Death in Unlikely Places

Chapter 1

Death in a private place

 

Everyone was surprised at just how much blood a thick wool sweater could absorb.

Just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the body of Tom Russo was slumped in the leather chair at his desk in his locked private office. He was a middle-aged, balding man, and looked surprisingly peaceful. Although he had a pistol next to his hand and a hole in his blood-soaked sweater, not a drop of blood had reached the floor. There were several dried red streaks on the desk and on the pistol, but otherwise, all the blood was in the sweater.

The office was small, and smelled slightly of the old dark paneling and an oriental rug. On a wall next to the desk was an art deco poster of a shapely woman waterskiing behind a mahogany Chris Craft. On the bottom of the poster was simply the word “Florida”.

St John’s County Sheriff Roy G. Atley and two deputies had responded to the frantic call and now stood in front of the desk frowning.

“Anybody find a suicide note?” asked the sheriff. The deputies shook their heads.

“There was no note anywhere, sheriff,” said a secretary, obviously very flustered. “That’s just the way I found him this morning. I have the only other key to the office, you see, so I unlock it in the morning if Mr. Russo isn’t in. This morning, the door was locked, so I unlocked it just the way I always do, and…well, I found him like this.”

“Has anyone notified his wife?”

“Yes. She’s on her way here.”

“Could you show me your key?”

Atley looked at the key she was holding and nodded. “That matches the key we found in the door on the inside, so both keys are accounted for. Body’s cold, so it must have happened last night. Did he usually work alone at night…and on Sundays?”

“All the time.  He said it was quiet and he could think better.”

“Looks like he was maybe thinking he was tired of living,” Atley muttered, looking under the desk. “What does, er what did Russo do, anyway?”

“This is Russo properties. Mr. Russo was a property developer here in Florida. He’d buy and sell everything from lots to houses.”

“Did he usually wear a heavy sweater?”

“Not during the week, but it was pretty cool yesterday and he was alone. He hated to turn the heat on. He’d always say ‘This is Florida! Why am I paying for heat?’.”‘

“Uh huh. Do you know any reason he’d want to end it all? Was he depressed or anything?”

The secretary sighed, but shook her head.

“Where is he?” came another female voice. “Let me in. I’m his wife. Oh, my God!”

The woman who entered the room stood frozen near the desk and the grisly scene. Sheriff Atley turned to her.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Russo. I’m Sheriff Atley. Do you feel well enough to help us out by answering a few questions?”

She looked dazed, then turned to Atley.

“Wha..what sort of questions?”

“Was your husband depressed or suicidal lately?”

“I don’t know. Look, could we talk about this someplace else?”

“Of course. I know this is terrible for you.”

A few minutes later, Atley was sitting with the wife in a conference room over cups of coffee.

“Business was turning lousy,” she said suddenly.

Atley nodded both sympathy and encouragement.

“Tom was a developer. He’d buy up tracts of land and subdivide it into building lots for sale. For the last few years, he made so much money we didn’t know where to stash it all. People were buying land sight unseen and using up their savings to do it. Ever since the war, more people have bought cars and roads have gotten better, so people have been coming to Florida to vacation and get away in the winter. Pretty soon a lot of these vacationers wanted a piece of Florida to call their own, so Tom and others started buying up property and subdividing it, then selling the building lots. People snapped them up like hotcakes.”

“And they were building on it?” Atley asked.

She shrugged. “A few were, and some held the land to build on when they retired, but the demand was so great that it drove up prices until many people started buying just to resell, sometimes in the same day. It was crazy. A lot of people made a lot of dough selling and reselling all over Florida, but then it started to come apart.”

“How’s that?” said Atley.

“Things have started to cool down. The buyers weren’t coming as fast and people were having trouble reselling. And what’s worse, they were having trouble making the payments. Tom told me that half the people he sold land to were behind in their payments. Some of them were starting to blame him for the lousy market. So, yeah, I guess he was depressed, or at least worried. But I never thought he’d do anything like this.”

