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By Francine Mathews
Published by Soho Press Inc on 2017-03-28
FICTION / Thrillers
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DEATH MOOD INDIGO IN A
books by the author The Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery Series Death in the Off-Season Death in Rough Water Death in a Mood Indigo Death in a Cold Hard Light Death on Nantucket written under the name stephanie barron Being a Jane Austen Mystery Series Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor Jane and the Man of the Cloth Jane and the Wandering Eye Jane and the Genius of the Place Jane and the Stillroom Maid Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House Jane and the Ghosts of Netley Jane and His Lordship's Legacy Jane and the Barque of Frailty Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron Jane and the Canterbury Tale Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas Jane and the Waterloo Map
DEATH MOOD INDIGO SOHO CRIME FRANCINE MATHEWS Y IN A
Copyright ? 1997, 2016 by Francine Mathews All rights reserved. Published by Soho Press, Inc. 853 Broadway New York, NY 10003 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Mathews, Francine. Death in a mood indigo / Francine Mathews. A Merry Folger Nantucket mystery 1. Folger, Merry (Fictitious character)'Fiction. 2. Nantucket Island (Mass.)'Fiction. 3. Women detectives'Fiction. I. Title PS3563.A8357 D37 2017 813'.54'dc23 2016047183 ISBN 978-1-61695-754-4 eISBN 978-1-61695-755-1 Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated with love to Mo Mathews, my Ralph Waldo? Y
DEATH MOOD INDIGO IN A
Chapter One ? I c o u l d h e l p , ? Nan Markham said. 'I could.' Even to her own ears her voice was plaintive and young, the voice of a neglected baby. 'I could carry the water for you. In my pail.' Nan lifted a dull-red plastic sand bucket and waggled it tentatively toward her brother's unfeeling back. But Cecil was absorbed in his digging, the castle's trench a widening perfection of scarp and contrascarp, the turrets rising wetly against the blue-black of the surf. He had worked at the fortifications for days'each afternoon when school was over, and now for the bulk of Saturday. What the tide and the weather destroyed in the hours of darkness, Cecil patiently rebuilt, in a determined contest with time and the sands. The two children were always out-of-doors, despite the gloom of the deserted beach, the fitful showers of chill rain. Even immersion in this dispiriting spring was preferable to being at home. Nan brushed back a strand of bright-red hair and hugged her sweatered arms closer to her body. The wind scoured her cheek with stinging grains. 'Mummie said to let me help.' The last resort of the tagalong: the invocation of Mummie. Disgusted with herself and her eight-year-old weakness'disgusted with her brother and his silence and his
solitary building'she kicked at the nearest rampart. 'Stupid. Stupid old castle. I hate your castle, Cecil!' Her wanton destruction left him unmoved. That was Cecil's way. He did not react like other boys'with a shove or a blow or the careful plotting of revenge. He did not offer curses. He merely looked at his little sister, in'comprehension and tedium filling his face, and said, 'Go away, Nan. There's going to be a battle.' And so Nan turned disconsolately from the rampart she had ruined and trudged off toward her secret place in the dunes to sit on a piece of driftwood and arrange a tea party. She used shells for teacups and her thoughts for friends. And Satchmo'her beloved Satchmo, his fur matted from repeated bouts with sand and salt water, his huge body shapeless from lying too long on the kitchen floor, his legs dangerously arthritic as he stepped each morning into the pounding surf'Satchmo settled down in the dune grass opposite her and waited eternally for his tea. A gull cried from its perch a few feet away, and Nan turned to stare at it: malevolent dark eye, cruel mustard beak. It lifted one reptilian claw and flicked an orange peel her way. What do the gulls do, she wondered, when flying is not enough? The clouds were lowering on the rain-swept horizon, but before the iron grip of storm closed the sun's eyes for'ever, a faint glimmer of light shafted across the turbulent sea. Lord Cecil of Trevarre raised a hand to his brow and gazed intently at the enemy fleet and its forest of billow'ing black sails. In salute to the vanishing sun, a fourteen-pound gun roared from the flagship's bow, a challenge and a curse in its orange flare; and seconds later the ball whis'tled past Trevarre's noble head. 'Get down, my lord!' his lieutenant cried, and gripped his ankle in desperation.
at h i n a M o o d I n d i g o 3 'We shall not prevail by skulking within doors,' Lord Cecil shot back, his expression both proud and bitter. 'The castle can avail us nothing now. To the fore, lads, and show a brave face! Or die in the attempt!' He sprang down from the breastworks, his feet finding soft purchase on the sand below, and raced to the water's edge, his standard raised high. The first of the enemy's landing boats were racing toward shore, filled to their gun'wales with scores of men; in a matter of moments his own would be outnumbered. To die, then, and die nobly in de'fense of what he held most dear'this was his last, his only, destiny. Gordon, his faithful retainer, appeared suddenly at his side holding the reins of his stallion, Satchmo; the mettle'some beast pawed the ground, his iron shoes ringing sparks (no, not sparks, since the beach was sandy, not rocky like the beaches in England). The mettlesome beast pawed deep furrows in the shore's wet sand. Lord Cecil took hold of Satchmo's mane and swung himself into the saddle, his eyes fixed upon the enemy boats. As with one voice, the black-clad invaders cried aloud and jumped into the shallows, their bru'tal faces intent upon one man and his destruction'Trevarre. A wave furled and crashed, mightier than its fellows, racing ahead to storm the beach's heights. But Lord Cecil and his small surviving band stood ready. Water poured into the gap between Cecil's sneakered feet, foamed and swirled across his shoelaces, licked at the cuffs of his faded jeans. He gave a ferocious yell and thrust out his strong right saber arm, his invisible horse rearing high; then he tore down to the edge of the surf. The wave retreated in routed terror. Victory was in his very grasp. Cowards. They had turned tail and taken to their boats, beating desperately against the tide to their black-sailed ships, rather
than face his heroic band. Lord Cecil of Trevarre raised his saber arm in scorn and triumph and cried aloud. As if in answer, Satchmo neighed. 'Cecil! Cecil!' He looked over to the dunes, exhilaration torn by an'noyance. 'What'? Nan's bright head, crowned with a wreath of the first daffodils, emerged from the fringe of beach plum that fronted the derelict foundations of Codfish Park. January storms had swept several houses out to sea, and the re'maining few looked likely to follow. Nan had probably scavenged the flowers from some abandoned front steps, like a camp follower rifling a battlefield's dead. As she scrambled up, the dog Satchmo groaned, a sound from deep in his blasted frame. He turned to stare at Cecil, something caught between his jaws, and then slowly, creakily, he trotted in Nan's wake. She ran pell-mell down the beach. 'Look!' She was offering Cecil what looked like a twig? strange, since twigs came from trees, and there were none so near the beach. He took it from her fingers, his brow furrowed. 'I found it,' she said, breathless. 'In the sand, while I was digging. There are lots of others if you dig far enough.' And as he listened and turned the twig in his hand, Cecil felt the beginning of an inner excitement'something that seemed to spread from Trevarre's sea-drenched socks until it reached his noble heart. For what Nan had found was a bone. Th e r a i n t h at had threatened all morning commenced in earnest an hour after lunch, as Peter Mason and
at h i n a M o o d I n d i g o 5 Rafe da Silva grunted and strained over Meredith Folger's dining-room table. It was not that lunch had proved diffi? cult to consume, or required a certain strenuous atten'tion, but rather that the table itself was massive and dense, a veritable monolith in mahogany. And the table was sitting in the midst of Merry's front yard, imperiled by the sudden rain, and obdurately resisting its removal to the bed of Rafe's truck. 'Can I help'? Merry was dancing around the two men as they strained with the weight, feeling useless and very much like a girl. 'I can get up on the tailgate and help you lift it from there'? 'Get outta the way,' Rafe said between clenched teeth. His perpetually tanned skin was streaming with some'thing other than rain, and the distinctive odor of laboring male emanated from his T-shirt. 'Move.' Merry scuttled backward to the doorway of her family home on Tattle Court and felt her grandfather's arm encircle her shoulders. 'Be glad you have help,' Ralph Waldo Folger told her. 'Even if it's as stubborn as the day is long. You aren't going anywhere with that table alone.' 'It's not their need for gratitude that galls me, Ralph,' she said, and crossed her arms against her damp green slicker. Her fingers were chill and reddening from the raw April day. 'I could give them that. It's the female adu'lation. The groveling, you know? Just to get a lousy table moved.' 'And a mattress, and a sofa, and a couple of easy chairs,' her grandfather replied cheerfully. 'Guess I'll check on that pea soup. You'll be wanting it, I expect, be'fore long. You hardly ate anything at lunch.' Merry looked over her shoulder as he disappeared in the direction of the kitchen, feeling a sharp stab of doubt. Ralph was always worried about how much she ate'and
though she would no longer be eating most of her meals in his kitchen, old habits died hard. She knew he would be knocking on the door of her apartment sometime this week, with a pan of lasagna, or a jar of soup, or some corn muffins he'd just whipped up. An'other granddaughter might find his attention irritating'but, suddenly, all Merry could think about was that tonight Ralph would be eating without her. She had dreamed of this day for months'all through the relentless snows of an unusually brutal winter and the rains of a late-blooming spring. Years of careful saving had finally reaped a reward: Merry had signed a year's lease on a small apartment'a guest suite over a neigh'bor's garage, really'that commenced this very weekend. January had found her sitting rapt and silent in the glow of Peter Mason's fireplace, browsing linens catalogs; Feb? ruary was dishes and glassware. Did she want teacups, or mugs? Why not both? And what sort of wineglasses? She considered balloonand tulip-shaped, hefted them in her mind, all but felt the misty beading of a well-chilled chardonnay. In March, Merry abandoned economy and purchased the Islander's Special'a hundred-dollar round-trip ticket on the local commuter airline'for a weekend of mall hop'ping in Hyannis. There she bought cheap bookshelves and a small television, two lamps, an iron-and-glass floor vase that Peter declared was an escapee from a medieval dun'geon, a patchwork quilt handmade in China, and as'sorted throw rugs of sisal and hemp. She bought a garlic press and hand towels. Three excellently forged pots with steel handles. And a tin of English tea leaves'loose, un'fettered, wildly redolent'and a sieve-like ball for steep'ing them. She ordered everything shipped to Nantucket by the next ferry
at h i n a M o o d I n d i g o 7 and boarded her return flight feeling spent and slightly intoxicated. She was moving to her own home at last. Gone would be the clutter of Tattle Court'the piles of junk mail on the dining-room table; the collection of nineteenth-century blubber-cutting tools from some for? gotten Folger's whaling ship; the unfinished portrait of her brother Billy, awaiting her dead mother's hand. And gone, she thought, as she caught a snatch now of Ralph Waldo's singing over the whirr of the kitchen blender, would be all the comfort of wordless love. Well, not quite gone. She was moving only three blocks away. 'Hey, Mer,' Rafe da Silva said. She emerged from her musings to find the dining-room table safely embedded in the truck, a plastic tarp shielding it from the rain. Peter was slumped on the bumper, his dark hair turning black in the downpour. Rafe leaned by his side. 'We need the keys.' 'To the truck'? 'To your apartment,' Rafe answered patiently. 'There's no way that bed's going in the back with the table taking all that room. Besides, your neighbor's been bugging us to let her out of the driveway.' Tattle Court was grandly but optimistically named: in fact, it was little more than a sandy track divided among three houses. Rafe's truck had been blocking the exit to Fair Street for nearly two hours. 'Let's go,' Merry said quickly, as she felt for the keys beneath her slicker and ducked out into the rain. The flickering light of the ship's lantern, held high in Gor'don's hand, threw Lord Cecil's broad-shouldered shadow monstrously across the sand. Trevarre stood silently next to his
faithful retainer, his eyes intent on the bent backs of the two navvies grunting and heaving over the open pit. As a shovel lifted its burden of sandy soil, another bone glinted whitely in the fitful lantern flame'bones, the pirate's age-old signal of warning, left to guard a hidden treasure. A menace to the faint of heart; an invitation to the brave. Lord Cecil felt a stirring of familiar excitement. They must be very close now to the steel-bound leather casket, the gleam of jewels too long obscured from the light of day. A clink of metal against metal'and he fell to his knees, thrusting his men aside, intent upon the smooth surface of the chest's domed lid. A moment of exertion for his prying hands; then the treasure came free? And Cecil sat back on his heels in the sand, Nan word'less and awestruck at his side. Until this moment it had never occurred to him that the bones might be human. And holding the thing like this in his hands'the cracked eye sockets encrusted with damp sand, speaking hollowly of death; the upper jaw devoid of its teeth'the fantasies of Lord Cecil, master of Trevarre, gave way to sudden ter'ror. Cecil threw down the skull and took off across the dunes as though all the imps of hell were upon him, Nan shrieking behind. Satchmo followed at a more measured pace, his aged limbs stiff with too much sitting in the wind and the damp, a stray bone clamped firmly, lovingly, in his jaws. ? M e r e d i t h . . .' The voice was Ralph Waldo's, and it held that special evenness that signaled urgency'a holdover, perhaps, from the days when he had known crisis and had run Nan'tucket's police force himself. 'Your father just called. He needs you out in Sconset as soon as possible. Which, by my way of thinking, is as soon as you've had something to eat.'
at h i n a M o o d I n d i g o 9 'But I'm off duty!' 'I know.' Merry studied in turn the downpour pummeling the hood of Rafe's truck, Peter's patient face distorted by the streaming windshield, and the bed frame awaiting its place in Rafe's truck bed. Then she looked back at her grandfather. 'What is it'? 'Something unique in my experience.' Ralph pushed open the screen door and handed her a steaming mug of his remarkable pea soup. 'A couple of kids just dug up a skeleton.'
Chapter Two S i a s c o n s e t ? o r S c o n s e t , a s it is pronounced and most frequently spelled'sits at the southeastern tip of Nan'tucket Island, facing squarely across the Atlantic some fifty miles north of the dreaming wreck of the Andrea Doria, the Italian luxury liner that was rammed nearly amid? ships in the summer of 1956. It is a charming backwater of a town roughly seven and a half miles from Nantucket proper, known for its grassy one-way lanes of rose-covered cottages; its summer residents of ancient and a hallowed pedigree; its small gourmet grocery store, where p't? and fresh strawberries and fine cheese may be purchased during the summer season, which ends abruptly in mid-September; and its relative desolation during the winter months, when the sole hotel and restaurant close their doors against the brisk tides, the summer people re'treat, and only a hardy few brave the relentlessly howling winds and the eroding force of the sea. Sconseters firmly pronounce themselves to be Sconseters, to distinguish themselves from Nantucket's hoi polloi; and the great cottages sitting high in the shadow of Sankaty Light have a timeless quality, breathlessly posh. But now, in this wet and chilly April, the town huddled forlornly between the gunmetal sky and the petulant sea, a lost dog curled at the island's feet. The rain was torrential by the time Merry pulled up