Murder on The Great Loop. Part One

“Mayday Mayday Mayday!, Mayday Mayday Mayday!” A womans voice crackled over the radio on VHF channel 16, the international marine hailing and distress channel.
“Vessel in distress. This is Coast Guard Northeast Sector, over.
“Coast Guard. Thank God! Please help me!”
“Vessel in distress. What is the nature of your emergency, over.
“My husband fell off the boat! I can’t find him!”
“Vessel in distress. What is your present location, over.”
“Four one degrees, decimal one three, decimal four three, zero seven two degrees, decimal three nine, decimal two eight. How copy?”
“Good copy. What is the name and description of your vessel, over.”
“The name is Andiamo. Thirty seven-foot Great Harbor, White with green trim.”
“How many people on board? over.”
“Just me,” the woman answered. “Just. Me.”

Nearby boaters came by after hearing the emergency call on their radios, but no one could find the man. The Coast Guard sent out a R.I.B. but no luck either. There was a search, an investigation, and all the usual things that happen when somebody goes missing on the waterways. It was soon determined that the man was lost at sea and presumed dead. It happens more than you think, and since the parties involved have no prior problems with the police, or anybody for that matter, it was labeled an unfortunate accident.

Detective Pete Jansen closed the new manila folder and let it flop onto his desk. He looked up and rubbed the area between his bushy eyebrows.
“So that’s it huh? Just another poor bastard who fell off a boat and that’s that.” His eyes bore a hole into the back of his partners head, right through the thick black bun that was loosely tied with a red hair band. Finally, after a long drawn out sigh, detective Gerry Sharpe turned her squeaky old chair around to face him. She had that “now what” look in her dark brown eyes. He, as usual, ignored the look, and pressed on.
“What if–and that’s a big if– a woman wanted to get rid of her husband. Let’s say she was dissatisfied for some reason. The guy had bad breath, or he had a temper, or maybe he was cheating. I don’t know. Could be anything. They’re on the boat, she conks him on the head, he falls in, no more hubby,” he sat back, crossed his big arms, and stared with arched eyebrows, waiting.
“You’ve been watching too much NCIS. This is the real world. Normal people don’t do that sort of thing, and by all appearances this woman is totally normal. She looks like a god-damned librarian for crissakes,” she countered. “Anyway, there’s no proof of any wrongdoing,” she sat back as well, cocked her head, and raised one well-trimmed eyebrow.
“Exactamundo!” Pete exclaimed, putting both of his large fists on his desk while rising up out of his chair. “So you agree. It could be murder.”
“No I do not agree. And sit down, you’re getting crazy.”
“Gerry. It’s not so crazy. It’s almost too perfect,” he softened his tone and sank back down in his chair. It groaned in protest.
Gerry stared at nothing for a long moment, thinking. She put elbows on her desk, steepled her fingers, and said:
“Okay. Why this one. What is it about this one that’s different from all the other deaths we’ve investigated?”
“I don’t know really. I can’t explain it. Just a hunch I guess.”

The black Ford Explorer pulled into the newly paved driveway of the modest three bedroom cape. Dormers, cedar shingles, and white trim whispered “Cape Cod.” The front yard was well-kept but not overly so. Flowers and small trees decorated the edges and the grass was mostly green and freshly mowed. A patch of daffodils peeked out from under a pine, and a small stand of black-eyed susans struggled next to the cement walkway. Gerry looked at her partner.
“We’re just here to ask a few routine questions. Okay?” she asked. “OKAY?” she repeated more forcefully.
“Ya fine,” Pete said somewhat begrudgingly as he opened his door. They walked up to the front door. It was wide open, and through the screen they could see into the back yard. A woman in a large straw hat was fussing with some plants on a glass-topped table.
They went around to the side gate and opened it.
“Hello. Mrs. Caruso? Hello.” Pete called out.
“Hello. I’m back here,” the woman answered.
They pushed through the gate and walked past a small shed into the back yard. Flowering plants, pines, apple trees, and hostas lined the tall stockade fence that completely surrounded the premises. Like the front yard, it was also well-kept but not overly so.
“Mrs. Caruso? Hi. I’m Detective Jansen,” he said as he extended his big hand. “And this is Detective Sharpe,” he nodded toward his companion. “Sorry about your loss. We would like to ask you a few routine questions if you don’t mind. For our files. Have you got a moment?”
“Oh. Yes. Certainly. I have time,” the woman pulled off her dirty gloves and perched on the arm of a big, cream-colored Adirondack chair.
“Please. Have a seat. Can I get you anything. Some lemonade perhaps?”
Pete and Gerry each took seats in brown folding chairs under a large umbrella. The shade felt wonderfully cool in the July heat.
“Nothing for me thank you,” Pete said as he opened a small notebook.
“I’m fine,” Gerry said, trying to smile enough to offset her partners gruff manner.
“What’s this all about?” the woman asked. Her eyes searched both detectives.
“Mrs. Caruso…”
“Call me June,” she interjected.
“June,” Pete corrected himself. “Would you call yourself an experienced boater?”
“I guess we both were. I mean, Dave, my husband, more so than me, but we were doing The Great Loop…”
“The Great Loop?” Pete interrupted.
“Yes. It’s a boat trip around the eastern United States. After 6,000 miles and eleven months on the boat, I guess I became quite experienced,” she explained.
“And that’s when the accident happened?” Gerry noticed Pete’s use of the word “accident”.
“Yes. That’s correct.”
“I understand this could be painful, but would you go over exactly what happened?”
“But I’ve already gone over everything with the other officers.”
“I know June, but we need to hear it from you again. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” she began. “We were anchored right off Fishers Island in a place called Chocomont cove. It was a beautiful evening. We had just finished a dinner. My husband went up front to the foredeck to smoke a cigar. I was in the salon…”
“Yes. It’s like a living room on a boat. I was talking to my sister on the phone. I heard a noise, and when I looked up my husband was cartwheeling over the bow rail. I called out. He never surfaced. I called the Coast Guard and that’s about it.
“Mrs. Caruso, do you swim?”
“Yes I do.”
“And your husband?”
“Yes. He is, ah, was a swimmer.”
“Did you try to go after him?”
“Yes. Of course. But it was getting dark and obviously I didn’t find him,” she said flatly.
Pete and Gerry sat silently and let the moment hang.
“Thank you for your time June. Again, we’re so sorry for your loss,” he stood up and tucked the notebook into his inside breast pocket. “We’ll find our way our out,” he said and handed her his card. “If you think of any more details, no matter what, please don’t hesitate to call. Again, sorry. Good night.”
The detectives closed the gate behind them and got into their SUV.
“What do ya think? Gerry asked as she buckled herself in.
“She’s lying,” Pete answered and backed out of the driveway.

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