When the explosion’s loud boom rolled across the harbor, Tipper Henderson didn’t know what had awoken her at first, only that it was the middle of the night, she’d already been jolted awake by the pager twice, and she was hurting for sleep. She turned over, and tried to recapture the dream she’d been having … only to be awakened by the pager’s insistent chirp a third time.
Groaning, the veterinarian dislodged the cats from her bedspread and swung her feet on to the floor. She clumsily picked up the phone, and dialed the number.
The phone was picked up on the first ring. “Tipper! Is that you?”
It took a second for Tipper to recognize the voice – that of Carolyn Fahey, one of the technicians at the clinic, whose husband Kevin was a local lobsterman. But what was she doing paging her in the wee hours of the morning?
“Yes, it’s me, Carolyn,” Tipper replied. “What’s wrong?”
“Did you hear that explosion?”
“Um, yeah, I guess I did,” said Tipper, running a hand through her tousled hair. “It woke me up, sort of.”
“It’s the Morningstar! Kevin’s boat!”
Tipper found herself instantly wide awake. “Your husband’s lobsterboat exploded?”
“Yes! Darryl Wilkinson just called and told me what happened. Tipper, Kevin’s been up and gone for half an hour! I don’t know where he is! Can you give me a ride down to the dock?”
“I’ll be there in two minutes,” Tipper said. She hadn’t bothered to undress after coming home from her last call, so true to her word, within two minutes she had grabbed her coat and was on her way to fetch Carolyn.
By the time they reached the
harbor, the Morningstar was fully
engulfed in flames. Fire roared out of
the shattered windows of her wheelhouse, and skittered up the mast, making it
look like a burning cross.
Kevin Fahey shielded his eyes against the smoke and heat. “We’ve got to cut her loose!” he shouted. “Else she’ll take the rest of the boats with her!”
He grabbed a knife, and with the help of one of the volunteer firemen, started sawing at the ropes that tethered the burning lobsterboat to the pier. When the stern line finally parted, he put his foot against the gunwales and pushed her away from the dock; luckily the wind was in the west, and the boat slowly drifted away from the pier and out into the harbor.
There was very little the fire department could do except watch as the Morningstar was carried across the water toward the east side of the harbor, listing badly. There another firetruck was stationed, to defend the boats moored there should the burning lobsterboat drift too close. But these were never in danger; some twenty yards from shore, the Morningstar gave up the fight and sank, extinguishing her flames as she went down.
The recovery effort began at first light. While other lobstermen circled the area in their own boats, divers attached chains to the sunken Morningstar, which was then slowly hauled toward shore by a crane. Tipper stood with Carolyn and Kevin on the dock, and watched as the hulk slowly began to emerge from the water up on to the village boat ramp.
“Oh my God,” Kevin said softly, and Tipper could see why he might be moved to prayer: the boat’s destruction was more complete than anyone had guessed. All that was left of Kevin Fahey’s livelihood was a charred shell. The wheelhouse and decks were completely gone, the timbers of the hull were burned black, and all that remained of the mast was a blackened spike resembling a broken-off toothpick. Across the stern the boat’s name and registry could barely be read through the scorch marks: Morningstar, Cabot Cove, ME. Soot-stained water poured like blood from a gaping hole in the boat’s port side.
The state fire marshal, Gregory Banks, took one final pull from his cigarette and ground it out with his boot heel as the crane finished dragging the hulk out of the water and left it resting on its side. As the firemen began detaching the tow chains, he, Kevin, and Ron Stiller, the fire chief, approached what was left of the boat.
“Fire burned hot,” Banks said as he made his first pass around the hull. “And that explosion everyone heard, that probably came from here.” He laid his hand on the edge of the jagged port-side hole. “Diesel fuel tank must have gone up, blasted right through the timbers.”
“But diesel doesn’t explode, everyone knows that,” Kevin pointed out.
The fire marshal gave him an odd look. “Exactly,” he said. He turned to Ron Stiller, the fire chief, and said, “Chief, you’d better call the Sheriff. We’re going to need to tape off this area so no one gets at it. I’m listing this fire as being ‘suspicious,’ and this hulk is a crime scene until proven otherwise.”
“Come in,” Seth called in response to the knock at Jessica’s back door.
Tipper came inside, and the first thing she beheld was Seth wearing a pink apron and wiping a saucepan dry with a dish towel. For a moment she stood there with her mouth hanging open, unsure of what to say.
“Yes?” Seth prompted her as he finished drying the saucepan and reached for a glass.
Tipper finally recovered from her surprise. “Don’t you, like, ever see patients?”
“Don’t you?” Seth countered.
