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Chapter Two

Low Tide 3:10 p.m. EDT

Artie’s Enterprise is ’way up the hill, across Route 5, at the very end of Adelaide Road Extended. “Enterprise” is Mainer for “junkyard,” which is why Artie’s sits at the end of the road, with a field behind it and plenty of room to put new pieces when they come in.

The Enterprise is old; Gran told me it’d been a trading post, back a couple hundred years ago. She didn’t say whether Artie had the keeping of it then, but it was possible. After all, Gran’s rising four hundred, herself. In theory, trenvay—that’s earth spirit, to you—could live forever, so long as nothing poisons their rock, their patch of marsh or bit of water.

Or their tree.

However old it is, the Enterprise contains quite an astonishing collection of…stuff. All sorts of odd and unlikely bits and pieces of this, that, and what-the-hell’s-THAT? come to rest there. Not just things you’d expect, like manual typewriters and button-hooks, Turkey carpets, pickle barrels, ancient weathervanes, skeleton keys, glass insulators from telephone poles, and yellowed china bowls painted with pink flowers—though there are those, in good—some might say, bad—number.

But the Enterprise also shelters other things, and it’s those that the casual shopper needs to be aware, and wary, of.

It’s best to enter Artie’s Enterprise with the picture of what you want to find there firmly fixed in your head. If you go in with an open mind, just thinking to see the sights, do a little window-shopping combined with a history lesson—then you’re ripe for trouble. You will spend hours, and may spend days, inside, going from one improbable geegaw to another, beguiled and lost to time. When you do leave, you’ll very likely find that you purchased something you not only don’t remember buying, but that you don’t actually like—and which will prove very hard to lose.

Me, now…Walking in, I knew what I wanted—I wanted a carousel horse carved from tupelo wood by my several-times great grand-uncle on the Archer side. By choice, it would be a horse, since it was a horse that had been lost. Also by choice it would have wings. It would not, however, have fangs.

“Kate.” Artie came out of the back, cleaning his hands on a stained red rag. He looked faintly aggrieved, and not all that pleased to see me, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. My personal popularity rating isn’t high among the trenvay of Archers Beach; plus I’d caught the notion somewhere that Gran and Artie had old business between them.

Airing old grievances wasn’t on the day’s agenda, though, so I gave the man a smile and a cordial nod. “’Morning. Pretty one, too.”

“It is—and I’ll tell you straight out, I got nothin’ like you’re wishin’ on here. We got our limits, y’know.”

I did know that—we all have our limits. Still, I felt a ripple of disappointment, to have my dream summarily shot down not two steps from the front door. Dammit, I needed a carousel animal, and the Enterprise was my last resource.

“Nothin’ wrong with dreamin’,” Artie said, like I’d spoken out loud. “Only you gotta dream smaller. What’s a place like this likely to have, in the line of what yer lookin’ for—that’s the question you want to ask.”

It was a trick, of course—trenvay live to trick the unwary—and I fell for it.

No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than an image leapt into my mind—an image of a brilliantly colored Herschel-Spillman rooster, green and red tail feathers awry, and yellow legs at full stretch as he pelted toward or away from some peril, a blue saddle on his back and a wicked gleam in his eye.

Artie grinned, and I felt my stomach drop.

“Well, now, there yer in luck! Something a lot like that come in couple years ago…” He looked around, as if trying to remember where he’d put it, the bastard, then all of a sudden nodded and took off at an angle down an overshadowed aisle.

I followed, stretching my legs and deliberately not looking at the enticing shadowy shapes arrayed on either side of the thin way. Ahead of me, Artie pushed open a door, admitting a flash of sunlight, and went out into the side yard.

The side yard is where most of the Enterprise is stored—some stuff is under tarp, some open to the weather. There might have been a pattern and a reason to it all, but, if so, both escaped me. I kept Artie’s broad flannel-covered back in view, running now, dodging a stack of hubcaps, the rusty metal frame of a slat-less park bench, and a tangle of old lobster traps.

