Diagnosis Murder: The Death Merchant (4 page)

BOOK: Diagnosis Murder: The Death Merchant
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"Not really." Mark shrugged modestly. "If the killers didn't make so many mistakes, they wouldn't be caught."

Over the next few hours, and another pot or two of Kona coffee, they discussed what it was like living on Kauai, the volatility of a tourist-dependant economy, and the high price of just about everything on the island.

By then, despite being fortified by caffeine, the long day and the huge meal took their toll on Mark and Steve, who thanked their host for a wonderful evening.

On their way out, Mark stopped at a table by the front door, where there was a selection of souvenir photocards of individual Royal Hawaiian entrees with the recipes on the back. He took one of each.

"Do you really think you can make those dishes at home?" Steve asked.

"I don't see why not," Mark replied.

"The same reason I couldn't perform an appendectomy even if you gave me a picture and directions," Steve said. "There's more to it than you think."

Mark shrugged. "It will be fun trying, anyway."

As they left the restaurant, neither of them noticed the lean, angular-faced man at the bar, just another tanned tourist in a Tommy Bahama shirt and slacks, nursing a tropical drink. But Wyatt was keenly aware of them.

They didn't sense his presence in the shadows as they walked back to their hotel, or feel his gaze as they crossed the vast, open-air lobby to the elevators.

No one was ever aware of Wyatt until it was far too late.




Mark slept in until nearly ten the next morning, showered, shaved, and went down to hotel's open-air café, taking an outside table overlooking the tropical garden. Parrots, macaws, and cockatoos chirped and chattered in brass cages amid the coconut palms, brilliant heliconias, and radiant anthuria.

Waking to the birdsongs, the sweet floral fragrances, the rhythmic breaking of the waves, and the gleaming blue skies invigorated Mark.

Despite his big meal the previous night, he indulged himself with a generous helping of French toast and slices of papaya, kiwi, and pineapple, topped off with a tall glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. He was halfway through breakfast when Steve joined him, ordering three eggs, pancakes, and a large order of thick-sliced, apple-smoked bacon.

"I'm oversleeping and overeating," Mark said, snatching a slice of Steve's bacon. "I don't know what's come over me."

"Better watch out," Steve replied, "or someone might think you're on vacation."

Perhaps I finally am, Mark thought. Something about the extravagant dinner the night before, and the glorious morning that greeted him, had a profound effect. He felt unusually relaxed and mellow; the anxious need to find new and different things to occupy his mind had ebbed. And much to his surprise, he kind of liked it.

"What's on your agenda for today?" Mark asked.

Steve gazed out at the water. "Looks like a good day for some snorkeling. Want to join me?"

"No, thanks," Mark said. "Maybe I'll take a walk, have a swim in the pool, then stop in at the Royal Hawaiian for some lunch."

"Going back so soon?" Steve raised an eyebrow. "You really fell in love with the place."

"It's hard not to," Mark said. "And Danny Royal is an exceptional host."

"He puts on a show, all right," Steve said sourly.

"I know why you're upset," Mark said. "It's the way his face fell when you told him you're a cop. Most people have the same reaction. I wouldn't hold that against him."

"I don't," Steve said. "It's being lied to that bugs me."

"What did he lie about?"

"He said he ran a Croque Monsieur franchise in New Jersey," Steve said. "They don't have outlets in the Eastern United States."

"How do you know that?"

"Jesse got us a subscription to Restaurant Business Week, the industry trade paper," Steve said.

"And you read it?" Mark asked incredulously.

"Once," Steve said. "It was in the bathroom, and I forgot to bring the sports page. Anyway, they had a big feature on Croque Monsieur's future expansion plans. New Jersey was among the new markets they were considering."

"So Danny wasn't entirely candid about his past," Mark said. "I'm sure he had his reasons. It doesn't make him a bad person. He certainly treated us well."

"It'll be interesting to see how long that hospitality lasts."

"Come with me and find out," Mark said. "I took a peek at their lunch menu and it looks incredible."

"I bet the prices are incredible, too," Steve said. "Incredibly steep."

"So what? We're on vacation," Mark replied. "Let's live a little. My treat."