“I’m on my lunch break, Dr. Hazlitt,” said Tipper. “What’s your excuse?”
“I don’t see patients on Wednesdays.”
“Ah,” said Tipper. “For a moment, I thought you’d decided to switch careers – from physician to homemaker.”
Seth gave her a withering look as he put the glass down and reached for a handful of silverware. “Usually,” he said, “I try to avoid doing dishes, but this was the deal: Jess cooked, so I clean.”
“Sounds fair,” said Tipper. “Where is Jessica, anyway?”
“Ran upstairs for something – I’ll get her.” He slung the dishtowel over his shoulder, went to the foot of the stairs, and called up, “Jess! You’ve got a visitor - that nosy veterinarian’s here!”
“Tipper!” Jessica exclaimed when she came running downstairs a moment later. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Tipper said, “but I wish I could say the same about Carolyn Fahey, my technician. I suppose you heard about the explosion last night?”
“Oh yes! That was Kevin’s lobsterboat, wasn’t it?”
“It sure was,” said Tipper. “There wasn’t an awful lot left of it when they hauled it off the bottom of the harbor this morning.”
“I hear that the fire marshal’s got Mort investigating it as a possible arson,” said Seth.
“Yes, based on two things,”
Tipper said as she sat down at the kitchen table. “One, diesel doesn’t explode, and the boat
very definitely blew up. And the other,
apparently the guy who delivers the
“Interesting,” said Jessica, offering Tipper a cup of tea.
“Yeah, well it gets more interesting, and this is the reason I came over here: Carolyn is convinced that someone is trying to kill her husband.”
“Kill him?” Seth exclaimed. “Setting fire to his boat is bad enough – why would she think anyone was trying to kill him as well?”
“Because of the timing,” said Tipper. “When Carolyn called me this morning, she was hysterical because Kevin had gotten up at his usual time and should have been on the boat when the explosion happened. It was pure luck on his part that he met one of his buddies down at the dock and got talked into going to the coffeeshop for a cup of java. If he hadn’t, he might very well have been on board and killed.”
“I see,” said Jessica. “Does Kevin have any enemies?”
“What fisherman doesn’t?”
Tipper said, reaching for the sugar.
“Carolyn gave me a whole list this morning while I was doing
surgery. There’s Brad Morris, Kevin’s
sternman, that he let go a couple of weeks ago.
Carolyn says it was an amicable parting, but who knows? Then there’s this other lobsterman out of
“Has Carolyn passed any of this on to the Sheriff?” Seth asked.
“Yes, but he’s got his hands full with this arson case and the fire marshal,” Tipper said. She took a sip of her hyper-sweetened tea, then continued. “Problem is, Carolyn’s afraid for Kevin’s life. She’s looking for some unofficial help. But I haven’t lived here long enough to know the people all that well – so I told her I’d run the story past you, Jessica, and see what you thought …”
Jessica sat back and considered. “Well,” she said, “what I think is that we need to start from the fire, and work our way back from there. I’ll stop by the Sheriff’s office a little later and see if the fire marshal has come up with anything new.”
Tipper looked relieved. “Thanks, Jessica,” she said, rising from the table. “Carolyn will be relieved.”
Later that day Jessica followed through on her promise and arrived at the Sheriff’s office, where she found Mort and the fire marshal talking with a thin, wiry-looking man she had never seen before.
“Hey, Mrs. F,” Mort said as she poked her head in the office. “Come on in. This is Josh McRiley. He’s the newspaper delivery guy who saw that pickup truck leave the parking lot just before Kevin’s boat went up.”
Jessica smiled and nodded a hello, which McRiley faintly returned. “So like I was saying,” he said, picking up where they had apparently left off, “I was dropping a load of the Portland Press Herald off at the Corner Store, when all of a sudden I hear this squeal of tires. Next thing I know, a pickup has pulled out of the parking lot entrance and is coming right at me. I dropped the papers and got out of the way in a hurry. Then he was gone – I never got the chance to look at a license plate.”
“What about the driver?” Mort asked. “Did you get a look at him?”
“Yeah, briefly. He had red hair and a full beard, looked to be maybe about forty-five or fifty years old. And he was wearing a Portland Sea Dogs baseball cap. Does that help at all?”
“It helps a lot,” said Banks, the fire marshal. “With a description of the driver and the truck, we at least have something solid to look for.”
“So it was definitely arson?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, no doubt about it now,” Banks told her. “The boys found the remains of an incendiary device attached to the engine block of the Morningstar. So I’ve officially labeled this an arson investigation.”
“Mr. McRiley,” Mort said, “if you don’t mind sticking around for a few more minutes, Deputy Broome here will have you sign your statement, okay?”
