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East IslandA Jane Lindsey Mystery
By Edwin G. Rice
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Edwin G. Rice
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere was no sound but the distant calls of crows deep in the woods along the south shore. Ripples had come to the lake surface as patchy areas of morning fog rose skyward and vanished while others drifted eastward driven by the rising breeze from the west.
The entry of Jane's paddle into the water was nearly silent as she pressed forward across the west-arm of the Great Grassy Bay; looming before her was the starkly barren northwest face of East Island. Another pull with her bent-paddle sent the Old Town surging ahead, ever closer to the island's forbidding shore line of rocks and boulders. At the last Jane held a stern-rudder on the starboard side which swung the bow 30 degrees to the south; enough to cast the canoe into a glide grazing the shore only inches from the rocks.
Jane leaned to her left and peered over the port-side gunwale the instant she heard the unmistakable harsh sound of the canoe scraping across rock. "Too close, I'd better swing out," she whispered. Scarcely had she uttered the words when in the morning light she saw the glint of metal; it was wrist-deep in the water next to a boulder and partially covered by algae. The water was warm on her hand as was the small strand of vegetation that caught on her rings as she reached in; yet the metal of the object felt strangely cold to her touch.
"How in the world could it have gotten here?" She murmured.
Without further thought she tossed it into her pack, grasped her paddle and lightly pushed the canoe away from shore.
Scarcely had she done so, when gripped by a sudden sense of uneasiness she again paused.—Later Jane Lindsey would be unable to recall what then made her turn her eyes upward from the rocky shoreline.—When she first saw him he was only steps from the shore standing in the shadow of a single weather-stunted tree.
Only for an instant did she see his face.—From the moment that she looked up, Jane Lindsey was staring into the muzzle of a gun.
Chapter TwoNo words were spoken. ——Motionless as if frozen in time and numb with fear, heart-pounding seconds passed as Jane stared at the lethal threat aimed directly at her.—After a final breathless moment, the muzzle swung away from her face in a single unmistakable and menacing gesture.
Having made a last second eye contact, Jane's head and eyes spun away. Again and again she dug deep with her paddle pulling with all her strength as she swung the canoe away from the shore onto a course that would take her back across the grassy bay and to safety. Gasping and trembling she pressed ahead; with each desperate stroke of the paddle the thoughts repeated, "Will he shoot now; will he shoot me in the back?"
A minute passed. "Will I soon be out of range?" Jane murmured when for an instant she paused and turned her eyes back toward the island.—Like a tidal wave, relief surged through her and tears came when she looked over her shoulder and saw the lone figure turn from the shore and make a slow climb up the steep west side to the summit of the island and vanish into the trees.
Having turned away, for a time Jane rested the paddle across the gunwales, closed her eyes and sat drifting in silence as her thoughts raged on. "At least I know this; if he had wanted to kill me had every chance to do so.—It meant don't ever come here again; it was his final warning."
After taking a deep breath and drying her eyes, with her paddle in hand Jane Lindsey again began her journey to the west end of the lake and home.
A mile's passage westward down the south shore brought her before Birch Marsh where again she paused and slowly drifted.—There before a site of dark memories and the threat of violent death Jane's thoughts began again. "The front ridge still shows the scars;— it will take time for that to heal as it will take time for our human scars to heal.
"What of this morning; what have I done? I had heard that last winter someone crossed the ice to the island. Did he fear that I would trespass; if so, why? Such simple words as, "This is private property, please stay off," would have been sufficient. Is it even his property; I wonder. He was menacing, but it was more than that. The threat was real.—Here at Birch Marsh I learned the difference and will never forget."
After turning away and looking toward home, Jane dipped her paddle crossed mid-lake and began the final segment of her morning's journey. Once again her thoughts began. "I scarcely saw his face; although we made eye contact, I doubt that I would remember him if we were to meet again? The west slope of the island was steep and his climb was slow, but there was something else about the way he moved.—As Charles later remembered what he had heard in the marsh; perhaps in time I too will remember."
Twenty minutes had passed as when Jane drew near to their cottage. After gliding the Old Town into the shallows and easing the bow onto the sand of the beach, Jane again sat in silence. Once again she shook her head as the questions came; questions that Jane Lindsey knew would haunt her thoughts.
"He was in shadow; was he afraid I might recognize him?—Who is he, and what was he doing there?"
Chapter Three"Strange, very strange; of all places why on East Island? I haven't heard anything more these last couple weeks;—just the same it makes no sense. I'll talk to Doris; if anyone knows anything it would be she."