A deputy stuck his head in the door.

“The coroner’s people are here to take the body away. Are you ready to release it yet?”

“Have we got photographs?”

“Just finishing up now.”

“All right. Unless the autopsy turns up something startling. It looks like a suicide brought on by the pressure of business. I’m sorry, Mrs. Russo.”

Mrs. Russo daubed her eyes and looked up.

“So it was definitely a suicide, sheriff?”

Atley took a sip of coffee. “Well, he was apparently killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound while in his locked office with the gun by his hand, so that lets out anyone else. Besides, the business problems certainly give him a motive. I don’t know what else it could be.”

She sat slowly shaking her head. “I just never thought he would ever do anything like this. Never.”

Atley nodded in sympathy.

“I guess you just never can tell.”

Sheriff Roy G. Atley stepped back out on to the street, lit a cigarette and exhaled slowly. The sun was shining and a nearby palm tree rustled in the breeze; another beautiful Florida day. He shook his head.

“What the hell gets into people?” he said.

 

A few days later, the Jacksonville District Attorney called Sheriff Atley.

“Morning, Roy G. I just got the autopsy on that Tom Russo suicide. I’m looking through it now.”

“Any surprises?”

The DA thumbed through the pages. “Doesn’t look like it. Time of death matches up, powder residue on his hand from firing the gun, one shot was fired…”

“Pretty much what I expected,” said Atley. “We already determined that the gun had been recently fired.”

The DA mumbled as he read, then suddenly stopped.

“What the hell?”

“What’s the matter? Something doesn’t fit?”

The DA made a low groan. “Yeah, you might say that.”

“Well?”

“Tom Russo wasn’t shot, and no bullet was found.”

“Not shot? But the gun had been fired. And Russo was definitely dead. How…”

“It seems our friend Mr. Russo was stabbed to death!”

If Atley had been smoking a cigarette, he would surely have swallowed it at that moment. “Stabbed to death? You mean with a knife?”

“You know some other way of stabbing a guy? A hatpin maybe?”

“Stabbed. Are they sure?”

“There’s no doubt,” said the District Attorney. “A knife wound is pretty distinctive. Your boys probably missed it at first because of the sweater.”

“Well, then where was the bullet? The gun had been fired and there was no bullet found in the office. The slug had to go somewhere.”

“How would I know? Maybe Russo fired it at the killer and missed.”

“In that office? Impossible. There’s no place in it that’s more than ten feet from where Russo was sitting. He couldn’t have missed. So where’s the killer’s body, or at least his blood?” Atley sputtered.

The District Attorney tossed the autopsy report on his desk. “Son of a…Just when I thought we had a clean case here. Looks like you have some more investigating to do, Roy G.. Now we need to find a killer, it seems. What’s more, we need to know how the killer got into a small locked office, somehow stabbed a man while the victim was apparently firing at him from just a few feet away, avoided being killed himself, and then disappeared from the locked office without a key and without a trace.

 

 

Chapter 2

Mussolini and the dogsleds

 

Several weeks later and almost 800 miles away from the puzzling events in Jacksonville, Max and Allison Hurlock sat at a small table in Bemis’s General Store eating sandwiches prepared by Betty Bemis. Betty was justly famous for her sandwiches and had recently put in a few small tables to cope with the demand. It was a cold winter’s day in early March and Max and Allison had gone to St Michaels as a way to get out of the house for a while. The sandwiches were a welcome change from Allison’s cooking as well.

“Pretty cold today. eh folks?” said Bill Bemis, who had something of a talent for stating the obvious. “I’d sure hate to be tonging for oysters out there today. I’ve seen men come back with ice in their hair and blue fingers. That’s if they manage to come back at all. That’s a tough business, and it’s tougher when it’s this cold out.”

“Cold is right. Looks like snow tonight,” Max replied. “We’ve put in some extra firewood.”

“I hear some folks are heading to Florida,” Bemis continued. “I hear folks sleep in tents just to enjoy the warmer weather. Lordy, what a world.”

