Read Vineyard Blues Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

Tags: #Fiction

Vineyard Blues (12 page)

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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—  20  —

No wonder so few of the detectives in fiction were married and had families. With spouses and offspring and regular jobs taking up all of their waking hours, they wouldn't have time or energy for detecting.

It was the same for cowboy heroes, now that I thought of it. None of them even had jobs, let alone families. They just had horses and skinny bedrolls that supplied them with everything they needed. Where did they get their money, anyway? They never worked for it. They rode into the movie, cleaned out the bad guys, and rode out again. Who fed them? Where did they get their horses? And who paid for all those six-guns and bullets?

Had Hollywood been pulling a fast one all of these years?

It was time for me to talk with my boss, who might be the only person who would tell me about his more serious enemies. No one else would, for sure. I rang his office. Judith Gomes answered in a cheerful voice that immediately grew cold when I identified myself. Ben wasn't in. Yes, she'd have him call me.
Click
.

Click
. A lot of people had clicked on me of late, so to speak. Was it my breath?

My daughter trotted out of the kids' room and climbed up into my lap, rubbing her eyes. Her brother came out and got on the other knee. They seemed to like me, even if Judith Gomes and Peter Krane didn't.

“Play with us, Pa.”

So I did that until the phone rang. I was the horse and they were the riders. I bucked Joshua off over my head and caught him before he hit the ground.

“More, more!”

But the horse stood up. “Later. Play by yourselves for a while and don't hurt anybody. Joshua, you're the biggest, so you keep a watch on Diana. Diana, be careful.” I went into the house. Ben Krane was on the phone.

I told him who I'd been talking with and more or less what they had declined to say about people who might be so mad at him that they'd burn down his houses. Ben did not seem pleased with my efforts.

“I don't want you nosing around in my private life! Just go out there and find this firebug! Remember, I can fire you any time I want to!”

“We've been over that already,” I said. “What you call your private life is exactly where I and the insurance investigator and the fire marshal's office are going to be looking to find out what's going on. You can fire me if you want to, but you can't fire those other guys.”

“Stay away from my brother, then! He's got nothing to do with this!”

I was running out of patience with the whole case. “How do you know? Maybe he torched the places himself or hired somebody to do it. You piss him off somehow in the past six months?”

“No!”

I pushed it further: “Maybe one of your discarded women turned out to be tougher than he could handle. Maybe she told him that you laughed about what a punk he is and she decided to rub his nose in it. Most women will only put up with so much before they hit back. A smart one could get both of you with one stone.”

“Nobody did anything like that! You start spreading stories about me and my brother and I'll sue your ass to kingdom come!” Lawyer threats were always good.

Almost always. “Sue and be damned,” I said, feeling loose and relieved by the prospect that he might actually fire me. “Meanwhile, if you want me to keep working for you, you come up with some names for me to chase down. I'm tired of people telling me what they won't tell me!”

I could almost see him take a deep breath and slowly let it out. “All right, all right, let's both calm down. You say nobody will give you any names, eh? Well, maybe that's because there aren't any names to give. I drive a hard bargain now and then, but I don't cheat anybody.”

“I hear differently. I hear that some people think you screwed them royally.”

I could hear the sneer. “Some people are born losers. I've never violated a law or an agreement.”

“I'm less interested in whether you followed the law than in whether somebody out there hates your guts.”

“I don't like that talk!”

“I don't care. Are we going to go on like this, or are you going to give me some names?”

His voice became cautious. “Who do you have in mind?”

“I don't have anybody in mind. That's why I'm talking to you. You tell me whom I should check out.”

There was a silence, then, “I can't think of anybody. There are probably a lot of people who don't like me, but I can't think of any who'd set fire to my houses, especially when they're occupied. I don't think I know any murderers.”

“What about a husband or boyfriend of one of your women? Any of them ever try to put a fist through your face?”

“Ah.” His falcon smile came over the phone into my ear. “Yes, there was one guy like that. He thought his slut had been done wrong. He lost some teeth trying to be Galahad. I think he and the little bitch both left the island. Good riddance.”

Ben Krane was one of those people who lived in a world full of sluts, jerks, and bitches. It was a sorry sort of life, I thought. “What was his name?” I asked.

“Let's see . . . I'm not sure I remember. Some common name. Jones, or Smith, or Johnson. Something like that. I only met him that one time. He came at me in the parking lot, the dumb fuck, shooting off his mouth about what he was going to do to me for damaging his honey. I kicked him in the balls, then, while he was grabbing himself and squealing like a pig, I smashed his face into a car door. Self-defense, and there were plenty of witnesses that he swung first. No charges were filed.” Krane laughed.

