Jessica Fletcher is pitching in to help Cabot Cove's first Lobster Festival by writing an article about the lifestyle of the local lobstermen. But instead of getting the story, she becomes tangled in a net of intrigue and murder. And she better sink her claws into this puzzling case-or she may find herself becoming the next catch of the day.
About the Author
Jessica Fletcher is a bestselling mystery writer who has a knack for stumbling upon real-life mysteries in her various travels.
Donald Bain, Jessica Fletcher’s longtime collaborator, is the writer of over eighty books, many of them bestsellers.
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A SHOCKING DISCOVERY
I stepped down the stairs and pushed on the door. Why did this feel familiar? I put my shoulder to the wood, pressed as hard as I could, and managed to gain a few inches more, but not enough for easy access. Could I squeeze through the narrow opening? I pushed my arm and shoulder through first, forced my knee in, then my hips. My head was last, and there was a panicky moment when I thought I might get stuck there permanently, with my body half in the cabin and my head wedged between the frame and the door.
Once inside, I groped along the wall for a light switch but found none. After the brilliant sunshine of the deck above, it took more than a moment before my eyes became accustomed to the dim light in the small, fusty cabin. But once they had, I was not happy with what I saw. The long, dark shape I’d made out peering through the cabin portholes from above was now discernible. A man was lying diagonally across the berth that filled the triangular space of the small cabin. His head was thrown back, and his mouth gaped open; a trickle of blood had dribbled from the corner of his mouth down his cheek and pooled in the creases of his neck. He was dead.
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To all the honest and hardworking men and women of Maine who bring in the lobsters, with admiration and fondness.
I think it was the smell that woke me.
I’ve lived near the ocean my entire life, not counting the time I moved to Indiana for a semester to teach at Schoolman College, nor the time I lived in New York City as a part-time professor at Manhattan University. Even then, I’d come home to Cabot Cove on the weekends. And I don’t mind the smell of fish. If you live in a coastal village in Maine, you get used to it. When Ethan Cragg and I used to go fishing, his boat was pretty aromatic, especially when he was cleaning our catch at the end of the day. So I know the smell of a working boat, and a lobster boat definitely falls into that category.
But this was different.
I cracked my eyes open. The sun was beating down on my head. I love the mornings when its rays slant through my east-facing windows. I like to pause, turn my back to the panes, close my eyes, and luxuriate in the sun’s warm embrace, just for a moment, before the day’s work pulls me away. Had I left the shades open last night? I didn’t remember.
I’d been dreaming about a lobster boat on the water. I shut my eyes again and tried to recapture the vision. It had to do with the upcoming lobster festival. And Spencer Durkee was there. He’s something of a town eccentric, when he isn’t cuddling up to a bottle down at the beach. A lobsterman for sixty-five of his more than eighty years, he regales youngsters and oldsters alike with his colorful accounts of rumrunners during Prohibition. I suspect he’s spinning tales he’s heard but never really experienced. All the same, everyone loves to hear him tell the stories. Yes, Spencer was in my dream. What was he doing there? We were on a boat, weren’t we? I struggled to remember, but the details were fading away, the sun bleaching them out of my consciousness. Even so, I could still hear the quiet lapping of the sea on the hull, and feel the gentle rocking when the boat bobbed in the water.
What a vivid dream, I thought.
Sometime during the night I must have kicked off my covers. A breeze was fluttering fabric against my legs. I felt it move across my body. I tried to turn over to escape the blinding light, but my bed was all lumpy and hard.
This isn’t my bed!
The shock of recognition made me bolt up quickly. I cringed at the pain and reached out to steady myself, my hand pressing against a hard surface. My heart was sounding a tattoo in my chest. I tried, but couldn’t take a deep breath, settling instead for shallow panting. Dizzy. Why was I so dizzy? And where was I?
I held perfectly still and squinted against the brilliant light. Gradually, my surroundings came into focus. Outside. I was outside; that’s why the sun was so intense. I shaded my eyes with a trembling hand and looked down. I was sitting on a pile of rope. My lumpy bed, I thought, grasping a coil of the line and holding on as if it would keep me from tumbling overboard.
Overboard! You’re on a boat, a lobster boat.
Across the beam of the boat, a white buoy painted in stripes of yellow and purple—Spencer Durkee’s colors—leaned against the corner where the rail meets the washboard, a ledge that runs along the back of the boat. Two wire-and-wood lobster traps sat nearby, empty except for the three bricks in the bottom that kept them from floating along the ocean floor when the current was strong. Above me dangled the pulley of the hydraulic pot hauler, a winch used to pull lobster traps up to the surface. It was attached to the purple roof of the wheelhouse, a Spencer Durkee trademark. “Never have no trouble pickin’ out my boat in the float.”
I’m on Spencer’s boat, the Done For. How did I get here?
My head ached, and I squeezed my eyes closed against the throbbing. Maintaining a hold on the rope with my right hand, I gingerly probed the left side of my head, discovering a good-sized egg that was tender to the touch. I opened my eyes again and looked up. Had I hit my head against the pulley?
You’d better find out what’s going on, Jessica, I told myself. It doesn’t matter if you’re in pain. Something is terribly wrong. Get moving.
Every muscle in my body complained as I tried to pull myself up to a standing position. I rolled over onto my knees, but was unable to balance on the uneven surface of the rope. I crawled off the coils to the smoother planks of the platform, and slipped off my shoes. They were not appropriate for standing on a deck. And a dress. I’d never have worn a dress if I’d known I would be on a boat. Slowly I raised myself till I was standing, legs apart, knees flexed, and bent forward, the only way I could maintain my equilibrium. I took a few breaths and straightened up. Carefully I moved to the middle of the deck, sliding in my stocking feet. I untied the sleeves of a cotton sweater that was looped around my shoulders—how did it get so dirty? I pulled it over my head and pushed my arms through. I wasn’t cold. But the sun was high and would burn my skin to a crisp, if it hadn’t already.
Now upright, I gazed around. Like all lobster boats, Spencer’s sat low in the water, the rail not much more than knee height. Heavy seas would slap easily over the transom and the sides. Fortunately it was relatively calm, with a breeze raising only a slight chop, the small waves and delicate whitecaps extending as far as I could see. Alone. No land in sight, not even the slim dark blue silhouette on the horizon that indicated a terrestrial body. No. Only a straight line of water stretching away to where it met the sky. I staggered to the rail and looked toward the bow of the boat. The seascape was the same. Water. No land. But a bank of dark clouds was heading my way.
Well, Jessica. You’ve been in fixes before. What do we do now?
My mind raced. I’d never piloted a boat of any size other than a rowboat. Could I serve as master of this vessel? Could I find my way home? That was assuming, of course, that I could get the boat started. Had we run out of gas? The events leading up to my presence on the boat were lost in the fog of memory. I’d heard a bump on the head could cause amnesia. Was I one of its victims? I knew who I was. But I had no recollection of how I’d gotten here.
I swallowed convulsively and realized my throat was parched. What I’d give for a glass of water. How ironic, I thought. The lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge sprang immediately to mind. How many times had I taught that poem?
Water, water, everywhere,
I took a deep breath and straightened my shoulders. The first thing to do was to look around and see what was available. Lobster boats had radios, didn’t they? That would be a place to start.
Having a purpose gave me some energy. Perhaps there was some water on board. Maybe even something to eat. I sighed. Well, the day wasn’t lost altogether. Spencer practically lived on his boat. There must be some supplies or emergency gear, like a flare. And if I could figure out how to operate the radio, help might be just a call away. The first thing to do is to get out of the sun, I told myself. Then everything will fall into place.
Excerpted from "Murder, She Wrote: the Maine Mutiny"
Copyright © 2005 Jessica Fletcher.
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