Detective Harry Harp and Constable Terry Becker walked up to a cedar-sided cottage fronted by a neat row of day lilies. They knocked on the door and after a moment, were invited into a large white space – kitchen, dining room and living room blending into one.
The two men took a seat, admiring the home’s eclectic interior – framed movie posters, retro light fixtures, a 1970s shag carpet. Harp said, “I guess you’re wondering why we’re here.”
“You bet we are,” Ariel Froome said, smiling widely and adjusting the wedding band on her finger. She was in her early 40s and had a no-nonsense air about her, conveyed in part by her plain white shirt and blue jeans. Mimi, who looked ten years younger, was sitting cross-legged on a white leather couch. Wearing a Clash T-Shirt and sweat pants, Harp clocked the wedding ring on her finger, too.
“I’ve seen you moving around the lake,” Mimi said. “What’s happened?” She had delicate features under a mop of dyed blonde hair.
Harp said, “Ida Calvert was murdered last night.”
The two women exchanged glances.
“That’s – awful,” Ariel said, pressing the palm of her hand against her cheek.
Mimi sat up. “What can we do to help?”
“Let’s start with last night. What were you doing between 10 and midnight?” Harp asked.
Ariel took the lead. “Sure. We finished dinner about 9:30, cleaned up and took the boat over to Bob and Heather’s for the fireworks show. Pyrotechnics are not really our thing but we want to fit in, so …” She smiled knowingly at Harp. “The show is always 11 until midnight and always the identical series of fireworks. Something wonderfully odd about that, don’t you think?” She laughed indulgently then remembered Ida Calvert’s murder and her smile vanished. “The show ended at midnight – we came home and went to bed.”
Becker leaned forward. “Do you remember anything unusual? Did you see or hear anything out of the ordinary?”
Mimi frowned at Ariel, then the older woman said, “Not that I can think of. But if anything comes to mind, I’ll be sure to get in touch – OH GOD!”
Ariel jammed her hands over her ears.
“The boat launch drives us crazy!” Mimi said to Becker by way of explaining her wife’s behaviour.
Through the window and beyond a clump of trees, Harp saw a large yellow speedboat being slowly lowered into the water by an SUV with tinted windows. A man stood on the dock shouting instructions at the driver. The beep of the reverse warning system filled the room and so, too, did the odour of engine exhaust. Ariel and Mimi ran around shutting windows.
When the cottage was sufficiently sealed, the women returned to the living room and took their seats. Both looked stricken – and not from the news of Ida Calvert’s murder.
Ariel massaged her temples, “That launch is supposed to be for WAOs only.”
“WAOs?” The lines in Harp’s forehead deepened.
“Water Access Only cottagers. Off-grid types with no road access. But every sports fisherman and party animal in the county uses the launch—because they can!” She threw up her hands.
Mimi said quietly, “We applied to have it removed but, well, because there still is one off-grid cottage ….”
“The Calvert place?” Becker said.
Mimi and Ariel nodded, each working hard to transform their features from bitter anger to sympathetic concern.
Harp said, “So you want them to sell?”
Ariel laughed derisively. “No! All Ida had to do was to allow the road to come to her property. Without off-grid cottages, there would be no need for the launch and our proposal to close it would go through. Simple.” She smiled, cat-like. “We’re professors and, not to boast, but we can write one killer proposal.”
Mimi looked at her admiringly. “We wanted to retire here but this issue has really changed things.”
Harp gestured in the direction of the boat launch. “But surely it was here when you bought the place.”
Mimi’s voice rose up defensively. “Our agent said it was for WAOs only. And since only the Calverts qualify, its use would be minimal. That’s what she said, anyway.” Mimi scowled. “Yeah, we should have done more research.”
Ariel ran a hand through her short-cropped hair. “Wait a minute, Mimi, we can re-submit the proposal. With Ida gone, it has a chance!”
All eyes turned to Ariel and the room fell silent. The only sound was the muffled roar of the speedboat’s twin engines as it took off from the launch.
“What?” Ariel recoiled defensively. “‘Mort change tout. I don’t mean to be callous but there may be some good that comes from this.”
“For you,” Harp noted dryly.
Ariel Froome’s eyes narrowed. “Look— – hat boat launch has taken a toll on us. We just got married two years ago and this place was our wedding gift to each other. It was supposed to be perfect – NOT SOME BLOODY LAKESIDE PANIC BOX!”
Becker turned to Mimi. “Did you ever talk to the Calverts about this?”
“We tried,” she said.
Having recovered from her outburst, Ariel smiled pleasantly. “I talked to them, I wrote letters, I have not yet sent carrier pigeons but I am willing to try anything. I have a file folder two inches thick detailing my campaign to introduce the Calverts to the modern era – and ourselves to the peaceful enjoyment of our property.”
“You have to think of property values, too,’ Mimi muttered under her breath.
Harp chose to ignore the comment. “What did Ida say when you asked her about bringing the road through?”
Ariel turned to Harp and gave him the most austere, professorial gaze she could muster. “Ida Calvert said, ‘Get off my land’.” The older woman shook her head. “I could have throttled that cantankerous old crone.”
“Someone beat you to it,” Becker said.
Ariel looked at him, then down at her hands, contrite, at last.
Harp walked over to the front window. The far shore’s terrain was level until the Calvert point emerged – a shimmering granite promontory topped with towering pine trees. Just then, he recalled something Grace Calvert had said.
He turned to the women.
“It must irritate you to see Grace leaving her boat at the launch when she walks into the village. Must be a constant reminder of how much better things could be if the Calverts would just – get with the program, right?” He grinned.
Ariel smiled. Mimi shifted on the couch.
“I can see how you’d want to get back at them,” he said with a conspiratorial wink. He raised his voice. “Do something, right? Some little poke to remind them what a pain they are. Something to make their lives difficult – nothing criminal – just something annoying to show them how annoying they are to you. Like untying Grace’s boat and setting it adrift, right? RIGHT!?” His voice echoed around the sealed room.
Suddenly, the 1970s shag rug fascinated Mimi. Ariel looked at her wife. Panic filled her eyes. “Mimi? MIMI—?”
Mimi looked up. Fear and defiance distorted her features and she said, slowly, “Other people do it, too. Not just me.”