Bimini Twist: New Excerpt

Bimini Twist

Linda Greenlaw

Jane Bunker Mystery Series

June 26, 2018

Bimini Twist by Linda Greenlaw is the fourth book in the Jane Bunker Mystery series, another thrilling, small-town mystery set in Down East Maine.

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It seems like everyone in Green Haven knows that Jane Bunker has scored an invite to the ultra-exclusive Summer Solstice Soiree―and they all assume she’ll be in attendance, as one of the few eligible single women in town. Of course, that’s the last place Jane would like to be; hobnobbing and making small talk with the upper crust isn’t exactly her idea of a good time. She prefers to put in her hours working as an insurance investigator, and part-time as the deputy sheriff. When she gets to work one morning, the sheriff asks her to take a break on her personal war on drugs―it seems that she’s been so successful catching dealers and interrupting the flow of drugs in the area that she’s called too much attention to just how bad it’s gotten, and the community is worried that all the attention on the drug trade will deter the summer tourists that Green Haven so badly needs to keep the economy going.

Instead, Jane takes on a missing person case―a young woman working at the Bar Harbor Inn has disappeared. The Inn employs foreign exchange students from all over the world during the busy summer season, and the missing Bianca Chiriac is one of them. When it becomes clear that Bianca isn’t just sleeping off a late-night party, Jane is plunged into the underbelly of the resort town, and must find the missing woman before the worst happens.

ONE

“Any get-together described as a social, fete, gala, or soiree—you can count me out,” I said as I stood, brushing tiny scraps of blueberry muffin from my jeans into the palm of my hand. I deposited the muffin crumbs onto the place mat that marked my usual spot at the breakfast bar at the Harbor Café. The place mat that advertised every commercial enterprise between my home in tiny Green Haven and Ellsworth, Maine, and still allowed room for the café’s menu was all that was needed to explain the size and rural-ness of the area where I had decided to hang my hat following a knee-jerk move from Miami. “I’m just more casual than that. Think shindig.

“But you have to go,” urged Audrey from the working side of the counter. “The Alfonds’ Summer Solstice Soiree is like the annual who’s who of Green Haven.”

“And all the more reason for me to not attend. I detest that sort of thing. And why was I invited? I am the epitome of nobody.” I stood and bent over the stool, resting both elbows on the counter. I was anxious to hear the sassy young waitress talk her way around the fact that my invitation was clearly a case of mistaken identity or at the very least a serious lapse in the Alfonds’ judgment. “Are you going?”

This literally stopped what I had come to know as Audrey’s perpetual motion in its proverbial tracks. I had met Audrey right here nearly a year ago to the day. And in that time I had never been less than amazed at her ability to multitask, running the show at the café while carrying on a conversation (or three!). Now, in this brief moment, Audrey wasn’t clearing a place setting, pouring coffee, taking orders from customers or barking orders to the kitchen, scraping plates, serving food, or answering the phone. She looked at me in astonishment through her paradoxical, contradictory combination of maturity beyond and naivety before her nearly twenty years of age. “You are kidding, right?” She sucked a gold lip ring into her mouth thoughtfully, then allowed it to pop back out. “Yours truly is not even on the B-list. Someone like me would never be invited.” This was matter-of-fact, and not at all a lament or complaint. “That’s why it’s so important for you to go and report back to me! The only time real people get invited to the soiree is when a selectman or code enforcement officer is included. And that only happens when some hobnobber needs a variance for a project that does not comply with zoning rules.”

“And once again, why am I invited?”

“News flash for you, girlfriend…” Audrey now switched gears back into full speed ahead. She quickly cleared and reset the counter where I had been, and turned to load the coffee maker while talking over her shoulder with her back to me. “You are Green Haven’s most eligible bachelorette.”

“Ha! Prospects aren’t good for the single men in this town if I top the list of possibilities.”