Steve looked at his dad in surprise. "You really are loosening up. Does this mean you're leaving your stethoscope in your room?"

"I saw three new James Patterson paperbacks in the gift shop," Mark said. "I might pick up one and read in a hammock for an hour or two before lunch."

"You'll have the mystery solved in ten minutes."

"Then I guess I'll have to buy all three."

Steve was wrong.

It took Mark only five minutes to figure out everything that was going to happen in the book, and another five to skim the rest of the pages to confirm that he was right. He didn't bother with the other two books, setting them aside and taking in the view instead.

The beach was a little less crowded that morning, since many tourists departed on Sundays and new arrivals wouldn't be coming in until later that afternoon.

Still, there was a lot of activity on the sand. There were the teenagers boogie boarding in the waves, their parents documenting every wipeout in snapshots and home movies. Toddlers raced around, inflatable floaters on their arms, playing chase with the surf. A few older tourists in sunglasses stood knee-high in the water, only half committed to getting wet, letting the waves break in front of them and spill out against their waists. Barefoot honeymooners strolled hand in hand along the beach, or necked discreetly in one of the half dozen prized beachside cabanas, which some hotel guests staked out at dawn just to be sure to snare one. And a pair of monk seals scrambled out of the water onto the beach, honking and snorting excitedly, startling the adults and thrilling the small children in the surf.

The seals dragged their heavy bodies up the sand to bask in the sun and digest after gorging themselves for breakfast. In that regard the seals had a lot in common with the people around them. The casual encounter with wildlife, so close to a busy, sprawling resort, was jarring. It was like seeing an elk stroll through a crowded shopping mall. The seals took it more calmly than the tourists did.

Mark turned his gaze back to the ocean and saw Steve swimming near the rocky point, facedown in the water, his yellow snorkel bobbing as he followed the fish. He hoped his son was being careful. That was the area where most of the snorkelers and swimmers he'd treated over the last few days had scraped themselves.

Beyond Steve he could see the sure stroke and steady progress of Danny Royal, swimming parallel to the shore line. Mark was surprised to see him braving the water so soon after his nasty encounter with the jellyfish. Danny obviously wasn't going to be dissuaded from doing what he wanted by some bad luck and a little discomfort. Perhaps it was that kind of tenacity that made him so successful.

There was something behind Danny, but Mark wasn't sure exactly what it was. Mark sat up slowly in his hammock, his heart racing, and squinted at the object in the water. He could almost believe it was a snorkeler, kicking up his feet, until the woman on the beach began screaming and his initial, gut-wrenching instinct was confirmed.

"Shark!" she yelled hysterically. "Shark!"

The instant after her cry, time seemed to freeze. Even the air seemed to still, as everyone's attention focused on the dorsal fin cutting through the water and diving below Danny, who was suddenly yanked under in a sickening crimson swirl of water.

The horrific sight sparked instant pandemonium on the beach and sheer panic in the water, with parents charging into the surf to rescue their kids as terrified swimmers charged out of the sea to save themselves.

Danny bobbed up once in a froth of bloody water, an arm flailing in the air, and then he was pulled down again, his screams drowned beneath the surface.

Mark rushed onto the beach and into the bedlam, trying to spot Steve, and caught a quick glimpse of his son swimming toward a little boy in an inner tube. The child was wailing in terror, floating just a few yards from where Danny was attacked and the water still churned, blood red.

Panicked swimmers, surfers, and boogie boarders scram bled ashore, pushing, tripping, and falling over each other in their mad rush to safety.

As one man fled, he foolishly turned away from the waves, which slammed into his back and repeatedly smashed him against the jagged rocks. Mark ran into the water, grabbed the unconscious man under the shoulders, and dragged him ashore.

Beyond the waves, Steve neared the wailing boy, who sat atop his bobbing inner tube, staring in wide-eyed horror at the spot where Danny Royal had been pulled under.

Steve reached out for the inner tube and the boy screamed, mistaking him for the shark, and lost his balance, toppling into the water and splashing around in terror. If the shark was still near, the boy was practically inviting an attack. Steve grabbed him firmly around the arm.

