Authors: H. Terrell Griffin
ALSO BY H. TERRELL GRIFFIN
Matt Royal Mysteries
Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads
A Matt Royal Mystery
H. Terrell Griffin
Copyright © 2011 by H. Terrell Griffin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing, Longboat Key, Florida
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Johnnie Ray Allred
The man from Exxon
There is a strange charm in the thoughts of a good legacy
Truth is always bitter
My thanks to the Oceanview crew who work so diligently to turn my scribbles into books.
To my readers who make all this possible, I value your thoughts and criticisms. You make me a better writer. I know you invest your valuable time in reading my books and I take seriously my duty to ensure that your time is not wasted; that you finish the book and feel that you have had a brief and enjoyable sojourn into a world that is partly real and partly imagined.
The suggestions of John Allred, Jean Griffin, Peggy Kendall, and Debbie Schroeder enhance the final product immeasurably and provide me with a sounding board and plain old friendship and support during the writing process.
The people who inhabit my slice of paradise, Longboat Key, Florida, are a continuing source of stories, ideas, and friendship. Aside from the fictional murders that my books foist upon Longboat Key, I try to remain true to the reality of the island, its residents, and its place in the sun.
And most of all, thanks to my best buddy, Jean Griffin, who has been married to me longer than she likes to remember and who has always supported me, loved me, and soothed my soul.
The killer shot Logan Hamilton in the chest. Not from close range, but from a long way off. Maybe from the rooftop of one of the high-rise condos that line Main Street in downtown Sarasota. Logan had been walking east and crossed Gulfstream Avenue, staying on the north side of the street. He was coming from a boat docked two blocks away at Marina Jack, ambling toward a restaurant on the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue. He had a lunch date with Bill Lester, the chief of police of Long-boat Key, an island lying off Florida’s west coast just across the bay from Sarasota.
The chief had arrived early and was sitting at a sidewalk table, idly watching the downtown workers scurrying off to lunch or errands before returning to their desks in stock brokerages, banks, or law firms. Their lunch hours were used for a lot of things, not always lunch. It was Friday, and there was a hint of expectancy lingering in the thin spring air, relief that another week was about over, that the weekend beckoned.
Lester was wearing a pair of jeans, a white golf shirt, sneakers, and a ball cap. He was not tall, five eight maybe, and still carried nearly the same weight as when he had signed on with the police department twenty years before. A small belly protruded over the waist of the jeans, but most of it disappeared when he stood. He was on his way to Ed Smith Stadium to see a spring training game. Marie Phillips, Logan’s girlfriend, had left word at the police station that Logan wanted to meet for lunch, so here he was. The game didn’t start until two.
A breeze blew from the west, bringing a slight chill off the Gulf of Mexico. It was late March, the sun bright and warm on the chief’s face, the wind blocked by the planters situated along the curb. He raised his hand,
signaling to Logan, who was just across Palm Avenue waiting for a motorcycle to clear the intersection.
A slight cracking sound assailed the chief’s ears, a sound his professional senses immediately identified as a rifle report coming from behind him. Logan crumpled to the sidewalk, going over backward, no attempt to catch himself. He was down and still as the chief came out of his chair, moving fast, running toward the body, pulling his badge from his pocket, jerking the pistol from the ever-present holster at his waist.
, he thought.
Not Logan. Please, not Logan. Logan was his friend, his drinking and fishing buddy. Who would kill Logan? Why
He crossed Palm Avenue at a dead run, stopped, and stood over Logan. He looked up the street from where he thought the bullet had come, his pistol pointed at the sky. Nothing. No movement, except pedestrians running toward him. No threat, just curious people. Death had come to a quiet street in Sarasota on a spring day that made people smile and gave them purpose, a day that rivaled the ambrosia of the gods in its sweetness.
Not Logan, not on this day, not now
. The chief’s breath was shallow, quick, the onset of hyperventilation threatening to overcome his professional instincts.
He fell to his knees beside Logan, tears welling in his eyes. He was fighting off the panic that struggled to overcome the detachment he would need to get him through the next minutes. Logan wore a pair of cargo shorts, boat shoes, shirt, and a windbreaker bearing the logo of the University of Tampa Spartans. His sparse graying hair was tousled by the wind, his middle-aged face flaccid, benign looking, bereft of life. Hope was deserting Lester as he tore open Logan’s shirt, exposing a patch of reddened skin that would become a bruise, but no entry wound. He saw movement in the victim’s chest, the lungs filling and deflating rhythmically. Logan wasn’t dead.
Where had he been hit? Where the hell were the medics
? Lester pushed back the panic, striving mightily to purge himself of the deluge of adrenalin that gushed through his body. Logan was alive, but for how long.
