Fogland Point

Fogland Point

by Doug Burgess

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Overview

"Elegant prose, a veritable Chinese box of puzzles, and authentic, well-rounded characters make this a standout." —Publishers Weekly STARRED review

Where memories, realities, and identities blur...

David Hazard wanted nothing more than to forget his renegade family and the foggy New England village "on the wrong side" of Narragansett Bay where he grew up. When sudden tragedy brings him back to Little Compton to care for his grandmother during her struggle with dementia, he discovers her fragile memories may hold the key to a bizarre mystery half a century old—and perhaps to the sudden and brutal murder right next door.

Once Chief of Police Billy Dyer names her as a witness, Grandma Maggie's recollections become vital. But can they be trusted, especially in a town where everyone has a secret, including David himself?

The investigation stalls. Then eccentric millionaire Marcus Rhinegold's yacht disappears into the fog, bodies begin to wash ashore, and Maggie's stories come vividly to life, setting off a chain of events both horrifying and hauntingly familiar. Puritans, gun-runners, Mafiosi, and a rogues' gallery from past and present converge in the mists of the bay, challenging Billy with layers of deception. On Christmas Eve, he enlists David in a daring move to uncover the many truths surrounding Fogland Point.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781464210242
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Doug Burgess grew up in a small town just across the bay from Little Compton, where his family has lived for over 350 years. He has authored numerous books on maritime history, including Engines of Empire: Steamships and the Victorian Imagination (Stanford University Press, 2016) and The Politics of Piracy (University Press of New England, 2015). He has also published short fiction in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and other periodicals. Burgess is a professor of history in Manhattan.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Little Compton sits on a tiny spit of land on the wrong side of Narragansett Bay. Everything else — Providence, Newport, URI, and civilization — is west. Little Compton is east. It used to be part of Massachusetts, but they didn't want it and it got handed over to Rhode Island in some obscure Colonial boondoggle back in 1741. The town patriarch was one Colonel Benjamin Church, who led the Colonists' war against the Wampanoag and slaughtered two hundred of them at the Great Swamp Fight in 1676. A plaque in the square celebrates this historic achievement.

You don't come here by accident, or pass through on the way to someplace else. There is nowhere else. The town is a peninsula. The main road narrows, runs along the coast, passes a few scrubby beaches and the tatterdemalion fleet at Dowsy's Pier, hunkers down into the swamplands of Briggs Marsh, and finally reaches a desolate spot where the only thing around you is gray, sullen ocean. Fog envelops the car. You're not in Rhode Island anymore, not anywhere, really. Little Compton is a void where the North Atlantic should be.

Our town square is a graveyard. I know how that sounds, but it's literally true. Look it up on Google Earth and see for yourself. The United Congregational keeps watch on the graves from the top of Commons Street, a view it shares with the post office, elementary school, and community center. You can't get anywhere in town without passing the cemetery first. It forms the backbone of all local directions. Here, marked by a Celtic cross with a fouled anchor at its heart, lies my Great-Great Grandpa Ezekiel Hazard, a captain on the Fall River Line ferry to New York. He spent fifty years at sea and drowned in his bathtub after slipping on a bar of Yardley soap. Just to his left is a little granite wedge for Millicent Hazard, 1909-1918, dead of influenza but "Resting in the Arms of the Lord." An imposing obelisk marks the remains of Howland Prosper Hazard, who served one term in the Continental Congress and spent the rest of his life telling the story of how he loaned a half-crown to George Washington for passage on a stagecoach back to Yorktown, where Washington triumphed over the Redcoats. Howland's epitaph declares him the "Financier of the Revolution."

And, a few paces away, under a blighted beech tree, rests my mother.

The only Hazards left now are me and Grandma. My father, not technically dead, read himself out of the family at Thanksgiving a few years ago, which is also where I received the sickle-shaped purple scar on my left shoulder. I didn't like how it looked so I covered it with a tattooed rose. Then I didn't like how it made the other shoulder seem bare, so I covered that with a bloody skull. Don't ask what they mean. I got them out of a book. Dad's somewhere in Massachusetts; I don't care to know where.

