It's summertime in Busman's Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy — or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake's supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick's decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?
Beachcombers, lighthouse buffs, and clammers are outraged after Frick puts up a gate in front of his newly inherited mansion. When Julia urges him to reconsider, she's the last to see him alive — except the person who stabs him in the neck with a clam rake. As she pores through a long list of suspects, Julia meets disgruntled employees, rival heirs, and a pair of tourists determined to visit every lighthouse in America. They all have secrets, and Julia will have to work fast to expose the guilty party — or see this season's clam harvest dry up for good.
Release date: December 18, 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Under normal circumstances, we never took the boat out before the first group of the day. But today we were fulfilling a mission we couldn’t refuse. Three weeks earlier, immediately before Heloise (Lou) Herrickson had passed away at the age of a hundred and one, she’d given her housekeeper an exacting set of instructions written in her spidery cursive hand. One of them had been for her ashes to be consigned to the sea from the Jacquie II, because it was the only tour boat in the harbor large enough to hold all her friends.
And friends she had. As I searched through the colorful crowd (no one wearing black, as she’d instructed), I was astonished by how many of Busman’s Harbor’s citizens had taken a morning during August, the busiest month of the year, to say good-bye to Lou. We had on board, literally, a butcher, a baker, and three candlestick makers. (Every resort town has at least one candle shop.) Plus, hairdressers, manicurists, handymen, gardeners, artists, and enough wait staff, bartenders, and musicians to throw a ball. There were more than a hundred people.
My family was well represented by my mom, my sister, her husband, and me. My boyfriend Chris was there, too. It was a rare opportunity for us to be together during daylight hours in peak tourist season. On the coast of Maine, we had four short months to make our money and that meant Chris and I spent fifteen hours a day on the job, or in his case, jobs. I leaned back against him, my small body fitting perfectly against his rangy, muscular one. He put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed. He wasn’t much for public displays of affection, so I treasured his reassurance. I was happy to be outside on a beautiful summer day, which was exactly what Lou would have wanted.
As I looked around the boat, I knew almost everyone. There were a few people I didn’t—a couple in matching sweatshirts emblazoned with the silhouette of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, and a woman in her seventies with leathery skin that bespoke years of tanning—but they were rare exceptions.
Everyone who should have been on the boat was there, happily chatting as we waited at the Busman’s Harbor town pier. Everyone except Lou’s grandnephew and heir. As the big engine of the Jacquie II idled, passengers looked over toward the dock, waiting, waiting.
There was more than a little curiosity about Bartholomew Frick around town. Lou’s home on Herrickson Point was a local landmark, a huge shingle-style pile overlooking a beach and her privately owned lighthouse. The land and buildings had been in Lou’s late husband’s family for generations. Everyone wanted to meet the man who was going to inherit.
Through the back window of the pilothouse, Captain George mouthed, “What’s up?” I shrugged, the universal symbol for “dunno,” then pointed to an imaginary watch on my wrist and held up five fingers. We’d wait five more minutes for Bartholomew Frick and then leave whether he was on board or not. Lou had been a wonderful, generous woman. How could her only heir be late for her final journey?
From the pier came the sound of a powerful motor and the sight of tourists scattering for cover. A red convertible Porsche squealed to a stop in front of the Jacquie II. A man in his mid-forties jumped out. He was medium-height, had a thick head of brown hair and wore khakis, a white tailored shirt, a blue blazer, no tie and no socks. I took all this in as he ran toward the boat.
I made my way through the crowd muttering “excuse me, excuse me,” to the mourners as I passed. The man and I arrived at top of the gangway at the same moment.
“Mr. Frick? I’m sorry. You can’t park there.” He kept his head down so he could pretend not to see me and tried to dodge around me. I stepped into his path.
From behind me, Chris whispered, “You need help?”
I was grateful for the offer. “No, thanks. I’ve got this.
“Mr. Frick, I’m Julia Snowden. I own this boat.” (A slight inaccuracy. My mother did, but I was in charge of this particular journey.) “You can’t park on the town pier. The space you’re in is for loading and unloading passengers only.” He’d passed about a dozen signs telling him so as he’d made his way from Main Street to the pier.
He pulled his head up and looked me in the face for the first time. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
I repeated myself, slowly and clearly.
“Where am I to put my car?” he demanded. “Every parking space in town is taken.”
Ah, tourist season. The locals on the Jacquie II had known parking would be a problem. Many had walked, or arrived in plenty of time to find a space. Others had even (shudder) parked in one of the paid lots, regarded as the ultimate sacrifice. They’d done it because they loved Lou Herrickson.
I could have directed her grandnephew to one of those paid lots, but the nearest one was blocks away and there was no guarantee it would have any spots left open. So instead, I said, “You can park in my mother’s driveway. It’s just up the street. Forty-three Main.”
