CHAPTER 1        

       "That's her story?"
            Andy nodded.
           "And she's sticking to it?"
            Again, he nodded.
            "Let me get this straight. Page Spenser told the cops that she and her husband had a small argument so he decided to go kayaking. In New Jersey. In February. In the Atlantic Ocean. At night."
        "Yes." If Andy's mind housed any skepticism, his face betrayed no doubt.
        "Dallas Spenser, a fifty-five-year-old man, says he is going kayaking in the middle of the night."
        "Well, not actually the middle. He went out a little before midnight."
        "Close enough." I took a deep breath to punctuate my statement. "Her fifty-five-year-old husband."
        "Okay. Her fifty-three-year-old husband says he is going out in an ocean kayak a tiny little boatin February in the Atlantic Ocean and she believes him?" I paused. "And the police believe her?"
        Andy shrugged. "The cops see surfers and windsurfers all winter. You've seen them. I know I have."
        "Fifty-three-year-old surfers?"
        "I never check their I.D. Besides, Dallas planned for the cold; he had a wet suit. They found it on the beach."
        "Near the body?"
        Andy shook his head. "No, right in front of the house."
        "Let me just go over this again."
        "Meg." Andy sounded exasperated.
        "I just want to make sure I understand." I cleared my throat. For sarcastic effect. "Dallas Spenser has a fight with his wife. To work off his anger, he takes an ocean kayak and a wet suit down to the beach."
        "They live at the beach. He had to move a thirty-pound boat maybe seventy-five, one hundred yards." Andy's voice was rife with impatience.
        "Okay. He takes the two items to the water's edgewhile wearing Gucci loafers I might add...."
        Andy interrupted. "It's not as if he had to worry about his shoes. Money was not a problem...."
        "Okay. His dress was completely appropriate." My tone added not. "So he never puts on the wet suit."
        "The cops found it on the sand right outside the house so that would be the assumption." Andy was being annoyingly fair minded.
        "Okay, instead of putting on the wet suit, he gets shot in the back. A shot no one hears, I'll just mention. Then the shooter steals the kayak but not the wallet in his pocket. The wallet that contains close to $500 in cash. Which is nothing compared to what the watch on his arm cost."
        "That's one scenario."
        "Dallas encountered a crook who wanted a kayak and was willing to kill for it. Some crook who didn't need cash? Some crook who couldn't recognize a solid gold Rolex? Some crook armed, coincidentally, with a low caliber pistol?"
        Andy offered no reaction.
        "What? Are bands of roving kayjackers lurking up and down Long Beach Island waiting for a midnight paddler to stumble down to the water alone?" Andy didn't respond. "I can just see the perpetrator leaving the house. 'Okay, honey, it's about eleven-thirty. Think I'll wander down to the beach and see if I can pick up that kayak Junior wants for his birthday. It's about time all those night-owl-partying, polar-bear-club-joining kayakers should be headed for the water. Yep. I have my gun. I know I could pick a kayak up on half a dozen porches around town, but I enjoy the challenge of stealing from the victim directly. We don't need any cash, right? Or a watch? I'll leave the wallet, all valuable jewelry, and any negotiable securities the victim might be carrying.'"
        "Okay. Okay." Andy waved a hand that begged me to stop. "Maybe the shooter didn't steal the kayak. Maybe somebody decided it was lost, seized an opportunity, and took it." Again, Andy shrugged. His tone was even. "I only told you the facts. I didn't speculate. You're speculating."
        I shook my head and continued. "Sure. Okay. Maybe Dallas Spenser was simply on the wrong beach at the wrong time, but let me understand the facts: The tide comes in, grabs Dallas, and goes out again only to bring the body back and deposit it a few blocks away by sunrise?"
       "You can't believe this." I met Andy's eyes with a steady gaze.
        He turned his head away. "I know, but it's her . . . Page's . . ."
        I tried to appear sympathetic. I guess no man wants to think that his old girlfriend is capable of murder. Apparently, Andy had fond memories of Page Spenser. From what I heard, Page was quite beautiful. And, let's face it, men did not always think with their heads. But this story?  No one was that beautiful.
        Andy stumbled through an explanation. "I never said the kayak was stolen. Maybe the tide carried it out to sea."
        But the incoming tide hadn't brought the boat back. Thursday morning's high tide had, however, carried the fully clothed body of Dallas Spenser to the Loveladies beach. The corpse had been surprisingly undamaged except for the single bullet hole in the back. Dallas hadn't been dead long when a morning jogger stumbled upon him. Since Dallas wore khaki pants, a yellow cashmere sweater, and one Gucci loafer, the young man astutely assumed that something was amiss. Despite the January thaw that lingered into February, the forty degree temperatures didn't encourage swimming even by the fully clothed and accessorized.
        Just my luck. Dallas took his wallet kayaking. If only he had forgotten to put his billfold in his pocket or remembered to take it out or simply failed to change his address with the DMV in a timely fashion. If only the tide had come in later. If only the I.D. had been made later. Even one hour later. An hour later, Andy and I would have been sitting with our seatbelts fastened and our tray tables in a closed and upright position. An hour later and the flight attendant would have already instructed all passengers on the flight to Antigua to turn off all electronic devices. An hour later, the 767 would have been rolling down the runway for a flight to the Caribbean.                             Unfortunately an hour earlier, we were still in a cab mired in traffic on the Van Wyck when Andy dug the ringing phone out of his satchel.
        "No. Yes. I understand. Of course. I am so sorry. I can be there in three hours."
        I'd heard only one side of the conversation, but I knew his next sentence would ask the driver to turn the cab around. It did. The following sentence was directed at me.
        "Meg, a friend, an old friend, needs me. She needs a friend, and she needs a P.I., so it looks like I'm it. We'll have to delay our trip a few days. You don't mind, do you?"
        At that point, I didn't mind. I was disappointed, but I didn't mind. What did a few days matter? Andy and I would be sailing the Caribbean for the next four months. Andy's apologetic tone told me that he realized I'd sublet my apartment, deferred graduate school, and stored all my winter clothes, and now he was asking me to linger in the northeastern United States in February. But hey, a friend needed him. What did a few days matter? And, Andy assured me that we would only be on Long Beach Island for a few days. I didn't mind. I said so. And at the time I wasn't lying.
        I declared no problem before I met the widow who placed the call to my current boyfriend, her old boyfriend. Before I met Page Spenser. The same Page Spenser who told Andy that the cops had no suspects in her husband's murder. The same Page Spenser whose story Andy had relayed to me with a straight face.
        Eventually, I met Page Spenser. Eventually, I minded.

  Wrong Beach Island

                         Copyright 2002 Jane Kelly