No Body, p.1Nancy Pickard
“NO BODY is well-fashioned, inventive and entertaining.”
—Lawrence Block, author of the Burglar series
“As resourceful Jenny pursues her parallel cases—one involving too many bodies, the other too few—Pickard fashions some of the most fiendishly hilarious scenes this side of Donald Westlake.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“In NO BODY, Ms. Pickard vividly creates the sense of small town community life . . . . A thoroughly modern heroine, Jennifer Cain is clever and witty. … Readers will look forward to her further adventures.”
—Kansas City Star
“NO BODY is fast-moving, sparked by humor and’ an unusual plot.”
“Pickard’s satire is scalpel-sharp . . . NO BODY is deliciously ironic.”
—Washington Post Book World
“NO BODY is fast, well-constructed, well-written—this is first-class entertainment.”
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 persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Bruce Springsteen lyrics used by permission of John Landau Management, Inc.
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1986 by Nancy Pickard
Cover art copyright © 1987 by Richard Bober
Published by arrangement with Charles Scribner’s Sons
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 86-13118
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Charles Scribner’s Sons, 115 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003
First Pocket Books printing November 1987
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POCKET and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
FOR GUY AND NICHOLAS
Some days are better than others for walking in graveyards. This first day in April, following a rainy weekend, was less than ideal, thought Lucille Grant as she struck a path among the old slate and marble tombstones in Union Hill Cemetery. Built rather like a tombstone herself, tall and broad and weighty, Lucille sank into the mud with every step. The rain-softened ground pulled at her sensible brown hiking shoes like grasping hands.
Lucille directed a glare, one that only a former schoolteacher could have mastered, at the ground, as if disciplining recalcitrant sixth graders.
“Don’t be greedy,” she admonished the nineteenth-century ghosts whose remains moldered below her in our town’s Civil War-era cemetery. “I’ll join you one of these days, but in my own good time, thank you. Don’t rush me.”
With a hungry, sucking sound, the ground released her left foot. Lucille nodded approvingly. She squished forward to her goal: the grave of her great-great-grandfather who had been a distant cousin to Ulysses S. Grant.
“Good morning, Sarah!” Lucille sang out in a robust contralto to a tipsy gravestone that bore the ambiguous inscription: “Good Wife, Died a Mother, Loved God, None Other. Sarah Clark, b. 1824, d. 1848.”
As she marched past the grave, Lucille announced conversationally, “It’s a lovely spring day in the late twentieth century, Sarah. Bit of sunshine today, though we’ve had plenty of rain to nourish the elm trees you planted by the church. My love to your family, dear!”
The sun glanced off Sarah Clark’s tombstone in a slow wink.
They were alive to her, these ghosts, in a most friendly way. In her four decades as president of the Union Hill Cemetery Historical Society, eighty-year-old Lucille Grant had come to know well the inhabitants of these modest graves on a stark and lonely flat stretch of cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean outside of Port Frederick, Massachusetts. She knew which of them had lost their babies in childbirth and who had died of drowning. She could name the victims of consumption and of measles. She knew whose boys came rattling home from war over the dirt roads in plain pine boxes. Simply by judging the quality and size of a gravestone, Lucille could estimate the net worth and social status of its owner. And she sensed, by their absence among the graves in the old yard, who had stepped beyond the pale of nineteenth-century society into the outcast world of murder, suicide, or penury.
Lucille smiled gently at five little graves all in a row, small victims of a dreadful winter of influenza in Port Frederick in 1872.
“Oh dear, not again.” One of the little tombstones had fallen over on its back; worse, the ground had eroded over all five graves during the winter snows and spring rains. Those gullies would have to be filled and resodded, but who would pay for it? Heaven knew, young Stan Pittman over at the Harbor Lights Funeral Home was generous with his backhoe and dump truck, not to mention seed and sod. But as that father of his so often objected, they could hardly be expected to support Union Hill, where the paying customers had long since passed on beyond the reach of cemetery-plot salesmen! And the historical society always had such a time pinching pennies out of that tightwad Town Council, most of whose members she’d had in her classrooms and who should have known better than to talk back to her . . .
Lucille stuck her big rough hands into the pockets of her shapeless corduroy jacket. She frowned behind her hornrimmed glasses in worried thought. Where to get the money this year?
“Jenny Cain!” she crowed in sudden inspiration. “Of course! The dear child is director of that charitable foundation. I’ll remind her of what a sweet, obedient little girl she was in the sixth grade, and then I’ll ask her for the money.”
