French bent over to tie her sneakers. If she left now, she could get in a good run before meeting up with Fry. Shed finished the core of her morning workout and a good run would be just the thing. Fry would have to deal with the sweat.
As she headed off down the street she was thankful yet again for the small proportion of the town and island. It was ten miles long and two miles wide. There were three small, densely populated towns, the rest was beaches, farms, and open space. Comstock was the largest of the towns and growing. Aside from the development on the waterfront of the town, there was Hilltop. This was the highest point on the island and considered the best real estate. It was along the Dunbluff Cliffs and overlooked the ocean beyond. The Redmonds lived there. So did most of their friends, the ones who could afford it.
Everything in Comstock was in walking distance. French was free of the hassle of an automobile in all of the summer traffic and crowding. More cars came over on the ferry than the town could manage reasonably. Not that shed own a car anyway, she mostly leased them when necessary. She never stayed anywhere long enough to own one. Besides, if shed needed wheels, shed have taken one of Mitchells cars. Ha! Shed finally thought of something shed miss about him, his cars. The man had fine taste in machines.
She was headed out to Midstock, the next town over and the place she was supposed to meet Fry. Midstock was less densely populated than Comstock and had a few farms. Bisque, the town furthest east on the island, had several small farms, mostly organic, where the produce wasnt half bad. But Midstock had the best beaches on the island. It was overrun in the mid-mornings and afternoons. Theyd be safe from any crowd this early as most everyone else on the island was sleeping off last nights festivities.
She rounded a bend by one of the beaches and nearly pulled to a full stop when she spotted the unlikely figure of Julia Harding walking up ahead. They were a couple of hundred yards from Gillman Rock and Julia was walking the road that was sure to bring her past where Fry would be waiting. Of course, Fry might not be there yet. But Julia never missed a beat, and if Fry was there... French picked up her pace and caught up to her.
I forgot how much you liked to walk. Julia was wearing possibly the chicest casual walking outfit shed ever seen. Since the last time shed seen her in one that is. Julia devoted a lot of time to the art of dress. Personal presentation, your interface with society, she was fond of saying. Julia would just as soon eat ground glass as be seen wearing jeans in public.
Her sweat pants, if you could call them that, were of a light flowing material that swung like palazzo pants as she walked. She wore a light top with a scarf and a nifty little hat to keep the bright morning sun out of her eyes. She truly believed that there was a perfect outfit for every occassion. In her case, she was right. Shed taught French a lot about the mysteries of textiles.
I forgot how much you like to sweat. Honestly French, do you really need to run around like that?
French smiled as she walked beside Julia. Theyd never agreed on their basic approach to the outdoors. Julia liked to take it all in, preferably at a slow pace, and if possible with a cool drink in her hand. French liked to take it on. Running, sailing, skiing, swimming. Thats if she had to be doing the outdoor thing at all. She wasnt interested in socializing out of doors and she didnt care how other people spent their time there, as long as they worked up an appetite doing it.
I try to stay healthy. Walkings not my thing. They chatted a bit and rounded the corner. French spotted Fry sitting on a rock by the side of the road not far ahead. As they approached she waved.
Julia recognized the waitress and greeted her with a friendly smile. Hello again. Fry returned the smile and said hi.
Julia turned to French, having discerned that this was her final destination. Good to see you again Maestro. I enjoyed our brief interlude. Dont forget my party. She leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. She scowled a bit at the sweat, but it was all for show. You need a shower my young friend. She turned and continued on her way.
French let out a relieved sigh. She wasnt up for people this morning. And it seemed harder these days to fake that she was, when she wasnt. She looked at Fry who was still perched on her rock, with a small basket at her side. She was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Looked like shed gotten there on foot as well.