"Should I say here we go again?—No Jane, don't; get a grip on yourself. You're still too keyed-up from what happened at Birch Marsh and back at East Island. Steve Conway is one very fine and very brave investigative reporter, but he said it still makes his blood run cold just to look at the marsh or even at Green Hill where he hid in the grass fearing for his life.
Shaking her pretty head, Jane walked out onto the porch of the Inn, slipped into an Adirondack chair and turned her eyes to the southeast and the all too familiar scene across the lake. "Speaking of Birch Marsh, over there now in summer it is a quiet inland-lake covered by lilies and visited by the occasional brace of ducks, probably wood ducks or mallards. Soon new saplings of birch will appear; the other foliage will recover leaving no trace of the violent obscenity that transpired there. The hill behind deserves to be called Beautiful Green Hill; for it is once again at peace with its incomparable stand of Giant Blue Stem grass waving in the soft westerly breeze.—Did not a novelist earlier in the last century write of the early pioneers passing over the great prairies of North America and seeing before them, "The Sea of Grass?" I believe those were Conrad Richter's words.
"This has been fun to have the chance on my free day to drive out earlier and have the time to sit here on this turn-of-the century-porch and finally do some reading. I'll have to .do it most every Friday this summer; at least those when Dan's not on call. He should be along in a couple hours then we'll have a light lunch and be on our way to our place."
After pausing for a moment to glance at her watch, Jane again rose from her chair, swung open the porch screen door and sat down on the wooden front steps. "I can't see where there would be any harm in a quick look at the island," she thought, at the same time drawing her binoculars from her pack. "A month ago I had the scare of my life there; I should say more like the second major scare of my life. The thought that I had at the time hasn't changed; it was absolutely clear that it was a final warning."
As Jane Lindsey began scanning the water line and far shore line to the southeast of Maple Inn, she let her thoughts wander on.—"Now let's face it; I tried but I can't get it out of my mind. The strange and seemingly innocent sounds that Charles heard over in the marsh; that was the beginning. Look what it led to!—It was here at the Inn last winter that Doris told me that one night after dinner she was looking out the front window and saw a light flickering through the trees on top of East Island.—The Great Grassy Bay gets shallow very quickly behind the island; that much I know from having canoed in there. The island's cliff-like sides and a shore line of nothing but boulders make it as forbidding as anything that I can imagine. Whoever it was would most likely cross the ice by snowmobile; but why at night?—???Just the same I know that my policemen father and brother would tell me to leave it alone; anyway there's no danger in my just being here and taking in the beauty of one very lovely summer day."
After skipping down the last of the wooden front steps onto the south-side-slope of manicured lawn, Jane's thoughts rambled on. "I'd better not look too eager; I'll make my walk to the dock look like I'm someone out for a leisurely summer time stroll. Otherwise somebody in the dining room is sure to see me and wonder, "What's that Lindsey woman up to now?"
While she stood at the terminal slat of the narrow wooden dock, Jane with her binoculars began moving her sight-line from west to east along the far shore. With her eyes fixed upon the water line on the west side of East Island she paused murmuring, "There it is; the western opening to the grassy bay; right where I was paddling for my life. It's far too shallow there for anything but small boats or perhaps only canoes to cross. The truth is that I don't know what the water depth is like on the east side of the island and the eastern opening into the grassy bay."
Having next swung her binoculars to the shore line well to the east of the island, Jane instantly paused as South Point which marked the eastern inlet to the Great Grassy Bay came into her view.—"The church camp on the point is closed in the winter; it is the only place at all close to the island where someone could get access to the lake with a truck or snowmobile.-Nothing Doris didn't say anything about having seen any kind of vehicle, did she? Of course someone could have come down the lake from any of the private homes in the big bay or along either shore."
Again Jane turned swinging her sight-line along the water's edge finally stopping at the base of the sharply rising sides of East Island.—"What a curious geological formation this is in this region of mixed prairie, marsh and lake. Was that precipitously steep contour to its sides a result of ice jams forced against it during the dust bowl days of the thirties as we believe happened at Birch Marsh? It had to be that; there's no volcanic activity here that I've ever heard of."
Having scanned the boulder-covered shore line and steep walls of the island's north side, Jane then for a moment raised her sight-line to the island's summit.—"I Can't see much on the top of the island from this low angle. I'll head up and take another look from in front of the Inn; it's enough higher that I might be able to see the crest of the island."
