Vineyard stalker, p.16

Vineyard Stalker, page 16


Vineyard Stalker

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  “I’ll bet you would. Anything else?”

  “Just these names.” I took the list out of my pocket and gave it to him. “These men are island guys Melissa dated, and the woman is one of their girlfriends. Maybe one of them held a grudge.”

  “You should be a cop,” said Dom, looking at the list. “You’re a natural snoop. But in this case, as usual, we’re ahead of you. Olive is out talking with one of these guys right now and I’m going to be talking to the other one as soon as I can get rid of you.”

  That left the woman to me. “Let me know what you learn,” I said.

  “Don’t hold your breath,” said Dom, getting up and grabbing his hat. “I’ll walk you out.”


  The woman’s name was Cynthia Dias, and she lived in Oak Bluffs in a small, winterized house in the warren of narrow dirt streets on East Chop. Daniel Boone, when asked if he’d ever been lost, reputedly said, “No, but I’ve been confused for a few days, sometimes.” Like Dan’l, I’ve been confused more than once on East Chop, but so far have always been able to find my way home.

  Cynthia Dias was hanging clothes on a line when I pulled up, and I immediately felt approval for her because I, too, have one of those solar driers and I think more people should use them. I like the way the sunshine makes dry sheets and clothes smell, and the way wind-blown washings look, so I’m irked whenever I learn of one of the increasingly popular zoning laws that ban clotheslines because they supposedly lower property values and violate the aesthetic principles of the neighbors. Such rulings were not operational on East Chop. At least not yet.

  Cynthia Dias wore no wedding ring. She was a woman in her thirties, tiny, slender, dark-haired, wearing glasses on the end of her pretty nose. Behind those glasses intelligent blue eyes looked at me as I walked into the backyard. A slim hand took a clothespin from her mouth and snapped it over the corner of a pillowcase.

  “Cynthia Dias?”

  She took other clothespins from a pocket in her apron and hung up a matching pillowcase, then smiled at me. “Yes.”

  “My name’s Jackson. I’m working on a criminal case that you may have heard of: the death of a woman named Melissa Carson. Her neck was broken. I’d like to ask you some questions.”

  At the mention of Melissa’s name, Cynthia Dias’s smile went away. “I read about it in the paper. I can’t imagine how I can be of any help to you.” She turned away and went back to hanging up clothes and bedclothes.

  “Did you know Miss Carson?”

  “I met her once or twice.”

  “She dated a man named Carl Morgan. Before that, you and Carl Morgan spent a lot of time together.”


  “How did you feel when Carl left you for her?”

  She looked at me with annoyed eyes. “How do you think I felt? I felt betrayed! Have you ever been abandoned by someone you loved, Mr. Jackson?”

  “My first wife divorced me.”

  She pulled a sheet from her basket and tossed it over the line. “Did you love her?”


  “Did you beg her to stay?”


  “Did another man steal her away?”

  “She married again soon after she left me.”

  “And how did you feel about that?”

  “I got over it.”

  “I mean, how did you feel about the man?”

  “I couldn’t fault him for his choice of women.”

  “Well, that’s not how I felt about Melissa Carson. I thought she was a witch. She stole Carl away and then tossed him back as soon as she was through with him.”

  “Did you catch him when she threw him?”

  She hung a T-shirt. “We didn’t see each other again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

  “So much for Carl. What about Melissa?”

  “What about her?”

  “Somebody killed her. Was it you?”

  She stopped and gave me a look of disbelief. “What? Is that why you’re here? To find out if I killed Melissa Carson? Good God! She was a slut, but she wasn’t worth killing!” She spread her slender arms. “Besides, look at me? Melissa Carson was no giant, but she was bigger and taller than I am. You say her neck was broken? Can you see me breaking her neck? Hell, she’d have broken mine if I’d tried!”

  “What about Carl? How did he feel when she dumped him?”

  “He felt like the idiot he is. He was just the toy of the day, and now he knows it.”

