Read Vineyard Blues Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

Tags: #Fiction

Vineyard Blues (3 page)

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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—  3  —

Susanna Quick was about thirty years old. She had an oval face with big blue eyes, light brown hair, a just-right nose, and full lips. Her hair was thick and her body was petite and nicely shaped. Warren's and her kids were just a tad younger than ours, and took after their mother in looks and coloring. The eldest, Abigail, who looked like Susanna, was going to give her parents a lot of grief in not too many more years; boys were going to be after her like hounds on a fox.

Susanna and Warren had arrived on the Vineyard with enough money to set up a business. He was good with his hands and tools and she was good in the office, and the Quick Erection Company was doing okay in spite of or maybe even because of its outlandish West Coast name. On building-happy Martha's Vineyard, there's plenty of business for construction outfits that can do their jobs right, and the Quicks sold not only lumber but other building materials too, and thus got business from the do-it-yourselfers like me.

I didn't know them well, having only met them as a customer, but they had always seemed to be happy together. When their kids arrived, Susanna just put a playpen in the office and kept on working. I admired her for that, being of similar inclination with regard to Josh and Diana; I liked having them around me.

Nurse Zee, who had met Susanna at the hospital, where all young Vineyard parents appear sooner or later for medical advice or assistance, had taken to her immediately, in part because they shared the drama of having young children about whom they had a lot to learn, and in part because Susanna was cheerful and full of life.

She didn't look so cheerful now.

“I'll take the kids outside so the two of you can talk without any little ears around,” said Zee. She picked up the baby and reached for Abigail's hand.

“Let's go watch Warren unload lumber,” said Zee to Josh and Diana, who were inside because everyone else was.

Zee and the four children went out. I looked at Susanna, who was sitting on the couch behind the coffee table that held the vise that held the lock that I practiced opening with the picks I'd gotten in an up-island yard sale. As far as I knew, I was the only apprentice lock picker in the neighborhood.

“Warren doesn't know about this,” she said. “He wouldn't understand. He's so . . . pure.”

“Understand what?” I sat down across from her. Susanna twirled her thumbs.

“Zee says that you used to be a policeman.”

“Yes. In Boston.”

“She says I can trust you.” Her blue eyes were deep and somber.

“I'm glad she thinks so.”

Silence sat in the room while Susanna studied me. Then she made her decision.

“I've been getting phone calls. A man. He knows things I didn't think anyone knew. At least anyone here.”

“Blackmail?”

“I'm not sure. Until yesterday he just made calls. He never said he wanted anything, he just told me what he knew. What he knows.”

Everybody has secrets, so it was no surprise that Susanna had hers. I had mine, certainly. I hoped no one knew about some of them.

“What happened yesterday?”

She opened her purse and took out an envelope. “I got this.” She handed the envelope to me. Since there were probably dozens of fingerprints on it already, I took it. Inside was a folded piece of paper with a photograph printed on it. The picture was of a bondage scene featuring a bound and gagged woman wearing a mask, a cap with a feather, a cape, and a scanty green costume that looked vaguely as if it belonged in a Robin Hood movie. She was young and beautiful and was staring wide-eyed at a cloaked and hooded masked man dressed all in black. I thought I recognized the woman's eyes.

I handed the picture back to her. Compared with some of the stuff I'd seen, it was pretty mild.

“It's a printout from the Internet,” said Susanna.

“There's a lot of that sort of thing available, they tell me. In this one I was a superhero named Oriona. You know, it's a feminization of Orion the Hunter? She always hunted down the bad guys so she could capture them, but naturally she got captured instead and the villains got to humiliate and abuse her to their hearts' content. I made several Oriona films when I was eighteen or nineteen.”

She looked at me as if trying to determine how I felt about such things.

“There's a market for it,” I said.

She nodded. “Yes, although I didn't think much about the audience at the time. Don't get the wrong idea. The job paid pretty well, and nobody made me do it. I did it because I was young and was trying to get into the movies. I made myself into a blonde and called myself Eva L'Amour. It was actually fun most of the time, and I met some people I still like.” She paused, and then went on. “Later, I did other stuff. Rougher stuff. Movies, stills, whatever. By the time I realized that I was never going to be a movie star, I'd made a lot of it. Then I met Warren.

“He was with a construction outfit that took on a job right next to where I was working that week. We ran into each other and got to talking. He wanted to start his own business, and I was ready to leave the gags and chains to somebody else. I never told him what I'd been doing, because he was so nice. We even go to church, you know. Every Sunday.”

“Ah.”

“So we got married in California and moved here, to Martha's Vineyard, where nobody knew me. His folks had died and left him some money and I'd squirreled away a nest egg of my own, so we were able to start up the business. Now this has happened.”

Silence returned to the room.

“Has this man on the phone threatened you?” I asked finally.

“No. He just talks about Oriona, and how much he likes looking at her and knowing that Eva L'Amour is living right here on the Vineyard, where he can see her in person anytime he likes. He calls himself the Man in Black.”

“Do you recognize the voice?”

“No. It's muffled. It scares me, though. He knows all about me.” She wound her fingers together and then unwound them again. “If it was just me, or even just me and Warren, I wouldn't mind. But I've got Warren and the kids now and I don't want anything I did a long time ago to hurt them.”

Let's talk about our families, class. What does your mom do, Abigail?

My mom is a porn queen.

“Here's what I think,” I said. “You should contact the telephone company and tell them that you're getting harassing calls. Among other things, they have gadgets these days that you can put on your phone and that'll let you trace any call you get. Usually, when one of these heavy breathers gets himself identified, he stops making the calls right then and there.”

She nodded. “That sounds good. I'll do that. Maybe that's all it'll take. I can't understand how this guy found out about me. My name is different, my hair is different, and I'm a lot older.”

“It's a small world,” I said. “People come to the Vineyard from all over, even from California. They wander everywhere these days. The stranger you talk to in China may live next to you on Nantucket.” I put a smile on my face. “That's why you always have to be careful about what you say. The person you're insulting may be the sister of the person you're talking to.”

She didn't smile back, so I offered another possibility. “I recognized you in the picture because of your eyes, even though Oriona was wearing a mask. You may have gotten older and moved and changed your name and the color of your hair, but your eyes haven't changed. Any fan of the pictures you made out west might recognize those eyes if he saw you now. It could be that your caller is a customer of your business and recognized you in your office.”

Susanna frowned. “I don't like that idea at all!”

“And there was that picture of you and Warren at the church fair in the
Gazette
last spring. Maybe the guy saw that. It was a good shot of you. You do have eyes that are hard to forget. Was it just a little after that when you got the first telephone call?”

Susanna thought. “I guess it was. I never put the two together, but maybe I should have.”

“Besides the phone company, you should go to the post office and to the police,” I said. “They'll both help you.”

She shook her head. “No. No police. I don't want any police. The police are like everybody else. They talk to their friends and the friends talk and pretty soon everybody in town will know. That's exactly what I don't want!”

“I think you can trust the cops,” I said. “They deal with worse than this all the time and never tell anyone who doesn't need to know.” It was true that cops know more about the dark side of everyday life than the rest of us: the wife beaters, the drunks, the predators and the prey, the vicious and the victims. It was also pretty true, but not completely true, that they usually don't talk about such things to civilians.

But Susanna was firm. “No. No police. And no post office, either. At least not right now. I'll talk with the phone people, though, and see if I can get one of those tracers for my phone.” She twisted her hands. “I hope you understand. I just want to keep this as quiet as possible.”

“Of course.”

“Maybe I'll be able to identify this man right away.”

“That would probably end your troubles with him.”

“Yes.” Her mind seemed far ahead of her mouth. She looked at me. “Will you help me?”

I was surprised. I'd thought the advice I'd given her was the help she'd come for.

“How?” I asked.

“If I find out who it is, I want you to talk to him.” She glanced at the door. “I don't want Warren to know about this. You were a policeman. You know how to talk to these people. I want you to do it. Will you?”

There is no escaping the plague rats. They're always close by, even in Eden.

“If you find him, I'll talk to him,” I said.

“Thank you.” She gave a small smile. “I feel a lot better.” She stood up. “I'll go save your wife from my children.” She put out her hand.

“I haven't done anything yet.” I held her hand for an extra heartbeat and said, “There's one thing you should keep in mind: When you turn over rocks, you sometimes find things you don't expect. If we do this, things may come to light that you might not anticipate or want to know.”

“You and I will be the only ones who know it,” she said. “I'm going to trust you.”

As I followed her out into the yard, I thought of the old, familiar saying that two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

—  4  —

I was more of a two-by-four carpenter than a cabinet-maker, but if I took my time I could make things fit. The key word was
time
. I needed more of it than a real carpenter would need, but I didn't have enough money to hire a pro to help, so the new wing to our house was progressing at a fairly sedate rate. My plan was to have it done by fishing derby time in September, so I was working at it pretty steadily. When I got it finished, not only would the kids have their own rooms, but the room they now shared would once more be available for our occasional guests, such as Brady Coyne and Quinn, who planned to come down and do some derby fishing.

Because Zee was back at work at the emergency ward of the hospital and thus was gone when she had the day shift, I often had the children to tend while I was working. Since many women, most, maybe, have to do their work with their children underfoot, I didn't feel any grounds for complaint, but I, like the moms, had to keep one eye on my offspring while I tended to other things.

Toward this end, I'd built a sort of corral for Diana in the backyard beside the addition I was putting up, so she wouldn't wander too far. Josh, being older, liked to help me with the building some of the time, so he got to be outside of the fence and wear his own little carpenter's apron and wield his minihammer when the notion took him. I sawed and hammered carefully when he was helping me, and when he tired of the building biz, I'd put him in with Diana and let them entertain themselves while I kept working.

As stay-at-home parents have always done, I sometimes wondered what miracles I might perform if I had a baby-sitter. On the other hand, as many of those other parents would probably also agree, I didn't want a baby-sitter tending my little ones all day. Even Mary Poppins would have been only a part-time employee at our place. I'd lived a long time without children, and I wanted to watch them grow up now that I had some.

So the new wing of the house went up slowly, as I stretched my money and split my attention between carpentry and kids.

Today, however, Zee was off work and was taking advantage of her free time to do some serious momming, so I was able to concentrate on construction. While I did, I thought about Susanna Quick and the computer-generated photo of her as Oriona in bondage.

I had encountered people in various forms of the sex industry when I was a cop in Boston and, after a period of surprise at the variety of activities that people would pay to do or have done to them, had finally concluded that there really was no such thing as abnormal sex. Every imaginable act was normal for a lot of people, it seemed, even though many such acts were illegal.

However, Zee and I were probably the last people in the United States without a computer, and I had never once even looked over anyone's shoulder at the famous Information Superhighway, so I had never observed computersex offerings. I had, of course, read about the controversies having to do with such material: the fears of some that morality, especially that of children, would be destroyed by exposure to graphic sexual images, and the fears, real or faked, of others that their constitutional rights would be eroded if any sort of censorship was imposed upon the medium.

My own view was that any sexual activity between consenting adults, barring sexually motivated murder-suicide, was okay with me. On the other hand, I did draw the line when it came to adults engaging in sexual acts with kids, because I didn't think that kids, especially young ones, really knew what was going on. And older ones didn't have the maturity to make sensible judgments. Of course, when I'd been on the Boston PD, I'd encountered some pretty childish adults and some pretty adult children, so just when a kid became old enough to be considered responsible for his or her sexual acts was a little elusive to me. I also had no notion at all whether exposure to explicit sexual images had any effect on the morality of children or anyone else.

So I wasn't offended by the notion that years back Susanna, like many a woman before her, had let herself be photographed doing things she later probably wished she hadn't done, or at least regretted having been filmed.

On the other hand, I wasn't persuaded that I had gotten all of the story, or surprised that I hadn't. Maybe there was still some cop in me, some expectation that people will lie when it suits their purposes: when they don't want something known, when they're afraid, when they're protecting someone. When this, when that. It's not uncommon for some to lie so much that they reach a point when they no longer realize that the lie isn't the truth. Hadn't Nietzsche commented that when our memory of having committed an ignoble act conflicts with our desire to believe that we are too honorable to have possibly committed the deed, memory always gives way to desire?

I grazed my thumb with my hammer, and for a while carefully put Susanna Quick out of my mind and concentrated on my carpentry. I wasn't so good at this kind of work that I could do it and think creatively about something else at the same time. I could do that while fishing and shellfishing, but not while house building.

No matter. It was none of my business anyway. If Susanna had a secret she wanted to keep from me, it was okay with me.

I hammered and measured and sawed and hammered some more. The sweet smell of sawdust and wood filled my nostrils, and I worked steadily. Then I stopped, holding three nails in my teeth.

