With a genius IQ, a past career as a circus acrobat, and a black belt in karate, criminology professor Dr. Robert Frederickson—better known as “Mongo the Magnificent”—has a decidedly unusual background for a private investigator. He also just so happens to be a dwarf.
Mongo and his brother, Garth, are experienced private detectives. So when Garth’s wife Mary’s strange ex-boyfriend shows up uninvited, they suspect he, the self-proclaimed magician Sacra Silver, is full of mumbo jumbo. But when a series of annoying pranks disrupts their lives, Mongo and Garth have to deal with Sacra’s attempts at black magic.
Meanwhile, they’re also investigating a death involving a suspicious multinational corporation. Garth’s friend, environmental cop Tom Blaine, was found in the Hudson chopped to pieces by a boat propeller—just like the kind on the tanker the victim had seen dumping oil in the river . . .
The two problems couldn’t be less alike, but soon Mongo learns the dirty dealings have a connection that could put everyone he loves in danger.
An Incident at Bloodtide is the 12th book in the Mongo Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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My brother, stretched out diagonally across the trampoline with his ankles crossed and his hands locked behind his head, said, "There's a metaphor here someplace, Mongo."
I was draped across the fourteen-foot catamaran's steel bow support, dangling my hands in the warm, murky water that looked still, but was in fact anything but. I looked around at the vast expanse of water surrounding us, a three-mile-wide section of the Hudson River the first Dutch settlers had dubbed the "Tappan Sea." To the west, the setting sun was not so much crimson as the softer shade of a strawberry lollipop that was about to drop out of the sky behind Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack, the model for "Skull Island" in the original version of King Kong. To the east, the huge banks of windows fronting the General Motors plant in Tarrytown reflected the sun's rays, making the entire building appear like one giant, rectangular stoplight, and bathing the normally mud-colored river in a red glow that was heightened by a recent bloom of microorganisms, a relatively rare and short-lived phenomenon I had heard local sailors and fishermen refer to as "bloodtide." To the south, the serpentine span of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the particular dangers it represented were slowly but inexorably drawing closer. The water felt close to body temperature; bodies lost in the river's depths would quickly rot and fill with gas and bob to the surface.
"A metaphor," I replied. "Damn, I missed it. It passed without a ripple. Did it go by to port or starboard?"
"Tide will tell, Mongo."
"Ho ho ho. Tide will tell what?"
"When there's no wind, tide will tell."
"That's not a metaphor, it's basic earth science."
"When venturing out on the river of life in a sailboat with no motor, don't count on the wind to always get you where you want to go."
"I think your metaphor needs some work, brother. It isn't going to float with Mary, assuming she ever sees us again. She's going to say we're the boats with no motors. She warned us when we went out that what little wind we had was going to die, remember? But no, you said it would be really swell to take a little sail before dinner."
"I didn't hear any demurrals from you. In fact, I seem to recall you being downright enthusiastic at the prospect."
"Hey, I don't live year-round in a house on the Hudson; I don't get that many opportunities to go sailing. Besides, you know how impressionable I am; I count on the wisdom of my big brother when it comes to situations like this. I actually think you've left us both to drift aimlessly downriver."
"Well, we can always just sit tight and wait until we get to New York. The river's narrower there. We'll just paddle to shore, tie up the cat, and spend the night in the brownstone."
"New York's twenty-five miles away. The tide will change before we get there, and in the meantime we'll die of thirst and exposure."
"Jesus, Mongo, you've become such a worrywart since I moved out. In any case, we're more likely to die of acute embarrassment when somebody takes pity on us and pulls over to ask what the hell we're doing out here on a fourteen-foot catamaran with no motor."
"I'm simply going to tell them it was your idea to take a quick sail before dinner. That was four hours ago."
"When caught up in the swift and unpleasant currents of life, with no help from above —"
"Not to mention from the north, south, east, or west."
"— the wise man applies the paddle."
"Now, there's a metaphor," I said, rolling over and sitting up. "For 'tis better to struggle with two little paddles than to get run over by a barge in the dark."
I removed the two plastic paddles from where they were secured in the webbing connecting the two halves of the trampoline, handed one to Garth, then climbed down onto the starboard pontoon of the Hoby Cat, straddling it. Garth positioned himself on the port side and we began to paddle, angling toward the western shore where the bright lights festooning the docks of the various boat clubs had already come on.