He walked away shaking his head.

“What a world indeed,” Allison agreed. She had been thumbing through the newspaper. “That bag of wind Mussolini keeps grabbing dictatorial powers for himself in Italy. Those blockhead National Socialists in Germany are probably green with envy. Why is it that the people who can’t properly run their own lives are the ones most anxious to run everyone else’s?”

She picked up the front page, then threw it down again.

“Remember about this time last year, Max? They had that terrible Diphtheria epidemic up in Alaska.”

“Nome.”

“Right.  They organized dogsledders to get the Diphtheria serum to Nome. There was no other way to get the serum there and people were dying. It took the volunteers five days through storms and temperatures of sixty below, but they stopped the epidemic in its tracks. It was thrilling. It made you proud.”

Max nodded. “And the dogsledders were all volunteers. Imagine; all those people risking their lives to save others. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all.”

Allison sighed and put the paper down. “Unfortunately the dogsledders aren’t the ones running things. Too often, the Mussolinis are in charge.”

Max looked at her. “Allison, I know the weather’s bad, and the world is in its usual turmoil, but I have a feeling that’s not what’s really eating you.”

“Oh, it’s nothing really. I’m fine. I guess it’s just the winter weather.”

“Don’t ever go into politics, Allison. You have absolutely no talent for lying. Now spill it; what’s going on?”

She was silent for a few seconds, then replied.

“Max, we’ve been married for over six years now. We’ve been a lot of places and had some great times.”

“And I’m more in love with you than the day we met,” said Max.

She smiled faintly. “Oh, it’s been wonderful, but Max, do you ever think it’s time for us to…”

“To what?”

“To start a family?”

“You mean kids?”

“That’s usually how it’s done.”

Max took her hand and grinned.

“As long as they look like you, count me in.”

“I’ll promise you one thing,” said Allison, with a determined look on her face. “Our child will be a dogsled driver-not a Mussolini.”

“Great,” said Max, with rising enthusiasm. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking about it myself. All these cases I’ve been dragged into and all the articles you’ve written are exciting enough, but I think a little domestic tranquility would be just the thing.”

Allison perked up so much she seemed to sparkle. “Oh, Max, it’ll be wonderful. We can fix the guest bedroom up into a nursery. Your mother can knit a blanket and mine can shop for nursery rhyme books. Our fathers can take turns bragging.”

Max looked thoughtful. “Hmmm. If you thought they were eccentric before, just wait until they’re grandparents.”

“It might be entertaining at that. Anyway, I can still write my articles and even start that novel I’ve been thinking about. I can work on it while the baby is sleeping.”

“Uhhh. I’m not an expert on things maternal,” said Max, “but I’ve never heard anyone say the words ‘baby’ and ‘free time’ in the same sentence without adding the word ‘none’.”

“Well, we’ll just have to see, I suppose,” said Allison. “Anyway, it’ll be worth it when little Max junior starts running around annoying the ducks.”

“You bet,” said Max.

“Well, I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised that you are so receptive to the idea,” said Allison.

“Of course. Why not?”

“Well, a while ago I asked you what you thought of kids and you said they were like adults only without the restraint.”

“Oh, not our kids. They’ll be too busy delivering serum to Alaska or tying tin cans to Mussolini. Besides, in order to have children, I am selflessly ready to do my duty, and the sooner the better.”

“I take it you’re ready to return home?”

“My home fires are already burning.”

 

An hour later, they lay in bed under several quilts. The room was cold since Max hadn’t taken the time to stoke the fire when they got home.

“Well, I’m certainly enjoying parenting so far,” said Max contentedly.

“Let me know how much you enjoy getting out of bed and stirring up the fire,” said Allison.

“Give me a few more minutes.”

Max finally got out of bed, threw on a robe, and put some more wood on the fire. He dove back under the covers shivering.

“One thing’s for sure; I’ll never be driving a dog team.”