Grandma's house is one right and two lefts from the cemetery, on Fillmore Road. In her kitchen is the last pink rotary phone in the world. It even works, though we had to pay the electrician to install an adapter. Now when she turns the wheel it connects to a motherboard inside that translates her analog commands into digital language. It's like she's calling from 1974.

Next to the phone is a list of numbers with "Emergency" written on top. I never thought about it until now, but that list is basically her whole life. The first are the pediatrician and vet, both dead, fire department and police. After that comes a different hand, my grandfather's. It gives the name and number of the electrician, plumber, and a direct line to St. Miriam's. This was when he found out he had lung cancer.

The other names are in her handwriting, shaky but recognizable. There are the Laughing Sarahs — more about them later. My number is there, and my father's. These were numbers she used to remember, but not anymore. The last entry is the saddest. It is her name and phone number. Now the emergency is her.

The avenues of my grandmother's mind are closing down, one at a time. Dr. Renzi described it like that: a great city becomes just a town, then a village, then a hamlet, then a single street with a vacant house and broken windows staring blankly. Right now we're somewhere between the town and the village. But the village still has a telephone, and Grandma's phone has become the only link to an increasingly shrinking world. Her calls are incessant and strange. Once she interrupted a meeting between me and the department chair to ask why Ronald Reagan stopped making movies.

"Because he's dead," I answered abruptly.

There was a long, shocked pause. "My God, has anyone told Nancy?"

Another time she dialed AT&T because a zeppelin was trying to dock to her satellite antenna. Then came an endless stream of phantom burglars, mashers, and would-be rapists. The last afternoon Pastor Paige came for coffee, she snuck into the front parlor and called Billy Dyer down at the police station. "He wants to do those sex things again," she whispered, horrified.

At the end of the month the bill would come in, full of bizarre notations. Grandma apparently spent three hours on a Thursday afternoon talking with the Office of the Governor General of Canada. Cost: forty-five dollars and eight cents. Calls to a florist in Poughkeepsie, to a charter boat company in Nantucket, to dozens of private numbers whose identities I can only imagine; calls going out in all directions, all day long — distress signals from a foundering liner demanding rescue from anyone near enough to help. Mine comes on an afternoon in early October. I let it go straight to voicemail. Lately Grandma has taken to calling me every time she mislays something — reading glasses, television remote, keys. I've become her Lar, god of the household, even though I haven't set foot in the place for months. Our dialogue follows a familiar track:

"Did you look on top the television?"

"Of course I did. What d'you take me for ...? Oh."

But today I'm not in the mood. Back in my little cubbyhole at Faculty Housing, staring at a room that has just ceased to be mine. There is still a tub of peppermint ice cream in the fridge and half a bottle of vodka left over from a welcome-back party weeks ago. It turns out they go well together. So it's not until evening that I finally pick up the phone and listen to her message.

"... gotta come over here and help me, there's blood everywhere, on the sink and countertop and all over the floor, I don't know what to do I just found him and I'm sure he's dead and the lobsters and it looks like his head is —"

She cuts off abruptly. There is a rustle and a thump, like she's dropped the receiver. The next three minutes are static.

Dr. Renzi warned me that her delusions would become more fantastic as the dementia eats away at her sanity. She could become violent or terrified or amorous all in the space of ten minutes, shifting like a one-act tragedian from one scene to the next. "Sooner or later," he said, "you're going to have to bring in professional care. The question is not if, but when." It looks like that moment has come. I call Renzi's office and leave a message with the triage nurse, requesting an appointment for Maggie Hazard as soon as possible.

Then I call Grandma.

The phone rings and rings. I imagine it jangling through the house, buzzing the extension in the back parlor, irritating the solemn black Bakelite with its long cloth cord in Grandpa's old office. But there is no answer. Panicking a little, I ring up Irene, Constance, and Emma — Grandma's closest friends. No one picks up. I leave a string of increasingly hysterical messages on their answering machines and end up staring at the quad outside my windows, a bare patch of scrubby grass.

