Here in Long Beach, Washington, digging for razor clams is a tradition. In the spring and fall, dig times are in the morning. In winter, they are at night. People go down to the beach an hour or so before the low tide. In the dark of night, dozens of lanterns and lamps can be seen all up and down the long shoreline like fairy lights.
Sometimes the clams show themselves with a distinctive divot in the sand, and sometimes they defy detection. Sometimes it’s raining, which makes the job even more challenging.
In Cat Conundrum, Lynley gets her first lesson in clamming. Here’s an excerpt:
“Nearly gave up on you folks,” she said, kissing Denny on the cheek. She turned to me and surprisingly gave me a little peck as well. “I’m Cait. And you must be Lynley. Your other friend didn’t come?”
“Frannie regrettably declined,” I said. “She’s home with the cat.”
Cait chuckled. “Denny explained about you and your cats. I have a cat, Iggy. You can meet him when we get back, but right now we’ve got to catch the tide. Time’s a wastin’.”
She walked around to a covered deck at the side of the house and opened a plywood locker, pulling from it several sets of blue grip gloves, two Coleman lanterns, a handful of net bags, and a pair of the infamous gumboots.
“Size seven?” she asked me.
“Seven and a half.”
She swapped the pair she was holding for another. “I only got eight. Denny tell you to wear extra socks?”
“He did.” I took the boots, and sitting in a lawn chair that had seen better days, wrangled them onto my feet. With the two pair of heavy socks, they fit as comfortably as one could expect of molded rubber. Cait grabbed out one of the metal tubes—a clam- digging device called a clam gun, Denny had explained to me on the way over—then closed the cupboard. Divvying up the gloves and bags between the three of us, she handed Denny one of the lanterns and kept one for herself.
“You got your license?”
I looked at Denny in shock. “No, I…” I began, but he pulled a plastic orange wallet from his pocket.
“Here you go. Don’t lose this. If you don’t have one, it’s big trouble.”
“Do they check?”
“They sure do,” Cait said, hefting the lantern in one hand and the clam gun in the other. “There’s a limit on how many clams folks are allowed, and for good reason. We take our clamming very seriously here on the Peninsula.”
Only pausing at the truck to light the lanterns and pick up our own clam guns, we headed for the path that would lead us across the dunes to the beach. The sound of the ocean swelled as we shuffled along, our lanterns bobbing and swaying, making lively shadows in the dune grass and huckleberry. As we climbed a short rise to finally view the ocean, I stopped in my tracks. The beach, usually one long, windswept ribbon of empty sand, now twinkled with a hundred little lights, other Coleman lanterns like our own. From where I stood, they reminded me of something enchanted—fairies, moving in and out of the silken waves. Beyond the lanterns’ glow was darkness, save for where the sun had slipped away, leaving a final strip of deepest red on the horizon.
“How beautiful!” I sighed.
“It is, isn’t it?” Cait remarked. “We are truly blessed to live in this wonderful place.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “You truly are.”
And after the clams are gathered, there’s time for talk:
Denny rinsed off his hands and draped a striped linen towel over the plate of clams. “All done,” he said. “Should I start the fry-up?”
“In a minute,” Cait said. “Join us and drink your cider.”
Denny obediently came over to the fire. Setting his mug on the coffee table, he held out his hands to warm them.
“That feels good,” he sighed.
“Clamming is cold work.”
“And what’s your take on this murder case,” Cait asked, “from a professional point of view?”
Denny sat down on the couch, his eyes still fixed on the flames. “You know I work with animals, not people.”
“But you deal with people too, ones who are responsible for whatever’s happened to those animals. Some of them are far from nice.”
“That’s the truth.” His face set into a frown, and I didn’t want to guess at the things he had witnessed as a humane investigator.
“Did you hear Cait’s idea about there being more than one killer, Denny?”
He nodded. “Interesting speculation. You’re right, it would explain a few things. But what would that mean? Having a murder buddy?”
“I think it might be worth considering,” I said.
“You would.” Denny began to laugh, and we all joined in.
Suddenly I thought of something else. “Cait, you said you know everybody on the Peninsula…”
“Well, a good portion, for sure.”
“What about a young, skinny guy, white, probably mid-twenties, though he could be older. Or younger for that matter. I’m not great with ages.”
“That’s not a lot to go on, hon.”
“He was wearing dark clothing and a ball cap pulled down over his eyes. I saw him a couple of times, and he was always dressed the same. I’d guess it’s part of his image.”
“There must be twenty guys fitting that description I can think of off the top of my head. Anything else you recall? What about his demeanor, his body language?”
I tried to visualize everything I could remember about Creepy Guy. “He sort of skulked, if you know what I mean, as if he weren’t really involved with the goings on around him but hanging on the sidelines. He was at the museum the night of Dunne’s murder, in among the onlookers, and he was also at the Cat Summit.”
“Why are you asking, Lynley?” Denny said suspiciously. “Did this guy bother you?”
“No, not really,” I replied. “He slammed me into a wall, that’s all.”
“He what?” Denny exclaimed. “Why didn’t I know about this?”
“It was no big deal. I’m sure it was an accident—I was going out, he was coming in—fast. He couldn’t have known I was there.”
“So if it wasn’t a big deal,” Denny charged, “why are you following up about him now?”
“I’m not sure. I suppose it’s because he seemed to be everywhere but always looked so out of place. I’ve heard murderers like to visit the scenes of their crimes.”
Denny laughed. “Where did you get that? Television?”
“My mother told me,” I justified, “but you’re half-right—chances are she heard it on one of her mystery shows. That doesn’t make it untrue,”
Here is our own personal clamming haul from last night.
Don’t forget to enter my current giveaway contest. I’m offering a cute iSuperb Pack of 4 Canvas Coin Purse Wallets. The purses are lightweight and durable, perfect to hold your little belongings, coins, cash, credit card, USB charger, cable headset, keys, lipstick, cat treat, or ???.
For a chance to win, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put Contest, Coin Purse in the subject line. Tyler the cat will choose the winner at random from the entries received. Sorry, U.S. addresses only. Drawing Sunday, October 25, 2020.
Cat Conundrum, Crazy Cat Lady mysteries #7, launches on National Cat Day, October 29th, 2020.