Once again, Klesko was forced to drag me out of my dark labyrinth. "Do we know what she was doing on Maquoit?"
Ronette Landry's stuffed-up voice came over our headsets: "Ariel Evans was a famous journalist. Her first book was a finalist for the Pulitzer, but her new one is even better. I read it in practically one sitting."
Ronette came from a big Franco-American family in the former mill town of Sanford. It was une famille, not unlike my late mother's. Ronette had olive skin, dark curls she seemed comfortable letting go gray, and copper-brown eyes that were always alert with curiosity. Landry was considered the best evidence analyst in the service and would normally have been considered essential to the investigation down in Berwick. I was grateful she'd dragged herself out of her sickbed to help me.
"What's her book about?" Klesko asked.
Because he was seated behind me, I couldn't see what he was doing, but I had the impression he was taking notes.
Ronette coughed into a wad of tissues. "Ariel went undercover among these neo-Nazis in Idaho, and she was imprisoned in their compound when they learned she was a reporter. They dry-fired guns at her head, threatened her with rape. The story of her escape was thrilling."
"So she was probably out on Maquoit writing another exposé," said Klesko. "It's not like November is peak tourist season."
"I can't imagine the islanders would have welcomed a reporter," Ronette said. "I've always heard the lobster wars are wicked fierce on Maquoit."
"If you dragged the bottom, I'm sure you'd find ghost traps galore," said Charley.
In the language of fishermen, a ghost trap is one that has been severed from the buoy that marks its location. Unmoored, it may bounce around on the rocky seafloor or get lost in the kelp forests that grow so thick in the Gulf of Maine. Violent storms, such as the nor'easters that lash the coast from September into April, frequently produce a bumper crop of ghost traps. So also do the equally violent feuds that occur between lobstermen. Some fisherman will take offense at his neighbor, whom he thinks is infringing on his territory. Or whom he suspects is screwing his wife. Maybe drugs are the cause of the conflict. Heroin is as easy to score as tobacco in Maine's fishing communities, where almost all financial transactions occur in cash.
We were passing over the archipelago south of Mount Desert. I have heard Maine's islands described as looking like puzzle pieces, but at that moment they resembled nothing so much as the shards of a plate shattered in a fit of rage.
Soon nothing was beneath us but frigid blue water.
I could see the shadow of our plane following us, almost furtively, along the broken surface of the ocean. It seemed to be playing hide-and-seek between the whitecaps. The weak sun hung low in the south. How many hours of daylight did we have left? Not many.
Under normal circumstances a boat would be carrying a contingent of wardens to the scene, but the investigative teams were all downstate. That left Landry and me. Charley, too. My friend and mentor had been a patrol warden before the position of investigator had been created. He'd seen more than his share of fatalities in the woods. And he'd proven in courts of law that many of those deaths were not what they'd appeared to be.
"I've never been out to one of these offshore islands," said Klesko.
"Really?" Ronette Landry was as surprised by this admission as I was.
At least he doesn't pretend to know more than he does, I thought. Most of the state police detectives of my acquaintance were not humble.
"I'm a farm boy from Aroostook County," he said. "How many people live out here year-round?"
"I'd be surprised if it was more than a hundred," said Charley. "All these old fishing outposts are dying off as the groundfish disappear and the oceans warm up. Lobsters are moving north in the Gulf of Maine. Give it a few years and Maquoit will go dead in the off-season, too."
In other words, the fate of the lobster was the fate of the island.
"That's it up ahead," Charley said.
"So soon?" Klesko said.
"The flight's only fifteen minutes by air, but it's two hours by ferry."