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Retired Department of Defense research analyst Lewis Cole loves his small New Hampshire town of Tyler Beach, and he shares this affection with his friend Jon Ericson, an eccentric retiree who’s convinced Vikings had once lived in their town, more than a thousand years ago. For years Ericson has searched for artifacts to prove Vikings had a settlement on the New Hampshire coastline, and when Lewis gets a phone message from Ericson that he’s finally found this evidence, Lewis races over to congratulate him. But when he reaches Ericson’s house, however, there is no celebration: there is only a crime scene. In the minutes after the excited phone call, someone has brutally murdered Lewis’ friend and stolen the artifacts. Who could have committed such a crime? Ericson’s estranged brother, a convict who deals in stolen antiques? A disgruntled town resident, jealous of Ericson’s quest? Or someone else who would easily kill to cover up such an archaeological discovery? These questions and others haunt Lewis, but Lewis is sure of one thing: he intends to avenge Ericson’s death, recover the missing Viking artifacts, and honor his friend’s memory, even if it means paying a stiff price -- exchanging his beachfront home for a prison cell.
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Brendan DuBois is an award-winning author of short stories and novels. His short fiction has appeared in various publications including Playboy and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, as well as numerous anthologies. He has twice received a Shamus Award for his short fiction and has been nominated for three Edgar Awards. DuBois's long fiction includes three previous books in the Lewis Cole series and Resurrection Day and Six Days, two suspense thrillers. DuBois lives in New Hampshire with his wife Mona.
CHAPTER ONEThe funeral service at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal church in Tyler, New Hampshire, started right on time, ten a.m. on a rainy Saturday in October. I took the first pew to the left, just after escorting the casket down the center aisle of the church on a wheeled metal framework. Earlier I had helped five other men wrestle the heavy piece of wood and metal from the rear of the black coach--not a hearse, that word isn't used anymore--and up the granite steps through the open door, the steps slippery from the cold rain. The casket was draped with a white cloth with an embroidered gold cross that had been placed on it as it entered the church, temporarily replacing the American flag that denoted respect for a veteran.Respect. What a concept. I spared a quick glance around the cool interior of the church, at the dozen or so people who had come here. The priest was before the altar, starting the service, and I looked at the faces of the people sitting in the hard wooden pews, recognizing a handful of Tyler residents who were active on town boards and organizations, plus a young couple, sitting by themselves, near the front. There were other faces as well: Detective Diane Woods, looking somber and sitting by herself, here in a variety of capacities, I'm sure, since she was leading the investigation of what had occurred that had led to this funeral. Sitting two rows behind her was Paula Quinn,reporter for the Tyler Chronicle, who gave me a quick smile as she saw my look, reporter's notebook held steady in her hands. She was here doing her job as well, recording what was happening for the benefit of the Chronicle's readers this coming Monday. And sitting by himself, nearly halfway to the rear of the church, as if being in a house of God was making him nervous, was Felix Tinios, a resident of North Tyler and a previous inhabitant of Boston's North End. Felix wasn't here in any kind of role that demanded his skills--dutifully noted each year on his IRS Form 1040 as a security consultant--but was here just for me, a gesture that I found quite moving, coming from a man such as Felix.I turned around and looked at the young priest, going on about heaven and peace and mourning, and I glanced over at the casket--coffin was another forbidden word--and thought of the remains that were within that expensive piece of work: Jon Ericson, army veteran, retired accountant, amateur historian, and, for a brief time, my friend.I folded my arms and stared straight ahead, past the priest to the stained glass window, wet from the continuing rain.
