Vineyard stalker, p.14

Vineyard Stalker, page 14

 

Vineyard Stalker
 


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  I smiled at him. “Don’t worry. Being stun-gunned once was enough to last me a lifetime.”

  Beachgoers were streaming home as I drove out of town, and the afternoon traffic jam had formed between Al’s Package Store and the Stop & Shop, caused, of course, by people making left turns. When I’m king I’m banning left turns. However, since everyone else was coming into the village and I was going out of it, I made pretty good time. I picked up the mail from our box on the highway and studied the tire tracks on our driveway. They looked like mine, so I drove down to the house.

  Oliver Underfoot and Velcro came meowing from their sunny spot on the front porch, making me more sure that no one was waiting for me inside. Still, cats don’t make good watchdogs, so instead of going in the front door, I walked around to the back one and peeked through its window into the kitchen and on through its far door into the living room. I saw no visitors. Glad that I kept my hinges oiled, I went inside and, avoiding the squeaky board in the kitchen floor, moved through the house room by room until I was sure no one was there.

  Oliver Underfoot and Velcro took turns meowing along behind me and racing ahead chasing each other, until they saw that I was through playing whatever odd human game I was playing and told me it was time for their evening snack. I gave it to them and then, for my own supper, stir-fried my fresh peas and grilled a piece of striped bass. When the peas were done, I put them on my plate beside the bass and poured Italian dressing over them. The fragrance set my taste buds dancing. Solomon in all his glory never ate so well.

  I was carrying the dishes to the sink when the phone rang. It was Olive Otero, working late. “I thought you might want to know that we just got the ME’s report. Melissa Carson’s neck was broken by person or persons unknown.”

  I wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed. An accidental death would have simplified things. I thanked Olive and rang off.

  The evening light lingered long, so I had plenty of time to wash the dishes and rig a switch for my outdoor lights so I could turn them off and on from the kids’ tree house. I then had an after-dinner cognac as I waited for guests to arrive.

  I wondered if, in fact, they would arrive. I’d left my name in enough places and there was no secret about where I lived, so it was at least possible that Fred and Angie and whoever their boss might be would decide to do more to encourage me to disengage from their activities, since their phone call hadn’t done the trick. And if they did, it seemed likely that they’d do it at night, as was their practice when vandalizing Roland Nunes’s place. A man’s home might be his castle, but it’s also an easy target for enemies. Maybe that’s why those ever-traveling movie cowboys I’d watched as a kid never had houses. The most they could lose was their horses when they tangled with the bad guys, and nobody would have dared shoot Trigger or Silver.

  Darkness came down and the sky filled with stars. Night sounds replaced those of the day. I checked my borrowed camera and night glasses, got my Remington 16-gauge, and mused awhile over shot size before taking a handful of birdshot shells from the gun cabinet, and climbed into the kids’ tree house in our big beech tree. It was an excellent tree house, modeled in part after the great one that Tarzan, Jane, and Boy lived in when Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan. It had a rope you could use to swing down to the ground and a rope bridge leading to a nearby oak tree. It was not a very comfortable place for adults to sleep since there really wasn’t room for them to lie down, but my family and I were very fond of it anyway. From the main room you had an excellent view of our yard.

  I sat in the darkness and waited.

  Nothing happened for a long time, and I began to get stiff and to wonder if I’d been wrong.

  Then, as I surveyed things with my glasses, I saw movement up the dark driveway. A kneeling figure in black was staring at the house through night vision goggles mounted on a face-mask carriage. I’d once seen them priced in a military equipment magazine for about five thousand dollars, so apparently my stalker wasn’t lacking in money. Certainly he was equipped with newer stuff than I was.

  The figure looked for some time, then turned and seemed to speak to someone I couldn’t see. When the talking was over, the figure rose and moved forward until it reached the yard. I snapped a couple of pictures of the intruder before he hustled across the open yard and hunkered down behind my Land Cruiser.

