The Deadliest Blessing
Jeannette de Beauvoir
going to be the one to find it! The seaside town’s annual
Portuguese Festival is approaching and it looks like smooth sailing
until Sydney’s neighbor decides to have some construction done in
her home—and finds more than she bargained for inside her wall.
balancing her work at the Race Point Inn with an unexpected adventure
that will eventually involve fishermen, gunrunners, a mummified cat,
a family fortune, misplaced heirs, a girl with a mysterious past, and
lots and lots of Portuguese food. The Blessing of the Fleet is
coming up, and unless Sydney can find the key to a decades-old
murder, it might yet come back to haunt everyone in this
otherwise-peaceful fishing village.
The sunset was living up to expectations.
I’d parked my Civic—known affectionately as the Little Green Car—in the row of vehicles facing Herring Cove Beach, one of the few places on the East Coast where the sun appears to set into the water. As usual, the light was spectacular. It’s the light that made Provincetown what it is, the oldest continuously operating art colony in the United States: the light here, apparently, is like nowhere else.
Or so my friend Mirela tells me. She’s a painter, and is constantly talking about the light, though when it really comes down to it, she can’t explain exactly what it is they all see, the artists who live and work here. I know; I’ve asked.
It was late spring, and I didn’t yet have too many weddings crowding my daily calendar, so I was taking advantage of the calm before the storm of the summer tourist season really hitting when my spare time, like everybody’s else’s, would disappear altogether. I’m the wedding coordinator for the Race Point Inn, and while we do tasteful winter weddings inside the building, the bulk of my work is in the summertime, as Provincetown is pretty much Destination Wedding Central, mostly for same-sex couples but really for anyone who wants this kind of light. The sun was carving a path of gold right up to the beach, glittering and gilded, and I knew I was smiling, settling back into my seat with a sigh.
My phone rang.
Cell coverage is spotty out here in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and my experience is that it’s when you really need to reach someone that it’s not going to happen; on the other hand, when it’s something you don’t want to deal with, the signal comes through loud and clear. Murphy’s Law, or something along those lines. I sighed and swiped, my eyes still on the sunset. “Sydney Riley.”
“Sydney, hey, hi, it’s Zack.”
My landlord. This couldn’t be good. I mentally checked the date. Um, I’d paid my rent this month, right? “Hi, Reg.”
“Hey, hi. Listen, Sydney, I’ve got Mrs. Mattos here and she’s looking for you.”
Of course she was. I live above a nightclub, which makes for reasonable rent with free Lady Gaga thrown in at one o’clock in the morning; Mrs. Mattos is the eighty-something widow who owns the very large house directly across the street. Property developers are probably checking on her health daily as they wait for her demise; I can’t imagine how many million-dollar condos they could create in that space.
I take her grocery shopping to the Stop & Shop once a week and I’ve noticed, lately, that she’s finding more and more excuses to come over and buzz my doorbell. She’s lonely and probably a little scared and most of the time I try to help, but the silly season was already upon us and there was a lot less of my time available. Generally I try to wean her off daily visits by May, but we were already into the beginning of June now, and she was crossing the street rather than calling, a sure sign of distress.
Mrs. Mattos is frequently distressed.
Still, it must have been something out of the ordinary for her to have buzzed Zack, who owns the nightclub as well as the building and was probably peeled away from his never-ending paperwork to talk to her. Mrs. Mattos is usually a little nonplussed around Zack, who regularly paints his fingernails chartreuse or purple, and owns an extensive assortment of wigs. “She’s there with you now?”
A murmur of conversation, then Mrs. Mattos’ quavering voice on the line. “I just need you to come over, Sydney,” she said.
The sun was dipping into the water now; the show would soon be finished. Above it, scarlet and pink streaked across the sky. Some day, I told myself, I was going to be old and quavering, too. “Okay, you go back home,” I said. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Her name is Emilia Mattos, she stands about five-feet nothing and might weigh a hundred pounds. But every bit of her, like most of the Portuguese women in town, is muscle and sinew. I know her first name, but I’ve never used it; there’s a certain distance, a certain decorum the elderly Provincetown widows observe, and I respect that. Out on Fisherman’s Wharf there’s a collection of large-scale photographs of elderly Portuguese wives and mothers, an art installation called They Also Face The Sea; Mrs. Mattos isn’t one of them, but she could well be.
Back when Provincetown was one of the major whaling ports, ships stopped off in the Azores to take on additional crew, and a lot of those people settled back in town and sent for their families; by the end of the 1800s they were as numerous as the original English settlers. Nowadays there are fewer and fewer Portuguese enclaves, as gentrification switches into high gear and Provincetown’s fishing fleet dwindles; but the names are still here: Mattos, Avellar, Cabral, Gouveia, Silva, Amaral, Rego, Del Deo.
Up until about ten years go, a prominent advertisement in the booklet for the Portuguese Festival was for the small Azores Express airline, when there was still a generation in town that was from Portugal itself; you don’t see that anymore.
She was standing in her doorway when I found a parking place for the Little Green Car and got to our street. I’ve read in books about people twisting their hands; I’d never actually seen it until then. “Mrs. Mattos! Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
“Probably nothing,” she said, on that same quavering note. “Oh, I’m probably disturbing you for nothing, Sydney.”
States since her twenties. (No, she's not going to say how long ago
that was!) She spends most of her time inside her own head, which is
great for writing, though possibly not so much for her social life.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading or traveling… to inspire her writing.
you can see on Amazon, Goodreads, Criminal Element, HomePort Press,
and her author website), de Beauvoir's work has appeared in 15
countries and has been translated into 12 languages. Midwest Review
called her Martine LeDuc Montréal series “riveting (…)
demonstrating her total mastery of the mystery/suspense genre.” She
is currently writing a Provincetown Theme Week cozy mystery series
featuring female sleuth Sydney Riley.
politics and intrigue of the medieval period have always fascinated
her (and provided her with great storylines!). She coaches and edits
individual writers, teaches writing online and on Cape Cod, and
thinks Aaron Sorkin is a god. Her cat, Beckett, totally disagrees.
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