Local musician Dave Reilly insists Old Dan conned a winning lottery ticket worth five grand from him. Handyman Brian Donohue claims that Old Dan stiffed him for repair work he'd done at the bar. The confusion surrounding the death is only compounded by the arrival of actor Dylan Malone, Old Dan's brother and a prominent, if fading, attraction of the Dublin stage. Dylan has come to direct the production of "Finian's Rainbow," the featured event at Our Lady of Hope's annual St. Patrick's Day extravaganza.
Was Old Dan killed by someone he'd cheated or someone he'd loved? While Lucy can't be sure, one thing is abundantly clear--the stage is set for a murder mystery with a killer ending!
"Warm and homespun characters, plenty of seaside ambience and a fast-moving plot make this perfect winter cozy." --Publishers Weekly
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St. Patrick's Day MURDER
By LESLIE MEIER
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Leslie Meier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMaybe it was global warming, maybe it was simply a warmer winter than usual, but it seemed awfully early for the snow to be melting. It was only the last day of January, and in the little coastal town of Tinker's Cove, Maine, that usually meant at least two more months of ice and snow. Instead, the sidewalks and roads were clear, and the snow cover was definitely retreating, revealing the occasional clump of snowdrops and, in sheltered nooks with southern exposures, a few bright green spikes of daffodil leaves that were prematurely poking through the earth.
You could almost believe that spring was in the air, thought Lucy Stone, part-time reporter for the town's weekly newspaper, the Pennysaver. She wasn't sure how she felt about it. Part of her believed it was too good to be true, probably an indicator of future disasters, but right now the sun was shining and birds were chirping and it was a great day to be alive. So lovely, in fact, that she decided to walk the three or four blocks to the harbor, where she had an appointment to interview the new harbormaster, Harry Crawford.
As she walked down Main Street, she heard the steady drip of snow melting off the roofs. She felt a gentle breeze against her face, lifting the hair that escaped from her beret, and she unfastened the top button of her winter coat. Quite a few people were out and about, taking advantage of the unseasonably fine weather to run some errands, and everyone seemed eager to exchange greetings. "Nice day, innit?" and "Wonderful weather, just wonderful," they said, casting suspicious eyes at the sky. Only the letter carrier Wilf Lundgren, who she met at the corner of Sea Street, voiced what everyone was thinking. "Too good to be true," he said, with a knowing nod. "Can't last."
Well, it probably wouldn't, thought Lucy. Nothing did. But that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy it in the meantime. Her steps speeded up as she negotiated the hill leading down to the harbor, where the ice pack was beginning to break up. All the boats had been pulled from the water months ago and now rested on racks in the parking lot, shrouded with tarps or shiny white plastic shrink-wrap. The gulls were gone-they didn't hang around where there was no food-but a couple of crows were flying in circles above her head, cawing at each other.
"The quintessential New England sound," someone had called it, she remembered, but she couldn't remember who. It was true, though. There was something about their raspy cries that seemed to capture all the harsh, unyielding nature of the landscape. And the people who lived here, she thought, with a wry smile.
Harry Crawford, the new harbormaster, was an exception. He wasn't old and crusty like so many of the locals; he was young and brimming with enthusiasm for his job. He greeted Lucy warmly, holding open the door to his waterfront office, which was about the same size as a highway tollbooth. It was toasty inside, thanks to the sun streaming through the windows, which gave him a 360-degree view of the harbor and parking lot. Today he hadn't even switched on the small electric heater.
"Hi, Lucy. Make yourself comfortable," he said, pulling out the only chair for her to sit on. He leaned against the half wall, arms folded across his chest, staring out at the water. It was something people here did, she thought. They followed the water like a sunflower follows the sun, keeping a watchful eye out for signs that the placid, sleeping giant that lay on the doorstep might be waking and brewing up a storm.
"Thanks, Harry," she said, sitting down and pulling off her gloves. She dug around in her bag and fished out a notebook and pen. "So tell me about the Waterways Committee's plans for the harbor."
"Here, here," he said, leaning over her shoulder to unroll the plan and spread it out on the desk. "They're going to add thirty more slips, and at over three thousand dollars a season, it adds up to nearly a hundred thousand dollars for the town."
"If you can rent them," said Lucy.
"Oh, we can. We've got a waiting list." He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked past her, out toward the water. "And that's another good thing. A lot of folks have been on that list for years, and there's been a lot of bad feeling about it. You know, people are not really using their slips, but hanging on to them for their kids, stuff like that. But now we ought to be able to satisfy everyone."
Lucy nodded. She knew there was a lot of resentment toward those who had slips from those who didn't. It was a nuisance to have to ferry yourself and your stuff and your crew out to a mooring in a dinghy. With a slip, you could just walk along the dock to the boat, untie it, and sail off. "So you think this will make everybody happy?" she asked. "What about environmental issues? I understand there will be some dredging."
He didn't answer. His gaze was riveted on something outside that had caught his attention. "Sorry, Lucy. There's something I gotta check on," he said, taking his jacket off a hook.
Lucy turned and looked outside, where a flock of gulls and crows had congregated at the end of the pier. "What's going on?" she asked.
