Authors: John Farrow
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #International Mystery & Crime, #Police Procedurals
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Time and tide wait for no man and no woman.
And here, she reminds herself again, the tide is swift.
All day, waves kicked up across the Gulf of Maine, out to the Atlantic and into the Bay of Fundy, a waterway shaped like the opening jaws of a shark. Winds staggered ships. Surprised by a whole gale expected to track south but veering north instead, fishermen yearn for safe harbor, the family table, a lover’s nudge. Yet no boat attempts landfall tonight, the tempest too wicked against these craggy shores, the combination a treachery.
Boats wait this one out at sea.
Ashore, deeper inside the bay, sirens wail to warn of the sea’s return. A seventy-foot range in depth is a danger to the unwary. The story goes that a champion Thoroughbred with a top-notch jockey on its back cannot outrun this tidal bore. Not that any horse is out on the flats tonight. A sleek gray Porsche, though, running down a highway parallel to the inflow, also fails to maintain Fundy’s relentless clip. The driver’s vision is reduced by the deluge and ponds pooling on the road further impede the car’s progress. Yet she accepts the challenge, her speed limited by the dark of the gale, the barreling funnels of wind, occasional hairpin turns, and sudden blind dips that in these conditions are life-threatening. Spurred on by the likelihood of an imminent death in her family, the night traveler perseveres and, against her better judgment, presses on.
Time will not wait for anyone, she knows, and certainly not for her.
Nor will the tide.
Nor will her dying father.
Yet the race to arrive before his death is on.
* * *
A man familiar with the driver’s father, acquainted with his idiosyncrasies and failings—if not the depths of his depravity—endures the storm in the comfort of a church manse, his home. Rain pelts down on the rooftop and windows, forlorn hounds bay in the stovepipe, gusts clatter the shingles and shake the doors. Yet for all the commotion on the exterior walls of this old wooden cottage, inside, the Reverend Simon Lescavage feels quite snug. He sips a cup of English Breakfast. In the light of a frizzy oil lamp he’s reading a book on cosmology. Complicated stuff. Hours ago the electricity went down and it’s not likely to be up anytime soon, so lamps and candles are lit, a flashlight is handy, his tea is quite soothing, and the small fire in the hearth—not necessary in summer but needed to heat a beverage tonight—burns cozily, crackles. His book, a challenge, surely is just the ticket for the solitary evening.
Theories on the origins of the universe fascinate him. He reads more about quantum mechanics these days than about theology, and revels in the study of black holes and star formations. Not long ago, in grappling with notions concerning miracles in a sermon, he tripped up and embarked on a tangent that gave a nod to string theory and dark energy. His congregation was baffled. In his current phase, the minister neglects Biblical homilies, and reserves his adoration for scientific inquiries into the cosmos.
Not that a snippet of that expanse is viewed from his island home tonight.
Out there in the deeper blackness, islands stand as guardians to the Bay of Fundy. A few are rarely inhabited: Kent, Sheep and Hay, and Machias, where the puffins roost, and farther north there’s White Head, Cheney, and Ross, the wee sisters of Great Duck, Gulf Islet, and a more northern, less well-known Nantucket. All of them, and Grand Manan, the largest and most populated of the scattering, where Lescavage is comfortably lodged, are being slammed without any echo of mercy. Waves roil also across the salmon farms. From near space, they appear as crop circles in neat, tight rows upon the sea, each wide enough to harbor a battleship as well as three-quarters of a million fish. Yet the salmon are secure within their cages tonight, and Lescavage assumes that across the Isle of Grand Manan everyone is secure enough as well, doing what he’s doing, if not reading then huddling close, under a blanket or wearing earbuds to listen to music that mutes the bedlam of the storm.
He assumes that in nine months’ time babies will bob to the surface, the final flotsam blown ashore by this wind and sea. Other wives, bereft of companionship tonight, fret about their men upon the deep, and Lescavage worries along with them.
Silently, secretly, he prays for their lives.
Old habits, as the adage goes, and he concurs, die hard.
His head is bowed when the phone rings, disrupting his peace. Tempted not to answer, he accepts that on a night such as this no one will believe that he’s not home, so in that sense he has little choice. The phone goes on ringing. A persistence that’s annoying, as it invokes his servitude.
Simon Lescavage maintains only one telephone in his dwelling. It squats on a small table in the kitchen, buried beneath a newspaper and packaging for spaghetti noodles he’s neglected to toss into the recycling bin. He gets rid of the debris first, compressing into a plastic bag what he’ll transfer outside later, then shifts the
to one side and picks up the receiver after a dozen rings. He does not intend to sound gruff, but promptly betrays himself with his tone.
Rain, at that instant, drums more violently on the windowpanes.
He recognizes the woman’s voice, as she’s his housekeeper every second Tuesday and on Sunday afternoons sweeps out the church. She’s explaining her situation at some length, with urgency but with no attempt to be concise.
He finally interrupts the spiel. “What is it this time, really?”
She continues to vent.
Grumpily, Lescavage interrupts, “I’m not all that impressed. Are you?”
