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There was a time when the tourist season on Martha's Vineyard pretty much began on the Fourth of July and ended on Labor Day. Increasingly, however, the shoulder seasons have expanded. People start coming down for weekends in April or even earlier, and the island doesn't really belong to islanders again until after New Year's, when, for two months, it's ours alone, and is very quiet.
Of the Vineyard's two shoulder seasons, the fall and winter shoulder is the busiest, what with childless couples staying to enjoy the autumn weather and off-island people returning for the annual Bass and Bluefish Derby, deer-hunting season, weddings, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
January and February, the quiet months, are perplexities to off-islanders, who often ask, "What do you do down there during the winter?" and proclaim that being penned up on an island would drive them crazy from boredom. For Vineyarders, on the other hand, being penned up on the mainland would be much worse.
The difference between the two groups is that the off-islanders need to be able to travel about on the spur of the moment, whereas Vineyarders accept the fact that they must live by ferry schedules and reservation policies. If your psychic welfare depends upon instant mobility -- going to the mall, the opera, the Kittery Trading Post, or wherever -- you shouldn't live on an island.
Off-islanders also err in thinking that there's nothing to do on the Vineyard during the winter. In fact, there's so much to do that you can't begin to do it all. There are community chorus rehearsals and performances and other musical activities and presentations; there are reading groups, amateur theatrics, movies, learned lectures, and high school sporting events; you can ice fish or go frostbite sailing, hunting, ice boating, dancing, or partying. If you want to, you can be out every night, sopping up culture or just having a good time. If you're bored, it's probably because you are a bore.
Zee and I and the two kids attend some of these many events but in general prefer to stay at home with each other in our old but cozy onetime hunting-camp home. Nothing pleases me more than being inside with my family, warm in front of the glass-doored living room stove while the winter wind howls outside and snow splats against the windows.
We have all the entertainment we need right here: shelves of books, a good radio, the last black-and-white TV in the world, a stereo system for our tapes and CDs, and our recently purchased computer, which is mostly used by Joshua and Diana for their schoolwork and which has temporarily put a stop to their previously consistent pleas for a dog.
I know that when the new wears off the computer, the dog request will return with more of "But all our friends have dogs, Pa," and "We'd take care of it ourselves, Pa," and all the other pleas and promises. But I am not about to have a dog. No dogs! We have cats: Oliver Underfoot and Velcro.
Cats are quiet and independent, but dogs are yappy and born slaves who want nothing more than to serve their masters. In fact, of course, their owners are the real slaves, constantly walking, feeding, and cleaning up after their noisy, slobbering pets. I don't approve of slaves or slavery, so we're not going to have a dog if I have anything to say about it! Whenever I preach this sermon, Zee rolls her great dark eyes and shakes her beautiful head.
The trouble began in early December, during deer season, when the kids were still under the spell of the computer and we were all beginning to think Christmas thoughts.
In our house, we don't consider it proper to do anything Christmasy until after Thanksgiving, and we feel free to raise disapproving eyebrows when stores offer pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music or displays or sales of Christmas items.
"Do you think we're getting stuffier about this Christmas thing as we get older?" asked Zee, as we strolled Edgartown's Main Street.
"Absolutely not," I said. "It's like the Good Book says: for everything there is a season."
"This isn't a case of the devil quoting scripture, is it?"
"Do you approve of having deer-hunting season between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Does the Good Book have anything to say about that?"
I took her arm in mine. "You're just trying to start trouble."
There are a lot of deer on Martha's Vineyard and every year hunters kill several hundred of them. There's a season for shotguns, one for muzzle-loaders, and one for bows and arrows. Other deer are shot out of season by hunters who don't wait for state approval to ply their ancient art.
About the same number of deer are killed each year by cars, which raises the question of what sort of license you really need to bag your buck.
The island's most passionate opponents of hunters and hunting are members of VETA, Vineyarders for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is the local version of a national organization, or perhaps it's an international organization, devoted to nonviolence to all creatures.
My friend Mimi Bettencourt Cortez belongs to VETA, although her views did not prevent her from marrying Ignacio "Nash" Cortez, who is as dedicated a hunter and fisherman as Mimi is a dedicated vegetarian. Mimi also has a sense of humor, which seems nonexistent in many of her VETA comrades.
Nash, in response to his wife's support of VETA, has created his own organization, VETFAV, Vineyarders for the Ethical Treatment of Fruits and Vegetables, which is dedicated to decrying the heartless killing, mutilation, torture, and devouring of innocent plants. Nash's letters to the papers have gotten a lot of laughs from hunters and fishermen and even a few from Mimi, but the rest of the VETA people are not amused.
I eat a lot of plants and I'm also a fan of venison cooked rare. I used to shoot my own deer, but somehow the joy of the hunt faded for me, and I put my shotguns away with the rifle my father used when he hunted in Maine. I disapprove of trophy hunters but I have no moral objections whatever about hunting and fishing as long as the hunters and fishermen eat what they kill. If you eat it you can kill it, as far as I'm concerned, although I admit to drawing the line at killing and eating people.
I can't really think of a strictly logical reason for making that exception, but I do make it, probably because of some irrational bias favoring my species; I've wondered if we'd have fewer or more wars if soldiers were required to eat the enemies they killed.
Without getting too involved in the moral subtleties of killing things, I'll add here that I think it's also okay to kill something or someone who's trying to kill or seriously damage you or yours. Finally, to complicate my ethics a bit more, I should say that although I disapprove of capital punishment (because mistakes often have and will continue to be made in trials), I think there are some people who deserve to be killed and whose deaths would greatly improve society.
I generally favor leaving them to the police and the courts, but a guy I know, having given thought to the matter over a few beers, came to a different conclusion. He was of the opinion that capital punishment should be outlawed but duels should be allowed. The participating parties would need to be in agreement about the terms and the matter would be personal instead of abstract, two factors that seemed to my acquaintance to legitimize the affair in some way. When I asked him about motives for shooting or stabbing other people under the great oak at dawn, he thought the classic ones would do: revenge for insults and hurts, real or imagined.
Most killers, however, are not so fearless and foolishly honorable as to stand in front of their equally armed adversaries and stab or fire on command. They prefer assassination. One such person came to the Vineyard when the island hunters were shooting deer and I was doing some scalloping over in Cape Pogue Pond, sharing Mike Look's boat and paying for my share of expenses to drag my limit along with his. The killer was after bigger game.
I got involved while I was opening my day's catch of scallops out in the shed behind our house, glad to be out of the wind and near the kerosene heater that took the chill from the afternoon air. I worked wearing a rubberized apron and standing at a table holding scallops I'd dumped there from my bushel baskets. I had a fifty-gallon barrel for the emptied shells, a stainless steel bowl for the meat I cut, and a smaller bowl of water in case I needed to rinse something. My scalloping knife was an old, familiar one, and with it I could work my way through a bushel in pretty good time. I'm not the fastest opener I know, but I'm not the slowest, either. When you get paid by the pound, you have to be fast and steady and you don't want to leave any meat on the shells.
When I filled the stainless steel bowl, I'd take it to the house and get another one. Zee would pack the scallops in plastic containers to sell to the local markets. Fresh bay scallops are hard to beat for taste and usually bring a price that makes dragging for them and opening them worthwhile. There is irony involved, of course: the more scallops there are, the more quickly you can get your limit, but the lower the price. And vice versa. There ain't no justice in this world, as the old-timers say. The market owners naturally disagree.
I was working on my last quarter bushel of scallops when the shed door opened behind me. I glanced back and saw Joe Begay. He had a hand in the pocket of his winter camouflage jacket, and he scanned the woods behind the shed before shutting the door.
Joe and I went back all the way to America's last Asian war, when he had been my sergeant and I had been a seventeen-year-old who had lied about his age to become a soldier. My military career had been a short one: on my very first patrol Joe and I had both gotten blown up by a Viet Cong mortarman who had sighted us before we sighted him.
The mortarman had done his work well and Joe and I spent a lot of time in hospitals. My legacy was considerable scar tissue and shrapnel below my knees. Joe Begay's was eye damage that had blinded him for a time and still obliged him to wear dark glasses under most conditions. But we had both been luckier than others on that patrol.
I occasionally still have dreams about the incredible noise of the attack, and about the flying dirt and brush and body parts, and I will wake making sounds for which there are no names as Zee, who is a nurse who knows how to take care of both my body and soul, gently shakes me and tells me everything is all right, that she is there and we are far from war.
Now, years after that fatal ambush, Joe and I both lived on Martha's Vineyard, albeit on opposite ends of the island. Joe, who had married Toni Vanderbeck, of the Aquinnah Vanderbecks, was supposedly retired after decades of government work he didn't discuss but that still occasionally took him away from home for days or even weeks at a time. Where he went or what he did I never asked, which was perhaps why we had remained friends.
"You could get yourself shot wearing a jacket like that during deer season," I said, going back to work. "How are you at opening scallops?"
"Out in Oraibi we didn't have scallops," said Begay.
That was true. There were no scallops on Third Mesa or anywhere else on the Hopi reservation. Begay was a long way from his boyhood Arizona home.
"Well, now that you're married to a Wampanoag and live in Wampanoagland and have kids who are half Wampanoag, you should make an effort to master Wampanoag skills. The Wampanoags have been opening Vineyard scallops for ten thousand years."
"I'm not sure about the ten thousand years, but otherwise you're probably right," said Begay.
Something in his tone caused me to turn and look at him again. He was bent and looking through the small, dirty window in the back wall toward the woods that lead off from our buildings toward the Felix Neck wildlife sanctuary.
He was a tall man, big through the shoulders and chest but lean from the waist down. His hair was shiny, straight, and black as the Pit. His face was brown, his eyes were black, and his cheekbones were high. His wife, Toni, when describing their first meeting out in Santa Fe, said she had never seen anybody who looked more like an Indian was supposed to look and that she had fallen instantly in love with him.
"What's out there?" I asked him. "Some deer hunter? I don't post my land and I don't mind them hunting, but I'd like them to do it farther from the house."
"I don't see anything at all," said Begay, straightening. "I was just double-checking my trail. I parked over at Felix Neck."
Interesting. "You came through the woods? Why don't you use the driveway like everybody else?"
The air seemed to change, to become thinner, more brittle. I turned back to the table, but my hands were acting on their own as they worked through the remaining scallops. "What's going on?" I asked.
"I need a favor."
"I'm driving to Hyannis tomorrow morning. I'd like to have you pick me up there and bring me back to the island."
"I'll explain later."
"It's probably best not to tell Zee any more than you have to. There may be strangers around asking questions, and she can't tell them what she doesn't know."
"I trust her as much as I trust myself."
"Use your own judgment, then. Drive to the Cape Cod Mall about noon and get yourself some lunch in the food court. I'll meet you there."
"All right. Are Toni and the kids okay?"
"I've sent them away. I'll tell you about it tomorrow."
"Do you need anything? A place to stay tonight? Something to eat or drink?" I paused, then added, "A weapon?"
"No. Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes." I turned when I heard the door unlatch. He still had his hand in the side pocket of his jacket. He studied the woods and left, shutting the door behind him. I went to the window and watched him move away, walking swiftly and gracefully. The winter camouflage blended well with the barren December forest and he was soon out of sight. I studied the woods awhile longer but saw no other movement.
I finished opening the scallops and carried the meat into the house.
"This is the last of them," I said to Zee. "I'll dump the shells."
I went out and put the barrel into the back of my rusty old Toyota Land Cruiser and took it up to the spot off Clevelandtown Road where scallopers dump their shells. A small flock of seagulls was there before me, picking at shells and making resentful noises as they flew up and waited for me to go away and leave them to their feast.
I dumped my barrel and drove on up to the airport, where I got round-trip ferry reservations for the next day. In December that's easier than in the summer, when it's virtually impossible because of the tourists.
At home, our outdoor pipes had been drained for the winter, so I used a bucket of water from the kitchen to rinse out the barrel before leaving it upside down to drain beside the shed.
Then I returned to the house. Already the sun was low in the western sky, and Joshua and Diana would soon be home from the second grade and kindergarten. I wanted to talk with Zee before they arrived.
Zee had the last of the scallops in the fridge and was working on supper. Scallops, of course. Her plan, I saw, was to fry them up with garlic butter and serve them over rice with broccoli on the side. A winning meal, for sure.
I washed up and prepared the broc for the microwave. We were becoming very twenty-first-century-ish, what with our microwave, our cell phone, and our computer. The next thing you know we'll be getting a color TV.
While I worked, Zee told me we'd gotten a call from Professor Buford Oakland, who wanted me to open up his Oak Bluffs house for family members who would be making a pre-Christmas trip to the island. I added his house to the list of several others I also had to open for the holidays, and told her about Joe Begay's visit to the shed.
She frowned. "He said that he sent Toni and the children away? I called her yesterday and got her answering machine. I was wondering why she never called back. What do you suppose is going on?"
"I'll tell you when I know."
"I don't like it so far. I wonder where Toni is."
"I don't like it either," I said, "but maybe there's nothing to worry about."
"Where are Joshua and Diana?" asked Zee, glancing at the wall clock. "They should be home by now."
"The bus doesn't get them here for another ten or fifteen minutes," I said in my soothing voice.
"Are you sure Joe had a pistol in his pocket?"
"It looked that way to me."
"I don't like it. Should we call the police?"
"If Joe wanted the police I think he'd have called them."
The cats, Oliver Underfoot and Velcro, came into the room and suggested that it was time for their afternoon snack. I gave it to them. A quarter of an hour later Joshua and Diana strolled down our long sandy driveway right on schedule.
Everything at the Jackson house seemed normal, but to Zee and me everything had changed.
Copyright © 2005 by Philip R. Craig
Posted February 24, 2013
Ok so i have a house in Marthas Vineyard and i havent even read these and they look like great childrens books. They remind me of "The Magic Tree House"
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Posted May 21, 2005
I have now read all of the Vineyard mysteries by Mr. Craig. This latest addition is another thriller, with cliff hanger after cliff hanger, urging the reader to continue. A light read with a wonderful plot, you will fly through this book!
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Posted December 9, 2008
J.W. Jackson moved his family to Martha¿s Vineyard to get away from big city life and crime although at times the island resembles the mean city streets. As an ex-city policeman, Jackson takes care of himself which is why Joe Begay, his sergeant when they served in Vietnam, comes to him when he needs help. Jackson smuggles Joe back onto the island after he leaves it and meets up with him at a designated place in Cape Cod.................. Joe works for one of the black ops organization and he and five other members of a trade delegation were able to kill two terrorists code named Rudolph and Scarecrow. The Easter Bunny got away and since that mission three of the group has been killed. Begay believes the Easter Bunny is coming after him and Kate, the other surviving member of the mission. Kate left her home after finding poisoned needles on pillows in her home. She came to Martha Vineyard¿s to work with Joe in taking the Easter Bunny down. Unfortunately Jackson becomes involved in their mission because the killer has linked him to Kate and Joe, putting all three of their lives in danger................. VINEYARD PREY is an exciting and fun reading experience because the protagonist keeps getting pulled into a situation that he really wants no part of all the while protesting. He is happy to stay out of the fiasco and just go on with his life. Phillip K. Craig¿s latest work is more action-packed than usual and it is so easy to become absorbed in the plot that the everyday world fades away...................... Harriet Klausner
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Posted September 29, 2013
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Posted June 15, 2005
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