Read A Deadly Vineyard Holiday Online

Authors: Philip R. Craig

A Deadly Vineyard Holiday

A DEADLY VINEYARD HOLIDAY

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For my daughter-in-law, Gail Gardner Craig, who has walked the golden sands and breathed the sea-clean air.

“ . . . Three things that all ways threaten a man's peace And one before the end shall overthrow his mind: Either illness or age or the edge of vengence Shall draw out the breath of the doom-shadowed.”

—Lines 69–72,

“The Seafarer”

— 1 —

It was almost five o'clock when I saw the girl coming clown the beach from the west. The sun wasn't up yet, but the sky was brightening, and there was enough light for me to see my treble-hooked redheaded Roberts hit the water out beyond the breakers. I had been there since a bit after three, and had four pretty good fish for my efforts. As the girl came up, I hooked another.

She stood by my old Land Cruiser and watched as I brought the fish in, and when I carried it up to the truck, I got my first real look at her. She seemed no different from a lot of other teenage girls on Martha's Vineyard in August. She was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and was carrying a pair of pink sneakers in her hand. A sweatshirt was tied around her neck. I wondered what she was doing out on the beach alone at that hour of the morning.

“That's a nice fish,” she said. “What kind is it?”

I got the lure out of the fish's mouth, and added it to the other four in the fishbox. “Bluefish. They don't have any business being here this time of year, but they're here anyway, so I'm getting them while I can. You a fisher-person?”

She shook her head. “I've gone crabbing with a net.”

“Bluefish give you a real tussle,” I said. “They're fun to catch.”

“It looks like it. What are you going to do with all the ones you've got here?”

“I'll take one home for Zee and me, and sell the rest.”

“Are they good to eat?”

“They are, indeed. You've never had bluefish? How have you managed to live on Martha's Vineyard and not eat bluefish at least once?”

She shrugged and gave a small smile. “I don't live here. I'm just visiting.” She glanced west along the beach, then turned back and reached out a hand toward the fishbox. “Can I touch one?”

“That last fish is still alive, so don't let him get hold of your fingers. Bluefish have teeth like little razors.”

She touched the fish and it flopped and thrashed. She jerked her hand back and laughed. “It must be fun to catch a fish like that one!”

There was an odd combination of sophistication and innocence about the girl, and, being just about old enough to be her father, I tried to imagine what it would be like to watch other people fish and not know how to do it myself. But I had been fishing as long as I could remember, thanks to my own father, who had gotten a rod into my hands before I could read.

“You want to give it a try?” I asked.

Her eyes widened. “Yes!”

I got my spare rod off the roof rack and put a Ballistic Missile on the leader.

“This is a good casting plug,” I said. “And the bluefish love it.”

We went down to the water, and I showed her how to throw the bail on her reel, to hook the line on her trigger finger, to take the rod straight back, and to bring it straight forward, releasing the line at about a 45-degree angle to the horizon.

Then I made a couple of casts, showing her how it was done, and gave her the rod.

“Don't try to cast too far, at first. Just concentrate on throwing straight out. And don't worry about making mistakes. Everybody makes them.”

“Okay.” She threw the bail, hooked the line with her finger, and took the rod back. Her first cast went into the surf right at her feet.

“You didn't release the line in time,” I said, as I walked back to the truck for my own rod.

She nodded, and reeled in and made another cast. Straight up into the air. She looked around. “Where did it go, where did it go?” It landed beside her. She jumped.

“You released too soon,” I said, coming back to the water. “Try again. Be patient.” I made my cast, and my Roberts went far out, where I wanted it to go.

Beside me, the girl made her third cast, and this time it went out into the breakers. She reeled in, looking intent, and cast again.

We fished there for perhaps fifteen minutes, and I got a sixth fish. She watched as I brought the fish in about halfway, her eyes bright.

“You want to bring him the rest of the way?” I asked. “They're out beyond your cast, so you probably won't hook one of your own this morning, but we'll trade rods, if you want, so you'll know what it's like to try to land one.”

“Yes! But what if I lose him?”

“Then you can talk about the one that got away. Don't worry about it. Everybody loses fish.”

“But he's your fish.”

“He isn't anybody's fish until you land him. Here.” I took her rod and gave her mine. The fish almost pulled
her into the water, but she hung on with both hands. “Keep the line tight, or he'll throw the lure. Get the butt of the rod between your legs, and do like you saw me do. Haul back on the rod, then reel down and haul back again. When you get him to the beach, back up and pull him ashore.”

She did that, and slowly the fish came in, swirling and fighting. I stood and watched her. Her face was flushed, and her teeth were hard together, but there was a wild joy in her expression. She got the fish to the shore and backed up fast, pulling it, flopping, twisting, up and away from the water.

“I got him! I got him!”

“You got him. Now let me get him.”

I hooked my hand into the fish's gills and carried it, thrashing and still fighting, to the truck, where I got the lure out of its mouth and dumped it in the fishbox.

“Congratulations,” I said. “You just landed yourself your first bluefish.”

Her face was full of excitement. “I'm so tired! I thought I'd never be able to land him! I'm so happy he wasn't bigger, or I might not have been able to get him in!”