“We all have our talents, I suppose. Some are dogsled drivers and a few are Mussolinis.”

Max stretched contentedly. “Yes; everybody’s different, but not as much as you might think sometimes. It’s like old Bubba Henderson back in school.”

“Not more rustic reminiscences.”

“Now Bubba,” said Max, warming to his subject, “was the class clown, but he wasn’t trying to be. He was always the one who fell off the swing, or dropped his lunch in the road or got caught napping in class. He had a good heart, and he’d do anything for you, but you didn’t want him to because he’d foul it up.”

“You certainly had some interesting friends. So I suppose he’s a tycoon of some sort now.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing. I heard he lives in Annapolis.”

“Too bad. I was sort of hoping there’d be a point to the story.”

“Ah, but there is; a hidden lesson to the tale.”

“Very well hidden so far,” Allison observed.

“Once, in fifth grade, the teacher decided that poor old Bubba needed some responsibility to straighten him out, so she appointed him official hall monitor and waited for him to rise to the occasion.”

“And did he?”

“Well, a strange thing happened. At first, Bubba was the most conscientious hall monitor you ever saw. He kept detailed records of who was out of class, who was disruptive, and how many kids were late for class. The teacher loved it and was patting herself on the back.”

“I can sense a ‘however’ coming up,” said Allison.

“Right. The problem was that the power started to go to his head. He became the hall dictator, yelling at people and threatening to place them on report. He even brought in a whistle one day and started demanding hall passes. Well, pretty soon, he became the only hall monitor to be impeached.”

“Power corrupts.”

“And that’s the point. If power can make a guy like Bubba Henderson into a monster, it’s too dangerous to give out in large doses. Bubba started out as a dogsled driver and wound up as Mussolini.”

Allison nodded. “It sounds like Betty Pringle at Eastern High School. She was Miss Congeniality until they put her on the yearbook committee. Then she became a drill sergeant. So did Bubba come back down to earth once he was deposed?”

“Yes, but sometimes you’d see him in the hall just looking around with a wistful look in his eye.”

Allison smiled and didn’t reply. Since it was still cold in the house, she decided talk about something else.

“Say Max, did you ever think about going to Florida?”

“Geez, I’m not that cold.”

“Oh, I don’t mean just for the warmth; I mean to see what it’s all about. People have been going crazy down there buying property, setting up trailer parks, sleeping in tents.”

“So I’ve heard. What made you think of Florida; the cold weather?”

“Not really. I’ve been thinking of writing an article about it. I think I could sell it to several magazines. I’ve put out some feelers and gotten some interest, but no one is willing to pay to send me down there.”

“So write a more general article to generate interest and then ask for an advance to do an in depth follow up.”

“Hmmm. That might work. We’ll see. Oh, by the way, who was that pal of yours who does all the decoy carving?”

“You mean Knobby Miller down in Whitman?”

“That’s the one. Does he do work on request?”

“You want a decoy carved?”

“Not a decoy, but a wood carving of a bird.”

“Sure. Old Knobby’ll carve a statue of your grandmother if you’ll give him a couple of dollars. As for a bird, why by the time he gets finished, you’ll swear the thing could fly. I’ll give you his address.”

 

The next day, while Max worked on some things around the house, Allison went in to Whitman to look up Knobby Miller, then to St Michaels to see Isis Dalrymple at the library. Isis made it a point to know almost everything about almost everything.

“Florida?” she said. “Oh, I can tell you all about Florida. I have an aunt who lives in Sarasota. That’s on the Gulf Coast. She says the place is crazy with tourists, homesteaders, and so called real estate investors. Some days she can hardly walk out to her mailbox without some northern jasper in a Model T offering to buy her place.”

“I’d like to talk to her,” said Allison. “It sounds like she has the inside story of the real estate boom down there.”

Isis Dalrymple nodded.

“I’ll give you her name and address, but you can find out plenty closer to home. Newton Wilson over towards Claiborne bought some property down there and he’s mad as a wet hen about it.”

“Mad?”

