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Dead Down East

Prologue

 

 

 

Apologies and compliments are two remarkably effective devices for disarming adversaries in life and hecklers in bars. If you consider the socially adept people you know, you’ll see that they use these two conversational tools frequently and with ease. I remember the first time it fully dawned on me how valuable they could be.

Angele and I had been dating for a couple of weeks. Our next planned event was scheduled for Saturday night. So I was a bit surprised when she arrived unexpectedly at my place on Tuesday evening. I guess she decided that there was something that couldn’t wait until the weekend. The moment she walked through the front door, I began to suspect what that “something” was. She had a gleam in her eyes that seared me from the inside of my nimble imagination right down to my insteps. I surmised that she was either ovulating, or she had a sudden urge for a tour of the Thorpe habitat. I began to mentally review the floor plan of the house. “Now, where is my bedroom?” I thought. “I know it was here this morning.”

Angele relieved me of that particular anxiety by leading me right to it. She emits some kind of bedroom-seeking sonar through her vocal chords. The sound is extraordinary. I’ll try to describe it.

For starters, it resembles a deep hum. Angele’s voice is naturally low and earthy. If she were a singer, she’d be a contralto. But this hum is very low-pitched, even below her normal register. I guess you could call it a sustained breathy murmur. Around here, it came to be known as the “Fugue for Two Bassoons in B Flat Minor,” or simply “The Fugue.” Whatever The Fugue is, it’s capable of finding the path of least resistance to the bedroom, and it also makes standard foreplay obsolete. The Fugue serves as a perfect bridge from what we call “everyday life” to what I call the “Island of the Floating Spirits,” which is my own personal euphemism for the afterglow when that rush of endorphins makes its way into the cerebral-spinal fluid.

On that particular Tuesday evening, with a mutual anticipation of the “Island of the Floating Spirits,” The Fugue got us down the hallway, through the bedroom door, and onto my king sized bed. That’s when Angele spotted a lacy bra lying about ten feet from the foot of the bed. It was wedged along the side of the dresser, propped up against the baseboard.

“What is that?” she growled. The Fugue had suddenly stopped playing. In its place was her three-word question in a totally different register.

Instantly, I tried to recall the two devices that disarm adversaries and extract us from dicey social situations: apologies and compliments.

Unfortunately, I was a little rattled and couldn’t think of either one, so I opted for the more standard male approach: lying.

“That must be my sister’s bra,” I suggested weakly. “She dropped in from Boston yesterday on her way to Québec. She spent the night, and I let her use my bedroom. She can be forgetful at times, and she’s not very tidy. She left before dawn this morning. I guess she didn’t see it in the dark on her way out.”

“Do you think I’m some kind of daft, Franco-Grecian bimbo?” Angele asked.

I couldn’t get a full reading on what lurked beneath the surface of that rhetorical question, but I did catch the drift.

“From what you’ve told me about yourself so far,” she continued, “I suspect you are an only child, and judging from your current performance, I’d say you’re not very accomplished at thinking on your feet…or, in this case, ruminating on top of your bed with half your clothes scattered on the floor behind you.”

She certainly has a way with the English language.

I was scrambling to apply the pair of devices known to be effective for resolving social conflict. I also wished I had used them before inventing a sibling. Granted, I was not yet adept with these social skills, but I should have tried harder. My options were limited at this stage anyway, so I decided to give them both a whirl. I began with an apology.

“Angele, I’m really very sorry. You’re totally right. I just suddenly went brain dead. I am an only child. What was I thinking?”

Before she had a chance to answer my rhetorical question, I climbed back on the horse and answered it myself with part two of the social-mending equation, a compliment.

“What I was thinking was, ‘You are so beautiful!’ And that’s really all I was thinking. It’s no wonder I made up that story of having a sister. Actually, my best guess is that Jenny Boudreau intentionally left that bra there a couple weeks ago when I asked her to leave. That’s when we broke up. She might have figured that the bra would act like a juju or a talisman to win me back, or maybe to keep other women from entering my life, or at least my bedroom. She has a jealous streak, and I think she’s into some kind of voodoo, which is why I ended our relationship. I met you for the first time a couple of days after she vacated the premises, apparently minus one brassier.”

“And one other thing,” I added, “I have no idea how I failed to see it lying over there for the past two weeks, but I can’t afford a maid, and I’ve been really busy.”

Unfortunately, I was starting to sound like Woody Allen in Manhattan, trying to keep Mariel Hemingway from going to London.

Angele looked at me for a few moments and then burst out laughing. Uncontrollably. I had to agree with her; I must have sounded like a buffoon. I managed a self-effacing smile, which slipped in rather nicely between her remarks. Finally she said, “Jesse Thorpe, you may have some faults—and a few of them come to mind at this point—but you do have two things going for you.”

“Thank God for that,” I said to myself.

“First, you are persistent. You’re willing to fight for what you want, against long odds, even if that means creating an imaginary sibling in the heat of passion. And second, you are charming. In fact, you’ve charmed the shirt right off my back.”

And with that she pulled her sweatshirt up and over her head, and tossed it across the room, magically landing right on top of, and completely covering, the offending undergarment by the baseboard.

I made a quick mental note to dispose of that bra as soon as it came up for air. I also noted that Angele, herself, wasn’t wearing one. I wondered if this was her standard attire—but not for long. The Fugue was back on the playlist! I became so mesmerized by it that I could barely decide what to do next. Winging it without a safety net, I surrendered to uncertainty and let one thing lead to another.

• • •

Apologies and compliments are more than just handy social skills; they can pivot your fate decisively. Before lunch, Cynthia Dumais and I would be employing both of them to the hilt—not once, but twice—in a half-controlled, half-desperate, attempt to elude FBI scrutiny. It’s all the more curious because the day began so peacefully…without the slightest whiff of chaos or danger.

 

1

 

On Golden Pond

 

 

 

A fish is a dream

alive in sleepy waters.

The fisherman casts his fly

upon the surface

hoping to lure that dream

into the light of day.

 

 

The sun had not yet risen, and a dense mist engulfed us on the lake. There was just enough light for me to read each line of the verse, a few words at a time. At first, I read it quietly to myself. “That’s charming,” I thought, “although it is an unusual place to find a poem.”

I broke the pre-dawn silence by reading the poem again while standing in the bow of the boat. I spoke just loud enough so Michael could hear me from the stern. I thought my soft rendition sounded appropriately theatrical. When I finished, I paused for dramatic effect.

“Huh?” I said, “A beautiful poem like that on a tackle box? Go figure! Are you a professor of English literature, or what?”

“Ah guess prob’ly,” came the minimalist, tongue in cheek reply.

I love Michael. He can sound like a local when he wants—and unquestionably he is a local—but his everyday voice is warmhearted, understated and enriched with experience. He is, without question, an authentic human being, witty, totally comfortable in his skin, and never in a hurry to make a point.

Michael Wyeth has been a professor of English Literature, tenured at Colby College in Waterville, Maine for thirty years. He’s a tall, distinguished looking man in his mid sixties, with short silver hair and a clear, almost bronze complexion. His blue eyes are steady and engaging.

“Where did you find a tackle box with a poem printed on the top?” I asked.

“It was a gift from Kathleen on the occasion of our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Do you like it, Jesse?”

“Definitely. But since when did Plano start engraving poetry on their fishing equipment?” I asked. “Do they employ poets now to appeal to the ecological niche of stylish, sophisticated fly fishermen?”

“Actually,” Michael offered with a slight hesitation, “I wrote that verse more than thirty-five years ago, when Kathleen was a student of mine. On the day she graduated from Colby, I signed a copy of my novel, Silent Trees, and had it ready to give to her as a parting gift. As a prelude to the ceremony, the graduates paraded by the lineup of professors on their way to their seats. When Kathleen filed past me, I called her aside and handed her the book, saying, ‘Here’s something you can read if the commencement speech gets a little boring.’

“I was already enamored with her…smitten really…but as her professor I had been coy about my feelings. I guess I let the cat out of the bag with the poem, which, incidentally, I wrote just for her. I penned it on a blank page at the end of the book. The rest of the poem reads:

 

Friends are more conscious.

We are the angels of the earth and the air,

learning through our struggle

to live together in the vast expanse.

Love opens the heart

and unfurls our wings.

Mysteriously we take to flight.

 

Michael went quiet for a minute or two…enough time for me to absorb the full history and impact of the poem. He cast his fly and let it sit gently on the water, perhaps hoping to lure that recurring dream into the light of day. Then, as if to dissolve the last trace of guilt he still might feel for romancing one of his students, he said, “Honestly, when I wrote that, I was hoping Kathleen wouldn’t discover it until she had finished reading my novel. That’s the reason I put it on the last page. By then, she’d be gone, living her life in Boston or beyond. Not far from Maine, perhaps, but far enough from me that she wouldn’t be pressured, even though the thought of her moving away made my heart ache. But, if a courtship was going to happen, it would have to come later, after the somber, professor-student relationship had passed away.”

“Apparently, the poem worked its magic,” I suggested.

That, it did!” he intoned slowly, without hiding his satisfaction. A smile beamed across his face as he continued, “It was ten o’clock at night, barely three weeks after graduation, when totally unannounced, she came knocking at the front door of my home. To this day, that moment plays out for me in slow motion. She’s standing on my porch, obviously nervous, yet bold and determined at the same time. I am taken completely by surprise. Her interest and affection for me is unmistakable, and yet the first thing out of my mouth is, ‘I thought you were in Boston.’

“‘I didn’t like Boston,’ she said flatly, perhaps hinting that she didn’t care much for the first words out of my mouth either, ‘The roundabouts scared the daylights out of me.’

“‘All you do is flow with the traffic, stay in the outside lane and find your exit,’ I said, still frozen in my tracks, unable to think of anything reasonable to say, let alone romantic.

“She stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds and then said, ‘I’m still scared, but now it’s not about the traffic.’

“‘What are you afraid of now?’ I asked.

“‘I’m afraid you won’t invite me in. If you don’t, I’ll have to leave, and then figure out something else to do with my life.’

“‘So, you want to come inside?’ I mumbled.

“‘I thought you’d never ask,’ she said, with a charming mixture of presumption and glee.

“By midnight we were a couple.”

Without warning I had a strike. A smallmouth bass rose for my fly, but in a heartbeat it disappeared. I pulled up too late. My attention had been divided by Michael’s engaging story. He smiled and then asked, “Are you fishing, or are you daydreaming?”

“I guess I was gawking. But you are mostly to blame. I was transfixed by your poem, and how you romanced your novel.”

Michael seemed genuinely amused by the way I phrased my response.

“Tell me something, Michael,” I went on, “why have you never written a story inspired by fly fishing? It’s the second great love of your life.”

“Well, Jesse, like so many good books, it’s already been written, and twice for good measure. Those two books harvested most of the imagery and metaphors I might ever cultivate for such a story. Ernest Thompson wrote the play, On Golden Pond, in 1979. A couple years later it became a blockbuster film. I’m sure you know that Mr. Thompson spent his summers here, on Great Pond, while he was writing the play. It’s a well-known fact, around here at least, that this is Golden Pond.”

“I have heard that,” I said.

“There’s a marvelous touch in the movie that has become part of the local lore. Dave Webster owned the marina in Belgrade Lakes and delivered the mail from his boat, Mariah, for half a century. I used to see Dave every year making his runs when I stayed here in late spring. Although he was a generation older than I, we became friends. Dave was friendly with everyone he met. That was his special gift.

“Before they began filming the movie, he took some of the cast for a spin around Great Pond on his boat, and related stories about his days as a mailman. The actor who portrayed him as ‘Charlie’ was William Lanteau. Dave schooled him well. Even Lanteau’s accent was spot on. Later Dave commented, ‘I never, ever used the words, ‘Holy Mack-a-nole,’ as Charlie does in the movie.’ No doubt Dave felt that Lanteau played him a bit too much like a yokel. Nevertheless, William Lanteau created an endearing character. When I first heard ‘Charlie’ speak in the film, I did a double take, thinking I was actually hearing Dave himself. It was brilliant. Several years later, Dave told me about his connection to the film. He passed away in 1996.”

I waited for Michael to go on with his story, but he simply continued casting his fly along the shoreline, almost as if he had never spoken a word. Perhaps the thought of Dave’s passing reminded him once again how brief our time is.

I felt a chill set in. I found my thermos still nestled into the anchor rope at the bow, unscrewed the top and poured myself some coffee. Steam rose from my cup. The smell of the roasted beans set my mind at ease. It’s curious how invigorating this simple ritual of the cup can be, not to mention the java and its rousing caffeine. I took a few sips and felt the heat flow inside. I let the brew have its way with me.

After I finished my coffee and returned the thermos to its resting place, I asked the question that had been lingering, “Michael, you said that book has been written twice for good measure. What’s the other book?”

After his next cast nestled the fly inches from a log near the bank, Michael replied, “A River Runs Through It. It’s a tale about fly fishing, and, of course, about growing up. The book is a novella, written by Norman Maclean in 1976. I remember the date because I read it while we were celebrating our country’s bi-centennial.”

Michael smiled and added, “As fly fishermen, we are part of a dying breed. We’re throwbacks to a time that exists only in the memories of a few stubborn devotees of our craft. Sure, a new book about the likes of us might make a quaint story. In fact, I once began the research for just such a novel. That was in 1992. I had imagined that On Golden Pond and Norman Maclean’s novella had faded from the collective memory long enough to make my version seem fresh. Before I was two weeks into the project, the film, A River Runs Through It, was released. So I just dropped the idea entirely. It would have sounded plagiarized. But even more to the point, who’s going to read a book about a young fly fisherman today, when he can watch Brad Pitt in high definition cast his fly across a stream as if God had created him to do just that?”

The sun was now making its way above the hill of pine trees on the east side of the cove. A gentle breeze from the north stirred the birch leaves, but the lake remained perfectly calm. There was not yet even a ripple to move us along to virgin fishing spots. Michael pulled an oar every now and then, providing us fresh water along the bank to try our luck. As we drifted, all we could hear, other than the occasional thoughts running out of our mouths and the more steady ones passing through our minds, was the sound of our lines sliding through the guides…and the wildlife.

A red-winged black bird called out into the silence. I couldn’t tell if he was pining for a mate, or squawking because we had come too close to his perch. A pair of dragonflies flew by, mating in mid air. (And we humans think we’re resourceful in the art of making love!) There were frogs and crickets, and down the way a river otter splashed near the shore and then disappeared below the surface.

When a loon spoke up, so did Michael. “I have often wondered why this species was named The Common Loon. There’s nothing common about it. If all the sounds along the shore were likened to The Pastoral, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, then the shrill solitary wail of the not at all common loon can be imitated best with a Shakuhachi, the classical, bamboo flute of Japan. Wistful. Alone. Calling through the uncertainty for its mate.”

Michael went on, “It seems eccentric that we humans classify ourselves entirely separate from the other animals of the earth. Every creature that has visited us this morning is as fully conscious and aware of this environment as we are, and surely more so. Their lives depend precisely on that awareness. While we dote over our own personal histories, fears, expectations and other assorted trivialities, they act totally in the moment with no hesitation or trace of self-consciousness.”

His words penetrated. For the next ten minutes we didn’t say a word. The breeze picked up slightly and pushed us gently along the bank. The oars now became unnecessary, so I set them inside the boat. Michael and I fished together in silence as if performing a ballet on water.

Then, out of the blue, Michael asked, “Jesse, why don’t you write that novel?”

“Well, Michael, if something exciting or significant ever happens to me, I might give it a try. You taught me a thing or two in class about imagery and the tempo of phrasing. At the moment, I have three livelihoods and still can barely make my mortgage payments. I suppose becoming an author might give me a fourth income stream. But to write a worthwhile novel, I will need a great mentor and an editor. Do you know any mature literature professors who have the time and the patience for that?”

Michael grinned and replied, “At your service.”

“Can I use your poem about the fish?”

“Absolutely!”

I smiled, “Well, if anything interesting ever does happen in my life, I’ll do just that; you have my word.”

After a minute or so, Michael returned to something I had said earlier, “You mentioned that you have three livelihoods, Jesse, but I know only two of them. You are a bass player and singer in your band, Ocean Noises, and you are also a fine carpenter.”

I peered back at him for a moment with an awkward, almost foolish, look on my face, and eventually said, “I’ll tell you, but only if you promise not to laugh out loud.”

“I would never do that out here,” Michael replied, in a whimsical tone, “It might spook the fish.”

“I didn’t tell you before because I imagined you’d think the occupation is too dodgy, or maybe a bit corny or pretentious. It’s not steady work by a long shot. I haven’t had a client for months, but…I am a licensed private investigator.”

“You’re not packing heat in your tackle box are you?” he chuckled. “Till now I’ve had only one rule for you when you visit us at Bear Spring Camps. Your cell phone must be turned off, or on silent, at all times. You can use it, of course, if a real emergency arises. Now, I’ll have to add another rule. No guns at the lake.”

“Not to worry, Michael. I keep my .38 Special under lock and key in my home. I’ve fired it only two or three times so far, and that was at a shooting range in Augusta. I hope I never have to pull it out on a job.”

“How long have you been a detective?” he asked.

“About six years.”

Michael couldn’t help himself. To hell with the fish. He laughed out loud. “You’ve been a private investigator for six years, and this is the first I’ve heard of it? Sounds like you’ve been a little too private. Who are your clients?”

“I haven’t had very many, maybe a couple dozen in all. A divorce case here, a missing person there, and occasionally I’ve been hired to protect someone for a short period of time. When that happens, I have to be armed. It scares the daylights out of me, of course, but it comes with the territory, and I’m gradually getting used to it. I also provide advice on security systems. That’s about it so far. I’m in the yellow pages of the Augusta phone book under my real name, ‘Jesse Thorpe, Licensed Investigator, Bonded and Insured.’ Would you care for one of my business cards?” I said with a grin. “I carry all three of them in my wallet.”

Michael made no reply. He just smiled and cast his fly again near the bank. Within a few moments, my PI advertisement was lost to the lapping of the water and rustling of the trees. Then, as if on cue, Michael had a rise on his popper. Without missing a beat, he gave his fly rod a firm snap, and he hooked a nice smallmouth. His rod bowed as it strained with the weight of the fish. The bass put up a valiant fight against an experienced angler. Light tackle gave the fish a fair chance to shake free, but on this day, Michael prevailed. After leaping and diving for several minutes, including one spectacular dance atop the water on his tail, the fish was clearly spent. Michael steered him near the boat, and I slipped the net under and brought him in. Immediately he flipped out of the netting and onto the aluminum hull, and made quite a racket until Michael managed to get his thumb inside its mouth and lift him up for us to admire. He was beautiful, greenish brown in color, and weighed almost three pounds. He was breathing heavily, and his dorsal fin stood straight up, rigid and menacing.

I’m certain that Michael enjoyed releasing this fish even more than catching him. He held the bass firmly by the lower jaw, at a slight angle to the horizon, so that the weight of the fish kept its mouth open, while he carefully extracted the hook. Michael admired the fierce, yet tired look in the smallmouth’s eyes, and then gently returned him to the water. We both watched the bass regain his bearings as he slipped down into the sleepy water. It occurred to me that Michael had released the fish as if he were turning loose one of his own sons from the family nest, tenderly into the vast expanse. Together in that simple, private moment, our wonder and vulnerabilities mingled. We marveled without words at the unspoiled, natural beauty of this place…pines, birches and maples as far as the eye can see, surrounding a prehistoric lake. “Mysteriously we took to flight.”

Michael smiled at me and said, “It’s been a great morning so far. Let’s go in and have some breakfast!”

“Sounds good. I’m starved,” I replied.

I reeled in my line, took hold of the popper and attached its hook to the tiny metal loop on the under side of my fly rod. Then I put my Orvis down along the edge of the boat, set the oars carefully next to our fly rods, and sat down in the bow.

Michael put the gearshift lever into neutral, pulled out the choke on the 6 HP Johnson outboard motor, pushed the primer button once, and gave a strong pull on the starter cord. The motor coughed up a little smoke and then began to rumble. That put an end to our otherwise tranquil morning.

He pushed in the choke, eased the gearshift into forward and turned the throttle. The boat hesitated a brief moment as the propeller engaged and the transom wedged itself into the water, lifting me up with the bow almost a foot into the air. Then we eased back down as the boat planed out, and we surged forward. A slight turn on the handle of the outboard set our course across a mile and a half of open water, straight toward three-dozen rustic cabins lined up on the other side of the pond. Great Pond!

Why call this a “pond” I thought, for at least the hundredth time? I guess if comparing it to Huron, Superior, or even Moosehead, it is a pond. But for me it’s a “lake,” and a mighty one at that. It’s seven miles long, and four miles wide. It has a shoreline of almost fifty miles. With two of us in the boat, our top speed is about twelve miles per hour. It would take us at least four hours to circumnavigate this “pond.”

I shivered just a bit as the brisk morning air hit me in the face. It might be early June, but that doesn’t mean it’s warm in central Maine. I zipped my thermal lined sweatshirt all the way to the top, pulled the hood over my head, and tightened the cord under my chin until my ears were warm and snug inside. It would be a ten-minute ride across the lake to our camp. I leaned forward into the wind.

 

2

 

Shot in the Dark

 

 

 

Michael cut back on the throttle and we glided slowly through the shallow water to our dock. I stepped out and reached back to steady the boat as Michael hit the kill button and released the pin that locks the motor in place along the transom. He tipped the outboard forward, lifted the shaft and propeller out of the water and locked it there.

Michael then gathered our rods, tackle boxes, net and seat cushions and handed them to me one by one. I set them on the dock and took Michael’s hand to help him out of the boat. Taking some of our things with him, Michael made his way to the cabin, while I secured the boat to the mooring post.

I grabbed the rest of our gear from the dock, looked toward the cabin and saw Kathleen on the porch, smiling and waving to me. Kathleen has a warm, natural smile. She’s spirited and sharp as a tack. Her hair was trimmed very short all around, naturally dark and slightly graying on the sides. She has a smattering of freckles under her eyes that make her look younger than her years. Her face is rare, like a gem. I walked onto the porch, put down the fishing gear, and gave her a big hug.

Whenever I hug Kathleen, she hugs back with abandon. She’s not the least bit shy of taking me to her bosom. I’m always the first to let go. It’s as if I know instinctively that I’m entitled to just so much of the mojo, but I’m more than content to let her charge my batteries.

“How was the fishing?” she asked.

“Well, Michael got the best fish, but I managed to catch a few. It was a fine morning. Fog covered the water until the sun rose, and the lake was smooth as glass. Perfect for fishing and spending time with Michael.”

“Hungry?” she asked.

“You bet!”

“All right then, let’s go to breakfast,” she said.

“I need to wash up first,” I replied. “You can start walking without me. I’ll catch up.”

Michael and Kathleen’s younger son, Tyler, now twenty-four years old, arrived from Boston the night before. He came out of the cabin and said, “Hi, Jesse. You guys got an early start.”

“I love it when it’s quiet.”

“I do better when the sun’s going down,” Tyler said. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a Wyeth.”

“I’m sure you are, Tyler,” I said, “You’re probably just a late bloomer.”

“I’m not an early one, that’s for sure,” he replied, as he shuffled down the steps and onto the path.

I washed my hands quickly and hurried out of the cabin. I jogged a bit and came along side of Kathleen, who was bringing up the rear. We walked together along the lake in front of a few cabins and then crossed through a parking space onto the dirt road that leads to the dining hall.

“You know what I like best about staying here?” Kathleen asked.

“No cooking or cleaning?” I suggested.

“Well, yes, that is nice. But what I like best is that we totally lose contact with the outside world.”

“Me too,” I said.

In the cabin there is no TV, no WiFi, not even a radio to feed our hunger for information. The outside world can do whatever it pleases. Inevitably, like a top wound up 14.7 billion years ago, it just keeps on spinning a path of its own. But in the cabin or on Great Pond, time stands still. I had joined Michael, Kathleen and Tyler only the evening before, but in less than twelve hours, my tether to the world was already losing its grip.

As we approached Jamaica Point Road that passes in front of the main house, we could see quite a number of cars parked on both sides of the road. The camp was nearly full. Michael and Tyler were about twenty feet ahead of us as we crossed the road. We followed them up the steps to the long, enclosed porch in front of the dining room.

Through the open doorway we could hear the dining hall humming with chatter, perhaps a bit louder and more animated than usual, although morning and breakfast is always a boisterous affair. Phil Brookings and his wife Darlene were sitting on the porch. Phil and Darlene live in Portland and have been coming here for decades. They usually arrive in mid-May and stay for about a month. Several of the other faces seemed familiar, but I wasn’t sure of their names. Phil seemed downcast. He stared at us with a bewildered look, and then said with considerable consternation, “Can you believe it?”

“Believe what?” Michael asked.

“You haven’t heard?” he said, as if he couldn’t believe that either.

“Not a thing,” said Michael. “Since supper last evening, we’ve been completely isolated at the lake. What happened?”

“William Lavoilette was murdered last night!”

Michael froze like an ice statue. We all did. When this news had fully sunken in, Michael muttered, “Oh, my God!” The words tumbled out of his mouth and fell to the floor.

Tyler, Kathleen and I just stood there, stunned by what had happened. We sat down around Phil and began plying him for details.

Phil took a deep breath and continued, “So far, there has been very little information available from the media. Apparently he was shot to death at about 10:30 last night, just south of Brunswick on Sebascodegan Island, a few minutes drive from his summer cottage. He was found lying on the side of the road about 20 feet in front of his car. There are no suspects in custody. In fact, there are no suspects at all. But the police and the FBI are not about to give out details that might compromise their investigation.”

The sadness on Kathleen’s face was palpable. She turned to her husband and whispered, “Oh, Michael, the governor is dead!”

We wandered through the maze of guests in the dining hall and sat down at our usual table by the windows in the back.

Michael and Kathleen are much more committed to politics than I am. They are true activists. They emerged from the ‘60’s without doubting their course, and never looked back. In quiet ways, I admire their tenacity and their persistent drive for fairness and right action. That drive has mellowed and matured for them both over the years, but the fire is still there, and the water in the cauldron boils up and spills over the pot now and again. Almost certainly that will be happening over this event, once the shockwaves subside. But for now, they just looked dumbstruck.

All four of us liked our governor, William Lavoilette. Elected three and a half years earlier, he was a breath of fresh air in Maine politics. He was young, maybe 45 years old, personable, and governed in an independent way. He was not the pride of the powerful corporate sector, and some extreme religious groups ridiculed him, but a majority of Mainers liked him well enough. He was favored to win reelection in the fall, unless something unexpected happened. Now it had.

William Lavoilette was affable and handsome, even dashing by the conservative standards of Maine. There was considerable money in his parents’ family, but he had also managed to do well in his own business ventures. He loved the sea and developed a small fleet of whale watching and sport fishing boats along Maine’s rugged coast.

Although the rest of the dining room was buzzing loudly, we sat quietly for quite a while, which is totally out of character for us. We spoke briefly with our waitress to place our orders, and nibbled on the muffins that were already on the table when we sat down. We were lost in contemplation, oblivious to our immediate surroundings. Collectively, our thoughts began to form into a single question, “Who could have done this?”

Michael spoke first, “Politically, William Lavoilette had a few enemies, of course, but nothing out of the ordinary. No one comes to mind who would possibly resort to murder.”

Michael paused and then went on, “The ‘titans’ of industry found him to be a little too pro environment, but he was not an extremist. He recognized that Maine’s natural beauty is important for tourism. The ocean, the lakes, and the clean rural countryside puts the bread—and potatoes—on the table.”

It was a stroke of luck that William Lavoilette had been elected governor in the first place. The sitting governor, Clayton Andrews, had been running for reelection. I guess you might say that he was, and still is, a typical, professional politician. He governed from the middle as best he could. He allowed both the winds of public opinion and the tides of corporate money to steer his ship of state. For decades that strategy had worked well, not just in Maine, but throughout the country. Now, that status quo doesn’t seem to apply anymore. Extreme views and cranky contenders have wormed their way into politics across America, even Down East.

Governor Andrews was outflanked on his right by John David Fickett. Fickett barely lost to Andrews in the June state primary. Miffed at his loss, he ran as an Independent, thereby splitting the popular vote into three shares. William Lavoilette prevailed with 38% of the vote.

The Maine Constitution does not provide for a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a clear majority of the votes cast for governor. A plurality will do. This opens the door on both sides of the aisle when a popular independent throws his hat into the ring. Those are, I suppose, the risks and the possible rewards on today’s political landscape. This is not an age of civility and common ground in politics, assuming there ever was such an age.

By the time our waitress arrived with our meals, silence had once again descended upon our table. She checked with us to see if everything was all right. We nodded in unison and thanked her, and then the quiet resumed, broken only by the occasional clinking of silverware on plates and coffee cups on saucers.

As if thinking aloud, Kathleen muttered, “Cherchez la femme.”

“That’s always a possibility when it comes to crimes of passion,” Michael said.

Each of us shared what little we knew about William’s wife, Rebecca Lyndon Lavoilette, who, to our knowledge, was the only woman intimate with the governor. William and Rebecca appeared to be happily married. He met her while they were at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He majored in Earth and Oceanic Science, and she majored in Environmental Studies. They were married shortly after they graduated and continued to live near Brunswick for the next ten years, where he began to build his boating business.

As the First Lady, Rebecca had been a little stiff and formal, especially when compared to her husband’s amiable style, but I imagined this to be a normal reaction of an otherwise shy person in the limelight. As William became more and more successful, she became increasingly philanthropic, donating much of her time and energies to a number of charities across the state.

The Lavoilettes had no children. Rebecca miscarried twice in the early years of their marriage. After the second, her doctors told her she could not safely carry a child to full term. If this put any strain on their marriage, it was not apparent to the public.

We finished breakfast without pointing a finger at any plausible suspect. We discussed the possibility that a political rival might have gotten desperate, but we quickly dismissed that as highly unlikely.

We left the table and made our way outside. I decided it was time to call Angele Boucher, the “first lady” in my life.

I walked across the lawn in front of the dining hall and sat down on a bench…then turned on my cell phone and checked for messages. There were several, along with nearly thirty missed calls. I scanned the list quickly and saw that almost all of them were made from the same number, a private caller I didn’t recognize. The first one came in at eleven the previous night, and the last one was placed only minutes before. “He or she is rather persistent,” I thought. But I figured whoever it was could wait a few more minutes while I talked with Angele. Pleasure before business works fine for me.

Angele picked up right away and asked excitedly, “Jesse, have you heard?”

“About the governor?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“I just found out this morning at breakfast. It’s a real shame.”

“It’s more than a shame. It’s horrible,” Angele shot back.

Among other things, Angele Boucher is a social activist. She’s a fiery one. That, by the way, is what attracted me to her in the first place—not her political fire, just her heat. She can turn a winter blizzard into a sauna with a single look. That particular metaphor morphed into a physical reality last fall behind my house when I brought together a stove and chimney, a water tank, some planks of redwood, and other assorted building materials and created the “Thorpe Relaxation & Recreation Arena.” I call it an “arena,” not so much because of its size—it’s only 8’x12’—but because of the events that transpire there on frosty evenings. Many were the nights last winter when a snowy chill dissolved in a hot tub of pre-marital bliss.

Angele is half Greek (her mother’s side), which accounts for most of the fire. She’s just like her mother, only a lot more my age. Her father is French—French Canadian to be precise—which, I suppose, accounts for her liberal romanticism. Fire and romance—every man’s fantasy. Maybe I’ll go up in flames, but my instincts are to follow my heart and throw caution to the wind.

“Angele,” I said, “I miss you already.”

“Me too, darling.”

Music to my ears.

“I’d love to chat, Angele, but someone has been trying to get hold of me since last night. I have over twenty missed calls from a single number that I don’t recognize. I think I’d better find out who it is and what he, or she, wants. For now, I plan on getting back home on Thursday afternoon. Can you come over Thursday evening and stay after band practice?”

“I’ll be there,” she said. “I’ll try to get off on Friday so I can stay over for a late morning breakfast.”

“It’s a date, Peaches. See you then.”

“Bye,” she said.

I looked again at my messages and missed calls. The caller rang my phone a couple dozen times throughout the night, but didn’t leave a single message. I found that odd. The caller ID provided me with the number, but the name was private. I scrolled through my address book; none of the numbers matched. Apparently somebody I don’t know knows me well enough to stay up all night hoping to talk to me. My curiosity was piqued, to say the least. I highlighted the number and hit “send.”

 

3

 

A Call from the Cemetery

 

 

 

Before my phone registered a second ring, a woman’s voice came on the line, and in an excited, but muffled tone, she said, “Jesse, is that you?”

“Yes,” I said tentatively. “I’m sorry I don’t recognize your number. Who is this?”

“Cynthia Dumais,” she said.

And that’s all she said for an unusually long stretch of time. I guessed she was giving me a chance to recall who she was, or perhaps she was collecting herself before following up with the story she’d been hoping to tell for the past ten hours. In that space of time, I quickly recapped our relationship.

About two years earlier, Cynthia hired me for personal protection. She had been divorced for about a month when her former husband, Travis Perkins, began to show up in the evenings and hang around her home. He wouldn’t knock at the door or call out to her, but he would stroll along the street, often pausing one or two houses away and just stand there staring at her house. Sometimes he would make his appearance very late at night. When this behavior became a habit, Cynthia decided to confront him. She asked him to leave, but he simply replied, “It’s a free country.”

Now that’s the sort of response you’d expect from a pest in junior high school with thick glasses and a bad haircut, not from a Maine State Trooper, entrusted with the task of protecting the governor and his family.

Rather than begin the arduous process of filing for a protection order, she decided to hire me on a short-term basis to position myself in her front yard for the few minutes every day when she came home from work. This was in December, and it was pitch dark by the time she arrived home at 5:30. I’d show up at 5:15, wait for her to drive up, and escort her inside. I had done this for about a week before I first laid eyes on Travis.

He just “happened” to be walking by the house when Cynthia arrived. It was freezing cold that night, so it was more than a bit peculiar that he “happened” to be there at that time. I recognized him from a photograph that Cynthia had given me, so I approached him directly and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I just happened to be in the neighborhood.”

I replied, “If you just happen to be here again, I’ll file a complaint with the Maine State Police, and they might just happen to think you are unfit for your present employment.”

Travis responded briskly, “Who are you?”

I produced one of my PI business cards, and that, more or less, put an end to the whole affair. He didn’t show up the next week, and Cynthia decided that the issue was probably settled. She thanked me for my help, paid for my services, and that was the last time I heard from her—until now.

As I quickly replayed my relationship with Cynthia Dumais, I didn’t fail to take note of Travis Perkins’ relationship with the governor. Bells began to ring inside my head, and the word, “governor” lit up the gray matter like “Tilt” on a pinball machine.

“Cynthia, what’s going on?” I asked, now almost as agitated as she.

Again there was a long pause. This time I was certain she was gathering her thoughts. I braced myself for a messy explanation.

“Jesse, I’m in trouble. Big trouble!”

“Does it have anything to do with the governor?” I asked.

“Yes,” she exclaimed in a muted scream. “How did you know?”

“I just added things up. Your ex-husband is a security guard for the governor, or I should say, ‘He was a security guard for the former governor.’ You began calling me a half-hour after William Lavoilette was murdered, and you’ve called me over twenty times throughout the night and into the morning.”

“Jesse, please help me right away. I may be in real danger. I need you to come and get me.”

Now it was my turn to pause and take stock. I found Cynthia to be a very levelheaded, professional woman. She was in her late thirties and had been employed her entire adult life. She worked in a title company for several years after graduating from the University of Maine. When she turned thirty, she got her real estate license and has been selling both personal and commercial properties ever since. I see her name on “For Sale” signs all over Augusta.

“Jesse, are you still there?” she asked as if panicked and desperate.

“Yes, I’m still here. I’m just getting my bearings. How are you involved?” I asked.

“I can’t explain it over the phone. It’s too complicated. Believe me, I need your help right away. I’ll pay whatever you ask. But, please…come pick me up. I need your protection. I can’t go home until I am able to find out if it is safe for me there.”

“Safe from whom? Travis Perkins?”

“I don’t know whom. I just can’t explain it all now. Jesse! Help me!”

“OK,” I said, “Where are you?”

“I’m on Sebascodegan Island, just south of Brunswick, not far from Harpswell Islands Road, State Highway 24.”

“That’s precisely where the governor was murdered last night,” I said.

“Well, that’s where I am, and that’s where I have been…all night.”

I really didn’t know what to imagine, or what to say. There was no way Cynthia could be responsible for the governor’s death, but obviously she was involved in some way. It was beginning to look as if I was going to get involved as well. I tried one more time to get a clearer picture of the situation.

“Can’t you just tell me a little more about your situation?” I pleaded.

“I’m not a suspect, if that’s what you mean. But I simply can’t tell you any more right now. I’ve got to stay low and out of sight until you get here. Please come!”

“OK. I’ll come and find you. But when I get there, you’ll have some explaining to do. If I don’t feel satisfied, I will drive away and leave you where you are. Is that clear?”

“Absolutely.”

“I’ll leave here in about ten minutes. I should be able to find route 24. Where do I go once I get on the island?”

“I am in the woods behind the Cranberryhorn Cemetery off Cundys Harbor Road. Drive to the cemetery and call me from there. If I have to move for any reason, I’ll let you know where I am when you call.”

“It will take me about two hours to get there. It’s 9:30 now, so I should arrive just before noon. I’ll call you when I find the cemetery. Keep your chin up,” I said, in the most reassuring tone I could muster. I was more than a little apprehensive myself, but I hoped it might provide her some comfort.

“Thanks, Jesse. Oh…and please don’t tell anyone about me. No one! Until I can sort this out, I have to be invisible.”

“You have my word.”

“Thank you so much,” she said, almost crying.

And with that we both hung up.

• • •

I walked briskly down to the lake. When I reached the cabin, Michael was in the hammock on the porch staring out at the lake, absorbed in his private thoughts. Tyler was sitting on the top step and spoke to me as soon as we made eye contact. “Do you still want to go out fishing this morning like we planned, Jesse?”

“Unfortunately, Ty, something’s come up. I just received an important call from a client, and I have to leave right away.”

“What kind of client?” Tyler asked.

“It’s a long story. I’m sorry to say that it is also confidential. I would love to talk about it, but I’ll have to wait and see what develops before I can do that. I hate to sound so secretive, but it’s something I am obliged to do at the moment. I have to grab my things and dash off.”

Kathleen had come out of the cabin while we were talking, and was considerate enough not to press me for any details. She said quite simply, “Gosh, Jesse. I’m sorry you’re going. We love spending time with you.”

“I’m sorry too,” I said, “but duty calls.”

“If you’re free in the next couple of days, come on back. We’re only a stone’s throw from Augusta,” Kathleen noted.

“I’d love to, but that seems unlikely. I’ll just get my things. And, Michael, would you mind keeping my Orvis and tackle box with you for now. I’m in a hurry and won’t be needing my fishing gear for a spell. In fact, Tyler, you can use my rod if you like. I saw you eyeing it this morning. The reel is loaded with some sharkskin fishing line. You’ll enjoy how easily it slides through the guides.”

With that, I slipped into the cabin, gathered up my clothes and bathroom kit, and returned to the porch in less than a minute. We said our farewells, and I walked quickly to my bronze, 2006 Subaru Forester. Before starting the engine, I turned on my Garmin and waited for it to pick up a signal. When it came online, I entered the Cranberryhorn Cemetery on Cundys Harbor Road, Harpswell. A map appeared displaying the road south of Brunswick. I checked out the area on the map to get some idea of the roads on Sebascodegan Island and then started the Forester. I backed out of the driveway and headed up the hill toward the dining hall.

As I neared the top of the hill, Becky said, “In two hundred feet turn right on Jamaica Point Road.”

I call my GPS, “Becky” after Becky Lawrence, a quirky redhead I dated in Andover more than a decade ago. The voice on the GPS reminded me so much of her that I couldn’t resist giving it her name. The real Becky’s voice was her most peculiar and unlikely feature. She spoke in a matter-of-fact, monotone sort of way, while her body spoke a completely different dialect. It was very curious, and I found it difficult to reconcile these two features. I never completely sorted that out, but I still think of her fondly. Nowadays she stays locked up in my Subaru, ready at my beck and call. All I have to do is turn her on, and like most of the other women in my life, she tells me where to go.

I wouldn’t need directional advice until I reached Brunswick, so I stopped at the top of the hill and turned her off. “We’ll talk later, Becky,” I said.

I sat there for just a moment and let the car idle. I wanted to review my decision to rescue Cynthia. But really, I had no choice. I hadn’t committed any crime, yet, and I’m sure Cynthia hadn’t either. I didn’t know if it was the gentleman’s thing to do, or sheer stupidity at work, when I agreed to pick her up at the cemetery on Sebascodegan Island, but whatever it was, I would soon be dealing with the consequences. God only knew what lay ahead. Well, Cynthia Dumais might have had some idea about that as well, but she wasn’t letting it out. That cat was still in the bag.

 

4

 

Roadblock

 

 

 

Leaving a trail of dust behind me, I drove up Jamaica Point Road to the corner. I slowed down for the stop sign and gazed for a moment at the old Richardson farm, minus the barn that had recently been torn down. The Richardsons were related to the original owners at Bear Spring Camps.

If you take the time to trace the family trees, you’ll discover that out here most everyone is related. Lots of Mayflower folks drifted down east to Maine, long before it became a tourist destination. French Canadians poured in from Québec, especially as the 19th Century gave way to the 20th. The locals are largely the descendants of those who stayed on and survived the winters. That’s why Mainers are so hardy; winter weeds out the sickly and the weak. Global warming might be upon us, but in this neck of the woods you still need an overcoat and boots to get by. The tourists come and go, but true Mainers stay, either by force of habit or lack of imagination. Most of us love it here, and the rest are simply too stubborn to leave.

I made my way along the country roads heading south. In a few minutes, Lake Messalonskee came into view on my left, triggering a wave of entertaining memories. When I was a teenager, the Belgrade Lakes came alive in late spring. Local girls slipped out of the woodwork in droves, like bears emerging from hibernation. Now, almost two decades later, a lingering collection of faces, temperaments and inclinations drifted through my attention. On any other day, I would have meandered easily below the speed limit, keeping pace with my laid-back memoirs, but not today. Just north of Augusta, I left the country road behind, turned onto Interstate 95 and back into the matters at hand.

I briefly considered swinging by the farmhouse to pick up my .38 Special, but I decided against it. Cynthia had been up all night, so I felt it was important to get to her as quickly as possible. Something else had occurred to me; I might have to drive through a police roadblock on Sebascodegan Island. There’d be some explaining to do if they searched the car and found a gun. At this point, I had no plausible explanation for that possibility. In fact, as yet I had no plausible explanation to offer the police for my being there. I’d use the twenty-five miles of interstate and ten odd miles of country road that lay ahead to craft my cover story.

I traveled down a few blind alleys in my otherwise fertile imagination until I finally settled upon a working hypothesis. I rehearsed it for several minutes until it sounded convincing.

“Officer, I’m here to join my girlfriend on the island. She’s been visiting friends for the week, and I finally managed some time off from my construction job to join her. (If he wanted to call my boss, that story line should hold up.) What’s that? Where is she staying? … I don’t have the exact address, but I know that it’s a house very near Cranberryhorn Cemetery on Cundys Harbor Road. When I reach the cemetery, I’ll be calling her.”

This should get me through the war zone, I thought. As for getting off the island on our way back north, I’d have to cross that bridge when I came to it. Literally.

I sailed on down the highway and reached Brunswick by eleven o’clock. When I found Highway 24, I fired up my GPS. From here on out, I was on unfamiliar roads. As soon as she booted up, Becky announced, “In four point three miles, turn left on Cundys Harbor Road.”

Four miles later I crossed a short bridge onto Sebascodegan Island. There were beautiful coves on either side. The area was thickly wooded, and the few houses along the road were barely visible. I cut my speed, realizing my turn was fast approaching. Then, up ahead, I saw a number of highway patrol cars flanking the road. On the left side, there was a barricade across what appeared to be my left turn. A uniformed officer stood in the middle of the road holding up an arm. He wanted me to stop.

This jolted me quite literally into the present. I hoped there was another turn further down the road that would get me to the cemetery. I rolled to a stop next to the officer. As I lowered the window, he stepped forward, peered in at me, and said, “There are two FBI agents ahead who will be asking you some questions. Please drive slowly and stop when you reach them.”

“Sure thing,” I replied.

I eased forward. Just as I was coming to a stop in front of the two men, Ms. Lawrence spoke up, “In fifty feet turn left on Cundys Harbor Road.” I was sure that they heard Becky as clearly as I did.

“Hello, I am Officer Edward Handley from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Can I have your name, address, phone number and the purpose of your travel?”

“Sure,” I said. I gave him all the personal information and then I added, “I’m here to pick up my girlfriend.” For now I figured the less I say, the less I’d have to defend if things got more complicated.

While I was speaking to Officer Handley, another agent standing next to him was entering my information on what looked to be an iPad. This was a bit unsettling, in as much as I now realized I had just become part of a federal murder investigation. My private investigator’s license was literally a keystroke away from popping up in our conversation.

Handley then asked, “What’s your destination?”

“I’m going to a home on Cundys Harbor Road very near the Cranberryhorn Cemetery. I don’t have the address, but I’ll be calling my girlfriend as soon as I reach the cemetery.”

Handley replied matter-of-factly, “As you can see, this entrance to Cundys Harbor Road is barricaded. This is a crime scene. Let me have a look here.”

With that he put his hand into the lapel pocket of his uniform and pulled out a map, pre-folded to our exact location, and studied it briefly.

“That’s OK, officer, I’m sure Becky will recalculate a route for me,” I said.

His eyes flashed quickly around the car then settled back on me, “Becky?”

At first I thought he was addressing her, but then I realized he was asking me, “Who is that?”

I was doing my best to think quickly and remain calm in spite of what had suddenly unfolded. My heart was racing so fast that my metabolic clocks were working double-time, having a pronounced and elongating effect on my senses. My palms were clammy, and I realized that in my rush to leave camp this morning I didn’t use deodorant. My underarms were definitely moist. Undoubtedly I was emitting a noxious odor.

As a result of my elevated heart rate, everything around me appeared in slow motion—another consequence, no doubt, of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. I made a concerted effort to keep my facial expressions from becoming exaggerated, my voice from moving an octave above normal, and my speech from sounding like Bugs Bunny. A mantra rumbled from the back of my mind, “stay calm…stay calm…stay calm,” while my hands remained clasped to the steering wheel in the “10 and 2” driving position that old ladies and NASCAR drivers use. Sure, it made me look a little nervous, but it concealed my sweaty palms.

And if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, I now had to recalculate my story to conform to Becky’s so that Officer Handley would have no reason to suspect I was making it all up as I went along.

“Jesse Thorpe, get a grip. You are a private investigator, licensed and bonded for Christ’s sake. Make a parting comment so you can be on your way. Cynthia Dumais is dying a slow death in the Cranberryhorn Cemetery. If you don’t get your butt into gear, the caretaker will find her body, dig a hole and bury her on the spot,” I said to myself. To Handley I said, “Becky? Oh, that! Becky is the name I use for my GPS unit. I have it set for the Cranberryhorn Cemetery.”

Officer Handley eyed me with a measure of suspicion, but carried on in professional mode. “The map shows that there are only two ways to get onto Cundys Harbor Road,” he said. “The first one is blocked as you can see. You’ll have to drive about two hundred feet down the road, then double back and use the south entrance. That’s the only other way to get to the cemetery.”

When he finished speaking, he continued scrutinizing me closely. I could feel his eyes boring into my hidden agenda. Then came a moment of grace…suddenly, I remembered the two social devices for disarming adversaries.

“Sorry for any confusion, officer, I’m still in shock over the murder of our governor. I guess I just can’t think very straight. Thank you for being so helpful.”

My simple apology and compliment worked like magic. Officer Handley’s face relaxed into an easy smile as he replied, “No problem, we’re all on edge here. You’re free to go.”

And with that, I slowly pulled forward. When I was about fifty feet past the first turn, Becky reasserted herself with, “Recalculating.” I had an urge to grab her by her adaptor cord and rip it out of the socket, but I didn’t want to make any sudden movements that might induce Officer Handley to think that things weren’t copasetic.

I put on my left turn indicator. A hundred feet down the road, I made a sharp left and entered Cundys Harbor Road from the south. I noticed that Handley was keeping his eye on me all the way. As the harbor road curved to the right, I watched him in the rear view mirror until his image disappeared behind a line of trees.

Becky’s announcement indicating that I was nearing my destination was her last refrain. It was now time to give her a rest. I reached into the console and pulled her plug. I could go solo from here.

I drove slowly along the harbor road for almost a mile, making a careful survey of each home, until the Cranberryhorn Cemetery appeared before me. I pulled onto a short gravel driveway, stopped the car, and killed the motor. There were perhaps a couple hundred headstones standing like sentries on both sides of Harbor Road, but as yet I saw no signs of life. That’s relatively commonplace in a cemetery, but I was hoping to see at least one person. Actually, I was hoping to see exactly one person, no more, no less.

I reached for my cell phone and dialed Cynthia’s number. She answered on the first ring and muffled an insistent question, “Jesse, is that you in the car that just drove up?”

“It is,” I said with a mixture of relief and anticipation.

“I’ll be right there.”

 

5

 

What Would Bogey Do?

 

 

 

Cynthia Dumais slipped out from behind a wall of trees that bordered the Cranberryhorn Cemetery. She had on a pair of black jeans and a suede jacket. She was carrying a brown leather overnight bag in her hand and a grim expression on her face.

She glanced up and down the road cautiously and then walked directly to the car. She opened the back door, set her bag on the floor, and then opened the front passenger door, sat down and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, let out a sigh as she opened her eyes and in a shaky voice whispered, “Thank you.”

“Are you OK, Cynthia?” I asked. Obviously, she wasn’t. It was just something to say.

“I guess so,” she responded. “But I’m exhausted. Can we go now?”

If I thought that I was going to get some quick and straight answers from Cynthia about her involvement with the governor’s murder, I was mistaken. I was thinking, “Hey, I’ve just abandoned my vacation, driven for two hours, and then lied my way through an FBI roadblock in order to extract you from this mess. The least you can do is explain yourself.” I thought that, but I didn’t say that. What I said was, “We’ll be going shortly. You’ve obviously been through a traumatic and threatening experience. We need to get you off this island and safely back to Augusta as quickly as possible. That, however, presents us with a certain delicate problem.

“I have checked the map thoroughly. We have a choice of driving north to Brunswick or south, along a more circuitous route, to Harpswell Neck Road. Either way, we have to get back onto Highway 24, and that means we must return on Cundys Harbor Road. Unfortunately, there is a police roadblock ahead about a mile from here. I’m almost certain that that is where the Governor of Maine was murdered last night. Two FBI agents and a number of Maine State Police vehicles and personnel are posted there ready to interview anyone entering or leaving the island.

“I encountered them just a few minutes ago. My arrival raised a yellow flag, but not a red one. I needed to give my name, address, phone number and the reason for my visit in order to pass through. They took down all of that information; it’s now part of an FBI file.

“The color of the flag will be entirely different when we try to exit. Anyone who is leaving might have seen or heard something last night. So… Where exactly have you been for the past twenty-four hours, and with whom? We can’t make a move toward that intersection until we create a coherent story. We have to get the narrative worked out perfectly if we hope to pass through the gauntlet.

