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Slave Graves (River Sunday Romance Mysteries Book 1)

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Slave Graves (River Sunday Romance Mysteries Book 1)


  A novel by

  Thomas Hollyday


  Copyright Thomas Hollyday 2003

  All rights reserved.

  Published by Happy Bird Corporation,

  PO Box 86, Weston, MA 02493

  Ebook version 11

  Based on paperback ISBN number 9780974128702

  First Happy Bird Corporation E-book Edition: May 2003

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Chapter 1

  “This Goddamned place.”

  He increased speed, his new BMW roaring down the dirt road heading deep into backcountry Maryland. Sweat streaked down his forehead even though the air conditioner whined at full force. Gravel and dust kicked up by the wheels created a dark following cloud which the car could not escape in the morning heat.

  His name was Frank Light and he was the chairman of his university’s department of archaeology, the youngest professor ever appointed to the position. At the moment, instead of managing his department, he was going out into the field on a quick reconnaissance, something his graduate students usually did. Frank had no choice. A location needed to be tested immediately and the president of the university had specifically asked him to do the job.

  A potential shipwreck site had been discovered in a marsh on the Nanticoke River. Workmen digging the foundations for a bridge had uncovered timbers of the wreck. The marsh was near River Sunday on the Eastern Shore, a region east of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the bulldozer operators had immediately reported the site to the Maryland construction permit authority as the law required. The state regulations were very definite, much to the chagrin of the bridge contractor. Construction had to be stopped regardless of expense until the site was professionally evaluated for historic importance.

  The president had told him this job was a favor for a special friend of the university board of trustees, the famous real estate financier Jake Terment. Apparently, if the bridge wasn’t built, Terment’s whole project and millions of his dollars were in jeopardy. Last night, Frank complained about the special assignment to his girlfriend, Mello, and she had just grinned.

  “You’ve got to realize something when you’re chairman, Frank,” she had said. “Universities are a business like everything else. You give something to people and they give something back to you.”

  Mello taught a couple of business courses. He had listened to her and knew doing an evaluation survey for this Terment celebrity might be good for the school and good for him. All he had to do was go down there and look the place over to make sure there wasn’t anything significant that was going to be covered up by the new construction.

  Mello had kissed him and reminded him that he used to do surveys like this all the time. “Go down there, get the job done, and come on back. Even if you found a galleon, it wouldn’t be important enough to hold up a Terment project,” she had said.

  “Discovering a Spanish gold galleon in the Chesapeake Bay, that would be quite a find,” he had grinned.

  She had not thought that was funny. “Sometimes, Frank, I don’t think you’re ready for the big leagues at all, no matter what I try to teach you.”

  However, this was still a bad time for him to be away from his office. Corrected proofs on his new textbook on archaeology were overdue to his editor. Also, tonight the field school students had planned their annual end of term festivities in his honor. Even with his new responsibilities as chairman, he still liked working with the younger scholars and had looked forward to the party. He’d never missed one of these celebrations. A part of him would always be an idealistic student no matter how he changed with the responsibilities of his career. He smiled as he drove. Mello could never understand this side of him.

  “Grow up, Frank,” she had said, kidding him about wanting to go to the party with the kids.

  He arrived in River Sunday just before noon. The other archaeologists he met at the national conferences talked about the beautiful climates that they visited around the world. He never had that kind of luck. Like this trip, he thought. He always got to these construction site problems when the locations were having a stretch of abnormal weather, wet from rain, cold from snow, hot from sun. Just one time he would enjoy a project that had decent weather. Then he reminded himself, “Be satisfied. You’re smart enough to play the game. Like Mello is always saying, take the jobs no one else wants, smile a lot, and keep your mouth shut. You can wait. There will be plenty of time later to work in the pretty places.”

  Frank saw the steeples of the churches reaching high over the orderly colonial houses along the narrow streets. As he drove he noticed that the town had grown around a natural harbor coming in from the Chesapeake Bay. Soon he spotted his destination, the Chesapeake Hotel. He drove the BMW under a large banner stretched across the street. The banner, decorated with red and white, orange and black Maryland flags, proclaimed “River Sunday Heritage Day, August 7.” Six days from today, he thought. He found the entrance to the hotel parking and pulled into the ramp.

  A few minutes later he walked out of the garage into the sunlight, carrying his suitcase. The August sun was brutally hot on his skin. He could smell the hot tar from the overheated street. Moving in the humidity was like pushing his body against a great rubber band. He breathed hard, straining against the heat as though it would finally overcome him and slap him backwards. He climbed the large wooden steps up to the wide porch of the hotel.


  The noise arced and rumbled above the clatter of the street. He instinctively fell on the planked floor of the porch, pushing his body flat, making his hands grasp for protection from the pine planks. Then he stopped, looked up and remembered where he was. Whatever this noise was, it was not war. Incoming mortars in Vietnam were a long time ago in his life. A black doorman, in a red uniform, standing over him, reached down a hand. “I did that when I first came home from Nam,” the porter grinned. Two tourist women looked on, amused.

