|| Home :: Robert Fitton :: House Series Mysteries :: Beach House|
Ospreys kill often and effectively. Mary Ellen tracked the bird with the binoculars as it swooped from the sky, tucked its tainted wings inward and pointed its head at the Chesapeake. In an unexpected move, it thrust its cutting talons into the water and skimmed the surface. Somewhere below the sunlit waves an unsuspecting creature was removed instantly from the ocean environs. With something now firmly caught in its clutches, the powerful fish hawk lifted its prey toward the scattered clouds. The bird flipped the seawater from its feathers and transported the kill in the direction of the distant tree tops along Binghampton Beach.
Mary Ellen swung the binoculars to the beach house. Su Lee was a woman unafraid to do anything to satisfy her own needs. Tony was home alone and the edge of Su Lee's orange sports car was visible near the beach house garage. She lowered the binoculars, but quickly raised them again. Binghampton Beach appeared shaky under the scratchy cloud puffs, but she steadied her hands. Away from breakers, rock piled jetties, and the silhouetted town buildings, Hazelton Hill came into focus. The multilevel gray contemporary she and Tony bought last summer was nestled within a twisted thicket leading down to the dock.
" Damn her."
She checked the kids; yellow life preservers draped over their shoulders and backpacks at their feet. Across the deck Danny was wedged between Angie and Shane at the boat railing. Mary Ellen let the binoculars dangle around her neck as she closed her eyes. All the rumors about Tony meeting Su Lee at Barnacle Bill's Tavern con-verged within the tightness now enveloping her throat. She opened her moist eyes, raised her hands over her mouth and looked away from the diminishing shore to the deep blue stretch of Chesapeake Bay.
" Mary Ellen, are you all right?" asked Wilma.
Mary Ellen flashed a quick phony smile as her short, red haired friend hurried across deck. " Wilma, getting sea sick already?"
" I saw you checking. What did you see?"
" Listen, we're off to Sabines Island. Let's enjoy it."
" She wasn't there, was she?"
She eyed the kids and gripped the moist starboard railing.
" My God, it's all true."
" Are you sure?"
Mary Ellen kept talking as she peered at the vanishing land-mass across the rippled water. " I saw the car. That stupid orange sports car."
" She's got nerve."
" I could think of another word." Mary Ellen grit her teeth. " I can play her game. I'll fix her wagon, the little tramp."
She pressed her lips and shook her head. " I don't know ... I just don't know."
* * *
The trees and white sand beaches formed like a downloading web page along the Sabines Island shoreline. Mary Ellen smiled as Kel, having replaced his Hazelton security guard uniform with jeans and red sweatshirt, played charades with the kids in front of the blue vinyl deck chairs. For a few minutes she forgot her husband was home painting the house while the car of a shapely twenty-three year old female bartender from the Barnacle Bill's was parked in the front driveway.
" Mom, this game is dumb," said Danny, kicking a discarded soda can down the deck.
" Pick it up, young man."
" I didn't put it down there."
She raised her brows. Danny rolled his eyes, grunted and headed after the can. Slowly her expression vanished as she scanned the horizon back to Binghampton Beach. Images of Su Lee's, sweeping dark hair swaying across her tight, well toned, body and red string bikini, converged in Mary Ellen's head. On the beach Tony had cast more than a fleeting glance at her small rounded buttocks. Mary Ellen crushed her hands together when she transposed those thoughts into her second floor master bedroom.
" Mary Ellen? Mary Ellen, you there?" Kel's curly steel hair protruded under the edges of his black and orange Oriole's hat. His green eyes were laced like brown marbleized veins. " You look like you're million miles away."
" I wish I was, Kel."
" What's the matter?"
She shook her head. " Same old, same old."
He flexed his well worn crow's peaks and rolled his tongue around his unshaven cheek. " You're not starting that Su Lee thing again."
" Yes, and this time I have proof."
" Really?" She did not like the serious look in his eyes. " I apologize. Maybe I was too graphic about her."
" You were quite explicit about her attraction to men," said Mary Ellen.
" I think we have to give Tony a little more credit. She's only twenty-three. He's got ten years on her."
" Kel, you told me she had a ... what did you say? Nefarious background?"
" Well, yeah, but-"
" Her car was parked in front of the beach house garage. She doesn't waste any damn time."
Kel's ground his teeth together as if he were chewing gum.
" Can I use your binoculars?"
" Forget it," she said, folding her arms across her sweatshirt.
" We're too far out now. I already looked. What do you really know about her?"
" Like I said, she's got a reputation." Kel waved to Angie and Shane. Both her daughters produced identical expressions bordering on irritation and friendship.
Mary Ellen held his wrist. " Kel, I just told you the little tramp is parked in my driveway. What else do you know about her?"
