Read Vineyard Blues Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

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Vineyard Blues (7 page)

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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—  11  —

Krane put out his big hand and I automatically took it.

“Thanks,” he said. “I'll put a check in the mail for the week's work.”

Beyond him, I saw Zee frown at the handshake.

“Before you mail that check, there are some things you should consider,” I said. “You may find out something you don't want to know, or I may find out something you don't want other people to know.” Not long before, I'd said much the same thing to Susanna Quick. In reply, he said much the same thing that she had, but with a different tone.

His eyes narrowed. “You'll be working for me. You'll report to me, not to anyone else.”

“If I find out who did this, I don't plan on keeping it a secret. The cops and the fire marshal will need to know.”

He waved an impatient hand. “Fine. Tell them that. But don't tell them anything they don't need to know.”

I pushed further. “I may find out something you don't want
me
to know.”

“I expect you to be discreet.”

“Everybody has secrets,” I said. “You're no different. I may have to pry around your life more than you want.”

He frowned. “Leave me and my life out of this. Just find the guy who's burning down my houses.”

“Whoever you hire will be digging into your life. In fact, the cops and fire marshal probably already are.”

His brows lowered. “What? Why?”

“You're a lawyer, you should know. When there's a crime, there are always two stories involved: the criminal's story and the victim's story. When the two stories come together, the crime takes place. To find the connection, everybody working the case may want to know more about you than you want them to. The cops are probably already looking for the link, and I will be, too.”

His face was hard. “I don't like this.”

He irked me. “We can call this deal off right now. But if you want me to work for you, I'll need to know about the things you do that might have pissed somebody off enough to start burning down your houses. The guy may just think of himself as a humanitarian doing his bit to make the Vineyard a better place to live, but I doubt it. I think it's probably personal. Unless you're burning the places down yourself for the insurance money. That's another possibility.”

“That's slander!”

I'd had enough of him. “It's a thought that's probably crossed more minds than mine. It looks to me like we can't do business. Find yourself another investigator.” I walked away.

“Wait.”

I turned back and saw him will his face free of rage.

“Wait,” he said again through gritted teeth. “You're wrong, but you're right. I didn't torch these places, but I know that some people probably think I did. Maybe if I were my insurer or somebody in the fire marshal's office, I'd suspect me of doing just that. But I didn't do it. And I want to find out who did. I'll work with you any way you want.”

I doubted that, but it was a start. “All right. Tell the people in your office to talk to me when I come by.”

“What have they got to do with anything?” He was instantly on guard again. Like a lot of bosses, I suspected, he liked to keep his workers in the dark about some things.

“They may know something useful to me.”

“Like what?”

“How should I know? Maybe I'll find out when I talk with them.” I studied him. “Are we going to tangle like this over everybody I want to talk to and everything I want to know?”

He took a deep breath. “No.”

“Good.”

He wasn't ready to drop control, though. “I'll fire you if you go too far.”

I nodded. “And I'll quit if you don't let me do my job.”

A small, perhaps bitter smile sliced across his face. “The check for a week's work will be in the mail.”

“I'll keep you informed about what I find out. But don't get your hopes up. I'm no arson investigator. I still think you should leave this to the pros.” I turned and walked back to the Land Cruiser.

“Just find out who did this and stop him,” he said from behind me.

“What was that all about?” asked Zee as I reached the truck.

I told her, and watched a scowl mar her beautiful face. “I don't like you working for that man.”

“We can use the money,” I said. “Besides, I don't like the idea of an arsonist running around town. He might decide to burn us down next.”

“Ben Krane is a scumbag.”

I didn't think she was going to change her mind, and I wasn't going to change mine, so I changed the subject instead. “Have you seen Adam Washington?”

“No.” Her voice was sharp.

“Ma, what's a scumbag?” asked Joshua from the backseat.

“I think I'll go look for Adam while you educate our son,” I said. I smiled down upon the inquisitive child's angry mother and walked away.

I found a college boy back among the trees, sitting beside the moped that Corrie Appleyard had ridden into our yard. He had the look of a battle-weary soldier: face lined and dirty, shoulders sagging. He looked up at me with vacant, guilty eyes.

“Have you seen Adam Washington?” I asked.

He shook his head. He looked as though he might cry but had no tears within him. “No.”

“Have you seen Millicent Dowling?”

The question seemed to make no sense to him. Finally, he gave a slight shrug. “She's gone away someplace.”

“Where?”

He stared at me, then said, “I don't know.”

“Where were you when this started?”

He considered the question as though it was of little interest, then waved a languid hand. “I was over at the party with everybody else. We were all over there. And while we were gone, this happened. Jesus, all they have in this town is fires. Every fucking house on the island is burning down.”

“Was Adam at the party?”

He nodded. “He was there for a while at least. I was drinking beer and not paying much attention.” He nodded toward the ruin. “I wonder if that was him they found in there. I keep thinking that if I'd stayed at home last night, I could have kept this from happening. I feel like it's my fault.” He sounded like a penitent in a confessional admitting to some sin.

But I was no priest and had no spiritual solace for him. “It probably wasn't Adam in there” was all I could offer.

“I think it was him,” he said. “It's all my fault.”

I didn't think so, but the boy did. As somebody said, man is the only animal that blushes or needs to. In this case, the boy was deep in guilt over something that he had nothing to do with. We are strange creatures.

“You have a place to stay?” I asked.

“No, but I'll find some place or other.” He waved at the smoking walls. “All my stuff was in there, but it wasn't much. I can get more.”

I looked past him at the moped and saw what looked like the side of a guitar case that was leaning against the back of the same tree. I stepped around the tree and opened the case. Corrie's old Martin was in there, and I knew when I saw it that Corrie was dead, because he'd never have left the guitar out there if he were alive.

Feeling cold and clinical, I took out the guitar and looked through the case. I found some picks and a couple of capos and some scribbled notes of what looked like songs in the making. Nothing else.

I put the guitar back into the case and carried it back to the boy.

“This is Corrie Appleyard's guitar,” I said. “It'll go to his family. You know where I can get in touch with them?”

He looked at me with his dull, guilt-stricken eyes. “No. How should I know that? I don't know anything about his family.”

“Adam Washington is the grandson of a friend of his.” I looked into my brain for the name and came out with it.

“Ernie Washington. Did Adam ever mention Ernie Washington or Corrie's family?”

“I don't remember ever hearing anything about those people.”

There wasn't anything more that either of us could give to the other. I looked at the ruin.

“You didn't do this,” I said. “It just happened. It wasn't your fault.”

“No,” he insisted, “it was my fault. If it hadn't been for me, it wouldn't have happened.”

Some people refuse to be comforted. The boy seemed to be the type, and since I only have limited patience with people who like to feel guilty, I ended the conversation and went back to the Land Cruiser.

Zee was stiff-faced as I put the guitar case in the back and climbed behind the wheel. I ignored her expression and told her where I'd found the case and what little the boy had told me.

She frowned. “What was Corrie's guitar doing out there?” Then, “Oh my gosh!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Corrie wouldn't have left the island without his guitar.”

She looked at me with her great, dark eyes. “He wouldn't, would he?”

“I don't think so,” I said. “I don't know, but I don't think so.”

In her eyes I saw pity and sorrow and felt like I was seeing a reflection of my own. The eyes are the windows of the soul, they say. I put my hand on her thigh and she put her hand over mine.

—  12  —

At home we said nothing more about me working for Ben Krane. For Zee and me, hot-and-heavy disagreements were not a regular thing, and we were therefore not well practiced in dealing with such events. However, we each knew the other's stubbornness and anger span (in my case, two days, max, before I tended to forget why I'd been mad), and thus had mutually adopted a wait-it-out policy of conflict resolution. Screamers, some say, get arguments out of their systems fairly quickly, but we who are inclined toward sullenness and silence take longer.

The best thing was to stay off each other's toes while feelings were young and tender, so I left Zee at the house with her still-inquisitive son (“Are there lots of scumbags, Ma?”) and took Diana the Huntress with me as I drove downtown.