  “Was he angry?”

  “At her? No. He’s a lamb, not a wolf. He was too red-faced to be angry at anybody but himself.”

  “Maybe you should take him back, then.”

  She shrugged, then gave me a crooked smile. “Maybe when winter comes and my house gets cold.”

  I liked her for that. Life is too short for long grudges. “Let me give you a hand with the rest of that wash,” I said.

  “No, I can handle it myself.”

  “I like hanging clothes. I do it at home.”

  She tipped her head to one side. “All right. There’s not much left to do.”

  We hung her wash and admired our work.

  “One last question,” I said, as I paused outside of her back door. “Who’d Melissa drop Carl for?”

  “A guy named Cabot. Owns a hotel in the village, they say. I wouldn’t know because I never stay in hotels on Martha’s Vineyard. They say he has money. Maybe that’s what she saw in him.”

  “She had her own money,” I said.

  Cynthia Dias shrugged. “Who knows what women want?”

  “Freud wondered the same thing. I’ve heard three answers.”

  She was standing on her back porch and I was on the ground. Her eyes were even with mine. “All right, I’ll bite. What are they?”

  “Men can’t resist beauty and women can’t resist money.”

  “I’ve heard that one.”

  “The next one is that women want what they want when they want it.”

  “Who doesn’t? What’s the third answer?”


  She laughed. “I’ll go along with that. Maybe Cabot owns a shoe store.”

  “He owns a lot of things,” I said.

  “Did he own Melissa Carson?”

  “I don’t think Melissa Carson was anybody’s possession.”

  “Love’s, maybe.”

  I hadn’t heard that idea expressed that way for some time. “Did you like that novel?”

  “My father and mother were lawyers. I found the book on a shelf in their library. I thought it was fine. Would you like to come in for coffee?”

  I thanked her but said I really had to go. I felt the pull of her eyes on my back as I walked around the corner of the house, but I kept going to the truck, thinking that Carl might get a second chance.

  I found my way off East Chop, drove through the traffic and street-crossing pedestrians to Ocean Park, where I turned right, then went this way and that through narrow streets until I finally fetched the Noepe Hotel. I drove around to the back and parked in their lot. The white Mercedes wasn’t there, but the forest-green Hummer was in its private parking place and the Chevy pickup that I’d seen the first time I’d gone there was at the far end of the lot. I went in through the back door and on to the front desk. The same clerk was there.

  “Remember me? I was here a couple of days ago.”

  “I remember you.”

  “I was looking for Fred McMahan. I left him a note. Did he get it?”

  She smiled. “I couldn’t say.”

  “Is he still here?”

  She smiled some more. “As you’ll recall, we don’t discuss our guests.”

  “In that case, I’ll just go up and see him.”

  “Is he expecting you?”

  Her question told me that Fred hadn’t bothered to check out when he and Angie left. I showed her the card I’d kept. “I have his key.”

  She touched her phone. “I should call and ask.”
r />   “I doubt if he’ll answer, but go ahead.”

  She punched buttons and listened to the phone ring before hanging up. “He doesn’t seem to be in.”

  “Sometimes Fred sleeps late. He doesn’t like phones waking him up so he puts plugs in his ears.” I grinned my version of a Burt Lancaster grin. “I’ll get him up. Can’t have him burning daylight like this.”

  I went up the stairs and down the hall to Fred’s room. There was a DO NOT DISTURB card hanging from the door-knob. Smart Fred had given himself a few extra hours to make his getaway.

  I went into the room and spent some time searching the place in case pain had made Fred and Angie careless enough to leave behind some clue identifying their employer, but all I found were bloodstains. I went out into the hall and looked for the chambermaid. I found her on the third floor. She was Brazilian, as were many of the people doing basic work on the island, and her English was almost as bad as my Portuguese. Still, we finally understood one another well enough for me to learn that the master suite on the second floor belonged to Senhor Cabot, and for her to learn that I had made a troublesome discovery in Senhor McMahan’s room.