He grunted, then hesitated. I thought he might argue and at that point I would have let him leave the car on the pier where it would certainly be towed. Finally, he acquiesced. “Wait for me.”
I told him we’d wait five minutes.
I turned and saw Chris. He’d taken a few steps back and stood with arms crossed over his chest, in his bouncer pose, making sure everything was okay. I smiled at him and then went to tell Captain George the new plan. He fussed and fumed about being late to pick up the first shift of clambake guests who would be waiting when we got back. “You can do it,” I encouraged him. “For Lou.”
“For Lou,” he repeated. I knew there were few people, living or dead, for whom he would have agreed.
To his credit, Frick did keep a move on. He came pelting up the gangway with seconds to spare. As he jumped onto the boat, Captain George called to the kids who worked the lines. They let us loose and we powered away from the pier.
We pulled back to the pier an hour and fifteen minutes later. As Captain George had predicted, there was already a long line of smiling, excited tourists with tickets for the luncheon seating at the Snowden Family Clambake. The mourners filed off the Jacquie II quickly. It had been a rare social occasion for them, one full of laughter and a few tears as friends had taken turns reminiscing about their encounters with the indomitable Heloise Herrickson, but they had businesses to attend to.
Bartholomew Frick rushed off with the rest of them, not acknowledging the other guests, his great-aunt’s friends and neighbors. During the memorial, Frick had been tight-lipped, declining to speak about his great-aunt, or even to take a handful of her ashes to cast into the sea.
I didn’t have time to wonder about his behavior as he hurried off the pier. I had my hands full. My sister Livvie and her husband Sonny left the Jacquie II and jumped into our Boston Whaler, which was also tied up at the pier. Sonny was our bake master, overseeing the tower of hot rocks that cooked the lobsters, clams, corn, onions, potatoes, and eggs we served to the guests. Livvie ran the kitchen that put out the clam chowder along with the blueberry grunt we served for dessert.
I gave my sister a hug as she ran by. “It was good of you to come,” I said. It had taken meticulous planning to have our employees cover both the clambake fire and the kitchen, as well as care for my ten-year-old niece and six-month-old nephew. Fortunately, it was the best time of year for it. By mid-August the clambake team was experienced, running at its peak, and we hadn’t yet started losing the college students and out-of-state teachers whose jobs seemed to start earlier every year.
Chris lingered until all the mourners were off the boat and before the lunch customers boarded. Given his feelings about public displays of affection, he surprised me by giving me a quick kiss and whispering, “I love you,” in my ear.
I kissed him back. “Love you, too. See you tonight.”
“I’ll be late,” he said.
Once the lunch guests were on board, we pulled back into the harbor. Captain George narrated the tour. As we passed the harbor islands, he pointed out the seals sunning themselves, the bald eagle perched in an evergreen, and the osprey’s nest on the rocky outcropping beside Dinkum’s Light. Only someone who’d been on the trip as often as I had would have noticed that he’d shortened it by ten minutes or so, making up the time lost to the memorial.
As the Jacquie II left the warm embrace of Busman’s Harbor and entered the Gulf of Maine, guests shrugged into sweatshirts or windbreakers. I offered blankets to those who, back when they were in the August heat on the mainland, hadn’t read or believed our advice to bring something warm to wear on the water.
Ten minutes later, just as the little ones on board were getting antsy, Morrow Island appeared ahead. As we drew closer to the long dock, the features of the island came into focus, the little house where Livvie and Sonny and their kids lived in the summer on one side of the dock, and the clambake fire on a long, flat expanse on the other. On the island’s first plateau was the dining pavilion that housed about half our tables, plus the gift shop, bar, and our tiny kitchen. Along the flat green space once called the great lawn were the volleyball nets and bocce courts for the guests. At the highest point on the island was the partially burned ruin of my ancestors’ mansion, Windsholme. A year after the fire, plans to restore it were underway. But our guests couldn’t see that. All they could see were the boarded up windows and roof, and the ugly orange hazard fence that surrounded her.
I moved to starboard to help the crew tie the lines and to be the first one on the dock in order to greet our guests. They came off the boat, taking in the rugged island and the smells of salt water, evergreens, and wood smoke. Le Roi, the island’s Maine coon cat, ran to greet them. Maine coons have many doglike qualities, greeting people being only one, but in Le Roi’s case I suspected a larger agenda. If he charmed our patrons now, they’d be more apt to slip him a piece of lobster or a clam as he lingered under their tables.
The guests spread out, some to the bar, some to play games, some to find the perfect table, perhaps in a grove overlooking the ocean. The more ambitious hiked up to Windsholme or all the way to the beach on the other side of the island. I watched them go, but only for a second, and then ran up the walk to the dining pavilion. Showtime!
The height of the season and the late start for the boat combined to create a busy lunch seating. I moved among the guests, showing this one how to use the crackers to open the lobster’s claws, and that one how to dredge the steamers in the clam juice before eating them. I was tired by the time we waved the customers off at the dock and happy to sit down to our family meal while the Jacquie II returned to the harbor and picked up the next group.
Family meal was my favorite part of the day. In the quiet time between the lunch and dinner rushes, all our employees sat down together to enjoy our own food. Livvie and her crew in the kitchen whipped up something inexpensive and hearty to fill up people who had done the tough, physical work to ensure that our customers had a marvelous time. Often, we took advantage of our pipeline to fresh, local seafood. Today, the cooks presented us with linguini with clam sauce and an enormous summer salad. The food and cold drinks were on the bar, buffet style. The clam sauce smelled briny and fresh, like the ocean. I helped myself and found a spot at one of the two long tables in the dining pavilion where we all ate.
The table was already occupied by Quentin Tupper and Wyatt Jayne. Neither of them were Snowden Family Clambake employees, though they both had business on the island. Quentin was our investor, the silent partner who’d rescued the clambake from certain bankruptcy the year before. He was a burly man, dressed as he was every day in the summer, in a blue cotton dress shirt, khaki shorts and boat shoes.
Wyatt was the architect he’d recommended to oversee the renovation of Windsholme. She looked pretty and professional in a colorful summer shift, every long, shiny brunette hair in place, despite having arrived on the island in Quentin’s sailboat. By coincidence, she and I had gone to prep school together fifteen years earlier. That hadn’t gotten us off to a good start. Our history had been rocky, but we were past that now. Wyatt was on the island to work on the plans for the renovation. Quentin was along to “help out.”
Mom sat next to me and dug into her meal. She closed her eyes and sighed. “So good.” She was blonde and petite. People said I looked like her.
“The best, Mrs. S,” Mary Carey said. “Livvie sure can cook.” Mary taught third grade at Busman’s Harbor Elementary, and had supplemented her income by waitressing at the clambake every summer for years.
Mom smiled. “I’m lucky that way.”
“How was Mrs. H’s memorial? I wanted to go but—” Mary had come to work instead.
“She was the loveliest person,” Leila Caspari said. She sat to the right of her best friend Mary, like always.
“Such a character,” Livvie said. “The wigs! A different crazy style and color for every day of the week.” As she’d entered her nineties, Heloise had dealt with her thinning hair by adopting the wildest set of wigs any of us had ever seen.
All other conversation ceased. Everyone at the long table was listening.
“You know, she went to Kim’s Beauty Salon every week for years,” someone said. “When she went to the wigs, she didn’t want Kim to lose out on the income, so she sent a wig over to her once a week to be styled. She told Kim to be as creative as she wanted.”
“And Kim was.” Mom smiled, remembering.
“Those wigs came from a really expensive store in Boston,” Leila told us. “When I had my cancer, Lou sent me there. She called ahead and told them to give me whichever one I wanted and she’d pay for it.”
Everyone was quiet. We all remembered Leila’s cancer.
“She didn’t even know me,” Leila continued. “My uncle used to plow her driveway. He was so worried she’d fall, he’d shovel her steps and her walk right down to the concrete. She’d come out to chat while he worked, all bundled up. One time she asked him why he looked so worried and he told her I was sick. That was all it took.”
“She was like that,” Mary agreed.
“Yes, always,” Mom said.
There was another moment of silence as people thought about all Heloise Herrickson had done. She’d given generously to the institutions summer people supported—the Botanical Garden, the Historical Society, and her special passion, the Art League. But there’d also been many small acts of personal charity, like Leila’s wig. More than any of us knew.
“And the memorial?” Mary asked.
“It was lovely, absolutely lovely,” Mom said. “Exactly as she would have wanted.” I noticed Mom didn’t mention that Bartholomew Frick, the only relative and heir, had been late, and rude, and hadn’t spoken about his great aunt. Or talked to anyone for that matter.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t the immediate focus of the conversation. “I wonder if he’ll keep that old mansion?” Mary said.
“And will he keep Mrs. Fischer?” Leila asked. Ida Fischer had been Lou Herrickson’s housekeeper forever. I’d noticed that she and Bartholomew Frick hadn’t greeted each other or spoken while on the boat. Ida had huddled with her good friends, our neighbors, the Snugg sisters, and Frick had kept to himself.
“What mansion?” Wyatt asked, eyes bright.
“Herrickson House,” my mother answered. “It’s a huge old thing overlooking Sea Glass Beach. Quentin can sail you by it. It’s always reminded me a little of Windsholme. Same era. . .
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