Authors: Jessica Thomas
Copyright© 2007 by Jessica Thomas
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543 Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
Editor: Cindy Cresap Cover designer: KIARO Creative Ltd
ISBN-10: 1-59493-081-3 ISBN-13: 978-1-59493-081-2
To Bunny with special love, and a toast to our future meeting on that little village green near the cozy little pub!
And thanks to my editor, Cindy Cresap, who almost makes it all seem easy.
About the Author
Jessica Thomas is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she attended Girls’ Preparatory School. She later graduated cum laude from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, with a bachelor’s degree in literature.
After an early retirement, Miss Thomas spend a bit of time doing some rather dull freelance assignments and ghostwriting two totally depressing self-help books, always swearing someday that she would write something that was just plain fun. When her friend, Marian Pressler “gave” her Alex and Fargo, Jessica took them immediately to heart and ran to her keyboard.
Miss Thomas makes her home in Connecticut with her almost-cocker spaniel, Woofer. Her hobbies include gardening, reading, and animal protection activities.
Nobody who lived in Provincetown would ever forget that summer.
That summer. The weird, angering, frightening summer when we were allegedly invaded by an alligator and deﬁnitely invaded by a vicious-tempered journalist. Most of us thought the alligator less threatening.
Not the wet summer when the rains wouldn’t leave, and the tourists wouldn’t stay.
It didn’t take visitors long that year to ﬁgure out they could sit around, damp and chilly, watching little stop-and-go rivers on their windowpanes at home . . . a lot cheaper than they could do it at a motel in Ptown.
That summer. The crazy, fearsome summer when the actors came to town and brought laughter and romance and murder with them—murder that would seem to have been committed by one of our most beloved citizens.
Not the hot, dry summer when the rains wouldn’t come. When the air was so sticky you felt you could wipe it off your skin, and the rain teased us every afternoon, sending in the high, rolling cumulus clouds, dark and heavy with unspilled water, heat lightning signaling from inside them like a candle ﬂickering behind a curtain. But without a drop of rainfall. The summer when wafts of hot air sent small dust devils cantering slowly up Bradford Street, gritty and weary, as if they’d just ridden in from Laredo.
Neither overly wet nor dry,
summer came to us with a disarming smile and wearing spring’s clothing. The tulips and daffodils and hyacinths gave us just the right sugary look, and we were almost ready. We touched up the paint and starched the curtains. We washed the windows and spread our wares. Owners of shops and restaurants rubbed their hands in anticipation. Most old ring-up cash registers had been replaced with quiet, computerized models, but to those who punched in the sales ﬁgures, the carillons of tourist expenditures still rang in their ears with a resonance equal to the bells of Notre Dame.
The tourists were here. They had come to us again. All hail.
Almost everyone who lived in Provincetown was in some way dependent on the tourist. The restaurateurs, of course, plus those who provided lodging, sold souvenirs or sold clothing. I think there must be factories all over China whose workers produce nothing but T-shirts for Ptown. But there were other dependents. There were the grocery stores and the art galleries, the nightclubs and the whale-watching boats, the clinic doctors and the vets who patched up the unlucky and the pharmacists who ﬁlled their prescriptions.
The dependents included, to a degree, my Aunt Mae, with her own little “season” every year. When my Uncle Frank died, Aunt Mae got interested in raising herbs, mainly as a time ﬁller. But she became an expert at her hobby and had now converted her garage into a small shop where she sold live herbs in little pots and dried ones in little jars to an amazing number of people. She had actually published two small books on the subject and sold enough to keep them in print.
Even the bank, where my lover Cindy was the in-house certiﬁed ﬁnancial advisor, processed millions in travelers’ checks and enjoyed a great volume increase in their commercial accounts. Unfortunately, they also had the wearisome job of trying to help those feckless few who always managed to lose their wallets and/or checkbooks and came into the bank crying help!
And of course, there’s me. I’m Alexandra Peres. I was named after my great-grandmother, who was herself named after the strikingly beautiful, doomed Tsarina of All the Russias. Aware that I don’t ﬁt the ﬁrst part of the Tsarina’s description and hopeful I don’t ﬁt the second, I prefer to be called Alex. My work, too, picks up between April and October.
Why? Because tourist spots are like candy stores to children for those who like to make money while posing as vacationers. Most of them are typical accidents—real or imagined—that could actually happen: like slipping on wet tile. Some are more creative, and sometimes not too smart. One man sued the B&B where he was staying because the porch steps collapsed under him. Indeed they did, and when he fell, he was still holding the saw he had used to cut through the supports. Of course, genuine accidents do happen, and several insurance companies keep me on retainer to sort out the possible from the simply frivolous.
