What’s happened to Freddy Coughlin?
He was only supposed to unlock the gate to the garbage bins for the truck. When he hasn’t come back after fifteen minutes, Lydia Vivaldi slips out to look for him.
The sun warms her bare head and arms as she rounds the corner of Leo’s Back End. It’s the kind of sparkling Cape Cod morning when she can hear birds singing in the woods behind the restaurant and imagine how the sand would feel under her feet if she hopped on her bike and made a dash for the beach. As she crosses the damp grass toward the stockade fence, dew soaks through her sneakers.
Freddy started working here four days ago. Leo balked at giving him a job, never mind that it’s tourist season and his staff can use the help. Freddy is married to Leo’s daughter Jackie. After six weeks of searching she put her foot down: nobody else is gonna hire him, even though he’s paid his debt to society, and for God’s sake, it was only weed and pills, not meth or heroin or crack like those gang-bangers over in Hyannis, and if his own father-in-law won’t lend Freddy a hand, then who the hell will?
Leo started him at the bottom: helping Bruno (who doesn’t speak English) to mop the floors, load the dishwasher, take out the garbage, and open the gate in the stockade fence three times a week for the waste-disposal truck.
Leo barks at Freddy (Leo barks at everybody), so it’s up to the others to help him settle in. Dinah, the cook, showed him around the kitchen. Mudge, who’s worked his way up from after-school pot-scrubber to cashier, gave him a coffee mug. Lydia, still settling in as soup-chef, sends him to the basement for onions or potatoes when he looks like he needs a break. She likes having Freddy around: a nice guy her own age, good-humored, a hard worker. And a pleasure to look at, with those blue-gray eyes and dark wavy hair, and seriously buff after ten months in the Barnstable County Correctional Facility.
It hadn’t occurred to Lydia that Cape Cod would have a jail. She moved here right after Memorial Day, so she’s still in the honeymoon phase. Lydia’s Quansett is a charming New England village of lichen-dappled stone walls, gray shingled cottages, rocking chairs on porches, windowboxes bright with petunias and geraniums. Freddy is the first criminal she’s met.
Crows shriek and flap away as she approaches the stockade fence. What are they called? A murder of crows? You’d think Freddy would’ve already scared them off.
The gate is open. Kids? Raccoons?
She calls his name softly. Leo hasn’t come down yet from his living quarters over the Back End. He sleeps without his hearing aid, but she doesn’t want to risk getting anybody fired.
The trash has not been tipped over. Something else attracted the crows. Something draped on the lid of the blue recycling bin. A log? It’s brown like tree bark, the right size for a fireplace except for a crooked bump on one end. A branch fallen from the tree overhead?
No. A branch has twigs. This has fingers.
For ten seconds Lydia stares at it. Then she pulls out her cell phone and texts Mudge: COME OUT HERE QUICK!!!
Mudge, the son of a Wampanoag chief, strides past her through the gate and leans over the severed arm.
“Is it Freddy?” Lydia was taking deep breaths. “Isn’t that his tattoo?”
Mudge straightens and steps back. “Yeah, but― No.” He looks stricken. “I mean―” He points between the blue and the green bin. “There’s another one.”
Dinah snorts when they report the news. Freddy’s gone, and you found two arms in the garbage? Uh-huh. Two right arms―not a right and a left. Right? (Ha ha.) Both chopped off above the elbow? Both with the same tattoo as Freddy’s? Yeah. Sure you did. And I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
“Dinah.” Lydia glares at her. “Why would we make this up?”
She’s so pale and her voice is so shaky that Dinah begins to suspect it’s going to be one of those mornings. “What do you want me to do? Did you call 9-1-1? Cut-off arms, that’s a cop problem.”
“We called Pete Altman,” Lydia says. “He’s on his way.”
Mudge says, “Can you go up and tell Leo?”
* * * * *
The shaggy-haired man in a plaid shirt and khakis who stands blocking the Back End’s doorway looks more like a high-school coach than a policeman. Detective Pete Altman raises his hand for silence. Behind him, a young uniformed officer―Kevin Kelly, the local beat cop―has planted his feet and folded his arms to stop any customers who might try to bolt.
