Date: January 9, 1907
Wind: SW, light gusting to moderate
Weather: Cool, some clouds after morning fog
Comments: Moderate swells on bay. Whale migration beginning, one spouter spotted, boat out of Monterey Whaling Station observed in pursuit.
[signed] Fremont Jones, Deputy
for Henrietta Houck
Keeper, Point Pi±os Light
I suppose my luck ran out. Or perhaps it was only that I made a mistake, or two, or three. Nothing really disastrous--I have a different, one might say heightened, definition of disaster since last year's Great Earthquake and the fire that followed. Nevertheless my recent mistakes have caused me heartache and embarrassment, and a good deal of inconvenience, not to mention insecurity. Indeed sometimes I look around me in this beautiful yet alien place and wonder what in the world I am doing here.
I do a good bit of looking around because that is part of my job: I make observations and keep a log; I also keep accounts and order supplies and oversee the man who tends the property. I do these things in my capacity as deputy keeper (status: temporary) of the Point Pi±os Lighthouse. I tell myself that I am fortunate to have this job for six months, and therefore my luck cannot really have run out--that is what I tell myself.
The lighthouse at Point Pi±os is nothing like a certain other lighthouse I visited a couple of years ago, to the north of San Francisco. For one thing, this is in the opposite direction, south, by more than a hundred miles, and for another, it is not the least threatening in appearance or in atmosphere. This lighthouse looks like a Cape Cod cottage with a tower and lantern stuck onto its roof like an afterthought. Point Pi±os is the southern headland of Monterey Bay, acres of dunes and scrub rolling down to a rocky, granite coastline, surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by thick forest a mile deep. Beyond that forest is the prosperous little town of Pacific Grove; in the other direction, some three miles as the crow flies but farther by road and beyond another forest, is a tiny, rustic village called Carmel-by-the-Sea. If more felicitous surroundings exist anywhere on earth, I have not seen them. Yet I am quite perverse: Often I am discontented and wish I were somewhere else.
I have not given up typewriting; in fact I have a brand-new Royal typewriter, which, like its predecessor, is my most prized possession. However I have had difficulty, due to the aforementioned mistakes, in getting my business started in this new place. I tell myself it will happen, nothing is impossible--that is what I tell myself.
I was telling myself something of the sort around four o'clock in the afternoon of January 9, 1907, as I gazed idly out the watch-room window. The watch room is located at the base of the lantern tower, so it is round and rather small but pleasant enough, particularly considering the panoramic view. Hettie (short for Henrietta) Houck, the real keeper of the light, used the watch room as a sort of office and so I do the same.
I met Hettie last month because I was thrown out of a boardinghouse in Pacific Grove on an accusation of immoral conduct, and she happened to be on the sidewalk outside at the time. My so-called immoral conduct was that I had, earlier that evening, entertained a male person in my room with the door closed. This male person was my friend Michael Archer, who now lives in Carmel; the "entertainment" was an argument between us, a very personal sort of argument, which was why I had closed the door. The reason for the argument was that I had made a huge mistake about Michael--or Misha, as he now prefers to be called--but I didn't make it all alone; he misled me. And from that most crucial mistake, all the other mistakes flowed...
that?" I asked aloud of no one, and picked up the binoculars. There was something riding the waves just beyond an offshore rock formation that I call the Three Sisters; whether the three rocks have an official name or not I don't know. The object was about the same size as a sea lion, but it was predominantly red and they are always brown. Nor was it a seal. Seals, unlike sea lions, do come in different colors--but none of God's creatures (except humans, who alone are capable of artifice) comes in that particular shade of scarlet.
Try as I might, I could not see the object well enough to tell what it was, even with the aid of the binoculars. I put them back on the desk and went out of the watch room, up the circular stairs that climb inside the tower, and out onto the platform beneath the lantern that houses the third-order Fresnel lens. On the platform there is a powerful spotting telescope, which with some fiddling I managed to focus on the Three Sisters.
"Botheration!" I expostulated; the odd object was gone. Perhaps it had swum away, but I did not think so. I lifted my head and scanned with naked eye, occasionally fighting back strands of long hair lifted by wind gusts, until I found it again. It had drifted, or possibly swum, a few yards north and closer in to the rocky shore. I aimed the telescope and refocused.
Indeed it was not swimming, not moving through the water of its own locomotion, but rather you might say that the ocean was having its way with this thing. Nor was it entirely red--I caught flashes of white and black as well. Whatever it was, the incoming tide brought it relentlessly closer to shore, until it was caught in the crest of a breaking wave, tumbled over and over in flashes of red and black and white, and for a moment I thought--
"Oh, no," I said, pushing my face harder against the telescope as if that alone could clarify my view, and louder I cried: "No!"
But there was no denying it: The object had both arms and legs of a pale, sickly white. And a head with face obscured by a mass of black hair. It was human, probably female, surely drowned.
Excerpted from The Bohemian Murders by Dianne Day. Copyright © 1998 by Dianne Day. Excerpted by permission of Crimeline, 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.