  While she went to Fred’s room, I went down to the lobby, put an anxious look on my face, and told the desk clerk that I’d found Fred’s room empty and what looked like bloodstains on the bed and a chair, and that I’d sent the chambermaid to investigate. The clerk paled.

  “I think you should call 911,” I said. “Maybe something’s happened.”

  “Oh, dear,” said the clerk, who clearly wasn’t used to signs of violence in the Noepe. “I’d better ask Mr. Cabot what to do!”

  “Of course,” I said. “He’ll know.”

  She picked up her phone, punched numbers, and looked at me with wide, unfocused eyes. Then she held the phone with both hands and spoke rapidly. “Mr. Cabot, I’m sorry to bother you, but…but Mr. McMahan isn’t in his room and there’s a report of what looks like bloodstains on the furniture. The man who found them is here now and the maid is in the room. Oh no, here she comes down the stairs! Yes, yes. I’ll stay right here. Should I call the police? All right, I’ll wait until you see the room. I’m terribly sorry…” She stared at the buzzing phone, then hung up as the chambermaid, who had been gesturing and talking and looking back up the stairway ever since she’d come into view, continued her exciting if incomprehensible tale of what she’d seen.

  The desk clerk pulled herself together and quieted the maid and the three of us waited to see what would happen next. What happened next was the ring of the clerk’s phone. She picked it up and said, “Yes, sir?” Then, after a moment, said it again, rang off, and dialed 911. Her report to the emergency number was short and to the point. She was admirably recomposed, I thought.

  While we waited for the police, a tall, broad-shouldered man came down the stairs. He was wearing slacks and a blue, short-sleeved dress shirt, and looked like one of those male models you see in slick magazines: leonine, perfectly quaffed, eagle-eyed, and totally in control of things. Not at all my idea of a blah man, as described by Babs, but maybe I didn’t know blah when I saw it. Maybe blah was one of those concepts understood only by women, like hunkiness, which Zee sometimes saw in men who looked completely normal to me.

  “I’m Alfred Cabot,” he said, coming directly to me. “Are you the man who told the maid about the room?”

  His eyes were level with mine and they were hard to read. I nodded.

  “What’s your name?”

  “Jeff Jackson. My friends call me J.W.”

  “How did you get into the room?” His tone was the sort that belonged to someone who was used to getting answers to his questions.

  I put the key card in his hand.

  “Where’d you get this?”

  “From Fred McMahan. I guess he didn’t need it anymore.”

  Cabot studied me. “What do you mean?”

  “The last time I saw him he was planning to leave the island. He was gone when I went up to see him just now.”

  “Why did he give you this key?”


  He frowned, and anger flickered across his face; then he said, “I don’t know the man, but apparently you do. What do you think happened up there in his room?”

  “I’m not an expert on forensics,” I said, “but it looks like somebody did some bleeding.”

  “Why did McMahan give you this key?”

  “You asked me that before.”

  “I’m asking again and this time I want a better answer.”

  “We’d been involved in a business transaction,” I said. “We agreed that I should have access to his room.”

  His voice was low but demanding. “What sort of business transaction?”

  “It had to do with real estate.”

  He stared at me. “Here on the island?”

  I ignored the question. “I went up to see if Fred had changed his mind about leaving, but apparently he’s pulled up stakes. Say, do you think that really is blood up there? You don’t suppose something happened to Fred, do you? Gosh, things have come to a sorry state when a businessman can get hurt just for doing business.”

  “Business can be rough,” said Cabot, looking at me with hot eyes. “You should be careful who you deal with.”

  In the distance I heard sirens growing louder.


