"Outstanding . . . electrifying . . . ingenious . . . one of the most convincingly heroic and likeable of contemporary sleuths."--Publishers Weekly
"Tapply is . . . a worthy successor to Hammet and both MacDonalds (Ross and John)."--Chicago Tribune
William G. Tapply has created a fresh new world in Bitch Creek, a steamy, perfectly crafted mystery introducing Stoney Calhoun, an unlikely hero. Stoney is a man without a past. A tragic event has obliterated his memory and he has been given-as so many might like to receive-a chance to reinvent himself. That's not an easy task when a man doesn't know
anything about himself, except that he is smart and utterly self-reliant.
Stoney is driven by a current from within. He has settled in Maine and has become a fishing guide, and he's busy reeducating himself. He's also in love, and he is slowly coming to terms with the sometimes ghostly glimpses of his past. Life is sweet, until someone close to him is murdered, and Stoney suspects that he himself was the intended target. In a riveting process of investigation and self-discovery, Stoney delves deep into the mysteries of the murder and begins, unwittingly, to uncover vital truths about himself.
In Bitch Creek, Tapply has created a unique and intensely likeable protagonist. He has fashioned an ingenious plot that exquisitely unfolds along with simultaneous layers of personality and intrigue. With stunning surprises and dead-on dialogue, Bitch Creek will be hailed, along with Stoney Calhoun, as Tapply's latest brilliant creation.
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BITCH CREEKA NOVEL
By William G. Tapply
The Lyons PressCopyright © 2004 William G. Tapply
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA few minutes after eight in the morning, Stoney Calhoun heard the bell ding over the door, alerting him that someone had come into the shop. He glanced up from his fly-tying vise. A white-haired man stood inside the doorway studying the rack of Sage and Orvis fly rods against the wall. Calhoun returned his attention to the nearly completed fly in his vise.
A minute later, the man was standing in front of him. "What in hell is that?"
Calhoun did not raise his eyes. "Bunker fly," he mumbled, pronouncing it bunk-ah. He always thickened his Maine accent for out-of-state customers, on the theory that they found it quaint and charming. Actually, it was Kate's theory, but Calhoun guessed she was right. Out-of-staters, flatlanders, folks "from away"-and this old gentleman, with his pressed chino pants, shiny loafers, green polo shirt buttoned to the throat, and his distinctly Dixie drawl, certainly was from away-expected Downeasters like Stoney Calhoun to talk like the caricatures they'd heard in television commercials, and Kate Balaban believed they'd be more inclined to spend money in her shop if the shopkeepers satisfied their expectations.
"Say 'ayuh' more, Stoney," Kate kept telling him. "You've got to practice. Go for taciturn. If you have the chance, tell 'em they can't get there from here."
Kate was the boss, so Calhoun tried to do it her way.
Without lifting his head, he noted that the man's hands, which rested on the front of the fly-tying bench, were deeply tanned and speckled with liver spots. He wore a Rolex on his left wrist. No wedding band. Professionally manicured nails, cut short and square.
Calhoun licked his fingers, smoothed back the saddle hackles and Marabou and bucktail and Flashabou of his bunker fly work-in-progress, then made a few careful winds of thread in front to lay it all back, taking his time with it.
Taciturn. Laconic. A local character. That was Calhoun.
Finally he looked up. "Georgia? Florida?"
The man's thinning white hair was brushed straight back from a high, deeply tanned forehead. He had big ears that stuck out almost at right angles from his head and penetrating ice-blue eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses, with deep crow's feet webbing from the corners. Calhoun judged he was pushing seventy. "Key Largo, actually," the man said. "How'd you know?"
Calhoun shrugged. "Wild guess." He returned his attention to his bunker fly. He pivoted the vise around so he could look at both sides of it, and then he whip-finished the head, clipped off the thread, and took it from the vise. It was nearly eight inches long, and about half that deep from belly to back. He handed it to the man. "Stick on a pair of big prismatic eyes," he said, "and she'll be done. Whaddya think?"
The man squinted at it. "It looks scary. What eats something like this?"
"Stripers." Strip-ahs. "You don't have striped bass in Key Largo."
The man smiled, showing either expensively capped teeth or a spiffy set of dentures. "No, we don't. But we have tarpon that weigh two hundred pounds, and they'd flee if they saw something like this thing coming at 'em."
"Menhaden," said Calhoun. "Pogies. Bunker. Same critter. Important baitfish hereabouts. They start showin' up inshore in late June-about now. By the middle of the summer they've growed up to a foot long or more. Stripers and bluefish love 'em. You ought to see the bunker flies we tie for August."
The man gave the fly back to Calhoun, then held out his hand. "My name's Green. Fred Green. And actually I was hoping to do some trout fishing. Brook trout. Natives, not stockers. I'm looking for someone who really knows the back roads and woods around here. A native. A real Mainer. Folks at the hotel recommended you."
