In the second of the Charlotte Diamond mysteries, FBI senior investigator Charlotte has retired to Maryland’s eastern shore of the Chesapeake bay only to find high-level international intrigue has sought her out when the abandoned sailboat of spy master Win Engleton washes up against her dock. Charlotte struggles with having to choose between focusing on her new-found significant other, former movie star Brenda Boynton, or a complex espionage mystery of who did what to who and why that reopens ever deeper mysteries again and again like a Matryoshka Russian nesting doll.
“Win’s out in the river on his Sunfish.”
“You mean the boat with the rainbow sail that’s about to bump into your dock?” Sherry asked, in a strained voice.
All three women cast their eyes on the river, where, sure enough, the Sunfish had drifted toward the shore and was quite close to Charlotte’s dock now. And now Charlotte realized why she’d been staring at the sailboat earlier, why it had caught her attention. She had been splitting her attention between what Sherry was saying and what she herself was watching, and she only now could see what had been disconcerting: there wasn’t anyone in the boat.
Charlotte moved swiftly—remarkably quickly for a woman of her size and age—down to the dock, with Brenda, and then Sherry, walking briskly in her wake. Sam had beaten them all; he’d seen the boat starting to impinge on the property already and was down at the end of the dock, giving little menacing growling sounds, although containing himself lest this turned out to be a wanted visitor—and maybe one with a plate of food to juggle about. As Charlotte ran out onto the dock, she stopped and bent over long enough to pick up a long gaff hook. At the end of the dock, she reached out with it and caught the gunwale of the sailboat and pulled it into the dock close enough so that she could grab the length of rope at its prow and tie it off at the end of the dock.
“It’s empty,” Sherry offered in a faraway voice that also was an understatement as she approached behind Brenda, who had reached Charlotte’s side and was kneeling and pulling the side of the sailboat up against the dock.
“What’s that, Charlotte?” Brenda asked in a hushed tone. “Is that—?”
“Yes, it could be . . . it could be blood,” Charlotte answered, her eye on a spattering of red on the side walls of the small sailboat’s interior.
“I mean that, in the bottom of the boat, by that tarp.”
“Yes . . . it looks like a handgun,” Charlotte answered. “And don’t touch it, please,” she continued as Brenda started to reach down into the boat but snapped her hand back at the suddenly authoritative voice of the other woman. Sherry had already shrunk away from the boat and turned up river, her face shielded from the other two women.
“But where’s Win?” Brenda asked in a small voice.