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Death in Vineyard WatersA Martha's Vineyard Mystery
By Philip Craig
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Philip Craig All right reserved. ISBN: 0060542896
We were on the clam flats at the south end of Katama Bay. The tide was out, and the flats had again risen from the waters as they had since time immemorial. Beneath the mud and sand were blissful mollusks, leading peaceful clam lives, little suspecting that above them clam hunters were coming after them. Such is the innocence of Eden. The hunted sometimes never realize that they are the prey of the hunters. Instinct may make the deer wary of the lion, or the gopher wary of the hawk, but such ancient blood knowledge seems to have eluded the clam. Perhaps because he has no blood.
I suggested as much to Zee, who was on her knees beside me, rubber gloved, her basket at hand, as we dug in search of the innocent, delicious clams.
"You're weird," said Zee. "Besides, clams may not have blood, but they do have all this oozy juice that probably amounts to the same thing. Their problem is that all they can do to escape is burrow deeper into the sand."
"Just like lots of the rest of us," I said. "I'm glad to learn that you're catching on to the secrets of the clamming trade. To capture these little guys and gals, you have to dig down to where they are and then grab them before they can catch the elevatorto the next lower floor."
I came up with a clam and dropped it in my bucket. We'd been on the flats since a half hour before the tide reached low, and our buckets were filling up. Zee was a fast study and had quickly caught on to all I'd ever learned about clamming. And I'd been at it for years, too. It was a skill you were morally obliged to develop if you were going to live on Martha's Vineyard. The island was surrounded by salt water full of fish and indented by bays full of shellfish, and if you didn't learn to outfox the many sea creatures you were no true islander at all.
Here, now, on the Katama clam flats, our knees were black, our gloved hands were black, the mud beneath us was black. It was June, and already the summer folk were pouring down. Soon the clam flats would be emptied of their treasure by hordes of hungry amateur clammers. So we were getting ours while the getting was easy. Later we would be obliged to seek more obscure clamming grounds. Behind our backs, Katama Bay reached north toward Edgartown. Sailboats carrying day sailors from the Edgartown docks moved over the blue water. To our south, beyond the flats and beyond the far sand dunes where the June people were browning in the sun, stretched the Atlantic, going "all the way to the Azores," as the local descendants of the Portuguese were inclined to say. Over us, the summer sky lifted out of the white haze to the south and curved pale blue over us and down again into the white haze of the north. The sun was hot on our backs.
"Look," said Zee. "Isn't that John Skye's Jeep?"
It was indeed John Skye's Jeep. It had come east from the end of the paved road in Katama, over the flat sands inside of the dunes, and was now stopped a hundred yards away from us beside my own ancient Toyota Land Cruiser. A hand waved. We waved back in the manner of those who, doubtful about who is waving at them but fearful of appearing stupid or unsociable if they don't wave back, wave back. The hand curved back inside the door of the Jeep, the door opened, and John Skye - who else? - stepped out. Other Jeep doors opened and two other people got out: an elderly woman and a man about my age - early thirties or so, still approaching his prime.
John Skye owned most of what had once been a Vineyard farm back in the days when Vineyarders, like many folk who lived along the edge of the sea, had combined farming with fishing as they tried to make a living. The farm was only a couple of miles from my own place. He was a professor from Weststock College. I'd met him during a bluefish blitz on Wasque Point when we'd been side by side hauling in the blues and having a very fine time. After the bluefish had gone, we'd shared coffee laced with rum and talked of this and that before going off to scale and clean our fish. We'd met again now and then and learned a bit about one another - most importantly, to him, that I was a neighbor and lived on the island year round and was quite capable of closing down a house in the fall, looking after it during the winter, and opening it up again in the spring, and that I could haul, paint, and launch a catboat. He could use somebody to do all those things for him while he was busy being academic, and I could use the money he was willing to pay me to do them. Later we became almost friends and later still real friends. John was originally from out west but was now a permanent New Englander. He came to the island as soon as he could wind up his college duties in the spring and stayed until the last possible moment in the fall. He was tall and balding, about fifty years old, and taught things medieval.
And now he dug out clam buckets from the rear of his Jeep and came walking across the muddy clam flats toward us, his companions chatting cheerfully.
"I see you've come to raid our clam flat," I said. "You shifty-eyed mainlanders are all alike. You wait until hardworking, honest, but starving natives finally discover the whereabouts of the elusive clam, then move in and rape the area."
Excerpted from Death in Vineyard Waters by Philip Craig
Copyright © 2003 by Philip Craig
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.