French gave her a brief smile, a quirk at the corner of her mouth really. Fry smiled a small smile back. It was one of those quiet, but bright smiles. Understated, but infectious somehow. The quirk at the corner of Frenchs mouth became closer to a curve and the other side threatened to get in on the act as well. Fry responded to her widening quirk with a bigger smile of her own. French found the quiet conversation about her speed and continued it with an honest to goodness smile. Nothing serious mind you, but both corners of her mouth were definitely involved.
Fry had been a bit apprehensive when French had walked up with Julia Harding. What a stiking pair they made. Two tall women, one bristling with an unconscious air of indomitability and the body to back it up, the other classically elegant, if not decked out within an inch of her life for a morning stroll. Fry felt underdressed in her ancient sneakers and rumpled jogging get up. She guessed that theyd spent the night together, shed jumped to the conclusion rather shamelessly. She wondered if all the women French slept with didnt mind the stable she kept.
As theyd walked up, however, Fry noticed that the chef was tense and now that Julia had parted, she seemed more relaxed. She was even smiling. Fry couldnt help smiling back. Julia became a vague memory. And as Frenchs smile grew, she couldnt help but respond in kind. Finally she broke out in a full smile, teeth and all, and even giggled.
She was nearly blown backward off the rock by the sheer force of the full strength, beaming smile that broke over Frenchs face. Shed never seen a smile generate wattage like that.
So, we going to sit here grinning at each other all morning, or you got something to show me? French was feeling more social.
Fry was reminding her knees that they too were so over French and shed appreciate it if theyd get moving so that she could get up off the rock and they could head over to the pond where the berries were. She stalled for a moment by retying one of her shoes while counseling her shaky legs. She rose from her seat studiously coordinating her muscles, tendons and ligaments until they were all communicating and moving together in what she hoped was a steady gate. She swung her basket as she walked across the road to a path that led into waist high grasses. This way, boss.
They walked along a path, away from the road. They were walking along the bottom of Gillman Rock, a large outcropping that rose off the roadway for no apparent reason. The island wasnt flat. The landmass emerged at a gently sloping angle from the water on the west side and continued up to the cliffs along the east. For half the length of the island anyway. Out in Bisque it was all flat. Here and there, there were huge rock groupings that looked like hills, but were in fact gargantuan rocks covered with plantlife where dirt and water had made its way over time. Gillman rock was one such phenomenon, but it was mostly exposed. Fry pointed out where they were headed on the path and how they could ascend a slow incline to get up to the ledge before them more easily and over to the pond clearing.
Why dont we climb up here? Looks easier. French looked down at Fry who gave her a quizzical look.
How would we get up on the ledge? Its over my head. Its just a few yards around and up that way, not a hike or anything.
French smiled and stepped back a few feet. She burst forward and popped off the balls of her feet, slapping her hands on the ledge as she propelled herself up. Then, for show, and because she could, she went into a full handstand and flipped herself over backward to land facing the other direction.
Fry stood disbelieving that French had flipped herself onto a ledge six feet high, not to mention the musculature shed witnessed as the chef had sprung herself out of the handstand. It was absolute perfection. Her poor knees were taking a beating this morning.
She headed for the incline to catch up.
Where are you going? French asked.
The vertically challenged and non-bionic in the group have to take the stairs. Ill be right there.
Come here. French had kneeled at the ledge and held out her hand.
Youre joking. Theres no foothold, youd have to pull me straight up.
French wiggled her fingers in a gesture of impatience. I promise not to pull your arm out of joint. Its not that high.
And it must not have been, because Fry was up on the ledge in a blink. That was cool!
Fry turned and jumped back down.
Hey! Where are you going?
Up! Fry held out her hand this time to get another ride.
French shook her head and pulled her up again. It looked like Fry was going to jump back down and French grabbed her by the shoulder. I wouldnt if I were you. As the chefs threats went, it was a pretty friendly one. So Fry smiled and headed in the other direction, toward a stand of trees and the pond that was hidden there.
As they walked, French asked her if shed like to work a double the day of the Old Boat Regatta. It was more than a week off, but it gave her something to say. Fry gave an enthusiastic yes. Thered be no end of good tipping that day if the weather was good.
Youre not on until this afternoon. Why the early morning rendezvous? While conversation was another necessary evil French had found no way around, it wasnt torturous with Fry.
As difficult as it must be for you to understand, we do have lives outside of your restaurant. I have to be somewhere later this morning. This was the only time I could fit you in.
Pretty busy social schedule, huh? In truth, it never really occurred to French that people did live outside of the restaurant. Not in the full sense.
Jam packed. Youre lucky I had a spot. I spend a lot of time at the Community Center on the weekend. We have a reading and story telling program for the kids in the summer, that I help out with in the morning.
I see. Glad you could squeezed me in.
No problem. So, did you have a good time? Wherever it was you went last night? Why couldnt she leave it be? As much as she didnt want to show an interest in Frenchs private life, it just kept coming up.
Hanging out with a bunch of drunk lawyers and bureaucrats is not my idea of a good time.
Then why did you go?
Because Addison Peterson is the new chair on the zoning committee. I thought he might be a useful source of information.
Fry wondered if the lucky Mr. Peterson was going to get to go to dinner with the chef. Why didnt you tell me you were going to snoop?
I dont snoop and even if I did, why would I tell you?
It occurred to Fry that French had probably never shared much of anything in her life, much less a free exchange of information. You dont get the concept of teamwork do you?
Should I? Kind of need to be on a team for it to be an issue.
Youd probably run that entire restaurant single handed if you could. As it is all Brian really gets to do is brunch.
Has he complained?
I should know better than to bring up work. Did you find anything out?
Besides the fact that Addison has suprising taste in wine for a lawyer and no one should have been eating at his raw bar, not really. Know who Darzley Fitch is?
Darzley/Fitch isnt a who so much as a what at the moment. Its a bill thatll be up in the State Senate this Fall. It passed in the House on a breeze twice, but gots shot down in the Senate. Its a bill to legalize gaming statewide. Im not surprised that your lawyer friends are talking about it. Its very popular in some circles.
Not yours I take it?
Definitely not mine. State lotteries are bad enough. A self-imposed tax on the poor.
Ah, I see. Well, not much else in the way of useful information last night. French steered the conversation away from what she sensed was another heartfelt topic for the ever earnest Fry.
Do we have the remotest clue who killed her?
They had entered the woods. It was still damp, but the sun was beginning to burn off the light fog that remained between the trees.
As much as I hate to impune the perfect reputation of everybodys favorite fishing guy. I think Bernie Gle...
No! Theres no way he would have done that. Ive known him my whole life. Believe me when I tell you, he didnt kill her.
It doesnt look good for your Mr. Gleck. Out of the stuff I found in that pile, only one thing adds up to anything much. Maybe when Jason turns up well have something else to go on, but in the meantime, Bernie Glecks not making money the old fashioned way.
Whats that supposed to mean?
His fleets fishing illegally and selling the stuff to large ships offshore. They sit out in Bilmuth Bay and wait for the trawlers to come in. Anything illlegal on the boats is dumped and they come in looking innocent and clean.
Bernie wouldnt allow that! He knows that overfishing has killed his own industry. Hes remodeling his fleet for ecotourism, he said so.
And in the meantime his capital comes from where?
I dont know, Bernies got tons of money. More than most of the residents on the island.
More money is an extremely relative concept. Usually relative to the person whos got it, likes it, and wants more.
You dont know him at all. Hes not like that.
You see anyone else with motive and opportunity?
Whats the motive?
Louisa had papers that proved sales to two Asian companies known to lighten the loads of boats in the bay. Anyone linked to these guys would be up for some hefty fines, if not imprisonment.
Are you sure?
The deposit slips didnt look like much at first, but I asked around on the docks. Its possible hes cooled it for a while, especially since she had something on him. But there were drop offs going on out there. Fry was clearly upset by this revelation. She had slowed and was trying to take it all in.
Hey, it could be a lot worse. He couldve been running drugs out there. French reassured her.
Bernies whole life is that fleet, those fish. He was the first to outfit his boats with dolphin-safe nets. The first to refit his boats with more efficient engines. Better for the fishing and the fish. he said. The first to cut back when the banks showed signs of overfishing... But he still wouldnt kill anyone. Not for that.
Oh, come on! Have you ever seen the look in his eye when he talks about those boats? About fish? Anyone came between him and his business, I think even mild mannered Bernie might get edgy. And poisons a good way to avoid the violence too. Guy like him wouldnt probably want to shoot someone or knife them.
This was getting to be too much for Fry. Luckily theyd broken out of the wood into a clearing. There was a small pond and a large flat rock. She stopped and gestured at the ground. Well, youve kept your end of the bargain, heres mine.
French surveyed the small patch of strawberries nestled around the rock near the pond. Nice.
They walked over and Fry kneeled near some of the plants. She took the small basket she carried and began to look for the ripe fruit. Shed found a few and was enjoying the silence. She didnt revel in the news French had unearthed. It was so disturbing to hear.
She realized that she was alone on the ground. She looked up to see French stretched out on the rock, enjoying the sun. Fry was glad she wasnt standing. Her knees were too. She swallowed in an effort to return the saliva to her mouth. Then she cleared her throat to get the chefs attention.
Um hmm? French may not have been big on the outdoors, but the sun did feel good this morning.
I dont mean to interrupt, but you werent expecting me to pick anything for you, were you?
Sure why not? Not too many, a couple of cups is fine.
Thats not what I meant. I meant, Im not picking these for you. You can get them for youself. Patch rules.
Patch rules? What the hell is that? French had turned on her side to look at Fry.
Thats where you pick your own. Were not at work, you know. You cant order me around.
This was news to French. I dont see why not. Besides, you wore my arm out back there, its only fair you make up for it now.
Fry was an easy touch. Anyone whod ever met her had figured that out soon after. But she was determined not to be a doormat to the chef, no matter how appealing a prospect that may be. Give it up. Ive seen you carry loads in from delivery trucks that Andre had trouble with. I doubt I put much of a drain on your stamina.
French reluctantly pulled herself into a sitting position. Hired help were getting out of hand these days. She didnt want Fry to think they were getting too chummy or anything. On the other hand, maybe Fry was trying to tell her the same thing. Most women, het or not, rolled over for her. Especially her staff to whom she could hand out lucrative double shifts like the one shed given Fry earlier. Maybe Fry was laying down a line. Trying to maintain a professional distance, so to speak. She took a look at the small woman, on her knees, blond hair glinting brightly in the sun, a healthy flush to her skin, hands on hips, giving her the eye. On the other hand, maybe Fry wasnt a push-over.
Yeah, yeah. Youre probably picking all of the sour ones anyway. Move over.
Theyd nearly filled the small basket. It was a relaxing, if uncomfortable task. French watched Fry as she bent to the work. Though the news earlier had obviously shaken her, she really seemed to be enjoying herself now. That was the thing she liked about Fry, her attention to the moment. She seemed to have some insight into the meaning of pleasure, because the woman surely enjoyed herself at even the simplest endevor. French had never met someone with such a positive disposition whom she didnt also consider a dim-wit. Fry had a quality that balanced her bubbly nature. It was her ability to respond to a situation as it happened with a gentle and unsuffocating compassion and intelligence. This combined with her casual air and down to earth disposition, made her easy for the always guarded chef to be around.
French broke the silence with a question. The other night when you told Monica Id changed, what did you mean? This had puzzled her then, and since. Fry didnt know her from a hole in the wall. She wasnt sure whod been more surprised by the statement at the time, Monica or herself. Well, obviously Monica, because French had recovered in time to clock her one.
The sudden question, spoken into the quiet, caught Fry off guard. Shed been listening to the insects and the animals in the pond nearby. There were dragon flies flitting about, and the odd splash from a frog in the water. It was a peaceful and pleasant moment. I meant that youre different. Not the same.
French hated this kind of answer. And...
Its hard to say, but ever since I met you, youve been in flux. You change by the day, but overall, you seem to be changing in a particular direction.
Whats that supposed to mean?
Fry gave an exasperated huff and blew a few strands of hair from her face. Its not like Ive known you long, but youd be surprised how much you can know someone youve never met on this island. I know your reputation. Youre not the woman Ive heard about. Sure, Ive seen plenty that rings a bell, but overall, Id say youre not who Ive heard youre supposed to be. Ive also seen you reign yourself in on several occasions when I and everyone else within earshot expected you to explode. And this whole thing with Louisa. I connected a couple of dots.
French nodded in understanding.
If its any help, I think its terriffic. Change is one of the hardest things we can do consciously. And I think youre doing great! She knew from experience and she meant it.
Thanks. French was touched. Really, because Fry was resting a hand on her shoulder.
Now all Ive got to do is dip you in the water over there and youll be all set. Fry said.
French frowned until she got the baptismal imagery. She drew back from the small woman next to her. It was more of a cringe.
Just kidding. Fry hopped up and sat on the rock, saying, As much as I dont want to, how do we follow your lead on Bernie?
There was that we again. Not sure yet. Maybe we could ask around on the sly, find out if he and Louisa had been getting along. Maybe talk to the nephew. I have a feeling that there are a lot of people who might have been happy to see Louisa permanently indisposed.
For one thing, I think its kind of odd that a lot of people who were at a party she threw before she died keep popping up. People she had papers on, like Nathan Cummings, the diary man. And Jason, Monica, and Mitchell Redmond, among others. We still have to track Jason down. I asked Monica to look him up. She said hes not at his brothers and his brother hasnt got a clue where he went. Maybe we ought to check out his apartment.
You spoke with Monica?
Nothing big. I called her to see if shed look for Jason. French shrugged. She could see the curiosity burning in the bright eyes of the woman before her. You know my reputation Fry. Right about now Im guessing you want to know why Monica was so keen to pop me one the other night. Louisa notwithstanding.
Am I that obvious? I dont want to pry, but Ive known her forever. Monica used to help me with my papers in high school. She was always the best help in the library. And she always pitched in if a student showed interest. Shes an ace reference librarian.
I know. Thats how we struck up an acquaintance. Actually, we met on Skippy Hendrakes boat a few summers ago. French decided shed tell her. Why not, give her a taste of what she was hanging out with. I mentioned that Id spent some time in libraries doing culinary research. She couldnt tell me about this treasure of a specimen fast enough. It was in the collection where she worked. I was interested and told her Id like to see it. She was amenable and when we got back to shore we went over. It was late and she had keys. I put two and two together and figured out that books werent the only thing on Ms. Brastletts mind. She looked to see if Fry had picked up on her meaning. She seemed to be following okay. She doubted that if Fry knew her reputation at all shed somehow missed the glaring fact that she was a renowned slut.
Well, she was right. It was a treasure. French continued. In their special collection, they had a small diary written by a sea captains wife in the 1840s. Millicent Didsworthy. Millicent was a rip, but most interestingly, shed carefully transcribed her own recipes into her diary as she perfected them. She liked to please her husband and tried to recreate dishes he described from some of the places hed visited. He brought back spices and memories, not all of which could have been pleasant given the human cargo he delivered on one leg of his trip. Hed spent a good deal of time in the Islands and West Indies. I was riveted by the small volume.
It sounds extraordinary.
It was. I took it.
What do you mean? Surely, Monica would never let that out of the collection. Fry got a sinking feeling.