  The Oak Bluffs police didn’t make much effort to keep their initial interviews private so after I’d given my statement I hung around to see what other people would say and what else would happen. Not much did, but I managed to hear the hotel clerk tell the police that she really didn’t know anything about Fred McMahan and Angelo Vinci, and to hear Alfred Cabot tell them he’d never even seen them. Fred and Angie were just customers who had taken the room for a few days and had apparently slipped away sometime during the night without informing the desk. McMahan had paid a week’s rent in cash in advance. No, they had heard no sounds of violence in the room and had no idea what the blood meant. It was very mysterious and troubling.

  The chambermaid, who was next in line to tell her tale, was now calmer than when she’d come down the stairs but was far from sanguine. As she listened to her superiors give their reports, she fingered her skirt nervously, and when Cabot spoke, I thought a furtive look crossed her face before her eyes dropped and her features became enigmatic.

  I wondered if she understood more English than I’d presumed, and if she had her green card. I didn’t care whether she had the card, but I didn’t expect her to say anything that might offend her boss or make the police interested in her. She no doubt needed her job, and the members of the island’s large community of Brazilians are often wary of police since back home the cops are not necessarily friends of the poor.

  To combat this notion, several island police departments now had Portuguese-speaking officers to bridge the language gap and persuade the Brazilians that the island cops really do work to protect and serve, but the police on the scene did not include such a multi-lingual officer, so when the chambermaid—Delia, by name, I learned as I listened—waved her arms and explained in fractured English how I’d asked her to go to the room and she’d found—sangue! Mãe de Deus!—what a calamity! Where were the two senhors? No, she hadn’t seen them since early the day before. This morning there was a sign on the door saying not to disturb them. What a disaster! No, she knew little about them. They said hello if they met in the hall. Yes, they seemed friendly. No, she had never heard or seen any indication of violence in the room until now. Sangue! Seeing it, she had run right out of the room. Her eyes had flicked toward Alfred Cabot and she’d added that nothing like this had ever happened in the hotel before. It was a fine hotel that catered to only the finest of guests.

  Alfred did not acknowledge the look.

  A detective arrived and went upstairs. I lingered for a while longer, thinking about what I’d seen and heard, then walked out the back door into the parking lot. I went to the Chevy pickup and took note of its l
icense number, then glanced around the lot and up at the back windows of the hotel and, seeing no one watching, opened the passenger side door and checked the glove compartment.

  Has anyone actually put gloves in the glove compartment of a car? Possibly, but no one I know ever has. As I do, most people put other stuff in there, including their car registration. Delia Sanchez was one of the many. Her auto registration showed that she lived off the Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road in Ocean Heights, actually not far from my house.

  When my father bought the land where I now live, Ocean Heights was where you lived if you couldn’t afford to live in a nice area of town. Now some of my neighbors live in big, new houses and joke about living in the exclusive Ocean Heights section of Edgartown.

  Still, there are a lot of small houses in the neighborhood and some of them are full of people. We didn’t know just how full until one of the houses sold and forty-three Brazilians had to move out and find someplace else to live. The forty-three, we learned, had lived in shifts, one third sleeping, one third working, and one third taking care of the place. They took turns sleeping in the same beds, driving the same cars, and leading quiet, courteous lives. When they left, the people next door were sad to lose such nice neighbors.

  Delia lived in a neighborhood of those small houses and probably worked at least one other job in addition to chambermaiding at the Noepe Hotel, since her countrymen and -women often did that: working several jobs Americans wouldn’t take, living in packed houses in conditions that Americans wouldn’t tolerate, and saving money that Americans couldn’t save, until they could afford to go back and live in style in Brazil, or buy houses and businesses of their own right here.

  I exited Delia’s pickup, looked around and still didn’t see any curious eyes, and went to my truck to wait for Delia. I sat there for quite a while, reading my copy of John Skye’s translation of Gawain and the Green Knight. Good stuff. Gawain, like many of us, managed to get himself into an impossible situation and ended up bending the code in an effort to get out of his predicament. The ax blow he got on his neck, however, wasn’t fatal and he lived to tell his tale and even be hailed for his gallantry, which was more than most of us get when our lies are revealed.

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