“As you know, I’m in the dark about why we are here. I can live with that for the time being. What we need now is a story with no holes in it. It has to make sense, and it cannot contradict any fundamental facts that can be readily checked out. If FBI Officer Edward Handley asks us follow up questions, we can’t grimace and say, ‘Gee, I’ll have to consult my sweetheart to synchronize our versions.’”

Cynthia seemed to be soaking this all in. She was noticeably tired and stressed, but appeared to be settling into her professional profile. As a real estate agent, no doubt she has resolved lots of problems while thinking on her feet. That training might prove vital in getting us off this island without a major revision in our day planner…like becoming suspects in a murder investigation.

“Jesse,” she said, “Thank you. This past night has been devastating for me, and I haven’t been thinking clearly at all. I’m just beginning to see what we need to do here. You seem to have a grip on it. What do you suggest?”

“OK,” I said, taking charge. “We are in a cemetery, you are tired and frightened, and I don’t know why I’m here. So…”

The wheels were beginning to turn.

“We have just had a lover’s quarrel,” I concluded. “That comports pretty much with the way we look. You stormed out of our house in Augusta a few days ago to get away from me. But you don’t have your car, so how did you get here? Let’s see… A friend of yours picked you up, drove you here and dropped you off. Is there anyone you know, who has a cell phone and could be the third leg of our stool? He or she might be able to round out our story.”

Cynthia said, “Why do we have to involve a third party? Couldn’t you have driven me here a few days ago, and now you are coming back to get me?”

“That would be simpler, of course, but, unfortunately, when I came through the roadblock, I hadn’t yet fully prepared for that nuance in the scenario. I didn’t want to divulge your specific location, so I said that you were at a home on Cundys Harbor Road near the cemetery, but I didn’t know the exact address. My GPS spoke up indicating what direction I needed to take to get there. If I had been here two days ago, why would I be using GPS to find it again? I’d have known the address.”

“I see,” said Cynthia. “I guess you’re right.”

She hesitated for a minute, and then finally said, “Yes there is someone. And there’s only one; his name is Richard Merrill. Do I have to explain his involvement to you right now?”

“No, that’s not necessary,” I said. “What you need to do is to call him and bring him on board. You will have to explain to him very carefully what’s happening here. But first we need an address and a precise reason why you are here.”

I pointed my finger forward and continued, “Do you see the house over there by the grove of trees? I noticed a number of things about the place as I drove by. The mailbox reads ‘Fred and Laurel Smith,’ and no one seems to be home. There is no car in the driveway, and the grass is very tall around the house. Probably no one has been there for quite some time. Let’s see if we can reach the Smiths by phone.”

I took out my cell, called information and requested the phone number for the Smiths at that location. The operator recited the number, and I dialed it. Fortunately there was no answer, and even better, there was no answering machine asking for a message. This provided us with an opening.

“Let’s suppose that Richard Merrill is house-sitting at the Smith’s. And let’s also suppose that two days ago he picked you up in Augusta and brought you here. However, at this moment he is wherever he actually is, away from the house, doing whatever he is actually doing; we want to fabricate as little as possible. He left you alone in the house, and I have come to pick you up. We had been fighting, but we’ve made amends, and we’ve decided to go back home.

“Richard will have to know all of this in case Officer Handley calls him to corroborate the story.”

Cynthia stared at me for a minute and slowly nodded her approval.

“OK,” I said finally. “Call Richard now and bring him aboard our leaky Ship of Fools.”

Cynthia sat quietly for a minute and gathered herself. She then took her cell phone from her purse and dialed Richard’s number. When Richard answered, Cynthia told her story—our story—with all the gremlins included.

I listened carefully to her conversation and discovered a few salient points of interest. First, and foremost, Cynthia Dumais was with the governor last night, and she witnessed the murder!

I had loosely imagined that possibility on my two-hour drive here, but the stark reality of it rocked my bones. The expression, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” didn’t apply here. There was a lot more than a measly pound involved.

During the time I was studying to be a private investigator, I got in the habit of watching classic detective movies dating as far back as the mid 1930’s. William Powell played “Nick Charles” in The Thin Man. There was Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, Paul Newman in Harper, and Donald Sutherland in Klute. But Humphrey Bogart immortalized the consummate, big screen gumshoe, first as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and later as Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.

At that moment, Cynthia Dumais reminded me of Mary Astor, who played Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. At the end of the movie, Bogey finds out that Brigid has committed two murders. She pleads with him not to hand her over to the police. She turns on her charm, but to no avail. Bogey is having none of it. His parting words for Brigid are, “I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means you’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He clears his throat and concludes with, “If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”

An unsettling thought began to stir my gray matter. Could the story line of The Maltese Falcon be replaying itself in the murder of William Lavoilette? Could the sweet and seemingly innocent Cynthia Dumais be the reincarnation of Brigid O’Shaughnessy, dragging me unwittingly into a gnarly mess of unexpected consequences? It occurred to me that it would have been simpler, and a whole lot safer, if I had taken Michael’s advice and simply left my cell phone turned off.

That’s the problem with good advice; you have to be smart enough to take it.

As Cynthia continued to talk on the phone, a number of other things came into focus. First, Richard Merrill was in Massachusetts on a business trip. Secondly, she and Richard had spoken at some time during the night or early morning about her predicament. It was apparent that Richard knew about Cynthia’s close involvement with the governor and had even helped arrange clandestine meetings for them. And lastly, it was obvious that Cynthia Dumais was having an affair with William Lavoilette. I would have to hope that the affair had been a true love affair, and not a pretense to lure him into the open to be murdered. My instincts told me that Cynthia was innocent, or as innocent as a governor’s mistress could be. On the other hand, my instincts had failed me repeatedly in the past. After all, I am a male.

Cynthia hung up the phone and stared at me. Judging from the look on her face, she realized I was aware of the messy details. She searched my face to see where I stood. Despite my growing anxiety, I tried to comfort her with an expression of confidence and understanding. I did the best Humphrey Bogart I could muster under the circumstances. But even Bogey had his limits. One more of his terse lines passed between my ears, “I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.” But I kept that to myself.

“OK, Cynthia. We are going to drive home now. We have ‘made up’ like any other couple who’s had a quarrel. We’re getting back together. Your actual nervousness will dovetail well with a lover who has been miffed and is trying to reconcile. My nervousness works in the same way. But we don’t want to over-act in front of an FBI agent. These guys are well trained to see through disguises. So, as any couple would agree, it’s none of his damn business why we were fighting.”

Cynthia relaxed noticeably when I said that. The Bogart façade seemed to be working.

I continued, “Richard drove you here. That’s why you don’t have your own car. Give the officer Richard’s number only if he asks for it. If the officer calls him, we’ll have to hope that Richard can cut the mustard and verify our story.”

“We can trust Richard,” Cynthia said. “He’s ready.”

“I hope so. Keep in mind one important thing, however. When questioned, don’t offer any more information than is absolutely necessary to answer the officer’s questions. The less you say, the less we’ll have to explain in any subsequent conversation. Don’t even mention Richard, unless they insist upon a clarification. Just say you ‘came here’ a couple of days ago. If they ask you how you got here, or where’s your car, then you can mention Richard. Otherwise keep him out of it. Keep everything as simple as possible. Your foot can’t get into your mouth if you keep your lips sealed.”

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to mention the “two conversational devices,” but I resisted the temptation. For one thing, our story was already complicated enough. Cynthia didn’t need two more things rattling around her brain. But the main reason I didn’t bring it up is that Cynthia is a woman. Undoubtedly she already knows about apologies and compliments.

Something more important did occur to me, however.

“Cynthia,” I said. “I gather from your discussion with Richard that you spent Friday evening and all day Saturday at the governor’s summer home. Did you leave anything behind that would indicate you were there?”

“No,” Cynthia said. “William had insisted that I travel light. Everything I brought with me is in the bag on the floor behind my seat, and there’s nothing in the bag that can be traced back to the governor’s house.

“Whenever we ate, we cleaned our dishes, dried them and put them away. He didn’t want evidence of a second person lying around. I wore his sweats and jacket if I needed extra clothing. William informed the guard at the gate that he didn’t want to be disturbed over the weekend. The guard did not know I was there, and there is nothing of mine left in the home. As far as he knew, unless he is psychic, the governor was alone for the weekend.”

“That’s good,” I said. “No doubt, by now, they have interviewed the guard and have completely searched the house. If your identity could be extracted from anything in the house, there would already be an alert next to your name in the FBI file. We’d get nailed at the roadblock in a heartbeat.”

I took a deep breath and made my closing speech with great emphasis, “Cynthia, there is one final thing. I understand that you don’t want to talk to the authorities right now about your involvement. You have your reasons, and I respect that. But if our story falls apart at the roadblock, you will have no choice. You’ll have to come clean with them. If you don’t make that transition in a completely open and honest way, you won’t be treated as a material witness; you’ll be a prime suspect. And I will be an accomplice, either after, or before, the fact.”

“Definitely,” Cynthia responded firmly. It was some consolation that she finally sounded resolute. I could only hope she meant what she said.

I started the car and turned around in the driveway. I inched forward to Cundys Harbor Road. Together we headed toward the bottleneck that awaited us. If we could make it through the roadblock and over the bridge, we’d be well on our way home. Before that could happen, we’d have to clear the first hurdle, namely, putting Officer Edward Handley in my rear view mirror for the second time in less than an hour.

 

6

 

Stoic-in-Chief

 

 

 

We crawled slowly toward destiny.

A mile down Cundys Harbor Road, we came to the left bend that leads to the intersection with Highway 24 from the east. When we were halfway through the turn, I saw the same group of cars and police officers that were there when I’d driven onto the island.

Stage fright sharpens your senses and slows down time. That’s what I felt the moment I saw Officer Handley raise his arm and flag us to a stop. He and his sidekick were now handling the cars exiting the island from the harbor road. Other patrolmen were stationed to interview drivers coming onto the island from the north or leaving from the south.

Handley stood on the right-hand side of the road, so Cynthia opened her window as I pulled alongside. He greeted Cynthia first, “Hello, ma’am, I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My name is Officer Edward Handley.”

“Very polite,” I thought. “That’s standard operating procedure for softening up a witness.” I stiffened just a bit and braced myself for the upcoming dialogue.

“Hello, officer,” Cynthia replied. Her voice was comfortably strong, which was an immediate relief.

Handley then looked past Cynthia and spoke to me, “Mr. Thorpe, we ran a quick background check on you after you drove through a while back. We see that you are a licensed private investigator.”

As a singer in a band I have learned to control the sound of my voice. That facility is handy in highly charged situations, like meeting exotic women or talking to the FBI. “That’s right,” I replied, delighted to hear my voice hadn’t cracked in the least. On the other hand, I was not at all delighted that the FBI was investigating me.

“Are you involved professionally at this time?” Handley asked.

“I wish,” I replied. “I haven’t had a client in months.”

Both statements held shreds of truth. I always wish I’d have a client, and, technically speaking, Cynthia and I had not yet signed a contract. I took some small comfort in this verbal deception. Handley paused for a moment to consider my response.

I tried to get a read on his inner thought processes, but like most of the agents that come out of FBI school, he was a professional stoic. Surely they had assigned their top stoics to this case. I surmised that if you put Handley on a polygraph, ask him a direct question, and have him give three separate answers—“Yes,” “No,” and “I don’t know,”—the needle would respond the same for all three. In fact, it seemed likely that the machine would not even register a pulse.

Across the intersection, a few cars were entering the island heading south, and two somewhat younger officers stepped forward on the far side of the road to interview the drivers. Handley was probably the senior officer on duty. He appeared to be the eldest of the group, perhaps in his early 50’s. I dubbed him “Stoic-in-Chief.”

“Ma’am,” he said, “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“By all means,” Cynthia replied in a confident, professional tone.

After the preliminaries of getting her name and personal information, he asked, “How long have you been on Sebascodegan Island?”

“I arrived on Friday evening for a weekend visit,” Cynthia replied. “A friend of mine dropped me off, and Jesse has just come to take me home.”

“Where did you stay?”

“About a mile down the road, at 92 Cundys Harbor Road, next to the Cranberryhorn Cemetery.”

“Do you own that house?”

“Oh, no,” Cynthia replied. “The house belongs to friends of our family. The Smiths are away for a few weeks and offered their home to me as a getaway. I decided to take a little time off from work.”

“Could you please tell me where you were last night at 10:30 PM?” he asked, finally getting down to brass tacks.

“Well, I went to bed around 10:00 PM and fell asleep right away.”

“Did you see or hear anything unusual?”

“Not a thing, officer,” Cynthia replied. “I’m a very sound sleeper.”

Handley gave his partner some time to record what she said, and Cynthia seized the moment to add, “When I turned on the news this morning, I heard what happened to Governor Lavoilette last night. It’s a total shock. Just a mile or so from where I was staying! I can’t believe it.” Cynthia paused a second and continued, “I’m sorry I can’t be more help, Officer Handley. I appreciate the work you are doing here.”

“We’re just doing our job, ma’am,” came the reply.

Officer Handley looked past Cynthia to me and said, “Mr. Thorpe, you and Ms. Dumais are free to go.” He pointed to my left and added, “Please take the south exit, make a sharp right back onto Highway 24 and return the way you arrived. Drive carefully. As you can see, the traffic is beginning to pick up.”

Indeed, I had noticed the traffic was picking up. In fact, I was delighted to see it. This offered some hope that the file entries bearing our names would drown in an undertow of information.

I eased away from our interview, bore left at the triangular intersection, and then made a sharp right onto Highway 24. I drove slowly through the roadblock. In about a minute, we made our escape over the small concrete bridge to the mainland.

“That was easy,” I said, with half of my tongue buried in my cheek.

“Thank God!” Cynthia replied.

We were silent for the next couple of miles. Cynthia focused straight ahead, breathing deeply. As we passed through a shopping complex, her head turned to the right, and then she said simply, “That’s where we saw Lincoln last night.”

“Excuse me,” I said. “Who’s Lincoln?”

“The movie. William and I saw the movie, Lincoln,” she replied.

I was curious about what had happened, of course, but resisted the urge to begin my own interrogation. I felt sure Cynthia was too tired to give me the full story, and I wanted to get her something to eat and let her rest. There would be plenty of time for details later.

“You must be starving,” I suggested. “Would you like to stop for something to eat?”

“Yes, but could we make it a drive through? I don’t want to be out in public.”

“There’s a Wild Willie’s Bakery on Maine Street,” I suggested. “I can get some take out. They have good sandwiches and salads.”

“A sandwich will be fine,” she said. “Something hearty…turkey, or chicken. Thank you so much, Jesse.”

Highway 24 turns left onto Bath Road and runs into the heart of Brunswick. It then curves right onto Maine Street. A quarter mile down the road I pulled off and found a parking place in front of Wild Willie’s. The restaurant was packed.

Cynthia stayed in the car, and I went inside. There was a long line at the counter. It was 1:30 PM, on a Sunday afternoon, a time when lots of people are hungry. As the line inched forward, I eavesdropped on the surrounding conversations. Everyone was talking about the governor’s murder. Reactions were agitated and extreme, ranging from sadness to outrage. The late governor obviously was a favorite among the local clientele.

Finally I got to the front of the line and ordered two sandwiches, one turkey and one chicken. Ten minutes later I was back at the car.

Cynthia had reclined her seat back and was resting with her right arm draped over her face. She was either taking a nap or hiding out. “Probably both,” I thought. “I have one turkey and one chicken sandwich,” I said. “Which would you like?”

“Turkey, please,” she replied, without moving her arm. “If it’s alright, can we keep driving and eat along the way? I’ll feel safer once we are on the interstate.”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s just a few miles from here.”

We passed over Route 1, where they drop the e from Maine St and make it Main St, a very subtle distinction, I thought, and one that would be hard to detect when receiving verbal directions.

We crossed the Androscoggin River, and in about five minutes we were on the interstate headed toward Augusta.

Cynthia finished half of her sandwich and curled up intent on sleeping.

“Before you nod off, Cynthia, I’d like to share something with you,” I said. “I was very impressed by how composed you were when talking to Agent Handley.”

“Thanks,” she said.

I added, “I also see you have mastered the two conversational devices for disarming adversaries in dicey situations.”

“You mean apologies and compliments?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, amused that she knew what the hell I was talking about.

“When I was taking classes to get my real estate license, the second thing they taught us was: ‘Whenever possible and appropriate, apologize to the client and top it off with a compliment,’” she said.

“Really? That’s the second thing they taught us in PI school,” I replied. “What was the first thing they taught you?”

“How to secure your commission,” she answered, smiling. “What’s the first thing they taught you?”

“A Bee Gees song,” I said.

“Huh?”

“The Bee Gees song…Stayin’ Alive,” I said. After she groaned I added, “It’s worked fairly well…so far.”

That ended our conversation. Cynthia closed her eyes. In less than a minute, she was fast asleep. She was either the sweetest young woman I’ve met in a long while, or a cold-blooded killer.

• • •

I munched my way north along 295. Quite a bit had happened in the nine hours since I rolled out of bed and onto Great Pond at 5:00 AM. The quiet drive home stirred memories of my childhood until a peculiar phrase began running through my mind.

“I used to be different. Now, I’m the same.”

That’s what my Uncle Frank used to say when I was a kid growing up in Waterville. I liked Frank, in a curious sort of way, even though I didn’t understand a word that came out of his mouth.

Whenever Frank came by, three things always happened: My dad would tell the truth, Frank would make things up as he went along, and I’d be stuck in the middle trying to figure it out. After twenty or thirty minutes of loopy dialogue, I’d be as antsy as a sidewalk crack.

Over time, however, I learned to take control of my situation. I’d say something like, “Dad, can I go to my room and do some homework?” or “Dad, I really have to pee.” That’s when he’d say, “Hold on, Jesse, your uncle is just about to leave,” which always came as news to Frank. But he knew enough to take his cue.

He’d get up slowly, fake a serious look on his face for my benefit, and punctuate his visit with, “Jesse…you know…I used to be different, but now I’m the same.”

Before I returned Cynthia Dumais’ phone call earlier that morning, everything was pretty much normal. Frank might have called it “the same.” After that, everything became completely different.

If I could travel back in time, Frank’s two-line quip would finally make some sense.

• • •

The sky had darkened in the early afternoon, and a gentle rain was falling. By the time we passed the Gardiner exit at Lewiston Road, it was pouring. The Nor’easter that had been predicted all week was arriving on schedule. It was 2:20 when we turned off Foster Road and up the driveway to my home. I was happy to see that no one was there to greet us.

When I stopped the car, Cynthia came to life. We grabbed our suitcases and dashed through the rain to the porch. Once inside, I showed Cynthia to her room and left her there to settle in. She hadn’t seen a bathroom since yesterday evening, and I was sure they wanted to get acquainted.

I dropped my bags in my bedroom and headed straight to the living room and the TV to see if there was any progress in the murder investigation. I scrolled to CNN. Wolf Blitzer was covering the “Assassination of Governor William Lavoilette.”

In a couple of minutes, Cynthia joined me. We watched anxiously to see if there were any new developments. They had some footage of the crime scene taken in the wee hours of the morning, at precisely the spot where we had encountered the roadblock. Wolf read the details that were available. The only real news—for me, at least—was that there had been a pair of witnesses. A couple lived across and down the road a few hundred feet from the intersection. They hadn’t seen the murder, but they had heard a single gunshot.

The exact spot where the murder took place is not visible from their home. A stand of trees blocks their view of the intersection. When the shot was fired, the man of the house turned on his porch light and walked down his driveway to see what was going on. At this point in the investigation, however, the authorities were not releasing any more information that the man may have provided.

CNN also noted that the governor’s wife, Rebecca, was in Africa at the time of the murder. She was wrapping up a ten-day trip to parts of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. All three countries had been ravaged by wars in recent years, and there were significant numbers of immigrants and refugees from these three countries living in the Portland area. The trip was intended to create better awareness of the problems facing these immigrants as they struggle to eke out a life away from their homeland.

Rebecca was now on a flight from Mogadishu to Boston.

The report about the assassination droned on in the usual, repetitious way, when there is nothing new to report. CNN filled the time slot with clips of the governor, reviews of his tenure, and some very thin speculation about what might have transpired the night before.

Cynthia watched for about ten minutes and then said that she needed to get some serious sleep. She looked a bit wobbly, but was holding up reasonably well. I stood up as she was about to leave the room. Unexpectedly, she stepped forward and hugged me close. Before letting go she said, “Thank you so much, Jesse. Right now I’m dazed and spinning. I’ll tell you everything as soon as I have some rest.”

“Take all the time you need, Cynthia,” I said.

She then made her way to my spare bedroom and closed the door behind her.

I was a bit wobbly myself. A week’s worth of adrenaline had flushed its way through my system since breakfast. There was little to do but wait for Cynthia, so I went to my room to take a nap. I figured that it would be a good idea to stay in sync with my client. Before getting onto the bed, however, I went to my dresser to check on Rhonda. She’d been hibernating since last winter. It now seemed entirely possible that she might get some exercise.

It was Eric’s idea to give my .38 Special a proper name.

 

7

 

The Harem

 

 

 

Eric Cochrane and I put together our first band, Mystic Notions, when we were in high school. He and I assembled our second band, Ocean Noises, shortly after I returned to Augusta from Andover.

We began playing gigs in the spring of 2005, but it took time to develop a following. Financially speaking, the first couple of years were very lean. In fact, it was almost a year before we recouped the cost of our sound system. In the meantime, I needed to supplement my income if I wanted to hold onto the farm.

I had learned some rudimentary carpentry skills during my years at Colby. I had worked for three summers at Bear Spring Camps as a handyman doing a variety of repairs on the cabins. There was plumbing, painting, electrical installations, tiling, roofing and even leveling to be done. Several of the cabins tilted noticeably each spring from the freezing of the lake and the heaving of the bank. These skills helped me secure a few construction jobs, but the work was not steady and in the winter, almost nonexistent. That’s when I got the bright idea to become a private investigator. I took the necessary courses and got my PI license.

Eric and I hung out together a lot in those days, and when I told him I needed a handgun for my new profession, he insisted on going with me to make the purchase. I wouldn’t say that Eric is a “gun nut” per se; he’s more like an all-purpose nutcase, with a specialized interest in the sundries found in pawnshops. He claimed to know a fair amount about handguns, and wanted to help me make the best possible choice. He also had his eye on a red and white Stratocaster that had recently shown up at Capitol Pawn and Jewelry on Water Street. That particular Fender guitar was very flashy. He thought it would provide us with a little more stage presence. So we drove down to Water Street to do some shopping.

There was a considerable number of handguns available at Capitol Pawn, but one stood out for both of us. It was a shiny black Snubnose Smith and Wesson .38 Special with a dark brown wooden grip. Before I could even open my mouth, Eric asked the proprietor to bring it out of the case so he could get his hands on it. For Eric it was love at first touch. If I had preferred a different gun, I probably could not have prevailed in an ensuing argument. Fortunately I liked his choice. Even Sam Spade would have concurred, I thought. It’s a beauty.

Eric passed on the Stratocaster. It was priced a little beyond his budget—our budget, actually—in as much as the band had a strict policy of splitting all profits and expenses equally. So I bought the weapon of Eric’s choice, and we drove it home.

A license is not required to purchase or own a handgun in the state of Maine. However, a license is required to carry a handgun. I had already acquired that license, and it was “on my person.” I was in full compliance with the law. As a PI, “being in compliance” is an important state to be in. I would estimate that over the past six years, my tenure as a private investigator, I’ve been in that state over 50% of the time, give or take.

A month before purchasing my firearm, I had broken up with my latest heartthrob. She was a fiery brunette with green eyes and an overcharged libido. Now that I think about it, I seem to be attracted to combustible women. It might be a logical consequence of the long New England winters, coupled with the fact that I’m often late paying my gas bill. For whatever reason, the queue of ladies in the narrative of my life resembled a row of Roman Candles on the Fourth of July. And while she and I never discussed the possibility of marriage or the pastries that accompany wedding receptions, among all of my exes, Rhonda Giannini definitely took the cake on her way out the door. By the time Eric and I got home from our shopping spree, my .38 Special had a Christian name.

The logic of Eric’s choice of monikers was irrefutable. Sure, it is commonplace to give weapons a feminine appellation. It was also true that Ms. Giannini had the personality of a loaded gun with a hair trigger, ready to go off at the slightest touch. But there were three other features that sealed the deal.

First, Eric reminded me of the night Rhonda and I met. She and one of her friends, whose name now escapes me, hung around to introduce themselves to us one Saturday night after we had finished our show in Portland. The girls had nothing better to do than to ride home with us, fifty-five miles to Augusta, at one o’clock in the morning. Fortunately, my farmhouse has two bedrooms. Unfortunately, the walls are paper-thin. According to Eric, on several occasions throughout the night, the headboard on my bed went bang against the wall, and shook the house.

Second, Rhonda had recently left me in the lurch for another innocent bystander, one Bradley Windgate, a restaurateur from Bar Harbor. Eric was quick to point out that while Bradley was not especially handsome, he was considerably more “loaded” than I, which was more than just a little annoying. Naming my piece, Rhonda, was a way of restoring what little dignity remained for me in her absence. She would now be relegated to my side. I could take her out whenever I wanted, and—as Eric put it—“fondle her” at my own discretion. Despite the seamy quality of Eric’s choice of words, I have to admit he had a point.

And finally, Eric brought to my attention the palpable fact that Rhonda was indeed, very well endowed by her maker. Coincidentally or not, our weapon of choice was a .38 Special.

Rhonda was definitely that.

I put her back in the dresser, stretched out on my bed, and drifted into the arms of the angels. If I was going to worry about consorting with murderers, it could wait until my nap was over. For now, I relished the opportunity as Hamlet did so long ago, “To sleep! Perchance to dream.”

And dream I did.

• • •

I barely remember putting my head on the pillow. I went out like a light and quickly slipped into a deep sleep.

I was floating in a fog, searching for something. I was anxious about finding it, but I didn’t know what “it” was. I only knew it was important.

I became aware of a distinct humming sound coming from somewhere behind me. It sounded like a small single engine plane. It wasn’t loud, just smooth and persistent. As I listened to it closely, I felt as if it were resonating inside the back of my head. I drifted along, propelled by this sound for what seemed a very long time.

Eventually the sound faded as if the plane had disappeared across the horizon. When the humming had completely ceased, I couldn’t hear a thing. I was now distinctly aware of the silence left in its wake.

To this point, I had been alone in the dream. I was not aware of any other person. But the silence ushered in the premonition that someone was near me. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Then she spoke, “Cherchez la femme.” The sound of the word, “femme,” trailed off slowly. I imagined a woman fading into the night.

Then I realized that it was Kathleen who spoke those three French words. There was no mistaking her voice. It had the same cadence and the precise tone. I couldn’t see her, but I knew, beyond any doubt, it was Kathleen. She spoke with no emotion. The most surprising feature of her voice was that it was so absolutely clear and unmistakable.

Even as I dreamed, I remembered that Kathleen had spoken this phrase during our conversation earlier in the day. When she said it at breakfast, I had dismissed it as a bit presumptuous. We certainly didn’t have any facts to support the assumption that a woman was involved. But now it seemed almost certain, even obvious. Perhaps it is the nature of the feminine mind to be able, in rare moments, to see beyond the confusion of possibilities and arrive directly at a pristine, unassailable truth.

While in the dreaming state, this feminine outlook felt comfortable and elegant. By comparison, my everyday, linear methodology seemed tedious and not nearly as effective. It was inspiring to think that if I could somehow use both halves of my brain at one time, rather than just the analytical half by itself, I might be able to arrive at authentic conclusions, instead of plodding along in pursuit of them.

I knew that I was dreaming, and I also knew dreams evaporate with the light of day. So I began instructing myself, resolutely, to not forget this…to bring this way of thinking back with me. I wanted to begin seeing the whole and not just the straight lines extending to points. The last thing I remember was commanding myself to remember. Then I was back.

My dream had the texture of a near death experience. While it lasted, I felt disembodied, impervious to the laws of physics. Perhaps I might one day remain “out there,” if I could find a way to resist the pull of gravity, and reject the appeal and the attraction of this planetary existence—what Van Morrison refers to as glamour. That was beyond my reach at the moment, but it wasn’t beyond my imagination. In fact, in the euphoric remnants of my dream, death seemed an inviting alternative to earthly life.

Dazed by this overview, I looked around my room and was confounded to see everything just as I had left it. It was dusk. I wasn’t sure what day it was. According to the clock on my side table and the twilight in the western sky, it was nine o’clock in the evening. I could only assume it was the same Sunday that I had left behind. If that were true, then I had been in space for several hours.

The thought returned, “Cherchez la femme.” I wondered, “Does this apply here—on earth?” I figured it must.

My heart suddenly quickened as I thought of Cynthia sleeping in the next bedroom. She most definitely was une femme.

It was clearly a case of bad news and good news. The bad news was that danger, perhaps even murder, had wormed its way into the Thorpe estate. The good news was that I was now convinced that death was not as unwelcome as it’s cracked up to be.

In any case, my rustic Maine farmhouse was beginning to resemble a harem. Not counting Becky, who was resting comfortably in the console of my Forester, there were four prominent women in my life. Kathleen, Angele, Cynthia and Rhonda: an apparition, a lover, a client, and a .38 Special.

 

8

 

A Deadly Tale

 

 

 

The rain had stopped. The evening was cool and subdued. I eased out of bed and put on a flannel shirt. As I entered the living room, Cynthia was standing at the window looking at the road below and Leroux Pond beyond that. The sun had already set.

She turned as I came into the room and managed a weak smile. “It’s like a dream,” she said.

“It sure is,” I replied, confident that I was on the same page.

I wanted to give her a hug, to console her from the shock and grief she was feeling, but that was a road too far. I offered her a cup of tea.

“That would be nice. It’s getting a little chilly,” she said.

I went into the kitchen and rummaged through the drawer that held the only tea in the house. “Will peppermint do?”

“Sure,” she said.

Cynthia remained where she was, staring out the window, while I put on the kettle, got two cups from the cupboard and began watching the pot that never boils.

The next few minutes were quiet, inviting an inner dialogue to fill the space between my ears. It began with the trial scene in My Cousin Vinny:

Attempting to deflate the prosecution’s timeline, Vinny Gambini is cross-examining Mr. Tipton about his cooking. The dialogue went like this:

 

Vinny: “How could it take you five minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes?”

Mr. Tipton: “Um…I’m a fast cook, I guess.”

Vinny: “Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove.”

 

I was fairly certain that the laws of physics still existed on my stove. I had studied those laws during my four years at Colby College, and I had never witnessed any of them being violated anywhere, let alone in my kitchen. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle held its ground tenaciously upon my stove, even though Werner himself never intended it be applied beyond the quantum realm. But then, things created on my stove have always been uncertain and tentative, even the boiling of water.

The uncertainty principle doesn’t in any way suggest that a pot won’t boil; it just indicates that there is no absolute assurance when or if it will. Quirky and inexplicable things happen in the quantum world. While the macro world is less subject to these spasmodic idiosyncrasies, technically speaking, there is no specific point where the quantum world ends and the rest of the world begins. It’s all a quantum world. Hence there remains a relentless uncertainty in every little thing and, by extension, in big things as well. Statistics be damned for the moment, if I may be so bold.

Notwithstanding the confidence I had in my scientific thought processes, the pot indeed did boil, even while I watched it. With two cups of piping hot tea in hand, I tabled my internal dialogue and made my way to the living room. It was high time for the real dialogue to begin.

When Cynthia saw me, she moved toward the couch and said, “Let’s sit down. I’ll tell you what happened.”

Cynthia sat on the couch, and I settled into my bark-a-lounger—the hideous, though comfortable, consequence of the confluence of a Discover Card, several beers, a boring evening and cable TV. The chair provided a kind of “Sam Spade’s been to WalMart” ambiance, not entirely reassuring for clients, to be sure, but after all, this was not LA. Mainers are not so concerned about haute couture and living room furniture. In her current state of mind, I’m certain it didn’t matter to Cynthia one iota.

“How to begin?” she pondered.

“Just start at the beginning and feel your way along. We have all night, and I need to know exactly what happened. Please, be open and frank. I’m your friend, and I’m here to help. Every detail is important. We’ll sort it out as we go.”

“You heard my conversation with Richard on the phone, so I’m sure you realize that I was having an affair with William. He and Rebecca hadn’t slept together for the past five years. For all intents and purposes, they were separated. On paper they were married, but in real life, no. They simply shared a proximity to one another.

“William and I began seeing each other almost a year ago. Richard Merrill and William were friends and associates. They had known one another since high school and maintained a close relationship for the past thirty years. Richard appreciated how difficult it was for William to live with Rebecca and still have a ‘normal’ life. William felt he had to keep up appearances in order to prevail in his first run for governor. As you know, he just barely won. A divorce would have ended his chances before he got started.

“But William is a man, and a dashing one at that. Was.”

Cynthia sighed, took a deep breath and waded ahead.

“Richard would arrange our dates. At times we would shuffle cars around to give us a chance to be alone. William often drove his car to Richard’s house and then would drive Richard’s car to my home for the weekend. That left his car, which could easily be recognized, at a friend’s house, not a lover’s.

“This weekend we tried something different. If we could only undo those plans…”

Cynthia teared up noticeably, so I went to the bathroom to fetch some tissues.

She thanked me, dried her eyes and continued.

“On Friday after we had both finished work, William and I converged at Richard’s home. Richard was getting ready to leave on a business trip to Massachusetts, so we couldn’t use his car. We had worked out an alternative plan. We had decided to go to William’s summer home on Sebascodegan Island and spend the weekend there alone. William alerted his security team that he would be going there by himself. Ostensibly, he would be completing the acceptance speech for his nomination for a second term. As you know, he was running unopposed in his own party. He had given strict orders not to be disturbed for the entire weekend.

“When we drove out of Augusta, I sat in the back seat. The windows of his car are heavily tinted, so no one could see that I was there. Whenever we came to a stop in town, I simply ducked down to avoid being seen through the windshield. Just before we got on the interstate, we found a quiet place to pull over, and I got in front. We drove the rest of the way side by side.

“When we arrived on Sebascodegan Island, we found another spot to pull over, and I got into the back seat once again. Being concerned that the guard posted outside William’s summer home would see me, I stayed tucked down on the floor as William stopped at the gate. He greeted the guard in his usual friendly manner and reminded him that he didn’t want to be disturbed for the weekend. We then passed through the gate and into the garage. From there we were secluded in his beautiful summer home on the bay.

“By the way, William and I planned to be married. He and Rebecca had already agreed to a divorce. They hoped to keep up the appearance of a happy couple until sometime after the election. Win or lose, the marriage was over. If he won reelection, there might be a mild scandal over the ‘other woman,’ but nothing that would interfere with his position as governor.”

Cynthia’s story didn’t shock me, but it did come as a surprise. She closed her eyes and so did I. There was little I needed to say at this point. I just waited for the story to resume.

“We spent all of Saturday lounging inside the house. We didn’t want to be spotted by the neighbors or from the boats in the bay. We were content to just be together.

“We decided to go to the theater on Saturday evening. The movie, Lincoln, was making a rerun at the Royal in Brunswick. Neither of us had seen it the first time around, so we were eager to go. It would be a little tricky to remain unnoticed, but we worked out a ruse. Actually, we reveled in it. It felt like a college caper.

“It’s only four miles to the theater. I would ride in the back all the way. William had already informed the guard that he was going out, so when we approached, the guard opened the gate, and we drove right through. When we got to the theater, William parked in an out of the way spot. He got out alone and walked inside. We had arranged to meet and sit in the back. The film had been out for quite some time, so the theater was not likely to be full.

“About a minute later, I got out of the car, locked it and walked inside. He was sitting alone in the back row, and I joined him. Really, it was all very simple. We not only enjoyed the movie, but we took pleasure in the escapade. It was a lovers’ adventure.

“When the movie was over, we took separate paths back to the car. I went first because we knew I wouldn’t attract attention. He followed about a minute later. I would already be hidden in the car in the event someone noticed him on his way out. It worked fine. We left the parking lot about 10:15 and headed back to the island.

“We drove down the highway and over the bridge, but as we approached the intersection at Cundys Harbor Road and began turning left, William noticed a car stopped along the side of the road, heading in the opposite direction. The driver was standing in front of his car, waving what looked like a white towel.

“There was very little traffic so late at night, and the guy obviously needed some help. William decided to stop and see what he could do. He told me to stay down in back so that I could not be seen when he lowered his window. William pulled the car off to the right, rolled down his window and called across the road, ‘What’s the trouble?’

“The guy told William that his right front tire was flat. He had jacked up his car, but the jack had slipped and was now wedged in such a way that he couldn’t extract it. He wondered if William could spare a few minutes and loan him his jack so that he could finish changing the tire.

“Without even a moment’s hesitation, William said, ‘Sure thing.’ He circled around and pulled up behind the other car. He left the motor running and the lights on. Before popping the trunk to get his jack, William decided to have a look at the situation. He told me quietly to stay down, but I thought I probably couldn’t be seen anyway, since our lights were in the guy’s face. I peeked over the front seat to have a look. The guy waited by his right front fender as William got out of the car and walked over to him.”

Cynthia took a deep breath and sipped the last of her tea, which now was as cold as the evening air.

“That’s when it happened,” she said, choking back tears. “I heard a single shot ring out, and William fell immediately. Apparently the guy bent over to see if he was alive or not, because right after the shot, he disappeared from view. I froze in terror. I didn’t know whether to attempt an escape from the car or stay put. If I opened the door to run, I’d obviously be seen, and the assailant would track me down. If I stayed in the car, he might very well come over and find me. My best chance seemed to be to stay put and hope the guy would flee the scene unaware of my presence. I was certain he hadn’t seen me at that point and wouldn’t be able to unless he actually walked over and opened the door. If he made any movement toward me, I’d make a dash into the night.

“After a few moments he stood up. That’s when I saw the gun, still in his right hand, and the towel in his left. He stared for a moment, looking into the windshield of our car. It was the first time I actually saw his face. Then he looked all around, I guess to make sure there was no one else in the vicinity. There were no other cars on the road. Moments after the shot was fired, a light came on from somewhere behind me and across the road to my left, probably from a house nestled behind a stand of trees. The light filtered through, but barely reached us. Compared to our headlights, it was not bright at all.

“He took a few steps toward our car, and my heart raced out of control. I was just about to make a run for it when I heard a man calling from the direction of the porch light. Apparently he had heard the shot and came out of his house to see what was happening. He yelled, ‘Is everything OK? I thought I heard a shot.’

“The assailant shouted back, ‘No problem, my car just backfired. I think it’ll be fine.’

“I glanced back to see the neighbor behind me. He just stood there as if waiting for assurance. It must have spooked the assailant. He quickly wrapped the towel around the gun, walked around the front of his car and got in. As soon as his engine fired up, the neighbor walked back down the road toward his house. He seemed so relaxed that it was obvious he hadn’t seen the gun. The driver turned on his lights and drove around the bend.

“As he was pulling away, I spotted Williams’ body. It looked as if he had been dragged several feet down the embankment. I kept my eyes riveted on the taillights of the car as he drove around the corner. Before I made a move, I wanted to be certain he was gone and wasn’t coming back.

“He was almost out of sight when he stopped his car and got out. I was terrified. Adrenaline shot through my veins. He might be coming back for me! This time I got out of the car, prepared to run if necessary. Thankfully, the overhead light didn’t come on. William always kept that in the off position for privacy.

“I couldn’t actually see the killer or much of his car, but I could see the taillights shining through the trees. He must have walked around to the back of his car because his left taillight became obscured for a moment and then reappeared. He stayed there for a few seconds, and then I heard two separate thuds. It sounded as if he had thrown a couple of things into the woods across the road. After that, he got back into his car and drove away.”

“Wow,” I said. We both just sat there for a while until I added, “I’m so sorry, Cynthia. Would you like to take a break?”

“Yes, maybe a break is a good idea,” she said.

“I don’t want to sound indelicate immediately after your description of William’s murder, but we haven’t had anything to eat since we left Brunswick. Would you like something?”

“I am feeling shaky,” she replied. “Do you have any soup?”

“Always,” I said. “I’m the Campbell’s Soup poster boy. I’ve got tomato and cream of mushroom.”

“Cream of mushroom sounds good,” she said.

I slipped into the pantry and pulled two cans of soup from the shelf. I called from the kitchen, “The mushroom won’t be very creamy. I finished up all the milk before I left for the cabin. I wasn’t expecting to be home until Thursday.”

“That’s fine,” Cynthia said. “I’ve just been through a near death experience. I’m not in a mood to be fussy about the cuisine.”

I opened the cans, emptied them into a pot, added water and turned on the stove. I took some rye bread out of the refrigerator and popped the slices in the toaster. “It’s not gourmet,” I thought, “but it should get us through the night.”

It was after eleven, but I knew that the evening was just getting started. We’d both slept through the late afternoon, and Cynthia’s account of the murder had our juices flowing.

When supper was hot and toasted, I served it in the living room. We ate in silence; Cynthia kept to herself, and I stared into the night. Initially, I had wondered why Cynthia didn’t want to speak to the police, and especially to the FBI. They would be able to provide all the protection she might need. Now I was beginning to get the picture.

Although she saw the murderer’s face, she apparently had no idea who he was, and almost certainly there must have been at least one accomplice. How else could it have been pulled off so smoothly? So it was entirely possible that they knew she was with William. And even if they didn’t, once she became an eyewitness, attention would be focused on her. It was bound to get sordid and messy. Eventually the public would know the whole story. Her life would never be the same again; not that it will be anyway. But it would be much worse for her if the whole story were exposed. I found her to be both astute and sensitive—an appealing combination in a woman—and the sensitive part would take a real beating. It was obvious to me now why Cynthia felt so threatened and didn’t want to go to the police. If I were in her shoes, I too would find a private detective and go on the lamb.

After we finished our dinner, I said, “One thing is puzzling me. If you were just going to the movies, why do you have all of your clothes? I assume you didn’t go back to the house by yourself.”

I watched Cynthia closely as she answered my question.

“William insisted that I keep all my things with us in the car when we went to the movie,” she said. “The guard was free to inspect William’s home for security reasons while we were gone. He might discover my clothing or my overnight case in the bathroom.”

“I see,” I said.

Cynthia didn’t miss a beat. Her explanation was logical, and her poise was impeccable. It set my mind at ease…for the moment.

“If you’re up to it,” I said, “I’d like to know more about the governor, what he was like, how you met…things like that. Later we can return to the murder scene and discuss a few details.”

Cynthia nodded and said, “OK.”

“I met William for the first time shortly after he was elected, three-and-a-half years ago. As you know, my ex-husband, Travis, is a member of the security staff assigned to protect the governor and other visiting dignitaries. Between the time of his election and his inauguration, a dinner party was arranged for William and his staff to get acquainted with the security team. The families of all concerned were invited. Travis and I were both enthusiastic about going. The party was held at the Regency Inn and Spa on Western Avenue.

“After a few short speeches and dinner, we all adjourned to the beautiful indoor pool area. We sat around the pool and had some drinks.

“Rebecca and William were not attentive to one another. In fact, Rebecca seemed genuinely bored and uninterested. This surprised me, as I had assumed she would be reveling in her newfound celebrity—First Lady of Maine.

“William, on the other hand was warm and gracious to everyone. He flirted with several of the wives and girlfriends, but it all seemed innocent to me. It was meant to be a celebration, and it was clearly the governor’s show. When Travis formally introduced us, William flirted with me as well. Rebecca hardly noticed, but Travis did.

“The drive home that night was ice cold. Travis was completely unresponsive, until he broke the silence with, ‘How could you?’

“‘How could I…what?’ I asked, shocked and put out.

“‘You practically invited the governor to your bed,’ he said.

“‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I said. ‘We were just being friendly. That’s what the party was all about.’

“Strange as it may seem, that was a turning point in our marriage. Things were chilly between us throughout the winter, and they stayed that way even when the weather warmed up in spring. Our marriage was never the same. It seemed so odd to me that one rather minor incident could unravel things so completely. But it did.

“As you know, we were divorced about a year later. That’s when the stalking began; that’s when I hired you.”

I nodded, without saying anything.

Cynthia continued, “Before we split up, Travis would come home from work and complain to me about the escapades of the governor. Travis was never specific, but it was evident that the governor was having an affair and quite possibly more than one. He was a very attractive, wealthy and powerful man with a detached wife. According to Travis, women moved in like ants to a picnic. It was clear that Travis not only resented me for being attracted to William, but he was also jealous of William who could attract the ladies so effortlessly. I’m sure it made Travis feel emasculated. He hated being subordinate to anyone.”

For a short time Cynthia just stopped talking. I waited awhile and then decided to pose a few questions.

“I assume you didn’t recognize the murderer,” I said.

“That’s correct.”

“Do you have any idea who might be involved?” I asked.

“No,” she said, rather conclusively.

“Did William ever talk about any personal enemies?”

“No. Occasionally we’d talk about his political squabbles, but nothing seemed especially personal. Besides, politics and romance are like oil and water. He wanted to hear about my real estate work more than he wanted to discuss politics.”

“Do you know the names of any of the women who might have had an affair with him?” I asked.

“Not really. Travis was instructed by his superiors to be completely discrete about William’s private life. If a rumor ever went public, there would be an investigation, and heads would roll. I guess I could suggest a couple of names, but I really couldn’t say if either of them actually slept with him. William never talked about other women. Well…Rebecca, of course, but no one else.”

I said, “Just a minute. It’s time to take some notes. I’ll get a pen and paper.”

I returned from my office with a legal pad and pen, ready to write.

“OK, Cynthia, please give me the names of the women that were closest to the governor, especially anyone who might have had a romance with him.”

“As far as I know, there are two women who are possibilities,” Cynthia said. “While I was with William, I really didn’t want to know any of his prior affairs. I’m not even certain he had any, but I think it’s fairly likely. When we started dating, he seemed comfortable having both a wife and a girlfriend, as if it were familiar ground. But I was swept away, and I didn’t really care about his past. The two women that come to mind are Michelle Jackson and Emily Haywood. I really don’t know much about either.”

“Did you ever see them interact with the governor?” I asked.

“I saw them once, and that was at the pre-inaugural party. William was friendly with both of them. Michelle was particularly enthralled with him. Emily seemed more surprised and a little shy. The only reason I even remember their names is that a couple of times they came up in conversations between William and Richard. But nothing that they said indicated there had been a romantic connection. Obviously Richard could tell you more than I can.”

“For sure. I’ll want to talk with him as soon as he gets back. By the way, did he tell you when that would be?”

“He said he’d be coming home immediately. He’s probably in Augusta now.”

“All right,” I said. “What about Travis? Do you think there is any chance that he is involved in the murder? After all, he was jealous of William, and he did stalk you after your divorce. He had both a motive and opportunity.”

“I have considered that, of course. Travis does have a temper,” Cynthia said. “But I really can’t imagine him doing this. Of course, I have a hard time imagining anyone doing this, so it’s difficult for me to single someone out. Travis has not had any contact with me for at least a year. I’ve seen him at the grocery store. Augusta is a small town, so our paths cross now and again. We never talk, and we both avoid eye contact. I suppose it is possible that he’s involved, but I doubt it.”

“I want to have a talk with him to see what he knows, but it’s rather doubtful that he will talk to me, especially if he thinks you hired me. Do you think he knows about your affair with William?”

“I don’t know. That’s possible too, but I have no way of knowing. Richard might know.”

“Right. I think the best way to proceed is for you to call Richard tomorrow, and see if he can come out here so that we can talk together. It’s fine that he knows I’ll be working for you, but he’s the only one that should. I think he’ll be able to provide me with some suggestions of where to begin the investigation. I also want to ask a favor of him.

“I want him to be my ‘client,’ not officially, but in name only. When I interview anyone close to the governor, he or she might be more willing to talk if they think I represent Richard, rather than you. If it’s a woman, Richard will appear less threatening to them. The ‘other woman’ might engender some jealousy. Furthermore, since Richard obviously knows a lot about William’s personal relationships, they might be more inclined to tell the truth, rather than be caught in an obvious lie.”

“Good idea,” Cynthia said. “I’m sure that will be fine with Richard. But we’ll have to ask him, of course.”

“OK,” I said. “There are just a couple more things I want to talk about tonight. Then we’ll get some sleep and start fresh tomorrow.”

“Fine,” she said.

“Let’s go back to the murder scene. You saw the murderer. What did he look like?”

“He seemed to be just about the same height as William. Six feet or so. He looked strong and well built…probably a little less than 200 pounds. He was wearing a ball cap, so I couldn’t see his hair, but the most prominent feature on his face was his beard. And I’m pretty sure it was fake.”

“How could you tell?” I asked.

“After struggling with William’s body, he stood up. I’m almost certain that part of the beard had come loose from his sideburns. It looked as if he pasted it back into place with the hand that was holding the towel. It happened very quickly, but that’s what it looked like. It was a very full dark beard. It certainly obscured a clear view of his face. Plus, the cap was pulled down fully over his forehead. All I could see clearly were his eyes and nose.”

“How about his voice?”

“I only heard him call out two times, once to William and once to the neighbor. I didn’t notice anything unusual about it. It was a strong masculine voice. I would guess he is about 40 years old.”

“How about his car?”

“It was a silver Honda CRV. I got the license plate.”

“Whoa! What made you do that?”

“As William was walking around to help, I had a clear view of it. Our lights were shining right on the back end of his SUV. It had one of those lobster vanity plates. It read, ‘GOFURS.’ Until the shot was fired, I was trying to figure out what it meant. After it was all over, and he drove away, I escaped into the night. Later I wrote it down on a pad in my purse so I wouldn’t forget. I’ll double check now, but it sticks in my mind like a photograph.”

Cynthia opened her purse and pulled out a note pad and handed it to me. I copied it to my legal pad.

“I can find the owner of that license plate,” I said. “The DMV will not give out the owner’s information to the public, but licensed investigators have online access to it. I can get the registered owner’s name, make and model of the vehicle. It normally takes one business day to get a response. I’ll boot up my computer and place the order for the information tonight. We should have the name by Tuesday.

“There’s something else I’d like to discuss before we turn in for the night,” I said. “I have not told anyone that we have been in touch. You are welcome to stay here as long as you like. But if you do stay, I will have to explain you to my girlfriend, Angele. When we spoke this morning, she said she would be coming here on Thursday. Also, my band will be here on Thursday for practice. They don’t have to know about you, but Angele will. Is that OK?”

“Yes. Just be sure that Angele does not tell anyone about me. Also, I haven’t made it entirely clear what I would like you to do. I’d like to clarify that now. I want to hire you full time for three basic responsibilities. First, I want you to check out my home and see if anyone goes there or hangs around. I hope you can set up a permanent surveillance camera.”

“Yes. I can install it tomorrow. I have a four-camera system. I’ll set it up to watch front, back and inside. We’ll be able to monitor your house remotely from here over the Internet. Why don’t you give me the keys to your home? I’ll take care of that first thing in the morning.”

Cynthia pulled her keys out of her bag and tossed them to me. Then she said, “It might be a good idea to pick up my car as well.”

“OK. I think I can get Eric to help me with that. If he is free tomorrow morning, I’ll pick him up on the way to your house, and he can drive your car back here. We’ll be careful not to be followed, in case anyone is looking for you. I even have a set of ‘temporary’ plates that I can put on my own car, to help keep my own identity more confidential. I got the plates from a junkyard for just this kind of situation. It will be the first time I’ve actually used them.”

“In case I haven’t made it clear, Jesse,” Cynthia continued, “I also want you to find out who killed William.”

“Gulp,” I thought, as I swallowed hard. “I’ll do all I can,” I said. “Let’s hope the FBI manages to do that very quickly.”

“And one final thing,” she said. “I want you to be my personal bodyguard, for as long as necessary, until I feel it’s safe for me to be out in public again.”

“Agreed, with one caveat,” I said. “I have been working on a construction job for several weeks, and I can tell the foreman that I need to be away from that job indefinitely. That’s no problem. However, our band has some scheduled gigs. I am committed to those. So other than gigs and occasional band practices here, I’m all yours.”

“Thank you. Yes, I would appreciate staying here for now. In fact, I might want to stay here for quite some time. Will that be all right?”

“Absolutely.”

And with that, the die was cast.

 

9

 

Surveillance

 

 

 

“Hello?”

“Eric?”

“What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty.”

“What day is it?”

“Monday.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Jesse.”

“Jesse?”

“Yeah.”

“What time is it?”

“Eric,” I said, “I need you to help me on a job.”

There was a long pause at the other end. Then Eric asked, “What kind of job?”

“I’m on a case.”

“Are you investigating the Lavoilette murder?” he asked, hopefully.

“Nah, nothing that big. Just your run-of-the-mill Peeping Tom case.”

“Is she a looker?”

“Oh yeah!” I said. “You can see her for yourself. She’s in my spare bedroom.”

“I’ll be right over.”

“Not so fast,” I said. “I need to pick you up and drive you to her house, because I want you to drive her car back here. She’s afraid to go home.”

“I’m ready, all ready,” Eric said, enthusiastically.

“See you in ten minutes,” I replied.

Cynthia was having coffee in the kitchen. The night’s sleep looked good on her. I sensed that anger was just beginning to work its way onto her emotional calendar, between the sadness and the fear. I liked that. Anger holds more life and gets the job done.

“Cynthia,” I said, “I’m off to your house. I’ll have my friend, Eric, drive your car back here this morning. Incidentally, Eric is between girlfriends at the moment, so he might get friendly when he shows up with your car. Don’t encourage him. He’s like a lost dog; if you give him a bone, he’ll try to move in. If he asks you to drive him home, tell him I’ll do that when I get back.

“That reminds me. Do you want to use your actual name while you are here, or would you prefer an alias?”

“Gee, I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe an alias would be better. On the other hand, my face appears on real estate signs all over town. If I used an alias, it might actually draw attention to me. Let’s just go with Cynthia and not use a last name.”

“OK,” I said. “I’ll set up the cameras at your place. The system is wireless, and the videos will feed through your computer to the Internet. We’ll then be able to view them directly on my computer. I’ll need the password to your computer in order to set this up.”

“Here, I’ll write it out for you,” she said.

She jotted it down on a note pad and handed it to me.

“‘C y n h o m e 1’” I recited, “And the ‘C’ is the only capital.”

“Right.”

“OK. My computer is all set to receive the signal. When I’m finished setting the system up at your house, I’ll call you to see if you can view the video. You won’t have to do a thing. The images on all four cameras should appear on my screen.

“Now, what would you like me to bring back from your house?” I asked.

Cynthia had already made a list. She handed it to me and said, “Let me know if you have trouble finding anything.”

“Our cover story about why you are staying with me is that there’s been someone hanging around your house at night, looking through your windows. You didn’t feel safe, so you’re staying here until it’s cleared up. That should work fine for the guys in our band, and I’m hoping Angele will buy it too. She’s a sharp cookie though; she might see through the ruse. I have very little control over that woman, and strangely enough, I like it that way. When she’s on land, she’s a cyclone. Over water, she’s a typhoon.”

“Thar she blows!” Cynthia said, and I saw her smile for the first time since picking her up.

“You said it,” I replied.

“I’ve put in the order for the license plate information,” I continued. “We should have a name by tomorrow. Whenever you think it’s a good time, call Richard and ask him to come over.”

“I already did that,” she said. “He’ll be here as soon as he can. He has an interview with the FBI this morning at nine.”

“I should have mentioned this last night, but I didn’t think of it. Don’t tell anyone about the surveillance cameras at your house. Not even Richard. We don’t want anyone to know they are on camera.”

“OK,” she said. “I didn’t mention it to him when we talked this morning.”

“Good. If Richard gets here before I come back, don’t let him into my office where he might see the videos. I’m not suggesting that we can’t trust Richard, but we want to be as invisible as possible.”

“Sure.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Richard’s interview with the FBI. It is entirely possible that your name will come up. I don’t know if the two of you have discussed this yet, but it is important for you to be prepared ahead of time in the event that the FBI shows up at my door looking for you. Remember, they have on file that I picked you up near the crime scene. Once your name surfaces in the investigation, they will search their database for any reference to your name, and bingo, you and I will be front and center. We might even become suspects.”

“Yes, that definitely occurred to me,” Cynthia said. “I’m still unsettled as to what I should do…what I should say.”

“I’m not a lawyer, but it seems your only viable option is to tell the truth. I don’t think it would be wise to dodge their questions. You might have the right to do that, but if you are evasive, they will consider you an uncooperative witness.

“At this point, I think that they would understand that your actions on Saturday night and Sunday morning were at least somewhat reasonable. You were under duress, and you feared for your life. But the fact is, you blatantly lied to FBI Officer Handley. I fudged the truth when I said I didn’t have a client, but you said that you were staying in the Smith’s house. That was a clear lie.”

“Yes.”

“Still, I think they would be sympathetic. But remember, we are talking about the FBI and the murder of the Governor of Maine. They will not be messing around. So…you need to decide right here and right now how you will handle yourself if, or rather when, they come knocking at the door.”

“OK. If that happens, I’ll tell the whole truth. All of it.”

Cynthia seemed shaken by this eventuality, but I was convinced that she would follow through.

I continued, “As far as what happens in the next couple of days, a lot will hinge on Richard’s interview. Eventually, however, it is almost a certainty that you will have to tell your story to the police. You could get very lucky. They might catch the murderer, or murderers, and be able to convict them on evidence totally unrelated to you; time will tell. Then again, they might not be able to locate a suspect at all. In that case, you will have to decide whether or not you want to come forward voluntarily.”

“I’ve been wondering about that. Right now, I don’t know,” she said.

“That’s fine. You’ll have time to think that through if things drag on indefinitely with no arrests.

“All right,” I said. “I’m leaving now. Mi casa es su casa, Cynthia. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen and the pantry. Feel free to use my computer in the office, just open a new tab on the browser. That way the page stays up with the surveillance videos. I’ll stop by Shaw’s before coming home and pick up some groceries for the week. Is there anything special you want?”

“I like fish,” she replied. “Asparagus and arugula are in season now, too. Please bring over all the perishables from my refrigerator. I won’t be eating at home for a while. Oh, and here’s your retainer payment,” and she held out a folded check.

I put my hand up and said, “We’ll take care of that later. Just keep it in your purse for now. I want to get going, and I don’t want it lying around here where someone might see it. Fish, asparagus, and arugula. Got it. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

• • •

I drove straight to Eric Cochrane’s house. He was out front, standing on the sidewalk with a doughnut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. It’s a new look for Eric. Not the doughnut and the coffee, but the morning sunshine on his face. Eric sets his alarm for noon and then oversleeps on a regular basis.

“Should I bring an overnight bag and my toothbrush?” Eric asked. Then he winked and climbed into my Forester.

“She’s not that kind of woman, Eric. Don’t make any moves. She’s frightened.”

Eric took a bite of his doughnut. I couldn’t tell if he was hungry or just needed to console himself. “Let’s roll,” he said.

Cynthia lives on Ridgewood Drive just east of the Kennebec River. When we got to her street, I drove all the way to the cul-de-sac and back again, passing Cynthia’s house twice. I wanted to see if anyone might be hanging around and possibly waiting for her. Nothing seemed suspicious, so I turned around, drove back to her house and parked in the driveway.

Eric and I got out of the car, collected the surveillance equipment from the back and went inside. The house looked tidy; there were no signs of trouble. As we walked into the garage, I gave Eric the keys to Cynthia’s Camry.

“I’ll set up the camera equipment myself, Eric. Please just drive her car back to my place and wait for me. Here are my keys; you’ll have to move the Forester. Park it on the street and leave the keys in it. When you get to my house, just say hello to Cynthia and give her the keys. She’s nervous about the stalker that’s been hanging around here, so just let her be. When I get back to the house, I’ll drive you home.”

“Will do, Jesse.”

“And don’t talk to anyone about the cameras. We don’t want to blow our cover.”

“Roger that.”

I opened the garage door. Eric moved my car and then backed Cynthia’s car down the driveway and into the street.

I took a walk around the property to determine the best locations for the cameras, and got to work. When the cameras were in place, I turned them on and booted the computer. In about half an hour, the system was up and running.

I called Cynthia to see if she could view the video images on my computer. “All four images look good,” she said. “Eric is here now, and he made himself at home. You were right. He looks like a lost dog, but he seems harmless.”

“Looks can be deceiving, Cynthia. Remember…no bones.”

“Right,” she said.

“I’ll pick up your things and swing by the grocery store on my way home. I should be back in about forty-five minutes. If Richard calls, have him come over as soon as possible. Just be sure not to talk about the case in front of Eric.”

“All right,” she said, and we hung up.

I retrieved her personal belongings, cleaned out the refrigerator and went to Shaw’s for the rest of the groceries. Then I drove straight home. The only car in the driveway was Cynthia’s Camry, so apparently Richard was still engaged with the FBI.

I put the groceries away and went to check on the camera system. It looked fine. I could see a lady walking her dog along the road in front of Cynthia’s house. Nothing was happening on the other three screens.

Eric had helped himself to some breakfast cereal and was watching the latest news about the murder on the TV. “It’s weird,” he said. “The Governor of Maine gets murdered, and two days later they don’t even have a suspect.”

“It’s hard to figure,” I said.

“There’s some speculation that the governor had a mistress,” Eric added.

“Who’s speculating?” I asked.

“Fox News.”

“Really? Then it must be true,” I said.

“Don’t be sarcastic, Jesse. Sometimes they get a scoop. I don’t watch Fox much either, but I’ve been switching through the news stations to catch all the perspectives. Fox is the only station that has offered a possible motive. They don’t have any names yet, but they are pushing the mistress angle.”

Eric paused a bit and then turned the TV off.

“You know what I think?” he asked, and then immediately answered his own question, “I think the governor’s wife hired someone to do it. I never trusted her. She has a cold, disinterested look. Whenever I’ve seen her standing with her husband, she always seems distant, like she doesn’t care about him. It’s a little too convenient that she was out of the country when it happened. He has probably been fooling around for years, and she finally decided she’d had enough.”

“Cherchez la femme,” I said.

“What’s that?” Eric asked.

“It’s French for, ‘Look for the woman.’”

“The French know about women,” Eric replied, philosophically. “Rebecca Lavoilette. Twenty bucks says she’s guilty.”

“I suppose it’s possible, but I’ll take that bet, Eric.”

I dug in my wallet and pulled out a twenty.

“Here,” I said. “You hold the money. When it’s all over, you can give me forty.”

Eric kissed the twenty and put it in his wallet. “Money in the bank,” he said.

“Listen, I’m expecting a visitor in a little while. If you don’t mind, I’d like to drive you home now.”

“Sure,” Eric said. “By the way, I’m working on a new song. I should have it completed by Thursday. I’d like to have the band play it this weekend if we can arrange it.”

“Sounds good. Have you finished your breakfast?”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

I drove Eric home and got back to my place in about fifteen minutes. There was a silver Lexus with a mint green interior parked in the driveway. Richard Merrill was waiting for me in the living room.

 

10

 

Two Loaded Women & A Private Dick

 

 

 

Richard Merrill stood about 5’10”. He was wearing a stylish gray silk suit with a colorful Hawaiian tie—not the kind of outfit you’d wear to a funeral. But then, that would come later in the week.

Richard waited for me to walk over to him. I couldn’t decide whether this was a ploy to gain the upper hand or a courtesy to Cynthia, who was standing beside him.

I reached out my hand and said, “Richard Merrill, I presume.”

“Yes,” he replied, as we shook.

“I’m Jesse Thorpe.”

“How do you do?”

A little formal, I thought, but he’s been a friend to the governor for almost four years…longer if you count the pre-gubernatorial decades.

“Let’s sit down,” I suggested. “Would either of you like something to drink?”

“Water would be fine,” Richard said.

Cynthia nodded, and I fetched three waters in distinctly different tumblers, just to keep them straight.

“Richard, I understand that you’ve just been interviewed by the FBI,” I said. “How did that go? Do they have any idea who murdered Governor Lavoilette?”

“The FBI and the Maine State Police hold their cards close to the vest,” he said. “They questioned me for an hour and a half. I was William’s closest friend. There was a lot of ground to cover. I have to go back at two o’clock to continue the interview.”

“I assume you know that Cynthia has hired me to protect her and to investigate the murder privately.”

“Yes, Cynthia told me.”

“I could ask you a lot of questions,” I said, “but I think it would be simpler if you’d just tell me whatever you think is important for me to know for my investigation.”

“Have you done this kind of work before?” he asked.

I didn’t care for the tone of his question. It sounded vaguely condescending and hinted that I might be in over my head. I was, of course, in way over my head, but it was my job to keep my own cards close to the vest too. I’ve had plenty of experience with hecklers in nightclubs, so I knew how to handle a suit with an attitude.

“I’ve been a licensed private investigator for six years. I have experience providing protection, researching crimes, questioning combative individuals, and assisting defense and prosecution lawyers. Granted, this is the first time I’ve been involved in a murder case, so I’ll be more cautious than usual. But I’m up to it. I have a .38 Special and a license to have it concealed on my person. Hopefully it won’t be necessary to use it.”

I’ve practiced that speech for years. It’s the first time I’ve given it to a live audience, but I managed to ad lib the part about the concealed firearm rather nicely. All in all, I sounded pretty self-assured…perhaps a decibel too loud and ever so slightly defensive, but both of those indiscretions were minor at worst, and probably went undetected. At least Richard appeared satisfied when he replied, “OK.”

He paused for a minute to collect himself. Cynthia sat next to him on the sofa and didn’t say a word.

Richard began, “I’ve known William since high school. He was my best friend. We’ve shared our highs and lows. I never imagined something like this. I’m in shock. This came totally out of the blue.

“He had his enemies, of course. After all, he was the most powerful man in the state; with power comes risk. He’d been slandered dozens of times, but that’s the nature of politics. It seems to get uglier every year, but the violence normally happens with money, not with guns.

“William didn’t even own a gun. He never hunted. He borrowed a shotgun once for a photo shoot, and held a membership with the NRA, but that was entirely for show. He hated guns, and, quite frankly, he detested the NRA’s presence in Maine.

“I remember one night during the first general election. After a grueling three-way debate on television, William sat with me and said, ‘The goddamned Second Amendment has killed more Americans than all of our enemies combined.’ I don’t think he’s right about that, but I understood his frustration. During that debate, John Fickett made an unusually snide comment, even for him. He said, ‘Lavoilette is so soft on crime that if you handed him a .45, he wouldn’t know which end to hold.’

“Fickett is a prick. If you handed him a long-stem rose, he’d shove it up your ass, thorns and all.”

I detected some anger in that remark, and I began to wonder why he was wearing a Hawaiian tie. Richard wore his emotions on his sleeve and seemed oblivious to the delicacies of speaking in the presence of a lady. But my poker face was fully attached to the front of my head. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, even if that meant snorkeling beneath Cynthia’s dignity.

We all came up for air, and Richard continued.

“Men like Fickett perpetuate an atmosphere of violence in America. Really he’s a weasel and a coward. He stirs things up until somebody takes him literally and goes ballistic. He already told the press that William should have been armed on Saturday night. As if that would have made a difference. Cynthia tells me he went to help someone with a flat tire. Was he supposed to walk up to a stranger in need on the road, and point a loaded gun in his face? No, a gun wouldn’t have saved him there. Caution and better judgment, perhaps, but not a gun.”

Then he added, “Fickett can’t find his head with both hands.”

That last remark made me chuckle to myself, but not because I found it funny; I found it out of date. I think it was funny back in the 80’s. That was the decade when my father used the same expression, time and again. My Dad might have been a physics professor at work, but when he was home, he was a regular guy with regular emotions and regular jokes. My generation upgraded that line to, “If Fickett had a brain, he’d take it out and play with it.”

Richard was clearly on the cusp of the two generations, trapped somewhere in between. I would have placed him in the older generation based on that quip alone, were it not for the Hawaiian tie. He’s mixing his metaphors, I thought. I decided to suspend judgment, temporarily, and to consider him an anomaly.

I wanted Richard to talk more about possible suspects and motives. Of course, Fickett might be a suspect, and his attitude resembled a motive, but I was pretty sure that Richard wasn’t suggesting that Fickett was directly responsible. Richard was just blowing off steam. I turned the discussion to something more substantive.

“Do you suspect the murder was political or personal?”

“I don’t know,” Richard replied, quickly and decisively. He probably had the same question put to him by the FBI, and was just repeating himself. But it sounded as though he really had no specific suspect in mind.

“Did Cynthia’s name come up in your interview?” I asked.

“No. They didn’t ask about her, and I didn’t offer her name.”

“You’re going back this afternoon. If her name comes up, what will you say?”

“I guess it depends on how specific their questions are. If I am not asked directly about her whereabouts on Saturday, I won’t say anything, and I won’t lead them to Cynthia by offering suggestions. I fully understand that Cynthia is not entirely safe. She has seen the face of the murderer. She will be a target if word gets out that she is an eyewitness to the crime.”

“But if her name does come up, I’m assuming you will tell them that she was dating the governor. Right?”

“Yes, I’ll have to. If I can avoid it gracefully, I will. But if they have her name already for any reason, my guess is that they will already know that the governor and she were in a relationship. Surely they would want me to substantiate that fact. I’ll have to play it by ear. It’s almost certain that the truth will eventually come out, but since there is very little that Cynthia could do to help them find a suspect, there’s no point in bringing up her name until absolutely necessary.”

“Good,” I said. “It will be important that you get back with us this afternoon after the second half of your interview and let us know whether or not her name was mentioned.”

“I’ll do that,” he said.

I wanted to discuss the women in the governor’s life, but I didn’t want Cynthia around when that happened. Richard might not be totally honest with her sitting there, and he could easily withhold important details to spare her feelings. I knew I would have to talk with him alone. For the moment, it didn’t look as if he was going to generate any definite leads for me. I also didn’t want to wear out my welcome the first day. The FBI had just grilled him, and they were going to resume their culinary work in the afternoon. I decided it would be better to cut our first interview short and let him catch his breath.

“Listen, Richard,” I said. “I really appreciate your coming over this morning. I know you’ve had a rough time of it, and you have to go back for more this afternoon. Let’s get together again soon—tomorrow if possible—and chat then. I don’t really know what your professional position has been. Were you a direct aide to the governor? Will your position change now that the Senate President will become the acting governor?”

“I was an aide to the governor. Right now it’s not clear if I still have a job. As you probably know, the Senate President is not even from the same party. Chances are I’ll be gone in no time flat. That suits me anyway; I don’t have the stomach for any more of this.

“Tomorrow might be all right,” he said. “I’d like to help anyway I can. Really, I’m sorry if I sounded heavy-handed earlier. I’m on edge. Yes, tomorrow should work fine. How about joining me for lunch?”

“Great,” I said, happy about his change in attitude. “Where shall we meet?”

“There’s the Kennebec Barbeque & Grille on Water Street,” he offered.

“Sounds good. What time?”

“Let’s make it one o’clock. Give me your phone number, just in case something comes up.”

Now that Richard seemed a little friendlier, I wanted to talk some more. I gave him my number, and then said, “Before you go, I’d like to ask you a couple more questions, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“How do you feel about Cynthia’s ex-husband, Travis Perkins? Did he know that William and Cynthia were dating?”

“Yes he did.”

Cynthia gasped, but didn’t say anything. Richard and I both noticed.

“How did he find out, and who else knows about it?”

“I think I know how he found out, but I don’t know who else might know.”

Richard paused a minute and then continued, “About three months ago, William spent the weekend at Cynthia’s place. I helped arrange the rendezvous. On the following Monday morning, I had a meeting with William in his office at the State House. Travis was one of two officers assigned to protecting the governor that day. As I was leaving the governor’s office by the south exit, Travis followed me out the door and said he wanted to talk with me.

“It was cold outside, and there was a lot of snow on the ground, so no one was around. We were alone on the walkway. Out of the blue he said, ‘The governor’s affair with Cynthia is putting his life in danger, and it’s my responsibility to protect him.’

“He was very hot about it, but he tried to make it sound as if he was just doing his job. I asked him how he found out about the affair, and he replied, ‘It’s my job to know these things, and it’s none of your business how I get the job done.’

“I reminded him that I was not only an aide to the governor, I was also his best friend. I needed to know how he found out, and who else knows.

“All he said was, ‘No one else knows, and as an officer of the Maine State Police, I am not at liberty to discuss my methods with you.’

“And with that he stormed back inside the Governor’s Office Building.

“I called William that evening after work. I wanted to be sure he was alone when I told him about my meeting with Travis. The next day, William called him into his office for a private conversation.

“Apparently Travis had seen the governor alone, driving away from the Blaine House parking lot. This was after hours, and Travis was on his way home. He decided to follow the governor ‘for security reasons.’ When William got to my house, Travis parked nearby. He then followed William on foot around the block and saw him get into Cynthia’s car and drive away. He hurried back to his own car and then sped all the way to Cynthia’s house just in time to see her car disappear into the garage.

“William considered firing Travis, but he decided to follow the advice of the ancient Chinese general, Sun-tzu: ‘Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer.’

“William told him never to tell anyone about the affair. If he did, he would be fired. As far as I know, they never discussed it again.”

“Do you have Travis’ phone number and home address?” I asked.

“Sure.”

He pulled out his iPhone, flipped through some screens and read them to me. Along with his home address, he had three phone numbers for Travis, his office number, his home phone and his cell. I wrote them all down.

Then, I did my best Columbo impersonation. I paused, for dramatic effect, and then said, “Richard, there’s just one more thing…

“As you know, I am representing Cynthia in this case. But when I interview people close to the governor, and especially women, it would be helpful if I didn’t have to divulge Cynthia’s name as my client. It might affect their responses. Besides, Cynthia wants to remain anonymous and hidden from view.

“So, I am wondering if it would be all right with you if I say that you hired me to investigate the murder. There’s a very significant advantage to this. Most of the people who are close to the governor know you, and they are aware that you know them. They will be more inclined to speak openly and truthfully if they think I will be reporting back to you. If I happen upon someone involved in the crime, he—or she—will feel exposed if he refuses to talk, and pressured to not be caught in lie.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Jesse. I’m all for it. In fact, I have decided to cover half of your expenses.”

He turned to Cynthia and said, “I’m sure you won’t mind.”

He turned back to me and said, “I was considering this before we met, but quite honestly, I wanted to size you up first. You seem to handle yourself well, and you have one big advantage over the FBI. Cynthia is your eyewitness. Currently, they only have a homeowner who happened on the scene and wasn’t even aware that a murder had taken place until it hit the news.

“Feel free to check with me to verify the stories you hear. The FBI is treating everyone as a possible suspect, me included. They might ask my opinion about developing leads, but they won’t be open to discussing what they know. If you keep me apprised of what you uncover, I might be able to help you decipher things.”

“Right,” I said.

He was essentially correct in his assessment, but something troubled me. Richard belonged to the relatively small circle of people who actually knew where the governor would be over the weekend. Whoever killed him had that same information. I couldn’t completely rule Richard out as a suspect. It was entirely possible that Richard would be applying General Sun-tzu’s advice in his dealings with me. Maybe I was now Richard’s enemy, and he wanted to keep me close.

Instinctively, my thoughts turned to Rhonda. Soon I’d be dusting her off and getting her loaded. I might even have to sleep with her. My heart skipped a beat and my mind began to drift. Come Thursday evening I could be involved in a ménage à trois with Rhonda and Angele—two loaded women and a private dick. What would Bogey do?

I wanted to nail down Richard’s whereabouts over the weekend without sounding nosey.

“Richard,” I said. “I imagine the FBI will want to know where you were on Saturday night. Cynthia told me you were out of the state.”

“In fact they did ask me that, first thing. I showed them my hotel and gas receipts. I spent the weekend on Martha’s Vineyard. Business and pleasure.”

I decided it would seem a little indelicate for me to ask to see those receipts, so I passed on that. Besides, if Richard happened to be involved in the murder, he was smart enough to have a good alibi. I felt sure he actually was on Martha’s Vineyard, quite probably schmoozing with Martha herself.

Both Richard and Rebecca were out of the state when William was killed. That didn’t qualify as a major coincidence, but it was interesting nonetheless. The mental notes were piling up.

As I rose to shake his hand, I casually asked, “Richard, are you married?”

He smiled and said, “No, I’m not.”

I didn’t know if it was the exact angle of his smile or his Hawaiian tie, but it suddenly popped into my head that Richard could be gay. If I were a woman, I probably would have figured that out before I shook his hand the first time. In fact, a finely tuned woman might have “known” he was gay by the mint green upholstery in his Lexus. Angele can spot a gay man by the smell of his cologne at fifty paces. I’ll never understand women.

I figured Cynthia and Richard would want to talk privately, so I gave them that opportunity. “See you tomorrow at one o’clock, Richard” I said. “Feel free to stick around here for some lunch before you go back into town. Cynthia, you have the run of my kitchen if you want to fix something. Right now, I want to research the governor’s life on the Internet.”

I walked down the hall and into my office. I checked the surveillance videos; nothing appeared to be happening at Cynthia’s house. If anything had happened, a motion detector would have logged the exact time of the intrusion. The only thing that had moved was a lady and her dog, up the street and back again.

I checked my email to see if I had gotten a reply about the license plate. Strike two. So I decided to read some of the governor’s bio. I Googled his name and opened Wikipedia. There would be plenty of time for more serious reading later. His Wiki-page began, “William Louis Lavoilette, born August 15, 1968, assassinated on Sebascodegan Island, June 1…” Bloggers never sleep.

I heard Richard’s car drive away, and then Cynthia joined me in the office.

“I know that you didn’t want to talk with Richard about other women in front of me,” she said. “Thank you for that. I’d like to keep the memory of William the way it is. I loved him, and he loved me. That’s certain. There’s no way to improve upon that memory. But it could be tarnished with gossip and speculation. I’m confident that the truth won’t undermine what we had together. No one is perfect, but William was the genuine article. He was warm and caring. He led Maine with his heart, and he stole mine in the process.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Cynthia. Everything I know about him is favorable. I voted for him, and I was planning on doubling down in November.

“There’s nothing new at your house or with the license plate ID. I want to spend a little more time researching William’s life. Then I’ll call Travis to get a better sense of him. I doubt that he will want to talk to me, but since I am representing Richard now, he may be willing to open up. In the meantime, try to recall anything that William or Richard ever said to you that might be important, even if it seemed insignificant at the time. A name, a corporation, a bill in the State House—anything that would be worth investigating. If your memory gets bloated, empty it out and use your intuition. I’m a man and you’re a woman. Let’s keep both genders on the case.”

Cynthia nodded and walked out. I returned to the online biographies of William Lavoilette.

William was born and raised in Bath, Maine, about eight miles east of where he went to college at Bowdoin, and ten miles northeast of where he was murdered. His father, John Lavoilette, worked for decades as a private contractor for the shipbuilding industry in Bath and retired in 2009. He and William’s mother, Patricia, still live in the area.

I was able to discover that their home was across the Sagadahoc Bridge near the small town of Woolrich. I took note of their address and phone number. Depending on how the investigation proceeded, I might eventually visit with them, but only after a reasonable period of mourning.

During William’s first year at Bowdoin College, he was involved in a fatal automobile accident. There were four people in a car when it hit a deer along Route 1. The car careened off the road and crashed into a tree. Lisa Hilliard, a nineteen-year-old woman sitting in the front passenger seat, was killed. No one else was seriously injured. William was the driver.

A police investigation concluded that William was not at fault. They determined that he was probably not speeding at the time of the crash. A breathalyzer test indicated that William had not been drinking. There was a young man and woman in the back. Two of the passengers had been drinking that night—Lisa Hilliard and the man in the back—and although he was below the legal drinking age of twenty-one, no charges were filed against him.

Near the end of the article a name jumped off the page, “The passengers in the back seat were Richard Merrill and Virginia Latham, and the car belonged to Richard.”

I was struck by the possibility that Richard could well have been driving, and William might have covered for him because Richard was drunk.

I jotted down the names, Lisa Hilliard and Virginia Latham. The accident occurred more than twenty-five years ago, but you never know. Painful, unresolved memories have a way of festering over time. Lisa was someone’s daughter and, more than likely, someone’s sister.

There was another noteworthy feature about William Lavoilette that caught my attention. Both he and his father were Freemasons. They attended meetings at the Masonic Temple on Washington Street in Bath in the ‘80’s and 90’s. The article didn’t mention if William was an active member after that. I found it interesting that the first Governor of Maine, William King, was also a Freemason. Maine joined the Union on March 15, 1820. William King, who was already the governor, was installed into the office of Grand Master of the Freemason Grand Lodge of Maine on June 24, 1820.

• • •

It was twelve-thirty. I decided it was time to give Travis Perkins a call. I tried his cell phone first. He picked up on the second ring.

“Hello,” came the terse greeting.

“Hello, is this Travis Perkins?” I asked.

“Who is this?” he asked. “Your name and number are blocked.”

“I am Jesse Thorpe. We met briefly a couple of years ago.”

“I know who you are.”

“I have been hired by Richard Merrill to investigate the murder of Governor Lavoilette. I’d like to ask you a few questions if that’s all right.”

“It’s not all right. I’m an officer of the Maine State Police. If we have a talk, I’ll be the one asking the questions.”

I thought for a moment and decided that some talk was better than no talk, so I said, “That’s fine. Ask me whatever question you’d like.”

“I said ‘If we talk.’ But we’re not talking.” And he hung up.

 

11

 

Adjectives, Adverbs and Prepositions

 

 

 

I keep a calendar on my wall, next to my computer. This year it’s “Island Paradise.” Angele gave it to me for Christmas with a wink and a nod. She said we needed a vacation, and besides, it was more sophisticated than the lingerie calendar I had used the previous year. I suppose it is, but lingerie is cheaper than a week in the Bahamas. I told her she might have to settle for a 12×12 glossy color photograph of a different beach each month this year. “You’re more than welcome to step into my office any time and dream away,” I said. That did not go over very well.

As a couple, Angele and I fall somewhere between the stages of “dating” and “engaged.” She refers to it as the “Zesty Pre-committed Juncture.” As far as I can tell, there is no longer any widely acceptable euphemism for the period between dating and being engaged. A generation ago it was called “going steady,” but that phrase has disappeared from the idiomatic dictionary. Even if it were still in vogue, “steady” would not apply to Angele and me. A number of more appropriate adjectives rise from the cauldron of our relationship, which is why I mentioned the calendar in the first place.

Whenever I finish talking to Angele on the phone from my desk, I always record an adjective of the day in the appropriate square on the calendar. It’s my job to determine which adjective in the English language best describes Angele’s mood at the moment we hang up. Adverbs are permitted in the mix as well, but prepositions are no longer allowed. I’ll explain.

This past winter was unusually cold, but an island getaway still wasn’t in my budget. So in an attempt to keep warm, I started entering some hot and suggestive prepositions onto the page entitled, “February.” Among these were: beneath, within, over, upon, under, inside and between.

Angele wandered into my office on the last day of that month and wrote “none of the above” in red lip liner on the 28th square. In her defense, it was not a particularly good time of the month for her. She made it clear that until I booked a trip to some tropical isle, prepositions were banned from the “Island Paradise Brochure” hanging on my wall.

She came by a week later. I hadn’t turned over a new leaf, per se, but I had turned over the offending page on my calendar. It was March, and there was just one entry so far. On the 4th I wrote “RAVISHING” in all caps. It was my way of making amends for the prepositional indiscretions of the previous month. She studied the latest entry and then eyed me suspiciously for a few moments. But she couldn’t keep the smile from spreading to her cheeks. My gambit had worked. My bedroom doesn’t have a slow-turning ceiling fan, and it’s 1705 miles north of Key Largo, but that night it didn’t matter.

• • •

I gazed to my left and noticed that I had not yet turned the calendar to June. There were eight entries for May: exotic, jiggy, angelic, seductive, sassy, voluptuous, irreplaceable and preposterous. And with that I dialed her number. Angele picked up on the first ring.

“What’s up? I haven’t heard from you in days,” she said slightly piqued.

“Sorry, honey. I’ve been rather busy with a new client.”

“Well, that’s a good thing. What’s the deal?”

“Do you remember Cynthia Dumais? She hired me a couple of years ago, about the time when you and I first hooked up.”

“I think so. You confronted the disgruntled, ex-husband stalker.”

“Right. Well, now she has a new stalker, a Peeping Tom of sorts. She got spooked and wants to hide out at my place until it gets resolved. I’ve set up cameras at her place. Her house is now under surveillance. I’m not sure how long this will last, but she is staying in my spare room.”

“Do I have to come over and explain to her the rules of the house?” she asked.

“I think she can figure out the rules for herself, but you’re free to come over, of course. In fact that would be great. Cynthia is half French, like you. Maybe we can arrange a ménage à trois. Can you get away?”

“No can do,” she said. “And forget the ménage, Jesse. I don’t think you could handle it. Besides, I’m conducting a performance evaluation all week in the Portland office. I still hope to get away on Thursday, but that will depend on whether the three new lawyers in the firm can get off their academic duffs and learn how to deal with real people. One of them is particularly badass. I think he resents taking directions from a woman.”

“Angele, maybe you are intimidating him.”

“I sure hope so,” she said.

“That’s one of your more exhilarating traits,” I suggested. “You’re intimidating.”

“That’s why I earn the Benjamins,” she replied. “Sorry, but I’ve got to go. Just hearing your voice again, however, inspires me to keep rolling with the newbies at the firm. We’ll do some rolling of our own on Thursday night, if I can make it. Just the two of us! Bye, Jesse.”

“Bye, Angele,” I said, but I think she had already hung up.

It was time to roll over May. I picked up a pen and wrote, “intimidating” on the June 3rd square. “This could be an interesting month,” I thought.

• • •

It was almost two o’clock, and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I walked through the hall and found Cynthia sleeping on the couch. No doubt she was still jet-lagged by the weekend’s events. I threw together a tuna fish sandwich, and rounded it out with chips and a Guinness, then took lunch into my office and ate while I continued researching the governor’s life. Richard’s call came in at 3:38. I was very eager to hear how it went with the FBI.

“Hi, Richard,” I said, noting his name on the caller ID.

“Hello, Jesse. I wanted to let you know that Cynthia’s name did not come up in the interview. That was quite a relief. They just asked me a lot of general questions about any possible political or personal enemies William might have had. Since William had made it clear to his security team that he would be alone over the weekend, I guess they assumed that that was true. So for now, to my knowledge, Cynthia’s name is not on the radar.”

“That’s great. That will give us some time to proceed undercover. I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch. One of my primary interests is to learn about the women in William’s life. I’m aware that William and his wife were estranged, and had been for a number of years. Try to recall any women who had affairs with William over the past five years. No doubt he had political enemies, but I want to focus on the women in his life first. You know the well-known old phrase, ‘Cherchez la femme.’ It may be old, but it’s well-known for a reason.”

“Right. I’ll review the list and see what specific information I have on them. Be forewarned, it’s not a short list.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”

“Goodbye, Jesse.”

I pulled the names of Michelle Jackson and Emily Haywood from my notes. These were the two women that Cynthia said could possibly have spent personal time with the governor. I managed to get both of their numbers from the phone book. The listing suggested that Emily was single. There were a few other Haywoods living in Augusta, but none at her home address. Michelle, on the other hand, had a husband named Dennis. Emily was the “shy one.” I decided to try her first. I’d hone my interviewing skills on the one without a significant other. She picked up on the first ring.

“Hello, this is Emily,” came the sweet reply.

“Hello, Emily, this is Jesse Thorpe. I have been hired by Richard Merrill to investigate the murder of Governor Lavoilette. I wonder if you’d be so kind as to answer a few questions about this sad affair?”

“Oh my! Why are you calling me?”

“I spoke with Richard earlier today, and he gave me a list of people who had personal contact with the governor. Your name was on the list.”

“Well, yes, I did meet the governor a couple of times. The first time was at a party right after his election. My boyfriend at the time was Timothy Austin. He had worked for Mr. Lavoilette during the campaign. Tim did a variety of jobs, but primarily he was Mr. Lavoilette’s driver. He drove him all over the state to meetings, speeches, television debates, wherever he had to go. Tim was out of town a great deal, especially near the end of the campaign. I was invited to join Tim and celebrate Mr. Lavoilette’s victory at the party.”

Emily stopped talking as if that were the whole story. So I stepped back into the conversation.

“Richard gave me the impression that you saw the governor at least a few times after he took office,” I suggested.

“Well, actually just once,” she said slowly, and then paused for a few moments.

“Timothy and I broke up during the winter. Shortly after our breakup, I got a call directly from the governor himself. He invited me to come and work for him. I thought it was strange. I had only met him the one time, and we didn’t talk at all about work. I had a good job at the Maine State Credit Union, and I still work there. But he insisted I come for lunch and talk to him about a job possibility. So I went. Richard Merrill was there too. It was just the three of us.”

“What was the job offer?” I asked.

“That was the odd part. We ate and chatted for about forty-five minutes. He never actually told me what the job was. He just asked me a lot of questions about my own work. I guess it was just a general interview. Afterward, he thanked me for coming over and said he would get in touch with me again soon. He never did.”

“Just wondering, Miss Haywood, was anyone else present during your lunch?”

“There was one police officer who sat in the room while we ate, but I assumed he was just there for security reasons. Other than that, no.”

“Was that the last time you actually were with the governor?” I asked.

“Yes. It was just those two times. I’m a little surprised Mr. Merrill even mentioned my name.”

“I guess he is just trying to cover all the bases. Thank you very much for your time.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Thorpe,” she said, and we hung up.

It’s a little creepy working a job that rewards lying. After all, Richard Merrill never put Emily’s name on a list. That came from Cynthia. I’d like to think that my heart is in the right place, but this does give me pause. I’ve always had contempt for those who lie for the sake of convenience. My lie did help me get some interesting, and possibly useful, information. And, no doubt, I’d be doing it again in the days—or even minutes—to come. I guess I’ll have to get used to it. I hope that lying doesn’t become so comfortable that I let it seep into the everyday modus operandi of my life. If that happened, self-loathing would not be far behind. I reserve most of my loathing for politicians, insurance salesmen and Wall Street bankers. I certainly don’t want to end up on my own list.

I had another call to make. I held my nose and dialed Michelle Jackson’s number. It rang four times.

“Hello. This is Dennis Jackson.”

“Hello,” I said. “I’m trying to reach Michelle Jackson. Do I have the correct number?”

“Yes, you do. May I ask who’s calling?”

“My name is Jesse Thorpe. I’m a friend of Richard Merrill.”

There was a long pause at the other end, and then click.

“Ouch,” I thought, out loud. I must have struck a nerve.

For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, I researched the governor’s political fights, trying to sort his allies from his enemies. Eventually I had compiled quite a list, but a nagging thought ran through my head the entire time. The FBI should be doing this, not Jesse Thorpe. My forte is women, not politics. That’s where I had a leg up on the FBI…maybe two.

By 7:30, I was getting hungry, so I headed for the kitchen. As soon as I opened the office door, I smelled some incredibly inviting aromas wafting from that direction. Cynthia was at the stove. Four burners were lit. There was some pasta boiling in a pot, some onions caramelizing in a pan, a steamer hissing through the seal of its lid and a creamy white substance taking shape in a saucepan. Cynthia was stirring the sauce as I entered the room.

“What have you got going there, Cynthia,” I asked.

“It’s fettuccine Alfredo. Right now I’m making the roux.”

“Nothing to rue about here,” I offered, my clumsy way of saying thanks for a home cooked supper.

I detected a faint chuckle, which was all the reward one could expect for such an obvious pun. So I added, “Thanks so much for doing this. I lost track of time and now I’m starving. I go for a piece of toast, and find my kitchen has morphed into an Italian bistro. Maybe we should get married.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Jesse.”

“Anything you say. I never argue with a woman with a ladle in her hand. Would you like me to open a bottle of wine?”

“That would be nice,” she said.

“What goes with Alfredo, red or white?”

“White,” she said, with enough certainty to satisfy any skeptic. “A Pinot Grigio is good, but any white is fine.”

“White it is then,” I said.

I was a little embarrassed that all my wine bottles were standing straight up in the pantry. And most of them didn’t have corks. I had intended to build a wine rack three years ago. I even purchased the cedar to construct it, but the wood is still sitting in my workshop. The cedar now has aged longer than every one of my wines.

Fortunately I had a white one. As I was opening the bottle, I said, “The wine is from Trader Joes, but don’t let that fool you. Joe knows wines. He travels extensively throughout Napa and Sonoma counties.” I paused and then added, “Look at this…apparently he also goes to France. This one is a Bordeaux, ‘Chateau Bonnet 2011, Sauvignon Blanc.’”

I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, but I can read a label. I held the bottle to the light to be sure it wasn’t red. Steve Martin once opined, “Those French have a different word for everything.” I knew what “Blanc” meant, but it never hurts to double check.

“That will be fine,” Cynthia said, “but didn’t Joe retire about twenty-five years ago?”

“Maybe it was Joe Junior.”

“I see,” she replied. Cynthia was kind enough to sound as if she meant it.

I pulled the only two wineglasses I own from the shelf and wiped them clean with a dishtowel when Cynthia wasn’t looking. I then poured a glass and handed it to her. She stopped her rouxing long enough to take a sip. She then gave me a gentle but serious look and said, “I really appreciate your help. I know I’m a client, but you’re now my friend as well. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, Cynthia. From here on out we are just ‘friends.’ I’ll be there for you when you need me. By the way, Richard called a few hours ago. Your name did not come up in his interview with the FBI. So, no worries there for the moment.” Then I added, “I’ll stop being a pest and let you finish here. I’m going to check the news to see if there are any new developments.”

I poured myself a glass of the white, went into the living room and turned on the TV. Anderson Cooper 360o was on CNN. “That guy not only gets around; apparently he goes all the way around,” I thought. Nevertheless, he had no breaking news on the Lavoilette murder.

I switched to MSNBC with Chris Hayes. He is a little more cheery than Anderson, but Chris had nothing new to offer either. I was just finishing my glass of wine when Cynthia came out with two gorgeous plates of fettuccine Alfredo, each topped with a sprig of parsley.

 

12

 

The Third Client

 

 

 

I could smell the java. “It must be 7:00 already,” I thought.

I keep my coffeemaker in my bedroom, and I use it as my alarm clock. I prefer fine aromas to buzzing alarms in the morning. Besides, when you turn off the alarm, it’s off; the snooze button drives me crazy. It works three times and then doesn’t. In the mystifying haze of early morning, I have a hard time keeping track of the number of times I’ve hit the bloody button. The java, on the other hand, never quits. It keeps luring me up and out of my slumber. Angele likes the java alarm too. She insists that, “It’s good to the last whiff.”

I rolled out of bed, threw on sweats and poured my first cup. I strolled into the kitchen for some half and half.

The sun was low in the eastern sky at just the perfect angle to reflect its light off Leroux Pond directly through my kitchen window. As we used to say in physics class, “The angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.” In other words, the water acts like a mirror. The breeze over the water made the pond light up like an arcade.

I noticed that Cynthia was sitting on the porch, so I called to her and asked if she wanted some coffee. She got up and quickly came inside.

“Have you heard?” she asked. “Travis was arrested this morning at six o’clock. He’s being held as a material witness in the murder.”

“Whoa!” I said. “No wonder he was so testy with me on the phone yesterday afternoon. He probably saw it coming.”

“You talked to him yesterday?” Cynthia asked.

“I tried, but he hung up on me. I expected as much though. We didn’t exactly have a history of being friends. The only other time I had ever spoken with him, I threatened his job.

“What do you think?” I asked. “Could he be involved in the murder? We know he didn’t pull the trigger.”

“I guess it’s possible, but it still is a total shock. There is some logic to it though. He is my ex, and he knew that I was secretly dating his boss, if you can call William his boss. But murder? I never would have thought he’d go that far. We were married for six years. Until the evening at the campaign party when I met William, Travis had always been sweet to me. I don’t know whether I should be angry or sad. I can’t avoid either emotion right now.”

Just then my office phone rang. I hustled down the hall, picked it up and noticed that the caller ID read “Kennebec County Jail.”

“Hello,” I said. “This is Jesse Thorpe.”

“Jesse, this is Travis Perkins. I’ve been arrested, and I’m being held as a material witness in the murder of Governor Lavoilette. I think they intend to charge me with first-degree murder. They have ballistic fingerprints on the bullet that killed the governor, and they match those from my gun. They’ve determined that my weapon was used to kill the governor. But I’m pretty sure they don’t actually have the gun, otherwise they would have confronted me with it.”

“How do they know the markings match your gun?” I asked.

“It’s standard practice to keep a record of all law enforcement weapons. They test-fire our guns and keep the ballistic fingerprints on file. Someone stole my gun, Jesse. It was taken from my home while I was away this past weekend. I didn’t kill the governor. This is nuts. I’ve been set up. You’re already on the case, I want to hire you.”

“Really?” I said. “Do you have a lawyer yet?”

“No. You are the first person I’ve called.”

Charles Dudley Warner was right once again; politics does make strange bedfellows.

“All right. We’ll need to talk, but not over the phone. Do you have any idea when you can have visitors?”

“Not yet. As soon as I secure a lawyer, I want the two of you to work together. For now, I’ll just say that I’ve been set up in an extraordinary way. It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. I never saw it coming.”

“OK. I’ll keep following the leads that I’ve been working on until I hear from you again,” I said.

“I have some money, not much, but enough to pay you. Thanks. And I’m sorry for being gruff with you yesterday. Everything’s different now. I have to go.”

“Bye,” I said. And we were disconnected.

“Whoa,” I said for the second time in five minutes, “and it’s only 7:15 in the morning.”

Cynthia had come into the room as I was talking on the phone. From what she heard of my conversation, she gathered it was Travis and that he had joined my growing list of clients.

“So Travis is hiring you now,” she said. “If this keeps up, you’ll be the most sought after PI in New England.”

“Let’s hope the seeking doesn’t spill over to the FBI and the Maine State Police. They probably would toss my billing invoices in the trash anyway.”

“Did Travis tell you anything about his situation?”

“He said he was framed.”

“Isn’t that what they all say?”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” I said. “It’s probably a little early in the morning to get that information on the license plate, but I’ll give it a try.”

I checked my email and found that the response had come in from docusearch.com just a few minutes earlier. The message read:

 

“Maine License plate – GOFURS

Registered to – Frank Hayden, 622 Lindlay Rd, Brunswick, ME 04011

Phone – NA

Vehicle – 2008 Ford F-150, Red

VIN – 1FTLX17W78167396”

 

“Cynthia, look, the license plate you saw on the back of the Honda CRV is registered to a 2008 red Ford F-150 truck. Obviously the license plate was stolen. You told me that when the driver left the murder scene, he rounded the corner, stopped and then walked around to the back of his vehicle. You then heard a couple of thuds. He may have tossed the license plate and even the gun. He wouldn’t want to have those on or in his car if he were pulled over on his way into Brunswick.

“While we are here at the computer, I’ll bring up a map and survey the murder scene,” I said.

I pulled up Google Maps and typed in Brunswick, Maine. The map came up, and I zoomed in on the intersection where the FBI stopped my car.

“OK, here it is. Show me where the murder took place and where the CRV stopped. Also, try to pinpoint where you think the sound of those thuds came from.”

Cynthia pointed to the exact spot of the murder and to the place on the highway where the CRV stopped around the corner. Her best guess was that the thuds came from the far side of Highway 24, to the west.

I dragged the icon of the “little orange man” onto the highway for a roadside view. The series of photographs along the highway was very clear. I rotated the image so that we were looking west across the highway from the spot where the driver had stopped. We had pretty much the same view that the murderer had, except that he was in the dark. However, the headlights on the governor’s car would have illuminated the road reasonably well.

There was a guardrail on the west side of the highway. Beyond that, a wide swath of wild brush grew in front of a stand of trees. There was a driveway to a home on that side of the road, but the home was completely hidden from the road by trees. I began thinking aloud to include Cynthia.

“I’m not sure if the FBI search ranged to the west side of Highway 24. So if my guess is right about what had been tossed, the FBI might not have found those items. There had been no crime tape on that side of the highway, so there is a good chance they didn’t look there. If they had located a gun, I’m sure they would have roped that area off. And if the police had spotted a license plate, they could easily have dismissed it as unrelated.

“If the assailant tried to throw his beard, towel or gloves separately, they probably wouldn’t have carried beyond the highway. They might have been dropped on the east side of the road. That was in the area that had been cordoned off. Then again, he might have bundled them and pitched them to the west, or perhaps even further down the road from his moving car.

“The towel was probably used to conceal the gun as William approached, and it would have doubled as a silencer to keep the blast as quiet as possible. So it probably has some powder marks on it.

“There’s something else to consider. At first when you told me that the assailant must have dragged Michael’s body down the embankment, I wondered why he would do that. Now I think that he did that to delay the discovery of the body, giving him more time to flee the area.

“What do you think, Cynthia?” I asked. “Does any of this sound plausible to you?”

“Yes. Everything you just said makes sense.”

“I’ll try and get Frank Hayden’s phone number and ask him about his license plate.”

I called information and got his phone number. It was still early, but I decided to call anyway.

“Mawnin’.”

“Hello, is this Frank Hayden?” I asked.

“Ah-yuh.”

“Mr. Hayden, my name is Jesse Thorpe. I am sorry to call you this early in the morning, but I am investigating a minor automobile accident. A vehicle with the license plate, ‘GOFURS,’ was seen leaving the accident. That plate belongs to you. Is that plate on your 2008 Ford F-150?”

“Ah-yuh, that it tis, but there’s been no accident.”

“I see,” I said. “It’s possible someone misread the plate. Is your plate still on your truck?”

“Hahd tellin’, without lookin’.”

“Would you be kind enough to check?”

“Shuwah,” he said.

I heard his footsteps, so he must have carried his phone with him. About a half minute later he bemoaned, “By thundah, mah plate’s missin’. That’s damn wicked, it is. It didn’t fall off. Some pissant mustah stole it.”

“Can you possibly recall the last time you actually saw your license plate?” I asked.

“Ah-yuh. Washed mah truck Wednesday mawnin’ last, after haulin’ a load of chicken dressing to the gahden. I remembah washin’ off the plate. Coated with mud, it was. That’s the last I saw it.”

“We figured the plate had been stolen, because it was on a totally different vehicle. I’m sorry to disturb you about this. I guess you’ll have to contact the Maine DMV and report that your plate is missing.”

“I guess prob’ly.”

“Tell me something, Frank,” I said. “I was wondering what ‘GOFURS’ stands for?”

“Gotta nephew plays football up to the University of Minnesota.”

“Oh, yes. They are the Golden Gophers, aren’t they?” I said.

“Ah-yuh.”

“I suppose the license plate ‘G-O-P-H-E-R-S’ was already taken at the DMV.”

“Don’t know. Didn’t check that one.” Frank paused a moment and then said, “Nevah been good at spellin’.”

That took me a little by surprise. I wondered how long Frank had been down on the farm. I hemmed and hawed long enough to create an uncomfortable pause in our conversation. Then Frank added, “Gotchah!”

“That you did, Frank. That you did.”

