Vineyard stalker, p.19

Vineyard Stalker, page 19

 

Vineyard Stalker
 


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  I looked at the office windows and saw no one looking back. Sally was, I hoped, too busy at her work to notice me prowling around her car. I went back to the truck just as the chief of the Edgartown police came idling down the street in the department’s newest cruiser. There being no traffic behind him, he paused. He was chewing on an empty pipe, wishing it was lit but unwilling to fill the car with smoke.

  “A very handsome vehicle,” I said, admiringly. “My tax dollars at work once again.”

  “Mine, too,” said the chief. “You’re hanging around town a lot more than usual since Zee and the kids went to America. It’s not natural. I’ll be glad when she gets back and you start living up there in the woods again where you belong.”

  “Tonight’s the night,” I said. “They’ll be home before supper. I don’t suppose you know who killed Melissa Carson.”

  He shook his head. “No, I don’t. That’s Dom Agganis’s problem and West Tisbury’s, not mine. She didn’t die in Edgartown. I take it that you still have your nose in that mess. I thought you were supposed to be a fisherman.”

  A pickup driven by a young man and full of shovels, rakes, and lawn mowers came down the street and slowed behind the cruiser. More Brazilians going to work.

  “I am a fisherman,” I said. “I just haven’t been fishing. So you don’t know anything about the murder, eh? I thought you might be on the grapevine.”

  “I don’t ask, and they don’t tell,” said the chief, glancing in his rearview mirror. “Well, cherchez la femme, or whatever. I gotta move before I get run over. See you later.”

  I got into the truck and followed the pickup down the street to the four corners, where it went right on South Water Street and I went left on North Water, then left again on Winter and on out of town to Oak Bluffs via the beach road where early birds were already setting up their umbrellas and spreading their beach blankets on the sand. It was going to be a hot one and they were making sure they had parking places along the road and had staked claims to some beach space. I could think of worse places to be.

  I drove through downtown OB and on to the state police office. Dom Agganis was behind his desk and Olive Otero was behind hers.

  Without waiting to be asked, I sat down on one of the hard chairs that were there for visitors.

  “Now that you’re comfortable, what can we do for you, J.W.?” asked Dom in a grumpy tone.

  I got right to it. “Olive told you about Cabot knowing Fred McMahan but telling the OB police that he didn’t?”

  “I’ve seen the police report, but we don’t know that he knew McMahan. Except for you saying it, of course, and I don’t think the DA would think much of that evidence.”

  “I promised my snitch anonymity. The snitch can be squeezed, but I don’t want that to happen.”

  “This is a murder case, so what you want doesn’t mean much.”

  I said, “If we get to the point where a murder charge depends on me IDing the snitch, I’ll do it, but not before. Humor me until then, because if Cabot does know McMahan, it means he’s likely to be the guy who hired him. If you can catch up with McMahan or, better yet, his pal Angie, you may be able to put pressure on them to talk. I personally think Angie is the weak link.”

  “Yeah, Olive told me that idea of yours. Of course, we’d need a reason to grill Angie.”

  “Like I told you before, my sources tell me that he and McMahan went up to Boston to get charges of birdshot taken out of their fannies. Your colleagues up there might ask Angie about that. When you get shot, you’re supposed to report it, but I doubt if he did.”

  Dom nodded. “That might serve as a reason to chat with him.”

  “I imagine you can find him at home in Charlestown. I think he lives with his mama.”

  “Yes, he does,” said Olive. “I checked that out last night. He wasn’t home, though. Perhaps he was still having himself repaired. He may be home by now.”

  “If he doesn’t want to talk,” I said, “you might threaten to hang a murder charge on him. Tell him that he’s a suspect in Melissa’s killing. That might make him more malleable. Hell, he might even have done it.”

  “But you don’t think so.”

  I looked at Dom. “There’s another thing. Cabot and Sally Oliver are lovers. They have been for years, going back to when Cabot was married before.”

  Dom glanced at Olive, who spread her hands, palms up.

