Murder in Newport- Chapter 1

The rain slashed across Sloopy’s deck.  It was 4 A.M and Liz was wide-awake.  As she lay there, trying to fall back into the depths of mindless slumber, thoughts of the last three days pushed their way into her consciousness.

Knowing that the battle to go back to sleep was one that she couldn’t win, Liz wriggled free from the covers.  Garret did not budge as she stepped out of the v-berth onto the cold floor of their 36-foot sloop.  Liz gazed upon her husband of 27 years, not with the lust of a newlywed, but with the deep love that comes from years of respect, loyalty and true intimacy.  Since their semi-retirement the year before, Liz and Garret had spent the majority of their time together, sailing out of their homeport of Mystic, Connecticut.

Liz tiptoed to the galley where she lit the left burner of the propane stove.  Surrounded by darkness, the blue flame appeared to light up the entire salon.  Liz placed the teakettle over the warm glow and took down a mug from the shelf.  She thought of her mother, who had always been there for every crisis with a cup of hot chocolate in hand and the patience of a saint, as she listened for hours. Problems always seemed to disappear, or at least became much smaller by the end of one of those sessions.  But, things were different now.  Liz was a grown woman and her mother had passed away five years earlier.  Remembering Mom’s rich, dark cocoa from scratch, Liz tore open the foil packet of instant mix and dumped the powder into her cup. She filled it with boiling water, then groped along the smooth, heavily oiled teak bulkhead to the settee, where she sat, curling her legs underneath her.  Clutching the cup with both hands, she took a sip.

It seemed so long ago since they set sail from Mystic. Liz smiled as she remembered the cruise.  The wind was out of the Southwest at 15 knots and the visibility was endless.  Garret had gotten up first that morning and listened to a weather report on the VHF radio.  Excited by the forecast, he began to sing, “I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China,” from the Jimmy Buffet tune.

“How ’bout it Babe?” Although barely awake, Liz had to giggle as she watched her husband dance around the cabin, singing off-key. “Well, how ’bout a slow boat cruise?’  Garret asked.

“You’re serious?”  Liz asked.

“Yes ma’am,” Garret said with a bow.

“And just where do you want to cruise?  I’m not in the mood for China today,” Liz said, grinning.  She slithered between the covers and pulled the sheet tightly under her chin.

“OK.  Would a jaunt to Newport please you, your Highness?”  Garret teased.

Liz sat up and kicked off the sheet.  “Now that’s a deal,” she replied.  “It’s been so long since we’ve been there,” she added as she jumped out of bed with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. Squeezing him tightly, she planted a quick kiss on his lips.

“Had I known that you would react like this, I would have suggested this days ago,” Garret said laughing.

“C’mon.  Let’s get going.  There’s so much to do,” Liz said as she rushed to make the bed and pick up the clothes.

“Whoa,” Garret said, taking her hand.  “We’re not going anywhere until the Captain has his coffee, so slow down, lady.  This is supposed to be a calm, peaceful trip to recharge our souls.”

“You’re right and I’m glad that you thought of it,” Liz said, snuggling into his arms.  Garret held her close.

“Are you ready to have a bagel and get this show on the road?”  Garret asked, pushing her away so that he could look into her eyes.

“Honey, I’m ready to go anywhere, anytime with you,” Liz answered seriously.

“Right answer,” Garret said giving her a quick hug.  “Now.  Let’s eat.  I’m starved.

Within an hour, Sloopy was ready to sail.  Liz untied the lines and stepped aboard as Garret expertly backed the sailboat out of its slip. The mother and father swans led their brood out of the way to safety behind a large powerboat. When the fenders and lines were neatly stowed in the port locker, Liz settled down on the port bench, with her back resting against the bulkhead.  Facing Garret, she could observe him, unnoticed, as he steered the sloop between the red nuns and the green cans that marked the channel.  He stood at the helm proudly, feet parted for balance, head held high.  For years he had nurtured the fantasy to be unencumbered by a hectic schedule and free to sail.  Now he was living his dream and the joy was apparent every time he left the dock.  Liz shared his enthusiasm, not only because she enjoyed the boating life, but also because seeing his happiness made her happy.

At the mouth of the river, Liz took the wheel as Garret hoisted the sails.  Sloopy found her groove, lifted and picked up speed, frolicking through the two-foot swells.  Liz stayed at the helm until they passed through Watch Hill Passage into Block Island Sound, then set the autopilot.

