Home > Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(11)

Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(11)
Author: Kat Richardson

“Splash?” I asked.

“Put it back in the water. Not a tricky thing with steel or fiberglass, but you have to be a little delicate with wood since they can dry out if they’re standing on the hard—up on dry land, that is—for a protracted time. Three or four days is no big deal for a large boat, and with the fog we’ve been having, that’s like putting a nice, wet blanket on ’em every night. But when it’s hotter, old woodies can dry out pretty thoroughly in a week or two and the wood shrinks up. Then you have to lower ’em back in slowly and sometimes leave ’em in the slings overnight to swell up and seal all their seams again. That takes a little patience.”

“I imagine so. How long have you been working here?”

“Here? Only a couple of years.” My heart sank. “I’ve been in the business near thirty, but I was at the old yard on the canal until last year when they closed up and moved out here.”

“Would you have met a woman named Shelly Knight? She was some kind of cook or deckhand for hire out here between twenty-five and thirty years ago. Blond. We heard she was back in the area.”

“Well . . . maybe. Boat people get around, y’know. You always run across people you knew from some marina you moored up in five years ago or some regatta you went to or something like that. Can’t say the name rings a bell, though.” Keefer shrugged. “But it’s not like itinerant crew are running around with name tags on their chests, either. Sometimes you only know these guys by first name—or, worse, just a nickname—and pay ’em in cash or kind and never see ’em again.”

“What do you know about Seawitch? The boat that came in a few days ago, abandoned.”

“Oh, our ghost ship?” He let out a short laugh. “She’s a legend, that one. Custom built out at the old Lake Union Shipyard back in the twenties. Port Orford cedar on white oak frames to a Ted Geary design. Steel keel shoe and bow protectors. Twin engines—upgraded to diesel in the fifties. All hand-fitted mahogany and such inside. Nice boat. Well kept up until she went missing. Nicely fitted out, too, I hear. Pity what’s become of her.”

“What’s the rumor mill say about it?”

“About Seawitch? That she’s haunted. You know how sailors are. One old dog says she was doomed from the start—that she was built with parts from a wrecked ship, which is patently not true. Another fella on the dock claimed he heard sounds from her the other night, like someone was tearing the boat apart, but he says there was no sign of anything amiss when he went to take a look.”

“What was he doing out there?” I asked. “I thought B was the legal-status dock.”

“Nah. It’s all mixed up. He lives out there—Stu Francis his name is. Out at B Thirty. The marina wouldn’t admit it, but they kind of like to have someone living on every dock if they can. Kind of like getting free security, though the Port of Seattle may not feel the same way—they have a bit of a love/hate relationship with live-aboards because of the legal and environmental bullshit—pardon my French. One thing you can count on, though: Live-aboards will always check up on strange noises and come to a call for help. Save many a boat from damage by being first on the scene. Funny bunch; know what everyone’s doing—how could you miss it with such thin walls and neighbors five feet outside your window?—but they look away when it’s not their business. They all act like they don’t know a thing until someone’s in trouble. Then they’re on it like it’s their own boat shipping water or beating itself to death in the wind. Even if they can’t stand you, they’ll jump in and save your ass and your boat, too.” He shook his head and repeated, “Funny bunch.”

We didn’t get a lot more out of Keefer and we couldn’t go wandering around the docks without a key, so we headed for the marina office, past the large and oddly proportioned statue of Leif Eriksson mounted on a stone plinth and surrounded by smaller standing stones in a boat-shaped oblong. I’d long ago discovered that the people of Ballard prize their Nordic heritage, but I still found the tribute to Seattle’s Scandinavian immigrants a bit bizarre. Foreshortened as it was from below, Leif’s head seemed a bit too large, and I always half expected him to raise the ax he was leaning on and demand I answer a question about the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow. I admit I gave the big bronze statue a wary look as we passed by, but it remained inert.

Inside the office, we met a pleasant Asian-American woman who offered us an electronic key and answered a few questions. She was far too young to have been around the marina for twenty-seven years, unless she’d toddled into the office during a preschool outing.

“Do you know of anyone working here now who might have been here when the Seawitch was last moored at this marina?” Solis asked.

She thought about it and shook her head. “No, I think there’s no one on staff who’s been here that long, but I do know some of the live-aboards have been here for a long time. You could try a couple of the boats on F dock, I think. . . . It didn’t change size during the renovations a few years ago so a lot of the same people are there who were there before. It’s late enough now that some of the residents might be barbecuing—they have a little party on Thursdays out there. Ask around. I’m sure someone will have an idea.”

Solis nodded. “Thank you. We’ll do that. Have you heard of a woman named Shelly Knight around the marina? Possibly working for one of the boat owners?”

Again the clerk shook her head. “No, I don’t think I’ve heard of her. We do keep track of all the keys—they each have a discrete code that is recorded when they’re used on any of the electronic pads at the marina. That way we know who’s been on a dock or in a building where there’s been a problem. But we don’t have any control over owners who lend out their keys to employees or friends without telling us. Let me check something. . . .” She looked down at her computer and typed for a moment. “I don’t see the name,” she said, looking up again. “The vendor keys we loan out for short-term use don’t tell us anything about who’s using them, just that it was that key at that lock. If she’s here, working for someone, she hasn’t been introduced to me and she isn’t on the vendor or staff roster. You could ask in the offices next door to see if any of the businesses have a temporary employee. I could send out a request to our vendors who’ve used keys recently to let you know if they have her on their lists, but that’s about all I can do and it would take a few days for them to reply—most of them are busy or out of the office on weekends, so if they don’t reply tomorrow, I couldn’t tell you anything until Monday or Tuesday at the earliest.”

“We would be grateful for any help you can lend with the vendors,” Solis replied. “And we will continue to search, also. Thank you for the use of the key.”

The woman gave a faint smile. “It’s no problem. Just bring it back when you’re done. And if we’re closed, you can put it in the drop box for transient moorage payments. That’s in the hall.”

It was amazing how laid-back the system was while it still had an overlay of security. But not great security, as we discovered when we approached F dock and were willingly waved through the big glass-and-steel security gate by a man coming out to walk his dog. “Heading for the barbecue?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered with no hesitation. It’s just smarter to agree with people when you want to get past them.

“They’re almost at the end of the dock—can’t miss ’em. See you later!”

Solis stopped on the way down the dock to poke at his phone again and offered me another look at several photographs the manuscript guy had taken. I’d figured out how to zoom in by the third page and took a closer look at one of the pages. And there it was: Shelly Knight—deckhand/cook. I looked at Solis.

“She was there. How long do you think it’ll take your guy to get the whole thing photographed or dried out enough to read the original?”

Solis shrugged. “Perhaps another day or two to photograph the pages, but the whole book may never be dried out in a readable condition. He says in the e-mail that he’s made good progress with the separation process, but not all the pages were salvageable and many will have to be photographed wet, which is harder to read. There will be missing information even with the best recovery.”

“Still,” I said, “it’s more than we had yesterday.”

“There might be more than that. An electronic scan of Odile Carson’s autopsy and the accident reports are being sent to me.”

“We’ll have to go through those, too, I suppose, if only to rule out any connection between the two events.”

“It is an upsetting coincidence that the boat disappeared within days of Mrs. Carson’s death. . . .”

“And it may be nothing more than that—a coincidence.”

“Yes. But we’ll look over the reports, anyway. For now, we need to find Shelly Knight—if she’s alive and near this marina.”

“You can’t find a picture of her online using your magic phone, can you?” I asked.

Solis gave me a long look. “I already tried and got nothing. I’m waiting for the DoL to reply to a query I sent earlier, but they may also have nothing. Transients often don’t use their real names, as you know.”

I agreed unhappily, and we carried on up the dock in search of a barbecue.

EIGHT

A massive shoal of salmon had come into the marina and the water was restless with their endless circling and sudden leaps as they rested before heading to the fish ladder at the locks a mile or so up the passage to the east. Their splashing made occasional punctuation to conversations drifting from the decks and portholes of the boats along the floating sections of F dock.

About two-thirds of the way to the end of the quarter-mile-long dock, we found a group of five people sitting in camp chairs or standing on either side of the floating walkway upwind of a large propane barbecue on a cart. There were chairs set out for more people and a few bowls of chips and salsa sitting on top of the nearest dock box. A few cans of cheap beer and plastic glasses of wine were in evidence, but the party was obviously only getting started.

A tall, dark-haired man in his early sixties, sporting a luxuriant mustache, was tending some beef ribs on the barbecue. He looked up as we drew near. “Hi, there! Hope we’re not in your way,” he added, trying to step aside to let us pass without falling in the water or sending his ribs to feed migrating salmon.

Solis glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. Apparently he wanted me to take this one. “Not in the way at all,” I said. “You’re actually the people we were searching for.”

They all looked at us in surprise, and we were no longer the strangers passing by but a focus of piqued attention. I introduced myself and Solis, who flashed his badge, just to make it official. “We were told there might be some residents on this dock who were here twenty-seven years ago when the Seawitch was regularly moored here,” I said.

“Seawitch?” asked a seated man wearing a floppy sea grass hat to shield his bearded face from the sun. “Which one is that?”

A short woman with cropped, dyed-brown hair pointed south across the docks with her free hand; the other held a sweating plastic stem glass half-full of white wine. “The ghost ship. You know.” She turned her attention back to me and Solis, smiling a little as if she didn’t want to seem unfriendly but wasn’t going to just give up the information without knowing more. “Why are you looking?”

“We hope to find anyone who might have information about who was on board the day the boat left here on its last trip,” Solis replied to her. “We also hope to discover if a woman named Shelly Knight has been seen in the marina recently.”

“Is she associated with the ghost ship?” the man in the hat asked. A salmon leapt nearby, sending a patter of water drops onto the dock.

“She may be,” Solis replied with care.

“Huh,” the hat wearer grunted. “Imagine that.” He looked at the short-haired woman. “Isn’t that young lady on Pleiades named Knight? The one who sings all the time. . . . Something Knight—can’t remember her first name.”

“The woman we’re looking for would have to be approaching or past fifty,” I said.

“Then this couldn’t be her. Our Miss Knight is much younger than that,” Hat Man replied.

I glanced at Solis before saying, “She may be a relative, though. Where is Pleiades?”

The man in the hat looked over his shoulder and pointed south. “Over on D dock. The big blue ketch on the far side. Oh, and it’s a beauty, too! They just refinished the masts and all the brightwork on the sheer and up the sprit—”

The short-haired woman shook her head a little in amusement. “Silly, she doesn’t know what a ketch is.” She looked at me and Solis. “It’s a two-master. Shorter mast in the back. The hull’s dark blue with varnished woodwork, gold trim and lettering, and it’s got matching blue covers on the sails. She’s a really pretty boat.”

Solis looked at the man in the hat and the woman who’d spoken before saying, “The office did not have a record of anyone named Knight keeping a boat here.”

“Oh, she’s just boat-sitting and prepping her,” the woman replied. “The owners are back East and they haven’t gotten out here for the season yet.”

“When did she arrive? Miss Knight, that is.”

The woman looked around at her companions, seeking consensus. “Oh . . . back in March, I guess. . . . Does that sound right to you guys?”

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