Goff Langdon pulled his Jeep Wrangler into the all-day parking lot behind his bookstore on Brunswick’s Maine Street. His red hair, shot through with a dignified gray especially apparent at the sideburns, was tousled atop his head from the wind. He’d always loved riding with the Jeep’s top down when he could, particularly enjoying the refreshing coolness in the air, despite the fact that it was still late August. This was Maine, after all. He pulled his phone from the pocket of his shorts and reread the text from his wife.
Got a live one waiting for you in the office. Probably cheated on his wife and got caught but he reeks of money.
When Langdon opened the Jeep’s door, a brown bolt of fur crashed over him and tumbled to the ground, hoping to surprise a squirrel or a bird. But, as was so often the case, the big lug of a dog had no luck that morning. He instead inspected the bushes, and cocked a leg to reclaim his ownership of this parking lot from any other dogs that may have passed through in his absence.
As Langdon pushed opened the door to his store, his eyes read with pride the inscription, The Coffee Dog Bookstore, and then in smaller letters down below, Goff Langdon, Private Detective. His whacky Aunt Zelda had left him the money to open the bookstore some twenty-five years earlier, the legacy allowing him to purchase the building outright. Even so, he’d quickly discovered that, in the book trade, it was difficult to make ends meet, and so he’d added the side business of private investigation. The two went hand-in-hand, as the shop carried primarily mysteries, and it was from Easy Rawlings, Dave Robicheaux, and Harry Bosch that he’d learned the business of being a gumshoe. Not that he bragged about that.
Of course, in small-town Brunswick, the jobs mostly involved carrying a camera and not a gat, and shooting pictures of cheating spouses rather than villains. That is, it had been until he’d been hired to investigate a mysterious death at a nuclear power plant twenty years earlier and ended up getting shot in the head. While he’d not been overly fond of having a bullet glance off his skull, the ensuing media coverage had been great for both businesses. It was in fact, the best advertising he’d ever gotten, and he often wondered why he’d not tried it sooner, but maybe without the three weeks in a coma in a Boston hospital.
“Afternoon, boss,” Jonathan Starling greeted him. Though he looked as if he were at least 100 years old and had fought in every war of the 20th century, in reality, he’d been in high school when Vietnam returned the surviving but largely broken soldiers to American soil. Each wrinkle of his face had been put there honestly by a liquor bottle, though he’d been dry for twenty years now, as far as Langdon knew. “Glad you could make it in.”
Langdon smiled. “Supposed to be my day off, but Chabal texted to say she wasn’t able to get any work done—and carry your load—so here I am.”
Starling tossed the piece of donut he’d been saving to lab, realizing the canine was mere seconds away from leaping up on the counter for the treat he knew was his. “Shoot. I got a law degree, do all the work, hardly get paid, and have to share my breakfast. Now you want me to put up with scurrilous attacks impugning my work ethics from some slacker detective and his foul-mouthed wife?”
“Speaking of my foul-mouthed wife, where she be at?”
“She’s back in your office gabbing with some fellow I’m willing to bet my dentures on is a member of the bar, and not the drinking one.”
“You recognize him?”
“Nah, must not be a reader, or maybe not from around here.” Starling may have squinted, but it was hard to tell where his eyes even lay within the craggy landscape of his face.
“Okay,” Langdon replied as he headed towards the office in the back of the store. “Keep up the good work providing your normal high-level of genial customer support.”
An unintelligible, but most certainly obscene, curse followed Langdon into his non-descript office in the back room. The small space had no windows and limited lighting. Along the right side wall was an old leather couch where Langdon had taken many a nap, and even slept the night through a few times. His worn and beaten mahogany desk was perched in back, mostly clear of debris except for a few papers and a small lamp. On the right was another desk with his computer and printer, while the left had two tall gray filing cabinets.
There were two Clarkson wingback armchairs of rich brown leather similar to the couch, but much less worn, to one side of his desk. Settled into them was his wife, partner, accomplice, best friend—and a man he faintly recognized, but couldn’t quite place. Chabal was the first to rise. She was petite, more than a foot shorter than Langdon, with blonde hair that cascaded to her shoulders in caramel-hued waves. Her cheeks bulged slightly as if she were a squirrel with a nut in each, an adorable feature that offset her thin features and rendered her pretty rather than beautiful.