Leo sits on a counter stool nearby, one hand tousling his sparse white hair, looking grim and a little sleepy.
The customers on both sides of him clink their spoons against their mugs.
“Good morning, folks. I’m Exmouth Police Detective Altman, and this is Officer Kelly. We’d appreciate your help in the investigation of a suspicious incident.”
“I gotta work,” one of the coffee-drinkers grumbles.
“This won’t take long, Phil. Just let me ask you―”
“What suspicious incident?” somebody yelled from the back room. “You talkin’ about those things Leo calls sausages?”
“Hey there, Aaron. What I’m talking about is three missing persons. Male, Caucasian, early thirties. If you’ve seen any of them, I want to hear from you. Buddy Rourke, five foot nine, stocky build, short reddish-brown hair. Dino Magnelli, five-eleven, medium build, olive complexion, curly black hair. Freddy Coughlin, five-ten, medium build, wavy dark brown hair. They’ve each got a black-ink tattoo on their right arm below the elbow, shaped like a puzzle piece.”
“The 3Ds,” says a man at the counter. “Bud-dee, Fred-dee, and Dee-no. Just got out of jail, what, six weeks ago? You lost ‘em already?”
The man next to him asks, “Is this about the treasure map?”
Detective Altman turns. “What’s that, Sam?”
“The 3Ds’ treasure map. You guys busted them for possession of drugs with intent to sell, is that right? But you never found the money.”
“The missing loot,” his friend puts in. “The hundred K they made from dealing.”
“Word is they hid it.” Sam looks around at his audience. “They drew a little map when they were inside, and cut it up in three pieces, and each guy tattooed a piece on his arm, so’s to find it all three together when they got out.”
From various points around the Back End come shouts in the affirmative.
“The 3Ds motto,” Phil adds. “One for all and all for one.”
* * * * *
Outside, cops outnumber crows around Leo’s garbage bins. Or, rather, around his stockade fence; the bins have been removed to police headquarters in West Exmouth. The arms went the other way, to the Barnstable County Medical Examiner’s office. The fence and the adjoining section of parking lot are cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. Lydia is waiting for somebody to ask what all this hoopla has to do with missing persons.
She can’t get those arms out of her head. Except for the fingers, they looked like some weird cut of meat in a butcher shop. No blood dripping from the ragged stumps, or from the crow-pecked holes. Meaning what? Some time must have passed since they’d been . . . Sawed off? Hacked off?
If you wanted to cut off somebody’s arm, how would you―?
No. Don’t go there.
On the other hand (so to speak), the flesh hadn’t shriveled back much around the bone shards sticking out of each elbow-lump. So, recent? Must be. If they were there before yesterday afternoon, whoever took out the last garbage would have seen them.
The arm on the ground between the bins was thinly covered in dark hair. The one on top of the recycling was lighter-colored and stubbier. From Pete Altman’s description of the 3Ds, she’s pretty sure he thinks one arm is Buddy’s and the other is Dino’s.
The cops are noncommittal. Their search of the surrounding woods, coupled with a house-to-house inquiry, has turned up no sign of either Freddy Coughlin or a one-armed man, dead or alive.
Inside, a short heated debate between Leo and Detective Altman has ended with the Back End’s doors reopened and its staff back at work. The breakfast customers have given their contact information to Officer Kelly, finished their Scram Egz and Omlets, and departed. Probably half of them are already on their phones ignoring Altman’s request to keep a lid on this.
Lydia and Mudge have promised to stop by police headquarters after closing and give statements. Leo has called his daughter Jackie to come over ASAP. Whatever the hell’s going on, she’s Freddy’s wife, for God’s sake, and doesn’t that give her a right to hear it from the horse’s mouth?
Detective Altman, hunched over a square of apple-ginger coffee cake at the counter, seems willing to spend the whole morning here. Lydia wonders if it’s only Jackie he’s waiting for.