It had been a day late in May earlier that year when I had first met Jon, near my house on Tyler Beach. It had warmed up fairly well for a home right on the ocean, and I was on the rear deck, feet up on the railing, reading that day's Boston Globe. I was deciding whether to go to the editorial page or the comics section--each with its own particular brand of amusement--when a voice from below nearly caused me to drop the damn thing. "Hello up there," came the male voice. "Any chance for a drink of water?"I lowered the paper and looked over the railing. My house is one of the most isolated on the eighteen miles of New Hampshire coastline, an isolation I've always enjoyed. To the south were the wide and popular sands of the resort community Tyler Beach, blocked off by a jumble of boulders and rocks, and to the north was the Samson Point State Wildlife Preserve. Both directions usually meant a lack of visitors, which suits me just fine. This particular visitor was a guy about thirty years older than me, wearing knee-high rubber boots, dark green chino work pants and shirt, and with a small knapsack onhis back and what looked to be a metal detector in his hands. I usually don't like unexpected visitors, but something about his expression made me smile. He looked like a guy who expected strangers to be friendly and open, and I wasn't in the mood to ruin his expectation."Sure," I said. "I'll be right down."In a minute I was through the kitchen, filling up a glass of water, and went out the front door. My scraggly lawn rose up to a ridge of rocks that hid my home from the coastal road, Route 1-A, and I went around to the ocean side of the house, where my visitor was sitting on a large boulder, feet stretched out before him. His eyes were bright behind black horn-rimmed glasses, and he took off his Red Sox baseball cap to scratch at what was left of a fringe of light brown hair, circling around. The metal detector was at his side, like some old lance for a medieval knight, and cupped around his neck were the earphones for the apparatus. Standing next to him, I realized he looked vaguely familiar. He took the glass and swallowed about half of the water, and then held out his free hand."Jon Ericson," he said. "Thanks for the water."I shook his hand. "Sure, and I'm--""Lewis Cole," he interrupted, smiling. "Resident of Tyler Beach and columnist for Shoreline magazine, out of Boston. Correct?"Maybe I should have been paranoid, but he was smiling like he had just won a small prize, so I gave it to him. "Correct on both counts. We haven't met before, have we?"He swallowed the remaining water. "No, we haven't met, but I've seen you at a few local functions. Occasional selectmen's meeting, planning board meeting, town meeting in March. I'm a rarity in this community, a native of Tyler. Born and raised here, spent thirty years in this man's army, going to Europe and parts of Asia, before coming back home where I belonged. I like to keep track of what's going on in my town. And who's living here. And you, Lewis? Your history?""Born here in the state, moved to Indiana when I was a kid. Came back here a few years ago when I decided I missed the place.""So you have," he said, his voice the tone of someone who knew a lot about you and wasn't about to let on what he did know.I took the empty glass back from him. "And what are you up to today? Treasure hunting?""You could say that.""Why here, and not down at the beach?""Where all the tourists show up?" He shook his head. "Not likely. The sands down there get picked over before the sun goes down and the seagulls have finished eating food scraps. I like to go to isolated places.""Like this one?"He wiped at his bald scalp, put his frayed cap back on. "In a manner of speaking. There was a wild storm here two days ago, remember?""Sure," I said. "Left the doors open to my deck, wind blew in a lot of water to my living room floor.""Well, Lewis, the wind can blow a lot of things around, with help from the waves. Stuff gets dumped from a shipwreck or something being blown overboard, it tends to sink and have dirt and debris build up on it. After a good storm, stuff gets uncovered, stirred up, so you can find things that have been hidden for hundreds of years. I like to go out after a nice big storm. You'd be surprised at what pops up."I looked out to the constant movement of the waves, spotted a container ship, beating its way north to Porter, out by the horizon's edge. "Find anything today?""Nope," he said, standing up. "But I will. Guaranteed."That made me smile. "Why guaranteed?""Because I know my history, that's why." His expression then changed a bit, as if he was transforming himself into a teacher, and he said, "That's something you should think about, the next time you take pen to paper. Or keyboard to computer screen, whatever it is you do, the next column you write for your magazine. Know your history, get it straight.""Saying I got something wrong?" I asked.A quick nod. "Yep. Two months ago. You did a column about the strange buildings and structures along the seacoast. Said something about those spotting towers, look like concrete lighthouses. Right?""Sure," I said. "Spotting towers for German U-boats."A shake of the head, like a dad explaining the real truth about Santa Claus to a youngster. "Sorry. That's an old tale, one that gets passed around, years and years after the real story. Nope. Those towers were used for the old coast artillery emplacements, to spot targets out on the water. Not U-boats. Surface craft coming in to attack theshipyard at Porter. Not as thrilling as hunting U-boats, but the truth, Lewis. The truth. Get your history right and everything follows."Jon got up and said, "Time to get going. Thanks for the water.""Thanks for the correction," I said, as he headed back down to the rocky shoreline, his back stooped over, his head lowered, looking for some kind of buried dream.
Inside the cool church, I shifted in my seat, looked around again, at the few faces, all looking up toward the priest performing his role. The priest caught my eye and nodded, and then I got out and went up the center aisle, to the lectern near the altar. I turned and pulled a folded piece of paper from my inside coat pocket. I had wanted to write something about Jon and his life and his work, his love of history and dedication to the town, but the priest had gently persuaded me to go with a traditional Bible verse. This was a church sacrament, not a memorial to one man's life, and I didn't feel like fighting, so I stood there at the lectern, reading the words written by some poor hungry soul thousands of years ago in some faraway desert.The word were designed to provide comfort, provide some sort of understanding that in any time of trouble, life was wonderful and life went on, and we all went to our great reward.But then and now, they were just words.
