Vineyard stalker, p.17

Vineyard Stalker, page 17

 

Vineyard Stalker
 


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  I wondered if Delia had ever read Gawain.

  Probably not.

  Delia came out of the hotel’s back door just as Gawain’s host’s beautiful wife entered Gawain’s bedroom for the first time. She got into the pickup and drove out of the lot. I followed her home, and when she parked beside three other aging vehicles in the yard, I pulled in behind her and got out. She gave me a worried look.

  Good.

  “Delia,” I said. “I’d like to talk with you.”

  “I’m very tired,” she said, glancing toward the house. “I’ve told the police what happened. You were there. You heard.”

  “I was there, and I heard what you said. But you didn’t tell everything you know. I want you to tell me what you didn’t tell them.”

  She stiffened her spine. “I told them everything.”

  “No. You lied.” She paled and I put an understanding smile on my face. “Or perhaps you just forgot.”

  “I don’t know what you mean, senhor.”

  Behind her the front door of the house opened and three men came out and looked at us.

  “If I want,” I said, “I can take you to police headquarters and talk with you there. I’d rather not do that. May I see your green card or your H2B, please?”

  The men behind her exchanged looks, and one of them went back inside. Not all foreign workers have green cards.

  Delia clutched her hands together. “I have my card, but I’ve misplaced it.”

  I looked at her, then at the two men listening with concerned faces. They, I guessed, knew where their green cards were, if they had them. I said, “Delia, I don’t need to see your green card now, but I do have to know what you didn’t tell the police. If you tell me, I’ll forget about your card.”

  One of the men on the porch said something to her in what I took to be Portuguese. She spoke back and got a reply, then she looked back at me.

  “I need my job.”

  “I want you to have it.”

  “My husband doesn’t know if you can be trusted. He says immigration people often lie.”

  “Is that man your husband?” I looked at him until he dropped his eyes.

  “Yes.”

  “Do you have children?”

  “Three.”

  “Then you must work for your family. I have children, too, and I must work for them and my wife. Listen to me. When Alfred Cabot spoke to the police, your face changed. Why? You must tell me the truth.”

  She looked miserable. “I’ll lose my job!”

  “No. He’ll never know what passes between us here. I give you my word of honor.”

  The man on the porch spoke again, and she replied, then said to me, “He says that many immigration agents have no honor.”

  I looked at him again and this time his angry eyes did not drop. I nodded slightly, and looked back at the woman. I kept my voice gentle. “He wants to protect you, but in this case you’ll have to trust me, because if you won’t talk to me you’ll have to find that green card right now.”

  “Deus!” She crossed herself, then took a deep breath. “Senhor Cabot said he had never seen Senhors McMahan and Vinci, but that is not so. I once saw him enter their room and heard their voices. I had been cleaning another room and had just stepped out into the hall.” Her eyes were fearful. “Senhor, if you tell this to anyone I will lose my work!”

  “Are you sure it was Cabot?”

  “Sim. I’m sure. I saw him standing there, knocking, and then the door opened and he went into the room and I heard men’s voices. He never saw me.”

  “Could you hear what they said?”

  “No. I thought nothing of it and went on to my next job. It was only when I heard him tell the police that he had not met them…” Her voice faded.

  I took her hand in mine and shook it gently. “Thank you, Delia. Don’t worry. I’ll tell no one what you’ve said here and if anyone asks me I’ll tell them that you have your green card and showed it to me.” I flicked my eyes to the man in front of the door. “And tell your husband that he has a brave and beautiful wife.”

  I got back into my truck and drove home. It was time for lunch and I’d had a long morning. As I drove I wondered if perhaps I should get a job working for the immigration department. Apparently I had the proper look to intimidate illegal aliens. But, no, I wasn’t really intended for that sort of work. I didn’t care whether Delia was here legally, and I disliked myself for having frightened her into her confession. It wasn’t the first time I’d bullied someone in the name of a cause I thought was just, but this instance made me feel worse than most. I hoped I’d convinced her and her husband that she was in no danger from me.

  Could most people look back at moments of cruelty and pettiness in their past actions, and still feel red-faced or worse, or was I an exception to the rule? I recalled Dostoyevsky writing that even if we tried to write totally honest memoirs and had been guaranteed that no one would ever, ever see them, we’d still lie. I thought that I probably would.

  At home I made lunch, brought the cats up on the latest development in the case, and asked them whether Fred McMahan and Angie had lied to me about not knowing who had hired them, or whether Delia had lied about seeing Cabot go into McMahan’s room. They said they’d give the questions some thought. I asked them whether Cabot’s meeting with Fred, if indeed they had met, had anything to do with the vandalism. I told them that if I had to choose a liar, I’d choose Fred, but I’ve been wrong before. They agreed that I had.

  Maybe Dom Agganis knew somebody in Boston who could put the screws to Angie, who seemed the weaker member of the McMahan-Vinci combo. If Angie could be persuaded to talk, we might learn that he and Fred did know their employer, and if that employer ended up being Alfred Cabot, as I now suspected, my life would be a lot simpler because my job would be over.