“Nice talkin’ to yah, Mistah Thawpe.”

“The pleasure was all mine, Frank.”

City slickers are fair game for Mainers like Frank Hayden.

• • •

“Have you had breakfast yet, Cynthia?” I asked.

“Not yet.”

“I want to check in on the surveillance of your house first, and then let’s eat. We can talk about what is next on our investigation agenda for today.”

I scanned the video feed from my cameras, but found nothing significant on the motion log.

“Now that Travis has been arrested, your name might surface; you are his ex wife. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that develops.”

We walked together to the kitchen. Cynthia offered to cook some eggs and toast.

“The pasta was so good last night, I can’t wait to see what’s next,” I said.

“How do you like your eggs?” she asked.

“Over easy.”

“Do you have any bacon?” she asked.

“Angele is a strict vegan and doesn’t allow bacon on the premises. She says it comes from pigs.”

“She’s right about that.”

“She’ll never hear me say, ‘I bring it home.’ There’s no need to rile her up, and besides, she makes more money than I do.”

“Angele seems to wear the pants in the family,” Cynthia said.

“Sometimes,” I said, and winked. “I’ll clear out of here and let you do your thing. I want to check the news and see what’s cookin’ there.”

But…like it is so often, there was nothing really new on the news this morning.

Cynthia added some chiles and salsa to the eggs. I liked that. They made me think of Angele. Of course, lots of things were having that effect on me. I hadn’t seen her now for about ten days. I checked my watch and did the math. Make that eight-and-a-half days. When she left here in the evening, Sunday before last, she took my heart with her, as is her custom. I’ve been pining ever since.

Cynthia and I ate together in the breakfast nook next to the kitchen. We were both finishing our coffee when I asked, “Do you happen to know if Richard went to college?”

“Oh, yes,” Cynthia replied. “He went to Harvard. He got both his undergraduate and law degrees there.”

I filed that away.

“I have a little more research to do this morning before meeting Richard for lunch. Has anything else occurred to you about William’s life that might help with our investigation?” I asked.

“Not really. Other than the two women I already mentioned, and, of course, Rebecca, I don’t know of any other women that William might have known personally. As I told you, he and I didn’t talk about women or politics. All that I know about his political fights, I gleaned from the media. Probably the two most contentious political issues he faced involved gold mining on Bald Mountain and fracking for natural gas.”

“I have researched both of those issues,” I said. “It seems that William was opposed to the mining of gold, and he wanted the state to wait and see about fracking. He was delaying his decision until more definitive studies were done to determine how that process might affect our drinking water and the water in lakes and rivers.”

“Right. I’m sure there are dozens of other political issues lurking about. Fortunes are made and lost by political decisions,” Cynthia noted.

“Yes, that whole area of the investigation is virtually limitless. Until something obviously political pops up on the radar, I’m going to pursue the personal angle. The state police and the FBI are much better equipped to survey the political landscape. I’ll look into the money, personal grudges and women.”

Cynthia didn’t flinch. I wondered if she plays poker.

I excused myself and went to my office. The fatal car accident had happened at 11:00 PM on October 17, 1987. That was a Saturday night. Richard was probably home from Harvard for the weekend. Since he apparently had a date that evening, there was a good possibility that it was a high school friend. I pulled up Ancestry.com, a popular site in the PI trade, and ran a search for both Lisa Hilliard and Virginia Latham. I began by assuming they were both from Bath. I knew they were born in 1968, give or take a year.

In short order, I was able to locate information on both women—their birthplaces, dates, and their parents’ names. I also discovered that Virginia graduated from Morse High School, just like William. Bob and Laura Latham were the parents of Virginia Latham, and they still lived in Bath. I decided to give them a call. Laura picked up on the second ring.

“Good morning.”

“Hello, is this the Latham residence,” I asked.

“Yes it is. I’m Laura Latham. Can I help you?”

“My name is Jesse Thorpe,” I said. “I live in Augusta, and I am investigating the murder of William Lavoilette. I’m looking into his early life to get a better idea about his background. I understand that William and your daughter, Virginia, were friends in high school. Is that correct?”

“I can’t believe someone would want to kill William. He was such a great guy. Yes, Virginia knew William well. They dated for two years in high school and for another year while William was in Bowdoin.”

“I see. Do you remember William very well?”

“Certainly. He was very pleasant and bright. Both Bob and I liked him a great deal. We were disappointed when Virginia and William broke up. But that was a long time ago.”

“Did you see much of William after he graduated from Bowdoin?”

“Occasionally we would see him around town. But it wasn’t long before his charter boating business expanded along the coast. After that, he wasn’t around here that much. And, of course, he was married by then. Virginia was married as well. They didn’t stay in close contact at that point. I remember talking to Virginia about William when he was running for governor. She said she hadn’t heard from him in nearly ten years.”

“Well, Mrs. Latham, thank you so much for your time. I hope I didn’t disturb you so early in the morning.”

“No problem. I’m an early riser. Goodbye.”

Next came the Hilliards. Frank and Jennifer Hilliard were Lisa’s parents. According to Ancestors.com, Frank Hilliard passed away in 2004. I was able to locate five Jennifer Hilliards in Maine, but only one seemed to be the right age. She lived in the Portland area. I gave her a ring.

“Hello.”

“Jennifer Hilliard?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“I hope so. My name is Jesse Thorpe. I live in Augusta, and I am investigating the murder of Governor Lavoilette. I am doing some research on the governor’s friends and associates while he was in high school. I came upon the tragic story of the traffic accident that took Lisa’s life. First, I just want to be sure if I have the right Jennifer Hilliard. Are you Lisa’s mother?”

There was a long pause, and then she said, “Yes. Lisa was my daughter.”

“I’m sorry to dredge up painful memories for you, Mrs. Hilliard. Would it be all right if I ask you a few questions?”

“It’s OK. This all happened very long ago.”

“Thank you,” I said. I hesitated a moment and then asked, “How well did Lisa know William?”

“I don’t really know. Lisa was dating Richard Merrill at the time of the accident, and Richard was a good friend of William. I have no idea how well Lisa knew William.”

“I’m puzzled by something,” I said. “The accident report indicated that William was driving and Lisa was sitting in the front passenger seat. William’s date was in the back seat, and it was Richard’s car. I wonder if William really was driving the car?”

“No. He wasn’t. Richard was driving. We all knew that. William’s parents knew. Richard’s parents knew. We all knew. But Richard was drunk, and William was sober. Frank wanted Richard punished, but I persuaded him to just let it go. Nothing was going to bring Lisa back. By the time the police arrived on the scene, William and Richard had already agreed to change the story. Even if we had spoken up about it, I doubt it would have changed anything. We had no direct proof anyway. Years later I spoke with Virginia Latham. She confirmed that Richard was driving.”

“Thank you so much for taking the time with me, Mrs. Hilliard. I am sorry that I had to discuss this tragic story with you, but I’m trying to find out all I can about the governor’s early life.”

“It’s OK. It appears they may have caught his killer. I liked Governor Lavoilette. I hope they fry Travis Perkins.”

“They may very well do that, Mrs. Hilliard. Have a good day.”

That was that. It appeared that the accident did not engender any simmering hatred for William. All the interested parties, including Lisa’s siblings, must have known that William was not driving that night. It did, however, indicate that Richard was very much indebted to William. It also suggested that William was a stand up guy and a solid “friend in need.” Other than that, it didn’t seem relevant to the murder investigation.

One thought occurred to me, however. At some later point, if I needed to test Richard’s openness, I might mention that I had seen the report about the accident. I could then ask some innocent sounding question such as, “What happened that night?” It would be interesting to see what version of the story Richard would tell. For now I just filed it away. There was no need to put him on the spot just yet. I needed to build a relationship with Richard Merrill, not tear it down.

With no further leads at the moment, I decided to get reacquainted with my bass guitar. I went into the barn where our band practices during the warmer months. It’s a large open space, and we can turn up the volume and cut loose. I tuned my guitar and put on one of our demo CDs. For old time’s sake, I began with “The Reach,” a song about the sea, written by Dan Fogelberg. In our high school band, this was one of our signature tunes. I love the bass part. It’s so lyrical.

“It’s Maine, and it’s autumn, the birches have just begun turning…”

I finger-plucked the morning away.

 

13

 

A List of Women & Twist of Lemon

 

 

 

“I’ll have the Shrimp Louisianne and a martini,” Richard said.

“Certainly, Mr. Merrill,” Jean Pierre replied, without jotting anything down. He then turned to me with definite flair and asked, “…and for you?”

When he presented us with our menus, almost fifteen minutes earlier, Jean Pierre announced his name as if it were well known throughout the tri-state region. It was clear who was in charge at our table, and any attempt to upstage him would involve consequences. On the other hand, I did not care for the precise tone he used with his “… and for you?” It implied that I was the “other guy” at the table. I chose to answer his question with a question of my own.

“How’s the ‘Slab of Ribs,’ Jean Pierre?”

It was an appropriate and promising question on three fronts. First, never before had I tried the ribs at the Kennebec Barbeque & Grille. Second, it demonstrated that I respected his judgment. And third, if anyone in the house had an opinion about anything, including the ribs, Jean Pierre would.

“I don’t eat red meat,” he announced, erecting himself in a way that reminded me of the Eiffel Tower.

“Good,” I said. “I’ll have the Slab of Ribs and a glass of water…with a lemon twist.” As I spoke the words, “lemon twist,” I swirled my index finger dramatically skyward in an attempt to gain the upper hand in our tête-à-tête.

Jean Pierre stood perfectly still for a few tantalizing moments, slowly wrote down our orders, and then sashayed Eiffel back to his tower.

I nonchalantly studied Richard’s face to see how he felt about our waiter’s performance. His lack of a specific reaction suggested that this was standard fare.

“Jesse,” he asked, “if it’s all right, can we discuss your fee before we get down to the details of our case?”

“Sure,” I replied. “My standard rate is $320 a day plus expenses. For cases that carry a substantial risk of physical danger, the rate goes up accordingly. Clearly this case falls under that category.

“I received a call from Travis Perkins this morning. He wants to hire me as well. So, at the moment, I have three separate clients on the same case. My rate will be $200 per day for each client.”

“Fair enough. Here is $2000,” Richard said, as he folded a typewritten check and handed it to me across the table. “This will get us started.”

“Thank you, Richard,” I said, and I slipped the check into my wallet.

“OK,” he said, “where should we begin?”

I looked around to see that our conversation would be sufficiently confidential. We were in a booth in the corner, and no one else was sitting nearby. Nonetheless, I spoke in a hushed tone, “When we spoke on the phone yesterday, you indicated that William had affairs with several women and that you would prepare some information about them for me.”

“Yes,” Richard said, matter-of-factly. “Last night I made out a list of names with addresses and phone numbers for most of them. I have also recorded the approximate dates of the affairs and some noteworthy characteristics about each relationship.”

Richard handed me a typewritten spreadsheet. It was two full pages. There were seven names, including Cynthia’s, each with considerable detail. I surveyed the list briefly, folded it twice and put it in my shirt pocket.

“Thank you, Richard. You’re very efficient. I appreciate that. This should drive my investigation for quite a while. I would like to ask a few questions about each woman on the list, but let’s find a more private place for that. I also need to know about Rebecca.”

“Yes. After lunch, we’ll go to my office, and we can discuss those details.”

“I presume you’ve heard that Travis Perkins was arrested this morning,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Do you have any thoughts about that?”

“He is certainly the most likely suspect in my opinion,” he said. “What did he say when he contacted you?”

“He said he’s being framed. The authorities have a tentative identification on the gun used in the murder, and it appears to be Travis’ gun. Travis says it was stolen from him. Of course, we already know he didn’t pull the trigger. I am reserving judgment until I have a chance to hear more details. I’ll be interviewing him as soon as he hires a lawyer.”

Richard propped the back of his hand under his chin, thought for a few moments and then replied, “Well, he knew about the affair with his ex-wife, and he almost certainly knew that William was spending the weekend in his summer home. He might even have known that Cynthia was with him. I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, but at the moment, I’m not feeling a whole lot of doubt.”

“He certainly is the obvious suspect. But it’s a little too obvious for me. Why would he give his own gun to someone to murder the governor? He knew very well that the ballistic fingerprints of his firearm were on file. It’s like signing a confession before committing the crime.”

“That’s true. But human nature is hard to understand, and jealousy is a blinding emotion,” Richard said.

Jean Pierre placed Richard’s Shrimp Louisianne gracefully on the table, and remarked, “Excellent choice, Mr. Merrill. And here’s your martini.”

He then put my plate in front of me, a little off center I thought, followed by a glass of water…with a twist of lemon…and asked, “Is there anything else I can get either of you?” looking squarely at Richard as he spoke.

“No thanks, Jean Pierre,” Richard replied.

“Hmmmm…Ribs!” I said, to no one in particular.

Jean Pierre glided away as if exiting a three-act play in the middle of the first act.

If I had been dining with Angele, ribs would not have been a viable option. I would have ordered the pasta primavera without the chicken or the shrimp. But Richard was a client. I wanted him to see me in a “take charge” mode. And, of course, there were Jean Pierre’s feelings to consider as well.

The Slab-of-Ribs proved to be a road too far. To be sure, the ribs were fabulous, but I should have ordered the Half Slab. Then I remembered that Billy Mosher would be over for band practice on Thursday, accompanied by his faithful canine companion, Alonso.

Alonso acts a lot like Billy. He’s friendly, but generally lazy, 90% housebroken, and chases females whenever the opportunity arises. I guess the main difference between the two is their choice of targets for romantic involvement. Alonso prefers dogs, while Billy avoids them, most of the time.

Our waiter magically reappeared about ten minutes after we asked for the check.

“I’ll need a doggie bag for Alonso,” I announced.

Jean Pierre used a form of French Canadian sign language to indicate he had heard my request. He handed the check to Richard, of course.

Ribs in hand, Richard and I left the restaurant. It was a short drive to the Capitol where William’s body lay in state.

As we entered the building, I asked Richard if we could take a few moments to pass by the open casket before continuing our conversation about William’s personal life. In about five minutes, we were at the front of the line. William was a handsome man. It was easy to see how he charmed the ladies. What puzzled me was how he had managed to keep his affairs out of the public eye. Undoubtedly, he had Richard to thank for that slight of hand.

Richard and I found our way down the hall and into his private office. We sat on either side of his desk, and I pulled out his spreadsheet of names. I put my legal pad and pen on the desk and said, “First, let’s talk about Rebecca.”

It wasn’t necessary to ask any specific questions. Richard launched into his speech as if he had rehearsed it. He pulled no punches and got right to the juice.

“Rebecca arrived home from her trip to Africa yesterday afternoon. She came to the Capitol early this morning to see William’s body. After that, she came directly to my office. Rebecca has always been cordial with me. We have ‘an understanding.’

“William had his first affair about five years ago. While he was forming a team for his campaign, he hired Cheryl Greenwood as one of two personal secretaries. She dealt primarily with the press. I worked closely with both of them; Rebecca stayed on the sidelines.

“By that time, Rebecca had already been working closely with the United Relief Fund of Maine, and preferred not being too visible in the campaign. Her father’s embezzlement case had been an embarrassment. Both William and Rebecca thought it was best if she simply continue with her nonprofit work. It might have appeared that this was a political strategy, but I know Rebecca very well. Her work was heartfelt. The fact that it ‘looked good’ did not really weigh in on her decision.

“Rebecca found William and Cheryl in an uncompromising position late one evening when she stopped by unannounced at his campaign office. Rebecca told me later that she thought he might be having an affair, but couldn’t bear to confront him. She had called his cell phone at about 9:30 that evening, wondering where he was, but he didn’t pick up. She drove over and found them on the couch in his office.

“That ended the affair, and Cheryl was asked to leave the campaign. She got a nice severance and was discrete about everything. But William and Rebecca never slept together again after that night. Within six months, they both were having their own private affairs, William with Barbara Davis, and Rebecca with Joseph Ross, the Director of The United Relief Fund. In fact, Rebecca is still very close with Joseph. There have been some rumors about all this, but, for the most part, these affairs have stayed under the public radar.”

“Why didn’t they just get a divorce?” I asked.

“At first it was to save the campaign. Once William became the governor, it was to nurture his popularity. They both were ‘doing well’ on the side. Besides, as the First Lady of Maine, Rebecca carried considerable weight with her relief work. A divorce would have tarnished her image. Basically, they just became comfortable with their arrangement.”

“Cynthia told me that William and Rebecca planned to get a divorce after the upcoming election,” I said.

“Yes. I think that would have happened. William told me that Cynthia was the real deal. They were genuinely in love. William was downright giddy about her.”

“From what you have said so far, I would not think that Rebecca could be a viable suspect in the murder. Do you concur with that?”

“Absolutely. She felt betrayed at first, but her relationship with Joseph Ross helped soothe the pain. She was looking forward to the divorce so she could move on with her life.”

“Of course, there would be a financial incentive to have William murdered,” I suggested. “After all, he was loaded.”

“Yes, but if you knew Rebecca, you’d see that that was not an issue. They had been married for over twenty years, so she would be well compensated in a divorce settlement. Besides, Joseph Ross has money of his own. Rebecca is not a gold digger.”

“OK. Let’s look at each of the affairs on your list. First of all, do you think the list is complete? Could you have missed anyone?”

“Not likely. William was very open with me. For most of these women, I helped to arrange their times together…not every single time, of course, but I was instrumental in keeping the affairs discrete.”

While I read through the notes on his list, Richard sat patiently, allowing me to get up to speed. My first question was, “I see that under Michelle Jackson’s name, you wrote, ‘Be careful of Dennis Jackson. He could be trouble.’”

“Absolutely. He is one mean hombre. All of the women on that list were single at the time of their affairs except for Michelle. I cautioned William to end it with her. It looked like a car wreck waiting to happen.”

I found that metaphor especially apropos.

“Yes,” I said. “In fact, I spoke with Dennis briefly on the phone yesterday.”

“Really? Did you know about Michelle?” Richard asked.

“Cynthia mentioned two women who might have had a personal relationship with William. Michelle Jackson was one, and Emily Haywood the other. I called each of them. I spoke with Emily directly. It appeared from her story that she met with William only twice, once at the party celebrating his election, and again later for lunch and a job interview. Would you say that is correct?”

“I’m almost certain. Truth be known, William had her over for lunch to ‘check her out,’ and not for a job. The three of us had lunch together. Afterwards, William said that she was too reserved, well, ‘inhibited’ is the word he used, so he never contacted her again as far as I know.”

“That’s the way I read it too,” I replied.

“You said you spoke with Dennis Jackson?” Richard inquired.

“Briefly. All I heard him say was his name. The instant I mentioned your name, he hung up.”

“That’s Dennis!”

“Tell me about him and Michelle. According to Cynthia, Michelle was at the party celebrating William’s victory. But from your timeline, her brief affair with William happened just a year ago.”

“Right. Dennis owns a large construction company with offices in Portland, Augusta, Waterville and Bangor. They have a home in Augusta, but Dennis is often away in Portland. He made a sizeable donation to William’s first campaign, and Michelle worked in the campaign office as a volunteer. That’s why she was invited to the party. Dennis was also there.

“William flirted with lots of women, rather easily I might add. He was very cozy with Michelle at the party, and Dennis seemed upset about it. So William backed off. To my knowledge, they didn’t see each other again until a little over a year ago.

“To assemble the team for his reelection, William phoned most of the people who had helped him the first time around. Michelle agreed right away and was on board for the first general meeting. At that time, William had not been with a woman for months. Sparks flew immediately. When the meeting adjourned, Michelle was the last to leave; only she didn’t leave. The electricity between them was palpable. I’m surprised the office didn’t burn down that night.”

I was getting a little warm myself. My thoughts drifted briefly to Angele, but I managed to forcefully suppress my imagination. At $600 a day, I figured I owed each client my undivided attention.

“The affair with Michelle was brief and fiery. I don’t know exactly how Dennis found out, but he stormed into the campaign office one day, grabbed Michelle by the arm and literally dragged her into the street. She drove away sobbing. Dennis came back in and gave William an earful. There were two security officers in the room, along with me and one other volunteer. Now that I think about it, one of the two officers was Travis Perkins. In any event, Dennis was escorted out and was read the riot act for threatening the Governor of Maine.

“I haven’t seen Dennis since.”

“OK. Dennis just moved to the top of my list of suspects,” I said.

I felt my cell phone vibrate; the Caller ID indicated it was from Randall Bradford, J.D. “This could be Travis’ lawyer,” I said to Richard. “I’d better take the call.”

“Hello, this is Jesse Thorpe.”

“Mr. Thorpe, this is Randall Bradford. I received a call from Travis Perkins. He has asked me to represent him in the case of the murder of Governor Lavoilette. Mr. Perkins is being held as a material witness. He asked me to contact you. He tells me that he has hired you as a private investigator.”

“That is true. I spoke with Travis this morning, just after he was arrested.”

“Would it be possible for you to meet me at the Kennebec County Jail within the hour?”

“Absolutely. I’m in the Maine State House right now. I could be there in ten minutes if you’d like.”

“It’s almost three o’clock now. Let’s meet there at three-thirty. I’ll arrange for us to talk with Mr. Perkins.”

“That will be fine. How will I recognize you?”

“I’ll find you. I am looking at a picture of you right now. It is on your PI website. I assume it is a recent photograph.”

“Yes it is. I’ll be there at three-thirty.”

We hung up.

“Perfect timing, Richard,” I said. “I have taken up quite a bit of your time already, and I have a lot of ground to cover with the women on your list. Travis should provide me with plenty of additional information. He seemed eager to tell his story. I’ll let you know how that goes as soon as I have a chance to digest it all…along with those barbequed ribs,” I added.

Richard chuckled. “What did you think of Jean Pierre?” he asked, with a wink.

It didn’t require Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the two of them were similarly aligned, though I doubted they were a couple. Jean Pierre had been rather formal when speaking to Richard, calling him “Mr. Merrill.” Nonetheless, I felt the need to answer Richard’s question in a politically correct way. After all, I was sitting in the Capitol Building.

“Jean Pierre is a piece of work,” I said. “But I liked him immediately. I hope he realized I was pulling his leg about the ribs.”

“He’s a little over the top. I liked the way you placed your beverage order. I believe your finger gesture got under his skin just a bit. Don’t worry, though. Lots of stuff gets under his skin. That’s just who he is. I would wager twenty dollars, that if you went back there a month from now, he’d put a ‘glass of water with a lemon twist’ in front of you when he greets you at the table.”

I removed a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and handed it to Richard. “That’s a bet,” I said. “You hold the money. We’ll go back a month from now, and you can give me forty if he forgets the lemon twist. I’ll simply ask for water, and we’ll see what he delivers.”

“Deal,” he said.

“And Richard, I’m sure you are an honorable man, so I assume I don’t have to mention that there will be no prepping Jean Pierre in the interim.”

“You are right. There is no need to mention it.”

“I’m glad that I didn’t.”

Richard smiled as we shook hands.

 

14

 

Oh, That Shark Bites

 

 

 

I find it interesting that the Augusta Spiritualist Church is located directly behind the Kennebec County Jail, and both have a bird’s eye view of the Kennebec County Superior Court, situated across the street. I could imagine a symbiotic relationship between the church and the jail. From the church’s point of view, there are a lot of potential customers hanging around with time on their hands—a captive audience, so to speak—seeking redemption. On the flip side, the Sheriff might figure that if a prisoner can find religion on his way to the courthouse, he’d be less likely to commit perjury when he gets there.

For the moment, Angele provides me with all the religion I can handle, so I went straight to the jail without stopping at the church. Besides, I wanted to arrive a little early for my meeting with Randall Bradford, Attorney at Law. My friend, Sergeant Brock Powell, works in the Sheriff’s department. He’s often stationed at the jail to receive prisoners. When I arrived, there were TV news trucks lining the street, and inside, the place was swarming with officers and plainclothesmen. I managed to spot Brock at the main desk.

“Brock,” I said. “Long time no see.”

“Jesse, what are you doing here? You know we always have a bed waiting for you when you need a place to stay.”

“I’ve been keeping my nose clean, Brock. But it’s good to know I have a friend here, if I’m ever hauled into the neighborhood.”

“Playing any gigs in town these days?” he asked.

“We are playing in Bangor on Saturday. I got a call from Billy last week. He said there was a possibility that we’ll be playing at the Raincloud in Gardiner on Friday, but that’s not firm yet.”

“Let me know about Friday. I might be able to make it. So…what brings you here?”

“I have a client who is staying in your hotel.”

“Really? A VIP arrived just this morning.”

“I figure he’s the one. Travis Perkins. He is either a current or former member of the Maine State Police.”

“Jesse, we never rush to judgment. He’s on temporary leave.”

Brock scratched his head for a second and screwed up his face, “I seem to recall that once, a couple of years ago, you confronted Travis outside his ex wife’s house.”

“He’s my ‘friend’ now, I guess. Well, I should say, ‘He’s paying to be my friend.’”

“He sure was hot when they brought him in.”

“Can you give me any inside scoop on the evidence they have against him?” I asked.

“I’m not at liberty, Jesse. You know that, don’t you?”

“Sure, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I could get you some free tickets for Friday night, if you’ll loosen your tongue just a bit.”

“I thought you said the gig wasn’t a sure thing yet, Jesse.”

“For you I could arrange it,” I replied, showing a little more swagger and pull than I really have.

“How about free beers?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“We’ll talk later.”

I think he actually might have meant that, which would be nice. But maybe he was joking. Brock is friendly enough, but after all, he is a cop.

“I’m just waiting for Travis’ lawyer to arrive. The three of us have a meeting at 3:30. I’ll leave you to your deskwork. Nice seeing you again. I’ll give you a call if the Friday gig materializes.”

I took a seat near the front entrance and waited. Randall Bradford arrived precisely at 3:30. Randall was a short, somewhat rounded man, probably in his late 50’s. What little hair he had was located on the sides of his head and was graying at the temples. He wore a three-piece suit, thick glasses and carried a briefcase. He took a quick look around the place. He spotted me right away, came over and introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Randall Bradford. You must be Jesse Thorpe.”

“That’s what my mother keeps telling me.”

Randall eyed me suspiciously, as if I might not be the right guy for the job. On the other hand, I wanted to see if he was the right guy for me to be working with as well. Sure, this was serious business, but all work and no play has never been my modus operandi.

As we shook hands, I said, “Sorry, Mr. Bradford. That’s something I learned to say when I was a teenager. It just slips out now and then.”

“No problem. I checked your website. You seem qualified for this kind of work. This is, however, a very high profile case. We need our wits about us.”

“Absolutely.”

I liked his choice of the word, “wits.” I had been “witty,” and now he was suggesting we needed our “wits.” But I let that slide without comment. One injudicious remark every fifteen minutes was more than enough for a capital murder investigation.

“I’ll check in at the front desk,” he said. “We should be able to go right in.”

“Sergeant Brock Powell is there. He’s a friend of mine.”

We walked over and spoke to Brock. He looked at his log and saw that Mr. Bradford had an appointment to visit with Travis Perkins, along with one other person. I was that guy.

Brock escorted us through the bowels of the jail to a private room with no windows, a table and a few chairs. He told us to wait there until the prisoner arrived. We sat on the same side of the table, anticipating that Travis would sit on the opposite side.

We had a few minutes to ourselves. Randall wanted to hear about my involvement in the case. I told him that Richard Merrill had hired me to investigate the murder, and that he had provided me with a list of six women who had affairs with the governor. I didn’t produce the list, which actually had seven names. Cynthia’s name was on it, and she still wanted to remain anonymous. I also mentioned that I had called Travis Perkins on Monday to ask him some questions, but that he had hung up on me. Then, after he was arrested, he did an about-face and hired me early this morning.

At that point, two uniformed officers led Travis into the room. He was wearing the standard orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg irons. They set him down in a chair opposite us, and one of the officers asked Randall if we wanted an officer to stay in the room. Randall indicated it would just be the three of us. So they left.

Randall initiated the conversation.

“Mr. Perkins, you are a Maine State Trooper, so I assume you have some legal understanding about the relationship of a lawyer and his client. I am talking about ‘Attorney-Client Privilege.’ Let me briefly explain this to you so there is no misunderstanding. You are free to tell me whatever you wish about your involvement in this case. Whatever you communicate to me is entirely confidential. I am not at liberty to disclose this to anyone, except to those who are working with me on your behalf. In that event, you are also protected by what is known as ‘Joint Defense Privilege.’ Typically this includes secretaries who might take dictation from the lawyer about a case. It also includes Mr. Thorpe, who will be working with me. Nothing you say here can be used against you in a court of law, and the state and federal authorities have no right to listen in on our conversation. Is that entirely clear to you?”

“Yes, sir,” Travis replied.

“Good. Perhaps the best way to proceed is for you to tell us both everything that you know about this case, and your involvement in it. As we go along, if Mr. Thorpe or I need clarification, we’ll let you know.”

“OK.”

Travis took a deep breath, closed his eyes briefly and corralled a determined look on his face before he proceeded.

“I am being held as a material witness in the murder of Governor Lavoilette. As far as I know, the only reason I am here is because they believe that my gun was used to murder him. My gun was stolen from my house on Saturday morning, but I didn’t discover that it was missing until Sunday noon.

“I know the bloody guy who stole it from me. His name is Justin Cook, or at least that’s what he called himself, the bastard.”

Both Randall and I wrote that down in our notes.

“I first met Justin on May 15th. He called me while I was on duty one afternoon and said he was from Police Magazine. It’s a monthly magazine, and I happen to subscribe to it, so I knew it was legitimate. He said that he would be in Maine for several weeks doing a human-interest story about Maine State Troopers. He asked me for an interview. He said I would receive a small amount of money for my trouble, but if the story actually got printed, I would be paid a handsome bonus. I told him I’d be happy to help out.

“Justin said the story was going to emphasize the home life of troopers, what we do after hours, things like that. So I gave him my home address and phone number. He asked me about my schedule, and I told him I would be off on the following weekend. We arranged to meet at my house.

“On Saturday, he came over at ten in the morning. I believe that would have been May 18th. I’d have to check a calendar, but I’m pretty sure it was the 18th. He took a bunch of pictures, and we chatted. He asked me what I liked to do when I wasn’t working, and I told him I like to fish. He thought it would be a great idea for us to go fishing together. He said he’d try to arrange a fishing trip with the publishers of the magazine. ‘Free of charge,’ he said. Sounded good to me.

“Justin asked me what kind of weapon I used on the force, and I told him I had a Glock 21 Gen4. That’s a .45 caliber pistol, standard issue. He asked me if I had it at home, and I said that when I’m off duty, I keep it in my dresser. He wanted a picture of me with it in full uniform if he could, so I went to my bedroom, alone, put on my uniform and came out with my gun. We went outside to get some natural poses with me holding the Glock. Then we went back inside, I put the gun away and changed back into civilian clothes.

“Later in the week, he met me after work, and we went to a bar to shoot pool and watch the Sox play. He was from California. That’s where they publish the magazine. He said he was a Dodgers fan, but he especially liked the Red Sox, because he hated the Yankees. We seemed to hit it off. We shot some nine-ball, watched the game and had some drinks.

“Last Tuesday, Justin called me and asked if I was free for the weekend. I told him I was. He said he had been in Portland for a week, but would be back in Augusta on Friday. He said he got the OK from his publisher for us to take a fishing charter on the weekend. I told him I’d be happy to go. He said he would make reservations for both Saturday and Sunday, and he’d call me once the reservations were confirmed.

“He called back on Wednesday to say that he had made reservations for tuna and shark fishing at Jigs and Things on Orr’s Island. That’s about ten miles south of Brunswick.”

“Very close to where the governor was killed,” Randall noted.

“Yes,” Travis replied sharply. “Justin arranged for us to spend Saturday evening at a bed and breakfast nearby. Fishing on Saturday would start at noon. We figured it would take a little more than an hour to get there, but to be on the safe side, we would leave Augusta at ten in the morning. He asked me if it would be possible to have breakfast at my place, because he was getting tired of restaurant food. I said that was fine. Justin came over at nine o’clock. I fixed some eggs and toast.

“After we ate, we went outside and got in his car. I locked the house on my way out. He started the car then turned to me and said he needed to use my bathroom. He said the coffee moved him; he had to go right then.

“I handed him my keys and asked him to lock up after himself. He came out about five minutes later, locked the front door and got in the car. I’m sure he had my gun on him then. Actually, before he got back in the driver’s seat, he took off his jacket, rolled it up and put it in the trunk. In retrospect, I’m certain the gun was in his jacket.”

At that point Randall stopped the monologue and asked, “What kind of car was he driving?”

“It was a late model, blue Ford Taurus. I figured it was a rental. I remember it had Maine plates, but it never occurred to me to get the number.”

“OK, go on, Travis,” Randall said.

“We drove to Harpswell. On our way through Brunswick, we picked up some sandwiches and drinks for the afternoon. I brought two styrofoam coolers, one for drinks and a larger one for any fish we’d catch.

“We got to Jigs and Things by eleven thirty. We fished that afternoon and got back in at six o’clock.

“We caught several sharks, some striped bass and a few bluefin tuna. We kept the tuna. We had them filleted, and we put them on ice in my larger cooler. Then we checked into our rooms and had a quick supper. We finished eating about 7:30. We wanted to get to bed early; our next day’s charter started at six in the morning.

“We retired to our separate rooms at the Nestle Inn at about 8:00 PM. I watched a little television and was asleep by 9:00. I set my alarm for 4:30 AM.

“When I woke up in the morning, I looked out the window and noticed that Justin’s car was gone. I figured he was out getting something, so I called his cell number, but he didn’t pick up.

“I got dressed and waited till 5:30, but when he hadn’t returned, I went to his room. The curtain was wide open. I could see that the room was empty. He cleared out in the middle of the fucking night.

“Justin had paid cash for our two rooms. Now that I think about it, he paid cash for everything and always asked for receipts. At the time, I thought it was odd that he didn’t use a credit card, but he was so fussy about the receipts, that I didn’t give it much thought.

“I went into the motel restaurant to get some breakfast. I was still hoping he had just gone out for something and would return. When I sat down to eat, the waitress took my order and then said, ‘Did you hear about the governor?’

“I said, ‘I don’t think so. What about him?’

“‘He was murdered last night seven miles north of here on Sebascodegan Island.’

“I asked her what details she had heard. She said there were no arrests as yet. When I asked her the exact location where the murder took place, she said he was murdered on Route 24, just south of the bridge going back to Brunswick.

“I went numb. I was stuck on Orr’s Island, with no car, and the governor had just been murdered close by. I began wondering if Justin Cook might have been involved. I replayed the events of the weekend in my mind, and then I remembered that he had gone back into my house by himself, and he knew where I kept my gun. I thought, ‘Good God, maybe he took my gun and killed the governor.’ It seemed impossible, but I had a slipping feeling that it might be true.

“Here I was, near a federal crime scene and without transportation. My instincts told me to call in to my office and explain my situation. But then I wavered. I had no alibi. The governor had been having an affair with my ex wife, and now he had been murdered. I might well become a suspect. If I were found in the vicinity, it would appear that I had both motive and opportunity. I decided to get back to Augusta any way I could without informing anyone and hopefully without leaving a trace. I might be able to explain away a stolen pistol, but why was I here? Anything I said would sound very bad.”

Randall stopped him for a moment and inquired, “The governor was having an affair with your ex wife? How long did that go on?”

“For about a year. We were divorced two years ago.”

“I see,” Randall said. His bushy eyebrows lifted noticeably as he jotted this down. Then he said, “OK. Go on.”

“There are only two ways to drive off the island. The quickest route is on Highway 24, which cuts directly through the murder site. The other way is to take Mountain Road west off of 24 and then go north on Route 123, Harpswell Road. I decided to walk to Route 123—that’s five miles—and then hitchhike off the island. I put my coolers into a dumpster and set out on foot.

“Along Mountain Road, a guy stopped his car to ask me if I needed a lift. I told him my car had broken down on Orr’s Island, and I was trying to get to Brunswick to get a bus home. He gave me a lift. He wasn’t planning to go to Brunswick, but he had some spare time and drove me right to the bus station. We chatted along the way, but I didn’t give him my real name.

“I caught a bus for Augusta, and took a cab home.

“I got back about noon. When I walked up to my door, I found it was unlocked. Justin never locked the fucking door. He just pretended to lock it. I rushed to my bedroom and opened the dresser where I keep my gun. My heart sank. The gun was gone.”

At this point Travis stopped talking. Randall and I took it all in. You could have heard a pin drop.

Randall finally spoke, “Can you describe Justin? Is there any chance you have a picture of him?”

“Well, I don’t have a picture of him. I can describe him, of course, but I have something even better. I have his DNA.”

“What,” I blurted out. “You have his DNA?”

“Yes. He caught a small hammerhead shark and insisted on removing the hook by himself. The shark squirmed, and his teeth slashed the bottom of Justin’s right hand. I was standing next to him at the time, reaching in to steady the shark’s head. As he swung his hand up and away, he grazed the sleeve on my shirt and left a trail of blood near the cuff about six inches long. That shirt is now sitting in the hamper in my bathroom.”

I interrupted Travis and asked, “Why didn’t you wash off the blood when that happened, while you were on the boat?”

“I didn’t see the blood at that point. It’s a red flannel shirt, and the stain is on the underside of the sleeve. I first noticed it when I changed for dinner. By then it was dried on.”

“Have you told the FBI about the shirt?” Randall asked.

“No. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to even tell my story. It’s so unbelievable. I wanted to wait and hear what you’d suggest. At first, I thought I should take the shirt someplace safe, but even that would be suspicious. If I produced the shirt later, why did I hide it? So I decided to leave it in the hamper. At least it is in my house, which I’m sure has been cordoned off for evidence.”

“You’re right about that,” Randall said. “Blood on a shirt in your hamper would be suspicious. They’d have it analyzed to see if it matches the governor’s.”

“Right, but I took a precaution. On Monday, I cut off a three-inch piece of the shirt with the blood trail, put it in an envelope and mailed it to my sister. I wanted some control over the evidence if push came to shove. Who knows what the FBI might do with that shirt.”

“OK,” Randall said. “Is there any way that Justin would have known where the governor would be on Saturday?”

“Sure. It was in the papers. The governor was going to his summer home to finish writing his acceptance speech for his nomination. In fact, Justin mentioned that he knew the governor was at his summer home for the weekend. He also knew that my main job was to protect the governor. It’s fairly well known where his house is, but Justin asked if I knew its exact location. As we passed the turnoff from Route 24 which leads to his home, I pointed out that we were less than a mile from it.”

“That’s Cundys Harbor Road,” I offered.

“Yes,” Travis said. “Do you know the way?”

“I’ve been there,” I replied. I didn’t want to bring up Cynthia’s name, so I left it at that. If Travis was involved—and clearly he might be—I didn’t want him to know that Cynthia was an eyewitness. The actual murderer was still at large, and Cynthia would very much be in danger.

“Let’s have that description of Justin,” Randall said, pen in hand.

“I’d say he’s in his mid forties. He’s not very tall, maybe 5’8”. Average build. About 160 pounds. He has light brown hair, and he’s clean-shaven. He has no special distinguishing marks, no scars or anything that stands out. He’s descent looking. His face is tanned, and his complexion is fairly smooth.

“Incidentally, I called Police Magazine on Monday. They have no record of a Justin Cook. Now I wish I had called them sooner, but I had no reason to suspect he was misrepresenting himself. I hadn’t received a check yet, but he said they always pay when the story is submitted. He showed me his working ID, but he didn’t give me a business card. He said he prefers to contact potential subjects, but doesn’t want a lot of calls requesting interviews, so he doesn’t give out his phone number. He said, ‘You’d be surprised how many people want their pictures taken for the magazine.’”

“We might be able to track his cell phone calls, if you supply us with the time and dates of the calls he made to you. My guess, though, is that he was using a prepaid phone, which is now in the trash somewhere,” Randall said. “But we can give it a try.”

“I thought about that already. I made out a list of his calls. I put it in the envelope with the piece of shirt I sent to my sister.”

“What is your sister’s name, address and phone number?” I asked.

“Her name is Danielle Bacon. She lives at 133 Amber Road in Portland. I can’t recall her number, but it’s in my cell phone memory. She’s in the book; you can look it up. By the way, I told her to give the letter to you and no one else, Jesse.”

“I’ll call Danielle,” I said. “My girlfriend lives in Portland. Do you think I could have her pick it up? She’s coming up here on Thursday.”

“I’ll call her and tell her,” Travis said. “What’s your girlfriend’s name?”

“Angele Boucher.”

“Travis, let’s go back to the murder scene,” I said. “From what I have heard in the news and read in the papers, the governor was alone in his home over the weekend, but went out to see the movie, Lincoln, in Brunswick on Saturday night. A few witnesses came forward saying they saw him at the theater. He was murdered at about 10:30, shortly after the movie let out. Pictures in the press show his car headed west at the intersection of Cundys Harbor Road and Highway 24, as if he were driving away from his home, not towards it. What do you make of that?”

“How should I know? Plus, I’m not so sure he was alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cynthia was with him. He often would sneak out with his girlfriends. He even had Richard Merrill cover for him on dates and weekends. Check with Richard. He might know for sure. My guess is that Cynthia was in the car.”

“Here’s what I think. Let me know if this sounds plausible,” I said. “I think there had to be two people involved in the killing—someone to keep track of the governor’s locale, and the killer himself. Justin was with you until 7:30 that evening, or perhaps a little later. He probably didn’t leave the Nestle Inn right away, or you would have heard him drive off. Correct?”

“Most likely. Our rooms were side by side, and his car was parked out in front of his room. I suppose he could have left at about 8:00, but I didn’t hear him drive away.”

“OK. Let’s say there was an accomplice. He knows the governor is in his summer home, so he positions himself somewhere along the road to the house, possibly at the intersection of Cundys Harbor Road and Route 24. The governor would have to drive past that point in order to get off the island. There is no other way out. So he waits there, looking for an opportunity. He knows the governor might go out for dinner, or whatever. He’s patient. He wants to kill the guy, but he wants to be as careful as possible. He sees the governor’s car drive past the intersection at about 8:00 on his way off the island, and he follows him to the Royal movie complex.

“Once in the parking lot, he sees the governor get out of his car and walk into the theater. But it’s a crowded place. He couldn’t kill him there without being noticed. So he calls Justin and tells him what’s up.

“Justin leaves the motel and joins his partner in the theater parking lot. They figure he’ll be going back home after the movie lets out, so one of them remains in the parking lot waiting for him to leave. The other one sets up at the intersection where the murder took place. The lookout calls his partner when the governor leaves the theater parking lot. The murderer stands by his car, pretending that he needs help of some kind…car trouble probably. He flags the governor down as he is turning off Route 24. It’s a quiet road late at night. The governor stops his car, makes a U-turn and parks behind the murderer’s car, heading west, away from his home. The governor then gets out of his car to help the guy, and is murdered on the spot.

“This jives with the witness in the house across the street regarding the time of the murder. He saw two cars heading west, the governor’s and the assailant’s. What do you think?” I asked.

“It could have happened that way,” Travis replied.

“Yeah,” Randall agreed, “but something is puzzling me. Why would the governor go out to the movie, when he could have gotten it on Pay-Per-View, or Netflix?”

“It sounds to me as if he had a date,” Travis said. “I bet he was with Cynthia. The governor was like that. He liked being out on his own. It was a nightmare guarding him. He would often sneak out without protection.”

“I’ll give Cynthia a call and ask her about this,” I said. “As far as I know, she hasn’t volunteered anything to the police. Her name hasn’t come up in any of the reports I’ve seen. If she were a witness, the FBI wouldn’t release any information she had provided. Besides, they would need to protect her identity.”

“Randall, how long can they hold me without charging me?” Travis asked.

“Technically they can hold a material witness as long as it is necessary to ‘prevent a failure of justice.’ They can keep you here until the cows come home, if they can demonstrate to a judge that you are an important piece of the puzzle.

“Travis, as your lawyer, here is my advice. Tell the authorities the whole story. Everything. If you hold anything back, they will likely hold you indefinitely. Besides, you have some important leads for them.”

“To tell you the truth, I hated the governor,” Travis replied in a menacing tone. Two sets of ears perked up with that declaration. “I didn’t kill him, but I hated him. He smooth-talked women like he was fucking Don Juan himself. He’s a big part of the reason Cynthia and I got a divorce. I don’t even care if they find out who did it. Of course, I want to get out of here, but all they have on me is that my gun was used to kill him. If I tell them the whole fucking story, they will probably use the parts they want and convict me of something…as an accessory before the fact at the very least. No way I am telling that story. Not now anyway. I’m going to wait to see what develops.”

“Travis, I’m sorry to hear that,” Randall said, “You are entitled to say as little as you wish. But whatever you say should be the truth. For example, you can tell them that someone stole your gun between Saturday morning and Sunday noon, when you discovered it missing.”

“OK. I’ll tell them that, but the rest of the stuff is strictly confidential.”

“Well, that about wraps it up for now,” Randall said. “Anything else, Jesse?”

“No. I’ve got plenty to work on from my end. Travis, why don’t you call your sister and tell her that Angele will pick up the letter. I’ll get her number from information, and you can use my phone right now.”

“OK,” Travis said.

I got the number, and Travis made the call. After he explained his situation to his sister, he put me on the phone. She had received the letter in the mail at noon. I explained that Angele could come by to pick it up. I’d have Angele call her to arrange it. She said that would be fine, and we hung up.

“We’ll talk again soon, Travis,” Randall said. “In the meantime, reconsider your position about remaining silent.”

“I’ll think about it, but don’t hold your breath,” Travis said.

“OK. Let’s tell the guards we are done here,” Randall said.

We found both guards stationed outside the door. One of them took Travis away, and the other escorted us back to the entry room. I stopped briefly to say goodbye to Brock and told him I’d call him if the band were playing Friday in Gardiner.

Randall and I chatted as we walked across the parking lot to our cars. “There’s a DNA testing clinic in Augusta,” I said. “We should get the blood sample tested as soon as possible.”

“Right,” Randall replied. “I’m familiar with the place. They can usually get results in about three days. I’ve represented a number of men in paternity suits.”

“I’ll contact Cynthia Dumais and interview her,” I said. “I’ll also track any leads I get from the list of women that Richard gave me.”

“Here’s my card, Jesse. Keep me informed of anything significant.”

“Will do,” I said.

We shook hands and went our separate ways.

 

15

 

Jigs ‘N Things & A Peach Sundae

 

 

 

“Jigs and Things, Kenneth Harper speaking.”

“Hello, Mr. Harper. My name is Jesse Thorpe. I am a private investigator hired in connection with the murder of Governor William Lavoilette. Could I have a few minutes of your time?”

“OK,” he said tentatively. “How is Jigs and Things connected to the governor’s death?”

“Mr. Travis Perkins was arrested this morning as a material witness in the case. He has informed me that he and another gentleman, a man named ‘Justin Cook,’ chartered a fishing trip last Saturday afternoon. Can you confirm that?”

“Yes. I remember the two of them very well. They booked a charter for Saturday afternoon and a second one for Sunday morning. They never showed up on Sunday. They didn’t cancel. We never heard from them again.”

“We are trying to get in touch with Mr. Cook. Do you have any information about him, his address, phone number, email?”

“It seems we don’t have any reliable contact information on him. I know this because when he didn’t show on Sunday morning, I tried to reach him myself. I rang his phone number, and got no answer. I tried to locate him through his Maine driver’s license information; the address on his license is not valid. My guess would be that the license is fake. We have no email address for him either.”

“Did you call Mr. Perkins?” I asked.

“I didn’t have a phone number for Mr. Perkins. I tried to get his number from information, but it’s unlisted.

“Normally we book over the phone, and the customer pays by credit card. In Mr. Cook’s case, he came here earlier in the week—Wednesday morning I believe—and paid cash in full for the two charters. He said he was staying in the area and wanted to drop by to see our boats before booking. We still accept cash…with proper ID of course,” he said, chuckling to himself.

I’d heard that joke years before, but I thought it had gone the way of cassette tapes and Milli Vanilli.

“Do you still have the information from Mr. Cook’s license?” I asked.

“Sure. Before we can take anyone out to sea, we’re required by state law to see a valid ID, and to write down the name and home address. We keep the information on file for future bookings. Here it is.”

Kenneth read it off to me, and I wrote it down.

“Do you have any photographs of the two of them?” I asked.

“We let the customers take the pictures. If they want us to do it, we will of course, but we leave it up to them. In the case of this charter, we didn’t have any requests.”

While I was considering what more I might need from him, Kenneth continued, “But it’s possible that some of the other guests on the boat might have some photographs.”

“Oh,” I said, rather excitedly, “they weren’t alone?”

“No, no. We can handle up to seven fishermen on that particular charter. It was a Saturday afternoon in early June. It was fully booked. In fact, Cook and Perkins took the last two seats. The other five had booked weeks in advance. They were all from one party…from Boston I believe. They came in for the weekend.”

“Can you provide me with their names and phone numbers? I’d like to see if they happen to have any pictures of Cook and Perkins.”

“Who did you say you are?” he asked, now growing a little more cautious.

“My name is Jesse Thorpe. I’m a private investigator. If you would like to see my website to verify that I am legitimate, I’ll be happy to give you that address.”

“We don’t usually give out personal information, but this appears to be a special case. Let me think a moment.”

He thought for several moments. Finally, he said, “Let me do this. I’ll contact the other party and discuss the situation with them. If they don’t mind talking with you, I’ll hook you up.”

“Thanks so much, Mr. Harper.”

“Call me, Ken.”

“Ken.”

“I have your number on caller ID. I’ll phone the other party and call you right back,” he said. “Investigating the murder of the governor, eh? I want to help if I can.”

We hung up. I sat by the phone and waited for it to ring.

There’s a corollary to the theory, “A watched pot never boils.” It’s “A watched phone never rings.” Of course, if you watch most phones long enough, you will disprove that supposition. On the other hand, some phones never ring…like the AT&T, two-line speakerphone I purchased years ago at WalMart. After a year and three days, it stopped working altogether. The warranty was good for exactly one year. I hoped that some day I might find a use for it, so I put it on a shelf in the shed—right next to my framing hammer.

The only way that phone is going to ring now is if you bang it against a clapper attached to a bell. You should be able to hear a ring in that case. But if you just watch it, it’s not going to ring again…ever. One night a while back, Angele left my home in a huff. Having nothing better to do, I went into the shed, took that framing hammer and with one carefully placed swing, I pounded the shit out of that two-line phone. That was the precise moment it rang for the last time.

• • •

As I waited for a callback, I looked in on the surveillance videos at Cynthia’s place. All was quiet on the home front.

Instead of sitting indefinitely by the phone, I took a stroll into the kitchen. It was nearly six o’clock. I decided to fix a drink. Cynthia was sitting in the living room watching the news. I asked her if she would like a margarita or a glass of wine. That’s pretty much all that I keep around the house.

“Sure. I’ll have a margarita,” Cynthia said.

“Two margaritas coming right up,” I replied.

I put the mix, the ice and the tequila in a blender and was about to turn it on when I thought, “I’ll never hear the phone with the blender going.” So I called to Cynthia and asked her to monitor my phone while I blended. Then I cranked it up. In less than a minute the margaritas were ready, and the phone rang. Cynthia poured the drinks; I took the call.

“Hello, this is Jesse Thorpe,” I said.

“Mr. Thorpe, this is Ken Harper again. I have some good news. John Westcott booked that Saturday afternoon charter. I reached him at his home in Boston and explained the situation. Not only does he remember Mr. Cook and Mr. Perkins, he has some photographs of both of them, and he’s willing to share them with you.”

“Great! Thank you so much for your trouble.”

Ken gave me John’s phone number. I thanked him again, and we hung up.

I called Mr. Westcott right away.

“Hello,” came a voice.

“Hello, is this John Westcott?”

“Sure is. Is this Mr. Thorpe?”

“Sure is. Thank you so much for offering to help. I assume Mr. Harper explained to you that I am investigating the murder of our governor.”

“Yes he did. Wow! Are these two guys suspects?”

“Well, one of them has been arrested as a material witness in the case, and the other is wanted for questioning.”

“I’m happy to help out in any way I can,” he said. “I have some pictures of our fishing trip. I’ve posted the best ones on Facebook, if you care to look at them.”

“I’m at my computer right now,” I said. “I’ll see if I can view your Facebook page. Do you have any privacy settings in place?”

“No. Not really. I don’t think that’s necessary,” he replied. “If you need help finding my homepage, let me know. I’ll just wait for you to pull it up.”

I put in a search and found dozens and dozens of John Wescotts on Facebook.

“Which one are you?” I asked.

“Look for ‘John S Westcott,’ hopefully there’s only one.”

“Got it,” I said a few seconds later. “Your profile picture shows a man in a boat. Is that you?”

“Yeah.”

“OK,” I said, “give me a minute or two to go through the album.”

There were about twenty-five photos of their fishing trip. Several of them had Travis in the background along with another man who was probably Justin Cook.

“There’s a guy in a denim jacket in the very first picture,” I said. “Was he with your party, or is he one of the guys I’m looking for?”

“He’s one of the guys you’re looking for,” he replied.

“I wonder if you could do me a big favor?” I asked.

“Name it.”

“Could you email me the highest possible resolution images you have showing the two ‘other guys’ on the boat?”

“No problem. I’m happy to do it. Give me your email address.”

I gave him my address, and he promised to send the pictures that evening.

“I’ll be glad to pay you for your trouble, Mr. Wescott,” I said.

“No need. I’m happy to oblige.”

I thanked him again, and we hung up.

I walked into the kitchen and announced to Cynthia, “Where is that margarita? It’s time to celebrate. I think we have a real break in the case. I’ll be getting some photographs of the man who apparently stole Travis’ gun on Saturday morning…the same gun used to kill the governor on Saturday night.”

I brought her up to date on my meeting with Richard and Travis. I told her that if Travis’ story is true, then “Justin Cook”—if that’s his real name—is almost surely involved in the murder.

She wanted to have a quick look at the pictures of Justin and Travis on the Facebook page, so we went in and looked through the photo album. She seemed fairly certain that “Justin” was not the guy who shot William.

“The murderer was taller and broader in the shoulders,” she said.

“My best guess is that Justin is one of at least two people involved in the murder,” I said.

I told Cynthia my theory of how the murder may have taken place, just as I had earlier that day with Randall and Travis. Cynthia thought I might be right, and this frightened her.

“If it happened like you imagine it did, then one of them probably saw me get in or out of the car in the theater parking lot,” she said.

“That’s very likely,” I replied. “William got out of the car and walked to the theater alone. Assuming someone followed William’s car there, he might well have trailed him to the theater to see where he was going. If that were the case, he wouldn’t have seen you get out of the car. But…my guess is that he staked out William’s car, waited for him to come back, and you got there first.”

That thought worried both of us.

“Cynthia, we have to determine the safest place for you to stay. If I cross paths with one of the people actually involved in the murder, my home could become a point of high interest. If he, or she, knows you are an eyewitness to the murder, your life could be in danger.

“We have a few options. You can stay here, and we can keep your car in the garage where it is now. At least it is out of sight. Or you could move to another location. I can ask my mother to let you stay with her. She has a two-bedroom home in town, and she has a garage to hide your car from view. The third option is for you to go to the FBI.”

“For the time being I’d rather stay here. Will that be OK?”

“Sure. We’ll keep a close eye on our surveillance cameras. I think they would try looking for you at your home first. If we see any suspicious activity there, we can rethink our plan.”

“I’m OK with that,” Cynthia said.

A Beach Boys’ tune started running through my mind…“Help me Rhonda, help, help me Rhonda. Help me Rhonda, help, help me Rhonda …”

Once a tune like that gets into your head, it’s damn near impossible to get it out. It was time to dust off my .38 Special and get her loaded. I’d be sleeping with Rhonda tonight.

Cynthia decided to make something for us to eat. I watched the news and checked my email periodically. The pictures of Justin and Travis arrived just after we finished supper.

There were fifteen pictures in all, taken from several different angles. Most of them showed only the back of Justin’s head, but there were three very good side shots, and two excellent full-face views. I was also pleased to see that in some of the pictures Justin’s right hand was normal, but in two of them it was bandaged. That helped to corroborate Travis’ story. Now I needed to decide what to do with the photographs.

What I wanted to do was to give them to the Maine State Police and the FBI, and tell them about the bloodstain on the shirt. They were a lot better equipped to find this guy than I was. But that would almost certainly violate the ‘Joint Defense Privilege’ statute. The information about the fishing trip came from Travis, and he had the right to not share that information with the authorities.

I was trapped somewhere between a rock and a hard place. I decided to sit on the rock for the time being.

I gave Angele a call.

“What’s up, sweetie,” she said, picking up the phone on the first ring.

“That was quick,” I said. “Tell me, Angele, are you sitting down?”

“What position do you want me in, Jesse?” she asked. I could have sworn I heard her wink as she spoke.

“You’re putting me on the spot, honey,” I said.

“That’s where I want you, honey,” she replied.

My attention was beginning to wander. I was no longer between a rock and a hard place. The rock had rolled out of the picture, and the hard place was asserting its dominance.

“OK, let me rephrase that,” I said, catching my breath. “Please sit down, Angele, I don’t want you to fall over when I tell you what’s been happening here.”

“I’m all ears.”

“When I called you yesterday, I told you I had a new client, Cynthia Dumais.”

“Yes, I remember that.”

“I also told you that the case was about a Peeping Tom.”

“Yes,” she said. Her voice rose as she replied, in a way that indicated she was now anticipating a new version of my story to come cascading out of my mouth. Either she’s psychic, or I’m transparent. Of course, it could be both.

“Well, that’s not the whole story,” I said, pausing to find a way to tell her gently.

“Out with it, big boy. The suspense is killing me.”

I proceeded to bring her up to date with the whole truth and nothing but the truth regarding the assassination of our governor, my involvement in the case and with Cynthia Dumais. The whole truth included the part about the envelope containing a piece of bloodstained sleeve.

“Whoa,” she said when I was through. “Are you in over your head, Jesse?”

“Not quite yet, but the water is rising. I need a favor. I need you to call Danielle Bacon and arrange to pick up that envelope, and bring it to me on Thursday when you come. Danielle already knows your name and has agreed to give it to you. Would you do that?”

“Of course.”

I gave her Danielle’s phone number and said, “You’re the best.”

“Jesse, have you started sleeping with Rhonda again?”

“Tonight’s the night,” I replied.

“Thursday will be my first night with the three of us in bed together. We’ll have to see how that works out,” she said.

“See you on Thursday.”

“Bye, Jesse,” she said, and hung up.

• • •

From eleven o’clock on, I tried counting sheep, but the Beach Boys kept interfering with my arithmetic. Eventually I gave up on the wooly mammals and started counting choruses of “Help Me, Rhonda.” Around midnight I heard “get her out of my heart” for the last time, and I dozed off to sleep.

Some time during that night, I felt the mattress shift and a pair of lips kissed me on the back of my neck.

“Are you asleep, Jesse?” she asked.

Peaches!” I cried out, softly.

“Jesse, darling, it’s time for a Peach Sundae. Do you have any whipped cream?”

“Coming right up!” I announced. But she already knew that. Angele had a hold on me…in just the right place.

She had snuggled up from behind while I was sleeping and wrapped her arms around me. We lay like spoons, with all our appendages intertwined.

“Angele, I’m so happy to see you. Well, I haven’t seen you yet,” I said, “but I can feel you.”

With that, I turned over to have a look. She eased her thigh over my hip and drew me inside.

“Can you see me now?” she cooed.

“You sure know how to treat a guy,” I replied.

Angele stopped chatting. Like a nightingale with a baritone voice she sang her signature song—that deep, otherworldly Fugue. I held on tight as the bed swayed back and forth. It felt like a Nor’easter fixin’ to blow wild and unpredictable, so I surrendered myself, determined to go down with the ship if it came to that.

First I was on top. Then I was on the bottom. I lost my bearings for a time, but found them again as she rolled over me. When I surfaced for air, Angele was hanging halfway off the bed. I pulled her back into the middle, and we rode out the storm together.

In the end, we moaned in two-part harmony and wound up lying side by side on the Island of the Floating Spirits. We were drenched and exhausted, but still breathing.

Sleep drifted over us like a down comforter in December.

 

16

 

Misty Starbird

 

 

 

The smell of java did its best to rouse me in the morning, but was no match for my creative imagination. I just let it filter into my dream. There were exactly six days remaining in the semester. I hadn’t been to class in months.

I had a schedule of courses in my notebook, which I couldn’t find. There was just enough time left to do my term papers and cram for exams, but I’d get no sleep for a week. “Where are my classrooms?” I thought.

I heard Angele’s voice from somewhere beyond, “Vegan pancakes and orange juice, Jesse.” It was nice to hear a familiar voice, but I couldn’t see how that was going to help me pass my exams.

Pancakes and orange juice!” The voice was louder and more insistent. Then I felt a kiss on my neck and a hand on my thigh.

“Thank God I’m out of school,” I said, as I opened my eyes to face the other side of reality. “Angele, that was quite a midnight surprise.”

“I figured you and Rhonda were pulling an all-nighter, so I decided to drive up and put you to sleep. We’ve got a big day ahead.”

“You’d make a wonderful secretary, Angele,” I said, “keeping me on schedule and all.”

“That ‘and all’ covers a lot of ground, Jesse. You’ll need to make a lot more money to pay for that portion of my workload,” she said with a wink.

“I’ll work nights,” I offered.

“I’ll quit if I have to sleep alone,” she countered.

“It’s too early in the morning for paradoxes, Angele. Let’s have pancakes. I’ll be right out after a shower.”

I rolled out of bed, stood up and looked Angele in the eyes. She, on the other hand, surveyed me from top to bottom. I did a slow pirouette to show her the whole enchilada.

“Maybe we should get back into bed and reconsider our morning schedule,” she said, smiling.

“I’d love to, but one brush with extinction every twelve hours is all I can handle.”

“Just a thought,” she sighed, while taking one last look at my remains.

I made my way to the bathroom, showered and shaved. I donned a clean pair of jeans and a sport shirt and strolled down the hall like a new man.

The women were sipping coffee and getting acquainted. I was just thankful that maple syrup is vegan. Angele not only has her way with me in bed, she has her way with me in the kitchen as well. When she’s in town, I’m a temporary vegan. It’s a small price to pay to keep her happy. If it means I’ll survive to be a hundred, that’s a bonus. It’ll give me plenty of time to reinvent myself in the decades to come.

“We’ve got an appointment with Misty at nine o’clock sharp,” Angele said.

“With whom?” I queried.

“Allison ‘Misty’ Starbird. She’s the psychic I visit now and again when I’m in the neighborhood. She’s going to help us solve our murder.”

“Oh. That Misty,” I replied. “And since when is it our murder?”

“Since I picked up that envelope.”

“This is dangerous business, Angele.”

“You bet it is. That’s why I’m here…to keep you safe and sound. And happy!”

Allison Starbird is well known in Augusta. She has a little shop in the Franklin Plaza on Western Avenue. The sign above the entrance reads, “Misty Starbird: Psychic, Tarot Cards, Crystal Readings and Tea-Room Advice.” A second sign, in orange neon, hangs in the window below and reads, “Tell me nothing…I tell all.”

I liked that. In fact, I like Misty. She once told me I was going to “take an elevator ride through the roof to a mystical penthouse apartment.” That was exactly one week before I met Angele. I can safely say she was spot-on with that forecast.

Generally, I’m not into the paranormal. I take things as they come, without making adjustments to my daily schedule based on psychic premonitions. I’m not opposed to the ideas of clairvoyance, séances or time travel, but there is already plenty for me to do in my earthly life.

“Thanks, Angele. I hadn’t thought of Misty. She might provide us with some insight,” I said.

Might? There’s no might about it. She’s clairvoyant, Jesse. She sees things. She’ll cut right through the veil. We’ll have this case solved by the weekend.”

“Let’s hope so. By the way, where is that envelope?”

“It’s on your desk in the office.”

I finished my potato pancakes and went to my office. I opened Travis’ envelope very carefully. I didn’t want to contaminate the bloody sleeve. It was nestled inside the list of phone calls Travis had received from Justin Cook. I eased the piece of cloth onto a clean sheet of paper, folded it and put it back in the envelope.

The list revealed almost a dozen calls from Justin to Travis over a three-week period. I imagined Justin’s cell was a prepaid phone. Almost surely it was now in the trash or at the bottom of a lake. But I tried the number anyway. A recorded message indicated that the number was no longer in service.

Tracing the origination point of those calls might provide some clues. However, the easiest and most accurate method of localization requires both hardware and software on the handset. That seemed highly unlikely in this case. Other ways to track caller positioning include network-based techniques and WiFi. Both involve privacy issues not yet entirely resolved in the courts.

I put the list of phone calls in my desk. That had a relatively low priority at this point. Determining where Justin is now was much more important than determining where he had been over the past three weeks.

I pulled up the videos of Cynthia’s home. No problems there. Then I called out to Angele and asked her to join me in the office. She came right away.

“Angele, there are a number of things to do today, so let’s plan our itinerary. First of all, how long will you be here in Augusta?”

“I have to be in Portland tonight. I managed to get one day off, but I won’t be able to come back here on Thursday as we had planned,” she said.

“OK. It’s a little after eight now, and we’ll be seeing Misty at nine. I need to drop off the blood sample at Paternal Affairs on our way. Later today, I want to go to Brunswick and Sebascodegan Island to survey the scene of the crime.”

“Wait a minute, Jesse. Let’s go to Misty’s shop first. I told her about the bloody shirt. She wants it for the reading.”

“Roger that, honey. What was I thinking?”

“And when we go to Brunswick, let’s have Misty join us,” Angele said. “She’s a psychic hound dog.”

“I hope I can convince my clients that her services are worth the money.”

“Just tell them you have your own methods.”

“Let’s go talk with Cynthia,” I said.

Cynthia was still at the kitchen table, gazing out the window, sipping the last of her coffee.

“Cynthia, Angele and I will be going to the murder scene today. I’d like you to join us if possible. Are you up for it?” I asked.

“Definitely. I’m feeling more angry than sad now. I want to help with the investigation. Besides, I’m going stir crazy sitting here day after day.”

“I have a few errands to run this morning. We’ll go to Brunswick later in the day.”

“That’s fine,” she said.

“Angele, I need to talk to Travis’ lawyer first. We’ll leave as soon as I’m finished.”

I wanted legal advice from Randall, but it might prove to be a little tricky. I didn’t mind Randall knowing about Cynthia, but I still didn’t want Travis to know. He could be a leaky boat when it comes to information, and I wasn’t sure if Randall would mention her name to Travis or not. He might lay all the cards on the table for his client. I decided it was best to keep Cynthia’s name under wraps for the time being.

What I wanted to find out from Randall was my own status as I uncover evidence leading to other suspects. If that information compromises attorney-client privilege, what is the right course of action? Can I talk freely with the police and the FBI, or do I have to remain silent?

I called his number. When he picked up, I asked him my question.

He asked, “What do you have so far?”

“I have some photographs of Justin Cook,” I replied. “The problem is that I couldn’t have gotten those photographs without Travis’ help.”

“It’s an interesting legal question, but I think that the highest priority is to find the real killers. So we need to help the authorities in whatever way we can. One way to skirt the issue is to provide the photographs and supporting information anonymously. You could also crop the images to exclude Travis. If you could do that in a way that doesn’t identify the precise location of the photographs, you’d protect your own identity. If the FBI could determine where the picture was taken, they might easily work their way back to you.

“On the other hand, if you only show Mr. Cook’s face, your photographs might not be taken very seriously. They receive hundreds, if not thousands, of anonymous leads on notable cases. Without a convincing argument to support your theory about the man in the picture, they might never move on your tip. They have lots of other ground to cover.”

“OK,” I said. “I’ll give it some careful thought. Thanks for your help.”

“I’m going to see Travis again this morning at ten,” he said. “It would be good if you could join us. I’m sure he’d like to see the photographs himself. We could ask him directly if he wants us to give them to the FBI.”

“I’ll see you there,” I said, and we hung up.

I printed out the best of the pictures and said, “Let’s roll, Angele, I need to be at the Kennebec County Jail by ten o’clock.”

We drove straight to Misty’s shop.

There was a stand-up sign on the sidewalk in front that read, “Psychic Fair Cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.” That can’t be good for business, I thought, as we walked through the front door.

Misty was expecting us.

Misty Starbird is in her late twenties or early thirties. She’s rather plain looking except for her piercing eyes. Her glare might stop you in your tracks, were it not for her unkempt hair, thick glasses and tie-dyed clothing. The whole package makes quite an ensemble. She smiled when she recognized my better half, and called out, “Angele, honey, where have you been lately?”

“In Portland. I assume you know my significant other.”

“Jesse? Sure, we’ve met a few times. Investigating the Lavoilette murder, eh? I can’t figure why the Maine State Police hasn’t called me on this one. I’ve done work for them in the past.”

“It’s a high profile case,” I offered. “Maybe they think it will make them look helpless if they bring you in too quickly.”

“Psychic leads grow cold, just like physical leads. They should have called me on Saturday night,” she said disdainfully. “We don’t need them anyway. Come on into my Inner Sanctum.”

We followed her to another room, and she closed the door behind us.

“Have a seat,” she said.

There was a table in the middle of the room. Angele and I sat on one side, and Misty sat on the other. She lit a candle and put it on the table.

“Before we start, Misty, I was wondering about that sign out front that says your psychic fair is cancelled. What’s up with that?” I asked.

She laughed, “I know what you’re thinking. It’s my job to know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the sign is bad for my business.”

“Bingo,” I said.

“It’s not. I put that sign out quite frequently. It draws attention. And I need attention. Bad advertising? There’s no such thing. Advertising is advertising. I need people to remember who I am and where I am, otherwise they won’t come around. Often when that sign tickles a funny bone, all the bones in that skeletal package walk through my door. Once the carcass is inside, I work my magic.”

Both our carcasses were inside now, I thought. Let the show begin.

She turned off the lights. The candle dimly lit the room.

“The envelope, please,” she said. She sounded like Whoopi Goldberg at the Oscars.

I pulled out the envelope, set it on the table and then said, “It’s best if you don’t actually touch the blood sample. I don’t want to compromise the DNA.”

“I don’t need to touch it. I can already feel it,” she said. Then she closed her eyes, and the room went silent. I, for one, held my breath.

After two minutes had passed, I was running out of air, so I decided to breathe normally for the time being. Two more minutes passed. Then Misty said, “This is the short guy. Find the tall one.” Then she added, “Wait.”

Two more minutes passed until she said, “There are two dead men.”

Two?” Angele blurted out.

“One is gone and the other is going,” Misty replied. “The second one is either recently dead or soon to be. The signs are too fresh to see the exact timing. The governor is either number one or number two. I just can’t tell which.”

She blew out the candle and cautioned, “Hold on, I’m going to listen.”

We all listened for a long time. All I could hear was the faint traffic outside on Western Avenue.

“Nothing,” she said, after a long spell. “I can’t hear a thing. No clairaudience today.”

She got up, turned on the lights and walked us back into the main room.

“How much do I owe you, Misty?”

“Normally I charge $75 a reading. But here’s the deal. Don’t pay me anything now. When you nab the murderer, and the press asks you to tell your story, mention my name. If you do that, there is no charge. If you don’t mention my name, the charge will be $200. If you don’t get the guy at all, you can pay me $50 instead of $75. I doubt that will happen, because my readings are usually very good. But if you can’t find the guy, I figure I owe you a discount.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

“Misty, can you come with us to the scene of the crime this afternoon?” Angele asked.

“Are you kidding? I’ll close up shop and be right with you. Wednesday is always slow around here anyway.”

She grabbed a coat, led us out the front door and locked up.

“Where’s your car?” she asked.

“You tell us,” I replied with a wink. There were four cars parked in the lot.

“Good one,” she said.

She stood perfectly still and closed her eyes for about fifteen seconds. Then she opened them and led us to my Forester. She put her hands on the hood and said, “This is it.”

Angele gave me that “I told you so” look, and we climbed in.

 

17

 

A Moose on the Loose

 

 

 

Randall Bradford, J.D. was waiting for me when I pulled into the Kennebec County Jail fifteen minutes after ten.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” I said. “The séance lasted longer than I expected.”

“Séance?” he said, furrowing his brow.

“One of my methods,” I replied.

“Do you have the photographs?”

“Right here,” I said, pulling them out of my jacket pocket.

“Good. Let’s go. Travis is waiting for us in the same room as before.”

I signed in and said hello to Brock at the front desk.

“Any word on Friday night, Jesse?” he asked.

“Not yet. But I won’t forget to call you,” I said.

Brock escorted us down the hall and into the room. Travis was handcuffed to the table. We sat down, and Randall dismissed the guards.

Travis spoke first, “What’s happening?”

“We have some pictures of you and Justin Cook on your fishing trip,” Randall replied. “Show him, Jesse.”

I pulled out the pictures and spread them on the table for Travis to see. Right away he got very excited. After he studied the pictures a little he said, “See there? He’s got a bandage on his right hand. That picture was taken late in the day, after that shark raked him.”

“I noticed that, Travis,” I said. “I’m happy we have some photographic corroboration of your story.”

“Catch him, and we’ll have the real murderer,” he said. “Or one of them.”

“Here’s the rub,” I replied. “All we really have are some photos of a guy who went fishing with you on Saturday…that, and your story.”

Travis sat back in his chair deflated.

Randall spoke, “Travis, I have a question to ask you. What should we do with these photos for now? We can either use them in our own private investigation or turn them over to the FBI.

“If we give them to the FBI, it would place you within a few miles of the scene of the crime. The photos were taken Saturday afternoon. The governor was shot at 10:30 PM that night. It would establish opportunity, if they decide to prosecute you for murder. That, along with your gun’s ballistic fingerprints, would be two damning pieces of evidence. What do you want us to do?”

Travis thought for a bit and said, “Keep the photographs for now. Where do we go from here?”

“Travis,” I said, “there is one way we could steer them to Justin without implicating you. I could crop the pictures to show only him. Then I could send his picture to the FBI with an anonymous note. How about that?”

“Yeah. That’s good,” he said.

“I could also say he stole your gun. Would that work?” I asked.

“Sure, just so long as I’m not placed near Brunswick on Saturday.”

“OK,” I said. “Now this is very important… Don’t talk to the FBI or the Maine Police. If you do, you might blow my cover on the anonymous tip. They might come looking for me anyway, but I’ll hide behind attorney client privilege. Is that clear, Travis?”

“I’ll keep my mouth shut,” he said.

“I have a few other leads I want to check out,” I added. “First, I need to interview the women who had affairs with the governor.”

“You know about them?” he asked.

“Richard Merrill told me everything he knows.”

“Did he mention Cynthia?”

“Yes he did,” I replied.

Travis’ shoulders slumped. Obviously he was concerned that this could become common knowledge. The prosecution would argue that her affair with the governor was motive enough for murder.

“OK, Jesse,” Randall said, “interview the women on your list, and see if you can get samples of their DNA.”

“Really?” I said, surprised by this suggestion. “Why?”

“I made some inquiries. Apparently there are a couple of different hair samples taken from the governor’s summer home. Forensic experts are analyzing them. The two samples are long strands. They are probably from women, and they don’t match Rebecca’s hair. Depending on how this case unfolds, it may be important to determine who spent time with the governor in his summer home. There’s no official record of any woman being there recently, except for Rebecca.”

“Interesting,” I said. “Do you have any suggestions for capturing DNA?”

“Saliva or hair samples are your best bet. If the woman smokes, try to get a cigarette butt. Snip a locket of hair when her back is to you. Whatever you need to do,” he said. “But saliva is much better than hair. Saliva contains nuclear DNA, while snipped hair does not. You’ll need the hair’s root to get a full DNA profile.”

I had already considered those possibilities, but I was amused to hear them from a lawyer. Any port in a storm, I guess.

“I’ll see what I can come up with,” I said.

“Travis, you know about the governor’s habit of driving alone in his car without protection,” I said. “I’m assuming that’s not common knowledge. Whoever killed the governor planned it out carefully. He, or she, must have been familiar with some of his routines. Who else might have known about this? Did you say anything to Justin?”

“Absolutely not. If he knew about it, he found out from someone else.”

“That’s why I’m asking. Who else might have known?”

“I…I don’t know,” Travis stammered. He appeared to be hiding something. This probably was evident to Randall as well, because we both just waited quietly, as if expecting him to tell us more.

The next thing Travis said was, “My girlfriend won’t even talk to me. She thinks that because I’ve been arrested, I must be guilty.”

“Who’s your girlfriend, Travis,” Randall asked.

“Oh, just a woman I’ve been dating for a while. Her name is Susan. I called her yesterday afternoon. At first, she talked normally, but when I told her I was in jail, she clammed up. At the end of our conversation, she told me not to call her again. I guess it’s over.”

“When we clear you, she’ll probably come around,” I offered.

“Maybe. But it sounded final over the phone.”

“Well, that’s all I have for now,” I said. “I’m going out of town to follow a lead this afternoon, and I will probably be going to Portland within a few days to interview Dennis and Michelle Jackson. Michelle was one of the governor’s most recent affairs. Dennis and the governor had a heated argument about a year ago.”

“Yeah. I was there,” Travis said. “That’s a really good idea. Dennis has quite a temper. I had to escort him out of the governor’s campaign headquarters.”

“One last item, Travis,” I said. My rate is normally $320 a day plus expenses. I’ve decided to charge $400 on this case because of the added danger. After all, it is a murder case. You and Richard can split my fee. It will be $200 a day for you.”

“I can pay you. I’ll have your check next time you come.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I think we are done for now,” Randall announced.

We said our goodbyes and left the room.

• • •

I dropped off the blood sample at Paternal Affairs on our way home. When we arrived, Cynthia was in the kitchen preparing some sandwiches for our trip to Brunswick. When Cynthia saw her, she said, “Hi there, Allison. How have you been?”

“Just dandy, Cynthia.”

“So you two have met?” I said.

“Oh yeah,” Cynthia replied.

Thinking that it might be helpful to get all our cards on the table before going to the scene of the crime, I said, “You’ll have a chance to catch up later, but first, if you don’t mind, Misty, I’d like to speak with Cynthia privately.”

We slipped into my office, and before I could say a word, Cynthia handed me a check for $2000.

“Thank you,” I said, and put it in my desk drawer. “I think it will work out better for all of us if we can share the details of your situation with Angele and Misty. I know we can trust Angele to be discreet, and you seem to be friends with Misty. What do you think?”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that Misty has unusual powers of perception. If I tried to hide my involvement, she’d pick up on it anyway. So let’s tell them both, and explain the need for secrecy.”

We all gathered in the living room for a chat.

“Cynthia has something to tell you,” I said.

Cynthia captivated them with her story. When she described the actual shooting, they both could hardly believe it.

Misty was the first to comment.

“We’ll get that son-of-a-bitch, Cynthia. God almighty, you’re lucky to be alive.”

I capped off her story by explaining in detail where some important evidence might be located, and how we will need to conduct ourselves at the crime scene.

“If we find anything significant, we can’t touch it. We’ll be looking for the murder weapon, which happens to be Travis Perkins’ gun. It’s a .45 caliber, Glock 21 pistol. We’ll also be looking for a Maine license plate that reads, ‘GOFURS,’ a white towel and possibly some gloves and a fake beard. We’ll be searching along a road that will probably have some traffic on it, and we don’t want to attract attention. We need to get in, make our search, and get out as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

“The area might still be cordoned off. If that’s the case, we’ll drive on by and wait for another day. If we are able to find any of these things, I will bring them to the attention of the authorities anonymously.

“Are we in agreement on this?” I asked.

Three “yeses” hit the airways simultaneously.

I took the women into my office and brought up a picture of a Glock 21 on the Internet.

“This is what the gun looks like,” I said.

I then went to Google Maps and located the area of our search. We checked out both the aerial and ground views. We would cover only a short section along the side of the road. I pointed out the exact spot where I intended to park.

“We need to canvass this area thoroughly,” I said, as I panned up and down the highway. “If we are lucky, we’ll find most, or all, of the items close together.

“OK. Let’s pack those sandwiches and get out there.”

• • •

It was a beautiful sunny day for a drive. The girls chatted incessantly—all except Rhonda. She rested silently in a holster on my belt. We all hoped she’d stay put. Misty foresaw no involvement for Rhonda today.

After forty-five minutes, we crossed the small bridge separating Sebascodegan Island from the mainland. Doughty Cove lay on the right as we approached our destination. Traffic was very light. I located the narrow dirt driveway and parked the car behind some trees. I asked everyone to listen quietly for a couple of minutes to make sure we hadn’t been spotted and that there was no one else around.

After five minutes, it was obvious we had the area to ourselves. Only one car had passed on Route 24 during that time, and it sailed by. We got out of the car, made our way back to the highway and divided into pairs. Cynthia and Misty turned right; Angele and I turned left.

In less than a minute, Angele spotted a license plate lying face down. It was about forty feet from the highway in some high grass near a tree. She flipped it over with a stick. There it was: GOFURS.

Hello,” she cried.

“Shhh,” I whispered. “We’re undercover. Let’s keep looking.”

I spotted the Glock a half-minute later, about twenty feet deeper into the thicket. It had come to rest under a bush.

I waved to the others to rendezvous back at the car.

Cynthia and Misty had no intention of leaving without seeing what we had found. They quickly rushed over and squealed with delight as soon as they saw the .45. At that moment, it occurred to me that I might be more appealing to women if I carried a larger caliber gun. You hear it all the time that “size doesn’t matter,” but now I was having second thoughts.

“I won’t touch the weapon, Jesse,” Misty said, “but I want to get a reading here.”

“You go, girl,” said Angele.

Misty knelt down, put her hands six inches over the Glock and closed her eyes. A minute later, she stood up and announced, “I see a moose.”

Angele and Cynthia quickly looked around through the trees.

“This is moose country, Misty,” I said. “I’m sure there are plenty of them around. But what does this have to do with murder?”

“Wait. It’s not a whole moose…it’s just the head. I see a moose head.”

“Oh. OK. There’s Moosehead Lake or Moosehead Beer. If you go to any Moose Lodge you’ll find a moose head or two hanging on the wall. Can you be more specific?”

“No, not at the moment. But it’s plain as day. It’s a moose head.”

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll put a moose head on my radar. Now let’s make like hockey players and get the puck outta here.”

With that, we all hustled to the car. I backed out near the highway, turned sharply and headed north. I was feeling rather manly under the circumstances, with three women in the car and a .38 Special on my hip—so I gunned it a bit. The Forester didn’t exactly peel rubber, but it fishtailed a little, and some gravel flew under the chassis. We were back on the mainland in forty-five seconds.

“The FBI never thought to check the other side of the highway?” Cynthia asked.

“Possibly,” I replied. “However, if they’d seen the license plate, they wouldn’t have thought much of it anyway. There’s all sorts of litter along the road. That gun was pretty well hidden in the undergrowth. But they’ll be coming back again, real soon. When I tell them about the Glock, they’ll show up like worms in a compost pile.”

“How are you going to contact them, Jesse?” Cynthia asked.

“Our next stop is the Holiday Inn Express in Brunswick. I’m sure they have a computer in the lobby or in a room on the main floor. The FBI and the Maine State Police both have web pages for the purpose of leaving anonymous tips.

“Here’s what I have in mind. All three of you will go to the front desk and engage the attendants. Tell them you are planning some kind of a convention in Brunswick. You want to see the amenities and learn about their group rates. While you are keeping them busy, I’ll lag behind and look around as if I’m checking the place out. When I find a computer I can use, I’ll sit down and send off an anonymous tip to both agencies.”

Angele was all over it.

“Let’s make it a legal convention,” she beamed. “I work with lawyers every day. They are always looking for an excuse to get out of the office. I have a business card with the name of our law firm on it. That should get their attention.”

“I’d better stay in the car,” Misty said. “I’d stick out like a sore thumb.”

“No, no,” I replied. “Go in separately and then just look around the lobby. You’ll be an added distraction.”

“There you go,” she said. “I was born to play that role.”

We pulled into the entrance of the Holiday Inn and set the wheels in motion. My accomplices were perfect. With two beautiful women at the main desk, a lawyer’s convention in the offing, and a roving psychic in a tie-dye dress, I had all the cover I needed to slip into the computer room unnoticed. I booted up an available PC and got online. Within a minute, I found the two websites and posted the following tip on both of them:

 

You’ll find the gun that murdered Governor Lavoilette across the road from the crime scene, on the west side of the highway. It’s about fifty feet northwest of the mailbox. You’ll also find a license plate, “GOFURS,” lying nearby. That plate was stolen and used on the getaway car.

If you make a wider search from that point north to the bridge, you may also find a white towel with powder marks on it, a fake beard and a pair of gloves.

I’ll be in touch.

Samuel Spade, Jr.

 

The code name would establish a reference for future communications. After they find that gun, Sammy will be on the top of their snitch list.

I strolled out of the Holiday Inn Express and got into my car. The women were right on my tail.

• • •

We were back in Augusta by four o’clock. I drove to Misty’s shop and walked her to the door. I handed her two freshly minted fifty-dollar bills.

“What’s the hundred dollars for?” she asked.

“That’s on my account. We’ll settle up, as per your instructions, when the case is closed. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes open for the head of a moose, and I’ll try to keep my own melon in one piece. Which reminds me… Have you received any further word on the second dead guy?”

“Not yet. But if he shows up in my tea leaves, you’ll be the first one I call.”

“By the way, I’ve been wondering about something,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Earlier today in the parking lot, how could you tell which car was mine?” I asked.

“I watched you drive up,” she replied.

“Thanks, Misty.”

Angele, Cynthia, Rhonda and I made our way back to the Thorpe Estate. Cynthia retired to her room. Angele and I went to my office.

“I need to get home this evening, Jesse. I have a little work to do tonight. I want to be back in Portland by eight, so I figure I’ll have to leave about six-thirty.”

“I might be making a trip down there either on Friday or Monday,” I said. “I’m hoping I can arrange an appointment with Dennis Jackson.”

“Who’s that?” she asked.

I opened the spreadsheet of the governor’s affairs and pointed to Michelle Jackson’s name, just below Cynthia’s on the list. I gave her the full rundown of what I knew, including a detailed account of my phone call with Dennis. Angele’s eyes lit up.

“I think he’s guilty,” Angele blurted out.

“We’ll see. There are lots of possibilities.”

“Yes, but I have a nose for this kind of thing. I’ll bet you a hundred dollars Dennis arranged the murder.”

“That’s a little steep, Angele,” I replied.

“OK. Twenty then.”

“Why not,” I said. “It’s a bet.”

I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and handed it to her. “You can give me two of these if we find out that Dennis was not involved.”

Angele unhooked the top button of her blouse and slipped the twenty into her bra, “for safekeeping” she said. “There, it’s in the bank.”

“I love doing business with you,” I said.

“Jesse, darling, we are a full-service bank.”

“What other services do you provide?” I asked.

“Let me see here…we have online banking, loans, IRAs, audits…”

“I don’t need any of those, Angele.”

“Would you like to open a safety deposit box?”

“Sounds interesting,” I said. “Would that be possible so late in the afternoon?”

“Today is Wednesday, Boo. The bank is open till six.”

I checked my watch. It was 4:30.

“We’ve got an hour and a half,” I said enthusiastically.

“That should be enough time,” she said. “But remember, there is a penalty for early withdrawals. You’ll find your box in the room down the hall. I’ll walk you there.”

We got to my bedroom in eight and a half seconds, and left a trail of socks and underwear scattered on the floor. It was an exceptional day. The bank stayed open till 6:30.

 

18

 

The Mistress List

 

 

 

First thing Thursday morning, I called Dennis Jackson. I had used my landline to call him the first time. He would recognize the caller ID, so I used my cell. It’s unlisted. In case he might recognize my voice, I pulled off a sock and draped it over the mouthpiece to muffle the sound…a bit smelly, but effective.

“Jackson Construction, this is Emma Springer. May I help you?”

“Good morning, Emma,” I said. “This is Noah Treadwell. Is Dennis Jackson available?”

“Hold on a minute, I’ll put you through.”

“This is Dennis Jackson.”

“Hello, Mr. Jackson,” I said. “My name is Noah Treadwell. I live in Waterville. My partner and I own a tract of forestland adjacent to the Pine Ridge Golf Course just off River Road. We are interested in building a cluster of condominiums on the property. We estimate between twenty-five and thirty units should work well there. We’d like to discuss our plans with you and see what kind of a bid you could make for the construction.”

“I would be happy to drive up this afternoon and have a look.”

“Actually, I am calling from Boston. I’ll be passing through Portland on my way home on Friday. Would it be possible to meet with you in your office tomorrow morning, around ten o’clock?”

“That would be fine.”

“I have your business address on Cumberland Ave. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I’ll be there at 10:00 AM,” I said.

“See you then, Mr. Treadwell.”

• • •

Billy Mosher is the keyboard player for Ocean Noises. He also does the graphic design work for our band—posters, newspaper announcements, and other promotional items. He can whip out a business card in five minutes.

I called Billy.

“What’s up?”

“Billy, you’re coming over for practice this evening, right?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.”

“I have a couple of favors to ask you.”

“Name ‘em.”

“First, I need a business card. I’m on a case.”

“Ah, ha! Another alias. Who are yah now?”

“I’m Noah Treadwell. I live in Waterville. I own a parcel of land, and I want a contractor to build condos on it. I also have a partner. Make something that looks good.”

“No problem. What’s the name of your partnership?”

“Let’s call it Forest Estates. That’s should work. The land is just trees now. Put down a fake address and phone number. I’m only meeting with this guy once. I don’t want any callbacks. Print a dozen or so.”

“I’ll bring ‘em over when I come. That’s ‘N-O-A-H…T-R-E-A-D-W-E-L-L’ right?” He spelled it out for me.

“Right,” I echoed.

“Does ‘Forest’ have one R or two?”

“Just one, Billy. Use your spell checker.”

“Just messin’ with yah, Jesse. I’ll paste on a picture of some condos under the logo.”

“Second thing I need is some Photoshop work on a few pictures.”

“OK.”

“Look at your email. You’ll see that I sent you four attached photographs. Can you pull them up?”

“I saw them a few minutes ago. Have you been fishin’ for bluefin?”

“Not me. Do you see the guy in the denim jacket?”

“Yeah.”

“I need you to crop the photos so you can’t identify the boat or anyone else in the picture. Show as much of him as possible. Also, do you see the bandage on his right hand on the last picture?”

“Yeah.”

“I need that in the picture for sure. Enhance them to the highest resolution.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Billy said.

“When you’re done, email them back to me.”

“My fees have gone up lately, Jesse.”

“I’ll buy you a lobster dinner at the Fish Tale.”

“Good enough.”

“See you at seven tonight,” I said. “Oh wait a minute. I heard we might have a gig on Friday evening. Any word on that?”

“We’re playing at the Raincloud in Gardiner on Friday at eight o’clock. The Killer Johnsons cancelled. Bucky Johnson has laryngitis.”

“OK,” I said, and hung up.

• • •

I found the number for the Kennebec County Jail and placed the call.

“Kennebec County Jail, Sergeant Brock Powell speaking.”

“Brock, this is Jesse.”

“Hi.”

Ocean Noises will be playing Friday night at the Raincloud, eight o’clock. I’ll get you a pass. Just mention my name when you’re at the door. If you have any trouble, call my cell.”

“Thanks, Jesse. How about a second pass for a date?”

“OK, two passes. Who are you bringing?”

“I’ll find somebody.”

“An inmate, probably,” I suggested.

“I have a lot of pull here. I can arrange a furlough for my pick of the minimum security prisoners in the women’s wing.”

“Pat her down for weapons first, Brock. We don’t mind the occasional beer bottle coming our way from the audience, but it’s a bummer dodging bullets.”

“I know how to pat ‘em down, Jesse. I’ve had lots of practice.”

“No doubt. Stick around till we finish. I’d like to chat with you.”

“Will do.”

• • •

I pulled up the video surveillance at Cynthia’s home. Fine there. Then I went to CNN news on my computer. The headlines read: “Murder Weapon in Lavoilette Assassination Found. Anonymous Tip Sparks Wider Search.” I read the full story.

By seven o’clock last night, the FBI had located the Glock, the license plate, a white towel with powder marks, a fake beard and one glove. They were not too happy that all the details were on the news, but it’s hard to keep the lid on things. My guess? There was so much heat on them to show some progress that they facilitated the leak.

I checked my email. Billy had already sent the cropped photos. That boy is quick as a cricket.

I printed two copies of each picture and let them sit in the printer tray. Then, I opened my word processor and started typing:

 

Enclosed are pictures of a man who calls himself “Justin Cook.” This man stole Travis Perkins’ Glock 21 Gen4, .45 caliber pistol on Saturday morning, June first, and passed it on to an accomplice sometime later in the day. His partner murdered Governor Lavoilette. I suspect that Mr. Cook staked out the governor’s car in the parking lot of the Royal Theater in Brunswick on Saturday night while the governor was watching the movie, Lincoln. When the governor returned to his car, Mr. Cook probably called his partner, who then positioned himself at the intersection of Highway 24 and Cundys Harbor Road, flagged down our governor and shot him.

Justin Cook drove a late model, blue Ford Taurus with Maine license plates. The plates were probably stolen.

Faithfully yours,

Samuel Spade, Jr.

 

I printed two copies of the letter and then put on a pair of gloves. I divided the photos and letters into two sets and put each in a manila envelope. I looked up the addresses for the FBI office in Maine and the sheriff’s office in Augusta and printed out two mailing labels. I put plenty of stamps on each for good measure. Then, I hopped in my car and dropped the envelopes into a mailbox at the post office on Bangor Street.

I was back home in time for lunch.

“It’s been a busy morning, Cynthia,” I said. “Did you see the news?”

“Yes I did. They found the gun and the other evidence at the crime scene.”

“I will be more vigilant with the surveillance of your home now. If anything happens there, of course, we’ll reassess your living arrangement. By the way, I called my mom yesterday evening. You can move in with her any time you want.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m going to make a sandwich and do some research. It looks as if you’ve eaten already.”

“Right. I’m good,” she said.

I made a tuna sandwich, got some chips and an O’Doul’s and retired to my office. I surveyed the spreadsheet listing the women who had had affairs with Governor Lavoilette.

 

Cynthia Dumais – 1 year ago – for 1 year

Michelle Jackson – 1 year ago – for 1 month

Lori Trumbull – 2 years ago – for 8 months

Susan St. Claire – 2 years ago – for 2 months

Tina Woodbury – 3 years ago – for 9 months

Barbara Davis – 4 years ago – for 6 months

Cheryl Greenwood – 5 years ago – for 2 months

 

Lori Trumbull was next on the list. Richard’s sheet provided her phone number and her place of residence. There was no listing for any other Trumbull at that address, so she was probably single. I decided to call her and set up an interview.

“Hello,” came a pleasant sounding voice.

“Hello, is this Lori Trumbull?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“My name is Jesse Thorpe, I’m a private investigator. I have been hired by Richard Merrill to investigate the murder of Governor Lavoilette. Richard tells me you were a close friend of the governor.”

“Yes. We were very close. His murder is very disturbing.” There was no hesitation or hint of deception in her voice.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to meet with you. We are interested in anything you can share that might shed some light on the situation. We are looking for personal or political enemies that the governor may have had.”

“I’m not sure I can be of much help, but I’ll be happy to meet with you, Mr. Thorpe.”

“Are you free this afternoon?” I asked.

“Yes. You are welcome to come over.”

“The address I have is on Weston Street. Is that current?”

“Yes. I’ve been here for years.”

“That’s very near my mother’s home. I can be there in twenty minutes. Will that work?”

“That’s fine.”

“Great. I won’t take much of your time, and afterwards I can drop in and see how Mom is doing.”

I thought the motherly touch might relax her a bit. My instincts were telling me she was too caring to be involved in murder. But I am a man. A sweet-talking woman always has the edge.

Twenty minutes later I knocked at her door.

Lori was as congenial in person as she’d been on the phone. I estimated her age to be close to forty. She was short, with long brown hair, brown eyes, and cute as a button. When I entered the house, I detected the smell of cigarettes. Good DNA potential, I thought. I don’t smoke, but I had a pack of Marlboros with me on the off chance that she was a smoker.

“Hi, Lori. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” I said.

We chatted for a half-hour or more. She was open and relaxed. She didn’t tell me outright that they had had an affair, but she made it pretty clear.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” I asked.

“That’s fine. I am a smoker too. I’ll join you. I never smoke in front of non-smokers when I can avoid it.”

We both lit up. I tried my best not to gag.

After we had each finished our cigarettes, I asked her for some water. While she was in the kitchen, I removed her butt from the ashtray and replaced it with a fresh one that I had stashed in my shirt pocket. I felt like a wayward Boy Scout—a smoker who’s always prepared.

I didn’t get any real leads from our chat. Lori seemed harmless enough, and she couldn’t provide me with any promising suspects. After an hour, I had little to show for my time except for a single cigarette butt laced with saliva.

I thanked her for her time. We shook hands, and she wished me well. She was either a real catch or a snake in the grass.

I drove over to Paternal Affairs and dropped off my second sample in two days. I told the lady in the office that I would submit a few more items over the next week or so, and asked her to hold all the DNA results until I requested them.

I was back home by three o’clock. Ocean Noises would have a long practice session in the evening, so I decided a nap was in order. Once my head hit the pillow, I was out in less time than it takes to mention it.

 

19

 

Spare Ribs

 

 

 

“Alonso, come here boy. I’ve got something for you,” I said enthusiastically.

Unless he could detect the smell of ribs radiating through my refrigerator door, around the corner and into the living room, Alonso couldn’t know exactly what I was talking about. On the other hand, I’m sure he knew something good was about to come his way because he wagged his tail and followed me to the kitchen with his tongue hanging out.

I gave him the scraps from the ribs, but not the bones. They’re a little risky for dogs; the bones can splinter into small pieces. The meat was gone in about four seconds.

“Be careful, Jesse,” Billy cautioned. “When he finds someone who gives him real food, his M.O. is to move in. That’s how I got him in the first place.”

“Really?” I replied. “I thought you adopted him.”

“Oh, no,” said Billy. “He adopted me.

“Four months ago, Bob Kaprowski was taking Alonso for his evening constitutional. When they reached my house, Bob stopped in for a few minutes to tell me about his break up with Francine. Actually, it was less of a ‘break up’ and more of a ‘Drop dead, Bob.’ She had split town with the car, the cash and the pot, and headed for Nashville. The only thing she left behind was the dog.

“I happened to be on my way to the garbage can to dump some sirloin trimmings. Alonso blocked my exit and stared at me with his ‘I haven’t eaten in weeks’ look. So I said, ‘fetch’ and tossed the fat and gristle into the backyard.

“While Alonso was dining, I offered Bob some tequila. Two hours later we were both hammered. Bob left sometime that night. I woke the next morning to find Alonso whining out back like a lost dog.

“I kept my doors shut all day. By evening he was gone. That was a Wednesday. Friday morning I found him camped on my porch. I called Bob, but he was halfway to Tennessee.”

Just then, Eric let himself in through the front door, “Do I smell ribs?”

I pointed at Alonso, “You’re a couple minutes late, Eric.”

“The band’s all here,” Billy announced, and the five of us made our way to the barn.

Ocean Noises has five musicians. Besides Eric, Billy and me, there’s Willie Franklin on drums and Amanda Cavenaugh, who sings and plays flute. She rounds out the band very nicely. Truth is, she’s the best musician in the group, and we are lucky to have her. She sings leads and backup like a dream. Deadly Finds, a band out of Portland, has tried to steal her away from us for over a year. Fortunately, she’s been hooked up with Willie for quite some time. If they ever break up, we’ll be an all male band without a following. She’s the real attraction.

While we were tuning, Billy announced that we would be playing in the Raincloud on Friday, and Sea Breeze Brewing Company on Saturday. We tried our opening number. It was obvious from the get go that we were rusty, especially me. The long stressful week was hard to shake. It took me an hour to get a groove. Eric and Billy cut me some slack. They both knew I was on a case. Willie was not so forgiving.

“If it weren’t for the barn, we’d start looking for a new bass man,” he said with a glare.

“Sorry, Willie, I’ve had a tough week. I’ll be alright by tomorrow night.”

Amanda sang like an angel, and that lifted me up. By ten o’clock I was high on the music, and my playing came alive. The anchor rope cut loose from my brain; my fingers started dancing.

“Sounds good, Jesse,” Willie said finally.

We practiced till midnight and called it quits.

Amanda planted a kiss on Billy’s cheek and another on Eric’s. She never lingers with either of them anymore. They read too much into it and tend to lose touch with reality. Her routine with me is different.

She moved in slowly and took her time. When I was out of breath, she broke away and smiled like Mae West. Her eyes said, “Come up and see me sometime.”

“See you tomorrow night, Amanda,” I said, with barely enough air to finish the sentence.

She was still smiling as she turned to her official partner and said, “Let’s go, Willie.” The whole band knew what that meant.

“Amanda,” I said, as she was making her way to the door, “bring him back in one piece. We need him tomorrow night.”

Without turning around, Amanda raised her index finger shoulder high to acknowledge my request.

“Good luck, Willie,” I said, but he probably didn’t hear me.

Billy tried to sneak out without Alonso, but I caught him at his car and said, “You forgot something.”

“You can keep him if you like, Jesse. You feed him better than I do.”

“Maybe, but you two were made for each other. Besides, he looks more like you than he does me.”

“I resemble that remark,” he said meekly. Billy uses that phrase about once a month.

I opened the door for Alonso to jump in, handed Billy a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Thanks for the photographic work and the business cards, Billy. This should cover the lobster dinner.”

“Twenty is only enough for one,” he pleaded.

“Eat half, and bring the rest home to Alonso,” I said.

Billy pressed his lips together, stared ahead and drove off into the night.

 

20

 

The Business End of a Colt .45

 

 

 

It was nine-forty five Friday morning when I pulled into the parking lot of Jackson Alliance Construction Company. For moral support, I slipped Rhonda into my shoulder holster underneath my loose fitting sport coat and walked through the front door. I thought to myself, “Let the games begin.”

A receptionist greeted me the moment I entered, “Mr. Treadwell?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Jackson is ready to see you. You can go right in,” she said, pointing to a door on her left.

Dennis stood up from his desk as I walked into the room. He offered his hand.

“Mr. Treadwell,” he said, “how was your drive from Boston this morning?”

“Call me Noah,” I said.

“Call me Dennis,” he reciprocated.

“Traffic was heavy on the turnpike. It’s June. Lot’s of people drive to Maine this time of the year.”

“Have a seat beside me so we can view the screen together.”

I sidled up to him and sat down. Dennis looked dashing in a rugged sort of way. He had on an “I’ve just come into an inheritance,” cognac colored, suede bomber jacket. Everything else in his trousseau was perfectly coordinated.

