know it was there.
ooooA motion at the head of the harbor caught his eye. “Now, who do you s’pose that is?” he said. A lobsterboat, perfectly black against the red-gold water, was roaring in past Powder Island, where the Coast Guard had put up a large sign declaring a 5-knot speed limit in the harbor — no wake allowed. Lobstermen called it a waste of paint. “Someone’s in an awful hurry.” Parker climbed to his feet, shading his eyes with the flat of his hand.
ooooWithin a minute, the boat — painted whitish-blue by the transition to the shadows of the inner harbor — tied up at the float in front of the fish factory. “Jiminy Biggins’ boat,” he said. The cut of her bow was distinctive. “He’s usually in by noon.” He took a few steps toward the edge of the wharf and squinted across the harbor. “Somethin’s up.”
oooo“You talkin’ to yourself, you old coot?”
ooooParker wasn’t startled. He didn’t even turn to look at the speaker. It was six o’clock. That was when Gregory always showed up. Within five minutes he’d borrow “just a pinch of that gawdawful nasty tobacco of yours,” help himself to a can of Schlitz from the cooler and take his seat on the railroad tie, with his back against the piling and, unless something monumental intervened, start whining how George W. had “stolen the election.”
ooooParker was a Republican, and Gregory took his rehabilitation as a personal challenge. Parker’d let him vent — called it “political masturbation” — like writing letters to the editor. That kind of thing made liberals feel they were doing something constructive. No harm in it, from Parker’s point of view. So what if they equated letters to the editor or bumper stickers with a vote? It meant they were less likely to subject themselves to the inconvenience of the voting booth; thus ensuring they’d have plenty to complain about in the future. More letters to the editor. A boon for the bumper sticker business. More Republicans in office. Everyone happy all around. Wasn’t that what democracy was all about?
oooo“That’s Jiminy Biggins’ boat over at the fish factory, ain’t it?” he asked, preemptively. He knew it was.
oooo“Seems so,” said Gregory, taking the Tupperware lid off the Edgeworth can. “Mind if I take just a pinch of this nasty stuff?” He took it and mashed it into the bowl of his ancient corncob.
oooo“What do you s’pose he’s up to, comin’ in this time of day?”
oooo“He just come in?” said Gregory. He lit his pipe and made a face. “This stuff bites your tongue like a mouthful of ferrets,” he said. “I wish you’d get some Borkum Riff.”
ooooParker ignored the criticism. He liked the bite. “Just now,” he said.
ooooGregory sat down, propping his back against the piling, and stared across the harbor. No denying it was not a usual thing to see any lobsterman come in this late in the afternoon, much less Jiminy Biggins, who was an early worker, usually long home by one o’clock. “You got’ny beer?”
oooo“Where it always is,” said Parker distractedly. “Now what are they up to?” He went into the fishhouse and unslung his binoculars from a nail on the wall behind the door. He came back out on the steps and raised them to his eyes, drawing the odd little drama into focus; Jiminy Biggins and Sarah Coombs — his young sterngirl — were lifting something heavy out of the boat. From the shape of the thing and the way they were holding it, he figured it could only be one thing; a body. Parker knew a thing or two about bodies, whether waterlogged or dry as week-old toast.
oooo“That ain’t good,” he said.
oooo“What ain’t good?” said Gregory, widening then narrowing his eyes in the direction of the fish factory. He could tell there was some kind of activity aboard the Early Broad — which Jiminy, in a tender moment, had named in honor of his wife — but who it was and what they were up to, he had no idea. “Did you get my beer?”
ooooParker lowered the binoculars and propped a critical eyebrow atop his silver-rimmed glasses. “Your legs broke? You know where it is.”
ooooGregory got up to a little symphony of creaks and wheezes, and ambled toward the open door. “I thought that’s what you went in there for,” he said.
ooooParker was looking through the binoculars. “You want me to drink it for you, too?”
ooooAs soon as Jiminy put down his end of the load, he was off up the ladder and across the gravel parking lot in the direction of the municipal building. Parker swept the binoculars back to the float, where Sarah had apparently been left to stand watch.
ooooParker let the binoculars drop onto his chest and swung his leg down the ladder.
oooo“Where you goin’?” Gregory said from the doorway.
oooo“Over there,” Parker replied, indicating the opposite side of the harbor with a jerk of his head.
oooo“What for?” Gregory popped the tab on the beer can and raised it to his lips.
oooo“They’ve brought in a body,” said Parker, lowering himself out of sight.
ooooGregory stopped mid-swig as if he’d been flash-frozen. “What?” he said, beer spilling down his scruffy three-day growth of beard. He put the can on the window ledge and ran — or as near running as he could manage — to the edge of the wharf, where he looked down at Parker, who was already in his skiff and untying the line. “They found a body?”
oooo“That’s what I said. Looks like you’ll have comp’ny, ‘fore long. You comin’?”
oooo“How’d you know they got a body?” said Gregory skeptically, though he was already halfway down the seaweed-draped ladder.
oooo“Seen ’em with these,” said Parker, lifting the binoculars briefly. He gave a couple of quick squeezes to the rubber bladder on the fuel hose.
ooooGregory climbed into the boat and, without being asked, tugged the cord to start the old Evinrude. He sat down, gripped the control arm firmly and, as soon as Parker was seated, twisted the throttle. “Who is it?”
oooo“Can’t tell. They got ’im covered with a plastic bag or tarp or somethin’.” From where he sat in the bow, Parker looked over his shoulder, trying to focus the binoculars on Jiminy Biggins — at the far end of the parking lot and running like hell was on his heels.

Part Two

ooooSarah Coombs was a substantial girl no matter which way you looked at her — apart from intellect. Parker had always found her agreeable, with a quick smile, and he liked her. With Sarah, he knew, what you saw was what you got. Whatever was on her mind was painted on her countenance in pretty broad strokes. What was painted there now was a billboard for agitation.
oooo“What’ch’ya got there, Sarah?” he said as Gregory killed the motor and let the dingy run up against the float with a suckling nudge.
oooo“A body!” said Sarah, spinning on her heels. She’d been pacing back and forth, wringing her large, red hands, so upset she hadn’t heard them coming. “A dead body!” The words leapt from her as if sharing the dreadful knowledge would diminish their horror by half.
oooo“Ask her who it is,” Gregory whispered, his hand squeezing the control arm of the outboard in anticipation of a shock. Had to be a lobsterman.
ooooParker asked.
oooo“Don’t know. Never seen ’er before,” said Sarah. She’d stopped pacing, but her hands were still braiding themselves to no particular purpose, other than to relieve the stress she was obviously under.
oooo“Her?” said Parker. He’d wrapped his gnarly old fingers around the cleat on the float. “It’s a woman?”
oooo“A girl,” said Sarah, casting pathetic eyes toward the unmoving bundle. “We was over to Rockland pickin’ up some new traps — me an’ Jiminy was — and was comin’ back through the Reach when we saw her bobbin’ around in the seaweed on that little point on Green’s Island just across from Shore Acres.”
ooooParker considered this. It was a good deal more information than he’d asked for. “She been in long?”
oooo“Huh?”
oooo“How long she been in the water?”
oooo“Well, how the hell should I know how long she’s been in?” said Sarah, almost in tears.
ooooParker allowed for the tender emotions of the fair sex. “Things happen to a body when it’s been in the water a while,” he reminded. “Gets bloated. Changes color. That kind of thing.”
ooooSarah sniffed loudly and ran the back of her hand across her nose. “Oh, like CSI. Well, she ain’t fish-bit or beat up, if that’s what you mean. Just looks like she’s asleep.”
ooooParker was alarmed. “Did you try to bring ’er to?”
oooo“What do you mean? Mouth-to-mouth?” Sarah shivered visibly. “If you think I was about to …”
oooo“You mean, you didn’t try anything?” said Parker, springing from the boat in a fluid motion that belied his years. He stepped quickly toward the body and threw off the tarp.
oooo“We just pulled ’er out of the water,” said Sarah. She resumed pacing, this time in circles around the prone figure. “She was all clammy and cold. You can tell she’s dead just lookin’ at ’er.”
ooooParker fought back the urge to remind her that anyone pulled from the ocean would feel cold and clammy.
oooo“Sure does look dead,” said Gregory, who was standing over the victim, a petite blonde, not more than five-foot three or four. “Pretty little thing. Not but eighteen or nineteen, would you say, Park?”
ooooParker wasn’t listening. Dropping to his knees, he placed two fingers gently at the side of the girl’s throat. There was a faint but detectable pulse. “She’s alive!” he said. “Help me turn ’er up on her side.”
oooo“Alive!” said Sarah, stunned.
oooo“Alive!” Gregory echoed. He helped Parker flip the girl, which didn’t take a lot of effort. Parker didn’t waste time on further conversation. He slugged the girl in the solar plexus with the flat of his hand. “Now, there’s a maneuver you won’t find in the Red Cross manual,” said Gregory.
ooooSanctioned or not, the action produced immediate results. Water gushed from the girl’s mouth. He turned her quickly onto her back and began mouth-to-mouth. Nothing happened.
oooo“She’s dead, Park,” Gregory eulogized. “You’d best let ’er go in peace. Ain’t gonna do no good blowin’ stale tobacco into her.”
ooooParker ignored him. Turning the body on its side, he delivered another flat-hand punch, this time to the chest. Once again, a brief torrent of water burst between the closed lips. “You know CPR, Greg. Push on her chest while I blow.”
oooo“What?” said Sarah, distractedly.
oooo“Nothin’,” said Parker. Gregory, somewhat abashed at the propriety of his assignment, nevertheless bent to the task with a will, all the time protesting that it wouldn’t do any good. Parker pinched the girl’s nostrils and, taking a deep breath, blew a lungful of Edgeworth residue down her throat.
ooooWhether from the detestable taste or the force of the injection, the girl gagged, then sputtered, then spat, expelling the small quantity of water that remained in her lungs. She sat up, choking and coughing, trying to take in some fresh air. Parker let her drain for a while.
oooo“Oh, my God,” said Sarah, who had been transfixed by the morbid operation. “You was right. She wasn’t dead after all!”
oooo“Prob’ly not in the water more than five or ten minutes when you found ’er,” said Parker, his voice raised a little over the sounds of choking. “Took a blow to the head, see?” He pointed to a strawberry-sized bruise just at the hairline near the girl’s temple. “I expect she was unconscious when she went in. That’s what kept ’er alive.” Now on one knee, he bent close to the girl, examining her eyes, which were robin’s-egg blue. “Am I right, young lady?” he inquired softly.
ooooThe look of alarm — or was it fear? — in the girl’s eyes when she looked at him was almost feral. Her body convulsed with the aftershocks of resuscitation.
ooooGregory gave Parker a sidelong glance in which were mingled a flash of wonder and admiration. “Give her a minute,” he said. “Can’t have been too pleasant for her to wake up kissin’ an old fart like you. Wonder if the shock don’t kill her.”
ooooParker was holding the girl’s tightly fisted hand, and began to stroke it reassuringly. “You’re gonna be okay,” he said. “What’s your name?”
ooooThe girl snatched her hand away as if she thought he was trying to steal it. “No!” she cried. Parker noticed the sharp, quick glance she stole at whatever she was holding. Was it his imagination, or did he read relief in her eyes? Her body, tense as an old mattress spring, seemed to relax slightly. “Where am I?” she said. “What happened?”
ooooParker filled her in on the specifics, with frequent supplementary commentary by Sarah, who punctuated every sentence with ‘I swear to God!.’ Gregory added his two cents’ worth, but nobody seemed to notice.
oooo“That’s all we know,” Parker concluded. “Now, maybe you can tell us how you got in the water.”
ooooThe girl convulsed again. “I don’t remember,” she said. Her knuckles were white on her clutched fist.
oooo“She’s freezin’, Parker,” said Sarah, her maternal instincts awakened by the girl’s distress.
oooo“You got somethin’ in the boat to cover her with?”
ooooSarah deliberated quickly. “Yeah.” She jumped aboard the Early Broad and found an old plaid wool coat. By the time she returned, Parker and Gregory — without further interrogation — had helped the girl to her feet. Sarah threw the coat over the girl’s shoulders. “That’s all right,” she said gently. “We’ll get you someplace warm and outta them wet clothes.” She put a protective arm around the girl’s waist; turning to Parker, she said, “I’d’ve sworn she was dead. To think I almost …”
ooooParker patted her gently on the back. “Don’t worry about it, Sarah. Mistake anyone might make. She’s okay now.”
oooo“Thanks to you,” said Sarah, the enormity of that mistake slowly seeping home. “If you hadn’t come when you did — I’d’ve just let ’er drown in ’er juices. Stupid. Stupid!”
oooo“Now, now,” said Gregory who, despite his gruffness, couldn’t bear to see a woman in distress. He reached out a comforting hand but — unsure what to do with it — stuck it back in his pocket. “No harm done,” he said. “She’s okay now. That’s the important thing.”
oooo“That’s a good idea you had ’bout gettin’ her somewhere warm, Sarah,” said Parker. “Where’d be a good place?” He wanted to give her something else to think about.
ooooSarah shook off her self-recrimination for the time being and pillaged her addled brain. “Motel’s full,” she said. “We could take ’er up to Aunt Addie’s.” Addie Gray, whom everyone on the island called Aunt Addie, ran the Island Rest B&B out of her home on Chestnut Street, catering only to guests she “liked the look of.”
ooooParker thought that as good a place as any and said so. They were just about to put feet to the suggestion when Jiminy returned, breathless, with Charlie Wruggles, the constable, in tow.
ooooThat the population of the float below had increased by a quantity — and one of them had been raised from the dead — was more calculation than Jiminy was prepared to handle. His jaw flapped up and down a few times, but nothing intelligible came out.
oooo“Now, where’s this body you’re talkin’ about?” said Charlie, whose professional assessment was quick to turn up the absence of the reputed corpus delecti.
ooooJiminy found his tongue, if only dryly. “Sarah?”
ooooSarah had taken the girl in charge and was helping her up the ladder. “She’s alive, Jiminy,” she said rhetorically. “Parker brought ’er to.”
oooo“He did?” Jiminy swung dumbfounded eyes at Parker, where they rested briefly before drifting back to the women, now halfway up the ladder. “She’s alive?” he said dumbly.
oooo“Grab her hand, will ya?” said Sarah. Jiminy and Charlie Wruggles pulled the girl — who had been climbing as if in a trance — onto the dock. “We’re takin’ ’er up to Aunt Addie’s,” Sarah declared. “She’s freezin’ half to death.” She pulled herself up the ladder. “Get ’er in the patrol car, Charlie. And crank up the heat.”
ooooThe constable complied reluctantly. “Nobody’s dead after all?” he said, not making any great effort to conceal his disappointment at having been reduced, in less than a minute, from chief investigator of a capital crime to incidental character in a timely rescue.
oooo“Who is she?” he asked. “How’d she get in the water?”
oooo“She don’t remember,” Sarah said quickly as she helped the diminutive blue-eyed blond into the back seat of the partrol car. “I think she’s got amnesia!”
oooo“Amnesia?” said Wruggles. There might be a role for him after all. “She don’t even know who she is?” he asked Sarah. “You don’t remember who you are?” he asked the girl.
oooo“Nope, she don’t,” Sarah replied. In her eagerness to divest herself of the guilt she felt at the girl’s near-demise, she had assumed the role of spokesperson.
ooooParker heard the exchange from the top of the ladder. Gregory huffed and chuffed up behind him and they stood side-by-side, watching the patrol car drive away. From the rear seat, the girl turned and looked at them, an unspoken ‘thank-you’ in her eyes.
ooooJiminy, stranded beside them, was still trying to wrap his wits around the flabbergasting turn of events. “I was sure she was dead, Park,” he said. “I mean, you find somebody just floatin’ in the water like that — you just figure —”
ooooParker was looking at the Early Broad. “Where’s your new traps, Jim?”
oooo“New traps?” said Jiminy. He was watching after the patrol car.
oooo“Sarah said you was in Rockland gettin’ new traps.”
ooooA bright flush of color rose immediately to Jiminy’s face. His eyes followed as Parker nodded toward the Early Broad. There were no traps, new or otherwise. “Oh, she told you that. Well, we went over, but they wasn’t ready yet.”
ooooParker decided to press the point a bit while Jiminy was off-balance. “You went all the way to the mainland without callin’ to see if they was ready?”
oooo“Well,” Jiminy sputtered, “they was wrong. I mean, they got the order wrong. I wanted concrete runners, and they give me wood. I better get out to the moorin’, he said, climbing quickly down the ladder. “I’m some glad you brought ’er to,” he called as he crossed the float and jumped aboard his boat. “Some lucky for her you was around.”
ooooParker had his teeth into something. “Who builds your traps these days, Jiminy?”
oooo“Muscongus Bay Comp’ny,” Jiminy said automatically, then wondered if he hadn’t spoken too soon. Hell, it was only Parker Parker, what’d he matter?
oooo“Well, ain’t that the damndest thing,” said Gregory, resting one foot on a piling. He rummaged through his pockets, produced his corncob pipe and tapped out its contents — mostly unsmoked tobacco — on the heel of his hand. “Amnesia. You see that on TV, but I never seen it in real life, Park. You?”
oooo“She’s got amnesia like I’ve got a monkey’s tail,” said Parker under his breath. He watched the Early Broad nose out into the still waters of the harbor toward its mooring.
oooo“What?” said Gregory, habitually searching his empty pockets. “You didn’t bring along a pinch of that nasty tobacco, did you?”
ooooParker withdrew a Zip-loc bag from the left breast pocket of his overalls and handed it over. “You notice dirt under that girl’s fingernails?”
oooo“No,” said Gregory, filling his pipe. He eyed the finished job critically. “What of it?”
oooo“She’s been diggin’,” Parker said thoughtfully.
oooo“Prob’ly gardenin’ or somethin’.”
ooooParker dismissed the notion as highly unlikely. The shore of Green’s Island — especially the northern shore, with its minimal sun — would not be hospitable to garden plants. And the people of Green’s Island, a reclusive group, would not have been hospitable to strangers tearing up the environs.
ooooThen he recalled an article he’d read in the last issue of The Working Waterfront about a young university student who intended to reopen an archaeological dig her father had begun on Green’s Island ten years ago; a search for traces of the legendary Red Paint people.
oooo“What was his name?” he said aloud.
oooo“Whose name?” Gregory sucked loudly on the much-bitten stem of his pipe. The tobacco seemed reluctant to light.
oooo“Fellah had a place up on Shore Acres. The old Miller camp.”
oooo“Cain,” said Gregory, spitting out the name with the bitter residue of tobacco juice. “First name’s Jeremy. Somethin’ like that.”
oooo“No. That’s who’s there now. I’m talkin’ ’bout before him.” Gregory shrugged.
oooo“Some kind of banker, wan’t it? Don’t remember his name. He’s the one who drowned.”
ooooParker nodded, dredging his memory. “They never found his body, did they?”
oooo“Never did,” Gregory agreed. “But he must’ve drowned. They found his boat floatin’ ’round the bay, didn’t they? Or washed up someplace? Why don’t you get some Borkum Riff. Most anything’d be better than this outhouse linin’.”
oooo“Why don’t you get it yourself?” Parker snapped testily, and at once repented of it. Sometimes he forgot the old man couldn’t buy his own tobacco anymore.
ooooGregory didn’t say anything. He just hung his head a little and tried to coax a decent drag from the oprobrious Edgeworth. That was salt to Parker’s conscience. He forced an apologetic smile and patted him on the back. “Maybe I’ll break down and do just that one’ve these days, Greg,” he said. “Somethin’ to look forward to, ain’t it?”