Artie stepped around the back of a wrought-iron garden pavilion. I barreled after him—and jerked up short, my sneakers skidding on the grass. I managed to keep my feet and not ram my nose into Artie’s shoulder, though I didn’t manage to avoid being splattered with condensation when he snapped a particularly ratty blue tarp off of—

I blinked.

It was a rooster.

Not, mind you, a Herschel-Spillman, sharp-painted, and clean of line.

The rooster in hand was…unfortunate. As if someone, somewhere, had tried to reproduce the original, but found their skill, or their memory, insufficient to the task…

…or both.

It was dirty, this rooster—in need of cleaning and a paint job—but that was just the beginning. The tail feathers weren’t awry, they were downright bedraggled, the eyes were dull, both stirrups were missing, and there was a crack down the dingy yellow neck that was going to have to be—

I blinked and stepped closer, frowning at the crack and what it revealed.

“Problem?” Artie asked, obligingly pulling the tarp out of my way.

“It’s fiberglass!”

Artie shrugged. “It’s what I got; take ’im or leave ’im.”

I threw Artie a glare, which he didn’t seem to notice.

“Where’d you get it?” I asked, buying time. It didn’t matter to me where he’d gotten the stupid bird. For all I knew, or cared, the Enterprise had spun it out of grass and dew.

Another shrug. “It come in, like it all does.”

Which was to say: None of your business, Kate.

Well, okay; we all have our secrets, too.

I sighed and moved past Artie, walking around the bird in formal inspection. It was depressingly dingy, but elbow-grease and paint would fix that. I knelt down and inspected the underside, which was firm and rot-free, got up, brushed off the knees of my jeans, frowned at the tangled mess of a tail, and walked on.

I came back to my starting point and stood for a long minute, considering. The only real damage was the crack on the neck—and that was why God had given us epoxy—but my inclination was to leave the damn’ rooster right where he was. The thought of mixing fiberglass and wood lacerated my carousel-keeping sensibilities. But, really, prejudice aside, did I have a choice?

I thought about that hole in the menagerie, and my utter lack of success along other, preferable, avenues, and the fines upcoming, if I didn’t do something—and reluctantly accepted that, no, I didn’t have a choice.

“I’ll buy him,” I told Artie, with scant grace. “And you’ll bring him.”

“Be a delivery charge.”

I looked him in the eye. “Really? A delivery charge, inside the Beach?”

There was a long, stretched minute while we held eye contact; the air seemed to warm appreciably, and I thought I saw a shadow move in peripheral vision. Inside my head, I heard a sound something like a warning growl. The shadow faded. I concentrated on holding Artie’s eyes with mine…

…and he blinked first.

“Sorry,” he said. “Delivery free inside the Beach—sure it is, Kate. When you want it where?”

I did a rapid calculation. “Today, at three, at the carousel. How much?”

“We’ll have ’im down the merry-go-round at three today. Price is four bills.”

Four hundred dollars was considerably less than I’d expected to pay. Unworthily, I wondered what secret flaw, hidden from inspection, the rooster would be shown to possess, and decided that it wasn’t worth worrying about. I needed a fill-in animal; I had a fill-in animal. Immediate problem solved.

“I’ll have cash waiting,” I promised.

He nodded and tossed the tarp back over the rooster.

* * *

Archers Beach Community Federal Credit Union sits right on the corner of Route 5 and Adelaide Road. Since I was going to need four hundred dollars in a couple hours, I stopped to take care of that piece of business. When I came out again, a few minutes later, I stood on the corner and looked down Archer Avenue.

Archer Avenue is the town’s main business street. It descends a long hill from Route 5 at the top, crossing the Amtrak line, and Grand Avenue, the parallel business street, before dead-ending at the dunes, the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Since Archers Beach is a tourist town for part of the year, some of the businesses on Archer Avenue cater entirely to that trade. They open a week before the Season officially gets underway, and close the week after Labor Day.

When I was a kid, the Archers Beach tourist trade had a couple t-shirt and beach wear shops to choose from, an ice cream stand, couple of pizza stands, a sundry shop, Dynamite, a candy factory, a biker bar, a hobby and game store. The storefronts started out thick at the back side of Fun Country, at the bottom of the hill, but by the time you reached mid-hill, there were gaps in the line; maybe two, three empty stores sandwiched between those open for business.

That had been bad enough. Growing up, I heard a lot of grumbling among my grandmother’s friends about the Old Days, when the Beach had three Seasons full of tourists, and Archer Avenue fair glittered with lighted shops.

Fashions change; fortunes fall. The dance bands and the off-Broadway shows stopped coming up to Archers Beach a long time ago. The Fire burned down a big swath of the posh hotels, gutted the fancy eateries. Owners chose not to rebuild—no insurance, or no heart—investors heard there was more return to be had someplace else.

The Beach had a small renaissance as a blue-collar party-place in the 1970s; rock bands instead of Big Bands came up to headline on the World Famous Pier at Archers Beach, and things in general took an up-tick.

Then, a nor’easter chewed up the World Famous Archers Beach Pier and spat it out like so many toothpicks. The town rebuilt, though slowly, with the help of a couple of angel investors with old ties to the Beach, but it was a humble thing, compared even to its immediate predecessor, and the tourist trade…fell away.

By the time I came onto the Beach, the Seasons had long been The Season, and had shrunk from twenty weeks to twelve.

A twelve-week Season might interest investors in the glamorous resorts where children of wealth go to play, but the chilly and frankly old fashioned coast of Maine just didn’t attract money from Away, any more.

That had all been bad enough: a town gone a little to seed, but still able to show a brave front, and to keep on with its own business during the three-quarters of the year when the townies had only themselves for company.

By the time I’d returned from my self-appointed exile, though—matters had gone from bad to worse.

There was still business on the hill—a computer repair shop, a styling salon, the hobby shop and the candy store still holding firm, a tattoo parlor that was new since my time, a store selling country craftworks imported from China, and St. Margaret’s Catholic Church, sitting at the intersection of Route 5 and Archer like a crown atop a bald head.

The biker bar was gone, along with the antique store and the camera shop. Hell, even St. Margaret’s was on reduced hours—only two Masses on Sunday, and confessions heard by appointment.

The state of Archer Avenue worried me, to tell the truth. Not that there was anything I could do about attracting viable business to town—that was what the Chamber of Commerce was for, and they were—reasonably enough—trying to hold their base at the bottom of the hill together. They’d managed to tempt a high-end deli into taking a chance on West Grand, along with a luxury day spa and a boutique wine store, but there they’d been helped out by the fact of some of the older motels reinventing themselves as beach condos for the pleasure of folks from Away.

It’s an article of faith among most Mainers that people from Away always have money. Unfortunately the high side of the hill was going to be a tough sell to money from Away, and if there wasn’t a certain ratio of shops to empty storefronts, even the businesses that’d been hanging on would starve for lack of foot traffic.

I crossed Route 5, heading down the hill, St. Margaret’s on my right. Directly ahead of me, taking up most of the sidewalk, was a pair of sawhorses, a bandsaw in close attendance, and a couple eight foot boards propped against the window of what had four days ago been one of those empty storefronts that had recently been exercising my mind.

As I approached, I heard voices inside the place, echoing, and the sharp report of a nail gun.

I dodged the saw horses and walked up the slight ramp, pausing with the toes of my sneakers at the line of the door, so that I was technically not trespassing, in case anybody cared.

Not one of busy beavers inside even noticed me, so intent were they are their work.

Two young fellas in jeans and t-shirts were covering the scarred walls with honey-colored paneling. Another pair were boxing the concrete support posts with the same honey-colored wood. At the back left corner of the space, a girl on a ladder was dealing with the kracken of wires spilling out from a hole in the drop ceiling.

An empty glass showcase was set up as a barrier in front of the back wall; a thin figure bent over it, writing or sketching on a pad of paper.

I had a sense of movement behind me, unthreatening; and turned just as another young fella in jeans and a tool belt came up the ramp.