" Not important. This may be just an innocent thing. I can't see Tony getting involved with her. He loves you and the kids."
" Right ... She's in the driveway the minute we board the boat to Sabines Island."
" I'm may be an old cop from Buffalo, Mary Ellen, but I do know that until you investigate something, your impressions about what it might be&ldots; can be completely bogus."
Mary Ellen looked across the bay, but pictured the beach house over the horizon line. " Or impressions might be right on the mark."
For a third time Mary Ellen pounded the beach house number into the dock pay phone. When they had arrived on Sabines Island she tried reaching Tony, but only heard her own voice on the counter answering machine. " You have reached the Frescos by the sea. Please leave a message and we'll get right back to you. Thank you."
At the picnic area Kel and Wilma finished the lunch she had packed earlier this morning when Tony was already outside swatting his paint brush across the outside paneling. Why did he decide to paint the beach house himself? His position Omicron commanded a salary well into six figures. The machine beeped. She spoke in a clear and firm voice. " Tony, please pick up the phone. I didn't bring the cellular. Tony ... Tony."
She slammed the phone hard enough to crack the plastic. The blood rushed to her head. She wanted to go back right now and con-front them both. When she opened her eyes Kel approached along the dock and his face still reflected a burgeoning concern.
" Mary Ellen, listen. As a retired cop, why don't you let me look into this?"
" Oh, then you do think something is going on back there? What the hell do I tell my kids? Your dad is making love to some one just eight years older than Shane? Damn him!"
" You don't know that. Let me take care of it."
" I want to go back."
" You can't. The boat won't be back for two hours on the return trip. I would suggest getting your pack and taking the island hike as we originally had planned."
She pinched the bridge of her nose. " Maybe you're right."
" And another thing. I like Wilma, I like her a lot, but I would watch what I say to her. She likes to gab. You don't want this all over Binghampton Beach."
Mary Ellen nodded once and smiled for the first time in ninety minutes. They started down the dock. " I will hire you to find the truth."
" You don't have to hire me ... But there's more to this than I've told you."
" What are you talking about?" she asked and they stopped midway on the wooden pier.
" I've lived down here since I retired eight years ago. Being a guard at Hazelton is just enough work and keeps me in contact with people. And I've become pretty friendly with everybody in town. I have my hangouts. And during that time I've developed a composite on Miss Su Lee."
" What are you saying?"
" I have a ton of circumstantial evidence about this woman."
Mary Ellen stared into his green knit eyes. She wondered if Kel merely was concocting theories because he no longer had the challenge of being on the force back in Buffalo. " What exactly are you talking about?"
" What? Kel, haven't you taken the actions of this little whore a bit too far? "
He shook his head. " No, there have been two deaths within the last few years. Two that I know about."
" And the police have implicated her?"
" Well, no. I have found certain evidence that links her with what I can only say is murder."
" Oh, come on, Kel. Why are you telling me this now?" She shook her head before he could answer and started down the dock. Now she pictured the sleek little Su Lee brandishing a huge glistening blade as she approached Tony in the outside garden overlooking the bay. Kel was out of line telling her all this.
* * *
Mary Ellen's marriage was solid until six months ago when Omicron gave Tony the new position. Flying around the country, implementing new software programs had taken away chunks of time, and left her alone with the kids. All the hours transporting them to school activities and baseball games produced a vacant feeling she could not shed. She hiked behind Wilma at the end of a party of fifteen people on the nature tour through Sabines Island's towering forest. Although Tony's absence made her lonely, she never felt threatened by another woman until last Thursday.
" Chesapeake Bay is an Algonquin derivative," said one of the park rangers. He led them along the trail. " It is pronounced Chesepioc and those of you who enjoy blue crabs and other delights will note this word simply means great shellfish bay. Very original."
Everyone laughed, but Mary Ellen was preoccupied with the situation across the bay. On Thursday night she sent Tony out to Barnacle Bill's for three large pizzas. Even when he was gone close to an hour she was never suspicious and believed his story about chit-chatting with the locals. On Saturday morning she first noticed a young Oriental woman in a red string bikini walking from the orange car, parked in the lot across from the town beach. She carried a single white towel and a leather bag was strapped over her shoulder. Not that she exposed more skin than ninety percent of the young things on the beach, but this woman carried herself differently.
Her body had the tone of someone who worked out constantly. Taut, trim muscles fit snug to her arms and legs. Even her solid abdomen lacked a scintilla of fat. Mary Ellen never remembered being jealous, but only amazed at Su Lee's body. Her slanted dark eyes had an unflappable resiliency and confidence was transmitted into her purposeful gait. She crossed Highway 16 and headed toward the life-guard station. Tony watched her only when she snapped her buttocks as her hips rocked. Mary Ellen held Tony's arm and yanked him toward their spot up front near the jetty. She had not seen him for ten days and wanted his attention.
