To the men on the island Alison Goss was an intriguing, rawboned beauty. To the women she was a dark, willowy threat. So when she fell overboard and drowned on a calm, sunny afternoon in July, only some of the islanders cared. No one even knew she was missing until the next morning when Myron Sprague checked his lobster traps and found her dinghy tangled in one of his sets, held fast by an oar that was still mounted in its brass lock. Not long after, Alison herself drifted into Gallager's Boatyard and got wedged between the pilings at low tide.
Hodie Ebel, the harbormaster, found the body. It was all fouled in seaweed. Crabs and gulls had pulled and pecked at the bloated corpse—the eyes were gone—sockets cleaner than crow-picked roadkill. Hodie tugged at his scraggly beard—a nervous habit—and went inside the chandlery to find Jarry Gallager.
Jarry was bent over a case of snaps and shackles, cursing.
"What's wrong?" asked Hodie.
"Sent the wrong stuff. Again." Jarry's stringy blond hair always looked liked it needed washing. He pushed it out of his face and glared at Hodie. "Need something?"
"Have to use your phone."
Jarry listened as Hodie called the sheriff to report the gruesome discovery.
"Come on," Hodie said when he hung up the phone. "It's a two-man job."
They went outside and snagged Alison with boat hooks, dragged her up the ramp into the parking lot, covered her with a blue vinyl tarp, and went for an early lunch at Scuppers.
Scuppers is one of two restaurants on the island. It's the first wind-blown building you come to when you get off the ferry on Sheepscot Road and turn left onto Harbor Street. Sixty-one-year-old Red Sedgewick bought the place when he gave up cod fishing twenty-three years ago—then a young man and already disgusted with fish politics.
An antique duckpin alley remains intact, along with the original lunch counter, which now doubles as a bar. Red's secret family recipe for hasty pudding, dating back to the 1800s, is still secret. His most recent concession to modern times was to make the restaurant one of the few nonsmoking areas on the island. After years of breathing cigarette smoke and grease fumes, something had to go, so it was the cigarettes. Red's no-smoking rule got people all riled up and caused an indignation meeting over at the school one evening, but he stuck to his guns—if you want to eat at Scuppers, you can't light up. In addition to the fourteen stools at the bar there are sixteen tables—seventeen if you count the small one under the dartboard. The place is always packed to the gills, and today was no different.
Jarry got the last stool at the bar and Hodie squeezed in next to him, standing sideways with his right elbow on the dark mahogany. After he ordered a beer and swallowed the first bite of a double cheeseburger, Hodie told everyone that Alison Goss floated into Gallager's yard and he and Jarry pulled her out of the water and left her lying on the gravel lot.
The lunch crowd looked at Hodie. Their mouths were open, but no words came out.
"What?" someone finally asked. Everyone had heard about Myron finding Alison's empty boat earlier that morning, but this latest news came as a shock.
Red Sedgewick poured both men another beer. "You sure it's her?" Red wiped his hands on his apron and leaned on the bar.
"Of course we're sure," Hodie said, between greasy bites. "I figure that rattletrap of hers must have broke down again so she was rowing across the cove, maybe for her weekly shopping, and stood up, for God knows what reason, and fell over the side. She couldn't swim a stroke and, like I've always said, she had no business being out alone in a boat in the first place—but try and tell her that. Hell, try and tell her anything."
Jarry and the other men at the bar agreed with Hodie's version of the gruesome event, but a brash bunch of fishermen's wives, sitting together in their usual lunchtime spot, assumed Alison had been going across the cove to meet Kate Sawyer's husband, Brad.
"She probably didn't want anyone to see her jalopy sitting out front, so she went by boat. The sneak," one of the green-eyed wives sneered.
"That whore was always fooling around with someone else's man. Whatever happened, it served her right," another woman concluded.
None of the men said too much more about it after that, certainly not that deep down they wished it had been them, not Brad Sawyer, that Alison had drowned over. More than a few of them would secretly miss the possibilities that only existed when Alison was around.