  Then, for a while, nothing happened until in the woods in back of the shed behind the house a dry branch broke as a careless foot came down. Even with state-of-the-art night vision goggles you need to watch where you’re stepping. The careless walker stayed quiet for a time, no doubt waiting to learn if he’d been heard. When he was sure he had not, he came on, making small sounds that suggested he was more of a city stalker than a country one.

  I took his picture when he peered around the corner of the shed and studied the back of the house. Then I saw him lift a small radio to his mouth and speak into it. I shifted my glasses to the front of the house and, sure enough, stalker number one was peering over the hood of the truck at the front door and talking back. My guess was that one of them was going inside the house and the other was covering the opposite door in case I tried to run away. I looked back to the second man and changed my mind because he was now easing toward the house carrying a small fuel can.

  The son of a bitch was going to set fire to my house!

  I let him get about halfway between the shed and the house then shot him in the legs. He screamed and dropped his walkie-talkie as I jacked another shell into the firing chamber and flipped on the outside lights. I swung the gun and put a shot right where intruder number one had been peeking over the Land Cruiser, but he was already running fast up the driveway. I led him and shot at him; he fell down but was immediately up again and running hard. He was out of sight in an instant.

  I turned back to Intruder Two and saw him, too, running, limping, back into the woods. I put the sights on his rump and squeezed the trigger, but my gun, which had been choked to hold only three shells, was empty. I plugged three more shells into the magazine, jacked a new one into the firing chamber, swung down on the rope, and ran after the second man as far as the shed, where I stopped and fired blindly into the dark woods just to keep him on his way. In the distance I heard the diminishing sounds of breaking branches. I guessed that he probably didn’t know where he was running but was just putting as much distance as possible between me and him. If he didn’t start running in circles, he’d soon reach the Felix Neck wildlife sanctuary, where he’d find a road that would make his running easier.

  Birdshot wouldn’t kill him or his friend, but it had bloodied them more than a little. When I thought of the fuel can I had a fleeting wish that I’d used buckshot.

  I walked back toward the house and found the fuel can and a walkie-talkie. I turned off the radio and sniffed the can. Gasoline. Damn.

  I went back up into the tree house and retrieved the night glasses and camera, then walked cautiously through the trees beside the driveway all the way to the highway, anxious to know if Intruder One was gone or was planning an ambush or counterattack. I saw no sign of him and walked back down the driveway to the house.

  My truck had new dimples on its hood, but it was so rusty and beat-up anyway that a few new dents didn’t make any difference.

  I put the fuel can in the shed, then got a flashlight and found a bit of blood on the driveway and a bit more in the backyard. I kicked dirt over the spots, then went inside, called 911, and reported hearing at least four shots somewhere in the woods behind my house. I said I thought maybe somebody was jacking deer, but whatever was going on I didn’t want people shooting so close to my house. The woman at the other end of the line said she’d have the officers on the night shift check it out.

  I doubted if they’d find my stalkers but maybe they would. They’d certainly remember my call if the ER reported anyone checking in with superficial shotgun wounds.

  I left the outside lights on and cleaned the Remington before putting it bac
k in the gun cabinet, as I waited for the cruiser to show up. Sergeant Tony d’Agostine was working the four-to-two shift, and when he drove into the yard I offered him coffee, which he accepted when I told him it was decaf.

  “I’m going off duty before long, and I want to go to sleep,” he said. “What’s this about gun shots?”

  “I was reading,” I said, “and I heard four shots from back there in the woods. Sounded like shotguns to me. I thought somebody was jacking deer, but when I looked for a spotting light I didn’t see one.”

  “Most deer jackers work closer to a road so they don’t have to carry the carcass too far,” said Tony. “You sure it wasn’t fire-works or some such thing? The Glorious Fourth isn’t too far away.”

  I shrugged. “Maybe, but it sounded like shotguns to me.”

  “You ever have deer jackers back there before?”

  “Not that I know of.”

  “You say it sounded like shotguns. More than one?”

  “The shots sounded different to me. Two from one gun, two from another. Maybe I’m wrong. I wasn’t paying attention when I heard the first one.”

