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Authors: John Gideon

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BOOK: Greely's Cove
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Stu Bromton turned on his heel and steered his tree trunk of a body toward his cruiser, leaving Mr. Taylor to be thankful for his flood of good luck. Before the police chief could squeeze behind the wheel, one of his patrol officers, Dean Hauck, hurried over to him. “Had lunch yet, Stu? I’m buyin’.” Hauck had been the first cop to arrive at the scene of the accident.

Stu groped for a reason to decline the offer. Hauck was an inveterate brownnoser who never ceased trying to impress the boss with his determination to be a first-rate cop. He never stopped talking shop, which drove Stu crazy, and he wore those aviator-style sunglasses with the mirrored lenses, which Stu hated.

Trouble was, Hauck
was
a first-rate cop, which Stu was not and never would be. And someday soon Hauck would see an opportunity to leave this one-horse department with its three shifts of two men each, and he would seize the opportunity, forcing Stu to undertake again the distasteful task of luring in another rookie who was desperate enough to work for chicken feed until a better job turned up. Getting another Hauck wouldn’t be easy.

The chief was opening his mouth to accept the invitation when the radio in his car crackled. He answered it, and the dispatcher informed him that representatives of the medical examiner’s office and the prosecutor’s office had returned to the police station after a trip to Matt Kronmiller’s mortuary. They wanted to see the chief.

Stu was off the hook with Hauck. “Guess I’ll have to grab a bite later, Dean. Sorry.” The young cop gave a regretful smile and nodded.

The rain eased a bit as Stu drove toward the station, and the streets of Greely’s Cove began to show signs of life. Saturday shoppers had ducked into coffee shops and storefronts to escape the downpour, giving the streets the atmosphere of a ghost town, but as the rain diminished they ventured out again to finish their errands.

Stu fell into his newly acquired habit of scrutinizing everyone he happened to see, even slowing the car to get a good look if necessary, a habit he had taken up eight months earlier when the disappearances had begun. Eight citizens of Greely’s Cove had vanished from the face of the earth at the rate of one per month, for no apparent reason, leaving no trace. Police Chief Stuart Bromton had solved not one of the mysteries—had collected not even a gossamer lead—and the townspeople, not to mention the city council, had become impatient. He occasionally heard reports of someone having seen one of the missing people, always under strange circumstances and never in the broad light of day. He hoped that through heightened vigilance he might see a face that had appeared on the state ID bulletin of wanted felons, a face whose owner could explain why the population of Greely’s Cove was dipping at the rate of one per month.

Greely’s Cove, a salty town of 2,000 year-round citizens, lay on the west shore of the Puget Sound, a short drive southeast of the slightly better known tourist trap of Poulsbo. Twenty-odd miles across the Sound lay Seattle and its satellites—a metropolitan area of two million scurrying souls, the vast majority of whom wouldn’t recognize the name Greely’s Cove, even though many had driven through its outskirts en route up the Sound to the fjordlike Hood Canal, or to Port Townsend on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or to the majestic Pacific shore.

Nestled in a dense wood of pine and cedar, Greely’s Cove was still small and quiet, still unconquered by the venal legions who see beauty in strings of service stations and colonies of condos and files of fast-food franchises. At the center of town, astride Frontage Street, was a cluster of old but smartly restored structures, mostly of ancient brick with bright Victorian filigree. Attending the older buildings was a coterie of newer ones that housed year-round businesses: the West Shore Insurance Group, a chiropractor’s office, a law office, and a cramped ladies’ boutique called Hannie’s. Sprinkled throughout the commercial quarter were the tourist establishments, some of which closed during the winter while others struggled on: the West Cove Motor Inn (bar and restaurant), the Old Schooner Motel (“Modern/Kitchenettes/Under 12 Free”), and Bailey’s Seafood Emporium. Toward the edge of town, near the intersection of Highway 305 and Frontage Street, where the Bronco and Le Baron had met violently in the afternoon of Saturday, February 8, 1986, lay a scatter of “all-American” establishments, including a McDonald’s, a liquor store, and a spanking new Safeway.

Stu Bromton began his life thirty-eight years earlier in the hospital at Bremerton, Washington, the nearest real city to Greely’s Cove, less than half an hour’s drive south. A strapping ten-pound baby whose entrance into the world had almost convinced his mother to have her tubes tied, Stu was big and freckle-faced like his father, Morgan P. Bromton, whom everyone called “Tiny.”