“Certainly, Sheriff,” the delivery man said, and he left the office with Inspector Banks and Andy.
“You might want to label this an attempted murder investigation as well,” Jessica said when they had gone. “But for an unplanned cup of coffee, Kevin Fahey could very easily have been killed when his boat blew up.”
“Yeah, that’s what Carolyn was telling me earlier,” Mort sighed. “Coffee?”
“No, no thanks.”
“Problem is, Carolyn’s got a lot of potential suspects, but it’s all based on dockside gossip – nothing firm,” Mort said, pouring himself a cup and returning to his desk. “I mean, how do you prove that one guy’s cutting another guy’s traps without catching him with the knife in his hand?”
“Well, I admit that does pose a challenge,” Jessica admitted. “But surely some of her leads can be traced – like whether Robin White was actually bidding on the Morningstar when Kevin bought the boat.”
“Oh, we can trace that, all right,” said Mort. “What we can’t prove is the hearsay that Robin threatened Kevin after he lost out and Kevin took possession of the boat.”
“Has anyone talked to him?”
“Not yet. Banks has got all my people tied up looking into the arson end of things.”
“Then I’ll go,” Jessica said. “And I’ll bring Seth; I know he wants to get some fresh seafood.”
The path from the co-op parking area to the wharves where the lobstermen moored their boats was a veritable gauntlet of enticing sea food. Outdoor steamers were boiling away, cooking string bags filled with clams and lobsters being cooked for take-out, while just inside the door of the co-op’s main shed row upon row of salt water tanks held hundreds of live lobsters.
“Come on, Seth,” Jessica said as the good doctor wavered off course to investigate the contents of one of the tanks. “Later – I promise!”
They found Robin White on the deck of his vintage wooden lobsterboat, the Seasong, filling bait bags in anticipation of lobstering the next day. A plastic crate of fish heads sat on the boat’s weathered transom; with a long skewer, the lobsterman speared about three or four, slid them into a mesh bag, and clipped it closed at the top, all in one smooth, fluid motion.
“Afternoon, Robin,” Seth hailed him. “Getting ready for tomorrow morning?”
“Ayuh, Doc. It’s got to be done sometime. Afternoon, Mrs. Fletcher.”
“Hello, Robin,” Jessica said. “I suppose you know about the explosion that destroyed Kevin Fahey’s lobsterboat this morning.”
“I wasn’t around, but I heard all about it,” Robin told her. “It was arson, for sure.”
“You seem very certain about that, Robin,” said Jessica. “The fire marshal hasn’t even been able to prove that there was foul play involved. How can you be so sure?”
White shrugged and stabbed another set of fish heads with his bait skewer. “Had to be. Diesel doesn’t explode.”
Seth didn’t let the matter drop. “Back ‘bout a year ago, you told Kevin that if you couldn’t have the Morningstar, no one would,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess I did say that.” Robin took off his thick rubber gloves and tossed them on a pile with the rest of his foul-weather gear. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of fiberglass boats available in my price range, so I wanted the Morningstar wicked bad – at the time.”
“At the time?” Jessica said. “What happened afterwards?”
“Well, I got to thinking,” he told her. “I counted up my savings, and I realized that if I could hold out in the old wooden boat for just one more year, I’d have enough to put a down payment on a brand new boat – one built new, to my own specs.”
“And now it’s a year later,” said Jessica. “Were you able to order the new fiberglass boat like you had hoped?”
“Oh yeah,” Robin said with enthusiasm. “She’s about half-built right now. In fact,” he added, “the morning that Kevin’s boat went up, I was over at the boatyard. I was planning on being out fishing all day, so I wanted to check on the progress before I headed out.”
Seth tugged at the sleeve of Jessica’s coat. “Jess, if we don’t hurry, they’ll be closing the retail shop soon!”
Jessica sighed and gave in – there was no motive for arson here. “Thank you for your time, Robin,” she said, and headed back up the wharf with Seth.
As they were leaving the co-op, Seth very happily cradling a bag with two lobsters and a pound of clams, they met Tipper and Carolyn crossing the small parking lot.
“Hello, Tipper, Carolyn,” Seth said. “What brings you down here at this time of day?”
“We’ve come down to see Kevin,” Carolyn said. “Come on, I think he’s at the ramp with what’s left of the boat.”
They found Kevin Fahey on the boat ramp below the wharves of the lobstermen’s co-op, walking around the remains of his boat with his hands dug deep into his pockets. Carolyn went up to him, and gave him a hug.
“Thanks, sweetheart,” he said. “I needed that. Hello, Doc, Tipper, Mrs. Fletcher.”
“Wow,” Tipper said, looking at the hole in the Morningstar’s hull with wide eyes. “Something got her wicked good.”
“You can say that again,” said Kevin. “Any word from the Sheriff’s office, Mrs. Fletcher?”
Jessica shook her head. “Not yet,” she said. “But Sheriff Metzger and the fire marshal are working on it.”
Kevin looked past Seth and gave a groan. “Oh, no, not this too,” he said.
Jessica and Seth turned to see another fisherman approaching them out of the gathering evening gloom, a blue and white buoy with a broken spindle in his hand.
“Hey there, Ben,” Kevin said as the newcomer joined the group. “That looks like one of my pot buoys.”
“Yeah.” Ben Knowles dropped the
mangled buoy to the dock; the end of the rope that had once tethered it to a
lobstertrap trailed with it. “I hate to
be the bearer of bad news, especially at a time like this, but I found it while
I was out hauling my strings near
Jessica picked up the buoy and fingered the rope. “This line was cut,” she said. “The end is clean, with no sign of fraying.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Kevin sighed. “I appreciate this, Ben. I lost a lot of equipment with the boat, so every bit’s a gain. Thanks.”
“I’ll keep an eye out, Kev,” Ben said. “If I see who’s been doing this to your traps, you’ll be the first to know.” And he returned to his boat fasten her down for the night.
Jessica bent down and picked up the buoy. Aside from a shallow split down one side of its surface, it looked like it could still be salvaged. There was a splotch of orange paint near the base; no doubt Kevin would be able to touch that up with his own trademark blue. She handed it over to him and said, “Well, it’s not much, but it is a start.”
“I guess so,” Kevin sighed. “Come on, Carolyn, it’s been an awful long day. Let’s get home.”
The next morning found Mort on the phone at the Sheriff’s Office early, calling every garage in the area looking for a lead on the mysterious blue pickup.
“Okay, look Ron, if you do hear of
one, give me a jingle, okay? … What’s that? … Yes, in fact I do have some idea about how many blue
pickup trucks there are in
Mort hung up the phone, and saw Deputy Andy standing in the doorway with a grin on his face.
“I didn’t know it was wild goose season, Sheriff,” he said jokingly.
Mort favored him with a glower. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“What are you going to do now?” the deputy asked.
“I’m going to have a little chat with an out-of-work sternman.”
Brad Morris, a sandy-haired young man in his early twenties and the former sternman for the Morningstar, was working under his vintage station wagon when Mort Metzger drove up in front of his house. Hearing the sound of footsteps approaching, he slid out from under his car.
“Hey, Sheriff,” he said, wiping his hands on a dirty rag. “Can I help you?”
Mort walked around the station wagon with an appreciative eye. “1975 Ford Grand Torino Wagon, right?”
“Good guess! But not quite right,” Brad said, patting the hood fondly. “It’s a ’73.”
“Not many like it still on the road,” the sheriff commented.
“Nah. But it still runs good, and it’s big enough to haul all my stuff,” said Brad. “I guess I’ll drive it until I can’t bribe anyone to pass it’s inspection anymore.”
“Uhhh, yeah,” said Mort. He took a surreptitious glance at the car’s windshield, and noted that it did indeed boast a current state inspection sticker.
“Just a joke, Sheriff.”
“Right. Brad, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Sure, go right ahead,” Brad said. “I’ve got nowhere I have to be.”
“Do you mind telling me where you were yesterday morning when Kevin Fahey’s lobsterboat exploded?”
“I was in the parking lot at the co-op, helping Carl Porterhouse carry traps from his boat to his truck,” Brad said.
“At that hour? It wasn’t even quite dawn.”
“Well, when Carl hired me it was on the condition that I be ready to work when he was ready to work,” Brad explained. “And he wanted those traps offloaded first thing, before heading out in his boat to haul up and bring in more.”
“And can Carl verify all that?”
“Go ahead and ask him yourself,” said Brad. “He’s behind the garage.”
They went around back behind the building, where Carl Porterhouse, an older fisherman in his mid-sixties, was scrubbing corrosion off of a wire lobstertrap with hands that were as rough-looking as the Brillo pad he was using. Against the back wall of the garage about fifteen more traps were stacked, waiting their turn to be cleaned.
“Mornin’, Sheriff,” he said.
“Morning, Carl,” Mort returned. “I was just asking Brad here a couple of questions about yesterday morning. When did you hire Brad, anyway?”
“’Bout a week ago,” Porterhouse said, “after Kevin Fahey fired him.”
“He didn’t fire me,” Brad corrected. “I quit.”
