Bonnie spoke softly into the gleaming stainless steel speaker. “Arthur Buchanan?”
The speaker buzzed and a voice said: “Speak.”
“This is Deputy Blanchard from the Bayside Sheriff’s office.”
“Mister Buchanan is not at home,” Artie said.
“I recognize your voice,” said Bonnie.
“If you have a warrant, you’ll have to break in because I’m not home. If you don’t have a warrant, go away.”
“I only want to ask you a few questions. If you meet me in the lobby we can get this over with.”
“No, meet me at the coffee shop across the street. I’ll be there in an hour.”
“This can be over in five minutes.”
“Okay, I’ll give you five minutes.”
She stepped back, sat in a red leather chair, figuring he would make her wait for quite a while. But the gleaming bronzed elevator doors soon opened, and, dressed like a beach bum, Artie sauntered across the thick blue carpet.
She shook his hand, and they sat opposite each other in the sunny, glassy lobby.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I was hoping you could throw some light on the Liz Burns case.”
“Haven’t we…” Artie waved at an old man who stepped off the elevator. The fellow, dressed like a stockbroker or insurance exec, threw them a quizzical look, and passed out the revolving doors. Artie shook his head in pity. The problem with living in a luxury apartment, he had decided, was that all your neighbors were corporate chumps.
Bonnie, after glancing at the e-pad in her lap, said: “What do you know about Elizabeth Burns and Butchie Block?”
“Come on, Arthur.”
“Nothing, I told you already. “
“Had they seen each other in the weeks before she disappeared.”
“You’re trapping me, I don’t want to say.”
“No one will know you told me, Arthur.”
“I believe you know that Butchie was coming on to her,” said Bonnie.
“Okay,” Artie said. “At the beach, the lower bar, Aunt Crabby’s, where the surf crowd hangs out? I seen ‘em there once or twice.”
“Oh I don’t know. Easter. April. Sometime like that. Before tourist season, I’ll tell you that.”
“What were they doing?”
“At the bar, at a table?”
“Sitting on the piling there.”
“Just the two of them.”
“How many times did you see them there?”
“That spring? Two or three?”
“And that’s your hangout?”
“Where else is there to hang off-season? I mean, it’s not a surprise the two of them were there. Everybody goes there.”
“What did they do when you observed them?”
“I wasn’t observing them. I’m not a spy. Nothing. They talked.”
“Were they drinking?”
“Cocktails I guess.”
“Did you sell either of them any … substances?”
“Now you got me … five minutes you said, I gotta go. Please. I’m late for work. Don’t… I didn’t do nothing wrong and I can’t talk to you any more. I don’t want the cops kicking my door down again, okay? My dog’s old, he can’t take it.”
He strode to the stairwell door and disappeared underneath the red-and-white exit sign.
For Bonnie, the sunny lobby of that luxury apartment building was the most cheerful place she’d been all day. She sat for quite a while, taking notes on her e-pad.
His mom’s fate shrouded Taylor’s soul every time he rode the Poke Island ferry. It was approaching tourist season on the day she disappeared, so the ferry she rode would have carried at least a few other passengers. But the police couldn’t find any tourists who remembered seeing her.
In May and September, the island offered weekends-only jitney service, but no drivers remembered hauling her to the south end. That wasn’t a surprise, since Liz Sharp was a fitness walker, and it’s barely a ten minute hike from the ferry dock to Artie’s Cottage, where she stored her boards and wet suits.
Few other surfers braved the chill Atlantic waters in May, but Liz Sharp did, and she liked to be out there with the waves all to herself, despite the dangers of solo surfing. So the only witnesses who confirmed her last trip to the island were Artie and Marco the ferryman. Marco knew her, absolutely. She’d made at least a thousand crossings on that rusty municipal launch. Under police questioning, Marco vaguely remembered her last morning to the island. But a day after he talked to the cops, he slipped out of Shipwreck Bay.
The town gossips say he fled in fear of the immigration police. Artie had heard that the cops had uncovered Marco’s involvement in a gambling scam, and he fled to avoid prosecution. But the question nobody, including Marco, had answered was a big one: Why did he skip the ferry’s last run on the night Liz disappeared? Marco told the cops he’d just gotten lazy. But he had never before failed to make the 10:15 run.
Taylor walked toward Surfers Rockpile. The sight of that rock outcropping made him feel as glum as an unwanted orphan. If his mom did indeed drown out there, those rocks were the last thing she’d have ever seen, the shore she tried desperately to attain. He hated to think of that good woman going down. The thought of it made him feel like he was drowning too.
Taylor found Artie pacing the bay pier, shirtless, calling in bets on his satellite phone.
“Chief,” he said. “What’s up? You look like you’ve lost your best friend. But that’s not possible, because here I am, in all my absurd, undying and pathetic loyalty.”
Taylor said, “I can’t help thinking about, you know, her last day.”
Artie clapped him around the shoulder. “Let me fix you up.”
“I don’t want any pills, Artie.”
“Drugs work. That’s why people take ’em. You know who said that?”
“Lewis Pasture, and he invented drugs. Goddamn it,” Artie said, and shook his phone. “Cuts out. It’s a satellite phone. It’s supposed to work no matter what. Battery? Sim card? What? I’ve been scammed. I’m sending this piece of shit back to Amazon.”
Taylor sat on a bench in the sunshine and said, “Tell me again about the last time.”
Artie sighed. “Taylor, it was sunset, I’ve told you a thousand times.” He pointed at the rocks. “I think, I saw her, or some female walking toward the ocean, side-carrying a board. It might have been a yellow board, and I know the board that washed up was your mom’s, and it was yellow. But tell you the truth buddy I was high like a cloud that day. I can’t be sure of nothing too much. Sunset. Woman. Surfboard. That’s all I know.”
“Black wet-suit top. I think.”
The police viewed Artie as a druggie criminal, and a suspect in the disappearance of Liz Burns, but Taylor did not. Artie was a live-and-let-live guy, and Taylor had never known him to be aggressive or mean. In a world full of Arties, he felt, there might be no murders at all.
A month after his mom disappeared, the two friends, accompanied by Steffie, had driven up to The City to consult a hypnotist. But even under hypnosis, Artie could recall no more.
“Well,” Taylor said. “I’m a suspect now. You know we have that weedy lot, right. The one next to the cafe? My grandparents bought that little rectangle for a pittance years ago. Now it’s worth, what, $500,000 as is?”
“Okay, well, that lot was my mom’s inheritance. In her will, it was supposed to go to me if she died before Dad did. See it now?”
“She made me take a solemn vow to build a house with an ocean view, and share it with my cousins. But Dad was after her to sell the lot. That’s one of the things they argued about. It was pretty intense. Ask the neighbors. Anyway, if my mom is declared legally … well, the lot goes to me.”
“I see,” said Artie.
“While Mom was alive, there was always the chance Dad could persuade her to sell the lot. So theoretically anyway, it was in his interest that she live, and mine that …. “
Artie whistled. “Son of a bitch. Dude, if I didn’t know you, you’d be a suspect.”
“But that’s absurd. What does it mean that they found her ring?”
Taylor took an optimistic guess: “She was so angry she took it off and threw it into the lagoon?”
“Maybe,” Artie said, “a thief mugged her, copped the ring, panicked and threw it off the pier.”
“Don’t say the word shark, okay.”
“I wasn’t gonna.”
“Her body … I don’t know, the ring fell off. You’re too good a friend to say that Artie, so I will. After 11 months in the ocean, it …. washed in with the tides.”
“Dude, I need a beer.”
They walked the boardwalk toward his cottage. Artie decided, for one of the few times in his life, to err on the side of caution. He would not mention the Deputy’s recent visit nor her questions about Butchie Block. Taylor was very sensitive on the subject of his mom and Butchie.
Artie felt bad enough that he wasn’t telling the whole truth about what he saw on the night of May 23, 2017. He felt guilty about holding back, from Taylor, from the cops, from everyone. But he had his reasons, and regardless, nothing was going to bring Liz Burns back.
Covering up his guilt and anxiety, Artie muttered: “I hope that deputy doesn’t come poking around here. I don’t want her in my cottage. This is my refuge, man, from a cold cruel world. Hey speaking of cold and cruel, I gotta mention, I had lunch with Billie.”
“Billie McGinn? You called her up?”
“Dude, she called me.”
“What did she want?”
“My charming company. And insight into the distribution of certain substances.”
“Ah, mystery solved.”
“What? She can’t be hot for me?”
“Didn’t say that. Watch out, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
“Because she knows the Bulgarian?” Artie said. “Nah. The Bulgarian’s her tool. He’s nothing to her.”
They reached the cottage kitchen. Tayor opened the refrigerator door, hoping to find something for lunch, and discovered it was empty but for two bottles of beer.
“Gotta call my beer guy,” said Artie.
“And your grocery guy,” said Taylor. “You know, Pickles will put a box of groceries on the ferry for you. You can order online. It’s really easy. Get some cereal, some peanut butter, you know, the basics.”
Artie popped open a cold Lord Chesterfield Ale. He handed Taylor a bottle of Veltins Pilsener. “Hey,” he said, “I had a dream last night about Billie McGinn. I’m thinking of inviting her out here.”
“Artie, she’s …”
“Hey, you’re not the only one who can have adventures with the older female.”