Some family secrets shouldn’t stay buried…
Music professor Gus LeGarde and his wife Camille are looking forward to a relaxing, month-long seaside vacation at Paines Creek Beach. But Gus barely has a chance to feel the sand between his toes before a near-miss car accident drags him right into the middle of a local family feud — and a centuries-old mystery that’s begging to be solved.
As Gus is drawn further into the conflict between the Cooks and the McNabbs — two families with a grudge going all the way back to Colonial times — he and Camille keep uncovering more questions than answers. Where is the long-lost Cook family treasure? What’s really wrong with Beckett Waterford, the McNabb-side member who’s the father of young Jane Cook’s son? And who’s telling the truth about Beckett and Jane’s clandestine relationship: Jane’s grandfather, surly patriarch Albert Cook; or the slightly odd Mr. and Mrs. Waterford?
Before long, mounting tension gives way to true danger as people start vanishing. And in the middle of a fast-brewing hurricane, Gus discovers the real secret at the heart of the feud: someone who will stop at nothing to make sure their side wins. Including murder.
Packed with shocking twists, exciting action, and fascinating tales of family lore and pirate treasure, Murder on the Brewster Flats is the first LeGarde Mysteries crossover novel with award-winning author Aaron Paul Lazar’s popular Paines Creek Beach series. Don’t miss this installment!
Free excerpt from Murder on the Brewster Flats
“I feel guilty, Gus.” Camille blissfully stared out the car window toward the ocean. She stretched her legs, then turned to me. “How can we possibly leave the family alone for a whole month?”
Opening my door, I welcomed the sea breeze. “They’ll be fine, honey.” I hated to admit it, but I had the same niggling fear about leaving my family at home in upstate New York.
In my life, if something could go wrong, it would.
“How can you be so sure?” She lifted worried brown eyes to mine.
“I’m sure, because Siegfried is there. He’s our rock. He knows the animals and the farm. Your mother’s there. She’ll watch Shelby like a hawk. And with Mrs. Pierce in charge of the house, it’ll run like a clock.”
Her shoulders relaxed—just a bit—and she opened her door. “Okay. I know you’re right. And besides, we really need this.”
The sign on the Paines Creek Beach said a sticker was required between the hours of nine and four, but our dash clock had just clicked over to a minute past four, so we were safe. We’d been driving on the New York State thruway and the Mass Pike for eleven hours, and all I wanted to do was kick off my boat shoes and feel the soft sand beneath my toes. Or maybe flop into the cool sea fully clothed.
At this point, anything other than sitting in the car sounded good.
I didn’t want to face why we needed to get away. Not yet. “Looks like the tide’s going out. See the creek running down there?” I pointed down to the shining ribbon of water running ten feet below the parking lot.
She reached down to unbuckle her sandals. “Let’s go.”
I locked the car and pocketed my keys, feeling excited about the prospect of a whole month on Cape Cod. When I’d researched the Cape’s various regions, the little town of Brewster had appealed to me, with its quaint stores and seven beaches on the calm bay side of the peninsula.
In the far distance, the sea glistened deep blue with cresting whitecaps. Nearer, the low tide flats shone in the late afternoon sun. Butterscotch sand mingled with streams of water and the tide pools glistened. A fresh ocean breeze tasted tangy on my lips, and I inhaled the salt air with a sense of unparalleled delight, trying to ignore the heavy feeling in my heart.
We walked barefoot toward the sea, following a stretch of sand flanking the curvy twists and turns of Paines Creek that emerged from the woods and emptied into the ocean. The water seemed to flow with urgency toward the open ocean, as if late for a date with the setting sun.
“Let’s walk out there,” Camille said, climbing on the big boulders of a jetty that stretched along the shore.
I followed her lead, making my way over the rocks. I landed with a satisfying thump on the wet sand.
Emerald green sea grass—still damp from its recent hours under water—waved in the breeze, undulating with a rhythm in concert with the clouds racing overhead.
I laced fingers with my wife. “I can’t believe we’re here.”
She smiled and began to run across a wet bar of sand that stretched like a rounded Milano cookie pointing toward the horizon. “Come on.”
I ran with her, letting the physical pleasure wash through me. It would be a great month. I’d get my book on Ella Fitzgerald and her jazz-era contemporaries finished—which would satisfy my no-longer-patient publisher—and I’d be able to check that job off the list.
