Read Mudlark Online

Authors: Sheila Simonson

Tags: #Mystery, #Washington State, #Women Sleuths, #Pacific coast, #Crime

Mudlark

Mudlark

 

By

Sheila Simonson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2012

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-141-7
ISBN 10: 1-60174-141-3

Mudlark
Copyright © 1993, 2012 by Sheila Simonson

Cover design
Copyright © 2012 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the
FBI and is punishable by up to five (5) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

 
This one is for Eric.
A Note on Geography

The Shoalwater Peninsula is my gift to the state of Washington. In
Larkspur
, I inserted a
fictional county on the northern California border. Nobody objected, so I have felt free, in this book,
to edit Washington, too.

Residents of the Long Beach Peninsula will recognize some features of their own corner of the
state. However, I made the long needle of land stubbier, with a little hook of expensive real estate at
the northern end, where the peninsula terminates in the Leadbetter Point wildlife sanctuary. I
subtracted all six towns and replaced them with two purely imaginary ones--Kayport and
Shoalwater. The demography of my fictional peninsula, including ethnic composition, is deliberately
different from that of the Long Beach area. The Nekana are an imaginary tribe. Shoalwater Bay is
the old name of Willapa Bay.

None of the people or communities in this book is real, though the issues facing the Shoalwater
towns bear a resemblance to problems common to all beach communities from the Canadian
border to Brookings, Oregon, on the California border.

Chapter 1

It was still early when I came back from my run on Shoalwater Beach. The sun had not yet burned off
the mist. Jay had already left for work and Freddy wasn't up. I showered, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T
shirt, and dawdled around the kitchen. I was wondering whether I ought to start in on the living room wallpaper
and reward myself with breakfast afterward, or fortify myself with breakfast first, when the doorbell jangled.

I kept my eyes averted from the U-Haul cartons still stacked in the dining room and opened the front
door. "Hello."

A woman I had never seen before stood on the porch. She was short, with blond-streaked hair and wide
gray eyes behind businesslike black-rimmed glasses. I thought she was about my age--thirty something. She didn't
smile at me.

She waved a vague arm seaward. "I live over there."

"In the summer cottage? Come on in. I'm Lark Dodge." I stood aside to let her enter. She had moved in
the previous week. I had meant to call on her.

She hesitated, mouth trembling. Then she lifted the bag she was holding in her left hand. "Do you know
anything about this?"

I stared at the squidgy thing. It was made of heavy brown plush with a dim pattern and smeared with
what looked like grease. "What is it?"

"A carpetbag. It's full of dead seagulls."

"Ugh." I recoiled. I had noticed a faint fishy odor, but faint fishy odors are common around beaches. So
are dead seagulls.

"You don't know about it." She expelled a sigh that fluffed her bangs. "I apologize for being so abrupt
but I'm scared."

"Scared?"

"There was a note with it. It was rather--" She cleared her throat. "I thought it was pretty hostile. I'm
alone over there, and I don't know anybody except the real estate agent."

"Jim Knight?"

"Yes. Nice man."

Knight had sold us our house, too, and taken us home to dinner to meet his wife, who turned out to be a
high school biology teacher. I liked the Knights. They were coming over for a Labor Day barbecue the following
week.

I shoved the door wider. "Leave the bag on the porch and come in. I can give you coffee."

"Please." Tears filled her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually so gauche."

I ushered her past the shambles of the living room into my state-of-the-art kitchen.

"May I wash my hands? That bag was filthy."

I showed her the soap dispenser at the sink, and she scrubbed away while I poured two mugs of
coffee.

"Cream and sugar?"

"I take it black." She dried her hands on my dishtowel.

We sat in the breakfast nook with its view of the pines behind the house and its sunny southern
exposure. I had done the room in pale yellow with off-white tiles and soft yellow curtains appropriate for rainy
weather but very bright in the unaccustomed sunlight. Everything except my faithful Boston fern looked a bit too
new.

The woman glanced around. "This is nice. A fixer-upper?"

"The house? Yes. We came up from California in June and it was cheaper to buy than to rent."

"California? Oh!" She began to cry.

I stared then went into the kitchen for Kleenex. When she had stopped sobbing and was mopping her
face and glasses, I said carefully, "California?"

"The note said 'California Carpetbagger Go Home.'"

I sat down again. "Not nice."

"No." She sniffed and replaced her glasses. "I'm from the L.A. area--Santa Monica. I'm used to living
alone but not way out in the country like this. I keep hearing noises in the night."

"And imagining rapists and ax murderers--I know the feeling." I've never met a woman who doesn't
know the feeling.

She took a gulp of coffee. "So I was edgy anyway and then this morning, when I let the cat out, I found
the damned bag on my porch."

"Nasty. Did you buy the cottage or just rent it?"

"Bought it. I paid cash--$35,000. Can you believe it?"

I nodded. Having lived through the California real estate boom, I understood her astonishment at
Washington prices. We had purchased the bungalow--four bedrooms up, one down, two bathrooms, kitchen, dining
room, a huge living room, and an ocean view, for $85,000. I said, "You got a bargain--it's a nice little place."

"A steal. Thirty-five thousand wouldn't buy a doghouse in L.A." She was staring out the window at a
crow cawing in the pines. "I'm an only child. When my folks retired to Arizona they deeded their house in Santa
Monica to me. It's small--two bedrooms. I grew up there. I sold it this spring for two hundred thousand. I bought
this place after one viewing, just made out a check. Maybe I should've shopped around, but it seemed ideal.
Naturally, I handed over extortionate taxes on the rest before I came north."

"Naturally."

"Right. But I have almost half of the money left. I can live on that until I finish The Novel." She said the
words with capitals.

"You're a writer?"

She gave a smile that was half grimace and wrinkled her nose. "Trying to be. I was an English major, but
I've been working as a secretary for ten years. I was in a rut at the office, a relationship didn't pan out, and I've
always wanted to write, so when these newlyweds made me an offer for the house I grabbed the money and
ran."

"I don't blame you, but why here?"

"A friend spent a month up here a couple of years ago. He said it was quiet and unspoiled--and he
couldn't believe the real estate prices." She swallowed coffee. "I was so happy, so excited. And now this."

"It's probably just some teenager acting up. We haven't had any trouble with our neighbors. Everybody
we've met has been pleasant." I pointed in the direction of the mobile home south of our house. "The Cramers live
there. He's a retired civil servant--something to do with the Washington State Fisheries Department. His wife's in a
wheelchair. Lottie had a stroke last year, and Matt takes care of her. She's shy--the stroke affected her speech--but
she appreciates visitors. She likes to sit there and look out at the ocean."

"Poor thing."

"Yes. Matt's a talker, though, so watch out. A big developer has bought the land beyond your house.
Matt's afraid the resort they're going to build will block his wife's view. He was circulating a petition when we first
moved in, trying to get the county to stop construction." I paused. "Do you know, you haven't told me your
name."

"Bonnie." She blushed. "Bonnie Bell--sounds like a romance writer."

"Is that what you write?"

"No. Gosh, I'd die of embarrassment. I
was
an English major." She grinned. "Though I have been
known to read a romance now and then."

"I like science fiction," I volunteered. "And fantasy, but not horror. I used to run a bookstore." I missed
Larkspur Books. I had sold the store in May.

"Wow! That's wonderful." Bonnie was warming up. "I love book people. You can tell me all the facts of
life on the business side. I'm probably hopelessly uncommercial."

"What are you writing?"

"Just your basic mother/daughter conflict." The gray eyes gleamed. "Plus your basic
rowing-up-in-California saga."

"Serious or comic?"

She pondered. "Seriously comic, I guess. Confessions of a Mall Rat. That sort of thing. I'm having fun
with the writing."

"If you enjoy it, your readers are more likely to."

"You are so kind." We exchanged grins.

A thumping on the stairs suggested either an ax murderer or Freddy was descending. "My
brother-in-law," I murmured as he entered the kitchen. "Good morning, Freddy. We have company." I
performed introductions, adding, "Bonnie just moved into that house across the street."

He blinked. He was wearing rumpled sweats and his red hair stood on end. "Coffee?"

"It's made."

"Nnng. Thanks." He poured a cup and wandered vaguely off.

I smiled at Bonnie. "Freddy's not a self-starter."

"He looks about thirteen."

"He's twenty-one." I hesitated. "Twenty years younger than my husband."

"No lie. Half-brother?"

"Yes. Freddy just flunked himself out of Stanford. That's a sore point."

She considered. "Flunked himself?"

I sighed. "He's very bright, so he had to work at it. Don't feel too sorry for him. His father died a year
and a half ago and left Freddy pretty well fixed. He won't have to pump gas. The dirty Trans Am in the drive is his.
Freddy's been a computer addict since junior high with all the social disabilities that implies, and he fell in love for
the first time this spring. It addled his brain."

Bonnie laughed. "Poor kid."

"I make him steam wallpaper off. Takes his mind off Darla."

"Darla is the girlfriend?"

"Darla Sweet. Sweet by name and peppery by nature. Darla lives in Kayport. She thinks Freddy's just a
friend. She graduated with honors and is going to law school next month. Maybe Freddy will follow her to
Portland."

"You hope."

I cocked my head. "Shower's running. He should be human in half an hour."

Bonnie had gone back to brooding. "Who else lives around here?"

"A lot of retired people on the crest." The crest was a ridge of sandstone that ran the length of the
peninsula like a spine. "The mobile homes on the flat between the crest and the dunes are a mixed bag--summer
homes for families from Portland and Seattle, and some year-round residents. Fishermen and farm workers. More
retirees."

"Loggers?"

"Not here. They tend to live in Kayport." Kayport was the metropolis--about six thousand loggers,
fishermen, and retired couples living on pensions. Shoalwater C.C., where Jay was working, lay outside Kayport, a
drive of about fifteen miles. The town also contained the hospital, the high school, and the public library. The
village of Shoalwater, at the north end of the long finger of land that formed the Shoalwater Peninsula, was really
just a post office, a grade school, two taverns, and a couple of grocery and dry goods stores. There were ephemeral
restaurants, boutiques, and souvenir shops. To the east lay Shoalwater Bay, to the west the Pacific Ocean. We lived
three miles beyond the village, on the Pacific side of things.

"Who has the house north of me?" Bonnie was asking.

"I'm not sure. Jim Knight called it the old McKay place."

"As in the shipwreck?" The remains of the
Mollie McKay
, a small coastal freighter, provided the
only permanent obstruction on the long featureless beach.

"There's probably a connection," I said. "A man lives there alone. We haven't met him yet, though I've
seen him pottering in his garden. He keeps to himself."

Other books

Murder for the Bride by John D. MacDonald
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
History of the Rain by Niall Williams
Then Came You by Cherelle Louise
Nina, the Bandit Queen by Joey Slinger