A while back I promised the first chapter of Timothy Darling & The Girl in the Sailboat. My hours have been filled by work on what I hope will be the final draft of Turn on No-Bridge Road, but I haven’t for a minute forgotten about sharing the first chapter in the sequel to No-Bridge. Here it is in first-draft form; my apology for the formatting. As always, I hope you will take a few minutes to use the please reply box and post a comment.
Chapter One of Timothy Darling & The Girl in the Sailboat
Timothy Darling stood on his porch one day and looked across the hill at Woodbine House. It was early March and the air was nippy. He planned to ask his father, Nick, if he’d like to help with the sailing program at St. Bridget’s this spring. As he wondered if his parents would be awake yet, he felt the iphone in his pocket vibrate and glanced at his watch. It was not yet eight o’clock. Who could be calling so early? Caller I.D. told him it was his friend Josh Peterson from the Community College where Tim taught math and an Introduction to Architecture class.
“Morning, Joshua. How goes it?” he said, before swallowing the last of his coffee.
“You’re not going to believe this,” his friend exclaimed. “It’s not something you’d ever expect around here. I don’t have all the facts … news is spreading fast … Lucy just got to work and everyone’s crazy over there. The sheriff’s there and police are everywhere, she says ….”
Tim knew Lucy worked in the St. Bridget’s office. “Come on, man. What the heck is it?”
“They found a dead girl down near the water. Did you hear me? She was dead, as in not breathing! The grounds guy found her. Lucy thinks she was a student, but no name has been released ….”
Both Tim’s wife and his sister Kate were graduates of St. Bridget’s Episcopal School for girls over in Rivertown—a number of years ago—yet still, who could imagine such a thing happening there, even in today’s crazy world? Tim’s mind was spinning. “How did she die? I mean what on earth happened to her? And when? You’re right,” he sputtered. “I can hardly believe what you’re telling me!”
“I don’t know, to all three! I told you exactly what Lucy told me … hey, Tim, got to go. I’m getting another call. See you when you get here ….”
Tim, shaking his head, went back inside. The screen door slammed behind him almost clipping the tail of Waldo, their German shepherd. He headed upstairs, two steps at a time, to find Molly was still in the shower. “Hey, Moll, hurry up in there. Got something t’tell you. Over at St. B’s … something weird ….”
Molly Zawicke, four years older, had known Timmy Darling and his twin sister Kate since they were babies. She loved telling people how she used to push Tim around in the stroller, until he was big enough for her to pull him in his little red wagon. She knew all his moods and easily recognized the sound of alarm in his voice. She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. “Okay,” she said, pushing back her dripping brown hair. “I can hear you now. What’s the matter? Something about St. Bridget’s?”
“They found a dead girl on the beach. Lucy thought she might be one of the students.”
“Josh’s wife. Remember, I introduced you to her when we went to hear Kate give her political kickoff speech a couple of weeks ago.”
Molly nodded, although she couldn’t remember Lucy. “So tell me what happened. How did she die?”
“Josh said he didn’t know … but do you think somebody could have killed her?”
Molly fastened her bra and slipped her arms into a long-sleeved white blouse. She had a court appearance this morning with her father Anton, who was defending a young man accused of breaking and entering with the intent of robbery. It was a messy case. The plaintiff was the defendant’s uncle and there was apparently bad blood all around. Molly hoped it wouldn’t drag on all morning because she had a luncheon date with a college friend, and her law class at University of Richmond started at four. “Oh, Timmy, sometimes you are so dramatic—murder? In Rivertown? At good ole St. B’s?”
Leave it to Molly to set me straight, Tim thought. “I suppose you’re right, sweetheart. Come here and turn around.” Molly was struggling to fasten the blouse which buttoned down the back. He stood, lifted her damp hair to kiss the back of her neck, and buttoned the shirt. She wrapped the towel around her head and headed for the bathroom. “There’s probably some simple explanation … like a heart attack or seizure of some kind—sad enough, but not a criminal act.”
“Want an egg this morning? I can have it ready by the time you dry your hair and come downstairs.”
“Sure, darling. But I haven’t much time. Dad said to be there a little after nine.” She blew him a kiss and disappeared.
After Molly left for the day Tim, who didn’t have to be at school until 11, puttered around, all the time thinking about the dead girl. He put a load of clothes in the washer and emptied the dishwasher. Remembering tonight was Molly’s class in Richmond and she wouldn’t be home till after seven, he took a pound of ground beef out of the freezer and left it to thaw. It never bothered him to share the house chores. He and Molly had been best friends for as long as he could remember, and sharing in every sense of the word came naturally to them both. Even during the several years of Molly’s hapless marriage to George Crispin, Tim and Molly had spoken to each other at least once a week and frequently emailed back and forth. Molly’s mother Sara once told her friend, Tim’s mother Claire, that Molly had threatened to marry George hoping to prod Tim into marriage—when that didn’t work, and half out of spite, she’d gone ahead with her announced plans.
One night three years after her very formal and elaborate wedding and reception, Molly appeared tear-streaked and frightened at the entrance to Tim’s little bachelor house in Holly Grove. He had barely opened the door when she fell into his arms. It was the night his life did a one-eighty—it was the night the door that had closed between them reopened. Every time he thought of it, he wondered that he had accepted her back without question or condemnation. It must be true then: he’d been waiting for her all along, and in the end she had returned to him.
“Oh Timmy, hold me, just hold me. I’ve done a terrible thing and I’m so afraid,” she’d sobbed against his shoulder.
Overwhelmed, he’d simply done what she asked. He pushed the door shut and held her.
“Can I stay here? I don’t know where to go,” Molly whispered. “I can’t go home now … oh, please, just say something, Tim, anything. Talk to me. I need to hear your voice.”
Molly had stayed that night. He remembered warming some soup for her and then tucking her into his bed. “I’ll sleep on the couch,” he’d told her, “and we can talk in the morning.” It was like Molly to have her own agenda so he hadn’t been surprised when he awoke to find her curled at his feet on the other end of the long sofa. She was looking at him across the tangle of their legs. Molly’s eyes were hazel if you believed what it said on her driver’s license. But in morning sunlight they appeared golden, while by lamplight you’d swear they were green. That’s how they’d looked to Tim in the light cast by the small lamp behind his head. Wide open and deep green, begging for forgiveness, and deep enough to drown in. “I love you,” he’d said. “Don’t break my heart again, Moll.”
She hadn’t. The week after her divorce was final, and for the second time, Father John Macomber joined Molly Zawicke Crispin in holy wedlock—this time to someone he loved like a son, Timothy Matthew Darling. The only guests were their parents, of course Kate and Ben Baer and their children, John and Beverly Macomber, and a few special friends. Following this, Sara and Anton Zawicke hosted a lively dinner party in their home a few doors from St. Mark’s in celebration of their daughter’s second marriage. Other than the bride and groom, no one was happier than Claire and Sara, the mothers, who had always known these two belonged together.
It was a gloomy day with clouds hanging tight over the river. Tim put Waldo in his run and paused to look up and down the Rappahannock. Although he’d lived in this very spot his entire life he never tired of studying the river. It was his guide to the weather and he often thought to his moods as well. Here, on these fertile acres of Northern Neck land his ancestors had built the first Woodbine house early in the 19th century. Every so often he stopped to remind himself how fortunate they all were to live on this Virginia peninsula bounded by the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. But the moment soon passed and he headed for his jeep and the twenty-five mile drive to work.
Once on the road he thought about calling Josh to see if he’d heard any more from Lucy, but decided he’d still be in class. He’d just have to wait until he got to the college to get more news. A short time later he walked into the main hall to find the place buzzing with speculation. Everyone was talking about the happening at St. Bridget’s.
“They’re now saying it was a boarding student, a senior.”
“What was she doing down at the river anyway?”
“What time do they think it happened?”
“I heard her name was Helen something ….”
“Bigelow. Helen Bigelow ….”
Tim kept walking down the long hall to his classroom, chatter all around him, when he heard something that caused him a moment of alarm, even a kind of foreboding. “She was Todd Heatley’s girlfriend,” someone had said. Todd was one of Tim’s most promising students in the architecture class. Good grades. A local farmer’s son as he recalled, from over near Westfield Beach. He and Todd had enjoyed lunch together several times in the cafeteria, and Tim knew him as a good kid with a potentially positive future. From all appearances, Todd was at the college to learn, not to make friends or to party. He was a serious student among many who were not.
Tim set his briefcase on his desk and waited a few minutes until the students were seated and semi-settled. The second seat in the first row on the right was empty—Todd Heatley’s seat. He decided to ignore that for the moment and skip the roll call.