And as much as I adored my extended family, which included my adult daughter, Freddie, the veterinarian, and her three darling children; my newly adopted teenage daughter, Shelby; my brother-in-law and best friend Siegfried and his new wife, Lily; my mother-in-law, Maddy, secretary of the music department where I taught music appreciation at the Conaroga University; our busy housekeeper/nanny/cook, Mrs. Pierce; my friend the cop, Joe Russell; our dogs, cats, horses, and barnyard of fowl; I was tired.
I was tired of caring for everyone, cooking feasts, cleaning up messes, scheduling old house repairs, and dealing with ungrateful college students who only took my courses because they were forced to fit my electives into their schedule.
I had to admit, I’d reached the end of my rope.
The straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back, however, had been the loss of my best friend, Max.
The scruffy mongrel was my pal forever, but one night, one horrible night two weeks ago, he’d suffered what Freddie thought was a blood clot that traveled from his heart to his brain. It had been a quick ending for my heroic dog, and for that I was grateful. But I knew I’d mourn him forever and that the raw black pain in my heart would be with me for a long time.
In a flash, I’d realized what I needed was a vacation.
Let me rephrase that. I needed a vacation where nothing bad happens. Where villains don’t stalk us in the streets of Vienna, where neo-Nazis don't lurk around every corner, or where giant drug companies don’t want me dead.
I need an honest-to-God, real vacation.
I’d been lucky to find a house near the ocean that was available for a whole month. The people who’d reserved it had their own emergencies and had canceled.
I stopped, closed my eyes, and inhaled the sea air again, feeling it cleanse my mind and body. It might help heal the hole in my heart little by little, like the water that trickled over my feet, leaving a soothing, cool sensation.
“Look, Gus. Hermit crabs!”
I glanced down and saw dozens of round-shelled creatures crawling in two inches of clear water. I leaned down and picked one up, careful not to touch its tiny claws. “Look at him, Camille. He’s a big one.”
She laughed and stepped back. “Oh, honey. Put him back in the water. He might pinch you.”
Gently, I returned it to the tide pool. “Okay. Back you go.”
We continued our walk, stopping to take pictures with our tightly clutched iPhones every few minutes. I didn’t want to drop my phone in the ocean on our first day—there would be far too many beautiful scenes to document, and I needed to stay in close touch with my family. But I couldn’t resist taking pictures.
It was impossible to absorb all the beauty surrounding us in every direction. Quaint houses peeked out from behind the dunes and tree lines. Aquamarine glistened in stripes against the dark blue water to the north. White sailboats sat stranded on their moorings, motionless with sails curled up tight. Seagulls squawked overhead and landed all around us, seeking crab tidbits. A bell tolled in the distance, and I wondered if it were on a rocking buoy in the deeper water.
Camille leaned down to dig a pearly shell from the sand. “Oh, look at this one.”
She handed it to me and I carefully placed it in the pocket of my shorts, knowing it would be the first of many.
We made our way toward the outer edge of the Brewster Flats, where waves curled against the edge of a sandbar. Three fishermen in army green boots and hats stood vigilant by their poles.
“Wonder what they’re catching?” I leaned down to poke at a curly trail in the sand and uncovered a periwinkle with a creature living inside.
“He looks a little slimy,” she said. “Is it a snail?”
“Yeah. He just retracted into his shell. Look how flat it is when he’s inside.”
She dared a quick touch, and then laughed and backed up. “Put him back. He might die of fright.”
“Done.” I set it back in the sand and covered it up again.
“I’m starving, honey. And we really should find the house and unpack. Plus, you have to do the grocery shopping and get the beach sticker.”
“I think we’re eating out tonight, sweetheart. I’m too tired to face a grocery store.”
“Okay. Well, what about that little seafood place we just passed?”
She nodded. “Mm hmm.”
“You read my mind.”
We linked arms and headed back to the shore, this time following the creek back to where it emerged from the woods and joined the ocean.
When we neared the parking area, I noticed an older gentleman poking at garbage with a stick. He methodically deposited each item into a pail, mumbling a bit as he moved across the beach.
“Afternoon,” I said. “Beautiful day.”
He turned a friendly, seamed face toward us. “Every day’s a beautiful day on The Cape.”
