Death of a blood, p.1
Death of a Blood, p.1
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.
The next morning I determined to find out more about the unexpected lady. I had my coffee, this time with just a hint of rich brown Captain Morgan’s. One bagel with a bit of butter and a flood of honey and I was ready to face the day.
I walked down the dock to FOXES’ LAIR, Chris’s old Ericson 36. The chrome brite work sparkled and shined in the morning sun, a constant testimony to Chris’s meticulous maintenance and his determination to be ready to seek a distant harbor at a moment’s notice. His ocean-going white charger gave true meaning to the term “bristol”.
I knocked on the hull and his head popped up out of the companionway. “Come aboard, Cap.”
I knew he’d fix me a Bloody Mary without asking. It was a ritual we’d enjoyed for years. Lots of vodka over ice and a hit of ZingZang, a mix with spicy character and more than a few surprises. I waited in the cockpit and soon a hand with a plastic cup emblazoned Captain Tony’s, our second favorite watering hole in Key West, was thrust at me. He came up in a pair of boxers checked with a vibrant blue and gold print. His brown body was slim, but taut. I’d seen him summon muscle where there didn’t seem to be any . . . especially on a pitching deck in a blow. We enjoyed a morning toast in preparation to get on with the business of the day . . . whatever that was.
“How about that Holly?” he asked, “pretty . . . smart . . . tougher than you think . . . a chip off the old block. I am so proud.”
“Damn, Chris, it was kind of weird. I didn’t even know you had a daughter.”
“I didn’t either. She called about two weeks ago. I didn’t know who the hell it was. To be honest, I barely remembered her mother. When she gave me the photos, it all came back to me. Holly found them in an old shoebox after her Mom died of breast cancer. She’d tracked me down using the internet . . . wanted to connect . . . to see what her father actually looked like . . . find out what kind of person he was. Looking for love and acceptance, I guess. Well, she got it here from a father who didn’t know she existed, and is awfully damned happy that he found out.”
“Wow . . . sounds like something out of ‘Days of Our Lives’.”
“Yeah, I guess it does. Anyway, I’m going to do right by her. She’s the only family I got left and she doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“T.K., as close as we are, there are some things I’ve never told you. At the time it didn’t seem to matter. I guess you can call me a trust fund baby. Dad’s brother was very successful in real estate in Raleigh. He was a big drinker, killed three packs a day, got colon cancer and died at forty-eight. He left Dad over five million dollars in holdings. Dad never touched it. That five is probably worth fifty now . . . maybe more. No other family. Now it’s mine. So what the hell am I going to do with it? Buy an island, get a bigger boat, find a starlet that needs a sugar daddy? Shit . . . I’m pretty damned happy right here on my old Ericson at Land’s End and I’m not gonna mess with it. So when I’m gone . . . and we all will be, sooner or later, Holly gets it.”
“Chris, we’ve been blood for a long time. Forgive me for being brutally frank, but are you sure you want to do that? Is it possible that she’s not your daughter? What about DNA and any other evidence that she’s telling the truth?”
“Come on, T.K., cut the shit. She even looks like me. I knew her mother. We had a little thing long enough for it all to happen. The dates work. What the hell? Anyway, it’s already done. I drove up to Miami, saw an attorney last week. You remember Stevie Wonder, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Says it all. It’s a done deal, my friend.”
“Hey, Buddy, if you’re happy, I am, too.”
Actually I wasn’t. I’d seen Chris fall too many times. On at least a few occasions, he’d ended up with unpaid bills, stolen credit cards, and missing boat equipment, all before the inheritance, I guess. One of the young helpless beauties had even left for Georgia in Chris’s car with a male friend of questionable reputation. Chris finally got the car back, but it involved the assistance of the Florida Highway Patrol -- and they never did find the girl or the friend. The car eventually ended up in a junkyard.
Still, there are times when you keep your mouth shut . . . and I figured this was one of them. Like I said . . . if he’s happy, at least I should be. Still I wanted to know more just to satisfy my own curiosity and a twisted sense of fairness. I finished my Bloody Mary and walked back down the dock.
I talked to Sunny later that afternoon. She and I were thinking the same thing. I called Chris and invited him and Holly over the next evening to cook hamburgers on KAMALA and solve the rest of the world’s problems. He promised a six o’clock arrival with two items in tow, his lovely daughter and a boat bag with two good bottles of Cabernet. Of course, he insisted on red since we were dining on the finest ground sirloin Publix Supermarket could offer.
Sunny had already arrived with some local shrimp, crackers and cocktail sauce. She listened intently as I recounted my conversation with Chris. Nothing about it seemed to surprise her, but she was strangely silent -- not like the Sunny I knew and loved. I put a few Kalamata olives in a small bowl and set them on the table in the cockpit. Then I tried to find matching wine glasses and napkins. No such luck. Plastic cups and paper towels would have to do. What the hell? Boat bums seldom stand on ceremony.
