For the first time since their daughter was born, Zachary and Mary Blake are taking a trip alone, calling it it their second honeymoon. After months of vicious infighting at his broadcasting job, Zach is looking forward to a relaxing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, a paradise untouched by time. But the respite won’t last for long.
When Mary’s body is discovered, the coroner deems it accidental drowning, but Zach can’t accept that. One year later, he returns to the island to find proof that his wife was murdered. He has a letter from a resident claiming to know the true story of Mary’s death, but when he goes to meet his correspondent, she’s been gruesomely murdered. With his nine-year-old daughter, Penny, by his side, Zach begins asking dangerous questions. Unhinged by grief, he’ll do anything to find out what really happened, but every move he makes puts Penny’s life in greater danger.
A hard-driving suspense story, Even the Wicked is a classic crime novel. Written by Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Ed McBain, it explores the terrifying truths lurking in the shadows of a small, sleepy town.
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Even the Wicked
By Ed McBain
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1958 Ed McBain
All rights reserved.
They boarded the ferry together at Woods Hole, the tall man with the brown hair and eyes, and the nine-year-old blonde who was his daughter. They sat together on the front seat of the Plymouth, and the dock boards squeaked a little as the car crossed them, and then the high vault of the ferry swallowed the car and the man followed the frenzied hand directions of the attendant, keeping to the right, pulling the Plymouth up behind a Cadillac.
This was the first time his daughter had been on a boat, and he could see her eyes reflected in the windshield, wide, and brown, and very frightened. Her hands were clutched over the small purse in her lap. She wore a blue cotton dress with a flare skirt, and a bright blue ribbon caught her hair into a golden ponytail. She looked very mature and very dressed-up but nevertheless very frightened. He put one hand over the hands on her purse.
"A penny for Penny's," he whispered, and a smile magically appeared on her mouth, the cheeks suddenly dimpling. It was her smile that bore the closest resemblance, he realized, her sudden radiant smile. It was her smile that struck deep inside, struck to a vulnerable sensitive core which layers and layers of practiced hardness could never cover. For a moment, the smile registered in his brown eyes, tracing them with pain. For a moment, memory swirled from the high overhead of the ferry, rushed into darkened corners of the automobile, drifted into raw corners of his mind.
He tried to shut it out. Deliberately, coldly, he tried to shut it out. He was here because of a memory, but the memory could not be served if he allowed it to affect his thinking. The thinking had to be cold and rational, concise and pure. The thinking ...
A head appeared at Penny's window. A politely nonintrusive smile preceded the voice.
"Would you turn off your motor, sir, and please pull up the hand brake?"
"Sure," he said. His voice was deep and well modulated, instantly recognizable as a trained voice. He watched the attendant as he moved away from the car, working his way forward, repeating the same message at each parked automobile. Had this man been on the ferry last year too? He could not remember.
"He had freckles all over his face," Penny said.
"That's Freckles Malachy," he answered. "Didn't you know?" He watched her face blossom with delight, become instantly alert, the eyes bright and expectant.
"Tell me about Freckles," she said.
"On the way topside," he said. "Come on, honey." He turned off the engine, and hoisted her out of the car. She took his hand the moment her feet touched the deck again. Together, they threaded their way through the parked cars, moving toward the forward ladder.
"What about Freckles?" she reminded him.
He began the story. The Malachy stories always began the same way, and they always ended the same way. It was their pattern, perhaps, which delighted the child. Mary had started the pattern one night four years ago, when Penny had been only five, when they'd still lived in Stuyvesant Town. The first Malachy story had been about Uncle Mike Malachy, a robust fellow who could hold his breath under water for an incredible twelve hours.
"Once upon a time," Mary had said, "in the family called Malachy, here was a man named Uncle Mike Malachy."
