The Dancing Boy
by Michael Matson
Publisher: Dark Oak Mysteries
Publication Date: April 6, 2014
Treat Mikkelson is not exactly a burnt-out case but he’s grown tired of his life as a criminologist, weary of memories of a marriage gone wrong and of his time in Vietnam. Trying to burn the bridges to his past, he finds and remodels a cabin on a small Pacific Northwest Island, settles down to enjoy fishing, setting his crab pot, digging for clams and documenting the lives of his island neighbors.
When an elderly woman in the nearby tourist town of La Conner is found dead however, the victim of what appears to be an accidental fall, Mikkelson is persuaded to look into her death. The discovery that it was murder leads to something even more shocking: the human trafficking of young boys brought into the US and Canada.
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Sometimes people die simply because they’re in the way. Because they’re a problem and killing them looks like the solution to the problem.
In that case there’s usually little or no anger involved. Just an analytic decision to remove an obstacle. A business decision. You do it and move on. Shit happens.
If Margaret Neilssen hadn’t made a decision to sell the property after all these years, she could have died in bed at the age of 110 for all he cared. Selling made no sense. It wasn’t as if she needed the money. She already had everything she needed. Stocks, investments, a picture-post-card fully-restored, turn-of-the-century Victorian home on Second overlooking La Conner’s main street, the tourist shops and restaurants with their docks backed up against the slough and across that the sparsely-lit homes of the Swinomish Indian Reservation.
She could afford to keep the land. She’d held onto it for nearly half a century, hadn’t she? Paying taxes on it. Letting it just sit there growing weeds. Then she and her shiny-pantsed lawyer, Trousdale, had put this development thing together. Just like that. No warning. No discussion. Just live with it. There was no way he could accept that. Not now. Not ever. He had other uses for the land.
It was not yet eleven. Early for a city but not for a small town. Most of La Conner had already dug itself in for the night. Around it, the gravid, scentless, tulip-rich fields, dank with the earlier memory of daffodils and narcissus, lay black and sleeping, deep in dreams of tomorrow’s busloads of camera-laden tourists. Lights from a few businesses along First Street… the Salmon House Inn, the grocery, the La Conner Bar and Grill…still reflected across the thick, flowing, obsidian surface of the slough. A single car pulled away from the curb by the bank building and out onto the narrow street heading south. “Pull-and-Be-Damned Road” they’d called it back in the ‘30s before it was paved and farmers bringing their produce into town in horse or mule-drawn wagons for shipment south to Seattle by boat had cursed its muddy ruts.
Usually on a weekend, even in winter, the town was as deep in tourists as it had once been in mud. But it was mid-week and now only a handful of late diners leaving the Salmon House Inn were still on the street. A young couple, arm-in-arm strolled past the darkened windows of the shops selling brass fittings, blown glass, clothing, woodcarvings, antiques and jewelry. A few locals wandered blearily in and out of the La Conner Bar and Grill.
Chances are no one would notice or even remember if he decided to use First Street, he thought. That route would take him past the few open businesses to the left turn at the end of the street across from the Cranberry Cottage, then left again past the old Gaches Mansion. But people noticed motorcycles and being invisible was a lesson learned long ago. He turned two blocks before First, motored south for several more blocks before turning right onto Second. There were no shops here and no one to see him pull his Harley into the unlit, unpaved alley that ran between Calhoun and Benton. He parked in the hard packed dirt space behind the United Methodist Church and crossed Benton to the side away from the corner streetlight keeping as much in the shadows as possible.
Not that being seen was much of a problem now that he was away from the main business district. Few homes along Benson or Second were lit. And he was dressed for darkness: black jeans, black turtleneck sweater under a black windbreaker, thin black leather gloves, a black watch cap pulled low over his forehead, face blackened with burnt cork. Still, he took no chances.
Beside Second he paused briefly, then crossed the street quickly and entered the old woman’s backyard. Here he paused again, breathing in the faint scent of early dogwood, lilac and bitter cherry beginning to flower in the adjacent yards. A towering laurel hedge and a massive rhododendron, probably older than the house itself, blocked views from the street and left the house in near total darkness; a gothic gingerbread silhouette pasted against the deep gray overcast of the sky. There was no sign of movement inside. The lower floor was unlit. Only a lone flickering blue light from a TV set in one of the rooms upstairs indicated anyone was inside.
Quietly he padded across the well-kept lawn to the back porch and tried the door. Locked. But he’d expected that. He didn’t want to jimmy it although he would if he had to. It was an old lock and would only take an instant. But there was always a chance someone might check later and find marks. He’d prefer to find another way in.
He found what he was looking for on the south side of the house. A window carelessly left partially open not far from the flight of concrete steps that rose adjacent to the property and provided foot access between First and Second Street. The proximity of the steps bothered him. If any of the locals left the tavern and used them he might be seen. It was a chance he decided to take. He eased the window open, hoisted himself over the sill and lowered himself silently down onto the floor inside. There he crouched, forcing himself to hold completely still for a full five minutes until his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room and until he was sure no one upstairs had heard him enter. When he was ready to move he looked around, carefully noting the placement of furniture, the contents of the room. It appeared to be a parlor or library of some sort furnished with heavy oak tables, Morris chairs, standing Tiffany-style lamps, a thin, dark patterned oriental rug over the hardwood floor. One wall of the room was taken up with bookshelves. A door opposite the bookcases and standing slightly ajar opened onto what appeared to be the downstairs hallway.
The only sound, a low murmur from the television, came from upstairs. He closed the window and locked it using the metal catch at the top. Softly, he crossed the room and entered the hall, then moved along it to the stairs leading to the second floor, pleased to find they were heavily carpeted. Nonetheless, he moved slowly, placing his feet as close to the edge of the risers as possible to minimize any potential noise. At the top of the stairs a dark hallway led off to the right to what he guessed were bedrooms. Straight ahead of him across the short landing was a door slightly ajar. A band of light, alternately gold and blue spilled out from the open gap and across the surface of the landing. The sound of the television was still low but clear enough now for him to hear distinct words. A movie, probably. To the left was a bathroom. He checked his watch. Nearly eleven. Whatever was on the TV would probably end then but he was in no hurry. He slipped into the bathroom and pressed himself up against the wall by the sink.
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About the Author
Michael Matson was born in Helena, Montana, and was immediately issued a 10-gallon Stetson and a pair of snakeskin boots. After formative years spent in New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, California, Hawaii and Japan, Michael earned a journalism degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. Following a brief military stint in Oklahoma, where he first encountered red, sticky mud, heavy rain and tarantulas, he returned to Seattle and worked as an advertising agency copywriter, creative director and video producer.
In 2007 he (regretfully) left Seattle for Mexico to have time to write and has since published The Diamond Tree, a fairytale for all ages; Bareback Rider, an inspirational adventure for children; and Takeshi’s Choice, a mystery novel. His short story “Gato” was selected for inclusion in Short Story America’s 2014 anthology. His second mystery novel: The Dancing Boy, was released by Dark Oak Mysteries, a division of Oak Tree Press in April 2014 and is available at Amazon.com
He lives with his wife María Guadalupe (Tai), in Morelia, the colonial capital city of Michoacán, where, despite all the bad publicity given the area by U.S. news media, he has never seen a narcotraficante. His website is: www.findmichaelmatson.com
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