"Relax, you're going to be all right," Steve said, "I'm taking you back to the beach, but you have to calm down, do you understand?"

The boy sniffled and nodded, his lower lip quivering. "What about the shark?"

"He's long gone," Steve said. "We're safe."

But the truth was, Steve had no idea if they were safe or not. And as they swam back to shore, he couldn't help imagining the shark trailing after them, closing in on their kicking legs.

Back on the beach, Mark tended to the man who'd been thrown against the rocks. He gave him mouth-to-mouth until the man coughed up seawater and started breathing again, then Mark shifted his attention to his injuries. The man was bleeding from abrasions all over his body, but the worst was a deep gash on his left leg, probably caused by the jagged edge of a rock.

Mark grabbed a beach towel, pressed it against the man's gushing leg wound, and started looking for something to use as a tourniquet.

That's when Steve emerged from the water with the child he'd rescued. The child ran into the safety of his mother's arms, the woman gleaming with gratitude at Steve, who nodded in return and then crouched at his father's side.

"What can I do to help?" Steve asked.

"Hold this," Mark said, motioning to the towel. "I think he's nicked an artery."

While Steve took over applying pressure to the wound, Mark found a woman's bikini top discarded on a beach- blanket. He wound the bikini top around itself into a rope, then went back to the man and tied off the leg. -

Mark did a quick scan around him as he secured the makeshift tourniquet. The water was empty now, but the beach was filled with people, many of them injured in the melee.

"Wrap him up with some of the beach towels," Mark said, studying the shivering man, who was looking very pale. "He's going into shock. Keep him warm until the paramedics arrive. I'm going to see if anyone else needs medical attention."

Mark moved among the others, assessing the injuries, mentally prioritizing them as he went along. No one else appeared seriously hurt, though there were a number of broken bones.

His supplies were up in his room, so he made do with whatever was handy. He made splints out of plastic shovels and boogie boards, securing them to the broken arms and legs with T-shirts, ski ropes, and belts from bathing robes.

By the time he'd finished with the last splint, the paramedics and police arrived. The beach quickly cleared as the injured were transported to the hospital and the frightened guests returned to the safety of the hotel.

But Mark Sloan, wet, sandy, and bloodstained, lingered behind on the beach.

The water was calm. Waves broke gently against the shore. The pair of monk seals napped peacefully in the sun. The only evidence that anything had happened were the beach towels, hats, and other belongings forgotten and abandoned along the crescent of empty white sand.

Mark stared out at the sea. Steve stepped up beside him.

"You did all you could, Dad.?' Steve said.

Mark nodded.

Two Coast Guard boats were speeding toward the tiny bay, but Mark knew it was too late for any rescues. All they'd find now, if they were lucky, were Danny Royal's remains.




News of the shark attack spread quickly. Within an hour, it was all over the local news. Within two hours, CNN picked it up and it was all over the world. Reporters flocked to the hotel, interviewing guests as they rushed to check out.

Mark and Steve avoided the crush of reporters by spending the night in their rooms.

Steve ordered a pizza from room service, turned on the TV and caught up on a couple action movies he'd missed in the theaters. It was better than being left alone with his thoughts. That day he'd seen a man killed by a shark. The day before Steve left for Hawaii, he stood over the corpse of a grocery clerk shot by a shoplifter stealing a six-pack of beer. He could ponder all the violence he saw or think about how James Bond was going to save the world with a laser-firing toothpick. Steve chose 007.

Mark relaxed on his lanai, the moon casting its bright glow on the water, which lapped gently against the shore.

He tried to reconcile the beauty and serenity of the moonlit water with the startling danger and violence that lurked below its surface.

He couldn't, of course.

In the same way he couldn't reconcile the joy of delivering a baby with the sadness of declaring someone else dead in the course of a typical day at Community General.

So he gave up trying and went to bed, accepting what happened to Danny Royal as another tragedy, another fact of life, that was out of his control.

By morning, the sand had been cleaned of the belongings left behind by the beachgoers and a line of SHARK WARNING signs had been staked every twenty yards.

BOOK: Diagnosis Murder: The Death Merchant
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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