  But was Cabot Fred’s boss? Maybe not, but the odds seemed good that there was something nefarious going on between them, else why would Cabot lie about never having even seen Fred? Presuming, of course, that Delia was telling the truth, which I thought she was since she believed she might get deported if she didn’t spill the real beans.

  The truth was elusive because the world is full of liars.

  I had a Sam Adams with my fish sandwich and salad, then drove to state police headquarters. Olive Otero was there.

  “Did you hear about the business at the Noepe Hotel?” I asked.

  “Yes, we did. There are some lab guys over there right now, taking blood samples and finding whatever else they can. You were there, of course. What is it about you, J.W., that always gets you involved when there’s trouble?”

  “I’m not always involved. I’m sometimes involved. I don’t know if you got this bit of information in your report, but rumor has it that Alfred Cabot met with Fred McMahan in his room sometime in the past few days.”

  “Rumors aren’t worth much in court, but I’ll humor you. Why should we pay attention to this one?”

  “Because Cabot told the OB cops that he’d never seen McMahan.”

  Olive became more attentive, and dug a report out of a desk drawer. “Right you are,” she said, after a few pages of fingering and a pause to read. “I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me the source of your rumor?”

  “A high administration source who requested anonymity,” I said. “I have too much integrity to name the source.”

  She leaned back in her chair. “Would your integrity withstand a bit of time in jail for withholding evidence?”

  “Absolutely. The security of our great nation rests on the fourth estate’s right to maintain the confidentiality of its sources.”

  She smiled. “You’re not a member of the fourth estate.”

  “That being the case, I’ll just deny I ever told you anything.”

  “You trust your tipster?”

  “I think so. I didn’t really trust Fred McMahan when he told me he didn’t know who’d hired him, but he might be hard to squeeze. Angie isn’t as tough as Fred. I t
hink he can be talked into trading information for a walk.”

  “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit,” said Olive. “When Dom gets back I’ll mention our conversation.”

  22

  I drove down into Edgartown and spent some time looking for a parking spot before finding one right on Main Street, of all places. Who can explain the whimsy of the gods?

  I walked among the tourists who crowded the brick sidewalks, cameras around their necks, maps in hand, eyes flitting here and there, looking happy. Downtown Edgartown is lovely, so it’s no wonder that visitors are impressed. However, some Edgartonians, including me, think it’s too bad that the village’s one-time pharmacies, grocery stores, and other shops selling useful things, have now become T-shirt shops, gift shops, and pricey clothing stores catering to tourists and the yachting crowd. On Martha’s Vineyard these days, you have to go to Vineyard Haven if you want to buy anything you actually need.

  Ah, the dreams of yesteryear.

  Of course, in forty years, people will look back at this time as a golden age, when you could buy a house on the island for only a million dollars, and just fifteen thousand people lived here year-round.

  I went into Gull Realty and found Jordan and Carole Cohen in their office. I thought Carole looked a little ragged. Jordan waved me to a chair.

  “What brings you here?” he asked.

  “The eternal quest for truth. What can you tell me about Alfred Cabot?”

  He put his hands behind his neck. “He’s rich. His principal home and his business offices are in Boston. He owns property in Aquinnah and a hotel in Oak Bluffs, and probably a lot of other properties in a lot of other places. He speaks only to God. Just kidding about that last part.”

  “I imagine Cabots have gotten used to the joke over the years.”

  “Why are you interested in Alfred Cabot?”

  I looked at Carole. “Because I think he may be the guy behind the vandalism at your brother’s place.”

  Her eyes widened then narrowed. “Alfred Cabot? Are you sure?”

  I told them about Fred and Angie living at the Noepe, about their admission that they were the vandals, and about the report that Cabot had been seen entering their room. I didn’t mention the incident at my house, but told her that Fred and Angie had left the island and probably wouldn’t be back.

  “They’re the ones who did the actual vandalizing?” asked Jordan.

  “Yes. But somebody hired them and Cabot looks like the someone. You’re in the real estate business; do you know if Cabot wants to buy Roland’s property?”

  “If he does, he never told me.” Carole tapped a pencil on her desk. “I think you should talk with cousin Sally. She’s the one who’s hot to sell the place. Cabot might have contacted her.”

  “Why would Cabot be interested in that piece of land? He’s already got a hundred acres in Aquinnah.”

  “You can ask Sally. Maybe he told her.” She leaned forward, frowning. “Have you heard anything about a connection between the killing and the vandalism? I’m worried that there might be one.”

  “A lot of people, including the cops, are probably wondering about that.”

  “What do you think?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Well, I know my brother didn’t kill her.”

  Eve was probably just as sure that Cain hadn’t killed Abel. “I don’t believe he did,” I said. “Melissa was a woman who liked men and made no bones about it. She and your brother were lovers.”

  She sat back. “Roland lives like a monk. Do monks have lovers?”

  I thought of Abelard and Héloïse, and of Alexander X. “I imagine some do,” I said.

  “Melissa Carson was engaged to Alfred Cabot,” said Jordan. “Doesn’t that make him a suspect?”

  “The jilted lover syndrome? He wouldn’t be the first guy to murder a woman for stepping out on him. The cops probably have him on their list.”

