I drove into Ragged Harbor, Maine, and felt an immediate sense of deja vu.
The freedom that seemed so illusory to me as a street kid in Boston's Roxbury section, I discovered south of the city on Nantasket Beach in my teens. I prowled the bay side of my seven-mile peninsula, explored each inlet and cove, examined skate eggs, horseshoe crabs, and sand-shark cadavers. Then I shifted my attention to the ocean's infinite rhythms, and probed seaweed and
driftwood, new treasures that arrived with each tide change. I met the resident scavengers and predators; I knew the wildly shifting ocean currents, the indifference of an immense and surging sea.
I drove Ragged Harbor's mile-long causeway between mudflats and seawalls, and into the village. The inner harbor on my right was a bay, a haven for water craft. Beyond a cove and a breakwater on the left, the dark Atlantic--my familiar friend--throbbed.
The smell of dead fish billowed from stacks of crab pots. Great black-backed gulls bombed the rocks along the breakwater with mussels and clams, then dropped from the sky to pick at the shattered shells with their orange beaks. A dory rested upside down on a stony beach.
Gulls screamed; sandpipers minced ahead of low tide's bantam waves; terns dove at the cracked shells left behind by the gulls; a cormorant's head and long neck slipped through the harbor's placid surface.
I felt as if I had rediscovered a private paradise, a place where I could continue my lifelong love affair with the sea.
"Why move to Michigan?" my daughter Lane asked when, years ago, I had announced my imminent departure from Boston. "That's nearly midway between the two oceans. You said you couldn't stand the thought of being landlocked."
"Well, that guarantees that I'll be back."
Seven years after that conversation, I drove into Ragged Harbor's village.
The town lived a divided life. A leaning white church behind an erect white picket fence, the general store, a hardware store with gas pump in front, the post office and police station housed in the municipal building--all indicated an old New England community. "Willy's Twice-Daily Whale Cruises," guaranteeing sightings, and "Ragged Ts," each shirt sporting a jagged neck seam, lured summer tourists.
I consulted my map, turned left at the second of the two stoplights, and drove into the community's third identity, the college town.
Harbor College was small, four hundred women on a hilltop with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the cove that served as safe harbor for dumpy lobster
and crab boats, fishing trawlers, and sleek cruisers. The fieldstone and wood college buildings, originally a seminary, dated from the nineteenth century.
With religious fervor fading in the 1940s, the seminary closed its doors. Progressive educators approached the board of directors and proposed the creation of a small, student-centered liberal arts college. In 1955, the board ceded the campus to the college.
Stuart Gilman, my contact at the college, occupied an office in the administration building, but lacked a title. The short, paunchy, balding man
was power-attired in reds and browns, and deceptively satin-tongued. Had it not been for his extensive repertoire of nervous gestures, he would have made a well-oiled public relations drone.
"I've heard that Dr. Lucas Frank is a recluse," Gilman said, bobbing his head. "I was surprised that you agreed to
come out here."
"The timing of the invitation was right," I said, feeling not the slightest need to tell him anything more.
During my years as a practicing psychiatrist, I ministered to the ills of the neurotic and psychotic, the personality disordered, and those who were just plain confused. I quickly tired of the "same stories, different faces" routine. Then, when the faces suddenly looked the same, I felt like I was drowning in a mad scientist's genetic sink. It did not help when managed-care companies insisted that they would set my fees and grab quick peeks at my files whenever the spirit moved them.
My work was never interesting or challenging enough, so, on the side, I developed personality profiles of killers, rapists, and any other purveyors of mayhem who drifted my way. Charming, no?
Police detectives became my best customers, as they sought new insights into the crimes and criminals they were charged to investigate. Their municipalities did not pay well, but the work was far more satisfying. Unlike HMOs, cops did not demand monthly reports in triplicate, written in a jargon
that sounded like glossolalia emanating from one hell of a Pentecostal bingo
But even that work was not enough. I felt compelled to chase the bastards down. Whenever I grew impatient with law enforcement's investigative or interrogative techniques, I developed my own. Most of the time I operated
within the law. Sometimes I considered it necessary to . . . improvise. A serial killer doesn't recite a Miranda warning before slitting your throat and disposing of you in six counties. Why should I bother with the law?
There was never any slowing down for me, not until I said goodbye to craziness and said hello to my retreat at Lake Albert in upstate Michigan. I
quit the business, took up bass fishing, listened to music cranked loud enough to crack plaster. I confined my communication with the world to a fax machine that my daughter, Lane, a homicide detective in New York City, gave me and insisted I plug in.
In the past few months, I had begun to feel as if my half dozen years of retirement were years spent on the run. Before I agreed to teach a course on
gender and serial violence in the women's studies program at Harbor College, I was bogged down in a slough of depression. I had turned my back on the demons that haunted my professional life, and in retaliation they crept up on me, nipped at my backside, invaded my dreams. I was restless, not sleeping well,
and suffering from a world-class case of anhedonia--a total loss of interest in the pursuits that I most enjoyed. Translation? I was bored to the brink of a vegetative state. The time had come to declare myself unretired.
"Are you on the faculty, Mr. Gilman?"
"It's Stu. I'm the liaison between MI and the college. Harbor is the primary recipient of the educational grants that MI awards each year. I don't think it's exaggerating to say that this place would fold without our financial support. In addition to the cash we provide, we also own several buildings in town, including the house where you'll be staying. MI is paying your stipend
and expenses, of course."
Gilman was not gloating. His tone and attitude suggested that he disapproved of the arrangement. I doubted, however, that he objected to his office, a virtual showplace of the finest leathers and woods, albeit dusty and appearing unused.
"I'm afraid you're way ahead of me, Stu," I said. "What is MI?"
"You've never heard of Martin International?"
I shook my head.
"Huh," he grunted. "It was Melanie's idea to invite you."
"You may as well tell me who Melanie is while you're at it."
Gilman's head wobbled and his shoulders jerked. "Melanie Martin is Martin International. She's the company's founder, principal owner, and CEO. We're a small firm, but easily one of the most successful and powerful enterprises of its kind in the world. Melanie insists on serving as a board member here. She monitors the meetings by phone."
Excerpted from Dreams in the Key of Blue by John Philpin. Copyright © 2000 by John Philpin. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.