Sometimes I also check out other types of insurance fraud. And I do background investigations on potential employees for local businesses. I look for runaway kids thought to be in the area. And, God help me, I am occasionally broke enough to check out a spouse whose other half believes “Something is going on and I damn well want to know what it is!”
Fortunately, following errant spouses is becoming a less frequent endeavor thanks to my learning how to use a camera because of it. I now take a lot of nature photos just for fun and am told I have a good eye for it. Certainly I have a love of it. Of late, my photos have been selling well at several galleries in Ptown and Wellﬂeet, at very good prices and in surprising quantity. So my ﬁnances are considerably more stable than they were a couple of years ago.
This greatly pleases my partner, who has a penchant for expensive rawhides. My partner is Fargo, and to clarify the above sentence, Fargo is a ninety-pound Lab with a lustrous black coat, a personality all his own and a heart beyond measure. He’s my pal, my clown, my protector, my confessor, and I’m happy to talk about him and his many attributes at any time.
There’s one small character defect I may lightly skip over. When Fargo is faced with, shall we say, a stressful situation, like a ﬁrecracker going off nearby, or someone approaching us threateningly, he has felt since puppyhood that he can best protect me if he is in my arms. When he was a puppy it was adorable. Since he is grown, ninety pounds of Fargo ﬂying through the air and landing on my chest is much more likely to render
hors de combat
than my presumed assailant and leads to embarrassment all around.
So now, when I think this protective move is imminent, I do a little dance step to the side and grab his collar to let him know I am all right. I say sternly, “Easy, Fargo, not now, not now!” He has no idea what it means, but I hope it sounds to humans as if I am commanding him not to attack, and we take it from there. Look, he has never complained about the cold nights we have spent shivering in the car surveilling a house. He doesn’t mention that my omelets have been known to defy a steak knife, and he has
told me that a particular blouse makes my face look green. He loves me. All right, he’s a creampuff. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
So, as innocently as
summer began, and bizarrely as it ended, Provincetown was her usual early-season self: charming, sparkling, breezy, energized and just a
bit greedy. We watched the parade of cars and buses come over the hill like an invasion of benign and colorful insects. We watched the excursion and ferry boats sail into the harbor with their self-satisﬁed oom-pah pahs. We heard the whine of airplanes approaching our runway. Provincetown was ready.
The world was our codﬁsh.
We were about to have that conversation again.
You see, when Cindy ﬁrst took the job with Fishermen’s Bank, she rented a great little cottage from my Aunt Mae. Four rooms, two of them pretty good sized, plus a small deck overlooking a small pond. She loved it.
I already lived in my house that I’d owned for several years. Five rooms, all good sized, bath and a half and a detached garage, plus a large—for Ptown—backyard.
I loved it.
Shortly after her arrival, Cindy and I began
. Before long we began
then next we were
Subsequently we started using words and phrases like
which we both disliked, and
we must have something going here.
Finally, we gave up, declared ourselves in love and wanting a lasting, monogamous
We breathed a sigh of relief and were very happy. Then slowly, we began to realize that we were one couple with two abodes only a mile apart. Occasionally, I had an overnight business trip, and Cindy would stay at the cottage. Or Cindy would have a seminar somewhere or a weekend parental visit down to Connecticut, and I would be alone at the house. Sporadically, when we were both in town, we simply spent the night apart for no special reason. Usually, we spent weekends at the cottage. Somehow it seemed like a relaxing, faraway break. As time went on, however, the maintenance of the two places began to seem somewhat extravagant, and our friends began making veiled comments, and we began to talk of living together
In the words of the immortal poet, this scared me to death. I’d been badly burned in some past relationships, and had been leery of becoming involved again at all. I was glad I had. I loved Cindy. I liked her and, as far as I knew, wanted to be with her forever. But living together was something else.
There was, of course, the question of where to put things. Like Cindy’s computer. The logical place was my ofﬁce, but my computer was already there, along with a desk and ﬁle cabinet and a large table where I matted and put simple wood frames around my photographs. It was not a neat room. Cindy was neat. There were other spatial problems, although most of them could be worked out with a little ingenuity. Actually, “things” were not my real problem, anyway.
My problem was I was afraid I would slowly disappear, that we would become one amorphous mass, no longer each a clear individual structure. I was afraid I would look in my psyche’s mirror one morning and see a foggy, shapeless blob. Oh, my head or a foot might poke out once in a while, but basically, Cindy and I would be one colorless splotch. I would be, I was certain, sexually happy, intellectually challenged, entertained, loved and cared for, perhaps even healthier. But slowly I would no longer be Alex as I knew me. I would be
. And then I would have to run away. Even though I loved her very much.