This day, I supposed, he was just a man flying a plane. Charley had once been the chief pilot for the Warden Service, and although he had retired years earlier, he still volunteered the use of his personal aircraft for emergencies or when the three other planes that constituted our Aviation Division were otherwise engaged. It was happenstance that had brought us together on this blustery November afternoon. The lone available investigator needed a ride to a death scene, and he was the only pilot available to take me.
It took Klesko leaning over my shoulder, his breath sharp with peppermint, to awaken me from my brooding. "Earth to Mike Bowditch."
"Sorry, Steve," I said into the microphone. "What were you saying?"
"I was asking what we know about the victim."
"Her name was Ariel Evans. She was thirty-seven years old. From Manhattan. She was shot in the backyard of the house she was renting. She was hanging laundry."
"Hanging laundry? So how could someone have mistaken her for a deer?"
"That's what the investigator is here to find out," said Charley, speaking for the first time since we'd taken off.
I found his words cheering. Acknowledging me at all seemed a crack in the wall between us. He hadn't yet explained why he'd withdrawn from my life. I assumed he was harboring a grudge against me on his daughter's behalf.
"I'm pretty sure she was a stranger to the island," I said. "And to Maine."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because the constable said she should have known better than to be outside, hanging white underwear from a clothesline on the second day of deer season."
Hunters often don't spot a white-tailed deer until it's running away. They'll see something white move suddenly and they'll take a shot at it. We get our expression hightailing it from the way a deer raises his tail as he bolts. The law says hunters are not permitted to fire without identifying their targets first, but it still happens. They get buck fever and start blasting.
"It sounds like the constable is blaming Ariel Evans for being the victim," Klesko said.
"That happens with every hunting homicide," I said.
Steve Klesko was the youngest detective in the Maine State Police, a year or two older than me. Some people might have called us peers; others, greenhorns. He hailed from the northernmost reaches of the state and had been a hockey star at the University of Maine before washing out of the minor leagues while his more talented teammates went on to fame and fortune in the NHL. The experience had left him with a dented nose, a dead tooth, and a fierce determination to succeed in his second-choice career as a state trooper. No one outworked Steven Klesko.
He had thick black hair that grew low on his forehead and a single unitary eyebrow. Back at the airport, he'd been dressed in a close-fitting charcoal suit that bulged whenever his biceps and deltoids contracted, but before boarding, he had switched his sharkskin jacket for a leather bomber and a pair of aviator sunglasses.
Despite the heater at my feet, I couldn't get warm inside the drafty plane. I turned my face to the vibrating window. Droplets from invisible clouds ran like tears along the Plexiglass, but it was a hell of a view. Below us, the stony summits of Acadia National Park were patches of dark gray against the deep greens, rust reds, and softer grays of the late-autumn forest. I could make out the visitors' center atop Mount Cadillac—the first place in America to see the sunrise for much of the year—with its tiny tourists scrambling over ledges and its parking lot of full Matchbox toys. November was too late for leaf-peeping along the Maine coast, but the landscape had a raw, russet beauty.
In any season, Mount Desert Island—with its barren peaks, its pristine lakes, its genteel carriage roads—was a wonder to behold.
To my right I could see a long arm of the sea inset with picture-postcard villages. Somes Sound is the only fjord on the east coast of the United States. Other Europeans probably navigated its chill waters before the French explorer Samuel de Champlain "discovered" the island in 1604. Basque fishermen almost certainly dried their netted cod along its cobblestone beaches. Archaeologists have speculated that the Vikings had even made it this far south on their epic voyages. If so, the lonely fjord must have reminded those wayfaring Northmen of their distant homeland. Maquoit Island was also rumored to have been visited by the Vikings. A promontory there was named Norse Rock for its (probably fake) runelike carvings.