Say No to Murder, p.1Nancy Pickard
Ocean of Death . . .
I just wanted to get back to the Amy Denise, my temporary home, and sleep. I pushed the dinghy into the tide, climbed in, and reached into the bottom for an oar to push off with. My hand grabbed pure air.
“What the . . . ?” Somebody had stolen both oars. The life jackets were gone as well.
I was too tired to cuss or care as I jerked the engine to life. The dinghy puttered faithfully against the choppy tide, until a heavy swell rocked the little boat violently—and the entire engine slid off of the stern into the ocean. Another wave hit the boat broadside, and suddenly I was in the water, gagging and flailing.
The water was very cold, and getting rougher. I treaded water and craned my neck to look for the Amy Denise. She was only a dim shape in the night. Determinedly, I struck out against the tide, and with the first overhand stroke, I knew my effort was doomed.
Engines don’t just fall off boats, I thought. Somebody had not wanted me to return safely to the Amy Denise. Somebody had not wanted me to keep asking questions.
Suddenly I knew who’d committed the murders. And I wouldn’t live to tell Geof about it, and the killer would go free . . .
Books by Nancy Pickard
Say No to Murder
Published by POCKET BOOKS
Most Pocket Books are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums or fund raising. Special books or book excerpts can also be created to it specific needs.
For details write the office of the Vice President of Special Markets, Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
Copyright © 1985 by Nancy Pickard
Cover artwork copyright © 1988 Richard Bober
Published by arrangement with the author
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 84-091767
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
First Pocket Books printing July 1988
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
POCKET and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
With love and thanks
to my mother and father
You wouldn’t believe some of the projects on which people want to spend money. For example, on my desk at the Port Frederick Civic Foundation there is a superbly persuasive piece of begging that appeals for funds to establish a Bilingual Academy of Latin Studies for Local Residents of Mexican-American Descent. A fine and highfalutin notion, right? Except that we are 1,000 miles north of the border, and the only Latino in town is the one who wrote the grant proposal, no other Mexicans ever having been stupid enough to leave that climate for this one. According to the grant application, the “project developer” is presently unemployed, but is willing to accept a sacrifice salary to become director of said academy.
Then there’s the request for the many thousands of dollars it would take to levy and enforce a total trade embargo against the State of New York. This, mind you, is the State of Massachusetts.
My assistant director, Derek Jones, particularly likes the application that asks the Foundation to fund the construction of a “small but tasteful” massage parlor, complete with a movie theater for “short, tasteful” porno licks. All this, one assumes, for a clientele of short but tasteful men.
Close, but no cigarillo.
My favorite, however, is the one that proposes to send a dozen college students to every ski resort in the Adirondacks and the Rockies “in order to ascertain the scientific validity of the claim that it is more difficult to ski on ice than on powder.” The applicants—coincidentally a dozen fraternity brothers from the University of Virginia—envision a four-year project with expenses limited to economy airfares, cheap hotels and three-day lift tickets. (Students from more northern schools tend to request funding to study the differences among the sands of Florida beaches, Or was it tans?)
Applications also denied, but with regret.
Actually, we couldn’t fund such worthy causes even if we wanted to, which in the case of the massage parlor, Derek does. For one thing, our own charter limits us to charitable activities in Port Frederick, which knocks the skis out from under those enterprising young men from Virginia, And, as a private charitable foundation, we are also regulated—not to say hog-tied—by myriad laws that govern how we may accrue, invest and spend the millions of dollars that various donors have bequeathed over the years to this Foundation.
Most folks don’t know all that, however. So we get a constant flow of inappropriate applications from individuals and causes we can’t help. And that means that as director of the Foundation, I spend a lot of my time saying “no” to some perfectly nice and deserving people.
And to some perfect jerks.
One of whom appeared at our office that second stifling week of June, screaming holy bloody murder. It was a sadly appropriate and prophetic thing for him to do.
He was seated by my desk waiting for me when I strolled into the office at 7:30 that morning. When I glimpsed him, I raised an accusing eyebrow at my secretary, Faye Basil. Ordinarily, she won’t allow strangers into my inner sanctum when I’m away, but has them wait under her watchful eyes instead.
“Morning, Faye.” I smiled forgivingly at her. I had awakened in a sunny summer mood which had not even wilted in the face of a day that was hot enough to pop corn.
Faye gulped, which seemed an odd reply.
I continued across the cheap, well-worn carpet to my equally cheaply furnished, well-worn office. (My bosses, the five trustees of the Foundation, occasionally make half-hearted attempts to persuade me to redecorate. I always refuse, to their collective relief, because every cent we spend on administrative expenses is a penny stolen from” the charities we support. And that’s why our office looks like a home for underprivileged MBAs.) The visitor, hearing my entrance, whirled to stare. Then he stood to face me. Suddenly, the cause of Faye’s uncharacteristic helplessness was startlingly apparent.