“What was the woman's name?”

“Linda. She was a looker, but there was nothing to her. She wasn't around me for long.”

“You pass her on to Peter Porn?”

He flared. “Don't talk about a member of my family like that!”

I almost laughed. “Or what? You'll fire me? Sue me?”

“That and beat the shit out of you to boot!”

“We have a really great labor-management relationship, Ben. Make up your mind. Am I still working for you or not? It won't break my heart to get through with you and this job.”

I could hear what sounded like air being drawn through clenched teeth. Then, “We're too much alike. That's the trouble.”

“We're nothing alike. Well?”

“Okay, okay. Take it easy. You're still hired.”

“All right. Linda who?”

“Linda Carlyle. You know her?”

I tried to put a face to the name. “No.”

“Worked at the Harbor View last year. Waitress. The fighting boyfriend worked in the kitchen. I don't think either one of them lasted the summer. Probably nobody wanted a toothless cook!” Again, Krane laughed.

I clenched my jaw. “They left the island?”

“How should I know? I never saw either one of them after the parking lot bit.”

“Anybody else I should track down?”

“Nobody as mad as the boyfriend.”

“If I come across any more names, I'll be back to you. I'll expect your check in tomorrow's mail.” I hung up before he could say anything else. I could understand why Zee didn't like him much.

Sometimes you can get a lot accomplished over the phone, but not always. I like to keep track of island cooks, because I like to eat and I get some good recipes by being cozy with the pros in hotel kitchens, so I knew Sid Silva, the chef at the Harbor View, and I gave him a call. He was out shopping, and the second in command was new in Edgartown and had never heard of Linda Carlyle. I asked him to have Sid ring me back when he got in.

“Pa, play some more.”

“For a while.”

“Good. Catch me!”

“Go outside, then. Not in here.”

The simple games are the best. We went out into the yard and ran around screaming and chasing and tagging and running away screaming some more until I was worn out. I lay on my back on the lawn and puffed, and the kids, almost too tired themselves, finally came and lay down on top of me, panting.

We looked up at the sky and watched the summer clouds shift shape as they eased downwind. I was actually almost asleep when I heard the phone ringing. I got the kids off me and made it inside in time to answer Sid's fourth ring.

“I hear you were asking about Linda Carlyle. I haven't seen her since last year. She quit working here and went off island.”

“She had a boyfriend who worked with you in the kitchen. Do you remember his name?”

“I should. Perry Jonson. He and Linda took off together and left me shorthanded right when things were busy here. Not that I blame him, what with him getting the crap knocked out of him by Ben Krane. You hear about that?”

“I heard. You say they left together? Off island?”

“So I was told. They lived together up in one of those houses in the woods that the college kids rent, then fill up with their friends so they can party and maybe actually save some money, too. Another girl who worked here lived in the same house. She told me they'd gone away and weren't coming back.”

“You know where they went?”

“No. Down south someplace, as I recall, but I really don't remember.”

“Did they stay away, or did they come back?”

“I never saw either one of them again, is all I can say.”

“What was the other girl's name?”

“Peg Sharp. As a matter of fact, she's back here again this year. Damned good waitress. Nice kid, too.”

“I want to talk with her.”

“Lemme check the work schedules.” He went away and came back. “She'll be here tonight for the evening shift, but she'll be busy.”

“I only need a few minutes of her time.”

“Okay. Come by just before six. She usually gets here a few minutes early. You can talk with her then.”

“Great.”

At half past five I got the kids into the Land Cruiser and drove into Edgartown. Knowing that the A & P-Al's Package Store traffic jam would have cars backed up for a half mile, I went up to Dodgers' Hole and cut through, along Metcalf's Way, to the West Tisbury Road, where I took a left and went into town the long way roadwise but the short way timewise. The only solution to the A & P traffic jam is to run a cement wall down the middle of the street and prevent all left turns, since left turns are the principal cause of all traffic backups.

I've explained this to the chief and the selectmen time and time again, but does anybody listen to me? No. Just call me Cassandra.

From Main Street I took a left on Pease's Point Way, a right on Morse, and a left onto North Water, where I actually managed to find a parking place right where I wanted one to be.

I got the kids out of the truck, and we walked up to the magnificent and nicely renovated old Harbor View. No one there seemed to care that we were wearing thrift shop clothes, and we went right to the kitchen. It was just before six, and Sid was hard at work with his kitchen crew.

“There,” he said, pointing with a spatula at a pretty college-aged woman with her hair firm against her head in those tiny, tight braids that look so hard to make and maintain.

I walked up to her, my children on either side, their hands in mine.

“Peg Sharp?” I asked.

She looked up at me with big dark eyes and nodded. “Yes.”