The world at large recognizes Edgar Rowdey as the reclusive artist and author of creepy little storybooks in which hapless characters come to a harrowing variety of ends. To Quansett, he’s the tall white-bearded codger whose dry wit keeps Leo on his toes, and whose patronage helps keep the Back End afloat. Lydia lives in his guest cottage. She’s seen first-hand that Edgar Rowdey’s insight into the dark side of human nature isn’t limited to his own plots.
So has Detective Altman.
Edgar and Jackie arrive at the same moment. He opens the screen door for her. Jackie’s in a state. In Lydia’s view, her button nose, ample bosom, and fluffy brown bangs belie a pit-bull personality. She must have seen the squad cars and yellow tape and jumped to the obvious conclusion.
“Where’s Freddy? Where’s my husband?”
Detective Altman swivels on his stool. Before he can break the news, Leo barks from behind the counter: “Flew the coop.”
Father and daughter thrash through competing accusations. Pete Altman starts out trying to intervene and winds up taking notes. Lydia sidles over to Edgar Rowdey and murmurs a brief summary of the morning’s events.
“Of course he ran!” Jackie is bellowing. “What else is he gonna do? Freddy’s been set up! You kidding me? A convicted felon? Both of his best friends murdered? Perp nails him for the hit, no need to whack him. Well, forget about it! Freddy’s no fall guy!”
Edgar is frowning. He always sits at the counter for breakfast. Must he alter his routine today and find a place in the back room?
“He’s a victim! Two down, one to go. Why aren’t you out hunting for who did it before they chop him up, too?”
“What do you think?” Lydia asks Edgar.
Dinah is waving a dishtowel at her: bread to toast, eggs to scramble.
“Oh sure, why not?” Lips pursed, he girds himself to take the last vacant stool.
“Oh. Well, she has a point. If he wanted the other two out of the way, wouldn’t he dump the arms along with the bodies? Not bring them here, of all places.”
Pete Altman is listening. As Edgar sits, and Lydia heads for the kitchen, he swivels back to Jackie. “Mrs. Coughlin. Who’d have any reason to do that? To kill these three men, or mutilate two of them and set up your husband?”
“You kidding me?” Jackie still isn’t willing to sit beside a police detective, but she answers as if he’s merely a fool, not an irresponsible maniac. “The 3Ds just spent ten months surrounded by criminals. It’s all about money in there. Drop one little hint of a treasure map― I told Freddy, those tattoos? Stupidest thing you ever did. And that’s saying a lot.”
“What’d he say to that?” Detective Altman lays his fork on his plate. Lydia is eavesdropping as best she can.
“He said, Those tattoos kept us safe. See? Here I am.”
“Huh. Kept them safe how?”
“You’re a cop. You know what men do to each other in jail. Who don’t have friends to protect them.”
“How does that fit with a treasure map?”
“There is no treasure map! If they’d stashed a hundred grand, you think Freddy would be scrubbing my dad’s floors?”
“OK. Can you recall, did Freddy ever mention anyone special the 3Ds needed to protect each other from?”
Jackie shakes her head irritably. “He wouldn’t. Not to me, not to anybody. One for all and all for one! Buddy and Dino’s lame excuse for letting a bunch of potheads and pill-poppers take over their goddam bar.”
“So, did Freddy have a problem with that?”
“Yes! And he has a bigger problem now! Quit wasting time, Detective. Get out there and catch whoever whacked Buddy and Dino before they chop up my Freddy!”
Pete Altman responds to this outburst as he must have done to a hundred others: Doing all we can. Interviews. Searches. Cape-wide alert. Checkpoints at airports, bridges, car-rental agencies.
Then he loops back.
“When did you last talk to Mrs. Rourke or Mrs. Magnelli?”
“Margie and Desiree? Not since the night the guys got out. We had a little celebration at the Buccaneer.” The bitter line of Jackie’s mouth softens. “Margie’s a trooper, I’ll tell you. She kept that place from going under. Desiree too, tending bar for Dino? I helped as best as I could, but with my job . . . You seen the new patio they built? You should go take a look.”
“I’ll do that,” Pete Altman agrees.
How can he not? Lydia thinks. Maybe one reason he’s foot-dragging is to give the grapevine time to break the bad news. So he can walk into the Buccaneer asking Margie and Desiree sympathetic questions, admiring their new patio, instead of ticking like a suicide bomber.
“But that was it. I said to Freddy, it’s over. No more 3Ds. You gotta make a fresh start. That’s what they tell you in the support group. Keep away from bad company.”
Pete cocks his head. “Keep away from his best friends?”
“Not them. The deadbeats that hung out there. That was Dino and Buddy’s thing, not Freddy’s. He just ran the mini-golf.”
“Aha. So, what are you saying? Freddy took the rap for his pals?”
“Don’t you go turning my words against me. Freddy is a loyal friend, and so am I. We’ve all been friends since high school. This wasn’t about that. It was about saving Freddy and me’s marriage.”
“What about his job, Jackie? You OK with supporting the family? Freddy scrubbing your dad’s floors? Buddy wanted him back at the Buccaneer, is what I heard.”
“Buddy wants a lot of things.”
“And Freddy didn’t mind giving that up?”
“Price you gotta pay.” Jackie takes out her cell phone. Why? There’s no reception at Leo’s.
“Kind of a high price. You could afford it? Got some money set aside?”
Jackie stands up. “None of your goddam business. I gotta go. I’m late for work.”
Pete Altman stands up, thanks her, offers to write a note to her boss. Jackie tosses her head and beckons at Leo. He walks her out to her car.
Detective Altman follows them. When he comes back, several minutes later, he stops at the stool where Edgar Rowdey hunches over his coffee, evidently hoping he won’t be noticed.
“Mr. Rowdey. Good morning.”
“Good morning.” Edgar’s sigh is audible across the counter. “You’ve identified your fingerprints?”
That startles Pete Altman. “How―? Yes. As a matter of fact, the medical examiner just confirmed. It’s Rourke and Magnelli all right.”
Not psychic, Lydia reminds herself. Although Edgar doesn’t own a cell phone, he knows that anyone at Leo’s who wants to connect goes up to the sweet spot by Main Street, across the parking lot.
“I don’t suppose the rest of them has turned up?”
“Not yet. Doc Rafferty is not a happy camper. ‘Give me a body!’ That’s what he says to me. ‘What the heck can I tell you from a radius, an ulna, and some phalanges?’”
“I said to him, At least you’re not stuck telling the widows. If they are widows. ‘Sorry, we found your husband’s arm. Most likely cut off after he died, which was most likely last night or this morning, if he’s dead, which we don’t know for sure.’”
Lydia, carrying a tray to the back room, misses the next part of this exchange. She returns in time to hear Edgar ask, “You’ll be going over to the Buccaneer, will you?”
“Three PM,” says Pete Altman. “Can’t see any way around it.”
* * * * *
Lydia’s increasingly curious about this local landmark. The Buccaneer is the other side of Cape Cod in both senses: Buddy Rourke’s flamboyantly tacky pirate-ship bar and mini-golf complex on the south shore is a straight shot across the peninsula from the antique village of Quansett.
When Edgar Rowdey returns to the Back End for lunch, he confirms that he’s never set foot inside the Buccaneer. However, he plans to change that today, and he wants Lydia to go along. Can she postpone her date with the Exmouth Police until they come back?
“Why the rush?”
As she asks, she realizes why. Yellow crime-scene tape.
The lunch crowd is buzzing about a commotion in the woods. A police search team has found a pistol registered to Dino Magnelli. It’s too far from the Back End for Freddy Coughlin (the unofficial #1 suspect) to have thrown or dropped it there when he dumped the arms. They’re hoping he left it behind after he buried the bodies. Maybe, if they’re lucky, near the spot where the 3Ds hid their missing loot.
Not that anyone expects the treasure’s still there. Everyone assumes Freddy dug it up two days ago, when he murdered Buddy and Dino, and he’s halfway to Tahiti by now.
