It’s been almost three years since my last book and for that I am very sorry. For an author, people asking when his next book will be out is a wonderful problem to have. Why did it take so long? Well, that’s a long story. Partially, like everything else, it’s because of COVID. During the pandemic, I was working several jobs, seven days a week, and it left very little time for writing. I do so look forward to the time when we can answer questions or give explanations without prefacing them with “Well, during the pandemic…” Don’t you? The second reason is because this new book is quite literally a long story! This book is my favourite for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is because there’s a lot to it and it starts way back in 1977! Do you remember getting popcorn at Darling’s? Maybe you used to go for a pint at Boston House. Did you see movies at Island Theater? Then this just might be the book for you! Researching this book was so much fun. I always enjoy doing the research for my books but this one was really special. Digging through family photos, asking people on Facebook for feedback, and looking up old articles on-line. The internet really is a gift.
Exhibit: Murder will be out on June 1st!! Remember your small businesses when you go out to buy it. Edgartown Books has been hugely supportive of my writing career since day one. Please, shop local before Amazon if you can. While you wait, here is chapter one to whet your whistle… Enjoy!!
Thank you so very much,
Pedalling as hard as he could, Peter Morgan forced his red rental bike up East Chop Drive. This was by far the coolest bike that Peter had ever ridden. It was a five-speed Schwinn Sting-Ray with handle-brakes, a headlight, and an awesome banana seat. He had never ridden a bike with more than one speed before. He still hadn’t quite figured them out but he was working on it. His bike at home didn’t have handle-brakes either; he just pushed backward on his pedals and the brakes kicked in—same as all of his friends’ bikes. His parents said his bike at home was “just fine” and Peter did likehis bike—he loved it in fact—it was cool, or at least, it had been cool before they got to Martha’s Vineyard and rented this one. The Sting-Ray was the only bike left in Peter’s size, so they got it. The cheaper standard bikes were already gone. Peter was fine with that. He even loved the colour too—metallic cherry red. It was totally decent. Going back home to his regular one-speed bike was going to be tough even if it was black with yellow gas tank and fenders. The fenders and gas tank made it look awesome like a motocross bike but it wasn’t really. Still, when Peter used a clothespin to clip a baseball card to the rear fork, it sounded pretty cool when the card hit the spokes.
With quick glances, Peter turned his head to the right and looked out over the Atlantic Ocean thirty feet below. There were hints of deep, translucent blue but mostly the ocean shimmered like diamond dust, all white light too bright to hold any colour at all.
Finally, at the top of the Chop, the road flattened out and Peter coasted for a while, steering under the hot June sun. He turned to look behind him and then returned his attention to the road ahead. He squinted to see as far as he could. There was no traffic on the road at all. Crossing the streets down in Oak Bluffs had been a lot trickier than navigating his route up East Chop Drive. In town, he had walked his bike across the intersections like he had promised his Mom, weaving through tourists as he went. This was the first trip that Peter had been allowed to go out on his own and he didn’t want to blow it. He had grown up a lot since last summer and he needed to prove to his folks that he could handle the responsibility. This was the beginning of a whole new kind of Vineyard vacation for Peter. It was exciting and a little scary.
His Dad had given him a dollar for an orange soda and a frozen Mars Bar. He was planning to stop at the store on his way home. First, he wanted to get a picture of the Chocolate Lighthouse. Both his new camera and his new binoculars were slung over his shoulder, banging against his back with every pedal. Peter figured the Chop had to be the best place to use binoculars. Gay Head would be wicked too—it was way higher than East Chop—but there was no way he could ride his bike all the way down there and he didn’t want to wait for his parents to take him either. This was the first year that his parents had rented a gingerbread cottage in the Oak Bluffs Methodist Campground, so East Chop was the perfect place.
