Read Vineyard Blues Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

Tags: #Fiction

Vineyard Blues (10 page)

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
—  17  —

Ben Krane's first wife, Elaine, still lived in Edgartown. She was remarried and had three teenaged kids. Her husband was another of the island's builders, who make up about 49 percent of the Vineyard's permanent population, and sell their wares through another 49 percent who are in the real estate business. The remaining 2 percent of the island's citizens do everything else. Elaine was one of the 2 percent. She worked in the town hall.

I found her in her office, surrounded by piles of paper. All of the people who work in the town hall are surrounded by piles of paper. The same is probably true of all of the people who work in all of the town offices in all of the towns in the world. And since the invention of computers, I'm told, the situation is worse than ever. The more computers, the more paper. If I had any sense, I'd invest my money, if I had any money, in paper stocks.

I was glad to see that she was alone.

“What can I do for you, J.W.?” she asked, seemingly glad to temporarily stop whatever work she'd been doing when I came in. “Is this your boy?”

“It is. Joshua, say hello to Mrs. Simmons.”

He did that, taking her hand in his and giving it a solemn shake.

Elaine smiled at him, then at me. “What are you doing downtown on a nice day like this, J.W.? I'd have thought you'd be fishing or clamming far from the madding crowd.”

I decided to get right to the point. “Your ex has hired me to find out who's burning down his houses. I hope you can tell me something that might help me do the job.”

She tipped her head to one side and the smile faded. “Is somebody burning down his houses?”

“So it seems. Or so he thinks, anyway.”

“Or so he says he thinks.” She smiled a thin smile.

“What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Oh, nothing. Never mind.”

There were two chairs on my side of her desk, and I sat Joshua and me in them. “I don't think it's nothing,” I said. “Does Ben say things he doesn't mean?”

Again the shrug. “Maybe he should get the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's changed in the years since I was married to him.”

“If I can't believe what he tells me, maybe I shouldn't work for him.”

“Maybe you shouldn't.” She touched the papers she'd pushed aside, which I took as an indication that she didn't want to continue the conversation. I thought I'd try to get her interested again.

“Did you hear that another of his houses burned down last night?”

“Of course. This building is a gossip mill. Everybody in it hears everything almost before it happens.”

“It's the second house of his that's burned this week, and the third this year.”

“Ben never spends a penny on the places. He buys wrecks and lets them fall down even further. It's a miracle more of them haven't burned!”

It was a popular idea. “Did you hear that they found a body in this last building?”

Sympathy replaced the sarcasm in her voice. “Yes, I did hear that. Poor soul. One of the kids who lived there, I imagine.”

“I don't think so,” I said. “I think it was a friend of mine, a guy named Corrie Appleyard.”

“Oh! I'm sorry, J.W.!”

And she was, too, because she was a kind woman. It was the response I'd been hoping for, because her sympathy for me swept away her hostility to my questions.

“Corrie was a good man, so I have a personal reason for wanting to find the arsonist, if there is one,” I said. “Maybe you can help me.”

“I can't imagine how.” Her voice was uncertain but no longer antagonistic.

“I'm not sure, either, but the more I know, the better. One possibility is that the arsonist is angry with Ben for some reason. I don't know Ben well, but you do. You were married to him.”

Her face became cautious again. “That was a long time ago. We were both just kids. We never should have gotten married at all.”

“Tell me about him. You've already suggested that he's not completely honest. He's both a lawyer and a businessman. If he makes it a practice to be dishonest with his clients, revenge might be a motive for the fires.”

She pursed her lips. “I don't know much about his businesses, I'm afraid. He's very bright and very slick and very successful. I do know that much.”

I looked at that ironic mouth and saw that she wasn't really talking about Ben's professional life. She seemed to be thinking backward through time.

“Are you talking about the way he treated you?”

She nodded. “And other women. He knows a lot about women. What they want. How to use them. How to juggle several at once and keep each one of them ignorant of the others.” She seemed past self-pity.

“Is that why you left him? Because of other women?”

“I probably knew about them earlier than I thought I did. Not even Ben can keep all of the balls in the air all of the time. From time to time he drops one, either by accident or, more likely, on purpose. Some of them bounce, and some of them just roll away into corners. Some of the bouncers talk. Some of them talked to me.”

“To warn you or to get back at him?”

Again, that characteristic shrug of the shoulders. “Either. Both. The point is that they let me know what was going on. When I confronted Ben, he denied it at first, then said it would never happen again, all in that bright, sincere way he has when he's lying. After a while, though, I saw through him and left him. Looking back, I wonder why I stayed so long.”

“You were pretty young.”

“I suppose that might explain it.”

“Do you know the names of any of the women who were involved with him?”

“I do, but I don't think I'll give them to you. It all happened a long time ago, and I don't think any one of them is an arsonist.”

I thought I knew the name of one of the women. “How about their husbands or boyfriends?”

“Sorry, J.W. You'll have to get that information from someone else. Those dogs are sleeping. I won't wake them up.”

I considered that, then nodded. “I don't blame you.” I got up and took Joshua's hand. “Thanks for your help.”

“If it
help. I'm sorry about your friend.”

“Thanks. Do you know where I can catch up with Laura?”

“Ben's second marital failure? She lives up in Chilmark, but works in OB in Gussie's Gifts.” Elaine smiled a real smile. “You know Gussie Goldman?”

“No. Is she the one Laura left him for?”

“She's the one. Ben's had hard luck keeping wives.”

