Slipknot is the first in Linda Greenlaw's fantastic Jane Bunker seriessmall-town mysteries set in Down East Maine.
Welcome to the coastal village of Green Haven, where someone has gone to sleep with the fishes. . .
Jane Bunker returned to Maine to escape the mean streets of Miami. Surely whatever crimes are committed in this tourist-filled seaside town won’t involve anything as dark or seedy as what she saw in the so-called Sunshine State. It’s a bit of a shock, then, when Nick Dow, AKA the town drunk, turns up deadand it’s not the simple accident that everyone assumes it to be. Now it’s up to Jane to plunge the depths of this case even though only two things are certain: Nothing is what it seems, and the whole town is in each other’s business. It’s not until Jane impulsively hops on a boat with the killerand heads out to seathat the terrifying truth begins to reach the surface. .
About the Author
Hometown:Isle au Haut, Maine
Place of Birth:Stamford, Connecticut
Education:B.A., Colby College, 1983
Read an Excerpt
By Linda Greenlaw
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Linda Greenlaw
All rights reserved.
"WHY DID YOU move the body?"
"The tide was coming in."
I was relieved that my now seemingly stupid question was not flagged as such by either tone or content of reply. The man I was soon to know as Cal Dunham spoke in an oddly pleasant, nicotine-stained voice. His reply revealed no inflections of "dumb broad," nor did he voice any of the questions that I assumed he might have liked to ask me. Why and how had I appeared, notebook and pen in hand and camera slung on shoulder, at the crack of dawn in the seaweed-strewn and barnacled ledges below the west side of the pier at Turners' Fish Plant in Green Haven, Maine, just as the body of Nick Dow was discovered washed up on the beach? Cal hadn't asked. So I assumed there was no need to tell him that I was a rookie marine consultant on my first assignment. I also needn't tell him that I was a freakishly early riser and had wanted to flounder through this initial survey of Turners' Fish Plant and property without witnesses to my newly embraced learn-as-you-go style.
"Jane Bunker," I said, leaning forward and offering a hand.
Although his hand was rough and calloused, his grip was as light as that of any man who's uncomfortable shaking hands with a woman. "Cal Dunham," he said hesitantly, as if unsettled by the normalcy of introductions in this extraordinary scene starring the dead body. Then — out of politeness, I supposed — Cal motioned at the body with an open palm and said, "Nick Dow."
Nick Dow — wasn't that the name of the man who had caused such a scene at last night's town meeting? It was impossible to make a positive ID while seeing only the back of a head, and a badly smashed one at that. Someone had hit him with something heavy to crush the back of his skull so thoroughly. The dark hooded sweatshirt was similar to what half of this town's population wore, so that was not a defining detail. The rope used as a belt was probably a staple in the Maine fashion scene, I thought as I snapped some pictures. Was this the same guy? I would have to check with my favorite chatterbox waitress at the coffee shop. Lucky for me that the first and only friend I'd made since moving here three days ago was the girl serving coffee. Audrey knew all and told all.
Once I'd established for Cal that I was not a reporter for the Morning Sentinel, and that I was a marine investigator employed by Eastern Marine Safety Consultants, and that I was indeed not "like the fireman who played with matches," my acquaintance of only five minutes was somewhat more forthcoming with information. He politely addressed me as Ms. Bunker, even after I insisted he call me Jane. He relaxed a bit and straightened from his crouch over the body, but for the large mass above his shoulder blades. Cool, an authentic hunchback, I thought. They've got one of everything in this tiny town.
Although my first instinct was to bombard Cal with questions to satisfy my growing curiosity about the dead man, and to note any theories he might have as to the whys, whos, and hows, I remained quiet, with my eyes riveted on the badly fractured skull. I didn't ask Cal a thing; I vainly believed I had somehow subliminally compelled him to share all he knew with me. But as disillusioned with my own extrasensory powers as I was, I must admit that Cal Dunham was simply presenting me with his alibi. The covering of one's own butt is powerful incentive while standing over a dead body.
This June twelfth had begun just like every other day in the past six years since Cal Dunham's retirement from offshore fishing, or so he told me as we conversed over the waterlogged corpse. He had risen with the sun, sipped a cup of Red Rose tea, and enjoyed a Chesterfield cigarette before slipping out the door without waking Betty, his wife of nearly fifty years. He had driven his Ford pickup the potholed three miles to Turners' Fish Plant — his place of employment, along with nearly everyone else in Green Haven who didn't go to sea. He had arrived one hour before the plant was officially open, sometime after the owner and bookkeeper, Ginny Turner. "The owner of the plant is your boss, and she's at work before you?" I asked, thinking about my experience with bosses and not recalling any who were on the job prior to me. Suspicious, I thought.
"She's part fish," Cal said in defense of his boss. "Certain types of fish surface at night. She spends the wee hours accounting bait, fish, lobsters, and clams bought and sold the previous day, settling up with the fishermen and diggers, and taking phone orders from customers down the coast to be packed and delivered each day. Everyone else in Green Haven is tucked into bed when Ginny is most productive. Everything was as usual until I got out of my truck and saw Ginny at the end of the wharf. She's always up there"— Cal pointed to a second-story window overlooking the harbor —"hovering over the company checkbook like a gull on a mussel."
"What was she doing on the dock?" I asked impatiently. "And what were you doing here?"
I didn't bother explaining to Cal that I was not here to investigate a murder, as old habits are hard to break. I listened intently as he continued to fill in some blanks. "I guess I'm what you'd call the foreman around here. I take orders from the queen and give them to the worker bees. I always come to work early, just habit," Cal explained. "Anyway, when I looked to see what she was gawking at, there was ol' Nick, facedown."
Cal said that he and Ginny quickly agreed she should call someone while he pulled the cold and partially rigor-mortised body out of the incoming tide. "I figured she'd dial up the sheriff or the county coroner. Never thought the insurance company would get here first. Ain't that just like people, though? Worried about their pocketbooks, with poor Nick here as dead as he can be."
Oh, how I was enjoying the flow of information I was not really privy to. And the unsolicited editorializing absent any intimidation from me was a gift. If I had stumbled upon a similar scene back in Miami, there wouldn't have been a drop of information that didn't first come through the filter of an attorney.
Cal appeared ill at ease in the presence of a female he assumed was here to question him regarding the body. From what he said, it seemed that his boss feared a wrongful-death suit, since the body had washed up below her dock. Again, Cal hadn't asked. So I would not confess that I was actually here to do a routine safety examination and survey of the fish plant and surrounding properties for insurance purposes. Coincidentally, this body had washed ashore. I've always been lucky that way.
I shrugged at Cal's disgust that I had arrived on-scene before the law enforcement officials. Accustomed to even less enthusiastic greetings, I began pacing off the piece of jagged shoreline between two rickety, slime-covered ladders secured to the west face of Turners' dock. "Well, if you ask me, which you have not," Cal continued, "you might want to do some moonlighting here at the plant. I think you'll find there ain't a lot to investigate in Green Haven — not like Florida. Dead bodies on the beach don't occur too much here."
Ah, there it was. A bit of my past had arrived in Green Haven. I snapped a few photos and jotted something in my notebook, but my mind was now occupied with questions unrelated to the scene. I wondered how much this stranger knew about my circumstances other than that I had come to Maine from Florida. Did he know that I had willfully given up a position as chief detective in Dade County to take this entry-level job? Did he know why I had chosen Down East Maine and the Outer Islands as my coverage territory? I checked my paranoia. Of course Cal couldn't know any of this. It was all very complicated. Hell, these were things I didn't fully understand myself. Without realizing it, I was staring at Cal as if trying to see into his head. He stood over the body, his well-toned, muscular arms across his chest. His full head of perfectly white hair was cocked to one side as he inspected my every move while guarding his fallen comrade. His countenance was grave but for a playful spark in his blue eyes. He had a calm about him that I found comforting. I liked Cal. He looked exactly the way I had imagined a seventy-year-old New Englander. Except for the hump, he looked like Robert Frost. Perhaps apprehensive with what may have been misunderstood as an admiring gaze from a much younger woman, Cal asked, "Why did you decide to come back to Maine after all this time?"
So, Cal knew more of my past than I had hoped. I gave him the short, rehearsed, and totally believable response: "Just tired of drug runners with fast boats and Haitians on inner tubes." I had no desire to confide in Cal the more personal reasons for my move. The fact that a relationship gone bad had resulted in my mentor's imprisonment was something I might never reveal. I grinned as I measured the gap between the lowest two rungs above my head. I released the bitter end of the metal tape, letting it recoil freely into the plastic housing with a sharp snap that punctuated the end of this topic of conversation. The gene responsible for the gift of gab had skipped a generation in my case, which was an obstacle I overcame on a daily basis. In the absence of anything worthy to say, I always bailed out of meaningful conversation or uncomfortable topics with sarcasm. In the most extreme situations, my responses were suitable for print on bumper stickers. Nervousness clipped my half of a dialogue to what I was once told could be read on any of the triangular wisdoms espoused by a Magic 8-Ball. Cal did not make me nervous, but his question had.
"Why not change careers?" Cal asked. "Seems easier than uprooting and moving all the way to Green Haven, Maine. Did you ever consider going back to school for something ... well, something more appropriate, like nursing or hairdressing?" Twenty years ago I would have jumped on Cal for his male chauvinism. At the age of forty-two, I didn't jump much anymore. Besides, I knew he meant no offense. I would have to get to know him a lot better before filling him in on the real reasons for my move north.
Apparently keen to my consternation, Cal politely took his cue to change the subject. "I don't suppose the ladder was the problem. Nick was a good enough guy, even though he did irritate folks. He has a knack for pissing people off, but not to the point of homicide. Has a long history of getting liquored up at night when he's not offshore." The level of intoxication might account for the number of belt loops he missed while threading the old piece of rope around his waist, I thought. Perhaps threading a belt should be part of roadside sobriety tests. Cal went on, "He must have come here with a skinful and walked right off the dock. He doesn't have any family that I know of, so I wonder why Ginny would worry about getting sued. It's not that I don't like your company, but you are wasting your time here." So, I thought, human nature held its ground even this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line. My best friend and mentor had taught me this lesson long ago. Disinterest was the best lure for information. The less attention I paid to the corpse, the more I learned about Nick Dow. My mentor's wisdom hadn't been enough to keep him out of prison, but that's another story.