“Yeah. He read about how the property is making people rich, so he thought he’d get in on it. Well, a few months ago, he bought a lot south of St Augustine. He held on to it for about a month, then figured he’d waited long enough, so he went to sell it for a fat profit.”

“After a month? That’s a little soon, isn’t it?”

“Allison, my aunt tells me some people have sold property for a big profit the same day they bought it! That’s how crazy it is down there. People are fighting for property. They buy it from newspaper ads sight unseen.”

“It sounds like the Dutch Tulip Mania I once read about.”

“Exactly,” said Isis, thrilled that someone else in town was almost as well read as she was. “In the 1600s in Holland, the wealthy went crazy over rare tulip bulbs and bid up the prices to ridiculous levels.”

“But didn’t the Tulip market suddenly collapse?”

Isis nodded. “You bet it did, and a lot of rich Dutchmen suddenly became poor. They bet on prices going up forever, and they didn’t. And that’s just what’s happening in Florida today. Newton Wilson didn’t even break even! He couldn’t find a buyer. Then he got behind in his payments. Well, that’s no surprise. He never expected to hold the property long enough to make more than one or two payments anyway. The bank foreclosed and now Newton has no land and very little left of his life savings.”

“Is this going on everywhere in Florida?”

“Not everywhere yet. Some of the more solid developments are holding on, but the chain reaction is spreading. Mark my words, Allison, there will be a lot of very unhappy people before this is over.”

 

 

Chapter 3

Preparations

 

The same time Allison was talking about Florida with Isis Dalrymple, a medium height man in a floppy hat knocked at the door of a rundown shack just south of St Augustine, Florida. A few seconds later, a woman appeared in a faded housedress, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. She peered at him through a torn screen door.

“Yes?”

“Good morning. I’m here about your ad in the Jacksonville Times.”

The woman looked blank for a second, then called to her husband. “Carl. There’s a man here about the ad.”

Carl appeared with a newspaper in his hand. He was short, pudgy and balding. He squinted at the newcomer. The man at the door was wearing dark glasses and had a mustache that mostly covered his mouth. Carl started for a second, then nodded.

“How ya doing? You came about the…”

“That’s right.”

“It’s out back. Come on. I’ll show you. You from around here, Mister?”

The stranger made no reply.

“I figured what with all the out of state vacation people around, I could make a quick sale,” Carl continued. “Of course, it’s a little tougher since I haven’t got me one of those telephones yet. Ifigure there’s not that many people I’m all that anxious to talk to.”

The stranger still said nothing.

“Well, here we are.”

The back yard was a tangle of weeds and various boats, automobiles and nondescript pieces of rusting farm equipment. A sleeping brown dog raised his shaggy head a moment, then flopped down again. The humming of insects rose and fell.

“It’s right over here.”

The stranger nodded, then walked around inspecting the item while Carl looked on anxiously.

“This looks like canvas.”

“That’s right,” said Carl. “That makes it a lot lighter. Lift it up and you’ll see. I mean, it ain’t much to look at, but there’s a lot of life left in it if you’re careful.”

The man nodded, but didn’t reply.

“I don’t get out as much as I used to,” said Carl. “I hurt my leg and, well, you know…”

“How much?”

“Uh, well, I’m asking $20, but I’d be willing to negotiate some…”

“Twenty will be fine,” said the man, taking out a roll of bills and counting off the amount. I’ll take it with me. You can help me load it on my automobile.”

“Oh…well, fine. You won’t be sorry, mister.”

The man nodded.

“I’m sure I won’t be.”

 

 

Chapter 4

Where’s Bubba?

 

 

The next day was cold and overcast in St Michaels. Max and Allison drove up to Easton to delve into newspaper files of the Star-Democrat and to stop by the Easton library in hopes of finding more information about Florida.

At the newspaper office, Max dropped in on his old friend Chip Carswell. Carswell was sitting at a window overlooking Washington Street, and jumped up when he saw Max.

“Hey, Max. You’re just the man I wanted to see.”