Big
did not mean
fat,
though, his father had always said.
Big
meant
heavily muscled,
or
beefy
, or
strong as an ox,
like defensive linemen are supposed to be. Following his dad’s example, Stu had guarded against becoming fat, which meant jogging four miles daily, lifting weights in his basement, and limiting himself to 3,000 calories a day—except for beer, that is, which didn’t count against the total. Beer was his only bad habit, which really was not so bad, because it never seemed to make him drunk. As Tiny had always done in his younger years, Stu Bromton went out once a week with the boys, usually on a Friday night, and pounded down between ten and twenty beers.

Like Tiny in his prime, Stu stood six-three and weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds. Like Tiny, he had played on the defensive line in high school, had gone to college at the University of Washington and then on to law school. But
un
like Tiny, Stu had not become a lawyer and thus could not join his father’s lucrative, small-town practice, as had been the family dream ever since Stu could remember. Unable to cut the mustard academically, he had quit law school and returned to Greely’s Cove to become a policeman and ultimately the police chief—possibly because he had married the mayor’s daughter. Since failing in law school, he had never been able to look his dad squarely in the eye. Or himself, either, for that matter.

He parked in the muddy lot of City Hall, which dominated the corner of Frontage Street and Sockeye Drive. At the rear of the ancient building was the firehouse, with its huge, jointed door. Inside it was a single late-model pumper truck, painted not the traditional red but a regrettable yellowish green, which had become a standard color of the fire service. On the first floor were the city offices, such as they were, and upstairs was a council chamber that sometimes doubled as a courtroom. In the basement—or “garden level,” as the police laughingly called it—was the headquarters of the Greely’s Cove Police Department.

A visitor who came down the concrete steps of the main entrance would find himself looking through a steel-mesh screen into a cramped cubicle, where sat the dispatcher, who doubled as a receptionist. If the visitor’s business were legitimate, the dispatcher would press a button that unlocked a door in the reception area, and the visitor could enter the “inner sanctum,” which included a squad room that smelled of cigarette butts and Lysol; a detainee cell with steel bars and a heavy door; and the chief’s office, which Stu shared with his secretary.

Big-time operation, Stu Bromton often said with a wry chuckle.

Two men waited in the chief’s office. One was Dave Putney, assistant county prosecutor, a wisp of a man with prematurely thinning hair. Because this was a Saturday, he wore a yellow sou’wester rain jacket, unzipped and open at the front, over khaki trousers and running shoes, rather than his customary Brooks Brothers three-piece and brogues.

The other was Dr. Alvin Lonsdale, a forensic pathologist summoned from the state medical examiner’s office to assist in “processing” a suicide. Lonsdale was near retirement, paunchy and jowly faced, possessed of a wrinkled grin and a belly laugh that reminded Stu of Ed McMahon.

“The team of Putney and Lonsdale,” said Stu in his radio-announcer voice, pushing through his office door, “is on the case, so don’t worry, Virginia, we’re in good hands.” Both men smiled, even though they hated being called out on weekends, especially to out-of-the-way little burgs like Greely’s Cove. “You guys get any coffee?” asked Stu after trading handshakes.

They hadn’t gotten any, but a bellow from the chief brought the dispatcher scurrying in with two Styrofoam cups full of something very much like coffee—steamy, black, and more or less liquid.

“Careful with that stuff,” Stu warned his visitors, “it’ll grow hair on Formica.”

Dr. Lonsdale grimaced after taking a sip, then opened the manila folder he had brought with him. “
Trosper, Lorna Ann Moreland
,” he read. “Age thirty-six, artist, divorced, mother of a thirteen-year-old boy. God, what a waste.” He glanced up at the police chief. “I’ve seen her medical records, Stu, and I’ve seen the coroner’s preliminary report. We’ve been over to the mortuary to look at the body, and everything we’ve got so far shouts suicide. But before I say so without an autopsy, I want to know everything you do.”

“Fair enough,” said Stu, taking the chair behind his paper-strewn metal desk. “I go way back with her, ever since she married my best buddy back in law school. They were good people, both of them. Had some bad breaks, though.”

“Like a kid who turned out to be a drooling basket case?” interjected Putney, the assistant prosecutor.