Susanna's secret was okay with me, unless the secret was a dangerous one and she was willing to risk me rather than her husband. If it was that sort of secret, I wanted to know about it before I met the mysterious Man in Black.

Maybe, for instance, he wasn't as mysterious as she had indicated. Maybe she knew who he was and what he wanted and didn't want Warren put in harm's way when she confronted him. Maybe she figured that what with me being a head taller and pounds heavier than Warren, and being an ex-cop, I was a better bet to deal with the guy than Warren was.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Maybe I was imagining things.

Maybe Susanna was the Queen of Siam.

Was there still a Siam?

I didn't think so, but I'd lost track of a lot of countries quite a while back. Partly on purpose, since just keeping track of the little part of Martha's Vineyard that I lived on took up most of my time. So these days I not only tried to ignore the Big World, but I didn't even pay much attention to America, over on the other side of Vineyard Sound. In this respect, I was getting more and more like the
Vineyard Gazette
, that excellent newspaper that never took note of anything not having to do with the island. The
Gazette
wouldn't report on World War III unless someone from the Vineyard was involved.

I took a nail from my mouth and whacked it home, then whacked some more home and measured and sawed and hammered. Out beyond the garden I could see, between hacks and whacks, novice windsurfers learning their sport on the enclosed waters of Sengekontacket Pond. There, they could fall off and never have to worry about being blown out to sea. Beyond the pond, on the barrier beach that carried the road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, the cars that had been parked end to end all day were heading home, where their passengers would soon shower away sand and salt before cocktails and plans for another lovely island evening. And beyond the beach, on the dark blue water of Nantucket Sound, sailboats and powerboats were coming into the harbor. Maybe Susanna's Man in Black was wearing his black swimsuit while enjoying the beach or sitting at the tiller of his boat, looking aloft at the set of his sails and planning on giving Susanna a call this evening.

Could be.

“Hey,” said Zee, coming around the corner of the house. “Call it a day and go get Corrie so we'll have time for drinks before supper.”

I didn't need a second invitation. I stashed my tools, sloshed off the afternoon's grime in the outdoor shower, and put on clean clothes. I found Zee and gave her a kiss.

“I'll be right back.”

“I figure grilled bluefish and veggies for supper.”

“A winner plan.”

“I'll get the grill going while you're gone and chop the veggies.”

“Excellent. A woman's place is in the kitchen.”

“No one has ever figured out where men belong!”

“Anywhere you are, sweets, is the place for me.”

“How about when I'm cleaning the bathroom?”

“Well, almost anywhere. I'd be there, too, but it just drives me crazy that women insist on leaving the toilet seat down!”

I got into my rusty Land Cruiser and drove to the house where Corrie was staying. Zee's little Jeep was newer and more stylish, but the Toyota and I were old companions and I drove it when I had a choice.

Corrie was sitting on the steps of the sagging porch with his guitar case at hand. Again I was conscious of illness in his face. Beside him was a frowning college-age boy. As I stopped, Corrie got up and motioned the boy to follow him over to the car.

“J.W.,” he said, “this is Adam Washington. Adam's the grandson of my pal Ernie Washington, and the guy who's putting me up. Adam, this is J. W. Jackson, the fella I've been telling you about.”

I put out my hand and Adam Washington took it briefly.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” he said.

No sparks of immediate friendship leaped between us. Adam's expression of discontent had not left his face. He stepped back, and Corrie got into the truck. Corrie looked out at him. “You come by the coffeehouse later if you want to hear me bang this here box.” He slapped the guitar case.

“Yeah,” said Adam, stepping farther back. “Sure. I'll try to get up there. See you later.”

I drove away.

“Everybody's got troubles,” said Corrie after a while. He sighed.

“Or at least they think they have,” I said, remembering Susanna's complaints. It had been my experience that we create a lot of our griefs out of whole cloth.

“Oh, there's make-believe problems, sure enough,” said Corrie, “but there's real ones too. That boy acts like he's got his share.”

“Which kind?”

“Can't say,” said Corrie. “I'm too old for him to talk to. He's unhappy about something, though. Woman, maybe?”

I glanced at him. He was sliding a pill into his mouth and slipping the plastic vial back into his shirt pocket. His face was impenetrable.

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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