For Julia Snowden, the Founder's Day summer celebration in Busman's Harbor, Maine, means helping her family's clambake company to prepare an authentic taste of New England seafood. Any Mainer will tell you that a real clambake needs wood for the fire . . . so why is there a foot sticking out of the oven?
The townspeople want to pin the murder of the RV park owner on Cabe Stone, a new employee of the Snowden Family Clambake Company—who bolted from the crime scene and disappeared. Julia knows having another murder associated with her family's business is a recipe for disaster . . . but who is the killer? Cooking up a proper investigation doesn't leave much time for the rest of Julia's life, and this is one killer who'll do anything to stop her from digging up clues . . .
Release date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 321
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I elbowed my way through the crowd on the town pier, barely taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Founder’s Weekend in Busman’s Harbor. Mother Nature had smiled on us, providing a sunny, dry morning fanned by a comforting sea breeze—the kind of weather that convinced tourists there was nowhere better to spend an August Saturday than on the coast of Maine.
“Coming through.” My dual roles as a member of the Founder’s Weekend committee and manager of the Snowden Family Clambake had conflicted. I was late.
In a semicircle around the pier, four food vendors prepared for the lunch rush, set to commence immediately after the opening ceremonies. In the Snowden Family Clambake area, my sister Livvie stirred a vat of her amazing clam chowder. Her husband Sonny and Cabe Stone, his young helper, sprayed saltwater onto the untreated canvas draped over the seaweed covering the lobsters, clams, corn, potatoes, onions, and eggs we would soon serve to the first three hundred people who came through our buffet line.
Normally, we ran our clambakes on Morrow Island, the private island my mother owned two miles southeast along the coast. On the island, we cooked everything in a big hole in the ground on rocks heated by a hardwood fire. When I’d first proposed to my brother-in-law that we provide food for Founder’s Weekend, he’d reacted with the same stubborn negativity with which he greeted all new ideas—particularly mine. He reddened from the base of his wide neck to the top of his red-haired, buzz-cut scalp.
But my sister Livvie had backed me up. She had to. She was the whole reason I was on the stupid Founder’s Weekend committee in the first place. So, Sonny did a one-eighty and spent hours with Cabe figuring out how to cook safely on the pier.
The result was an oddly beautiful contraption Sonny had proudly dubbed, “The Claminator.” Twenty feet long and four feet wide, it looked like a cross between an enormous steam table from a high school cafeteria and a gurney for Frankenstein’s monster. Raised edges around its table-height top held perforated metal baskets containing the mounds of food. A dense mesh curtain designed to contain the blazing wood fire underneath surrounded the lower part of the Claminator. Thank goodness the pier was concrete, or we’d have burned down the town.
A thin cloud of smoke hung over the pier and I wondered if the Claminator fire was burning too hot. But Sonny was watching it and he was the expert. The smoke must be coming from Weezer’s Barbecue located next to us. I wasn’t sure what barbecue had to do with Maine cuisine, but the sweet, smoky smell of Weezer’s sizzling pork ribs made me think traitorous thoughts about heading through his line when it came time to eat.
“The Claminator is gorgeous,” I said when I finally reached Sonny. I had to give him his due.
“Works great, too!” he shouted in the direction of Weezer’s barbecue. “At least, I’m not cooking on something that looks like a tanning bed for pig parts!”
Weezer grilled his meat on a weird rig that looked like a hot-water heater sawed in half.
“At least I’m not cooking bugs wrapped in seaweed!” Weezer shot back.
“We’ll see who gets the longer lines!”
I had a feeling they’d been going at it all morning.
The other businesses in the semicircle were the town ice cream parlor and the Busman’s Harbor bakery, which at this time of year was selling pretty much anything on earth that could be made with blueberries. The owners went quietly about their business, ignoring Sonny and Weezer.
“What a glorious morning.” Richelle Rose touched my arm to get my attention. She was a tour guide, a decade or so older than my thirty years. Tall and Amazon-glamorous, she had breathtaking, dark blue eyes and the kind of white-blond hair most people lost after childhood.
Everything seemed under control in the clambake area, so we moved away from the noise of the crowd to a spot at the edge of the pier where we could talk. I stood on the cement curb so we’d be face-to-face. “Thanks for being so flexible.”