“Not to downplay any appeal you might have, but have you looked around lately?” Audrey disappeared through the swinging doors to the kitchen and returned with a tray loaded with plates full of eggs and pancakes before the insult sunk in. “You are it, period. The only other single ladies in town are gay, widowed seniors, or socially unfit for a soiree—like me!” Audrey served the breakfast plates like she was dealing from a deck of playing cards: smoothly and precisely. She breezed by me as I pulled on my jacket to leave and added, “You are going to the Alfonds, and that, as they say, is that.”

I laughed knowing that there was no way that I would go. In fact, I had the RSVP in my bag, and was planning to check the “I can’t attend” box and stick it in the mail this morning on my way to work. Cowbells clanged when the café’s door opened revealing Green Haven’s equivalent to the village idiot, Clydie Leeman. Glad to avoid the usual nonsensical conversation with him by excusing myself and leaving, I made my way through the door, which Clydie held open with more flourish than was necessary. Before the door closed behind me, Audrey called out playfully, “And now enters your plus-one!”

“Plus what?” I heard Clyde ask while I quickly made my way down Main Street as the sounds and smells of the café dulled to nothing. I always enjoyed the light banter I shared with Audrey, as well as her insights into the community that had fostered her in the absence of nurturing biological parents. That same community, which was so different from that of low-income, migrant-and-immigrant Miami from where I had come, was beginning to feel like home, I thought as I walked briskly along Green Haven’s Main Street toward my apartment perched on Burnt Hill.

Well, this somewhat native Floridian had survived her first Maine winter. Not exactly my first. But the only one that I had any recollection of. I had left Maine at the age of five in an old station wagon with my mother at the helm and my infant brother, Wally, in the back seat with me. Stopping only for fuel and catnaps, we ran out of road and money in Miami, where we set the anchor. I suppose most people would consider my childhood a little rough, or unorthodox at the very least. But one thing’s for sure, it was indeed mine. And I had come to realize that my childhood was one of very few things that I truly possessed and that could never be lost or taken away. In my early teens, I am embarrassed to admit, I was envious of my brother’s Down syndrome. Wally’s affliction seemed more a blessing than what I had been dealt—Nothing special—No great beauty or intellect—No God-given talent—No charm or sex appeal—No reason to be noticed. Plain Jane. Jane Bunker. Milk toast. Uninteresting. Except, I reminded myself as I started up the hill, in my career. There had been no lack of luster on the job.

I had clawed my way to the top grade of detective in crime-ridden, drug-laden Miami in the days when women were addressed mostly as Mrs., Mom, or both. My life at work was far from boring. My career eventually defined me. Detective Jane Bunker became feared by the outlaws who smuggled drugs onto the shores of my territory, so ripe for such activity with mangrove swamps and everglades. Thankfully, law enforcement is a career that translates well geographically. Cops are needed everywhere. It hadn’t taken long for my initial Down East gig of insurance investigator to cede way to the growing duties at the sheriff’s office of Hancock County, where I had been named deputy.

Since my arrival in Green Haven, I had waged what amounted to a single-handed war on drugs in Down East Maine, and had won many battles, the numbers of which were on a frighteningly steep rise. I had made busts up and down the supply chain, knowing that each time I severed a link, it interrupted flow. Interrupted flow saved lives. I had also managed to investigate three non-drug-related murder cases, all of which ended in lengthy prison sentences for the convicted. Not that prison equals justice for all victims and families. But it is the best we can do short of practicing eye for an eye (not that I always oppose it) which I suspect was a standard mode of operation prior to my presence. The fabric of remote, coastal, small-town Maine is lumpy with so much having been swept under the rug through the years.

My apartment, which I now approached, was an efficiency over a seasonal gift shop called The Lobster Trappe. My landlords lived in the main house, and graciously rented their guest bedroom to my brother Wally, who moved to Maine from Miami four months ago when his assisted-living situation closed due to loss of federal funding. I had been skeptical of how the arrangements would work out. And I initially reasoned that Wally would be under the same roof only temporarily. Our landlords, Henry and Alice Vickerson, or Mr. and Mrs. V, were so much more than that. Both in their mid-eighties, Alice and Henry were quirky and cool, and very much like the grandparents that I never knew. They had grown fond of Wally quickly, and this endeared them to me even more than their generosity and kindness to me had. Stepping around unopened boxes of inventory for the gift shop, I made my way to the main entrance to check in with Wally before heading off to work at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

I rapped twice on the door with the back of my hand, opened it, and called out, “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Janey,” was the cheerful reply from the chorus of three voices that I had come to expect. This was our daily morning routine. I found everyone in their usual places around the breakfast table. Mr. V was the only one fully dressed, and he looked as dapper as he always did, with perfectly creased chinos and a blue-and-white plaid dress shirt tucked in neatly and accented with a canvas belt embroidered with lobsters. Mrs. V wore her long cotton summer nightgown under a white-and-red lobster-print terrycloth robe. Her slippers were a matching red and a little floppier than what I thought safe for an elderly woman to shuffle around in. Wally sported his favorite Batman jammies, which had been part of a welcome package from Alice and Henry.

“Motley crew,” I said as I pulled out the fourth chair and plunked into it. “Wally, you are working bankers’ hours! It is nearly eight thirty, and you’re not dressed,” I teased.

“I like split swing shift. It’s more civilized,” he responded with what I knew was a direct quote he had picked up from the Vs. Wally could be somewhat of a parrot, which is why I am so concerned about who he spends time with. Back when he was a teenager, the local kids used to take strange joy in teaching him to swear, and then I was stuck teaching him to apologize to whomever he had offended. Now, I heard the landlords’ influence every time he spoke. That, and Audrey’s. Wally’s “split swing shift” was spent at the café where Audrey kept him busy and entertained. The job was great. It gave Wally a little independence and a lot of pride and self-respect. Employment gave Wally a bit of swag, and Audrey gave him too much sass for my liking. But I knew to take the good with the bad. Besides, I realized that the shifts had been created specifically for my brother. The first two hours of the split shift landed directly between the breakfast rush and the lunch onslaught, and the second was right after lunch. I didn’t know what the “swing” portion of his hours referred to, but assumed I would find out when Wally’s shift swung.

I sipped a cup of black coffee that Mrs. V poured from a lobster carafe and listened contentedly to everyone’s plans for the day. The landlords would be busy stocking shelves in the gift shop with new merchandise—all of which had something to do with lobster traps, buoys, boats, or the critters themselves. Tourist season had just begun with a little light traffic in the way of shoppers. “But,” Mrs. V reminded, “we’d better hold on to our hats.” The season would be in full bloom by July Fourth. They had just three short months to “make hay.” And then it would be another nine months of “tough sledding.”

Wally drank hot chocolate and slurped the last of the milk from his now empty cereal bowl. Mr. V drummed his fingers on the table until I made eye contact with him. “So, we understand that you’ll be attending the Alfonds’ annual Summer Solstice Soiree. That’s wonderful!” It was now clear that my landlords, who consider my business (personal or professional) their business, had gleaned this particular insight from sifting through my mail, which was always delivered to their box as I had not secured one of my own.

Three wide-eyed expressions waited anxiously for my affirmative reply. They sat with elbows on the table, leaning forward encouragingly and welcoming what they hoped would be an excited acquiescence to what they all understood was not at all something I would desire or enjoy. “Nope,” was all I could muster. All three sank back in their chairs, crossed arms at their chests, and exhaled in disgust. “I am not interested in socializing with summer people.”

“From what we see and hear, you’re not interested in socializing with anyone.” Mrs. V sounded sad and sort of whined as she continued. “Janey, you must be lonely. If you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never meet anyone.”

“I am fine, really. But thank you for caring. I have work. And I have all of you!”

“Audrey says Janey is a squayah,” Wally interjected in a pretty good Down East accent. As the Vs and I realized that Wally didn’t know what it meant to be square, we chuckled and lightened what was heading toward awkward for me.

Before they could badger me further, a sharp dinging rang out from a kitchen timer—of course the timer was a plastic lobster—alerting us that it was now time for Wally to get ready for work. This was always my cue to leave, and I did so quickly, thanking my landlords for the coffee and kissing my brother on his forehead. “Time for me to break camp,” I announced happily and started toward the door.

