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Alex Peres Mystery 4 - Murder Came Second.docx
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Chapter 16

Fargo did not get his morning run. I figured that for the two weeks before Labor Day, the beach would probably be crowded from dawn to midnight. So after an unhappy stroll around the yard he came back in the house and jumped in bed with Cindy. With wet, dewy paws and warm, slurpy tongue. She was not amused.

She got up, and while I was in the shower, she made coffee. I took a generous swallow and almost spit it out. It tasted like a combination of cough medicine and some laxative I had been given as a child.

“What the hell is this?” I stared at the cup with some alarm.

“It’s a delicious new breakfast drink, all organic, much healthier than coffee, with a brisk, enlivening, wake-up flavor.”

“What did you do, memorize the commercial?” I asked. I carefully moved the cup under my nose and sniffed. “Alfalfa, ammonia and syrup of figs.”

“You needn’t be sarcastic.” She sipped her new breakfast drink with apparent pleasure. “You automatically hate anything new or healthy. At least give it a chance.”

“All right.” I lifted the cup once more. I sipped and grimaced. “God, Cindy, it’s awful. It really is. You drink that, you’re going to spend the morning in the john. One way or another.”

“Don’t be crude.”

“Sorry. Look, I’ll just run down to the Coffee Mill and grab the papers. Back in a couple of minutes.” Fargo and I trotted to the nearby café, where I purchased a large container of plain old coffee and a paper. I perched on the wall at the end of our yard and sipped my coffee at leisure.

Entering the kitchen later, I smelled—but had the good sense to make no comment—coffee. It seemed our latest trip into the organic wilds had been cancelled. Cindy and I began to chat about the day’s activities, which apparently included considerable housework. I had almost forgotten she was taking a vacation day. As she outlined her plans, I almost wished she hadn’t. It didn’t sound like my idea of vacation.

I had to go to Wellfleet. The art gallery there had called yesterday to say they had only one or two of my photos left. Could I bring down eighteen or so this morning? I surely could. I had anticipated, or at least hoped for, this need and had matted and framed a bunch of photos last week. When I mentioned this most necessary errand, she nodded.

“Well, since you have to fight the traffic anyway, how about doing some grocery shopping while I clean?”

I tried very hard to maintain a neutral expression. Actually, I would gladly have driven to Hyannis to get one little three-ounce jar of her favorite lavender honey if it would keep me far, far away while she cleaned.

“Why not?” I shrugged. “Might as well combine what we can. I’ll probably run the car through the Speedo-Lube while I’m out. You got a grocery list?”

She had. Plus an armful of clothes for the cleaners and a request for me to pick up a dress she needed brought back from the cottage for a Thursday meeting. Oh, it would be a glorious, errand-filled morning! With any luck at all, it would be two o’clock before I got home.

“Come on, fella, let’s go!” We exited briskly as the vacuum started in the back of the house.

I returned home in the early afternoon to learn that Cassie and Lainey would be coming over to watch the news with us and was glad I had purchased some sliced Smithfield ham and lemon pepper turkey breast so we could make sandwiches, cut up a salad and call it dinner.

With some grunts and groans, I moved our “small” TV from the kitchen to the little table in the dining room so we could watch both the screen and the next-door neighbors on their front porch. The Brownlees had wisely placed their LCD wide-screen in storage, and the only other downstairs TV was a small one in their kitchen. The actors wouldn’t all fit in that room, and I hoped they would opt for bringing the TV out to the large, cool front porch.

I put out the ice bucket and mixers. I arranged some marvelous Stilton cheese and water crackers, carefully trimming some rough edges and feeding them to Fargo and me. A year ago, my hors d’oeuvres would have been a chunk of supermarket cheddar and saltines stacked on a dinner plate. Cindy had definitely been a civilizing influence.

She was duly impressed upon entering the kitchen. “Darling! How nice! I think later we can just all make our own sandwiches and have some sliced tomatoes and chips and that will do it.”

We just had time for our own drink, quietly together before Lainey and Cassie arrived, bearing bakery-hot cherry tarts. Our menu was complete.

We made our drinks and turned the TV on, without the sound. “Keep your voices low,” I said. “I’d just as soon the neighbors didn’t know we are eavesdropping.”

As we crowded around the small table and looked out the window, Laertes, Polonius and Horatio came up the walk and went inside. Horatio reappeared shortly, bearing their kitchen TV, which he placed on a table facing away from us. That meant the viewers would be facing toward us. Good, we could hear their comments better.

The men brought out various chairs to add to those already there. The women brought drink trays and passed them around. Terese brought herself and sat in a chair closest to the TV.

“I don’t know why we’re going through all this fuss to watch this thing,” Terese complained, although I hadn’t noticed her going to any fuss. “Nobody from the TV station talked to me, and I would have been the logical one to provide information. Except, of course, for you, Paulie darling.”

Paulie darling was his usual placating self. “Well, they talked to several of us, plus a number of local people. It could be some very nice publicity for all of us. We’ll know in a minute.”

I looked at my watch. So we would. I reached over and turned up the sound as some music started and a title floated up: Provincetown, Not So Far Off-Broadway As You Might Think, An exclusive INN Monday Night Special with Ray Cartell.