She hardly takes a breath, and the pastor finds himself distracted by the beat of rain on the glass while she follows through on her rant. He already knows that if this conversation continues in its present vein, he’s likely to be out in the weather himself momentarily. He’s a slight man who at first glance looks unduly fit for fifty-seven. His 142 pounds comes across to most people as trim, yet five years ago he was 124, which had been his average for decades. The additional weight suits him. He’s rarely called scrawny anymore. Women no longer shout at him from their doorways commanding that he enter their homes and eat something, to fatten up, although they may have stopped all that because he’s older now. Or they are. Or because when he did eat in their homes, little came of it, he did nothing more than chow down. He’s no longer quite so skinny, has never thought of himself as short and has refused to gauge his height as merely average. He hates that designation, a nod to vanity that in the overall scheme of his life is rare for him—although it’s true that a buzz cut is meant to preempt impending baldness. Lescavage has never tried to pass himself off as tall, that would be absurd, yet along with his self-consciousness about being diminutive he’s compounded the matter by denying what any tape measure and the attitudes of others contend. He flies in the face of that logic. Once only he put up a description of his attributes on an online Christian dating site, choosing to describe himself as “well-proportioned,” which in his mind covered both his exceptional skinniness back then and a general lack of tallness. Otherwise, he’s not notably vain.
“All right,” he says, ceding to the housekeeper’s request. Always the pushover, and perhaps resenting that about himself, his response to her next suggestion is strident. “No, Ora! Not a chance! I’ll arrive in a huff. That’s it, that’s all. I reserve the right to be my petulant self. Tell him that. Say it to his face. Tell him—” Lescavage weighs what pithy remark he might charge the housekeeper to pass along to her current employer, a man on his last legs if that impression is to be believed, although Lescavage doesn’t. “Ora, sorry, never mind. I’ll tell him myself.”
He nods, as if she can see the gesture through the phone line, and adds after she states some further opinion, “I agree with you. It is better this way.”
She hangs up without a subsequent word. The Reverend Lescavage follows suit. For a moment he reads from the newspaper—a headline has grabbed his attention—but, disappointed in the story, he puts it down and blows out the wall lamp in the kitchen. In dimmer light he strides through to the front door.
The pastor snuffs a pair of candles and lowers the wicks on oil lamps.
In the vestibule, Lescavage lifts rain pants off a hook and bends to retrieve his boots. He’s seated upon an antique pine bench, one that might have served a shoemaker eons ago or supported the ample backside of a fisherman repairing a net. Pausing, he considers that he may have been summoned out tonight to slog through the wet for another man’s amusement, but he pulls the rain pants on over his trousers anyway and works his feet into the boots. He is the son of a clergyman, his mother a fisherman’s daughter, and he takes particular pride in the maternal side of his lineage. He knows that the nuance has held him in good stead among his flock. His people, as he calls them, have generally been fond of him, even though lately they’re not sure what to make of a pastor who’s lost his faith yet still enjoys, and wants to keep, his job. When he explains himself, it’s all so complicated. He stands, adjusts the pants’ suspenders over his shoulders, slips on his slicker and rain hat, and braces himself for the wild, warm wind and the fearsome onslaught of the torrent.
He’s unwilling to drive in this weather, or in this dark. Not on these roads. No matter, it’s a short distance, and initially trees protect him from a portion of the bluster, their tops swaying, branches flailing the air. He’s stunned by the volume of the wind’s roaring. Away from his house, everything is so dark that he can’t see the trees anymore, and when he holds a hand up, he can’t make out his fingers. His feet barely discern the pavement. Like stepping on stones in a fast-flowing stream. Lescavage walks up Old Airport Road, then turns right onto Lighthouse Road, a simple intersection that tonight is maddening to locate. With a bend in direction, the wind hits hardest. He dares not open both eyelids in the gusts. His face stings. The Orrock mansion is farther along, but while the distance is not far—an uphill walk he’s done a thousand times, often to take in the vista from the lighthouse—on this trek the required effort in the teeth of the gale is immense.
He leaves the lighthouse and its muted lamp behind.
Thanks to a generator, lights are on in Alfred Orrock’s big house and across his yard, and Lescavage easily finds his way up the long, winding path. Standing under the porch light and a protective overhang, he shakes the rain off in a style not dissimilar to a dog’s. He rings the bell, then readies himself for anything.
The young housekeeper has the door open in a wink and bounds outside.
“Whoa, whoa, Ora! Where’s the fire?”
She’s a step past him, but as he clutches her arm, she retreats. Although well dressed for the weather, she takes another look at the night. Hers will be a longer hike home than the distance Lescavage just covered, and the weather is more wicked than it appeared while she was safely ensconced indoors. The way the wind bellows over the cliffs and how the rain slams down from one direction, then another, give her pause. Protected by the porch overhang, she pulls her rain hat over her ears, holds it there with both hands. She crinkles her nose and, with her mouth in some odd contortion, remarks, “I don’t need to watch him die, do I? I’m not paid for that.”