True. First Elaine had left him and found herself another man, and then Laura had left him for another woman. Even Ben occasionally joked about it, I was told.

Elaine was watching us as we went out the door.

Gussie's Gifts was about midway down Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs's main drag.

I found a parking place over on Ocean Avenue, and Joshua and I walked back to Circuit, passing the new brew bar on Kennebec Avenue, where they made and served the Vineyard's best draft beer. Brew bars and the microbreweries that are springing up all over the United States are persuasive evidence that the world is not going to hell, as often seems the case, but is, in fact, improving daily. For as the poet observed, malt does more than Milton can to justify God's ways to man.

I found Gussie's Gifts and we went in. A couple of instantly identifiable tourists were fingering merchandise. Elderly ladies just off the tour bus that had circumnavigated them around the island, I guessed. Their busy fingers lifted objects up toward their eyes and put them down again, then moved on. When the ladies returned over the water to the mainland, they could tell their less traveled friends all about the Vineyard while showing them the evidence from Gussie's Gifts that they actually had been there.

The shoppers were being casually but carefully watched by an informally but neatly dressed woman behind the counter, and I wondered how much merchandise such nice little blue-haired ladies managed to pilfer from shops every year. It probably came to a goodly amount, I imagined, since I've never seen much evidence that we get more honest as we get older.

I went to the counter and the woman smiled at me. She had an intelligent face under curly hair held back by a scrimshaw comb. I told her I was looking for Laura Krane.

“Laura is working out back. Let me call her.”

“It's a personal matter, not business. Maybe I should wait until she takes a break. I won't need much of her time, in any case.”

She gave me a fast study. “Why don't you just go on back. She's right through that door.”

I led Joshua into the back room and found another woman unpacking ceramic lighthouses from a carton that had come from Hong Kong. She was one of those people who are medium: medium height, medium weight, medium face, medium everything. No distinguishing marks, I first thought. But then I saw that I was wrong. Her eyes, behind large glasses, were full of life and humor. I gave her my name and Joshua's name and told her I was looking for Laura Krane.

“I'm Laura Krane.”

I told her about my job and hoped that she might be able to help me by telling me anything about Ben Krane's life or character that could perhaps point me toward a possible arsonist.

She laughed. “I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Ben, Mr. Jackson. I wasn't married to him very long.”

“But you were married to him for a while, so you must have some thoughts about him.”

She unwrapped another ceramic lighthouse. It looked somewhat like the East Chop lighthouse, and had the words “Souvenir of Martha's Vineyard” written across its base. She put the lighthouse on a shelf beside some others just like it.

“I married Ben when he was on the rebound after his divorce from Elaine. I think he married me to prove to himself that he was marriage material, just as I married him to prove to myself that I didn't really prefer women to men. Both of us were wrong. We both saw the light in pretty short order. Especially after I met Gussie. Does that shock you, Mr. Jackson?”

“No. I still get shocked by some things, but not by love.”

Her smile seemed to light the room.

I said, “Ben thinks somebody's torching his houses. Do you have any idea who might be mad enough at him to do that?”

She dug out another lighthouse. “How about some of the other women he's played around with?”

“Elaine doesn't think any of them are the arsonist type. She wouldn't give me any names.”

“Elaine is a nice lady.”

“Can you think of any women who might have it in for him?”

“He's left some pretty mad people in his wake, but I don't know of any who'd burn down his houses.”

“If there is one,” I said, “I think it must be one of his latest conquests, someone he romanced sometime during the last year or two.”

“Oh? What makes you say that?”

“Because the fires just started this spring, and I can't imagine some old flame, you should pardon the pun, waiting too long to get even.”

“Maybe she was Italian.”

“You mean the old saw about revenge being a dish Italians prefer to eat cold. Well, there is that. Most people have hotter heads, though.”

“You may be right.” She paused. “I haven't kept track of Ben or his women since I left him, so even if I wanted to give you the names of his more recent interests, I'm afraid I couldn't.” She paused again, then smiled a sudden smile. “Maybe whoever it is isn't mad at Ben at all. Maybe it's Peter who pissed them off.”

“Peter Krane? Ben's brother?”

“Yes. Peter Porn, as he's known to some. He's as kinky as Ben is straight. Supposedly Peter is a very very proper husband to a very very proper wife in New York City, but when he comes to the Vineyard he plays a different role with the local ladies. He specializes in fast romances involving sex games that Ben would never even think of playing.”

Peter Porn. I hadn't heard that before. “What kind of games?”

“Slave games. Or so I've been told. I'm just a plain, conventional lesbian, myself, and I don't do slave and master. But I hear that Peter does, and that he's disciplined more than one of Ben's ladies after Ben has moved on. Sort of a brother-helping-brother deal. Good for all involved, as it were. Maybe somebody didn't like what Peter had her do and blamed Ben for it. Crazier things have happened.”

True. “I don't suppose you have anyone particular in mind?”

“No, I don't. Why don't you ask Peter or Ben about it? They should know who's maddest at them.”

I thought that was good advice. Little half-formed ideas began to flit around through my brain like, yes, bats in a belfry.

“Elaine Simmons told me that you live in Chilmark,” I said. “Do you know Susanna Quick?”

She nodded. “Sure. She and Warren live down the road. They're both very nice people. Very respectable. Just like Gussie and me.” She grinned.

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Arab Jazz by Karim Miské
First Person Peculiar by Mike Resnick
Hell's Diva by Anna J.
A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby
The Hell Season by Wallace, Ray
Sisters in Sanity by Gayle Forman
All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland