Ike Hamilton is a part of the Haven Harbor community just like anyone else, though he’s fallen on hard times and has to make do on disability checks and deposit bottles. Most of the locals do what they can to help him out, and needlepointing partners Angie and Sarah are happy to see him at the annual Blessing of the Fleet, honoring all those lost at sea over the centuries.
But when harmless Ike is stabbed, suspicion quickly falls on a troubled teenage boy who’s new in town. Angie’s convinced that young Leo is innocent—but if he didn’t do it, who did? Turns out Ike may have appeared simple-minded, but he knew a few secrets that someone might have murdered him to keep quiet. Angie sets out to trace Ike’s bottle-collecting route to find out what he witnessed—and for this killer, there may be no redemption . . .
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Ornamental Accomplishments will but indifferently qualify a woman to perform the duties of life, though it is highly proper she should possess them for amusement.
— Hannah More (1745 — 1833), The LadiesPocket Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1792
"How many from Haven Harbor died?"
Patrick held my hand as we joined the crowd of Haven Harbor residents walking toward the waterfront.
The bright sunshine of a late April day would have warmed us, even here on the coast of Maine, if a stiff sea breeze hadn't been blowing from around the Three Sisters, islands that protected our harbor from the full brunt of the ocean.
"One hundred and twenty-three. The first, a twelve-year-old boy who fell from the rigging, and the most recent, Arwin Fraser's father. His ankle caught in a trap rope and pulled him overboard two years ago. Gram wrote to me about it when I was in Arizona." I shivered, despite the heavy sweatshirt I was wearing. Five of my ancestors' names were carved on the large granite memorial near the town wharf.
"But Arwin lobsters," Patrick pointed out. "His father's death didn't discourage him."
"Men in his family have always fished or lobstered. He inherited his father's boat." Those who worked the waters knew the risks. Arwin had probably never considered another profession.
The words LOST AT SEA NOT FORGOTTEN were carved at the top of the granite memorial above the outline of a three-masted schooner and the list of names and years. The memorial had been raised in 1890, with ample space left to be filled in the future. So far all the names were of Haven Harbor men and boys, but more women fished and lobstered every year. Inevitably, some of their names would be added. The sea was an equal opportunity killer.
Like most Harbor residents, I'd attended the annual reading of the names and Blessing of the Fleet since I was a child, walking down from our house on the Green with Mama and Gram. Walking from the same home two of those men hadn't returned to.
Gram always reminded me that Blessing of the Fleet day was both a time to remember and a time to pray for the safety of those who still tempted nature's power every day by making their living from the sea. I remembered imagining the lives of those who'd been lost, many of them not much older than I was, but also enjoying the Blessing ceremony and knowing that our small community was praying together.
At a Blessing Day one hundred years ago the islands and the harbor and the streets of Haven Harbor would have been the same. But women gathering at the waterfront would have worn ankle-length skirts and their long hair would have been pinned under big hats decorated with the feathers of now-extinct birds. Men would have been somber in their best suits with high collars, or perhaps in their World War I uniforms. They'd be remembering comrades who'd fallen during the war, as well as those lost at sea.
Clothing might have changed over the years, but the parade of mourners hoping their prayers and the Blessing of the Fleet would protect our men from the sea's power was the same. As long as men and women made a living from the waters, mourning and remembering would continue, and names would continue to be carved on the monument.
No wonder the Greeks and Romans prayed to gods of the sea. Waters were unpredictable.
I shook my head, chasing pictures of the past away, and smiled at Patrick. Because of my ten years in Arizona I hadn't attended a Blessing since my senior year in high school. Certainly the reading of the names was one of the more somber yearly occasions in Haven Harbor, but the prayers that followed were joyful, hoping for fair winds and following seas, a good catch, and safe harbors for all those who made their living from cold Maine waters.
"Will Reverend Tom be reading the names and conducting the Blessing?" asked Patrick.