“Good morning, everyone. I know you’re all thinking about what’s going on across the river. But since not much is known about it yet, I suggest we let things take their course. In due time, we’ll know some answers. For now, we’re here to talk architecture. I’m going to start this morning by asking you to turn your thoughts to two architects, both well known, both considered forward thinking and modern for their time. Your assignment was to make a brief study of both I.M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright. Please take about ten minutes or so to make a list of what you found to be similarities in their approach to structure, and a second one listing possible differences. Then we’ll share what some of you come up with.”
There followed the usual bustle as laptops popped open, papers were shuffled and notebooks snapped. Tim loaded some slides in his projector in preparation for discussion. All the while he could not stop wondering if it was indeed a friend of Todd’s who had died sometime during the night on the riverbank.
When class ended, Tim had a break and he knew the person who would have the most current and relevant information would be Josh, but it was a couple of hours before he was able to track him down. Their classes were on alternate schedules. He finally caught up with him coming out of the men’s room. “Hey, Josh. I’ve been waiting to talk to you. Thanks for calling me this morning by the way. Everybody’s got a different story, but I’m worried ….”
“What d’you mean, about what? The whole damn thing! I’ve heard kids talking about the girl … Helen. They’re saying she’s Todd Heatley’s girlfriend.”
“A kid in my architecture class. A good kid. And he didn’t show up for class today.”
Josh looked puzzled. “One of our students?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. He’s in his second year and I know him fairly well. He’s never talked about his personal life, so I have no idea if he knows this Helen person or not … how did she die? That’s what I want to know. Have you heard any more from Lucy? What’s really going on over there?”
“Come on, let’s go somewhere and get a beer. I’m done for the day. You sound like you need to talk to somebody.”
“Great idea, but I can’t. My algebra class starts in about half an hour. Just tell me what Lucy’s saying. Have they released cause of death yet?”
Josh jabbed Tim in the ribs with his elbow. “Come on, man, you know better’n that. They’re not going to release any info until they get their act together. Lucy says the school’s skipping classes for the day. They had a chapel service and then broke into small groups to try to calm the girls down. She says it’s utter chaos … kids crying and screaming and carrying on … parents calling from everywhere … a real nightmare!”
Later, his algebra class over, Tim headed for his car wondering if he should drive over to St. Bridget’s. He had reason enough to stop in because they had yet to iron out the details of his sail boating class which was set to begin the first Saturday in April. His common sense prevailed, however, as he left the parking lot. He turned right, heading home to Devon County. By the time he reached the turn on No-Bridge Road he’d decided to stop in at Woodbine and see how his folks were doing. He still needed to talk to his dad about the class. Nick had helped in the fall and it had worked well with the two sailboats—they could manage five or six girls to a boat that way. He saw his mother immediately when he pulled around the drive. She was clipping the dead blooms on the roses, deadheading she called it, near his grandfather’s grave. Claire’s face lit up when she realized who had driven in. Climbing the short rise, Tim kissed her forehead, and gave her a hug. Mother and son had never been shy about showing their love for one another.
“Timmy, I’m so glad to see you. Isn’t it awful about that poor girl? It’s all they’re talking about on the radio. Have you heard yet how she died?”
Tim shook his head. “No one seems to know. It’s strange, isn’t it? We don’t think of young people just dying like that, do we?” Gesturing toward Miller Dawson’s headstone, he said, “Glad to see you’re continuing to care for ole Granddad Miller’s grave, Mom.” Tim knew for a fact this site meant more to his mother than any of the others in the family cemetery on the other side of the fields. He liked to tease her about it because it was only a few years now since she’d belatedly learned Miller was her true father, not Paul Sutton, the man to whom her mother, Margot, had been married. A year or so ago he and Kate had sat transfixed as Claire attempted to reconstruct the family tree for them, but it was complicated. Paul Sutton, the grandson of Daniel and Teresa Sutton, and Miller, the grandson of Daniel’s sister Beth Sutton Brandon were second cousins. But Miller was not a legitimate member of the family by marriage—his father Gabriel Brandon had died in a barn fire, likely without even knowing he would become a parent. Raised by Margaret Dawson, his unwed mother, Miller was told by her at an early age who his father was. Out of deference to his mother, he never shared his illegitimate tie to Woodbine until he revealed it to Claire on his deathbed. What he did not reveal, however, was that he was also her mother’s lover and her true father. He’d thought it was up to Margot to provide this piece of the puzzle if and when she chose to do so.
Tim, remembering his mother’s excitement when that long lost letter had turned up years later in which Margot confessed all, felt a sudden surge of affection for her, and putting his arm around her waist drew her close for a minute. “Come on, Mom. Let’s go in. I’m ready for one of your famous manhattans or something. How about you?”
She looked at him. “Why Tim, that doesn’t sound like you! I thought you only drank wine or beer ….”
“Yep, that’s right. But something’s bothering me.” Tim knew if anyone would understand his concerns about that girl’s death, his mother would. She fixed him a drink and poured a glass of chardonnay for herself. They sat in the center hall, a place Nick and Claire had always used as a family room. The sun was low in the sky and a chill had risen from the river.
“When Nick comes in maybe he’ll build us a fire,” she said. “It feels chilly in here this evening.”
“I can put some logs on if you’d like.”
“No, just get comfortable. He’ll be here soon. I think he’s going over the site plans with Steven for the last couple of houses over at River’s Edge. He’ll want you to look at them later I’m sure.”
“You still don’t like that guy, Steven Steeples, do you?”
Claire sighed. “I’m just not comfortable around him, Tim. You know that. He’s … so … well, egotistical, arrogant about everything, treating his crippled wife like she’s a chore he has to put up with, carrying on with that mistress … and he’s sitting over there building houses on what used to be our land … what’s to like?”
Tim took a swallow of his bourbon. “Ben seems to get along with him just fine.” Ben Baer, Kate’s husband, had been managing River’s Edge Estates for Steeples ever since he graduated from William and Mary. Earlier that year, over Claire’s adamant protests, Nick had sold Steven two-hundred acres of prime riverfront to save the family from bankruptcy.
“Yes, well, good. Ben has to get along with him if he wants to keep his job. As your father would say, Steven is Ben’s bread and butter.”
Tim shook his head, smiling. “With Dad designing his houses, he’s practically your bread and butter, too, Mom!”
“Maybe so, but I don’t have to like him and I don’t have to deal with him.” Claire kicked off her shoes and settled back in her favorite chair. “Okay, so what do you have on your mind? I’m all ears.”
Tim cleared his throat and took another swallow of the bourbon. “I don’t really know how to begin. It’s crazy but ever since I heard about the girl’s body being found … her name’s Helen Bigelow, by the way … not that it would mean anything to you, or to me for that matter, except … except the kids are saying she was the girlfriend of one of my students, Todd Heatley. And I find that not only strange, but alarming. If it wasn’t a natural death, then it means someone killed her, doesn’t it?” Tim paused, waiting for her response.
“And who more likely than her boyfriend? Is that what you’re thinking?”
He nodded. “I have this weird ESP vibe telling me this is heading for disaster and that my poor student Todd is going to be in it up to his neck. Where is this coming from? Why should I have these concerns when I don’t even know the facts yet?”
After a moment Claire said, “I know what your grandfather would say, Timmy. Miller would tell you to be quiet and ….”
“I know … listen to the spirits.”
He and Kate used to laugh about their mother’s fascination with the spirits of their deceased ancestors. That was before he’d started helping her put an account of Woodbine’s former residents into story form. Now, although he really couldn’t imagine a spirit might talk to him, he no longer laughed at her when she brought up the subject. “Then you don’t think it’s peculiar for me to be worrying about someone I hardly know? I mean, I know Todd but only because he’s one of my best students. I want things to go well for him because he’s a hard worker … he’s trying to make something of himself.” Tim looked up at the sound of the back door closing. “Can we keep this to ourselves? Dad will think I’ve fallen off the deep end.”
Claire nodded and laid an index finger across her lips. They both watched as Nick, his faded red hair tousled by the wind, appeared around the corner. “Hi, darling. We’ve been waiting for you,” she said. It wasn’t a lie. She’d been hoping Nick would come in before Tim left.
“Well, well. Look who’s here! How’s everything, Tim? How about the news from St. B’s—dreadful shock, isn’t it? I just heard on the radio over at Steeples that there’s talk it might be a murder scene they’re dealing with.”
Tim glanced at his mother before responding. “You mean the police know how she died?”
“The report didn’t exactly say that. But it was pretty damn clear they didn’t think she expired from natural causes. An apparently happy, normal young girl, with no health issues past or present, according to a quote from her mother, doesn’t just stop breathing ….”
Claire stood, kissed her husband lightly, and motioned him to sit down. “You and Tim talk for a minute while I get you some wine, darling. Timmy says some kids at the college said one of his architecture students was the girl’s boyfriend,” she explained, thinking maybe it would help Tim to stop worrying if he talked about it. After all, it wasn’t his problem, vibe or no vibe. What could he possibly do about it if it was true? “I’ll be right back.”
“No, I guess not, Dad. She wouldn’t just stop breathing … that’s what I’ve been thinking all day. Todd Heatley is the guy they said knew her and he wasn’t in class this morning.”
“He probably heard the news and if it’s true that she was his girlfriend, he was undoubtedly upset. That would explain his absence, wouldn’t it?” Nick asked.
Tim nodded slowly. “But up until midday I don’t think they’d released her name. The class started at eleven … so how would he even know something happened to his friend?”
Nick scratched his head. “Hmm. I see where you’re going with this.”
“Can’t help it. I really like Heatley. I’ve sat with him at lunch a few times … had a chance to talk one on one with him. I just can’t imagine he’s involved in anything as scandalous or deplorable as taking someone’s life. It’s just not possible ….”
“Then why are you imagining it now? Maybe he was sick today. His car could have run into a ditch, maybe his dog died … there are countless reasons why he didn’t make it to your class this morning. You’ve always been a worrywart, Tim. Take my word for it, it’ll all sort itself out in time.”
“Yeah, most things do, don’t they? I’m probably jumping the gun, right?”
Claire returned with a tray of cheese and crackers, an ice bucket, the wine bottle, a glass for Nick and a refill for Tim. “Okay, you two. Here’s something to keep you going until dinner.”
“I need to get home Mom. Waldo’s been in the pen all day. I’ve got to feed him and take him for a run before I put something together for dinner. It’s Molly’s late night.” Claire handed him the glass of bourbon. “Okay, I’ll just drink this and then go,” he said, laughing.
“Take your time with the drink so we can talk about the sailing course. I know it starts soon and I guess I’ll help you out again if you want me,” Nick offered. “Is the Molly II over in Rivertown now?” he asked, referring to Tim’s 15-foot daysailer.
Tim nodded. “It was so beautiful last weekend I took her out of winter storage. There was a great breeze and Moll and I went for a sail on Sunday. We pulled her up on the sand at St. B’s and tied her up, thinking we might go out again soon, depending on the weather.” Tim cleared his throat. “About the sailing course, Dad—risking the chance of being called a worrywart for the third or fourth time in one day, may I suggest that if a student at St. Bridget’s has indeed been murdered, there might not even be a sailing course this spring?” Tipping his glass, he took a healthy swallow, waiting.
Nick let this sink in before saying, “Good thought. Certainly a possibility, because all hell could break loose over there I suppose. Who knows what could happen? Let’s change the subject and talk about what Steeples had to say about my site plans for the new construction? And what he’d like to do instead. Got time to take a look?”
“Sure, I guess another half hour won’t matter to Waldo. Spread them out over there on the table. Let’s turn the radio on so we can get the evening news from Rivertown.”
Nick chuckled. “No. I’m a failure at multitasking and the last time I thought about it, I concluded you weren’t too good at it either.”
Claire left them, and headed back to the kitchen. “Sure you won’t stay for supper, Tim? We’re having baked salmon.” When he shook his head, she left her two favorite men alone, to ponder yet another of Steven Steeples’ foolish ideas. Now he wanted to build a house on pilings down near the water. She knew, eventually, Nick would win out and the idea would be scrapped. But meanwhile they had to pussyfoot around Steven who was, after all, the boss.
On the short drive to his own house, Tim was grateful for the diversion over the Steeples’ issue. It gave him something else to think about. He parked his jeep, released Waldo and together they headed down the path to Pigeon Cove for their evening jog. The wind had picked up, and the rising tide sent waves slapping against the shore. Beyond the cove, whitecaps dotted the Rappahannock. The temperature was definitely dropping, Tim realized, wondering if he’d made a mistake leaving the boat on the sand like that. Unfortunately that brought his thoughts back to St. Bridget’s. Now he had two reasons to drive over there tomorrow—to make sure the sailboat was secure, as well as to finalize arrangements for the Saturday classes.
The hamburgers had been seasoned and ready for the grill for at least an hour. Tim finished his third drink and was thinking about bed when Molly arrived just after seven-thirty.
“Hey, you, get up! I’m home.” She bent to hug Waldo who’d followed her from the kitchen, bouncing around her feet in greeting. Setting down her books, she plopped herself in Tim’s lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I could hardly wait to get here,” she whispered. “What have you been up to?”
“At last, you’re home at last,” Tim mumbled, returning her kiss with a fair amount of passion although he was only half awake. “Love you, Moll, no matter when you arrive. But I’m starving. Let’s eat first.”