Category Archives: Vera Nyberg Crime Fighter

Swimming in the Safe Room

By Ed Staskus

   Mike Butler was catching some zzz’s beneath a clear night sky and three-quarter moon. When he woke up, he woke up quickly. The car came to a stop below him, the engine went dead, and a car door opened. It closed quietly, a trunk opened, and closed quietly.  He peeked down through the slats of the second story deck. The trunk wasn’t a trunk. It was a hatch. The car wasn’t a car. It was a black Lexus SUV.

   A man carrying a rolled-up bundle, like a carpet, wrapped in plastic, over his shoulder, went into the house through the side door. He beeped his way in with his set of keys. Mike rolled quietly off his folding chair. He stood to the side of the sliding glass door. No lights had come on and he couldn’t hear the man in the house. Was he coming upstairs or staying downstairs?

   Should he go or should he stay? He knew he could ignore the stairs, swing over the railing, and drop soundlessly down on the sand at the back of the house. He didn’t know where the windows there were, not exactly, even though he had helped cater some parties in the house last year. He decided to stay.

   He didn’t have to wait long. When the man came out of the house he walked to the front of the Lexus, leaned back on it, facing the dark ocean, and lit a cigar. In the flare of the lighter his lips were pinkish, like pink goo. The ash from the cigar flaked off and floated like charred mercury onto his safari jacket.

   Mike stayed in the shadow of the eaves where he could see the man but the man couldn’t see him. He could hear Cape Cod Bay at high tide on the other side of the beach. The man with the cigar in his mouth got into the SUV and drove away.

   Mike went the way he had come, walking up Chequessett Neck Road to Great Island where he had parked. At home he rolled a smoke. He had been surprised as anyone would be surprised by anybody showing up at a seasonal mansion in early May, in the middle of the night, even though the weather was unusually fine.

   Vera Nyberg was and wasn’t in a hurry. If she left in the next five minutes she might be on time for work. If she took Archie for a walk she would be late for sure. Halfway into spring, halfway to summer, her job wasn’t so much work as it was holding down the fort. It’s never too late to go and get that fresh air feeling, she thought, thinking about going for a walk.  

   Besides, unless it was summer, when everyone on the Outer Cape worked like dogs, she tried as much as possible to get to the office late and make up for it by leaving early. If she left early today she could make the five o’clock Strong Flow class at Quiet Mind in Wellfleet.

   “Come on Archie,” she clapped, reaching for the Airedale’s leash. They left the house on Washington Avenue and walked up Commercial Street. When they got to Lopes Square they turned down MacMillan Pier to the end where the ferry came and went to Plymouth. 

   Archie was her constant companion, her watchdog, and one of her best friends. He liked running full speed ahead into streams ponds ocean. In the 1920s President Warren Harding had an Airedale. His name was Laddie Boy. President Harding always included the dog in his cabinet meetings at the White House. Laddie Boy had his own special hand-carved chair.

   They’re all mongrels now, Vera thought

   “Come on, boy, let’s go home,” she said.

   Archie liked Vera more than anyone. He felt like there were three faithful friends in this life, ready money, a good dog like himself, and a good master like Vera. He liked everything about her. She enjoyed reading books at night. He curled up at her feet, keeping her feet warm and his belly warm, too. “Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend,” said Groucho Marx. “Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

   Archie didn’t take it the wrong way. Besides, he didn’t know how to read. He wasn’t planning on learning, either, although Vera sometimes read stories out loud to him. Learning to read was the first step on the path to a career. He was not a working dog.

   Dick Armstrong was a well-built man with thick lips and a crooked smile. At least Vera Nyberg thought so. She smiled back at him as he sat down carelessly. He wore a cotton safari jacket and aviator sunglasses. He had scrupulously white teeth, but she didn’t like the way he smiled, or the way he sat down. His face was scabrous and she found herself looking away, only glancing at him.

   Vera shot an eye at his driver’s license. He did and didn’t look like himself, two-faced.  She thought she might not like him. What if she had planted a bomb in the seat cushion by mistake?

   “What can I help you with, Mr. Armstrong?” she asked.

   “You work for me,” he said. “You watch our house.”

   Vera smiled politely and imagined a small bomb in the seat cushion, again.

   Vera Nyberg was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher, but yoga didn’t pay the bills in the off-season, or the on-season, either. She worked part-time for Focus Home Security, in Orleans, in a small office condo off Cove Road behind the Orleans Post Office. The office was on the first floor and faced south, lit by bright natural light on sunny days and gray natural light on cloudy days.

   The drive was more than forty minutes from her rented room in Provincetown, but since she worked part-time, and since it was an off-season job most of the time, it wasn’t too long or too much. Route 6 was never overburdened in the off-season. Besides, most of her work was on-the-road work like property checks home watch resetting smart home features in Wellfleet, Truro, and P-Town itself, all of which were closer than the office.

   She baby sat summer vacation mansions and held the hands of absentee landlords. Vandalism, storm damage, and frozen pipes were usually as nerve wracking as it got. Property surveillance was Focus Security’s bread and butter.

   “I pay for your key-holding service, and since I was passing through, I want to stop at our house and walk through it, look everything over, before we come up next month,” said Dick Armstrong.

   Who passes through the back end of a peninsula? Vera asked herself.

   “Of course, we can arrange that,” she said. “When would you like to inspect the house?”

   “Now.”  

   Twenty minutes later they got off Route 6 and drove through Wellfleet to the bay side of the town. The Lexus blotted out the sun as Vera followed behind Dick Armstrong down the curvy Chequessett Neck Road. Archie lolled in the back seat of Vera’s Honda CRV.  

   She had never been inside the Armstrong house, but had seen it often enough. She took Archie for walks on the long beach past what was called The Gut. After parking at Great Island, unless she cut through the woods and took a track on a backside dune, she walked past the house at the end of the road. She had even parked in their driveway several times, when she knew the house wasn’t occupied, when she was short on time for a quick short hike. 

   The Focus Security magnetic vehicle sign came in handy then.

    The house was on the edge of the Cape Cod National Seashore and stuck out like a sore thumb. She knew it had a reputation. Eight years ago, when it was being built, it was sometimes called Horrible House. 

   An older, smaller house had been bought and torn down and the Armstrong’s had somehow convinced the town’s building inspector to give them a permit to build a house three times the size. It dominated the view across the Herring River. Wellfleet’s homeowner’s association and the National Park Service appealed the permit, but the house got built, anyway.

   “Kill the Rich!” had been spray-painted below the garage door windows before the house was even finished. Focus Security parked a man in the driveway until the commotion died down. Since then, the Armstrong’s spent three or four or five middle-of-the-summer weeks on the Outer Cape. Sometimes their children, extended family, and friends took the house over for a weekend. After Labor Day it was shut up for the winter.