"The ice is breaking up. Something's probably come to the surface."
From the excited cries of the gulls, who were now arriving from all directions, she knew it must be something they considered a meal. A feast, in fact.
"Like a pilot whale?"
"Could be. Maybe a sea turtle, a dolphin even. Could be anything."
"I'd better come," she said, with a groan, reluctantly pulling a camera out of her bag.
"I wouldn't if I were you," he said, shaking his head. "Whatever it is, it's not going to be pretty, not this time of year. It could've been dead for months."
"Oh, I'm used to it," sighed Lucy, who had tasted plenty of bile photographing everything from slimy, half-rotted giant squid tentacles caught in fishing nets to bloated whale carcasses that washed up on the beach.
"Trust me. The stench alone ..."
She was already beginning to feel queasy. "You've convinced me," she said, guiltily replacing her camera. Any photo she took would probably be too disgusting to print, she rationalized, and she could call him later in the day and find out what it was. Meanwhile, her interest had been caught by a handful of people gathered outside the Bilge, on the landward side of the parking lot. Tucked in the basement beneath a block of stores that fronted Main Street, the Bilge was a Tinker's Cove landmark-and a steady source of news. It was the very opposite of Hemingway's "clean, well-lighted place," but that didn't bother the fishermen who packed the place. It may have been a dark and dingy dive, but the beer was cheap, and Old Dan never turned a paying customer away, not even if he was straight off the boat and stank of lobster bait.
Lucy checked her watch as she crossed the parking lot and discovered it was only a little past ten o'clock. Kind of early to start drinking, she thought, but the three men standing in front of the Bilge apparently thought otherwise.
"It's never been closed like this before," said one. He was about fifty, stout, with white hair combed straight back from a ruddy face.
"Old Dan's like clockwork. You could set your watch by it. The Bilge opens at ten o'clock. No earlier. No later," said another, a thin man with wire-rimmed glasses.
"He closed once for a couple of weeks, maybe five or six years ago," said the third, a young guy with long hair caught in a ponytail, who Lucy knew played guitar with a local rock band, the Claws. "He went to Florida that time, for a visit. But he left a sign."
"What's up? Is the Bilge closed?" she asked.
They all turned and stared at her. Women usually avoided the Bilge, where they weren't exactly welcome. A lot of fishermen still clung to the old-fashioned notion that women were bad luck on a boat-and in general.
"I'm Lucy Stone, from the Pennysaver," she said. "If the Bilge has really closed, that's big news."
"It's been shut tight for three days now," said the guy with the ponytail.
"Do you mind telling me your name?" she asked, opening her notebook. "It's Dave, right? You're with the Claws?"
"Dave Reilly," he said, giving her a dazzling, dimpled smile.
Ah, to be on the fair side of thirty once more, she thought, admiring Dave's fair hair, bronzed skin, full lips, and white teeth. He must be quite a hit with the girls, she decided, reminding herself that she had a job to do. "Has anybody seen Old Dan around town?" she asked.
"Come to think of it, no," said the guy with glasses.
"And your name is?" she replied.
"Do you think something happened to him?" she asked the stout guy, who was cupping his hands around his eyes and trying to see through the small window set in the door.
"Whaddya see, Frank?" inquired Dave. He turned to Lucy. "That's Frank Cahill. You'd never know it, but he plays the organ at the church."
"Is he inside? Did he have a heart attack or something?" asked Brian.
Frank shook his head. "Can't see nothing wrong. It looks the same as always."
"Same as always, except we're not inside," said Brian.
"Hey, maybe we're in some sort of alternate universe. You know what I mean. We're really in the Bilge in the real world, having our morning pick-me-up just like usual, but we're also in this parallel world, where we're in the parking lot," said Dave.
The other two looked at each other. "You better stick to beer, boy," said Frank, with a shake of his head. "Them drugs do a job on your brain."
"What am I supposed to do?" replied the rocker. "It's not my fault if Old Dan is closed, is it? A guy's gotta have something. Know what I mean?"
"You could try staying sober," said Lucy.
All three looked at her as if she were crazy.
"Or find another bar," she added.
"The others don't open 'til noon," said Brian. "Town bylaw."
"Old Dan has a special dispensation?" she asked.
The others laughed. "You could say that," said Dave, with a bit of an edge in his voice. "He sure doesn't play by the same rules as the rest of us."
"Special permission. That's good," said Brian.
"Yeah, like from the pope," said Frank, slapping his thigh. "I'll have to tell that one to Father Ed." He checked his watch. "Come to think of it, I wonder where he is? He usually stops in around now."
My goodness, thought Lucy, echoing her great-grandmother who had been a staunch member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She knew there was a lot of drinking in Tinker's Cove, especially in the winter, when the boats sat idle. Some joker had even printed up bumper stickers proclaiming: "Tinker's Cove: A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem," when government regulators had started placing tight restrictions on what kind of fish and how much of it they could catch and when they could catch it. She'd laughed when she first saw the sticker on a battered old pickup truck. After all, she wasn't above pouring herself a glass of wine to sip while she cooked supper. She certainly wasn't a teetotaler, but her Puritan soul certainly didn't approve of drinking in the morning.
