Vineyard stalker, p.22

Vineyard Stalker, page 22


Vineyard Stalker

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  In my mind’s eye, I could see the path and fieldstone steps that would later lead down to that beach and to the dock that would walk out into the pond on wooden pilings.

  I had seen Nunes only the day before, but he now looked much older. His face was that of a saint who had sinned. When I crossed to him, he stopped his work and rubbed the sweat from his brow. The sound of hammer and saws and compressors seemed to grow faint in my ears, but I felt like I could hear his breathing.

  “Have you confided in your lawyer?” I asked.

  He glanced at the nail gun then brought his eyes up to mine. They were sad and tired. “I told him what he wanted to hear.”

  “I think you should tell him everything.”

  A look almost of relief appeared on his face. “You know, then.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement.

  “I think so.” I shrugged. “I have no proof.”

  “The lawyer can only try to save me from others.”

  “You’re worth saving.”

  “I thought that once. No more.”

  “Your sister loves you.”

  “She loves the person she thinks I am, not the person I am.” He turned and looked down at the bright spinnakers. “I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life trying to live purely, but I’m no purer than when I came here. I’m the same person I was in Vietnam, the same one I’ve always been.”

  “I doubt it.”

  “Anger and lust, and maybe pride. Those are the three I could never overcome.”

  “I’m prone to all seven.”

  “I’ve broken all of the commandments.”

  “Me, too.”

  He turned back to me. “Have you murdered anyone?”

  I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I don’t know for sure that what happens in war is really murder.”

  He looked at the gun. “To the dead it makes no difference. I’m not talking about war, though. I’m talking about Melissa.”

  “What happened?”

  He cocked his head to one side in an odd movement, almost like a child might tip its head when pondering an issue. “She was at my house and when she left I asked when she was coming back. She laughed and touched my face with her hand, but said nothing and went away. I felt as though something important—some fundamental loss—had changed my life. I dressed and followed her. Ahead, I could see the light of her flashlight, and I heard voices arguing. I heard Melissa laugh and say she was never going to marry Cabot. Then the voices stopped and I heard a car drive away and I went on and found Melissa. Her flashlight had fallen, and I could see her on the ground, rubbing her head. I held her and touched her face and she struck at me and told me to go away, that she’d never marry me. She seemed dazed. Her voice was wild.” His voice stopped, then started again. “I gave her a shake to quiet her and she was quiet. Then I saw that she was dead and realized that she’d called me Alfred as she struck at me.” He paused, then held up the hand that didn’t hold the nail gun, and looked at it. “I’d killed the only one I loved.”

  “It was an accident.”

  “Back in Vietnam I killed a lot of people. I had a talent for it.”

  “Yes. But you were a soldier and that was your job.”

  “Did you know that I joined the army after a girl ditched me?”

  “Jed Mullins told me that.”

  “Did he tell you that I felt like killing her and then myself?”

  “No. He said he thought you might have become a sniper because of her.”

  “I think he was right.”

  “But you were a soldier then, and this death was an accident.”

  He shook his head. “It doesn’t make any difference. She’s dead and I killed her.”

  I didn’t like that gun in his hand. “It does make a difference. Come with me. We’ll go to your lawyer.”

  He put his free hand on my shoulder. “Did you ever think you’ve lived long enough?”

  I felt both the strength of his hand and a charge of fear. “No. And I don’t think you should think that, either.”

  The strong hand squeezed my shoulder. “Don’t you sometimes think you’ve done enough damage? That it’s time to stop, before you do more?”

  “No.” I looked into his weary eyes, trying to see his soul, then suddenly I felt the gun press against my belly.

  “Back over to that wall, J.W.”

  He dropped his hand from my shoulder and pushed lightly on my chest. I wondered if I could knock the gun down before he could use it, but decided that I could not. I backed slowly to the wall. When I was there, he backed to the edge of the deck.

  “The world has had enough of me,” he said. “There are two documents in my house. One is for the police and one is for my sister. Will you make sure they get them?”

  “Don’t do this.”

  “Will you make sure?”

  “Yes. But please don’t do this.”