I repositioned myself to photograph the entire wharf, stepping over the body as comfortably as if I were straddling a length of driftwood left by the last ebbing tide. Cal spoke softly and fondly of Nick, clearly having trouble referring to him in the past tense. As I jotted a few notes and numbers on the first page of a fresh legal pad, I heard hurried footsteps thunking along the weathered planks of the dock above: at first faint, then close until stopping.
"Is everything all right down there?" The voice was as nervous as the approaching treads had been. I held the legal pad in a salute, shading the rising sun, and took a long look at Ginny Turner while waiting for Cal to answer the query I supposed was meant for him. Clearly not the most complimentary angle for a woman of such girth, I thought as I silently counted the rolls of lard like the rungs of the ladder. Ginny Turner was immense — even her forehead was fat. It was impossible to discern where the chins stopped and the chest began. My mental tally was interrupted at seven when Ginny announced in exasperation, "Oh, Gawd! Here comes Clydie! Of all people ... Where is the fire department? I called 911 twenty minutes ago. Glad my house isn't on fire. Did you have to leave him right there, Cal? Can't you tuck his arm in? It looks like he died reaching for the ladder. Why did he have to die here?" Off she went, quicker and more gracefully than her aerodynamics suggested, presumably to make another call for help.
"Who's Clydie?" I asked Cal before the man now clambering over the ledges toward us could hear.
"Clyde Leeman, otherwise known as the harbormaster, is the town busybody. He ain't quite right in the head — a simpleton. He's harmless. Loves to complain and gossip, like a woman. No offense intended."
"None taken. In my experience, all harbormasters are simple." I was delighted to think this absence of intellect was a prerequisite for the position I had tangled with in every major port south of Charleston, South Carolina.
"He ain't really the harbormaster, although he acts like it. Clydie lives on top of the hill overlooking the whole harbor and a good part of the town. He likes to talk, and loves to put the stick in the hornets' nest."
I could think of several people fitting that same description, and knowing it was best to avoid one whose life's ambition was to cause trouble, I made my way under the pier, over a ledge, and up a ladder on the opposite side before Clyde reached the beach now below me.
"Well, well, well, what have we here? I came down as soon as I heared the report on my police scanner. Oh, no. Oh, dear. Poor Nick Dow. I knowed it was him by that purple sweatshirt. Did you find him, Cal?" Clyde asked from under a chocolate-brown cowboy hat that looked more out of place than the body in the kelp.
"No. Ginny did. Speaking of Ginny, you know she don't want you on her property," Cal said as nicely as he could, considering the message was "no trespassing."
Clyde pushed black-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. Bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet, agitated, he exhaled. "I come all the way around the fence! I'm below the high-water mark! This ain't her property. The old bitch! She had no reason to fire me. I got a lawyer. He says I got a case. The money don't mean nothing to me. I don't care, but, but, but ..." Clyde was sputtering like an outboard motor with water in the gas. I thought I saw him wipe a tear from under his glasses. Clyde continued a bit louder and faster. "I wouldn't work here again if they begged me. They said my eyesight was bad. Didn't trust me with the forklift no more. Well, I had my eyes checked and got a certificate says I'm fine. My lawyer says I got a good case to sue her ass. I don't want no money. It don't mean nothing to me. It's just the principle of the thing, Cal."
Before Clyde could draw another breath and resume the verbal pounding of his former employer, a siren could be heard coming from the direction of the center of the village. The siren served as fodder for Clyde's next thought, which he was quick to share. "Here come the Cellar Savers! Green Haven's finest! I ran for fire chief last election, and would have won, too, if that bitch hadn't turned the whole plant against me. If I was chief, I would have been down here today before me!"
Clenching my teeth to contain a chuckle, I inspected the plank decking on the top of the wharf. Clyde turned up the volume another notch to be heard over the nearing siren. "Who's that girl?" he asked. Cal explained that I was a marine investigator doing some work for an insurance company, to which Clyde gleefully exclaimed, "Oh, yes indeedy! She's going to sue Turners', too! Wrongful death due to negligence and lack of maintenance around this dump. Hey, girlie, look at them spikes, heads all stuck up proud like that. Anybody could trip on one and fall down here and smash his foolish head wide open. No railings! Did you get pictures of this ladder? How do you expect a man to climb out of the water with his head all stove in when he can't even reach the bottom rung?"
I did my best to ignore Clyde. Cal didn't bother explaining to Clyde that the "girlie" was ultimately on the side of Turners', whose insurance company would be on the defense in any lawsuit, should there ever be one, which, if Cal was right about the possible scenario, would never be filed. I was only doing my job, just in case.
Excerpted from Slipknot by Linda Greenlaw. Copyright © 2007 Linda Greenlaw. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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