If we'd started paddling just after the wind had died and while we were still north of Hook Mountain, we probably would have stood a reasonable chance of getting to shore within reasonable walking distance of Garth's home in Cairn, or perhaps even have caught one of the faint breezes that sometimes waft off the land at dusk. However, choosing the path of lazy optimism and least resistance, we had decided to "sail the tide" for a while and wait for the wind to come up. Two hours later we'd still been sailing the tide, which had carried us right into the center of the deep channel marked by buoys and used by the mammoth tankers and barges that plied the river, servicing the dozens of companies that were located on both shores of the river between New York City and Albany. Tankers and tug-drawn barges had right-of-way over everything else on the river, and for good reason: even if the pilot or captain of one of these floating behemoths did manage to spot a tiny vessel like ours in his path, there wouldn't be much he or she could do about it, inasmuch as it can take up to five miles for a tanker or barge to come to a stop. By the time a captain managed to change course, we would long since have been reduced to flotsam of floating bits of steel, fiberglass, canvas, Mylar, and flesh. The first order of business was to get out of the channel, and so we proceeded apace, huffing and puffing, making agonizingly slow progress at an angle against the combined forces of tide and current carrying us toward the sea.
"Where to?" I asked.
"Let's go for Petersen's."
I glanced to my right, at the floodlit buildings and docks that were the old and venerable Petersen's Boat Yard in Nyack. We were almost abreast of the landmark shelter, and still at least a mile and a half from shore. "We're never going to make Petersen's, Garth."
"Well, we aim for it, and hope we at least hit the outer edge of Nyack Boat Club's parking lot. If we can just get to one of the boats on an outside mooring, we can rest up, then work our way in from mooring to mooring. They'll let us tie up, and we can take a cab home."
"I don't know about you, but my arms already feel like they're ready to drop. Why don't we just take an angle toward Memorial Park? There's a ramp there. We can call Mary, have her drive down with the pickup and trailer. Then we don't have to worry about coming back to get the cat in the morning."
"Mary won't be home. Believe it or not, we'd actually planned to eat early. She's got a church meeting tonight that's supposed to resolve a big hassle they've been into for months. She won't be back until late. Don't worry about the cat. You can drop me off on your way back into the city, and I'll sail her home."
I felt a little flutter of anxiety, a tightening in my stomach. I stopped paddling, looked back at Garth. "What about Vicky? I'm not sure she's ready to set foot again in any place with crosses on the walls, no matter how benign."
Garth nodded. "Agreed. Mary knows the situation, even if she doesn't quite understand the problem; you had to be there. But I've made it clear that there is a problem. We've got lots of friends among the neighbors, and I'm almost certain she'll have dropped Vicky off with one of them."
Garth had every reason to be as upset as I was at the prospect of our young charge being taken into a church, and so if he was comfortable with whatever decision Mary might have made, there was no reason why I shouldn't be. I turned back and resumed paddling. My pause for a little tête-à-tête had cost us a good twenty-five yards.
Vicky Brown was a very cute nine-year-old girl with blond hair, green eyes, and freckles, whose physical beauty was marred only by her reluctance to smile or laugh, and belied by the fierce, poisonous invective that would still, even after two years of what I considered to be the very best therapy available, spew from her mouth in moments of stress or anger; when Vicky couldn't get what she wanted, the person denying her was very likely to be labeled a "nigger," "kike," or "mud person." Her severe emotional disturbance was perfectly understandable in view of the fact that she had been born into and reared in a home that was an incubator of paranoia and hatred, her mind molded into a twisted shape by a combination of parents who were over-the-top Christian fundamentalists whose fundamental belief was that ninety-nine percent of the world's population were servants of Satan bound for Hell, and savage sexual abuse visited upon her by one Rev. William Kenecky, now very much deceased, who had been the leader of the band of zealots to which Vicky's parents had belonged. The cult had not only believed that the world was about to end in nuclear holocaust but had gone to considerable lengths to bring about that goal in order to hasten the Second Coming of Christ. Global nuclear war had been a bit beyond their reach, but they'd damn near succeeded in frying a number of cities and a few million people.
Garth and I had been sucked into the lives, and conspiracy, of these decidedly strange and dangerous people as the result of a plea for help Vicky had written to Santa Claus. Most members of the cult had died horribly in a hysterical act of mass suicide inside a sealed plastic bubble world they'd called Eden, where they'd gone to await "Rapturing" while the rest of the world burned and was invaded by demons. Despite their best efforts to exterminate themselves and their daughter, we'd managed to rescue Vicky and her parents. The courts had granted my brother and me custody of the child for an indefinite length of time, inasmuch as the parents were currently committed to a psychiatric hospital. Our responsibility was to care for the child until such time as the parents were deemed sufficiently mentally healthy to regain custody of their daughter. I wondered then, and still wondered, if that time would ever come.
I also wondered if Vicky herself could ever be made emotionally and spiritually whole. Children raised in an atmosphere of hate who are also victims of severe sexual abuse rarely ever fully recover to lead normal lives, and Vicky had suffered the extremes of both these crimes against her. But Garth and I loved the girl, and we were determined to provide an atmosphere and emotional support system that would promote healing to the greatest extent possible. We knew we could never give her back her childhood, or erase the Hieronymus Bosch horror of her memories; our goal was to at least nurture the closing of the wounds in her, to help her build emotional scar tissue strong enough to support a reasonably integrated and happy adult no more neurotic than the rest of the general population.
To that end we had bypassed the horde of child psychiatrists and assorted other therapists practicing in New York City and appealed for help to the happiest and most integrated person I knew, and the one person we both thought might do Vicky some good. April Marlowe was one of many women I had loved, but she occupied a special place in my life. She had once saved my mind with her love, after I had survived a nasty bout with sensory deprivation, and it had been this woman who had given me the courage, for the first time in my life, to accept the love of a woman. That had not been an insignificant accomplishment. The fact that April, who now lived with her husband in upstate New York, was a practicing witch might not have sat too well with the judge who had granted us temporary custody, or with any child welfare agency, but we were not answerable to anyone when it came to decisions regarding Vicky, who had to learn to perceive the world, and her place in it, in a totally new way. April Marlowe was the person to do that, to afford Vicky a fresh way of perceiving nature, literally from the ground up. April might be a witch, but — as always with the hopelessly complicated and bizarre hash of human belief systems — it was the singer, not the song, that made the difference.
For much of the year Vicky lived with April and her husband on their farm and attended a very special and highly accredited private school run by April and other members of her Church of Wicca. Summers and vacations she spent with us, either with me in New York or with Garth and his wife at their home on the river in Cairn. Between the rusticity of the farm, the deep understanding of April, the incredible empathy of my brother with the world's walking wounded, and the richness of New York's culture that I could share with her, we hoped there was a process of spiritual detoxification taking place that would eventually give Vicky a new sense of oneness with the world, and with the many different kinds of human beings who inhabited it. The jury was still out, but then we'd only had her less than two years, and there was a lot of poison that had to be leeched from her very young soul.
Now it was the influence, however subtle, of Mary Tree, Garth's beautiful wife who also happened to be a world-famous folksinger, that was giving me pause. Mary and I adored each other, and she had brought to Vicky the invaluable gift of music. In almost every way, Mary was an ideal role model for Vicky. What concerned me was the recent interest Mary had been showing in a kind of not-quite-born-again brand of Christianity, a predilection I couldn't fathom. The fact that I couldn't understand Mary's spiritual needs was of no consequence, but what concerned me was that it was just such a taste for the supernatural that had ground up Vicky in the first place. Mary certainly didn't proselytize, and — at Garth's insistence — never brought up the subject of religion with the child, but I was still anxious about what unconscious signals Mary might be sending to the girl. Vicky had to learn to have faith in herself, the soundness of her own senses, and the people around her, not in any gods even remotely resembling the savage, merciless deity that had ruled the world of her parents and the Reverend Kenecky.
The muscles in my arms and shoulders burned, and were starting to cramp. It was growing darker. We had made it out of the deep channel, which meant we weren't going to be run over by a barge or tanker, but there was still the danger of getting whacked by one of the large powerboats that roared up and down the river, even at night. The lights of the Nyack Boat Club were slipping away off to starboard. We weren't going to make it to that point of landing, and it was doubtful we could even make Memorial Park, a half mile or so further down the shoreline. With luck, we might still be able to park the cat on the beach of one of the riverfront mansions in South Nyack, just before the bridge.
"What do you hear from the lovely Dr. Harper RhysWhitney?" my brother asked.
"Nothing," I replied curtly, digging into the water with my paddle and trying to ignore the stabbing pains in my arms and shoulders. The woman whose absence I was suffering as a kind of persistent, dull ache in my chest was off on one of her annual pilgrimages to the Amazon to hunt for new species of venomous snakes. I missed her terribly, and it was a subject I did not care to discuss. "They don't have that many phones or mailboxes in the rain forest. What's the hassle at Mary's church?" Garth grunted. "A little clash of cultures and a big dose of politics. Church versus State, arguments over worshipping false idols, that sort of thing. They hired this young assistant pastor a few months ago, and he wasn't there a week before he announced that it was inappropriate to display the American flag on the altar. He said it was wrong to display a symbol of nationalism in a place where the business is supposed to be worship of the Creator of the universe. So he took the flag off the altar and locked it away."
"Oh-oh. Bad move politically."
"You've got that right. The congregation's been at each other's throats ever since, with the flag-removers a distinct minority. I don't have to tell you which side Mary's on. They're being called unpatriotic, and they accuse the other side of worshipping false gods. It's gotten ugly."
"The pastor sounds hopelessly naive. They should have taught him in the seminary that patriotism is just another form of religion, and hate is what most politics are about. Theologically, of course, he's absolutely right."
Garth laughed. "My brother the theologian. I love it."
"Why don't you turn on the radio and call for help?"
"We don't have a radio."
"Oh, that's right. I forgot. Then how about turning on our running lights so we don't get rammed?"
"We don't have any lights."
"Tell me again whose idea this was."
"You thought it was a great idea."
"I'm just a city boy. What do I know about these things?" "You're the one who taught me how to sail."
Excerpted from "An Incident at Bloodtide"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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