It was a nice day to toss a mullet on Comico Island.
The noon ferry was backing into its spot with great roars of engines and spurts of water, and the spring sun was drenching the air with exuberant light. Sabrina paused at the edge of the public beach to savor the view of the harbor, feeling the pleasant punch deep inside her stomach at the realization that she lived in this marvelous place.
As she approached the throng of people standing on the beach, an object flew high in the air and landed with a thump in the sand, accompanied by cheering and clapping.
“One hundred and five feet! Not bad, Jimmy!”
Sabrina made her way through the crowd to a spot where she could see the proceedings. A large rectangle had been staked off in the sand. At one end of the rectangle stood a man in a robe with a microphone, and at the other end lay a large dead fish. Every other available inch of sand was crowded with people and their beach chairs, coolers, and umbrellas. As Sabrina watched, Sergeant Jimmy McCall reached into a blue cooler and brought out a dead mullet. He hefted its weight in his palms and squinted down the beach. Several young boys who had crowded the end of the course nimbly moved out of the way.
Jimmy took the fish by the tail and swung it back and forth before letting it fly high into the air. It landed with a puff of sand, and several people ran out with a tape measure.
“One hundred and twenty-six feet! It’s a record, Jimmy!” “Jimmy always wins,” a voice said in Sabrina’s ear. “Course, if I was to throw one of them mullet, there’s no telling how far it would go. Clear over to the mainland, I’d guess.”
“Hello, Lima.” Sabrina turned to greet her friend. Lima was older than he cared to admit, with the quirky temperament of a blue-eyed redhead, though his hair had long since faded to cinnamon and sugar. He wore ragged pants, a red flannel shirt, and white rubber boots up to his knees, and his face was creviced with sun and age, but lively with humor. He shook his head as he peered over Sabrina’s shoulder at the next person who was stepping up to throw a fish.
“Poor Mickey couldn’t throw himself away if he tried, but he just won’t quit trying.” Lima turned away from the young man hefting his fish and stared at Sabrina with sharp eyes honed by years and experience. “I heard you’ve been a busy little bee today.”
“Hmmm.” Sabrina never stopped marveling at the speed of the island gossip train.
“I heard about that tourist woman you helped save from the evil clutches of Vicki Carroway.”
“Someone needs to shoot Vicki Carroway and put her out of our misery. Nasty piece of work, that one.”
Sabrina nodded. Vicki Carroway was the newest, hottest property manager in town. While her success at bringing people to the island was phenomenal, her people skills left much to be desired. A gasp of horrified titillation rose from the crowd, and Sabrina turned to see that Mickey had thrown his mullet high into the air. It was immediately apparent that it was not going where it was supposed to, and everyone stared in fascination as the fish sailed off course and landed in the front seat of a BMW convertible. “Isn’t that—” Sabrina got up on tiptoes to try to see over the crowd.
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen Mickey throw.” Lima nodded with satisfaction.
“Lima! That’s Vicki Carroway’s car! She’ll never get the smell out.”
“Ooops.” Lima smiled. “Anyway, I don’t know why she felt the need to drive her car the two blocks from her office down to here. People don’t know how to walk anymore. Our roads are so crowded it took me twenty minutes to walk down to the general store this morning. I feel like I’m living in the big city.”
Sabrina suppressed a smile, because Comico Island, surrounded by water and mainly designated as a wildlife preserve, was about as far from the big city as one could get. But it was true that the traffic was increasing as of late, and their small patch of paradise was beginning to feel crowded.
“What do you think about these break-ins?” Lima spoke over the cheering crowd as the next thrower chose his fish.
Sabrina frowned. “I’d only heard about the one over at the Seas the Day Cottage.”
“Good lawd, don’t call it that! You sound like a tourist.”
It was the worst kind of reprimand, and Sabrina nodded in solemn recognition of her error. “What other break-ins?”
“Weeell” Lima rocked back on his heels and tugged his hat low over his eyes. “Somebody broke into Hill Mitchell’s house Friday night. Didn’t take anything, just moved some furniture around. ’Bout drove poor Hill over the edge, and he’s already standing there on one foot with his eyes closed just waiting for a strong breeze. He didn’t call the police about it, since nothing was stolen, but I bet the same person’s responsible.”
“A rather ineffectual burglar, don’t you think? To go to all that trouble and not take anything.”
Lima shrugged. “In case you hadn’t noticed, some people got brains God gave a toilet plunger. My great-nephew Kealy, for example, I’m sorry to say, falls in that very category. Some misguided soul sent Kealy an envelope full of cash, addressed to him and everything, but with no return address. So what does Kealy want to do? Turn it over to the police! Why, I ask you? Is it a crime to send a body money by mail?”
“No, of course not. At least, I don’t think so, though nowadays there’s no telling what might be illegal. But why would someone send Kealy cash anonymously?”
Raised voices on the other side of the crowd were growing louder and they turned to see that Mickey McCall and the owner of the BMW, Vicki Carroway, had squared off. From this distance it was difficult to hear what they were saying, but the pugnacious chins and red faces were evidence enough that tempers were heated.
“I wonder what kind citizen showed that Vicki Carroway where to park her fancy con-vert-i-bell.”
“Oh, Lima, you didn’t!” “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.”
With a cackling Lima in tow, Sabrina made her way over to the convertible, where things were getting ugly.
“I s-s-s-s-said I was s-s-s-orry,” Micky McCall was saying, his young face shining with angry sweat.
“‘S-s-s-sorry’ isn’t good enough, you dumb hick,” Vicki Carroway said. “You need to pay to have my leather cleaned. Capeesh?”
“C-c-c-a-what?” Vicki was not a beautiful woman, though her hair, a long, shimmering wave of silver, projected a beautiful person aura. That was until you noticed her churlish eyes and parsimonious mouth. She was tall, and instead of hunching her shoulders so she blended in with the smaller women with whom she shared the world, she wore heels and stood with a chest proud stance, the better to intimidate those around her. Right now she stood staring implacably down at poor, sweating, stuttering Mickey McCall, like a cat with every intention of squashing a bug, though only after she had wrung every last ounce of enjoyment from him.
“Hello, Vicki, what’s going on?”
Vicki swung around and fixed Sabrina with an irate glare. “None of your business. Get lost.”
“Well, I thought you should know something, but if you don’t want to hear it—”
“I don’t.” Vicki turned away.
“Well, it’s your call,” Sabrina said cheerfully.
“Wait a minute,” Vicki said, turning back around. “You’re Sabrina Dunsweeney. You’re the one who helped that dumb tourist woman this morning, aren’t you? Next time you decide to stick your nose in my business, don’t forget you’re staying in one of my apartments. I could have you evicted so quick you won’t know what hit you.”
“Vicki,” Sabrina said, “you might want to step out of the way. You, too, Mickey.”
“What?” Vicki turned around to see a tow truck backing slowly through the crowd. Bright spring sunlight cascaded from the sky and ignited her hair into a nimbus of silver and gold, and it crackled and burned as she began to shake her head. “Don’t you dare tow my car!”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier. Not only did you park at the finish line for the mullet toss, but it’s also a tow away zone.”