Not without the right inducement. For some reason, French was becoming uncomfortable. She wanted to tell Fry. It wasnt the worst thing shed ever done by a long shot, but well, she had this feeling. Too late to go all delicate now. I swapped a nice time on the collection rooms table for the book. It was win-win all round. Only, Monica claimed that she hadnt made a deal, that Id stolen the book and should give it back. If you know anything about me, you can guess where that complaint got her. And she wasnt about to bring it to anyones attention either. The look that had come over Frys face was making her squirm.
You stole a library book? Fry had known French was bad, but this? This was worse.
Thats the part of the story thats bothering you?
Well, you taking advantage of Monicas generosity, her attraction to you and possibly her loneliness hadnt escaped my attention, but the fact that you also violated a public trust kind of stands out too you know? Libraries are a store of knowledge, places people go to research, you have no idea who may have needed the information in that book. How it may have become important to someone.
No one but Monica had looked at that book in years. She said so. Why the defense now? French knew this was a lost battle. Shed been through it herself.
Thats not really the point is it? You knew it was special, you may have wanted it if you hadnt already stolen it.
A person could get seriously confused if they actually listened to you Fry.
You know what I mean. Youve got to give it back!
I already have.
You did? A pleasant and hopeful feeling came over her.
I ran into Monica at that party, it reminded me of it. I knew I didnt need it. She was twice as pissed at herself as she ever was at me for what happened. I could see it in her eyes every time I ran into her. That had been part of the buzz Id gotten off the whole thing. Seems kind of stupid and pointless now. But thats me, I take what I want and its your bad luck if youre in my way.
Took. Were. Fry corrected.
You took what you wanted. And it was bad luck if someone was in your way. Sounds like thats not so appealing anymore.
I dont know. That basket might change my mind. French indicated the basket theyd filled to the brim with the delicious fruit. A change of subject was in order.
You dont have that much fight left in you Stinky. Whew, your friend was right, you do need a shower. The sweat from Frenchs run and the heat from the sun had taken a toll, even French had begun to smell a bit less than fresh. She laughed and made a menacing move toward Fry.
Be afraid, be very afraid. She stalked over to Fry and laughed at her mock terror.
I have a sweaty armpit or two myself and Im not afraid to use em. Fry rallied.
Yeah, you stink too. French looked at the pond, it looked clean enough and she wouldnt mind cooling off. Maybe we should hit the showers. She walked to the waters edge. Fry wasnt able to respond before French had peeled off her sweaty shirt and shorts. She stood facing the water clad only in a sports bra and underpants. Fry looked away as if shed been burned.
You coming? French turned to ask.
Um... Fry was busy noticing the intricate pattern in her shoelace. Who knew they braided them so beautifully?
Your loss. French walked carefully into the water. The pond formed from a couple of streams that joined at the base of Gilman Rock. It was surrounded by low grasses and had a rocky bottom. She balanced on a few of the rocks to get deep enough so that she could submerge herself.
Get a grip on yourself Violet. She chastized herself. Its not like youve never seen a woman in her underwear before. Jeeze. Shed just never seen a woman like that in her underwear before. It was almost scary. French wasnt overly muscled, just muscled all over. In all the right places. For a tall woman her body wasnt lanky, but solid and evenly proportioned. And for such an athletic build, she had a softness to her still. And Fry stopped herself right there because this wasnt fair, not to herself for one, but not to French either whod probably been oggled more times than shed knew or cared to know about. But then Fry wasnt the one throwing her clothes all over the place and running around half naked.
Fry made a particular effort to keep people apprised of her sexual preference. She hated feeling caught out. She made a mental note to come out to French at the earliest opportunity. Not that she thought French would care, but it was the principle of the thing. It hadnt occurred to her that someone wouldnt know her preference. Everyone on the island did and it wasnt like the grapevine at the restaurant wasnt healthy and flourishing. Of course, you might need to be the least bit interested to register information about other people that wasnt specifically food related.
Frys sudden fascination in her footwear was amusing French no end. Who would have thunk it. The little hippie-socialist was modest.
Continued in Chapter 16.