Edgartown in June was not nearly so crowded as it would become in July and August, but already the streets were full of pale-skinned tourists peeking into shop windows; nibbling on goodies from the delis, ice cream parlors, and candy stores; and wandering blithely in front of cars. Vineyard visitors apparently think that the island is a make-believe place, like Disneyland, so they feel free to casually walk in the middle of the streets since the automobiles are only props. Fortunately, most local drivers are used to this and are very careful not to run over anyone.

Helping them out are the Edgartown police, who do their best to keep things moving but safe for one and all. I found the chief down by the town hall, telling yet another bicyclist that Main Street was forbidden territory for two-wheelers. The cyclist went away, pushing her bike.

“You know you're wasting your time, don't you?” I said, coming up as the cyclist was leaving. “Bicycle riders are illiterate. They can't read signs. Especially signs that say ‘No bicycles.'”

“If you mean I'm shoveling shit against the tide, you're right,” he said. “But that's a policeman's lot. We do it for a living. We try to keep people from breaking the law, but they break it anyway. And if we catch them, the bondsmen bail them out, the lawyers get them off, and the judges let them go.”

He didn't sound too sour, however; he was just realistic. Actually, cops spend most of their time on jobs having little to do with crime as such. Besides directing traffic and patrolling the roads, they break up domestic arguments before they get violent, help fallen elderly to get back in bed, and PC drunks for the night and let them go again the next morning. They help round up farm animals that are loose on the roads, and they tote people to the emergency room of the hospital. Most of the violence they encounter is in the form of accidents: drunks and teens driving their cars into trees at high rates of speed, moped riders spilling themselves onto the pavement, or people chopping off their toes while mowing the lawn.

From time to time, of course, they meet with criminal violence. The wife beater, the pedophile, the knifer, the robber, the man with a gun.

The arsonist.

I'd left the Boston PD to get away from all that, but of course there is no away and no man is an island even on an island, so here I was, nosing around in the very business I'd once forsworn.

The chief looked at Diana, who was riding on my back in her canvas kid-holder. He put out a hand to her. “Hello.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw her little hand meet his. “How do you do?” said her small voice.

“You look like your mother,” said the chief. Then he looked at me. “Fortunately.”

The chief had grandchildren older than Diana.

“She has her mother's looks, but my brains and ready wit,” I said.

“I'm sorry to hear that, kid,” said the chief, looking back at her. “Maybe things will work out for you anyway.”

“We're going to get ice cream,” said Diana.

“In a little while,” I said. “First I have to talk to the chief, here.”

“I knew the day was going too well,” said the chief.“What do you want?”

I told him about the job I'd just taken with Ben Krane. He didn't change expression, but something altered in his eyes.

“I guess Ben doesn't trust the fire marshal,” he said.

“He didn't seem to when I talked to him. He thinks I have local knowledge that will make the difference.”

“I didn't know you were an arson investigator, J.W. I thought you were just a fisherman living up there in the woods.”

“I was at a couple of fire scenes when I worked in Boston,” I said, “but all I did was glance in the rooms, then stand outside and look official while the arson squad did the real work.”

“But Ben Krane wants you to work for him anyway. Doesn't make much sense to me. I always thought Ben was a bright guy. Maybe I was wrong.”

“Maybe you can help me be as smart as Ben wants me to be. What can you tell me about arson investigations?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, for a start you can tell me who does the investigating.”

“Not us local hicks, for sure. We're not smart enough to do complicated stuff like handle fires that aren't your ordinary accidental kind. No, it's the state boys who handle the arson cases. The fire marshals are part of the state police. Whenever there's a suspicious fire or a death, they come in to investigate.”

“Ah. Just like with homicides or suspicious deaths of any kind. You local guys step aside and the state cops take over.”

“You got it, Sherlock,” said the chief. “Us country bumpkins are good enough for the stupid stuff, but we're too dim for the work that takes brains.”

The chief made this familiar comment without any particular tone of annoyance in his voice, almost as though he were talking about the weather.