“That usually means trouble,” said Max.

“Care to comment on a case? As our local Sherlock, your opinion would be of interest to our readers.”

“What case?”

“Right here. Came in on the wire about a week ago and it’s still open, apparently. Someone murdered a local real estate guy in Jacksonville, Florida. The police think it might be a disgruntled client.”

Max shrugged. “Well, they know a lot more about it than I do. Besides, what’s so special about this case?”

“It has a little twist that would be right up your alley. The man was stabbed in a small locked room while he was shooting at the killer. Can you beat that?”

“Hmmm,” said Max, looking at the brief article. “Interesting, but a long way from here and I don’t have any real information, so I don’t have anything to say.”

“I thought the readers would be interested in your impressions.”

“Your readers enjoy reading uninformed opinion, do they?”

“I would hardly call your opinion uninformed. Why you’re practically an expert in criminal matters.”

“Thank you very much. You make me sound like a burglar.”

“You know what I mean, Max,” Carswell insisted. “The killer stabbed an armed man in a locked room and then disappeared. Why, it’s sensational. It’s irresistible. The man must be a magician. You have to  have an opinion.”

“You want an opinion?” said Max. “Here it is. I have never known a magician to be a murderer. Besides, magic is illusion, and I’m sure this murder is a simple illusion as well. It only seems to be magic because you do not immediately see how it was done.”

“All right, all right. I understand,” said Carswell, holding up his hands. “Maybe you can help me with another problem.”

“Another case I don’t know anything about?”

“Nah, just a little dilemma, sort of.”

“I hate it already.”

“You remember Bubba Henderson from school?”

Max nodded. “I was just telling Allison about him yesterday. Bubba was hard to forget. How many people singed their own eyebrows off in chemistry lab?”

“Yeah, and don’t forget the time Bubba brought a cow to the schoolyard.”

Max grimaced. “It took a week to get the place cleaned up afterwards. Yeah, old Bubba had a way of keeping the pot boiling, all right.”

“Well,” said Carswell, lowering his voice, “It seems Bubba has disappeared.”

“What do you mean? I thought he was living in Annapolis.”

“He’s running a buy boat out of there. He buys up the catch from the watermen working the oyster beds in the bay and sells it in Annapolis or Baltimore.”

“So he disappeared?”

“Nobody’s seen him for over a week. Somebody called me yesterday to see if I’d heard anything. Max, I don’t know what to think. I always liked Bubba. He lent a certain air to the place back in school.”

“Especially the day he brought the cow to school,” Max remarked. “Maybe he’s still despondent about losing the hall monitor job.”

“Anyway, I’ve been asking around and this one old boy told me he heard a waterman’s been making threats against old Bubba-claims Bubba cheated him on some oysters.”

Max looked at Carswell suspiciously.

“Chip, are you serious? Bubba wasn’t the smartest guy on God’s green earth, but I never figured him for a crook.”

“Me neither, Max, but the fact remains, he’s missing. Do you think you could look into it?”

“Come on, Chip. I don’t do missing persons cases. For that you need the real police.  They have access to all the records and can arrest people. If Bubba turns up murdered, give me a call.”

“Look, Max; you have a way of getting to the bottom of things.”

“So does sludge. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time than chasing after Bubba Henderson.”

“Max,” said Carswell, “remember when I did you a big favor?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, we’ve known each other for years; I must have done something.”

“You’re doing it now. You’re annoying me. ”

“Alright, Max. I’ll level with you. My editor is convinced there’s foul play going on and he’s breathing down my neck to dig out the story. If I don’t come up with something soon, I could be in trouble here. Max, I’m begging you; help me out on this one and I’ll be in your debt.”

Max looked out the window at an ice truck lumbering up Washington Street and sighed. “All right, Chip. I’ll ask around a bit, but it’s not my area and I’m not promising anything.”

“That’s fine., Max,” said Carswell. “As long as you’re looking at it, there’s some hope. The police aren’t interested. They say Bubba’s disappeared before. They think he’s on a bender somewhere.”

“Now, how could that be?” Max asked. “Alcohol’s illegal.”

“Of course. How could I forget?” Carswell snickered.

“Well, give me the name of the palooka that says Bubba cheated him and we’ll start from there.”

“Here it is. Nelson Udall. He lives near Royal Oak, across from Oxford.”

 

“So now you’re a missing person’s bureau?” Allison asked on the way home.

“Pretty degrading, huh? Just a few years ago I solved a triple murder, now I’m looking for a renegade ex-hall monitor. I’ll be searching for lost cats next.”

“You’re going to question the guy who said Bubba cheated him?”

“It’s a start. I’ll just have to see. So how was your expedition?”

“The Easton library has a few books on Florida, but they’re so old I think they were written by Ponce De Leon himself. I can’t find anything that’s up to date.”

“So what about your article?”

“Well, if I can’t get someone to sponsor a trip, I may not be able to get enough up to date information to do an article. I may have to give it up. I do have one lead, a local man named Newton Wilson who lives on the St Michaels Road who lost his shirt down there. I may talk to him and see where it leads.”

“I have a man to talk to about Bubba over in Royal Oak. Maybe we can go together.”

 

Chapter 5

Death on Lake George

On the shore of Lake George in Central Florida, meanwhile, Jake, the owner of Jake’s Marina and Boat Rental Service had a missing person of his own to deal with. Pacing up and down the pier, he looked out over the darkening waters of the lake and noticed the sun was getting low. He frowned and looked at his pocket watch. Shadows were lengthening; it would be dark in less than an hour and the sky to the west already was showing streaks of orange and red. He was almost ready to close up for the day, but there was still one bit of unfinished business to deal with first.

“Mr. Godfrey is usually back long before this. I wonder if he’s having trouble with his outboard again?”

He squinted towards the northeast, where Mr. Godfrey usually went to fish. Jake knew Mr. Godfrey had a favorite spot he went to all the time. Fishermen were like that, even if the results weren’t always encouraging. He could see the silhouette of Mr. Godfrey still sitting quietly in his boat.

He picked up his old binoculars and scanned the lake. There were only a few boats out and the surface looked peaceful enough, but he knew Mr. Godfrey was overdue.

Jake looked in the direction of the cove and scanned the surface until he focused on a dark silhouette in the distance.

“There he is,” Jake muttered. “Must be burned to a crisp bein’ out there so long. He’s not moving near as I can tell. Don’t look like he’s headin’ in. Well, guess I’d better go see if he needs help.”

Jake walked out on the rickety old dock, untied an old fishing boat and started up the outboard. He roared off in a cloud of bluish gray smoke from the old Evinrude. The v-shaped ripples of boat’s wake sparkled in the calmness of the water.  He didn’t really mind chasing after Mr. Godfrey this way; Mr. Godfrey was a good customer. Besides, it was an excuse for a relaxing boat ride in the still of dusk.

In a few minutes, he could see Mr. Godfrey clearer. He was still sitting in a chair he had rigged up for fishing and was slumped down a little, as if he had gotten sleepy and nodded off.

Jake chuckled.

“Must have fallen asleep. That’s why he didn’t get back when he usually does. Well, the sun’ll do that to you out on the lake. I’ll just have to wake him up before he gets caught out here in the dark.”

Godfrey’s boat was anchored at the entrance to an inlet. It was a peaceful place, with a backdrop of heavily wooded shoreline and a lot of privacy. Jake could see why he liked the place. It was the closest thing to wilderness on the lake.

“Hey, Mr. Godfrey!” he called out, his voice echoing slightly in the stillness. “It’s me; Jake from the marina. It’s getting pretty late. You want to pack it in for the day? Thought you might like to…”

Jake stopped in mid-sentence.

Even in the fading light, he was close enough to see the blood.

Who is killing people in Florida and how in the world is he doing it?

Read the rest of Death in  Unlikely Places