Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the
greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet
people of interest.
THE MOMENT I HEARD how McAra died, I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, "Rick, I'm sorry, this isn't for me, I don't like the sound of it," finished my drink, and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick -- I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent -- that once he'd started talking there was never any question I wouldn't listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.
The story, as Rick told it to me over lunch that day, went like this: McAra had caught the last ferry from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to Martha's Vineyard two Sundays earlier. I worked out afterward it must have been January the twelfth. It was touch-and-go whether the ferry would sail at all. A gale had been blowing since midafternoon and the last few crossings had been canceled. But toward nine o'clock the wind eased slightly, and at nine forty-five the master decided it was safe to cast off. The boat was crowded; McAra was lucky to get a space for his car. He parked belowdecks and then went upstairs to get some air.
No one saw him alive again.
The crossing to the island usually takes forty-five minutes, but on this particular night the weather slowed the voyage considerably: docking a two-hundred-foot vessel in a fifty-knot wind, said Rick, is nobody's idea of fun. It was nearly eleven when the ferry made land at Vineyard Haven and the cars started up -- all except one: a brandnew tan-colored Ford Escape SUV. The purser made a loudspeaker appeal for the owner to return to his vehicle, as he was blocking the drivers behind him. When he still didn't show, the crew tried the doors, which turned out to be unlocked, and freewheeled the big Ford down to the quayside. Afterward they searched the ship with care: stairwells, bar, toilets, even the lifeboats -- nothing. They called the terminal at Woods Hole to check if anyone had disembarked before the boat sailed or had perhaps been accidentally left behind -- again: nothing. That was when an official of the Massachusetts Steamship Authority finally contacted the Coast Guard station in Falmouth to report a possible man overboard.
A police check on the Ford's license plate revealed it to be registered to one Martin S. Rhinehart of New York City, although Mr. Rhinehart was eventually tracked down to his ranch in California. By now it was about midnight on the East Coast, nine p.m. on the West.
"This is the Marty Rhinehart?" I interrupted.
"This is he."
Rhinehart immediately confirmed over the telephone to the police that the Ford belonged to him. He kept it at his house on Martha's Vineyard for the use of himself and his guests in the summer. He also confirmed that, despite the time of year, a group of people were staying there at the moment. He said he would get his assistant to call the house and find out if anyone had borrowed the car. Half an hour later she rang back to say that someone was indeed missing, a person by the name of McAra.
Nothing more could be done until first light. Not that it mattered. Everyone knew that if a passenger had gone overboard it would be a search for a corpse. Rick is one of those irritatingly fit Americans in their early forties who look about nineteen and do terrible things to their body with bicycles and canoes. He knows that sea: he once spent two days paddling a kayak the entire sixty miles round the island. The ferry from Woods Hole plies the strait where Vineyard Sound meets Nantucket Sound, and that is dangerous water. At high tide you can see the force of the currents sucking the huge channel buoys over onto their sides. Rick shook his head. In January, in a gale, in snow? No one could survive more than five minutes.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Harris
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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