  “If not him, then who?”

  “It could have been a chance encounter. The killer just happened to be there as she walked out to the road. They call them murders of opportunity.”

  Carole looked wearier than when I’d come in. “I suppose. Do you really think that’s what happened?”

  “I think it’s unlikely.”

  She frowned. “I know my brother didn’t kill Melissa, but if they don’t find out who did it pretty fast, I’m afraid that somebody will dig way back and discover that he deserted in Vietnam.”

  I got up and glanced at my watch. I had about a half hour before the parking cops gave me a ticket. “I’ll talk with Sally Oliver and see what she can tell me about Cabot.” At the door I paused and looked back. “It might be best for everyone if Roland turned himself in. After all this time I don’t think the army will be very interested in putting a decorated soldier like Roland Nunes in jail, especially after the life he’s lived since then.”

  “I hope you’re right.” Carole smiled wanly. “Well, protect yourself at all times when you talk with Sally. She’s got a bit of a temper and right now there’s a lot of tension in the air.”

  “I’ll keep my dukes up,” I said.

  I went directly to Prada Real Estate and was lucky again, because Sally Oliver was in her office. If it had had a back door, I think she’d have used it when she saw me come in the front one, but such was not the case. I walked past the receptionist and shut the lone door behind me.

  Sally Oliver settled back behind her desk. “What can I do for you, Mr. Jackson?”

  “Did Alfred Cabot ever try to buy Roland Nunes’s land?”

  A wary look appeared on her face. “What’s Alfred Cabot to you?”

  The wary look interested me. “I met him today,” I said. “I’ve learned that he had some sort of relationship with the two guys who vandalized Nunes’s property. If he was interested in buying that land, he might be the one who hired them. So, do you know if he ever tried to buy the land?”

  She looked at me for what seemed a long time, and then she said, “A lot of people have expressed an interest in buying that land. He may have been one of them. I don’t believe he ever made a formal offer. What makes you think he knows the vandals?”

  “They were seen and overheard talking together.”

  “By whom?”

  “Nobody you know. Someone with no interest in the vandalism. How well do you know Cabot?”

  A small fire appeared in her eyes, and her cheeks reddened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  I said, “I mean just that. How well do you know him? Have you ever met socially? Have you ever talked with him? Do you have an opinion about what sort of person he is? Is he the sort of person who would hire vandals to frighten Nunes into selling to him?”

  She seemed to withdraw into herself, and I had the sense of someone donning armor. “I’m sure I wouldn’t know. I’ve only met him casually.” She looked at her watch. “I’m very busy, Mr. Jackson. I’m afraid I can’t give you any more time right now. Perhaps you can come back later.”

  I looked at my own watch. I was about to become a target for the dreaded parking police.

  “I have to go anyway,” I said. “Thanks for seeing me.”

  I left and walked up the street to my truck. A half block behind me a young summer cop was cheerfully sticking tickets behind the wipers of cars parked overtime, and even though I’d escaped from her this time, I wondered once again about the wisdom of one-hour parking limits in the village during the summer. How could you ever go to a movie? How could a tourist enjoy a leisurely lunch? How could a visitor take a slow stroll through the shops and galleries? Of course I never did those things during the summer, but other people did. Where was the logic?

  Maybe I should become a city planner.

  I drove down Main and then took a left onto North Water Street, inching along to avoid hitting any of the tourists who habitually use Edgartown’s streets as sidewalks and are sometimes actually offended when a car intrudes upon their sightseeing. I took anot
her left onto Winter Street and creepy-crawled along while tourists reluctantly stepped up on the sidewalks as I approached them. I had paused to give a young man and woman time to move aside from in front of my truck when I saw Sally Oliver, driving a Mini Cooper, come out of the Prada Real Estate parking lot and turn onto Winter in front of me.

  Hmmmm.

  By the time I’d worked my way through the sightseers, the Mini was out of sight. I went on to Pease’s Point Way and followed it to Main Street, but didn’t see the car. I turned right and drove out of town. I saw another Mini, but it wasn’t Sally’s. There was no telling where Sally had gone, and, anyway, her trip probably had to do with business: a meeting with a client. A tour of a property.

  Or maybe not.

  I drove home and sat down in front of our computer, trying to remember how to make it do what I wanted it to do instead of what it wanted to do. My ignorance obliged me to keep it simple: I got online and typed in ‘Mini Cooper photo.’ Lo, another miracle in this best of all possible worlds: Up popped a photo of a Mini Cooper. I printed it out, admired my work and my genius, put my old Boston PD shield in my wallet, then got back into the truck and drove to Delia Sanchez’s house.

  When I knocked on the door, the man I’d seen earlier on the porch opened it. The top of his head was about even with my shoulder but he didn’t look like he felt overmatched. He looked up at me with unfathomable eyes.

  “I’d like to speak to Delia,” I said.

  He said something I didn’t understand.

  I shook my head. “I don’t speak Portuguese.”

  Behind him I sensed the presence of many people listening. The man considered his words, then said, “She sleeps.”

  I dug out my wallet and flashed the shield. “I must ask her one or two questions.”

 
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