  Frank took the man’s hand and stood. Momentarily embarrassed, he composed himself by looking out from the porch at the view of the River Sunday harbor. He could see a great number of pleasure boats, sail and power, anchored or sailing out to the Chesapeake Bay in the distance. In the middle of the harbor a huge pile of what appeared to Frank to be large building stones rose fifty feet above the water. They were stacked haphazardly, as if a giant had thrown them there in disgust. A navigation beacon blinked on top of the rocks. Anchored nearby and surrounded by small fishing boats was a very large and modern white yacht far grander than any other craft in the harbor.

  He turned and nodded at the doorman, gave him a thumbs up and walked into the lobby. His eyes adjusted to the darkness after the blinding sunlight outside. In the center of the room, next to a large sign advertising a private Terment Company luncheon, he recognized Jake Terment, from seeing him on television. Terment was a tanned fifty-year-old man, a few years older than Frank. Frank thought he looked a little taller than he appeared on television. The man stood like a patrician, like a g
od. Around Terment was a crowd of more than a hundred people, mostly white but with a few blacks and Hispanics. Some were pushing to get closer to his side and shake his hand. The activity reminded Frank of fund raiser meetings back at the university where he had been like those people, trying to promote archeology to wealthy middle-aged alumni in rumpled business suits.

  Terment looked up from his conversation and saw Frank. He started toward Frank, with the confident smile of a man who had complete control of his environment and all the people in it. The crowd parted, some of the people still following him. The room became very quiet as Terment’s attention focused on Frank. In an adjoining room Frank could hear the luncheon preparations, dishes being placed on tables with voices of waitresses providing a pleasant background rhythm.

  “You must be Doctor Frank Light,” Jake Terment spoke in a drawl. “I’m afraid I expected an old man with a white beard,” he smiled, glancing at Frank’s stylish suit. “I think I recognize a man like myself.”

  The voices began to hum again and Frank was swept into a crush of people, shaking hands, being introduced. He stood beside Jake, “meeting his friends in River Sunday,” as he told Frank. The conversation revolved more on golf stories than construction. Frank was all this time mostly impassive to the excitement around him, still allowing the intense hotel air conditioning to renew him. After a few minutes, chilled into sensitivity, he was able to speak.

  “The president said to leave everything, my other work, said to get to your problem right away.”

  Jake laughed. “I’m sure my company is going to be asked to contribute heavily to your university. Anyway, you get this shipwreck business straightened out. We’ve got a lot of houses to build.”

  He looked around at his admiring crowd. “Was hoping to get one good golf match while I was down here.”

  His eyes probed Frank. Frank stared back, wondering what he would say about his own poor golf handicap if asked to play by Jake Terment. Then he recovered and said, “I hope my archeological work can be of some service to you.”

  “Great. A hard worker. You’re all right, Frank Light,” Jake said with another smile. He watched Frank’s face brighten at his compliment.

  “I’ll do what I can,” said Frank.

  “Your boss said we would get along. Said not to worry about anything.”

  “I’d like to see the shipwreck.”

  “Do you think you can get us back on track, say in a couple of days?”

  “Well, if we don’t find anything important in our test pits, then we ought to be done pretty quick.”

  “Two days is good,” said Jake. “We can be building again for sure by Heritage Day. Come on.” He shook his head. “Spyder’s been reminding me. Got to give a speech to the faithful.”

  At that moment a grinning heavyset bald man, with long arms, appeared next to Jake.

  “Spyder,” Jake said, “This is Doctor Light, the man we asked to come here to help us out. Get him a place at one of the lunch tables. We want to take care of this man. He’s one of us.”

  Frank shook Spyder’s hand. The hand was cold, colder even than the air of the room. Spyder continued the same fixed grin without speaking. He beckoned quickly with his finger for Frank to follow him. They went inside the large better lighted meeting room. A long speaker’s table with only two chairs was up on a small platform at the side of the room. Behind the table was a white projection screen, contrasting with the faded yellow walls. Out in the center of the room was a slide projector aimed at the screen. Frank noticed the decorations at the windows. His historian’s eye identified them as inexpensive copies of Eighteenth Century festoon curtains. The microphone cackled intermittently adding to the noisy confusion. He smelled the food, a chicken dish laced heavily with pepper.

  Spyder pointed to a table at the side of the room. Frank sat down and Spyder, still without saying a word, left him. Frank watched him move away. Spyder walked with a distinctive movement, bent forward slightly with his long arms at his side, almost as though he might pounce to all fours at any moment.

  Frank spoke casually with the others at his table as he ate. One of the women repeated several times his occupation, ‘archaeologist’ as though she were practicing a foreign language.

  “Boom,” the noise he had heard on the street came crashing over the building. He looked around, alarmed the windows might break or the curtains fall down. The others around him continued to eat. No one was concerned.

  “First time you heard our Cannon Club?” asked a man with a bow tie sitting next to Frank. “They keep you alert, don’t they?”

  “Cannon Club?” asked Frank.

  “It’s one of our little River Sunday traditions,” the man went on, watching Frank.

  “Cannon?” said Frank.

  “Maryland Confederate Artillery. After the Surrender, the volunteers brought home the tube of their Napoleon 12 pounder. About the turn of the century, then they went and got the old gun out of hiding, fixed her up, started shooting her off again once a year.”

  “You a member?”

  “Why, I’d like to be,” he blushed, almost, Frank thought, as if he were ashamed he wasn’t a member. “Unfortunately, my family came here and set up long after the Civil War. We’re still not even considered natives, much less eligible for the Cannon Club.”

  Terment was sitting at the speaker’s table. In front of the man next to Terment was a rectangular sign that simply stated “mayor” printed by hand in large letters. Terment had no sign in front of him. The mayor, a balding and somewhat overweight man, was dressed in a poorly fitting blue and white cotton suit. He stood, tapped his water glass and as the room quieted, began to speak, his words buzzing like the occasional summer flies worrying the sticky table tops.

  “On behalf of all of us in River Sunday I want to welcome all you Terment Company investors. Don’t worry about the cannon you’ve been hearing. It hasn’t fired at any people since 1865.”

  Some of the audience laughed amid the noise of dishes being cleared. The mayor continued. “You’re all here to learn about the greatest condominium and estate home development ever planned in the Chesapeake region. I’m right in saying that when it is finished nothing will compare with it anywhere along the tidewater coast from Florida to Maine.” He paused. “Today, Jake Terment, the man whose vision has made this possible, one of our nation’s greatest real estate developers, has come here today from New York to tell us about it.” He looked at Jake. “Jake, as you all know, grew up right here in River Sunday. That makes him one of us.” The mayor paused again, then said, “Only he’s got a lot more money.”

  A few laughed at this remark as the mayor went on, “I remember as a child going up to visit at Peachblossom Manor, the Terment family plantation home, Registered Landmark, out on Allingham Island. I remember seeing Jake sittin’ in the lap of his father Richard Terment. His father would tell how he was named after his great uncle Admiral Richard Terment who was killed running his outnumbered ironclad into a whole fleet of Yankee gunboats. The Admiral’s dying order to his sailors was to bring him home to Maryland so he could be buried at Peachblossom. At his request, they put two loaded Navy Colt revolvers in the coffin so the Admiral could keep on shooting Yankees in Hell.” The mayor put his hands over his ears. “Jake’s aunts would be sitting there listenin,’ and I remember, they would cover their ears and say to little Jake that the Admiral had been a religious man and that he was certainly in Heaven and not in Hell where those people were.”

  The mayor then rubbed his hands nervously, immediately realizing from the creaking chairs and coughing from the audience that his story about Yankees in Hell was the wrong story to tell. This was a different group, made up of many outsiders, and not his usual River Sunday audience.

  Frank leaned over to the pharmacist. “I wonder if those Navy Colt handguns have been dug up yet.”

  The man turned to him and scowled. Frank put his hands up in defense. “I’m just thinking like an archaeologist. I didn’t m
ean any offense to the traditions here. We dig up things like that to study them.” The pharmacist, his face still angry, turned back to listen to the speaker.

  The mayor finished quickly. “So, Jake, you’re the man of the hour. Tell us all about it.”

  Jake stood up behind his chair and quieted the applause. The mayor arranged the microphone. It squawked two times before Jake’s voice flowed out on the silent and expectant crowd.

  “Thank you for such a pleasant introduction. My father would thank you too if he were alive today. Let me start out by answering some questions that I have been asked since I arrived today on my yacht.” He looked at the mayor. “First of all it is not true that when we were kids my friend, the mayor here, gave me this little scar over my eye.”

  The crowd laughed. Jake continued, “It was Billy, who’s your chief of police.” Towards the back of the room, the chief of police scraped back his chair and stood up, giving a short bow and waving to several friends in the audience. There was more laughing.

  “Any of you newspaper people here today, don’t report on my old friend, Billy. He’ll be up for police brutality. Seriously, let me say a few words about the development out on the island and especially the progress on the new bridge. Yes,” he raised his voice to emphasize the words and said them slowly, “we will finish the bridge on time. We will complete the foundations for the new bridge this summer and build the bridge this winter. The houses can start on schedule next summer.”

  Jake turned his head and looked directly at Spyder. Then he repeated, “I want to make sure that my partners in New York get the message. We will finish on time.” There was heavy applause.

  Frank studied Spyder’s face but there was no change from the steady grin. Jake went on. “First of all, the butterflies and their trees.” Jake paused and looked down at his feet for a moment. “I guess you all know that my wife, Serena, is a movie star.” There was an outburst of cheers, whistles, stamping of feet.

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