Part Three

ooooThat night, to the comfortable music of Mercy cleaning up in the kitchen, Parker dug through back issues of periodicals he kept in the magazine rack beside his Lazy-Boy and found the most recent issue of The Working Waterfront, with the article titled “Hunt for the Red Paint People.”
ooooA brief review of the history of these curious and enigmatic nomads — fleetingly mentioned by the earliest European visitors to the craggy coasts, scant evidence of whom turned up from time to time beneath the archaeologist’s spade — was followed by a prosaic recapitulation of the presumed death by drowning of Lyndon Makepeace.
oooo“That’s it!” said Riley aloud, rebuking his faulty memory for having forgotten such a distinctive name. He read on: ‘The Green’s Island dig was initiated ten years ago by Jillian’s father, amateur archaeologist Lyndon Makepeace, investment banker with the firm of Makepeace and Cain of Boston and summer resident of Penobscot Island.
oooo“‘Makepeace was reported missing on the morning of August 23rd, 1994, by his wife, Hester. The aluminum skiff he’d used to commute to the dig was discovered on Hurricane Island. The oars were still in the locks. The Coast Guard conducted a thorough search of the bay from the White Islands to Brimstone, but found no sign of Makepeace, and nothing to indicate what might have happened to him.
oooo“‘The search was called off after three days and he was presumed drowned.
oooo“‘Jillian was ten at the time of the accident. She says her passion for archaeology was ignited about three years ago. “I was going through Dad’s things,” she said in an interview with The Working Waterfront, “and found his field notes. He discovered evidence suggesting that the Red Paint People were island-based. I’m not sure why, but he thought Green’s Island might have been their permanent home. Maybe that was just because it was right across the Reach from our cottage, and easy to get to!” she said, laughing.
oooo“‘Most contemporary historians and archaeologists believe the tribe was centered on the mainland, where most of the evidence of their existence has been found.
oooo“‘“Dad thought the fact that the Red Paint artifacts are found only on the coast — not inland — indicates they must have come from somewhere else, perhaps during times of drought, to take advantage of resources the mainland offered. But they don’t seem to have ventured inland. He took this to mean they wanted to avoid con- tact with other tribes, with whom they seemed to have little in common.
oooo“‘“At first I think I just wanted to prove my Daddy right,” said Ms. Makepeace. “The academic community was pretty hard on him. Then I caught the bug. I didn’t have to think twice when I chose my major — cultural anthropology with a minor in archaeology.
oooo“‘“After examining the evidence — what there is of it — I believe Dad was right.” She laughs. “Whether or not they had a base of any kind on Green’s Island remains to be seen. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say the Red Paint weren’t indigenous to the mainland. They have no cultural counterpart anywhere on the continent, that I know of.” Asked to expand on her theory, she declined. “We’ll see what the dirt says.”
oooo“‘While conducting her investigations, Ms. Makepeace, a senior at USM, will be staying in the family cot- tage, now owned by her father’s former business partner, Jeremiah Cain, and his wife Emily. She hopes to begin digging weekends during the fall semester.
oooo“So, that’s our girl,” said Parker. He folded the paper and let it fall to his lap, put his head back against the hand-made doily and closed his eyes. So, why hadn’t she said so? She must have known how she ended up in the water. What was she hiding? Something awful, judging from the look in those frightened, pale-blue eyes. At least, something that seemed terrible to her. Fear? Something more. Something deeper. Darker. Archaeology, though. That explained the dirt under her fingernails. What had she been digging?
ooooHe opened his eyes and ferreted amongst the papers in the magazine rack until he found what he was looking for — an old tidal chart. A few minutes’ calculation told him what he wanted to know: the tides on August 23, 1994, would have taken Mr. Makepeace’s skiff out to the White Islands, maybe Ledbetter’s, not to Hurricane, which was in the opposite direction. “Now, that’s curious,” he said.
ooooParker wished Gregory was there. For all his rambling and complaining, Gregory helped him think. But he’d have to wait ’til the next evening at six o’clock. That’s when Gregory always turned up, like a bad penny. He smiled. How many pennies in seventeen million dollars?

