Set in 1950’s Seattle, The Tugboat Murder offers a delicious period mystery that’s perplexing enough to stump the Emerald City’s finest detective—as well as mystery fans everywhere.
Victoria Bell didn’t expect her romantic dinner date to end with murder. But when a scream interrupts a waterfront stroll, she boards a private tugboat to find a bachelorette in a negligée standing over a dead body.
Once again Victoria teams up with Seattle’s best detective, Inspector Michael Riggs, to solve a homicide case. This time, they must unravel the complicated lives of two wealthy middle-aged sisters and their assorted gentlemen friends to uncover the dead man’s identity—and bring his killer to justice.
Victoria set down her fork and adjusted her brooch. Her companion sipped his wine. He looked wonderful in his sports jacket.
“It looks like the rain may stop,” he observed. “How about a walk along the docks when we’re finished?”
A couple of men were getting up from a nearby table. As they walked past, something familiar grabbed Victoria’s attention. She watched the men pause at the door, where they shook hands and said their goodbyes. Victoria was facing them, but she couldn’t hear them. One man put on his hat, stepped outside, and through the restaurant window, Victoria could see him open his umbrella and walk away.
But it was the other man who had caught her attention. Instead of leaving the restaurant, he stepped into the telephone box by the front door. She could just hear the jinglingly sound of coins and keys as he reached into his pocket for change. He closed the telephone box door. Then she watched him drop a nickel in the machine.
His back was turned to her, but Victoria suddenly realized why he was familiar. She’d seen him before, earlier that week. She remembered the faded scar on his left cheek. Even in the shadow of his hat, she could see the scar as his jaw moved.
“Of course, if you’d rather not go for a walk,” Victoria’s date was saying, “we could always call it a night.”
“Es tut mir leid,” Victoria quickly said.
“I know what that means,” he smirked.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, “Yes. I’d love to go for a walk.”
Fifteen minutes later, Victoria and her companion were walking along the Washington Canal. It certainly wasn’t one of Seattle’s prettiest neighborhoods. Just east of the locks, this waterway was the edge of the city’s freshwater. The freshwater lakes were ever further east, and to the west was the salty waters of Puget Sound.
Ballard was the city’s Scandinavian neighborhood. This stretch along the canal was packed with maritime industries. It was mostly fishing boats, tugboats, and shipping boats, but there was a mix of boathouses and floating homes, with the occasional house, or more likely a fishing cabin, sprinkled throughout the industrial structures.
The September moon was glistening off the water. Victoria stopped and looked out at the closest dock. There were several boats moored to it. Most of them were dark, but the closest one, a little blue houseboat, had the lights glowing behind its drawn curtains. At the end of the dock was a large beautiful tugboat.
On the tugboat’s main level a light suddenly illuminated two large square windows.
Victoria turned to say something to her date but she was interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream.
It seemed to come from the tugboat. While the noise was still echoing over the water, a tall, bald man burst out of the blue houseboat. He left his door opened as he turned toward the sound, and began running down the dock.
Victoria and her date followed him.
The thick wooden dock creaked and shifted under their rapid footsteps. In her high-heals, Victoria was mindful to keep her footing. They passed several small fishing boats and sailboats as they ran to the tugboat. It was a large, two-story classic tug, beautifully restored and painted fire engine red. Up close, Victoria could see that there were lace curtains over the large square windows. The bald man ran up the plank to the main deck. He was large and he reminded Victoria of a charging bull. He banged on the door before he opened it wide. Victoria and her companion hurried up behind him.
They were standing in someone’s living room. It had four large windows, two on both the port and starboard sides of the tugboat. The furniture was modern, colorful, and unexpectedly posh. There were two small sofas across from each other, with two overstuffed chairs between them, arranged to form a square around an elegant oriental rug. A coffee table with a bouquet of fresh daisies stood in the center of the room, and against the far wall was a cherry wood desk.
Standing in the middle of the room was a curvaceous woman in her late 40s. Her curly brown hair was pulled up into a haphazard bun and she was wearing a short pink negligée with a fluffy trim and matching high heal slippers. She was standing still in the middle of the room, staring down at the floor. At her feet was a man. He was lying face down. His motionless form seemed even more impossible in front of the woman’s pink sexy slippers. A dented gray fedora and a lit flashlight were lying a couple feet away. And beside him was a large, iron wrench.
Victoria noticed that the papers and drawers of the cherry wood desk were in disarray.
“Wilma,” the bald man panted, “Wilma, are you okay?”
The woman in the negligée looked at him and nodded but she didn’t say anything. Finally she opened her mouth and managed to whisper, “Oscar, this man, I…”
Victoria looked at the man beside her. The man called Oscar was at least six feet tall with broad shoulders. His bald head matched his clean-shaven jawline, and he was somewhere around fifty. From the rolled up sleeves of his plaid shirt, she could just make out the blurred remains of faded tattoo on his right forearm. An anchor.
Victoria’s date touched her arm. “We should telephone the police,” he said quietly. He made for the telephone on the desk but Victoria stopped him.
“Nein, macht’s nicht.” She turned to Oscar, “Do you have a telephone in your house? We shouldn’t touch anything here.”
“Yes. I have one,” Oscar nodded. He turned away.
“I’ll come with you,” Victoria’s companion said as he followed him .
“You know who to ask for?” Victoria asked.
Her date adjusted the brim of his hat and nodded.
As she heard the men walking down the ramp, Victoria turned back to the attractive woman, Wilma, and the improbable scene. Although the face of the motionless man was turned away from her, Victoria could just make out a faded scar on his left cheek.