I could call Dad. But I don't. Not yet. Don't open that box. Instead, I take out the overnight kit from my desk drawer — kept ready for just such an occasion — and toss it into a rucksack with a spare shirt and a dog-eared copy of Borodin. Five minutes later I'm on Route 95, heading south past the outlets at Wrentham, the monitory spire of the Fleet Bank building, the floodlit capitol with its naked Independent Man glowering down on the shoppers at Providence Place Mall. Over the Mount Hope Bridge, and into the clinging country dark of Tiverton. I didn't bother leaving a note. After all, it's not like anyone will miss me. I've just been fired, but that's a story for another time.

* * *

It is past ten and the house is dark as I approach. Even the porch light is off. Grandma's place is the biggest on the block, shaped like a foreshortened T. From the road it looks oddly backward, showing its shingled tail to passersby while its white clapboard face stares out to sea. But there is a reason. The house was built on a sloping hill by Captain Ezekiel Barrow in 1704. Its tall windows look out to Narragansett Bay, where Captain Barrow could watch the ships sail in and out of Newport. He even added an extra storey and a widow's walk with lead-glass windows that opened on a hinge. Old Barrow was a wrecker, and from his lofty perch he watched for ships in distress like a vulture circling carrion. Inside is a patchwork of flotsam from his prizes: a carved Spanish staircase in mission oak with pineapple finials, tall French doors with silver handles, Delft tiles that frame the front room fireplace. Captain Barrow came to a bad end in 1713 when his sloop overturned in a squall as he attempted to claim a prize; his corpse washed up on Breakwater Point.

Gravel and crushed seashells crunch under the tires. The sound usually wakes up anyone within, but not this time. Part of me already imagines the scene I'll find behind the polished oak door: Grandma sprawled out at the foot of her stairs, neck broken; or slumped over the kitchen table; or tucked into bed like a child with one cold hand resting on the pillow. I've seen these visions often enough. When I was young I used to watch her labored breathing as she napped, counting each breath and waiting, terrified, for the rattle and cease. Now it would be a comfort, and I'm angry and ashamed at myself for thinking such thoughts. Nevertheless, even as I move round the house, trying the doors and peering through curtained windows, a cold, clinical part of me is already making lists: call the hospital, the undertaker, her lawyer Mr. Perkins; get out her best black dress with the piecrust collar and seed-pearl piping. Empty the refrigerator. Call the Sarahs.

"David? Is that you?"

The sound of her voice makes me jump. Grandma is standing on the back porch, cigarette in hand, wrapped in a green tartan bathrobe that used to be Grandpa's. The smoke forms a wreath around her head. She looks at me quizzically, but without surprise. "You all right there, kiddo?"

"Grandma! Are you okay?"

"Why shouldn't I be?"

"You called me. You sounded really upset. You said ..." Here comes the awkward bit. "You said there was a body."

She raises an eyebrow. "A body? Whose body? What are you talking about, boy?"

Honestly, I wish I knew. But the bloody corpse has already flitted back into the Lethe of my grandmother's imagination. And I've just driven all the way from Boston for nothing. "What are you doing outside this time of night?" I ask instead. "It's freezing."

She shrugs. "I like to watch the waves." Her cigarette semaphores towards the sea, making a fiery arc. "Want to join me? The Dixieland oughta be passing by pretty soon." This is a private joke. The Dixieland ferry — ludicrously named, filled with day-trippers from New York — passed by our house every day at noon. Sometimes Grandma and I would stand on the bluff, wait until it approached, and then drop skirts and trousers and let our asses hang in the breeze. She chuckles at the memory.

"Grandma," I say again, bringing her back to the present, "you called me. You said something was wrong. Do you remember?" Even as the words leave, I regret them. Her face darkens. She hates to be reminded of "Fuzzy Acres," as she calls it.

"Of course I remember," she snaps, and we both know she doesn't. "But I'm fine now. You can go along back up to that college. I don't want you failing 'cuz of me." Sometimes she knows I'm an assistant professor now, sometimes not.