“And why was that?” Mort asked him, interested.
Carl gave a short laugh. “I hear it was because you were drinkin’ all his coffee before you had even reached his first string,” he said. “Kevin sure does like his coffee.”
“That wasn’t the reason,” Brad said sullenly.
“What was it, then?” said Mort. “You didn’t offer him any reason, you just walked away. Did you bear a grudge against him, or what?”
Sighing, Brad took Mort aside, out of Carl’s hearing. “Look, Sheriff,” he said quietly. “I’ll tell you what really happened, and then you’ll understand why I didn’t want to tell Kevin why I was quitting, and why I’d rather Carl didn’t know. You see, I have this little problem when I’m working offshore …”
Shortly before noon, Jessica, Seth, and Mort gathered at the coffeeshop to compare notes over lunch, and invited Tipper along.
“Surely Brad and Carl can’t alibi each other,” Tipper protested. “I mean, they’re both suspects, so doesn’t any alibi have to be taken with a grain of salt?”
“Ordinarily, it might,” Mort said, “but not when their alibis for each other are backed up by the harbor master … who happened to stop by to chat with them at the co-op parking lot just before the Morningstar went boom.”
“No,” said Seth incredulously.
“Yes,” Mort said. “Carl called him after I left his place, and then the harbor master called me.”
Tipper sighed and resumed picking at the crumbs left from her haddock sandwich.
“Seth,” Jessica said, “did you get that information I asked you about?”
Seth took his glasses out of one pocket and a little notebook out of another. “I think I’ve got what you’re looking for, Jess,” he said. “I checked with Coastal Marine, Midcoast Marine Supply, and Mid-Maine Marine Outfitters, and none of them carry buoy paint in the colour you were after.”
“What colour is that?” Tipper asked.
“Flame orange,” said Jessica. “It’s more reddish than Dayglo orange – I remember Ethan pointing out the difference to me once, back when he was still alive. Go on, Seth.”
“That pretty much covers the larger marine supply stores in the area,” Seth said. “As far as the little guys go, the New Harbor Marina’s store carries flame orange paint, but they were the only ones. Pretty rare stuff, I guess.”
“Interesting,” Jessica said, almost to herself. Suddenly she looked at the Sheriff and said, “Mort, do you think you could get Judge Baldwin to issue you a search warrant this afternoon?”
“I guess so,” he said. “May I ask who we’re getting this search warrant for? Carl Porterhouse? Carolyn said Kevin thought he might be slicing his traps.”
“No,” said Jessica. “Ben Knowles.”
Mort put down his fork and sat back, surprised. “Ben Knowles? What has he got to do with Kevin Fahey?”
“Trust me, Mort. You’ll see.”
“I can’t believe Judge Baldwin granted us this search warrant on such short notice,” Mort said as he and Jessica approached the shed at the back of Ben Knowles’ property, Jessica carrying Kevin’s retrieved buoy in her hand. “The fact that Ben’s buoy colours are orange and white seems like a pretty flimsy reason to suspect criminal activity.”
“It’s not just orange and white, Mort, it’s flame orange and white,” Jessica insisted. “It’s a fairly rare colour that the marine supply stores don’t sell much anymore. And according to the records at the co-op, Ben Knowles is the only fisherman in Cabot Cove who uses it as his main buoy colour.”
Mort tried the door of the shed; it was unlocked. “Well, we’re about to find out if your hunch is right.”
The door swung open with the squeak of rusty hinges, and Mort flipped a switch next on the wall. Light flooded the room from an overhead bulb, revealing rows of freshly painted buoys lined up against the back wall, still shiny and wet.
“Okay, so they’re flame orange,” Mort said. “Mrs. F, you want to explain to me what painting buoys for the spring has to do with blowing up someone’s boat?”
“Depending on where these buoys came from, it may have everything to do with it,” she answered.
At that moment Ben himself appeared at the shed door, looking confused and out of breath. “Sheriff Metzger! Jessica! What are you doing here?” he asked.
Mort stepped forward and unfolded the piece of paper he carried. “We’ve got a search warrant from Judge Baldwin to take a look around your shed,” he said. “So, Ben, you want to tell me where all these freshly painted buoys came from?”
“Sure, Sheriff. I bought them used.”
“You got a receipt of sale?”
“Well, no,” Ben said, starting to look a little panicky. “You see, I bought them off a fisherman in Rockport. He had them advertised in Uncle Henry’s.”
“Then I’m sure he’ll remember you picking them up,” said Mort. “What’s his name?”