“So you have some property next to the Pine Ridge Golf Course. Sounds like an exciting project. On the phone you didn’t indicate the total acreage of your parcel.”

“We have forty acres. For the first phase we plan to build on the ten acres that border the first four holes of the back nine.”

“We?” he asked. “Do you have partners?”

“Only one. His name is Justin Cook.”

I watched him very carefully as I pronounced the name. He didn’t flinch in even the slightest way. He was either completely innocent of the Lavoilette murder, or he had ice water in his veins.

Without missing a beat, he brought up an aerial view of the golf course and zoomed in on the area I had described.

“I’m familiar with the back nine. I’ve played there many times,” he said.

I used my finger to outline our parcel and said, “As you can see, there’s a considerable amount of work to be done before we can begin construction. We’ll need some roads and utilities, of course. My partner and I want to get an estimate for the full project to secure financing.”

For the next thirty minutes, Dennis supplied me with a number of building options, floor plans, landscaping ideas and a variety of amenities. He took me on a virtual tour of his extensive portfolio. While facing several challenging construction and financing related inquiries, I did my best not to sound foolish. Fortunately, I knew how to swing a hammer.

I bided my time on a tightrope of questions and answers, waiting for a chance to shift gears. When the moment seemed right, I said, “A number of times over the years my dad has mentioned his experience with the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. To this day, he remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news for each one. I suppose I’ll always remember where I was when I heard about the murder of Governor Lavoilette.”

A curious look crept over his face as I said that, but I proceeded anyway, “I was on the porch of the dining hall at Bear Spring Camps, on my way to breakfast. What a shock.”

I gave him a few heartbeats to compare stories with me, but he didn’t take his cue.

“How about you?” I asked, as innocently as possible.

“Oh. I was with my wife at a party on Saturday night. There were thirty-five or forty of us at the Cavendish Club. Around eleven o’clock a news bulletin came on the television in the bar. Word spread quickly through our crowd. We stood around for about fifteen minutes catching the story, and then the party broke up. My wife and I drove home,” he said. Then he added, “I suppose I’ll remember that moment for a spell.”

He said it all as a matter of fact. His face did not display any emotion. He asked me to take a seat opposite him at the table so he could run a few numbers for me on the condo project.

For the next minute, he scrolled through some screens on his computer, and on two occasions glanced up at me with a studied look on his face. He then opened a drawer at the side of his desk, reached in and pulled out a Colt .45. He didn’t point the gun directly at me, but he kept his finger on the trigger and did a fine Michael Douglas impersonation, “Mr. Thorpe, do you have any idea who you are fucking with?”

“Apparently not,” I replied, which happened to be the first honest thing I’d said all morning.

“I’ll be blunt, and you’ll keep you mouth shut. Comprende?”

I nodded, indicating I understood Spanish and resisted the urge to reply, “Si Señor.”

“I had one brief moment with the scumbag, William Lavoilette. That was that. I made a generous donation to his campaign and voted for the asshole. Then he moved on my wife. I don’t give a shit who put the bullet in his chest, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was some guy with a pretty wife or girlfriend, who stumbled her way to his bed.”

He glared at me and continued. “You called me once before, and I hung up. Today you’ve taken up almost an hour of my time pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. If you bother me again, I’ll let my finger do the talking. Is that clear, pal?”

I wasn’t sure if his question freed me from his original instruction to keep my mouth shut. I split the difference and gave an affirmative nod while I squeaked out a humming sound corroborating my gesture. My lips never moved.

“Now, get out of my office,” he said firmly.

I was more than happy to oblige. Rhonda was breathing heavily under my jacket, but she knew enough to stay put. It was only eleven o’clock at the O.K. Corral. High noon was an hour away.

I backed to the door with my hands half raised, turned slowly and made my exit like a dog with his tail between his legs. It was the first time I’d ever been threatened with a loaded gun. Like my dad’s memory of the three assassinations in the 60’s, I was sure I’d remember that Colt .45 in the years to come.

• • •

I had one more chore, and I needed to complete it as quickly as possible. I wanted to check out Dennis’ story of the Saturday night party with his wife. There was clearly some risk involved, and now I wished I had interviewed her before I had met with Dennis.

I decided to drive halfway to Michelle’s home and then call. This would give Dennis time to call her first, if he was going to do that. I figured I could judge from her response whether they had discussed me or not.

It was a ten-minute drive from Dennis’ office to their home. After five minutes, I pulled over and called.

“Hello.”

“Hello, is this Michelle Jackson?”

“Yes it is,” came the sweet reply. So far so good.

“My name is Jesse Thorpe. I have been hired by Richard Merrill to investigate the murder of Governor Lavoilette. Do you think I could have a few minutes of your time?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “It’s just awful.”

“Would you mind if I came over? I’d rather discuss this in person.”

“That’s fine. I’m off work today. Do you need my address?” she asked.

“No, I believe I have it. Woodfield Terrace Drive?”

“That’s it.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

 

21

 

No Bunting, Mr. Jackson

 

 

 

Woodfield Terrace Drive curved to the right at the end of the road as I reached the elegant Jackson home. They must own several acres of land. From their front porch there wasn’t any other house or building in sight.

“Thank you for seeing me, Mrs. Jackson,” I said, once I was inside.

“I don’t know how much help I can be,” she replied. “I assume Mr. Merrill told you about my husband and Governor Lavoilette. Dennis and I have worked through our issues. We want to put the whole episode behind us.”

“I’m just trying my best to get up to speed with the governor’s personal life. I’m not here to cause you any embarrassment.”

I paused for a moment to consider how to proceed. I decided to get right to it.

“Could you tell me where you were when you heard the governor had been murdered?”

“Yes. Dennis and I were at a party at the Cavendish Club on Saturday night. Once the story hit the news, the party broke up and we went home.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her iPhone. She asked me to sit down next to her as she scrolled through pictures of the festivities. One photograph showed several people standing around watching a TV screen displaying a picture of William Lavoilette.

“Why did you take that picture?” I asked.

“It seemed like a photograph for a scrapbook. My father told me that he and all his friends knew exactly where they were when they first heard that JFK had been assassinated. Now I’d have an actual photograph to record where I was when the governor was murdered. I knew William. He was a wonderful man.”

“How well did you know him?” I asked. I assumed that my inflection would convey the full intent of my question.

“I’m ashamed to say this, but we slept together a few times. It was totally my fault. During the first meeting of his second campaign, William was unusually attentive to me. Eventually, he took me aside and asked if I would stay after the others left. He said he had a specific assignment for me, but I knew it was more than that. I was so attracted to him that I didn’t want to leave. I certainly did not intend for it to happen, but it did.

“Dennis and I have two children. We are committed to our family. William was very appealing, but the night that Dennis confronted William at the campaign office was the last time either of us saw the governor.”

That was really all I needed to hear. I just wanted to get a DNA sample and be on my way. I’d try the bathroom first.

“Do you mind if I use your restroom? I’ve been on the road a couple of hours.”

“Sure. It’s down the hall on your left.”

I made my way to the bathroom and was delighted to see a hairbrush on the counter. I pulled off several long stands that seemed to match her color of hair and slipped them in a small zip lock bag I had in my pocket. I flushed the toilet, ran some water and then returned to the living room.

“I’d like to discuss a few other things, Mrs. Jackson, but I just received a call from my wife. Our daughter fell off her bike and was taken to the hospital. It’s not serious, but I want to get there right away. Perhaps we can talk later.”

“By all means. I’m sorry about your daughter,” she said.

I was out of there in a heartbeat. Two or three beats later it skipped. I hurried out the door, across the porch and down the stairs without so much as a flutter, but when I looked up for my Forester parked at the curb, I found Dennis Jackson sitting on the hood holding a tire iron in his lap.

“Dennis,” I said. “What brings you into the neighborhood?”

Dennis was not in the mood for a chat. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of designer sunglasses—Gucci probably, perhaps Ray-Ban—and slipped them on his face. He then eased himself down off my car and took hold of the tire iron in both hands. It was at that exact moment that I discovered he bats from the left side. He had a definite hitch in his swing, but managed to beat the daylights out of my headlight. Plastic and glass flew off in several directions.

Dennis then turned his head to see me, intending, I believe, to comment on his slugging percentage. I interrupted his train of thought.

“Allow me to make the introductions,” I said. “Rhonda, this is Dennis Jackson. Dennis this is Rhonda Giannini.”

I gave Mr. Jackson a few moments to appreciate the gravity of his situation. I held my black, Snubnose Smith and Wesson .38 Special with its dark brown wooden grip firmly in my right hand. With my left, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my iPhone.

“Say cheese,” I said, as I began to shoot some video of the proceedings. “I’ll want a record of this for the insurance company and for the police, if necessary.”

The front door of the Jackson home flew open behind me, and Michelle shouted out, “Dennis, what are you doing?”

“Yes, Dennis,” I echoed. “What are you doing?”

He couldn’t find anything pertinent to say. The three of us stood there, awkwardly waiting for cues.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” I said. “First, I want you to keep hanging on to that tire iron with both of your hands.” I wiggled my .38 Special in Dennis’ direction for emphasis. He complied.

“Michelle, I want you to walk over to your husband, slowly, and stand behind him.”

As Michelle moved into place, I positioned myself so I could see them both clearly.

“Michelle, reach into his pocket and remove his wallet. Then throw it over to me.”

She located it in the inner pocket of his bomber jacket and tossed it my way.

“Thank you. Now, Michelle, please pull the top of his jacket over his shoulders and down to his elbows. Oh, and Dennis, don’t let go of that tire iron just yet.”

When that part of the choreography had been completed as directed, I said, “Michelle, if you will, please back away a few steps.”

She did.

“Dennis, how could you?” she hissed again.

I reached for the wallet without taking my eyes off of Dennis. There were several crisp Franklin notes in the main fold.

“I guess in your line of work lots of cash changes hands. I won’t interfere with that tradition. I’ll be taking four of these. One meets my deductible exactly. Two should cover a loaner. I’ll need a car while my Forester is being repaired. The fourth one is for pain and suffering.”

“I’m not done with you, Thorpe,” Dennis finally said.

“Precisely,” I replied. “Now, kindly walk over to the yellow Beemer parked behind my car. The Red Sox are looking for some right handed pop off the bench. Swing from the opposite side this time. Let’s pretend that your right headlight is the ball. Hit it out of the park.”

“I won’t,” he said defiantly.

I raised my cell phone and said, “Once I finish dialing 911, I’ll be committed to full disclosure of what has just happened here. Wouldn’t it be simpler all around if you’d just follow instructions?”

Dennis glared at me and walked slowly to the front fender of his car.

“No bunting,” I cautioned.

Dennis took a light swing, but there was not much damage.

“Foul ball!” I announced. “Take another cut, and don’t hold back this time. You are trying my patience.”

Reluctantly, Dennis swung harder. From the looks of things he hit a grounder up the middle. Some glass flew and some metal bent.

“I guess we’ll have to settle for a single,” I said.

His shoulders slumped and his head drooped. I knew exactly how he felt.

“I will be going now. But I’m sure you understand that I’ll need to frisk you first. Rhonda is not fond of competition. Drop the tire iron, place both your hands on the hood of your car and spread your legs…just like in the movies.”

Dennis was not carrying a weapon, and from the feel of things he wasn’t happy to see me either. Mae West would have been disappointed.

As I pulled away in my Forester, Dennis was lying face down in the grass, as I had instructed, and Michelle stood beside him with tears in her eyes. After a moment’s reflection, I complimented myself on the foresight not to put any physical address on my PI website. The thought of Dennis Jackson dropping by was decidedly unappealing.

When I was a mile down the road, I stopped and called Angele.

“Jesse! Are you in town?”

“Let’s do lunch,” I suggested.

“Is that the best you can do?” she whispered.

“I’ve got a couple of hours. I guess we could do other things,” I offered.

“You could start with me. I can meet you at my place in five minutes.”

“See you there, Peaches.”

“Fruit salad it is then,” she said, and I heard her wink.

I didn’t want the Dennis Jackson episode to interfere with our noon rendezvous, so I’d save that story until after Angele and I had been reunited.

The front door was open when I arrived, and Angele was waiting on her bed for me without a stitch on.

“This is a great way to unwind after a difficult morning at the office,” I said unbuttoning my shirt.

Angele’s smile grew wider each time another piece of my ensemble hit the floor. My last sock ended on the foot of her bed, and I eased myself gently on top of her. She kissed me like she hadn’t seen me for months and opened wide. When I was fully in place, she arched her back and purred, “Unwind away!”

• • •

After the unwinding, the bed gradually came to a complete stop at the gate, and the seat belt sign was turned off. We floated among the islands for a few minutes before Angele broke the silence, “Jesse, other than your parents, you’ve never talked much about your family. You are a real moaner in bed. You sound like a Native American chanting for rain.”

“I was just warming up my vocal chords for our gig this evening.”

“Really? In that register?”

“OK. Since you asked, I’m one-eighth Penobscot. My great-grandfather, Windgate, grew up in Georgia. He skipped to Maine after his divorce from Sarah Lightfoot in 1915. He left her with five kids and a struggling peach farm in the Peach State.”

“A peach farmer! That’s must be why you call me ‘Peaches.’”

“In the realm of fresh fruit, nothing tops a ripe peach,” I said.

“You just did, Jesse.”

I left that remark dangling and carried on with the story of my lineage.

“Originally, Windgate’s surname was Oglethorpe. After he was in Maine for a month, he moved in with a woman named Virginia and took up potato farming in Aroostook County. Windgate said he never cared for his last name. It made him sound more lecherous than he actually was. He dropped the ‘Ogle’ and became Windgate Thorpe. I imagine he changed his name for other reasons as well. He never heard from Sarah again, and she never received any alimony checks from Down East. Virginia Pelagie, my great-grandmother, was a direct descendent of Mary Pelagie, the famous Penobscot Indian known as Molly Molasses.”

“So you descended from a peach and potato farming deadbeat dad and a Native American. That explains several things. Among them, your moaning is probably responsible for half the rain in New England.”

“Angele, you moan every bit as loud as I do. And it rained here long before I arrived on the scene.”

“Don’t get defensive, Jesse. I don’t mind the rain. Besides, I love it when you moan. It’s a baritone song of love.”

“What’s for lunch?” I asked, deciding to change the subject.

“A kale smoothie, brown rice and tofu.”

“I love it when you talk dirty,” I suggested.

“Tryin’ my best to keep you vibrant, honey.”

“By the way, Angele, I dropped in to see Dennis Jackson and his wife this morning.”

“And…” she said, waiting for me to continue.

“I found out three things. He was at a party with his wife on Saturday evening when William Lavoilette was murdered.”

I paused before telling the second thing.

“And…” she said again, this time with more anticipation.

“He’s left handed…and…he keeps a Colt .45 in the top right drawer of his desk,” I said.

“What?” she said. Her face lit up.

I described my encounter with the Jacksons and then added, “You remember our bet, don’t you? It’s not a lock, but you’ll probably need to come up with forty bucks. I don’t think he killed the governor.”

“Why? Because he said he was at a party on Saturday night? Dennis Jackson is a violent man, Jesse.”

“He was with Michelle and thirty-five other people that night.”

“He could have hired a killer,” Angele protested.

I decided not to debate that possibility. First, I needed to cope with the kale smoothie. It’s easier to clear hurdles one at a time.

 

22

 

Fender Bass Seven Iron

 

 

 

Our Friday gig at the Raincloud was relatively uneventful. Saturday night in Bangor is another story.

The evening started routinely enough. We played mostly on key, and the crowd was enjoying themselves. Maybe it was the beers more than the music, but there were no complaints until we were well into our second set. That’s when some clown at a table in the back called out, “Play ‘White Winter Hymnal’ by Fleet Foxes.”

That’s a mouthful to say, even when sober. But the guy managed to get well over half of the syllables correct. Very impressive. Also, I appreciated his choice of music, even if he was hammered—and he obviously was. But under the circumstances, we had to ignore him and started in on our cover of “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam. He either failed to hear us play “White Winter Hymnal” during our first set, or he was suffering from short-term memory loss.

We were barely into the first verse when our “friend” stood up, nearly toppling his table while maneuvering himself into a semi-erect position, and then shouted, “I said, ‘White Winter Hymnal.’”

That time he pronounced it perfectly, but the band played on. That’s show business.

As we reached the bridge, “Stay with me…let’s just breathe…” he obviously had no intention of taking the song’s philosophical advice. An empty beer bottle flew in our direction along with the comment, “You’re fucking trash!”

This must have woken a patron nodding off in front, who then added, “And no more fucking James Taylor. He’s a fucking liberal twit.”

That was three “fuckings” in less than four bars of music.

Ocean Noises has a strict policy of playing on through two “fuckings,” but never three. When that happens, we stop the music and hope the bouncer remembers how to conduct the birthday parlor game, Musical Chairs. If he does, he knows enough to remove a chair—and in this case two—while informing the squatters they are OUT. According to the rules, the bouncer should then escort them both from the Sea Breeze onto Main Street.

I was at the microphone so I summoned the bouncer. “Stan, would you please show these two musical connoisseurs the way to the front door?”

Unfortunately, Stan was in the restroom at that particular moment in time, a distinct miscalculation on my part. Things generally went downhill from there. When the fun had finally run its course, we had one amplifier that never amped anything again, and Billy Mosher’s KingKORG Synthesizer had an ugly scratch across its face. Other than that, we escaped relatively unscathed.

Landon O’Reilly, the disgruntled conservative patron sitting up front, didn’t fair as well. A Fender Bass Guitar has a weight distribution not unlike a sledgehammer. Though, oddly enough, this fact is not included in the instruction manual. If Landon retains any of the common sense God gave him, he’ll think twice before messing with a bass player again. I feel obligated to add that I had some help in the proceedings. Amanda Cavenaugh’s right knee found its way to Landon’s groin the moment he boarded the stage. Immediately after that, I swung my guitar like a seven-iron and hit him on his right shoulder. He fell back onto the dance floor, did an unusual version of the two-step, and collapsed into a tidy heap while holding on to his manhood. I was encouraged to hear Landon groan. It was living proof he had not yet expired.

We explained to Sergeant Clemson of the Bangor City Police Department that we didn’t want to press charges; we only wanted to get packed up and go home.

In retrospect, we decided that the hubbub had more to do with the Red Sox than our skills as musicians. Earlier in the week, the Sox were swept by the Yankees at Fenway. Then to rub salt in the wound, they were shut out on Friday night by Toronto, the doormat of the American League East that year. The boys were just blowing off steam.

Before driving back to Augusta, I chatted with Brock. He hadn’t managed to get a date for our Friday gig in Gardiner, but he showed up in Bangor Saturday night with Anita Reston in tow.

“Anita, nice to meet you,” I said, after the introductions.

“Looks as if your golf game is improving, Jesse,” Brock said.

“Where were you hiding during the scuffle, Brock? We could have used your physical presence up there,” I said.

“I was stuck in the bleacher seats. I grabbed the loudmouth in the back and took him outside. Before I could get to the other guy, I saw Amanda knee him as he rushed the stage. Did you hire her as your bodyguard?” he asked.

“She can really handle herself, can’t she?” I replied.

“In any event, I figured you were in good hands. After all, you’re a private investigator. They teach karate and wrestling holds in PI school, don’t they?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’ve learned a few tricks watching Humphrey Bogart films. Which reminds me…what’s the latest in the Lavoilette case?”

“You know I can’t discuss an ongoing murder investigation,” he protested.

“Anita, please excuse us for just a minute, I need to speak alone with Brock,” I said.

“Certainly,” Anita replied.

I took Brock by the arm and led him around a corner and into an alley.

“You’re not going to rough me up are you?”

“Not unless I have to,” I said.

“OK. Off the record?” Brock asked.

“Of course,” I assured him.

“Travis Perkins is not talking. However, there might have been an eyewitness to the murder. We’ve received two anonymous tips that have led the FBI to find the murder weapon and some other items of interest. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you, Jesse?”

“Not a thing, Brock.”

“Nobody thinks Travis is directly involved. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to use his own gun or supply it to the killer. But until he helps us out, he’s going to stay locked up.”

“What about the motive? What’s the prevailing theory?” I asked.

“Lot’s of political angles are being discussed, but nothing substantial has surfaced in that department that I’m aware of. There are some indications that the governor was having an affair, maybe even more than one. The FBI have checked out a few possibilities, including Michelle Jackson and Lori Trumbull.

“Michelle and her husband, Dennis, have an alibi for Saturday night. Besides, Michelle hasn’t been seen around the governor for at least a year. According to Richard Merrill, Lori Trumbull might have been sleeping with the governor a couple of years ago, but he wasn’t sure. Other than that, there aren’t any significant personal leads.”

Brock continued, “There’s one other possible motive, but it is remote. When William Lavoilette and Richard Merrill were going to college, they were in a fatal car crash. Alcohol was involved. Officially, William was driving. But we are certain that Richard was driving, and he had been drinking. The parents and other family members of the girl who was killed all know the facts. So it’s almost certain there was no simmering hostility directed at William for the crash…maybe at Richard, but not at the governor.”

“Thanks, Brock. I appreciate your help. I’m working a few angles of my own on behalf of my client. If anything breaks that doesn’t hit the newswire, please let me know. It could save me a whole lot of trouble.”

“I won’t be able to call you with anything,” Brock said.

“Just call me. I’ll work out a way to see you privately,” I said.

“OK. But this is my job, Jesse. You’ve got to be completely discreet.”

“You can count on me, Brock.”

We left the alley and parted ways.

The ride back home in the van was a lively affair. Amanda received high fives from everyone. Billy chided me for using my bass guitar as a weapon. I guess he thought I shouldn’t have risked any further damage to the band equipment. I explained that my hands are my livelihood. He wasn’t buying it.

 

23

 

Moosehead

 

 

 

God rested on the seventh day. I wasn’t going to break with that tradition in any significant way. I figured She knew what She was doing.

“Jesse, it’s Kathleen. Michael and I would love to have you over for Sunday dinner. We are sorry you had to leave us so abruptly last week at Bear Spring. Bring Angele if she’s in town. She’s the sweetest! We’ve already called your mom, and she wants to come as well.”

There were two messages on my phone machine. That was the second one. I played the first one again, to revisit the ambiance.

“Mr. Thorpe, this is Dennis Jackson. Please accept my sincere apology. I’ve been under a lot of stress. Just last month our son, Scottie, was diagnosed as autistic. Our family life has been turned upside down.”

There was a pause at this point, but I could hear Michelle in the background imploring Dennis to keep talking.

“Michelle and I want to send you a check for two thousand dollars. We hope that will adequately compensate you for the unpleasantness and for the damage to your car. If you will let me know your mailing address, I’ll send the check off tomorrow. Again, I’m really sorry for everything.”

His contrition seemed genuine enough, and hearing Michelle in the background was reassuring, but there was no way I would be giving Dennis Jackson my home address. It was eight in the morning. I’d allow Billy a little more time in the sack and then tickle his money bone with a proposition.

A couple hours later…

“Hello, Jesse?”

“Yeah. It’s me.”

“Some night, eh?”

“It was interesting. Is your KORG playable?”

“I tested it out as soon as I got home. It has a scratch, but it plays fine. By the way, if your music career doesn’t pan out, you could always take up golf.”

“Golf?”

“The way you swung that bass, Tiger’s got nothin’ on you.”

“I think I hooked that shot just a bit, Billy. Listen, how would you like to earn a finder’s fee?”

“What do I have to find?” he asked.

“A check for two thousand dollars in your mail box.”

“What’s my fee?”

“Ten percent.”

“Why would I find a check in my mailbox?”

“Because I don’t want Dennis Jackson to know where I live.”

“Who’s Dennis Jackson?”

“Do you want the two hundred dollars or not?” I asked.

“Dude, what’s this all about?”

“It’s complicated. Let’s just say it’s life imitating fiction…you know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.”

“I get it. The Big Lebowski. This sounds dangerous. Will there be a severed toe in the envelope?”

“Probably not,” I said.

“We’d better make it twenty percent, Jesse.”

“Fifteen.”

“Eighteen.”

“Seventeen.”

“Seventeen and a half.”

“Deal,” I said. “But I could rent a post office box for a lot less than that.”

“Jesse, what’s seventeen and a half percent of two thousand?”

“Three hundred fifty.”

“Those boxes don’t come cheap anymore,” Billy noted resolutely. “And you’d need to hire someone to make the pickup, in case the sender was staking out the post office.”

“Just bring me the envelope when it arrives, and don’t open it. I’ll want to check it out for powdery substances,” I said. I wanted Billy to sweat a bit for all the money he was going to get.

“I’ll wear gloves…and a mask.”

“Good idea, Billy. Oh, I was wondering…will you be around later today?”

“Probably.”

“There’s a chance I’ll need some new business cards by tomorrow morning. I’ll know after I make a call or two.”

“Your next set of cards will be complimentary,” Billy offered.

“You’re a pal,” I said as I hung up.

“A few more phone calls, and that would be it for the day,” I thought. As far as I was concerned, Sunday was the seventh day. I was looking forward to dinner with the Wyeths. I called Kathleen back and confirmed that I’d be there with Mom by one o’clock. Angele wouldn’t be able to make it. She was preparing for a special presentation at the law firm.

Richard Merrill’s spreadsheet included Rebecca Lavoilette’s private phone number. She’d been a widow for a week. I trusted that was an adequate amount of time to wait before giving her a call.

“Hello. This is Rebecca.”

“Mrs. Lavoilette, to begin, please accept my condolences. I am so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. Please tell me, who are you, and how you got my private number?”

“Richard Merrill has hired me to investigate the murder of your husband.”

“Oh. You must be Jesse Thorpe. Richard mentioned your name. I suppose you’d like an interview. Right?”

“If it’s not too troubling for you.”

“I’d be happy to talk with you. I can make time tomorrow if you like.”

“Tomorrow will be fine. Just tell me where and when.”

“Let’s see. How about two in the afternoon at the Blaine House? I’ll still be living here for another week. The acting governor has been kind enough to give me a little extra time to move out.”

“Two o’clock it is,” I said.

“I’ll leave word with Philip. He’ll let you in,” she said.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Lavoilette. And again, I’m so sorry.”

“Good day, Mr. Thorpe.”

• • •

Lori Trumbull had been checked off on my list of women in the governor’s life. I already had a sample of her DNA, and she seemed an unlikely suspect. The name below hers was Susan St. Claire.

I placed the call.

A man answered the phone, “Hello.”

“Hello, may I speak with Susan St. Claire please?”

“Who are you?” came the terse response. His tone had that, “Are you another f’ing telemarketer?” ring to it.

“My name is Jesse Thorpe. I’m a private investigator hired by Richard Merrill to investigate the murder of Governor William Lavoilette.”

“What?” There was an edgy surprise in his voice.

“I understand that Susan St. Claire knew the governor, and I would like to speak with her if I may.”

“The FBI have already arrested Travis Perkins, and his gun killed the governor,” he said in a somewhat irritated tone.

“I am aware of those facts, but I have reason to believe that others are involved. May I please speak with Ms. St. Claire?”

I heard the voice of a woman in the background ask, “Who is it, Aaron?” Then the sound over the phone was muffled for several seconds. Finally…

“This is Susan St. Claire, may I help you?” Her voice was firm and professional, but friendly.

“I hope so. My name is Jesse Thorpe. I’ve been hired to investigate the Lavoilette murder. I understand that you were a friend of William Lavoilette. Would it be possible for us to talk?”

“I was not a friend of the governor. I met him once or twice a couple of years back to discuss some policy issues. I can’t provide anything useful in a murder investigation.”

“Do you know Richard Merrill?” I asked.

“The name is vaguely familiar,” she said.

“He was a close associate of the governor. He indicated to me that you knew the governor personally.”

“Mr. Thorpe, I met the governor a couple of times. It was business. I was friendly, but we weren’t friends. I think you should press your investigation elsewhere. Goodbye.”

And with that…she hung up.

Plan B: According to Richard’s spreadsheet, Susan owned, or partially owned, Northland Natural Gas and Down East Pipe and Fitting. I ran a Google search to see if I could get more specific information on Susan and her businesses.

Both Northland and Down East had the same three principal stockholders: Susan St. Claire – 55%, Mark Prichard – 30%, and Aaron Miller – 15%. Northland Natural Gas had a parent company in Pennsylvania called Keystone State Natural Gas and Pipeline Company. From their website, it appeared that Mr. Prichard ran the operations in Pennsylvania, and Susan ran them in Maine. A search of corporations listed with the Maine Secretary of State office indicated that Northland had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two years before.

I also found an interesting tidbit on the Down East Pipe and Fitting web page. They recently had acquired another company, Moosehead Pipeline. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Moosehead.

Misty Starbird had seen a moose head at the murder scene! My heart started racing. I took a few deep breaths and told myself that there are plenty of moose heads in Maine. This is a land of the moose. I talked myself down from the ledge, but Misty’s premonition was sobering.

As I began formulating how I might arrange a meeting with Susan St. Claire, a nagging thought worked its way into the front of the line in my cerebral cortex. Dennis Jackson had determined my true identity while sitting at his desk. How did he do that? Then it hit me. Elementary! My picture is on my private investigator’s home page. After he had asked me to move away from his computer, he must have gone to my website and seen the serious Mr. Thorpe, Private Investigator, looking back at him on the screen and from across his desk. That’s why he looked at me, and then looked at his screen again, just before pulling out his Colt .45.

Albert Einstein once penned the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I’d reconnect with Susan St. Claire, but only after I made one important alteration.

I initiated FTP-Pro and logged on to my web server. I scrolled through the .JPEG files and found, “Jesse-Thorpe-Photo.” I highlighted the file and hit “Delete.”

I then pulled up my home page to verify that my picture was no longer there. It was gone. In its place was the icon for a missing link.

A better solution would be to delete all references to the picture. A curious and devious mind might read subterfuge into a missing photograph at the top of my homepage. So I opened Dreamweaver, made a few changes to my index page, and saved the file. Then I uploaded the file and checked my home page once again.

Better.

Now if Susan St. Claire got nosey, she’d have more trouble figuring out what Jesse Thorpe looked like. I’d allow twenty-four hours for my voice to fade from her memory bank, and I’d use the same twenty-four hours to round out Plan B with a new identity and a fresh approach.

OK, one more call.

“Jesse, what do you want now?” Billy asked.

“A dozen new business cards. The former Senate President, James Frye, became the acting governor this past week. I need to become one of his aides. Give me a new name, and I have a new cell phone number. Have the card indicate that I deal directly with lobbyists and corporations. Make it look official, and put the Maine State Seal on the card.”

“You are a real dreamer, Jesse. Aren’t you worried about falsely representing yourself?”

“I have more important things to worry about, Billy.”

“What’s your new name?” he asked.

“I’m Lloyd Williams,” I said. “That’s two L’s at the beginning.”

“And two L’s in the middle,” Billie countered. “When do you need them?”

I gave Billy my new phone number and said, “I’ll pick them up tomorrow.”

“OK. That will be twenty bucks,” Billy said.

“I thought you said my next cards would be complimentary.”

“You’re not paying for the cards; you’re paying for the rush. Besides, this is Sunday.”

“See you tomorrow,” I said.

“Bye, Jesse.”

I was taking the rest of the day off.

 

24

 

Death in the Family

 

 

 

“Jesse, I’ve been worried about you. When you called and asked if Cynthia Dumais could stay at my house, it sounded as if the two of you might be in real danger,” Mom said, as we pulled out of her driveway.

It’s a half-hour drive from Augusta to Waterville. There was plenty of time to fill her in on some of the details of the Lavoilette murder case. I didn’t tell her about the Dennis Jackson episode, of course; there was enough to hold her interest without setting off any extreme motherly alarms. I tried to minimize her concerns, but I didn’t manage that very well.

“Why don’t you just let the FBI handle this, Jesse? They know what they are doing, and they have access to so much more information. This is what they do all the time for goodness sake,” she said.

“I’m a private investigator, Mom. For six years I’ve been investigating criminal activity and protecting people who have been threatened. This is really not all that different. Yes, it is a high profile case, but the basic issues and concerns are pretty much the same.”

“This is murder, Jesse.”

“Cynthia’s life is in danger, Mom,” I said defensively. “What should I do? Turn her away and put her in further jeopardy?”

I briefly glanced over to see how she was doing. Mom had a blank expression on her face. It was clear that she was locked in worried mode.

“Our band is doing well. We’re planning to release our first album in August,” I said, trying to change the subject and cheer her up.

“I hope it doesn’t come out posthumously,” she sighed.

Before I could say another word, she followed that up with, “You’re going to end up just like Tom.”

I had hoped she wouldn’t bring that up, but, of course, it was more or less inevitable. For the rest of the drive, the family ghost would be with us in the backseat. The murder of the governor had happened without a hint of warning. The same exact thing happened to my father, Thomas Christopher Thorpe, when he was 41 years old.

• • •

I was fourteen when we got the call from Maine General Medical Center, Thayer Campus, in Waterville. Dad had been shot, and was in critical condition. My mother, Sarah Gale Thorpe, held the phone and froze like a statue, wide-eyed, in shock, disbelieving. How can this be?

Twenty minutes earlier Dad had been sitting with us at the table. It was practically etched in stone that supper at the Thorpe’s begins at six-thirty on the dot. By seven o’clock that evening, we were just finishing our meal when Dad stood up and announced that we needed some pumpkin pie for dessert.

Mom implored him, “It’s too much trouble, Tom. Don’t bother.”

But Dad insisted, “It’s no trouble, dear. The grocery store at the plaza is only a few minutes away. I’ll be back before you clear the table.” And away he went. Forever.

The scene reels before my eyes at warp speed, as if I were having a lucid dream. It’s October 12th, 1993, 7:20 in the evening. Mom, just 38 years old, a tall, beautiful women with a round face, brown eyes, curly auburn hair and, at any other time, a sweet endearing smile, is now wearing a pair of brown crop pants with her favorite flannel shirt, loafers and a frantic look I have never seen before. Despite the chill in the air, she doesn’t take the time to put on a jacket. We dash out of the house together, into our 1990 green Volvo station wagon and drive east away from our home on Barrett Avenue. It’s a race to every turn, left on Cool Street, right on Western Avenue and across Messalonskee Stream Reservoir. We careen right from North Street toward the hospital at the emergency entrance of Thayer. We cover the two miles in about three minutes. Mom doesn’t bother to pull into a parking space. She just stops at the emergency door, throws the transmission into park, and out we run, through the main door, down two hallways, green on one side, white on the other, our feet barely touch the beige tile floor. In less than 30 seconds, we see our family physician and long time friend standing outside a surgery room waiting for us. Dr. Turner stops us before we can go through that door and says, in a very sorrowful but firm tone, “Tom is gone.”

He does his best to console us. For several minutes he holds Mom tightly in his arms while she screams, then sobs, and eventually retreats into silent grief. Landon then slumps into the chair beside me, puts his arm around my shoulder, and we both weep.

Nothing had prepared me for this.

For the next few weeks, life is a series of hollow movements. It seems as if the real me is about two feet behind and just above the physical me. I am no longer inside myself. My voice sounds as though it circles back to my ears through an echo chamber. When I take a walk or ride my bike, it feels as though I am traveling through a tunnel. When I arrive, I’m still not quite there. Destinations remain just out of reach; friends seem distant. The days take forever to finish.

For Mom it was worse. In some way, she has never completely recovered. Before Dad was murdered, she almost never drank alcohol. She might have a little wine with Tom when they went out for dinner. At most she’d have a single glass of champagne at weddings or on New Year’s Eve. But now she turned to drinking, hoping against hope, I suppose, that she might eventually forget, or at least get numb enough to get by. After a month or so, she was pretty much numb all the time.

It didn’t help when winter came early in ‘93 and spring came late in ‘94. At least it seemed that way to us. The snow and the cold forced us inside our memories, holding us in grief. During that winter, I wondered if “reality” would ever come back to me.

Knowing how and why my father was murdered didn’t make it any easier. His death was sudden and senseless. The night Dad drove to the grocery store, he parked his car in the lot, got out and began walking toward the front door. He was about halfway there when he heard a young couple yelling at each other from the row of cars to his left. When the woman screamed, he did what any self-respecting man would do—he ran to help her. Jason Savage and Melissa Simpson were twenty-two and twenty-one years old, and high on cocaine. When Dad got within a car’s length of the couple, he saw Jason slap Melissa across the face, and she fell to the asphalt. According to the testimony at the trial, when Dad stepped between the two of them, face to face with Jason, he put up his hands and told him to stop. After they shoved each other back and forth a couple of times, Jason drew a gun from his coat pocket and pulled the trigger.

 

25

 

Lucid Dreaming

 

 

 

It was one o’clock when we turned onto Violette Avenue and stopped in front of the Wyeth’s home. I hadn’t been here since I remodeled their bathroom two years before. The house and yard had changed very little in thirty years. The trees were taller, except for one large hemlock in front, which appeared to be dying.

Kathleen rushed out to greet us before we reached the porch.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Sarah. How have you been?” she asked.

“OK, I guess, but I’ve been feeling tired for several months. I had the flu in February, and I have not fully recovered. I should be fine once the weather warms up. It’s been a cold spring. But most of all, I’m worried about Jesse. Do you know about his latest case?”

“Not really,” Kathleen said, with an inquisitive look. “He left Bear Spring unexpectedly on Sunday morning. Michael and I figured he has a new client. We found out only last weekend that he is a private investigator.”

“He’s investigating the Lavoilette murder,” Mom replied.

Kathleen stare at me in disbelief, but didn’t say a word.

“If it’s all right, let’s go inside first,” I said while looking around to see if anyone was within earshot. “I’ll explain privately what I’ve been doing. It’s not for public consumption.”

Michael hugged my mom as we stepped inside and said, “Nice to see you Sarah. It’s been too long.”

“Good to see you, Michael,” she replied.

“What’s all this about the Lavoilette murder? Jesse, are you involved?” he asked.

“Just today my client, Cynthia Dumais, told me I could discuss this with you—but we can’t have any of this going public. Her safety is at risk. I asked her specifically for permission to talk with you because I would like your feedback. After you hear what’s been happening, you’ll understand her concerns,” I said. “But let’s talk about this after dinner, if that’s OK?”

“Sure, Jesse,” Kathleen said.

“Looks as if the hemlock is dying out front, Michael. What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Hemlocks from Maine to Georgia have been infected by a pest known as the hemlock woolly adelgid, which feasts on the sap of hemlock and spruce trees. The one out front has been getting steadily worse for two years. Unfortunately, we’ll have to take it down.”

“There was a feature about that recently on NPR,” Mom said. “It’s like the Dutch elm disease all over again, but now it’s the evergreens. Time just won’t stand still.”

Michael chuckled and added, “Maine is probably the one state in the union most resistant to change, but it has a way of getting here all the same. What are you gonna do?”

“We could emigrate to New Brunswick, or even Newfoundland,” I offered jokingly. “That would take us back a generation or so.”

“Kathleen and I visited Newfoundland last summer. It’s not as backward as you might think. St. Johns is still quaint, to be sure, but it’s also a modern city. We were struck by how spectacular it is. Most of the older homes are very well kept. We have some pictures you will enjoy. Mainers could learn a lot from them, especially how to choose house paint. It’s ironic…we live on Violette Avenue, but almost every home here is white or beige. In St. Johns, street after street is lined with homes freshly painted in a wide variety of beautiful, even stunning, colors—purples, oranges, reds and golds—shades we would never think to use. They’ve turned their city into a gallery of architecture. It’s inspirational. Waterville is utterly drab by comparison. Where’s the imagination?” Michael asked with a touch of melancholy.

Kathleen excused herself to finish with the dinner preparations. Michael and Mom sat down in the living room and continued chatting. I followed Kathleen to the kitchen; I wanted to have a word with her privately.

“Do you need any help, Kathleen?” I asked.

“No. I’m fine. But stay with me while I get the meal ready.”

I waited a few moments and then posed a question, “Tell me, Kathleen, have you ever had a prophetic dream?”

She turned to me with a quizzical and somewhat serious look on her face and said, “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” I replied, but I’m sure she sensed that my interest was not just small talk.

“My father has often appeared to me in dreams,” she said. “Most of them have been rather ordinary, of course, but a few have been striking. I guess you could call them ‘prophetic.’ ‘Lucid’ might be a more accurate word though. He often comes to reassure me that things will turn out fine. It’s not always important what he says or does in each dream; it’s enough that he remains close, but occasionally he describes something that is about to happen.

“When he passed away, his doctor told me that my father died of a sudden, unexpected heart attack. But it was not really like that. A week before his death, he appeared to me in a vivid dream. He stood on a high ledge overlooking a dark valley, holding a fiery torch in his hand. He beckoned me to join him.

“At first I was afraid, and I called out to him to come down. He just smiled and said, ‘It will be fine. Come on.’ I grew bolder with each step until I was standing next to him. Then he handed me the torch and said, ‘I’m moving on. Enjoy life, Kathleen; transform your work into play!’”

“How nice,” I said warmly. “Have you had any lucid dreams lately?”

“As a matter of fact, I had one last Sunday on our porch at the cabin. The news of the governor’s death put a damper on our activities in the morning, and it rained in the afternoon. The three of us sat around and didn’t do much all day. The rain stopped around seven o’clock, so Michael and Tyler went fishing. When they left, I lay down in the hammock and dozed off.

“I don’t know how long I had been sleeping, but at some point I found myself flying above the clouds searching for William Lavoilette. Whenever I sensed he was near, I looked intently through the sky, but all I could see were women’s faces, one right after the other, people I’d never seen before. It was strange and absorbing. I kept feeling his presence, but seeing women. One by one the faces appeared and then evaporated. I was never able to find him.

“Everything about the dream was crystal clear. I can see it all right now in my mind’s eye.”

Dinner was ready. I didn’t want to hold things up by comparing her dream with mine. But I was definitely excited to hear that we had had our dreams on the same day, and quite possibly at the same time. We’d have a chance to talk later.

Kathleen had anticipated that Angele might be coming for dinner, so she had prepared a vegan enchilada casserole including pasta made with no dairy products. Kathleen is a marvel of kindness and adaptability. For the rest of us, she broiled salmon. We started with a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, followed by a salad.

The wine got my mother talking. Once she relaxed, it was like old times. I’d almost forgotten how wonderful she can be when she stops fretting and lets her hair down. She’s an avid reader. When she’s happy, she talks about novels.

“I don’t know how I missed it when it first came out in the mid nineties,” Mom said, “but Snow Falling on Cedars is an extraordinary book. It’s so sensitive and genuine. David Guterson paints such a vivid picture of the San Juan Islands that I felt as if I were there. He mingles providence and justice in just the right proportions. It’s inspiring and sorrowful at the same time.”

Michael was quick to agree. “I’ve used that novel in my creative writing classes for years. I never tire of it. It has many dazzling paragraphs to inspire young writers.”

“I wish I had read that book before seeing the movie,” I said. “The movie was ho-hum for me. When I read the book, I had a hard time extracting the film from the writing.”

Over the next half-hour, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but it didn’t matter. Kathleen and I sat back and let Michael and Mom evaluate literature until dinner was done. It was a pleasure watching my mother’s spirit come to life. The two of them poured a second glass of wine and retired to the living room. As they disappeared around the corner, I heard Michael say, “English is an amazing language. It’s more significant to us than our DNA.”

“Why did you ask me about my dreams, Jesse?” Kathleen asked.

“Because I had one too. A lucid one.”

“Really? Tell me about it.”

“It happened last Sunday a little before dusk, the same time as yours.”

“That’s interesting,” Kathleen said.

“You were in it,” I said. “I didn’t actually see you, but I heard your voice distinctly. You said, ‘Cherchez la femme’ in the dream, just as you had earlier in the day at breakfast, when we were considering possible suspects for the murder.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “What do you make of it?”

“What do you make of it?” I echoed.

“Well, I don’t remember saying that in my dream. But there were a lot of women’s faces. This is mysterious, but not altogether baffling. I’ve often thought that our dreams are more than just our own personal mind games, at least the ones with extraordinary energy or significance attached to them. Perhaps they are out-of-body experiences. I really don’t know. I’m not sure if we can, or even need, to know. But this is the first time I have ever had any kind of—what should I call it?—validation from another person.”

“It’s especially interesting from another perspective, Kathleen. William Lavoilette was having an affair. He had many affairs over the past five years.”

“My goodness. How did he keep them quiet?” Kathleen asked.

“He had a close friend who made arrangements for him. His friend, Richard Merrill, is one of my three clients. The others are Cynthia Dumais, the governor’s most recent mistress, and Travis Perkins, the Maine State Trooper whose gun was used to kill the governor.”

“Whew! You are right in the middle of things,” she said. “No wonder your mother is so worried. How is it proceeding? The FBI hasn’t released any significant information, other than the arrest of Trooper Perkins and finding his gun.”

Michael and Mom must have heard us talking about the case, because they came back into the dining room with inquisitive looks on their faces.

“So tell us, Jesse,” Michael said, “who is Cynthia Dumais, and what does she have to do with the Lavoilette murder?”

I proceeded to tell them how I got involved and what I had been doing for the past week. I left out the part about Dennis Jackson and his Colt .45. But I did mention the incident with the tire iron. That explained my mashed Forester.

“I have provided two anonymous tips to the Maine State Police and the FBI,” I said. “First I directed them to the murder weapon, which they had not found during their initial search of the area. I told them exactly where to find the gun and other objects related to the murder. That tip demonstrated that I am a reliable informant. Later I sent them photographs of the man who stole Travis Perkins’ gun, which, incidentally, was used to kill the governor. It was stolen the day of the killing. If they can find this accomplice, they can interrogate him. I have his DNA too, but I don’t know how to locate him. He might not even live in Maine.”

“Why don’t you just tell the FBI about Cynthia?” Michael asked.

“There are several reasons. For one thing, she wouldn’t be much help to them. Cynthia was an eyewitness to the killing, but it happened very quickly at night, and the murderer was wearing a false beard. She told me there was no way she could positively identify him.

“Furthermore, Cynthia’s name might surface in the press. The killer, or killers, may already know she was in the governor’s car when the murder took place, but we can’t be sure. She feels that it’s safer for her to stay hidden for now. She’ll come forward if she can help, but she doesn’t want to be known as ‘the other woman.’ She’d never have a normal life after that. It would be like The Scarlet Letter, or Monica Lewinsky.”

“Who can forget?” Mom said derisively.

“Exactly,” I replied. “The FBI has found two different strands of long hair in the governor’s summer home that do not belong to Rebecca or anyone else they can identify as of yet. They are having DNA tests done on them now, but even if they suspect a particular woman had been there secretly, they could not insist on DNA samples from her. It’s not a crime to have been in the governor’s home. The Supreme Court will be hearing a case related to this in the near future, but currently the police cannot demand a sample from any individual who is not a suspect in a crime.

“On the other hand, as an ordinary citizen, I can collect DNA samples as long as I’m not invading anyone’s privacy. I have three samples now. Two are from women who had affairs with the governor, and one is from the accomplice who stole Travis Perkins’ gun. I am hoping to interview a few more women next week. I’ll see what I can manage to get from them. Including Cynthia, there are seven women on my list.”

“The governor had affairs with seven women?” Michael asked incredulously.

“According to Richard Merrill, he did,” I said. “They occurred over the past five years. I have definitely confirmed two of them, and a third one is likely.”

“I voted for him,” Mom said. “If I’d have known about the affairs, I probably would have stayed home on Election Day.”

“When I collect my samples and have them analyzed, I intend to turn them over to the FBI with the names of the women. It might prove helpful.”

The room went silent for a while. Everyone processed the story.

“Michael,” I said, “I’m curious as to what you and Kathleen think about my approach to the case. What do your instincts tell you?”

“Well, you seem to be handling it appropriately. There is some danger involved, for sure. Proceed very carefully,” Michael said emphatically.

“The next woman on my list hung up on me, just as Dennis Jackson did. Either she doesn’t want to be bothered, or she has something to hide. Dennis Jackson saw through my façade as an entrepreneurial homebuilder. I’ll be more cautious with Susan St. Claire.”

“What do you know about her?” Kathleen asked.

I related everything I knew, except for the part about the moose head. I didn’t want them to think I was relying too heavily on a psychic.

“I’ll find out all I can about her before I set up an interview,” I said.

“Her situation could be similar to Cynthia’s,” Michael said. “She’s running a business. It would be bad publicity to have her name connected to a murder investigation.”

“That’s true,” I replied. “I’ll just follow through with her and see where it leads.”

It was hugs all around when Mom and I got up to leave. As Kathleen embraced me, she whispered in my ear, “I’ll see you in my dreams, Jesse.”

 

26

 

Big Time Major League Trouble

 

 

 

Monday morning I made some calls. The first one was to Richard Merrill.

“Richard, I’m about to call Susan St. Claire, but I want some clarification on the notes you have on her.”

“What do you need to know?” he asked.

“On your spreadsheet, at the end of the third paragraph under her name you wrote, ‘The Vamp’ in italics. What did you mean by that?”

“Did you ever see the movie, Body Heat?” Richard asked.

“Of course. It’s a classic. Kathleen Turner was amazing,” I replied with enthusiasm.

“Richard Crenna never knew what hit him,” he said ominously.

“William Hurt, too,” I added, “at least before it was too late.”

“Right,” Richard said. “Oscar, the detective, cautioned Ned Racine about Mattie Walker, ‘She’s trouble, Ned. The real thing. Big-time, major league trouble.’”

“I remember that,” I said.

“When you’re dealing with Susan St. Claire, think ‘Mattie Walker.’ I should have put a star by her name,” Richard added. “William’s affair with Susan St. Claire’s was brief and fiery. She made a sizable donation to his campaign and made a point of being very friendly. She’s quite an attractive woman.

“After they had been seeing each other for about a month, she pressured him to change his position on natural gas drilling. William was reluctant to allow hydraulic fracturing in Maine. He was very concerned about the possible long-term contamination of drinking water. One night she became irate. After that, William stopped seeing her.”

“Are you sure they were sleeping together?” I asked. “She said they weren’t even friends.”

“I’m absolutely certain they were sleeping together. The first time it happened was in my home. I heard them in the next room. The walls were shaking.”

“Big-time, major league trouble, eh?”

“Absolutely.”

“I’ll proceed with caution. Thanks, Richard,” I said. “Tell me something else. When you spoke with the FBI, which of the seven names on this list did you provide to them?”

“Just two—Michelle Jackson and Lori Trumbull. I couldn’t avoid Michelle’s name. Lots of people saw Dennis Jackson get angry with William. The blowup was more or less public knowledge, but it is not widely known that William and Michelle were romantically involved. William’s affair with Lori flew well below the radar, but she was fairly visible as an associate around the office. If I failed to supply her name, it might look as if I were withholding evidence.

“I wasn’t going to give them Cynthia’s name under any circumstances. The other four affairs all happened more than two years ago. I thought it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. I gave you the full list. I assume you will investigate them with discretion. William was my dearest friend. I will do everything I possibly can to protect his good name. I also was thinking of Rebecca. A public display of William’s string of affairs would be painful for her, and it would be damaging to her reputation.”

“I understand,” I said. “I’ll be faithful to your concerns. I’ll be interviewing Rebecca today. Should I avoid bringing up the names of these women? It would definitely be awkward for me to mention them.”

“Right,” Richard said. “On the other hand, she might be able to provide you with some important clues. I’ll call her first, and tell her that you know about the women. I think she will want to help in any way possible. I’ll call you back after I’ve spoken with her to let you know how she responded.”

“Great. That will make my task a lot easier,” I said. “Thanks again, Richard.”