Calhoun looked up. "Me?"
Green shrugged. "I don't know your name."
"Calhoun," he said. He shook the old man's hand. It was soft and uncallused, although his handshake was manly enough. "When were you lookin' to go?"
"Today's my only chance. I'm up on business. Figured I'd play hooky from the convention for a day. Always wanted to catch a Maine brook trout."
Calhoun leaned back in his chair and looked at Fred Green over the tops of the half-glasses he wore for fly-tying. "You want a wild brookie, you're gonna have to do some trekkin'. Anything close to the road's been fished out or ruined by hatchery stockers."
"Good," said Green. "That's what I want. I've done a lot of trekking in my life. Ever been to Argentina?"
"Nope," said Calhoun.
"I have," said Green. "Sea-run brown trout as big as your leg. What about Russia? Siberia's the new Atlantic salmon frontier. Accommodations are mighty crude in Siberia."
"Ain't been to Russia, neither," said Calhoun.
"I camped for a week beside a river in Alaska," said Green. "King salmon. Monster rainbows that ate mice and ducklings, mosquitoes in clouds that blocked the sun. Grizzly bears prowling through camp every night. You've been to Alaska, of course."
"Nope. Been all over Maine, though. Jackman, Mattawamkeag, Chesuncook, Rangeley, Seboomook." Laying on the Maine accent. "Yessuh. Done a bit of trekkin' in Maine." Calhoun shrugged. "Sounds like you're one helluva fisherman, Mr. Green. A six-inch brook trout gonna make you happy?"
Green grinned. "I don't care how big they are. I've fished all over. Keep track of all the native fish I've nailed. Brown trout in Bavaria. Salmon in Iceland. Dolly Varden in Alaska. I've caught every subspecies of cutthroat out West. Hiked clear to the top of a mountain in Nevada to get my golden. But I've never caught a truly native brook trout before. I figure, here I am in Maine, and at my age I may never get another chance."
Calhoun sighed, got up from behind his fly-tying bench, and went over to the counter. He flipped open the shop's logbook and pretended to study it. "You should've called yesterday," he said. "Kinda short notice."
"Today's my only chance," said Green. "There's a big tip in it for you."
Calhoun didn't need to look at the logbook. He already knew that both he and Lyle McMahan were available to guide. Kate, who had become something of a striped-bass guru in the past couple of years, had left before sunrise to take a couple from New Jersey up to the Kennebec.
Calhoun should take Fred Green trout fishing. It was his turn. Lyle would come over to mind the shop.
But the truth was, Calhoun couldn't conjure up any enthusiasm for leading Mr. Green on a tromp through the woods to one of the secret little spring-fed trout ponds he'd discovered in the woodsy Maine hills west of Sebago. It would be a day of pushing through alders and briars, slogging through marsh and swamp, lugging the lunch basket and both his own and Fred Green's rods and waders and float tubes, swatting blackflies, and stopping every ten minutes while this old Florida boy sat down to catch his breath.
Well, the full truth was that with the right company, that could be a helluva good day, Stoney Calhoun's kind of day. But he reckoned that Mr. Green would be mighty disappointed if all that slogging and sweating and scratching didn't pay off in a few trout, regardless of how hard the guide worked at it. None of his secret trout ponds was a sure bet in the middle of a sunny day in June, and Calhoun had had his fill of unappreciative clients.
Anyway, a man-even a fishing guide-didn't share his private brook-trout ponds with just anybody.
Calhoun had pegged this Fred Green from Key Largo as a blowhard. He knew it was a character flaw, but he judged people quickly and rarely felt compelled to reverse his judgment. He had no tolerance for blowhards, and he knew if he spent much time with Mr. Green, he'd inevitably cut him down with sarcasm. Kate always worried about Calhoun's sarcasm. Bad for business, she said, regardless of how thick he laid on the accent when he was doing it.
No, he just did not want to spend a day with Fred Green. He'd rather mind the shop, tie some flies, find some Bach or Sibelius on the radio, and be there when Kate got back to help her unload, and afterward they'd put their feet up on the fly-tying bench, have a Coke, and she'd tell him about her day's adventures with the folks from New Jersey.
Calhoun looked up from the logbook. "You're in luck," he said to Fred Green. "Lyle's available, and he's just the man you're lookin' for. Registered Maine Guide. He's lived around here all his life, knows every creek and pothole in York, Oxford, and Cumberland counties. Anybody can catch you a wild brookie, I reckon it's Lyle. Stick you in a float tube, paddle you out onto a little pond. Like I said, pretty short notice. But I'll give him a call, see if he can shoot over and make a plan with you, if you want."
"Lyle," said Green. "I think that's one of the names they mentioned to me at the hotel."
