Death of a BloodKarl Tutt / Mystery & Detective
Copyright Karl Tutt 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, brands, characters, places, media and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction which might have been used without permission. The publication use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Thanks to Carolyn, my patient reader, and Sue, an editor who is generous with her time and attention.
I don’t know why I was up so early on that morning. A precious few minutes either way and I would have missed it. I guess I just didn’t know then where it would all lead. The tragic circumstances have become clearer to me in an existential way. You can take your philosophy or religion in any incarnation that suits you . . . gives your life meaning or some sort of spiritual sustenance, but for me the last few years have been a forced march toward a dark destiny. The only choice I’ve had was the interpretation I assigned to it . . . and there’s nothing clear about that.
I spotted the lifeless thing bobbing in the basin when I stepped into the cockpit of KAMALA to finish my coffee and enjoy a brilliant Key West sunrise. At first I thought it was a tangle of palm fronds that had been amputated during one of the violent thunderstorms that build in the humid afternoon during the heat of the summer. It seemed brown and spindly as it cut the surface of the orange glow on the water. The tide was ebbing and I turned away to let the fresh salt breeze brush its sweet lips over my cheeks. When I looked back, the floating thing had taken on a different form. I snatched the binoculars from below decks and twisted the eyepieces to focus on the object.
It was human . . . or at least what was left of something that had once lived and breathed. Now it was doing neither. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. From there it only got worse.
Buffett’s Roundtable. That’s the name we had assigned to the informal gathering of dock rats and general miscreants that met once a week at The Green Parrot, the locals’ bar where Sunny had been the Queen of the Key West bartenders not so long ago. Now she was a professor at the Key West Community College, teaching psychology to aspiring nursing students and those who were ready to transfer credits to one of Florida’s fine state universities. We’d found Norfolk a bit too cold and a bit too dangerous for a reluctant Ghostcatcher and the lady that gave him life’s warm textures. After my investigation into what damned sure looked like a couple of murders, the weather stayed cold, but Sunny and I were hot items. Norfolk wasn’t the place to burn . . . or to burn out permanently. The move might not have been exactly what we wanted, but it was definitely healthy and it was definitely “going home”.
All of the usual suspects were present, Tracy, the young and beautiful owner of The Strip Search, Key West’s most famous porn shop; Louie, the amiable bartender at the Raw Bar and a guy who’d once saved my life; my old sailing buddy and unparalleled computer geek, Fritz. Chris, my adopted brother, with the latest of his young blond knockouts on his arm, was to Sunny’s left. The best bluesman in South Florida, Whipsaw and his long-time paramour, the lovely and mysterious Miss Julianne, were immediately across from me and my lady professor. Captain Sal, the best damned charter boat skip in the Keys, was on my right, slapping backs like a transgender steel worker, as boisterous and bawdy as ever.
The beer was cold. The laughter was loud and the constant smiles and asides among friends made that pumping thing inside your chest beating . . . maybe even loving. We’d already had more than a couple when Chris stood up and tapped a cold bottle of Ice House with a spoon.
“I know what you’re all thinking -- that this lovely lady on my right is the latest on a long line of unsuspecting tourists that frequent FOXES’ LAIR for frankly licentious purposes.” There was a peal of loud laughter. Too much truth in that remark.
“Well this time . . . you got it all wrong. May I, with your permission, of course, introduce Miss Holly Adams, my 21 year old daughter?”
The silence was palpable. Several mouths hung open and there were audible gasps. Finally, Whip stood, lifted an amber mug, and broke the silence.
“Well Chris, I think you done real good. She’s an old blues man’s dream.”
More laughter, a quick round of applause, and the sound of glasses and bottles clinking together. A fitting greeting for the young miss. Then it was back to normal, at least as normal as it gets. I reached across the table and offered my hand. She took it and shook it enthusiastically. In an instant, I collected details. She was definitely blond, the light tresses hung over her shoulders and draped in graceful curls. The eyes were like sparkling denim, deep and penetrating with an astute recognition . . . maybe even an understanding that trumped her age. She wore little makeup and her skin had a pinkish glow beneath the golden tan, full of life and the desire to have more of it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sunny studying Holly with that psychic intensity that only a woman can invoke. No question my lady was a lot smarter about certain things than I was. I supposed I would find out those things later when Sunny opined a woman’s take on our new arrival.
The crowd had thinned and Sunny, Louie, and I were slogging the last of our golden nectar . . . entering a boozy twilight zone, but still within striking distance of lucid.
“So what did you think?” I asked.
“Pretty girl,” Louie said. “I talked to her some. Obviously intelligent, well spoken. She’s from North Carolina . . . Wilmington . . . your old stomping grounds. I asked her about her mother. She teared up for a moment and quietly said, ‘Breast cancer’.”
Sunny chimed in, “I’m not sure what it is, but she looks a little older than twenty-one . . . something about the way she moved and responded to a group of boat bums and people she’d never met before. A lot of class, actually. Almost too much.”
I considered Sunny’s remarks, weighing them heavily, given an almost mystical woman’s intuition that was approaching legendary . . . at least for me. It had been prescient on several occasions, but for now I dismissed it. Chris and Holly seemed so happy and loving. I hadn’t seen him like that since the last time he was . . . or at least thought he was . . . lost in the total abyss of true love. That had happened before, too. The man was the eternal Sir Galahad, determined to save the world’s damsels in distress. It was a sucker play, the obsession of the innocent . . . or maybe just the naïve . . . but it was one of the things I loved about him. You can call it a bond. I did.