Neat, in Lydia’s opinion, but unconvincing. Chop off your friends’ arms to reconstruct a treasure map from their tattoos? Why not take cell-phone photos? or make a drawing? Not to mention (as Edgar already did) that it’s hard to see Freddy slaughtering Buddy and Dino in the woods and then taking their severed arms to work with him.
What Lydia does believe is that if Freddy opened that gate this morning and discovered those arms, he had very good reason to run.
She suspects that Edgar’s sudden interest in pirate mini-golf means he too is skeptical, and curious, and anxious to visit the Buccaneer before the cops seal it off.
As for Leo, he announced half an hour ago that if any more of his so-called friends accuse his son-in-law of committing two murders and turning tail on his wife, they’ll never eat lunch in this town again.
* * * * *
“Do you think Freddy killed Buddy and Dino?” Lydia asks Edgar in the car. “If he didn’t, who did?”
“Oh, heavens. I haven’t a clue.”
One more statement she doesn’t believe. “What about Pete Altman?”
“He plans to speak with the wives this afternoon. Hoping by then he’ll have something definite to tell them. Since they’re his best lead to any suspects other than Freddy.”
“Treasure-hunting dope fiends?”
Edgar doesn’t answer. Is he even listening? He seems more intent on a car signaling a left turn from the right lane than the 3Ds murder. Lydia tries a different angle.
“Does Altman think the arms were cut off at the Back End? Not that I was looking, but I’d have thought there’d be a lot more blood.”
“I gather Detective Altman agrees with Jackie. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Leaving the arms on the trash bins, you mean? Dinah said Kevin Kelly said the cops figure Freddy didn’t care, since he didn’t plan to stick around and get caught.”
Edgar waits for the turning car. “I meant the whole thing, really.”
After a moment he adds, “From what Jackie told us, all three ladies were determined to keep their husbands away from bad company. And yet. Here we are.”
She assumes he’s referring to the irony of the 3Ds’ fate until he points across an asphalt canal at a pirate ship.
Edgar parks under the Jolly Roger fluttering from the high-windowed stern. In there must be the bar. The mini-golf course surrounds it: a wonderland of docks and decks, rope ladders and railings, fishing nets, waterfalls, life-sized pirates, and a giant open-mouthed shark.
Lydia itches to rent a club and go whack some balls. Instead she follows Edgar up a gangplank to a rough-hewn wooden door.
Bar Closed. Lydia knocks anyway. Edgar peers through the porthole window. He shakes his head. She presses the doorbell: three short, three long, three short.
“Sorry,” comes a male voice. “The bar is closed. The mini-golf―”
“Yes,” Edgar says. “Of course. Terrible. Would you just tell Mrs. Rourke and Mrs. Magnelli that Leo Harrington and his daughter, Jackie Coughlin, offer their condolences?”
The porthole slides open. The face behind it―male, wearing a bandana and eyepatch―sees a tall white-haired old man and a spiky-haired young woman in cut-off jeans and a T-shirt.
The door buzzes. Lydia pushes it open, fast, in case Edgar’s tempted to retreat.
They’re in a dim hallway reeking faintly of stale beer, mildew, and cooking grease. The piratical young man invites them to wait on the patio. Megan will bring them a drink while he goes to look for Desiree and Margie.
The patio is a different kind of wonderland. Tropical flowers surround palm trees, spill out of beds and pots, hang from carved ships’ figureheads. There’s an arched plexiglass roof with sliding panels, open on this mild afternoon, so that every leaf and petal stirs. Lydia can’t identify the scent in the air, but suddenly she’s thirsty for a margarita.
Megan―a pirate wench with doubloon earrings―looks startled to see them. Edgar still hasn’t clarified who they are, so Lydia’s relieved when Megan escorts them to a glass-topped barrel without asking. Her face wears a professional smile, but she looks like she’s been crying.
What can she get them to drink?
“Isn’t this marvelous.” Edgar seems determined to cheer her up. “All new, is it?”
“Just opened,” she nods. “Margie and Desiree said, We gotta have it ready for the 3Ds’ homecoming!”