"Lyle McMahan," said Calhoun. "He's got a good reputation hereabouts."
"You mentioned a float tube," Green said. "You mean a belly boat? One of those canvas-covered inner tube things you sit in? I've never done that. Are they safe?"
"Oh, sure," said Calhoun. "You'll enjoy it."
Green rubbed his hands together. "Well, it sounds good to me."
Calhoun picked up the portable phone and pecked out Lyle's number. Lyle McMahan, who was a graduate student in history at the University of Southern Maine, shared a big, run-down rented house in South Portland with an ever-shifting mixture of students and their boyfriends and girlfriends and assorted hangers-on. Calhoun couldn't keep track of Lyle's housemates.
This time a sleepy female voice answered with a muffled, "Yo?"
"Lyle there?" said Calhoun.
"Hang on, mister. I'll take a look."
A minute later she came back on the line. "He's coming." She paused. "Hey, is that you, Stoney?"
"Yep. Who's this?"
"It's Julia." She dragged out her name, giving it three distinct syllables-Joo-lee-yah. "Remember?"
"Sure," he said. "Of course. How're you doing?" Actually, Calhoun couldn't remember whether Julia was one of the several little athletic blondes who shared Lyle's commune, or the tall gal with the red hair.
"Doin' just fine," she said. "Well, here he is."
"What's going on, Stoney?" said Lyle a moment later.
"Got a job for you, bud," said Calhoun. "Mr. Green, here, up from Florida, would like to catch himself a gen-u-ine Maine brook trout."
"It's your turn, man. What's the story?"
Calhoun glanced up. Fred Green was standing in front of him, watching. "Good," he said into the phone. "Haul your butt right over here, son. Your client's itchin' to go. He's askin' for you personally."
"This dude another one of your rejects?" said Lyle.
"Ayuh. That's about it."
"I'm telling Kate that you're pullin' rank, old buddy." Lyle laughed. "Sell the man some flies. Tell him that story about how George Smith's wife got stuck on the toilet seat he'd just varnished. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Calhoun disconnected and looked up at Fred Green. "You're all set. He's on his way. How're you fixed for gear?"
"I hope you can rent me what I need," said Green. "I didn't bring anything with me."
"Lyle will set you up when he gets here," said Calhoun. He waved his hand around the little shop. "There's coffee in the back. Poke around. See anything you like, let me know. Twenty percent off all the clothing."
He went back to his fly-tying bench, dismissing Fred Green, feeling only a little guilty that he wasn't trying harder to sell something to the man.
Calhoun had tied two more bunker flies by the time Lyle breezed in about a half hour later. He looked up to catch Green's reaction. Lyle McMahan was a gangly six-and-a-half-footer with a wispy goatee, a hoop in his ear, and a ponytail that was held back with one of those rubber bands they use in restaurants to clamp shut the claws of lobsters.
If Fred Green had expected Lyle McMahan to look like a stereotypical Maine guide-red-and-black-checked shirt, bushy black beard, dead cigar butt clamped in his teeth, maybe-he didn't show it. He shook hands with Lyle and the two of them huddled for a few minutes. Then they moved around the shop assembling some equipment, and after a few minutes, Lyle lugged it out to his ancient Dodge Power Wagon and Fred Green followed along behind.
Calhoun watched through the front window as they stowed the equipment in the back. Then Lyle pulled out his gazetteer of topographic maps, which he kept under the driver's seat, and opened it on the hood of the Power Wagon. He and Fred Green bent over it, and after several minutes of chattering and turning pages and poking at it, Green with his forefinger and Lyle with a pencil, they lifted their heads and grinned at each other.
When Lyle came back in to make his entry in the shop's journal, he said, "Ol' Mr. Green and me, we're gonna have some fun."
Calhoun looked up and smiled. "Ayuh, I expect you will."
"He's actually a pretty interesting guy," said Lyle. "He's fished all over the world." He finished writing and dropped the pen on the counter. "He even knows a place."
"A place, eh?"
"Yep. This here's a no-lose proposition, Stoney. Someone told him about a top-secret hotspot, and I think we found it on the map." Lyle grinned. "He wants to try it. If it works out, I can just add it to my list. And if we get skunked it ain't my fault."
"You trying to pull a Tom Sawyer on me, sonny?"
"Nossir," said Lyle. "Mr. Green and I are gonna have us a helluva good day, and he's gonna lay a monster tip on me when we're done. Too bad, Stoney. You could've had it, but this here's my gig."
"Well," said Calhoun, "tight lines, then. You two lads go on, have yourselves a day."
Excerpted from BITCH CREEK by William G. Tapply Copyright © 2004 by William G. Tapply. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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incredible suspense, a touch of romance, and breath taking descriptions of the Maine Countryside make this thriller a five star read!""