  “What were you reading that took so much concentration?”

  “The Second Nun’s Tale.”

  “Chaucer? It about killed me to read Chaucer. I’d never do it for fun. Middle English. Jeez.”

  “I read it very slowly,” I said. “If I do that, I can make it out. I’m not like John Skye; he can read it a hundred miles an hour.”

  “Yeah. Well, better you and John than me.” He finished his coffee and handed me the cup. “Thanks. I’ll take a drive up toward Felix Neck and see what I can see.”

  “Protect and serve,” I said, “But you’re probably right. It was probably kids shooting off cherry bombs or some such thing.”

  “You did the right thing,” he said. “That’s why we have 911.” He looked at me long and hard before getting into his cruiser. He was no fool, and probably hadn’t believed much of what I’d said.

  He drove away and I went into the house and went to bed. Oliver Underfoot and Velcro, who had no doubt enjoyed the evening’s activity even less than I had, thought it was about time, and climbed up beside me. After I read for a while I turned off the inside light but I left the outside ones on.

  I wondered if the intruders were Fred and Angie or two other toughs imported for the job. If they were new guys, somebody was going to considerable lengths to get me out of the picture.

  I suddenly remembered the walkie-talkie and it gave me an idea. I got up and found it where I’d put it on the living room bookcase. I turned it on, pushed the send button and whispered, “Hello! Hello! Are you there?”

  A whispered voice replied. “Yes, I’m here. Where the hell are you? I’ve been calling you. What the hell happened back there?”

  “I don’t know where I am,” I whispered, “but I’m hurt. Somebody got me with a shotgun. Feels like small shot, but it hurts like hell. Where are you?”

  “I’m in the car driving toward Edgartown. I got hit, too. He was waiting for us, damn him. Jesus Christ! A cop just turned into that Felix Neck place. Don’t let him see you. You got your compass?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Work your way west toward the highway. Watch for me. I’ll drive back and forth until you hail me.”

  “Okay. Damn, I hurt. Over and out.”

  I was no longer sleepy. I got dressed, put the .38 in my belt, and went out to the Land Cruiser. I drove to the end of my driveway where I parked, turned off my headlights, and watched the midnight traffic go by. After a while a white Mercedes went slowly past, headed for Edgartown. Several minutes later it passed going the other way. Tony d’Agostine drove past, headed back to town. The Mercedes came by again, then returned again. I imagined that the driver was wondering where his partner was. I pulled out onto the highway and followed him.

  18

  Neither of us was hurrying. I wondered where Intruder Two really was and whether he knew enough to come toward the highway in hopes of spotting the Mercedes and getting out of harm’s way. I hoped so, because I wanted the two of them together. When I got close to the entrance to Felix Neck, I backed into a driveway across the road and used my night glasses to sweep the far roadside and watch the Mercedes creep back and forth along the highway looking for Mr. Two.

  By and by I saw someone limp out of the woods across the road and look furtively this way and that. Mr. Two, certainly. He ducked back when the occasional car went whizzing by, but when the Mercedes crept into view once again he lurched out as it passed and shouted. The car skidded to a halt and backed up, and Mr. Two joined Mr. One.

  I could imagine their car seats turning red as the blood oozed out of their wounds, and how their conversation might go:

  “Where the hell were you? I told you when we talked to meet me at the highway.”

  “Talked? We never talked!”

  “Are you crazy? We talked after the plan went wrong. I told you to meet me here. Where the hell have you been?”

  “You’re the crazy one. How could we have talked? I dropped my radio when I got shot!”

  “Then who…?” I could see the light dawn in Mr. One’s mind, as he realized who must have been speaking to him.

  The Mercedes went toward Vineyard Haven. I gave it a head start and drove after it. It turned right onto County Road and I wondered if it would go to the ER at the hospital to have the birdshot dug out of the driver and his passenger, or to the Noepe Hotel where the two men could lick their wounds and decide what to do next.

  I hoped they’d go to the ER because it was only a block from the state police barracks and I could have Dom Agganis and Olive Otero or whoever was on the late shift there to talk to them almost before they got the first shot removed. Instead, they turned right onto Wing Road and headed for the hotel. Their pain probably helped take their minds off possible tails, because they gave no indication that they knew I was behind them.

  As we entered the village they failed to take the short route to the hotel, thus revealing their unfamiliarity with the warren of one-way streets that characterize Oak Bluffs. I, being more knowledgeable than they, took a more direct route and got to the hotel first. I parked on a nearby street where I could see the parking lot, turned off my lights and engine, and waited for them to arrive.

  They pulled into the lot a few minutes later, parked, and limped toward the fire stairs on the back of the building, no doubt eager to avoid shocking the night clerk by bleeding all over the lobby. Most of their facial camouflage had been scrubbed off, I noticed. I went after them, crossing the brightly lit lot on silent feet and shucking my pistol from my belt as I went. We arrived at the stairs more or less in a clump. They knew I was there when I said, “Hi, guys. Mind if I join you?”

  They spun around and the older man’s hand jumped toward his waist then stopped as its owner saw my .38 looking at him.

  “Who the hell are you?”

  “I’m a man with a gun, Fred. Turn around and put your hands on the wall. Kick your feet back. I think you know the routine.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He squinted at me. “I know you; you’re Jackson.”

  I cocked the revolver. “You Charlestown thugs can’t possibly be as stupid as you’re acting. Turn around. If you don’t, I’ll probably get a medal for shooting you.”

  They turned around, put their hands on the wall, and spread their bleeding legs. I put the pistol against the older man’s head and frisked him the way they taught me to do it long before at the Boston Police Academy.

  Principal among my findings were his wallet, his walkie-talkie, a stun gun, a 9mm Glock pistol, and a pocketknife. I patted down his arms and then put the pistol against his spine and patted down his legs, getting a muffled groan from him when I did that. I then frisked the younger man and found a pistol, his wallet, and a Zippo cigarette lighter. He might be a no good son of a bitch, but he had good taste in lighters. He also moaned when I patted down his bloody legs.<
br />
  I tossed everything but their wallets into the shadow beneath the stairs, then stepped away from them into the bright light of the lot and flipped through the wallets. Sure enough, their driver’s licenses identified the pair as Fred McMahan and Angelo Vinci. I also found a couple of those cards that serve as room keys these days.

  “I’m dying here,” whined Angie. “I need a doctor.”

  “You need a brain,” I said. “Up to your room, both of you. I’ll be right behind, close enough to shoot you but too far away for you to try any funny stuff. Go.”

  “You won’t get away with this,” said Fred, but he started up the stairs with Angie, almost crying with each step, at his heels.

  The fire door wasn’t locked, but I hadn’t expected it to be, since Fred and Angie hadn’t hesitated when they’d headed for the rear stairs. I figured they’d probably taped the lock open so they could get in without being noticed and would thus have an alibi if they needed one; the night clerk, unless he was more diligent than most, would never have gone upstairs to check the door and, if the cops came around, could verify that Fred and Angie had been in their room all night.

  We went through the fire door and I waved Fred and Angie down the hall while I opened the door to their room.

  “Come in, gentlemen,” I said, waving my pistol in an inviting way. When they did, I sat them on their beds and took a chair across from them. Their faces revealed the pain they were feeling. Angie had tears in his eyes, but Fred was made of sterner stuff.

  “What we have here,” I said, “is a problem. You two wiseguys are in trouble. You vandalized Roland Nunes’s place, you tried to poison his cat, you shot me with a stun gun, you tried to burn down my house, and you killed Melissa Carson.”

  “You can’t prove any of that,” said Fred, through gritted teeth.

  “I don’t have to prove it,” I said. “I just have to believe it. That’s all the police have to do, too. I have photos of both of you doing your dirty work at Nunes’s place and mine. I think there’ll be enough evidence to put you away.”

 
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