B. B. Haywood
Town in a Lobster Stew
Many thanks to the staff of Thomas Memorial Library, Cape Elizabeth, Maine, for providing years of good company and helping to successfully launch the first book. In particular, thanks to Rachel Davis for her great publicity and to Joyce Lourie for all her support. Special thanks, once again, to Todd Merrill and Jen Dyer at Merrill Blueberry Farms, Ellsworth, Maine, for providing numerous details about blueberry farming. Deep gratitude to the Maine chefs who graciously revealed the secrets of their lobster recipes, which you’ll find at the end of the book. Thanks as well to many others who provided help and encouragement during the (sometimes difficult) writing of this novel, including Rock, Diane, Laura Leigh, Maryann, Donna, Chris, Freda, Helen, Gloria and Frank, and everyone at Cypress Gardens RV park in Winter Haven, Florida. Warmest thanks to Sheila Connolly for her supportive words and to Teresa Fasolino for her wonderful cover illustrations. Of course, this book wouldn’t exist without the help of Kae and Jon Tienstra, Leis Pederson, and the talented staff at Berkley Prime Crime. Finally, hugs, kisses, and much love for Sarah and Matthew, who both are off on great adventures. (Note for Sarah: No lobsters were harmed during the writing of this novel!) For updates about Candy and Doc Holliday, Holliday’s Blueberry Acres, and Cape Willington, Maine, as well as special chapters and details about upcoming books, visit www.hollidaysblueberryacres.com.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
He knew he had to do something about it.
Crossing to the antique brass umbrella stand by the back door, he removed the wooden walking cane and stepped out onto the small concrete porch behind the house. He took a moment to steady himself, leaning absently on the cane as he gazed across the well-kept yard, where dusk-driven shadows gathered in the silence. With a sharpened gaze he studied the white clapboard house next door.
It stood dark and empty. She was gone, he knew. Earlier in the day he’d watched through the front window as she drove away in her old green sedan. She wore the blue patterned frock he liked so much, one of her prettiest. He could still remember the first time he saw her in it.
She had looked like an angel to him then, her skin pale and clear and almost luminescent, like fine porcelain, her gray eyes giving him that no-nonsense look of hers when he’d gallantly reached out to take her hand. She had hesitated, then acquiesced after a few moments with a gentle
Yet she had not returned his love, not that day, not ever. Their brief affair so many years ago still shone brightly in his memory. He’d been married in those long-ago days, but told her he’d seek a divorce if only she’d have him. She refused — then and in all the years since.
Life whirled them away from one another, and for decades he watched from afar as she married and lived a life he so desperately wanted to share with her. Only when his own dear Emily passed away nine years ago, a victim of cancer, had he gathered the gumption to buy this house he lived in now, next door to hers.
He’d been uncertain of her reaction to this bold maneuver, but she seemed genuinely glad to reconnect with an old friend, and they began to reestablish their relationship, becoming good next-door neighbors, if nothing else at first. In the years since then she had warmed to him, her own husband dead and buried these past twelve years. It was just the two of them now, living alone in their old homes.
But still she kept him at a distance, always a friend, never a lover. They held hands on occasion, shared a dinner or two over glasses of white wine and candlelight. Every week or so she brought him a warm bowl of homemade soup or a few fresh-baked blueberry muffins. On rare occasions she invited him over to watch an old movie. Romances with Irene Dunne and detective stories with Humphrey Bogart were her favorites. His tastes ran a different direction, toward war movies and John Wayne westerns. But he never let that keep him from sitting next to her on her sofa, her smooth, placid face illuminated by the soft glow of the old Magnavox television set. At those times he had trouble keeping his eyes focused on the TV screen, as his gaze tended to wander to her hands, her knees, her ears, the back of her neck. But he always remained proper, despite his longing. Occasionally she would catch him glancing her way and she’d send him a smile. She never gave him anything more.
But that didn’t stop him from loving her, from watching over her from a distance. He felt himself her protector.
He hesitated a few more moments, thumping the cane nervously on the concrete porch as the darkness deepened in the thick stand of trees behind the houses. He tried, but hard as he might he could not see movement in the house again. But it had been there — he was sure of it.
Pulling the back door closed behind him, he carefully stepped down off the porch and began to cross the yard.
The grass was moist and fragrant, wearing the deep, glowing green of midspring. He loved this time of year in Maine. Many his age fled south in their later years, but he held steadfast to this close-knit coastal village, unwilling to abandon it because of something as inconsequential as cold weather, or mist or fog, or the dampness that went right to the bones, or the fierce storms coming in off the deep, cold ocean. For he knew that after winter came the season of growth and renewal, when the foliage around Cape Willington sent out those tight, lime-colored buds, which, during one glorious week in May, burst open as shiny new leaves unfurled from twigs and branches.
He approached her home slowly, his gaze scanning the structure from end to end. He spotted nothing out of the ordinary. That eased his concern some, but he remained determined to investigate.
The three-story house, which included two floors of living space as well as a full attic, loomed dark and silent above him as he approached it. Gingerly he climbed the three wooden steps onto the back porch.
He stooped forward slightly and peered in through the thick glass of the back door, but it took him a few moments to realize something was askew. The door stood ajar, opened an inch or two. That made him uneasy, and he took a step back, steadying himself with his cane as he pondered this incongruity.
Had she left it open by mistake? Or had someone entered the house after she had gone, leaving the door ajar to make good an escape?
His heart quickened its beat as his mind worked. Something in the heavy silence spooked him, and he nearly turned and fled back to the safety of his own place. Better to call the police and let them handle the matter. They could search the home faster and more effectively than he could.
But he dismissed that idea almost at once. He would not let himself be rattled like a child. He thought of her and pushed at the door.
It hinged open with a faint, elongated squeal. He stayed on the porch for a few moments, his gaze sweeping the gloomy interior. Nothing looked wrong so far as he could see.
He stepped inside, leaving the door open behind him.
The sound of his breathing was raspy in his ears now, but it was the only sound he heard. He took a few more steps, putting out a hand to lean on the scrubbed wooden table at the center of the room. She had set the table for two, with rose-patterned porcelain plates, fine polished silverware, crystal goblets, and a cream-colored