Tag Archives: Terra Luna

Horrible House

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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, thought Vera.

“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 weather vane. 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 far 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’s 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 up Archie 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 hippies and gays 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 around 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 leads 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.

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Shoot the Moon

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“Where’s the moon now, we’ve been lost for days, we’re on a trip around the sun, food and drink for everyone.” Leningrad Cowboys

The red and white sign in one of the paired windows slanting toward the road said ‘Help Wanted’.

“I had gotten out of culinary school, was living down the street, and riding to P-town to look for work,” said Tony Pasquale. As he passed by he got a look-see at Terra Luna and a glimpse of the bright sign. He turned around and rode his bike up to the front door. Raina Stephani, the owner, and he introduced themselves. They sat inside at a table next to the door.

Terra Luna is a restaurant on the Shore Road of North Truro on the Outer Cape of Cape Cod. The two-lane road with sand shoulders is Route 6A, in parallel with Route 6, which interconnects most of the peninsula’s towns. The Shore Road was once called the Old King’s Highway.

“When can you start?” asked Raina, who opened the restaurant in 1993.

“I can start tomorrow,” he said. “But, don’t you want to see my resume?”

“No,” she said.

He went to work in the kitchen in 1997, as a line cook, then sous chef, and finally kitchen manager. Fourteen years later Raina told Tony, ”I’m done. I don’t want it anymore.” Tony Pasquale bought Terra Luna in 2011. Today he is still in the kitchen, the chef, but at the hardware store, too, the handyman, and the office, doing payroll and the books.

“I’m on the line six days a week,” he said. “Everyone contributes, Paul, Marlene, Carla, who is Raina’s mom. She does the baking. But, I do everything.”

It’s old-school style, the owner’s manual written by the skipper.

On the high rise of the Shore Road, before it dives down to sea level on the way to Provincetown, Terra Luna is an Italian Mediterranean Portuguese cottage-style restaurant. It is a seasonal eatery, open roughly mid-May to mid-October. “Our menu, we call it neo-pagan,” said Tony.

“It’s a funky eclectic fun busy small intimate place, fish very nicely done,” said one diner as last year’s season wound down “They feature Absinthe specials and Sazerac rye cocktails, a real treat.”

“It hasn’t changed much,” said Tony. “It looks like it did in 1997, except we built the bar. The landlord has owned this building forever. Sometimes it needs some sleight-of-hand.”

The northwest corner of the floor is slowly sinking. The large painting on the wall, as a result, began to look crooked. “I put a tack under the bottom left corner of the frame, to hold the painting crooked, so it would look straight.”

The building was once the common room for the Prince of Whales cottages on the other side of the parking lot. Inside, the floor is wood, the walls are wood, and the pitched trestle ceiling is wood. There is plenty of coastal air by way of screened windows and doors. Paintings and glassworks by local artists, who moonlight in the busy summer, serving food, pouring drinks, are on the walls.

Two years ago he donated a dinner to the Sustainable Cape Farmer’s Market. “They asked me if I would do a dinner with Mark Bittman. I said, sure.”

Mark Bittman is a food writer, a former columnist for The New York Times, and author of more than a dozen books. His ‘How to Cook Everything’ was a bestseller and won the James Beard Award.

A year later Terra Luna got a phone call. “OK, they said, it’s for July 5th. I asked them, are we cooking together?”

“No,” said the other end of the line.

“That’s what I want to aspire to, be so famous that the thing I donate to charity is you get to take me out to dinner,” said Tony.

They started with their on-again off-again Bait Plate. ”My friend Jason and I had come up with it as a special. It’s all trash fish, smelts, razor clams, squid, sardines.”

Atlantic cod and lobster were long the dishes of choice in New England. But, overfishing and environmental changes have led to sharp declines in stock, especially of cod, and a shift toward more abundant species, like scup and spiny dogfish.

“I’ve complained for years that Cape Cod restaurants don’t strut the Cape’s stuff,” Mark Bittman wrote after the dinner.

“I was served a pile of what were once considered trash fish, all sourced locally. The cooking happened to be perfect, kudos to the kitchen, although that’s the easy part. It’s making the effort to deal with local fishers and ensure the product is genuine that’s tricky.”

“He told us, I will definitely be back,” said Tony. “Which was great, because he can be cranky.”

A native of Montclair, New Jersey, Tony Pasquale attended Syracuse University, graduating in 1990 with degrees in English and Cultural Anthropology. “That basically left me prepared for nothing,” he said.

He came to Cape Cod as a lad in the mid-70s when his family started vacationing in North Eastham. In 1988, at the start of summer, he came back. “There was nothing in Brewster, nothing in Eastham, college kids were still coming here to work. I ended up in a dumpy cottage in Truro. I ended up getting my first restaurant job. I got hooked.”

His first job was frying fish at the Goody Hallett, named after a young woman who turned to witchcraft for revenge in the early 18th century after being abandoned by the freebooter Black Sam Bellamy, believed to be the wealthiest pirate in history. Even though the restaurant has long since been torn down, replaced by a bank, sightings of Goody’s ghost are still spun by eyewitnesses in Eastham and Wellfleet.

Three years later he enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. “I wanted to go west and they were accredited.” Instead of the two-year program, he chose the accelerated one-year program. “I didn’t need anymore spring breaks.”

The cooking school opened in 1983, the brainchild of Horst Mager, who was a local chef and restaurateur. It has produced many acclaimed cooks over the years, including Matt Lightner and Homaro Cantu.

The program was part kitchen work, applying skills and techniques, and part classroom work, studying food science, as well as concepts in baking and pastry. “The instructors were great when you got into the kitchen, but sucked when they did lectures,” said Tony.

“One day it would be, we have a piece of fish. How can you cook it? You can grill it. You can poach it. You can bake it. The next day it would be, we have a piece of chicken. How can you cook it? You can grill it. You can poach it. You can bake it. I remember turning to one of my friends and saying, fuck it, are we really taking notes?”

After graduating he interned in Seattle, at the Alexis Hotel’s multi-star restaurant. He learned the business of making real food for real people in real time. He also learned he didn’t want to work for a corporate restaurant. “They never tell you in culinary school how many meetings and how much paperwork you’re going to have to do. The head chef got great reviews, but it was a nightmare, super competitive. She used to lock herself in her office. She lost it.”

He divided his time for the next several years between the east coast and the west coast, finally settling on Cape Cod in 1997, the summer he spied Terra Luna. “I love it here,” he said. “It’s still relatively unspoiled, even though it’s getting developed more and more. But, it will get to the point where it can’t be developed anymore, and that’s pretty soon.”

He works in Truro and lives in Wellfleet, both once whaling towns, both towns in woods of pitch pine and black oak, both towns the better part of them being the National Seashore.

Although vegan and vegetarian grub is served at Terra Luna, the menu is largely home on the range fare, pork chops, beef, and fish. The so-called neo-pagan larder keeps its cupboard doors open to organic close to home free-range livestock farming. Tony Pasquale supports environmental issues and organizations.

Not everything is neo-pagan, though. Some of it is closer to pagan, like Terra Luna’s Smoked Bluefish Pate. A neighbor spilled the beans about the unique recipe.

“Top Knot was sketchy, lived across the street, in what we call Cannery Row,” said Tony. “He had a peg leg and eye patch, except he switched the eyes. He came in one day, gave me his recipe, which was a special way of reducing shallots with wine, and it was incredible.”

Pirate’s booty isn’t always silver and gold. Sometimes the treasure chest is full of pate. Eat up me hearties!

The small restaurant is usually busy. In the summer they are even busier. “We were brutally busy last year,” said Tony. In the kitchen there are a chef’s table, two stoves, ovens, sinks and fridges, a salad station, coffee and espresso machines. It is a factory-like space, stainless steel and tools of the trade and exhaust fans, making fine delicious food. “It’s tight, streamlined, and we’re all close together, three of us cooking, and the dishwasher.”

Everybody rarely gets a day off. The hours are early Industrial Age-style. It is hard work. It takes a toll. “Some mornings I get up and, Jesus, that’s not working. You’re on your feet 15 hours.”

In common with many employers on the Outer Cape, especially seasonal employers, Terra Luna faces labor shortages. “When I was in college, I came here every summer,“ said Ken Smith, vice president of Red Jacket Resorts. “Me and three other guys rented a small Cape. For whatever reason, it doesn’t happen today.”

Housing, or what little there is of it, has grown prohibitively expensive, there is the dilemma of making money that in the end goes against your student aid, and the no-status summer job has become a resume non-builder. At the end of the day even the close-to-hand are hard to find.

“It’s extremely difficult to find locals anymore,” said William Zammer, owner of Cape Cod Restaurants, Inc. When Terra Luna lost its sous chef at the last minute it had to buckle down. There wasn’t a replacement to be found, not for love or money.

”There was no help,” said Tony. “There was nobody. We all know each other, the other owners, we’re talking all the time, but everybody was getting ready for their opening weekend. Eric Jansen at Blackfish was opening late, so he sent some people over.”

I need them back next weekend was the caveat.

“I did Craig’s List, the whole BS Internet thing, nothing,” said Tony. ”Finally, I put a sign up, ‘Help Wanted’. A guy going by on his Vespa, who was looking for a night job, stopped. He didn’t have a resume. I said, screw it. He’s from Mexico, a trained chef, and he did specials all summer. He was great.”

Even though motels hotels cottages resorts restaurants advertise for American workers, “we get virtually no response,” said William Zammer. Many of Cape Cod’s seasonal workers are from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Jamaica. They are allowed to work in the United States on a temporary basis as a result of the H2B visa program, which is tailored for entry-level jobs in hospitality and retail.

Tony Pasquale’s dishwasher, Marlene, is from Jamaica. “She and I have been here the longest. She’s the rock, holds the kitchen together.” She comes to Cape Cod in the spring and goes home in the fall. On the peninsula she lives in Little Kingston, which is what the Prince of Whales cottages are known as up and down the Shore Road. She cleans rooms for a hotel in Provincetown during the day and takes a bus back to Terra Luna to wash dishes at night.

When the Jamaican reggae singer Beres Hammond was booked to play at the Payomet, Tony asked Marlene if she wanted to go to the show.

“No, I have to work.”

“We’ll get Roy to work for you.”

“How am I going to get there?”

The Payomet Performing Arts Center is on the other side of North Truro, on the ocean side. They stage professional theater productions and host live music, from Ruthie Foster to Southside Johnny, in a big, big tent. There is an outdoor dance floor for high stepping to the Genuine Negro Jig of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

“We’ll get you a cab.”

“I don’t have tickets.”

“We got you front row.”

Sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and no ifs ands or buts lay something at someone’s feet.

Terra Luna barters for tickets, as well as catering some of Payomet’s events. The night the rhythm and blues gospel singer Mavis Staples was on stage the kitchen prepared a shrimp plate for her. “I was in the second row when between songs she said my name,” said Tony.

“Boy, you can burn!” said Mavis Staples. “I didn’t finish my shrimps, but I got a microwave up in my room. I’m going to throw that in and have myself a midnight special!”

Although Terra Luna’s haddock and oysters are sourced locally, all of their cod and shrimp come from far away. “There are a lot of licensed fishermen here, so my oysters come from Wellfleet.” Salmon, a staple on the menu, is not indigenous to North Truro’s neck of the woods. “There’s no shrimp here either. I get it from Chatham Fish. Sometimes people ask me if it’s Gulf shrimp. After BP, I tell them, yeah, Gulf of Tonkin.”

The sardines come from Portugal.

The first time Terra Luna fed a band the band was the Zombies. They are a British Invasion rock group from the 1960s, still going strong. When asked in 2015 about the name, Rod Argent, founding member, organist, and still the lead singer, said they all just liked it. “I knew vaguely that zombies were the Walking Dead from Haiti.”

“They were great,” said Tony. “It was an after-party. The problem was, they announced it from the stage. I left during the encore.”

Back at the restaurant he gathered the staff. “We might be a little busy.” A half-hour later close to a hundred people walked in. The bartender got into the weeds almost immediately. Tony ordered the menus be put away. “It was rum and coke and gin and tonic after that. One of us did wine and one on the tap.“ The kitchen fired up all of its burners, all hands on deck.

“It was awesome. The Zombies hung out all night.”

Sometimes singers stop in by themselves.

“I got a call last minute about Judy Collins,” said Tony.

“We need dinner for her.”

“She’s not on my list. I’m not donating.”

“We’ll pay for it. It’s just her by herself.”

“She came in and ordered the Porterhouse.” The Porterhouse is doubling your dining delight. It is the King of the T-Bones. “She put it down. I eat a 16-ounce steak and I have to take a nap. She went and did the show.”

Sometimes it isn’t a singer.

The Truro Vineyards, one of a handful of wineries on the Cape, is two or three miles away on the downside of the road.

“I know you don’t take reservations,” said Kristen Roberts, who with her mom and dad are the winemakers. “But, my parents are coming, three people at seven.”

“I don’t know. Three people?”

“My dad’s friend, Al Jaffee, he’s 93.”

“Al Jaffee? From Mad Magazine?”

“Yes.”

“Come to dinner.”

Al Jaffee is a cartoonist who has drawn satirical cartoons for Mad for more than sixty years. “Serious people my age are dead,” he said. Between 1964 and 2013 only one issue of Mad was published sans one of his cartoons. ”I grew up with Mad. He did the back page fold-in,” said Tony.

“We’ve got to do something special,” said Luke the bartender. He mixed up a new drink and called it The Fold-In.

“Al Jaffee rocked the pork chop and two Fold-In’s,“ said Tony.

The next day Dave Roberts stopped at Terra Luna with a copy of Mad.

“I know you did this for us,” he said. “I went out and bought the new issue. Al Jaffee signed it.”

At other times it isn’t a singer or a cartoonist. Some people, including Tony Pasquale, believe the building that houses Terra Luna is occasionally haunted.

“The jukebox didn’t work for weeks,” he said. “One day, getting ready for service, we heard woooooo all of a sudden. It was the jukebox turning itself on. It started playing ‘I Put a Spell On You’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. We all stopped what we were doing. Everybody was freaked out.”

Another day Tony was in the kitchen in the middle of the day, alone, prepping for the dinner crowd. ”I had music cranking, doors locked, when all of a sudden I got that feeling that someone’s staring at you. I looked up. It was an old lady. She smiled and I smiled. I went back to work. But, then I thought, oh, fuck, there’s someone in here. When I looked up again there was nobody. I’m a hairy dude. All the hair on my body stood straight up. I had to go sit outside for a while. At least she was friendly.“

In the spring Terra Luna is smudged. “My buddies come in, burn some sage.” Sage means to heal and when burned it’s believed to clear away all things negative real and imagined, a balm and seal for the mind and spirit.

Cape Cod is the chin of New England, sticking its neck out into the Atlantic Ocean. When hurricanes roll up the seaboard the peninsula takes it on the chin, taking the brunt of high wind and high water.

“I see a bad moon a-rising, I hear a hurricanes a-blowing, I know the end is coming soon,” Credence Clearwater Revival, guitars jangling and drums steady as a heartbeat, sings out loud and clear in a backwoods yowl on the Provincetown radio show Squid Jigger’s Blend.

Route 6, about a mile from Terra Luna, is the Hurricane Evacuation Route. In 1996, in advance of Hurricane Edouard, state officials declared a state of emergency. An eight-hour 40-mile traffic jam ensued, stretching from Orleans to the bridges crossing over to the mainland.

The peak of the New England hurricane season is early September. If a hurricane were to blow in on any day except Monday, when they are closed, a good place to wait out the end might be Terra Luna on the high side of 6A, rather than 40 miles of gas fumes on Route 6. They have candles in case the power goes out, the roof might leak, but probably won’t blow away, there are ghost stories to go around, and they always have plenty of food and drink.

Terra Luna on the Shore Road, on top of that, has a skipper at the ready who makes the moving parts happen – the self-made year-roun-dah in the black chef’s coat so the blood won’t show when he steps out of the kitchen – who is more than capable of staying the course, help when wanted, foul weather and fair.