“Uh, well, I didn’t really catch his name …”
“Ben, please, don’t dig yourself any deeper,” Jessica said gently. “You didn’t buy these buoys, you took them off of Kevin Fahey’s lobster traps.”
Ben leaned back against the doorway with a defeated sigh. “Jessica,” he said wearily. “How did you know?”
Jessica held up a blue and white buoy with a short length of cut and a shallow split down one side. “Do you recognize it, Ben? It’s the same one you fished out of the Sea and returned to Kevin yesterday afternoon. You said you’d found it floating free while you were fishing,” she said. “But that wasn’t quite true. In actuality, you are the one who has been cutting Kevin’s traps. Some of the buoys you let go, as most trap-cutters do … but the others you kept, to recycle for your own use.”
She turned the buoy over, revealing the orange paint smeared on its surface. Mort picked up one of Ben’s other freshly-painted buoys, and held it up to Jessica’s for comparison.
“Flame orange,” he said. “Perfect match.”
Ben wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Money’s been tight,” he said. “I lost a lot of equipment to storms last winter. It seemed a shame to let a perfectly sound pot buoy fetch up on one of the islands where no one could use it.”
“So you brought many of them home, including this one, to paint over in your own colours,” Jessica said. “One you saved out, which you gave to Kevin yesterday – you thought the gesture would make it less likely that anyone would think you were the one cutting his traps. But you were careless about which buoy you picked – this one already bore a smear of your trademark flame-orange paint.”
“Okay, okay,” Ben sighed. “Yeah, I’ve been cutting traps. Not just Kevin’s, though where he sets them makes him the easiest one to pick on. I had to – I’ve been poaching lobsters out of them, and I couldn’t leave behind any trace that I’d been there. I saved out a few buoys to keep – I don’t have the money right now to buy more for myself.”
“Kevin must have caught you in the act of poaching his traps, so you blew up his boat to keep him from reporting you to the fisheries warden,” Mort said.
“No!” Ben protested with sudden vehemence. “I never laid a finger on his boat. I have no quarrel with Kevin; never have. The morning his boat exploded, I was at the coffeeshop with a half dozen other guys, waiting for it to warm up outside.”
Mort looked at Jessica; her expression told him that she believed Ben’s story. “All right, Ben,” he said heavily, flipping open his notebook. “Tell me who was there with you that morning.”
“Well,” Ben said thoughtfully, “for starters, Kevin Fahey was there …”
“Thursday afternoons are always so slow,” Tipper sighed, tossing aside her journal magazine and leaning back in one of the swivel chairs at the front desk. It was getting late, and her appointment book was looking about as sparse as it had first thing in the morning. Not many clients or animals had crossed the threshold of the Cabot Cove Veterinary Clinic all day.
“Well, what do you expect? It’s springtime,” Carolyn said. She picked up a stack of patient records and started to file them back into their folders. “The summer people aren’t back yet, and the local people are busy getting ready for the summer people.”
“Yeah, I know.” Tipper retrieved the journal and resumed reading an article about the benefits of a high fiber diet in animals.
The bell above the front door jangled to life, and Tipper, startled, removed her feet from the desk and sat bolt upright in her chair.
“Oh, hi, Jessica,” she said, sounding perhaps a bit more dejected than she had intended.
Jessica looked surprised. “Tipper, you seem almost disappointed to see me!” she said teasingly, looking down at Tipper from across the front desk.
“Sorry,” the veterinarian said. “It’s just that we’ve been a little short of paying clients today. I don’t suppose you’d consider adopting a pet?”
“Not until my schedule settles down long enough for me to think about it.”
“Kevin called me an hour ago,” Carolyn said. “He told me all about Ben and the stolen buoys you and Sheriff Metzger found. It’s amazing,” she went on. “Kevin was sure it was Carl Porterhouse who was cutting his traps, but it was really Ben who’d been doing it all along!”
The front door bell jingled again; this time it was Josh McRiley, carrying a stack of tabloid-sized newspapers under his arm.
“I’ve got those Portland Pet Expo programs Dr. Murphy wanted from the Press Herald,” he said.
“Oh, good,” Tipper said. “You can just set them over there on that bench. Thanks.”
Carolyn picked up where she had left off. “I can’t believe that Ben Knowles had anything to do with blowing up the Morningstar. He’s a nice guy, and he and Kevin been on good speaking terms for as long as I can remember.”
“He didn’t have anything to do with it,” Jessica assured her. “At the time that Kevin’s boat was about to explode in the harbor, Ben was at the coffee shop with a number of other fishermen – including Kevin himself.”
“Okay, so what about the sternman that Kevin fired, Brad Morris?” Tipper asked.
“Kevin said it was a friendly parting,” Carolyn said.
