Authors: Marty Ambrose
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Journalist - Florida
|Marty Ambrose - Mango Bay 01 - Peril in Paradise|
|Mango Bay Mysteries |
|Thomas Mercer (2008)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Journalist - Florida|
Mystery: Cozy - Journalist - Floridattt
A Mango Bay Mystery
(THOMAS & MERCER
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any
similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not
intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2009 by Martha Ambrose
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written
permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
I would like to thank my husband, Jim, who has been
my editor for many years. Also, many thanks to my mother’s keen eye for proofreading; she never misses a
mistake in any manuscript. They are my biggest fan
club-along with my beautiful sister, Elizabeth.
My gratitude also goes out to my dear friend and
editing partner of more than a decade, Tina Wainscott, who never loses the faith.
And last but not least, I’d like to acknowledge my
agent and constant cheerleader, Roberta Brown.
You’re simply the best!
The first time I saw Jack Hillman he was bare-chested.
I hadn’t wanted to look, but it was like passing a particularly horrendous accident on the road: I couldn’t
resist a peek. There he was, sitting on his second-floor
redwood deck with the sunlight glinting off the rolls of
flesh that hung around his middle. Yikes.
At one time, his physique might’ve been impressive,
but now gravity had done its thing and his skin was sagging with a lumpy softness reserved for mattresses left
in the rain. To paraphrase Milton, the mind might be its
own place, but the body is rooted in the here and now.
And Jack’s had seen better days.
Granted, he wasn’t posturing just proudly barechested. But still, I could’ve done without seeing that
I’d been at the Coral Island Observer only one month
when Anita Sanders, the editor, called me into her office,
although calling the tiny, walled-off cubicle an “office”
was like calling a rock a precious gem. It was, nonetheless,
the closest thing our little paper had to a boss’ lair. The rest
of us-a part-time secretary/advertising manager and
me-had to make do with two rickety desks, an outmoded
Dell desktop computer, and a battered old filing cabinet in
the main room.
“Mallie, I’ve got a story for you,” Anita began in a
raspy voice. She tapped her half-smoked cigarette in an
ashtray, one already heaped with previously smoked
Camel stubs-no wimpy filter tips ever touched her
mouth. “Jack Hillman is beginning his Summer Writers’
Institute, and I want you to cover it. Interview him. Attend some of the workshops. Talk to some of the writers.
Give our readers some first-hand info.”
“Jack does a workshop on this island?” I was amazed.
He was a pretty well-known writer of true crime fiction.
One had even been made into a feature film starring that
guy from the X-Files show whose name I could never
remember. Except that it ended with the same letters as
“Yep. He’s a longtime resident of Coral Island. Has an
old house here and likes to spend the summers fishing
and boating-and doing an occasional writer’s institute.”
Anita took another long drag on her cigarette, drawing
in her thin cheeks. She was painfully lean, with leathery skin from too much sun and lots of vertical lines from
too many cigarettes.
“It sounds interesting.”
“A lot better than all those boring bike path committee meetings you’ve been covering.”
“I wouldn’t call them boring.” I’d call them-dropdead dull. The only exciting thing that ever happened
was when aging veteran, One-Eyed Al, would pop out
his glass eye and toss it from hand to hand.
At my lie, Anita gave a short bark of laughter that
turned into a smoker’s cough. “Look, so far your work
hasn’t stunk, but I want to break you of that college essay
style you seem to love. Maybe giving you a story with a
little more meat to it will help. You’ve gotta grab the
reader, but keep it tight and simple.”
I was silent. I needed the job too much to argue with
her-or point out offices were supposed to be “smokefree” environments. Besides, she was probably right.
Cranking out newspaper stories was a struggle for me because I had no experience with that type of writing. My
most recent day job as a substitute high school teacher in
Orlando hadn’t prepared me for much of anything except
how to scribble hall passes and make sure senior girls
didn’t sneak into the bathroom to dye their hair green
with paint stolen from art class. My night job at Disney
World left me with even fewer verbal skills, unless you
consider the ability to sing “It’s a Small World” in five
different languages a skill.
“I’ve already called Hillman-he’s expecting you at
his house” She ground out her cigarette in a nearby
“Where’s that?” I reached into my large canvas bag
and fished out my little spiral-bound official reporter’s
notepad that made me at least look like a real journalist.
“He lives south of Mango Bay on a part of the island called The Mounds. It’s off Seashell Lane. The
houses are built right into the side of some ancient
shell mounds-his is the two-story.”