They came down the dock at precisely six. It really wasn’t like Chris to be on time unless he was helping a baffled sailor change the impeller on his raw water pump, but I figured he wanted to impress the lady. She, on the other hand, looked like a model from one of those junior fashion magazines. Her hair was dazzling in the sunset and a pair of red cargo shorts clung to her hips. The two tone topsiders and the lipstick matched. A white linen peasant shirt hung loosely on her shoulders. It was embroidered around the neck with a sort of eastern motif. Very retro and very chic. There was a thick gold chain with a Greek coin dangling about her neck. No rings, but a tasteful watch, a pink gold rectangle with a shiny leather band buckled to her wrist.
Her makeup was light, but she knew how to apply it. She was simply striking in a wholesome young Brooke Shields sort of way. She smiled and grabbed a lifeline to board. Then she settled into the cockpit and waited while I went below to uncork the Cab.
“Sorry about the glasses,” I said.
“At least they’re clean . . . aren’t they?” Chris said and rolled his eyes. Then he raised his cup to the heavens and waited for the rest of us to do the same. “To you, brother man, and to these beautiful ladies.”
Sunny laughed and put an arm around his neck. He leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. We were off and running. There weren’t too many people on the dock and my neighbors on either side were MIA. It’s a good thing. Our laughter rolled through the marina like bolts of thunder. Hell, my sides were beginning to ache. I could see why my old sailing mate was enraptured. Holly was quick and clever and a sheer delight to watch. After the burgers, Sunny went below to clean up and Chris offered to help. Sunny shot a glance at me and a barely perceptible nod. Holly and I were alone in the cockpit.
“So, are you in school up in the Carolinas?” I asked.
“I was going to UNC-Wilmington. Just part time, but I had to drop out when Mom passed. We did the best we could, but without her income at the hospital, I couldn’t afford it. I’m working as a receptionist at a car dealership. Actually, it’s okay. They treat me pretty good and I make the rent. I hope I’ll be able to get back to school when things settle down.”
“I am sorry to hear about your mom. She was young.”
“Yes, she was, but breast cancer doesn’t respect age or beauty. She raised me, and I like to think she did a good job. I had lots of love and we got by. Mom was a nurse. She worked extra shifts when I needed something. Now my real dad is in the picture; he’s already given me a sense of security I never expected to have in my whole life.”
She got a little misty and dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled Kleenex.
“I can’t tell you how nice it is to meet Dad’s oldest friend. He talks about you constantly. You guys must have had some times.”
“Yeah, well I’m taking the fifth.”
She laughed. “Which fifth?” she asked, then added, “Don’t worry. I’ll never tell.”
Sunny and Chris came up from below. Clean dishes. We drained the second bottle of Cab and promised a repeat some time before Holly went back north. We didn’t know at the time that it wouldn’t happen.
After they left, Sunny and I collapsed on the settee below for a final libation, coffee with a tot of Jameson. A nice way to cap off a very pleasant evening.
“So what did you think?” I asked her.
“She’s nice enough, pretty and sexy in a young, innocent way, but it’s all too perfect.”
I looked at Sunny. Her face was sort of scrunched up and she was biting her tongue.
“Maybe it’s just me, T.K. I mean we love Chris and we want him to be safe and happy. This thing reads like some sort of fairy tale, but there are pieces that just don’t fit. I still think she’s older that she says. Too much class and savoir faire for a Carolina girl barely out of her teens. And did you see the watch?”
“I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to it.”
“Cartier, my intrepid Ghostcatcher. A Cartier Tank in pink gold . . . probably seven to ten thousand dollars. You think mom gave it to her for her 16th birthday? And she paid for it on a nurse’s salary? That’s a whole lot of extra shifts.”
“So maybe Chris bought it for her.”
“Maybe, but I would think one of them would have mentioned it . . . and come on . . . it’s not really Chris’ style. A new dinghy engine, maybe even a car, but not a ten thousand dollar watch.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted Holly’s story to be true. I like my fairy tales with “happily ever after” tagged on the end. If this one wasn’t, I didn’t want to know. I conjured an image of Chris shinning like a new penny, and immersed in the love and devotion of the beautiful newly discovered daughter. It was all I could see and all I wanted to see . . . at least for now.
It was couple of days later when I heard the sirens. Bodies floating in the basin is not so good for the tourist trade. Frank Beamon came down the dock. He and I had become friends while working on a case involving the ritual murder of an eleven year old girl who wandered the marina and charmed every boat bum she came in contact with. Frank was Key West’s bulldog, a detective of considerable skills and an oversized dose of humanity. A blown knee had kept the FSU star from being a lottery pick in the NBA draft. He still limped when the leg was overtaxed. He thrust his hand at me. I took it.
“Who is it, T.K.?”
“Don’t know, Frank. I just saw the thing floating when I came up into the cockpit to finish my coffee.”
Death of a Blood by Karl Tutt / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes