West College's incoming Board of Trustees member, Buck Brady, wants nothing more than to help his wife's alma mater. The school has been in upheaval recently over a murder investigation and the subsequent resignation of its president and is struggling to recover its image. Brady charters a schooner to help his fellow trustees welcome the new president of the college, but no one could predict the aftermath. After one trustee is lost overboard in a storm, everyone aboard wonders if it was really an accident.
As a series of apparently unrelated accidents and attacks plague the college, professors Nora Perry and Hendrick van Pelt, along with several of the trustees, suddenly find their lives threatened. As decades of passions, infidelities, and obsessions are unveiled, Nora insists the events must be connected. But without a motive and no clear suspect to question, Nora and Van have no choice but to partner once again with Captain Frank Pierce to find the connections and reveal the twisted motives hidden in human hearts.
In this continuing mystery saga, a sleuthing trio must grapple with deceit, murder, decades-long grudges, and love in the beautiful setting of the Chesapeake Bay.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.88(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A Chesapeake Bay Mystery
By Vivian Lawry, W. Lawrence Gulick
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick
All rights reserved.
Every night is the same. Richard comes awake when she snicks off the hall light and then he sees her every move—in spite of the walls, in spite of the darkened room, in spite of his closed eyelids. He sees her sitting on the toilet, elbows on knees, compact belly resting on firm thighs, heels raised so that her weight rests on the balls of her feet. He sees her at the sink, holding her toothbrush under the faucet, flicking off excess water with a snap of her strong wrist. He cannot escape her reflection in the mirror, the short brown hair with a natural wave and a few strands of gray. She turns her face from side to side, chin elevated, lips drawn back, examining big, even teeth. Revulsion stabs him. Carol would be surprised if she knew. And terribly hurt. He has no right to hate her.
Carol moves stealthily in the darkened room, from the bathroom door to the bed. Richard clenches his teeth, wills himself to stillness. With the deft economy of long practice, she feels all three pillows and puts the firmest one between her updrawn knees. She lies on her side, facing outward. And then, as she has done every night for the last decade or more, she twists her upper torso to the right until her spine cracks. She sighs softly, nestles into her pillows, pulls up the sheet, and pushes down the blanket.
As she settles into sleep, the sole of her foot touches the back of his calf. Richard does not kick her foot away. He inches closer to the edge of the bed, willing his body smaller, begging the powers of the dark for oblivion.
* * *
Standing in the steamy shower, Richard rubs in shampoo, eyes closed against the cascade of soapy water. His mind will not stay blank. Several strands of brown hair come away in his fingers and he tries to drown speculation about how soon he'll be bald. He rolls the soap in his hands, lathers his broad shoulders, arms, and chest. He washes methodically, moving down the wedge of his torso, front and back, armpits and belly. He pulls back the foreskin of his soft penis, washing the groove around its head.
A vision of Allie explodes into his consciousness.
* * *
He was at baggage claim in the Portland airport. She was concentrating on retrieving her suitcase. Pixie tendrils of blonde hair fit her head like a baby bonnet, emphasizing her wide blue eyes and the three-inch gold loops in her ears. He said, "May I help you with your bag, Miss?" and without even a glance she said, "No, thanks. Someone's meeting me." He said, "Are you sure you don't need help with your bag?" Her head snapped up. She whirled and flung herself into his arms. She smiled radiantly and euphoria surged through him. They held each other a long time.
* * *
Richard chokes off the sob that threatens to strangle him. Tears sting his eyes, but he turns his face into the hot spray and does not feel them on his cheeks. Twenty-five years ago, they really believed they had a future. Richard shudders, remembering how anxiety and guilt immobilized him during the months after Allie's visit.
* * *
When he married Carol, he'd promised to take care of her. After their separation he helped her move, bought a new car for her, filled out her tax returns. When Carol took an overdose of tranquilizers and called to tell him what she'd done, he called 911 and held her hand on the way to the hospital. She kept saying she didn't want to live without him, couldn't stand the thought of him with "that woman." He didn't go back to Carol then. But he didn't move forward with the divorce, either. His therapist said he was doing fine, but Allie sent two novelty buttons for Christmas—no letter, no note, just two buttons: "Not To Decide Is To Decide" and "If Not Now, When?"
* * *
Richard makes the water hotter, nearly scalding his skin.
* * *
The next time he called Allie, she sobbed. She said she had to get on with her life, had to know whether he was in it or not. He said nothing, pain and dread stopping his words. After a long silence, she said, "I can't go on like this. If you ever get a divorce, let me know. I'll always love you." He managed to choke out something like "If that's what you want," and then the line went dead. Why could she not give him the time he needed to extricate himself from Carol's clinging devotion, to deal with the guilt of abandoning the woman he'd promised to care for?
Eighteen months later, Allie called. It was nearly one o'clock in the morning. Her words were soft and fuzzy at the edges, an echo of nights when they had drunk long and she wanted to be loved to sleep. She asked whether he was living with Carol again, then said "I'm getting married in two days." The call was brief, her words piercing his gut like knives.
When he returned to bed, Carol brushed his shoulder with her fingertips. "Richie? Richie, was that Allie?" He did not hit her. He never hit her. But his tight snarl stopped her quavering voice as effectively as a blow: "Yes. She's marrying a man named Buck Brady." That was the last time either of them spoke Allie's name to the other. Since then, he hears her name only in his dreams, sees it only in his journal.
* * *
Richard begins washing his legs, his feet, his toes. He stands in the steamy spray, muscles tight, apprehensive. Soapy water runs off his body and swirls down the drain. It carries away the tears, the fallen hair, the dead skin cells. Every day more of him dies. Every day more of him washes away.
Soon he will see her again. It's unavoidable—as unavoidable as the years passing—as unavoidable as his pain. Did Allie try to persuade her husband not to serve on the Board of Trustees? Did she suggest he befriend another college? Surely she knows I'm on the Board. But West College is her alma mater. Maybe she'll make excuses, not attend the Trustees' social functions. No, she isn't a coward. Never that. But maybe she no longer cares.
Nora steers Duet down the Chester River, wondering how quickly the new West College trustee will learn the rudiments of sailing. Buck Brady is big, burly, and middle-aged, with sandy hair, a well-trimmed mustache, a quick smile, and a deep voice. Her glance takes in his unbuttoned cotton shirt, beefy leathered hands, the yachting cap set low over his left eyebrow. New boat shoes strike the only discordant note in his old salt appearance. If she didn't know better, Nora would expect him to spin a yarn of his early sailing days. She scans the sky. Dark clouds are forming in the west. "Buck, take the helm. I'm going below to catch a weather report." They are in the middle of a wide, open space at the mouth of the Chester River, no other boats in sight, nothing ahead but the red channel marker pointing the way to the Chesapeake Bay. "Leave the channel marker to port and head for the open water."
Buck says "Aye, aye, skipper."
She senses that he's checking out her ass as she starts down the companionway.
* * *
Nora pitches headfirst into the cabin bulkhead. Chart book, pens, glasses, hat, jacket—everything that isn't fastened down—slides and skitters toward the bow. For an instant she confuses the blow to her head with the thunk and grinding crunch of the impact. She pushes herself up and scrambles topside.
Buck sits at the tiller, looking surprised but not alarmed. The drum of the seven-foot-high channel marker scrapes along the hull as the light wind and gentle current carry the sloop down the river toward the Chesapeake. He smiles sheepishly. Nora looks around. How the hell did he manage to ram a channel marker? The damn thing's four feet wide! Shit, shit, shit! She does not trust herself to speak.
As Duet clears the mark, Nora goes forward to inspect the damage, throwing over her shoulder, "Keep her southwest." Her tone is tight as a violin string, high and thin. She leans over the bow pulpit and sees a jagged wound the size of a baseball glove eighteen inches above the waterline. But there is no hole through the hull. She moves silently to the port side.
"Any damage?" Buck sounds casual, like an innocent bystander. When she does not reply, he continues with an undertone of belligerence—or maybe defensiveness. "Don't worry. Whatever it costs, I'll pay for it. But, hell, we were hardly moving. How bad could it be?"
Nora counts to five before saying flatly, "We have a nasty gouge in the stem and two deep scratches in the gel coat just below the port gunwale." She feels violated, as if her own body has been pierced. Her stomach clenches and a gorge rises in her throat. "But we aren't taking on water. We can get back to port all right."
Buck chuckles, "Great! No big deal, then."
Nora stares at him, trying to get a grip on her anger. This is my baby you battered. Don't you get that? His hand rests lightly on the oak tiller. His posture is relaxed. Nora turns her gaze to the open channel. How could a man who's climbed to the top of the corporate ladder be so careless? Why the hell didn't he watch where he was going?
* * *
"Van, I wanted to kill him. If I have to spend another day with that man, I may kill him—with my bare hands."
Hendrick van Pelt watches Nora pace from fireplace to window, throwing her hands up, her head back. She came directly from the boatyard to his house on Faculty Row. Copper-colored tendrils, escaped from the single French braid down her back, curl around her ears. Scarlet streaks her high cheekbones, disguising the dusting of freckles usually clear on her pale face.
Van has never seen her so angry. Nora Perry in high dudgeon is truly formidable—beautiful but formidable. Van likes her broad shoulders and muscular build. He thinks her 5'10" and 165 pounds statuesque. But if he had caused those wide brown eyes to flash fire, those capable hands to clench and unclench spasmodically, he would be paddling like hell to get out of the way of the hurricane. As it is, he sits quietly, nods sympathetically, and lets her rant. She will get over it faster that way.
"Three days I've been out with him—just three days—and I can't think of a single novice-sailor mistake that Schuyler Buckner Brady the Second hasn't made! He insists that he wants to learn to sail but he sure as hell doesn't act like it." She whirls toward Van and raises her fingers one at a time, counting off Buck's weaknesses and sins. "He doesn't concentrate when he has the helm and ends up luffing the sails or going through an uncontrolled gybe. He won't slow down on the approach to a dock or a mooring. And he doesn't cleat the lines properly, no matter how many times I show him." She pauses to draw breath and continues at lower volume. "Of course, lots of people have trouble with that. And it's easy for a beginner to misread the compass." Van grins as Nora's inherently fair nature asserts itself. Her fairness is just one of the reasons her faculty colleagues respect her and students flock to her classes.
She reaches the fireplace and turns sharply on her heel. "But to actually ram a channel marker! Who knows how long he was daydreaming or watching the shoreline or whatever the hell he was doing?"
Van's affection for his sailing partner inclines him always to be sympathetic. In this case, his experience teaching sailing lends extra empathy. "I can see that it was frustrating. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I only wish!" Nora stops and faces Van, feet planted, arms akimbo. "I think the real issue is that he doesn't believe the basics of sailing are the same in a twenty-seven foot sloop like Duet as in a hundred-and-thirty-six-foot schooner like the one he's chartered. He says he wants to understand what's going on with the schooner, but he dismisses half of what I say as irrelevant." Nora shakes her head.
Van smiles. "Many people have difficulty comprehending the physics of sailing."
"Don't defend him! He just isn't interested. And besides, he is disdainful of anything small or slow—and he's pegged Duet as both. He has the mentality of a power-boater," she concludes, disgust thick in her voice. Van chuckles.
"Okay, okay. I know I'm on a rant. But I really do have problems with Buck Brady. And the biggest one is that I'm a woman—more or less his own age, neither his underling nor a potential conquest. Buck is used to being in charge, and taking instruction from a woman galls him. I can feel it. He ignores what I say about the importance of keeping the lines tidy and the gear stowed properly and then budges in and tries to take over when I'm hauling sail or setting the anchor." Van's own first sail with Nora wasn't much more than a year before, the memory of his initial discomfort with a woman skipper still fresh. He feels a spurt of empathy for Buck Brady—but knows better than to say so. Nora stops in front of Van. "I think it was his need to be macho that let him—caused him—to be so casual, so negligent." Suddenly her eyes fill with tears. "And now my beautiful boat is mangled." She drops onto the sofa beside Van. "Repairs will cost hundreds. Maybe a thousand or more. And by damn, I'm going to let him pay for it!"
Van pushes a fall of brown sun-bleached hair off his forehead and speaks in measured tones. "It seems to me that you have two alternatives. You can put a lock on your feelings and continue with the sailing lessons, or you can tell him to go to hell."
"Damn it, Van, don't tell me what I can do! I want you to pat my hand and say, 'Poor baby. I know just how you feel.' I want comfort, not some manly attempt to fix it!"
Van laughs and pats her hand. "Poor baby. I know just how you feel."
Nora laughs, too, and playfully punches his shoulder. "Nice try. A little lacking in sincerity, maybe, but ... Listen, if you really want to help, take over Buck's sailing lessons." Van starts to demur but she stops him with an upraised hand. "No, really. He only came to me because Sky told him I'm a good sailor and I know the Bay."
Sky is Buck's son, and as a senior at West the previous fall, was tangentially involved in the Slater murder case, when the investigation, the president's resignation—the whole debacle—had roiled the college the entire academic year. Van shakes his head and again tunes in to what Nora is saying. "But you would be perfect. Really. Just think about it. You're a man and you have credentials. He would love having private lessons from a yacht club instructor who also happens to have a Ph.D. in physics. And as someone who does this as a summer job, you could charge him an arm and a leg. He's the sort of person who values anything that costs him a lot of money."
"You know I have no boat."
"No problem. He's already offered to charter one while Duet is being repaired. All you'd have to do is line it up. But get something bigger than Duet. I'm sure that would help. You could do a whole male bonding thing." She grins. "And at the same time, you could be a good role model for him—a masculine man who isn't sexist."
Van isn't sure he wants to be a model of anything. He rubs his brow. "How about just telling him to go elsewhere?"
"Van, think about it. We're faculty members. He's a trustee—a brand new trustee. That means he's going to be involved with West College for at least the next six years." She shakes her head. "Antagonizing Buck Brady would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces."
Van needs a little time to consider this turn in the conversation. He looks at her hand, curved quietly on the cushion between them, and pushes aside an urge to stroke her fingers. He'd have to be sure of her response before he'd put himself out there with Nora. That isn't a tangent he wants to pursue. "So why did you agree to do this?"
Excerpted from Tiger Heart by Vivian Lawry, W. Lawrence Gulick. Copyright © 2013 Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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