“A Summer Pastime,”

Fiction by Peter Bar

Here I sit, on the aft deck of a sleek, 70-foot-long sport fishing boat, looking out over an empty ocean, not another vessel in sight.

Mark Canter has disappeared into the cabin, where he is now likely selecting the proper knife — he has an affinity for knives — which he will then use to try and murder me.

And why not? We are. after all, in the perfect place, idling along some 60 miles southeast of Montauk Point.

It would be a simple question of weighting down my lifeless body and slipping it over the side. Watch as my corpse slowly sank. Maybe my dead eyes would remain open, gazing upward, as I drifted down into the blackness. Maybe he’d smile. Maybe he always smiled. So easy.

He’d murdered before. He knew I knew this, only we hadn’t gotten around to talking about it yet. That’s why he’d invited me fishing on his boat. Just the two of us.

Strange how we found ourselves here. My fault actually, I was the one who suddenly felt I needed a change in my life, wanted to mix it up a bit, add a little excitement to things. Maybe it was an early mid-life crisis, or just a simple desire to pursue something different, like a new hobby or pastime.

I’m not sure how a psychiatrist might classify my sudden change in behavior, how they would label my new pastime, but the police could — they’d call it grand larceny. Home invasion actually, but not your basic smash and grab, breaking and entering, this was something more complex, second-story work if you were to discriminate.

And I only stole jewels. I left behind the fine works of art, the furs, the silver and gold. Just the precious stones. Something about that, right? Maybe as a kid, I’d seen Cary Grant scaling rooftops in the south of France, and something in my small adolescent mind clicked. Perhaps while watching that classic Hitchcock film, I said to myself, that’s interesting, and the idea just stuck, was buried somewhere deep, only to resurface years later when some mental switch was tripped.

I didn’t need the money. I’d been successful in business, and fortuitous enough to be a part of the long and prosperous wave that has washed through Silicon Valley.

I’d worked hard, been lucky, and then one day I found myself asking, what’s next? Maybe I was just feeling a little listless, I’m not sure, but I began thinking about easing up a little, taking some time away.  So I did. I rented an oceanfront home in the Hamptons. I could have gone anywhere, but I’d summered on Long Island’s East End when growing up, and I always had it in mind to return someday.

Like a lot of places, I knew to expect the area wouldn’t be the same as I remembered, but I was a bit surprised when I arrived in town. Don’t get me wrong, the Hamptons are still quite beautiful, but in some areas, where there once stood farms, there seems to be a new social climbing competition in the works. A showdown to see who can plant their flag atop the most outrageous house.

I’d seen the same trend around Silicon Valley, and like a lot of people I sometimes find myself scoffing at the more outlandish displays of wealth when it comes to home building. That said, however, I’m really not one to judge how a person spends their money; they earned it, they can do with it as they see fit. I have also come to believe that most of these trophy homes, architectural tastes aside, are owned by good, hardworking people.

I say “most” of these homes are likely owned by good, hardworking people. There are however exceptions. Look closely enough, and you’ll find another kind of person living behind the walls of some of these lavish homes. Relatively speaking, you might say they are also hardworking, but they have arrived where they are via a different path, profited in a different way — at the expense of others. You wouldn’t know it on the surface, of course, they disguise themselves well, carefully crafting their image as upstanding members of your community, but they are nothing more than thieves. Plain and simple.

Mark Canter is one of them, only he is also a murderer. And he preys upon young women.

How many has he murdered? Does it matter?

If everything went as planned, it would be Mark Canter who would be sinking to the bottom of the ocean, not me. And the murdering, however many victims there might have been, would come to an end.

You’re probably wondering how I discovered Mark Canter was a murderer, so this is where the story gets a little weird.

After I settled into town for the summer, I began supporting some of the local charities, and in time, the invitations to various-fund raising events began arriving in the mail.  

One beautiful evening in mid-July, I attended a benefit garden party, and while standing amid the perfectly manicured gardens, listening to the music and relaxed conversation of the partygoers, I suddenly found myself studying the exterior facade of my host’s house — not a good hardworking person, I should add. It was an enormous and imposing structure built like a veritable fortress. As I stood there on the lawn, slowly sipping a glass of wine, I began to closely examine the high walls, the gates, and the strategically located cameras, no doubt part of a ridiculously expensive and complex security system.