“You are breaking rank,” teased Mr. V, beginning what had become a game of play on words that we engaged in frequently. In this case, Mr. V had chosen “break.”

“Them’s the breaks,” I quipped.

“You should break new ground,” Mr. V advised.

“You sound like a broken record.”

“Break the ice!” Mr. V pounded a fist on the table for emphasis.

“I’ll break out in a sweat.”

“After you, they broke the mold.” He shook his head.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“But you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

“Break it up!” yelled Mrs. V as she placed her right hand on top of her left forming a T, calling for a time-out. Although I still had a few arrows in my quiver, when the boss lady speaks, we listen. Before I reached the door, Alice once again pleaded her case, giving reasons why I should start socializing, and added, “At least promise you’ll think about going to the soiree. Won’t you, dear?”

“Will do,” I said in concession as I stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind me. I couldn’t imagine why my landlords worried so about my personal life. I was content and fulfilled in my work. Although Audrey had defined my extracurricular activities as “lame,” I never paid heed as I knew that I had no time for men, which is where any such conversation always took us. Sure, I had been through my fair share of relationships, I thought as I bobbed and weaved through lobster birdhouses and wind chimes that dangled from the gift shop’s exposed beams. I had even been engaged once. And the memory of how that had ended so badly, and the fact that my ex-fiancé was solely responsible for my move to Maine at the top of my career, sealed the deal on the RSVP to the soiree.

I climbed behind the wheel of my Plymouth Duster, stomped on the gas pedal three times, and cranked up the motor. My car was another conversation starter. Although I refer to it as a Duster, it is in actuality a 1987 Plymouth Turismo with 186,000 original miles. The Turismo’s original sales brochure boasted what spoke directly to my Scottish heritage—“The American Way to Get Your Money’s Worth.” Budget wheels and a taste for Scotch whiskey are perhaps the only connections I have to my roots. Of course I never celebrate them in unison, as drinking and driving would be a blemish I could not live down. I bought my car used, and it is the only car I have ever owned. In its day, the beige crystal coat and sable brown were probably pretty sexy. But thirty years in, even this “Florida car” had faded to a dull, nondescript hue—like me, I realized with a laugh. I forced all thoughts of men and cars out of my head and allowed myself to appreciate the scenery as I drove the narrow, twisting road that connected Green Haven to the rest of Maine, including my destination—Hancock County Sheriff’s Department in Ellsworth.

Daffodils that had pushed proudly through brownish banks and roadside ditches just days ago were now looking limp as fresh greenery spread and budded nearly everywhere I looked. Coastal Maine in spring was far different from what it had been in winter, I thought. The only remnants of winter’s retreat were crusty, white rings of snow at the bases of trees that shaded them from direct sun, and what remained of fishermen’s trap piles that shrunk daily in preparation for the first shedders to strike. Spring brought bustling activity and renewed spirit to Green Haven, I thought. Freshly painted buoys were strung to dry in nearly every yard in town. The florescent Day-Glo buoy paint splattered bright spritzes of color onto backdrops of yellow or green trap wire. Boats loaded high and wide with gear disappeared from the harbor and returned empty to docks to reload and set again. Dawn was greeted with the roar and purr of diesel engines. By daylight the calm of the harbor was chopped by boats and skiffs dashing about for fuel and bait. And all quelled at dusk as boats returned to moorings and fishermen with empty dinner pails headed home in pickup trucks that drained from parking areas in steady streams.

The seasonal shops that lined Main Street were getting their annual sprucing up. Shutters were opened and windows were cleaned. Porches and railings were painted and repaired as needed. Signs were freshened and flags were displayed. Food shacks boasted “The Best Lobster Roll in Maine” and “Fresh Blueberry Pie,” surely the staples of the Maine food scene during tourist season. “Help Wanted” was a common theme among the seasonal signage. Picnic tables appeared where snowmobile trailers had been. Mailboxes that had taken the brunt of careless plow drivers were shored up. The inventory at the General Store had changed from ice fishing gear, rock salt, and shovels to mackerel jigs, sun block, and T-shirts touting all of the glories of Vacationland. As I left Green Haven proper and swerved my way across the snakelike causeway to the mainland, I thought how nicely I had settled in here. I am happy, I thought to myself as I drove the final ten minutes to work.

