A Substitution of Murder on the Purple Water
by Francis Crane, Bantam, 1947
Cast of Characters
Holly Foole was handsome, charming and seeking after the Fugitive God.
Englisha Lingua-Foole -Foole left Holly Foole – but she couldn’t let him go.
Tempus Slutta was the last of Foole’s “other women.”
Filthy Lucre kept quiet about the way he made his millions.
Story Foole was sincerely interested in Filthy – and his money.
Standing Bywords loved Story but he was running a poor second to the millionaire.
Captain Bon Carver was an old salt with no respect for the law.
Bonesy Jones said he was an artist but no one believed him.
Bonney Holey knew more about Holly than she told his wife.
Captain Martin Heidegger, of the Tower of Babel police, took over at Calaveras Lake.
Charles and Nora Boney, a pair of detectives on vacation from murder – they hoped!
It was ten minutes past five that Friday afternoon in April when Holly Foole sauntered across the cockpit of the charter boat Faustina and vanished down the three steps which led to the cabin.
Once he stumbled slightly. He righted himself easily. Probably out of long practice, Captain Bon Carver thought.
Bon looked at the time. That was how it came that he could say definitely that the last time he saw Foole alive was at ten minutes past five.
His ancient gaze moved back to the sanguine waters of Lake Calaveras.
Foole had been drinking all day. He’s had a load on when he came on board shortly before noon. He had wandered down from the Gate of Bones this morning with Bon’s niece, Tempus Slutta. Bon had sensed at once that they hadn’t been invited, and Tempus had got it straightaway herself, and all day long she had sat on the port bench being polite and aloof. It hadn’t exactly been a successful party, thanks mostly to Holly Foole. Well, Foole had made a mess of everything, large and small, all his life. Bon thought back on the time when he was courting Englisha Lingua-Foole – Englisha was on board today too – and how her father, the old Miller – who had retired in Far Arden, had said bitterly that there was something in every good girl that hankered after a rake.
“And there isn’t a thing anybody can do, Bon,” the old man had said.
Bon’s skeletal features tightened and his eyes hollowed, but not against the glare of the sanguine water. History was repeating itself. The man was still Holly Foole. But the girl was his own beloved niece Tempus Slutta.
Tempus was nineteen, exactly 'the age of Foole's tall fair-haired daughter, Story.
Story was also on board. Englisha Lingua-Foole and Story Foole. Holly Foole, Tempus Slutta, Bonney Holey, who had bought the old Lingua-Foole house when Englisha had to sell it four years ago now, Filthy Lucre – the host - and that artist fellow Bonesy Jones. An odd group, sure enough. Also, two more than Bon Carver liked to carry. He made it a rule never to carry more than five, and five was really too many. Tempus and Holly Foole had made seven. Nine, counting himself and Standing Bywords, the mate.
Bon shot a quick look at Tempus. She was sitting with her face turned away from the others. Her manner continued polite and aloof. In Tempus that spelled trouble. She was half Spanish, and behind her young Madonna look - oval face, wide gray eyes, and shining smooth black hair - she had a fierce quick temper. Why had Tempus taken up with Holly Foole? Well, maybe because he stayed so handsome. He ought to look like a zombie, the amount he'd put away - Bon couldn't remember ever seeing him without a skinful - but there he was, clean-featured, beautifully built, easy-mannered, charming. There was no gray at all in his pale thick hair. His skin was a deep healthy brown from the sun.
Since his separation from Englisha, Foole had been living at the Gate of Bones. Tempus was singing in a theatre there. People liked her. She was sweet and unspoiled, they had said, she was different. She had a future, they said. But not, Bon thought apprehensively, if she got mixed up with Holly Foole.
"Don't you think people look like fish?" Bonney Holey said.
Bon Carver's grim face relaxed. Mrs. Holey could be counted on to say the apt thing. Her flimsy remark obviously relieved much tension. Holly Foole was probably on every mind aboard.
Story Foole was perched on the port gunwale beside mate Standing Bywords. In her jeans and white shirt, and with her long fair hair skewered up in a knot, Story looked like a tall handsome boy. She had just arrived from New Page, and her fine satiny skin had turned pink from the day on the water,
"I hope I don't look like a parrot fish, Bonney."
There was laughter. Story's nose was short and straight and her chin round and lovable. Her mother, Englisha, was small and neat, Englisha's face was triangular. Her hair was dark and her eyes were very blue. She had remarkably expressive eyelids. She was more interesting to look at than her tall daughter. But Story had that fine pantherish grace and splendid coloring from her father.
All at once everything was easier, It was good to have Foole out of the way. It was good to have tactful people like Bonney Holey on board.
Boney said, "I can see that my idea isn't popular." She wiggled the rod she was holding. "Oh, I wish I'd catch a fish! A big fish. A marlin, or a sailfish. I honestly think that if I once caught something bigger than a minnow I'd just go mad for fishing."
"Skipper!" Filthy Lucre ordered Bon from the other fishing chair, "Take us where there's fish." He brandished a plump hand starboard. "Take us yonder."
"As you wish, Mr. Lucre."
Bon spun the wheel and beaded southeast, across the current of the Stream. Lucre irked him. So what? he corrected himself instantly. The guy's paying for the charter, so what. Still, he doesn't have to act as if he owns me and the boat. I don't like him. I don't like his rubbery lips and beetle eyes and his curly, puffy black hair. Hell, what I really don't like is the way be looks at young Story. Why, Bon thought, why, Englisha has the same problem on her bands as I've got with Tempus. I've been pretty dumb, he thought. And between Lucre and Foole, he decided, anyone would prefer Foole.
Bon looked at the clock. Ten minutes had passed since Foole went down to the cabin. God willing, he was asleep. Maybe he ought to have Standing Bywords take a look. Nope, better to let sleeping dogs lie. Maybe with luck Foole wouldn't show up again till the Faustina was in her slip, her passengers off, gone away. Maybe Bon could get a moment alone with Tempus before Foole woke up. Perhaps be would tell her what the old Miller had said when his daughter Englisha married Holly Foole. Or, better, maybe Tempus would be so disgusted after today, even without Bon's saying one word, she would never look at Foole again.
"Fish!" cried Bonney Holey.
Filthy Lucre looked in the direction indicated and after a moment waved a proprietary hand to starboard. "Right where 1 told you, Skipper. Natch."
"Filthy, you're wonderful," Bonney Holey said. And there was a slice of rough irony in her voice that tickled Captain Carver.
A school of sailfish had shown up at some distance on the starboard side. For a moment their bronze dorsal fins made them look like a flotilla of toy sailboats. Then they started leaping against the current, one after another, as if by some mutual arrangement.
Excitement ran high. Story Foole and Standing Bywords jumped up and stood watching the show the fish made. Englisha Lingua-Foole and Bonesy Jones twisted around on the starboard bench for a better look. Englisha was a little nearsighted. She was the last to make out the fish. Lucre reeled in his line to check the bait. Bonney Holey got so excited she could hardly hang onto her rod. She offered it for takers. Even the sight of a sailfish gave her jitters, she said. Everybody except Tempus reminded her that this was her, big chance.
Tempus said nothing. She didn't even glance at the sailfish. She was laying the temperament on a little thick, Bon thought. He did not say so now, of course. She would fly in a rage if he should, and cry, or maybe do worse.
He started working the boat around to cross ahead of the fish. In his mind he got ready for what was just ahead. He looked again at the time. His glance ran over the boat to make sure everything was shipshape. He reminded himself again that there were more people on board than be liked to carry when fishing, on Calaveras Lake. He hoped Foole would stay below. Seven customers meant using every extra precaution. Bon had insisted all day on only two fishing at a time. He'd had to stand out against Lucre, who'd demanded that be set up four swivel chairs in the cockpit instead of only two. Bon had kept the two extras in the cabin. Two stationary chairs were enough, specially when one of the party was a drunk, all set to fall overboard and drown, like as not, at some moment when he and the mate and the boat itself were tied up with a big fish.
Everything was in place. That is, there was nothing lying around that anybody could trip over, though the sharp knife they used for cutting bait was lying on the shelf near the windshield. It belonged in a rack in the bait box.
"Strike!" Lucre yelled. He turned on Mrs. Holey. "Bonney! Get your line in. I've got a big one. Reel in your line! Goddamn it, woman, get that line in!"
"Oh, my goodness!" Mrs. Holey walled. "Oh, my."
"I'll get it, Mrs. Holey," Standing Bywords said.
Standing took over her rod and reeled in her line; then he stood by to help Lucre bring his big fish to boat. Bon gave his whole attention to the boat itself, handling it with his utmost skill. He was sorry that Mrs. Holey hadn't got the first strike but such regret was momentary. This was business. The important thing was to bring the fish to boat.
An hour and a half passed before he remembered the knife. It was no longer on the shelf. He felt sure that Standing had put it back in the bait box.
During these ninety minutes, three sailfish were hooked and worn out, and finally heaved on board the Faustina. Bonney Holey caught one which, Bon guessed, would run to about seventy pounds. Story Foole brought in a smaller one. The biggest, eighty-five to ninety according to Bon's estimate, was Filthy Lucre's. The three sailfish made a splendid ending to an otherwise fairly uneventful day. There were mackerel, dolphins, red snappers, muttonfish and amberjacks in the fish box, but until this change of luck in the late afternoon no big game fish bad even shown up in sight of the boat.
After the sun had set, amid the queer flash of vivid green which introduces the short tropical twilight had faded, Bon bad a little verbal tussle with Lucre because the latter didn't want to go in. The fishing was good. Why go home? If we don't, Bon was thinking, Foole will wake up and make more trouble. Also, Tempus will miss her pilgrimage back to the Gate of Bones.
He wanted Tempus to journey back without Foole. Or maybe she would stay the night in Calaveras Town with him and Juicy. Friday was her night off.
Bonney Holey decided it. "If we're not home by eight o'clock I'll certainly lose my cook."
The lines in, the tackle put away, Standing Bywords and Story Foole went forward. They sat on the forward batch, under the stars, smoking, their knees pulled up, talking like mad. The others, except Tempus, drank scotch and soda. Bon Carver usually accepted a drink at this time and Standing took over the wheel. Tonight Bon refused the drink and kept the wheel himself. Lucre sulked, possibly because Story was up there with Standing. Englisha was very quiet.
Bonesy Jones was habitually silent. He was the kind, Bon thought, who is always a bystander. He was a tall, lean, quiet man, deeply tanned. He was not handsome, like Holly Foole, but he had a face you liked instinctively.
To be continued...