  He stood on his toes on the lip of the deck, his back to the pond. He put the gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His body arched backward and fell out of my sight.

  Behind me, some carpenter shouted in horror, and I heard the clatter of work boots running toward the deck. But by then Roland Nunes was in that far country from which no traveler returns.

  I was making supper at home that evening when Zee’s little Jeep pulled into the yard. As I went to the door, Zee stepped out, wearing her going-to-America summer shirt and shorts. The kids came running and I swept them up in my arms and got good kisses before I put them down and exchanged some better ones with Zee. It seemed like she’d been gone for a year, and I didn’t want to let go of her.

  But we did unwind our arms, finally, and she smiled up at me, with her great, dark eyes shining, and said, “Gee, maybe I’ll go away more often.”

  “I hope not,” I said. “How was your trip?”

  “It was fine, but I’m glad to be home. How was bachelor life?”

  “I have nothing good to say for it. I’ll tell you about it later.”

  “Shall we unload the car? I did some heavy-duty shopping on the way here.”

  Whenever an islander takes a car to the mainland, the car returns stuffed with paper towels, toilet paper, food, drink, other supplies, and a full tank of gas, all purchased at mainland prices.

  “We can unpack later,” I said. “Right now, supper is about to be served.”

  “Perfect timing.”

  We all went inside. Joshua and Diana ran around as though they’d never been there before. Then we sat at the table and ate flounder, rice, and peas, and talked.

  “Pa, you know what I liked best in America?”

  “What, Diana?”

  “The Whaling museum in New Bedford. We went there and they have a real whaling ship only it’s only half size!”

  “I like that museum, too,” I said.

  “And we went to see baseball teams play.”

  “We saw the Pawtucket Red Sox,” explained her big brother. “And we went up to Boston, too, and saw the Boston Red Sox play. We saw Trot Nixon. He almost ran into us catching a ball!”

  “We were over in the right-field grandstands,” said Zee. “About three seats in. Trot Nixon had to reach right into the stands to catch a foul ball. I thought he was going to land in my lap.”

  “Trot has good instincts.”

  “And, Pa?”

  “What, Joshua?”

  “We went and saw some humongous houses! Even bigger than the ones they’re building here! Where was that, Ma?”

  “Newport,” said Zee. She looked at me over her wine-glass. “The Breakers. We took the tour.”

  “It always reminds me of this place,” I said. “Don’t you agree?”

  “No, it doesn’t!” said Diana. “It’s lots bigger!”

  “Well, maybe a little bigger.”

  “Lots bigger!”

  “But it doesn’t have a tree house.”

  “Can we play there after supper, Pa?”

  “Why not? It’s summertime and
there’s plenty of light. You can play in the tree house, and after your mother and I unload the car we’ll have a cognac on the balcony so we can see each other.”

  The children said that was an excellent idea, so that’s what we did.

  When the car was unpacked, Zee and I went to the balcony, where we sat close together and watched Joshua and Diana scrambling around the big beech tree in our backyard. The evening light slanted over our heads and out over Sengekontacket Pond, making the far barrier beach glow like gold. Some cars were still parked beside the highway on the beach while their owners enjoyed a final swim or a picnic. Beyond them, on the dark water of Nantucket Sound, boats were headed for harbor. Paradise enow. I felt blessed.

  That night, in bed, when Zee’s body finally disentangled itself from mine, we lay close together and talked in quiet voices. I told her of my week and of its consequences.

  “Nothing good came of it,” I said, “and nothing good will.”

  “None of it was your fault.”

  “I shot two men.”

  “They deserved it.”

  “Probably. I haven’t lost any sleep over them. But look at the rest of it. Two people dead. Both good people.”

  “Bad things happen.”

  “He spent most of his life atoning for the acts his government asked him to perform. That’s more than most of us do.”

  “But he killed the woman.”

  “It was an accident. Manslaughter at the worst, I think. It didn’t register with him until afterward that she thought she was fighting off Cabot.”

  “He killed her in anger.”

  “Maybe so. Jed Mullins thought Nunes became a sniper because he hated the girl who left him. Maybe he had some sort of flashback when he heard Melissa say she wasn’t going to marry him. Maybe he was shaking that girl from his youth. Of course this is all just ten-cent psychology.”

  “You liked him.” Her voice was sleepy.

  “I barely knew him, but yes, I liked him. Until the very end, I never thought he’d killed her.”

  “You couldn’t save him.”

  “No, and I couldn’t save his land, either. Now Sally Oliver has it and she’ll sell it to some castle builder and he’ll close off the ancient way and all of this will have been for nothing.”

  She yawned and snuggled close. “Maybe the District Attorney can prove that she and Cabot were responsible for the vandalism. He seems to have a good case.”

  “He may have a good case, but who’s going to bring charges? Roland Nunes is dead and Sally certainly isn’t going to complain to the police. No charges, no trial, no jail, no fines. The bad guys walk away without a scratch.”

  “Maybe Carole Cohen can bring charges.”


  A bit later she was asleep, her arm across my chest, her breathing soft and regular.

  Our room was dimly lit by starlight, and as I stared at the ceiling I seemed to see a greater darkness, and thought of wise old Khayyam who wrote that life was but a Magic Shadow show, played in a box whose candle is the sun.

  But then I looked down at Zee, her starlit face ringed with tumbled, blue-black hair that created an ebony halo against her pillow, and I felt her body against mine, and I thought of our children sleeping in their rooms, and I knew that there was light in my life in spite of the darkness, in spite of death, in spite of stupidity, in spite of madness and cruelty and injustice, in spite of the Void. And I felt blessed.

  Three of J.W. Jackson’s

  Favorite Soup Recipes

  Sherried Black Bean Soup

  This wonderful, hearty soup is a meal in itself. Delish!

  1 tablespoon olive oil

  ½cup thinly sliced carrots

  1 small onion, chopped

  2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

  4 cloves garlic, minced

  2 teaspoons ground cumin

  4 cups water

  Two 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

  1 cup sliced turkey kielbasa

  ¼ cup dry sherry

  1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules

  2 bay leaves

  1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

  1/8teaspoon ground red pepper

  1 cup frozen or canned corn kernels

  1 to 2 cups cooked spiral pasta (optional)

  ¼ cup sour cream for garnish

  In a 3-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil. Sauté the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the hot oil over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cook until the carrots are tender. Stir in the 4 cups water, beans, kielbasa, sherry, bouillon granules, bay leaves, oregano, and ground red pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat.

  Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the corn kernels and continue to cook for 10 minutes more. Remove and discard the bay leaves and add the cooked pasta (if using). Ladle into bowls and top each one with some of the sour cream.

  Serves 4

  Sweet Potato Soup

  This is a winter solstice favorite at the Jackson house.

  2 tablespoons butter

  1 cup chopped onion

  2 small stalks celery, chopped (reserve leaves for garnish or use dried sage leaves)

  1 medium leek, sliced (white and light green parts)

  1 large clove garlic, chopped

  1½ pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)

  4 cups chicken stock

  1 cinnamon stick

  ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  1½cups half and half

  2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

  Salt and pepper to taste

  Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion in the butter for 5 minutes. Add the celery and leeks and sauté until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, stock, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes). Remove the cinnamon stick. Puree the soup in a blender (in batches). Return the soup to the pot and add the half and half and maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped celery leaves or dried sage leaves.

  Serves 6 as a first course


  This refreshing vegetable soup is best served icy cold.

  1 small onion

  2 cloves garlic

  3 green peppers, seeded

  4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded

  1 cucumber, peeled

  ½ teaspoon chili powder

  1/3cup olive oil

  3 cups tomato juice

  ¼ cup lemon juice

  ¼ cup dry sherry

  Salt and pepper to taste

  ½ cup sour cream for garnish

  Chop the vegetables in a food processor until finely chopped. Mix in other ingredients and chill. Serve cold with a dollop of sour cream on each bowl for garnish.

  Serves 4

  About the Author

  Philip R. Craig grew up on a small cattle ranch southeast of Durango, Colorado. He earned his MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was for many years a professor of literature at Wheelock College in Boston. He and his wife live on Martha’s Vineyard. His Web site is



  Philip R. Craig, Vineyard Stalker



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