“It was,” said Jessica. “Kevin never actually fired Brad; Brad quit without giving an explanation. He finally admitted to the Sheriff that he couldn’t work on Kevin’s boat any longer because he suffers from intractable seasickness.”
Tipper whistled softly in sympathy. “Ohhh, that is rough,” she said. “No wonder he didn’t tell Kevin why he was leaving!”
“Yes, and not only that, Brad is alibied by Carl Porterhouse, who he was working with that morning,” Jessica told her. “They were getting ready to clean next season’s lobster traps – on land, I might add.”
“I don’t suppose any of these guys drives a blue pickup,” Carolyn said.
Jessica smiled sadly and shook her head. “Sorry, Carolyn,” she said. “The Sheriff checked into that, and came up empty-handed.”
“Huh,” said Tipper thoughtfully. “It almost makes you wonder if that blue pickup truck even exists.”
“There you go, Dr. Henderson,” Josh said, joining them at the desk. “Five bundles. Could you sign here for Dr. Murphy?”
“Sure.” Tipper scrawled her name on the line McRiley indicated, and handed back the clipboard. “Thanks again.”
Carolyn glanced up at the clock. “Well, it’s two minutes before five. I’m locking the door,” she announced.
“Why don’t you go on home, Carolyn?” Tipper offered. “It won’t take me long to close down and lock up. Then I can give Jessica a ride home.”
“Well … there were a few things I needed to pick up at the store on my way home,” Carolyn said. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not in the least,” said Tipper. “Go on now, shoo!”
“So it’s a dead end,” Tipper said when they left the clinic ten minutes later. “All three of the men that Carolyn thought might have reason to harm Kevin or his boat have alibis. And Ben Knowles, while not entirely guiltless, is also in the clear - alibied by Kevin himself!”
“So it would seem,” said Jessica, “but remember, Tipper, those were only the ones Carolyn knew about – we can’t discount that there might be someone else in Cabot Cove with a motive to blow up the Morningstar.”
“Great,” the veterinarian sighed. “It’s like looking for a deer tick on a sheepdog.” She started to cross the street to where her car was parked, but just as she did, a large truck roared out of a side street, accelerated with a roar, and headed straight for her.
“Tipper!” Jessica shouted.
Tipper stood as though rooted to the pavement, dazzled to the point of paralysis by the truck’s blazing headlights as it rushed toward her. Desperate to avert the oncoming disaster, Jessica recklessly ran into the street, grabbed the veterinarian’s arm, and pulled her out of the way just as the truck sped past, missing them by inches. They watched as it peeled around the corner with a squeal of tires, and disappeared.
Shaken, Tipper weakly sat down on the curb to catch her breath.
“Thanks,” she said. “That guy wasn’t kidding around.”
“No, he wasn’t,” Jessica said as she sat down next to her. “Did you get a look at the driver?”
“Of course not! How could I with those headlights in my face?” Tipper said.
Jessica stared at her in amazement. “Of course not,” she repeated softly to herself, a distant look in her eyes. “Of course not – no, it would be quite impossible!”
“Jessica, what is it?” Tipper asked urgently.
Jessica seemed to come back to the present. “Think about it, Tipper – you were blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, so of course you couldn’t see the driver’s face at all!”
“Right,” Tipper said slowly. “So …?”
“So how could Josh McRiley describe the driver of the truck that nearly ran him down in such detail?”
The sky was just beginning to turn pink in the east as dawn spread over Cabot Cove. The town was still asleep, with only the occasional pickup truck breaking the silence, headlights picking a path through the half-light. A larger truck rumbled through the almost deserted streets, and pulled up next to the curb. Leaving the diesel engine running, the driver hopped out and lifted the rear door with a metallic clatter. Inside were bundles of morning newspapers; he tossed two of them down to the sidewalk in front of the drugstore, where they landed with a muffled smack and a disturbance of dust.
Rubbing his hands clean on his jacket, the driver slammed the rear door shut again, and went around to get back into the truck’s cab, only to find that on this morning, he had some unexpected company.
Sheriff Metzger reached inside the cab and turned off the ignition. Even though he spoke quietly so as not to disturb the sleeping village, his words seemed loud in the sudden absence of the engine’s noise.
“Josh McRiley,” he said, “I’m placing you under arrest for destruction of private property, arson, and the attempted murder of Kevin Fahey.”
“We finished going over the paper delivery truck,” Mort told McRiley as they sat in his office a couple of hours later. Kevin Fahey sat in a chair in the corner, watching. Jessica and Tipper were also there, standing the in background with cups of tea. “We found traces of explosives on the floor of the passenger side of the cab. They match the kind in the pipebomb the state fire marshal says destroyed Kevin Fahey’s boat. You want to explain what it was doing in a Portland Press Herald delivery truck?”
