Authors: MK Alexander
A Tractus Fynn Mystery
by MK Alexander
The Sand City Murders
By MK Alexander
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between actual persons is purely coincidental.
This work may not be reproduced or electronically transmitted without expressed consent of the author.
Published by KMACK Design, BOX 144, Sea Cliff, NY 11579
Cover design copyright 2013, KMACK Design
Please direct any inquiries to
Also by MK Alexander:
The Farsi Trilogy
GenreJam, Volume One: Death & Injury
My New World: A Teenager’s WWII Odyssey
The persistent telephone was ringing me out of a deep slumber, and it seemed too early, way too early. Oh my god, it’s the land line. That hadn’t rung for weeks. It was either my mom or the cable company, the latter always trying to upgrade my service. Damn those people. How many times do I have to remind them I don’t even have a TV— just signed on for the internet.
“Hello?” I answered, picking up on the fourth ring. “Oh, hey El, good morning. Why are you calling on this line?”
“All the cell phones are down… the tower collapsed, remember?”
“Oh right. What’s up?” I asked and started the heater. It clicked three times and I heard the burner gently swoosh to life. The smell of kerosene… nothing like it. My loft-like apartment was freezing as usual. A mid-March day and way colder than it should be. On the phone was Eleanor Woods, my boss, the editor-and-chief of the Sand City
Funny what goes through your mind, but the last thing I wanted to think about was her. Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet as pie, just not the first face I wanted to picture as soon as I got up. Eleanor was about eighty something. A slip of a woman, maybe five two and maybe a hundred pounds. Shockingly white hair and a craggy face like a wrinkly silk shirt that had never seen a hot iron. Her voice matched perfectly too since she had chain smoked Marlboros for the last sixty years. She told me a story about that once and it popped into my head:
When I was a girl, Marlboro’s were marketed towards women…
“Really? What about the whole cowboy thing?”
“That came much later. In the early days, Marlboros were milder than most cigarettes— and it was one of the few brands with a filter…”
My mind was drifting. Eleanor came back to the line in the present: “The cellular tower is still down from the storm. It won’t be up till Thursday, maybe Friday, I’ve heard.”
“Well, are you okay? Want me to come over?”
“No thanks, everything’s fine. The electricity is out, all of Cedar Bluffs actually, but the Village is up and running, so I’m heading into the office.”
“That was one helluva storm.”
“I agree. I’m glad we all survived relatively unscathed.”
“Um… Why are you calling me, Eleanor? It’s like seven, barely.”
“Were you asleep?”
“Of course I was.” I looked up at my ceiling. The skylights were frosted over with rain, though it did seem like dawn might be breaking.
“It’s Detective Durbin. He wants you down at Boxtop Beach as soon as you can.”
“Pictures of what?”
“A crime scene.”
“That’s right, another murder. Durbin’s photographer is on vacation this week, so we have an in... and I expect a good story, an exclusive.”
“On my way,” I lied convincingly enough. First I had to shower, shave, get dressed, and find a cup of coffee.
I live in a fictional place called Sand City. Not really. It’s an actual place, but I won’t tell you where it is exactly. That way I don’t have to change any names to protect the innocent. Of course this story is completely true, the people involved are very real, but if I told you where it took place, you’d probably not believe me. You probably won’t anyway. I’m not even sure I do. I will tell you this though: Sand City is on the Eastern Seaboard, somewhere between Maine and Virginia Beach. And I’ll give you a hint: it’s not in New Jersey. Not that I have anything against the Jersey Shore. I’ll also lie to you and say that it’s closer to Virginia Beach than Cape Cod.
Sand City sits on the tip of a small peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. It straddles a bay and the ocean, right in the middle of the two, surrounded by sandy bluffs on the ocean side and a serene bay on the other. We are definitely going to be the first town to make history once the big tsunami hits. It’s a fairly sprawling place, about twenty square miles. The oceanside is protected by the government. No new construction permitted. Anything already there had been grandfathered in: shacks, cottages, old houses, and the three night clubs, loud clubs right on the beach.
As cities go, it’s small, about 7,000 people. Maybe it’s more like a big town. But it is divided into separate areas: the Village— aka downtown, Baxter Estates, Cedar Bluffs, the Dunes, Long Neck and Kettle Pond. Six distinct fiefdoms, each run by a separate king, or rather, a councilman. We’ve got a bunch of churches, a synagogue, a mosque, though it has no minaret, and a Buddhist temple. Two of those churches are orthodox, one for the Russians, one for the Greeks, but our largest ethnic group is probably Portuguese. They’re the fishermen mostly.