ooooNext morning, over his customary breakfast of oatmeal and toast; Parker told Mercy he wasn’t going out to haul. “I’m gonna mosey over to Addie’s an’ see how that girl’s getting on,” he said, keeping to himself the real reason he wanted to talk to Jillian Makepeace.
oooo“Poor thing,” said Mercy. “Imagine havin’ amnesia. You think she’ll come ’round after a while?”
ooooParker wiped his mouth on his napkin and pushed his chair from the table. “Oh, I expect she will,” he said. “I expect she will. Sooner than you think.”
ooooAddie was busy in her kitchen when he gave a quick tap on the rear door and let himself in.
oooo“Mornin’, Addie.”
ooooAddie didn’t look up from the dishes she was washing. She’d seen Parker coming across the dooryard. “Don’t often see you this time of day, Parker,” she said.
ooooParker sat down at the table. “Nope. I just thought I’d drop by to see how the patient is this morning.”
oooo“Still sleepin’,” Addie replied. She’d assumed Sarah’s role as the girl’s protector and figured sleep was the best thing. “Doc Stevenson was by last night and looked her over. Said to let her rest.”
ooooParker read the implicit warning. “I don’t suppose she said much of anything last night. Didn’t remember who she was or anything.”
oooo“Hardly got a peep out’ve ’er,” said Addie. “Said ’er head hurt and she wanted to shower and go to bed after Doc left. That’s about it.”
oooo“Sure,” said Parker. “Sure. Stands to reason.”
oooo“I don’t s’pose you’d want a blueberry muffin.”
oooo“Wouldn’t say no.”
oooo“They’re not fresh. I took ’em out’ve the oven over three hours ago. But they’re not too bad heated up.”
ooooParker nodded and poured himself some coffee from a carafe on the table. He and Addie had been an item during their teens, but the Korean War proved an impediment to romance. They tried taking up again after he got back, but things weren’t the same. They’d gently cut each other adrift and, after an awkward year or two, became comfortable as friends. She was still a pleasing-looking woman, though there was a lot more of her to ap- preciate these days. She’d inherited the B&B — she called it an inn — from her aunt Matty. She’d also inherited Matty’s characteristics of taciturn hospitality. And she was, in Gregory’s words, “one helluva good cook.” Over time Parker had even taken to calling her Aunt Addie, like everyone else did.
oooo“Sarah says the girl would’ve drowned if you hadn’t showed up when you did,” Sarah said conversationally as she put a muffin in the microwave and pushed the buttons.
ooooParker smiled. Matty must be turning over in her grave. She’d never have allowed a microwave in her kitchen. “Well, they was just too shook up to think straight, I guess,” he said magnanimously. He thought again about Jiminy’s new traps. “Mind if I make a call?”
ooooAddie — a symphony of familiar domestic rhythms — pointed toward the front hall with a butter knife. “You know where it is.”
ooooParker knew Friendship Trap was the only outfit in the midcoast that made traps with the concrete runners Jiminy had supposedly specified, so that’s who he called.
oooo“’Lo, Parker,” said Karen, the receptionist. “Haven’t heard from you in a while.”
ooooAfter he’d won the lottery, Parker had toyed with the idea of buying a whole new string of traps, but why bother? Besides, other fishermen would have been suspicious. “No, I guess you ain’t,” he said. “I’ll have to order a new trap or two one’ve these days.”
ooooKaren laughed. Most fishermen bought traps fifty to a hundred at a time. Parker, who had a reputation for frugality, had been one of the last holdouts to build his own traps. Only with painful reluctance had he finally given in. Even at that, rather than step into the future all at once, he tiptoed, replacing his old wooden traps one at a time. And they didn’t go to waste. When they became useless, he turned them into coffee tables and sold them to summer folks at a hundred bucks a pop. “What can I do for you?”
ooooBy the time he returned to the kitchen table a minute later, his muffin was waiting, two neat, steaming halves hinged by a generous pat of melting butter.
oooo“That didn’t take long,” said Addie, which was her way of asking who he’d called and why.
oooo“Nope,” Parker replied with a smile, which was his way of saying, “None of your business.” The fact that Jiminy Biggins hadn’t bought any traps since spring of the previous year wasn’t any of his business, either. Not really. But it sure was curious. He thought back to how Sarah — despite the emotional agonies of just having pulled a body from the water — had spun that little story neat as you please, beginning, middle and end. At the time it didn’t seem rehearsed. Then again, he hadn’t been listening too close.
oooo“Curious,” he said aloud, forgetting, for the moment, he had an audience.
oooo“What’s curious?”
oooo“Huh? Oh, nothin’. I was just thinkin’ out loud.”
ooooAddie reminded him what they said about people who talked to themselves. Of course, he talked to Gregory, too. Even gave him tobacco and beer. He wondered what she’d make of that. For the next fifteen minutes or so they made small talk. A couple from Michigan came down for breakfast and felt their island experience a little more authentic for their intercourse with the natives. “Don’t see how folks can live so far from the ocean,” Addie remarked after the couple had left. “Ain’t natural.”
oooo“They got the Great Lakes,” Parker reminded. “I s’pose,” said Addie, with a look of sympathy. “Well, you got to make do, sometimes.”
ooooParker said that was true. After that, conversation pretty much ran out, and Parker began to feel restless. He couldn’t justify his presence
much longer on the pretext of simply wanting to make sure Jillian was all right. “I best be going,” he said at last. “Mind if I unload some’ve that coffee?”
oooo“Top of the stairs,” said Addie. “Don’t forget to flush.” There were three rooms at the top of the stairs — sharing a large, common bath — and each had a name. The one on the left was called “Winston,” in honor of a long-time resident Matty had hosted years before. Something of a legend in his own modest way, but that was another story. The door stood open, and Parker was careful to keep to the carpet to minimize creaking as he made his way down the hall for a peek.
ooooA large, four-poster bed stood in the middle of the room, which was crammed with comfortable-looking accessories — including a wardrobe with a full-length mirror in which he could see the rest of the room. Suitcases lay open on the bed, from which a small volcano of clothing had erupted carelessly. A few souvenirs sat on the bureau.
ooooMight be a market for a coffee table. “Nope,” he reminded himself. “Let ’em keep their money.” How many coffee tables would he have to sell to make seventeen million dollars? Anyway, it wasn’t Jillian’s room. He made his way with all the stealth he could manage toward the rooms at the opposite end of the hall. One of
these, too, the one labeled Lilac Cottagewas open. A glance told him no one had stayed there the previous night. The room immediately across the hall was called the Seven Roses, and its door was closed. Parker knocked lightly.
oooo“Who is it?” said a voice within.
ooooTen minutes later, Parker stepped into the bathroom on his way to the stairs. He closed the door quietly behind him, flushed the commode, opened the door, stepped back into the hall and went downstairs at an easy trot. He stopped at the kitchen door.
oooo“Well, there you are,” said Addie, who had been deliberating whether to set the table for lunch, or wait until her last guest had breakfasted. “I was about to send a search party.”
oooo“You know how it is, Ad,” Parker said, “you get to a certain age and you think nature’s tryin’ to tell you one thing when she really means somethin’ else.”
ooooAddie wasn’t listening. “I hope you was quiet.”
oooo“Well, I was,” Parker replied, “but when I come out I see all the doors was open, so I guessed our girl must’ve come out while I was in there. Where is she?”
oooo“Out?” said Addie, her brow creasing heavily. “She ain’t come down.”
oooo“You don’t say? Well, I wonder where she got to?”
oooo“She’s in the Seven Roses,” said Addie. “You sure the door was open?”
oooo“Wide as the beggar’s purse,” said Parker.
oooo“Now that don’t make any sense,” said Addie. She grabbed a dishtowel from the rail on the stove and wiped her hands, even though they weren’t wet.
ooooParker followed her to the top of the stairs where she went immediately to the Seven Roses. The door stood open, as Parker had left it, and she stopped on the threshold, her eyes widening as she surveyed the room. “She’s gone!”
oooo“You don’t say,” said Parker, squeezing in beside her. “You sure this is the room she was in?”
ooooThe look Addie returned him would have fused the knee joints of anyone who wasn’t prepared for it. Parker was. He looked at her with all the innocence he could muster. “Just askin’,” he said. “Where do you s’pose she’s got to?”
oooo“I got to call somebody,” said Addie, who had begun to choke away whatever life remained in the dishtowel. Parker fell easily into her wake as she bustled down the stairs. As they descended, he stole a covert glance over his shoulder at Winston’s room. The door swayed ever so slightly. He and Gregory would have a lot to talk about come six o’clock.