I next saw Jon Ericson a week later, about four miles away from my house, at the Meetinghouse Green, near the regional high school. Paula Quinn had called me in a panic, saying that her 35mm camera had quit on her, that the paper's full-time photographer was out on vacation, and could I please come up there with my own camera and save her perky little butt? And I had said of course I would, even though some other man in town currently got to see her perky little butt in more pleasurable moments. The Meetinghouse Green had a couple of dozen children racing around, trying to fly kites in the slight breeze, and it was a joy to see those eager and serious young faces, attempting to drag their little kites up in the air by running back and forth. Paula took my Canon 35mm with a quick kiss on my cheek and went to work. I stood back, seeing a familiar man behind a foldingtable, dispensing little paper cups of lemonade and chocolate chip cookies to the budding aeronautical engineers.Jon Ericson looked up at me--dressed exactly the same as last time, except for no knee-length boots--and said, "Things so tough as a columnist, you're looking for free food?""Nope," I said. "And you know what? Those spotting towers, in addition to looking for warships, also kept an eye out for U-boats during the big one back in the forties. So I wasn't totally wrong."He handed out another cup of lemonade. "That's the problem with history nowadays. There are no longer facts. It's always interpretation, looking at things from one point of view or another. There's gay history, feminist history, oppressed people's history. Bah. History is history. It shouldn't be used as a tool to advance somebody or some group's agenda.""And what's your agenda today? Enjoying the sight of the youth of Tyler?""Sure," he said, smiling. "And I get to pick up and clean up when it's done. Want to help?"And I think I surprised both of us when I said yes. An hour later, the kite-flying competition, sponsored by the Tyler Recreation Department, ended and Paula give me back my camera, sans film, and left me with Jon and some fold-up chairs and about six or seven garbage bags full of cups, napkins, and half-chewed cookies. We brought everything into the rear of a one-story wood building that was the Tyler Town Museum, and I was embarrassed to note that this was the first time I had ever set foot into the place. Jon gave me a look and said, "Want the grand tour?" and I said sure.It wasn't grand, and wasn't much of a tour. The museum was small, and as Jon explained, existed on the charity of the few visitors, a trust fund set up a half century ago, and the generosity each year of those Tyler citizens who went to town meeting every March and approved a small appropriation. There were two rows of locked glass cases on wooden legs, and some framed certificates and old prints up on the cracked plaster walls, along with a couple of Civil War-era swords. The artifacts in the glass cases ranged from the Native Americans--bits of broken pottery and stone fishhooks and arrowheads--to the first settlers--an old musket and a stitched sampler--all the way up tomemories of the Greatest Generation--ration books and captured Japanese flags--who had marched out of Tyler more than a half century ago.Jon said, "Not much, but it's treasure, still the same, and should be guarded as such." I followed him out the rear door and said, "Do you run the museum?"That brought a laugh. "Sort of. Just a volunteer and sometime tour guide and curator, when I don't piss off the board of directors.""Anything you find out on the shoreline end up here yet?"His mood then suddenly changed, and his voice was more quiet. "No, not yet. But it will. One of these days. Look, can I trust you?""In what way?"Jon said, "Trust that whatever I tell you won't end up in your column. And I don't mean that I think you'll make something off what I have to say in some big scoop or something. I just don't want to be embarrassed by some snide and snotty column down the road about the local lunatic in Tyler. Okay?""Fine," I said. "You can trust me then."We walked around to the other side of the museum, where a large stone was set up with a dark plaque commemorating the Tyler men who had fought and died in the Civil War. Farther away from this stone was a round structure of bricks, about knee-high, that looked to be the top of a well. We reached it and I looked down, past a grillwork of metal bars. In the dirt below the bars was a boulder, flat on top, with grooves or scratches on top. A plaque nearby identified it as THORVALD'S ROCK."Who was Thorvald?" I asked."Ah, there you go," he said. "My chance to be the tour guide for one more time. Thorvald was supposedly the younger brother of Leif Eriksson, who left Iceland to raise a settlement at Greenland around the year 1000 A.D. or thereabouts. From Greenland, Leif and his brethren went further west, and eventually met up with the Canadian coastline, where they discovered a land covered with vines and grapes that they called Vinland.""Newfoundland," I said, recalling a newspaper article I had read years ago. "Someplace in Newfoundland, they formed a settlement. Something meadows, am I right?""Very good," he said. "It's nice to run into someone who actually reads and retains knowledge, Lewis. For a number of years they had a settlement at a remote village in Newfoundland that's now called L'Anse aux Meadows. In this town there were old mounds near the coastline that no one quite knew where they came from, until they were excavated in the 1960s through the work of a Norwegian writer named Helge Ingstad. At first nobody believed that this was a Viking site, but excavation proved it. There were artifacts--tool...
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