And why should he do otherwise? Conflict between law enforcement agencies is pretty commonplace, after all. The state cops are uncooperative with the local cops; both the state and local cops resent the federal cops; the federal cops are uncooperative with everybody, including the international cops; and so forth. The consequences of these rivalries are always bad for law enforcement, but the conflicts continue anyway, to the frustration of all involved, especially those civilians and police officers who are more interested in crime solving than in power, prestige, and point scoring. It has been argued by some of them that warring police agencies are the perps' best friends. Could be.

“Who decides that the fire marshals should be called in?” I asked.

“The fire chief. The state guys don't consider him up to making an arson investigation, but they figure he's at least sharp enough to suspect that it may have happened. Of course, if somebody dies in the fire, the marshals get an automatic call.”

“So the marshal is here already, because of the body?”

He nodded. “But it's not
marshal
in this case. It's
marshals
. Two of them. Don't ask me why. They should be up at the house any time now.”

I thought about that and said, “Were they here after the other house burned a couple of nights ago?”

He looked at me. “Not that I know of. When that house burned, everybody thought it was an accident. I imagine there are some doubts about that theory now, though, so I expect Mr. and Mrs. Dings may take a good look at that place, too.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dings? Married arson investigators?”

“Jack and Sandy. Apparently they're a team. Where he goes, she goes; where she goes, he goes. Maybe I should give my wife a badge.”

“I don't think she'd take it. She sees enough of you already. Where are they staying while they're down here?”

“None of your business. You take my advice, you'll stay out of the Dingses' hair. They take their work seriously and they do not suffer fools gladly.”

Another illiterate cyclist came down the street, and the chief stepped out and held up his hand. The cyclist, looking surprised, stopped.

“You can't ride bikes on this street,” said the chief in a gentle voice.

“Oh.”

“There's a sign right up there that tells you that. You have to turn left onto Church Street.”

“Oh.” The cyclist looked vaguely back up the street.

“There are bike racks at the end of Church Street on Pease's Point Way. Or you can walk your bike on down Main.” The chief smiled a warm, small-town smile.

“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”

“Tell your friends about the sign and have a good day.”

“Thanks.”

The chief stepped back and the cyclist, walking his bike, went down the street.

“How come you never smile at me like that?” I asked. “I never see that nice palsy-walsy face looking at me.”

“I'll make you a deal,” said the chief. “You move off island and only come back for a week each year and I'll pretend to be friendly to you, too. It'd be worth a smile to be rid of you most of the year.”

“What a thing to say to a man with his little baby daughter listening to every word.”

The chief gave Diana the smile he wouldn't give to me. “Now don't you worry, sweetie, you can stay and your mom and your brother can stay; it's just your old man that's got to go.”

A small hand tugged at my ear. “Pa, I want some ice cream.”

“Diana the Huntress is always seeking food,” I explained. “I'll see you later.”

“I'm sure.” I was about four steps down the street when he added, “I think the Dingses are staying up at the Wesley, in OB.”

I looked back, but he was already walking up the sidewalk.

The chief was crusty but digestible. Diana and I went into the first ice cream shop we came to and laid down our money. Black raspberry for me, and chocolate chip for the kid. Because I didn't want chocolate hair, we ate in the shop, which, fortunately, had a good stock of paper napkins, since Diana was not too fastidious about her food and tended to chocolatize her face pretty well whenever encountering her favorite dessert.

When we were through and I had her scrubbed as clean as I was going to get her, I returned her to her backpack and headed for my next stop: Ben Krane's office. It was as good a time as any to beard the lion in his den.

Krane Associates was housed in a white-fronted building just off Main Street. I didn't know who the associates might be, but the business offered expertise in the law, real estate, estate planning, and other matters. Ben personally had his hand in all of these enterprises, and for all I knew, he might have had a whole team of experts working for him. When I went into the office, however, I was met by a single receptionist. According to the name card in front of her computer, she was Judith Gomes.

Judith gave me a pleasant, professional smile.

“Hi. May I help you? My, what a darling little girl!”

“My daughter, Diana. Yes, she is a cutie, if I do say so myself.”

“I'm sure you're very proud of her! Now, how may I help you?”

I sat down. “My name is Jackson. I work for your boss. I want to talk with you about him and his work.”

Her smile disappeared faster than your lap when you stand.

BOOK: Vineyard Blues
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