That settled, she resumed her purposeful march over the flat, eroded ground toward her great-great-grandparents’ graves, which lay on the single, gentle slope after which the cemetery was named. On the first relatively warm day of every spring, she liked to visit with her ancestors. She would stand over their graves and say a little prayer for their souls (even though they would have thought it “popish” and disapproved), then chat a bit about the latest doings in their old hometown, not that they would recognize it now with all the cars and computers. They would be sad to learn of the passing of the great-great-great-nephew of John Rudolph, and so young, too, but they would be pleased to hear she’d had their old cherry-wood table refinished so it looked as good as
The soft jowls that framed her wide mouth eased from a disapproving pucker into a fond smile as she sighted the tall gravestones that marked the burial ground of Ulysses P. and Lida M. Grant. Obligingly, the sun broke through the remaining clouds to warm her annual visit with her distinguished forebears—distinguished, at least, by the modest standards of Port Frederick, where even a secondhand claim to fame qualifies one for local immortality. Lucille was, however, not so pleased to observe ugly striations in the earth around the two graves. Months of wet weather had washed away the topsoil; in fact, she saw to her dismay, the whole bottom of the slope was cut away a good foot where the rain had carved a new stream. To reach the graves, she stepped wide and carefully over rivulets that still ran several inches deep with cold water.
Lucille walked as lightly as a 192-pound woman could onto the mud atop her great-great-grandfather’s grave. She stood for a moment in meditation upon his leaning gravestone; “Fought and Nearly Wed in ’Sixty-four, Saved by the Lord for One Fight More.” They had loved poetry, the old ones, she mused wryly, although they didn’t necessarily discriminate as to quality; death provided one last chance for the telling epigram, the fitting epitaph, not to mention the strained rhyme and the wounded metaphor. She adored the old, crumbling tombstones with their colorful inscriptions and equally loathed the new “memorial parks,” which forbade such expressions of the individuality of the human species.
When Lucille awoke from her historical reverie, she was up to her shoelaces in cold, hungry mud.
“Bother.” She frowned at the ground where the toes of her shoes had disappeared.
Lucille tried to lift her feet from the mud. But her knees twisted painfully; her feet didn’t budge. The grasping hands of the mud held her tight, its soft fingers creeping now toward her ankles. A rumbling alerted her to ominous movement below. Then, with a monstrous shifting and sucking, the mud washed away all around her, carrying her and her ancestors’ graves with it down the slope. She pitched backward, tumbling and rolling in the mud like a child at play, but a child who was utterly surprised, and terrified of breathing mud into its lungs. She landed on her back at the bottom of the slope, gasping for breath and in terror. With her head toward the hill and her feet toward the road, Lucille looked backward at the once-lovely site where her great-great-grandparents’ graves had lain. Now there was only a cave, a horrible hollow in the hillside that laid bare the innards of the earth to her view. And what she saw, where two disintegrating coffins should have been, where two old skeletons might have been tossed to lie in the mud was . . . nothing.
Five feet below the crest of the hill, with the sun bright above her head, Lucille Grant wiped mud from her eyes, stared, and concluded to her horror that she was all alone. Great-great-grandfather wasn’t there; neither was his coffin. And with the side walls of the grave fallen away to reveal her great-great-grandmother’s grave, Lucille discovered that it, too, was empty.
She tried to raise herself from the mud. Excruciating pains shot through her twisted knees.
“Help!” She yelled with all the power of a woman with fifty years of playground duty behind her. “Help me, somebody!”
It took Stan Pittman’s grounds crew only a mercifully short time to hoist poor Miss Grant back to her feet, wash her off with a garden hose, wrap her in blankets, and escort her to a doctor. It took a little longer for them to ascertain that all the other graves in Union Hill were empty, too.
“Jenny?” Marvin Lastelic said my name with the air of a man who is about to tell a joke. “Guess who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb.”
I looked up from a thick booklet that endeavored to explain the latest refinement of the tax code as it applies to charitable foundations, and gave him the look of a woman who is in no mood for jokes.
“Marv,” I said to the kind and conscientious gentleman who serves as the part-time accountant for the Port Frederick Civic Foundation, of which I am director, “that was old when Groucho Marx told it.”
“No, really, Jenny, take a guess.” He was standing by my desk, nodding his head and arching his eyebrows at me in encouragement. I noticed with interest that his gray hairs were curly, although the rest of his thinning, dark hair was straight. Was this what maturity had in store for me one day: naturally curly hair, at last? I hauled my attention back to the absurd question at hand, as Marv repeated himself: “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”
“Oh, Marvin.” I groaned, resting my chin in my palm. “All right. I don’t know. Who?”
“Nobody!” He grinned. “No body.”
I shook my head at my secretary, Faye Basil. Her desk was just on the other side of the wall from mine, and she had wheeled her chair over and craned her neck around so she could see us. Now she was observing us with that amused but long-suffering expression that mothers wear.