Part Four

oooo“So, you told ’er to wait in Winston’s room ’til the coast was clear?” said Gregory. He tugged at his left earlobe, the way he did when his brain was trying to catch up to something.
ooooParker nodded, lit his pipe for the third time in five minutes, and let a long, thoughtful cloud of acrid smoke drift from his lips. A fog bank had been teasing the islands at the head of the harbor most of the day and was now in retreat toward the southeast, regrouping for a final assault. For the moment, the harbor was still as a balled-up kitten — a bowl of sunshine reflecting the golden fleet with hardly a ripple.
oooo“Then you snuck ’er down here.”
ooooThat was pretty much the plan so far. “Yup,” said Parker, as if hiding a beautiful young woman in his fish house was the kind of thing he did every day.
ooooGregory leaned back and draped his arms, scarecrow-like, over the crates behind him. “Well, there’s a donkey draggin’ himself around on two legs somewhere around here, ’cause that’s the most half-assed thing you’ve ever done. An’ that’s sayin’ somethin’.”
ooooThe two old men had been fishing partners for most of their lives. A few thousand days bobbing on the ocean in a 30-foot boat — in every kind of weather God could manufacture — had given them an intimacy somewhere between friendship and marriage. Gregory knew all there was to know about Parker — with the exception of that lottery ticket (the only one he’d ever bought). Seventeen million dollars. Parker smiled at a sweet, private irony. Time was he’d never have been able to keep such a secret from Gregory. Since Greg had died of heart failure some 14 years ago, though, it was easier. He wasn’t as tenacious as he used to be.
ooooParker allowed the remark to pass without comment. “She’s sleepin’ now?” Gregory asked, watching jealously as Parker inhaled a lungfull of smoke. “Yup,” said Parker. “I strung up that old rope hammock of yours between the rafters. Did the trick, I guess. She’s out like a light.”
ooooGregory sipped his beer and wished he could taste it, or feel it bubbling down his throat. That was the price of purgatory: all the old habits, none of the satisfaction. “Takes it outta ya, almost drownin’ like that.”
oooo“Guess so.”
oooo“Well. So she told you someone tried to drown ’er on purpose? You believe that?”
ooooParker thought about that, then said, “I believe she believes it.”
oooo“But she don’t know who?”
oooo“Nope. Or why anybody’s want to.” A gull on a nearby piling lobbed a few irreverent remarks into the conversation.
ooooGregory upended his beer can and let the last few sips drain out through the cracks between the weathered boards of the pier — a libation offering to whatever gods mock the dead. “I still don’t see why she don’t just tell Charlie. Maybe he ain’t the brightest marble in the bag, but he couldn’t do worse for ’er than you done.”
oooo“I told you,” said Parker, with that special irritation reserved for best friends, “she wants to find out who tried to kill ’er and why. She don’t think Charlie’ll take ’er serious until she’s got some kind of hard evidence.”
oooo“I’ll bet my share of the next haul you put that idea in her head,” said Gregory. “Didn’t you?”
ooooParker shrugged. “Maybe. That don’t make it a bad one.”
oooo“Don’t make it a good one, either.”
oooo“Nobody’ll think to look for ’er down here.”
oooo“Assumin’ they’re really after ’er.”
oooo“Best to assume that ’til we can prove otherwise, ain’t it?”
ooooGregory couldn’t immediately refute the logic, so he just exhaled slowly. “What’re you gonna do now?” Good question.
oooo“She said someone pushed ’er off the wharf when she was gettin’ ready to climb down to her punt.”
oooo“Can’t prove that.”
ooooThat was so. What could he prove? “I can prove Jiminy Biggins and Sarah Coombs didn’t go over to Rockland to get no new traps.”
oooo“What’s that got to do with anything?”
oooo“They’re lyin’.”
ooooThis wasn’t proof as far as Greg was concerned. “Shoot, they’re lobsterman, ain’t they?” he said, and he’d have felt the same even if he was still alive. “Why’d they make up such a feeble story?”
ooooGregory threw an urchin shell at the gull. His shot was wide, and the gull just shook its head. “You get two feeble-minded people tryin’ to make up a story it’s gonna be twice as feeble as if one of ’em tried to make it up alone,” he said. He seemed to find satisfaction in the logic and shot the gull a challenging glance, as if he ex- pected argument from that quarter. The gull fluttered its wings, but otherwise reserved its opinion.
ooooParker prodded his brain. “What was they doin’ out so late?”
oooo“My money’s on the birds and bees,” said Gregory. Now there’s something Parker hadn’t thought of. It was a revelation. He felt like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. “You s’pose that’s what it was? They was out on Green’s Island for a little this ‘n’ that?”
ooooGregory spat overboard. “Bound to happen once you let women on board, ain’t it?” Gregory had never been reserved in his opinion of female sternmen
oooo“But Jiminy’s married,” objected Parker, for whom the notion of marital infidelity was as foreign as the Cyrillic alphabet. Mercy’d kill him, for one thing.
oooo“You don’t say,” Gregory retorted cynically.
ooooParker considered the possibility. “Nice little cove over there, outta sight. You could pull right up to shore, if the tide was right.”
oooo“High tide ’bout five thirty yestiddy af’noon, wan’t it?”
oooo“’Bout that,” said Parker. “’Bout that.” The fog had crept back in, obscuring the harbor, wrapping them by almost imperceptible degrees in a chill
blanket of gray opacity. Parker hardly noticed. His thoughts, like those of the gull, were inward, the eyes of his imagination replaying Jiminy and Sarah’s tryst. Not a pretty picture, but it made sense. As much as anything did. “So, they was either comin’ or goin’ from their little business, and found the girl floatin’ in the water….” he thought aloud.
oooo“You know,” said Gregory, a glimmer of interest in his eyes, “let’s say someone was tryin’ to get that girl outta the way for some reason. First, they push ’er in the water, then they get ready to drop a rock on ’er head just when Jiminy and Sarah come crashin’ through the puckerbrush….”
ooooParker took up the thread. “Somethin’ did hit ’er on the head.”
oooo“Near-miss,” said Gregory. “Prob’ly thought they had all the time in the world to perfect their aim….”
oooo“But Jiminy and Sarah surprised ’em.”
oooo“So,” said Gregory, “they dodge outta sight and watch ’em drag the girl outta the water and haul ’er aboard the Early Broad.”
oooo“If that’s the case,” said Parker, “she does have somethin’ to worry about. Somebody’ll be lookin’ for ’er.”
oooo“Who are you talking to?” said Jillian; she was standing in the doorway of the shack, draped in a multicolored afghan Mercy had won at a Fourth of July raffle some decades back. She rubbed her eyes with the heals of her hands. A curtain of fog closed over the crates where Gregory had been sitting, when it parted he was no longer there. Only Parker knew.
oooo“Nobody with any sense,” he said. “Just thinkin’ out loud. You sleep okay?”
ooooJillian’s eyebrows creased. “Bad dreams,” she said, yawning. That wasn’t surprising.
oooo“You want anything? I got some Moxie in the cooler.” He didn’t know how old the girl was, so didn’t feel comfortable offering her a Schlitz.
oooo“No, thanks,” she said, sitting down beside him. “I’m fine.”
oooo“You still think somebody pushed you in?”
ooooThe girl stared into the fog. “Sometimes I begin to wonder if I just imagined the whole thing. I mean, it sounds so far-fetched.” She thought hard. “But I know they did. I can still feel the hand in the middle of my back.” A shiver trembled almost visibly up her spine.
ooooNo doubt that’s what she thought. “There wasn’t a spruce branch or anything, maybe pushed by the wind — caught you off balance?”
ooooShe shook her head. “Nothing like that. It was a deliberate push.”
ooooParker was trying to think of a way to test Gregory’s theory without putting thoughts in the girl’s mind. “Then what?”
oooo“Pardon?”
oooo“What happened after you hit the water?”
ooooJillian’s hand drifted to her temple. “I guess I hit my head on something. I felt a kind of dull thud then, well, that’s all I remember.”
ooooIf it happened the way Gregory thought it had, there had to be more. “That happened just when you hit the water?”
ooooJillian didn’t flinch, she confronted the memory directly, struggling hard to dredge it up. “Funny,” she said. “I thought it must have … but now that I think about it …”
ooooParker let her relive the moment.
oooo“I was under water. I remember the taste of salt in my mouth … in my throat.” She paused. “I was trying to swim to the surface. I couldn’t have been very deep …” She gasped. “I saw someone!”
oooo“You did?”
oooo“A shape … someone standing on the shore. I remember now!”
oooo“Who was it?” Parker urged, his pulse quickening.
ooooJillian shook her head, as if trying to dislodge the image. “I don’t know. I was looking up through three or four feet of water. It was just a shape — but it was someone. I couldn’t even say if it was a man or a woman, but … that must be when I hit my head.” She wrestled with her thoughts.“I don’t remember anything after that … until you….” She still tasted his tobacco on her lips. Parker modestly deflected the awkward gratitude in her eyes.
oooo“That’s when Sarah give you the idea of amnesia?”
ooooJillian lowered her head. “I needed time to think. I was cold, and wet, and scared half to death … that hand in the middle of my back…” She shivered again. “It was a good way not to have to answer any questions. I was so confused. Afterward,” she continued, braiding her fingers, “when I was up at Addie’s, well … like I told you this morning … it seemed like a good way … a pretense that would buy me a little time, a little freedom to think things through. If someone wants me dead, maybe they won’t be in such a hurry if they hear I’ve amnesia.” She looked at him with moist, blue eyes. “Sounds like a bad soap opera, doesn’t it?” Her voice trailed away.
oooo“So’s the Bible an’ the Congressional Record,” Parker suggested.
ooooNeither of them spoke for a while. Parker finally broke the silence. “D’you find anything out there?”
oooo“You mean on Green’s Island?” Parker nodded. “Well, yes, as a matter of fact. I found the place daddy had been digging. It only took a few hours. He left good notes.”
oooo“Anything there?”
ooooJillian massaged her temples. “Nothing much to see,” she said. “Just a place of new growth 20 or 30 feet back from the shore.”
oooo“New growth?”
oooo“The point there is generally pretty overgrown. But dad had cleared an area maybe 30 by 40 feet where he expected to find something. That was ten years ago, so the place wasn’t choked with old-growth vegetation. I doubt anyone would have noticed if they weren’t looking for it. That’s all I found — just the general area he’d been working.”
oooo“No chance he was lookin’ for anything valuable?”
oooo“What, you mean like buried treasure?” Jillian laughed. “No. Nothing like that. The kind of thing he was looking for wouldn’t be of the slightest interest to more than a handful of eggheads and academics. Pottery, maybe. But even that would be exceptional. For an archaeologist the real gold mine would have been a midden.”
ooooParker was familiar with the term. “Garbage pit?”
ooooJillian nodded. “You can learn a lot from people’s trash — what they ate, what tools they used, if any. Even what kind of clothes they wore.”
oooo“Wouldn’t be much left of cloth after all this time, would there?”
oooo“No, but you might find bone or shell needles. Marks on them would tell you what kind of thread they used, which would tell you if they made their clothing, or just strung animal skins together. There are lots of benchmarks that tell you how far a given people have advanced as a civilization. If you find a lot of seeds, or grain, there’s a good chance they’d developed agriculture at some level. If there are just a lot of bones, they were probably hunter-gatherers. Not likely to have left much information about themselves.”
oooo“But they’d have had to build boats, wouldn’t they,” said Parker, “I mean, just to get out here in the first place?”
oooo“After a fashion, yes. But what kind? Canoes? Sailing vessels? Rafts? Or just hollowed-out logs? A good midden would give us some clues.”
ooooFor a moment the girl’s passion lit her eyes. At the same moment, Parker was reminded of something Gregory had said: ‘What if someone was tryin’ to get ’er out of the way for some reason?’ Suddenly Parker was sure someone had tried to kill Jillian Makepeace. But who? And why?
oooo“Fog’s clearin’,” he said, scanning the harbor. “You’d best get back inside ’fore anyone sees you.”

Part Five

oooo“Where do you s’pose she’s got to?” Mercy asked over lunch. “Down to the Post Office they was sayin’ half the island’s out lookin’ for ’er. Eloise Beggs says they been watchin’ the ferry and the harbor, so she hasn’t left the island … not by boat, anyhow. If some lobsterman give ’er a lift you’d know it by now.”
ooooIt was a rhetorical question, so Parker concentrated on his chowder. “I might like a bowl of this to take down to the fish house ’s’afternoon,” he said, “an’ some’ve them peanut butter cookies you made.”
ooooMercy raised an eyebrow. If anything, Parker’s appetite had been falling off in recent years. “You feelin’ all right?”
oooo“Sure,” Parker replied a little too quickly. “Sure. Just been gettin’ hungry down there lately. Some good chowder.”
ooooAs far as Mercy was concerned, this was a happy turn of events. She came of the old Yankee stock that equated a healthy appetite with general well-being. She got up immediately from the table and began preparing a lunch pail. “She can’t have got far,” she said, resuming the conversation Parker was trying to steer clear of. “Poor thing. Wanderin’ ’round with amnesia. You know what I’ve always wondered? How is it folks who’ve lost their memory remember how to talk?” She filled Parker’s beat-up silver Thermos with steaming chowder.
ooooThe rabbit trail opened up and Parker dove down it. “Now that’s a good question, Merse,” he said. “Or how to write, or add two and two … or call a cab, or use a telephone. Must be some kind of pocket in the brain that holds on to them things.”
oooo“Must be,” said Mercy. “Some queer how the brain works, ain’t it?”
oooo“Like dreams,” Parker interjected before she had time to apply the principle to the missing girl in particular. They’d often spoken about how strange it was that, in dreams, your brain can conjure up a whole crowd of people you’ve never seen before, put clothes on them, make them fly or turn into inanimate objects, all by itself. A few minutes of happy, familiar speculation along these lines followed, at the end of which the topic of Jillian Makepeace was effectivley forgotten, lunch was packed, and Parker was on his way out the door. “See you ’bout five,” he said.
ooooMercy always had supper ready at five on the dot. Afterwards, like clockwork, he went back down to the fish house to fiddle around ’til seven-fifteen, and was home by seven-thirty. That’s when Jeopardy came on. They never missed Jeopardy and it always amazed Mercy how Parker knew most of the answers — as long as the category wasn’t Opera, Vice-Presidents, or Potent Potables. The only potent potable he knew was beer in a can.
ooooA thought sprung up from nowhere as Parker walked down the net factory hill toward town. Like most lobster boats in the harbor, the Early Riser had a nice little cabin. Plenty of room for a cot. Or an air mattress. So, why would Jiminy and Sarah have gone to all the bother of pulling up to Green’s Island for their little bit of monkey business when they could’ve just gone below any old time?
ooooGregory was wrong. No tryst. No traps. So, what had they been doing out so late? And why had they lied? Preoccupied with these thoughts, Parker was about to turn down Clam Shell Alley toward his fish house when he saw that Caffy Mitchell had collared constable Wruggles in front of the hardware store. It occurred to him there’d be no harm finding out how the official investigation was going — namely to make sure it wasn’t pointing in the direction of his fish house — and with Caffy in the mix, he stood a good chance of getting the latest edition of island gossip in the bargain.
ooooCaffy got her nickname — short for Caffeine — by dint of her innate hyperactivity, a trait particularly noticeable in her rapid-fire speech. Gregory had always said she could hang more words on a single breath than socks on a clothesline. By the time Parker made them a trio, her tongue spring was wound pretty tight, and she was doing her nickname credit.
oooo“Well, you’ve got to find that girl, Charlie. That’s all there is to it. You’ve got to find ’er before she hurts herself or goes fallin’ overboard again. Lord knows why she went wanderin’ off from Addie’s. You can’t tell with amnesiacs, you know,” she asserted, as if she came across amnesiacs a lot in her line of business — which was hair-dressing and holistic massage, though she filled in as school bus driver during the winter when things were slow. “How’d you like wakin’ up not knowin’ who you are or where you’d got to?” She gave a quick eruptive laugh. “’Course maybe that’s nothin’ new to you.” She slapped him on the arm, letting him know that was a joke. “But you ain’t gonna find ’er by walkin’ around downtown like a chicken with your head cut off. ’Lo Parker. Why ain’t you out to haul?”
ooooParker nodded a greeting. “’Lo Caffy. Charlie.”
oooo“Hey, Parker,” Charlie replied, glad of the interruption. Fact is, his inability to direct searchers to discovery of the missing girl — on an island only nine miles long and five wide … at the widest — was rankling. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a while. “What’s for lunch?” He nodded at the lunch pail hanging from Parker’s hand.
oooo“Oh,” said Parker, his color rising slightly. “Mercy made up a little extra chowder, ’case I get peckish. Girl still ain’t turned up, I take it?”
Charlie wagged his head. “No sign yet. Can’t figure out where she got to.”
oooo“Overboard again, you ask me,” said Caffy. “You wait and see if she don’t turn up in some lobsterman’s pot warp. Mark my words.” She turned to Parker and, without taking a breath, added: “You best stay handy, Park, ’case you’re needed to bring ’er to again.” A monosyllabic snort punctuated the statement. “You watch, half the fishermen in town’s gonna be linin’ up to take the next CPR course up at the high school hopin’ they get the chance for a little mouth-to-mouth with a pretty girl! They’re all jealous, you know!” She nudged him with her elbow, then turned again to Charlie. “You check up at the Cain place? That’s where she was stayin’, I hear. ’Course, if she’s got amnesia, she prob’ly don’t remember that. They there now, the Cains?”
oooo“I have, she hasn’t, and they ain’t,” Wruggles replied, taking the questions in order. “We’re doin’ all we can, Caf. Ain’t easy as you might think to find someone if they don’t want to be found. They got most of the planet lookin’ for Osama bin Laden an’ Saddam Hussein, and they ain’t been found, have they?”
oooo“They ain’t on a little bitty island in the middle of Penobscot Bay, with only two ways off, neither,” she said, as if she’d anticipated the analogy. She shook back the sheepskin cuff of her jacket and looked at the place her watch would have been if she’d been wearing one. “I got a one o’clock with Emily Davis, and if I’m late, I’ll never hear the end of it. See you later, Park.” She pointed a gloved finger at Wruggles. “You get out and find that poor girl.”
oooo“What two ways?” said Parker, when she’d left.
oooo“Mail plane, I guess she means,” Wruggles replied. He was standing in a puddle of self-recrimination, and Caffy’s remarks had raised the level considerably. “’Course we checked that first thing. Potty takes passengers sometimes.”
ooooPotty Potsdsrik flew out of Owl’s Head and had been delivering the island’s mail for nearly a decade without losing so much as a Lillian Vernon catalog. As a private contractor, he was able to take passengers. He did so, from time to time, for a small honorarium.
oooo“Nothin’ ?” Wruggles shook his head. “It’s like she vanished,” he said, making no attempt to conceal his befuddlement.
oooo“We’ve checked all the closed-up summer houses, too, and most of the islands within rowin’ distance, though nobody’s reported a punt missin’. Not hide nor hair.” He dug his hands a little deeper in his pockets and rattled his keys. “Can’t figure it.”
oooo“Well, what’ll you do when you find ’er?” said Parker. “I mean, it’s not like she’s done anything wrong. She ain’t broke no laws, has she?”
oooo“Well, no,” Charlie replied. “It’s mostly for her own good. Like Caffy said. I’d hate to see harm come to ’er, wanderin’ around with amnesia. ’Sides,” he added, “I’d sure like to know who she is an’ how she come to be floatin’ ’round in the Reach. There’s gotta be some answers when that amnesia wears off.”
ooooParker fought the impulse to share a little bit of what he knew but the thought that — in checking the evidence the powers that be might turn up the fact he’d been poking around himself — tied his tongue.
oooo“Well,” he said, “don’t let Caffy get to ya. You keep on doin’ what you’re doin’” (and no more, Parker thought) “and I’m sure she’ll turn up safe and sound. You’ll see.”
ooooHe gave the constable an encouraging clap on the back and turned toward Clam Shell Alley.
oooo“Hey, Park!” said Wruggles from a small distance, arresting Parker in mid-stride. “You never answered Caffy. Why ain’t you out to haul? I’ve never known you to miss the chance, ’specially on a day like this, you ol’ devil.”
ooooParker’s mind whirred and he tried to wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off his face as he tossed a backward glance. “Even the devil needs a day off now an’ then,” he said, forcing a smile and what was meant to be a laugh, but came out more of a croak.
oooo“Maybe I’ll drop by the shop an’ get me a spoonful’ve Mercy’s chowder a little later,” said Wruggles, good-naturedly. It was no idle threat. Mercy’s chowder was the first pot emptied at church suppers, and Wruggles was one of the island’s most notorious carnivores.
oooo“You do that,” said Parker with a wave. It wouldn’t have been natural to say anything else.
Jillian was huddled comfortably in a little area Parker had cleared beneath his work bench, a cubby hole he had draped with an old canvas tarp, effectively concealing her from the rest of the world.
oooo“It’s me,” he said. “It’s okay.” A corner of the tarp lifted. “Is that food?” she said, eyeing the lunch pail “I’m starved.” Ten minutes later the thermos was empty. Parker was surprised by the girl’s appetite. There’d be no leftovers for Charlie. Jillian was sitting on the floor with her legs crossed, absent-mindedly threading strands of hair between her fingers.
oooo“It’s time I got out anyway,” she said in response to the news that Wruggles might be stopping by. “I’m not getting any closer to finding out who’s behind all this by hanging around here.”
ooooParker was skeptical. “You can do as much from here as you could from the medical center — which is where you’ll end up if anybody finds you.” He was also thinking what people would say if they found out he’d been con- cealing the girl in his fish house. What would Mercy say? He had a pretty good idea. The hairs on the back of his neck stood briefly at attention.
ooooThe truth of the statement was painfully obvious. “Then where can I go ’til hurricane Wruggles blows over?”
ooooParker said the first thing that came to mind. The farthest place he could think of. The one place nobody from Penobscot Island would ever think to look for Jillian Makepeace. “Paris.”
ooooParis, Maine, was not more than an hour from University of Southern Maine. Jillian had driven through it a couple of times, but could think of nothing particular to recommend it in the present instance. Perhaps she hadn’t heard clearly
oooo“Paris, Maine?”
oooo“What?” said Parker, his mind racing ahead. “Hell, no. Paris, France.”
oooo“Paris, France!”
oooo“That’s the one,” said Parker, a curious excitement surging through his ancient arteries. He raised the trap door in the floor and gauged the tide. “Ain’t as high as I’d like.” He held out his hand. “C’mere.”
ooooJillian complied, but doubt oozed from her every pore. “What are you doing?”
ooooHe pulled her toward the opening. “I’m gonna bring my punt under here. When I do, you drop down in. Bring that tarp with you,” he nodded toward her hiding place. “I’ll cover you up with it, then we’ll row out to my boat and head over to Rockland.”
ooooJillian’s head was swimming, and there wasn’t any shore in sight. “What’s in Rockland?” She said feebly.
oooo“The bus to Boston,” said Parker. “Then the plane to Paris.” He was pretty sure there must be a plane to Paris from Boston.
ooooShe gave him a crooked smile. “You’re not serious….”
oooo“Why not?” said Parker.
ooooJillian held up her fingers and began to tick off her objections. “First, I have no clothes. Second, I have no money. Third, my passport’s at school. Fourth, I don’t know anybody in Paris. Fifth, how is being in Paris going to get me any closer to finding out who tried to kill me? Sixth …
ooooThe sixth point was stillborn. A crunch of gravel could be heard outside, then a sharp knock at the door.
oooo“Parker? You in there?” It was Wruggles. The latch jiggled. “Why’s the door locked? Parker? You okay?”

Part Six

oooo“What’s up?” said Wruggles when Parker finally opened the door. “I didn’t even know this door had a lock on it.”
ooooParker could feel his face flushing, but there was nothing he could do about it. “Just thinkin’ ’bout takin’ a little nap,” he said. “Didn’t want to be bothered.”
oooo“I see,” said Wruggles. He sat down on an old folding chair and let his eyes wander around the shop without really seeing anything. He figured even lobstermen must reach a point where the years caught up. He enjoyed a nap every now and then himself, but knew there’d be no end to the ribbing he’d take if it became common knowledge.
Parker was having to struggle to keep his eyes from wandering to the blue tarp that concealed Jillian’s hiding place.
ooooWruggle’s attention eventually came to rest on the silver thermos. “Any chance of a little chowder?”
oooo“ ’Fraid not,” said Parker quickly. “I was hungrier ’n I thought. Forgot you said you might be stoppin’ by.”
oooo“You just had lunch!” said Wruggles, glancing at his watch.
oooo“You know how it is with Mercy’s chowder.”
ooooWruggles knew how it was. That was his excuse for being there. Still, he wondered where Parker stashed all that food on his wiry five-foot seven-inch frame. He tried to conceal his disappointment. “I don’t guess I need it anyways,” he said, patting his substantial belly.
oooo“Don’t guess so,” said Parker, who caught himself looking at the tarp again. His brain was banging around looking for something to say. “I don’t s’pose you’ve ever been to Paris, have you Charlie?”
oooo“Paris, France?” said Wruggles. The question was so unexpected he forgot about the chowder. Parker nodded. “Nope. Never have. Why?”
oooo“Oh, just wonderin’,” said Parker. “Thinkin’ ’bout maybe takin’ Mercy on a trip one’ve these days.”
ooooWruggles just stared at Parker for a moment, not sure whether he was having his leg pulled. He’d never pictured Parker the type for such a romantic notion. “I bet she’d like that,” Wruggles said, “once she got over the shock. Trip like that’d set you back a penny or two.”
ooooParker smiled. “Oh, I don’t imagine it’d put me in the poor house.”
oooo“No,” said Wruggles who suspected, like most of the townsfolk, that Parker had a nice little nest egg tucked under a mattress somewhere. “I don’t imagine it would. Well,” he said, slapping his knees, “I guess I’d best get back lookin’ for that girl. ’Tween you an’ me, though, I don’t know where else to look.” He stood up. “Almost makes me believe in ghosts.” He laughed uncomfortably.
oooo“Good luck,” said Parker, maneuvering himself so that he stood between Charlie and the blue tarp. “She can’t be too far off.”
oooo“Nope,” Wruggles agreed. “That’s just the thing, ain’t it?” He didn’t leave. Instead, he stood staring across the harbor. “You know, I been constable out here for almost twenty years now,” he said reflectively. “Ain’t been bad. Mostly handling the usual crowd of drunks and the two or three young idiots that seem to crop up every generation just to make the rest of us miserable…”
ooooParker wasn’t sure where Wruggles was going, so he just let him ramble. You never knew what thoughts or ideas might turn up when you just let a man’s tongue have its way.
oooo“In all that time, there’ve only been three things I could never get my head around … the first was when ol’ Gregory went missin’.”
oooo“Heart attack,” Parker reminded.
oooo“Mm,” said Wruggles. He knew it wasn’t something Parker liked to talk about, but there was a time some things just had to be said. “How long was you two together?”
ooooIn the interest of honesty, Parker needed a little clarification. “You mean up ’til he died?”
ooooWruggles looked at him curiously. That was the kind of offbeat thing Parker said sometimes. He nodded. “Yeah. How long did you fish together?”
oooo“Near thirty years.”
oooo“How’d it happen again? So long ago I don’t remember.”
ooooParker remembered. The story was as fresh in his mind as when he’d first told it. “He was hand-haulin’ traps in near shore. Weather was some rough that day. We was headin’ in, an’ he said he just wanted to haul the last two traps in that string. Had a heart attack…clutched at his chest, you know?” said Parker, mimicking the action. “He was still holdin’ the line, I guess the weight of that trap just pulled ’im right over. Last I seen of ’im.”
ooooWruggles allowed a moment of respectful silence to pass. “Awful,” he said, in place of “amen.”
oooo“Was. Somethin’ awful. I was havin’ a rough go keepin’ the boat off the rocks. By the time I could cut the engine … it was too late. ’Course I looked much as I could, but what with the sea kickin’ up…”
oooo“Never found ’im,” said Wruggles. It was a simple statement of fact. They both knew Gregory’s body had never been found.
oooo“Nope. Never did,” Parker echoed.
oooo“That’s what I could never make sense of. You come right in to report, I remember it like yesterday. We got everybody out there … Coast Guard, half the boats in the harbor … but we couldn’t find nothin’ in that little stretch of water.”
oooo“Awful rough, it was,” said Parker. “You remember.”
oooo“Sure it was,” Wruggles sniffed. “Sure it was. But we found folks in rougher seas than that, dead and alive.” There was no denying that. Parker had been involved in two or three bad-weather rescues himself. “Worse ways for a fisherman to go, I guess.” Wruggles nodded.
oooo“I guess.” Parker was wondering what had made Wruggles dredge Gregory up after all these years, but he didn’t press the point.
oooo“Never found ’im,” Wruggles said again. “That was just off Green’s Island, too, wan’t it?” It was. “Just like the other two.”
oooo“Other two?”
oooo“Yup,” said Wruggles, still not taking his eyes off the harbor. “Makepeace. He was never found, neither.” He cast a sidelong glance at Parker. “And now this girl … whoever she is … gets found floatin’ in about the same place. Now, don’t that strike you as more than a little bit queer?”
ooooParker said it did, come to think of it. “Coincidence,” he summarized.
oooo“You know what they say ’bout coincidence,” said Wruggles. “Too much of it gets you thinkin’.”
oooo“Guess it does,” said Parker. He wondered what it had got Charlie thinking. “Anyway, Greg died near fifteen years ago. Makepeace was, what, nine, ten years? And …” He had been about to say “Jillian” and almost choked himself trying to keep it in.
oooo“You oughta lay off that Edgeworth, Parker.”
oooo“You could be right,” Parker agreed, dropping an accusatory glance at the pipe in his pocket. “Anyway … this girl, that just happened yesterday. Don’t see how any of ’em could have anything to do with each other.
oooo“And far as Greg goes, he just had a heart attack and went overboard. I seen that myself. Nope,” he declared after a second or two. “’less you’re talkin’ ’bout some kind of Bermuda Triangle out there, I don’t see how there couldn’t be no connection. Just coincidence.”
oooo“Maybe so,” said Wruggles. “Prob’ly just the policeman in me. Don’t like too many things that can’t be explained.” He snorted. “Sorry I missed out on that chowder. You keep on eatin’ like that you’re gonna lose your girlish figure,” he added, flicking his forefinger against Parker’s ribs.
oooo“I’ll keep an eye on it,” said Parker with a laugh as the constable started off across the dock.
oooo“Well,” said Wruggles in parting. “We got the girl’s picture comin’ out in the papers tomorrow, maybe that’ll turn up someone who knows who she is.”
oooo“You got her picture?”
ooooWruggles stopped and turned. “Sure. Up at Addie’s. First thing you do in a case like this. ’Course she was half drowned at the time, but I guess anyone who knows ’er’ll be able to recognize her. That’ll be a good first step in sortin’ out this mess.”
ooooParker swallowed hard. “Sure will,” he said.
oooo“You go on back to your nap,” Wruggles said over his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” He laughed.
ooooParker didn’t feel much like napping at the moment. “Charlie,” he said as Wruggles opened the door of his truck.
oooo“Huh?”
oooo“Sarah says she an’ Jiminy was on their way back from the mainland gettin’ new traps when they found that girl?”
oooo“Yeah. So?”
oooo“Well, I was talkin’ to somebody over to Friendship Trap … that’s where Jiminy buys his gear … an’ they say he ain’t ordered new traps since last spring.”
oooo“Did they for a fact?”
oooo“They did.”
ooooWruggles thought it over. “Maybe he was gettin’ ’em from someplace else.”
oooo“Nope,” said Parker. “He uses concrete runners, and they’re the only place ’round here that makes ’em.”
oooo“So they are,” said Wruggles. “So they are. Now, that makes you wonder what they was doin’ out there so late, don’t it?”
oooo“Just thought I’d mention it,” said Parker. “ ’Course, they coulda been out practicing procreation and just didn’t want anyone to know, so they made up the story ’bout the traps. Feeble minds spin feeble tales, you know.”
oooo“Jiminy and Sarah?” said Wruggles, alarmed — as Parker had been at first — by the mental picture created by the suggestion. He shook his head as if to eradicate the image. “No, I can’t see that. Sarah ain’t … I mean … Jiminy…” He inhaled sharply. “Nope. Can’t see that happenin’. Still, they musta been doin’ somethin’ out there … somethin’ they don’t want nobody to know. I’ll have a little talk with ’em, one at a time. See if I can’t shake it loose.
oooo“Somethin’ to do ’til we get some response from that picture in the paper, anyway. Thanks, Parker. Keep your eyes peeled an’ your ears open. Let me know if you can think of anything I should be doin’ that I ain’t.” He got in the truck and the rear tires spewed gravel over the wharf as he drove away.
ooooParker stood on the doorstep for a while, his eyes frozen in the direction the constable had gone until long after he was out of sight. He was thinking what had really happened the day Gregory died. “Never did find him,” he said.
“All clear,” he said as he re-entered the shop. Jillian tossed the tarp back and emerged from her cocoon.
oooo“So, my picture’s going to be in the paper.”
oooo“Seems so.”
oooo“That’s going to complicate things. They’re going to find out who I am.”
oooo“Somebody ’round here likely to identify you?”
oooo“Sure,” said Jillian, resting her bottom on the workbench. “Emily Cain, for one.”
oooo“I thought you said she was away.”
oooo“Only on the mainland. She doesn’t like to stay out on the island when Mr. Cain is in Boston, so she usually stays with friends in Rockport.” This struck Parker as odd. He felt, as did most native islanders, that people on the mainland were marooned, rather than the other way around.
oooo“She’d have had you for company.”
ooooJillian contemplated her shoes for a moment. “I don’t think Aunt Emily’s ever been too comfortable around me. Not since Dad died, anyway. I mean, she’s always been very kind and everything, but … you just get a feeling around some people, you know?”
oooo“She’s your aunt?”
oooo“Not really. I just grew up calling them aunt and uncle. Emily’s … she’s a little unusual.” She smiled distantly. “Just between you and me, she’s a little neurotic. Very edgy. I guess I’m as uncomfortable around her as she is around me. She’s the kind of person you always have to be careful what you say around, you know? She infers things you don’t mean. Like walking on egg shells.”
ooooParker had known people like that. All of them women. He nodded.
oooo“She wasn’t always like that,” Jillian continued. “Before Dad died, as far as I remember, she was always happy and bubbly … at least that’s the way she seemed to me. Of course, I was pretty young at the time. That’s the way I remember her.”
oooo“How’d they happen to buy your folks’ cottage, anyway? I’d’ve thought you’d want to keep it in the family.”
oooo“Oh, I wish we had!” Jillian replied with feeling. “I love that place. But it was too painful for Mom. Too many memories. She just wanted to get rid of it. I always thought Mr. Cain was doing her a favor, taking it off her hands. Emily didn’t really want it.”
oooo“What ever happened to your mother?”
ooooJillian lifted herself onto the workbench, tucked her knees under her chin and wrapped her shoulders in her arms. “After I left home, she sold Dad’s interest in the business and moved out west. Married a man out in Preston, Idaho. I don’t see her much. We talk on the phone once a month, but never really say much. I think I remind her of too much unhappiness … like the cottage. I’m part of her old life, and she’d just as soon put us both behind her.
oooo“She had a lot to deal with.” Her eyes, moist with emotion, flashed at Parker. “She’s not a bad mother,” she said. “It’s just that … life dealt her a little more than she could handle.”
ooooParker got the feeling she was talking about more than just losing her husband and, before he could remind himself it was none of his affair, said so.
oooo“The business went through a bad time,” Jillian replied after a moment’s consideration. “There were investigations of some kind. I really don’t know anything about it. Dad used to come up here to get away from it all. It was his escape, I guess. It wasn’t long after that that he…” She suddenly jumped down from the bench and wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Well, all that’s in the past.
oooo“I’ve been thinking about what you said … about getting away?”
ooooParker cringed at the transparency of his suggestion that she run away to Paris. Wruggles was right. A trip like that would cost a lot of money.
oooo“I know you just want to get me out of harm’s way, and I appreciate it. I really do.” She brushed his arm with her fingertips. “But I just can’t leave this mess for someone else to clean up. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder. If someone’s trying to kill me, I want to find out who. And why.”
Parker admired the girl’s spunk. She was the kind of person who would keep digging until she got to the bottom of things, or die trying. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
ooooThat was the problem with digging, he thought, you might turn up things better left buried.