This was Patrick's first spring in Haven Harbor; his first Blessing.
"Local pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams take turns. They'll all be on the wharf today, but it's Reverend Tom's year. He and Gram went down to the town wharf a couple of hours ago to talk with the captains of the boats to be blessed and arrange the parade."
"The order of the boats to sail by and be blessed," I explained.
"Looks like everyone in town is here."
I nodded. Ed Campbell, head of the Chamber of Commerce, and his wife, Diane, were talking to Reverend Tom, while Gram was chatting with Sandra and Jim Lewis, who lived near me. I'd seen them around town and in church but didn't know them well. I'd admired their yard, though, filled with bright daffodils, late-blooming crocuses, and wide patches of lilies of the valley. Sandra must be a hard worker. She managed to take care of Jim, who was in a wheelchair, and garden too.
Across Main Street, Dave Percy and Sarah Byrne were walking slowly next to Ruth Hopkins. I waved as the crowd parted for Ruth and her walker. Dave and Sarah and Ruth were Mainely Needlepointers, along with Gram and me and Captain Ob and his wife, Anna, who were undoubtedly out on their fishing boat in the harbor now, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Mary Clough and Cos Curran, who'd graduate from Haven Harbor High in June, were chatting with several of their classmates near Gus Gleason's Book Nook, where Cos has been working part-time this spring. Gus and his wife, Nancy, were talking to Henri and Nicole Thibodeau, owners of the local patisserie. Their hot cross buns had been even more spectacular than usual this year. I wished they made them all year round. Cindy Bouchard, the home health aide who took care of Henri's mother, who had Alzheimer's, was wheeling Madame Thibodeau.
Sergeant Pete Lambert was trying to direct traffic so a few cars could make their way through the crowd now filling the streets leading to the waterfront.
"Let's join Sarah and Dave and Ruth," I suggested, and Patrick and I maneuvered our way through the crowd to where our friends had stopped.
"Haven't seen you in a while," Patrick said to Dave as I hugged Sarah and Ruth.
"Seven weeks to go before school's over. Then I can see people other than teachers and students," Dave agreed. He taught biology at Haven Harbor High. "I don't know who's more ready for summer vacation, the kids or me."
"Good to see you out and about," I said to Ruth.
"Glad to be here," she agreed. "My arthritis is much better in summer, so I'm looking forward to warmer days. But this past winter you and Sarah and Dave were wonderful about making sure I got out of my house, even in snow and ice."
"Everyone needs to breathe fresh air sometimes," I agreed, looking around. "It looks as though everyone in town is here."
I held up my phone and snapped pictures of all the Mainely Needlepointers.
"Don't take pictures of me," said Ruth, trying to duck. "I'm too old. I don't want anyone to see what I look like now."
"We see you, and we love you," Sarah assured her. "But why the pictures, Angie?"
I shrugged. "Some of our website's out-of-state customers have said they're curious about us and our lives here. Someday I may come up with a newsletter, or put some pictures on our website. Or start a Facebook page."
"I suspect they're more interested in how our custom needlepoint will fit into their homes," Sarah answered, making a face as I clicked my phone. It was going to be harder than I'd thought to get relaxed, candid photos of the needlepointers.
"Probably a dozen students reminded me about the Blessing and told me to look for them," said Dave, looking over our heads toward the harbor. "Most will be with their families on working boats in the harbor today, but I was surprised at the number who said they'd be in their own."
"Kids planning to be lobstermen often start with their own skiffs when they're eleven or twelve," said Ruth. "Or they could be having sailboats or kayaks blessed. Used to be just fishermen and lobstermen who came for the Blessing. But every year more people in town get their recreational boats in the water in April and join the ceremony."
We'd found a spot near the wharf where we could hear Reverend Tom and see the growing line of boats. Fewer men lobstered now than when I was a child, so fewer lobster boats were in the line than I remembered, but Ruth was right. Their places had been taken by other, usually smaller, crafts. Most were normally anchored here in the harbor, but a few were moored at or near private piers outside the harbor. No one wanted to miss the Blessing.