“Help you, miss?” he asked respectfully. He had a slight, not-Maine accent, a pleasant, apple-cheeked face, and serious hazel eyes. Under the Home Depot gimme hat, his hair was light brown, curling softly below his ears.

“Just wondering what you’ve got going in,” I said, and added, by way of explaining why I cared, “I run the carousel down Fun Country.”

His eyes widened as he smiled. “We’re putting in an art gallery,” he said.

I blinked. “Art gallery?” I repeated, and didn’t add: In Archers Beach, blue-collar vacation spot as it was?

He nodded. “Would you like to meet the owner? She’s right there.” He nodded toward the figure still bent, rapt, over her pad of paper.

“I’d be pleased,” I said, and followed him into the store, up to the counter.

“Ms. Anderson?”

“Yes, Kyle?” She didn’t look up.

“Ma’am, here’s the lady who runs the carousel come to introduce herself.”

She did look up then, her eyes the blue of a fog-bound ocean, set deep in the well-used face of a woman past her first youth.

“Good morning,” she said, her voice smooth and calm. Her accent was New England, but not necessarily Maine. Massachusetts, maybe.

“Good morning,” I answered. “I’m Kate Archer—Fantasy Menagerie Carousel.” I smiled. “I saw you were fixing the place up and wondered what was going in. An art gallery, Kyle tells me. It’s been a lot of years since Archers Beach had an art gallery.”

“In fact,” she said with a faint smile, “it’s been just shy of a hundred years. You hear all about how the Great Fire took the hotels and the eating places, but you hardly ever hear that two art galleries and an art museum burned to the ground that night, too.”

She held out a hand. “I’m Joan Anderson. Pleased to meet you, Ms. Archer.”

“Likewise,” I said, meeting her hand. We shook.

“I’m curious what made you choose Archers Beach as a location for your gallery,” I said carefully.

Her smile grew more pronounced.

“I grew up here. Moved to Massachusetts when I got married. Taught school, raised kids, got a divorce. The kids are grown, the school system laid me off, and I decided it was time to come home and do what I always said I was going to do.” She raised her arms, showing me the space and the busy workers.

“This gallery is going to feature Maine artists only—paintings, pottery, jewelry, furniture—I’ve already got fifty artists on my list, and the word’s just starting to get out.”

I glanced down when she said list, but she’d been sketching on that pad, not listing. The sketch was of a horse, mane-tossed and galloping. She followed my eyes and turned the pad around so I could see it better.

“For the sign,” she said.

“Nice horse,” I answered. “What’s the gallery’s name?”

“Wishes,” she said, and gave me a full-on grin when I looked up at her. “When I was younger than I was today, I used to say to my mother that I wished I could do this, or that, or that other thing. Her answer, every time, was, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” She looked down at her horse and nodded. “Time for us beggars to mount up.”

“I wish you all kinds of good luck,” I said, and felt a not-exactly-welcome tingle of heat along the side of my tongue. Still, there was nothing wrong with expressing a well-wish.

Even a well-wish with a little more than simple sincerity behind it.

“Thank you, Kate. It was Kate?”

“Kate Archer—was and is.”

She smiled again. “Of course. You’ll come to our opening reception,” she said, and it wasn’t a question. “I’ll send you an invitation.”

“I’d be glad to,” I said, nodding. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Think you’ll be open in time for the Season?”

“In plenty of time for the Season. And the other three, too.”

I stared at her. “You’re gonna be year-round?”

She chuckled.

“Why not? I’m going to be living here year-round. Might as well have something to keep me busy.”

“There’s that,” I allowed, raised my hand by way of good-bye, and turned toward the door.

Kyle turned with me.

“I’d like to take a look at your carousel sometime,” he said. “I’m—I’m a big fan of the wooden ones.”

“Come down when you’ve got a couple minutes. We’re open the weekend schedule right now, but I’d be glad to give you a private tour, if you give me some warning.”

“Thank you,” he said, as we reached the door and I stepped over the threshold. He stopped, one step inside the shop, and inclined slightly from the waist, as if he had started to bow, and then caught himself.

“Thank you,” he said again. “I’d like that a lot.”

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