“Your surf-casting muscles just aren't in shape yet. You do this for a couple of weeks, and you'll be able to land a whale.”

She grinned. “This one seemed like a whale. How much does he weigh?”

I got out the scales, and hung the still flopping fish on the hook. “Eight pounds, more or less.”

“Wow!”

Then she looked past me, toward the west, and the joy went out of her face. She leaned her rod against the Land Cruiser. “I've got to go,” she said, starting east. “How far is it to Edgartown?”

“About four miles,” I said, turning to look where she had looked. Half a mile away, a Jeep was coming along the beach, its headlights still on in spite of the brightening morning. I watched it approach, wondering what it was about that Jeep that had swept the happiness from the girl's face.

When I turned back, she was gone.

I put the fish back in the fishbox, put the girl's rod on the roof rack, then walked back down to the water. When the Jeep pulled up and stopped, I was making a cast. When I glanced behind me, two men were out of the Jeep, looking inside my truck, and a man and a woman were walking down toward me. They were all wearing informal clothes, but somehow they seemed to be wearing suits. A bit of wind lifted a shirttail, and I saw a hip holster. I reeled in the Roberts. No bluefish took it.

“Excuse me,” said the man who had come down to the water. “Have you been here long?” He was powerfully built and looked to be a very fit fifty or so.

“Long enough to catch those fish your friends are looking at.”

“How long is that?” asked the woman.

I looked at her. There was anxiety in her eyes, and suspicion in her voice.

I felt pushed, and irritation fluttered somewhere in my soul. But I remembered the hip holster, so I said, “I got here about three hours ago.”

Beyond her, the two men at the Land Cruiser were looking under it and opening a door to look inside. I decided to ignore the hip holster, even though I suspected that where there was one, there were probably more.

“You're just here to fish?” asked the man.

“Yeah. Excuse me.” I caught the swinging lure, put the rod on my shoulder, and walked up to the truck. The men
there paused and looked at me with hard eyes. The anxiety I'd seen in the woman's face was in theirs too.

“I don't think you'll find anything in there worth stealing,” I said, pushing the open door shut.

Neither of the men seemed impressed by my snappy dialogue.

“You see anybody come by here?” asked the closer of the two.

“I've fished this beach for thirty years,” I said. “I've seen a lot of people come by here in that time. Right now I see you. And a minute ago I saw you in my truck.”

Behind me, the man and the woman came up. Four people with pistols, and me with a fishing rod.

“You're in trouble, mister,” said the closest man. “Don't give me any more lip. Just answer my question.”

I felt my temper taking over. “You have a badge or something, or are you just a hoodlum with a gun and a loud mouth?”

His hand went to his back and came out with a pair of cuffs. “That does it,” he said. “You're dead meat.”

I let go of the Roberts that I'd been holding against my rod, and its treble hook swung by his nose. He ducked back.

“Now, let's hold everything,” said the man behind me. “Ted, put those cuffs away. Mister, grab that plug before somebody gets hooked with it. Here, take a look at this.”

He held out his ID. I hooked the Roberts behind a guide and took the card:
WALTER POMERLIEU, SECRET SERVICE
. I gave it back.

He nodded. “Yeah. All of us.”

I pointed a thumb over my shoulder toward Ted. “Even him?”

Pomerlieu nodded. “Even him. You know who we are now. Who are you?”

“His name's Jackson,” said Ted. “It's on his registration.”

I glanced at him. “Don't jump to conclusions, Ted,” I said. “Maybe I stole this truck.”

Ted's eyes narrowed, and he stepped forward.

“Stop,” said Pomerlieu. Ted stopped.

“It's good to know that Ted can read,” I said to Pomerlieu. “Otherwise I'd be seriously worried about our national security. I'm J. W. Jackson, and nobody, not even me, would steal this truck. What's going on?”

“We're looking for a girl,” said Pomerlieu. “Teenager. You see her come by this way?”

“Hell, Walt, he may be one of them that took her!” said the woman. “What's he doing here all alone on the beach? If he's just a fisherman, why aren't there other fishermen here, too?”

“Yeah,” said Ted. “What's this guy really doing here? Pretty coincidental, isn't it? The girl's gone and this guy's here. I think we should take him in. He may be able to tell us a lot.”

“You're a pretty pair,” I said. I dug out my wallet and gave my license to Pomerlieu. “There. That's me, and that's where I live. You want to check me out, call the chief of police in Edgartown. Who's the girl?” I knew who the girl had to be, because there couldn't be any other girl on Martha's Vineyard who'd have four Secret Service agents looking for her. But I thought I'd ask, just to see what they would say.

“Never mind who the girl is,” said Ted. “Just tell us if you've seen her.”

Pomerlieu handed my license back. “We will check you out,” he said. “It's our job. Now do tell me, please, if the girl came by while you were here. It's important.”

I thought he was right. “Yeah,” I said, “she came by.
She hung around awhile, then asked me how far it was to Edgartown, and headed east along the beach. I got the idea that it was seeing your Jeep that sent her on her way.”

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