Read Murder On the Rocks Online

Authors: Karen MacInerney

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Adult, #Contemporary

Murder On the Rocks


So many people go into a book project; it’s hard to know where to start! So I’ll start at the beginning, with Carol and Dave Swartz, for always being there and always encouraging me to shoot for the moon; and Dorothy and Ed Maclnerney, without whose love and support so many things-including this book-would not be possible. I also want to thank the late great Barbara Burnett Smith for her enthusiasm, her keen critical eye, her effervescence, and her encouragement … I miss you every day. Thanks also to Bethann and Beau Eccles, for their insightful comments-and their friendship. And, of course, everyone at Austin Mystery Writers for their great critiques, insights, and above all their support: Mary Jo Powell, who was there from the beginning; Andrew Butler, Dave Ciambrone, Laney Hennelly, Kimberly Sandman, Rie Sheridan, and Sylvia Dickey Smith. Thanks also to Sandi Heimsath, for her early words of encouragement; Maryann and Clovis Heimsath, for introducing me to Maine and the Cranberry Isles; Dana Lehman, for helping me open the door; and Marsha Moyer, for her support and friendship. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the world’s best agent, Jessica Faust at BookEnds; thanks also to everyone at Midnight Ink team, particularly editors Barbara Moore, whose enthusiasm is contagious, and Connie Hill; I also want to thank Brett Fechheimer and Alison Aten, my wonderful publicity team, for all their help. And last-but definitely not least-my wonderful husband, Eric, for his critical eye, his plot ideas, his unflagging encouragement and support, and his ability to put up with an occasionally neurotic and slightly obsessive spouse. I want to say thank you also to Abby and Ian, the lights of my life, for their love, understanding, and ability to entertain themselves while their mom pounds away at the keyboard.

Author’s Note:
Although there are several endangered tern species, the black-chinned terns are not among them; they exist only in the pages of this book. Those familiar with the Cranberry Isles will also fail to recognize many of the nautical features surrounding Cranberry Island; that is because they are figments of the author’s imagination.


Dedicated to my grandmother, Marian Quinton; and to the memory of my grandfather, Harold Quinton.


THE ALARM RANG AT 6 AM, jolting me out from under my down comforter and into a pair of slippers. As much as I enjoyed innkeeping, I would never get used to climbing out of bed while everyone else was still sleeping. Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen, inhaling the aroma of dark-roasted coffee as I tapped it into the coffeemaker and gazing out the window at the gray-blue morning. Fog, it looked like-the swirling mist had swallowed even the Cranberry Rock lighthouse, just a quarter of a mile away.

I grabbed the sugar and flour canisters from the pantry and dug a bag of blueberries out of the freezer for Wicked Blueberry Coffee Cake. The recipe was one of my favorites: not only did my guests rave over the butter-and-brown-sugar-drenched cake, but its simplicity was a drowsy cook’s dream.

The coffeepot had barely finished gurgling when I sprinkled the pan of dimpled batter with brown-sugar topping and eased it into the oven. My eyes focused on the clock above the sink: 6:30. Just enough time for a relaxed thirty minutes on the kitchen porch.

Equipped with a mug of steaming French-roast coffee, I grabbed my blue windbreaker from its hook next to the door and headed out into the gray Maine morning. As hard as it was to drag myself out of a soft, warm bed while it was still dark outside, I loved mornings on Cranberry Island.

I settled myself into a white-painted wooden rocker and took a sip of strong, sweet coffee. The sound of the waves crashing against the rocks was muted, but mesmerizing. I inhaled the tangy air as I rocked, watching the fog twirl around the rocks and feeling the kiss of a breeze on my cheeks. A tern wheeled overhead as the thrum of a lobster boat rumbled across the water, pulsing and fading as it moved from trap to trap.

