have beaten even the oldest and most arthritic birder up the hill. We declined an invitation to join the Bumhams and found ourselves alone on the dock, surrounded by mountains of luggage higher than our heads.

'Are they all just going to leave their luggage here?' Michael asked.

'Why not?' I said. 'Who would steal it, and where could they possibly hide it if they did? There's no getting off the island until the ferry starts running again.'

We found a truck with room for our larger bags, and paid the exorbitant hauling fee. Despite my warnings, Michael tried to talk the driver into giving us a ride.

'No room,' said the driver. His broad face looked vaguely familiar. He was about my age, which meant if he was a local, I'd probably played with him as a child. Or, more likely, beaten the tar out of him for picking on my much younger brother, Rob, if my memories of some of the other children we'd played with on the island were accurate. His clothes smelled of cigarette smoke and beer, and he had a seedy, furtive air that made me wonder, just for a moment, if letting him have our baggage was really a good idea.

'We could wait till you come back,' Michael said.

'Not coming back,' the driver replied. 'Not for a while anyway. You could walk there sooner.'

'I'm not sure my friend is up to the walk,' Michael said, putting a protective arm around me.

I did my best to look frail and in need of protection as the driver peered at me. I could tell I wasn't succeeding. Which didn't surprise me; when you're nearly five foot nine, people tend to look at you and think, Sturdy. Unless you're model-thin, which I'm not. Even with Michael looming half a foot taller beside me, I obviously didn't look like the driver's idea of a damsel in distress.

'She's getting over a broken ankle,' Michael said. 'She's not supposed to overdo it.'

I switched from frail to suffering stoically. The driver still wasn't fooled.

'Only a quarter of a mile,' he said. 'Ain't even uphill most of the way.'

With that, he jumped into the cab of the truck and gunned the engine.

The truck took off, spinning its wheels a little before the tires got enough traction to climb the steep slope up from the docks. Little blobs of mud spattered us.

'Bloody little weasel,' I snapped. 'Bad enough he wouldn't give us a ride--'

'Don't worry,' Michael said, wiping a bit of mud out of his left eye. 'It'll wash off by the time we get to the cottage.'

'Yes, it is beginning to drizzle a bit more heavily, isn't it?'

'We follow him?'

I glanced over. Michael was staring up the hill.

'Strange,' I said. 'The hill didn't seem as steep when I was a kid.'

Michael chuckled.

'I remember it always used to drive me crazy how long it took for us to get to the cottage from the docks.'

'Oh great.'

'But that was mostly because Dad insisted on stopping to talk to everyone along the way. We'd take two or three hours, sometimes. But really it's only a fifteen-minute walk.'

'The sooner we begin, the sooner we'll get warm and dry,' Michael said, hoisting his carry-on bag to his shoulder. 'Lead on, Macduff.'

We trudged up the hill. Ahead of us, we could see the last two birders hiking stoutly toward the crest. The rest had no doubt reached their hotels or bed-and-breakfast lodgings long ago and were now watching whatever birders watch when the weather deprives them of their natural prey.

At the crest of the hill, we turned right on the island's main thoroughfare--another dirt and gravel road, but this one slightly better maintained. It wound through a seemingly haphazard scattering of buildings, most made of weather-beaten gray boards. I tried to see the place through a stranger's eyes, and cringed. You forget little details over time, like how many yards contained untidy stacks of lobster traps in need of mending. Or how the utilitarian PVC pipes that brought water down from the central reservoir lined every road. I could see Michael darting glances around, and I suspected he was wondering why the devil we'd come all mis way to such an unprepossessing place. The picturesque charm of the island definitely came across better on a sunny summer day than in the wake of a fall hurricane.

The drizzle had escalated to a light shower by the time we turned down the lane to Aunt Phoebe's cottage. About time; a little later and we'd have had to stumble along in the dark. Monhegan has no streetlights. And Aunt Phoebe thought repairing the ruts in her lane a citified affectation, which made finding your way in the dark a nightmare.

Only it wasn't dark. I could see light ahead of us--coming from the house. And was that music playing? I felt a twinge of panic. Surely Aunt Phoebe hadn't rented it, had she? She was always so adamant about having it ready at any time the family wanted to use it.

'Someone's already here,' Michael said.

'No one's supposed to be,' I said. 'Maybe it's just the cleaners. I know Aunt Phoebe has someone local come in every two weeks or so to keep the place from getting too dirty.'

A burst of laughter rang out from inside the cottage.

'Wish I enjoyed cleaning that much,' Michael said. He shifted his carry-on bag from one shoulder to the other.

I noticed that the rest of our luggage hadn't arrived yet. Michael's attempts to bribe the driver into giving us a ride had probably irritated him to the point that he'd make sure ours was the last off the track. He might even pretend to forget about it until the morning, with our luck. I sighed.

'Well, there's no sense standing out here wondering,' I said. I marched up the steps, ready to deal with whatever the cottage contained--burglars? Squatters? Cleaners who had gotten into the bar and decided to hold an impromptu hurricane party?

I squared my shoulders and knocked firmly on the door.

Chapter 3

All My Puffins

No one answered. I waited briefly, then knocked again.

Another burst of laughter greeted my knock.

'What's going on in there?' I called.

Still no answer.

'Well, here goes,' I said.

I flung open the door.--The cottage was empty. But someone, obviously, had been there, and not very long ago.

'I guess someone was expecting us,' Michael said.

Evidently--but who?

We looked around. A fire crackled briskly in the fireplace. Enough candles burned in various parts of the room to cast a warm, romantic glow. Both sofas were piled high with down pillows and fuzzy afghans. Two teacups stood on the coffee table, and a hint of steam and a faint odor of jasmine indicated that the quilted cozy concealed a fresh pot of tea. A battery radio sat on the mantel; as we stood there gaping, a final burst of laughter signaled the end of a commercial and an announcer with a beautiful spun-silk baritone voice assured us that W something or other would now continue with its Friday-night light classical program. The strains of 'The Blue Danube Waltz' filled the room.

'Hello?' I called.

I stepped inside. I could smell something cooking. Right now, my stomach objected strenuously to this, but, even so, I could tell that when I'd fully recovered from the ferry ride, whatever was going on in the kitchen would turn out to be intensely interesting. A bottle of champagne stood on the table, beads of sweat running down its sides, with a corkscrew and two glass flutes nearby.

'You know, this is a lot less primitive than you described it,' Michael said, dropping his bags by the door. 'In

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