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Authors: MK Alexander

Sand City Murders (2 page)

BOOK: Sand City Murders
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Far to the south of this is our industrial zone: the Marina, the boat yard, and the Fish City Seafood packing plant. Along the way you’ll find three town beaches, Bayview, Boxtop and Long Neck. They’re all sandy. They all have concession stands, and are perfect for little kids who like to dig all day along the tidal flats. I doubt the sand is natural though, probably trucked in long ago. Underneath is likely all pebbles and rocks or solid granite.

Long Neck boasts three hotels, stacked up just like on a monopoly board, with a boardwalk to boot. They dominate the area: The Commodore, the Grande Vista and the Californian, the last two converted to timeshares and condos. The latter had an ironic name, probably just because it faced west. Locals call it the Hotel California, after the song of the same name, and there were still some who wondered which came first: the hotel or the song.

Across the border and just to the south of us is Oldham, our neighboring town. It’s way smaller than Sand City and maybe a bit more quaint. That’s where the highway ends in a rotary. Route 16, the only way in or out. It intersects with 16-A, pretty much the only road into Sand City. Just north of Oldham is a couple of miles of salt marsh, and three areas between you and the Village. The Dunes on the ocean side: a lot of nice houses, rich people, even some celebs. Most of the houses in the Dunes were laid down in the sixties. They all had that post-modern look to them, like something out of the 1964 World’s Fair— low, flat boxes with oddly angled roofs. There’s also Kettle Pond: mostly summer cottages and small campgrounds; and finally, Baxter Estates, a residential community that went up in the booming nineties. Between these last two places, the landscape is dominated by the city’s huge water tower, a blue-grey barrel shape with giant gangly legs that looked ready to walk across the landscape like some Martian marauder.

Anyhow, that’s the tour. Right now, I’m really desperate for that cup of coffee... and I have to meet Durbin, Detective Durbin. Probably another murder.



chapter 2

the scene


With a name like Dick Durbin you just had to be a detective, or maybe a politician. I hadn’t totally ruled that out either. Policeman it was though: the crew cut, dimple on his chin, nine years on the beat, and the only time spent out of Sand City, for military service and the police academy. I think he was somewhere around forty. That pretty much sums him up. He really was Richard Durbin the Third. His dad had been the pharmacist in town for years, and his grandfather, well, I’m not sure who his grandfather was. Still, Durbin was a local boy, born and bred; everybody knew him and his haircut that never seemed to change. He had a big squinty smile that he rarely used. I can’t say we were exactly friends. I didn’t know much about him personally. He had a wife and a couple of kids, and his mom was in a nursing home, probably in Oldham or maybe Fairhaven. He was a nice enough guy though, and over the years we’d developed a decent relationship at least. He was fair-minded, as long as I was as objective as possible. Oh yeah, and he was Captain Durbin technically, but I’d never heard anyone ever call him that.


It was a cold morning, a lingering winter day… Where the hell is spring? It’s mid March, I thought, and cursed the groundhog again. I stopped at the Cove Diner for a cup of coffee along the way to Boxtop Beach. The Cove was a local joint, almost always open and the coffee was adequate, hot at least, though I’m sure it was spiked with chicory or something. It always left a funny taste at the back of my mouth.

Boxtop Beach. An odd name. No one could say why it was called that, or offer up any explanation at all. Why
Not a very marketable name. No one could design a clever logo that summed the place up or made it alluring. Alluring it was though: a beautiful stretch of low sandy dunes that wrapped itself around the gently curving bay. Lots of tidal pools and lots of space to spread out your towel and an umbrella. Eleanor Woods wanted me to do a feature on the name, and despite a lot of research, I could never find a satisfactory answer. Even the folks at the Historical Society didn’t have a clue.

I had already done the Airline exposé: The ritzy development south of town centered around Airline Drive, and the streets had names like Tower Lane, Stewardess Avenue, Landing Street, Taxi Road. What, did some errant pilot settle there and set up shop? No. It turned out that Airline came from an old map. The first person to draw up the place some fifty years ago wrote down Airline. That proved to be an old surveyor’s term, the line they drew in the air to make the first road. Years later when they started construction on Baxter Estates, some clever real estate developer added the other cutesy names.

I pulled up into an empty parking lot next to two police cruisers and Detective Durbin’s dark gray Charger, a muscle car with heavily-tinted, matching windows. He met me on the bike path just at the edge of the boardwalk. It wasn’t really a boardwalk at all, just a path up to the beach from some cottages that happened to be made of old wooden planks. It was a bleak morning, the tidal flats were covered in a low mist, and the tufts of dune grass scattered everywhere barely looked alive. Up on the beach I could see the evenly spaced lifeguard chairs, all sitting empty, some tossed to their side by last weekend’s storm.

“Durbin, what’s up?”

“Well, you are now,” he said and laughed, though it was a grim chuckle. “Looks like we got a murder on our hands.”

“That’s the second one, in what, two weeks?”

“Don’t remind me.”

Sand City did have the infrequent murder, but they were easily solved; routine, mundane even, if murder could be termed that way. They were usually the result of a drug deal gone bad or a domestic dispute. Maybe routine isn’t the right word.

“Did you talk to the chief?”

“Not yet. Too early.”

“What do you mean?”

“Too early in the morning.”

“Don’t I know it... And where the hell is spring?”

“Got me on that one.” Durbin cast his head up to inspect the low swirling sky. “Listen Patrick, help me out on this one, huh? Nick’s on vacation.”


“Powell, our crime scene photographer. I need you to take the pictures,” he said, “before it starts to rain.”

“Right.” I looked up at the menacing clouds. “But I’m a reporter, not a photographer, remember?”

“Yeah well, there’s a story here too. Anything you shoot has got to be better than my cell phone.”

“Who found the body?”

“Nora, walking her dog.”


“From the bakery.”

“Oh, that Nora. Not a suspect?”

Durbin laughed. “No.”

“So, another murder. Are we talking serial killer?”

“Whoa, way too early to say that.” He walked along the boardwalk, closer to the scene. The Sand City Police Department was not your largest, maybe a dozen members in the off season. They had put up some yellow tape around the low dunes and had two uniforms watching for trouble, but that was it. “Still waiting on the coroner and the techs,” Durbin said.

“Calling in the county? The stateys, the feds?”

“Always jumping the gun, Jardel. This is my turf for now. You’re just gonna take a couple of pictures and well… you know, lend an extra pair of eyes.”


Durbin led me under the tape. I didn’t have to show my press pass. I knew the uniform, Officer Adams. I nodded and grumbled a good morning.

“This is what I see so far.” Detective Durbin gestured to the sand. “One set of shoe prints, a male, and I’d guess, dress shoes. They lead that way,” he said and pointed up the beach. “They’re pretty deep, heavy.”

“Heavy is right. I’d guess he weighed about three hundred pounds, or he was carrying something, like a body.” I looked around. “Wait? Did this guy just drop out of the sky? I don’t see any tire marks.”

“Yeah, nice catch. Maybe he jumped from the boardwalk.”

“What, like twenty feet? Nobody can jump that far.”

“I’m thinking helicopter.”

“Are you kidding?” He probably was. Police humor.

“Got a better explanation?”

He had a point. I looked again and it did seem like someone had popped out of thin air and landed in the sand.

“Take some shots of that, okay?”

“Maybe he dragged one of those lifeguard chairs over and then jumped off?” I started to theorize. I put my camera down and glanced at the detective.

Durbin looked at me and screwed up his face. “What?”

“The lifeguard—”

“Yeah, I heard you, Jardel… that’s why I’m a cop and you’re a reporter.” He laughed slightly and flashed his squinty grin. “So he lugged a chair over, took a big jump, dumped the body, and then dragged the chair back to the beach?”

“Guess not.”

“Funny you said that though…”


“I’ll show you later… She’s over here.” Durbin pointed again. We followed the footprints in parallel, staying well clear of them. They led up to the shore between the dune grass; the wet sand preserved everything perfectly for now. Clearly, the killer had hauled his victim along this path.

“You saw these, right?” I asked Durbin while pointing to some small circular indentations, about the size of a quarter. They seemed to be intermittent among the footprints.

“Yeah… also found at the other scene. Same shoe prints too, I’m guessing. Can you get me some good close-ups on those?” Durbin paused and reached into his jacket pocket. “Hang on a sec, let’s do this right.” He fished out a small calibration ruler, white plastic, printed in black with inches and millimeters. Durbin placed it near one of the circular marks.

“So it’s one killer?” I asked and photographed.

“I’m going to say yes to that.”

“What, a cane, a walking stick?”

“Could be.” Durbin was noncommittal. “The sand up at North Hollow is a lot coarser. It didn’t preserve as much.” He drew my attention to more footprints, signs of a struggle or a deadly
pas de deux
. He also pointed out Nora’s tentative steps. It seems she never got closer than ten yards to the body, but her dog had. There was a trail of paw prints leading right up to the corpse. The victim was now under a black plastic sheet.

“Sure you can do this, Jardel?” Durbin asked and squatted down by the tarp.

I nodded and hooked up my flash unit.

He looked up. “Ready?” 

I nodded again and he pulled back the plastic. I’d never seen an actual dead body before… not in real life, just in the movies, on TV, or in a video game… I felt revulsion, an automatic nausea. I hid behind the camera lens for safety. Somehow though, I detached myself, got on with the task and tried my best to keep a level head. But there was something serene here. I don’t know how I might react if there was gore or violence. I took aim and started shooting. This is not my usual job.

It wasn’t really as gruesome as you might expect. The girl was probably about twenty, and quite pretty, a knockout even. She was blond and had heavy swept back cheekbones, a petite chin and high arching eyebrows. A wet tangle of hair fell across her forehead, and sand stuck to one side of her face. But it was her expression that got to me. I’d never seen anything like it. All at once, it held a mixture of shock, awe and tranquility, frozen like that. If I didn’t know better, maybe she was just sleeping. Her eyes were closed.

It appeared that she lay where she fell, sprawled out in a track suit, and I’m no fashionista, but I’d say it was very retro or just downright tacky. Another odd thing: she was barefoot.

“When did this happen?”

“Waiting on Doc Hackney.”

“Doc who?”

“The coroner… you probably never met him. He’s the county medical examiner, sort of on loan to us. A local GP from Fairhaven.”

“Never had the pleasure, happy to say.”

“Doubt you’ll get the chance. He’s gonna retire in a couple of months…” Durbin paused to look down at the body. “Anyhow, can’t say for sure… but I’m guessing it happened this morning, very early. I don’t see an obvious cause of death… no sex stuff here, I’d say…”  his voice trailed off.

“Who is she? A local?”

“No ID.” Durbin gave a pained face. “Left her right at the high tide mark.”

“Crying shame... such a pretty girl.”

“Looks like he dumped the body and took off this way,” the detective said and started in the same direction. “Take some shots, will ya?”

I followed and snapped as I walked. Durbin stopped and pointed out a few more cane marks. After about fifty yards the single line of footprints came to a lifeguard chair and just stopped. It seemed like someone had climbed up. If the footprints were right, he should still be sitting there. No sign that he had jumped down again. “Okay, you don’t think this is weird?” I asked.

“I do... make sure you get lots of pictures.” Durbin turned to me with a grin. “I figure high tide washed the rest of the prints away.”

I had to concede the point, still, there was something eerie about the tracks just ending like that. I looked out over the water. It was calm, smooth like glass though grey and cold. Along the beach to the south I could just make out the boxy edges of the Commodore, the Grande, and Hotel California, cutting through the fog that rolled off the bay.

“Well, what do you think, Patrick?”

“Not much… but I see similarities to the other girl.”

“At North Hollow?”

“Sure. They’re dead ringers for starters. Both blond—”

“Blond? I’ll wait on the coroner to confirm that,” Durbin said doubtfully.

I continued, “pretty, well-built, fit… and both barefoot.”

“So?” He narrowed his eyes.

“C’mon Durbin, what do you mean,

“Okay… just don’t say the
barefoot killer


“Your headline, no
Barefoot Killer
, okay?”

“Right.” I smiled to myself. I’m sure my editor, Eleanor Woods, would never let that headline fly. “How about a purse, cell phone?”

 “Nope… nothing, nada, just like Jane Doe number one. We did find this though... in her pocket.” Durbin held up a plastic bag. Inside was a car key on a rabbit’s foot.
A rabbit’s foot, really?
Who uses those any more? Durbin dangled it near my face. “It’s an old key, or the key for an old car.”

BOOK: Sand City Murders
3.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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