   Everything about the house was Cape Cod-like, from the cedar shingle siding to the paired windows on both sides of the central front door to the fishy weathervane. Everything was right about it, perched on the sea, except for the King Kongness of it.

   They parked in the driveway. Vera looked up at the second story deck. She liked the deck, round high facing the ocean.

   “Unlock this door,” said Dick Armstrong, pointing to the side door. “I don’t want that in the house,” he said, pointing to Archie in the back seat.

   Archie didn’t like the way the man said it, but he didn’t bark about it.

   As soon as they were inside the house, he jumped out of the car window Vera had left open for him. He barked at the Lexus. He sniffed at one of the rear tires, lifted his hind leg, and peed on it. Archie could hear and smell the ocean. In a minute he saw it and in the next minute he was at the shore, in the water.

   Inside the house Vera sat at the kitchen table while Dick Armstrong strode through the rooms, strode upstairs, and strode back into the kitchen.

   “Everything looks good,” he said. “Come down to the panic room. I want to check the alarm system and security cameras.”

   “I thought they were called safe rooms.”

   He gave her a sharp look. “Panic room.”

   The basement floor was a mirror-like epoxy painted slab. There were a pool table, a billiards table, a snooker table, and a bar with eight or nine stools. The safe room was a concrete square in the corner. The door was a steel door. The hinges and strike plate were reinforced. A table with four chairs was to the right of the door. An open bathroom with a first aid kit on the wall was behind the table. On the left a two-door cabinet held dry goods, bottled water, and gas masks. In the left corner were an office chair and table, an iMac, shortwave radio, and closed-circuit monitors.

   A woman was splayed on the floor, dress disordered eyes closed face blank, dark red blood drying in her blonde hair.

   Vera looked up as Dick Armstrong took a step at her and grabbed her by the throat. His face looked like murder. She slashed at his mouth. His lips came off in her hand. He hit her with a short hard right to the temple and her legs went wobbly. She leaned into him. A black inky film filled her eyes. She lost consciousness as he let her go to the ground.

   Archie was almost dry by the time he ran back to the car. He had a hard dense wiry coat. Thick heavyset dark clouds were rolling in across the bay. When Dick Armstrong came through the side door Archie wondered, where’s Vera? The side door slammed, and the man strode towards his car.

   Archie didn’t like the smell of it. The man had a sour smell. He wanted to ask him where Vera was, but the man, opening his car door, kicked at him. Archie was an Oorang Airedale. His great-great-great-great grandfather had been a fierce competitor in water-rat matches. He jabbed headfirst at the man’s leg, slashing through the pant fabric, and biting into warm flesh. He could taste blood in his mouth.

   It tasted good.

   Dick Armstrong yawped and flung himself into the Lexus, lurching and grabbing at the door. Backing out of the driveway he swerved at the Airedale, but Archie was graceful fast lissome, and it was child’s play jumping to the side.

   The better I get to know people, thought Archie. He wasn’t trying to be narrow-minded, but what he liked about people most of the time was their dogs. Dogs never bite me, only people. He jumped into the CRV. The rain fell like dread.

   Vera Nyberg blinked her eyes open. She was lying prone on a medical exam table. The ceiling was white. She took ten twenty then a hundred slow steady breaths staring into the white. When she was done, she tried to prop herself up on her elbows. She slowly deliberately wary lay back down on her back. Her head hurt like somebody had hit it with a hammer. Hedging her bets, she closed her eyes and fell back into the inky blackness. 

   Officer Matheus Ribeiro was stocky and had short stocky black hair. Besides routine patrol work, he was the medical supply officer and detainee monitor. He sat across from Vera in an interview room in the Wellfleet Police Department checking and double-checking a sheaf of papers on a clipboard. Vera knew him, not so much as a policeman, but more as a friend of Rachel Amparo, her friend on the Provincetown Police Department.

   He was from Brazil, Porto Velho, one of the state capitals in the upper Amazon River basin. He was a graduate of the Plymouth Police Academy and had been on the Wellfleet force for six years. He spoke Portuguese, Rachel spoke Portuguese, he was a great cook, and Rachel loved great food.

   One night, over plates of bacalhau, Vera asked him what he liked about being a policeman.

   “I get to drive as fast as I want,” he said.

   Rachel, whose duties routinely involved foot patrols, scowled.

   “What the hell, Vera,” he said. “What happened?”

   “Where’s Archie?” she asked.

   “He was asleep in the back of your car. We called Bruce. He and a friend of his picked Archie up and your car and took them home. Now tell me what happened.”

   When she was done, she laced her fingers, reached up and behind the chair, and stretched. Officer Ribeiro leaned back in his chair, tipping on the back legs. He straightened up.

   “Mr. Armstrong was who called us about you,” he said.

   “What?”

   “He called the department and said he was worried, said he had called from Boston and asked that somebody from Focus walk through his house, that he was coming up for the weekend, since the weather was so good. He said you volunteered and would call him back within the hour. When you didn’t call by the end of the day he called your office, no answer, and then called us.”

   The policeman drank from a bottle of Poland Spring.

   “He asked us to drive by, see if everything was OK. When we pulled up your car and Mrs. Armstrong’s car were in the driveway.”

   “Mrs. Armstrong? There was no Mrs. Armstrong, only him, by himself. And the woman.”

   “The woman was Mrs. Armstrong. She was in the safe room in the basement, with you, except she was dead.”

   “That was the first and only time I ever saw her.”

   “I was going to ask you about that. We’ve told Mr. Armstrong about her death, and he’ll be here today.”

   “If that’s him in the picture you showed me, that’s not exactly him. That’s not the man who slugged me.”

   “There’s something at odds here.”

   “What time is it?”

   “Nine, nine in the morning.”

   “When did Mrs. Armstrong die?”

   “The medical examiner so far is saying ten, eleven o’clock, the same time you were there.”

   “How did she die?”

   “The same as you, blunt force, but you didn’t die.”

   “Am I a suspect?”

   “Yes and no.”

   “I like the no part better. Can I go have breakfast?”

   “How’s your head?”

   “It could be better.”

   “There’s no substitute for a hard head. Where are you going?”

   “The Lighthouse, then home, I’ve got to shower, and change. I’ll be back.”

   “How are you going to do that?”

   “I was hoping you could drive me to the Lighthouse. I’ll call Sandra on the way. She can take me home. Archie and I will be back by five.”

   “This isn’t exactly how murder investigations are supposed to go.”

   “You’re right about that, about this being murder. He was the man who slugged me, with his wrong face or no wrong face. I think it’s all just sand in our faces, just some sleight of hand.”