The laughter stopped, however, when they heard a siren blast, and the birds at the end of the pier rose in a cloud, then settled back down.
"Something washed up," said Lucy, by way of explanation. "Probably a pilot whale."
The others nodded, listening as the siren grew louder and a police car sped into the parking lot, screeching to a halt at the end of the pier. The birds rose again, and this time they flapped off, settling on the roof of the fish-packing shed.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," said Dave. "Real bad."
He took off, running across the parking lot, followed by Brian and Frank. Lucy stood for a minute, watching them and considering the facts. First, Old Dan was missing, and second, a carcass had turned up in the harbor. She hurried after them but was stopped with the others at the dock by Harry, who wasn't allowing anyone to pass. At the end of the pier, she could see her friend Officer Barney Culpepper peering down into the icy water.
"I know Barney," she told Harry as she pulled her camera out of her bag. "He won't mind."
"He said I shouldn't let anybody by," insisted Harry, tilting his head in Barney's direction.
Lucy raised the camera and looked through the view-finder, snapping a photo of Barney staring down into the water. From the official way he was standing, she knew this was no marine creature that had washed up. "I guess it's not a pilot whale?" she asked, checking the image in the little screen.
Harry shook his head.
"It's a person, right?" said Dave. "It's Old Dan, isn't it?"
Lucy's fingers tightened on the camera. There was a big difference between jumping to a conclusion and learning it was true, a big difference between an unidentified body and one with a name you knew.
"I'm not supposed to say," said Harry.
"You don't have to," said Brian. "It's pretty obvious. The Bilge has been closed for days, and there's been no sign of him. He must've fallen in or something."
"Took a long walk off a short pier," said Dave, with a wry grin. "Can't say I'm surprised."
"He was known to enjoy a tipple," said Frank. He eyed the Bilge. "He'll be missed."
"What a horrible way to go," said Lucy, shivering and fingering her camera. "In the cold and dark and all alone."
"Maybe he wasn't alone," said Dave, raising an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?" asked Lucy. "Do you think somebody pushed him in?"
"Might have," said Frank. "He made a few enemies in his time."
Dave nodded. "You had to watch him. He wasn't above taking advantage, especially if you'd had a few and weren't thinking too hard."
Something in his tone made Lucy wonder if he was speaking from personal experience.
"And he wasn't exactly quick to pay his bills," said Brian, sounding resentful.
Another siren could be heard in the distance.
"So I guess he won't be missed," said Lucy.
"No, I won't miss the old bastard," said Frank. "But I'm sure gonna miss the Bilge."
The others nodded in agreement as a state police cruiser peeled into the parking lot, followed by the white medical examiner's van.
"The place didn't look like much," said Brian.
"But the beer was the cheapest around," said Dave.
"Where else could you get a beer for a buck twenty- five?" asked Frank.
The three shook their heads mournfully, united in grief.
Chapter TwoThey stood in a little group, watching as a state trooper exited his cruiser and settled his cap on his head. "Step back, step back, and clear the way," he ordered, striding down the dock. Two white-suited technicians from the medical examiner's office followed in his wake, wheeling a stainless steel gurney fitted with a black body bag.
"C'mon, Harry," coaxed Frank. "Tell us what happened."
Harry swallowed hard and stared into the distance.
"It was bad, huh?" asked Brian.
Harry swallowed again, then made a dash for a trash barrel, where he leaned in and vomited.
"I guess it's bad," said Dave.
"Now, move on along," said Officer Barney Culpepper, who had left his post at the end of the dock to make room for the technicians to recover the body. "There's nothing to be seen here." He nodded toward Harry, who was still hanging on to the side of the trash barrel. "Nothing you want to see, believe me."
"Don't you folks have something better to do?" demanded Barney, jowls quivering. He looked a bit like a bulldog, with a pug nose and square face. Somehow the bulky blue cold-weather uniform, and his growing girth, only added to the impression.
"C'mon, Barney," said Lucy. "Can't you give me something for the paper? A body in the water is big news."
"Now, Lucy, you know I'm not supposed to make statements to the press. That's up to the captain."
"You don't have to make a statement," she said, pleading. "I won't even mention your name. I'll say a passerby discovered ... what? What's in the water?"
Avoiding the others, Barney took her by the elbow and walked with her toward his cruiser. The three men followed at a distance, straining to hear, until he turned and snapped at them. "Can't you mind your own business!" Then, lowering his voice so only she could hear, he said, "It's Old Dan. At least I think it is. It's hard to tell."
"The body's decomposed?" she asked.
"You could say that."
"His face is gone?" Lucy knew that was common when a body had been in the water. Crabs and fish usually started with the bare skin of the face and hands.
"More than his face," said Barney.
Lucy noticed his usually ruddy face had gone white. Even Barney, a twenty-year veteran of the force, was shocked.
"More than his face?" she repeated.
"His whole head's gone."
Lucy didn't quite take it in. "The body's headless?"
Excerpted from St. Patrick's Day MURDER by LESLIE MEIER Copyright © 2008 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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