Part Seven

ooooParker was in a hard place. Maybe Wruggles was no rocket scientist, but he had enough common sense to be unsettled by too many coincidences. And once he started putting two and two together, there was always a danger he’d come up with four.
ooooDropping that little clue about Jiminy and Sarah might put the constable off the trail for a while … might even turn up some useful information … but even rabbit trails had a way of doubling back on themselves.
ooooAnd Jillian was getting restless. She wasn’t the kind of girl who’d be content to sit and do nothing and just hope things turned out okay. For the moment she was still exhausted by her ordeal, and he’d had no trouble getting her to crawl back into her hiding place to sleep, but he figured if he could convince her to lay low another day he’d be doing well. By that time her picture would be in the paper. Then all hell would break loose.
ooooTime was running out. The fog had started oozing in about three o’clock, and by four was thick enough to have made a tiny island of the
fishhouse. Apart from the sounds of industry that now and then broke the silence, the rest of the world might have ceased to exist. Parker cleaned his pipe and tried to clear his mind, where the fog seemed to have taken up residence.
ooooWho had tried to kill the girl? And why? And how could he find out? And how could he do so without giving too much away? That was the thing. Just enough, and not too much. If he could present Wruggles with the solution to the immediate problem, all that nonsense about the past and old coincidences might just go away.
oooo“It’s gotta have something to do with Green’s Island,” he said aloud. A gull sat on a nearby piling and rustled its feathers, but otherwise showed no interest in the monologue. Maybe there was some egghead, as Jillian called them, who didn’t want her turning up evidence that would have plagued some pet theory. Academics were people, too, just like anyone else, even if their motives might seem a little obscure to normal people. It was common knowledge she was going to the island to resume her father’s work. He imagined an overwrought anthropologist concealing his be- spectacled oversized cranium behind the puckerbrush, waiting for just the right moment… That was a possibility, but not a very satisfying one. He filed it away.
oooo“Who else has anything to do with her?” he continued. The girl’s mother was somewhere in Idaho and apparently wanted nothing to do with the islands, or with her, for that matter. Too bad. The Cains?
ooooJeremy Cain, according to Jillian, was away in Boston. His wife, Emily — the neurotic — was somewhere in Rockport awaiting his return. What was it Jillian had said about her? Something had happened in the past. Something that changed her. Something to do with the business. Investigations? The papers were full of that kind of thing these days. White-collar crimes. Suits playing fast and loose with other people’s money. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing some latter-day yuppy hiding his face beneath his Armani jacket while he was being dragged from his BMW.
ooooGreed. That was a facet of human nature Parker understood. A little more satisfying as a motive. So what? Had someone in the firm of Makepeace and Cain set the trend all those years ago? Parker left a note on the workbench telling Jillian he’d be back by six or so. She could stretch her legs outside as long
as the fog held — which threatened to be some time. He quietly shut the shop door and started walking to the library.
oooo“Well, Parker Riley,” said the woman behind the desk as he entered. “What brings you here.”
oooo“Public place, ain’t it?” Parker retorted. “Just want to see what my taxes are payin’ for.”
oooo“Well, come on in,” said the woman good-naturedly. “Anything I can help you find?”
oooo“Matter of fact, there is,” said Parker. “You got the Internet here, don’t ya?”
oooo“Yup.”
oooo“I hear you can look up most anything on that. Right?” oooo“Most anything,” the librarian agreed. She rounded the counter and walked toward one of a small bank of computers, only one of which was occupied, by one of the Young boys. Parker could never sort that family out, but their ears were distinctive. “What do you want to find?”
ooooFollowing her lead, Parker pulled out a wooden stool and sat down in front of the screen. The only computer he’d ever had much to do with was the depth-finder on his boat. A piece of technology he’d given into because all the other lobstermen had one and he was afraid of being left behind. Not a bad little gizmo if you pushed the buttons right and got the hang of what the little wavy lines meant, but, since it didn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know, he’d given it up after a week or so.
ooooIf, after forty years, he didn’t know the bay better than some fancy piece of machinery made in Japan, he might as well hang up his boots. He’d kept it, though, ’cause everyone would just call him cheap if he didn’t.
ooooThe unit before him now looked enough like a regular TV so he wasn’t too intimidated. “Ask it to look up Makepeace and Cain,” he said.
ooooThe librarian’s name was Stephanie. She’d moved to the island and married a local carpenter some years back. She spoke with a southern accent, but he could still make out most of what she said. She logged onto Yahoo and typed in the name.
“They have a website,” she said as the home page came up. “That should tell you what you need to know.”
oooo“Website?” said Parker. “That’s like a catalog or brochure, ain’t it?”
ooooStephanie smiled. “Sort of. It tells about their products and services.” Parker doubted the kind of information he was looking for would be featured on the company’s website. “What else you got?”
oooo“Like what?”
oooo“Well, they’re an investment firm, right?”
oooo“That’s what it says.”
oooo“Okay, let’s say someone had an extra dollar or two they wanted to invest, but … what with all the thievery you hear ’bout these folks these days … they wanted to check a place out, how’d they go about it?”
oooo“Oh, you going in for high finance, Park?”
ooooParker smiled to himself. If she only knew. “You never know,” he said cryptically.
oooo“Well, the Internet’s sure a good place to get the dirt, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
oooo“Good,” said Parker. “Let’s get your fingers dirty.”
oooo“How far back you want to go?”
oooo“Ten years,” said Parker. “That oughta do it.” ooooStephanie thought a moment. “You might be able to find what you’re looking for in the business section of the newspapers. Where are they?” She said, consulting the screen. “Boston? Let’s try the Globe.” She expertly clicked the mouse a few times and, having tapped the website of the Boston Globe, began perusing their
financial archives. “All we have to do is enter Makepeace and Cain in the search window,” she said, following the word with the deed, “and voila! … here’s a list of articles that mention them.”
ooooThe list that followed was prodigious. “Any way to narrow it down?” Parker asked.
oooo“Well, we could look for articles specifically about them. Let’s see what happens if we just look for those with Makepeace and Cain in the headlines.” She did so. “There! This list looks a little more manageable.” Someone at the desk rang the bell. “I gotta go help somebody else. You just scroll though those,” she said, placing his hand on the mouse and showing him the scroll bar at the right of the screen. “When you find one that looks like what you’re looking for, just move the arrow to the type in blue and click on it. Got that?”
ooooHe got it.
oooo“Okay. Holler if you need anything else. If you find an article you want to print, just push this button up here. It’s twenty-five cents a sheet.”
ooooParker couldn’t see paying a quarter for a piece of paper. “Okay,” he said. “I think I’ve got it.” Stephanie disappeared amongst some shelves and Parker began scrolling. Within an hour, he’d learned more about the investment firm of Makepeace and Cain than he wanted to know. The problem, it turned out, was not finding information, but sifting through it all. Nevertheless, he found what he was looking for. ooooIrregularities in the firm’s accounting practices had led to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the weeks preceding Makepeace’s disappearance. It was briefly thought that he had faked his own death and made off for parts unknown with a substantial amount of investor’s cash. Parker laughed aloud. Makepeace hadn’t taken any cash where he went. Later, however, the whole brouhaha was blamed on a clerical error by the firm’s chief accountant — none other than Emily Cain herself. Reparations were paid, according to some financial Gordion’s knot Parker could make no sense of, and the firm was allowed to remain in business, with the caveat that Emily be removed from her position.
oooo“And that’s when she started goin’ off the deep-end,” said Parker with satisfaction.
oooo“Huh?” said the Young boy, whichever one it was, who — as far as Parker could tell — hadn’t blinked it forty minutes. In fact, the only sign of life from that quarter had been the nervous tapping of his index finger.
ooooThe stool squeaked on the floor as Parker backed away from the desk. “Marvelous things, these computers, ain’t they?”
oooo“Mm,” said the boy, apparently not up to the challenge of human interaction.
oooo“What does that prove?” said Gregory. He put in his appearance at six on the dot, as usual. As usual, he begged tobacco, cursed it when he got it, and popped the tab on a can of beer.
ooooWhat did it prove? Not much. Parker couldn’t screw up enough imagination to envision a female accountant — no matter how neurotic — rowing out to Green’s Island to push the daughter of her husband’s former business partner overboard.
“She could’ve paid someone to do it,” he ruminated.
oooo“Sure she could’ve,” said Gregory, spitting. “Yellow Pages’re full’ve hit men.”
ooooParker deflated somewhat. “Happens all the time on television shows,” he said, in defense of the notion.
oooo“TV’s where you put things only imbeciles would believe,” said Gregory. “’Sides, you got to have a reason. Why would she want that girl dead?”
ooooParker decided to follow the thought. “’Cause she was afraid she’d find out something.”
ooooGregory gave him a sidelong look that made Parker squirm. “You know there ain’t nothin’ out there that woman wouldn’t want found. She’d take up a shovel herself, if she knew.” “That ain’t what this is about,” Parker snapped. “It’s about this girl.”
oooo“They’re all the same,” said Gregory, “tied up together just like that.” He wound his fingers together.
oooo“No, they ain’t.”
ooooGregory shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
ooooParker hated it when Gregory was right. He’d hated it when he was alive, he hated it even more now that he was dead. “Then who do you think pushed ’er in?”
oooo“Told you already.”
oooo“You think it was Jiminy and Sarah?”
oooo“I ain’t changed my mind.”
oooo“Then you got the same problem I do — why would they?” oooo“Told you that, too, you old fart. You don’t listen.” oooo“I heard ya,” said Parker. “You said they was foolin’ around out there and was afraid she’d found ’em out. Well, that don’t hold water, and here’s why…” Parker detailed his objections.
ooooGregory wasn’t convinced. “My money’s still on ’em. You said yourself they wasn’t over to the mainland gettin’ traps. Well, why’d they lie? And,” he added, before Parker could interrupt, “they’re the ones who found ’er. You always look to the one’s who find the bodies first. You remember Sarah’s face when you brung that girl to? Thought she’d have a conniption fit right there on the float.”
oooo“Anybody would if they thought they’d drug a dead body outta the water and found out it wasn’t dead.”
oooo“’Specially if they’d thought they’d killed ’er!” Gregory countered.
oooo“Then why didn’t they try to finish ’er off?”
oooo“When could they? Doc and Addie was up with ’er half the night, and you snuck ’er out next mornin’. Besides, out on Green’s Island they was just reactin’ to the fear of bein’ found out. It wan’t premeditated. Premeditation takes thinkin’ and plannin’, which is what they’d’ve had to do if they was to kill ’er later. And, as far as they knew, she had amnesia. Why’d they want to kill somebody who don’t remember nothin’?”
ooooThe gull returned from foraging through the fog and took up its place on the piling, preening itself and whitewashing the dock.
ooooParker had to admit Jiminy and Sarah had been up to something that night. But he still couldn’t buy the idea of a tryst. He said so.
oooo“Then what?” said Gregory.
oooo“Who knows? Maybe Wruggles’ll turn up somethin’ when he asks ’em.”
oooo“Wruggles couldn’t turn up his sheets,” Gregory said contemptuously. “I been waitin’ near fourteen years for ’im to find me.”
oooo“That’s the last thing we need.” Gregory threw his empty beer can at the gull, who hopped to another piling and continued preening. “Last thing you need, you mean.”
oooo“Nevermind that,” said Parker. “Ain’t it time you was off to wherever you go off to?”
oooo“Maybe it is,” Gregory replied. “An’ maybe it was time you was off to Green’s Island to do a little diggin’ of your own. That’s where she went.”
oooo“Who did?”
oooo“That girl you had hidden under the tarp in there,” said Gregory, nodding toward the fish house.
ooooParker got up with a start. “She ain’t there?”
oooo“She ain’t,” said Gregory, happy to have kept that card up his sleeve as long as he had. “She left about half an hour ago. Took your shovel and Barkey Bailey’s old punt and headed off thataway.” He pointed through the fog in the direction of Green’s Island. “You’re gonna have a hard time catchin’ up. Never know what she might find out there. Good digger, that one.”
ooooGregory melted into the mists, but Parker didn’t notice. He was half way down the ladder.
ooooMinutes later, after several unsuccessful pulls, his five horsepower Evinrude kicked to life and, for a long time, could be heard throbbing through the fog toward the head of the harbor. Jillian would have already reached Green’s Island by now.