There was a brief knock at the front door before it opened. Then I heard Billy call down the hallway, “Jesse, I have your business cards.”

Cynthia must have let him in. I’d been keeping the doors locked for a week.

“Come on down. I’m in the office,” I shouted.

“Very nice, Billy,” I said after seeing the cards. “You’d make a fine counterfeiter.”

“I’ve given that some thought, Jesse. After all, I’m very fond of money.”

“Aren’t we all?” I replied.

“What would we do without rhetorical questions?” Billy asked with a grin on his face.

“Very clever, Billy,” I said, “I knew you were witty, but I didn’t realize you were sophisticated as well.”

“I’m oozing sophistication, Jesse. I went to the University of Maine Farmington. It’s a bastion of droll erudition.”

“That’s true. It’s a much better school than most people realize. Did you graduate?” I asked.

“No, but I did complete two-and-a-half semesters.”

“Well done,” I said.

“Are you referring to the business cards or my academic career?”

“Both, but mostly the cards. Here’s your twenty bucks,” I said as I opened my wallet.

“Can I get an advance on the finder’s fee?”

“What happens if you can’t find the letter?” I asked.

“I shouldn’t have any trouble. I know where my mailbox is.”

“OK, here’s a hundred. There’s a story behind how I got this C-note. I’ll tell you about it later. I’m a little short of time.”

“Thanks for the advance, Jesse.”

Billy tucked the hundred-dollar bill in his shirt pocket, turned and left the premises.

It was just over a week since Cynthia arrived. She had settled in reasonably well. I was keeping her informed of my progress, and we shared meals whenever I was around. She had an assistant helping her with property listings, and they managed to keep up with business over the phone. On one occasion, she had driven to town to finalize the sale of a home, but returned here quickly after that was done. She had books to read and found ways to pass the time, but she stayed on full alert. She was convinced that her life was still in danger, and I assumed she was right. I was armed at all times, even inside the house. Dennis Jackson weighed heavily in my thoughts, even after his contrite phone message. Now there was Susan St. Claire and Aaron Miller to consider. Without Angele to soothe my nerves, I probably wouldn’t have been getting much sleep.

The phone rang. It was Richard.

“Jesse, you’re free to talk with Rebecca about anything. Finding William’s killer is her primary objective now. Their marriage was dissolving, but she still loved and respected him. She knows about the women, and she’s ready to discuss them. In fact, I told her that the women were your primary focus. She’s OK with that.”

“Thanks. That takes a load off my mind. Is there anything else I should know?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. Good luck, and keep me informed. I’ll have my office in the State House until Friday. Then I’m clearing out. If you stop by this week, I’ll give you another check for your services.”

“OK, I’ll see you in a few days, Richard.”

• • •

Maine state law limits the size of contributions that individuals can make to those running for public office. For gubernatorial candidates the limit is $1500 for primaries and $1500 for the general election. A list of donors, recipients, dates and the size of all contributions is available online. Susan St. Claire made two contributions of $1500 each to William Lavoilette’s first campaign. I also checked for Aaron Miller and Mark Prichard. Aaron contributed a total of $3000 to Clayton Andrews’ campaign, and Mark donated $3000 to John Fickett’s. Northland Natural Gas made their political bets across the board.

Clearly the trio was trying to buy influence, regardless who won the election. They had a vested interest both in natural gas exploration and tar sands pipelines. If Maine were to permit an expansion in either of those areas, their companies stood to get very healthy overnight. That seemed motive enough to want to eliminate a governor who stood in their way. That same motive provided an opening for me to get up close and personal with Susan St. Claire.

With freshly printed business cards in hand, it was time to make my next move.

“Susan St. Claire speaking,” came the familiar voice.

“Ms. St. Claire, this is Lloyd Williams. I’m an aide to the acting governor, James Frye. I am his special liaison for energy policy. Governor Frye wants to connect with Maine companies that deal in energy exploration and infrastructure. We understand that you are one of the principal owners of both Northland Natural Gas and Down East Pipe and Fitting. Is that correct?”

“Yes I am. I’ve known James Frye for years. In fact I left a message with Governor Frye last Thursday hoping to have a discussion with him,” she said.

“She moves right in,” I thought to myself.

“Would it be possible for us to meet privately sometime soon?” I asked.

“Absolutely. I’m available anytime,” she said with enthusiasm.

“Are you in Augusta?”

“I live here, yes. We have an office in town and another near Jackman,” she replied.

“I have an important appointment today at two o’clock,” I said. “We could get together either earlier in the afternoon, or after…say…three-thirty?”

“Three-thirty sounds good. Where would you like to meet?” she asked.

“It’s a beautiful day, and Capitol Park is near my office. We could find a quiet place to sit and chat. If that’s agreeable, we can meet on the east side of State Street at the two short pillars directly opposite the State House. How’s that?” I asked.

“That’s fine,” she said.

“Do you like coffee?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“How about a cappuccino?”

“Perfect,” she said.

“I’ll bring two cups. See you at three-thirty.”

• • •

After my conversation with Susan, I spent the rest of the morning searching for information about the three owners of Northland Gas. The first thing I read was an obituary for Robert St. Claire. Susan St. Claire was listed as Robert’s wife. They had no children. The notice reported, “Robert died unexpectedly near Troy, Pennsylvania on March 12, 2008.”

I did some checking and located several news stories relating to an accident that occurred at a natural gas drilling site owned by Keystone State Natural Gas and Pipeline Company on that day. Robert St. Claire was the only fatality.

A coroner’s inquest was held to determine the cause of death. The report indicated that the hydraulic system at the site had not been properly depressurized. It was operating at 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. There was an explosion. According to two eyewitnesses, Mark Prichard and Aaron Miller, the blast slammed a wrench into the side of Mr. St. Claire’s head, and killed him instantly. Aaron Miller stated, “Robert St. Claire had been holding the wrench at the time of the explosion.” The article also indicated that Mark Prichard was Susan St. Claire’s brother.

The coroner’s report was inconclusive as to the cause of death. A grand jury took up the case, but failed to find adequate evidence for an indictment. For legal purposes, the death was ruled an accident, and Susan St. Claire was awarded a large settlement under a life insurance policy.

One news story cited the corporate ownership of Keystone at the time of the accident. Robert St. Claire had owned 65% of the stock, and Mark Prichard owned 35% of the stock. Susan was the only heir to Robert’s financial interests, so she retained the 65% holding when Robert died. The Pennsylvania Department of State listed the current ownership of Keystone to be Susan St. Claire - 55%, Mark Prichard - 30%, and Aaron Miller - 15%, which happens to be the identical ownership distribution of Northland Natural Gas in Maine.

• • •

Philip Hastings met me at the front door of the Blaine House and escorted me inside to an office. Rebecca was sitting at a large oak desk in front of a computer when I entered the room. She was attractive and looked to be in her late forties. She’s a relatively tall, thin woman, and was conservatively dressed in a white blouse and dark brown blazer. She wore no jewelry other than a wedding band. A gentle smile crossed her lips as I introduced myself.

“Sit down, Mr. Thorpe. Richard Merrill and I spoke earlier about your investigation. I understand you have been interviewing some of the women who had intimate relationships with William. Don’t be squeamish. Feel free to discuss these women with me. To the extent that I can, I will speak openly about them. My only request would be that you do your best to keep his extramarital affairs out of the press. If something surfaces that is highly pertinent to the murder investigation, then it will almost surely come out, perhaps in a trial. I am prepared for that. Just keep as much as you can out of the public eye. William was a decent man and worked hard to govern in a balanced way.”

“Thank you Mrs. Lavoilette,” I said.

“Please, call me Rebecca,” she said.

I spread my notes and the spreadsheet on the table and said, “Richard gave me a list of seven women who had affairs with William over the past five years.”

I turned the list so that Rebecca could read it.

“If you would be so kind, could you take a few minutes and read the notes about these women. I’d be happy to hear any specific comments you might have. I’m particularly interested in any of them who caused particular stress in William’s life when the affair ended. Take your time.”

Rebecca read the list and showed very little negative emotion. She didn’t appear surprised at all, and even chuckled when she reached the bottom of the first page. That was where the “vamp” entry was located. I suspected she was reacting to that particular comment.

When she finished reading the second page, she looked up and said, “I am familiar with all but one of these women. The two that stand out for me are Cheryl Greenwood and Tina Woodbury. As far as I know, Cheryl was William’s first affair. The notes indicate that it lasted two months. That seems about right. As soon as I confronted him about the affair, William broke it off.

“William had hired Cheryl as a secretary when he was organizing a team for his first campaign. She was a beautiful woman, about thirty years old, single and very intelligent. From the beginning I suspected something, but I didn’t say a thing. Perhaps if I had been more proactive, I could have nipped that one in the bud, and things would have turned out differently. After I discovered them—in the act, so to speak—my relationship with William suffered a severe downturn.

“I don’t blame William entirely for this. I could have been a more loving wife. He was very busy preparing for his candidacy, and I felt left out of his life. I resented that. As a result, I only rarely slept with him during the campaign. His libido got the better of him.”

“What was Cheryl’s reaction when they broke up?” I asked.

“I don’t really know. He let her go the next day, and I never saw her again. William never spoke of her after that. But, to tell the truth, I thought Cheryl was very sweet. I got to know her briefly before I found them together. I can’t imagine her to be involved in murder.”

“What about Tina Woodbury?” I asked.

“She gave me the creeps from the beginning. I never liked her, even before their affair. Richard’s notes indicate she had a temper. I noticed that as well. I never understood William’s fascination with her, except if you believe the old adage that ‘opposites attract.’ She was pretty, of course, but she was very controlling. Of all the names on the list, she’s the one I would investigate thoroughly.”

“You said there was a name on the list that you weren’t familiar with. Which one is that?” I asked.

“Susan St. Claire. I can’t remember William ever mentioning her name. The comment that called her a ‘vamp’ is amusing, but I wouldn’t know about that.”

Rebecca and I continued to review the list of names, but there was not much more I could glean from that part of our conversation. When I asked her to assess William’s political enemies, she laughed and said, “Do you have a week?”

“Well, I suppose I could find the time,” I said. “However, I was looking for some specific individual who was especially hostile.”

She thought for a minute and said, “No single adversary stands out.”

“I have an appointment at three-thirty with Susan St. Claire,” I said. “I’ll follow up with your recommendation to move Tina Woodbury to the top of the list. If my investigation begins to run dry, I’ll call you again, and we can discuss some of his political enemies. Generally speaking though, I am leaving that to the FBI and the Maine State Police. They are better suited to investigate leads of that nature.”

“You’re probably right. OK. So I guess we are done for now,” she said.

“Yes. Thank you for your time, Rebecca. I appreciate your candidness. I voted for William, and I thought he was a fine governor. I hope I can be helpful in solving this case.”

She reached out her hand and shook mine warmly. “Thank you,” she said.

• • •

It was three o’clock when I left the Blaine House. The nearest Starbucks was a couple miles away. I had just enough time to pick up two cappuccinos and get back for my stroll with Susan St. Claire.

It seemed a little warm to wear a sport coat that would cover up a shoulder holster, so I decided to leave my .38 Special in the glove compartment of my car. One chilling thought, however, made my knees knock. There are grassy knolls throughout the park. It’s been half a century since November 22, 1963, yet even today, Americans can hardly imagine a ‘grassy knoll’ without a sniper or two lurking in the shadows.

 

27

h1={color:#000;}.

Baiting the Hook

 

 

 

I stood inside the Maine State House holding two cappuccinos and keeping my eye on the pillars across the street. I wanted to observe Susan St. Claire before I met her. I also did not want to be an easy target on the side of the road.

At three twenty-five, a silver Porsche 911 with tinted windows stopped out front. A tall woman got out on the passenger side, stepped to the narrow curb and stood casually next to the pillars as the car pulled away. She was wearing a bright violet blouse and cream-colored slacks. From a distance, she appeared as elegant and self-assured as a fashion model.

I let her stand there alone for a few minutes to size her up. She didn’t lose her composure for even an instant. She looked like a woman with confidence to burn, like someone who knew what she wanted and how to get it.

I took a deep breath and ventured across the street, directly into the den of the lioness.

“Susan?” I asked.

“Mr. Williams,” she replied, giving me a slight smile and a raised eyebrow. The lilt in her voice suggested she was sizing me up.

“Call me Lloyd,” I countered.

“Lloyd,” she responded, somewhere between acceptance and doubt.

Like a chess match, we began with standard openings.

“With or without sugar?” I asked, holding the two cups forward on her right and her left.

“Without,” she replied.

I handed her the cup in my right hand.

“Thank you,” she said in a robotic monotone.

“Let’s find a quiet place in the shade. It’s warm today,” I offered. But in reality, I was thinking, “I’m an easy target in the sun.”

We walked down the stone steps and across a patch of grass to the gravel pathway.

“There’s a bench under a tree by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” I said. “It looks vacant.”

We continued walking along the path toward the memorial.

The most remarkable thing about Capitol Park was how few people were there. A young man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog on the lawn in the center, and a few other people were jogging, but that was about it. Thirty acres of freshly cut grass lined with trees, and only a few souls were enjoying it on this beautiful afternoon in June.

Susan and I were alone with our coffees and our cross-purposes.

As we sat down on the bench, I initiated the conversation.

“Governor Frye extends his welcome,” I said.

“Very kind of him,” she replied.

“The Governor is concerned about the energy resources in our state. He feels that the former governor did not adequately anticipate our future needs. James Frye intends to shift gears, but he is only the acting governor. There isn’t much that can be done in the five months before the next election.

“Because of the sudden death of William Lavoilette, the race for Governor is now wide open. As you know, James Frye is running as an Independent, but he will need a quick influx of financing in order to run a strong campaign. He is looking for funding from the energy sector.

“Governor Frye is well-known around the state, but elections are won and lost with advertising. If we cannot saturate the airways, he doesn’t stand a chance of winning as an Independent,” I concluded.

I let that thought sink in and gave Susan a chance to nibble at the bait. I sipped my cappuccino and she sipped hers. Something was definitely brewing in her pretty little head.

“I could guarantee a very large campaign contribution, if the Governor could guarantee something in return,” she said, while looking around as if to be sure no one could hear us.

“What exactly do you have in mind?” I asked.

“Northland Natural Gas and Down East Pipe and Fitting are both protected for the time being under Chapter 11,” she said. “We have a fair amount of working capital, but we won’t be able to operate for more than two years if there’s no change to the status quo. We need one of two things to happen. Either we must start hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or run extensive pipelines for tar sands; otherwise, we’ll have to shut down completely. Once we sign contracts for either one of those projects, we’ll be in position to raise millions to support our operations.”

“Honestly, the tar sands project is a long shot, given that brief time-frame,” I replied. “If James Frye is elected governor, it could happen in perhaps four or five years. Right now, the Keystone Pipeline is stalled until our illustrious president makes a move in the right direction. I’m confident it will eventually get completed, but don’t hold your breath. There is a proposed section running from Montreal to Portland, but that is at the very end of the Keystone line, which means it is not going to happen any time soon.”

I paused for a moment to see how she’d react. She made no response, and didn’t even blink, so I continued, “The better wager is on fracking. There is very little scientific evidence of serious water problems resulting from hydraulic fracturing. The documentary, Gasland, has been largely discredited. Not much is standing in the way of natural gas exploration in Maine—except fear. If James Frye gets an opportunity to run the state for the next four years, you’ll get your opportunity to start drilling.”

There was just enough truth in what I said to cause an energy lobbyist to drool. A subtle smile found its way across Susan’s face.

“We are not the only natural gas company standing in line,” Susan said finally. “What kind of an edge could we have on the competition when the bids for drilling rights start filing in?”

“That depends on the size of the campaign contribution,” I said. I glanced around cautiously as I spoke. I was confident that I had passed the audition with my comment and my furtive gesture.

“What position would we be in if we donated a hundred thousand dollars?” she asked bluntly.

I thought for a moment and said, “You’d be at or near the front of the line.”

“When would you need it?” she asked.

“Yesterday.”

“I’ll get back with you on that,” she said, and I handed her my latest business card, compliments of Billy Mosher.

“I’ll take that,” I added casually, pointing to her empty coffee cup. “I’ll drop it in the trash when I get back to my office.”

She handed me her cup. I cradled it as I would a newborn, underneath its bottom. I didn’t want my DNA to mingle with hers.

“I’ll call you tomorrow to let you know where we stand on a contribution,” she said. “We’ll have to discuss the details of the money transfer.”

“We’ll work something out,” I said confidently.

We both stood up.

“My ride is parked on Capitol Street,” she said, pointing to the north.

“I’ll wait to hear from you,” I replied, as I turned and headed west toward the State House.

• • •

It was four-thirty. I had just enough time to drop off the coffee cup at Paternal Affairs before they closed. I also had a Ziplock bag in the glove compartment of my battered Forester containing several strands of Michelle Jackson’s hair, including a few with follicles.

I handed the two samples to a young woman at the front desk and requested that I be called as soon as the analyses were completed. I reminded her that I had submitted two other samples the previous week. I asked her to combine all the results in one folder. She said they should have it done by Thursday, Friday at the latest.

From Paternal Affairs I drove across town to Ben’s Body Shop. I had made an appointment the day before to drop off the Forester. He had a loaner ready for me when I arrived. Ben took one look at the fender and asked, “What did you run into, Jesse?”

“A guy with a substandard attitude,” I replied.

“We’ll have it ready on Wednesday,” he said, and added, “Stay away from that guy until then.”

“Will do, Ben.”

• • •

I was welcomed home by the smell of lasagna baking in the oven. Cynthia was in the living room watching the news.

“Supper’s ready,” she said.

“I’m ready too,” I replied.

I opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

“White goes well with a hearty lasagna,” Cynthia said, concurring with my choice.

“Angele has taught me a thing or two about wine. If it weren’t for her, I’d have chosen a red because it matches the color of the sauce,” I said.

Cynthia smiled and produced two green salads to go with the pasta.

“Thank you for supper, Cynthia,” I said.

I reviewed the day’s events with her. She seemed eager to hear every detail. Rebecca’s account of Tina Woodbury interested her almost as much as my encounter with Susan St. Claire. I was a little uneasy about discussing these women with her, but I thought it important to keep her up to date with my progress.

“I respect Rebecca’s opinion,” she said. “She’s level headed and is a good judge of character. I must admit that while I was seeing William, I had a soft spot for her. If they had still been in love, even a little bit, I never would have allowed myself to get close to William.” She paused a moment and added, “I’m ready to hear about the other women in William’s life.”

“I’ll see what I can find out about Tina online tonight,” I replied. “According to Richard, the breakup between Tina and William was not pleasant. She sent him abusive letters and made harassing phone calls for two months after they separated. Richard referred to her as a ‘gold digger.’”

“How will you approach her?” Cynthia asked.

“I’ll be direct at first. I’ll call her tomorrow and see if she is willing to talk. If she’s not, I’ll contact her ex-husbands and see what they can tell me. If that fails, I’ll have to resort to subterfuge. In the case of Dennis Jackson and Susan St. Claire, I assumed false identities. That was the only way I could get a foot in the door. If necessary, I’ll create a new persona for Tina.”

We finished eating and had a second glass of wine together. Cynthia excused herself and retired to her room. I cleaned up the dishes and went to my office.

The videos from Cynthia’s home showed no unusual activity, so I began researching the life of Tina Woodbury. I browsed for almost two hours and found very little. Her name popped up in a few obituaries, and I had her home address and phone number from Richard’s notes. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything noteworthy. I decided to call Angele.

“I bet that Susan St. Claire and Aaron Miller are guilty,” she said after hearing my account of the day.

“You already have twenty riding on Dennis Jackson,” I said.

“I want to amend my wager,” she pleaded.

“My bookie never allows me to change my mind once I’ve placed a bet,” I said.

“Your bookie?” she said incredulously. “Who is that?”

“He’s short, dark and smarmy. I don’t know his name, but I’m pretty sure he’s enrolled in the witness relocation program. They don’t all retire to Phoenix, Arizona you know.”

“If you want to pull my leg, Jesse, that’s OK with me, but do it when we are in bed—not over the phone.”

“Sorry, honey, just foolin’ with ya.”

“I love you anyway, Jesse. I’ll leave my bet on Dennis Jackson to show you that I’m a good sport. Just remember that I told you it was Susan St. Claire and Aaron Miller who killed William Lavoilette.”

“Sure thing, Angele.”

“I’m trying to take off work on Friday. If I do, I’ll come up Thursday evening and stay through the weekend,” she said.

“I’ll be waiting,” I replied.

“Love you, Jesse.”

I locked the house and hit the sack.

 

28

h1={color:#000;}.

Two Gin Slings & A Proposition

 

 

 

“Hello,” she said with a hint of irritability.

“Hello. Is this Tina Woodbury?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“My name is Jesse Thorpe. I’ve been hired by Travis Perkins to investigate the murder of William Lavoilette,” I said. I decided to leave Richard Merrill’s name out of the conversation. That might stir up unsavory memories.

“Oh yes…Travis Perkins…the Maine State Trooper,” she replied.

“Right,” I said. “We’re convinced he is innocent.”

“Who’s we?”

“I’m working with his lawyer, Randall Bradford.”

“I don’t know how I can help. How did you get my name?” she asked.

“Mr. Perkins provided the names of some personal friends of Governor Lavoilette. I’m hoping you might be able to shed some light on the governor’s enemies. Are you aware of any death threats he might have received?”

“No,” she replied.

“I wonder if we could meet and talk more extensively about the people he dealt with?” I asked.

She paused for a few moments and then said, “Sure. Why not? You can buy me lunch,” she offered.

“I’d be happy to do that, Ms. Woodbury.”

“Call me Tina,” she replied.

“Tina.”

“The Densmore is a nice restaurant. They serve a great filet mignon. Let’s meet there at twelve-thirty,” she said.

The Densmore is a fine restaurant. It’s possibly the finest in central Maine. It’s certainly the most expensive.

“How will I recognize you?” I asked.

“I’ll be wearing a green blouse and a smile,” she said.

She had definitely warmed up in a hurry. She was either excited to meet me or salivating over the idea of a piece of meat wrapped in bacon.

“Twelve-thirty,” I replied. “I’ll be there.”

“So will I,” she said in a breathy voice, and then hung up.

“Hmm, a hundred dollar lunch with a sultry divorcee,” I thought. “This should be interesting.”

I wondered how I might manage to extract a DNA sample from her in a restaurant. The chances of her DNA matching either of the two samples taken from the Lavoilette summer home were remote. She parted ways with the governor on bad terms, three years ago. It was highly doubtful that she would have visited him there in the recent past. Still, I needed to cover all the bases.

Lifting her water glass from the restaurant on my way out the door would be tricky, especially if it were still half full. Her soupspoon, on the other hand, would be an easier target. If she needed to “freshen up” in the restroom at some point, I could switch spoons, and she’d be none the wiser. Even if she didn’t leave the table, I could probably palm it without her noticing, provided she’d had a few drinks. The mind becomes more casual with alcoholic lubrication. At fifteen dollars a martini, however, it could become a costly ploy. I wondered how many drinks I could justify on my expense account.

• • •

I arrived at the Densmore at precisely twelve-thirty. She stood out in the lobby like an oasis in the desert. Among other things, she filled out her green blouse perfectly. There are women, and there are women. Tina Woodbury qualified using every feminine standard. She was the kind of woman who leaves an indelible print on the retinas of sighted men. I wondered how Augusta had managed to keep her down on the farm.

“Tina?” I asked.

“None other,” she responded while sizing me up. My knees buckled as she drilled me with her eyes.

“Table for two?” the waiter asked.

“Definitely,” Tina responded. Her response was invigorating.

We sat down and a cocktail waitress stepped in to take our orders.

“I’ll have a gin sling,” Tina said.

“Sure, why not,” I added. “Make that two.”

“So you’re investigating the murder of William Lavoilette? Are you a private detective?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Perhaps you can help me. My former husband moved out of state two months ago, and my alimony checks have stopped arriving. He left no forwarding address, and I haven’t been able to locate him. Do you do that kind of work?”

“I certainly do. At the moment I am working full time on the Lavoilette murder, but I could help you out when this case is wrapped up,” I said.

“Are you like the Canadian Mounties?” she asked.

“How’s that?” I replied.

“Do you always get your man?”

“Sometimes it’s a woman,” I said, thinking she would appreciate a little banter.

She winked and said, “Do you think you’ll get me?”

“Are you guilty of anything?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she replied.

I tapped my index finger on my lips a few times and tried to imagine what she had in mind. There were too many possibilities, so I dropped that conversational stream and started a new one.

“How well did you know the governor?” I asked.

“Very well,” she said provocatively. Everything about Tina Woodbury was provocative.

“Do you have any idea who might have wanted to kill him?” I asked.

“When we broke up, I wanted to. But I got over that,” she said. “I moved on.”

“Does anyone else come to mind?” I asked.

“Not really. After he ended our relationship, I never saw him in person again. I have no idea who might have wanted him dead. But if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a woman.”

Our gin slings arrived. They came in tall curved glasses with straws, topped with lemon twists and cherries; it was definitely a lady’s drink. I regretted my selection before it hit the table. It tasted fine, but it didn’t do anything for my masculinity. I would have tossed the straw, but then I’d be faced with the problem of screening the fruit with my lips. Tina seemed to appreciate my predicament. Bogey would have ordered a whiskey straight up.

On the other hand, the straw in her drink offered some promising DNA potential, so I was delighted with her choice. She’d get a new straw with her second gin sling, and I’d have no problem pocketing the first one.

Halfway through her drink, Tina gave me an inquisitive look and said, “I think I’ve seen you before. Are you a musician?”

“In fact, I am. I play bass for Ocean Noises.”

“I thought you looked familiar. I saw you play several months ago in a club in Portland. On Congress Street I believe,” she said.

“We’ve played in several venues on Congress Street. How did you like the music?” I asked.

“I was a little tipsy that night, so I don’t remember all that much. You had a female vocalist.”

“Amanda.”

“I remember she was really good,” Tina said.

“She is. Do you want another drink?” I asked.

“If you’re buying,” she said.

“I guess I am,” I replied.

“I’ll have another,” she said.

I got the attention of the cocktail waitress and ordered, “One gin sling and a whiskey straight up.” I handed her both of our empty glasses, minus one straw.

Tina did, in fact, order the filet mignon, a forty-five dollar luncheon selection. I settled for pasta primavera, only twenty-nine dollars.

I must have caught Tina on a good day. She didn’t seem at all the hostile witness that Rebecca and Richard suggested she would be. On the other hand, she was having her way with me…and my credit card.

As we ate, I posed a few more questions about the governor, but they didn’t lead to any productive breakthroughs. Eventually, I gave up on the interrogation and decided to enjoy the meal and the company despite the expense. Besides, I already had what I came for.

I excused myself and left the table for a minute. In the restroom, I carefully put her straw in a zip-lock bag and secured it in the pocket of my sport coat. As I walked back to the table, I was feeling buoyed with my trophy and the drinks. She was sitting with her back to me. I stopped when I got to her chair, peered over her left shoulder and asked her kindly, “Are you enjoying your meal?”

She turned to me, slightly startled, then smiled and said, “Yes I am. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m enjoying myself too.”

I gave her arm a slight squeeze, then walked around the table and smiled. She smiled back.

As I sat down she asked, “Your place or mine?”

I had not intended to be that smooth.

“Well, I’m afraid it will have to be both,” I said. “You to your place, and I to mine. You’re a very attractive woman, and your offer is more than tempting, but I have a girlfriend, and I’m a faithful kind of guy.”

She took it in stride.

“You’re a rare one, Jesse Thorpe,” she said. “You have my number in case you change your mind.”

“I have more than just your number,” I thought, but I didn’t mention that. Instead, I replied, “Thanks for talking with me. When the Lavoilette case is completed, I’ll call you and see if I can help you get the alimony checks you deserve.”

I paid the bill and we walked out together, not quite arm in arm, but we gently rubbed shoulders a couple of times on our way to the door.

“I’m parked over there,” I said, pointing to the right.

She stepped toward me, put her left hand on my cheek and planted a wet kiss on my lips.

“Thanks for lunch, Jesse,” she said softly.

I could taste the bacon. Canadian, I believe.

As I walked to the car, a debate took shape inside my head.

My right-brain shouted, “What’s wrong with you, pal? You’re a man, and she’s quite a woman.”

My left-brain retorted, “Shut the **** up! You are a professional detective working a murder investigation, and you’re a gentleman. Take your saliva sample to Paternal Affairs and go home. Oh, yes…and drive carefully; you’ve been drinking.”

I suspect my right-brain would have slapped me a good one if it could have.

My left-brain usually wins arguments. My right-brain rarely gets involved intellectually. More often than not, it performs subtle, non-verbal maneuvers. Usually it prevails, but not today.

I dropped off the sample and drove home. I kept the loaner under the speed limit all the way.

 

29

h1={color:#000;}.

Matching DNA

 

 

 

Wednesday came and went uneventfully. Thursday was another story.

It began quietly enough…breakfast with Cynthia…bacon and eggs. Lots of bacon. I needed to use up every last strip by late afternoon. Angele would be arriving in the evening; she managed to get Friday off. I would also have to run the exhaust fan in the kitchen long enough to clear the air.

Things began to get noisy about nine forty-five in the morning. That’s when the first call came in on my cell. The Caller ID indicated it was from Susan St. Claire. I let it go to voice mail. I wanted to be fully prepared before making a response. She left no message.

Five minutes later, it rang again. This time she did leave a message. She shouted a string of obscenities but eventually became cogent, “I’m not sure who you are, but I have a good idea. If you taped our conversation on Monday, you’re in for more trouble than you bargained for.”

Gulp!

She railed on with more obscenities and finally hung up.

About ten minutes later my cell rang a third time. It was from a Stephen Grimes. That name was not familiar, so I let it go through again. The message clarified the first two calls.

“Mr. Williams, this is Stephen Grimes. I have just spoken with Susan St. Claire. She indicated that you represented yourself as an aide to Governor James Frye. We have turned the matter over to the Maine State Police. If you wish to discuss this, call me. I work for the governor. He is not pleased.”

I, on the other hand, was pleased—not by this sudden turn of events—but rather because I had taken the precaution of using a prepaid cell phone for my call to Susan St. Claire. My Boy Scout training was paying dividends.

Cheryl Greenwood, at the bottom of my list, was not a likely suspect. That affair lasted all of two months, five years ago, and she had not been heard from since. Furthermore, Rebecca had referred to her as “sweet,” and Richard wrote “harmless” beside her name.

The next several hours were spent trying to track down Barbara Davis. She was the sixth name on the list of seven women who had affairs with Governor Lavoilette. I tried the phone number listed on Richard’s sheet; it was no longer in service. There was no phone listing for a Barbara Ann Davis, her full name, in the state of Maine. There were thirty-two “Barbara Ann Davis’s” with Facebook accounts. Some were “Barbara-ann.” Others were “Barbara Ann.” Still others had a hyphen either before or after the “Davis.” I called Richard and asked to see if he could identify her from any of the Facebook profiles. He looked for fifteen minutes and came up empty.

By four-thirty my search for Ms. Davis was moot. That’s when I found out who killed William Lavoilette and why.

• • •

I received a call from Brenda, of Paternal Affairs, at four o’clock. She had the results of my “paternity search.”

“Paternity search?” I said. “What paternity search?”

“You provided us with four samples for DNA analysis, didn’t you, Mr. Thorpe?”

“Yes. But there’s no paternity involved,” I replied.

“Perhaps you should come down to our office and pick up the DNA analyses. Mr. Fleck will discuss the results with you,” Brenda said.

I drove my loaner to Ben’s Body Shop and picked up my renovated Forester. I was happy to have my own car back. I was a little tired of motoring with extreme caution. It was a short drive from there to Paternal Affairs.

Brenda was at the main desk. She directed me to the office of Larry Fleck. Larry stood up at his desk when I entered the room.

“I understand there is some mix up with your DNA results,” he said. “Brenda tells me that your samples were not intended to be a paternity search.”

“That wasn’t my intention, but I’m definitely interested in what you have found,” I replied.

“Well, we assumed that the first sample you submitted was the child. Granted, it was a little peculiar that the sample was a blood stain on a piece of cloth, but then, over ninety-five percent of our clients want to determine the paternity of a child, either a newborn or in utero. You didn’t actually indicate your purpose for the tests, so apparently we made a false assumption,” Larry said.

“I see,” I replied. “So what did you find?”

“We discovered that there is a 99.8% chance that the donor of your first sample is directly related to the donor of your fourth sample. It is almost certain that they are parent and child, or siblings. There is a very slight chance that they are cousins, but either siblings or parent and child are far more likely.”

So Susan St. Claire and Justin Cook are brother and sister. Ergo, Justin Cook is either Mark Prichard or another brother.

“You’re sure?” I asked.

“Within the stated probabilities…yes ,” he replied firmly. “Our method of sampling usually produces a result that is approximately 99% certain. In this case, we have a much higher correlation. As you probably know, DNA profiles of siblings are not perfect matches, but they show strong similarity and common banding patterns. In the case of identical twins, of course, the DNA matches perfectly. The degree of certainty of a match depends on whether we find inherited genes that are not ordinarily present in the general population. When two samples have a match for one or more rare genes, the certainty of the biological relationship increases. In this case, we found two gene matches that are exceptional. Our 99.8% certainty is a cautious estimate. It is probably more like 99.95%, but we prefer to err on the conservative side.”

“Mr. Fleck, you have performed an invaluable service. When my investigation is completed, I will share the outcome with you. I’m sure you will be interested. For now, I can’t thank you enough,” I said.

“We do this every day, Mr. Thorpe,” he said. “We are delighted we were able to assist you.”

I was absolutely giddy as I left the building. There was little doubt in my mind that “Justin Cook” was Mark Prichard, and I was convinced that Aaron Miller pulled the trigger on William Lavoilette. Susan St. Claire probably orchestrated the whole affair.

My giddiness gave way to sobriety as I reflected more closely on the situation. While it appeared conclusive that this trio was responsible for the governor’s death, there was very little evidence to support this “fact.”

If my assumptions were correct, then Mark Prichard stole Travis Perkins’ gun, but we had no direct proof of that. All we had was a bloodstain on a shirt and some photos of Mark and Travis fishing together on the day of the murder. That, and Travis Perkins’ claim that Mark must have stolen his weapon. In fact, Travis Perkins’ home was unlocked the entire day of the murder. Anyone could have stolen his gun. As far as the FBI was concerned, it would be just as plausible that Travis Perkins arranged the fishing trip to set up Mark Prichard. Although it would seem ridiculous for Travis to use his own gun in the murder, nevertheless he had a more clearly defined motive for wanting the governor killed. His ex-wife was William’s mistress. Travis might have chosen Mark because he was Susan St. Claire’s brother, and Susan had had a brief, though fiery, affair with William Lavoilette.

All this logical thinking caused me to briefly doubt my own conclusions…but only briefly. Susan St. Claire, the “vamp,” had the real motive. Two, in fact. She was a jilted lover, and she needed money. Killing Governor Lavoilette could resolve both of those unpleasantries. Revenge would be immediate. The money would begin piling up in short order.

By Susan’s own admission, she had known James Frye for years. She knew he was next in line to be governor if William Lavoilette died, and even I was aware that Frye was eager to begin hydraulic fracturing in Maine. He had been promoting it for years. If Susan waited to act until the gubernatorial election was over, all bets would be off. James Frey might not be Senate President any longer. Furthermore, as acting governor, James Frey would have a much better chance of winning the general election than as an independent candidate opposing a popular governor. No—Susan St. Claire most definitely was the mastermind. All the facts and intuitions pointed to her.

Angele “predicted” it. Misty more or less “saw” it. Kathleen told me to “look for the woman.” And, in my bones, I knew it.

All I had to do was to stay alive and prove it.

 

30

h1={color:#000;}.

Hatching a Plan

 

 

 

Angele met me on the porch when I got home.

“Great news,” she said. “I’m off till next Wednesday. We’ll have five whole days together. We can work on our murder case during the day and dance the nights away.”

She planted one of her patented lingering kisses on my left ear lobe and whispered a breathy “hello” that traveled down my auditory canal and into my chest. For a few moments I forgot my own “great news.”

Basic instincts collided and socialized. Elation, apprehension and anticipation was the soup du jour. Elation came with the breakthrough in the Lavoilette case. Apprehension followed on elation’s heals in light of the accompanying danger. Anticipation erupted with the kiss on my ear lobe.

“Angele, let’s get together with Cynthia and talk,” I said, trying to coordinate my mixed emotions. “There’s been a breakthrough.”

Angele’s eyes widened as I put my arm around her shoulder and walked her into the house. Cynthia was in the living room with a book. I sat down in my bark-a-lounger, and Angele settled next to Cynthia on the couch.

“I know who killed William,” I announced in a moderately triumphant tone.

All eyes stayed on me as I told my tale of facts and supposition. The enthusiasm that emerged at the outset gradually ebbed into consternation as it grew more and more clear that knowing the particulars of the murder and proving them were entirely different matters. It was especially disquieting that at least two, and probably three, members of the deadly trio realized that Cynthia Dumais and I were distinct threats to them. They had killed to get what they wanted. They would surely kill to keep what they got.

“We have come to a definite fork in the road,” I said. “We have an important decision to make. Either we go to the FBI with a few facts and a theory and try to disappear in the shadows, or we press on as independent operators. My instincts are to press on,” I concluded.

After a few quiet moments, Angele responded, “Mine too.”

I smiled at her and said, “Angele, I love you.”

“I’d rather live righteously on the edge, than passively in the valley,” she replied.

We looked at one another. My heart rested and soared at the same time. Angele is a jewel.

Cynthia joined in, “Yes. Let’s press on. I owe it to William.”

“All right then,” I said, “we need to pool our talents. I’ll call Randall this evening and set up a meeting with Travis in the morning. I want to inform them of what I have discovered. There is also another piece of the puzzle that I want to clarify with Travis. When I last spoke with him, he mentioned that his girlfriend had deserted him when he was arrested. He only used her first name, ‘Susan.’ I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I suspect that it might be Susan St. Claire. That would go a long way in explaining how the trio used Travis to execute their plan.

“I also want to arrange a ‘board meeting’ with Eric and Billy. Think what you will about those two hombres…they are brothers in arms. I’m brewing a plan that will require help from both of them. I want to consider it a little more carefully for now, and run it by them when we get together.”

We sat quietly for a minute, then Cynthia got up and announced that she was going to get supper started. Angele followed her into the kitchen. I retired to my office to make some phone calls.

“Hello.”

“Randall, this is Jesse. There are some interesting developments in Travis’ case that I would like to share with you. I believe we will want to meet with Travis in the morning.”

I discussed the surprising DNA results and my theory regarding the murder. Randall was enthusiastic about what I shared, but as a lawyer he appreciated the gulf between hypothesis and proof. Nonetheless, he agreed that we should convene with Travis as soon as possible.

“I’ll arrange a meeting tomorrow morning,” he said.

We hung up, and I called Billy.

“What’s up, Jesse,” he said.

“There’s a break in the case. I would like to get together with you and Eric tomorrow. Are you free?”

“Well, you know I’m not free, but I am available. By the way, a letter arrived today for you from Dennis and Michelle Jackson. I held it up to the light, but it’s in a security envelope. I figure it’s your check.”

“Bring it with you when you come. How early can you get here?”

“I’m usually up by noon.”

“Let’s plan on one o’clock. You and Eric are on a compatible schedule. Also, do your parents still own their summer home on Cobbosseecontee Lake?”

“Yes.”

“Is their any chance we could use it this weekend?” I asked.

“Sure. They don’t move in until early July. A few weeks ago I helped them get it cleaned up for the summer. Why do you want to go out there?”

“For security, Billy. The developments in the Lavoilette murder case present some risks for Cynthia and me. Is it set up for the Internet?” I asked.

“It’s set up for everything. In the seventies they built a fallout shelter in the back, which now doubles as a root cellar. My parents are survivalists, but they lost their way in the sprawl of Portland and the breakup of the Soviet Union. There’s WiFi, generators, rifles, surveillance equipment and cases of beans, rice and canned goods. Except for the boaters on the lake, we could hole up there for months without seeing another soul.”

“Perfect,” I said. “We’ll call it ‘Camp Billy.’”

“How long do you think we’ll need to stay there?” he asked.

“That will depend on whether or not my plan works.”

“So…you have a plan?” he queried enthusiastically.

“Sort of. It’s percolating now. We’ll talk about it with Eric, Cynthia and Angele. Is it OK if I invite Brock to join us there?”

“Will I have to hide the pot? He’s a nice guy, Jesse, but he is a cop.”

“I think it will be fine. First, I’ll have to see if he is free for the weekend. He could be very helpful to us. He smoked marijuana back in the day, Billy. He sets his sights on real crimes,” I said.

“He is likeable; I’ll give him that,” Billy admitted.

“OK, then. I’ll call Eric. If you don’t hear back from me, be at my place by one o’clock. Oh, yes…and bring Alonso. We’ll want a guard dog.”

“Alonso goes where I go, Jesse. He’s my partner until I find a woman who is willing to stay past seven in the morning.”

“Bring your 35mm camera with you when you come,” I said.

“Will do.”

“Good night, Billy. And thanks. I have the balance of your finder’s fee waiting for you.”

I knew that would be incentive enough for him to get here on time.

• • •

“Jesse!” Eric said.

“Eric, what are you doing for the next five days?” I asked.

“That depends.”

“On what?” I asked.

“On what you have in mind,” he responded.

“Are you up for an adventure?” I asked.

“Always.”

“I know you own a pistol. What kind is it?”

“When I heard about the Glock used in the Lavoilette murder, I decided to get one for myself. I picked up a beauty on Tuesday at the pawn shop.”

“Perfect,” I said. “Do you have a holster and ammunition?”

“Both.”

“Bring it all with you tomorrow. Be at my place by one o’clock.”

“Do I need to get a Kevlar body suit?”

“I hope not. I think you’ll be safe.”

“My daily rate goes up when danger is involved,” he suggested.

“Mine too,” I replied. “If everything works out, you will be generously rewarded. Bring that dark three piece suit I saw hanging in your closet; you’ll need to look like a professional.”

“I haven’t worn that since Uncle Ned’s funeral two years ago.”

“And a pair of dark shoes, dark socks, a white shirt and a conservative tie,” I added.

“Jesse, am I auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie?”

“Not that I know of,” I replied.

“I’ll be there,” he said and hung up.

I needed to make one more call.

• • •

“Hello.”

“Hello, Brock, this is Jesse.”

“What’s up?”

“Are you free this weekend?”

“Yes. I get off work at five tomorrow, and I’m not scheduled again until Tuesday morning.”

“How would you like to spend the weekend at Billy’s summer home on Cobbosseecontee Lake?” I asked.

“Are we goin’ fishing?”

“I don’t think so. There’s more important stuff to do. I could really use your help and your expertise.”

“Count me in.”

“Pack your things tonight, and be prepared to stay at the lake until Tuesday morning. Also, if you don’t mind, could you bring at least one complete trooper uniform? You do have extras don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, but his voice turned up into a question. “We are issued three complete sets. But what’s this all about?”

“I can’t spell it out for you now. Besides, I don’t have all the details worked out yet. By Friday night, you will be up to speed. Trust me. It’s important.”

“I’ll pack tonight and call you when I get off work.”

“Thanks, Brock.”

• • •

Angele rang the dinner bell. I made a quick check of the surveillance videos at Cynthia’s home. Everything there was still fine.

Over soup and salad, I shared the arrangements I had just made and explained that we would be spending several days at Camp Billy. It would be a safer location, and the six of us could put the finishing touches on my plan.

The excitement was palpable. It carried over into the bedroom till midnight. Then I slept like a log.

 

31

h1={color:#000;}.

Into the Woods

 

 

 

The smell of java got me out of bed at seven o’clock. I dressed, poured a cup and went to my office. I pulled up the videos at Cynthia’s home and was jolted awake. Only two of the cameras were actively producing images, and the one in her bedroom displayed a room that had been turned upside down. Bureau drawers and clothing were strewn across the bed and the floor.

I rolled the videos back in time hour by hour until I reached 2:00 AM. At that point, all four cameras were producing images. At 2:21 the camera positioned to view the back yard displayed a figure, probably a man, approaching the door. The moon was nearly full and provided enough light for an adequate image. He was wearing a ski mask and appeared to be holding a pistol in his right hand.

Another video showed him entering the living room at 2:23 with a small flashlight in his left hand and the gun, now very clearly, in his right. The bedroom camera found him in the middle of that room at 2:24. For the next five minutes he went through the drawers and shelves and randomly tossed things around the room.

At 2:31 his flashlight shined directly on the camera in the living room, and within fifteen seconds the video image went blank. At 2:35 the image from the camera in back stopped working as well.

I went to my bedroom and took my .38 Special from the nightstand. Angele was still sleeping. I slipped out the back door and circled the house quickly to look for possible intruders. I looked in the barn and down the driveway. Everything seemed normal, so I went back inside.

I must have woken Cynthia because she was in the kitchen. When I came in through the back door with a gun in my hand, she gasped.

“What’s the problem?” she asked excitedly.

I took a breath and said, “Unfortunately, your home has been ransacked. A man with a gun broke in at 2:20 this morning. He searched your entire house. Your bedroom is a mess. Two of the four security cameras have been knocked out.”

Her face went pale.

“They know who I am!” she exclaimed.

Angele joined us moments later.

“Maybe we should call the police,” Cynthia suggested.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’d rather go on the offensive. If we go to the authorities, we’ll have to explain everything. That will put us in the position we discussed last night. We’ll be forced into hiding while the authorities try to resolve the case.”

I gave her a little time to consider that, and then I added, “But it’s up to you. You can ask for protection, and I’m sure the FBI or the Maine State Police will provide it. However, we will almost certainly lose the element of surprise that I am counting on. I can’t promise that my plan will work, but there’s an excellent chance it will. I suggest that we move to Camp Billy as soon as we can, and discuss our options with Eric, Billy and Brock. If my plan doesn’t work, we can call the FBI.”

Cynthia stared at me for a while and finally said, “OK.”

“Wait here,” I said.

I went to the barn and found my dad’s hunting rifle in a cabinet. It had not been fired in twenty years. I brought it into the house and opened the case.

Cynthia and Angele eyed each other cautiously. Then Angele said, “Show me how it works.”

The Winchester 30-30 was in remarkably good condition, and there was a box of ammunition in the case. I checked the chamber and the magazine to make sure it was not loaded. Both were empty. I tried the lever action; it worked smoothly. I handed the rifle to Angele and asked her to pump the lever, aim and pull the trigger. She did it several times. Then Cynthia did the same.

“OK. I’m going to fill the magazine with cartridges. It holds seven bullets. Once the magazine is full, we won’t pump the lever unless we intend to point the gun at a live target. Is that clear?” I asked.

“Yes,” they said in unison.

I loaded the magazine and placed the rifle on the kitchen table.

“I will probably be going to the Kennebec County Jail sometime this morning to see Travis. I should be away for a couple of hours. You’ll have the rifle here while I’m gone. I’ll be carrying my handgun with me at all times from now on. Eric and Billy are coming over at one o’clock. We’ll leave for Camp Billy as soon as we get organized.”

• • •

Cynthia made breakfast, Angele sat at the table with the rifle, and I went to my office. I had not yet found a photograph of Mark Prichard to confirm he was Justin Cook. His picture did not appear on the Keystone State Natural Gas website. After searching the web for about fifteen minutes, I came across a four-year-old news story in the Mansfield Weekly. Mansfield is a town fifteen miles west of Troy, Pennsylvania. The story featured Keystone’s natural gas operation and had a picture of all three owners, Susan, Aaron and Mark. I enlarged the image. There was no doubt about it. Justin Cook and Mark Prichard were one and the same.

After breakfast, I went to Keystone’s web page and extracted the phone number and address of their office. Then I called Brock.

“Kennebec County Jail, Sergeant Brock Powell speaking.”

“Brock, this is Jesse. I need another favor.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“I need the home address and phone number of a Mark Prichard who lives in or near Troy, Pennsylvania. He is one of the primary owners of Keystone State Natural Gas and Pipeline Company.”

“Hold on,” Brock said. “What was the name again?”

“Mark Prichard.” I spelled it out for him and repeated the company name.

“I should be able to get that for you, Jesse,” he said.

“Bring that information with you when you come to the lake. We’ll be leaving here before you get off work, so drive directly to Billy’s cabin.”

I gave him the address and told him to call my cell if he had trouble finding the place.

As soon as I hung up, I got a call from Randall Bradford. He had set up the meeting with Travis for nine-thirty.

I got there on time, and we went right in.

“Travis, I have some interesting news to share with you, but first I have a question,” I said.

“What is it?” Travis asked.

“What is Susan’s last name?”

Travis knitted his brow and asked, “My girlfriend? Why do you ask?”

“Travis, it’s a simple question, and I would like to know. Is it ‘St. Claire’?”

“Yes,” he said tentatively. “What about her?”

“She arranged to have William Lavoilette murdered,” I said.

Travis slumped in his chair. Then he glared at me and asked, “How do you know that?”

I proceeded to tell him the full story. When I was finished, I asked, “Did you tell Susan that Cynthia was having an affair with the governor?”

“Oh my God,” he said. “I thought she was interested in me, but all the time she was plying me for information.”

He sat back and then said, “She set me up. Call in the detectives. Let’s tell them the full story so I can get out of here.”

“Not so fast, Travis,” I cautioned. “It’s your word against hers. The facts still point to you. Mark Prichard’s DNA on your shirt proves nothing.”

I turned to Randall and asked, “What do you think?”

“Jesse’s right. We couldn’t get you out of here based on the information we currently have. All of this may prove important if we go to trial, but we need solid evidence to get you released.”

“Travis, sit tight for now. I may be able to get the proof we need, but it will take a little time and a trip to Pennsylvania. I also need to get into your home. Can I do that?”

I addressed that question to both Randall and Travis.

“I have a key,” Travis said, “but I don’t know if the FBI will allow anyone inside.”

“I can arrange that,” Randall said. “You won’t need the key. The FBI will open the door for us. When do you need to go there?”

“One-thirty this afternoon,” I replied.

“I’ll make a call. It should be no problem. The defense has a right to search the premises once the FBI has gathered its evidence. What are you looking for?”

“I need to take a few pictures,” I said.

“That’s fine,” Randall replied.

“I would like to know a few more specific things, Travis,” I said. “First, when Mark Prichard returned to your house alone on Saturday morning, while you were sitting in the car, did he have his denim jacket on? Was he wearing a hat of any kind? I need to know exactly how he was dressed as he went in and came out.”

“Let’s see… He had his jacket on; it was chilly. But he wasn’t wearing a hat. He looked the same going in and coming out.”

“Like this?” I asked, as I showed him one of the fishing pictures.

“Yes. Just like that,” Travis replied.

“Secondly,” I said, “Exactly where in your home did you keep your .45 caliber Glock?”

“I kept it at the far right end of the upper right drawer of my dresser,” Travis said.

“Did he take your holster or only your gun?”

“Only the gun. The holster was still in the drawer when I got home. Why do you need to know all this? What’s your plan?”

“I’d rather put it in motion without talking about it. Loose lips sink battleships, you know. If it works, you might be free in a week. If it doesn’t, we’ll pursue other possibilities,” I said.

“All right,” Travis said pensively. He then added, “Susan St. Claire—she is a piece of work.”

I resisted the urge to laugh at his choice of words.

• • •

Billy and Alonso arrived at my house promptly at twelve-thirty. The thought of having a guard dog boosted my morale. He handed me the envelope from Dennis and Michelle Jackson. Inside was a check for two thousand dollars and a short note expressing their apologies for Dennis’ aggressive behavior.