That had been the beginning. He had stood in the doorway to Penny's room and watched his wife as she told her imaginative tale, the single light on the dresser spinning her hair into an airy web of glistening gold. She had gone on for fifteen minutes while Penny listened breathlessly, and then she had ended her story with the words which later formed the closing pattern for all stories: "And Uncle Mike Malachy — and all the Malachys — lived happily ever after."
All the Malachys, he thought now — but not the Blakes. Not Mary Blake, and not Zachary Blake, and maybe not even Penny Blake. Unconsciously, he tightened his grip on her small hand.
"Once upon a time," he said, "in the family called Malachy, there was a boy named Freckles Malachy."
"Was he a cousin?" Penny asked.
"Yes, he was a cousin," Zach said.
"Then his name was Cousin Freckles Malachy, wasn't it?"
"Yes," he said. "It was Cousin Freckles Malachy."
"What did he do, Daddy?"
"He had the brightest, most gleaming freckles of anybody in the world," he said, "but the freckles made him very sad ..."
The ferry was under way. It nosed out of the slip and headed into Vineyard Sound. Zach talked to his daughter while they climbed to the upper deck. He found a chair for them, and then continued his story. And twenty minutes later, he ended the story with the pattern Mary had set so long ago, and he sat with his arms around the little girl, and watched the gulls overhead, and each time they shrieked they seemed to echo a single agonizing word.
And the word was Mary.
The island of Martha's Vineyard looked forbidding.
It had not looked that way a year ago. Even looking back at the island when he was leaving, even after what had happened, even knowing what dread cargo the ferry had carried below, it had not seemed as forbidding then as it looked now. Perhaps it was the day. Perhaps the gray mists which shrouded the island were not what he'd expected.
There had been sunshine last summer, a month of incredibly bright sunshine which he'd shared with his wife on what they'd called their second honeymoon, even though they'd never really had a true first honeymoon. But for this trip alone, they had left Penny with her grandmother Blake, and they'd gone to Martha's Vineyard because they'd heard it was a place untouched by time, a place of crashing surf and silent inland ponds, a place of lonely beach roads, of winging slender terns and crying flocks of gulls — a place away from the rat race.
He had, the last summer, just been a part of the biggest scramble in the history of television, a no-holds-barred, tooth-and-nail struggle for Resignac's biggest broadcasting plum. Ed Liggett, the relentless interviewer who'd parlayed television's deadliest half-hour into a commodity sponsors screamed for, had gone network. And in going network, he had left the interviewer's chair open, and there wasn't a performer at Resignac Broadcasting — either in radio or television — who didn't want the job.
Zach got it.
It took a lot to get it. It always takes a lot to get something you really want. And then, after what happened on the Vineyard, he didn't want it any more. He told both his bosses. He told Resenwald first, and then he told DeBoignac. They understood, they said. They gave him back his old 6:15 P.M. radio news commentary spot. He supposed now that he had thrown away the opportunity of a lifetime. His face could have become as well known as Ed Liggett's. But at the time, he had not wanted to present his face to anyone. He wanted only a dark quiet corner, wanted only the anonymity of a radio microphone.
The boat edged into the slip at Vineyard Haven.
Zach and Penny went back to the car and waited their turn to disembark. The dock was loaded with cars and people. Women waved at arriving guests. Men in Bermuda shorts extended welcoming hands. Alongside the wood-paneled ferry waiting room, a man had set up an easel, and he painted a view of the Sound, oblivious to the crowd, his head bobbing from painting to water and back again. The Plymouth came off the boat and onto the dock. The Cadillac pulled to one side, waiting for the island infidels to clear the dock and the town before heading for the pined-and-moneyed exclusivity of West Chop. The Edgartown cocktail-and-regatta set were making their turns, cars brimming with guests. Zach turned the Plymouth in the opposite direction, heading up-island.
"It's nice, Daddy," Penny said. "Are we staying here?"
"We're going up-island," he told her. "To Menemsha."
"Like Menemsha Skulnik?" she asked.
"This Menemsha is Indian," he said.
"Really? Are there Indians here, Daddy?"
"Out at Gay Head there are."
Penny considered this solemnly for a moment. Then she said, "Was it the Indians who killed Mommy?"
The question startled him. In his own grief, he had not imagined the child thought much about it.
"No," he said. "Mommy drowned."
Almost as if she were thinking aloud, Penny said, "Mommy was a good swimmer."
"Yes," he answered. "Mommy was a good swimmer."CHAPTER 2
The houses on Martha's Vineyard are almost uniformly gray.
The shingles weather quickly, buffeted by water and wind, until they attain the silvery hue of a dowager's hair, and then they seem to stop. Gray was the color that day. Gray shingled houses, and a gray sky, and gray waters lapping inland marshes, rolling in grayly against the shore beaches. The only sunshine that day was the burst of Penny's hair in the car beside him.
He had rented the Menemsha cottage from a woman named Carol Dubrow, a real estate agent in Chilmark. He had met her briefly the summer before when Mary and he had stopped at her place to pick up the key to the house. He had spoken to her yesterday on the phone, and his memory of the woman had been fortified by the solid ring of her voice. Mrs. Dubrow was in her late sixties, a formidable woman with iron-gray hair and a steel rod down the center of her back. Her eyes were as green as the ocean, and her mouth was a trap rivaling that of any clam in the salt water marshes. She was a tall, spare woman, as weathered as the gray shingles which covered the house she owned.
When Zach pulled into the Dubrow driveway, Penny asked, "Is this our house?"
"No," he said. "I've got to get the key. Want to come inside?"
"I'll wait in the car," she said. She leaned over the back seat, picked up a comic book, and was absorbed in it instantly. Zach climbed the steps to the front porch, stopped before the screen door, looked for a bell and, finding none, knocked.
"Come in," a girl's voice called.
He opened the screen door.
"In here," the voice said. "Back of the house."
He walked through a cool, dim corridor, past an old table with a wired kerosene lamp on it. The house felt moist, the way only an island house can feel on a bad day. He could almost taste salt in the musty air.
The girl was sitting at a desk set into an alcove just outside the kitchen. She sat quite erect at the desk, rapidly writing. She looked up, and he saw the same sea-green eyes that belonged to Mrs. Dubrow. But these eyes were set in an oval face framed with hair as black as sin, as short as virtue. The eyes studied him candidly.
"Yes?" she said.
She was wearing a denim shirt and dungaree trousers, but neither disguised the complete femininity of her body. Looking at her, he tried to decide how old she was, figured she couldn't be more than nineteen.
"I'm here for the Fielding house key," he said.
"The Fielding house," she repeated. She opened the top drawer of the desk. He could see a clutter of tagged keys in the open drawer. She poked among the keys and then lifted a yellow-tagged one out of the pile. The word FIELDING was lettered on the tag. She handed him the key.
"There you are, Mr. Carpenter," she said.
"The name's Blake," he told her, and he turned to go.
"Hey! Wait a minute!"
He looked at her. "What's the matter?"
"What did you say your name was?"
"Blake. Zach Blake."
"That's what I thought you said. You'd better give me that key."
"The Fielding house was rented to Mr. Carpenter, that's what for," she said. Her voice carried complete conviction. She was stating something very plain and very logical. He would have given her the key had he not spoken to Mrs. Dubrow yesterday and wired her $500 immediately afterwards.
"Where's Mrs. Dubrow?" he said.
"She's on vacation."
"When did she leave?"
"And who are you?"
"Anne Dubrow. Her daughter."
"Well, Miss Dubrow, I wired your mother $500 for the Fielding house yesterday morning. If you'll check —"
"Give me the key," she said.
"I paid for this key. Check your —"
"I don't have to check. Our salesman rented the Fielding house to Mr. Carpenter this morning. Went all the way to New Bedford on the ferry to take the deposit. Mr. Carpenter's got the house until Labor Day."
"Is he here now?"
"No, he's in New Bedford. Won't get here until the day after tomorrow."
"How much of a deposit did he give?"
"Half the full rental."
"And how much is that?"
"The full rental is $1500. He gave our salesman $750."
"Well, you'd better give it back to him," Zach said patiently. "I called your mother from New York yesterday. I told her I wanted the Fielding house for two weeks, and she said the price was $500. I told her that was a bit steep, but she said she usually rented it for the full season and my wanting it for two weeks would put the kibosh on that, hence the somewhat high —"
"My mother doesn't talk like that."
"The language is mine, Miss Dubrow, but the meaning is hers. In any case, I wired her five hundred bucks at eleven o'clock yesterday morning. I don't know who Mr. Carpenter of New Bedford is, but he'll have to find himself another house. Good-by."
She came after him with remarkable swiftness, catching his arm and then whirling him to face the blazing sea-green eyes.
"Just a second, mister!" she said, and he had the feeling she was about to hit him.
"Miss Dubrow —"
"Give me that key," she said.
"We're being pretty damn foolish, aren't we? All you've got to do is check your records. You'll see —"
"All right, come on back in here," she said. "I know you're lying, but just to satisfy you, I'll —"
"I'm not in the habit of being called a liar by a nineteen-year-old kid," Zach said, annoyed. "I'll wait until you check, but —" He stopped. Anne Dubrow was smiling. "What the hell's so funny?"
"What you said. I'll be twenty-four next week."
"Happy birthday," he said. "Let's get this thing settled."
They went back to the desk together. She sat behind it and opened a small account book. He spotted his name in it before she did.
"There it is," he said. "Zachary Blake."
"Yes," she said. She had begun biting her lip. "I guess Pete made a mistake," she said. "This is terrible."
"Pete Rambley, mother's salesman. I guess he didn't know the Fielding house had already been rented." Her eyes were getting troubled. "What do we do now?"
"You call this Mr. Carpenter, whoever he is, and tell him somebody goofed. Tell him you've got another house for him. Tell him —"
"I couldn't do that."
"He wants the Fielding house."
"So do I. And I've got priority."
"But it's such a big house," she said. "Are you here with a lot of people or —"
"Just my nine-year-old daughter," Zach said, "and she's probably been kidnaped from the car by now. I don't see what difference the size of my party ma —"
"I thought you might take another house."
"I want this house."
"Is your wife with you? Could I speak to her?"
The room was suddenly very still. He could hear bird noises coming from the woods behind the house. He looked at the girl steadily and very slowly said, "My wife drowned in Menemsha Bight last summer."
The girl seemed shocked for a moment. "Oh," she said. "Blake. Of course. Mary Blake."
"I'm sorry." She lowered her eyes.
"That's all right. May I go now?"
"Well ... well, I don't know what to do, Mr. Blake." She was still staring at the open book, as if unwilling to meet his eyes now that she knew about his wife. "Mr. Carpenter's coming the day after tomorrow. What shall I tell him?"
"That's your problem," he said. "I don't know, and frankly I don't give a damn."
The green eyes flashed up at him with unexpected ferocity. "You're a pretty bitter person, aren't you?" Anne Dubrow said.
"Yes," he answered. "I am. Are we finished?"
"We're finished," she said. "Enjoy your stay."
He turned his back to her and walked out to the car. Penny looked up from her comic book.
"Did you get the key?" she asked.
He started the car, and began to drive to Menemsha.
There is no going back. One should never go back.
He realized that the instant he saw the house. He drove the car up the rutted sand road and then pulled into the parking space, and the gray shingles of the house reached out to engulf him. Mary was with him again in that moment, sitting beside him, her eyes opening wide in delight as she saw the house and the ocean vista behind it. He could almost hear her voice, almost hear the car door slamming, the sound of her feet on the packed sand as she ran to the back of the house and the porch that overlooked the water.
Excerpted from Even the Wicked by Ed McBain. Copyright © 1958 Ed McBain. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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