Kimmer is three steps into the house before she, too, stops and stands perfectly still.
"Oh, no," she whispers. "Oh Misha oh no."
The house is a disaster. Furniture is upended, books are strewn over the floor, cabinet doors broken, rugs sliced to ribbons. My father's papers are everywhere, the breeze from the open front door ruffling their edges. I peek into the kitchen. A few of the dishes are smashed on the floor, but the mess is not as bad, and most of the plates are simply stacked on the counter. While Kimmer waits in the front room with Bentley, I force myself to go upstairs. I discover that the four bedrooms are barely disturbed. As though there was no need to bother, I am thinking as I stand in the window of the master suite, telephone in hand, talking to the police dispatcher. As I explain what has happened, I look down at the BMW, parked illegally along the split-rail fence that guards the south side of Ocean Avenue, doors still open, baggage not yet unloaded. Something isn't right. They did not wreck the second floor. The thought keeps swirling through my mind. They left the second floor alone. As though ransacking the first floor was enough. As though--as though--
As though they found what they were looking for.
Now more puzzled than frightened, I go back downstairs to join my wife and son, who, wide-eyed, are hugging each other in the living room. The police, arriving in minutes from their quaint headquarters a block away, quickly pronounce the destruction the work of local vandals, teenagers who, unfortunately, spend much of the winter trashing the homes of the summer people. Not all the Vineyard's teenagers are vandals, or even very many: just enough to annoy. The very kind officers apologize to us on behalf of the Island and assure us that they will do their best, but they also warn us not to expect to catch the people who did it: vandalisms are nearly impossible to solve.
Vandals. Kimmer eagerly accepts this explanation, and I am quite sure the insurance company will too. And, more important, the White House. Kimmer promises to make plenty of trouble for the alarm company, and I have no doubt she will keep her word. Vandals, my wife and I agree over pizza and root beer at a nearby restaurant a couple of hours later, after the man who looks after the house in the off-season has dropped by to inspect the damage.
"I'll make some calls," he told us when he finished tut-tutting his way around the place.
Vandals. Of course they were vandals. The kind of vandals who destroy one floor of the house and ignore the other. The kind of vandals who steal neither stereo nor television. The kind of vandals who know how to circumvent my late paranoid father's state-of-the-art alarm system. And the kind of vandals who are in direct contact with the spirits of the departed. For I do not tell either my wife or the friendly police officers about the note I found upstairs while waiting, sealed in a plain white envelope left on top of the dresser in the master bedroom, my correct title and full name typed neatly on the outside, the perplexing message on the inside written in the crabbed, spiky hand I remember from my childhood, when we would proudly leave copies of our school essays on the Judge's desk and wait for him to return them, a day or so later, with his comments inked redly in the margins, demonstrating what idiots our teachers were to award us A's.
The note on the dresser is from my father.
Ordinarily, on the third afternoon of a Vineyard sojourn, I would be at the Flying Horses with my son. But our sojourns are usually in the summer. Now it is autumn, and the carousel is closed for the season. Fortunately, the Island offers other diversions. Yesterday, as a hastily assembled clean-up crew tried to put Vinerd Howse back in some kind of order, the three of us journeyed up-Island--that is, to the westernmost end--and spent a marvelous afternoon walking the breathtaking ancient cliffs at Gay Head in the chilly November air, picnicking in our down parkas at the perfect pebbly beach in the fishing village of Menemsha, and driving the wooded back roads of Chilmark, near the sprawling property once owned by Jacqueline Onassis, pretending not to be on the lookout for the rich and famous. We had dinner at a fancy restaurant on the water in Edgartown, where Bentley charmed the waitresses with his patter. How many demons we exorcised I am not sure, but I saw no sign of the roller woman, who might be a phantom after all, and Kimmer did not mention the judgeship once and talked on her cell phone only twice. And she kissed me quite carefully this morning when Bentley and I dropped her at the airport for her flight back to the mainland in one of the little turboprops that serve the Island. Bentley and I are staying on because . . . well, because we need to. Kimmer has work to do, I have a week or so of leave left, and Bentley needs some rest and recreation. And there is another reason as well. In Oak Bluffs, unlike Elm Harbor, I will never be tempted for a moment to let my precious son out of my sight.
Excerpted from The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter Copyright 2002 by Stephen L. Carter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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