Read an Excerpt
Pippa Bradford's Book of Curious Observations
July 21, Osprey Island, Maine. Latest subjects arrived at 9:17 a.m. on Jonesport ferry.
1. Bald man in trench coat, carrying briefcase, went straight to Whitecap Inn. Does not look like vacationer? (Check guest book for name.)
2.Couple met by Mrs.Sheffield of Peregrine House. Husband short and fat with gray hair and sunglasses, wife (or girlfreind?) tall with blond hair and high voice. Nice dressed, loads of luggage. Departed in silver Mercedes convertible, Mrs. S driving. Graves loaded luggage in pickup truck. Houseguests? High probabillity.
3. Pretty woman in purple shorts. Backpack. Got bike at Dockside Cycle. Overheard: one-day rental. Touristno more observation necessary.
4.Tall man with short dark hair.One bag.Jeans and baseball cap (Bruins). Sunglasses, suspicious limp. Walked to Pine Cone Cottage on Shore Road, took house keys from mailbox. Name on box is Potter. Resident? Future observation required.
Sean Rafferty's nape prickled. He brushed a hand inside his collar. There was no mosquito, nor stray hair from his grown-out law-enforcement buzz cut, but then he'd known that.
Someone was watching him.
He continued his limping circuit of Pine Cone Cot-tage's backyard. Behind a pair of tinted aviator sunglasses, his eyes were alert.
The sheltering wood was densely evergreen with a few spears of silver birch, bordered by ferns and underbrush. He took his time traversing the bumpy square of crabgrass and dandelions, waiting for the spy to give herself away. She wasn't nearly as sneaky as she believed.
Sunshine glinted off glass. He narrowed his eyes and searched the forest beyond the weathered picket fence of the vegetable garden. Hidden deep inside the pinecone-laden branches of a blue spruce were twin lenses.
Pocket-size binoculars. They disappeared at his scrutiny. Branches bobbed as the lurker shifted position.
Sean stretched out the morning kinks, tilting his face toward the hot gold disk of the sun that had appeared over the treetops. He might have called out that there was nothing to see, nothing but a broken-down trooper with a bullet hole in his thigh and thirteen more days of emptiness to fill.
But he preferred the silence.
He'd found Maine's Osprey Island at a vacation house swap site on the Web. Desperate measureshis parents had been urging him to take their time-share condo at an Arizona desert resort. From previous visits there, he'd known that this time around he was in no mood to abide the other retirees' constant goodwill and inquisitiveness. They would want to commiserate about the shooting and his ongoing recovery. They would refuse to leave him alone, for his "own good." They'd probably even phone Patrick and Moira Rafferty with updates on their son's progress.
No, thanks. Peace and quiet was what Sean needed while he licked his wounds, not a resort filled with boisterous seniors in madras shorts and families of squealing, sunburned children.
One furtive child he could deal with. Even one with a penchant for sleuthing.
Sean settled into the lawn chair he'd moved to the backyard from the front, where there was an ocean view just beyond the road that bypassed the house. Two rustic thoroughfares, Shore and Cliff Roads, bordered the tiny island, following the coastline for the most part.
There weren't many cars but in his first day on Osprey he'd quickly learned that Shore Road was well traveled by both day-trippers and the seasonal locals, many of them creative types with two occupationsart and socializing. Two neighboring cottagers had already shown up at his door offering invitations, which he'd declined. Even in top form, he wasn't the cocktail-party type.
Pine Cone Cottage belonged to a woman named Alice Potter. She'd removed many of her personal belongings, including photos, so he had no idea what she looked like. From the modest cottage and her polite e-mails, he pictured a middle-aged lady, pleasant and plump. She owned a cat; he'd noticed a bag of kitty litter in a bathroom cupboard. No doubt there was also a close circle of island confidants, but no man, unless the voluble gent next door was not as gay as his beret.
The absent Miss Potter was currently fifty miles outside of Phoenix, enjoying the desert's baking heat and the air-conditioned comforts of his parents' place. She'd written that she was looking forward to her first cactus.
Sean tilted back in the lawn chair, his neck still prickling. The girl spy had crept closer and was positioned off his left shoulder to watch him through the picket slats.
He gave her another minute, then suddenly twisted around. "Gotcha."
She gasped. Her red head popped up from behind the fence. She wanted to escape. He saw that in the angle of her body and the way she nervously clutched her schoolgirl tablet to her chest.
