Read Vineyard Blues Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

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Vineyard Blues (2 page)

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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“Beautiful girl,” said Corrie.

“She is that. Where are we going?”

He got out a piece of paper and named a number and a street in Edgartown. “Grandson of a friend of mine is living there with a bunch of his college friends,” he said. “Down here to try to make some money before he heads back to school this fall. Says they got an empty bunk I can have as long as I need it.”

The Vineyard teems with such young people every summer. Most of them enjoy the sun, sand, sex, and other island entertainments before going back to the mainland in time for the fall term, and some of them actually manage to save some money in spite of the outrageous prices of the outlandish accommodations offered by the local slumlords.

The house where we stopped looked to be typical of such places. It was old and run-down, and its unkempt yard was littered with beer cans and other collegiate debris. There were five cars and a moped in the driveway, a fairly good sign that the occupancy limit was being totally ignored.

Corrie climbed out and collected his gear, then leaned down and stuck his hand through my window.

“Thanks for the ride, Jeff. You know, you look a lot like your daddy did thirty years ago. See you in the morning.”

“Check out the escape routes before you hit the sack,” I said. “One of these places burned down last March. They're all tinderboxes.”

“I've seen worse. Thanks for the ride.”

He walked toward the house and I drove home, feeling good. Corrie Appleyard. Who'd have thunk it? I'd not read a paper for a week, and thus had missed the ads for his concerts. If he hadn't decided to visit my father, I might never have known he was on the island. More evidence that the nonliterate life was not good for me.

—  2  —

We were right on time the next morning, and Corrie was waiting for us. He climbed into the backseat with Diana and Joshua and we headed for Daggett Street and got in the ferry line.

“Times have changed,” observed Corrie as we inched ahead, waiting for the little On Time ferry to cart cars three at a time across the channel to Chappaquiddick. “Used to be we drove along South Beach to get to Chappy.”

“A sore point,” said Zee. “Don't get J.W. too wound up on that issue.”

Too late. I was quick to be annoyed. “Dad-blasted environmentalists keep the beach closed all summer these days. No ORV's allowed, the theory being that the beach is being ruined and the plovers and terns are going to be killed by people driving by. Bunch of hogwash! The ocean wears the beach away, like always, natural predators kill the birds, like always, and now everybody has to go to Chappy by this ferry, so in the middle of the summer the waiting lines reach halfway back through town and we have to hire extra cops just to tend traffic!”

“He gets testy about this subject,” explained Zee in her best wifely voice.

“Damned right!” I said.

“You can tell he feels very virtuous,” said Zee. “He thinks most environmentalists are idiots.”

“Not most,” I said, “some. The sanctimonious ones, especially.”

“The ones who get between him and what he likes to do,” said Zee, smiling back at Corrie. “He's not very good at having other people tell him how to behave.”

True. The ferry took three more cars and the line moved ahead. I put my hand on Zee's thigh.

“I'm getting to be one of those guys who always talks about the old days,” I said, looking at Corrie in the rearview mirror. “You know the type. Why, when I was a boy everything was better than it is now.”

“I don't want to hurt your feelings,” said Corrie, “but as far as I'm concerned, you can have the good old days. I remember them pretty well, and I don't think I want them coming back again. Besides, in another few years these will be the good old days.”

“By then I'll probably remember this as a golden age,” I said.

We laughed. What nuts people are. Me in particular.

The On Time pulled in and we drove aboard. To our right, Edgartown harbor opened to the west and south; to our left was the lighthouse, the outer harbor, and the channel leading out to Nantucket Sound. There were moored boats both east and west of Chappy, and the falling tide was running strong. A southwest wind rippled the water, and the blue summer sky arched overhead like the inside of a Chinese bowl. We pulled away from the dock and crabbed across to the other side.

Years before, according to accounts I'd read, a fire truck on its way to fight a blaze on Chappy had tried to disembark from the ferry with such urgency that it had succeeded in spinning the boat right out from under it and standing itself on its rear end right in the ferry slip. We, being of more cautious bent, got off without incident and headed for Wasque Point on the far southeast corner of the island.