I was jotting down all of this in my notepad as fast as
“Just to warn you, kiddo, Jack can be a bit … eccentric. Don’t take him too seriously. He was a security
guard at the Coca-Cola factory in town before he became
a big-name writer.” She lit up another cigarette. “Now he
likes to pretend he’s Hemingway or something.”
“I’ll try not to be too intimidated.” Irony threaded
through my voice.
Anita raised gray brows as she handed me a copy of
his last book, Men on Death Row. His picture was on
the back cover. Barrel-chested with a full head of graying hair, he had the look of a man whose best years had
passed him by like a flock of birds gone south. But he
was still stubbornly entrenched in the nest of midlife,
unwilling to admit that his season had come and gone.
“I look forward to meeting him.” I might skip reading
the book, though. True crime wasn’t my thing. After
perusing his first book, Night Games, years ago I decided macho-gritty confessions weren’t for me. And men on
death row were even less my thing.
“Good” She turned toward her computer screen in
an obvious dismissal.
I exited her smoke-filled cubicle and went to my
desk to pick up an extra official reporter’s notepadjust in case the interviews grew lengthy. I dropped it in
my canvas bag and it was immediately swallowed up by
the jumble of pens, keys, wallet, lipstick, checkbook,
sunblock, mini-mouthwash, and various other assorted
daily necessities. I liked to carry a little chaos with
me-it made life interesting.
“I heard you were doing a story on Jack Hillman,”
Sandy, the advertising manager/secretary, commented.
She had long, straight brown hair, wore round glasses
and, from what I could tell in my short time at the paper, was on a perpetual search for the holy grail of diets
in between badgering local businesses to buy advertising space in the paper.
“Boy, news travels fast in an eight-hundred-squarefoot office”
“Anita e-mailed me about the story” She pointed a
pudgy finger at the small Dell computer screen.
Something hanging from her sleeve caught my eye.
“Oh, this? It’s a sales ticket.” She tucked the tag
back into her sleeve. “I haven’t decided whether I want
to keep the dress or not. I might need a smaller size
“Good strategy” The red knit dress was already so
tight, she practically burst out of the seams.
“Watch out for Jack-he’s a real lady killer,” Sandy
warned in a light tone.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “He’s got quite a reputation on the island for … well, hitting on everything in a skirt and
stealing women that aren’t his. You know, other men’s
wives and that kind of thing. He’s technically single now,
but he’s never without some young blond.”
“So he likes blonds?”
“Then I guess I’m in the clear.” I patted my wild red
curls with a smile. My hair was my one vanity. It was a
vibrant scarlet color-not auburn or russet-but a deep
fire-engine red that always drew stares and questions
about whether it was my natural color or not. The rest
of my appearance was sort of bland-blue eyes, lots of
freckles, and a figure that could only be called skinny. I
had that girl-next-door look that rarely drew a second
look. Except for my hair-it drew a second and sometimes even a third look.
“You’re as safe as a bug in a rug,” Sandy agreed, but
her glance lingered on my hair.
“Thanks,” I said dryly.
“Oh, and don’t forget Anita needs the first draft of
your bike path story update tomorrow morning. She’ll
want to do her usual slash and trash editing by the Friday
I winced. “It’s pretty much the same story as last week. Salty Bob won’t give up his easement, and everybody on the committee is totally fed up with him. They
actually talked about condemning the easement and then
taking over his property without his permission.”
Sandy was shaking her head. “That’s not going to
work. They need to try to connect with his inner child.
Find out why he’s such a jerk. It’s all right here in O”
She held up a copy of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. “People act hostile because they have unresolved conflicts
from their childhoods. Maybe Bob was ignored.”
“Maybe.” Along with her diets, Sandy spent an inordinately large amount of time reading self-help books,
self-improvement magazines, and self-fulfillment pamphlets. But, then again, she might have a point about
Salty Bob. He could’ve been an ignored middle child.
Could explain why he was so doggoned stubborn about
getting his way with that easement.
As I left the newspaper office located in a tiny strip
mall at the island center, I thought about Sandy’s selfhelp quest. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. If I’d
planned better, thought more clearly about what I wanted
in my life, I wouldn’t be in my late twenties at a weekly
newspaper on a rural island in Southwest Florida. But
what else could I do with a BA in comparative literature,
a string of unsuccessful jobs, and no man on the horizon
since my last boyfriend left for Arizona to “find himself”?