Sand City, a deceptive name really, there’s nothing urban about the place except maybe the Village that’s constructed on a slow rising hill. A few hundred buildings crammed right on top of each other along streets just wide enough for a single car, and alleys not wide enough at all. It’s a haphazard collection of salt box cottages and cedar shingled structures, all built on top of each other. The terrain makes it look like some of the buildings are much taller than they really are, or much shorter, depending where you happen to stand on the hill. Houses, shops, restaurants, offices, every kind of building you could ever need, and probably right out of an architect’s nightmare. The name
was officially incorporated in the 1930s in the middle of the depression. I still don’t know if that was an act of irony or an attempt to lure people here. The Village was really founded in 1681— wasn’t called that, not back then... I think it was North Oaks or something, maybe Fair Oaks.
Unlike our sister cities, ours is not ripped apart by an interstate that ran through the heart of it. Not like Fairhaven to our south. Of course, they have supermarkets, the big stores, big names, even a mall and an airport. All the perks of being the county seat. We’re off the beaten track and that has its benefits and drawbacks. Recently, there was something of a debate amongst the locals, the Brand Wars as it came to be called. Some people in town were all for bringing in the big national names, leading citizen Charles Chamblis the first among them. It was a tough sell though for such a seasonal place, and so far Sand City had resisted. It makes us seem bygone, unique at least. You’d hear the tourists walking down the street complaining, “They don’t even have a
…” Secretly they loved it, really, well some of them, I’d guess. The nearest neighboring town, Oldham, had also resisted this temptation more or less, though they had succumbed to the 24-7 chain store right off the rotary, and I’ll be the first to admit it, that saved my butt more than once on a late night run.
Our main industry is tourism, not fishing. We’re not much more than a resort town and summer is our season. Winter is a ghost town, sometimes cruel and hard. There is fishing too, of course, pretty much year round. The trawlers go out, catch their limit and head back to shore, to the processing plant. The factory that makes those fish sticks mostly, and I wonder who actually eats them, except for little kids. You can smell it every morning around nine o’clock when the ovens fire up and a pungent aroma comes wafting through town. There’s the candy-fish factory too. It’s the same company, but the final product is fake crab meat. Very sweet and very artificial tasting— still, I can’t get enough of the stuff. Thankfully, no smell either. They do other things with the fish there too, having to do with pet food, and when I say pet food, I mean, for cats and aquariums.
The other driver of our economy is real estate. A lot of people like to come here to live, or buy a second home, maybe just on the outskirts of town. There are condos and a couple of big hotels along the boardwalk on the bay side. There’s also the boatyard. It’s not just a marina, they actually build boats there, or yachts, though these days they do more repairs and refitting than actual boat building from scratch.
We are a city between cities— not part of any big market, a TV market, say out of Boston, or Richmond, or Baltimore. We live in a kind of media no man’s land. When something does happen here, nobody sends a crew to cover it. Both stations thinking the other guy will, and it ends up neither did. But like I was saying, our big industry is tourism. Starting around Memorial Day the whole city changes. We wake up from our sleepy season... Soon enough everyone is fully employed and then some. The restaurants are packed, college kids show up for the summer to work and to party, and so do the tourists— well, not to work, just to party, or relax in the sun. The hotels fill up, the time shares, the summer rentals and the beaches. The bay fills up with little white boats. The population skyrockets to nearly fifty thousand. Not today though. Today, I’ll be lucky to find a place that was open and serving a decent cup of coffee.
I really should drive you through town, give you the quick tour, not that it’s the perfect day for it: Cloudy and misty, might start to rain any minute now… and no sign of spring yet. Just mud and sandy patches, that winter lifeless gray and brown. The few green bits, if green is the right word, are the scrubby pines that are welcoming emeralds year round. There’s the rhododendron forest too, and a few places where ivy grows.
We wouldn’t have far to drive to get to Boxtop Beach where I’m due at the moment. I’m here in Bayview, an uneasy mix of summer cottages and affordable housing units. It’s a stone’s throw from Great Bay, though I guess you’d have to have one hell of an arm. I can see it from my window, well, my door… but I won’t get into that right now. I’m in kind of a rush and I really need that cup of coffee.
If I did take you for a ride, I’d drive you through the Village first, then up to the ocean side… Or maybe out to the tip of the peninsula, North Point, and the famous lighthouse called the Sentinel. Funny, I always wondered why my newspaper wasn’t called that. Seems like the perfect name. Anyway, North Point is where the bluffs fall sheer to the ocean and spill into a pile of boulders. At high tide it’s impassable. The whole peninsula is a huge hunk of rock left over from the last ice age. Sand had accumulated over the last ten thousand years or so, but it still shows its jagged cliff face on the north highlands. And though it seemed geologically impossible, Sand City was blessed with an aquifer, a subterranean pool of fresh water, probably encased in granite.
It’s all on the map, the handy little map published by my paper,
, not the
— and designed by yours truly. It also happens to adorn just about every placemat on every table, in every restaurant in town, the map that is. If I had the time today, this would be perfect: We’d take the Map Tour. Every landmark, landscape, historical site, every park and beach; restaurants, mini-golf, shops and hotels, even bike rental places— they are all on the map too.
And maybe a bicycle is a good idea. Sand City has a bike path second to none. It circumnavigates our little town: twenty-seven miles or so, perfect for a marathon. And not that I’d be running that far anytime soon, we actually do have the Sand City Marathon every fall, six years running.
In fact, now I’m thinking a car is completely unnecessary. At least once the nice weather hits. From the Village up to the ocean is about a three mile ride along one of any twisty, one lane roads that wind through the scrubby pines. There are lots of summer cottages tucked away back there. Once you hit Shore Road, you could head north or south for about four miles either way, up and down the dunes, pretty much right along the ocean. To the far north is Cedar Bluffs, the historic section of town: old captains’ mansions, stately homes, the light house, that kind of thing. There’s also the old quarry up there.
The three major beaches are along that stretch too, all pretty wild and wide, all with coarse white sand. Each has a slightly different character though. At the far south is South Point or the Inlet, but it’s more like a breach: the Atlantic sweeps unfettered into the salt marsh. It’s flat and wide and the off-road vehicles head there first. To the north again, there’s Middle Cove. It has a gently arching sandy stretch, and at low tide, a good hundred yards of tidal flats. It was created by two stone jetties set down in the 1930s. Not a good place to surf, but there are three clubs along that shoreline: Sand City’s night life, in the summer at least. Shorties, Sneaky Pete’s, the Beachcomber, all pretty much the same: loud, loud enough to scare the seals off the jetties come nightfall.
Finally, there’s North Hollow, the high dunes. The beach itself is a bit narrower than the others, but if you were a surfer, this was your hang. It gently trails back to the west as you go north, eventually tapering off to North Point. Each oceanfront beach is slightly different but all the same too: lonely stretches of sand in the off season where you can walk your dog without a leash and no one will care. In summer you’ll have to get a parking permit or beach sticker… available only at Village Hall. There are lots of other rules and regulations too, but I won’t get into that right now.
Heading west from the main Village, it’s about a two mile walk to the bay side. That’s Great Bay as it’s known, also called Serenity Bay by the locals. And that’s where I live, in a year round rental with a peek of the water that’s a about a hundred yards further on. Great Bay sweeps around to the south and west. It begins north of me, just where the bluffs taper off. There’s an old sea wall up there built in the 1920s, a collapsing sea wall now, battered by countless historical storms, and last week was no exception. To me it seemed badly constructed with low-grade concrete. Hardly a rebar to be seen, and though it once had a nice veneer, the concrete inside was filled with pebbles and too much sand. Still, it’s a favorite haunt for the casual fisherman. Ten yards of rocky beach, a good place to cast, and some shade trees once June hits. Oh yeah, mussels and seaweed too. Mussel Beach, a lot of people would joke. If you were a piece of trash, this is where you’d wash up.
Just above the wall are two other landmarks, one on the map, one not. Saint Alban’s is not on the map: an abandoned hospital, also built in the twenties. It’s a creepy place set back on a couple of dozen acres of its own. The main building sits right above the water about fifty feet from the sea wall. Faded red brick, lonely turrets facing the bay, boarded up windows, and walls mostly overgrown with clinging ivy. I was asked not to put this on the map. The cops hated that kids use the place as party central. It was too easy to hop the chain link fence, but too hard to patrol. Not exactly a tourist destination anyhow. Another hundred feet above Saint Alban’s is Sunset Park, a virtual forest of rhododendron green, where, like clockwork, people gather to watch the sun set over the bay.