“Langdon, glad you could get out of bed and make it in,” Chabal teased, her green eyes gleaming impishly.
“Would’ve been here sooner if we banned cars with Massachusetts plates from entering the state,” he growled in return.
“This is Michael Glover.” Chabal touched her hand lightly to the man next to her.
“Good to meet you.” The man extended his hand to shake. His reach was constricted by what was clearly a bespoke green tweed jacket, perhaps purchased when he had been a thinner, younger Glover.
“Goff Langdon,” Langdon replied, gamely holding on as the man energetically pumped his hand up and down. He noted the shiny Louis Vuitton shoes and the designer jeans and realized the man was trying to strike a casual pose in an extravagant manner.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Glover,” Chabal said, excusing herself.
Langdon disengaged his hand with effort and moved around to his own desk chair, a cheap black vinyl roller from Staples. “What can I do for you, Mr. Glover?”
The man stooped to sit, revealing the top of his head, and the fact that he was not yet ready to give in to the impending baldness. The sides were thick enough with dark hair that Langdon suspected was dyed, with a mat resembling a horsetail flopped from his forehead back and over to the rear.
“I’ve heard good things about you, Mr. Langdon.”
“You must not be speaking with my friends,” Langdon replied, sitting as well.
Glover barked a sharp laugh, his jowls quivering with exertion. “You cut quite a figure in Brunswick, apparently,” he said.
“And where are you from?”
“I’ve lived here for three years,” Glover said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “I bought a house out on Mere Point.”
“What brought you to our little corner of the coast?” Langdon was a bit impatient, doubting this man was a year-round resident, as Mere Point was largely populated with wealthy summer people from away, many of the same people clogging the road today, no doubt.
Langdon did not feel like playing twenty questions and getting nowhere, so instead leaned back in his chair and folded his hands with his thumbs under his chin and surveyed the corpulent man in front of him, trying to look past the expensive clothes, bushy eyebrows, cowlick, and amiable smile to take the measure of the man. Most likely the man’s trophy wife was cheating on him, and he wanted proof to enforce a prenuptial agreement, or at least lessen the financial impact that a divorce would have on his bank account.
After a lengthy silence, the man cleared his throat. “I’ve also been told that you are a discreet man?” He raised one thick eyebrow, his tone larding the question with portent.
Nobody ever wanted his or her sex lives dragged through the muck for everybody to see. It didn’t matter if the man had tasted the forbidden fruit or had been cuckolded, it was his business, and he didn’t want his family, especially if there were kids, to know. “I am a professional,” Langdon replied, adding what he judged a sincere nod of the head. Of course, this discretion did not extend to his wife or his friends, for he’d shared many a juicy morsel of his clients’ lives with them over drinks. He almost always succeeded in avoiding names. Except when he forgot.
“I’ve a very delicate proposition of employment,” Glover said carefully, the tip of his tongue running over the inside half of his bottom-lip.
“I assume that’s why you’re here.”
“I’m here for a friend.”
Langdon eyed him and sighed. “This isn’t junior high, Glover. Tell me what you want—for ‘your friend.’”
The man laughed again. “No. Really. I’m here doing a favor for…somebody…who can’t be seen in public coming into your kind of business without the media digging into it and spreading their speculations all over the nightly news.”
“That leaves us at a bit of an impasse, now, doesn’t it?”
“As a matter of fact, that is why I am here, and not down in Portland visiting Kendall and Associates. If I were to go there, some intern would spill the beans and reporters would be all over us.”
“So what do you suggest?”
Glover pulled an envelope from his briefcase and removed a sheaf of papers from it. He unfolded them and leaned forward to place them on the desk, smoothing the creases flat with the palms of his hands. “This is a confidentiality agreement. If you’d be willing to sign it, there is $500 in this envelope, and all you have to do is come to my house at three this afternoon and listen to my friend. The money is yours even if you decide to not take the case.”
Who might the obviously wealthy friend be? Langdon wondered, his interest piqued. Five hundred dollars to meet with somebody was nothing to scoff at. Without bothering to read the seven-page document he rifled to the end and found the line where his signature was required.
“My address is on a card in the envelope with the cash,” Glover said, rising to his feet and leaning forward to shake Langdon’s hand again. “Three o’clock sharp.”