Wasque, like all coastal points, comes and goes according to the whims of the sea gods and goddesses. It gets bigger one year and smaller the next. Over the decades it has grown or shrunk as much as a quarter of a mile. A century or so before I was born, according to old charts, it was much farther out to sea than it is now, but the bluffs inland from the present point show that at some time it was a lot smaller. Whatever its size and shape, it is one of the best bluefishing spots on the East Coast, thanks to the Wasque rip that snakes out from the point, tossing bait around and attracting the voracious blues.

We fetched the point in time to catch the west tide, pulled up out of the reach of the slapping waves, and got the rods off the roof rack. There were already a half-dozen trucks ahead of us, and there were fish lying under them. Paul Schultz, who roamed the beaches for the Trustees of Reservations and always knew where the fish were but didn't always have time to stop and catch them, was driving out as we drove in. He waved and we waved back.

“You guys stay up here,” I said to Joshua and Diana. “Watch out for cars, and don't get behind anybody who's making a cast. You don't want to catch a hook on somebody's backswing. Josh, you keep an eye on your little sister. I'll be back in a couple of minutes.” I walked down to the surf, where Zee and Corrie were already fishing, and made my cast. The redheaded Roberts arced long and high and hit the roiling water with a satisfying splash. I took a couple of turns on the reel, glanced back to make sure that my offspring were doing what I'd told them to do, at least for the moment, and turned back to the sea.

The Roberts bounced and wobbled toward shore, offering an apparently attractive sight to any bluefish that might be around. I have caught more blues with it than with any other lure. However, there were apparently no fish close by at the moment, so my first cast was to no avail.

Down the beach there were a couple of bent rods, proving that there was life in the sea in spite of my failure to catch any of it. I hauled in and made another cast, and as I did Zee's rod bent and she set her hook. She looked at me and grinned.

“Land him,” I said, feeling happy.

“I will,” she replied and did. By then the fish had moved a bit closer to us, and both Corrie and I were on and working our fish toward shore. We got back to the truck at about the same time with our fish—nice seven- and eight-pounders.

“Like old times,” grinned Corrie, “but I must be getting old. This guy almost wore me out!”

“Your fishing muscles are out of shape,” I said. “You spend all your time with your guitar and none with a rod.”

“Pa,” said Josh, touching my arm, “I want to fish.”

“Like father, like son,” said Corrie approvingly.

I got Josh's little rod off the roof rack. He wasn't able to cast far enough to catch anything today, but you're never too young to try.

“Don't forget to throw the bail,” I said. “You don't want to snap your lure off.”

“I remember,” said Josh in his solemn little voice. He took the rod and went down to the surf near his mother. She gave him a smile. If he ever learned to fish as well as she could, he'd be able to hold his own in any company.

Diana, alone now, grabbed one of my fingers. “Play with me.”

“If you'll excuse me,” said Corrie, “I'll get back to fishing. Maybe I can get a couple more of these fellows and take them back to the boys and girls in the house. I don't think they're much in the way of cooks, but they got an oven and I can show them how to bake a fish.”

So then there were three of us fishing and two of us up on the beach playing a game I didn't quite understand, and it was a fine day.

When we headed back for home along East Beach, we had as many fish as we needed and a few more. I planned to smoke some of mine and sell the extras at the market to help pay for gas. Who knows, we might even make expenses for the trip.

“You have to come for supper tonight, Corrie,” said Zee. “The boys at the house can do their own cooking.”

“More likely they'll get some of the girls to do it for them,” said Corrie with a laugh.

“No doubt,” said Zee with a sigh.

“Well, if we can eat early, I'll be glad to come,” said Corrie, “but I got to be at the coffeehouse by nine, and if I come to your place, you got to come to the show afterward.”

“That's a deal,” said Zee. “Win-win for us.”

“For me, too,” said Corrie. “Things do work out at times.”

We sold the extra fish and dropped Corrie off with the three he'd caught. I handed him a fillet knife, since I doubted that there would be one in the house.

“I'll use this on these fish and put them in the fridge, then I got to put in some practice,” said Corrie, leaning over the driver's-side window and looking in at us. “Old fingers ain't as limber as they used to be. Got to keep 'em loose.”

“I'll pick you up at five.”

“What a dump,” said Zee as we drove away. “There ought to be a law against renting out places like that. They should make Ben Krane live in one of these slums he owns!”

“There is a law,” I said. “It's just that there aren't enough cops to enforce it. If they tried to keep track of every illegally occupied house in Edgartown, they wouldn't have time to do anything else. Besides, where would the college kids live if they didn't live in one of Ben's outhouses?”

“I know, I know. But it's disgusting.”

Someone, maybe God, agreed with that assessment, because in early spring someone had torched one of Ben's houses and hadn't been caught yet. The year before, the same thing had happened to Ben's Oak Bluffs office. I didn't have any more idea than the cops did about who had burned the house, but as for the Oak Bluffs job, I attributed that to some in-town fire starter.

Oak Bluffs, one of the island's three biggest towns, which doesn't mean much in terms of population since only about twelve thousand people live on the whole island in the winter, is rightly famous for its Victorian gingerbread houses and its long-standing tradition of racial diversity, particularly as a summer resort for well-to-do Afro-Americans. As perhaps is unknown to its tourists and summer population, but is well known to year-round islanders, OB is also renowned for its hot-headed political factions. Typical small-town squabbles are squared or even cubed in Oak Bluffs, where no political decision is non-controversial and petty violence and vitriol are the norm: insults are exchanged in the newspapers and during town business meetings, cars of political figures are keyed and have their tires slashed and their windows broken, and occasionally someone gets a bloody nose.

Ben Krane, being at once a lawyer, a realtor, and the owner of some of the most disgraceful summer rentals on the island, naturally had his share of enemies, and in my view some OB citizen had torched his office for public or private reasons. In any case, Ben had not rebuilt in Oak Bluffs, but had reestablished his office in Edgartown, where tempers might run as high but actions were much more restrained. They don't burn people out in Edgartown, they chill them out.

Like the office fire, the blaze that later had leveled Ben's big old rotten rental house was very overtly a case of arson.

From Zee's point of view, the fire was just fine since no one had gotten hurt and Ben now had one less slum to rent out at exorbitant prices to summer kids. She wouldn't have minded if all such buildings burned down. It was a widely agreed-upon assessment. Ben Krane, rich and getting richer, was not a beloved figure with the local health board, the police, the neighbors of his decaying buildings, or the kids who rented his places, who were getting ripped off and knew it but didn't know what to do about it except trash the places when they left and leave them in even worse shape than they found them when they moved in. Ben publicly howled at their ingratitude and often refused to return the kids' security deposits, but never fixed anything up more than he absolutely had to before renting the place out again the next summer for even more money. And he didn't mind being a public outcast, either. He had money, and because he had money he had women and he didn't have to hang on to any of them longer than he wanted because there were always more.

It drove Zee wild and made her uncharacteristically sullen. “Why don't those women ever wise up?” she'd ask me when the news of Ben's latest ex-bedmate reached the streets.

“They're desperate,” I'd explain. “They know I'm taken and it drives them to do mad things. They deserve sympathy, not impatience.”

“I'm the one who deserves sympathy. I'm the one who lives with you!”

We got home in time to square away kids and gear, and to fillet our keeper bluefish and get them soaking in brine in preparation for smoking, before Warren Quick arrived with his load of lumber for my addition. He was driving his old truck with the logo on the door reading
QUICK ERECTION COMPANY—WE GET IT UP FAST AND IT STAYS UP
! Warren was a straight-arrow, West Coast guy who had apparently brought some California humor with him when he'd moved to the Vineyard and gotten his building business going in West Tisbury. I was surprised to see Susanna, his wife, riding in the cab with him.

He backed around the house to my lumber pile, climbed out, and the two of us began to unload. Susanna, babe on her hip and holding her eldest by the hand, went into the house, presumably to trade mom talk with Zee. Warren was quiet as usual. Unlike a lot of Californians, he never had much to say.

Before we got all of the lumber stacked, Zee came out the back door and waved me toward her. She had a frown on her face. I went to her.

“Come in,” she said. “I want you to listen to Susanna. She's got a problem and she needs help.”

“Serious?”

She flicked her eyes at Warren. “Serious enough. Somebody's writing her nasty letters.”

I had quit the Boston PD because I was tired of trying to solve the dilemmas of the world and just wanted to be left alone. But woe is everywhere, of course, so I left Warren to finish the stacking and followed Zee into the house.

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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