Camille laughed. “I guess you’re right.”
The man turned toward the ocean and rested both hands on a wooden railing, letting his eyes scan the horizon.
“I’m kind of jealous,” I said. “Out here every day, with this to keep you company.” I swept a hand toward the horizon. “Must be nice.”
A broad grin crept over his face. “I’m pretty much the luckiest guy on the Cape. Been doing this for forty-five years.”
“Nice,” I said. “You live around here?”
He nodded toward a cluster of cedar-shingled homes just beyond the parking area. “Yep. Just yonder.”
“Really?” Camille said. “I’d love to live by the sea.”
“Place has been in the family for centuries. My great, great, great granddaddy built it.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yep. In 1767.” He turned back again toward the beautiful horizon. “Don’t know how much longer we can keep the place, though.”
“Oh, no.” Camille wrinkled her brow. “Why’s that?”
“Back taxes.” The old man frowned and flapped his hand as if to wish away the thought. “Oh, crapola. I shouldn’t have said anything. You folks sure don’t wanna hear ‘bout my troubles.”
After an uncomfortable moment, I said, “Not at all. I’m sorry to hear about your house.” I held out my hand. “I’m Gus. This is my wife, Camille. We’ll be here for the next month.”
“Albert,” the man said, shaking our hands. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same here,” I said. “Hope to see you again.”
“I’m here every day, twice a day.” Without any ceremony, he shuffled off, waving over his shoulder. “Enjoy your stay.”
We rolled into the gravel driveway of the cedar-shingled house at 392 Run Hill Road. The little Cape house was situated on a private lot nestled in pine trees. I clocked it as only two miles from the beach.
Camille drew in a deep breath. “Oh, Gus. It’s perfect.”
I found the key in its designated hiding spot, opened the front door, and smiled. Spotlessly clean, the place was unpretentious, appointed with a leather couch, comfy armchairs, a big kitchen, and three bathrooms. We chose the upstairs bedroom with the queen-size bed. Spacious and simple, it was just what we needed, with two windows opening over a grove of pine trees and a box fan ready to cool us at night.
Once we’d dropped our bags upstairs, we explored the first floor.
“Oh, look. It has a deck.” Camille opened the sliding glass door off the dining area and stepped outside. “We can eat out here too. And look how private it is.”
She gave me a heart-melting smile that made my blood surge. My wife was a beautiful woman—there was no doubt about that—but it was her sheer sense of joy and love of life that had hooked me from the start. Everything was an adventure for Camille, as if life were full of new discoveries each day. The littlest things could make her laugh with that melodic sound that made me want to scoop her up and make love to her for hours.
Today was no different. Although I was tired from the drive, I felt a familiar longing course through me. “Private enough for…” I wiggled my eyebrows at her.
“Oh, Gus.” She hit my arm and snorted a laugh. “Is that all you think about?”
“When you’re around, it is.” I circled my arms around her from behind and kissed her neck.
She turned to face me and kissed me tenderly. “I’m glad we did this.”
A gentle wind washed through the surrounding trees, diffusing the clean scent of pine. Birds chirped in the trees as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
I wanted to be like them.
I pulled her closer, pressing her body tightly against me. “Want to shower before we eat?”
She raised her eyes to mine, knowing exactly what I meant. “You’re not too tired?”
“Never too tired for you.” I kissed her ear and lowered my lips to her neck, working my way slowly downward. “And there are no kids to interrupt the moment.”
She giggled. “I can’t remember the last time we made love in the daylight.”
“Not sure it ever happened,” I said in a hoarse whisper. “Maybe it’s time to set that right.”
Somehow, we fumbled our way upstairs to the bathroom, shed our clothes, and stood together in the shower under the warm spray. I lathered her body, from her beautifully rounded hips to her creamy shoulders, kissing her deeply and never wanting to stop.
When we couldn’t wait another minute, we partially dried off and headed for the bedroom, where we properly christened the bed while the late afternoon sunlight played over our entwined bodies.
Later that afternoon, I woke to the sound of my stomach growling.
Camille sat on the leather loveseat under the gabled window, texting.
“Everything okay?” I sat up slowly.
She glanced at me. “They’re doing fine without us, I’m happy to report.”
“Good to hear.” I got up and rummaged through my suitcase, selecting a clean tee shirt and pair of shorts. “You hungry? I’m starving.”
