This is Michael's second visit to the Scribbler. He was featured in the 4Q Interview last month. His links are below.
I am a native New Yorker, inheriting a love of reading and travel from my adventurous mother, and inspired to write by the pioneering mystery and science fiction authors on whom I cut my reading teeth.
My restless urge to travel carried me around the United States and to distant corners of the globe after college, and eventually to Key West Florida, in search of a crew position on any cruising yacht heading for far horizons. In the interim, I completed flight lessons and acquired my private pilot’s license.
I did find a yacht, a home built fifty-five foot gaff rigged schooner, headed for the Caribbean, and embarked on my first ocean crossing under sail. A life changing epiphany. I spent the next eight years living and sailing around the eastern Caribbean. I share many of my sailing and flying adventures in my Logbook Tales blog series.
Little did I know, years later I’d embark on a new career as a novelist, my sailing adventures providing inspiration for the exotic setting and colorful characters in the Bequia Mysteries. I also endow my protagonists with my passion for the sea and sky.
DEADLIGHT - CHAPTER 1
I awoke to the cackling cries of roosters, my mind clear and refreshed, the phantom ache of my wounds no longer a waking presence.
The fresh fruity scent of a brand new day greeted my short trudge up the steep road from Friendship Bay. The sky held the promise of a bright cloudless day, the last lingering lentils of puffy white fading, as the cerulean blue sky paled beneath the rising sun.
The day also promised another mind-numbing medley of meetings. The meetings my tedious daily routine since the recent scandals and their aftermath. I’d soon be immersed in the dread I’d fallen asleep to. No longer a nebulous worry, it had coalesced into solid form, whole and substantial. And as dangerous as a cobra poised to strike.
And I’d soon be unemployed. My second retirement. The first had occurred twelve years earlier, prior to relocating to the Grenadines from Florida. Unlike the first retirement, this one promised to be acrimonious, accompanied by a foreboding sense of a job left unfinished.
I feared for the future of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force. Questioned if I’d achieved any real impact, contributed to a lasting difference. And beyond that, I feared for the future of these islands I now called home.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained under siege, though the public remained unaware of it. We’d barely dodged the last bullet, aimed at a takeover and control of the Island Nation by a foreign entity. But we hadn’t escaped unscathed.
The Attorney General had been forced to resign, and soon after Prime Minister DeFretas followed, the only viable option to prevent a complete collapse of the government. Arturo Bacchus, number two in the party leadership, had assumed the office of Prime Minister until an early general election could be called. The party held a scant one-seat majority in parliament, and the opposition appeared poised to win a landslide at the polls. I’d be out of a job sooner than I’d expected.
The threat, although exposed, remained. A foreign Bogeyman, Superintendent Jolene Johanssen’s description for the nameless, faceless enemy, was still out there. Still possessing designs on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We’d uncovered his operation, and his possible motive, given St. Vincent’s strategic geographic location. But not who.
At the main road I flagged a dollar van heading into Port Elizabeth. Drowsy smiles and “Mawnin Commisshunah” greeted me as I hopped into the back, one buttock on the edge of the wood seat. The van overloaded as usual to meet the first early morning ferry to Kingstown. The van’s passengers packed into the back, each hairpin turn squeezing the crush of bodies together.
Normally I’d have police transport, including a Coast Guard Cutter for the trip across to St. Vincent. Normally I returned home only on weekends, living at my rental residence in Kingstown during the week to avoid a daily commute. But sometimes I needed to get away. Needed the solace of my own space, the respite of personal time; the reason I’d returned home to Bequia the night before.
The van unloaded its passengers on the road facing the crowded, bustling wharf. Passengers and vehicles swarmed around a red and white ferry tied alongside, like bees around a hive. Cars, vans, small trucks, and motor bikes, mounted its stern ramp lowered onto the dock.
Gazing out across the tranquil harbor, brightening as the sun peeked above Bequia’s highland, I glimpsed the Coast Guard Vessel “Chatham Bay,” a twenty-four foot fiberglass Boston Whaler normally based on St. Vincent, accompanied by the sixteen-foot skiff, SVG 12, based in Bequia. They headed toward the dry dock at the Hamilton Marina, the rigid bottom inflatable Whaler towing a small fishing boat.