Instead, she stood her ground and screwed her round, freckled face into a knot. "You knew I was here?" Her voice was high and flutey.
Her eyes darted between him and the wood. "Who are you?"
"Don't you know?"
He settled back again, closing his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest. "Then I'll leave you to find out."
That was stupid. Almost a challenge, when he wanted only to be alone. But the girl's solitary preoccupation was somehow amusing, at least for the moment. If she continued lurking, he'd have to put a stop to the intrusion.
He'd seen her several times already. First, trailing him from the ferry. Then poking into Alice Potter's mailbox at the end of the front yard's fieldstone walk. And once peering through the vine-covered kitchen window when he'd been putting away the groceries he'd picked up at the Osprey Island general store.
Few children seemed to live on the island. He imagined she was bored. And, therefore, overly curious.
His son, Joshua, had once been like thatbright and inquisitive. Before he'd turned into a prickly thirteen-year-old who hated his dad for living thousands of miles away. Although Sean regretted the miles between them, he knew there were even worse distances. Endless, un-crossable ones.
He shut his eyes tight, gutted by the thought of one particular child who would never have a father again.
Josh lived with his mother, a stepfather, two half sisters. That Sean's only son had a separate family outside of his father's was cold comfort, especially during the weeks when monosyllabic phone calls were all they shared. But comfort all the same.
The other child had no one left except a messed-up mother who'd screamed like a banshee over the body of her dead husband in the roadway. Sean would be haunted by the torn sound of those screams forever, by the lights of his patrol car illuminating the pool of blood on the pavement, but most of all by the sight of a small boy's face pressed to the back window of the family's car, taking in the entire scene.
That made two boys missing their fathers.
And he was responsible for both.
Sean's thigh seized. He winced and began to ruthlessly knead the tight muscles with his knuckles, letting the pain of the tender gunshot wound cut through the heavy layers of his guilt and regret.
Gradually the muscle let up. He exhaled, his head hung low on his chest, his eyes closed. Maybe the solitary, isolated cottage hadn't been such a good idea. Not exactly what the police psychologist had in mind when she'd told him he needed to work through his issues regarding the routine traffic stop gone tragically wrong.
Easier said than done, anyway.
When Sean finally remembered to look up, the redheaded girl was gone. For good, he hoped, doubting that he'd be so fortunate.
Pippa Bradford's Book of Curious Observations
Continuing survailance of Subject #4. 8:47 a.m.Tues-day morning, Pine Cone Cottage, Osprey Island, Maine.No visitors or phone calls.Subject drank coffee standing at window, then went out to back garden. Patrolled perimeter. Picked up a pinecone, threw it into woods. Carried chair from front yard. (Sunbathing?)
This is boring and my bug bites itch.
Update: Mission aborted!!! Future observation at risk.
"Sonovabirch," Connie Bradford said when she saw the cluster of five-gallon English boxwoods, still not planted. She'd asked Bill Graves, the full-time gardener, to take care of it when she'd first arrived at the Sheffield estate to oversee the grand opening of the garden and maze she'd designed.
This was her biggest job ever. She'd begun work on the project almost three years ago, a scant month after her husband had passed away. But if she wanted perfection, she'd have to see to it herself.
Typical. She set aside her clipboard and picked up a spade.
Connie was halfway through the job when a trio strolled out of the house onto the porch, which overlooked the sloping green lawn. "Connemara," called Kay Sheffield. Her slender arm waved back and forth in the brisk ocean breeze. "Hello! Come meet my guests."
Connie lifted a hand in acknowledgment of the summons while muttering "Oh, yay" to herself. She stabbed the spade into a half-dug hole and dusted her hands off on her pants. Time to schmooze. She'd wanted to step up her clientele, but hadn't counted on how much of her workday would be spent catering to the social niceties of the jet set rather than to their gardens. She was far more talented at coaxing forsythia into bloom.
"What on earth were you doing?" Kay asked as Connie approached. Connie felt disheveled in the presence of the well-groomed Mrs. Sheffield. The woman spoke through her nose with clenched teeth, a silly affectation she'd apparently picked up from old Katharine Hepburn movies. "We have Graves for that."
The gardener had been notably uncooperative toward Connie. She shrugged. "There's a lot to do before the party."