“I'm J. W. Jackson. Do you have a couple of minutes? I want to talk with you about Linda Carlyle.”

People were already going into the dining room, but she glanced at her watch and nodded. “Sid said you were coming. The lounge is pretty empty. We can talk there.”

I followed her into the lounge.

—  21  —

“I don't have long,” said Peg Sharp.

“This won't take long. I'm trying to get a line on Linda Carlyle and a guy named Perry Jonson. Do you know where they are?”

“More or less. They're working down in Atlanta for the summer.”

“Have they been up here again since they left last year? This spring, maybe, or maybe just lately?”

Anger briefly touched her brown face. “No. They wouldn't come back here. They'll never come back.”

“Because of Ben Krane?”

Her eyes became hooded. “I don't know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do, Peg. Ben Krane played around with the girl and then tossed her to his brother, Peter, who used her again and got rid of her. Then Ben beat up Perry when Perry went after him. Perry and Linda left here just after that. What I need to know is whether they've been back since.”

She seemed relieved to be free of the burden of secrecy. “No. Like I say, they'll never come back here. You know about Peter Krane?”

“I've heard he likes to play dominant/submissive sex games with women, with himself cast as the boss.”

“Yeah, well, some women may like that sort of thing, but when he put chains on Linda, it about killed her. It was like slavery was back in fashion, and she was her great-grandma all over again. She fell all apart. There's some psychological term for it, but I forget what it is. When he was through with her, though, she was a total wreck.”

“And Perry tried to get back at Ben.”

“Yeah. Nice try, Perry, but no go. He was going to get Ben first, then Peter, but he never got past Ben because Ben is some sort of martial arts freak. The two of them smartened up and got away from here. Not that it did Linda all that much good.”

“What do you mean?”

Sadness mixed with anger in her voice. “She didn't go back to school. Started taking downers. I think it was to forget, you know? I think most people on downers do it so they can cope.”

I shared that view. “Perry wasn't enough for her?”

“Perry means well, but Linda has to be strong in herself, and she hasn't managed that yet. A woman can't expect a man or anyone else to be the strength in her life.” Peg Sharp's voice was rich and her eyes flashed.

“Even strong people need a little help sometimes,” I said.

“Maybe. I try not to.”

I wondered who had hurt her but decided not to ask. “I'd like to talk with them,” I said instead. “Do you have an address or a telephone number?”

“No, I don't. Maybe I could get one, though.” She looked at her watch, and I knew I'd about used up my time with her.

“Sid said that you and they lived in a house up in the woods last summer.”

“Yes, and isn't that an irony! Ben Krane owns the place and that's where he picked her up. She and Perry had had a spat and she was ripe for a smooth older man like Ben. According to what I heard later, Linda wasn't the first woman Ben picked up from one of his own houses. He's a sleaze, but he's a slick sleaze, and he likes to rent to pretty girls who don't mind a summer romance. This year I made sure I rented from somebody else! Look, I have to get to work. I'll try to get Linda's number for you. If I get it, I'll leave it here with Sid. Okay?”

She edged toward the door, and I stepped aside.

“Three of Ben Krane's houses have burned down since spring,” I said as she went past me. “They found a body in the last one.”

She gave me a startled look. “Who was it?”

“I don't know for sure. I don't think it was a college kid.”

Her expression became one of relief, which quickly changed to cynicism. “I'll bet they have a lot of arson suspects,” she said, and went into the dining room.

It's tough to be twenty. Your body will never be better, but your psyche can be pretty fragile.

I went into the kitchen and finally caught Sid's eye. He came over. “I'm pretty busy.”

“I can see that. Do you have the address of the house where Linda and Peg lived last year?”

“It's probably written down somewhere, but I don't have time to find it right now.”

“I'd like to have it. Maybe you can get it from Peg.”

“I'll ring you tomorrow.”

“Thanks.” He went back to his pots and frying pans, and the kids and I left the hotel.

The lovely Edgartown lighthouse was right in front of us, and since there was nothing else for me to do right then, the three of us walked out to visit it, while admiring the boats already at their moorings and docks, and those coming into the harbor for the night. It was a quiet, lovely scene, far removed from the trouble I was investigating.

Across the outer harbor, where several large power and sail yachts lay at anchor, Chappaquiddick looked peaceful and idyllic in the evening light. The little On Time ferry, so named, some said, because it had no schedule and was therefore always on time, shuttled cars, bikes, and passengers between Edgartown and Chappy. Beyond it, to the west, the June people fished off docks and thronged the streets, ogling the summer sights. Farther still, the masts of other boats were outlined against the hills and houses on the far side of the inner harbor.