Cartell came on-camera and began to tell the history of Provincetown as a town friendly to artists of all schools for nearly two hundred years. When he reached the present, Paul Carlucci joined him, standing above the top row of seats at the amphitheater. The camera was down on the stage, giving a long-distance shot and silhouetting them like small figurines against the setting sun. Very dramatic.

Carlucci was good, sounding rational, sincere and enthusiastic. According to him, Ptown would soon be the Shakespearean capital of the world. Both traditional and modernized versions would flourish. He ended with his favorite phrase, “Just visualize it, Ray. First Hamlet, then Julius Caesar, Lear, Othello! We’ve proved it, and we’ll prove it again and again. A great play knows no calendar!”

Cartell went on to interview Hamlet, Ophelia, Horatio and Nick in various scenic spots. All of them praised Carlucci, praised the people of Provincetown and sounded very upbeat about the production. Even Nick managed to smile and make nice. Then they broke for commercials.

On our neighboring porch, the conversation seemed to alternate between teasing those who had been interviewed—about how they looked, or that they sounded like they were doing a paid infomercial—and agreeing that the publicity was all very positive. The commercials ended and Cartell returned.

He was walking through the town with none other than my brother. Sonny had on a navy linen blazer, a white collarless shirt and khaki chinos. He looked very masculine and quite handsome. They strolled out onto MacMillan wharf, where Sonny propped his foot up on a bollard, displaying those spit-shined low boots he so dearly treasured. He gazed out across the bay with an expression that would have done credit to Drake.

Cartell stood beside him, intoning, “I’m strolling around Provincetown with Detective Lieutenant Sonny Peres. Sonny, how does it feel to have a busy tourist town under your care?”

“I love this town, Ray. Born and raised here. I know every foot of it. I know every beach, every inch of waterfront.” He gestured out into the bay toward various fishing and recreational boats. “I know the piney woods and the dunes and where to find the best beach plums. I love the smell of the Portuguese bread frying in the bake shop, or the fog starting to send its tentacles through the town. I love the ocean when it’s green and surly and working up a temper. It’s my absolute pleasure to help keep this town safe for the people who live and who visit here.”

Cartell leaned on a guardrail and grinned. “You sound a little Shakespearean yourself, Sonny. But how do you feel about a bunch of actors descending on you?”

Sonny turned on the full wattage of the Peres smile. “I think creative people are different from most of us. I think they see things differently. Like maybe colors are brighter and clouds are darker, you know? I think they may have nerve endings nearer the surface. But how do I feel about this group?” He made a circle of thumb and forefinger.

“I feel just fine about them. I’ve gotten to know a few of them, and I feel I’ve made real friends. In fact, I have only one un-good feeling.”

“What’s that?” Cartell asked.

“Traffic, Ray, traffic. I’m afraid we may be parking cars a mile out to sea to accommodate everyone who wants to see this fantastic play.”

Both men laughed. Then Cartell sobered. “I can see how you might have made friends, Sonny. You’re a nice, friendly guy. But you and even Provincetown itself seem to have made one very vocal enemy of a certain magazine reporter. Any comment on that?”

Sonny put on his hurt little boy face, which he did very well. “I don’t understand it, Ray. I don’t expect a portrait of Ptown not to show some of the warts. Sure we have a couple of kinda sleazy bars and some shops that sell junky stuff and a couple of food joints I don’t much care for, but we have good shops and restaurants, too! Fine ones, in fact. Not to mention our museums and art galleries. We’re a tourist town, Ray. We cater to lots of different people with different budgets and different tastes.”

Sonny put out his hands as if he were balancing something. “I wouldn’t have minded if the reporter had presented a proportionate picture of the town, but she just chewed us up and spit us out.”

On the porch across the way, I heard a male voice say, “Aw, Terese, see how mean you were. That nice boy looks like he might cry.” A chorus of laughter went up.

Terese answered with a snort. “Smarmy little bastard!” More laughter.

Cartell continued, “Yet this reporter learned that she invited you to her hotel for drinks and dinner. And when you refused, she let it be known that your refusal was because you are gay.”

“Yeah, I heard that, too.”

Cartell leaned closer to Sonny. “Is that true? My information indicates you are not gay. Did the accusation insult you?”

“No, Ray, to both questions. I’m not gay, but I certainly wasn’t insulted that she assumed I was gay. In fact, I imagine quite a few men have pretended to be gay upon receiving that particular invitation.” Sonny gave that Peres smile again, and once again the camera faded for commercials.

It took a second for Sonny’s reply to sink in. Then the four of us looked at each other and roared. A similar burst of sound went up across the way. In the midst of it Terese jumped up, overturning her chair with a loud crack.

“I’ll have his balls for this!” she screamed.

“No, honey,” Ophelia replied. “You already tried that.”

More shrieks of laughter followed her into the house. And I thought I heard another screen door bite the dust on her exit.

Cartell was back, speaking with the Town Manager and various merchants and innkeepers, but none of us were listening.

Cindy and Lainey were freshening drinks. Cassie and I were still wiping our eyes.

Lainey patted the TV as if Sonny were somewhere inside. “Absolutely brilliant! If I weren’t gay, I think I’d marry him.”

“Not if you’re smart,” I answered. “He’s a great friend, a wonderful brother, a lousy husband.”

“Anyway.” Cindy grinned as she handed me a glass. “He may be leaving us shortly for New York and stardom. We’ve got Judge Judy and Doctor Phil. How about Lieutenant Sonny?”

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