Five minutes later his eyes tracked Su Lee past the jetty to the marina. Mary Ellen's resentment grew, but not because of pure lust. She sensed something when Su Lee glanced at Tony and a slight smile flashed like a momentary strobe light from her face. When Tony returned an equally surreptitious grin and adjusted his sunglasses, Mary Ellen first suspected he knew her. And that bold, sensuous perfume, Night Sin lingered behind her.
Her fears were confirmed when Wilma heard the rumors downtown. One of her friends and family were having dinner in a side booth when Tony arrived at Barnacle Bill's. Su Lee was bar tending and somehow spoke with Tony while he was waiting for the pizzas. Only the social talk extended into a protracted conversation when Tony pulled up a stool, had a few beers and talked to Su Lee as she waited on customers. An hour later he pulled into the beach house driveway. The kids were starved and fighting and Mary Ellen was angry. Tony, in his own diplomatic way, talked his way out of it and within minutes everyone drank Coke and devoured the pizza from the half warmed cardboard boxes. Even Mary Ellen seemed to forget his tardiness.
Tony admitted to speaking with Su Lee and mentioned some-thing about computer software for her brother's roommate in Annapolis. He even broke down the inventory needs of the roommate's business and Mary Ellen bought the story because she trusted him. Even with his time away she always knew Tony would tell the truth. But the image she had viewed forty-five minutes ago through the binoculars shook her confidence in his credibility.
" Now," said the young blonde assistant along the trail. " You may have heard the theory that the bay was formed by the impact of a large meteorite. That possibility exists because of discoveries of indentation on the ocean bottom. More likely the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age caused sea levels to rise over the ancient Susquehanna River valley."
" Mom, look at this frog," said Danny, thrusting the green slimy amphibian in her face. She leaped back and stayed back.
" Can I take him back?"
" What do you think?"
" Oh, that is gross," said Shane, looking at her sister. They both gave the frog and Danny a dirty look.
" I remember catching frogs when I was a kid," said Kel, studying the frog. " Every boy should have the opportunity to catch frogs."
" See," said Danny.
" Right, you've caught him: Now throw him back."
" Okay," he said, smiling.
" He just wanted to show you," said Kel. " The boy wants his mother's approval."
Mary Ellen winced as she watched her son lower the frog back into the small swamp. " What he needs is his father over here telling him how great the frog capture is. This thing is going to hit the fan before Tony flies back to Seattle."
* * *
Kel insisted she telephone Tony before the boat left for Binghampton Beach, but Mary Ellen saw no point in aggravating herself further nor did she wish to call with Su Lee at the house. She would have to confront Tony when she arrived back at the beach house. Al-though the skies remained sunny, a stiff wind arrived across the bay. Mary Ellen tied a olive kerchief around her straight blonde hair and stood alone as the surf formed a white gurgling wake through the darkening blue waters behind the boat. Away from the others she silently cried as she thought back fifteen years to her wedding day. She was riding in a coach, drawn by two powerful dark horses with braided manes. In the late afternoon light Tony's black hair was longer and almost brushed his white tux. His maroon tie fit perfectly within his standing collar and a fresh pink rose boutonniere was neatly tucked into his lapel.
" You're my princess," he said to the sound of clicking horses.
He kissed her lace glove and she smiled. " I want this to go on forever."
His blue eyes brightened. " It will."
Now she wiped tears with her cold fingers and stared back at Sabines Island, knowing as the island moved farther away, Binghampton Beach would get closer. Why would Tony even consider a slut like Su Lee? She was insulted he had not sought someone sophisticated. It made her wonder how he really viewed their relationship.
" Mom, are you all right?" asked Shane.
The air froze the tears on her face. " Just a little weepy."
Her oldest daughter hugged her and dried her mother's tears.
" Did we do something wrong? I know I was a little flip back in the woods."
" No, it's nothing any of you have done. I have a lot of things on my mind."
" Can I help?"
She inhaled the thick salt air and realized she only had a two hour window before Tony left for Seattle. " Thank you, Shaney. No, I'll be all right."
" You sure?"
" Yup. Are you working tomorrow morning?"
" Don't remind me. After two months of waiting on tables and bringing out breakfasts for people, I'm looking forward to school."
" I guess getting you the job at Binky's was a smart idea."
" A good idea once it's over. Mom, do you need help with sup-per?" she asked.
" We may go out and grab a bite or order pizza. No, I don't want pizza."
" Dad's been working hard painting the house."
Mary Ellen anger churned. " Right. I'm sure your father has taken care of his appetite."
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