The chief managed a small smile that masked his annoyance over the remark. “They never got a definitive diagnosis on Jeremy, as far as I know,” he explained. “Some doctors said he was autistic, others said he was severely retarded. Whatever it was that he had wrong with him, he was a real burden—not only financially, but emotionally. Carl and Lorna’s marriage couldn’t take the strain of it, which isn’t so surprising, if you ask me. Marriages go belly-up over a lot smaller things than that.”

“Amen,” said Putney, whose tone suggested that he spoke from bitter experience. “But I hear that Lorna finally found a doctor who could help the kid. That would seem like a reason to go on living, wouldn’t it? I mean, you find someone who can help the son you thought was beyond help, and life takes on new meaning, wouldn’t you think? You’d have every reason to live, right?”

“Maybe not,” said Stu. “I talked to the doctor this morning—name of Craslowe, practices right here in town.”

“What kind of doctor?” asked Lonsdale.

“Clinical psychologist, specializes in kids. I’ve seen his sheepskins, and they’re impressive as hell. He’s English—went to Oxford, Cambridge, some big school in Austria, or some-damn-where. Anyhow, he moved to town last winter and hung out a shingle on the old house at Whiteleather Place. Lorna heard about him and took Jeremy to see him. Now, I don’t have any idea what Craslowe did, but whatever it was, it worked—almost overnight. Suddenly Jeremy’s talking, playing with other kids, learning things, even reading—”

“Oh, come on, Stu,” said Lonsdale, with a chuckle. “These children don’t attain reading skills that quickly, and many never do.”

“I swear to God, Doc: The kid learned to read. Before Lorna took him to see Craslowe, he couldn’t even dress himself. Within months—weeks, really—he could read and carry on conversations just like an adult. Sounds kind of eerie, I know. Like everybody else in this town, I was blown away by it, I really was.”

“You were going to tell me,” said Putney, “why this miracle caused the mother to kill herself. Why wasn’t she wild with joy?”

“According to Craslowe,” said Stu, “her son’s rapid progress threatened her definition of herself.”

“Come again?”

“She always saw herself as Jeremy’s provider and defender, know what I mean? Fed him, washed him, cleaned up his messes, protected him from the cruel world. We’re talking about a creature that only a mother could love, and she loved him with everything she had. Then all of a sudden—almost without warning—he turns out to be a real person who can look out for himself. He can even
read!
” This he aimed at Lonsdale specifically, “Lorna finds out that he’s probably been learning things all his life, that his condition has misled everyone to think he’s hopelessly retarded. It dawns on her that she’s been deceived all these years—”

“And it also dawns on her,” interrupted Lonsdale, anticipating, “that someday Jeremy may no longer need her as a provider and protector.”

“Exactly. Her definition of herself unravels. She’s no longer the person she had forced herself to be during all those years when Jeremy was sick. Being an artist, she’s the sensitive type anyway, and she can’t cope. She falls into a deep, dark depression, her personality disintegrates, and she ends up in the Subaru with the engine running.” Here Stu Bromton’s voice became dangerously thin, and an uncomfortable silence ensued while he collected himself, while the medical examiner and the prosecutor studied the black-and-white tiles of the floor, the mint-green paint on the walls.

“I’m still having trouble with this miracle recovery,” said Lonsdale finally. “As a doctor myself—”

“Yeah, some
doctor
,” jabbed Putney, grateful for an end to the silence. “You’re a forensic pathologist, for crying out loud. You do
autopsies.
You wouldn’t know what to do with a patient who’s still breathing and giving off heat.”

Lonsdale gave out one of his trademark belly laughs. “Okay, so I’m not an expert on the inner workings of the human mind, but I took the mandatory psych courses in college and med school, and I know enough about the subject to be skeptical of miracles, that’s all. I’d say an autopsy is in order, under the circumstances.”

“And I’d say he’s right,” chimed in Putney. “A rule of thumb with any suspicious death is to order an autopsy.”

“Oh, come off it, guys,” protested Stu. “This is hardly a
suspicious
death. You’ve got a suicide note in Lorna’s own writing. You’ve got statements from her friends about her depression over the last six months and a plausible description of her mental state from a respected shrink. Plus, you’ve got my personal voucher that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. Why do you need to cut her up and put pieces of her in bottles, for Christ’s sake?”

BOOK: Greely's Cove
2.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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