As July Fourth approached, the traffic in Ellsworth would become heavy and parking spaces hard to find. Fortunately, I had a place reserved with a sign that read “Hancock County Deputy Sheriff” right in front of the station. I swung the Duster into my dedicated slot and hustled to and through the front door where I was greeted by Deloris, the dispatcher. Actually, to refer to Deloris as a dispatcher was doing her a disservice, I knew. Deloris had proven herself invaluable in electronic forensics and reconstruction and was adept in researching and navigating all of the Federal and State websites and systems for any and all investigative information needed to assist me in my pursuit of justice. (Hacker is a term that I save for those on the wrong side of the law).

Deloris had just recently returned to work from a long stint at home where she convalesced from broken heels suffered in the line of duty. Although she longed to be more hands-on, we wouldn’t have that conversation until she was fully healed (no pun intended). And until that time, she would remain at a desk and assist where I was weakest. Yin and yang. Deloris was the perfect partner, I thought as I stopped at her desk to get the early scoop on what was on the docket for this morning. “I see you made the front page, again.” Deloris smiled and handed me a newspaper that she had neatly folded to display a single headline and article. “Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Strikes Again,” she read as I focused on the subheading: “Two New York City men arrested on charges of trafficking heroin and crack cocaine.”

“They never get it right,” I said as I placed the paper on top of a pile of folders in front of Deloris. “I arrested three people. Two men and one woman.”

“You’re averaging a bust a week!” Deloris held up a hand for a high five, which I was happy to reciprocate, and I accepted the congratulations. “You’re killing it.”

“Unfortunately, the frequency of arrests made is a statement of how rampant the drugs and thugs are, rather than a true testament to my police work. But I am killing it, aren’t I?” Stamping out illegal drugs that were chalking up deaths due to overdose at a history-making rate had been my mission since taking on the position of deputy sheriff. It was what I had done in my past life in Miami, and was perhaps the one thing that I was passionate about.

“Yes, indeed. Now, if you can squeeze your swelled head through the door, the sheriff is waiting for us in his office,” Deloris said with a grin as she stood and tucked the doctor-prescribed crutches under her arms. I allowed Deloris to lead the way, limping down the corridor and into the sheriff’s office. This had become our morning routine. I would modestly accept accolades for this most recent bust, and listen to what the sheriff had in mind for an agenda. Most commonly, he would defer to my judgment on how best to spend my time on the clock. Deloris was always enthusiastic about assisting, and I was quick to praise her publicly for her expertise.

“Morning, ladies,” the sheriff said as he motioned for us to take seats opposite him at a large, handsome desk. “This comes from the powers that be,” he started as he scanned what appeared to be an email he had printed out. I sat up straight and proud, waiting for more high praise from Green Haven’s town fathers, or another pat on the back from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. The sheriff scanned the mail, sat back, and sighed. He shrugged his shoulders, cocked his head to one side while looking me in the eye, and said, “They’re asking me to put the binders on you.”

This was not at all what I had anticipated. I was confused. Deloris wiggled uncomfortably in her seat while I tried to collect my thoughts enough to ask a question. Before I could do so, the sheriff continued. “It seems that the number and amplitude of your drug-related arrests are making Green Haven’s authorities uneasy.” This did nothing to unravel my scrambled thoughts. I turned and looked at Deloris for clarity or some explanation, but her jaw had dropped and her complexion had become ashen.

The sheriff offered the sheet of paper to me as I struggled to make sense of what he had said. I realized that Down East Maine had its own colloquialisms, some of which I had yet to decipher. But putting binders on was somewhat universal. The sheriff had been asked to hit the brakes of the vehicle on which I had been riding so high and fast, facilitating taking down dealers and smugglers of any illicit substances that made their way into Hancock County. I refused the paper as I had no need to see this ridiculous order in writing. “Why?” I asked.

* * *

Copyright © 2018 Linda Greenlaw.

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