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Sell Low, Die Hard
Former champion Olympic fencer-turned-sleazy real estate developer Donald Fox isn't making any friends on Martha's Vineyard this gray and chilly March. He's using unscrupulous methods and legal ambiguities to force homeowners to sell their valuable land at rock bottom prices. He's even approached fisherman/sometime-sleuth J. W. Jackson and his wife Zee, not realizing that the retired Boston cop is anything but an easy mark. So when Donald's brother Paul is ...
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Sell Low, Die Hard
Former champion Olympic fencer-turned-sleazy real estate developer Donald Fox isn't making any friends on Martha's Vineyard this gray and chilly March. He's using unscrupulous methods and legal ambiguities to force homeowners to sell their valuable land at rock bottom prices. He's even approached fisherman/sometime-sleuth J. W. Jackson and his wife Zee, not realizing that the retired Boston cop is anything but an easy mark. So when Donald's brother Paul is shot by an unseen assailant on a Vineyard street, J. W. can't help wondering if the wrong Fox sibling inadvertently took the bullet. Since Jackson's curiosity and deep-rooted sense of justice have always gotten the better of him — and since the bluefish aren't running yet anyway — he's going to track down the shooter, before preseason on his beloved isle turns irrevocably deadly.
Our children, Joshua and Diana, were over on the mainland for two days, being spoiled by Zee's mother and father, and Zee and I were having lunch in the E and E Deli with John and Mattie Skye. It was a sunny but chilly March day, with a cold wind blowing from the north.
Outside, the traffic at the dread five corners in Vineyard Haven was moving smoothly along. Such would not be the case when summer arrived and the street would be a slow-moving parking lot.
"Too bad the twins couldn't make it down with you," said Zee, wiping her lips.
"The girls have more interesting ways to spend their long weekend than being with their parents," said Mattie. "They're college women now."
I could remember when John and Mattie's daughters, Jen and Jill, were little girls, about the ages our children were now. I hadn't been able to tell them apart then, and I still couldn't. "They don't make a quesadilla as good as this one up in Weststock," I said.
"But Weststock has college men," explained Mattie. "Compared to that, even E and E food has insufficient appeal."
"You're brave to leave them alone up there for three days," said Zee.
I suspected that she was thinking of our Diana, who would be of interest to young men in another ten years or so. I shared her view, having begun worrying about just such boys shortly after Diana had been born.
"They're eighteen," said John, who made his living teaching medieval lit at Weststock College. "They're supposed to be grown-up enough to stay out of trouble."
I had never grown up that much, so said nothing about John's fantasy.
The front door opened and let in both some cold air and John Reilley, who looked carefully around the room, nodded slightly to me, and went to the counter to order.
I knew a folk song about a sailor named John Riley, but I didn't know much about this John Reilley. Two things I did know were that he always took a survey of a room before he entered it, and that he was a carpenter with the reputation of being good with his hands. It was an excellent reputation to have on an island that was awash with money being spent by people buying old houses, tearing them down, and then building massive new ones. John Reilley would never be out of work as long as he lived on Martha's Vineyard. Almost immediately the door opened again and three other men came in, one limping slightly and carrying a silver-headed cane. After sweeping the room with their eyes, they followed John Reilley to the counter. Apparently today was a day when everybody was checking out delis before they came in. Strange.
"Well, well," said John Skye in a quiet voice. "I see that even evil real estate developers are allowed in this joint."
My face apparently revealed my ignorance, because John added, "The one in the middle is Donald Fox, the boss of Saberfox. The one on his right is his little brother Paul. I don't know the guy with the cane."
"Ah," said Zee, straightening and frowning as she looked at Donald Fox. "The Savannah Swordsman himself, eh?"
I now glanced that way, too, for Fox's name was a headliner in the local press. The Fox brothers were tall, handsome men wearing expensive winter coats, but Donald's face was as hard as his brother's was gentle.
"The very same," said John. "Did I tell you that one of his minions has contacted us and made the now famous offer to purchase our place?"
"No, you didn't," said Zee, glancing at Mattie's angry face, "but Jeff and I have also been honored by a similar visit. The rep was a Mr. Albert Kirkland, complete with coat and tie and one of those little laptop computers that people carry around instead of briefcases these days. Jeff told him to take a hike."
"I was much nicer than that," I said. "I just told him we weren't interested in selling any land."
"And he said that it might be wise to reconsider since a lot of Vineyard land titles are pretty fuzzy and that Saberfox was doing extensive research in the Registry of Deeds."
"He left before any shots were fired," I said.
"What's scary," said Zee, "is that Saberfox has more money and lawyers than God and can outspend almost anybody who has land he wants. Donald Fox has already ripped off half the people on the island and he's suing the other half."
"That's a slight exaggeration," I said. "He's mostly ripped off poor people, because the rich ones have as many lawyers as he does."
"Well, he's after Dodie Donawa's place for sure! He's done what he always does: he's offered her about a quarter of what the place is worth, and told her if she doesn't go along, he'll take her to court! She'll have to take his offer because she hasn't got the money to fight him. Disgusting! If Dave Donawa was still alive he'd probably shoot him!"
"Maybe somebody else will do it, dear."
"It wouldn't surprise me!"
"Down, Fang! I think we should change the subject before you get so mad you hurt yourself."
Zee glared at me, then at Fox, then back at me. She was not in a conciliatory mood. I turned to John. "What's your next project, now that you're finally done with Gawain?"
John Skye had been working for years on an ultimate authoritative translation of Gawain and the Green Knight and had at last finished it, whereupon he had immediately entered into a serious state of postpartum blues. This was a typical experience, he said, of writers who had just finished books. And there was only one way out of it: start a new one.
"Well, that Southern swashbuckler over there gives me one idea," he said. "Maybe I'll write a history of swordplay, from sharp sticks to modern fencing. Who better than me? After all, I dazzled them on the fencing strip when I was an undergraduate, and now that I'm almost a rich and famous literary scholar I'm the right man for the job."
"He's kidding about the rich and famous part, of course," said Mattie. "So far all he's gotten from Gawain is some good prepub commentary from other medievalists. He doesn't even have a publisher."
"But I'll get one," said John, waving a professorial hand. "Readers all over the world will be lined up to buy copies. I'll be on endless book tours. It's inevitable."
"I'm impressed by the way you can keep a straight face when you say that," said Zee. "I don't believe I know any rich and famous scholars."
"I'll be the first," said John. "Anyway, maybe I'll do the fencing book. Skeptics will claim that it won't make any money either, because there are only about two fencers left in the United States and neither of them can afford to buy a book. They'll say that it's a typical pointy-headed-intellectual project: a book no one will read, about a topic totally irrelevant to modern times. But what do they know?"
Fencing, it was true, was not a major sport in America. However, it did have its practitioners, including several who worked out twice a week in the high school gym as members of the Martha's Vineyard Fencing Club. I'd watched them a time or two myself, attracted, no doubt, by having seen a number of swashbuckling movies on late-night TV.
I'd even been persuaded to pick up a foil, but had rapidly realized that I had no more skill as a fencer than as a dancer, and that the cause for both failures was the same: feet that didn't move properly when called upon to do so. They worked well enough for other things, but not for dancing or fencing. The reason was elusive but the fact was certain.
John, on the other hand, had on his library wall a battered mask centered on a triangled crossing of foil, épée, and saber that testified to his collegiate skill as a three-weapon man. Now, at sixty or so, he did his fencing with his forefinger, thrusting and parrying gracefully in thin air as he outlined his project.
"The first good part, of course, will be the research. I'll find out stuff I never knew. I'll go back into history as far as I can and trace sword fighting up to modern times, when training for combat turned into a sport."
"I presume you'll have a chapter on Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Junior," I said, "and another one on Zorro. They're the only fencers most people have ever heard of."
"A splendid idea. I'll have a chapter devoted to the movies, complete with lots of pictures. Flynn wasn't much of a fencer, by his own admission, but Cornell Wilde was a potential Olympian.
"Most people probably never heard of the real fencing champions -- Nadi and Fonst and d'Oriola and the others -- but they'll know about them when I win the Nobel Prize and fencing becomes the world's most popular sport. And they'll know about the guys who were around when I was slinging steel: Levis and Axelrod and Richards and Juan Diego Valentine."
"Are you going to mention our friend Donald Fox?" asked Mattie sourly. "Wasn't he America's only Olympic-gold-medalist fencer before he became a real estate tycoon?"
The tycoon under discussion, perhaps hearing his name, glanced her way with sharp, pitiless eyes. He stared at our table, then turned away.
Beyond him John Reilley looked at him thoughtfully, then turned and walked out into the chilly street, carrying his order in a paper bag.
"Sure," said John Skye, "I'll mention Fox. I'll have to, because like him or not he was the most successful competitive fencer America has ever produced." He paused. "Some people who know fencing think he was the best saber man the world has produced in the last fifty years. Personally, though, I'd put my money on Juan Diego Valentine."
"Was he a world champion?" asked Zee.
"No," said John. "But I saw him in Spain when I was over there one summer. He was training for the Spanish Olympic team. He was the best I ever saw. Better than me, even, if you can imagine that."
"Inconceivable," said Mattie, rolling her eyes.
"What happened to him?" asked Zee.
John shrugged. "Who knows? I expected him to win the Olympic gold medal the next year, but he wasn't even on the Spanish team. Maybe he got hurt, or maybe he decided to enter a monastery. Things happen."
Across the room, Donald Fox and his companions took their paper bags of food and headed out the door.
John gestured. "Apparently Mr. Fox is so busy making money that he has to eat on the run just like ordinary human beings."
The rest of us turned to watch the men hunch their shoulders against the wind and walk across the street. They were about halfway across when I heard two little firecracker sounds off to the right and the man John had identified as Paul Fox staggered and fell. The man with the cane instantly muscled Donald Fox at a fast trot across the street to the shelter of a building on the corner.
I rose without thinking and headed for the door. "Call nine-one-one," I said to the boy behind the counter. "Tell them that a man's been shot."
"Wait!" cried Zee.
But I didn't wait. When I got to the street I glanced in the direction of the firecracker sounds, saw nothing, and ran out to the fallen man. I got my arms under him and dragged him back to shelter in front of the deli. He was white-faced and moaning between gritted teeth.
"Help is coming," I said. "Do you know where you're hit?"
He put a hand on the center of his chest. "Right here. It hurts. God damn!" He was gasping for breath.
I tore open his coat and saw two slugs half buried in a bulletproof vest.
"You're wearing armor."
"A fortunate choice of clothing. Lie still."
On the far side of the street the man with the cane had both arms around Donald Fox, holding him back.
"Stay right where you are till the cops get here," I called to them. "He's going to be okay." Then I looked at the deli door, where John Skye and Mattie were hanging on to Zee, and said, "You stay right there, too!" Mattie and John hung on harder.
I heard the first of the sirens. "You'll be fine," I said to Paul Fox, "but stay where you are until the medics get here."
His eyes were wide and full of fear.
Copyright ©2003 by Philip R. Craig
Posted September 20, 2003
Wonderful easy reading with careful research so you learn something. If you enjoyed John McDonald, you will love this series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 29, 2003
J. W. Jackson is an ex Boston policeman. He likes to live the simple life and especially to fish. He, his wife Zee, who is a nurse in the local hospital, and their two children, Joshua and Diana live on Martha's Vineyard. Paul Fox is shot outside the E and E Deli in Vineyard Haven on the island. J. W. and Zee were inside eating. J. W. runs outside to help him. Luckily Paul was wearing a bulletproof vest. It is possible that Paul's brother, Donald, who is an Olympic gold medalist who is now a ruthless real estate developer, was the intended target. Donald's company is trying to buy up fuzzy old deeds and evicting homeowners on the island. One of his agents, Albert Kirkland, recently tried to buy the Jackson's home. J. W. is a part-time PI and takes the case to find out who is trying to kill Donald. J. W. begins looking into Donald's life and finds many suspects, especially angry homeowners on the island. He begins looking into John Reilly for a friend and finds that no one knows where he lives. In attempting to follow him home, two men begin following J. W. From here things just keep getting complicated until J. W. can finally make sense of everything. I love this series. We vacationed in New England last summer and we went to Marth'as Vineyard specifically because of my reading this series. It is as lovely in the books as it is in person. Mr. Craig has really captured the life and beauty of the island. The main characters in this series are well written. Every time I read a book in this series, I feel like I'm catching up with an old friend. In each book, the new characters are constructed just as well. He has a real gift for making his characters real. The plot in each book, this one included, is so well written you cannot figure out the mystery completely. I truly enjoyed this book and love this series. I highly recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
After all the trauma he experienced in Vietnam and as a police officer in Boston who got shot in the line of duty, J.W. Jackson is happy living on Martha¿s Vineyard and making ends meet by taking odd jobs. One day while he and his wife Zee are eating at the local deli, shots ring out and J.T. rushes out to see Paul Fox lying down on the sidewalk. The shooter is nowhere to be found but Paul is not seriously injured because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.<P> It turns out that Paul was wearing the vest in an effort to persuade his brother Donald, a real estate developer who has many enemies, to wear one also. Donald was using immoral but legal methods to force the year round residents to sell their homes to him, making the police think Donald was the intended victim. J.T. gets himself involved in the investigation and almost winds up getting himself killed.<P> It is always great to have a new Martha¿s Vineyard Mystery to read and A VINEYARD KILLING proves that claim. It is fun getting reacquainted with characters we have come to like and seeing Martha¿s Vineyard through the eyes of Philip R. Craig is always a special treat. The hero can¿t stop playing cop as he tries to solve an attempted homicide, a murder, a stalking case, and figure out how all these events are connected. This is definitely a must read mystery.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.