  “Is that a fact?” he said, looking back at me.

  “So I’m told.”

  “By the same high administrative source that told you about Cabot and McMahan?”

  “No, by several people. Roland Nunes and Robert Chadwick are two of them. They both heard Melissa talk about it. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble verifying it.”

  Agganis rubbed his big chin. “The plot thickens.”

  “It thickens even more. I just took a peek at Sally Cabot’s Mini Cooper. The sides are both scratched.”

  “So?”

  “So, you remember telling me that nobody saw a car parked by the road the night Melissa was killed? Has anybody told you anything different since we talked?”

  “No. But it’s not a problem if Nunes killed her. He could have just followed her out and snuffed her.”

  “I think he loved her.”

  “You know what Wilde said about men and love. Maybe Nunes got the hots for her and she told him to forget the whole thing.”

  “Maybe. That morning, did anybody pay any attention to the trail across the road from the one that leads into Nunes’s place? It’s a continuation of the ancient way that crosses his land. I remember there were bumper to bumper cars parked in front of it when I got there. Maybe it got overlooked.”

  Dom looked at Olive, who shook her head.

  “Maybe it’s in somebody’s report,” said Dom. “If so, I don’t remember it.”

  “The trail is about the width of the one leading into Nunes’s place. Too narrow for a normal car and a lot too narrow for Cabot’s Hummer, but about wide enough for a Mini Cooper if you don’t mind scratching it up a little. You could park in there and nobody would see you.”

  “And Sally Oliver has a scratched-up Mini. Are you saying Sally Oliver killed Melissa Carson?”

  “You’re the policeman. You don’t need me to do your thinking. Did Robert Chadwick tell you about the voices he heard that night?”

  “Yeah. We interviewed him. I remember he mentioned voices.”

  “He told me one of them was a man’s voice. If he’d only heard a woman’s voice, or women’s voices, I’d say you should put Sally Oliver on the top of your suspects list, but he heard a man’s voice, too. The voices stopped, then started again.”

  “Ergo…?”

  “Ergo, a man was there that night. The only man I know of who might have been in that car is Cabot, as either the driver or a passenger. If your lab gets its hands on Sally’s car, can it tell if the scratches came from the bushes that line that trail across from Nunes’s? If it can, you’ll have a good reason to have Sally and Al come in the office for some serious conversation.”

  “And their lawyers will be right there with them, telling them to say nothing. Besides, Nunes might have been the man who was there.”

  “If Cabot hired McMahan and Angie, the DA may think he’s got enough to go to a grand jury.”

  “We haven’t proved that relationship yet.”

  “Sally is Cabot’s longtime squeeze and she wants Nunes to sell.”

  “We’d have to prove that she talked Cabot into hiring McMahan.”

  “Melissa was cuddling up to Nunes and maybe telling Cabot that she had as much money as he did so he and his girlfriend could take a hike.”

  “Speculation.”

  “She told Cabot where she was going that night, and Chadwick heard a man’s voice outside his wall.”

  “Like I say, it could have been Nunes’s voice.”

  “Cabot knew where Melissa was and Sally’s car was on the trail across the street.”


  “You don’t know that. Besides, maybe she parked it there earlier in the week.”

  “Maybe Iraq really had WMDs. Either she was in the car or Cabot was in it or they both were in it.”

  “You have smoke but no fire.”

  “Sure. Maybe Jack the Ripper did it.”

  We sat in silence for a time, then Dom tapped a finger on his desk and said, “I don’t think we have enough.”

  “We can call the lab about the scratches on the car,” said Olive. “If they can do the job, we may be able to get a warrant for the Mini before she takes it to a car wash or paint shop, if she hasn’t done that already.”

  “We can do that,” said Dom.

  “Maybe I can help,” I said.

  Dom looked at me and shook his head. “No.”

  “They’ll be afraid of you if they see you coming,” I said. “But they’re not afraid of me. I may be able to learn something their lawyers won’t let them tell you.”

  “No,” said Dom. “Leave this to us. Go home and wait for your wife and kids to get back. I mean it.”

  I got up. “You’re sure?” I asked.

  “I’m sure.” He frowned. “Don’t interfere, J.W. Thanks for your help, but we can take it from here. Can I trust you on this?

  “Is Benedict XVI Catholic?”

  I went out and drove to Radio Shack in Vineyard Haven. There I bought a small tape recorder and mike.

  25

  Since the Noepe Hotel was closer, I drove there first, but saw no Hummer in the parking lot, so turned west and drove to Aquinnah.

  When I got to Cabot’s driveway, I was confronted once again by the guard at the electric gate. I gave him my name and said I’d like to talk to Alfred Cabot.

  “You got an appointment?” He looked down at a clipboard he had in his hand. “What’s your name, again?”

  “J.W. Jackson.”

  “Sorry. There’s no such name here. Say, weren’t you here a couple of days ago?”

  “That was me.”

  “Well, the boss didn’t want to talk with you then, either.”

  “That was then, this is now. Tell Mr. Cabot it’s about Fred McMahan.”

  The guard frowned at my old Toyota. It probably wasn’t the sort of vehicle driven by acquaintances of Alfred Cabot. “What did you say your name was?”

  “J.W. Jackson. Just tell your boss I’m here and that I want to talk with him about a guy named Fred McMahan.”

  The guard gave me a final frown and walked to the gatehouse. After a while the electric gate swung open and the guard walked back. “Go right up the driveway. Somebody will meet you at the house.”

  I drove up the narrow road, feeling like I was in one of those old black-and-white movies where some stranger drives through the trees up to some huge mansion while ominous or cheerful music plays, letting the audience know more than the stranger knows. Life would a lot simpler if we had background music we could hear, but such is not the case. More evidence that intelligent design is unlikely.

  I came to the house, parked beside Cabot’s forest-green Hummer, and got out. There was a man waiting for me. I recognized him as being the one who had driven the ATV up to the fence surrounding Cabot’s land. He looked very fit in his summer clothes. His shirt was outside his pants, and there was a pistol-sized lump under it, on his hip.

  “You’re Mr. Jackson? Please come in.” His eyes flowed over me, checking for a similar lump, I guessed. Seeing none, he turned and led me into the house. We walked down a hall and into a central atrium topped two stories up with sliding glass panels and filled with exotic looking plants, including several varieties of orchids. The air was hot and moist. Was Nero Wolfe in residence?

  Alfred Cabot was. He was on the far side of the room, watering a blue flower I didn’t recognize. I’d never have guessed that Alfred Cabot was the sort of person who’d have an atrium full of flowers, but life is full of surprises. Often when I think I’m finally pretty much in touch with reality I discover that I still have a ways to go.

  Seeing me, Cabot put down his watering can and came toward me. Beside me, the man asked, “Shall I stay, sir?”

  Cabot waved a dismissive hand, and said, “No, that will be all, Elmer.”

  Elmer went away and Cabot pointed to a side door. “My office is in there. We can talk without being interrupted.” Without waiting for my response, he led me into the office and shut the door behind us. He waved me into a comfortable leather chair and took another for himself. He gestured at a humidor. “Cigar, Mr. Jackson?”

  “No thanks,” I said, looking around. The office was large and luxurious. Leather and carved wood were the materials of choice. The chairs were leather, the books on the bookshelves were leather-bound, and a couple of the small tables were covered with carved leather. The desk was large and heavy, and a credenza behind the desk held electronic devices. Among those I recognized were a computer, a fax machine, a scanner, and a printer, the accoutrements of modern business.

  Cabot followed my gaze. “I can do most of my work from right here,” he said. “It’s very convenient, but I like city living, so this office is only used when I’m staying here on holiday. What can I do for you, Mr. Jackson?”

  “I came to talk to you about Fred McMahan and Angie Vinci,” I said, hoping that my tape recorder was working as it should.

  “I can’t imagine what I can tell you,” he said smoothly. “I recall that you told me you had business dealings with them, but I don’t even know them.”

  “Yes, you told me that. And you told the police the same thing. But the mention of McMahan’s name got me in here to see you. Do you know what McMahan and Vinci were doing here on the Vineyard?”

  “I have no idea.”

  “I think you do. They were vandalizing Roland Nunes’s property. I was hired to find out who was doing the vandalizing, and I managed to catch them in the act. Later, I followed them to your hotel and had a chat with them.”

  His face was without expression. “What did you learn?”

  “Enough to put together a scenario. Would you like to hear it?”

  He glanced at a wristwatch that had probably cost him more than $9.99, then said, “I have some time. I can’t imagine what your story has to do with me, but go ahead. I’ll tell you if I get bored.”

  “All right,” I said. “McMahan and Vinci are small-time hoods who hire themselves out to whoever will pay them to do illegal jobs. They advertise by word of mouth in some of the more expensive watering holes in Boston, the idea being to go where the money is. They were hired to come down here and give Roland Nunes enough grief to persuade him to sell his place. His land was cheap thirty years ago, when he first moved there, but it’s worth a fortune now. A lot of people would like to have it, and his cousin Sally Oliver, who is in charge of the trust that owns it, would love to sell it. The problem is that he has a covenant that says the land can’t be sold unless he agrees to move off it.

  “So McMahan and Vinci came down here and took a room in your hotel and got to work. They did some damage, but Nunes is stubborn, and then Nunes’s sister, Carole Cohen, decided to stop the crooks, so she hired me to catch them in the act and get photographs. I did that, and even though they’d gotten themselves rigged out in black suits and blackface, it didn’t take long to ID them. Are you with me so far?”

  “So far,” said Cabot, “but so what?”

  “As I said, I followed McMahan and Vinci back to their hotel room. I took their pistols and stun gun away from them and we had a talk. They were both hurting from shotgun pellets in their posteriors and weren’t interested in going on with the job they’d been hired to do. They caught the first boat they could back to America and went home. The police are looking for them now and will probably find them. McMahan may be a tough nut for them to crack, but I don’t think they’ll have much trouble getting Angie to talk. He’ll tell them everything he knows.”

  Cabot tapped a finger on the arm of his chair.

  “And what might t
hat be?”

  “That you were the guy who hired them. You found out about the work they do in one of the bars you frequent near your office in Boston and hired them to run Nunes off his land.”

  Cabot leaned forward in his chair and gave me a look that was meant to cow. “That’s slander. I never heard of them until yesterday. If you try to spread such lies, I’ll have you in court so fast it will make your head spin.”

  “I won’t be the one telling the tale,” I said. “Angie will.”

  “A criminal’s word against mine.”

  “There’s more. You lied to the police about not knowing McMahan. You’ve been seen entering McMahan’s room at the Noepe.”

  “Another lie!” His eyes flashed. “Was it that maid? If it was, she’ll rue the day she was born!”

  “It wasn’t the maid,” I lied. “The point is that the police may soon have plenty of reason to arrest you for hiring McMahan and Vinci. They may not know your motive yet, but it won’t take them long to figure out that your girlfriend, Sally Oliver, is behind the whole affair. She wants to sell Nunes’s land, and you have the money to buy it if she can get him to leave. It’s a good deal for you, because even though you’ll pay a lot for the land, your girlfriend will actually get half of the money you paid, so it’ll still be more or less in the family. You’ll make even more when you sell it to the next castle builder.”

  He looked at me with disdain, but I thought I saw worry behind the contempt. “My lawyers will make mincemeat out of the District Attorney.”

  “Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “In any case, the vandalizing scheme is pretty insignificant compared to homicide. The DA is interested in the murder of Melissa Carson, and you’re right on top of his suspect list. The cops already know about your involvement with Sally Oliver so you’re an excellent suspect.”

  “Murder? I’m no murderer! That’s nonsense! I loved Melissa!”

  “Where were you when she was killed?”

 
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