Lydia wants to ask where Jackie and Freddy fit in, but Edgar says, “It must have been a lot of work.”
“Yup.” Tears well up. “They were out here planting flowers up to the last minute.”
His next question surprises her: “I don’t suppose you have Bitter Lemon?”
Then she hears footsteps, and a double shadow falls across the table.
A brusque female voice: “Hello?”
Another: “What’s going on here?”
Edgar rises to meet them. With his usual awkward grace he introduces himself and Lydia. The sturdy apple-cheeked redhead in the Buccaneer T-shirt is Margie Rourke. Her taller slimmer friend (who reminds Lydia of Cher in her heyday) is Desiree Magnelli.
They shake Edgar’s hand and Lydia’s; they thank them for their sympathy. Apparently they recognize Edgar’s name; Lydia suspects that’s all that’s stopping Margie from kicking them out. Both widows (if they are widows) look wasted. Makeup can’t hide the furrows around Margie’s mouth, or the bruise-colored pouches under Desiree’s eyes.
Lydia wishes Edgar would cut to the chase: Have they seen Jackie or Freddy since the 3Ds’ welcome-home party? Who else was there that night? Which of their old customers or suppliers know the men are out of jail?
Megan the pirate waitress is still circling the table, trying in vain to take drink orders. Lydia asks her for a club soda. Megan shoots her a grateful look and scurries out the door.
“We’ve been admiring your lovely patio.” Edgar folds his ringed fingers on the table. For a man who shrinks from weddings, funerals, and birthdays, he’s remarkably at ease in crises. Lydia figures that comes from decades of drawing and writing about fictional horrors. Will this one turn up in his next storybook?
“Hard work,” Margie says. “We did most of it ourselves.”
“Really?” One of Edgar’s cloudlike eyebrows goes up. “It must have taken you an age.”
“Months,” says Desiree.
“Almost a year,” says Margie. “The plan was, wait till the guys get home. But with them gone, we were losing customers hand over fist.”
Desiree mutters something about rats and a sinking ship.
“We came this close to going under. So me and Desiree are like, OK. Use it or lose it. We need a new clientele, pronto.”
Lydia grabs this opening: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
“Out with the old, in with the new,” echoes Desiree. “I’ll tell you, we were happy to see the back of some of those lowlifes.”
“Like . . .?”
“Jimmy Clyde,” Margie says feelingly. “The four dwarfs, Sleepy, Dopey, Sneezy, and Doc.”
“Antoine Brown and his Antoinettes, AKA the ho-pack.”
Where’s our drinks? thinks Lydia. If I had a cocktail napkin, I could write down those names.
But Detective Altman will be here shortly to ask the same questions.
“Do you think . . .” How to put this? “Could any of your ex-customers have done . . . what happened to your husbands?”
“Count on it.” Margie hugs her arms against her chest as if to protect them. “Sooner them than Freddy Coughlin, that’s for sure.”
“No doubt about it,” says Desiree. “Those sleazebags get wind of a hidden treasure?―this is just what they’d do. Knock off two of the guys and scare the crap out of the other one, so he’ll hand it over.”
Lydia can only shake her head. She feels like crying, or comforting them, or both.
“Your husbands must have been so pleased,” says Edgar. “To come home and see this.” One hand floats out to indicate the arched sunroof, the hanging plants, the view of mini-golfers flailing their way around the pirate ship.
“Absolutely,” says Desiree, sniffling.
“They couldn’t believe,” Margie says.
“What was here before?”
Lydia stares at Edgar. Outside of his creepy little books, he’s normally the most kind-hearted man on earth.
“Nothing.” Desiree looks bristly.
“Bare ground,” Margie says. “Wasted space.”
“You did it all from scratch?”
His eyes meet Lydia’s. He truly wants to know, she realizes. This is why he asked me to come with him: because my last job before soup-chef was Fix-It Chick.
She restates his question: “Design and construction, excavation to finishing, you did the whole thing?”
“We had help with the heavy lifting,” says Margie.