Just as a toy sailboat, guided by the hands of a child, follows it’s predetermined course in the bathtub, Sloopy was being carried by forces of wind, water and the hands of Fate.  Liz and Garret, the unsuspecting passengers, were drifting into a chain of events they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Newport was aglow by the time Liz and Garret entered the harbor.  Reflections from shore lit up the moorings, which were crowded with sailboats and motorboats.  “Looks like we should have called ahead for a reservation,” Liz said, frowning, as she scanned the area for any empty mooring ball to snag.

“Not to worry, my pet.  I reserved a slip on Bannister’s Wharf before you woke up this morning,” Garret announced.

“That’s great, but how could you have been so sure that I would agree to come?”  asked Liz.

“Call it psychic powers, ESP or that I’ve lived with you so long, I read you like a book,” Garret replied.

“Well, whatever, I’m glad that you did.  It looks like there’s no room at the inn,” Liz said, pointing to the mooring area.

Garret wheeled Sloopy to the gas dock where Liz paid for two days dockage and received the slip assignment.  Within a few minutes, they were tied safely in their berth.  Garret and Liz plopped onto the cockpit benches, fatigued from the spirited eight-hour sail.

“Shall we cook or go out?”  Liz asked.

“Definitely out,” Garret answered.

“Want something light or a full meal?”  Liz pursued. She was not about to drop the subject while her stomach grumbled with hunger.

“I’m starved.  We hardly had any lunch.  What about splurging at the Moorings?”  Garret replied.

The Moorings?  I love the Moorings.  Let me freshen up a bit, and I’ll be ready to roll,” Liz said without hesitation before he had a chance to change his mind.

Garret stretched out in the cockpit as he watched the hustle and bustle of tourists wandering from boutique to boutique on Bannister’s Wharf. It was difficult to imagine that this was once Blood Alley, a rundown wharf lined with sleazy bars frequented by rough, professional sailors.

“Ready?”  Liz said as she climbed into the cockpit.

“Huh?”  Garret mumbled.

“Where were you?”  Liz asked.

“Back about a century.  How do you think I’d look with a gold earring, a patch over one eye and a parrot on my shoulder?”  Garret asked.

“Like Blackbeard.  C’mon.  I’m hungry,” she said swatting him on the leg.  Liz stepped onto the finger pier.  Garret followed.

“Is that my next birthday present?”  Liz asked, stopping to admire the motor yacht that was across from them, tied parallel to the dock.

“That’s quite a ship!”  Garret said.

“Any idea how big?”  Liz asked.

“It’s got to be at least 100 feet.  It takes up the whole wharf,” Garret said.

“I like the helicopter on top,” Liz said.

Liz and Garret walked along the pier, examining the yacht.  All the drapes were closed and no one was on deck.  As they approached the stern, it opened before them, revealing a runabout.  While they watched, it was backed out on rollers and eased into the water where it bobbed, still tethered.  From the bowels of the ship, a sandy haired man wearing a navy, collared, short-sleeved knit shirt and khaki shorts appeared.  He tied lines and fenders onto the runabout and secured it alongside the mother ship.  Over the left breast pocket, the name Party Girl was embroidered in red lettering.

“Hi,” Liz called down, waving.

“Hello, ma’am,” he answered with a trace of Southern drawl.

“What port are you out of?”  Garret asked.

“Fort Lauderdale,” the young man replied.

“My name’s Liz.  This is my husband, Garret.

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.  My name’s Jason.  I captain this vessel.”

“You’re so young to be a captain,” Liz said.

“Twenty-six, ma’am.  I passed my 100 ton license when I was twenty-four,” Jason replied, standing a little straighter.

“You should be proud.  That’s quite an accomplishment,” Garret said.

“Well, I have to get back to work.  Nice talkin’ to ya,” Jason said as he turned and entered the hold.

“He seemed like a nice, young man,” Liz said.

“You just like to be called ma’am,” Garret said.

“Maybe I do.  What’s wrong with a little Southern courtesy?”  Liz asked.

“If I talked like that up here, I’d probably get punched. Northern women think ma’am is for their grandmothers,” Garret replied.

“Actually, you’re right.  Let’s go.  I’m really starved now,” Liz said as she put her arm through his.

They walked past Sloopy, up the wharf to America’s Cup Street.  It was a Friday night, so the streets were clogged with cars and pedestrians.  Lines were already forming outside the popular rock clubs.

“Alongside Party Girl, Sloopy would look like a pilot fish on a whale.”  Liz said.

“Are you still hung up on that boat?”  Garret said.

“I just can’t imagine what it would be like to have that much money.  Can you imagine having anything that you ever wanted?”  Liz asked.

“I have everything I ever wanted, right here,” Garret said squeezing her hand.

“Gar, I know, but don’t you ever wonder what it would be like?”  Liz asked.

“Truthfully, no,” Garret answered.

“Look at the line at the Moorings,” Liz said, pointing to the waterfront from the road.

“Let’s go down and see how long the wait is,” Garret suggested.

“If it’s longer than 30 minutes, I’m out of here.  We could make reservations for tomorrow night and find something to eat on the boat tonight,” Liz said.

“It’s a deal.  I can’t wait much longer, either,” Garret agreed.

Liz and Garret made their way through the parked cars to the entrance.

“I’ll wait out here,” Liz said sitting on a three-foot brick wall that edged the parking lot.

Garret disappeared through the crowd at the entrance.

“Good Evening,” the hostess said, smiling.

“Good Evening.  How long is the wait for two, nonsmoking?”  Garret asked.

The hostess frowned as she scanned the list on the podium before her.  “An hour.  We have quite a few on the list ahead of you.”

“Are you taking reservations for tomorrow night?”  Garret asked.

“I’m sorry.  We don’t take reservations during the summer, especially Friday and Saturday nights,” the hostess said sweetly, her well-rehearsed smile never changing.

“Excuse me, ma’am.  Excuse me, sir.  Excuse me, coming through,” a familiar voice sounded through the crowd.

Before he was sandwiched in a corner to let the group pass, Garret turned to see Captain Jason parting the sea of faces.

“Mr. Boswell’s table is ready.  Follow me please,” the hostess said, leading the entourage to the inner sanctum.

Disappointed and angry, Garret fought his way outside past the crush of people waiting for a table.

“Well?”  Liz asked as he approached.

“They don’t have a table for an hour and they don’t take reservations, but that group got seated immediately,” Garret grumbled.

“Of course.  They’re off Party Girl,” Liz asked.

“So?”  Garret asked belligerently.

“When money talks, a lot of people listen.  Did you get a look at them?”  Liz asked.

“No. The only one I saw was Jason before I was shoved into a corner. Then, I was face to face with a fern ’til they went by me,” Garret said.

“There were three of them. I think they were father, mother and daughter.  The girl didn’t look anything like her father, but she was the spittin’ image of her mother. They both had the most beautiful curly, red hair,” Liz babbled.

“I don’t care who they are or what they look like.  The hostess refused a reservation from me, but they apparently had one,” Garret fumed.

“Want an ice cream?  There’s a shop right over there.”  Liz asked, indicating one of the storefronts on that pier. Changing the subject usually calmed him down.

“I’d love anything about now,” Garret admitted.

Liz took him by the hand and led him to the store.  Like excited kids, they picked out their favorite flavors and sprinkles for their waffle cones. Within minutes, they wolfed down the sweet, cold treat. Satisfied, Garret and Liz spent the evening poking through the shops.

“Had enough?”  Garret asked.

“Yeah.  I could drop right here,” Liz said.

“Then I think we’re both tired enough to fall asleep despite the rock bands,” Garret said.

“How late are the bars open?”  Liz asked.

“Two,” Garret answered.

Liz grimaced. “With all the sun today, and all the walking tonight, we shouldn’t have problem,” she finally said with conviction.

The pair walked hand in hand past the boutiques and restaurants on Bannister’s Wharf to the dock.

“That v-berth is looking pretty good about now,” Garret said.

“What’s that?”  Liz asked.

“What?  The cars, the boats, the music from the club across the slipway?”  Garret asked.

“Shh!”  Liz said, furrowing her forehead to concentrate.

“Do I hear a piano?”  Garret straining to listen.

“Yeah and it’s coming from Party Girl,” Liz said.

The two walked closer to the motor yacht and paused to listen.

“Whoever’s playing is good,” Garret said.

“Really good,” Liz agreed.

“I’m going to bed.   Are you coming or are you going to stand here and eavesdrop all night?”  Garret asked as he headed for Sloopy.

“In a minute,” Liz answered dreamily.  Standing alone on the dock, she closed her eyes to listen.  A feeling of sadness swept over her like a wave breaking onshore.  In her mind she saw the young woman with the cascading, strawberry blonde curls crying as she played.  Startled, Liz opened her eyes.  No one was in sight. Deciding that she must be overtired, Liz hurried to the security of Sloopy and the warmth of Garret’s arms.

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Posted on June 9, 2013, in mystery, reading, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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