She tucked her phone in her white jean shorts, and gave me a lazy smile. “I’m always hungry afterwards, you know that.”
I kissed her lightly and she laid her head on my chest. “I love you, Gus LeGarde.”
“Me, too.” I chuckled. “Well, you know what I mean.”
“You’re such an egotist,” she said, shoving my arm. “Come on. Let’s go get some seafood.”
Kate’s Seafood was located on the corner of Paines Creek Road and Lower Road, less than a minute’s drive from the beach. The place was already hopping with families, tourists, and natives who queued in lines for dinner or ice cream. Some sat on the picnic tables under the extended front roof or in the pine grove off to the side.
We found a parking spot near the front and joined the line waiting to order food, studying the menu on the wall.
“I can’t decide, Gus. It all looks so good.”
I noticed someone walk by with a fish fry and mounded pile of crispy onion rings. “Me, too. I was going to splurge on a lobster roll. Or maybe a crab roll. But that fish looks really good, too.”
“They have tempura vegetables. Oh, and I really want some clam chowder.”
“What about lobster bisque?” I pointed to the sign.
We went back and forth, tortured with the choices, and finally had to decide when it was our turn to order. Camille went for a bowl of clam chowder and tempura vegetables, and I chose the fish and onion rings.
When our food was ready at the pickup window, we found a spot under the pines.
“Did you see all those choices for ice cream?” Camille said, tasting her chowder. “We’ll have to come here every night so we can try them all.”
I laughed, lifting a thin, golden onion ring from the huge stack they called a small order. “I’ve already got my eye on several flavors I haven’t seen in years. You know my usual is pistachio, which I’ll definitely have tonight, but there’s orange pineapple, frozen pudding, and grape nut, too. I haven’t seen those flavors since I was a kid.”
“Gus…This chowder is the best I’ve ever tasted.”
My eyebrows went up. “Really? Better than mine?”
“Sorry, honey. Here. Take a taste.”
I took a spoonful and realized she was right. Thick and creamy, it had just the right amount of potatoes and clams. “I’m getting this tomorrow.”
She laughed. “Told you.”
“And you’ve never tasted anything so light and delicious as these onion rings. Look how flaky the coating is.”
She picked one up, ate it with moans of pleasure, and placed both hands on the table, leaning forward. “We can never leave this place. I’m already in love.”
“Well, at least we have a month to enjoy it.” I watched a little gray bird with a pert tail feather. He hopped along the ground, cocking its head, and eyeing us. “I think he wants to share.” I found a small onion ring—there was no way I could finish the whole plate—and tossed him a piece. Immediately, he hopped over, picked it up, and flew off with it.
“What kind of bird is that?” she said.
“Never saw one before. We’ll have to look it up.”
She took out her phone. “No need to wait. Let me see.” She found a site to identify birds, typed in “gray,” “tail upright,” and “Cape Cod.”
“Here it is. He’s a little cat bird.”
“I hear them squawking all the time at home, but I’ve never seen one up close.”
The bird—or its close cousin—came back and cocked its head at us. I tossed it another piece, and then dove back into my fish.
An old green tractor pulling a hayride wagon drew up to the curb and parked.
“Hey,” Camille said. “Isn’t that Albert?”
“It is,” I said, waving to him.
He nodded, then dismounted and began to collect money from the families that queued around his wagon.
“We should go for a ride, Gus.” With eyes shining, she touched my arm.
I quickly finished the last of my fish and wiped my mouth. “Let’s do it.”
In three minutes we sat in the back of the wagon, having received a welcome smile and handshake from Albert. The tractor started up, belching a plume of smoke, then trundled down Paines Creek Road toward the beach.
The next morning I woke at six, excited about the prospects of walking on the beach in the early hours before the rest of humanity rolled out of bed. I checked the tide chart on my phone and found out it would be low tide. The idea of padding through soft sand and tide pools propelled me out of sleep and into full awake-mode.
I sat up and smiled. I still couldn’t believe I was actually on a real vacation. The last time we’d tried to get away—for our honeymoon, to be exact—had ended with us captured in cells in a remote neo-Nazi compound in Austria. (Mazurka, book 3)
We found our way out of that mess, but I hadn’t wanted to chance leaving home for the last few years.
