Vanished in the Dunes, page 1
Vanished in the Dunes
Vanished in the Dunes
A Hamptons Mystery
Copyright © 2012 by Allan Retzky
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, businesses, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing,
Longboat Key, Florida
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
When an international commodity trader transitions to fiction writing, there are many to thank for their support and input. I gratefully salute those whose assistance made this work possible.
A toe in the water at The Writers Studio in Manhattan afforded me some initial confidence, thanks to the tolerance and skills of Lesley Dorman and Cynthia Weiner.
The Southampton College Graduate Writing Program, under the remarkable leadership of Robert Reeves, provided the groundwork for my writing. The extraordinary faculty was always there to teach and encourage. My work benefited in particular from the intellectual and teaching skills of Clark Blaise, Ursula Hegi, Kaylie Jones, Matt Klam, Bharti Mukherjee, and Lou Ann Walker.
This novel had its own specific need for expertise. Detective Peter Schmidt of the East Hampton Police Department professionally described local law enforcement activities; I apologize if my liberal use of literary license transformed the department’s procedures into something less recognizable. Dr. Robert Sussman led me through the scope of mental illnesses and the range of effects from various medications. Any errors of fact are completely my own.
My agent, Ellen Levine of Trident Media, never lost faith in the novel and her constructive suggestions reshaped the story’s focus and propelled it forward. And special thanks to the editorial skills of Dr. Patricia Gussin of Oceanview Publishing who believed in the book from the onset. My thanks to the Oceanview team, Bob Gussin, Frank Troncale, David Ivester, Susan Hayes, and George Foster.
Thanks also to an array of colleagues and friends who were unstinting in their reinforcement of my efforts. You all showed remarkable patience.
My final appreciation goes to the most important requisite element, my primary support group—my family. Andrea Retzky, and Deborah, Bob, Anna, and Daniel Shaul offered constructive criticism and relentless encouragement. Most of all, my wife and best friend, Susan, supported my efforts from the very beginning, always willing to read, take a breath, and then reread some more. None of this would have happened without her.
Amagansett, New York
Vanished in the Dunes
Posner first sees the woman in profile as she moves past him at the bus stop. There is a flash of a pink-and-white dress, smooth tanned arms, and black hair cut short with a tight curl that kisses her ears. He doesn’t know why he looks up at that moment. Perhaps it is just habit, seeing if the bus has turned the corner, or possibly it’s the flicker of her dress’s pink that seizes the edge of his eye, but as soon as she passes, he returns to his newspaper.
He’s waiting for the Hampton Jitney to take him to Amagansett on the East End of Long Island. But for Amos Posner, the summer season, which officially begins in four weeks with the Memorial Day weekend, brings too many people, too much noise, an excess of money and boasts, all of which he has been trying to avoid for the last two years.
He waits in front of a Victoria’s Secret window on 86th Street. The bus is due at 8:30 a.m., but it is already a few minutes late. He folds the New York Times in half and slides it into the backpack between his legs. A few years ago he carried a wide expandable leather briefcase, but circumstances have drastically changed his life, and he finds the backpack roomier and more convenient. The air is cool and spasms of wind appear and vanish with indecisive regularity. The beach will be much cooler than the city. He knows this from years of irregular residence in Amagansett.
The woman stops a few yards away and again draws the corner of his vision as she looks up at the Jitney sign. She has no suitcase, but carries a large straw bag. She speaks to a man standing nearby, who, pointing to the bus sign, seems to confirm that she is standing in the right place. Posner briefly studies her face, olive complexioned like his own, a nose with a small bump in its center, a full-lipped mouth. Silver hoop earrings contrast with her dark skin. The dress fits a bit too tightly around her body and the skirt seems shorter than is stylish. She has nothing of his wife Sara’s classic good looks or elegance, yet the woman emits an effortless erotic aura.
The bus pulls to a stop at the curb just as Posner moves to the spot where he knows the door will open. A solitary newspaper page races determinedly through the morning air just past where he stands, as if it, too, wishes to board and escape the city. The paper plunges to a stop as it clings to a post that carries a parking sign, before it gently slides down to the sidewalk. That’s as far as you’ll go today, Posner muses as he turns toward the just-opened door.
The woman is presumably somewhere behind him now, waiting with the few who will board at this first pickup spot. Posner knows the driver and attendant—regulars on this run, as is he. Nevertheless, he calls out, “Amagansett,” and moves up the stairs. He finds an aisle seat a bit more than halfway down and drops his backpack on the adjoining window seat. He removes his newspaper from the backpack, leans into the seat, and stifles a yawn.
Pulling out the Wednesday sports section, he begins to scan the headlines just as a flicker of pink and white passes and moves farther toward the rear. He briefly follows the movement until she passes, then contemplates her circumstances, as if it were a kind of challenge, like the old television show, What’s My Line? where a celebrity panel must ponder the occupation of a mystery guest. Posner guesses that her occupation is that of a housekeeper or nanny, and that she has been in the city for a night to visit family or friends. Her features and coloring lead him to believe she has probably emigrated from some place far more exotic than the Hamptons. Satisfied that he has solved the origin and occupation options of the young woman, he looks in earnest at the review of a Yankee victory the previous night.
The bus picks up more passengers on 59th Street, but the majority of commuters will enter on 40th Street. That’s where he drops the paper in his lap and looks up to see if he will need to relinquish the seat where his backpack rests. He studies the passengers. At this early hour, the young males usually opt for the very rear, where they are likely to find a double seat to spread their bodies out and sleep. The occasional men in suits are likely day-trippers who have some business meeting worthy of the more than four-hour, two-way commute. They congregate toward the front, folding their jackets neatly and resting them in the overhead bin, as if they were fragile antiques. Young women often seek each other out, grasping cups of coffee from the store at the bus stop.
In a few minutes Posner is satisfied that the seat next to him will remain empty. He scans the business section. Just as the bus enters the Midtown Tunnel, he is drawn to an article under the fold. The headline shouts the news of the indictment of a financial executive for bribing foreign officials. He feels a chill dance
For two years he has waited for a call from the Justice Department. In his address book he keeps the name and number of a lawyer, a specialist in challenging government accusations of misconduct in such matters. He waits in limbo for a call that may never come while the statute of limitations runs toward expiration.
He knows the Justice Department is still involved and has not yet decided to dismiss the case. The authorities have in recent years showed a particular interest in transactions that involve excessive payments to foreign agents to secure overseas business in a country where honest auctions are unknown. If he had worked for a public company, the Securities and Exchange Commission might also have tracked the matter, but his past employer was a private, family-owned business, so there is no question of securities fraud, but this is small consolation. He has lived with this issue without comfort. The smallest thing can set him off into an orbit of worry that might take days to ease. His mind tells him that he is innocent, at most a dupe of more senior people’s ambitions, but he sees no easy resolution.
He folds the business section and stuffs it in the mesh pocket of the seat in front, as if this gesture will make the story disappear. He takes deep breaths and turns toward the window. The face in the return image has been called nice looking. When they were first married, Sara even teasingly described his looks as a small step below really handsome, but he was never comfortable with that assessment. He is a bit less than six feet with all his dark hair still in place. His eyes are brown, yet there is weariness in his reflection he can’t hide from himself or others.
They leave the tunnel and are on the expressway. An attendant offers muffins and juice, but he waves her off. His stomach has a hollow void that food will not fill. He stares out the window until his eyes flutter closed.
His nap is short lived as the attendant provides the ritual announcement regarding fares. Posner slips his discount coupon from his wallet and wedges it into the back of the broken tray table. He has already printed his name and destination, so the attendant will not bother him with personal details for the computer database, but the interruption has voided any further possibility of sleep. He pulls his wrist up and checks the time. Traffic must be light. They are already past the Great Neck exit. Less than two hours to go.
A cluster of dark clouds moving east parallels the bus. He cannot shake this new angst. Two years have passed since his last attack of fear, but nothing has been resolved: not today’s paper’s veiled dark portent about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, nor how he might be personally involved. He has been forced to resign, but the owners attempted to make it appear as amicable as possible. His severance was generous, yet there was an agreement provision that the same severance would be forfeited to the extent of full recapture if he provided any evidence of past irregularities to authorities. The agreement is probably unenforceable, according to Sara, a lawyer, as well as the special attorney he consulted, but he still signed it. He is now basically unemployable at fifty-five. At least he has the house near the beach he tells himself, the mortgage all paid off, and the isolation from commercial matters, a small consolation.
Sara continues to work in mergers for a medium-sized law firm where she recently became a partner. That’s why they keep the one-bedroom apartment on East 90th Street. She left a note on the kitchen table this morning saying she may arrive at the beach late in the evening since she is driving to a meeting on the East End of Long Island. She asked if he could pick her up at the entrance to the East Hampton Airport terminal around nine after she drops off the rental car. Her plan to come out to the beach is a welcome idea, but he’s not sure if she’ll actually show up since they’ve barely spoken over the past several weeks.
Their marriage has been in a downward spiral for some time now. Sara was originally sympathetic to his potential legal problem, and she freely enjoys the revenue derived from his earlier success. More recently, she seems disinterested in his legal concerns and focuses more on his diminishing interest in sex. She hasn’t bought into the explanation that the stress of his legal problems coupled with his job loss has upset his libido despite such confirmation by a urologist. At first, he hoped that she would come to understand, but as he retreated further into his world at the beach she had another theory.
It came to a head six weeks ago on a Sunday at the beach house as she was getting ready to return to New York. There would soon be a ride back with a neighbor. She stood across from him in the living room her legs straddling the small weekend bag stuffed with the laptop and the usual selection of work files she always brought with her.
“I need to know if you’re seeing someone else. Someone local. Is that why you always want to be here? Do you want someone younger? Someone available on a moment’s notice?”
“There’s no one else. I swear.”
She started to walk down the steps, then stopped halfway down, turned, and faced him.
“I just don’t know if I can believe you.”
And she hasn’t spent a night at the beach since that Sunday. Oh, he’d spent time in the city since then, but it wasn’t the same as it had once been. When he was in town, she was so distant as to make him feel isolated in his own apartment even though he thought spending more time in the city would defuse her accusations.
Then there was this morning’s surprise note that she might make it out to the beach for the night and take a bus back later the next day. After reading today’s newspaper story, a part of him would prefer if she didn’t come today. Still, if it means she wants to be with him, then it’ll be well worth it. Maybe today will be different. If she does come out we’ll do something special. Something to pull him out of his funk over the foreign bribery mess and maybe begin to repair things between them. A quiet dinner tomorrow in the garden room at the American Hotel would work. He makes a mental note to book a table and sips from the small complimentary water bottle the attendant distributed during the first minutes of the trip.
He looks up as the bus turns off the expressway at the Manorville exit. He notices that the dark cloud has turned even blacker and continues to follow their route, as if waiting to be united with the bus at some distant point. Posner shivers slightly, then aggressively turns pages as he searches for the crossword puzzle. Indiscriminate words hold no fear for him. He works on the puzzle intermittently as the bus makes its ritual stops in Southampton and other small villages.
“Excuse me, but is the East Hampton beach near the bus stop?”
The voice comes from just behind him. He turns. The pink-and-white dress has moved from some seat in the back and now stands in the aisle. One arm stretches above to hold the railing under the storage bins. The pose is almost erotic in its effect. The pitch of the voice is low and throaty. He detects some accent, something European. Somehow he thinks of rushing water. He gathers himself into speech.
“It’s not too close. You can get a taxi to take you there, but the weather doesn’t look too promising for the beach.”
He might have said that he wasn’t sure, or something equally evasive, but the simple act of engaging this woman in conversation, has an immediate effect on his anguish, which he feels slipping away. He has an almost unnatural motivation to keep the conversation alive.
“How come you’re out here on such a cool day if you want to see the beach?” he asks.
The bus nears the turn to East Hampton; there are but a few minutes left before it stops.
“I just wanted to see the beach. Ever since I’m in New York, I’ve heard how beautiful the beaches are. I have the day off, so I thought I’d have a look.”
“A day off from what?” he asks, as he wonders about his first assessment. The woman raises both arms and smoothes her hair, as if posing. The motion propels her chest forward. He fe
“I’m a resident in psychiatry at Mt. Sinai. Wednesday is my day off,” she answers in the matter-of-fact way people describe the most mundane things, like what car they own, or the movie they saw the past weekend.
This simple disclosure catches Posner unawares. So much for initial judgments, he thinks, but he recovers quickly enough to ask about her accent.
“Ach. That is German. I grew up in Austria, in Vienna. That’s after my parents left Iran just before the shah and his family did.”
Everything is clear now to Posner, the facial coloring and the accent all come together. And a doctor, no less. She must have sensed his surprise. She’s probably seen it many times, but before he can say a word the bus begins to slow as it approaches the East Hampton stop. The empty driveway of the Palm Restaurant lies to the right. She stands and moves a step closer up the aisle and stops next to where he sits. The movement causes her to sway slightly and her hip brushes his shoulder. She seizes his eyes with her own, a pair of wide black bullets that bore through him, a discomfort he cannot evade.
“Do you get off here?” she asks, still swaying slightly as the bus slows. “Perhaps you can drop me at the beach.”
“Sorry, but I go on till Amagansett,” he answers. “Next stop.”
She nods slightly. “Too bad.” Her eyes remain locked on his.
The bus stops. “Well, thank you anyway,” she says, and offers her hand.
It all seems very formal to Posner. Very European. Her grip is warm, and he senses her fingers linger across his palm far longer than normal. But what is normal?
“Enjoy,” he says and releases her hand. He watches her walk down the aisle, briefly wonders why she was flirting with him, and smiles at the idea. The woman is probably only slightly more than half his age. Whatever it is, he feels a physical quiver where he has become used to near dormancy.