"I'm certain you can manage without getting your hands dirty." Kay turned to her guests, a squat man and a leggy blonde. "Harold, Jillian, this is Connemara Bradford, our up-and-coming garden designer. Connemara, Harold and Jillian Crosby. He's in real estate, she's in Prada." Kay tittered at her witticism.
"Hal," said the man, extending his hand.
"Connie." They shook briskly.
"No one calls me Jillian," the wife announced in a bubbly soprano voice. "I'm just Jilly." She, like Kay, was greyhound-lean, bottle-blond and clad in head-to-toe designer labels. The two women might have been twins, except that Kay Sheffield was coolly beautiful while Jilly had an unfortunately long nose that shadowed her narrow lips.
"How do you do?" she asked in a more formal manner.
Connie smiled. "Quite well, thank you. I'm excited to be back on Osprey Island." While she'd made the trip several times from her home office in Bridgeport, Connecticut, most of her work for the Sheffield estate had been done at the desk and computer. A far cry from the early days of her business, when she'd designed suburban backyards, carting, digging and planting all on her own.
"This is my first visit." Jilly's buoyant personality bobbed back to the surface. She clasped her hands, the large rock on her ring finger almost clipping her chin. "The estate is just gorgeous. You're so lucky, Kaylene."
The pleasure on the other woman's face turned to restraint. "I go by Kay now."
Jilly's lips puckered around an oops. "Me and my big mouth." She winked at Connie. "We used to be Las Vegas showgirls together, but I'm not supposed to mention that."
Kay's expression was pained. "It's no secret," she admitted. "But you know Anders." Her husband. "He doesn't want to advertise my past."
Hal squeezed his wife's waist.
Connie decided she liked the Crosbys, even if they were an odd couple. "Would you like a tour of the maze?" she asked Jilly, who gave a flattering, "Ooh, yes!" at the prospect.
"Not yet," Kay commanded. "I want to keep it a surprise until the party. The opening of the maze is the event of the island's social season." Her mouth twitched.
"Not that the island has much of a season, according to my husband."
"Then I'd better get back to work. Saturday's coming up fast." Connie nodded, stepping aside as Kay swept her guests back indoors.
The woman was right, of course. Osprey would never make the list of society hot spots. Most of the small island's vacation homes were modest cottages, with only a handful of old-money mansions like Peregrine House scattered along the prime oceanfront acreage. The really fashionable people went to Martha's Vineyard or Newport Beach or the Hamptons.
The Sheffield home was an immense gray-shingled structure of the classic Cape Cod style, perched atop a narrow peninsula on the southeastern side of the island. The panoramic view of waves crashing on the cliffs was spectacular, but had left Connie with limited grounds to develop into the grand garden scheme the owners had requested. She'd designed a formal garden that followed the natural contours, with the octagonal maze fitted into the large open area created by a circular drive. For the upcoming garden party, they would set up a tent on the remaining stretch of flat lawn near the cliffs.
Connie returned to the boxwoods. As soon as she finished, the garden plantings would be complete. She'd have only the final touches to see to, which was no small task. Her clipboard lists were rife with notations on details and reminders that needed to be checked off before Saturday.
While she dug, Connie's thoughts turned to her daughter. Pippa was ten years old, an intelligent and inquisitive child who had grown too solitary and quiet since her father had passed away. Because Philip's treatments had frequently kept him from working, he'd acted as Pippa's primary caregiver during the day while Connie had been at school or work. His death from the leukemia two years ago had come after years of illness, no less difficult for being expected.
Connie was strong. The loss of her first and only true love still hurt badly, but she had finally reached the point where she could manage the sorrow. Pippa's continuing grief was her main worry.
Her daughter needed a boost. She'd hoped that a week on Osprey Island would at least get the girl outdoors. But so far Pippa had been more alone than ever, absorbed with scribbling in her notebook and rereading the few Trixie Belden mysteries she'd been allowed to pack.
Pippa clung to her precious Trixies as though they were life rafts. Philip had read the stories to her, one or two chapters a night. The tomboy detectivewith her eager exclamations of "Gleeps!" and "Jeepers!"had remained a part of their nightly ritual until the very end.
No wonder Pippa wasn't ready to let go of that strong link to her father. Connie didn't expect her to. She only wanted to encourage her child to move ahead with her life.
Connie straightened and pushed back the wiry strands of hair that had come loose from her ponytail.