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Chapter One

Thursday, June 8

High Tide 9:24 a.m.

Sunrise 5:01 a.m. EDT

The sun had been up for hours, which was more than I could say for myself.

I carried my first cup of coffee out onto the so-called “summer parlor,” the covered porch facing the dunes, leaned my elbows on the railing, and looked out to sea.

Tide was almost in, and the sound of the waves was a constant sizzling boom. The leading edges of the breakers were brilliant with lacy white foam, while far out swells, faceted like jewels, caught the sun and gave it back in dazzling bursts of light.

Straight out, I could see the rocky islands, Blunt and Stafford, through a light haze. To my left—north, that would be—Cape Elizabeth Light was wearing a misty tutu, and Wood Island Light—south—was a silhouette inside a thicker bank of fog. What breeze there was came off the shore, bringing me a faint, sweet scent of flowers.

I sipped coffee, and sighed.

It was good to be home.

Shadow wings flashed over the sparkling water, and a gull laughed, derisive and high.

I grinned and shook my hair back from my face.

“A woman can change her mind, can’t she?” I said.

* * *

The laptop was chiming gently when I stepped back into the year-round parlor. I had mail, that particular chime meant. Nodding, I went past the coffee table where I’d set the machine up, temporarily, seven weeks ago, heading for the kitchen and the coffeepot.

A couple minutes later, being careful of the maps and guidebooks piled to one side, I sat down on the couch, put my refilled mug carefully to the right of the computer, and tapped a key.

I’d hit the jackpot this morning—two emails were in-queue and awaiting my attention, up from the more usual nothing, or the very occasional piece of spam that got past my filters. I build some bad email filters; just by way of putting my education to use.

There’d been times, during the years I’d been away from home, slinging code out in the dry lands, far removed in so very many ways from the Maine seacoast, when I’d gotten hundreds of emails over the course of a day—and answered them all, too.

Well. Now wasn’t then, and two was plenty for this morning.

First up was a letter from one Peter Knorr—Painted Pony Pete, as he’s known among the community of carousel keepers. That was…mixed news. Pete wasn’t exactly a rip-off artist.

But he wasn’t exactly honest, either.

He was, however, a gentleman of the Old School, so he started with the courtesies.

Dear Ms. Archer:

I read with dismay that the Jewel of Northeast Wooden Carousels, Archers Beach’s own Fantasy Menagerie, has met with misfortune. To have lost one of those venerable, priceless, wooden animals—my heart goes out to you, your family, and every one of the carousel’s many supporters and friends.

So great was my dismay that, upon learning of this tragedy, I vowed that I would not rest until I had located a suitable replacement, and seen it installed on the Fantasy Menagerie Carousel.

You’ll realize that this was no small task I undertook on your behalf, but I write to you now with news of success!

I have located a replacement for the animal that was stolen; a signed and dated Looff stander. It’s not perfect, of course, but it can be easily restored. And while I naturally can’t reveal my sources, I will share with you, Ms. Archer, my firm belief that this horse is one of those few which were rescued from Dreamland—

“Oh, please!”

I shook my head, grabbed my mug and sat back on the sofa, trying to decide if I was offended or just blackly amused.

I mean—Dreamland? Really?

Dreamland at Coney Island burned down in 1911, and if anybody rescued anything from the flames beyond their lives, this was the first I’d heard of it.

Also? Looff hadn’t signed or dated its horses, though the factory had branded some few inside the box with the legend, “Made by Looff.”

Which any carousel-keeper over the age of eight could tell you off the top of her head, while counting people through the gate for the next ride.

“Does Kate Archer translate into Born Yesterday in some language I don’t know?” I asked the empty parlor. I had another swig of coffee, and decided that I could go with being mildly amused. You couldn’t, after all, blame a man for trying.

On the other hand, there was nothing in Pete’s email that seemed to me to be worth the courtesy of a reply.

I leaned forward and hit the delete key.

Second email up was from Dan Muldoon, archivist for the Wooden Carousel Census. Dan wondered if I’d checked in with the Cleveland Trust for Public Land, which had the keeping of what was left of the Euclid Grand Beach Carousel. That was a Philadelphia Toboggan Company machine, Dan added, helpfully. He went on to say that there’d been talk of restoration, but it’d been thirty-seven years since Euclid Beach Amusement Park closed, and the horses and chariots were still in storage. It could be the Cleveland Trust would be willing to sell—even sell reasonably, to help keep another wooden carousel running.

As it happened, Dan wasn’t the first to suggest that particular course. I’d called the Cleveland Trust for Public Land three weeks ago, on a tip from Gracie Adler, the carousel community’s unofficial great-auntie. The secretary there had given me the number for the Carousel Trust.

Long story short, the carousel horses, which had been restored, were currently on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Terry, the chair of the Carousel Trust, had big plans to see the machine operating again, “within the next five years.”

Given all the enthusiasm coming down the phone line, I believed that, and sincerely wished them all the best of good fortune with the project.

Though it did leave my own problem in an unresolved state.

My bright idea had been to buy a new animal, and that led me to call an up-and-coming carver down to Binghamton, New York. We had a good, long talk, him and me—he’d been raised up in carousel-keeping, too, and knew a rounding-board from an orchestrion. Hell, he was actually excited to hear that Fantasy Menagerie’s orchestrion still played its original paper rolls, and grilled me about the twenty-two animals that were left, what wood were they carved from, how many standers, how much brass did we show, did we have a working ring arm, and…

Well. Pleasant visit though it was, in the end we couldn’t do business. For one thing, he needed not only the traditional arm and a leg for his work, but a couple fingers and the thumb from the remaining hand.

The second thing was he didn’t have any animals under construction that weren’t already spoken for, and his delivery date for a commissioned piece was well after Archers Beach Season was through.

There in the parlor, my coffee gone, I hit reply, and typed a note thanking Dan for his care, outlining the current situation of the Euclid Grand Beach Carousel, and giving him the phone number for the Trust. Good information for an archivist to have.

That taken care of, I came to my feet, stretched, and stood for a long minute, looking at nothing much, but seeing the carousel in my mind’s eye.

Season Opening was just one week away, and replacement carousel animals were demonstrably not thick on the ground—which I’d known when I put out my call for aid. I figured my luck was about run.

Which meant it was time to move on to Plan B.

I’d been hoping it wouldn’t come to that; hoping for a miracle, really, and running the ride with one horse down. That was—not fine, exactly, but good enough for the Early Season weekend schedule, and I’d been able to string Marilyn, the park manager, on with the assurance that I was aware of the problem and was working on a solution.

Marilyn had been unusually mellow about it—which I guessed was left-over euphoria from the surprisingly successful Super-Early Season, back in April. But you betcha I’d better be showing a full complement of twenty-three animals and one chariot come Opening Day, or I’d been seeing a fine from Fun Country for every day the ride was “broken.”

I sighed, ran my fingers through my hair and headed for the shower.

* * *

Some while later, showered and dressed to meet the day in sneakers, jeans, a pale green ringer tee with Archers Beach Maine printed on the left breast, and a long-sleeved denim shirt worn untucked over all, like a jacket, I opened the front door, and looked down.

The Biddeford Journal-Tribune lay face down on the welcome mat. I picked it up, and flipped it over to glance at the headline.


Now, there was something to make the day a little brighter!

I leaned against the door jamb and ran my eye down the front page.

Disappointingly, Joe Nemeier, Archers Beach very own drug lord, didn’t figure in the thrilling story of a Coastie/MDEA collaboration, culminating in the dark moon pick-up of a small barge loaded with plastic-wrapped bales of marijuana—in excess of one million dollars worth of marijuana—at a tricksy little inlet where Elm Brook came into the ocean, at Pine Point, which, as a location, was…interesting.

None of the names that did make the paper were known to me, which was a surprise. I’d’ve thought that the barge-runner, at least, would be local, given the piece of shore they’d been putting in to. It wasn’t like Archers Beach was any stranger to the smuggler’s trade. Over the centuries, anything that could be run ran through the Beach, Surfside, or Pine Point, and there’s families old in the business local to all three towns.

Well, I thought, folding up the paper and turning to toss it inside the house, it was almost certain that the bustees had been working for Joe Nemeier, and losing that cargo had to give him a pain in the pocketbook. Couple more seizures and maybe the man would catch the notion that he wasn’t welcome, and leave.

Wouldn’t that be fine?

I pulled the door shut and skipped down the stairs to the street. It wasn’t all that long ago that it seemed Joe Nemeier’s business was charmed—nobody could touch him or his. The Coast Guard couldn’t see ’em, the Maine Drug Enforcement agents didn’t know ’em, and deliveries slipped through the secret places and those who kept them like so much mist and wrack.

That situation had changed, for the better, assuming that the Coasties and the MDEA were the good guys. Joe Nemeier’s concerns were no longer charmed—a condition for which I was directly responsible. I didn’t imagine that Mr. Nemeier was in any way pleased with me; we hadn’t met under the best of conditions and our relationship had gone downhill from a bad start. He’d twice tried to have me killed—and missed both times, which had to smart. I figured he was itching to try again, but the failure of charm and subsequent business set-backs were forcing him to keep his head down.

That was okay by me; I had plenty to keep me busy.

And right at the top of the list? Was going up the hill, to see a man about a horse.

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