Last Part

ooooAt the western end of Green’s Island, Parker cut the engine and drifted through thickening fog into the still waters of the sheltered cove. Emerging from the small, misty sphere of visibility that followed him to shore, Barkey Bailey’s leaky old punt bled into view, chaffing at the dock like a patient mongrel waiting for its master’s return. Jillian was already ashore. Probably had been for some time.
ooooParker tied up at the pier and stood in the boat for a moment, listening. Apart from the gentle suckling of the tide, the only sound was the familiar, rythmic thrust and scrape of a shovel somewhere nearby. The girl was digging. The fog played pitch and toss with the sound, making it seem to come first from one direction, then another. But Parker knew which way to go. He climbed the barnacle-encrusted ladder and, pulling himself upright on the shelf of cut granite, got his bearings.
ooooIt had been a while.
ooooNow and then the shoveling sounds were punctuated by brief pauses. He imagined Jillian sifting through moist heaps of freshly turned earth. The loam, he suspected, was especially rich in places, made so by the gentle decay of organic materials not native to the soil.
ooooThe remnants of a deer path, mostly overgrown, threaded along the shore for fifty feet or so, then turned inland through the spruce trees toward Makepeace’s clearing. Imagine his having selected that particular spot — all those years ago — to begin his search for the Red Paint People. Why not ten yards one way or the other? It would have saved everyone a lot of misery.
ooooTalk about coincidence. The stoic in Parker reminded him that it was too late to do anything about that now. As quietly as possible, he trudged along the path, stopping now and then to listen. The continuous ‘chunk’ of metal on rock assured him she hadn’t found anything yet.
ooooHe tripped over a root and stumbled into the clearing. Jillian looked up as he breached the fog’s flimsy ramparts. “Oh, it’s you,” she said, clutching her heart. “You scared me half to death. How did you know where to find me?”
oooo“Somebody saw you,” said Parker, collecting himself from his near-tumble.
oooo“They did?” She was truly surprised. “I don’t see how in this fog. Who?”
ooooParker turned aside the question. “What’re you lookin’ for?”
ooooJillian leaned on the shovel, resting her chin on the handle. “I wish I knew,” she said. “Evidence of some kind.”
oooo“Evidence?”
ooooShe nodded lethargically. “I’m not sure if you believe me or not, but I’m positive somebody tried to kill me.” Parker inhaled to protest, but she held up her hand. “It doesn’t make any difference. I’ve wracked my brain, and the only reason I can think anybody would want me … out of the way … is because of this dig.” She stood up and gestured at the clearing. “The answer has to be here somewhere.” The eyes she raised to him showed both fatigue and frustration. “But I don’t know what it is … or even if I’ll know it when I find it.” She bent to pick something up. “This is all I’ve found so far.”
ooooThe sight of the old rubber boot forced Parker’s heart to his throat. “G.D.,” she said, reading the initials that had been roughly painted on the boot in bright orange paint. The same paint Parker used on his buoys. The same paint he had always used. “Any idea who that might be?” she asked rhetorically. “Haven’t noticed any lobsterman hobbling around with one boot on, have you?” She laughed and tossed the boot aside.
oooo“Where’d you find it?” Parker asked levelly.
oooo“There,” said Jillian, indicating a small pile of black dirt within shovel’s reach. “Thought I had something for a minute. Just my luck. I don’t guess anybody’d try to kill me over that, do you?”
ooooParker said nothing.
ooooJillian returned to digging. “Funny, someone burying a boot.”
oooo“We all have our middens,” Parker reflected, his eyes on the orange initials.
oooo“That’s a philosophical thought,” said Jillian, glancing at him with a smile. “And they just get more cluttered with time.” She returned to her work, turning over another crown of dead grass and gravel. Parker held his breath. “Anyway,” said Jillian — she pitched the earth aside, stood up and massaged her lower back, “I’m just groping in the dark out here. I had to do something. I was going crazy in your fish house. No offense.”
oooo“Your back hurt?”
oooo“Oh, a little. I can’t believe how out of shape I am. I spend most of the time trying to get through this stuff,” she said, swinging the shovel through the thick vegetation that infested the clearing. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s got roots that go on forever.”
ooooParker picked a trio of leaves from one of the plants and studied it for a moment, then he smiled. Then he laughed out loud. “You can stop diggin’ now.”
oooo“Huh?”
oooo“What you’re lookin’ for ain’t under ground,” he said. “It’s right here.” He wagged the cluster of leaves. “Marijuana.”
oooo“Marijuana?” said Jillian, laying the shovel against her hip, she clutched a handful of the plant and ripped it from the ground. “Are you sure?”
oooo“If you was from my generation, you’d know,” said Parker.
oooo“How did it get here?”
oooo“My guess is some lobsterman’s been supplimentin’ his income with a little agriculture on the side.” Something like joy swelled up in Parker’s gut. This was all the evidence anyone needed. There was no need to dig anymore. This was the end of it. “And I got a pretty good idea who.”
oooo“Who? What’s this got to do with me?” Jillian asked, her eyes wide with bright innocence.
oooo“Simple,” Parker explained. “You found ’em out. They was afraid you’d turn ’em in, so they heaved you overboard and tossed a rock at your head. Thought you was dead when you floated to the surface.”
oooo“They’d kill someone … over this!” she said, shaking the fistful of grass.
oooo“They was scared. It was just a reaction.” His eyes drifted to the boot. When he realized he was staring at it, he brought them quickly back again. “Happens. You don’t have time to think. You just lash out and, before you know it, you done somethin’ you wish you hadn’t.”
oooo“Who did it?”
ooooAs if in answer to the question, Jiminy Biggins burst breathlessly through the undergrowth, carrying a pitchfork. The racoon-in-the-headlights expression on his face left no doubt he hadn’t expected to find anyone there, present company least of all. “Parker?” he said weakly. His eyes strayed to Jillian, widened to absorb the unexpected, then fixed on Parker. “What’re you doin’ here?”
ooooParker, mindful that Jiminy — or Sarah — had already as good as committed murder to keep their secret, opted for ignorance. Levelling a meaningful glance at Jillian, he said: “Just helpin’ this young lady do some diggin’. She’s an archaeologist.”
oooo“Archaeologist?” Jiminy echoed, as if phonetically repeating a word in a foreign language.
ooooParker didn’t want to give him time to think. “That’s right. You remember her, don’t ya?” He turned to Jillian. “This is the fella that pulled you from the water.”
oooo“Oh,” said Jillian, reading the warning in Parker’s eyes. “I’m very grateful.” She smiled warmly and extended a thankful hand. Jiminy took it limply, wrung it self-consciously and let it go. “No biggy,” he said, reddening. He spoke to Parker as if Jillian wasn’t there. “I thought she had amnesia.”
oooo“They get over it,” said Parker. This is where he had to be careful. “She remembers fallin’ overboard…”
ooooJillian piped in. “I was getting ready to climb down to my boat and … and I think I must’ve backed against a spruce branch or something.”
oooo“Caught you off balance and pushed you overboard, didn’t it?” Parker interrupted.
oooo“Stupid,” said Jillian, looking abashedly at the ground. “I hit my head on a rock or something … knocked me out.”
oooo“Good thing you an’ Sarah was passin’ by,” said Parker. “So, what brings you out here?”
oooo“Huh?”
ooooParker repeated the question.
oooo“I was just … I was … I had to take a crap.” The statement, which amounted to quick thinking for Jiminy, would have been amusing under different circumstances.
oooo“Come a long way inshore for that, didn’t you?” said Parker. “Bit shy, are ya?”
oooo“Yeah. Shy,” said Jiminy. He was looking at the cluster of marijuana in the girl’s hand.
oooo“You brung along a pitchfork … I s’pose to dig a hole to bury it in?”
oooo“Pitchfork?” said Jiminy, his mental resources taxed to the limit. Parker nodded at the implement in question. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Bury it. That’s enviramental, you know.”
oooo“Mighty considerate,” said Parker. He was playing for time. What Jiminy lacked in brains he more than made up for in brawn, and the pitchfork in his hand was not something to ignore.
oooo“Yeah,” said Jiminy. “Enviramental.” His eyes wandered across his crop. “Diggin’, are ya?” Sweat had formed on his brow.
oooo“Yup,” said Parker casually. “She’s lookin’ for artifacts.”
ooooJillian, taking her cue from Parker, tossed the weed aside. “It’ll be a lot easier once we clear all this junk out of the way.”
ooooJiminy’s eyes lit up. “You want some help?”
ooooJillian and Parker exchanged glances. “Sure,” said Parker. “Sure. You give us a hand and we can have this mess cleared up in no time. ’Course, you don’t wanna keep Sarah waitin’…”
oooo“She ain’t aboard,” Jiminy said quickly. “Just me.” Without further comment, he pitched in and began the harvest in earnest.
ooooThey’d cleared half the crop and Parker was wondering what to do next when Wruggles appeared from the fog like the Cheshire cat — or Gregory. “Now what we got goin’ here, a collective?”
ooooEveryone stood up sharply, but none as sharp as Jiminy Biggins. “What the hell!” Wruggles was casually spinning a triumverate leaf between his thumb and forefinger. “Good crop you got goin’ here, Jiminy. Ain’t corn, is it.”
oooo“Crop?” said Jiminy, his hand flexing nervously on the handle of his pitchfork. Sweat was pouring into his eyes, and he wiped it away with the back of his sleeve.
oooo“Ain’t easy to make this stuff grow in this climate,” said Wruggles, laying the heal of his hand on the butt of his gun. “Maybe you shoulda taken up farmin’ ’stead of fishin’.”
oooo“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Jiminy snapped. He took a step or two closer to Wruggles, who seemed oblivious to the predatory look in his eyes. Parker was wondering if Wruggles had ever had the gun out of his holster and how long, if push came to shove, it would take him to get it out.
ooooWruggles took in the tableau at his leisure. “Surprised to find you out here, Park.”
ooooParker stammered. “We were … this is …”
oooo“Jillian Makepeace,” said Wruggles. “Glad to be able to put a name to the face.”
ooooIt was Jillian’s turn to flush. “I’m sorry, officer … I’ve been … hiding. I didn’t know what to do … someone was trying to …”
oooo“We’ll get to all that later,” said Wruggles. Only then did Parker notice that, in the brief second their attention had been diverted, the constable had removed his gun. Jiminy came to the realization at the same time. Wruggles raised the weapon to his eyes, spun the chamber and looked down the barrel. “Looks like that pitchfork’s gettin’ a little heavy, Jiminy. You might want to rest it on the ground a while.” Jiminy’s eyes flashed, and for a moment Parker expected him to try something desperate. Wruggles waited. Jiminy relented, dropping the pitchfork. “That’s good,” said Wruggles, allowing the gun to dangle from his finger as if it had no part in the negotiation. He looked at Parker. “I had a talk with our young friend here, like you suggested, and he just couldn’t come up with an explanation ’bout what him and Sarah was doin’ out here the other night. So I told him I knew all about it, an’ I’d be seein’ him tomorrow mornin’.”
oooo“You didn’t know nothin’?” Jiminy snapped.
oooo“Jiminy,” said Wruggles easily, “if you was any simpler, you’d need fertilizin’. No. I didn’t know, but I knew you’d think I did, an’ if you had anything to hide, you’d lead me to it. I got to admit,” he continued, taking in their surroundings, “I never suspected marijuana.”
oooo“It ain’t mine!” said Jiminy as his world collapsed about him.
oooo“No,” said Wruggles. “I s’pose you’re just holdin’ it for a friend.” He smiled. “I got Sarah down in my boat. What say I just tie you to a tree for a minute and go see what she has to say.”
ooooJiminy, knowing Sarah would fold like a cheap tent, just hung his head, casting a mournful eye over his field of dreams.
oooo“It might go easier on ya, if you just come clean,” Wruggles suggested sympathetically.
ooooJiminy was beaten. He didn’t even take time to deliberate. “It’s mine,” he said forelornly. Then, from the primal reaches of his brain, the survival instinct kicked in. “But I didn’t push her overboard!” He pointed at Jillian. “That was that damned Sarah. She done it!” Suddenly he realized he’d given too much away. He hung his head again and kicked at the pitchfork. Half done is undone. “Then she threw a rock at her.”
oooo“An’ you thought she was dead,” said Wruggles, “so you hauled ’er aboard, brought ’er in and expected to strut around like heros, I s’pose. To bad for you Parker was there.”
ooooJiminy skewered Parker with a look through his eyebrows. “I didn’t do nothin’,” he said. “It was all Sarah’s fault. She’s an idiot.”
oooo“Seems Early Broad’s what you might call a ship of fools, far as that goes,” said Wruggles with a chuckle. “Well, I guess that solves our little mystery, don’t it? Why don’t we all get back to town and get somethin’ warm inside us. We can sort out the details tomorrow mornin’. Lead the way, Parker. Then you, miss. Me an’ Jiminy’ll be right behind.”
oooo“Wait a second,” said Jillian. “I want to get my trophy.”
ooooParker’s heart, one moment bathed in relief, was at once crammed into his throat.
oooo“Trophy?” said Wruggles. Jillian bent and picked up the boot. “I’ve got to have something to show for my weekend’s work.”
ooooParker looked away, his eyes watering.
oooo“G.D.,” Wruggles read from a distance. “Gregory Dyer.” He turned to Parker. “That’s Greg’s boot,” he said.
oooo“Could be anyone’s,” Parker said, and immediately wished he hadn’t.
oooo“You think so?” said Wruggles. “He’s the only one I ever knew to put his initials on his boots…’sides you. That’s your color, ain’t it?” Parker didn’t answer, and Wruggles didn’t ask again. He looked at the girl. “Where’d you get that?” oooo“Over there,” said the girl, pointing. Wruggles walked to the place she’d been digging. “You don’t say. Anything else?”
oooo“No,” said Jillian. “That’s not what I was looking for…”
oooo“Diggin’ easy, was it?” Wruggles asked.
oooo“Pretty. Why?”
ooooWruggles didn’t respond directly. “Somebody went to the trouble to bury one boot, maybe they buried another. Parker, why don’t you get Jiminy’s pitchfork there. Miss — you put me to a lot of work lately, so I don’t mind askin’ you to lend a hand.” He just nodded at the hole.
ooooJillian cast a confused glance at Parker. “I ain’t gonna dig,” said Parker, though he’d picked up the pitchfork.
oooo“I think you’d better,” Wruggles replied. “Just to let you all know, I radioed the Sheriff’s office in Rockland. They got folks on the way.”
oooo“I ain’t gonna dig,” Parker said flatly, dropping the pitchfork.
ooooWruggles nodded. “Couldn’t be ’cause you know what’s down there, could it, Park?”
ooooParker said nothing. He just stared at the hole. Wruggles snatched the spade from Jillian’s hands and tossed it to Jiminy, who caught it reflexively. “You take that shovel an’ get to work,” Wruggles commanded. “Now! Miss, you stand aside and let him have at it.” He held the pistol with a purpose. “Parker, you lay down right there on the ground, and don’t you move.”
oooo“What’s this all about, officer?” Jillian protested. “Mr. Riley hasn’t done anything. He saved my life!”
oooo“I’ve got a hunch,” said Wruggles calmly. “If I’m wrong, I’ll buy everyone a sticky bun. If I ain’t… Well, we’ll know in a minute or two. Get busy, Jiminy!”
ooooJiminy began digging. He was good at it. Wruggles was right, he’d have made a good farmer.
ooooParker was laying helplessly on the ground, the pipe in his pocket pressing painfully against his chest. “Let ’er go,” he said.
oooo“What?”
oooo”Let the girl go. She can wait down at the boat,” he said. “She don’t want to be here.”
oooo“Can’t do that, Park. She could be tied up in all this, for all I know.”
ooooParker twisted his neck and looked up at Wruggles. “Charlie, you don’t want to have her here for this. Take my word for it.” Wruggles read an unexpected earnestness in Parker’s plea.
oooo“Okay,” he said. Without looking away from Parker, he
ordered Jillian to go down to the dock and wait. “And there’ll be hell to pay if you ain’t there when we get back. You understand me, young lady?”
oooo“But, I can help,” she protested.
ooooParker, his eyes fixed beseechingly on those of the constable, simply shook his head. “No,” said Wruggles, after a moment’s pause. “Jiminy can handle the heavy liftin’. You’d just be in the way. Now, do as you’re told.”
ooooJillian, clearly not used to being given orders, bridled. Nevertheless, by slow degrees, she complied.
oooo“What’s down there, Parker?” Wruggles demanded when the girl was out of earshot. “You know what I think it is. Am I wrong?”
ooooParker turned his head toward the ground and spoke into the dirt and the grass. “You’re half right,” he said. Wruggles was startled, but got over it quickly. Suddenly everything made sense. “Makepeace too?” he said. Parker let the silence reply, a silence broken only by the rythmic cadence of the shovel as Jiminy dug, uncovering
the secrets Parker had kept so long.

oooo“So,” said Caffie Mitchell, propping a paper bag of groceries on her hip, “that’s what happened.”
ooooEdith Ames wanted to be sure she got her facts straight. She had an appointment at the hairdresser’s in fifteen minutes, and she wanted to get the story right before she repeated it. This was Big News. “I still don’t understand why Parker Riley would’ve killed Gregory Dyer. They was partners. Best friends!”
oooo“Happens,” said Caffie. “They had an argument about money — everybody knows what a skinflint old Parker is — ain’t so hard to imagine. Seems Gregory’d been goin’ on and on at ’im ’bout gettin’ a bigger percentage. Wore Parker’s nerves down after a while…’til one day Greg just pushed too far an’ Parker just took a swing at ’im.” She lowered her voice confidentially. “Parker says it was an accident, and I half believe him. Greg hit his head on the gunwhale an’ Parker couldn’t bring ’im to.”
oooo“So he dumped ’im overboard?”
oooo“No, that was just the story Parker made up. “They was out in the Reach — it was foggy then, like it is now, an’ kickin’ up bad. So he pulled into the cove out’ve the weather and drug Greg up on shore. Buried ’im there.”
oooo“And the other body? Makepeace. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, so Parker killed him, too?”
ooooCaffie nodded knowingly. “Parker found out he was gonna be diggin’ out there, so he went out to keep an eye on ’im. ’Parently Makepeace went straight to Greg’s grave like he was guided to it, an’ was about to dig ’im up when Parker comes up behind ’im and …” She took a baguette from her bag and beat the air with it.
ooooEmily shuddered. “My goodness gracious!” They nodded and wagged their heads and sighed at one another for a few seconds. “An’ he kept that secret all these years?” said Emily in disbelief. She certainly couldn’t have kept such a secret for so long. That said something for Parker. “Who’d’ve thought it.”

oooo“Well,” said Gregory. “I got to give Wruggles credit. He finally found me.” Parker was looking up at the little rectangles of light the bars of his cell cut from the sky. He didn’t say anything. “If you hadn’t been so damned stingy none’ve this would’ve happened.”
oooo“Well, it’s all over know,“ said Parker, not taking his eyes from the window. “Ain’t you got someplace else to haunt?”
ooooGregory didn’t respond right away. “Maybe I do,” he said. “I been feelin’ funny lately. Can’t explain it. Maybe now you’ve been found out, I can get on with my business. Who knows?”
oooo“Wish you would,” said Parker.
oooo“You did save that girl’s life, though,” said Gregory after a while. “That was a good thing.”
oooo“And if I hadn’t,” said Parker, “I wouldn’t be here, would I? What’s that they say ’bout no good deed goin’ unpunished? Now I’m in here for the rest of my life.”
ooooGregory commisserated. “Look on the bright side,” he said. “At your age, that ain’t gonna be too long.”
ooooGood point. Parker was thinking about his seventeen million dollars sitting in a bank in the Cayman Islands; of course, he could tell Mercy about it, but she had their Social Security and the proceeds from the sale of his boat and gear. She’d be all right. Besides, what would she do with all that money? Spend it down in Portland, like as not. Best leave it where it was. Just knowing it was there, earning interest, would give him something to think about in the years ahead.
ooooGregory, who was getting misty ’round the edges, broke the miserly reverie. “You got’n’y that nasty tobbacco?”

THE END

If you liked Parker Riley’s Millions, you’ll enjoy the Winston Crisp Mysteries, beginning with A Show of Hands, of which I invite you to read the first two chapters at no charge! Click Here.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Alibi-Folio