Every summer before this one, his family had pitched a tent at one of the island campgrounds. Over the past winter, Peter had heard the conversations here and there and he knew that it had been his mother who had wanted to try something new. She said that she still liked camping but Peter could tell that she didn’t like it as much as Peter and his Dad did. She still wanted to come to the Vineyard but she didn’t want to have to sleep on the ground to do it. Both of his parents liked the cottage appeal of the gingerbread houses, so they had found one to rent. Of course, Peter had been through the Methodist Campground lots of times—you couldn’t really visit Martha’s Vineyard without looking at the gingerbread cottages and eating an ice cream, at least you couldn’t with his parents—so he was just as happy to be staying in one of them. He hadn’t known which cottage until they arrived but when they got there and he saw that on this vacation—not only was he going to have the Schwinn Sting-Ray to get around on—he was going to have his own room to sleep in to boot, Peter had been pretty excited.
Peter lifted two fingers from each grip and curled them around the chrome brakes as he approached the lighthouse. He squeezed them gently, applying equal pressure. The right handle controlled the front brake and the left controlled the back. Peter had tried using them individually and almost flew over the handlebars using the front brake alone. He decided then and there to try and get into the habit of always using them together. Just in case, he figured out the ‘right’ and ‘front’ both had five letters and ‘left’ and ‘back’ both had four. There was a high-pitched squeal as the rubber brake pads pressed against the spinning metal rims. The bike began to slow. Peter stretched out his legs and skidded the soles of his white and blue Adidas in the dirt beside the road. Clouds coughed up behind him as he came to a full stop. He looked past the white picket fence at the lighthouse and smiled.
The East Chop Lighthouse was by far Peter’s favourite lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard. He liked that it was painted brown which was why the locals had dubbed it ‘The Chocolate Lighthouse’. He didn’t know why he thought that was cool but he did. All of the lighthouses on Martha’s Vineyard were different. The West Chop had a house attached to it, so that was pretty cool too; The Edgartown Lighthouse was white—boring! The Gay Head Lighthouse was red brick and on top of a cliff—it was probably his second favourite. There was another lighthouse too but Peter couldn’t remember where it was or what it was called. He had never been there. Being on a cliff was one of the things that he liked so much about this one. Peter liked that he could see so far. He shaded his eyes with his left hand and watched a seagull squawk by. That’s it exactly, thought Peter. Up here, I have the same view as the seagulls! I can even see the Cape! That was why he had wanted to come with his binoculars. He couldn’t wait to see how far he could see with them! That would be really decent, for sure!
Peter dismounted. He walked the Schwinn Sting-Ray a few steps, leaned it against the white picket fence, and turned to read the sign by the gate. In bold black lettering the sign read ‘Telegraph Hill’. It also said that the East Chop Lighthouse was a ‘Semaphore’—whatever that was. Peter reached for the camera case that hung over his shoulder. He unsnapped the metal clasp and flipped open the black leather top. He inhaled deeply. The inside of the case smelled like leather and faintly of his Nana’s car. Peter didn’t know what that smell was. His Dad said it was “moth balls” but Peter didn’t know what that was either. It sounded rude so Peter didn’t ask. Nana had given him the camera just before they left for vacation. It was a nice smell. He took the camera out and, looking through the viewfinder, aimed it at the sign. He pressed down with his forefinger until he heard the click. Reflexively, he wound the film so that it was ready for the next shot. He knew he wouldn’t remember the word ‘semaphore’ and he wanted to look it up later. He didn’t know if Oak Bluffs had a library but he knew where the library in Edgartown was. He could look it up there. Pleased with himself, Peter turned toward the lighthouse and took another photo. He put the camera back in its case. Reaching over the fence for the latch, Peter opened the gate and stepped across the threshold.
* * *
Using both hands, Judie Tate turned the wheel gently starboard and felt the twenty-one-foot wooden catboat slice through the waves beneath her. They had left Edgartown Harbor very early. Once they were out on the sound, she had picked a spot on the horizon and that was where she pointed the bowsprit. The Warlock was heading northwest following the Vineyard shoreline. The Edgartown Lighthouse behind them, the June sun was heating her already bronze shoulders. The summer weather had come early and Judie picked up colour quickly. The day was two or three degrees past hot. The weather forecast predicted a wind of about ten knots with gusts up to fifteen—perfect for a leisurely day of sailing. Every time one of those gusts picked up, a mist of saltwater sprayed across Judie’s face and semi-clad torso. It was intoxicating.