I shook off the bad memories and glanced at the sparrows chirping on pine branches outside the window. They sounded deliriously happy. The underlying sadness that persistently loomed due to the loss of my dog seemed to dissipate—just a little.
I leaned over and kissed Camille’s cheek. “Baby?”
She pulled the covers higher, snuggling into her pillow. “Go ‘way.”
I chuckled. “Too early for you?”
“Mmff.” She rolled away from me.
“Want me to go alone?”
“Mm hmm. See ya later.”
I shrugged. “Okay. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
Her soft snoring made me smile. I got up, changed into clean denim shorts and a tee shirt, and padded down the stairs.
Coffee could wait. The shower could wait. I desperately wanted to feel the fresh sea breeze on my face.
The drive to Paines Creek Beach was quiet. No cars, no people, except a few older citizens who strode with serious expressions on their faces, baseball caps drawn down and hands pumping their fluorescent-colored weights.
The quaint houses along the way could have been featured in a travel magazine. Who knew? Maybe they had been. Cedar shake sidings, pink and white roses tumbling along fences in clouds of petals, bright blue hydrangeas waving in the breeze, and wherever they could manage to grow, thick clusters of orange daylilies lining the roads.
I pulled into the empty parking lot, making a mental note to head over to the Town Hall today to buy our beach sticker for the month. I also had to get the fridge stocked and figured I’d try to do that early as well, before the crowds swelled into the aisles of Stop & Shop.
Putting aside the thoughts of paper towels and strip steak, I opened the door and kicked off my sandals. I locked the car, snapped my keys onto a belt loop, and turned to face the azure ocean.
I breathed deeply, inhaling the tangy scent of the sea, and as I did, a sense of letting go washed over me, mingled with a feeling of simple celebration of the earth.
A flock of seagulls whirled overhead, their bellies reflecting the amber blaze of the early morning sun. To my right, colorful ocean kayaks sat in their wooden berths, awaiting adventurous tourists. Cherry red, lime green, fluorescent orange, and sunny yellow crafts gleamed in the early light.
I started toward the horizon, walking in the creek that meandered through the sand. It moved swiftly with the outgoing flow, and was about calf-high now. I almost fell a few times; the current was so strong. On either side were flat, rippled expanses of damp sand and beautiful pools of water reflecting the scudding clouds overhead. In the distance, the aquamarine line of the ocean waves curled with lacy whitecaps.
I stooped to pick up a shell for Camille, admiring the pastel colors and mother-of-pearl-like sheen on it. She’d love this one.
I pocketed it, and then squinted in the distance, where I saw a figure ambling along the beach further out. I continued toward the end of the low tide area, and as I grew nearer, I recognized Albert.
He walked with his head down, holding a metal detector in his hands. When he heard me sloshing toward him, he glanced up and issued a brief wave. “Mornin’.”
“Fine day for prospecting.”
“I’ll say. What’re you looking for?”
“Treasure,” he said solemnly.
“I see.” I wasn’t sure if he meant lost pocket change or pirate’s gold. “Any luck today?”
In one hand he carried an empty bucket. “Nope. Been looking for forty years. Can’t give up.”
“Are you searching for a particular treasure?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Guess I can tell you, since you’re an outta towner.” He stopped for a moment and sighed. “I’m looking for the treasure that was stole from my great, great, great granddaddy.”
“Wow. The one who built your house?”
“Yes sir. Mr. Zebediah Cook himself.” A far off look glazed his eyes.
“Cool.” I waited for a few seconds, but when he didn’t say more, I started to walk away. “Well, good luck today.”
He glanced at his watch. “Almost time to head in. You don’t wanna get caught when the tide comes in. Folks get stuck out here all the time. Have to swim in with their fancy iPhones held high in the air.”
I automatically patted my pocket where my iPhone six plus resided. “Er, thanks. I’ll turn back then.”
“See you tomorrow.” He continued to play the device back and forth over the sand.
I wandered back by a different route, alternately splashing through tide pools and padding across moist sand. Hermit crabs scuttled busily around my feet and razor clams squirted water in the air when I stepped near them.
Feeling serene and satisfied, I began to climb the bank toward the parking lot when the sound of squealing tires came from the road above.
Seconds later, a silver Corvette sailed over my head, landing nose down in the cold water of Paines Creek.