“Let’s see, Billy, I gave you a hundred dollar advance on the three-fifty finder’s fee. I owe you two hundred-fifty dollars. Right?”

“I believe that’s correct, Jesse.”

I handed him two more of Dennis Jackson’s fresh C-notes and another fifty I had tucked away in my wallet.

“Do you have your laptop, Billy?” I asked.

“I never leave home without it, Jesse.”

“I assume you have a printer at the lake house, right?”

“Yeah.”

Eric arrived at one-fifteen.

“Eric, where is your Glock?” I asked.

“It’s right here,” he said and pulled it out of his backpack.

“We’re all set then,” I said. “Billy, you and I have to go for a short ride and take some pictures. But first I need to change.”

I went into my bedroom and put on a pair of jeans and a denim jacket.

When I returned, Billy said, “It’s a little warm for that coat isn’t it, Jesse?”

“It can’t be helped,” I replied. “Bring your camera, but leave Alonso here. Eric, please stay with Angele and Cynthia. There’s been some trouble at Cynthia’s place, so stay on full alert. The Winchester in the kitchen is loaded.”

Billy and I drove over to Travis Perkins’ home. Randall had arranged with the FBI for me to take some pictures at one-thirty. An agent greeted us as we arrived. I showed him the Glock right away to preclude any misunderstanding. I explained that we would be taking some pictures for a possible trial.

He asked to check the weapon for bullets. When he saw that it was not loaded, he unlocked the door and followed us in.

Billy and I recreated Mark Prichard’s theft of Travis’ gun. Billy took pictures of me entering the house, removing the weapon from the bureau drawer, leaving the bedroom and exiting the house. Billy took lots of shots from varying angles. After fifteen minutes, we had what we needed.

I thanked the FBI agent, and we drove back to my place.

I had an extra surveillance camera I could use for my own home. I set it up with a view of the living room and the hallway, and linked it to the same web page that I used for Cynthia’s videos.

The five of us packed up our belongings, food, drinks and weapons. There were five cars in the driveway. I left my Forester home. We caravanned in the other four cars to Camp Billy.

 

32

h1={color:#000;}.

Camp Billy

 

 

 

A slight breeze drifted over the lake from the south. Horseshoe Island sat half a mile to the east. Camp Billy was surrounded by maples and pines. We unpacked our gear and settled in.

There were four bedrooms. Angele and I took the one with the biggest bed. Cynthia’s room was next to ours. Eric and Billy shared the third. Brock would be consigned to the small one in the back. After we unpacked, we assembled in the living room. Everyone was eager to discuss the plan.

I laid it out. Eric and Angele offered a number of amendments. Billy grumbled about not going, but acknowledged that he wasn’t about to cut his hair, which was absolutely necessary if he were to play a role in Pennsylvania. Within half an hour, we were all on the same page.

Billy went to work at his computer preparing documents and photographs. Angele used my all-in-one grooming set to transform Eric. Cynthia withdrew to the kitchen to survey our options for supper. I went out on the porch and called my cousin, Raymond, in Philadelphia.

“Hello.”

“Ray, this is Jesse,” I said.

“Hi, Jesse. What’s up?”

“I have a favor to ask you,” I said.

“Shoot,” he replied enthusiastically.

It took fifteen minutes to describe the situation. Eventually, I got to the part that involved him.

“I need you to call Keystone State Natural Gas and Pipeline Company and ask for Mark Prichard. All our phones have a 207 area code. If Prichard sees that on his caller ID, he’ll know we’re calling from Maine. That might give him pause, and we don’t want him to pause. Your phone has a Pennsylvania area code. It won’t seem out of the ordinary,” I said.

“OK,” he replied. “What should I say?”

“First, find out if he is in town. If he’s away from the office, ask for his cell phone and call him directly. When you reach him, tell him you will be passing through Troy over the weekend, and you’d like to discuss a natural gas drilling project. He may want to set up an appointment in his office. Tell him you’ll be there on Sunday, and to make it easy on him, you’d be happy to drop by his home for a preliminary discussion. My first choice is to arrange a meeting at his home sometime during the day on Sunday. If that doesn’t work out smoothly, don’t worry. Set up a meeting in his office.”

“Who am I supposed to be, Jesse?”

“Tell him you are a lawyer, and you represent a number of individuals with farmland in central Pennsylvania. If he presses you for specifics, tell him that you aren’t at liberty to give out any individual names.”

“All right,” Ray said. “I’ll call you back as soon as I arrange it.”

“Before you call him,” I said cautiously, “do a little research on drilling for natural gas. Don’t provide him with a specific location for your project. Be a little mysterious. To get his competitive juices flowing, tell him you will be visiting a number of other drilling companies in the area. We want him to bend over backward for you… not the other way around.”

“Got it,” he said, “Anything else.”

“That will do it. Good luck.”

• • •

It was four o’clock. All I could do was enjoy the view of the lake and wait.

My phone rang a half-hour later.

“Jesse, I managed to reach Mark Prichard on his cell phone. He is at his summer home on Seneca Lake in upstate New York. But there’s good news. He’ll be back home Saturday evening. I’ve arranged to meet him at his home at ten o’clock Sunday morning.”

“Perfect, Ray. Thanks for your help.”

Raymond provided me with his home address and phone number, and bid me farewell. I entered the address in my GPS and checked out the driving time. It would take us a little over eight hours to get there.

Things were falling into place. It was a perfect time for a cold beer. I opened three bottles of Narragansett. Angele and Eric joined me on the porch. The lake was beautiful. For the moment, the world seemed to be spinning in our favor.

• • •

Brock arrived at five-thirty. He was eager to get the full scoop. I walked him down to the lake, told him the news and laid out our plan. I had to spend ten minutes convincing him I wasn’t completely nuts. In the end, he shook his head and said, “I think you’re crazy, but who knows… it just might work.”

When we got back to the house, supper was ready. It was a lively affair. Everyone commented on Billy’s excellent photographic work. We all were keyed up. I poured a second glass of wine for Brock. He raised his glass and offered a toast, “Here’s to a group of creative numbskulls. If I weren’t on the force, I’d drive to Pennsylvania and back you up. Cheers and good luck!”

When the sun went down, Angele and I sat on the dock and watched the moon rise over the lake. Our legs dangled over the edge. Gentle waves lapped the shore. Words were unnecessary.

 

33

h1={color:#000;}.

Off to Pennsylvania

 

 

 

Saturday was getaway day.

I got dressed and ambled into the kitchen. Brock and Cynthia were already at the dining room table drinking coffee. I poured a cup and joined them.

Cynthia smiled as Brock said, “You know, Jesse, maybe I should join you in Pennsylvania after all. I’m trained to deal with criminals.”

“I’ve thought about it, Brock,” I said. “It would be nice to have you there for support and backup when we meet with Mark Prichard, but I think it’s better that you stay here. If things go badly, your career might be in jeopardy. We’re not exactly doing this by the book.

“There’s also an important legal issue to consider. Suppose we pull this off and bring Prichard back to Maine. If a bona fide trooper were involved, any evidence we gathered in the process might be tainted. It could all be thrown out in court over procedural issues. Cynthia, Eric and I are not restricted in the same way. We will be running some risk by impersonating officers of the law, but as independent citizens, we won’t be undermining the legal case.

“And let’s not forget, there’s been a threat to Cynthia’s life. I’ll feel more comfortable if you’re here. I’ve been assuming three people planned and executed the governor’s murder, but I could be wrong. There might be a broader conspiracy at work. We can’t let our guard down just because we are in Billy’s cabin on the lake. Keep your sidearm with you at all times. My 30-30 is in the living room.

“Which reminds me…don’t let Billy smoke any pot. All three of you need to hunker down and be prepared for trouble.”

Brock didn’t say a thing. He took it in and processed it. The wheels were turning; his facial expressions told the whole story.

I made a mental note. “When this is all over, invite Brock over for poker night.” I could read him like a book.

Angele walked into the room behind me. She put her hands on my shoulders, pressed her thumbs into the trapezius muscles on both sides of my neck and dug in; I tried to relax. I was wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch. Thirteen days on a murder investigation had taken its toll on my nervous system.

“Angele, that’s marvelous. I need a full-time masseuse and a vacation.”

I groaned as Angele intensified her grip. My back turned to putty.

“I could sit here all day,” I said.

“No, you can’t,” Angele countered. “We’ve got a job to do. Wake up Eric. We need to get moving.”

She was right, as usual.

I walked over to Eric’s bedroom door and knocked. He didn’t make a sound, so I knocked louder and hollered, “Eric, let’s go to Pennsylvania.”

“OK, boss,” came a weak reply.

Cynthia went to the kitchen and started a second pot of coffee. Angele joined her and made a smoothie. She combined bananas, pineapple, orange juice, soy milk and protein powder in a blender and turned it on high. Camp Billy jolted to life.

Cynthia fixed eggs, bacon and toast for the non-vegans; Angele and I downed our liquid breakfast. By eight, Angele, Eric and I were on the road.

We had settled on using Angele’s car for the trip. She owns a black, late model Buick LaCrosse. We decided that of all our vehicles, it was the best fit for prominent officials of the FBI.

We had booked a two-bedroom suite at a Best Western in Sayre, PA for Saturday night. It was going to be an eight-hour drive. For the first two hours, we talked strategy and rehearsed our parts. In the middle of Massachusetts, we took a break and began enjoying the countryside. Angele and I shared the driving, while Eric tweaked our notes on his laptop.

We reached Sayre at four o’clock and checked into our rooms. Angele and I took a dip in the pool. Eric took a nap. Getting up at eight in the morning had thrown off his internal clock.

After dinner, we rehearsed again. By eight o’clock, we felt we were as ready as we could be. I turned on the television and scrolled to ESPN. We managed to catch the last inning of the Sox game. They were playing the Angels in Anaheim. Angele curled up with a book on the bed. Eric and I relocated to his room and continued watching the game. The Sox lost 4-3 on a ninth inning, two-run homer by Albert Pujols.

“Don’t tell Angele how it turned out,” Eric said. “She might take it as a bad omen.”

I agreed.

When I returned to our room, Angele looked up and asked, “Is the game over?”

“No, honey,” I said. “It’s going into extra innings. I want to get a good night sleep. We have our work cut out for us in the morning.”

She studied me closely.

“You’ve abandoned an extra inning Sox game for some shuteye. You’re taking your work very seriously,” she said.

“I thought we could spend a little time in the sack before calling it a night,” I offered.

“Hmm… Sounds like a plan,” she replied.

She put down her book, slipped out of her clothes and slid under the covers.

“Turn off the lights and come find me,” she said. “I’m in here somewhere.”

My radar worked perfectly.

 

34

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Expectations & Impersonations

 

 

 

We checked out of our room bright and early Sunday morning and had breakfast at a local diner. We left Sayre at nine. It was a half-hour drive to Troy. We were parked in front of Mark Prichard’s house at nine-thirty. The first part of our plan was for Eric and Angele to meet with Mark. I remained out of sight in the back of the car while they walked up and rang the bell.

“You must be Raymond McDaniels,” Mark said as he opened the door.

“No,” Eric said. “My name is Leroy Cochrane; this is my assistant, Angele Richards. We are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We are investigating a series of burglaries.”

“Burglaries?” Mark asked.

“Are you Mark Prichard?” Eric asked.

“Yes,” he replied uneasily.

“May we come inside to discuss this with you?”

“The FBI?” Mark queried. “May I see some identification?”

Eric and Angele produced their novelty badges, followed by some of Billy’s digital ID handiwork, freshly laminated.

Mark studied the credentials briefly, then handed them back and asked, “Why is the FBI involved in burglaries in Pennsylvania?”

“Four states are involved, sir. The burglaries have taken place in Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia. The stolen items have been fenced here in Troy. If you wouldn’t mind, we’d like to discuss this privately,” Eric said.

“Sure. I’ve got nothing to hide,” Mark replied confidently.

They walked inside, and Mark suggested they sit in the living room.

“Why have you come to see me, exactly?” Mark asked.

“If you don’t mind, Mr. Prichard, Mrs. Richards will record our conversation,” Eric said in a formal tone.

Angele produced a small hand-held microphone from her bag and set it down on the coffee table. She monitored the volume levels as Eric continued to speak.

“The burglaries in question have taken place over the past three months,” Eric said. “A couple miles northwest of Troy, on the Roosevelt Highway, there is a small farmhouse that has been used to receive the goods. We have reports that a late model, blue Ford Taurus has been spotted frequently going in and out of that farmhouse over the past two months. We ran a search of vehicles in the area and found that there are three cars registered in Troy that match that description. Yours is one of them. Is that your Taurus in the driveway, Mr. Prichard?”

“Yes,” Mark replied without a hint of concern.

“We are interested in your whereabouts during the past two months and in particular on three specific dates,” Eric said as he pulled out a notepad from the vest of his three-piece suit. “The dates in question are May 12th, June 1st and June 8th.”

“I have just spent the past six weeks at my summer home on Seneca Lake, about twenty miles west of Ithaca, New York,” Mark said.

“Can you show us some proof that you were there? Do you have any receipts for purchases, groceries or gasoline for example?” Eric asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “I have most of them in an envelope in my desk. I’ll be happy to get them for you.”

“I’ll go with you, if you don’t mind,” Eric said seriously.

Eric stood up, unbuttoned his jacket—suggesting in a subtle way that a service revolver was riding in a shoulder holster—and followed behind him. Eric did indeed have a revolver in a shoulder holster, none other than Rhonda, my own .38 Special.

Mark opened his desk drawer, produced an envelope and handed it to Eric. Eric asked Mark to walk in front of him as they returned to the living room.

Eric took the receipts and arranged them on the coffee table in chronological order. The date of the first receipt was May 3rd. After that, there were a number of receipts, mostly for groceries, until May 13th. On that day Mark purchased thirteen gallons of gas at a station in Ithaca. The next receipt was dated June 2nd from another gas station in Ithaca for fifteen gallons of gas. There were a number of other receipts including two for groceries, one on June 3rd and the other on June 8th.

“If these receipts check out, you will have a strong alibi for at least two of the dates in question,” Eric said. “I noticed that there are no receipts from May 13th to June 2nd. Where were you during those dates?”

“I was still at my summer home,” Mark replied. “I had purchased enough food and other necessities and spent most of that time inside my home or on the lake.”

“Was anyone with you during that time?” Eric asked.

“Occasionally a neighbor dropped over, but for the most part I enjoyed the solitude. I like fishing by myself during the day and reading or watching television in the evenings.”

“So from May 13th through June 2nd you were at your summer home on the lake? Is that correct?” Eric asked definitively.

“Absolutely. I spent every single night there,” Mark replied just as definitively.

“Thank you, Mr. Prichard. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to call in another assistant, Detective Wilson Thorndyke,” Eric announced. “Wilson, would you come in please?”

Mark was slightly startled by this development, as he now realized another investigator had been tuned in to their conversation. His eyes opened wide as I made my entrance. Brock’s uniform fit me to a tee. I especially enjoyed having a loaded .45 caliber Glock in a holster on my hip. I have to admit, I struck a commanding pose as I walked into the room. A silver Maine State Trooper badge rested nicely on my chest. I had donned a tall, dark gray hat with a round flat brim and a gold insignia in front. My epaulets, tie and pocket flaps matched the color of my hat. I was fully decked out, and if you looked at my shoes—though no one did—you could have seen your reflection.

“Mr. Prichard, this is Detective Wilson Thorndyke,” Eric said. “He is a trooper from the state of Maine.”

Mark took a deep breath and stood up unexpectedly. He remained absolutely rigid for at least ten seconds. If I’m not mistaken, his life flashed before his eyes. Then he asked nervously, “What is a Maine trooper doing here?”

“I’m investigating the assassination of our governor, William Lavoilette,” I said stoically. “I assume you are aware he was murdered two weeks ago.”

“Yes,” he stammered. “I want to talk to a lawyer.”

“You are perfectly within your rights to have a lawyer present, Mr. Prichard, but I am confident that you will decide against it. If you will kindly sit down, I will be happy to explain the situation to you,” I said.

Mark Prichard turned ashen white, and he buckled at the knees.

“Have a seat, Mr. Prichard,” Angele spoke up. “We can get you some water if you like. You look rather pale.”

“I’ll be OK,” he fired back indignantly. “What’s this about?”

“This is about murder,” I said, “premeditated murder, planned and orchestrated by three people—Susan St. Claire, Aaron Miller and you, Mr. Prichard.”

I allowed that statement to sink in while I put my briefcase on the floor and opened it. I pulled out a set of papers and stacked them on the coffee table. The papers had been carefully arranged in an order that would drive my story. On top of the pile was a photograph of Mark Prichard and Travis Perkins on Jigs and Things’ charter fishing boat. The photograph had a time and date emblazoned in orange along the bottom.

I handed the picture across the table to Prichard and said, “As you can see, you were not in New York on June 1st of this year. You were fishing with Travis Perkins in the waters off Orr Island, Maine. That is you in the picture, isn’t it?”

“Impossible,” he said. “That’s someone else. I admit it looks a bit like me, but it couldn’t be.”

I picked up a second photograph, handed it to him and said, “Take a look at this picture carefully, Mr. Prichard. You received a cut on your right hand when you tried to remove a fishing lure from the mouth of a hammerhead shark. Please notice that the left sleeve of Travis Perkins’ shirt is now stained red. It’s your blood on that shirt. That blood is loaded with your DNA.”

Prichard instinctively covered his injured hand as he responded to my statement, “How do you know it’s my DNA? I’ve never been tested.”

“We’ll get to that a bit later,” I said patiently. “What is it they say? Oh yes, ‘Every picture tells a story.’ Here’s another.”

I handed him one of Billy Mosher’s finest—a Photoshopped image of me purloining a .45 caliber Glock from the bureau drawer in Travis Perkins’ bedroom. It was my body and my denim jacket, but the head on my shoulders belonged to Mark Prichard. The digital work was absolutely seamless.

“That picture is a fake. I was…”

He stopped speaking suddenly, swallowing his thought. I suspect the sentence would have ended with “…in that room by myself.”

“Then why is Travis Perkins still in jail?” Prichard asked in a fiery tone.

Angele spoke right up, “He is still in jail for two reasons. First, he has not been entirely cooperative. He is worried that he might be accused of being an accessory to murder. Travis Perkins provided Susan St. Claire with important information that she used to plan the murder of Governor Lavoilette. Travis is embarrassed by this.

“The primary reason that Trooper Perkins remains in jail is for his own protection. He can testify in court against Susan St. Claire and you. His testimony is vital to our case. We don’t want anything to happen to him while Susan St. Claire is still at large.”

“I demand to see a lawyer,” Prichard shouted.

“Mr. Prichard,” I replied, “Let me remind you of something I said earlier. I am confident that you will choose to not contact a lawyer. If you will sit quietly and listen to what I have to say, I think we can wrap this up rather easily. I’ll begin with the evidence we have that connects you to the crime—several crimes actually: conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder before the fact, lying to a federal officer, and obstruction of justice.

“You approached Travis Perkins on May 15th, posing as Justin Cook, a story writer for Police Magazine. You indicated you wanted to write a human-interest story about Maine State Troopers. On May 18th, you visited Travis at his home and took some photographs of him. You even asked him to put on his uniform and wear his gun for the pictures. That’s how you discovered where he keeps his service weapon when he is off duty.

“On June 1st, the day of the murder, you returned to Trooper Perkins’ home and had breakfast with him. You had made reservations to go fishing together on Saturday and Sunday. The two of you got into your car to leave, but you asked to return inside to use the bathroom. Travis gave you his key, and you went back in alone. That is when you stole his .45 caliber Glock from the bureau.

“Incidentally, the photograph of you stealing his weapon was extracted from a video. There are four video cameras set up in the Perkins’ home. We have video of you entering the front door, walking through his living room, and, of course, removing the Glock from the bureau drawer. Many policemen have video cameras and alarm systems set up in their homes. These public servants are often threatened with violence for the service they provide.

“You returned to your Taurus with the Glock concealed in your denim jacket. You then put that jacket with the weapon in the trunk of your car. You also intentionally did not lock the front door of the Perkins home, as you had promised. We suspect that you intended to have Aaron Miller return the Glock in the event that your assassination plan did not work. That way you would remain in good graces with Trooper Perkins for any further attempt on the governor’s life.

“You and Travis then drove to Jigs and Things on Orr’s Island and went fishing for the afternoon. The two of you had dinner that evening and retired to the Nestle Inn at eight o’clock. You registered under the name Justin Cook and wrote the license plate number on the form. It was a Maine plate, number 622-JVT. That plate was stolen on or about May 15th from Victor Audet in Augusta.

“You received a call on your cell phone and drove away from the motel at approximately 8:30 PM. That was shortly after the governor’s car left his summer home. The governor and his date drove to Brunswick to see the movie, Lincoln, at a cinema complex a few miles away. You drove to the theater and met with Aaron Miller. At that time, you gave him the Glock, and you remained to stake out the governor’s car.

“The movie let out a little after 10:00 PM. Aaron then drove to Sebascodegan Island and positioned his silver Honda CRV by the side of the road at the intersection of Highway 24 and Cundys Harbor Road and waited. He knew that the governor had to pass there on his way home.

“You probably called Aaron just as the governor’s vehicle left the parking lot. It is a five-minute drive from the theater to that intersection. When the governor drove by, Aaron flagged him down. William Lavoilette, ever the Good Samaritan, stopped to help a man stranded on the side of the road.

“Aaron contacted you shortly after the murder to let you know that he had been successful. You immediately left the state and drove all night, arriving in Ithaca, New York at—let me see that receipt—yes, at 6:34 AM, Sunday morning, June 2nd. The driving time from Brunswick, Maine to Ithaca, New York is about seven-and-a-half hours.”

I paused to catch my breath, and then spoke to Angele, “Mrs. Richards, would you be kind enough to go into Mr. Prichard’s kitchen and fetch me a glass of water?”

“I’d be happy to, sir,” Angele replied.

I watched Angele get up and leave the room. I thrilled with a measure of delight to see her perform so well under the pressure. Our plan was coming together nicely. When Angele was out of sight, I turned to observe Prichard. He sat in a heap, looking as glum as a child with a lump of coal on Christmas morning.

Angele returned to the room and handed me the glass.

“Thank you, Mrs. Richards,” I said.

I sipped it slowly. When my whistle was sufficiently wet, I continued my monologue.

“Mr. Prichard, we have corroboration for many of the details I have just laid out. Mr. Kenneth Harper, the owner of Jigs and Things, is willing to testify that you went fishing on his boat on June 1st. Andy Booker, the motel clerk at the Nestle Inn, will testify that you and Travis Perkins checked in on the evening of June 1st, but that you did not check out in the morning. You left sometime in the night and stranded Mr. Perkins there without a vehicle.

“The photographs of you on the fishing trip were taken by John Westcott. He has indicated that he will be happy to testify that you were on the boat. His photographs speak for themselves; they are ample evidence that you were there. And, of course, there’s Maine State Trooper, Travis Perkins. He will gladly tell the court everything.

“We have a rock solid case against you. If you don’t cooperate with us right here and now, you will spend the rest of your days in federal prison. I might also add that there is a distinct possibility that your life will be abbreviated. This is a capital crime, Mr. Prichard. The District Attorney intends to press for the death penalty.

“Having said all this, I have to tell you that we have a problem with our case. We are absolutely certain we can convict you of murder in a court of law. We are about 90% sure we can get a guilty verdict against Aaron Miller. The evidence in his case is largely circumstantial, but compelling.

“The strongest piece of evidence that we have on Mr. Miller is DNA. He was wearing a fake beard when he shot Governor Lavoilette. An eyewitness can attest to that fact. His beard came partly unglued as he dragged William Lavoilette’s body away from the side of the road. He was observed reattaching it as he returned to his vehicle. That beard was found wrapped inside a towel near the crime scene. The towel has a bullet hole through it and powder burns on it. It was used to muffle the sound of the gunshot. Aaron Miller discarded it near the scene of the crime, along with the Glock and a stolen license plate he used on his Honda.

“The DNA evidence comes from skin cells and human hair left on the tape that held the beard to his face. We are certain that the DNA found on the beard will match that of Aaron Miller’s. When we arrest him, we will have a legal right to test his DNA and verify that fact.

“Here’s our problem. We have very little evidence that points to your sister, Susan St. Claire.”

I paused and then said, “That reminds me. Susan is your sister. That fact proved vital in our discovery process. You wondered how we determined that the DNA extracted from the blood stained shirt belonged to you. That piece of evidence was provided to us by a private investigator hired by Travis Perkins.

“The investigator obtained a saliva sample from Susan St. Claire. The DNA from that sample was compared with the DNA sample of the bloody shirtsleeve. The two samples indicated that Susan St. Claire and Justin Cook are siblings. Once we discovered that, the details of the case quickly fell into place.”

Prichard’s head drooped noticeably as I said that.

“Now,” I continued, “let’s get back to the case we have against Susan St. Claire. Unfortunately, it is very weak—too weak to go to trial. There is no direct evidence that indicates she was involved. We are certain she masterminded the assassination. Susan is a hard-hearted woman, driven by greed. Aaron Miller is a cold-blooded killer. They both deserve to be punished for their heinous crime. On the other hand, we suspect that you were probably reluctant to participate. We guess that you were pressured.

“That is why we have come to you first. We are here to offer you a deal,” I concluded.

I turned to Eric and said, “Agent Cochrane, why don’t you explain our proposition to Mr. Prichard.”

“Thank you, Detective Thorndyke,” Eric said.

“Mr. Prichard,” Eric began, “the FBI and the District Attorney for the State of Maine are eager to arrest and convict Susan St. Claire of premeditated murder. However, without the testimony of either Aaron Miller or you, there is virtually no chance that we can get a conviction. We are willing to give up our case against you, to offer you complete immunity, provided you are willing to testify truthfully to all the facts in this case.

“No doubt, this will be a difficult decision for you. We realize that you will not be enthusiastic to testify against your sister. But the alternative for you is bleak. If you do not agree to testify, we will make the same offer to Aaron Miller. We are quite sure he will be willing to cooperate. After all, he is not family. His testimony will send both you and Susan to prison and probably the gas chamber. With you out of the way, he could take over your businesses for himself and make a fortune drilling natural gas, which is about to break wide open with a new governor at the helm.

“Either way, we are going to get Susan St. Claire. The only question is whether she will be convicted of murder along with Aaron Miller, or with you. We have agents standing by ready to make the same offer to Mr. Miller if you balk.

“We’d prefer that you accept the offer because Aaron Miller pulled the trigger. But we will do whatever is necessary to bring Susan St. Claire to justice.

“There is one other reason why it is important for us to put Aaron and Susan behind bars. The eyewitness to the murder is being held in a secret location. Her home was invaded by an armed man two days ago. Detective Thorndyke, would you show Mr. Prichard some of the photographs of that home invasion?”

I picked out three of the photos and handed them to Prichard.

“As you can see,” I said, “someone entered her home a little after two o’clock on Friday morning. We are quite certain it was Aaron Miller. We have determined the precise height of the intruder from the photographs. He is 6’1” tall, which is the same as Mr. Miller, according to his Maine driver’s license. He also has the same build. Our eyewitness will not be safe until we lock away the guilty parties.”

Eric continued, “Our offer to you will expire the moment you contact a lawyer or any other individual by phone. We consider Susan a flight risk. We cannot arrest her at this time, and if she hears about our proposal, she might decide to leave the country. We can arrest Aaron Miller the moment you phone your lawyer, but we can’t touch Susan without an agreement from you or Mr. Miller.

“So, Mr. Prichard, what will it be?” Eric asked finally. “Are you willing to accept our offer of immunity?”

Mark Prichard stared blankly into space for a time and then closed his eyes and bowed his head. When he was finished communing with whomever or whatever, he looked at us one at a time until his eyes rested on Eric once again. Then he said, “OK. I’ll accept your deal. I told Susan from the beginning that this was a bad plan. It was too desperate. But she wouldn’t listen. Damn! She can be a complete bitch.”

 

35

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The Long Ride Home

 

 

 

“Brock, we have a canary!”

“Wow, that’s great!” Brock said and then asked in a hushed tone, “Can we speak freely?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I left Eric and Angele with Mark Prichard in his house putting the finishing touches on the agreement. I’m outside enjoying the small town Pennsylvania ambiance.”

“So it worked?” Brock asked half incredulously.

“Like a Swiss watch,” I replied. “Thanks for your help, Brock. Is there any chance I can keep the trooper uniform?”

“None,” Brock replied.

“Let’s see,” he continued, “I’ll have to call this in and explain it to my superiors. Are the details of the murder exactly as you figured?”

“I believe so. We’ll send you a PDF file of his statement as soon as it is edited and signed. All you have to do,” I said, “is convince the FBI and the State of Maine to go along with our slight of hand.”

There was a long pause at the other end. Finally Brock replied. “Right. That’s all I have to do.”

His tone was not very encouraging.

“Buck up, Brock,” I said. “It’s true that one of the conspirators will elude prosecution for the murder of William Lavoilette. No doubt that will not sit well with the authorities, but let’s not forget the other murder.”

“Right,” Brock replied tentatively.

“I have a strong suspicion that after Susan and Aaron are convicted and locked away, they will do some singing of their own. Remember, Robert St. Claire died under mysterious circumstances. I’d wager it was murder. Susan and Aaron will be livid with Mark for turning them in. When the Pennsylvania DA reopens the case, it will be payback time.”

“I hope you are right,” he replied.

“OK, Brock. I’m going back inside. You’ve got some selling to do. After you receive Mark Prichard’s signed confession, you’ll have about eight hours until we’re back at Camp Billy. Good luck.”

I returned to the living room and found the trio working out the final details of the agreement. I had written the combined confession and immunity deal before leaving Maine. All that Eric and Angele had to do was to tweak it to fit any part of the crime scenario that I omitted or didn’t get right beforehand.

We knew full well that a new deal would have to be drawn up by the genuine authorities. They would have about twenty hours to get their act together before Brock hauled Mark Prichard’s ass into the Kennebec County Jail Monday morning.

“How’s it going?” I asked Angele.

“We’re almost done, Detective,” Angele responded.

Within five minutes the agreement was finished and signed electronically.

I wanted to proofread it before we sent it off in an email. The details cleared up a few of the nagging questions I had. For example, I had wondered why Aaron threw the gun and license plate on the far side of the highway. According to Mark’s statement, Aaron panicked after the neighbor came out and saw him standing by his car. The plan had been to kill Cynthia as well, but Aaron wasn’t about to stick around under the circumstances. He was afraid that Cynthia, or the guy across the road, might call the police. He had to dispose of the weapon, the license plate, towel and beard quickly. He didn’t want any of those items in his car as he left the island. He was especially concerned that his car might be identified, and he’d get stopped before he could get away.

Another interesting point was that Susan St. Claire had initiated a friendly, platonic relationship with Travis Perkins, but he wouldn’t offer any valuable information about the governor’s schedule or routine. She had to switch gears and wear him down in bed before he was willing to tell her about Cynthia and the governor’s planned trip to his summer home.

Once Susan knew that Cynthia was sleeping with William, she set in motion her plan to kill him and cast the blame on Travis. He had the more glaring and obvious motive—revenge.

“Mr. Prichard,” I said, “Let me explain to you the parameters of our return trip to Maine. You will not be allowed to contact anyone until we have you safely inside the Kennebec County Jail. The first thing I need from you is your cell phone.”

He reached into his pocket and handed it to me.

“OK,” I continued. “You will need to pack your personal belongings. Get together some clothes and toiletries, enough to last a week. One small suitcase will have to suffice. Agent Cochrane will remain with you as you gather your things. In the meantime, I will send your statement to Sergeant Brock Powell, who is standing by in a temporary facility just outside of Augusta. He will prepare for our arrival this evening.

“Once you are packed, we will drive there, and we will all spend the night. Sergeant Powell will transfer you to the jail on Monday morning. For our safety, you will ride in the back seat of our car, with a single handcuff to an anchor point. As long as you cooperate fully, we will not have to put the cuffs on both hands. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” Mark replied.

“All right,” I concluded. “Go ahead and pack your bag.”

Eric escorted Mark into his bedroom down the hall. When the door closed, Angele sidled up to me and planted a wet FBI kiss on my mouth.

“You’re not trying to seduce an officer of the law, are you?” I whispered.

“You look so sexy in that uniform,” she whispered back.

That was all the celebration we were willing to risk at the moment. I attached Mark’s statement as a .PDF file to an email message and sent it to Brock’s private address. A few minutes later, Mark returned to the living room with his suitcase in hand and Eric on his tail.

We left the house and got into our car. Mark sat in the right rear seat. After he put on his seatbelt, I cuffed his wrist to the belt by his right side. The grab handle above his head would have provided a more secure grip, but the thought of his right arm dangling at the end of a handcuff in the passenger window was not appealing. We certainly didn’t want to be interviewed by a highway patrolman about our “prisoner.”

Eric joined him in the back seat. Angele drove the first shift. When we reached Binghamton, New York, we stopped for lunch. Drive through would have to do. The positioning of the cuffs allowed our captive to eat his cheeseburger without too much trouble.

Other than giving us his lunch order, Mark didn’t say a word until we were halfway through the state of New York. Just outside of Oneonta, he started talking. He seemed to be having second thoughts about implicating his sister.

“It’s Aaron’s fault,” he said. “Susan can be selfish, sure, but Aaron put ideas into her head. He planned the whole thing. You should be going after him and leave Susan out of it.”

“Obviously she was willing,” I said. “She went to bed with Travis Perkins to extract the information she needed to get to Governor Lavoilette.”

“Yes, but it’s all because of the damn heroin. Aaron is an addict. He had smack around the house all the time. At first Susan wouldn’t touch it, but eventually he got her to try it. Before long, she had to have it. He put a spell on her. She would do anything he told her, just to get high. She shouldn’t be going to prison; she should be in rehab.”

“I’m sure the court will take that into consideration,” I said. “You will have an opportunity to tell the whole story to agents in Augusta. The immunity deal you signed in Troy is binding, but they will go over everything with you in much greater detail. They’ll prepare a more extensive statement for you to sign once you give them all the facts.”

Mark retreated into his shell again and stayed there until we crossed the Pisquataqua River. The Maine air must have revived his tongue.

“Susan is four years younger than I am,” he said. “When we were growing up, she was sweet and pretty. I loved her. I screened all her boyfriends in middle school. There were plenty. She was very attractive. Boys were showing up at the house in droves.

“By the time she was in high school, she had so much power over young men that she wouldn’t listen to me anymore. She had them wrapped around her little finger. She loved to be in control. That became the driving force in her life. Controlling men.

“But she lost that when she started with the heroin. It changed her. She is not the person she once was. If I had it to do over, I’d kill Aaron Miller. I should have done that years ago.”

He talked non-stop for the next half-hour. By the time Portland was in our rear view mirror, he was weeping.

It was a depressing story, to be sure, and I was growing uncomfortable that he might change his tune when he got before the authorities in Augusta.

“Tell the agents the whole story, Mark,” I said, trying to reassure him. “They’ll want to know all of this. The court will consider everything carefully. You’re doing the right thing. If we had approached Aaron first, he’d have let you both swing.”

“That’s for sure, the sorry son-of-a-bitch,” Mark said. “I really don’t have any choice. It’s just a hard pill to swallow.”

That was reassuring.

At 8:30 PM we took the Lewiston exit off the Maine Turnpike and proceeded north on route 202. When we were just north of the city limits, we pulled to the side of the road and blindfolded Mark. We explained that for security reasons, we did not want him to know the precise location where he would be spending the night. He complied without protest.

It was a little past nine when we arrived at Camp Billy. We kept Mark blindfolded as we escorted him inside. He was introduced verbally to Brock Powell. Cynthia and Billy remained silent through the proceedings.

Dinner was ready for us when we arrived. Billy dished up a plate for Mark, and Brock took him to the root cellar. That would be his quarters for the night. He could eat and sleep on a cot. Once inside, Brock removed the blindfold and read him the riot act. Before retiring, he would be allowed one blindfolded trip to the bathroom. After that, he would be locked away till morning.

The rest of us celebrated. Billy poured margaritas. When we were sufficiently lubricated, he served his specialty—chicken enchiladas, Spanish rice and beans. I was thoroughly amazed that Angele made a one-night exemption to her otherwise strict vegan diet. I suspect that the tequila had something to do with her relaxed standards. Privately she explained that we were all so elated that she didn’t want to put a damper on the festivities. She also confessed that she enjoyed Billy’s gourmet presentation.

 

36

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Settling Up

 

 

 

“Richard Merrill, party of ten.”

Nathan Percival, the maitre d’ at the Kennebec Barbeque & Grille, waited for all of us to assemble, counted heads and then escorted us to a private room near the back of the restaurant. We walked single file through the doorway, Richard in the lead, followed by Cynthia, Billy, Misty, Eric, Randall, Travis, Brock, Angele and me. In the middle of the small room was a single round table covered in pink linen and surrounded by ten chairs. A vase with a half-dozen red roses accented with baby’s breath rested elegantly in the center. We circled the table and took our seats.

When we were all in place, Jean Pierre made a bold entrance into the room. He was stylishly dressed in a white shirt, black vest, slacks and bow tie. He eyed Richard sitting on the far side of the room and commanded everyone’s attention as he strode toward him.

“Good evening, Mr. Merrill,” he announced.

“Good evening, Jean Pierre,” Richard replied. “How are you doing?”

“Just fine, sir,” he replied. He then scanned the table, registering, no doubt, the curious ensemble of diners.

“What would you like to drink?” he asked.

The question was more or less directed to Richard, but we knew it was meant for everyone.

Richard said, “Ice water all around, of course.” He then turned to his left and asked, “Would you like a drink, Cynthia?”

“A martini would be nice, Richard,” she replied.

Jean Pierre jotted down cocktail orders taken clockwise around the table. After Richard requested a Manhattan, Jean Pierre replied, “Very good,” spun on his heels and left the room.

It had been two weeks since we delivered Mark Prichard to Maine. Aaron Miller and Susan St. Claire had been arrested Monday morning, a few hours after Mark’s arrival at the county jail. He was being held in protective custody somewhere in the state. Aaron and Susan faced their initial arraignment on Wednesday and were being held without bail. They were charged with an assortment of crimes, most of which boiled down to first-degree murder.

Cynthia Dumais came forward the day after the arraignment and was debriefed by the FBI. She was receiving round-the-clock protection pending the trial, but was allowed to venture out alone upon request.

The din of chatter at the table subsided slightly as Jean Pierre reentered the room with ten cocktails and a pitcher of water on a tray. Beginning with Richard, he set the drinks down one by one. He then poured water in everyone’s glass; I was at the end of the clockwise loop. After he filled mine, he produced a slice of lemon from within a small metal cup and placed it on the rim of my glass. He turned to Richard and said, “I’ll be back shortly to take your dinner orders.”

Richard smiled at me, and I nodded.

“Keep the twenty, Richard,” I said. “You are an excellent judge of character.”

When the others asked what I meant, I explained our wager. I then looked directly across the table and smiled mischievously at Eric until he began to squirm.

Eventually, he said, “OK, Jesse, you were right about Rebecca. Here’s your forty bucks.”

He removed two twenties from his wallet and sent them in opposite directions around the table. When they reached me, I inspected the bills and said, “Nice doing business with you, Eric.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied. And, no doubt, he meant it. I had paid him four hundred dollars for his role as an FBI agent.

I turned to Angele and said, “While we’re discussing friendly wagers, sweetheart, I believe you owe me forty dollars as well.”

“I guess so,” she replied. “I really thought that Dennis Jackson was the killer. Jesse, dear, I wonder if you can extend to me a line of credit? It seems that I have no cash in my purse.”

She opened it for me to see as if to prove her claim.

“A line of credit?” I asked. “I don’t know. What can you put up for collateral?”

“Plenty,” she replied. “I’ll straighten it all out with you this evening.”

“I’m looking forward to that,” I said.

Jean Pierre refreshed our cocktails, and the chatter rose to the next level.

I was pleased that Travis had joined us for dinner. He had been reluctant at first, knowing that Cynthia would be there, but he was ready to celebrate like the rest of us. He had been released from jail on the Wednesday that Susan and Aaron were arraigned. He remained on administrative leave, but was hopeful that he would be back on the force in a few weeks. Randall Bradford continued to represent him in his request to be reinstated as a Maine Trooper. He would not be returning to his previous job of protecting the governor, but Randall was confident that Travis could resume working for the highway patrol.

Misty had been hired as a consultant by the Portland police department.

Eric had written two new songs and was petitioning Billy and me to include them on our upcoming album.

Billy had kept a new girlfriend for the entire week, but they had just had their first disagreement. He wasn’t sure where she was at the moment.

Richard had accepted a consulting job in Washington D.C. and planned to move there at the end of July.

One way or another, life was beginning to normalize for most of us.

There had been a $20,000 reward promised by a wealthy donor for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the Lavoilette murder. Brock had asked me privately to come out of the shadows and line up for the reward. I told him that I didn’t want to jeopardize the case against Susan and Aaron. I asked him to make arrangements to have the money donated anonymously to Rebecca Lavoilette’s favorite charity. He said he’d try, but didn’t know if he could make that happen.

It was possible that word would leak out about my involvement with Mark Prichard. As a precautionary measure, I began growing a handlebar mustache. That way if my picture turned up in the press, Mark and Susan would be less likely to recognize me. At that point, it might not make any difference at trial. Mark had freely made his statement to the FBI, and while it’s true that three civilians, falsely representing themselves as members of law enforcement, persuaded him to come forward, there was no clear violation of lawful procedure committed by any actual authority figure. Randall Bradford admitted that there could be some possible legal wrangling in the future over the issue if it came to light, but he suspected that it would not carry enough weight to overturn a conviction. He even agreed to represent me free of charge in any related lawsuits. I now topped his list of reliable private investigators.

Richard insisted on paying the bill for dinner. The rest of us ponied up the tip. Jean Pierre pretended not to notice the tall stack of bills by the rose centerpiece, and he wished us all a good evening as we left the room.

We went nine separate ways in the parking lot on Water Street. Angele came home with me.

“Tomorrow is Sunday, Jesse. Do you have any plans?” she asked.

“Not so fast, Peaches. What about the collateral for your credit line?”

“Gee,” she said, “I almost forgot.”

 

37

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Bali Hai

 

 

 

My doorbell rang at 7:30 in the evening, October 31st. I had no idea who it could be.

I live on a quiet country road four miles from the center of town. Trick-or-treaters don’t normally make the rounds this far from civilization, but I carve a Jack-o-lantern anyway. Halloween has always been my favorite annual event. This year Jack had an unusually cheerful face. I wasn’t expecting any revelers, but if one did drop by, the candle-lit toothy grin wasn’t going to scare the caller away. When I turned on my outside light and opened the door, I found a ghost in a white sheet standing on my porch.

“Trick or treat,” he or she cackled.

It sounded more like a he than a she, but I wasn’t certain. He, or she, stood about 5’4” tall, so I was guessing it to be a female apparition, but the sheet was puffed out near the ground. The human imposter might be bent at the knees in order to appear shorter.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t prepare for goblins tonight,” I said sheepishly. “There’s no candy in the house. How about an apple?”

Trick or treat?” came the response, louder and more insistent. “It’s a simple question, fella.”

I still couldn’t place the voice, but there was something familiar in the delivery. I decided to play along.

“Since you’re asking, I’d prefer a treat if you don’t mind.”

“Coming right up,” came an eerie reply.

With that, my ghostly visitor flipped the sheet over her head. Indeed, it was a she—a she without a single outer or under garment to further disguise who or what she was.

“Peaches!” I cried.

I stood there in a pleasant state teetering between shock and delight.

“Honey, it’s freezing out here!” Angele announced as she shivered. “Why don’t you invite me inside?”

“Just a minute, sweetie. I love what the night air is doing to your…”

Before I could get the last word of the sentence out of my mouth, she was up against me like a linebacker charging the quarterback. She caught the front door with her heel and managed to shut it behind her and then drove me backward across the living room onto my bark-a-lounger. She ended up on top of me, just the way I like her.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” she replied.

“That’s a rhetorical question that requires no verbal response,” I said in a self-contradictory manner.

“So stop talking,” she demanded.

I did as I was told.

• • •

In the morning, after I got out of bed, I noticed the candle had gone out and frost was on the pumpkin. I wrapped myself in a blanket, shuffled down the driveway and picked up the Augusta Chronicle. The headlines read, “Susan and Aaron Take the Plea.”

I cried out loud, “Halleluiah!”

The article was full of good news. Aaron Miller accepted a life sentence, rather than face the possibility of the gas chamber. The evidential details, which had been withheld from the media for four months, included the fact that Aaron’s DNA had indeed been found on the fake beard. I had made that part up in my presentation to Mark Prichard, but it turned out to be true. That was especially gratifying.

Susan St. Claire managed a lighter sentence. She got 30 years. Despite the testimonies of both Prichard and Miller, the District Attorney was not entirely certain he could get a guilty verdict at trial for first-degree murder. So he and Susan struck a deal. Still, 30 years with no parole would keep her behind bars until she was 70 years old. She was likely to be a harmless old lady by then.

Mark Prichard’s immunity deal was clarified. In order to protect the identity of “undercover agents,” Mark was enjoined to never publicly reveal the details of his apprehension and detention. If he did, he would be subject to full prosecution as an accessory to the murder of William Lavoilette. This meant that Eric, Angele and I would face very little, if any, risk for our illegal impersonations. Even if word leaked out about our caper, Prichard would be prohibited from verifying what we had done.

“Halleluiah number two,” I shouted. “Now I can shave the mustache.”

A final note at the end of the news story was like ice cream on blueberry pie. An hour after the plea-bargains were announced in Maine, Mark Prichard was arrested in Pennsylvania. He was being held without bail for the murder of Robert St. Claire. Susan had also been indicted for conspiring to kill her husband. According to Aaron, who was granted immunity in the case, the three of them arranged for Robert to die in an ‘accident’ at a natural gas drilling site near Troy.

I went to the bedroom and shared with Angele the glad tidings. I knew better than to call Eric this early in the morning. I’d ring him around noon.

• • •

Angele and I were enjoying a late breakfast when my phone rang.

“Hello,” I said.

“Mr. Thorpe, this is Rebecca Lavoilette. Do you have any spare time this morning?” she asked.

“Absolutely. I’m completely free and at your disposal.”

“If you would be so kind, please come to my home. I have something for you,” she said.

She gave me her address and invited Angele to join me there at 10:30.

As we drove up her driveway, Rebecca was standing outside on the porch to greet us. I was totally surprised when she stepped forward and gave me a warm embrace.

“Thank you so much for your valiant service to the State of Maine. I am in your debt,” she said.

“It’s kind of you to be so gracious,” I replied. “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you.”

She smiled and then looked at my companion.

“This is my girlfriend, Angele,” I said. “She provided considerable assistance to me on the case.”

She hugged Angele as well and invited us inside.

“Would you care for something to drink?” she asked.

I looked at Angele and we both shook our heads.

“That’s not necessary,” I replied

“OK, then. I have an envelope for you.”

She walked to her desk, picked up the envelope and handed it to me.

“You’ll find a check inside for $30,000. You graciously requested that I spend the $20,000 reward on my favorite charity. I’ve added $10,000 of my own money, and I want you to have it. You risked your life to bring about justice for William’s death. I won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“Just say ‘Thank you,’” Angele suggested.

“Thank you,” I replied.

We traded pleasantries for several minutes. Rebecca walked us to the porch, and we hugged again before leaving.

“That’s one classy woman,” Angele said as we settled into the Forester.

“Indeed.”

• • •

By noon I had written five checks, $5000 each to Angele and Eric, and $1000 each to Billy, Brock and Misty. I wrote “Hazard Pay” on the memo line of each check. The remaining seventeen grand was burning a hole in my imagination.

It was the first day of November—time to turn the page on my “Island Paradise” calendar. I recognized the new idyllic photograph immediately.

“It’s Bali Hai,” I said to Angele as I pointed to the picture. “Do you recognize it?”

“It looks familiar, but I can’t place it,” she replied.

“Try this,” I said. “She’s trouble, Ned. The real thing. Big-time, major league trouble.”

“Oh, yes,” Angie replied. “It’s the mountain in the background for the final scene of Body Heat. Mattie Walker is sitting in a lounge chair sipping a mai tai with that sultry, self-satisfied look on her face.”

“Exactly,” I said. “I think it’s an omen. Pack your bags, Angele, we’re going to Kauai.”

• • •

Cheap getaway offers sealed the deal. Within forty-eight hours we were in our bathing suits, soaking up the sun on Tunnels Beach.

“Tourists still call it Bali Hai,” I said, “but locals use its real name, Makana.”

“It’s beautiful, Jesse,” Angele said in a low throaty voice, sipping her own mai tai and doing an impersonation of Kathleen Turner.

“Angele,” I said, reading from a travel guide, “it says here that the Hawaiian word, makana, means ‘gift.’ Ancient Hawaiians performed a fire ceremony on the mountain. Men would climb to the top hauling dry, lightweight logs. When night fell, they set the logs ablaze and hurled them into the ocean.”

“Do you really think they could reach the water from there?” Angele asked.

“Have you seen some of the Hawaiian linemen on college football teams?” I responded.

“Not really,” she replied. “Those guys must have been enormous, or maybe it’s just a legend.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I said.

I waded into the warm water. The coast of Maine is rugged, cold and demanding. The north shore of Kauai was soft, nurturing and breathtaking. The air was sweet, and the trade winds swept across the sea. My heart was so buoyant that I felt as if I were floating in zero gravity. I imagined I would be immortal if I only could find a way to stay here permanently.

Angele, sitting twenty feet from me on the shore, interrupted my thoughts with the suggestion that I would get “island fever” if I stayed longer than a month.

“Let’s see… Island fever or Maine winter?” I mused, as I tapped my finger on my lips, pretending to weigh those options carefully. “Tough call,” I said.

“Sorry to interrupt your contemplation, Jesse, but in a week or so, duty will fly us back home,” Angele said with a smile.

“Have another drink and reconsider,” I replied.

Angele declined my suggestion. Instead, she sprinted toward me, grabbed me around the waist, and we tumbled into the waves.


Dead Down East

Dead Down East, a fictional murder mystery, is both detective noir and smart screwball comedy rolled into one. Jesse Thorpe, a young private investigator operating out of Augusta, Maine, receives a mysterious phone call from a former client, Cynthia Dumais. She begs to be rescued from an island south of Brunswick, within a mile of where William Lavoilette, the governor of Maine, was assassinated the night before. She insists that her life is in danger, but is unwilling to provide any further information. Reluctantly, Jesse goes to fetch her. Within a week, Jesse has three separate clients, each with his, or her, own desperate need to have the murder solved. He assembles a motley team of compadres, including rock band members, a tie-dye psychic and his rousing girlfriend, Angele Boucher, to help him with the case. While the FBI and the Maine State Police investigate political motives, Jesse looks for the woman—Cherchez la Femme—as the trail draws him through the lives, and DNA, of the governor’s former mistresses. Fresh, witty and loaded with eccentric characters, this first novel in the Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series is both clever and stylish. It’s an old-school private eye tale with inventive twists and local charm. If you enjoy a well-crafted and zesty narrative, lively banter, or take pleasure in the company of Mainers, you’ll love Dead Down East.

  • ISBN: 9781370748143
  • Author: Carl Schmidt
  • Published: 2016-08-29 19:35:25
  • Words: 90123
Dead Down East Dead Down East