Judie wore a white bikini top and cut-off jean shorts. Her bare feet were already brown and smooth from early summer days on the beach—days that started with jogging on South Beach and ended with clam and lobster bakes on Lucy Vincent. She could never get enough. All winter long Judie ached for summer. The icy grey of winter that chilled her to the bone left her desperate to be wrapped in a warm island breeze, fragrant with salt water and wild roses. There was a time when she would have headed out to South Beach, Wasque, or even State Beach on a day like today and been quite content to while away the hours with a few Jackie Collins or Harold Robbins and a cooler full of cold beer and sandwiches. If that was all that her summers had to offer, it would have been fine with her but that was before she had discovered sailing. Sailing changed everything for her. It changed her whole Martha’s Vineyard experience. Sailing changed her life.
She wasn’t sure what it was about sailing. Judie had grown up around boats. Her family had always owned several motorboats. At the cottage, they had gone for sunset cruises on the lake and they had gone waterskiing, but it wasn’t the same thing at all. She loved being at the helm and feeling the power of the wind. She loved the strength involved in hoisting sail or adjusting the gaff. The illusion that she was controlling the elements was thrilling. The fact that all of her sailing experience had been on an antique wooden catboat meant that there was an element of history that went along with it. The catboat was a New England classic. The more Judie read about them, the more she felt like she was a part of a simpler time when she was on board. She didn’t even have to be at the helm. There was a glamour in its cedar plank on oak frame design. When she was aboard a wooden boat, listening to the ocean lap at the hull and the winds slap the canvas sail, she was Jackie Kennedy, Lillian Hellman, or Carly Simon. Out on Vineyard Sound, on a wooden catboat, very little had changed over the years. There was no politics on the ocean. There was no city skyline, no traffic, no pollution, and no noise. All of the modern stressors were hazy memories at best. The only skyline that she could see was that of Edgartown and it had changed very little in the last four hundred years with its white captain’s houses and the Old Whaling Church. The Chappy Ferry had changed over the decades. In fact, at one time, it too had been a catboat but other than that… With any luck, it wouldn’t change for the next four hundred either. She turned her face away from the horizon, up to the sun. Eyes closed, the sun burned bright orange through her eyelids and she felt the corners of her mouth curl up in a reflexive smile. She could stay out on the water all day. As long as the weather held out, she could stay out on Vineyard Sound forever.
* * *
From the galley, Alan Quaid watched Judie at the helm and smiled. She was so beautiful. Her sun-streaked hair blew around her face and she didn’t seem to notice. Her skin—the colour of caramel—was a rich contrast to the white bikini top that tied in a knot behind her neck. Hidden from view, her nipples pressed against the thin white cotton. Her stomach was taut and covered with fine white hair. The shorts she wore were slung just a little too low and cut just a little too high to be deemed acceptable by polite society—their white cotton pockets hung out below the frayed denim. Shorts that short on legs that long always gave the illusion that you were seeing a lot more than you should without showing you anything at all. It had been nothing at all for her to talk him into sailing. They had gone out sailing before. Alan and Judie had done a lot of things before. It was his boat. His family was known all over the island for sailing. They all sailed. The Edgartown Yacht Club displayed many a plaque and trophy with brass nameplates engraved with his family name. His uncles, his grandfather, great-grandfather, and his father—all of the Quaids were all up there. Some people were natural born sailors and the Quaid family certainly fell into that category. Judie was beautiful—of that, there could be no question. She was beautiful eating eggs at The Black Dog and she was beautiful in front of a campfire on South Beach but out with him, at the helm of Warlock—she positively shone. Beautiful women and sailors had gone hand in hand since time immemorial. Alan and Judie weren’t sleeping together—at least not yet. Alan wasn’t really sure what they were. At present, they were probably just friends, but he’d like it to be more. It felt like there was an intimacy there that wasn’t present in his other friendships. He was pretty sure that Judie felt the same way. Alan was never sure how to bring that up. When he was a teenager, he thought for sure that talking to beautiful girls would get a lot easier when he was an adult. Well, here he was full adulthood with his own tour company and his own sailboat, but talking to beautiful girls still completely and utterly sucked.