It was a lovely sight, but my children were more interested in the shells, stones, and seaweed on the beach. We had a pretty good collection by the time we got back to the truck.

At home, I fixed us a supper of grilled flounder, rice, and pea-pod salad, glad again that Diana and Joshua were, like their parents, pretty omnivorous eaters despite their individual preferences in ice cream. More evidence, perhaps, that I was one of God's chosen? Or was there some other explanation?

Afterward, they got on either side of me on the couch, and I read to them just as my father had read to me long ago. And as he had done for me, I would pause occasionally and point out letters and short words and sound them out. This had helped me start to read when I was four, and since there's nothing better or more fun than knowing how to read, I wanted Josh and Diana to learn how to do it as quickly as possible. As with food, they took to it well. Like dad, like daughter and son. With some of mom thrown in, too, of course.

When they got noddy, I put them in bed and had some time to think grown-up thoughts. I had a lot of them, but they were pretty jumbled; still, it was time to consider them, so I popped a Sam Adams and got to it.

Ben and Peter Krane were sexual predators, but apparently weren't the sort who knocked women around. They were just exploiters and users who liked women as playthings and got bored with them pretty quickly. Linda Carlyle and Perry Jonson were two of their more damaged victims, but there were no doubt others I didn't know about.

Ben liked to rent to pretty girls who might not be averse to summer flings.

He might not punch out women, but he could and would punch out guys like Perry. And he'd enjoy it. He was a martial arts guy. I didn't know much about the martial arts, but I knew enough to be careful with such people. Most of them were pretty much the same as other people, but there were a few freaks among them, as there are in any group. Freaky martial arts guys were probably a little more dangerous than most other freaky guys. I wondered if Peter was also a martial arts guy. I could ask, if it got to be important.

Three of Ben's houses were gone, and the most recent one had a body in it. I didn't know for sure if there was arson involved or whether the body belonged to Corrie or somebody else, but I
thought
I knew the answers to both questions. Yes, there was arson involved in at least a couple of the fires, and, yes, it was Corrie Appleyard's body.

Because it was Corrie, I had a personal interest in finding out who burned that particular building, if not the others. I was getting paid by a man I didn't care for because I could use the money, but if Ben fired me I'd probably keep hunting on my own, anyway.

Ben claimed he didn't know anyone mad enough to torch his houses, but he could be wrong or he could be lying.

But why would he lie? I couldn't imagine, therefore I should presume he was telling the truth. And since he wasn't stupid, he should know the names of people who had reason to hate him so intensely.

He said he didn't know of any such people, and that the people who disliked him didn't dislike him enough to commit arson.

But if Linda Carlyle was as damaged by the Krane boys as Peg Sharp suggested, she and Perry could be a couple of logical suspects.

But according to Peg, neither of them had ever come back to the island.

But, of course, Peg might not know if they'd come back, or she might be lying to protect her fire-starting friends.

But, but, but, but, but
. Lots of
but
's. Too many.

Maybe I was looking in the wrong places. Maybe I should be poking around somewhere else. But where?

Wouldn't you know: another
but.

I got on the phone and called Quinn at the
Globe
. He wasn't at his desk. I left a message on his answering machine, asking him how he was doing tracking down Corrie Appleyard's family and history. I tried his apartment. Another answering machine. I left the same message. Everybody in the world but me had an answering machine. Quinn had two, for God's sake. Maybe I should get one. Then my friends and I could have dueling answering machines, and we would never need to talk to one another at all.

I thought about Adam Washington. Where was he staying now? I should try to find out and talk with him. Ditto with Millicent Dowling. She and Adam had had a spat, and I wondered if Millicent could possibly have gotten herself entangled with Ben Krane as a result, the same way Linda Carlyle had done the year before. Ben was always ready for a new woman, after all, and knew how to take advantage of women mad at other men.

Probably not, but it could be.

Had Adam or Millicent been here last summer? Did either of them know Linda Carlyle or Perry Jonson?

I finished my beer and went into the kids' room. They were asleep. I had gotten past my early parental fears that if they were quiet in their beds, it was because they were dead. I got myself another Sam Adams and went up onto the balcony.

The sun had sunk beyond the western brim of the world, and the darkening sky was beginning to fill with stars. The Milky Way crossed above me, high up there in the deep blackness of space. I saw a moving star and knew it was a satellite catching the rays of the departed sun. I watched it cross and disappear toward the horizon. Were there men in it? Or was it all machine? It was lovely, in any case, and I wondered what it was like up there, far, far above this island earth, with its endless ebb and flow of death and desire, ice and fire, joy and despair.

I stayed up there until Zee came home, then I went to bed with her and held her wrapped in my arms until I finally slept.

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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