Naturally I found myself wondering — how complex could that security system actually be? And suddenly there it was, the bait, the apple of temptation. I’d been a computer hacker in high school, honed that ability in college, and it was that skill that led to the founding of my first cyber security company. I then went on to found several other tech companies in the following years, but through it all I never seemed shake that hacker mentality. It’s a hard thing to let go of, the challenge of it all, analyzing and breaching stops and firewalls built specifically to keep you out. Getting inside someplace you’re not supposed to be. I can’t really explain it, but that evening while looking up at that massive, garish castle, I felt as if it was staring back down at me. Challenging me.

Originally I was just going to get in and get out. Beat the system. I didn’t plan on stealing anything. Then I found myself exploring rooms, and then it became a question of finding what might be hidden in those rooms, behind false walls, hinged bookshelves, trip panels, wherever it was the homeowner mistakenly believed they had cleverly concealed their valuables. That became the game.

I’m not sure exactly when the charity component factored in, The Robin Hood-ish behavior. Maybe it was another interesting notion from another movie I’d seen as a young, impressionable teenager. It also could have just been the targets themselves, fabulously rich, but not really deservingly so, when you looked at all the collateral financial ruin some of them caused.

Why not fence what I collected — stole, actually  — and donate the proceeds to charity?  After all, these valuables were essentially ill-gotten goods, the proceeds of bad behavior. And these home invasions were not simple affairs, there was meticulous planning, rehearsing, real risk — why not have it all pay some rewards? 

Whatever it was, there I was, standing under the shadow of that house, all of those partygoers around me, all of their homes now empty. Waiting. Why not just try one?

One led to two of course, and two led to three, and by mid-August the authorities and the local papers had a cat burglar on their hands. And a number of local charities were receiving some sizeable anonymous donations.

And then I found her in Mark Canton’s house. Stuffed in a closet like a rag doll. Even through the tightly wrapped plastic I could see the precision and methodology to the knife wounds.

I retreated from the house and tipped off the police, but by the time they arrived Canton had disposed of the body. I doubt the police even had a search warrant. Why would they, when all they had was an anonymous tip from a phone booth on Main Street in Bridgehampton.

Mark Canter was also a prominent member of the community, and while we all like to believe money can’t ultimately protect you from the law, it can always deflect the law, and that provides a little time. Just enough time to cover your tracks. Clean up the mess.

After that night I started watching Mark Canter. I didn’t shadow him too closely, so as not to invite suspicion, but I kept aware of his movements. He didn’t keep a low profile, he was rich, recently divorced, and one of the more eligible bachelors in the Hamptons.

What I didn’t expect was that Mark Canter would begin watching me. I still don’t know how I raised his suspicion, maybe it was because of who he was —  what he was:  the type of person who spends their entire life hiding a secret, being watchful,  always looking over their shoulder. Maybe he had some heightened form of awareness, a preservation instinct, like a snake sensing temperature changes in the air with the flick of its tongue.

Whatever it was, Canter slowly seemed to be sizing me up, like a hunter trying to put pressure on a quarry to see if it would flush it from hiding. 

Gradually he began taking steps to befriend me. It was all done in small innocuous ways, crossing paths in a restaurant or on the street, scheduling his tennis games on the court next to mine at the local club, arranging to have himself seated at the same table at a charity dinner.

I allowed it to happen. Kept things as natural as they could be. Let him try and read into it. He might suspect me, but he could never really know for sure. I knew it was him; he needed to know it was me. I realized that if Mark Canter came to believe I was a serious threat, he would take the necessary steps to quietly eliminate me.

All I had to do was wait. And then he called and invited me fishing on his boat.

Now you could of course argue that a fishing accident, while a simple fix, is hardly a means of quietly eliminating a threat. There would be the police, and the questions, and the press. Certainly Mark Canter had enough money to have me killed, but I suspected he is the kind of killer who prides himself on his handiwork, who likes things up close, intimate. Personal.

So here I now sit, miles from shore, with thousands of feet of water beneath me, fishing with my new friend. The ocean surface is like glass. Calming actually. The cabin is quiet. I know Mark Canter is almost ready. 

There’s something else I know about Mark Canter. He’s a bit of a collector. He has dozens of valuable stamps, and an extensive collection of guns hidden behind a secretly switched panel in the wall of his study. So many guns in fact, that he’d likely not notice if one was to go missing. The one I now hold cradled in my lap.

I’d be willing to bet my life on it. Actually his.

Peter Bar is a web designer who spends summers in Montauk. His fiction has been published previously in The Star.