"Look!" I pointed to the water. "Male eider ducks with the females!"
Patrick looked and then looked back at me. "So?"
"The males are the ones with the dramatic black and white coloring. Females are brown. We see males this close to land only during mating season, when they're courting."
"What happens after that?"
"The males go back out to sea. The females lay eggs and take care of their nests. When their ducklings are born, the females band together, like an extended family. In the summer you see maybe half a dozen females with forty or fifty ducklings. The group is called a raft of eiders."
"So the male eiders are handsome cads?" said Patrick, nudging me suggestively as he looked out at the ducks. "Like some human males?"
"Maybe. But today it's spring, and both sexes are together, and courting." I loved seeing the ducks together, even if it was for a short time, and then seeing the ducklings that followed.
Patrick was more interested in people than in ducks. He nodded toward a gray-haired man who was bent over and dressed in layers of torn and stained sweatshirts. "I've seen that man walking around town, and I keep forgetting to ask you who he is."
"That's Ike Hamilton," I said quietly. Ike had been around town since I'd been a child. I'd taken his presence for granted.
"I've seen him forage for empty bottles and cans," Patrick added. "See? He has a garbage bag, as usual, in that old grocery cart he pushes."
"That's one of the ways Ike supports himself," Dave put in. "He redeems the bottles. A good number of people in town save their wine, soda, beer, and liquor bottles and cans for him, and he makes rounds to pick them up. Five cents a bottle isn't much to most people, but it adds to Ike's Social Security disability income."
"Do you save bottles for him?" I asked.
Dave nodded. "I leave mine in a corner of my barn. He knows where they are and stops in every week or two to collect them. Saves me the pain of having to take them to the redemption center, and it helps him out."
"How does he get to the redemption center?" I asked out of curiosity. "Does he have a car?"
"Pax Henry, the postmaster, takes him and his bottles there every Saturday at noon, after the post office closes. I'm surprised you didn't know that."
"Guess I just never paid attention," I admitted. "Maybe I should be saving bottles for Ike too."
"It's a good deed," Ruth agreed. "When he stops to pick up my bottles, we chat a little. He always has a story to tell, or a bit of gossip he's collected along with his bottles. I suspect he stops at my house about lunchtime because I always invite him in to have a sandwich with me."
"Who's the boy with him?" Patrick asked. We all turned toward the end of the wharf parking lot, where Ike was standing.
A skinny teenager with long, straggly hair dropped a couple of bottles in Ike's bag. I assumed he'd then move on, but he didn't. He stayed with Ike. I took a couple of pictures of them together.
"I know all the kids in the high school," said Dave. "I've never seen that boy before."
He looked sixteen or seventeen and was wearing grungy jeans and a Windbreaker with a tear on the side. He and Ike talked a little, and then the pair moved on, together, toward the blue barrels Haven Harbor set out to collect recyclable bottles and cans on the wharf.
People moved aside to let the pair look inside the barrels, and the boy reached in, pulled out the empties, and tossed them into the bag Ike held toward him. After he'd emptied the barrel, they moved on through the crowd.
"That's Ike's young friend," said Ruth. "I've known that man for twenty years and never saw anyone helping him like that boy does. Some of us in town keep an eye on Ike, but I couldn't say he ever had any real friends except Jim Lewis."
"I do&ngrave;t know the boy," Sarah agreed. "But I've seen him around town with Ike the past couple of weeks. And you're right, Ruth. Before that, Ike was always alone. But that Ike sure can talk! Once I commented to him about the weather and he talked my ear off for fifteen minutes."
Dave frowned a bit. "That boy should be in school. I wonder where he's from, and how he hooked up with Ike." Dave turned to Ruth. "You know Ike's story. Does he have any relatives?"