“Glad we could work it out.” Normally, Richelle would have brought her busload of tourists out to our island, providing them with a scenic harbor cruise as well as a meal. To accommodate Founder’s Weekend, she’d agreed we could feed her clients on the pier. Though they’d miss the cruise and seeing the island, they’d get the benefit of all the Founder’s Weekend activities—the windjammer parade and lobster boat races, the art show and concert, and finally, a gigantic fireworks display—before they were loaded onto their bus and driven on to their next hotel up the coast in Camden.
“How is this group?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Shopaholics.” She’d shepherded her charges through the outlet stores in Freeport before they’d even arrived in Busman’s Harbor that morning. Richelle had an expansive knowledge of all things Maine—history, geography, flora and fauna on land and at sea. Though she kept a smile on her face, I knew it drove her crazy when she had a group who only wanted to see the inside of a mall.
As we chatted, I gazed at the ring of buildings that backed onto the pier. With all the people milling around, I couldn’t see much, but I could look up. Sometimes being short gave me an interesting perspective. Up on a top floor balcony at the Lighthouse Inn, a broad-shouldered man shot photos through a lens as long as a spyglass. Another camera with a shorter, but still impressive, lens sat on a tripod next to him. Most of the balconies were occupied by folks enjoying the festivities on the pier. Well, maybe not so much enjoying as recording. Every person up there observed the pier through some sort of device—phone, camera, tablet computer—as if documenting the scene was more important than being part of it.
“Who’s that working the clambake with Sonny and Livvie?” Richelle asked.
“Cabe Stone. He’s new. I hired him at the end of June.”
“Seems like a good worker.”
“He’s terrific,” I assured her. “Don’t worry, your customers are going to be thrilled with their meals, even though we’re cooking them on that thing.” I pointed at the Claminator and Richelle laughed.
In front of the makeshift stage, our high school band began an enthusiastic, if only moderately on-key and on-tempo rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Fee Snuggs, my seventy-four-year-old neighbor puffed out her cheeks and blew into her slide trombone. Busman’s Harbor High wasn’t big, so once you were in its marching band, you didn’t get out until you moved away or died.
Across the way, Bunnie Getts, the chair of the Founder’s Weekend committee, finished an emphatic conversation and hurried toward me. “Ten minutes, Julia!” Bunnie called over the noise. “As soon as the band stops, I’ll give a little history of the town and then I’ll introduce the committee. Make sure you’re up at the front, so we don’t have to wait for you.”
I nodded to show I understood, and she went on without taking a breath. “Have you seen Stevie? I’ve rounded up all the Founder’s Weekend committee members except him. And, Bud, of course. But I know better than to expect Bud.”
I shook my head. “I’m surprised Stevie isn’t here. He’s been excited about the opening ceremony since day one.” The ebullient owner of the local RV campground, Stevie had been a relentless booster of Founder’s Weekend for all the tedious months the committee had labored to pull this first-time event together. I started to tell Bunnie I’d look for him, but she’d already pinged off in another direction.
At the Claminator, Sonny conferred with Cabe, his expression serious. As the band hammered its way to a big finish with the “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” Bunnie climbed the single step to the stage and stood behind the podium. I scanned the crowd for Stevie, but didn’t see him. Evidently, Bunnie was done waiting.
From my perch on the curb, I glanced over at the Claminator. Sonny and Cabe’s conversation grew more intense. Even from thirty feet away, I could tell Sonny was unhappy about the fire. Livvie scooted over to speak to him, then walked away, looking concerned. Sonny lifted the mesh skirting of the Claminator and aimed the hose he’d been using to spray the canvas at the fire to dampen it. He jumped back as the flames surged outward like a grease fire. But there was no grease in a clambake meal that could drip into the fire. I’d worked at the clambake for years and had never seen anything like it. But then we’d never cooked on the pier before. This was the maiden voyage of the Claminator.
Sonny said something urgently to Cabe, who jogged toward the fire truck parked on the street beside the pier. Sonny bent down, lifted the metal skirting again with a poker in his hand, and swore loudly.
The crowd surged around him, blocking my view.
I shoved forward. “Please! Let me through!”