“My brother’s an architect.” Desiree pushes back her dark hair.
“Buddy and Dino already graded the site. For a video arcade. But with them out of the picture? No way.”
“It had to be something we could handle. That would bring in more income and less assholes, pardon my French.”
“You two and Jackie?” Lydia asks.
“Jackie had her job,” says Margie. “She pitched in when she could.”
“Her and me rented one of those little bitty bulldozers.” Desiree is smiling.
“A Bobcat.” An unaccountable chill tickles Lydia’s ribs.
“We had our own hard hats and vests with neon stripes.”
Margie says, “The guys got out in June, so we did a dry run Memorial Weekend. Closed down, fixed the glitches, and back up for the welcome-home celebration.” Her voice darkens. “We were planning on a Fourth of July party, but now . . .”
“Congratulations,” says Lydia. “I’m so sorry.”
Edgar pushes back his chair. “We’ve intruded long enough.”
To Lydia this seems abrupt. Margie and Desiree, though, are on their feet.
The four of them reach the bar at the same moment Megan reappears with their drinks.
“Hummy hummy hoo,” Edgar says. “Would you mind awfully? Just a few sips.”
Margie looks like she would. Desiree says no problem.
“We can see ourselves out,” says Lydia, squeezing lemon into her club soda.
They follow Megan back to the table. Edgar strikes up a chat. How long has she worked here? Only since June? Does she like it?
“Oh yeah. My cousin warned me off―he used to tend bar at the old Buccaneer, and there was like fights every night. Not now. Nice people, good tips, no worries.”
Edgar gestures at the tiers of flowering plants under the windows. “Was it all done when you started?”
“Not like done. They almost changed it over when Buddy and Dino came back. Them and the old regulars really wanted a video arcade. Buddy went nuts, ripped out that whole part over there.” She points at a bank of purple hydrangeas. “Margie and Desiree finally talked them around. Like, why argue with success? So they put it back together, but then―more tweaking.”
“So the sprinkler system? under the plants? sprung a leak or something. They had to dig it up twice. All those flowers? Just went in yesterday.”
“Mm.” Edgar sets down his glass and asks Lydia: “Shall we?”
“Give me a minute.” Lydia feels as though the pieces of this puzzle are shifting like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope. She wants a clear picture before she goes to make her statement at the police station. When they left Quansett, she only knew that Freddy Coughlin did not shoot his two best friends in the woods and cut off their arms for a treasure map. Now she has names (well, nicknames) of half a dozen likely suspects. Still, she’s nagged by a sense that she’s missing something.
Edgar stands up. “You don’t want to be late for your appointment.”
Why is he so pushy? It was his idea to postpone her appointment and rush over to the Buccaneer before the cops invade the place with their yellow tape and questions. Doesn’t he understand that once he and Lydia walk out that door, they can’t come back in? Doesn’t it bother him to drive all the way across Cape Cod only to turn around and drive home without a single shred of evidence?
“I’ll see you at the car.”
Lydia stabs her lemon slice with her straw, gulps her club soda, and follows him out.
In the parking lot Edgar doesn’t unlock the doors. He walks around to the tailgate and leans against the sun-heated back window.
She’s about to ask what he’s waiting for when she sees it: a dark blue Ford sedan, ordinary-looking except for the flashing red-and-blue light on the driver’s-side roof.
“And Ms. Vivaldi. What are you two doing here?”
Edgar’s hand shades his eyes. “I believe we’ve found your murderers. And your victims, or what remains of them.”
“What?” Lydia gasps.
“Who?” asks Pete Altman. “Where?”
Lydia’s squinting at Edgar in amazement. “You think the Sneezy and Dopey and Antoine gang whacked Buddy and Dino for the treasure map and dumped their bodies here?”
“Mm. Not exactly.” He sounds regretful. “Not for the treasure map. That was just gossip. For the money, to a degree, but really, the main reason was survival. And it wasn’t Sneezy, Dopey and Antoine who killed them. It was Margie and Desiree.”