He was a force of nature, rising.
The man was enormous, easily six foot nine, with the furious beady eyes of a grizzly. He was like the old joke; Where does a 300-pound gorilla sit? . . . Anywhere he wants.
“Are you Jennifer Cain?” he roared at me.
It was like being stopped dead in one’s tracks by a gust of wind. I clung to the edge of Faye’s desk for psychic, if not physical, balance.
“Yes, I am.”
“Who the hell do you think you are!”
Actually, I thought we’d already established that, but I didn’t say so. Instead, I decided the safest course was to consider it a rhetorical question, and I countered, “Who are you?”
“Ansen Reich,” he snarled.
“Oh,” I said slowly, in the tone with which one might greet an auditor from the IRS. My morning no longer seemed so bright and cheerful. An uneasy silence settled over the office while he let the unpleasant news of his identity sink
Then I tried a placating smile.
“Mr. Reich, please try to . . .”
“You shut up!” The pencils on Faye’s desk quivered, as did her lower lip. “I’ve had it with your lying crap. You’re gonna listen to me this time, girl, and you’re gonna listen good.”
“Now you wait just one minute!” I bellowed back at him, thus bringing to a close the most sensitive and intelligent moments of our interview. “Mr. Reich, I am truly sorry for you and your family, but I am sick of your abusive phone calls . . .”
“Wait a minute?” He lurched toward me so I felt an overwhelming urge to step back. “You want me to wait a minute like my Philly did? Wait a minute, wait an hour, wait four hours? And nobody answers the goddamn telephone at the goddamn suicide center because you haven’t paid the goddamn telephone bill . . .”
Faye made an anguished sound.
“Mr. Reich,” I protested, “you know that isn’t true . . .”
“Don’t you dish out that crap no more, lady. That telephone bill didn’t get paid on time and you’re the stupid broad who didn’t pay it. And that’s why the phone company shut off service, and that’s why my Philly couldn’t get-help when he needed it, and that’s why he strung himself up from those I-beams. And if you think I’m gonna let you forget what this outfit done to my boy, you got another . . .”
“Mr. Reich, be quiet!”
I hadn’t known I had the volume in me.
It must have surprised him, too, because he was rendered speechless long enough for me to slide in a few angry words of my own.
“Mr. Reich, I have explained to you that we are not the, funding agency for the suicide center. It is located over the town boundary, and we are not allowed, to fund anything outside Port Frederick. I have also explained to you more than once that we didn’t even know their phone was being cut off until it had already happened, and that we were going to help them if we had to take the money from our own pockets, but that . . .”
“Bull! They told me you didn’t get down to the phone company on time . . .”
“Well, no, but . . .”
“. . . got all the money in the world for every pissant minority, but you can’t spare a few measly bucks to pay a measly phone bill that could of saved the life of one white boy. You’re so busy with your precious harbor reconstruction, spending millions on goddamn cutesy cafés when there’s young kids killing themselves because they can’t get help when they need it. Too busy struttin’ around the docks, ain’t you, shellin’ out dough for paint and crap? Got no money to help my boy! And now he’s dead! And I’m telling you girl, I hold you personally responsible . . .”
“That’s not fair.”
“Tell it to the judge, girl.”
“Does that mean you’re going to sue us, Mr. Reich?” If he called me girl, lady or broad one more time, I was going to knock off his top nine inches. Sure I was. “On what grounds, exactly?”
“Sue you?” He cracked an ugly grin. “Hell no, I don’t have the money for that, and you know it. You got the big-buck lawyers, not me.” His grin grew wider and uglier. “But I got something else that’s important to you, don’t I? I got some power you can’t fight, girl.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He laughed, in a manner of speaking.
“Don’t you? Well, you come on down to the docks tomorrow, lady. You just mosey on down to your precious groundbreaking ceremony!”
“What?” I was bewildered by his references to Liberty Harbor, the waterfront renovation on which the Foundation had sunk several hundred thousand dollars and the town had sunk its hopes for economic revival. Bewildered, and suddenly nervous.
He shoved past me and thundered out the door before I got my wits sufficiently together to press him for answers.
“Oh, Jenny,” Faye whispered. She was near tears. At fifty, and widowed for five years with three teenage boys to support, Faye still found time and heart enough to volunteer one night a week at the suicide center which the sixteen-year-old Reich boy had not been able to reach the night he killed himself. It was she who’d immediately directed the center to me for emergency aid when she learned of their fiscal crisis. She said shakily, “If only I’d known sooner, maybe we could have saved that child.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said gently, and took one of her hands to pat. With my free hand, I thumbed through her Rolodex for a mobile phone number and, on a hunch, dialed it.
“Shattuck!” the builder and general contractor at Liberty Harbor shouted into the phone in his Cadillac, over the din of construction at the waterfront. Official groundbreaking might still be one day away, but work had begun a month ago.
“Goose!” I yelled back at him, so that Faye looked up, startled. “It’s Jenny Cain.”
“I remember you! Tall, blond, beautiful, missing!”
“All right.” I smiled. “I’ve been busy.”
“So tell him you have other fish to fry,” said my favorite sixty-year-old unregenerate flirt. “I, for one, heat up nice and tasty.”
“I’ll bet you do, since you certainly are fresh as they come.”
He chuckled. “What can I do for you, Miss Jenny?”
“Do you have a man by the name of Reich working for you?”
“Sure! Little squirt, about five-two?”
“That’s the one.” My heart began to sink even before Goose tied the final rock to it. “What’s he do for you?”
“Oh.” It was worse than I thought. I knew all too well that a good foreman could bring a job in under deadline, on budget; while a bad foreman could . . . “What’s the word on him, Goose?”
“World-class jackass,” he informed me in, his own inimitable style, “but a hell of a fine foreman, in his way. Why?”
“I understand his son committed suicide a couple of days ago . . .” Beside me, Faye blew her nose; I gave her hand another pat.
“Right.” Goose lowered the boom of his voice a moment. “Poor guy’s been goofy since then, but he’ll come out of it.”
“Glad to hear it.” I debated whether to discuss my encounter with Reich, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt in deference to his grief. Now that he’d let off steam, he’d probably calm down. There was no reason for me to cause him to lose his job when he’d already lost his son. But just to be safe, I added, “Will you have guards out there tonight, Goose?”
“Will I have what? Where?”
I breathed in, then belted out; “Guards! On the project!”
“Of course,” he boomed back. “What kind of question is that? What do you want?”
“My God, Goose, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you . . .”
“Oh sorry, Jenny, I was yelling at someone else. Listen, they need me, I’ve got to go.”
“Wait a minute, Goose! Everything’s okay out there?”
“Pieceacake!” I removed the phone a safe distance from my wounded ear. “If I were thirty years younger, and Jenny loved me, the world would be my oyster.”
“You’re full of fishy metaphors today, Goose.”
“Never mind!” I yelled back. “See you tomorrow at the groundbreaking! Good-bye!”
I don’t know how he felt when he hung up, but I was exhausted. I hadn’t been yelled at so much in one day since the last time I saw my sister. The call had accomplished one good deed, however: Faye was smiling, if faintly.
While she dabbed at her face with a tissue, I whirled her Rolodex again to call the eight other people who were, with Goose and me, members of the advisory committee for Liberty Harbor. We were ex officio in the extreme, having gravitated to the committee because of our interests in the project. As mere advisors with no legal authority, we might have been an object lesson in civic futility, but we had real influence thanks to the essential goodwill and business savvy of the private developers. They listened to our suggestions and act
Briefly, I told each committee member what had transpired in my office, including Reich’s threat about having some power we couldn’t fight, but excluding his name.
“I’m as sympathetic to his problems as the next person,” was the typical response, with variations on the theme of: “But you don’t have to take that kind of personal abuse, Jenny. Why, I’d have thrown the bum out on his ear.”
“You and the Green Bay Packers,” I replied to each of them. “The man is seven feet tall if he’s an inch. Works construction. Eats nails.”
I told them what I intended to do about the situation—which was basically nothing—and asked if they had suggestions.
The consensus, in fact, was neatly summarized by the president of our local realtors’ board.
“I think,” Ted Sullivan said in his mild, pleasant way, “that you are making a sandbar out of a single grain of sand, Jenny.”
This town, as you may have gathered, is unfortunately addicted to watery figures of speech. It comes from living too close, for too long, to an ocean.
“Good,” I said with satisfaction to Faye when my calling was completed. “Now if red graffiti appears on the dock tomorrow, they can all share the blame with me.”
“Small comfort,” she said.
“Is better than no comfort at all.”
Then I walked into my own office to make the additional call that would clear my conscience of Ansen Reich and his threats against the project. This time, I closed the door and dialed the number from memory.
“Sure, Jen,” Police Detective Geoffrey Bushfield said when he heard my story. “I’ll have the boys drive by the site more often than usual tonight. But Reich sounds like a classic bully to me, all bluff and bluster.”
Say No to Murder by Nancy Pickard / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes