On Deadly Tides (A Wendover House Mystery Book 3)

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On Deadly Tides

by

Melanie Jackson

 

Version 1.1 – March, 2012

 

Published by Brian Jackson at KDP

 

Copyright © 2012 by Melanie Jackson

 

Discover other titles by Melanie Jackson at
www.melaniejackson.com

 

This book is a work of fiction.
 
Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
 
Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

 

 

Prologue

 

Jack and Brandy were upstairs packing when there was a knock at the door. I figured it was Bryson Sands, who had offered to shuttle my guests back to the mainland so they could catch their respective flights west and south. The day was gray and drizzle fell steadily, but the water around the island was wonderfully tranquil. The weathermen were predicting snow that afternoon, but as yet we had no sign that a storm was actually going to bother us. Hannah’s postmortem calm continued.

To my surprise and pleasure it wasn’t Bryson on the doorstep but rather Harris Ladd huddled in his rain slicker.

“Come in,” I said. “Come to the library. I have a fire going.”

“Thank you. I am afraid that Bryson has been called away. There was a bad accident on the mainland, two trucks collided and then there was a pileup. It’s all hands on deck for this one. I’ve been deputized to play ferryman in his place.” Harris slipped off his coat and I hung it on a peg. There was a kind of decorative marble trough underneath where it could drain onto the assorted rain boots and umbrellas I keep by the door.

“Thank you for coming instead. But will Jack and Brandy be able to make it to the airport if the highway is shut down?” I asked as we walked down the hall.


Ayuh
.
The accident was north.” Harris took off his gloves and spread his fingers out above the flames in the grate. He sighed contentedly. Like Brandy, he also seemed unburdened. Maybe he figured that if a ghost hadn’t driven me away, nothing would.

“The cat likes coffee?” Harris asked, not sounding all that surprised. I looked over to see Kelvin all but stuffing his head in my mug, inhaling the fragrant steam.

“Apparently.”

I heard Jack come down the stairs, drop off luggage, and go back up again. Brandy had brought several bags and Jack was being a gentleman.

“Will you be lonely with your friends gone?” Harris asked, turning to toast his back. The subtext was really about whether I would be frightened in the house alone.

“Not a bit. It’s been wonderful having them, but I think I’m ready to have some time alone. It’s time I get decided about what I want to do—career-wise. The vacation has been nice, but I am finally tired of being idle.”

“And there have been no disturbances?”

“Not a one. And Kelvin has been delightfully peaceful. No sitting out on the grave like he used to do. It was unnerving when he would do it and it was snowing or raining.”

“That’s wonderful,” Harris said and plainly meant it.

“Hi, Harris,” Jack said, coming into the room. He had on a leather jacket which probably wasn’t warm enough for being out on the water. “Are you taking us to the mainland?”

“Yes. There was a bad car accident and Bryson and Everett are away. Things are winding up but Bryson was afraid you would miss your flight if you waited on him.”

“I think we are mostly gathered up.” He looked up at the ceiling. On cue, Brandy
came
tapping down the stairs, her heels sounding like bullets.

“Let me give you a hand with the luggage,” Harris said politely.

I went to fetch a coat and hat. We would all be giving a hand with the luggage or it would take several trips and they might still be late. I hated to think about what she paid in extra baggage fees.

It was not surprising when Ben joined us outside his cottage and took the case Brandy was carrying. I was not resentful. Brandy is delicate and I am not. I was also wearing sensible boots and not high-heeled shoes that were in danger of turning my ankles as we minced our way down the wet path.

We were almost to the dock which is located on the low side of the island between the two newer houses. There is the tiniest bit of stony beach at the waterline, but since it is more sharp gravel than sand it is never used by anyone. So when Ben exclaimed and pointed at the water, our first reaction was to look to the boats. However it was immediately apparent in spite of the thickening drizzle that there was nothing amiss at the pier and the eye quickly snagged on the body-shaped mass wrapped in seaweed wedged between two nearby boulders.

The body wrapped in seaweed. Not a seal, not a dolphin—a human body.

We dropped the bags on the path and hurried down to the beach. Harris was in the lead and Brandy trailed behind, helped along by Ben. I was only a step behind Harris and Jack was on my heels. It was raining in earnest by then but we saw everything clearly when Harris knelt in the surf and pulled the slimy tentacles away from the dead man’s face.

It wasn’t pretty. I had never seen a drowned person so it isn’t surprising that I would be shocked and sickened. The old man had obviously been in the water for a while and I had never seen any male members of my family, so it took me a moment to realize why Harris was gasping and backing away. When I didn’t move fast enough, he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back a step too.

“Dear God!” Jack said.

“Dead at least two days,” Ben added, finally reaching us.
“Maybe three.
The water’s cold.
Mostly.”

No one suggested CPR or further examination of the body which rolled slightly as the waves washed over it, slowly releasing it from its slimy shroud.

“Tide’s going out. It should be safe for a while.” It was Ben, again being practical.

“But—he looks like.…” I stopped, staring at the slimy gray hair and bloated, waxy face that had stretched out most of the wrinkles and forced the eyes closed.

“Kelvin,” Ben said flatly. “It looks like Kelvin.”

“No,” I denied, though of course the body did look a lot like photos I’d seen of my great-grandfather, only more blurred.

“No, it can’t be Kelvin. Kelvin Wendover is dead.
Buried.”
But Harris didn’t sound any more convincing than I did as we denied the evidence before our eyes. “And I don’t think this man is old enough anyway.”

He was old though.
Or in ill health.

“Oh, it’s probably some Kelvin,” Ben said calmly. “The question is which one.”

I stared at him, not understanding at first, then remembering that all male Wendovers in the direct line were called Kelvin.

“Dear God,” Harris said again. “But … how? Who? I tell you that I looked everywhere. There was no other Wendover male.”

“It can’t be a Wendover. There was no son,” I said.
“Just Grandma.
And she had two daughters who took their father’s name.”

“Well, it sure can’t be your grandfather. Can it?” Ben crouched down, peering hard at the face.

“No!” Harris and I said together. Harris added, “Don’t touch the body.”

“I’ll call 9-1-1,” Brandy said, looking rather green. Her coat was light wool and now sodden. “We need to call someone. There’s a b-b-body.”

“No, not 9-1-1,” Harris contradicted again, finally regaining his wits.
He pulled out his own phone. “Let me call Bryson. We don’t want to bring out the mainlanders if we can avoid it. Not until we know what’s going on. Let’s just leave this as a drowning death for now. We can decide what to do if the body is identified.”

No one argued. Everyone except Brandy had been there long enough to figure out how things worked in the islands.

“Identification may be difficult,” Ben conceded.

It was my day for looking blank.

“The hands.”
He pointed halfway down the body. “They’re missing. And I am thinking that the teeth are missing too. The hands might be the work of a shark, but the teeth—”

I reminded myself that Ben often wrote about true crime and this was not as horrifying to him as the rest of us.


Oohhhh
.”
Brandy fainted.

“Dentures,” I croaked. “Maybe his dentures fell out.”

Jack sighed and picked Brandy up, putting her over his shoulder in a dead-man’s carry. I bent and retrieved her right shoe. The leather would never be the same after standing in the surf. I slipped it back on her foot anyway and then picked up her purse.

“I guess we won’t be catching our flights today.” Jack sounded resigned.

“No, you can catch your flight,” Harris said. “Ben can take you over.”

Jack’s mouth fell open and I think he almost dropped Brandy. I was in shock so my jaw was a bit slower to drop but it got there eventually. Harris was sending away witnesses? Why?

“You can’t add anything important to this investigation, can you?” Harris asked impatiently. His cool manner had returned. “You don’t recognize the deceased. You don’t know the cause of death.”

“Well, no. But—”

“You can give a statement about finding the body later. Write it out and fax it to me. Trust me, you will only be in the way when the coroner arrives to deal with the body, and I don’t think that your lady friend is going to be any help at all.
Quite the opposite.”

Brandy had begun to stir and moan. The sound was pitiful. I think we were all recalling her hysterical and incoherent story about seeing ghosts in Los Angeles. What if this sent her back around the bend?

“Damn it.” Jack’s brows drew into a scowl. “Okay, we take Brandy to the airport and get her on her flight. But I’m coming back. No way am I leaving Tess to deal with this alone.”


It’s
okay, Jack,” I said. “It isn’t necessary for you to stay, and it would be best to get Brandy out of here. I’ll be fine and I’ll call you tonight.”

“I’m coming back, Tess,” he said stubbornly.

“I’ll get the luggage,” Ben said pacifically as Harris began punching numbers into his phone and walking up the hill to where reception was better.

“Leave the small brown bag. It’s mine,” Jack called as he started for the boat.

Not sure what else to do, I followed Ben back up to the luggage. My knees weren’t as steady as I would have liked and I moved slowly, shivering as the rain overflowed my hat brim and ran down my neck. My pleasure at having resolved my ghost problem had evaporated.

Nor was I entirely happy to find Kelvin waiting for me on a rock next to the abandoned luggage. Cats are supposed to hide from rain, but the elements never bothered him. It was part of what made him so uncanny.

“Kelvin, do you know what’s going on?” I asked him, not caring if Ben thought I was weird for talking to my cat. Let him chalk it up to shock.

The cat looked me in the eye and began licking his paw.

“He probably does,” Ben muttered. “After all, he was your great-grandfather’s familiar. What a pity he can’t really talk. He might be able to tell us if that body is Kelvin or not.”

“But how could it be Kelvin? He’s dead. The doctor couldn’t have made that kind of mistake.”

“Sure he could. Old Doc Kauffman is older than dirt and twice as blind—and in Harris’ pocket to boot. Tess, do you know how your great-grandfather died?”

“A boating accident?
Or he just drowned? I….” Harris had told me, hadn’t he? But not with any specificity and I had been so overwhelmed by my good fortune at inheriting everything that I hadn’t bothered to ask.

“Yeah, a boating accident they said. Except Kelvin had gotten to where he was terrified of small boats and wouldn’t go out in them anymore. So, Kelvin disappeared and a body washed up. It was a mess. The fish had been at it, but the upper dentures matched and there was an appendix scar so they decided not to cut him open and—”

“Stop.”
I was beginning to feel as green as Brandy. “I don’t need those kinds of details.”

“Sorry. But the thing is there was no autopsy. The man they found had a dark coat like Kelvin’s and had your great-grandpa’s dentures and more or less the right kind of gray hair, so they looked no further. There was no autopsy, no DNA sent for analysis. Everyone just assumed it was Kelvin since no one else was missing and the corpse had washed up on Little Goose. They dropped the body in the coffin and buried it in the family mausoleum as quick as could be arranged.”

“Oh God.”

Ben pulled a flask from his coat pocket and offered it to me. I shook my head. The whisky would never stay down.

“Yeah.
I’m afraid this may mean an exhumation. Unless Harris can hush it up.
Or if this corpse isn’t your great-grandfather after all—though that does raise some questions of its own, doesn’t it?
Like where has Kelvin been all these months and why did he disappear?”

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