Read Murder With Puffins Online

Authors: Donna Andrews

Tags: #Women detectives, #Humorous stories, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Mystery fiction, #Murder, #Langslow; Meg (Fictitious character), #Women Sleuths, #Fiction, #Women detectives - Maine, #Detective and mystery stories, #Hurricanes, #Islands, #Maine

Murder With Puffins

BOOK: Murder With Puffins
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Murder with Puffins
Donna Andrews

Meg Langslow is back for another loony adventure in the latest installment of Andrews' bird series. Although the author's dry humor and offbeat characters are much more entertaining than her mystery plots, enough happens in these stories to hold readers' interest. This time Meg and her boyfriend, Michael, head to the remote island of Monhegan, off the coast of Maine. Meg's hopes for a romantic interlude are blown away when a hurricane hits the island. Compounding matters, she discovers that her entire family is staying at the normally empty family cottage, and the island is being overrun by birdwatchers. The final blow comes when one of Meg's mother's old beaus is found murdered, making Meg's father a suspect. As Meg and Michael investigate, they learn a great deal about the colorful inhabitants of Monhegan--both human and avian. The puffin angle proves very amusing, especially as it is manifested in the character of Rhapsody, a weird children's book author who writes about the "Happy Puffin Family." An enjoyable flight of fancy.

NOTE: If "you" purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

MURDER WITH PUFFINS

Copyright ©2000 by Donna Andrews.

Excerpt from
Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos

copyright ©2001 by Donna Andrews.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10.010.

ISBN: 0-312-97.886-3

Printed in the United States of America

St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / May 2000 St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / June 2001

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10.010.

Acknowledgments

 

With thanks:

 

 To Dad, for inspiring Meg’s dad.

 To Mom, for being nothing whatsoever like Meg’s mother. (Well, except for the bit about the coconut.)

 To Stuart and Elke, for holding your wedding on Monhegan.

 To Monhegan and its residents – although a hurricane and a homicide must seem poor thanks for your hospitality.

 To Ruth Cavin and the crew at St. Martin’s, and to Ellen Geiger of Curtis Brown, for helping steer me through the perils of publishing.

 To my friends and family everywhere, including the Misfits, Queen Bees, Teafolk, Wombats, fellow writers, and fellow readers.

Chapter 1
My Puffin Lies over the Ocean

"I see land ahead," Michael said.

"I’m sure they said that often aboard the original
Flying Dutchman"
I replied, my eyes tightly shut.

"No, really; I’m sure of it this time," he insisted.

I kept my eyes closed and didn’t relax my death grip on the rail while the ferry’s deck bucked and heaved beneath my feet. The rain and spray had soaked me to the bone, but I wasn’t going into the cabin unless the swells grew dangerous. Way too many seasick people inside. Of course, those of us on deck were seasick, too, but at least out here the wind kept the air fresh, if a little damp.

"The next time I have an idea like this," I mumbled, "just shoot me and get it over with."

"What was that?" Michael shouted over a gust of wind.

"Never mind," I shouted back.

"I really do think that’s land ahead," Michael repeated. "Honestly. I don’t think it's another patch of fog."

I debated, briefly, whether to look. My seasickness seemed a little less intense if I kept my eyes closed. But if an end to our ordeal was in sight, I wanted to know about it. I opened one eye a crack and peered in the direction Michael pointed. To me, the vague shape ahead looked like the same ominous cloud bank we'd been staring at for hours. Maybe it made him feel better to think he saw land. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better.

"That's nice," I croaked, and closed my eyes again, blotting out the gray sky, the gray sea, and the disturbing lack of any clear line of demarcation between the two. Not to mention the gray faces of the other passengers clinging to the rail.

"We must be getting close," Michael said, sounding less confident. "Monhegan's only an hour off the coast in good weather, right?"

I didn't answer. Yes, normally it took only an hour by ferry to reach Monhegan, where we planned to stay in my aunt Phoebe's summer cottage. But there was nothing normal about this trip. If Michael still believed we'd reach dry land soon, I wasn't going to discourage him. Even though deep down I knew that we really
had
boarded the
Flying Dutchman
and were doomed to sail up and down the coast for all eternity, or at least until we ran out of fuel and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

"Well, maybe not," I heard Michael murmur.

I pried my eyes open to check on him. He stared out over the water with a faint frown. I felt a twinge of jealousy. I probably looked as ghastly as I felt, but even in the throes of seasickness, Michael was gorgeous. A little paler than usual, and the hypnotically blue eyes were a bit bloodshot. But still, were I an artist, looking for just the right tall, dark, handsome cover model for a nautically themed romance, I'd look at Michael and shout, "Eureka!"

"I'm sorry," I said instead. "This was a bad idea."

"It'll turn out all right," he said with a smile. Only a faint ghost of his usual dazzling smile, but it made me feel better. "But next time we set out on an adventure, let's remember to check the weather first, okay?"

Well, that was encouraging. At least he was still talking about "next time." And next time I took off on a trip with Michael, I promised myself, we'd go someplace warm and tropical, where the nearest large body of water was the hotel swimming pool. Not on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic--well, several miles off the coast of Maine anyway. Hurricane Gladys had now headed out to sea and now subsided to a mere tropical storm, but if I'd bothered to check the Weather Channel before Michael and I set out for our weekend getaway, I could have picked a more promising spot. In fact, I could probably have done better just by sticking a pin in a map.

"It's a deal," I said, smiling back as well as I could. He put his hand on mine for a few seconds, until another wave hit the boat and he had to grab the rail again. But I felt better. Mentally anyway. Physically… well, I was trying to ignore another set of warning signals from my stomach.

"Meg Langslow? Is that you?"

I opened my eyes and turned, to see two figures standing to my left, both wrapped from head to toe in state-of-the-art rain gear. They looked tike walking L. L. Bean catalogs and were probably toasty warm and reasonably dry underneath. I tried not to resent this.

"Yes?" I said, peering through sheets of rain at the small portion of their faces visible under their hoods.

"Meg, dear, don't you remember us? It's Winnie and Binkie!"

"Winnie and Binkie?" Michael repeated.

I finally placed the names. Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop Saltonstall Burnham, aka Winnie and Binkie, owned a cottage on Monhegan Island and were old family friends. Childhood friends of my grandparents, if memory served, which made them fairly ancient by now. And yet mere they stood, two sturdy round figures in yellow stickers, seemingly undisturbed by the driving rain, the frantic rocking of the boat, and the near-gale force winds.

"Bracing, isn't it?" Winnie said, throwing out his chest and taking a deep breath, which was at least one-quarter rain.

"Don't mind him, dear," Binkie whispered, noticing my reaction. "Rough weather always makes him a tittle queasy, and he likes to put a brave front on it."

"Oh, I don't mind the crossing," Winnie said. "I'm just hoping the weather doesn't spoil the bird-watching."

"Bird-watching?" Michael said. "You're going out to Monhegan in the middle of a hurricane for bird-watching?"

"Yes, aren't you?" Winnie asked.

"It's been downgraded to a tropical storm," Binkie said. "And this is the fall flyover season."

"Oh, of course," I said.

"The what?" Michael asked.

"The fall flyover season," Binkie explained. "Monhegan lies right in the path the birds take when they migrate north and south. There's a short time every spring and fall when the bird-watching reaches its peak, and birders come here from all up and down the Eastern Seaboard."

"We have a cottage on the island," Winnie said. "We've been bird-watching here for fifty-three years." He and Binkie exchanged fond smiles.

"But if you're not here for the bird-watching, why are you going out to Monhegan?" Binkie asked.

"We wanted to get away from things," Michael put in. "Get some peace and quiet."

"Some what?" Winnie shouted over a gust of wind that had evidently carried away Michael's words.

"Peace and quiet!" Michael shouted back.

"Oh."

They still looked at us with puzzled expressions. I sighed. I wasn't sure I even wanted to try explaining.

The trip had seemed so logical a few days ago. My romance with Michael had reached the point where we wanted to spend a little time alone together--okay, a lot of time--just at the point when neither of us had a place to call our own.

As a bachelor professor of theater in a college town with a chronic housing shortage, Michael had lived in relative luxury for the last several years by renting houses from faculty members on sabbatical. This year, alas, his landlords had suddenly realized they couldn't afford to spend a year in London--not with their seventh child on the way.

They'd been very nice about letting Michael sleep on their sofa until something else turned up, but it was no place for the logical conclusion to a romantic candlelight dinner. We'd already ended enough dates watching Disney videos and dodging blobs of peanut butter.

And I was temporarily homeless, as well. Subletting my cottage and ironworking studio for several months to a struggling sculptor had seemed like a good idea at the start of the summer. I'd known I would be down in my hometown of Yorktown, organizing three family weddings; and with my career as an ornamental blacksmith on hold, I could use the rent money.

But when I tried to move back in, I couldn't get rid of my tenant. He was in the middle of an important commission; he would ruin the whole piece if he had to move it; he needed just one more week to finish it. He'd been needing just one more week for the past six weeks.

So I was still staying at my parents' house. Mother and Dad weren't there, of course; they were off in Europe on an extended second honeymoon. But the house was filled with elderly relatives. They'd come for the weddings and stayed on to watch the legal circus unfold as the county built its case against the murderer whose identity I'd managed (more or less accidentally) to uncover.

That was another problem. I'd become notorious. I couldn't go anywhere in Yorktown without people coming up to congratulate me for my brilliant detective work. More than one romantic candlelight dinner with Michael had been interrupted by people who insisted on shaking my hand, having their picture taken with me, buying us drinks, treating us to dinner--it was impossible.

"Too bad we can't just run away together to a desert island," Michael said after one such interruption.

Inspiration struck.

"Actually, we can," I said. "What are you doing next weekend?"

"Running away to a desert island with you, evidently," Michael said. "Did you have a particular island in mind?"

"Monhegan!" I said.

"Never heard of it. Where is it?"

"Off the coast of Maine."

"Won't that be cold this time of year?"

"The cottage has a fireplace. And a gas heater."

"Cottage?"

"Aunt Phoebe's summer cottage. Actually, it's an old house. And hardly anyone stays on the island after August; it's too ragged." Which meant we wouldn't have half a hundred neighbors and relatives looking over our shoulders and reporting who said what to whom and how many bedrooms were occupied.

"What about Aunt Phoebe?"

"It's a summer cottage, remember? Which she isn't using, partly because summer's over and partly because she's having much more fun down here, waiting for the trial and keeping me awake with her snoring."

"And she won't mind if you use her cottage?"

"She wouldn't mind if she knew, and she won't have to know. Dad has a spare key. She's always inviting us to go up anytime. We haven't for years, but the whole family knows they have an open invitation."

"And how can we be sure the whole family won't be there?"

"In September? Like you said, it's cold this time of year. Besides, most of the family finds it a little too Spartan for their tastes. Mother won't go at all; she refuses to go anywhere that doesn't even have electricity, much less ready access to a deli and a good hairdresser. Michael, this is not a tropical paradise. But it's empty, it's free, and there's nobody else around for miles except for a few dozen locals who winter there."

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