Langdon walked him to the door of the bookstore, and watched him go out the front of the building onto Maine Street before turning back to Chabal and Starling who were pretending to ignore him, both dying to know what had transpired. Louis Armstrong’s dulcet tones glided to and fro in the background, and Langdon took a moment to appreciate all that he had. The bookstore had become a well-loved fixture over the past twenty-five years in Brunswick, introducing the residents to the lives and times of Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and Spenser, while the younger generation got to meet the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown.
Local artists adorned the walls with their latest creations, and once a month the Coffee Dog Bookstore hosted an art opening complete with wine and hors d'oeuvres. A long counter made from hard maple ran across the back of the store. Langdon’s eyes lifted to that which truly kept him on a path of happiness in this tumultuous world of difficult politics, changing climate, lies, cheating, and overall distrust. Even after seventeen years of marriage, her gleaming green eyes and wide smile made his heart thump in his chest.
“Spit it out, Langdon,” Chabal said. Most of his friends called him simply by his last name, and she’d been a friend years before they’d realized there was more.
“I’m sorry, but client confidentiality doesn’t allow me to reveal the nature of our business,” Langdon replied.
“Fuck that,” Starling spat out, and then hurriedly looked around to see if any of the three customers browsing the shelves had heard him.
“You know full well that we are part of your crack team of investigators, and that privacy shit doesn’t apply to us,” Chabal bantered with a toss of her head. “Not unless you want me to stop revealing myself to you?”
Langdon was going to retort on her description of ‘crack’ team of investigators, but a customer came to the counter with three Carl Hiaasen books. Once Starling had rung up the sale, Langdon decided to move the conversation forward. “First of all, I don’t know much more than you do. I’ve been invited to his house this afternoon to meet a friend of his, and had to sign a seven page document promising to not reveal this person’s name or any details of the get-together.”
Starling whistled. “The guy with thousand dollar shoes was just an errand boy?”
“Looks that way,” Langdon replied. “I guess I’ll find out more at three.”
Langdon caught up on paperwork in the office until it was time to keep his afternoon appointment out on Mere Point, the tip of the peninsula just a few miles south of town. He passed by Nate’s Marin (a place that served up a pretty fantastic lobster roll in the summer), and then came to the end of the public way. Approximately thirty mailboxes were clustered next to a turnaround for those who didn’t belong, a sign proclaiming residents and visitors only, and silently promising punishment for offenders. Langdon had never been invited to any of these homes, but, like every Brunswicker from the other side of the tracks, he’d driven the loop to try and spy upon the houses—some surprisingly modest seaside cottages, others sprawling 19th century mansions--that remained mostly hidden from view by long driveways and wooded areas. Of course, he’d worried about secret cameras or pedestrians who would immediately know the awkward red-haired behemoth driving the banged-up Jeep didn’t belong, but he’d made the trek without incident, other than being possessed by that vague sense of shame in feeling like an intruder.
Langdon turned into the drive next to the granite slab with the house number engraved into it, winding down the driveway to a compound of various shapes clustered together like a preschooler’s learning activity game. The central rectangular building was the original Cape, Langdon surmised, but around this were cylindrical structures similar to lighthouses, and smaller square sheds. In keeping with the Maine coastal theme, weathered gray shingles covered the residence. The wraparound driveway held five other vehicles, none of them particularly fancy, but rather, quite nondescript.
Michael Glover, his forehead glistening, answered the door before Langdon was able to ring the bell. He’d tried to leave dog behind, but without the top on the Jeep, man’s best friend had only to jump out the back. Indeed, when the door opened, dog went hurtling into the house. Langdon caught just the momentary vexation that flashed across Glover’s face as the canine brushed past him on his way to investigate the manor. This was quickly replaced with a broad smile as the man grabbed his hand and pulled him inside, quickly closing the door behind. Langdon was momentarily fearful the man was going to hug him, but instead, allowed himself to be led into the interior of the home.
They went past a modern staircase working its way upward in a series of right angles with strings of blue shells cascading down around it and they emerged into a comfortably traditional living room. Langdon noted the arched ceiling, piano prominently displayed, and two sofas and an armchair surrounding a brick fireplace. In the armchair was dog, proudly sitting on the lap of United States Senator Margaret Mercer.