There's nothing like Martha's Vineyard on these crisp autumn days, after the season has ended. Now that the "off-islanders" are finally off the island, ex-Boston cop J.W. Jackson is free to relax, fish, and make future plans with his lady love Zee. But the natives are getting seriously restless this fall, with animal rights activists squaring off against deer slayers and environmentalists butting heads with land developers. Things have reached the boiling-over point and it's not long before verbal arrows become real ones. And when a most unlikely victim is caught in the lethal crossfire, Jackson can't just sit by idly with a fishing pole in his hand. Someone has to lead the hunt for a killer, and J.W.'s the man even if there's a chance that he won't live to see next summer.
About the Author
Philip R. Craig grew up on a small cattle ranch near Durango, Colorado, before going off to college at Boston University, where he was an All-American fencer. He earned his M.F.A. at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. A recently retired professor of English at Wheelock College in Boston, he and his wife Shirley now live year-round on Martha's Vineyard.
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The evening that Mimi Bettencourt shot Ignacio Cortez started out as just another chilly but peaceful fall day on Martha's Vineyard. I happened to be at the scene because Manny Fonseca, who, like Nash Cortez, was a shootist and a hunter of both birds and deer, had come by that morning and asked me to go to the meeting. I did a bit of hunting myself, because I like to eat goose and duck and venison, and Manny wanted hunters to be at the hearing because he was sure that Mimi and Phyllis Manwaring and a bunch of their pals would be there causing trouble.
When pressed by people like Mimi, who considered hunters akin to murderers, I justified my shooting on the basis of the anthropological/theological argument that people have always eaten meat and fish and that you are allowed to kill animals as long as you eat them, because it's all part of God's master plan.
Mimi, of course, was not persuaded by this reasoning, being a vegetarian for both ethical and medical reasons, and often warned me of the dire consequences of my barbarism. She was a vital, attractive woman, who lived alone in a large old farmhouse out by the state forest, surrounded by gardens of herbs, flowers and vegetables. She had grapevines and fruit trees, and milked goats from which she made excellent cheese. Her hair was long and beginning to gray, and she liked to wear long homespun skirts, loose sweaters, wraps of exotic design and heavy earrings. In mud time she exchanged her skirts and sandals for rubber boots and oversized jeans. She was nearsighted, walked with a slight stoop and looked, I thought, like a bohemian mother superior. She was a widow who had one daughter living on the island and another withchildren of her own living on the mainland. Mimi was both bright and emotional, and had always treated me well even though she disapproved of my shooting.
I didn't mind needling her. "I kill fish, too, Mimi," I would tell her. "Lots of fish. I do it for a living."
"That's just as bad," she'd say, but you could tell that a dead fish didn't arouse the passion that a dead bird or mammal did.
"Maybe plants have feelings, too," I'd say. "Who says it's worse to kill an animal than a plant?"
"I eat grains and fruits, mostly," she'd say. "Nuts and flowers. I don't kill things."
"How about mosquitoes?"
"All right, all right, so I swat mosquitoes. I'm not a pacifist. If something attacks you, you can defend yourself. Get out of here, J. W.!"
She put up with a lot from me, and had ever since I'd dated her youngest daughter, Angie, back in the days before I met Zee. "I only go out with your kid because I'm trying to get in good with you," I'd tell her. We'd stayed friends even though Zee had long since gotten my mind off Angie and the other women I'd been with in the B.Z. days.
A few days before Mimi shot Ignacio Cortez, I had finished replacing the floorboards of the rottenest part of her screen porch, and had gotten, in exchange, the Norwegian wood stove that Gus, her deceased husband, had used to warm his studio behind the house. Mimi didn't use the studio anymore and therefore didn't need the stove. I had had my eye on it for a long time.
Gus Bettencourt's family had enough money so that Gus hadn't actually needed to work at his art or anything else, so I had admired him for not becoming another dilettante, but a good and a productive painter. I felt the same way about Mimi, who had never ceased to labor just because she had married a wealthy young man. While she and Gus raised their family, she had planted and harvested her gardens and orchard, and sold their produce to the island grocery stores and, later, at the farmers' market.
Gus had not been an avid hunter, but I had seen him a few times in duck blinds, clutching his ancient 12 gauge, and sometimes encountered him on the beach trying for bluefish. Vegetarian Mimi and omnivorous Gus had struck some sort of compromise on the issue of food while he lived, but after his death she had increasingly protested the right of hunters, and to a lesser extent fishermen, to take animals' lives. She wrote letters to the Vineyard Gazette, she spoke at meetings, she marched in the Fourth of July parade carrying signs opposing hunting, trapping and fishing, and she appeared at hearings.
"She is a pain in the you-know-where," said Manny. "Her and that Phyllis Manwaring and those other weirdos. They'll be there tonight, you can bet on it, raising a stink about how awful us hunters are, and how dangerous it is to shoot on that land, and all the usual stuff they say. We need some of our guys there, J. W. Otherwise the goddamned Commission may stop us from using a hunk of land we've always hunted on! Here, lemme help you with that."
I was setting up the Norwegian stove on one side of my living room fireplace, and running the stovepipe up beside the fireplace chimney. The stove was heavy, so Manny's help was welcome. We got it where I wanted it.
"This thing will use less wood and throw out a lot more heat than the fireplace," I said. "The price of oil these days, I hate to use the furnace if I don't have to."
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