“It has happened, Faye,” I said in mournful tones. “I knew it would, someday. Leave a man alone in a room with tax forms for too many years, and eventually he cracks up. A man can take a lot, you know, prisoners of war have proved it time and again . . . torture, deprivation, loneliness. But the tax forms of the United States government are beyond the capacity of a sane man to behold and withstand, and every time our representatives, in their wisdom, Improve’ and ‘shorten’ the damn things, accountants all over the country get that much closer to the precipice that Marv here has obviously just plunged over.”
“Coffee, Marvin?” Faye inquired with false and humorous sympathy. “Aspirin?”
“Whiskey?” I suggested more usefully.
His grin grew even more gleeful, and he rubbed his bony hands together as if he were rolling dice. I began to wonder if my normally sane and sober accountant was adding with all his numbers.
“It’s true,” he insisted. “I heard it on the news as I was driving over here. Yesterday afternoon, the president of some Port Frederick historical society fell into Ulysses S. Grant’s grave. And guess what? It’s empty!”
“Not Ulysses S. Grant.” Derek Jones, my administrative assistant, closed the door of the outer office behind him as he came in from lunch. “Ulysses P. Grant, her cousin or something.”
“Not Ulysses P. Grant!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Derek confirmed, nodding his blond head at me. “That’s what I just said.”
“No!” I shook my head back at him.
“No.” I held up my hand to still the bobbing heads. “What I mean is, that’s terrible news if it’s really Ulysses P. Grant, because that’s Miss Lucille Grant’s great-great-grandfather, of whom she is most inordinately proud. She’ll be crushed if he’s missing.”
“Missing?” Derek looked confused. “I thought he’d been dead for a hundred years.”
“She nearly was crushed,” Marv Lastelic informed me, and he explained what he had heard about the accident at Union Hill. “They say that all the graves are empty, all 133 of them! Her great-great-grandmother wasn’t there, either,” he added as an, afterthought.
I was shocked. Twenty years after the fact, I still remembered my beloved sixth grade teacher explaining the Civil War by illustrating it through the lives of her own ancestors, the illustrious Grants, who were buried in Union Hill. “But is she all right?. She wasn’t hurt, was she?”
“Twisted her knees,” Marv said.
Derek was beginning to grin. “Hey,” he said. “This gives a whole new perspective to that old joke, you know . . .”
“Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Faye and Marvin chorused back at him. And then, “No body!”
I grabbed my suit coat and left the office, abandoning them to their hilarity. I was going to pay a long-overdue visit to my sixth grade teacher. I had learned a lot about life and the love of same at her knees; now I wanted to return some o
If image always matched reality, Miss Grant should, by all rights, have retired to a charming, vine-covered cottage on a woody acre at the edge of town.
One can’t afford much charm on a schoolteacher’s salary, however, particularly when most of that salary was paid in the days before teachers’ unions. So she lived in the second-floor right-front apartment of a red brick fourplex in one of those neighborhoods where old ladies clutch their purses to their chests when they walk to the grocery store. Flower beds, just beginning to sprout with purple and yellow crocuses, hugged the outside walls. Her doing, I guessed. They had that tended look about them that some gardens and greatly loved children possess. We had all worn that look for a year, all of Miss Giant’s sixth graders. I wondered if the owner of the building or the other tenants pitched in to pay for seeds and fertilizer, or if she squeezed that out of her pension as well.
In the unlighted entryway, I rang the small ivory bell beneath the shiniest of the four gold mailboxes. “Luke Grant,” the label on the mailbox said. It was, I believed, her brother’s name; a stratagem, I supposed, to fool and discourage the monsters who prey on elderly single women who live alone. It made me feel sad and angry. I climbed the creaking stairs to her door. Beside the cheap metal knocker, she had affixed a sheaf of dried flowers and dried grasses, which she’d tied together with a hand-sewn ribbon that looked as if it might once have seen duty as the hem of a bedsheet. Charm, it seemed, like luck and beauty, lay where you found it. Or made it. I knocked.
“Yes?” I wasn’t prepared for the age and weariness I heard in the voice on the other side of the door. “Who is it?”
I stood straight, pulled back my shoulders, sucked in my stomach. Smiled when I realized what I was doing. “It’s Jennifer Cain, Miss Grant. May I come in?”
“Dear child.” The voice dropped years, gained vigor. “Of course.”
The three rooms in .which she lived—living room, dining room, bedroom, plus kitchen, porch, and tiny bath—were bright with yellows, comfortable with antiques, fragrant with cooking spices. In an ugly apartment building in a depressing neighborhood, Miss Grant had her charming English cottage after all.
No Body by Nancy Pickard / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes