body anywhere in Provincetown, wedding consultant Sydney Riley is
going to be the one to find it! The seaside town’s annual
Portuguese Festival is approaching and it looks like smooth sailing
until Sydney’s neighbor decides to have some construction done in
her home—and finds more than she bargained for inside her wall.
balancing her work at the Race Point Inn with an unexpected adventure
that will eventually involve fishermen, gunrunners, a mummified cat,
a family fortune, misplaced heirs, a girl with a mysterious past, and
lots and lots of Portuguese food. The Blessing of the Fleet is
coming up, and unless Sydney can find the key to a decades-old
murder, it might yet come back to haunt everyone in this
otherwise-peaceful fishing village.
She was standing in her doorway when I found a parking place for the Little Green Car and got to our street. I’ve read in books about people twisting their hands; I’d never actually seen it until then. “Mrs. Mattos! Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
“Probably nothing,” she said, on that same quavering note. “Oh, I’m probably disturbing you for nothing, Sydney.”
“Not at all,” I said firmly, taking hold of her elbow and turning her around. “Let’s go in, and you can tell me all about it.”
She was docile, letting me steer her back in the house and into the big kitchen where most of her life seems to take place. She has a home health aide who comes in to help her with bathing and laundry, but she doesn’t let anyone touch her stove: not to cook, not to clean. And when I say clean, I mean clean within an inch of its life: everything in Mrs. Mattos’ kitchen gleams. Not for the first time, I lamented that she couldn’t make it up my stairs: if she expended about an eighth of her usual zeal, my apartment would be cleaner than it had ever been.
She sat down, still fussing with her hands. “I’m having construction work done,” she said, and stood up again. “I should show you.”
“What kind of work?”
“Insulation.” Her voice was repressive, as if she were delivering censure of something. We’d just come off an amazingly, spectacularly cold winter, with single-digit temperatures and a nor-easter that brought the highest tides ever recorded, so I suspected she wasn’t the only one thinking about making changes. “In the walls. Them people at the Cape Cod Energy said I should.”
“Okay.” I still wasn’t getting what was wrong here. “Do you want to show me?”
She turned and led me into the front parlor (in Mrs. Mattos’ house, you don’t call it a living room); I had to duck to get through the heavy framed doorway, and the ceiling here was about an inch or so over my head. She, of course, had no such problems. A loveseat had been pulled away from one of the exterior walls and a significant hole made. She didn’t have drywall, but rather plaster and lathing, as older houses tended to. “There wasn’t nothing wrong with it. The insulation before was just fine,” she said, resentful. “Seaweed.”
She nodded vigorously. “Dried out. It’s what they used.” No need for anything else, her tone suggested.
“Okay,” I said again. “What is—“
“Go look,” she said, flapping her hands at me. “Just look.”
I looked. I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket and used the built-in flashlight. Wedged between strips of lathing was a box. “Is this it?”
Mrs. Mattos blessed herself. “Holy Mother of God,” she said, which I took for assent.
“Can I take it out?” I asked, eyeing the box. It looked as innocuous as last year’s Christmas present. Well, maybe not last year’s. Maybe from sometime around 1950.
Another quick sign of the cross. “Just don’t make me look. I can’t look again.”
I put my smartphone in my pocket and reached gingerly into the opening. Didn’t Poe write a story about a cat getting walled up somewhere? “Who’s doing your work for you, Mrs. Mattos?” It didn’t look as though they’d gotten very far in opening up the wall.
She was back to twisting her hands again. “The company wanted so much,” she began, and I nodded. Rather than getting a contractor, pulling a permit, having a bunch of workmen in her house and paying reasonable rates, she’d found someone to do it on the side. Someone’s unemployed cousin or nephew, probably. That sort of thing happens a lot in P’town, especially among the thrifty Portuguese. It explained the size of the hole, anyway: this was someone without a whole range of tools.
I pulled the box out—it was about the size of a shoebox, only square—and set it down carefully on the coffee table. Mrs. Mattos was looking at it as though something were about to pop out and bite her, like the creatures in Alien; she actually took a physical step back. This wasn’t just Mrs. Mattos being Mrs. Mattos; this thing was really spooking her.
I sat down beside the table and gingerly—you can’t say that I don’t pick up on a mood—lifted the top off the box. Sudden thoughts of Pandora blew by like an errant wind and I shook them off and looked inside.
Shoes; small shoes. Children’s shoes. Three of them, and none matching the others. It was wildly anticlimactic. “Shoes?” I said, doubt—and no doubt disappointment—in my voice.
“It’s not the shoes,” she said. “It’s that we shouldn’t never have moved them.”
I looked at them again. Old leather, dry and curling and peeling. But shoes? She was clearly seeing something I wasn’t. Had these children died some horrible death? Were these memories of lives that hadn’t been lived to their fullest? Something haunting, a song or an echo of laughter, moved through my mind as though on a whisper of summer air. I didn’t recognize the tune. “Mrs. Mattos?”
“It’s to keep them witches out,” she said, grimly.
She nodded. “An’ now there’s nothing to keep ’em from coming in. And nothing we can do about it, neither.”
, France, but has lived in the United States since her twenties. (No, she’s not going to say how long ago that was!) She spends most of her time inside her own head, which is great for writing, though possibly not so much for her social life. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or traveling… to inspire her writing.
The author of a number of mystery and historical novels (some of which you can see on Amazon, Goodreads, Criminal Element, HomePort Press, and her author website), de Beauvoir’s work has appeared in 15 countries and has been translated into 12 languages. Midwest Review called her Martine LeDuc Montréal series “riveting (…) demonstrating her total mastery of the mystery/suspense genre.” She is currently writing a Provincetown Theme Week cozy mystery series featuring female sleuth Sydney Riley.
De Beauvoir’s academic background is in history and religion, and the politics and intrigue of the medieval period have always fascinated her (and provided her with great storylines!). She coaches and edits individual writers, teaches writing online and on Cape Cod, and thinks Aaron Sorkin is a god. Her cat, Beckett, totally disagrees.
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