In this year-long serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after two decades to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe has a paranoid hatred of Richard Moby, the CEO of an off-Island wholesale nursery, Broadway. Convinced that Moby wants to destroy Abe personally, and all Island-based landscaping/nursery businesses generally, Abe is obsessed with “taking down” Moby. Repeated failures (most recently, his totaling a fishing vessel in an attempt to sink Moby’s boat) have done nothing to dissuade him from this venture.
The good news is, Abe seems to have exhausted his energies for homicide, at least for now.
The bad news is, I’ve just been reminded of a certain Island mentality that is not, let us say, one of our nobler MO’s.
There are seven or eight farms in Pequot Nursery’s neighborhood. One of them presents a classic “gentleman farmer” example of How Not to Succeed in Agriculture. He is a lovely older fellow, genteel despite himself. His family has been summering in Edgartown for generations, and he desperately wanted to prove he is a “real” Islander. So he decided to become a farmer. That was smart, maybe.
What wasn’t smart was his decision to raise and sell nothing but roses (I think he was a perfume manufacturer in his off-Island life). The place is called Rosebud Estates (“Estates” is never a good word to use on the Vineyard). And even less smart was his decision to buy land where he did. Perhaps he thought the preponderance of other farms meant this was fertile soil, but he neglected to notice the name of this road: it wasn’t called Stoney Hill by accident. The spelling indicates how old the name is; it’s been known to be stony for a v-e-r-y long time.
Over the years, he’s hired excavators and landscape muscle to de-stone his land, resulting in a series of astonishing mounds of rocks, some of them sitting there so long they’ve lost their reddish tinge from the iron in the soil, turned green, and some are even growing lichen. Nothing has helped the roses, though — this just ain’t a place anyone should try to grow acres of roses.
I arrive at Pequot’s office this morning just as the fellow, Mr. Boutain, is heading out. (On my way in, I thought I’d seen Quincas loitering near the entrance to Rosebud, but that made no sense, so I’d shaken the impression off.) Mr. Boutain looks like a huge weight has been lifted. He wishes me a warm hello and heads down the drive back toward Rosebud Estates. I go into the office.
Here I find Stu (our scrawny, pot-head nursery manager) and Fran (our ferocious office manager who masquerades as a stout Yankee housewife) laughing heartily and giving each other high-fives.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Oh, dude, Fran is one sick operator,” Stu says with approving relish.
“No, honey, you get all the credit,” Fran says back. “I just crunched the numbers.”
“What numbers?” I ask.
“Honey, Pequot Nursery’s buying Rose-dud Estates!” Fran hoots (this is the local name for the place). “For a song! This boy here,” she goes on, pointing with maternal glee at Stu, “He tells Boutain his land’s so bad, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank wouldn’t even want it, it’s totally worthless ‘cuz it’s got all those rock piles, right? It’s useless, says Stu, nobody’s gonna want it.”
“Dude just lost his farm status because he hasn’t turned a profit in so many years,” Stu explains, mellowing to his usual stoner persona. “He just wants to unload it, he came here to ask Abe about the land bank, I talked him out of it, convinced him the place was worth less than when he bought it even, back in the early 80s, ‘cuz it’s all torn up and there’s all those rock piles in the way of doing anything.”
“But we’ll take it,” Fran picks up the story, chortling. “And I’m lookin’ at Stu like he’s crazy — we’ll take it? What do we want with a huge lot fulla rocks, you know? Stu convinces the guy that as a favor to him, we’ll take it off his hands, since it’s right next to Pequot and we can use it for, y’know, storing extra equipment or something. And I’m thinkin’, Stu, you’re stoned again. But then the guy goes outside to call his wife on his cell, and Stu whispers to me: Fran, that stone is worth a fortune. All that rock. Native Island rock. It’s all exposed and aged, and everything!”
“Johnny Hoy was asking about rock like that just the other day for a project up Barnes Road,” Stu grins. “Lot of stonemasons want it, their clients think it’s really cool to have authentic Vineyard stone, but they don’t like how it looks right out of the ground, they want it to look Old-Vineyard. And that stuff does! But the rose-dud-dude, he never thought of that.” He concluded with a sly smile. “So now it’s ours.”
I frowned at both of them. “You couldn’t have been a good neighbor and honestly pointed out the value of what he was getting rid of?”
“Hey, it was obvious to us, honey!” Fran contests, conveniently forgetting it wasn’t obvious to her at all until Stu pointed it out. “If he don’t have enough brains to see it for himself, we’re not responsible for making him business-savvy.”
I grimaced. “Where’s Mott?” I asked. “And Abe?” Neither of them would have allowed such underhanded dealings.
“Both at lunch,” Stu said triumphantly. “Mott will be a killjoy but Abe’ll do it.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “He’ll think it’s slimy.”
They both shifted in their tone toward me, not at all sheepish but more resentful. It was subtle; there were no words, just adjustments in body language. “Where’s Quincas?” I asked wearily.
Stu made a dismissive smirk. “He was here, he took off after the dude agreed to sell.”
“Oh,” I said casually, suddenly feeling better. So that was Quincas I’d seen by Rosebud Estates, as I arrived.
He told Mr. Boutain to think about the value of the rocks, before he agreed to the price Fran had offered. I think he was speaking, and thinking, outsider-to-outsider.
It made me proud to be a friend of his, at least.
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Vineyard novelist Nicole Galland’s critically-acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Visit her Web site, nicolegalland.com.