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While visiting Martha's Vineyard to help a client write her will, Brady Coyne visits an old friend, J.W. Jackson. Brady quickly discovers that more than a few people are after the estate of his client. The two eventually join forces, and the case in this captivating book.
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The late Philip R. Craig was the author of nineteen novels in the Martha's Vineyard Mystery series. A professor emeritus of English at Wheelock College in Boston, he loved the Vineyard and lived there year-round with his wife, Shirley.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: J.W.
I had arranged to meet James Bannerman in the Fireside because it was close to the ferry landing, so he could catch the boat and go home to Connecticut after we talked. I was the only customer when he came in. He was a medium-sized guy in his mid-forties. He had flat, dark eyes and hair, and he looked in shape. He wore white-collar clothes. He glanced around, saw only me and the bartender and Bonzo wiping tables in the corner of the room. He came over to the bar.
"Are you Jackson?"
"My friends call me J.W."
The bartender drifted down while Bannerman and I were shaking hands. Bannerman pointed at my glass of Sam Adams. "Bring a couple more of those to us over in that booth, please." The "please" softened it, but it was clear that Bannerman was used to giving orders.
Bannerman and I went to the booth. He shoved a photograph at me. "That's her. That's my wife, my Katherine."
The photo was of an attractive blonde woman about my age, which made her only a few years younger than Bannerman. I drank from my glass. "Look," I said, "I'm only here because Jason Thornberry asked me to meet you. We've worked together a couple of times before, but like I told him on the phone, I don't think I'm the right man for this job. Your wife is legally separated from you, so where she goes and what she does is her own business."
"Don't say that. I'm desperate. Thornberry's people finally managed to trace her this far last year, but then they lost her. She was here on the Vineyard, but then she dropped out of sight just before Labor Day. I've been here several times this summer, trying to find her, but my work won't let me stay long. You're my last chance."
"You really need a professional. I haven't been a cop for years. I'm retired. If you don't think Thornberry Security can do the job, you should hire some other private investigator, but I think Thornberry is about as good an outfit as you'll find."
"Money's no problem, if that's what's holding you back. I've got plenty. And I don't need some other PI, I need you. Thornberry himself recommended you. He said he's been trying for years to get you to work for him, but you won't. He says you live here, you know the people, and you know this island. He says local knowledge might make the difference. Don't let me down. Please. I love Katherine. I have to find her!"
He dug out a handkerchief and wiped his face. I let myself feel sorry for him and looked at the photo again. He mentioned a sum of money that was large enough to capture my attention. When you live on Martha's Vineyard and don't have a regular job, you always need money.
"Maybe she's still here on the Vineyard," he said. "We honeymooned here, and she loved the place. I think that's why she came back here. Maybe she's living here, using another name. If she is, I want you to find her. If she's gone, find out where she went. Please."
Bannerman was a tough-looking man, but he wasn't acting tough at all. He looked like he wanted to cry. I wondered if he was an amateur thespian, pulling my strings, or if he was one of those people who fool themselves about their own virtue, or if he was really as concerned as he was acting. I had no real reason to think it wasn't the latter.
I thought of the things I was planning to do. Fishing in the annual Derby was highest on the list. I was tired of being the only surf caster on Martha's Vineyard who had never caught a forty-pound bass.
"Look," said Bannerman, leaning forward, "if Katherine doesn't want to see me, that's fine. All I really want to know is that she's well and happy. I love her. Frankie, that's our daughter, loves her. Kathy's the most important thing in the world to us. Please help me."
His words were consistent with feelings I also had. I was in love with my wife. If Zee ever left me, I'd be miserable, but I'd want her to be happy.
"Please," said Bannerman for the fourth or fifth time.
I didn't want the job, but unlike Sam Spade I was a sap when it came to love or its appearance.
"All right," I said. "I'll see what I can do. But don't get your hopes up. If Thornberry Security can't find her, the chances are that I can't either. And a couple of other things. I can't spend all of my time on this job. I have other commitments. And if I do find her, it'll be up to her whether or not I tell you where she is. I'll tell you if I find her, but I may not tell you where."
"Thank you," said Bannerman. "I appreciate your help more than I can say." He wiped his face again and put the handkerchief away. I poured more beer into my glass and drank it. It was cool and smooth.