"It's okay. Let's go inside."

She shrugs again but doesn't resist as I take her arm. The house is utterly dark. I wonder how long she's been standing on the porch. "Did Emma bring dinner yet?"

"I think so."

But the kitchen is cold and untouched. Aunt Emma always rinses the dishes and puts them on the counter — the counter is bare. "Let me fix you something," I say.

"Whose house is this? You sit down. I'll fix you something."

Before I can protest Grandma puts on the coffee, plugs in the toaster, and pulls out a loaf of bread from the cupboard. While the toast heats she makes scrambled eggs, a perfect yellow disc at the bottom of the pan. This she cuts in two and sprinkles with a dust of salt and castor sugar. At that exact moment the toast pops up. I've watched her do this all my life and it still amazes me that she can time it so well. Even the coffee is brewed. Grandma sits across from me and helps herself to eggs. In a moment they're gone, and most of the toast, too. She eats ravenously, licking her fingers, all delicacy forgotten. I'm beginning to wonder when she ate last.

"Did Emma give you your pills tonight?" I can see the little orange bottles still atop the fridge. "Here, I'll do it."

"Emma does it," Grandma corrects, mulishly. "You let her do her job."

Emma is Grandma's next door neighbor and best friend, but lately Grandma has taken it into her head that she's some kind of paid housekeeper. I can't blame her, really. For months now Emma's come by every night to give Grandma her dinner, pick up the clothes she left strewn on the floor, straighten the furniture, and sort the mail. I've learned not to offer her money. Truth is, Emma was always Grandma's guardian, even before Fuzzy Acres. When Grandpa died it was Emma who chose Grandma's funeral outfit, dressed her, and fixed her hair while Grandma stared blankly at the mirror, numb with grief. When Grandma started forgetting things — little things, appointments and birthdays and children's names — it was Emma that kept track. On my birthday I received a Hallmark card with a twenty-dollar bill inside. The card was signed in Grandma's handwriting but it was addressed in Emma's. In her own quiet way she gives Grandma the greatest gift any friend ever could, by allowing her to remain herself. But when I tried to express my gratitude, Emma was curt. "Never you mind. You don't know what she did for me." Then she changed the subject.

Now I peer out the kitchen windows, over to Emma's house. Her ancient Buick is parked out front and there is a light on in the kitchen. It's Thursday night, which means Emma will be watching her shows. Cop dramas mostly, the gorier the better. It's always been a strange side of her otherwise buttoned-up personality. "Give Em a semi-decomposed corpse in a lonely field," Aunt Constance likes to say, "and she's a happy woman." A flickering blue light reflects on the grass outside her parlor windows. But why hasn't she come by?

"I'm gonna go check on Emma," I say.

Grandma doesn't look up from her toast. "Tell her those eggs she brought last week were bad. Feathers and blood. Had to throw half away."

Outside the air has a definite chill, and there's a hint of frost on the lawn. I shiver in my shirtsleeves. Emma's house is smaller than Grandma's, a gray saltbox Colonial whose austerity and uncompromising squareness always reminded me of Emma herself. A pot of nasturtiums greets callers at the door. I knock, ring the bell.

"My God, what is that? Is that a body?"

The television blasts away in the front room. Emma has grown rather deaf lately. I try the door and, sure enough, it's unlocked. It opens right into the parlor, where a rocking chair is pulled up close to the television set. Dr. Ross and Detective Stone peer down at a mangled corpse on the screen. But the chair is empty.

"Emma?"

"Dead some days I expect. There is hypostasis on the lower back and forearms, suggesting ..."

The inside of the house is small and plain, with only a few stickback chairs in the living room, and a kitchen with a built-in table just behind. A kitchen light with a wicker shade dangles overhead. The light is on, gleaming off a pile of copper pans strewn on the floor. The shelf above the stove is skewed at a cockeyed angle, one plank dangling loosely from a single bent nail.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Fogland Point"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Doug Burgess.
Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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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