She shook her head. "All gone now. He was an only child. He was slow, and for years his mother kept him close to home so he wouldn't be teased by other kids in town. I don't ever remember him having friends his own age, except Jim. They lived close to each other and spent a lot of time together as boys. But Jim's disabled now, of course. Ike's father died maybe ten or twelve years ago, and his mother a year or two later. He's always collected bottles, but until his parents died it was almost a hobby with him. It gave him something to do. Now the bottles are his job. He needs the money. After his folks died, Ike stayed on in the home where he'd always lived, but six winters back a nor'easter tore up an old tree in their yard and it fell through his roof. Ike stayed there a couple of years after that, using an old wood stove, but the house just fell down around him. The Chamber of Commerce convinced the town to condemn it. It wasn't safe for anyone to live in, and I'll admit it was an eyesore. Ed Campbell had just become head of the Chamber then. He thought Ike was an eyesore too. Ed wanted to move Ike to a home up near Augusta, but Ike refused. Instead, he moved into the garage at the back of the lot where his house had been. So far's I know, he's been living there ever since. Doesn't bother anyone. Has a toilet and sink in there his father put in next to his workbench, and a space heater for cold days. Folks at the Y let him shower there when he feels the need."
"Is he on welfare?" I asked.
"Don't know. But I remember talking with his mother, years ago, about his getting Social Security disability payments."
"I'm going to find out who that boy is," said Dave. "He may need help. Angie, come with me. If there are two of us, he may not feel threatened. Ike knows who I am."
I squeezed Patrick's hand as he nodded agreement, then followed Dave as he wove through the crowd. Reverend Tom's voice rose over the attendees, welcoming people to the Blessing of the Fleet and then beginning to read the names on the memorial.
"Davy Thompson, twelve years old, died at sea, May 14, 1697."CHAPTER 2
Friendships a name to few confirmed The offspring of a noble mind A generous warmth which fills the breast And better felt than e'er exprest
— Anna Braddock, Evesham Township, Pennsylvania, stitched when she was four- teen years old. The verse is circled by flowered vines above the Westtown School building, a horse and rider, sheep, ducks, other birds, and assorted plants.
"Ike," said Dave, putting a hand on the man's arm. "Good to see you."
Ike pulled his arm back but nodded. "Good pickings today. Always is at the Blessing."
Reverend Tom's voice continued. "Brothers Ethan and Aaron Thompson, ages sixteen and eighteen, died at sea, March 4, 1746."
"Who's your friend?"
Ike turned toward the boy, who was trying to blend into the crowd. Up close I could see the fear in his eyes as he looked quickly from Ike to Dave to me. "Leo's my friend."
"Leo," said Dave, stretching out his hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Dave Percy. I teach over at Haven Harbor High."
"I ain't going to school," said Leo, backing up farther and not taking Dave's hand. "I'm old enough not to."
Dave smiled. "Seventeen, then?"
Leo hesitated, and then nodded. Seventeen was the age Maine set for being old enough to drop out of school. Leo looked younger than that, but he was scrawny and nervous. He could be seventeen.
"No school," Leo said, looking from Ike to Dave and back again. "No school."
"I understand," said Dave calmly. "But if you should change your mind, or if you need help for any reason, come and see me. I live in the yellow house on Union Street. Ike knows where it is. Where're you from?"
Leo shook his head, pushed his way back into the crowd, and disappeared.
"Boy's wicked shy," said Ike.
"Is he staying with you, Ike?"
"Helps me with the bottles." Ike put his hand on his lower back. "Back's been bothering me something awful these days. Leo's young. Back doesn't hurt."
"He must be a help then," Dave nodded. "But if the boy needs anything, you let me know."
"He don't need nothing," said Ike. "I look out for him."
"I'm glad, Ike. You're a good man."
"I am," Ike agreed.
Reverend Tom's voice continued. "Abraham Winslow, age twenty-seven, lost at sea, August 31, 1847."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Thread on Arrival"
Copyright © 2019 Lea Wait.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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