The crowd parted just in time for me to see something that looked like a charred human foot and part of a leg fall out of the fire onto the pier.
Sonny jumped back. A woman screamed. I reached his side, “Oh my God, Sonny. Is that—?”
He grabbed my hand and we advanced toward the thing. I looked away. I couldn’t stare directly at it. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Cabe running, in long, loping strides, not toward us, or toward the fire engine, but off the pier and up the steep street.
As Sonny used his poker to confirm what my mind was denying, there was another terrified scream, this time from behind us. I whirled around. The crowd parted again. Richelle Rose lay on the ground, her head resting awkwardly on the cement curb where we’d just stood.
I spun back toward the Claminator, then back to Richelle. My brain felt like it would split in two. Richelle was probably alive. There was no hope for the thing that had fallen out of the clambake fire. I ran toward Richelle.
Before I reached her prone body, she was surrounded by firefighters. Three cops materialized out of nowhere. An ambulance pulled up at the entrance to the pier. Seeing she was well taken care of, I headed back toward the Claminator.
Sonny had doused the fire. He stood with the hose in one hand and his other arm was around my sister Livvie, whose auburn head curled into his powerful neck. Her body shook and I could tell she was crying. I put my hand on her back and patted gently, wishing my boyfriend Chris were there to put his arms around me.
“Please tell me that isn’t what I think it is,” I whispered.
“It’s exactly what you think it is,” Sonny answered through clenched teeth. He nodded toward Livvie’s shaking back, indicating he didn’t want to say more.
A police car and a county sheriff’s car blocked the end of the pier, leaving a narrow corridor for people to get out. Two officers stood taking contact information from each person as they left. Several people stopped to tell their stories, gesturing and pointing. I looked up at the balcony of the Lighthouse Inn where the photographer had been. He was gone.
“Julia, are you okay?” Jamie Dawes, my childhood friend, now a rookie on the Busman’s Harbor force, appeared beside me. Things had been strained between us since that spring when we’d sort of accidentally, drunkenly kissed. My sister maintained it hadn’t been so much of an accident—he wanted more from me than friendship, but I was head-over-heels for Chris Durand.
“How’s my friend, Richelle—the woman who fainted?”
“Alive,” Jamie said. “Though it looks like she has a serious head injury from falling on the curb.”
A siren brup-brup-brupped as the ambulance inched its way through the crowd.
“And the . . . thing?” I couldn’t bring myself to say foot . . . or to look. I pointed vaguely in the direction of the charred body part.
“I have to secure the scene,” Jamie said almost apologetically.
“Do whatever you have to,” I reassured him.
When I stepped back out of his way, I became aware of a voice keening above the hubbub of the crowd. Bunnie Getts stood behind the microphone on the little stage, wailing. Jamie noticed her, too. Gesturing to his partner to stay with the Claminator, Jamie moved toward the stage as quickly as the crowd allowed. I was right behind him.
“It’s over, over, over!” Bunnie howled. “All my hard work. Ruined!”
“Ms. Getts, maybe if you could—”
But Bunnie had spotted me coming toward the stage. “You!” she shouted, pointing dramatically. “This is all your fault!”
Heads spun in my direction.
“Ms. Getts,” Jamie insisted, using his all business, police officer voice. Most people paid attention when he spoke that way.
But not Bunnie. “You don’t see dead people,” she spat toward me. “You attract them!”
She had a point. Only eight weeks earlier, someone had been murdered on our island. And now there was a bare human foot, a shin, and, I shuddered, maybe more in the wood fire under the Claminator.
Jamie finally grabbed the mike and turned it off.
But that didn’t slow Bunnie down. “It’s ruined,” she cried. “Everything I’ve worked so hard for. Ruined.”
I realized she might be right. What was going to happen? The town was filled to bursting with tourists. Would they all check out of their hotels and melt away?
“Founder’s Weekend isn’t ruined,” I said. “Right, Officer Dawes? There are lots of places other than this pier to watch the windjammer parade.” The magnificent sailboats were already in place just outside the mouth of the harbor, ready to begin their stately progression. “The art show is set up on the town common. And the concert and fireworks are in Waterfront Park tonight. We don’t need to use the pier for any of those activities.”
