An Excerpt from “The Caretaker” by Paul Doiron
By Paul DoironMay 4, 2021
Priced at just $1.99, this original short story in the bestselling Mike Bowditch mystery series by Paul Doiron finds Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch on the hunt for a sinister prowler turning a couple’s dream vacation home into a nightmare.
New owners of a dream cottage on a remote Maine lake find themselves taunted, then menaced by an unknown figure. When the local authorities refuse to help, they turn to retired Maine game warden Charley Stevens and his young protege Mike Bowditch for protection. But Charley begins to suspect there is more to the mystery than the couple is letting on—and if he and Mike don’t act fast, the situation will explode into violence.
I was seated on the porch of my old friend Charley Stevens, the two of us enjoying the quiet calm of Sixth Machias Lake and the flutter of southbound warblers in the pines overhead, when we heard a car approaching down the dirt track that led to his house deep in the Maine woods. A visitor of any kind was surprising enough here, ten miles from the nearest logging road and twenty from the nearest village. Even more surprising was that the car was a brand-new Tesla with Massachusetts plates.
“Whoever they are, they must be lost,” I said.
“Not at all,” said Charley, rising from his rocking chair. “I figure these folks are exactly where they want to be.”
“You know them then?”
The retired game warden could be insufferable in this way. Charley was a born performer who enjoyed playing with people’s assumptions the way a cat does with a spider. More than once, I had heard him amplify his natural Down East accent to bait an out-of-stater who was treating him like some ignorant hick. Even I, his self-appointed apprentice, was not spared his occasional teasing. The only reason I let Charley get away with it was because he had the sharpest mind I’d met in my young career in law enforcement, and I was eager to learn everything I could from the wiry old woodsman.
The man and woman who emerged from the dusty Tesla (she was the driver) were as surprising as their vehicle. They were so mismatched I had trouble imagining the nature of their relationship. She was a tawny-skinned blonde, very thin, about my age. He was graying, florid-faced, grossly overweight, and wearing a leg brace that suggested recent knee surgery. Both were dressed in sun-faded sailing shirts with the collars popped, pastel shorts, and boat shoes, as if they’d come directly from some distant yacht.
Hello! Are you Warden Stevens?” asked the woman as we came forward to meet them. Her sunglasses were so enormous they hid half her face.
“I used to be.”
“I have been retired a few years. But this young feller is Mike Bowditch, and he’s still in the employ of the Maine Warden Service, though he’s not wearing his uniform today, being on vacation.”
“Thank Christ!” said the man whose jowls had begun sweating the moment he left the air-conditioned car. He had a plummy British accent I associated with costume dramas on public television.
I thought we’d taken a wrong turn. According to the GPS, we’ve driven right off the map and into the netherworld.”
“This far out in the woods, telemetric signals get a little sketchy,” said Charley. “But you’ve arrived at your appointed destination.”
“How did you know that?” the woman said, her voice sharpening with suspicion.
“You asked for me by name,” Charley said. “And since you called me ‘warden,’ you were under the assumption I was still on active duty. Not many people know the way here, and those that do generally grant me and my wife privacy, so you would had to have been persistent about asking directions, which means you’re desperate. I guess you’ve come to report a crime that you can’t get the authorities to take seriously.”
“How did you know the police had blown us off?” the man asked. “Someone must have called you.”
“No, sir,” said Charley, smiling one of his wry smiles and running a hand through his shock of white hair. “I see that you’re from the South Shore, and most people visiting Maine from your neck of the woods would go to the police with a problem. The cops would’ve referred you to the district warden—young Bard—who gave you my name rather than assisting you himself.”
I had watched the woman flash a white smile as Charley laid out his reasoning.
The man meanwhile only grew redder. “How do you know we live on the South Shore, though?”
But the woman had already figured it out. “Our license plate, Josiah. The Tesla dealership in Dedham stamps its name on the frame so people will know where we bought it. It was hardly a difficult deduction.”
That was easy for her to say. I hadn’t guessed how Charley had done it, and I prided myself on being quick on my feet.
“Now that I’ve shown off for you,” said my friend. “I have to confess that your names are beyond the limits of even my prodigious mental powers.”
“Violet and Josiah Baker,” she said.
She had removed her sunglasses, and I saw that she had a delicate face under her bleached hair. Her brown eyes were big and heavily lashed. To my unsophisticated mind, her features suggested West Asian ancestry; her family might have had its origins anywhere from Lebanon to Pakistan. Her accent, however, was generically American, as lacking in regional cues as a TV newscaster’s.
“Come up on the porch, Mr. and Mrs. Baker, and tell us about your troubles over glasses of sun tea.”
Copyright © 2021 Paul Doiron.