The Cove
Page 10

 Catherine Coulter

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Investigating the fate of the Jensens had just been a cover that one of the assistants happened to find for him to use. It was a believable cover, she’d told him, because the couple really had mysteriously disappeared along a stretch of highway that included The Cove.
But why had the old lady lied? What reason could she possibly have? Now he was curious. Too bad he didn’t have time. He thrived on mystery. And he was the best of the best, at least that was what Teresa had told him in bed time and again before she’d run away with a mail bomber he himself had hunted down and arrested, only to have her defend him and get him off on a technicality.
He hung up his slacks and his shirts, laid his underwear in the top drawer of the beautiful antique dresser. He walked into the bathroom to lay out his toiletries and was pleasantly surprised. It was huge, all pink-veined marble, and totally modernized, right down to the water-saver toilet. The tub was huge and was curtained off so he could take a shower if he preferred.
Old Thelma Nettro was obviously a hedonist. No claw-footed tubs for her. He wondered how the devil she could make enough money off this place to modernize the bathrooms like this. As far as he could tell, he was the only guest.
There was one restaurant in The Cove, a pretentious little cafe called the Hinterlands that had beautiful red and white tulips in its window boxes. Unlike the rest of the buildings that lined Main Street, the Hinterlands forked off to one side, faced the ocean, and looked painfully charming with its bricked walkway and gables, which, he was certain, had been added merely for decoration.
They served cod and bass. Nothing else, just cod and bass—fried, baked, poached, broiled. James hated all kinds of fish. He ate everything the small salad bar had to offer and knew he was going to have to live at the Safeway deli. But, hell, the Safeway was so small he doubted it even had a deli.
The waitress, an older woman decked out in a Swiss Miss outfit that laced up her chest and swept the floor, said, “Oh, it’s fish this week. Zeke can’t do more than one thing at a time. He says it confounds him. Next Monday you come in and we’ll have something else. How about some mashed potatoes with all those greens?”
He nodded to Martha and Ed Drapper, who were evidently enjoying their fried cod, cole slaw, and mashed potatoes. She gave him a brilliant smile. He wondered if she recognized him. She wasn’t wearing her glasses. Her left hand was playing with her pearls.
After lunch, as James walked toward the four old men playing cards around the barrel, he saw at least half a dozen cars parked out in front of the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop. Popular place. Had the place been here when Harve and Marge came through? Yeah, sure it had. That’s when old Thelma’s rheumy eyes had twitched and her old hands had clenched big time. He might as well get to know the locals before he tracked Susan St. John Brainerd down.
He wasn’t quite certain yet just what he was going to do with her when he found her. The truth, he thought. All he wanted was the truth from her. And he’d get it. He usually did. Then maybe he’d work on the other mystery. If there was another mystery.
Ten minutes later James walked into the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop thinking that those four old men weren’t any better liars than Thelma Nettro. Unlike Thelma, they hadn’t said a word, just shook their heads sorrowfully as they looked at each other. One of them had spat after he repeated Harve’s name. That one was Purn Davies. The old man leaning back in the chair had said he’d always fancied having a Winnebago. His name was Gus Eisner. Another one of the men said Gus could fix anything on wheels and kept them all running. The other old man wouldn’t meet his eyes. He couldn’t remember the names of those last two.
It was telling, their behavior. Whatever had happened to Harve and Marge Jensen, everyone he’d met so far knew about it. He was looking forward to trying the World’s Greatest Ice Cream.
The same older woman he’d seen upon his arrival was scooping up what looked to be peach ice cream for a family of tourists who’d probably seen that sign on the road and come west.
The kids were jumping and yelling. The boy wanted Cove Chocolate and the girl wanted French Vanilla.
“You’ve just got the six flavors?” the woman asked.
“Yes, just six. We vary them according to the season. We don’t mass-produce anything.”
The boy whined that now he wanted blueberry ice cream. The chocolate looked too dark.
The older woman behind the counter just smiled down at him and said, “You can’t have it. Either pick another flavor or shut up.”
The mother gasped and stared. “You can’t act like that toward our son, why he’s—”