Lydia can’t speak. She can’t believe this. Never mind that Edgar’s speaking from expertise, albeit secondhand. One of her favorite books is his Catalogue of Little-Known Murderesses. No; what she can’t believe is that she’s just spent twenty minutes talking to a pair of husband-killers without ever suspecting.
She listens closely as Edgar summarizes their conversation. What did he hear that she didn’t? Not a thing. Only his angle is different. He describes three best friends since childhood who dodged becoming grown-ups by building their very own pirate ship. Who sailed through life on their pals’ booze- and drug-fueled dreams, with no grander ambition than to stay afloat. Whose wives’ rising panic turned to desperation as the ship started sinking, until Fate turned the helm over to them.
Two squad cars have arrived: no lights, no sirens. Detective Altman too has been listening closely, after a pause to call for back-up. Now he asks Lydia if she has any comments or additions to make to Mr. Rowdey’s account.
She shakes her head.
Edgar is watching police officers emerge from the cruisers. “I don’t think we alarmed the ladies into digging up their hydrangeas again, but I felt you’d want to hear this sooner than later.”
“You’re right about that,” says Pete Altman. “Before they get any more bright ideas.”
“Like sell the Buccaneer, change their names, and catch the next flight to Tahiti?” says Lydia.
The detective beckons to his troops. “I’m going to ask you to drop by the station and run through this for Officer Mahoney,” he tells Lydia and Edgar, “while we go in here for a chat and a look around. Thank you both for your assistance.”
They don’t leave immediately. There isn’t much to see: no slipping into bulletproof vests or sneaking onto rooftops. This group could be discussing who should go for coffee. Still, Lydia has a few more questions for Edgar.
”What about Freddy?”
“Oh, he’ll come back. Once he knows he’s not in danger of being framed or dismembered.”
“Why did they do that?” She stifles a shudder. “How could they? If it never was about the tattoos― Their own husbands?”
For an instant she’s back at Leo’s, gaping at the two severed arms Margie Rourke and Desiree Magnelli must have tossed over the fence onto the garbage bins.
Arms that had embraced them. Pillowed their heads in bed at night.
Arms that tore apart the patio they’d spent the winter building. Arms etched in Correctional Facility ballpoint: not Margie and Desiree but a 3Ds symbol: One for all and all for one!
“Trapped behind bars,” Edgar says.
“They got out, though,” says Lydia. “What, do you think they’d have gone back to dealing? Back to jail?”
“I meant the wives.”
He unlocks the passenger door for her, then his own.
“Time to go see Officer Mahoney?” asks Lydia.
“Time to sit down.” With a sigh, Edgar climbs into the car. “What an afternoon! I believe it must be sixty years since I last scuppered a pirate ship.”
Thanks to Linda & Kathy, whose encouraging critiques helped make
this story more exciting.
About the Author
C J Verburg is a playwright, director, and author of best-selling books including the international literature collections Ourselves Among Others and Making Contact. A longtime neighbor and friend of the artist and writer Edward Gorey, she was the regular producer of his theatrical “entertainments” on Cape Cod. The Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod mystery series began as one of their idées du jour over lunch—a homage to Agatha Christie, whose Golden Age mysteries they both admired—but his death delayed the debut of novel #1, Croaked.
“A wonderful mystery where every step is interesting (and important), and every character is authentic and credible. In addition to a great read, it was fun to recognize real places . . . Driving the roads Ms. Verburg describes, I can almost see the characters.” — Countrygirl, Amazon
Now the series continues with Zapped: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery. When inventor Pam Nash’s waterfront launch for Zappa, her new “Taser for pacifists,” is invaded by her daughter Ashley, they learn you should never mix a weapon demo with a birthday party.
You can read about Edward Gorey’s real theatrical adventures—and enjoy rare drawings and photos, links to film clips, even music—in Edward Gorey On Stage: Playwright, Director, Designer,
Performer: a Multimedia Memoir.
“A joy to read… I especially liked the multimedia links… A must have for fans of Gorey’s work [and] a great read for anyone interested in the performing arts.” — PM, Amazon