Niles used the remainder of the month to unpack and settle in. However, he stated a routine, at 7:00 every morning he made a 100 yard walk to the Harbor Inn for coffee and brief chat about the gossip and the this and that of the community. Charley and Shelly remained cautiously neutral.
Each morning a man named Steve appeared; sometimes he entered the dinning room from the kitchen, other times the door to the deck, and the front door. Charley and Shelly introduced him as a local historian. He was not a man full of gossip and juicy tidbits like Captain Dave, nor did he appear overly interested in that sort of thing, but his ear was always close. Above all he was gentlemanly and polite in a way that charismatically draws people without effort. He was found most often reading a paper, but if anything needed tending to in the dinning room he quickly sprung to his feet.
Steve always dressed like a weekend sailor; deck shoes, khaki pants, floured shirt, and a cap. Seldom did he remove his hat except to scratch his thinning light red head taken over by gray. He appeared to be in the mid 60s range.
Five mornings passed before Steve sat at the same table with Niles. No one else occupied the dinning room. Charley and Shelley worked diligently setting up a continental breakfast for their guests.
“I hear you start the first of the month,” Steve said sitting his cup of coffee across from Niles. “You don’t mind if I join you?”
To Niles it seemed to indicate he had now passed the first phase of acceptance. Now it was time for phase two, the interview. They sipped coffee as the conversation progressed.
“Not at all,” Niles said. “I like a little company with my morning coffee. Yeah, officially the first, but this will probably be my routine. I’ll walk across the street and open the office officially at 8:00, but I’ll be open at 7:30.”
“I don’t think the other guy ever got in before 9:00,” Steve said. “Kevin, a good guy, but needed some growing up.”
“Some people aren’t morning people,” Niles said. “My theory has always been you get the most work done early. Back in New York I’d get in an hour or two before everybody else.”
“You were a detective, right?” Steve said. “Dedicated.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “but my last assignment was in charge of a squad of detectives.”
“Is the murder of our former mayor an interest of yours?” Steve said.
“What did you do before becoming plain ole Steve,” Niles smiled.
Steve smiled and shook his head. “History and social studies at Brewster Harbor High.”
“Are you in competition with the local historian, Captain Dave?” Niles said.
“Captain Dave has the ability to change high winds into a hurricane,” Steve said. “He exaggerates everything including his own importance. Did he show you the Devil’s Thumb?”
“Yeah,” Niles said.
“It’s a rock above the water,” Steve said. “He named it the Devil’s Thumb, nobody calls it that but him. Did he tell you the story of the Robleau brothers who shipwrecked?”
“Yeah,” Niles said, “hit it in the fog and stranded there; nearly died of starvation.”
“The were drunk and only missed one meal before being rescued,” Steve said. “I’ll give it to him he knows the boats and captains, but he’s been rescued a half dozen times himself. We joke when he takes a charter out that it may be the last time we see ‘em.”
“That’s funny,” Niles said. “So what do you know about the murder?”
“Only what everybody else knows,” Steve said.
“Is there a popular theory?” Niles said.
“I think everybody lives with the theory that it will be an unsolved murder,” Steve said. “From what I remember there was next to nothing to go on.”
“You know what it takes to solve a murder?” Niles said.
“Clues,” Steve said.
“A clue is nothing more than understanding how each item, whether physical or not, relates to the crime. It sometimes means giving meaning to what seems meaningless,” Niles said. “For example, the body was found 50 hundred yards off shore. Was it tossed there? No. Did a helicopter drop it there? No. Did he swim there? Not with an anchor tied around him? So I’m looking for a boat. And I might even go so far as to say a row boat. Nobody would risk putting out into the harbor with an engine making noise a bunch of noise. How many rowboats do you see in the harbor?”
“There’s quite a few at the dock near the harbor master’s office,” Steve said.
“Do you think somebody would carry a dead body on to a public dock, place it in a boat, and row it to the middle of the harbor? My guess is that they just might as well dump the body at the dock, why row out of the way? Why row to where the body will definitely be discovered?”
“I’m a history teacher,” Steve said.
“Desire and curiosity solves murders,” Niles said. “You want to really solve it – period. And curiosity took the cat down a lot of allies before being killed. Those are all clues. I have to find them.”
Steve sipped his coffee.
“There is a rowboat beneath the deck to this place,” Steve said.
“Steve, when I started thinking about this case, I started with every citizen in town except Charley and Shelly; they didn’t live here at the time of the murder. I already knew there was a boat beneath the deck. If you wouldn’t have told me about it, I would have had to leave you on the list of suspects. So, I can safely eliminate you.”
“There’s a ladder at the side of the deck,” Steve said. “You can get to the boat from it.”
“How’d the stock market do yesterday?” Niles said.
“Up a little,” Steve said, “but I think you already knew that.”
“Thanks, Steve,” Niles said. “I got to get back to my place and finish getting it in order. Come by anytime.”
“I’ll do that,” Steve said.
Niles stood, took his cup to the bin, and left. He returned to his home and continued unpacking and arranging.