   “We’ve confirmed him to be in Boston with a friend yesterday.”

   “What kind of a friend?”

   The policeman hesitated. “A close friend.”

   “It has to be something about the house, something personal. Why not solve your problem in Boston, or get someone else to solve your problem, make it disappear? I’ve got a friend, one of Sandra’s catering guys, who was once a jailhouse lawyer, before he went more-or-less straight. He’s an IT jack-of-all-trades, good at following the money. He’ll know how to find out.”

   “I know Mike Butler, so let’s drop that within earshot of me,” said Officer Ribeiro.

   “Man, that’s crazy, I was there the night before last, hanging out on that second story deck of theirs,” said Mike Butler.

   Vera, Sandra, and Mike were having a late breakfast at the Lighthouse. They sat at the bar. Sandra lived in Eastham but worked part-time at Herridge Books in Wellfleet. It was a small bookstore with no magazines and no café, just books. There were books in stacks on chairs tables and the floor. It smelled like a bookstore even with the windows open.

   Sandra catered private parties on the side. Mike was one of the local men who worked with her. In the off-season, in the late afternoon or evening, he often roosted on decks and porches of unoccupied seasonal houses on seaside lots. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” he said. He never brought his iPhone. He never parked in the driveways. He always brought his own Eddie Bauer folding chair.

   “Yeah, there was a guy, some kind of black car, a big one, like a Caddy, or a Lexus, maybe” he said. “He carried something into the house, didn’t stay long. As soon as he was gone, I made myself gone, too.”

   “Can you find out about that house, about them, who held the purse strings, and who was on the outs with who?”

   “Sure, after breakfast, give me a few hours. Call me if I don’t call you. I might be taking a nap.”

   Men are most sincere when they’re in love, when they’ve been empowered, and when they’re committing murder. Dick Armstrong must have fallen out of love with his wife, thought Vera. Murder wasn’t the next step, but it might be if his love had turned to hate. Murders are always a problem when they’re spur of the moment crimes, when they’re mistakes. But Dick Armstrong had gotten too clever for his own good trying to send a message to the graveyard. When someone has thought and thought about something it isn’t hard working backwards and reading their thoughts.

   Vera showered, fed Archie, and meditated for an hour. Most days she meditated for half an hour, except when she was busy. Then she meditated longer. She had been busy the past day-and-a half. Breathing exercises and meditation were about everything and nothing at the same time. They were acts of slowing down, getting centered, and finding some understanding and compassion for the living and the dead.

   “It’s his money, real estate money, plenty of it and plenty of it shady, but all the personal property was in her name,” said Mike Butler as they sped down Route 6 to Wellfleet.” She was after a divorce, she’s saying abuse, but she wanted more than alimony, she wanted the summer house.”

   “The horrible house,” said Vera.

   “It’s not so horrible, kind of big, but a great view of the bay.”

   “Why did she want the house?”

   “She wanted it because he wanted it. He planned the house just the way he wanted it, he bought off everybody and his brother, he went to court, fought off the do-gooders, the Feds, got it built even though they made him jump through hoops, got it done. Hell, he probably loved that house a lot more than he loved her. She probably knew that, too.”

   Mike Butler had grown up in old Provincetown before it became new Provincetown, when property was cheap and rents low and gays and hippies were starting to show up. He didn’t downpress anyone one way or the other. His father had fished for cod on his own boat out of Provincetown Harbor. Mike still called Commercial Street Front Street and Bradford Street Back Street.

   He didn’t care about bankers and stockbrokers buying up land, either. He had his family’s old small house in Provincetown. The front door still faced the ocean, unlike most of the town’s waterfront houses, which had been turned round so the front doors faced the street. He kept to himself, except when he was working, or watching a BoSox game at the Lighthouse, a Pabst Blue Ribbon at hand.

   Mike lived with a box turtle he’d had since he was a kid. Inscribed on the underside of the shell of the turtle were the initials M. B. and the year 1979, where he had carved them with a pocketknife on his 18th birthday, six years after his father gave him the baby turtle for his birthday.

   Archie liked riding in the CRV with the windows open, just in case anything came up that he needed to bark at. But he had a bad habit of barking at anything that moved, a crossing guard, a passing bicyclist, a rafter of wild turkeys on the side of the road. Sometimes Vera told him to “Shut the hell up.” He didn’t know exactly what hell was, but he knew exactly what she meant when she said it. She wasn’t shy or dry nor someone who beat the sense out of words.

   When they pulled into the Wellfleet Police Department parking lot and Archie barked at Dick Armstrong getting out of his white Lincoln Navigator, Vera said, “Good dog.” Two men in suits went into the station with him. “At least one of them is a lawyer,” said Mike. He rubbed the top of Archie’s head.

   The police station was on Gross Hill Road off Route 6, tucked beneath Oakdale Cemetery where Cemetery Road began and ended. “I’ll stay here, maybe go for a walk in the graveyard,” said Mike. Vera and Archie went into the station. Vera sat on a plastic chair in the lobby and Archie flopped down on the floor. She had gotten a good look at Dick Armstrong and couldn’t swear he was Dick Armstrong.

   A half-hour later, when Officer Matheus Ribeiro came out to the lobby and asked her if she could identify Dick Armstrong as the man who had attacked her in the safe room, she said, “No.”

   “Too bad,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to charge him with anything.”

   Ten minutes later Dick Armstrong and the two men accompanying him pushed into the lobby on their way out of the police station. One of the men gave her a look-see. Dick Armstrong stopped and eyeballed Archie.  

   Archie jumped up and started barking his head off. It was the sour-smelling man he had bitten outside the big house. He barked and barked but could tell no one was making heads or tails of what he was trying to say. “Keep that damned dog away from me,” shouted Dick Armstrong.

   Archie lunged at him, got his teeth into the right pants leg, and tugging violently tore the fabric off the leg at the knee. One of the men started to beat Archie with his briefcase. The police dispatcher, another policeman, and finally Officer Ribiero burst into the lobby, manhandling Dick Armstrong away from Archie, pulling Archie away from him, and pushing the lawyer with the angry briefcase away from the fracas.

   “Look what that goddamned dog did to my pants,” yelled Dick Armstrong.

   Everyone looked

   “Look at his leg,” said Vera. “Look at the bite mark on his shin.”

    Everyone looked.

   The bite mark was black and blue in an ugly ring where the skin had been broken. Five inflamed red marks defined where canine teeth had drawn blood. Some kind of antiseptic cream was smeared over the wound. Two of the red marks were back-to- back.

   “That’s Archie’s bite,” said Vera. 

   “What?” asked Officer Ribiero.

   “One of his baby canines got retained, and since it wasn’t bothering him when his permanent teeth came in, I just let it go. He’s got two canine teeth on that one side, which is why his bite mark is the way it is. I’d know it anywhere, because that Dick Armstrong isn’t the first Dick Armstrong he’s bitten. If this man was in Boston yesterday, how did he get bitten by my dog on the same day?”

   “Get the Medical Examiner on the phone,” Officer Ribiero said to the police dispatcher. “In the meantime, I think it’s best if we all go back inside and go over this from the beginning. And you,” he said, pointing to Vera, “bring that dog with you.”

   Only the lawyer with the out of gas briefcase objected.

   “They took photos, took some measurements, and took some samples from Archie and Armstrong,” said Vera.

   Rachel Amparo and Vera were at Terra Luna in North Truro.  They sat at the bar and shared plates of artichoke heart pate and grilled sardines. Rachel sipped on a Flower Power cocktail while Vera pulled from a bottle of Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.

   “If the DNA matches it’ll throw a new light on everything,” said Rachel. “That’s when the trouble will start. One lie will lead to another until it’s all a house of cards.”

   “I’m always telling Archie he’s not allowed to bite people,” said Vera, crunching on a sardine. “He agrees, I think, but he seems to think it’s OK to bite anyone who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.”

   “He’s a good dog,” said Rachel.

   Archie was on his stomach lounging in the orangey sunset at the back of the small restaurant. Tony was working in the kitchen. He could see him through the screen door. Archie’s chin was flat on the warm grass, back legs tucked up under him. His front legs were extended before him. He could clearly smell pork chops being grilled.

   Maybe Tony will bring me something to eat soon.

   He was glad he had been able to help by biting the sour-smelling man. He didn’t often bite people. He preferred to bump them when he had to.

   One night Vera had read a story to him called The Dog Who Bit People, about Muggs, an Airedale like him, but unlike him a dog who bit everyone in sight, although he didn’t bite his family as often as he bit strangers. “When he starts for them, they scream and that excites him,” explained the mother of the house. The city police wanted him tied up, but he wouldn’t eat when he was tied up.

   Archie thought Muggs lacked good sense.

   When the screen door swung open Archie jumped up. Tony was bringing out a bowl of water and a plate of pieces of pork chop and the raw meat bone.

   “The bone is for after your meal,” said Tony.

   Later, chewing on the bone, he thought the sour-smelling man may have had the wrong mug shot, but he knew in his bones he had bitten the right leg on the right man at the right time.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Revenge on Race Point

By Ed Staskus

Vera Nyberg tugged on her bonnet, scrunching it down to the tops of her ears. She had braided her hair into a high bun earlier in the day, and reaching into her back pocket found her silver-plated Alice Teapot hatpins, pushing them though the hat and bun.

The wind was blowing hard, gusting off the Atlantic Ocean, and the Race Point sand stung her bare calves below the black Capri’s she was wearing. Looking ahead she broke into a trot to catch up with her friends. The bonnet stayed in place.

She had ridden her bike to the beach after finishing her late afternoon holiday class at Yoga East, past the Province Lands Visitor Center, and walked the surf to the near side of the lighthouse and Hatches Harbor. Race Point is the only beach on the east coast where the sun sets over a landslide of ocean in the west behind you. Twilight was near to hand, but dusk was still more than an hour away.

It was more than enough time to fly kites. If she could get hers off the ground. “I haven’t flown a kite since I was a kid,“ said Vera as she came abreast of her friends.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” said Caleb. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Her three friends were year-round Provincetown residents who operated an inn and guesthouse on Washington Avenue between the main thoroughfare, Commercial Street, and Bradford Street.

Caleb had been flying kites the past two summers on Race Point Beach. Four kites were laying flat in the sand.

“Yours is the delta,” said Caleb, pointing to a purple blue bright green kite with streamers off the back points. “The sled is mine, and the two diamonds, that’s Elliott’s, and the one with the Tasmanian Devil on it is Bruce’s.”

A Looney Tunes cartoon of the Tasmanian Devil was emblazoned on a yellow field bordered in black. The gaping mouth of the devil was red and lined with gleaming, white fangs.

Vera turned to look at her kite and asked, “How do I make it go up?”

“There’s nothing to it,” said Caleb “Delta’s are easy to launch, they fly no matter what, and almost always sit at a good steep angle. But, they’re unpredictable in gusty winds, so watch out.”

Caleb tossed a handful of sand up to see which way the wind was blowing. He held the kite in one hand and unwound several feet of string onto the sand. He gave the kite to Vera.

“Hold it over your head as high as you can with the tow line facing you,” he said. “Let the kite go as soon as it fills with wind and starts to pull. Unwind the string as you go, but make sure to hold the spool and not the string itself.”

Vera released string from the spool and the kite darted higher and higher, its streamers snapping in the wind. In a few minutes all the kites were flying high and spread out above the sand dunes.

When Vera’s kite slid downwards and she struggled to turn it parallel to the wind, Caleb came close enough to her to be heard. “Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.” Vera pivoted towards the gloaming ocean and let out string, watching the wind take the kite. As she did she wondered who was flying the kite, her or the wind.

“There’s a saying that those who fly a kite live a long life,” said Elliott as they walked back to the parking lot in the last of the day..

“Flying a kite lifts my spirits,” said Bruce.

“It’s a little bit yogic, too,” said Caleb. “As you look up following the kite near to far, your neck opens. It’s a counterbalance to looking down or at eye level all the time. You have to pay attention. It keeps you in the moment.”

“And it’s fun, like happiness on a string” said Vera.

They walked side-by-side along the surf. Gray seals played peek-a-boo just outside the line of breaking waves. Ahead of them gulls were dive-bombing something rolling in the surf.

“It looks like they’ve found dinner,” said Bruce.

“Herring gulls,” said Caleb.

“No, those are the black-backs,” said Elliott.

The surf was heavy and the water foaming. The gulls let the wind take them away as Vera and her friends drew nearer. They soared across the beach and hovered along the ridge of the sand dunes.

“What is that?” asked Caleb as they approached the bulk the gulls had been attacking. A gang of sanderlings skittered past them, their skinny legs a blur, racing after the receding waves.

“Oh, my God, it’s a person, a man,” exclaimed Bruce, who was in the lead, stopping short, taking a step back.

The others crowded around him, en masse ran into the crashing surf, grabbing what they could of the man, and dragging him out and onto the backwash-rippled sand. Quickly rolling him over on his back they recoiled from his lacerated face, pockmarked with slashes. His scalp was mottled. The gulls had pecked his eyes out.

Time stopped for a moment, inconceivable. The four friends stared at the man in cargo shorts, his stomach bloated by the ocean, and features ravaged by the birds.

Vera looked across the expanse of Race Point to the dunes and across the open, endless water. She thought as far as death is concerned we all live in a world without walls where the walls are always falling down.

Caleb broke the spell by asking if anyone had brought a cell phone, but no one had. Elliott volunteered that his was in the car and he sprinted to the parking lot. As he grabbed his Samsung out of the glove compartment of his Ford Fiesta the idling engine of a Cadillac Esplanade parked on the far side of the lot purred.

Vera and Bruce sat down on the sand a short distance away from the surf, waiting, while Caleb stood guard over the dead man. The black-back gulls circled overhead, angry cawing squealing.

In the distance Vera heard the wailing of a siren.

The Cadillac slid out of its parking spot and skirred towards the Provincetown Municipal Airport.

A long hard rain fell the next day, Tuesday. It was the day after Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer on Cape Cod. It turned roads into rivers and all afternoon cars on Route 6 were compelled to pull off to the side, unable to see through the watery white-out. In the middle of town at Bradford Street beneath High Point Hill Road, at the bottom of Pilgrim Monument, sewers clogged and the street flooded.

A minivan stalled halfway through the deep water. The driver clambered on top and sat beneath his umbrella, watching the volunteer firemen, their hoses snaking away to MacMillan Pier, while a highway crew worked on the snarled drains. The rain turned to drizzle, but the sky stayed dark and threatening as the storm rumbled northeast towards Maine.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, the sky a cerulean blue. Vera tidied up her room, showered, meditated on her mat for a half-hour, and then, not finding her friends anywhere, either in the guesthouse or the inn, found her way to the backyard enclosed by cypress hedges. She watched tree swallows and hermit thrushes darting in and out of the bird feeder.

Stretching her legs out, she slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops and walked up Commercial Street to the Portuguese Bakery. She ordered eggs on a papo seco and Darjeeling to go. She walked to a bench at the far end of MacMillan Pier and ate her sandwich while looking out over the flat water. A black-and-white Provincetown squad car made its way slowly up one side of the pier, turned, and began to make its way back. As it approached her bench it stopped and a policewoman poked her head out the window.

“Hi, Vera,” said Patrol Officer Rachel Amparo, and stepped out of the car, its flashers blinking. Vera and the policewoman had become acquainted over the course of the summer at the twice-weekly Ashtanga Yoga classes Vera taught and Rachel Amparo struggled at.

“Hi, Rachel, nice day,” said Vera. “Especially after that storm we had.”

“You bet. Hey, I heard you found the drowned man on Race Point the other day. That must have been a shock.”

“It was, but we couldn’t help him. We pulled him out of the water, but it was too late. Have you found out who he was?”

“We did. He had a record and we were able to match his prints, lucky for us, because his face was a mess.”

“He was a criminal?”

“No, far from it. In fact, he was one of the Stoddard’s, maybe you’ve heard of them, the Boston fishing and shipping people.”

Vera had never heard of the Stoddard’s, or their shipping company, and since she was a vegetarian didn’t give fish much thought.

“Some vegetarians eat fish, you know,” Bruce had told her when she moved to Provincetown. “There’s a lot of fish here.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.

“Stoddard was arrested two years ago at an Earth Day demonstration on the Commons. It wasn’t much, the way I saw the report. He pushed a policeman into the Frog Pond, but they processed him, so his prints were in the FBI database.”

“What happened? How did he drown?”

“We don’t know, but there was water in his lungs, so we know that’s what happened. We don’t know how it happened. We’re thinking he fell off a boat, the way the tides work there, but no one has reported anything, and the Coast Guard hasn’t spotted anything drifting.”

The radio on the policewoman’s vest squawked and she stepped to the side, speaking into it.

“Vera, I’ve got to go, fender bender,” she said, walking quickly back to her squad car. “See you in class tomorrow.”

“Bye, see you then,” said Vera, waving.

She finished her tea, tossed the sandwich wrapping and paper cup into a trash can outside a trap shed, and walked to Commercial Street. But, instead of turning right, back to the guesthouse, she turned left and walked to the Provincetown Bookstore.

The bookshop was in a weathered white building with black-framed windows. A small sign beside the door said “Since 1932”. Inside, stacks of books, most of them best sellers, romances, and self-help tomes, but with an offering of poetry and mysteries, as well, overflowed thick tables and disorderly floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

On the far side of the counter was an autographed photograph of John Waters, who had worked at the bookstore before leaving for Hollywood.

A trim middle-aged woman manned the small front counter. She glanced at the door with an expression of mild exasperation, pushing reading glasses up her nose with two fingers. A cardboard box of books squatted on the counter.

“Oh, Vera, I was just thinking of you,” she said, breaking into a smile.

“Hi, Hattie, something good, I hope.”

“The UPS man was just now here and gone. Maybe that Charles Bukowski you asked for is in this shipment.”

She pulled hardbound books out of the box one at a time, glancing at the covers. “Here we go, I was right.” She handed the book to Vera.

The cover was in black and lurid yellow. The title ‘Women’ was scrawled in jittery capital letters on the black background, while in the yellow field above the title a woman in a tight dress and stiletto heels imaged from the waist down bent over to scratch one of her ankles.

“I don’t know what you see in him,” said Hattie.

“He was an alcoholic, a postal worker, and probably a misogynist, too,” she added. “That book,” she said, pointing at it with her chin, “is about every sexual penchant of every woman who ever dared to sleep with him after he got famous. Most of them were mad as hornets after the book was published.”

“It’s probably not the best American novel ever written,” said Vera. “I know he could be simplistic and disgusting, and even narcissistic, but he was honest, maybe to a fault. He was always honest.”

“Vera, he was crazy honest, or honestly crazy,” said Hattie. “He never worried about what to say or how to say it, or how it could affect others, he just said it. That can’t be right. And you call yourself a yoga teacher.”

“He makes me laugh,” said Vera, abashed, but unwilling to abandon her recent enthusiasm for the writer. “It’s the truths he tells, it’s like you’re hearing them for the first time, and they can be funny, even when they’re serious.”

“Like Bukowski said, great writers are indecent people,” said Hattie.

“They live unfairly, saving the best part for paper. You should know that, being a bookseller,” said Vera. They both laughed.

“Oh, I heard you and the boys found that man on Race Point,” said Hattie, suddenly changing the subject. “What happened? Who was it?”

“I don’t know, he drowned. That’s how we found him, drowned, rolling in the surf. He was from Boston, one of the Stoddard family, but I don’t know who they are, although I heard he was an environmental activist.”

“Aidan Stoddard? I can’t believe it. He’s been on the Cape most of the summer. He was staying down in Wellfleet. He was here just a few days ago. He was always buying something, especially about the oceans and climate change, that kind of thing. He was friendly with Bruce, did you know? But, how could he drown? He was a champion college swimmer. I heard he was good enough to try out for the Olympics, even though he didn’t make the team.”

“Oh,” said Vera Nyberg, teasing the hair on the nape of her neck. World-class swimmers don’t sink to the bottom of the pool or wash up on Race Point in a pair of cargo shorts.

Walking back to her room, the book under her arm, Vera thought about Aidan Stoddard. How had he died? It didn’t seem to make sense.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us,” was something she remembered Charles Bukowski had written. Had Aidan Stoddard laughed at the odds and lost, or had death been forced on him somehow? She would have to talk to Bruce.

“That couldn’t have happened,” said Bruce that night when Vera told him, the two of them sitting in the backyard.

“He could swim for miles. I mean, the man was like a seal. There is no way he would ever drown. He told me they used to practice underwater breath holding until it felt like you were drowning. He said the sensation makes you remember real fast everything you ever knew about swimming. He knew everything about it. He was strong and in the water he was weightless and even stronger.”

“But if he didn’t drown,” asked Vera, “and the police say he did drown, what happened?”

“What I mean is, he couldn’t have drowned unless something, or her, or somebody, drowned him,” said Bruce. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that Tyler boyfriend of hers. I wouldn’t put it past them. He looks like he would do anything for money.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Aidan’s wife, Emily, and her boyfriend. I forgot, you didn’t know him, I mean, Aidan, or any of that.”

Bruce was quiet for a moment. Vera watched the late season lightning bugs in the twilight. She thought of how when she was a girl she and her friends would catch them. They held the fireflies between their fingers pretending they were diamond rings.

“Aidan was one of the Stoddard’s, the Boston fishing family that goes back more than one hundred and fifty years. You know how Cape Cod in the 17th century was named for the shoals of cod that were in the waters. Back then you could catch them as fast as you could bait and haul in line.”

A process of seagulls soared overhead flying toward the bay.

“A hundred years ago hooks gave way to draggers and the boats got bigger and bigger. Then the fishermen started using echo finders and satellite positioning and by the 1980s the fisheries around here collapsed. There were almost no more cod left. The government closed down 8000 square miles of ocean, but even though scallops and haddock have come back, the cod haven’t. The Stoddard’s were one of the fleets that emptied the ocean. They were the biggest and most modern, and not only that, they were so powerful and connected they worked hand-in-glove with the Fishery Council, which meant that every decision the council made favored the fishermen, at least in the short term.”

“Didn’t the Stoddard business collapse when all the fish were gone?” asked Vera.

“No, by that time they had diversified. Thjey were into shipping and banking. But, they were still in the fish business, processing the catch of floating factory trawlers out on the Atlantic. They had finished off the fish here and were hoovering it up out of the rest of the ocean.”

“What about Aidan?”

“He was groomed to take over the family business, went to Harvard Business School, and married a Hampton’s girl, but then things started to change with him. He was taking lessons at the Boston Old Path Sangha, like me, which is where we met.”

“How was he changing?”

“We had lunch one day last year. Oh, yeah, he had become a vegetarian, too, like you.”

“It’s better all around, you know.”

“It doesn’t say so in black and white in the yoga bible.”

“I know.”

“Anyway, he said civilization was all a conspiracy to keep us quiet and comfortable. One natural disaster, he talked about Hurricane Sandy, and you can see we’re at the mercy of nature, not the other way around.”

“Sometimes it’s a mistake to not be in awe,” said Vera. “Mother Nature’s teeth can be sharp.”

”When he showed up here this summer he told me his father had died, left him forty million dollars, he was divorcing his wife, and had signed up with Greenpeace. I wasn’t surprised about his wife. Emily is a harpy. She was having an affair behind his back, although he knew about it. What I wouldn’t be surprised about is if she had something to do with this.”

“Why?

“Because he was giving a lot of his money away to Greenpeace and to Coastal Studies here in P-town.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Vera.

“I think I’m going to talk to Ralph in the prosecutor’s office tomorrow and see what he can tell me.”

The next morning Vera was rolling up her yoga mat in the backyard where she had been practicing when Bruce barged through the gate with his car keys jangling.

“Vera, come to Sandwich with me.”

“Sure, but why?”

“They’re issuing a death certificate,” said Bruce.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Sandwich was a one-story building with a high, sloping gray roof, gray clapboard, and a brick entrance. Parked to the side of the front door was a Cadillac Esplanade.

At the front counter Emily Stoddard and Tyler Bullock were talking to a tall bulky man with thick gooish lips. The man handed Emily Stoddard a manila envelope, shook her hand, and turning on his heel walked away down a hallway.

When Emily Stoddard saw Bruce she scowled, but then composed her face.

“Hello, Bruce, what a surprise to see you,” she said.

Bruce looked down at the manila envelope in her hand and back at her.

Emily Stoddard smiled pleasantly.

“They’ve ruled Aidan’s passing was an accidental death and issued a death certificate,” she said, showing him the envelope. “It’s all very sad, but now we can go on with our lives.”

She smoothed the front of her skirt, glanced at Vera, and back at Bruce.

“Goodbye,” she said.

“Wait for me in the car, I’ll just be a minute,” said Tyler Bullock.

As Emily Stoddard walked out he asked Vera, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere, riding a bicycle, maybe?”

“Maybe,” said Vera.

“Bicycles are for little girls,” he said, and followed where the Medical Examiner had gone.

“What was that all about?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t know,” said Vera.

As they walked along the front of the building to their car a sharp gust of wind blew Vera’s bonnet off her head. It somersaulted along the side of the building and came to rest in the thorns of a Rugosa bush at the far rear corner. Vera jogged to the bush and disentangled it.

She could smell the spicy clove fragrance of the white flowers.

As she straightened up she saw the Medical Examiner walking to his car and Tyler Bullock standing at the open rear door of the building.

What were they doing, she wondered?

As she made to go Tyler Bullock suddenly turned in her direction and glared, surprised and suspicious.

“What do you want?” he asked, loud, coming towards her.

“Just my hat,” she said, stepping back with it in her hand. Tyler Bullock was a large man.

“Go find your bike,” he said.

In the car Bruce asked, “Did you forget your hatpins?”

“Yes, I’ll have to make sure not to do that again.”

Later, driving through the Eastham-Orleans rotary, Vera asked, ”I wonder if the folks at Coastal Studies would tell us anything about the money Aidan was giving them?”

“They might,” said Bruce.

“I’ll go see them tomorrow.”

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies was on Bradford Street across from the Pilgrim Monument. As Vera came through the front door Kathy Neves da Graca, the executive assistant, turned from the filing cabinet she was stuffing with file folders.

“Hi, Vera, long time no see.”

“Teaching the tourists to twist and turn,” said Vera.

“Which reminds me…”

“I know, I’ll see you in October. But, that’s not why I stopped in.”

“I didn’t think so. What is it?”

“Have you heard about Aidan Stoddard?”

“Oh, my God! We couldn’t believe it. He was such a great kid.”

Kathy da Graca was in her mid-50s with two children in their mid-30s. Everyone 30-and-under was still a kid to her.

“He worked with us all summer, was a big help, and had signed on to Greenpeace. He was leaving for New Zealand next week. He was so excited. They had found a place for him on the new Rainbow Warrior. It’s such a loss. On top of that he was going to contribute a large amount of money to us. Now nobody knows where that stands.”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”

“I don’t know much about the details. You should talk to Ran Olds. He’s our development officer. He’s out on the pier today, cleaning up our kiosk. He would know everything about it.”

As Vera walked onto MacMillan Pier Rachel Amparo waved from the front of Outermost Kites and joined her.

“You’re on foot patrol today?” asked Vera.

Rachel Amparo pointed to the Pier Parking Permit Required sign.

“The boss was cranky this morning and I rubbed him the wrong way. This is my reward,” she said.

“I’m going over to the Coastal Studies kiosk to talk to Ran Olds about Aidan Stoddard. Kathy told me he was handling the money Aidan had pledged to them. I just have a feeling there is something not right about what happened to him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was a world-class swimmer, but he drowned. How did he get out there? No boat, does that mean he paddled out on the spur of the moment wearing cargo shorts? He was leaving his wife and giving some of his inheritance to Coastal Studies and some of it to Greenpeace, but he ends up dead. What happens now? Does his wife inherit everything? There’s just something fishy about it.”

“I’ll tell you something really fishy,” said Rachel Amparo. “The Plymouth County District Attorney got a copy of the death certificate from the Medical Examiner in Sandwich this morning.”

“What’s fishy about that?” asked Vera. “Did it say someone killed him?”

“No, it basically said accident, or death by misadventure.”

“What’s fishy about that?”

”The Medical Examiner’s office in this state is a mess. They’re underfunded and understaffed. I mean, that office in Sandwich, they built it in 2009, but it was unused until it opened three years later. They couldn’t afford the staffing. They have long, long delays in producing death certificates. We’re talking a year-or-more. Court cases get delayed. Time is not your friend when you’re investigating a case or prosecuting it. But, here we’ve got Aidan Stoddard, it’s not exactly cut and dried, and we get a death certificate inside of a week.”

Vera thought suspicion was often recouped by finding what we suspected. She was not herself a suspicious woman. But, what had Tyler Bullock and the Medical Examiner been doing behind the building in Sandwich?

The door of the Coastal Studies kiosk was open. A man stepped out with a banker’s box and set it on top of two others. He was trim with thick salt and pepper hair, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

“Mr. Olds?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I’m Vera Nyberg, and this is Rachel Amparo of the police department. I wonder if we could ask you a few questions about Aidan Stoddard?”

Rachel Amparo gave Vera a sharp look. She ignored it.

“Sure, how can I help you?”

“It’s about the money he had pledged to Coastal Studies. Can you tell us how much it was going to be, and are you still getting it, now that he’s died?”

“It was a substantial amount.”

“How much?” Vera persisted.

“There’s probably no harm in telling you, now that we’re not going to be getting it.”

“No?”

“No, we got a call from Mrs. Stoddard’s lawyer yesterday afternoon that the offer was being rescinded, and a letter would follow to that effect. It was very disappointing.”

“How much are you not getting?”

“Mr. Stoddard had pledged ten million to us and the same amount to Greenpeace. I doubt they will be getting theirs, either. We’ve been looking for funding to study the gray seals, but it looks like it’s going to have to wait.”

“The seals?”

“Yes, the hue and cry about culling them. Fishermen blame the seals for eating all the cod. Some call them wolves that go into the water.”

Ran Olds gave them a thin smile.

“They say they attract sharks, too. They probably do, but the cod aren’t coming back because they were overfished, not because the seals are federally protected. But, many people on the Cape believe they’re overabundant. There is even a group calling itself the Seal Abatement Coalition. Aidan didn’t agree and had earmarked some of his pledge to study the issue.”

“That’s too bad,” sad Vera.

“Yes, it’s too bad.”

In the backyard later that night Vera grilled balsamic vinaigrette tofu for herself and beef patties for Bruce’s hamburgers. As they ate she looked at Bruce’s flowerbeds. The fragrance of the asters filled her with nostalgia. Vera’s mother had tended flowers when she was a child. Her knees had always been green at the end of the day.

After eating they lingered over bottles of Harpoon IPA.

“Did you know burning aster leaves keeps snakes away?” Vera asked Bruce.

“No,” he said. “What brought that on?”

“Tyler Bullock,” she said.

“Oh, right.”

“There’s something about the Medical Examiner that rubs me the wrong way. He was talking to Tyler Bullock behind the building before we left. It just makes me think there’s something not right about the death certificate. If only there was something we could do.”

“I could talk to Ralph tomorrow and check if his office can ask for a second opinion on the autopsy.”

“Do you think he might do that?”

Bruce took a pull on his Harpoon.

“We’re friends, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Vera slept well that night, her breath beery and her window open wide to the cool breeze off the bay. The next day she did laundry and borrowed Elliot’s Ford Fiesta to get groceries from the Stop & Shop before jumping on her bike to go teach her classes at Yoga East.

She was sitting on a bench outside the studio waiting for the evening class to assemble when her iPhone rang.

It was Bruce.

“Vera, Ralph called down to Sandwich, but it’s not good news. Aidan’s wife had him picked up that same day and he’s already been cremated.”

“Holy moly!” Vera exclaimed.

“It’s like a dead end,” said Bruce.

Vera put on a brave face for her catch-all hot flow class, practicing along with the students to stay engaged, mixing in more sun salutations than she ordinarily would have.

“Great class everybody, namaste,” she said after corpse pose, the class dispersing to their cars, scooters, and bikes.

When the parking lot had emptied a Cadillac pulled quietly up to the Garden Renovations Nursery on the far side of Yoga East. Tyler Bullock let the engine idle.

“Don’t be long,” Emily Stoddard had said when he dropped her off at Race Point Beach.

“Save some of that for me,” he said pointing to the bottle of Dom Perignon dangling from her hand.

“I’ll try, sweetheart. Just don’t be long.”

When Tyler Bullock saw Vera in his rearview mirror with her back to him, locking the front door of the yoga studio, he stepped out of the black SUV and briskly crossed the parking lot to the sidewalk Vera was walking down to her bike.

“You’re quite the busybody,” he said as he stepped in front of her, blocking her way.

“Your name keeps coming up. I don’t like that.”

“That’s too bad,” she said.

His arm shot out and his hand clamped on Vera’s throat. He squeezed when Vera tried to pull back and wagged the fingers of his free hand in her face.

“Don’t,” he said.

“I’ll tell you once and once only. Stay out of my business. Remember the champion swimmer who drowned. You don’t want to be the yoga lady who ended up twisted into a pretzel.”

He lifted her up slightly so that Vera had to stand on her tiptoes to keep breathing. He smiled at her, his teeth showing. Gasping for air, Vera suddenly remembered she was wearing her bonnet. She reached up with her right hand and in a fast underhanded swing drove an eleven-inch Alice Teapot hatpin as hard as she could into Tyler Bullock’s thigh.

He reacted instantly, jumping back, shouting in pain, spittle spraying Vera’s face, and fell to his knees. When he looked down and saw the silver plated hatpin he grabbed it and pulled it out of his leg.

“I’ll kill you,” he screamed, but when he tried to stand up he fell down.

But, it was no matter by then. Vera was at the street side of the yoga studio, on her bike, crossing Route 6 and not stopping until she swerved into the Cumberland Farms gas station on Shank Painter Road, punching 911 into her iPhone.

The next morning Rachel Amparo picked Vera up at the guesthouse on Washington Avenue.

“I could have walked,” Vera said.

“No, we’re not going to the station. Ralph said it was all right if you heard it for yourself. The fisherman is still out on the beach, although he said he would be leaving by two, three o’clock, didn’t think he wanted to do anymore casting.”

“Can we bring Bruce along? He and Aidan were friends.”

“I think so.”

A park ranger met them at the south access ramp of Race Point and they crossed onto the beach, following the vehicle tracks, surprising terns hiding in the ruts. On the backshore side of the beach were scattered a half dozen RV’s.

“They’re self-contained vehicles. We call them SCV’s,” the ranger explained. “They carry their own water and toilet holding tank. Folks camp on the off-road corridor and fish, some of them for two, three weeks. There are families that come here every summer.”

He made a straight line for a white RV with blue trim and a slide out awning. The tires looked almost flat. A jolly roger was flying from a plastic pole stuck in the sand. The skull on the flag sported a red bandana and black eye patch.

A stocky middle-aged man met them outside the shade of the awning in the mid-morning sunlight.

“Bob, this is Rachel Amparo, Provincetown police, and these are the interested parties, Vera and Bruce,” said the ranger.

“The wife is watching the news. Maybe we could talk down by the fire pit,” said Bob.

“You have TV out here?” asked Bruce.

“Sure, satellite,” said Bob.

The fire pit was round with a flat donut mound in the middle littered with charred firewood. Bleacher seating had been dug out of the sand in a circle around the donut.

“I was taking a walk,” said Bob, once they were all seated.

“The wife was making dinner and I had an hour. She said to make myself scarce since she was making something special. I thought I’d work up an appetite.”

He grinned, but without any mirth.

“I never did have that dinner.”

He got a flip-top pack of Marlboros out of his breast pocket and lit a cigarette. He threw the match on the dead fire.

“I didn’t see her at first. I was watching the seals as I walked, there were so many of them, close in to shore. You don’t see that many around here, not like down in Chatham. When I did see her I wasn’t sure of what I was seeing.”

“What was it?” asked Bruce.

“There were seven or eight seals, I think, on the beach. The lady was lying on the sand, her legs stretched out to the breakers. She had a bottle in her hand. They had her penned in. At first she wasn’t moving, none of them were. Not her or the seals. When she tried to get up is when all hell broke loose. One of them clamped his mouth on to her ankle and pulled her down. She was hitting him with her bottle, but then the others got her by both legs and started pulling her into the water.”

He took a drag on his Marlboro.

“It all happened so fast. I didn’t know they could move that fast. They use their flippers, and sort of wiggle. By the time I got close enough to maybe help her, they had her in the water and there wasn’t anything I could do.”

He stubbed his cigarette out in the sand and put the butt in his pants pocket.

“She was trying to keep her head above the water, but they had her by both legs and one of them was biting her face. She was screaming something godawful and the seals were making a crazy high crying, like a dog howling. Then, just like that, it was all over, and it got real quiet. They pulled her down into the water and I didn’t see her or them again. When I looked up all the other seals who had been watching were gone, too.”

The man stood up and brushed sand off his pants.

“That’s what happened. At first I couldn’t believe it, but when I saw blood on the sand and the broken bottle I called the rangers,” he said.

Vera looked out at the horizon.

“I’ve got to go. We’re packing and leaving, going home. Oh, yeah, one other thing I forgot to tell you folks,” he said, looking at Rachel Amparo.

“There was a man who came down the beach, yelling, and lurching, like one of his legs hurt. I think he saw what happened, too. He fell down after the seals took her and started to slap the sand. He kept screaming goddamn, goddamn, goddamn, sounded like the seals, but when I tried to get close to him he gave me an eye that made me stop. After that he got up and dragged himself back towards the parking lot. He wasn’t walking too good, but it didn’t seem like he wanted my help.”

“Thanks, Bob,” the park ranger said.

“Sure,” said Bob, nodding at the others before he turned and walked away.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said the park ranger.

At Fanizzi’s, a restaurant on the quiet side of Commercial Street, Vera, Bruce, and Rachel Amparo sat at the bar, staring through the windows that made up the back wall of the bar out onto Provincetown Harbor. The policewoman worked on a plate of fish and chips, Bruce nursed a bottle of Magic Hat No. 9, and Vera played with the straw in her glass of ice water.

She wasn’t hungry or thirsty, just flummoxed, lonely.

The bar would begin to fill up soon, but she didn’t want to be there when it did.

“I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they’re not around,” Charles Bukowski had once said. Maybe Hattie was right about him, Vera thought. Or maybe she was all wrong.

“Are you thinking the same thing I am?” asked Bruce.

“Probably,” answered Vera.

“So, tell me.”

“The seals knew it was her.”

“That’s a relief. I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

Rachel Amparo, twisting towards them in her seat, a forkful of haddock almost in her mouth, said, “That’s crazy talk. Seals are just, you know, seals.”

“It makes you wonder who the big fish is,” said Bruce.

“Oh, Vera,” said Rachel Amparo, sliding a thick clear plastic bag marked ‘Evidence’ in black capital letters across the polished bar to her.

“I found this last night in the parking lot. I thought you might want it back. You never know when you might need it again.”

Inside the plastic bag was an Alice Teapot hatpin.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”