The chief looked more closely at Logan’s chest, trying to find a bullet hole. Nothing. He moved the windbreaker back over the bruise. He noticed something heavy in the inside pocket of the jacket. A thick paperback
book, five or six hundred pages at least. Lester pulled it out and found the bullet lodged in the book. Relief spread through him. Logan hadn’t been shot. The bruise was not lethal. A few days in the hospital and he’d be as good as new. He chuckled, a nervous reaction to the relief. Saved by Ayn Rand, he thought.
A sniper rifle bullet travels at about three thousand feet per second when it leaves the barrel. The friction caused by the air through which it travels slows the projectile. The farther the distance between the rifle and the target, the slower the bullet is traveling when it impacts the victim. The slower the bullet, the less damage it does. It was impossible to determine the distance the bullet in Logan’s book had traveled, but it had to have been a long way, or the slug would have penetrated his chest.
The chief scanned the street, looking east, trying to see any movement, any clue as to where the bullet had come from. Where was the sniper? There were a lot of possibilities. The tall condominiums that had sprouted like weeds along Main Street, a couple of high-rise office buildings. All would have provided the shooter with a place from which to bring sudden death to interrupt the rhythms of a spring day in a quiet seaside town.
Only a few seconds had elapsed since Bill had reached Logan. It seemed like an eternity. The chief bent over the body, saw slight movement of the head, and then Logan’s eyes popped open. “You’re hurt,” said Lester. “Stay down.”
Logan stirred. “Bill?” He shook his head, trying to clear it. He was trying to focus his eyes and his mind, trying to understand what had happened. “What the hell is going on?”
The chief put a hand on Logan’s chest. “Somebody took a shot at you. You’re okay. Stay down. For now. Trust me.”
Logan closed his eyes, let his body relax. Concern etched its way across his features, an eye popped open, glanced at Bill as if to reassure himself that the chief was still there, still had his gun out. The eye closed, opened again, closed. Logan was trying to comply with Lester’s order, but it was obvious to the chief that he was scared. With good reason. Somebody had tried to kill him. A man came out of the bar in the middle of the block, holding a cell phone aloft. “Paramedics are on the way.”
A siren wailed, the sound bouncing off the buildings. An ambulance was leaving the downtown firehouse a couple of blocks away. Two police cruisers were three blocks east, turning onto Main Street, traveling in tandem, their sirens yelping, light bars flashing, engines roaring, coming fast. They fell in behind the ambulance as it screamed to a stop at the curb. A paramedic hurried from the passenger seat, carrying a case, his whole body conveying a look of urgency. He started toward the chief and Logan. The driver opened the back door of the ambulance, removed a gurney, and stood quietly on the sidewalk as if waiting for some sign to proceed.
“He’s okay,” shouted Lester.
“Let me check,” said the paramedic.
He leaned over Logan, put his finger on his carotid artery, inserted the ear pieces of his stethoscope and listened for a few moments to Logan’s heart, nodding his head. Logan’s eyes were open, a bemused expression on his face.
“I tried to tell him I’m okay,” Logan said. “Let me up.”
The paramedic shook his head. “We’re getting you to the hospital.”
Lester waved his badge at the man. “No. We’re not going to the hospital.”
“Sorry, Chief. I’ve got to take him in.”
“Somebody just tried to kill him. He can’t go to the hospital.”
“I don’t have any choice. He’s going to Sarasota Memorial.”
“Call your chief. Tell him Bill Lester wants to talk to him.”
The paramedic stopped, uncertainty flashing across his face. He looked at the chief’s badge and his gun and reached for his cell phone. He spoke into it and in a few seconds spoke again. Then he handed the phone to Lester. “It’s Chief Fulcher.”
“Les,” said Bill Lester, “I’ve got a situation here. One of my citizens has been shot on your street. He’s a good friend of mine. Do me a favor and tell your man to do what I ask him to do.”
The police chief was quiet for a moment or two and then handed the phone back to the paramedic. The man spoke again, listened, clicked the phone off. “What do you want me to do?”
“Take us to the medical examiner’s office.”
“You want to go to the morgue?”
The chief nodded his head. “Doc Hawkins can check him out.”
The cops had tumbled out of their cars behind the paramedic, then pulled up short. They recognized Lester, backed off a step or two, looked about, puzzled. One spoke quietly into the radio microphone attached to the epaulet of his shirt, leaned in to hear the response, spoke softly to the cop standing next to him, his body language indicating indecision. They both pulled out notebooks and began to question the onlookers who always gather to gawk.
The chief took a sheet from the gurney, covered Logan, and helped the paramedic load him onto a stretcher. He crawled into the back of the ambulance and told the driver to take them to the county morgue. Lester picked up his phone and made another call as the meat wagon sped on its way to the last place anyone ever wants to escort a friend.
The chief medical examiner for the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Dr. Bert Hawkins, was standing by the door as Logan was unloaded from the ambulance. He didn’t look happy.
“I’ll take it from here,” Hawkins said to the paramedic. “I’ll bring your gurney back as soon as I get him on the table.”