Coffee was the only thing on Jesse Stone’s mind when he entered the Paradise police station on a bright New En¬gland spring morning.
His first stop was usually the coffeemaker. But when he saw what was happening in front of Suitcase Simpson’s desk, which was located across the aisle from the kitchen area, he headed for his office.
A man and a woman, middle-aged, expensively dressed, and handsomely coiffed, were arguing loudly with Suitcase. The man was irate. His face was beet-red, and the woman was obvi¬ously concerned for him.
“Molly,” he said, “what’s going on?”
She followed him into his office.
“Tourists. Missing vehicle. They exited the turnpike at Para¬dise Road, looking for a place to have breakfast. They discovered Daisy’s. Sometime while they were eating, their car disappeared. Late-model Honda Civic.”
“What’s with the yelling,” Jesse said.
“They believe the car was towed.”
“And they think we towed it?”
“Yes. Because it was parked illegally.”
“You mean they didn’t park in Daisy’s lot?”
“And did they say why they didn’t park in Daisy’s lot?”
“When they chose Daisy’s, they weren’t certain they were gonna like it. So they parked on the street. In a red zone. When they decided it was okay, they never went back to move the car.”
“And that’s why they think it was towed?”
“Rich is checking on that as we speak.”
“Molly, can I ask you a question?”
“Since when do you need permission to ask me a question,” she said.
“May I have a cup of coffee, please?”
“You may. There’s some fresh.”
“I know. I can smell it.”
“Do you want me to wait here while you get it?”
“I want you to get it for me.”
“You want me to get coffee for you?”
She gave him the look.
“I don’t want to have to deal with those people just yet,” Jesse said.
“Because I’m the decider, and I have decided that I don’t want to deal with those people just yet. Will you please get me a cup of coffee?”
“You’re gonna owe me for this, Jesse,” Molly said, as she left the office.
It’s never easy, Jesse thought.
Molly returned with the coffee, followed by Suitcase and the couple from the hall.
“They wanted to speak with you directly,” Molly said, as she handed Jesse the cup.
The couple pushed past Molly and stood directly in front of Jesse’s desk.
“What are you doing about our car,” the man said.
“Jesse Stone,” Jesse said. “I’m the chief of police here.”
“Norman Steinberg,” the man said. “My wife, Linda. We want to know what you’re doing about our car.”
“Suit,” Jesse said. “What have we learned from Bauer?”
“He’s at Smitty’s Towing now, Jesse,” Suitcase said.
“He hasn’t located it.” “You mean it’s not there?” “Looks like it, Jesse.” “Could it be possible that the car was stolen?” Jesse said. The phone rang, and Molly answered it. “It’s Bauer,” she said to Jesse. “He wants to talk to you.” Jesse picked up the phone. “What have we got, Rich,” he said. “We got a problem, Skipper,” Bauer said. “Not only is the
Steinberg Honda not at Smitty’s, but there’s a woman here looking for her car, claiming that it, too, has gone missing. And the funny part is her car is also a Honda.”
When things had finally calmed down and the Stein-bergs had been taken to Paradise Car Rental, Jesse sat quietly, thinking.
Today was moving day for him. He had finally acted on his wish to move out of the condo where he’d lived since coming to Paradise.
He had rented it when he first arrived, when his future was uncertain. Despite its view of the harbor, it was basically a utili¬tarian space that had served his needs at the time.
But as the years went by and his position in Paradise became more secure, he began to yearn for something more suited to his personality and his desire for privacy.
It was Captain Healy, the state homicide commander and a resident of Paradise, who had called Jesse’s attention to the small house situated on an inlet, not far from Paradise Cove. It was two stories, barely more than a cottage, positioned on a bluff overlooking the bay. Its weathered appearance and re¬moteness made it feel both mysterious and enticing.
It was owned by an elderly physician and his wife who de¬cided they had finally lived through enough New England win¬ters. They were moving to Florida to be near their children and grandchildren and away from the cold.
But they couldn’t bear to sell it. Their life had been in Para¬dise; their children had been born there.
The possibility existed that they might miss it too much and decide to return. As an interim step, they opted to rent it.
Healy knew the couple and made the introductions. He thought they would find security entrusting their home to the Paradise police chief.
It was well within Jesse’s price range, partially furnished, and isolated enough to be attractive to him. Despite the inconve¬nience of having to lug his groceries across the narrow footbridge that spanned the bay, he fell in love with the place at first sight.
What little furniture he owned would be handled by Dex¬ter’s Movers. He had boxed and packed his few belongings and his clothing. Dexter’s would move it all.
Jesse had taken one final tour of the condo. Not sentimental by nature, he still had feelings for it, and as he prepared to leave it for the last time, he felt a momentary pang of uncertainty.
Then he’d thought better of it and turned the key in at the management office. He bid the condo good-bye.
His thoughts returned to the missing vehicles.
Only idiots and dead men believe in coincidence, he remem¬bered having read somewhere. It wasn’t likely that the disap¬pearance of two Hondas on the same day in the same town could be unrelated.
His first thought was that the cars had been stolen. He knew that gang-related automobile theft s often took place in New England, but they had never before occurred in Paradise.
The summer season was about to begin, and the last thing Jesse wanted to see in his office was the faces of tourists whose vehicles had disappeared.
And although he cared little for him, Jesse was certain the same would hold true for Carter Hansen, the current head of the Paradise Board of Selectmen.
As he left his office, Jesse could hear the sound of warning bells tolling ominously in his brain.
Carter Hansen waited for Jesse to enter the meeting hall before bringing the annual State of the Summer in Para¬dise conference to order.
As was his custom, Jesse took a seat in the back row, along¬side Molly and Suitcase. Today’s conference had attracted a good-sized audience, comprised mostly of town luminaries and interested citizens.
Most of the regular Paradise police officers were there. Peter Perkins. Arthur Angstrom. Richard Bauer. There were a few of the new summer hires as well.
The five members of the board of selectmen were seated on the dais, including the newly reelected Hastings Hathaway, once the head selectman.
Hasty had owned the First City Bank of Paradise. Fac¬ing possible failure, however, he had aligned himself with a Boston-based mobster and had begun using the bank to laun¬der money, a career that abruptly ended when his crimes were discovered by Jesse Stone, whom Hasty himself had hired.
He was apprehended, tried, and sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced to two years. With time off for good behavior, Hasty wound up serving only six¬teen months.
Upon his release, having been legally barred from return¬ing to the world of banking, Hasty opened an upscale used car dealership.
His infectious ebullience and easy charm contributed to his success, and when he sought reelection to the board, running on a “redemption” platform, he won handily.
Carter Hansen, who had become the head selectman by default when Hasty had gone to jail, was none too happy to welcome him back. He believed that the board of selectmen was no place for a convicted felon. Hansen was also unhappy that years ago, against his better judgment, Hasty had hired Jesse Stone.
Although Hansen was forced to admit that Chief Stone turned out to be an effective lawman, there was no love lost between them.
He gaveled the meeting to order.
“Citizens of Paradise,” he said, pleased with the sound of his voice. “This meeting will now come to order. The summer sea¬son is once again upon us, and there is much to be done.”
His gaze settled on Jesse.
“Chief Stone, have you anything you want to tell us regard¬ing your plans for the summer?”
Jesse remained seated and silent, creating a moment of dis¬comfort for Hansen. Finally, he stood and spoke.
“We’re ready,” he said.
Then he sat back down.
“That’s it,” Hansen said. “That’s all you have to say?”
On the dais, Selectman Morris Comden leaned over to snicker in Hansen’s ear.
“Not too much of a talker, is he?”
Hansen ignored the remark.
“For the record, Chief Stone, let it be known that the board of selectmen has approved funding for the hiring of additional law enforcement personnel for the summer season. This will give us a greater capability in the service of tourism, which is Paradise’s principal source of income. I assume this meets with your approval.”
“It does,” Jesse said.
“I assume that the force has been properly instructed as to the acceptable rules of behavior for a long and arduous summer season.”
Jesse noticed that Molly was staring at him with a look of exasperation on her face.
He turned to her and grinned.
Carter Hansen sat silently.
Jesse sat silently.
Finally, Hansen spoke.
“All right, then,” he said. “Now that we’ve heard from Chief Stone, I’d like to introduce Alexis Richardson, who has been hired to head the public-relations and event-planning cam¬paign for the upcoming season. It will be up to Alexis to spread the word that Paradise is the hot new location for summer tourism.”
Jesse watched as a young woman in the front row stood and, amid a scattering of applause, made her way to the lectern.
He listened attentively as she discussed her plans to create a summer music festival. She looked to be in her late twenties, exceptionally pretty and fashionably slender. She wore a black Donna Karan summer suit with a very short skirt and a white open-collared blouse. A simple gold chain adorned her neck. Her pale skin was complemented by expertly styled shoulder-length jet-black hair, which she constantly brushed from her forehead with a swipe of her hand.
As she spoke, her eyes scanned the audience, stopping occa¬sionally on Jesse. Her talk was short, and afterward she returned to her seat.
Carter Hansen took to the lectern and talked briefly before calling on a handful of prominent business leaders, the CEO of Paradise Memorial Hospital, the fire captain, and the head of the Sanitation Department.
As was the case with Ms. Richardson, each of the speakers devoted their remarks to their own summer initiatives and their varying degrees of readiness.
Jesse’s attention waned.
His thoughts turned to Sunny Randall. Although they had decided to take the next step in their somewhat quixotic rela¬tionship, things had suddenly changed when she accepted a job that took her to Europe for the summer.
Once she had gone, he began to feel the weight of his com¬mitment easing. He began to have doubts. He was haunted by remembrances of his marriage to Jenn. He felt his psychic defenses reestablishing themselves. He found himself becom¬ing more and more reclusive and increasingly secure in his solitude.
He was suddenly wrenched from his reverie.
“Jesse,” Molly said, “wake up. The meeting’s over.”
When Jesse and Molly left the Town Hall, they found clusters of people milling about on the sidewalk, talk¬ing in small groups.
Alexis Richardson stood alone, her eyes searching the
crowd. “Chief Stone,” she said, when she spotted Jesse. She approached him. “Jesse,” he said. He liked the way she looked. Even more so up close. “Alexis,” she said. “Do you think you could make some time for me, Jesse? I’d like to stop by and share my thoughts about
the summer with you.”
Jesse didn’t say anything.
She moved closer to him and lowered her voice.
“I have some ideas about how to successfully promote tour¬ism,” she said. “I subscribe to the spring-break theory. All-day music festivals. Rock and roll. They’ll swarm to Paradise like they did to Woodstock. They’ll be sleeping fifteen deep on the beach.”
“There’s no sleeping on the beach,” Jesse said.
“I’m very serious about this, Jesse,” she said.
Hasty Hathaway approached them.
“Jesse,” he said.
“Hasty,” Jesse said.
Alexis took the moment to make her getaway. Looking at Jesse, she lifted her hand to her ear, thumb and pinky extended as if she was holding a telephone, and silently mouthed the words I’ll call you.
“I hope I didn’t interrupt anything,” Hasty said, as he watched her walk away. “That girl has some pair of legs on her.”
“I’m glad to see that some things don’t change, Hasty,” Jesse said.
“What’s this about a car or two going missing,” Hasty said. “I heard a couple of Hondas disappeared.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear.”
“It’s a small town, Jesse. Things don’t stay secret for very long.”
Jesse didn’t say anything.
“If you ever need anything,” Hasty said. “Anything at all, you’ll be sure to let me know?”
“I hope you’re not just saying that.”
“I’m not just saying that, Hasty.”
“I hope not,” Hasty said. “You know, I’m very fond of you, Jesse.”
Jesse placed his hand on Hasty’s shoulder for a moment, then turned away.
He spotted Molly and walked toward her.
The sidewalk crowd had thinned. Several of the lingerers greeted Jesse as he passed.
“You running for office,” Molly said.
“I’m a very popular figure here, Moll.”
“That’s only because you’re the police chief.”
“What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is that your popularity is an illusion. Some¬thing that comes with the job. Try not to let it go to your head.”
“I know. You just stick with me. It’s my job to keep you illusion-free.”
“And it’s a fine job that you’re doing, too. Keep it up and there could be a big promotion in it for you.”
“Promotion to what,” Molly said.
“Let me get back to you on that,” Jesse said. They began walk¬ing toward Jesse’s cruiser.
“You know something, Moll,” Jesse said. “What?” “I think we might just have our hands full with Ms. Richardson.” “In what way,” Molly said. “Rock and roll,” Jesse said. “Which means?” “Trouble. Right here in River City.”
Excerpted from ROBERT B. PARKER'S KILLING THE BLUES © Copyright 2011 by Michael Brandman. Reprinted with permission by Putnam Adult. All rights reserved.