McRiley didn’t say anything, and sat sullenly in his chair in front of the Sheriff’s desk.
Mort took a sip of coffee, and reached for a folder. “Okay,” he said, “let me try this one on you – we checked with the head of the Press Herald distribution department, and he tells us that you switched routes with the guy who usually does the midcoast deliveries a week before Fahey’s boat went up in flames. Got anything to say about that?”
“He wanted to have a route that kept
him closer to his family in
“That’s not what he says,” Mort said, frowning. “Want to try another one?”
McRiley didn’t answer, so Jessica put down her tea cup and spoke up. “You switched routes so that you would have a reason to be in Cabot Cove early in the morning,” she said. “You were setting up for an opportunity to strike at Kevin Fahey. For a week you observed where he moored his boat and what his routines were, and then when you were ready, you set the explosives on the Morningstar to blow it up. Then you presented yourself as a witness to your own crime, pointing the police toward a mysterious blue truck to throw them off the scent.”
“So there never was any blue pickup truck,” Mort said.
McRiley sank further down in his chair. “No,” he admitted. I made that part up.”
“Okay,” Tipper said. “That all sounds fine, but why didn’t he switch his paper route back, and get as far away from the scene as possible?”
“Because to disappear that quickly would only draw attention to himself,” Jessica explained. “Any early morning town ‘information gatherers’ who might have seen him might have made the connection, and alerted the authorities.”
“So the real question is, what is Kevin Fahey to you?” Mort asked.
McRiley paused, then said, “Blowing up Fahey’s boat was my way of getting justice. Last summer, some buddies of mine and I were up here in Cabot Cove, cruising around town after dark and bar-hopping on the waterfront. We went into one place and hadn’t been there five minutes before Fahey here came up to my table and attacked me.”
“I remember that,” Kevin said.
“Yeah?” said Mort. “What about it?”
“Well, he’s got the part about bar-hopping with his buddies right,” Kevin said, “but the rest of it …” He shook his head. “The little twerp and his gang of mini-thugs came in like they owned the place, and started picking on the regulars, mostly guys who were sitting alone, minding their own business and nursing a well-deserved beer after a long day at work.
“Anyhow, they were harassing Bill Willett – you know him, the tall skinny guy – and I went over to them and told them to knock it off. Then McRiley here, trying to be the big man, takes a swing at me. So,” Kevin concluded with a shrug, “I took him out to the deck and pitched him into the harbor.”
Mort looked at McRiley. “Is that what really happened?”
The paper delivery man squirmed in his seat. “Well,” he admitted, “I guess that’s one way to describe it.”
“You destroyed a commercial fishing boat, Kevin’s only source of income, over a stupid bar fight?” Mort said. “Now I really have heard it all. Andy, get him out of here.”
Later that morning Jessica stopped by the veterinary clinic to find the staff in a celebratory mood as they went about their work. In the treatment area in the back, Tipper was slicing up a cake she had picked up at the grocery store on her way to work, with the words “Congratulations Kevin and Carolyn” hastily scrawled across the top in pink frosting.
“Jessica!” the veterinarian exclaimed. “You’re just in time! Do you want a piece with a frosting rose or without one?”
“I’ll take just a taste of the frosting, if you don’t mind,” she said. “I really can’t stay; I just wanted to tell Carolyn how glad I am that everything has been cleared up.”
“With an arrest made in the arson and attempted murder case, the insurance company has come through with the reimbursement money for the Morningstar post haste,” the technician said. “We were afraid it would take months to get that all settled!”
“Josh McRiley won’t be showing his face around Cabot Cove for a long time, that’s for sure,” Tipper added. “No loss there!”
“And Ben Knowles has offered to pay Kevin back for all the gear he damaged or destroyed,” said Carolyn, slipping a leash off its hook to take one of the clinic inpatients, a German shepherd, for a walk. “He said it might take a little while, but he will do it. The other members of the co-op have offered to help.”
“Oh, good,” Tipper said in relief. “I really do feel bad for Ben – after all, he’s really not a bad guy, just a desperate one. Maybe this reality check will get him turned around for the better.”
“The best part,” Carolyn said, as she snapped the leash on the German shepherd’s collar, “is that Kevin has already made a downpayment on another boat with the insurance money.”
“Really!” Jessica exclaimed in delight. “That’s wonderful! What’s he going to name her?”
“What else?” Carolyn called back as
the big, eager dog dragged her out the door of the kennel: “The