Returning to the van, I asked the driver to drop me in Hamilton instead. The road through the harbor passed the spot where I’d been found, shot and dying, a little over a year before. I’d crawled through the littered yard between the marina and supermarket to get to the road, my lifeblood flowing from three bullet wounds. An involuntary constriction squeezed my chest, and my pulse quickened, as the van drove past the spot.
A year and a half later, I still have no memory of the events immediately following being shot. Or how I’d made it to the road.
At the Hamilton Marina dock, I encountered an unexpected surprise. Superintendent Jolene Johanssen and two CID detectives disembarked from the Boston Whaler. Disheveled and preoccupied, she nevertheless projected a striking presence among the men on the dock. Tall, gorgeous in a natural, earthy manner, brilliant and determined, she evoked an intense familial pride. The kind I felt for my own daughter. In many ways I treated her like a daughter.
“An early morning I see,” I said in greeting.
“Morning Chief.” She and her contingent of police and Coast Guard personnel stamped to attention and saluted, Jolene’s less formal than her colleagues.
“As you were,” I said to the gathered group. “What’s this?” My question directed at her.
“Some fishermen spotted that fishing boat washed up on Petit Nevis. They went to check it out and found a body on board. Dead at least two days. I summoned the Coast Guard and Detectives Cato and DeSilva. We processed the scene. I had the Coast Guard tow the boat in for further processing and called Calliaqua for a cutter to transport the body”
“No ID on him,” she said. “Decomp is pronounced, and sea birds have been at the remains. Not a pretty sight Chief. Just this in his pocket.”
She held up a clear plastic evidence bag containing a few coins, some paper currency, and an odd shaped bronze medallion the size of a silver dollar.
The breath rushed from my body, like I’d been punched in the gut. My senses reeled. My knees turned weak and spongy. A vertiginous wooziness clouded my vision.
“Chief. You OK?” Jolene gripped my arm. Her voice reached me as though from a great distance. My eyes refocused on her face.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost or something.”
“I need to see the body,” I said.
Concern filled the hazel eyes staring back at me, and etched delicate lines across her mocha toned brow. The arm she’d placed around mine attempted to hold me back, or maybe hold me up. I moved toward the covered bundle lying in the Boston Whaler.
Her eyes, and the eyes of the detail, followed my movements as I knelt next to the body. I turned back a corner of the canvas tarp covering it. I stared down at the bloated, unrecognizable face. I lifted a side of the tarp, revealing the corpse’s right arm and hand.
“Will someone please hand me a pair of gloves.”
I didn’t see who the outstretched hand holding the blue nitrite gloves belonged to. My gaze fixed on the corpse before me. I lifted the corpse’s right hand. A ring embedded in the blackened swollen flesh of his fourth finger bore the same design as the medallion. The dizzying sensation returned, not due to the sight of the lifeless, decomposing body. I’d seen many, too many, and worse, in a long law enforcement career. But the body lying beneath the tarp had been one of my own.
I’d lost colleagues before too. Felled in the line of duty. A hard thing to witness. A terrible burden to bear. Especially when your decisions and orders had placed them in harm’s way.
I needed a plausible excuse for my initial reaction. I needed to resume a professional, detached demeanor. No other person knew of this constable’s existence. I needed it to remain so for a little while longer.
On the dock I drew Jolene aside. Her earlier concern dissipating, replaced by a knowing curiosity. She knew me too well, and possessed a keen perceptiveness. Another of her remarkable traits.
“I want you in charge of this case,” I said. The sharp edge in my voice only increased her curiosity.
“Inform the Coast Guard vessel coming for the body I’ll ride over with them. But I’ll be back home tonight. Let’s meet at my place around eight. I’ll want as much on this case as you can put together by then. So you need to get a move on.”
I perceived the questions forming, many of them, but turned away before she had a chance to voice them. Not the time or place.
“Oh,” I said turning back to face her. “Bring Gage.”
Thank you Michael for sharing an excerpt from your thriller. You can read more about Michael on these links.
Mark the date of the upcoming 4Q Interview on your calendar - next Friday, May 1st. Happy to have Tim Baker from Flagler Beach Florida answer four questions. Author, radio personality, creator of Ike, busy man.