“Julia, we barely had enough officers before this happened.” Jamie gestured toward the crowd. “Look at the number of people.”
“Can you get more help? The state police will be here soon to investigate the, um, thing. Can you request more backup from the neighboring towns? You know what Founder’s Weekend means.”
Jamie had lived in Busman’s Harbor his whole life and knew everyone in town was in some way dependent on tourism. Founder’s Weekend should have been the busiest days of the summer. “All right. I’ll talk to the chief. We’ll figure it out.”
Bunnie wasn’t mollified, but at least now she had a mission. She scurried off to tell the other committee members the show might go on, more or less as planned.
Jamie’s partner appeared at the edge of the stage. “Lieutenant Binder’s on his way.”
Lieutenant Binder of the State Police Major Crimes Unit.
“He wants to meet with us as soon as he arrives. You, too, Ms. Snowden. The lieutenant wants to see you right after he’s finished with us.”
The first state police officers to arrive at the scene commandeered the pizza joint that backed onto the pier as a makeshift headquarters. I paced under the watchful eyes of a trooper until Lieutenant Binder and Sergeant Flynn arrived from Augusta. While we waited, the Claminator was cordoned off with crime scene tape. The police cars at the end of the pier moved out of the way and the ambulance sped off with Richelle, running its siren full-out as it reached Main Street.
At the entrance to the pier, Bunnie argued with a uniformed officer. I imagined her telling him she was much too important to be stuck there. The cop held up his palm, signaling for her to be patient. I saw my boyfriend Chris on the other side of the barricade. He seemed to insist he had to get onto the pier. It warmed me to see he wanted to be with me. I waved to get his attention, but he didn’t see me.
Finally the Major Crimes Unit arrived. I paced some more while they met with the local cops. Then I was called inside.
Lieutenant Jerry Binder and Sergeant Tom Flynn stood in the noisy room, a little apart from the uniformed officers and crime scene techs who bustled in and out. “Ms. Snowden. We meet again,” Binder said.
Indeed. When we’d had a murder on our island in the spring, Binder and Flynn had been the principle investigators. For the most part, I liked Binder. He had an even-handed, methodical way about him, which I’d come to appreciate, though it had been more than a little aggravating when my family’s property and livelihood had hung in the balance. He had warm brown eyes over a ski-slope nose. What was left of the hair ringing his head was medium brown.
Flynn was more difficult to know. His hard body, bearing, and short hair suggested a military background, but our conversations had been all business, so that was pure speculation on my part. It was obvious from their relationship that Binder had total confidence in Flynn, and that gave me confidence, too, despite Flynn’s closed-off manner.
Binder indicated one of the restaurant’s tables and we sat down. “How are you?”
“I was better an hour and a half ago.”
“I know. It’s tough. My understanding is the remains were found in a wood fire you were using for your clambake.”
“That’s correct. At least I assume it’s correct. All I saw was a foot, an ankle, and a bit of calf. Was it a whole body?”
“There was more than what you saw, but we won’t know how complete the remains are until the medical examiner finishes,” Binder answered.
“Do you know who it is?”
“No,” Binder responded. “Do you?”
“I think it’s Stevie Noyes.” My answer popped out before I could stop it. While I’d waited, I’d wondered who the person attached to that foot might be. It was so odd that Stevie wasn’t at the opening ceremonies. He’d been looking forward to Founder’s Weekend for months. Somehow, my worries about Stevie’s absence had combined with the foot’s presence to convince me the foot belonged to him.
Flynn fixed me with a level gaze. “Why Noyes?”
“No reason. Except he wasn’t at the opening ceremonies. And he should have been. He was on the committee and loved the idea of our first Founder’s Weekend.”
“Where does Mr. Noyes live?”
“Just up the peninsula. He owns Camp Glooscap, the RV park, and lives on the property.”
Flynn wrote in his notebook.
“Did you build the clambake fire this morning?” Binder asked.
I shook my head. “My brother-in-law Sonny did. Or I assume he did. With his assistant Cabe Stone. I didn’t get to the pier until much later. I’m on the Founder’s Weekend committee and had other things to take care of.”
“When the body was discovered, where were you?” Binder asked.
“About thirty feet away, standing on the curb next to Richelle Rose.. . .
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