Alan bent down, opened the orange Coleman cooler at his feet and pulled out two gold and white Narragansett Lagers. He kicked the cooler closed and stepped back up onto the cockpit. He passed a beer to Judie.
“Thanks,” she smiled, accepting the beer. “I like your Aviators.”
Alan adjusted the sunglasses on his nose at their mention. He returned the smile. “You do?”
“I do,” Judie took a mouthful of beer. “They’re very Robert Redford.”
Alan laughed, “I guess I could do worse than Robert Redford.”
“Everyone could do worse than Robert Redford,” Judie said. “I hear he likes to sail too.”
“Well, he’s okay in my books then.” Alan sat down on the orange seat cushions and took a sip from his beer. “Does he have his own sailboat?”
Judie shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
“So, he might not?”
“He might not.” Judie grinned at him. Even with his Aviators on, she knew she was staring him straight in the eye.
“So, what you’re saying is—there’s a chance I’m cooler than Robert Redford?”
Judy laughed out loud. “You might be pushing it!”
“I don’t know… If he doesn’t have his own sailboat…” Alan stretched out on the bench and kicked his bare feet up on the cushions. He lay back until the sun caught his sunglasses.
“He’s Robert Redford! He was Gatsby for crying out loud! He was that pool guy too—that was a good movie. He was Butch freaking Cassidy!” Judie, feeling that she had made her point, took another mouthful of beer. She had to admit, the Narragansetts were going down pretty easy.
“No, he wasn’t,” Alan said, without getting up from his languid position.
“No, he wasn’t what?” Judy asked.
“He wasn’t Butch Cassidy. Paul Newman was Butch Cassidy. Redford was The Sundance Kid.”
“Whatever. That was like ten years ago. Who can remember a movie that’s been gone for ten years?”
“I’m definitely not as cool as Paul Newman. Nobody is as cool as Newman.”
“Yeah, that’s probably true. Did you hear what he said to that reporter when he was asked if he was ever tempted to cheat on location?”
“No. What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Why would I go out for a hamburger when I have steak at home?’”
“He’s a class act,” Alan sat up a bit and looked at Judie again. “More men should be that respectful. As I said, I am not as cool as Newman but I think I might be as cool as Redford. There might be a chance…couldn’t there be? Even a little chance?” Alan was trying not to laugh but he couldn’t help it. His own sun-kissed torso began to vibrate and beads of sweat rolled down his well-rounded shoulders.
“Maybe a little one,” Judy conceded. She steered the wheel a little further and the boat shifted port. “Where are we headed anyway?”
“Wherever you want,” Alan said. “The day is yours. You’re becoming an excellent sailor.”
“Really?” Judie asked unable to contain her excitement.
“Yes, really,” Alan said.
Judie turned her head and watched the people jumping off the bridge that separated Vineyard Sound from Sengekontacket Pond. “Check it out,” she said and pointed toward the bridge with her beer in hand. “It’s the JAWS Bridge. That’s what everyone’s calling it now. Did you see that movie?”
“I think everyone saw that movie. I guarantee you everyone on this island did. Hell, almost everyone on the island was in it! I saw it at Island Theater when it opened. It was great!”
“It was good. It scared the crap out of me! I wasn’t even sure that I would go swimming again after I saw that little boy get eaten on the raft. You know on the beach? The part that scared me the most wasn’t seeing the kid get eaten but the music and looking up at all the swimmers from underneath. The shark’s perspective?” Judie shuddered. “Jesus…that music!”
“They’re back in town, you know,” Alan said.
“Those Hollywood people. They’re making JAWS 2, here, now, on the Vineyard.”
“They are? That’s so exciting!” Judie said. “In Edgartown?”
“Yeah, down at the harbour. I read about it in the paper.” Alan got up, went down to the galley, and returned with two more beers. “Apparently, there’s a mechanical shark there and everything.”
“Will you take me down to check it out?”
“You want to go with me?” Alan felt himself blushing. He hoped she couldn’t tell behind his tan.
“Of course. I thought we were kind of a team. We do lots of stuff together, don’t we?”
“Yeah, I guess we do,” Alan said softly.
In response, Judie spoke softly as well. “I think that’s pretty cool. Don’t you?”
“I think it’s really cool,” Alan said.