Moments later standing before front steps of the Inn, Jane with her binoculars first directed her gaze directly toward East Island. "Although the top is densely bordered by scrub spruce most of which are barren on their northwest side, so called 'Banner Trees;' I can still see that it is quite level on top.—Wow, but with deep snow and those precipitous sides to the island it would be some workout to get up on top in the winter. "
Having turned well to the east of the island, Jane again found her self staring at the end of South Point. "Well now, there's the church camp open for the summer months as it has been all through the years. Cerainly the camp must be closed in the winter, but the road behind it is open,—an interesting thought.
Letting her binoculars hang by the neck-strap and rest against her chest Jane silently silenty scanned with the naked eye the south shore from South Point on the east past the Island to Birch Marsh on the west.—"Am I way off even thinking about this?" She thought. Charles had doubts, but he couldn't forget what he had heard. Did that lingering question in his mind foretell the grave and deadly travesty that was to come to our south shore. "Come to think of it, I've given Steve Conway some peace while he's busy courting Sally O'Neil. Just the same I'll bet he could trace down who has title to the island.
"I think I'll give him a call."
Chapter Four"Stephen Conway here."
"Hi Steve, it's Jane Lindsey."
"Well what do you know; at last a welcome voice. I was just thinking how great it would be to hear from Tyrone Jackson, Doc Forsyth or you."
"Am I in third place?" Jane laughed.
"No ranking there, none. I guess I'm slow to adjust to the old routines; it's about to drive me nuts. Has it rained enough; how much is blah-blah going-for per bushel and how are the sugar beets progressing?"
"Steve, you sound sort of down; are you okay?"
"Yah, I'm okay; but sometimes I let something get to me a little."
"Steve, there is a very pretty Sally O'Neil to occupy and brighten your thoughts; don't try to tell me otherwise."
"Jane, you got that right. She's been through a lot; maybe I should say all of us have. Anyway she's terrific and has done a good job of moving on with her life."
"You see her often, don't you?"
"Ha! Darn near every night, that's how often."
After both of them had paused for an instant, Jane added, "Good for you Steve; I hoped that you would say that."
"Jane, it's happening. I've got a feeling that something's up; it's a feeling I get on the back of my neck.—It's great to hear your voice, but give it to me straight; you're up to something."
"Steve, I feel a little guilty already; my dad's words and those of Father Lawrence keep ringing in my ears about not getting involved; but you're right. There is something that's more than a little strange that I'm finding hard to put out of my mind; but I must admit that it still may mean nothing. And, by the way strange is the adjective that I've been using since I first heard about it last winter."
"Winter, and I don't hear about it until summer?"
"I know, Steve. At first, as I said, I had my doubts. Anyway, it was one night last winter that Doris at the Inn, that is Maple Inn, told me that after serving dinner she had been standing near the front window of the Inn and had seen lights flickering on top of East Island. She made no mention of seeing any vehicle; that is truck or snowmobile.—Obviously last winter someone crossed over the ice to reach the island. In the winter I can tell you that it would have been one very challenging climb to get through the snow and up to the top of the island; of that I'm sure."
"When Jane paused, Steve breathed a quick, "You have my undivided attention; give me more."
"Steve, East Island is an odd formation for a region such as ours, this mix of prairie and shallow lakes. Its sides are steep, there is a heavy growth of conifers on the summit and the shore line is mostly rocks mixed with some sizeable boulders. Very probably the press of ice-flows at the end of the dust-bowl days had a lot to do with shaping the shore line just as we believe formed the front ridge of Birch Marsh; creating it into an inland lake."
"Jane, there's something that you're not telling me, I can tell; keep going."
"Steve, it's what happened about three weeks ago. I was going to call you then, but I just decided to sit on it a little longer. It just didn't feel right and obviously I couldn't get it out of my mind; so I finally called.—Steve, I've been going out early on Fridays, my day off from work; Dan comes later. One Friday I took our canoe and paddled down the south shore, across Grassy Bay just with the idea that I'd take a quick look on a nice summer morning. Once I got there I cruised along the shore. Since the canoe draws so little water, I could get real close to the shore; but the truth was I didn't see much of anything."
"Jane, I'm holding my breath. Something is coming; I can tell because my fingers are like ice.—Don't stop; I'm all ears."
"Steve, here comes the question. How hard would it be to find out who has title to East Island?"
"Jane, if I didn't think you were holding back something more, I'd already be on my way out the door to get that information. Let me have it there's something that you're not telling me."
After hesitating briefly Jane replied, "Yes, you're right Steve.
"I didn't see much Steve, because when I reached the shore, I was staring into the muzzle of a gun."
"Jane, for God's sake!—What the devil! What happened then?"
Excerpted from East Island by Edwin G. Rice Copyright © 2010 by Edwin G. Rice. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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