"Here," said Bannerman, who had been digging in his briefcase. He put a checkbook on the table and handed me a large envelope. "In there you'll find all of the information I gave Thornberry when they went to work for me and all that they've given me since. Maybe there's something there that will help you. If you need to know more, let me know, and I'll tell you what I can." While I pulled a file from the envelope and glanced at it, he scribbled a check and pushed it at me. It was too much, but if that was fine with him, it was fine with me, so I didn't make an issue of it.
"I'll look at this later," I said, pushing the file back into its envelope, "but you can tell me some things right now. First, why did she leave?"
He'd heard the question before, probably from both his local police and certainly from Thornberry, since detectives in both agencies would understand that husbands usually know why their wives disappear.
"I honestly don't know," he said, looking me right in the eye. "We had our ups and downs like everybody else, but nothing serious. Then one morning after I went to the office, she just drove away from our house there in Hartford and I haven't seen her since. The neighbors saw her go. She was alone. That was a year ago last spring. I've been looking for her ever since, but all I've found out is that she was here on the Vineyard last summer."
"You never heard from her?"
"Our daughter, Frankie, got a postcard from her about a week after she left. It was mailed from New York City. It said she was fine and not to worry. That was all."
"I might want to talk with people you know. That includes your family and friends and the people you work with."
He nodded, then frowned. "Do you have to talk with our daughter? This business has upset her terribly."
"If I do, I'll try to make it painless."
"I'd rather you didn't do it at all. Frankie's a freshman at UConn, and she's got the jitters about that on top of this other thing." He rubbed his forehead. "This is a terrible situation. I'm afraid something has happened to Kathy. Otherwise I'm sure we'd have heard from her."
"I'll see what I can do, but, like I said, you shouldn't get your hopes too high."
We finished our beers and he went away. I ordered another and drank it while I looked over the file he'd left. Thornberry Security had been thorough and their information was useful. About the only thing I could do that they hadn't already done was talk to some people they hadn't interviewed here on the island.
Tomorrow was soon enough for that. Today I had to get ready for the Derby and meet Brady Coyne when he came down from Boston. Brady used his law practice to support his fishing habit, and his plan was to combine some fly fishing in the Derby with some legal work for Sarah Fairchild, who owned two hundred acres up on the north shore overlooking Vineyard Sound.
My father and Sarah had met before I was born, and Sarah had taken to him enough to give him, and after his death me, lifetime access to Fairchild Cove, which consisted of Fairchild Point and Fairchild Beach, and which was one of the best bass-fishing and bluefishing spots on the island.
But now Sarah was old, and Brady was going to help her decide what to do with her estate. The very idea of trying to deal with that can of worms made me glad I wasn't a lawyer.
I left the Fireside, pushed Katherine Bannerman to the back of my mind, and headed home, thinking Derby thoughts. In September the bluefish are back, heading south after their summer sojourn to cooler northern waters, and to celebrate this return and to extend the tourist season, the Vineyard hosts a month-long fishing derby from the middle of September to the middle of October. Hundreds of fishermen and fisherwomen come over from America and join island anglers in pursuit of striped bass, bluefish, bonito, and false albacore. Local plumbers, carpenters, landscapers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, and chiefs close up shop and go fishing. They become haggard and thin as they lose sleep and money to chase fish, and their customers grow surly when they're unable to find anyone to do work for them. In mid-October, when the Derby ends, normalcy returns and you can finally get somebody to rake your lawn or fix that leaky pipe in your basement.
The Derby thrives in spite of the increasing difficulty fishermen have getting to traditional angling spots. The problem is a familiar one in all resort communities, where local land is owned by outside people. On Martha's Vineyard, more and more off-islanders, both individuals and corporations, are buying property and closing off access routes to the woods and shore. NO TRESPASSING signs are tacked on locked gates that previously were open to fishermen and hunters. Local folks, who once felt welcome to cast a line or pop a cap almost anywhere on the Vineyard, now can't get close to hunting stands or fishing spots. Only a lucky few, like me, have permission to open gates and cross private lands. I was happy to be among the chosen, although I wasn't sure how much longer my privileges would last.
I spent the early afternoon with Zee on our screened porch lubricating our reels, replacing rusty hooks with new ones, and checking lines and leaders and rods. Katherine Bannerman refused to stay out of my mind, so while we worked I told Zee about the job I'd taken.
"People don't just leave without a reason," said Zee. "If you find out why she left, maybe you can find out where she went. What did you think of Bannerman?"
"I'm not sure. People wear different faces in different situations. I'm pretty certain he wants to find her, because he's spent a lot of time and money trying to do it. But on the other hand, he's made a lot of money in the last few years, so he can afford to finance an expensive search even if it's just for appearances."
"Is there another woman in his life?"
"None that Thornberry found."
"How about another man in hers?"
"No, but apparently she likes to dance and socialize more than her husband does, and it was a point of contention between them. According to Thornberry, Bannerman is either at the office or at home getting rested up so he can go back to the office. She wanted more than that in her life. Is that enough to send her packing, do you think?"
"Could be. Maybe she was having a midlife crisis."
"I thought only men had those. They divorce their wives and go off with blonde bimbos."
"It happens to both genders. The difference is, nowadays more women have enough money to leave boring hubbies. That wasn't always the case."
When our gear was in good shape, I drove with the kids to Fairchild Cove to make a few practice casts with each of the rods while Zee stayed home to wash her hair and muck out the guest room for Brady. The master plan was for us to take Brady, between lawyering stints, with us as we roamed the beaches in search of that prizewinning fish.
Joshua and Diana and I drove up to Vineyard Haven and managed to make a left turn at the infamous Tee intersection of State Road and the Edgartown Road, the site of one of the three worst permanent traffic jams on the island, the other two occurring at the Five Corners near the Vineyard Haven ferry docks and between Al's Package Store and the A&P in Edgartown. Smart Vineyard Haven cops do nothing to correct the situations at the Tee or at the Five Corners, because the traffic jams slow cars to a crawl, which is the speed for which island roads are constructed. The jams, of course, are caused by people making left turns. I've been pointing this out for years, but does anybody listen? No. When I'm king of the world, I'm banning left turns.
We drove to West Tisbury, then turned into the narrow, sandy driveway that led to the Fairchild place. A hundred yards along, a smaller lane split off to the right. We took that and came to a locked gate. I had the key.
"How come there's a gate, Pa?" asked Joshua.
"Because the people who own the land don't want other people to come in."
"How come you have a key?"
"Because we're special."
The lane led down to Fairchild Cove. It wound through the trees and past some big rocks left behind by the glacier that, before its eventual retreat back north, had created the Vineyard, Nantucket, Long Island, and other south coastal islands by pushing part of what is now New Hampshire down into what is now the sea. On the far side of the big rocks, we curled over a rise and dropped down toward the shore.
"Look, Pa. A haunted house." Diana pointed.
It did look something like a haunted house. Actually, it was the stone cottage that some nineteenth-century Fairchild male had built as a hunting and fishing lodge for himself and his buddies. As cottages go, it was pretty fair-sized, and in its day it had all of the amenities. But for as long as I had been driving to the cove, the place had been in ruins and, as empty and abandoned houses do, it had taken on an increasingly forsaken air. Maybe it was haunted. According to tales I'd heard in my youth, it had never been used again after the drowning death of one of the Fairchild buddies who had been staying there with his fishing pals. The victim had, it was said, been done in by that familiar fisherman's notion that they're biting better over there than over here. He had waded out to the rocks at the tip of Fairchild Point, been trapped by the rising tide, and had drowned trying to get back to shore.
Whether his ghost still hung around the cottage was something I'd never thought of until my daughter's remark. Maybe Diana was psychic.
"I don't think that it's haunted," I said, "but it does look scary."
"No," insisted little Diana. "It's haunted, all right. It's got ghosts."
I glanced at her and she looked up at me. "Don't worry, Pa. They're not bad ghosts. You don't have to be scared of them."
The lane turned and we left the cottage behind us and came to the beach. Fairchild Point was to the west. Reaching out from its tip was the underwater sandbar that the drowned fisherman had followed to the fatal rocks that lay thirty yards out in the sound. The beach curved east to other rocks lying at the foot of the embankment that formed that end of the shallow cove. Out across the sound I could see the Elizabeth Islands and Tarpaulin Cove, where I had anchored more than once while cruising in the Shirley J.
There was a battered pickup truck parked in front of us, and fifty yards to our ...
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