“Natalie!” A voice from behind me shattered my reverie. I jumped at the sound of my name, spilling coffee on my legs. “I was looking for you” Bernard Katz’s bulbous nose protruded from the kitchen door. I stood up and swiped at my coffee-stained jeans. I had made it very clear that the kitchen was off-limits to guests-not only was there a sign on the door, but it was listed in the house rules guests received when they checked in.

“Can I help you with something?” I couldn’t keep the anger from seeping into my voice.

“We’re going to need breakfast at seven. And my son and his wife will be joining us. She doesn’t eat any fat, so you’ll have to have something light for her”

“But breakfast doesn’t start until 8:30.”

“Yes, well, I’m sure you’ll throw something together.” He glanced at his watch, a Rolex the size of a life preserver. “Oops! You’d better get cracking. They’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but he disappeared back into my kitchen with a bang. My first impulse was to storm through the door and tell Katz he could fish for his breakfast, but my business survival instinct kicked in. Breakfast at seven? Fine. That would be an extra $50 on his bill for the extra guests-and for the inconvenience. Scrambled egg whites should do the trick for Mrs. Katz Jr. First, however, a change of clothes was in order. I swallowed what was left of my coffee and took a deep, lingering breath of the salty air before heading inside to find a fresh pair of jeans.

My stomach clenched again as I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. Bernard Katz, owner of resorts for the rich and famous, had earmarked the beautiful, and currently vacant, fifty-acre parcel of land right next to the Gray Whale Inn for his next big resort-despite the fact that the Shoreline Conservation Association had recently reached an agreement with the Cranberry Island Board of Selectmen to buy the property and protect the endangered terns that nested there. The birds had lost most of their nesting grounds to people over the past hundred years, and the small strip of beach protected by towering cliffs was home to one of the largest tern populations still in existence.

Katz, however, was keen to make sleepy little Cranberry Island the next bijou in his crown of elite resorts, and was throwing bundles of money at the board to encourage them to sell it to him instead. If Katz managed to buy the land, I was afraid the sprawling resort would mean the end not only for the terns, but for the Gray Whale Inn.

As I reached the door to my bedroom, I wondered yet again why Katz and his assistant were staying at my inn. Bernard Katz’s son Stanley and his daughter-in-law Estelle owned a huge “summer cottage” called Cliffside that was just on the other side of the preserve. I had been tempted to decline Katz’s reservation, but the state of my financial affairs made it impossible to refuse any request for a week in two of my most expensive rooms.

I reminded myself that while Katz and his assistant Ogden Wilson were odious, my other guests-the Bittles, a retired couple up from Alabama for an artists’ retreat-were lovely, and deserved a wonderful vacation. And at least Katz had paid up front. As of last Friday, my checking account had dropped to under $300, and the next mortgage payment was due in two weeks. Although Katz’s arrival on the island might mean the eventual end of the Gray Whale Inn, right now I needed the cash.

Goosebumps crept up my legs under the wet denim as I searched for something to wear. Despite the fact that it was June, and one of the warmer months of the year, my body hadn’t adjusted to Maine’s lower temperatures. I had spent the last fifteen years under Austin’s searing sun, working for the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and dreaming of someday moving to the coast to start a bed-and-breakfast.

I had discovered the Gray Whale Inn while staying with a friend in a house she rented every summer on Mount Desert Island. I had come to Maine to heal a broken heart, and had no idea I’d fall in love all over again-this time with a 150-year-old former sea captain’s house on a small island accessible only by boat.

The inn was magical; light airy rooms with views of the sea, acres of beach roses, and sweet peas climbing across the balconies. I jotted down the real estate agent’s number and called on a whim, never guessing that my long-term fantasy might be within my grasp. When the agent informed me that the inn was for sale at a bargain price, I raced to put together enough money for a down payment.

I had had the good fortune to buy a large old house when Austin was a sleepy town in a slump. After a room-by-room renovation, it sold for three times the original price, and between the proceeds of the house and my entire retirement savings, there was just enough money to take out a mortgage on the inn. A mortgage, I reflected as I strained to button my last pair of clean jeans, whose monthly payments were equivalent to the annual Gross National Product of Sweden.

I tossed my coffee-stained jeans into the overflowing laundry basket and paused for a last-minute inspection in the cloudy mirror above the dresser. Gray eyes looked back at me from a face only slightly plump from two months of butter-and sugar-laden breakfasts and cookies. I took a few swipes at my bobbed brown hair with a brush and checked for white hairs-no new ones today, although with the Katzes around my hair might be solid white by the end of the summer. If I hadn’t already torn all of my hair out, that is.

When I pushed through the swinging door to the dining room at 7:00, Bernard Katz sat alone, gazing out the broad sweep of windows toward the section of coastline he had earmarked for his golf course. He looked like a banker in a blue pinstriped threepiece suit whose buttons strained to cover his round stomach. Katz turned at the sound of my footsteps, exposing a line of crooked teeth as he smiled. He was a self-made man, someone had told me. Apparently there’d been no money in the family budget for orthodontic work. Still, if I had enough money to buy islands, I’d have found a couple of thousand dollars to spare for straight teeth.

“Coffee. Perfect.” He plucked the heavy blue mug from the place setting in front of him and held it out. “I’ll take cream and sugar.” I filled his cup, congratulating myself for not spilling it on his pants, then plunked the cream pitcher and sugar bowl on the table.

“You know, you stand to earn quite a bit of business from our little project” Katz took a sip of coffee. “Not bad,” he said, sounding surprised. “Anyway, there’s always a bit of overflow in the busy season. We might be able to arrange something so that your guests could use our facilities. For a fee, of course”

Of course. He leaned back and put his expensively loafered feet on one of my chairs. Apparently he was willing to cough up some change for footwear. “I know starting a business is tough, and it looks like your occupancy is on the low side.” He nodded at the room full of empty tables.

“Well, it is an hour and a half before breakfast” He didn’t have to know that only two other rooms were booked-and one of those was for Barbara Eggleby, the Shoreline Conservation Association representative who was coming to the island for the sole purpose of preventing his development from happening.

“Still,” he went on, “this is the high season.” His eyes swept over the empty tables. “Or should be. Most of the inns in this area are booked to capacity.” My first impulse was to respond that most of the inns in the area had been open for more than two months, and that he was welcome to go to the mainland and stay at one of them, but I held my tongue.

He removed his feet from my chair and leaned toward me. “Our resort will make Cranberry Island
hot spot for the rich and famous in Maine. Kennebunkport won’t know what hit it. Your place will be perfect for the people who want glitz but can’t afford the price tag of the resort.”

Glitz? The whole point of Cranberry Island was its ruggedness and natural beauty. So my inn would be a catchall for poor people who couldn’t quite swing the gigantic tab at Katz’s mega resort. Lovely.

I smiled. “Actually, I think the island works better as a place to get away from all the `glitz’ And I don’t think a golf course would do much to enhance the island’s appeal.” I paused for a moment. “Or the nesting success of the black-chinned terns.”

“Oh, yes, the birds.” He tsked and shook his head. The sun gleamed on his bald pate, highlighting the liver spots that had begun to appear like oversized freckles. “I almost forgot, you’re heading up that greenie committee. I would have thought you were smarter than that, being a businesswoman.” He waved a hand. “Well, I’m sure we could work something out, you know, move the nests somewhere else or something”

“Good morning, Bernie” The sharp report of stiletto heels rescued me from having to respond.

“Estelle!” Katz virtually leaped from his chair. “Please, sit down.” Katz’s daughter-in-law approached the table in a blaze of fuchsia and decorated Katz’s cheeks with two air kisses before favoring him with a brilliant smile of straight, pearl-white teeth. Clearly orthodontic work had been a priority for her. Her frosted blonde hair was coiffed in a Marilyn Monroe pouf, and the neckline of her hot pink suit plunged low enough to expose a touch of black lace bra. An interesting choice for a foggy island morning on the coast of Maine. Maybe this was what Katz meant by glitz.

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