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Authors: Falafel Jones

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Computer Forensic Examiner - Florida

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BOOK: Falafel Jones - Max Fried 02 - Payback's a Beach
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“Exactly.”

“Could be, he’s a genius who expects that’s what we’d think. Could be, he doesn’t think the seizure will stand up in court. Could be he’s trying to buy time to run away. Could be he’s just a stupid stoner. Whatever the reason is, we still have to test the paddle.”

In the lobby, I asked the officer behind the bulletproof glass for Lieutenant Torres. The man looked over to his right, said, “He’s not here, now,” and went back to working at his computer.

“Then how about his partner, Fitzpatrick?”

Again, the man looked to his right but this time he picked up a phone. “What’s your name?”

“Max Fried.”

As we waited, I realized how silly Ed looked standing in a police station holding a paddle. Fitzpatrick must have thought so too, because he came through the door smiling. Then I remembered, Fitzpatrick always smiled, possibly because it drove his partner nuts.

Fitzpatrick shook our hands and asked Ed, “Lose your boat?”

Ed said, “This belongs to a man who was on the
Amante
where Drew Fisher died. It’s black and it’s metallic just like the particles in the dead man’s wounds. It’s light but it’s long and about the size of the head wound.”

Fitzpatrick said, “Wow, you’ve been busy. C’mon inside. We’ll talk.”

We followed him into the station where he stopped by his desk to get a file and then led us to an interview room. Ed laid the paddle on the table and we all sat down.

Fitzpatrick opened the file and Ed said, “First, I want you know that someone else was on that boat besides Brenda.”

Fitzpatrick sat quietly and waited for Ed to finish.

Ed fumbled in his jacket for something. “That bloody footprint isn’t Brenda’s.” Ed placed Brenda’s homemade footprint on the table.

Fitzpatrick didn’t bother to look at the paper. “Yes, we know. The footprint matches the person who made the 911 call.”

Ed looked surprised. “How’d you know who called?”

Fitzpatrick grinned, “I recognized the voice from when I bought my paddle board. The guy works at the shop part time.”

Ed nodded. “But what about the paddle?”

Fitzpatrick picked up one end of the paddle. “You guys don’t paddle board, do you?”

“No.” We chorused.

“This is a Catalina paddle made from carbon fiber.”

Ed asked, “How do you know that?”

“Well, the logo on the blade says, ‘Catalina Paddle Board Corp’.”

“I meant how do you know it’s made from carbon fiber?”

“Three ways. One, by examining the shaft. Two, all the Catalina paddles are carbon fiber except for their beginner model, which is only available in silver. Three, I’ve already seen this paddle before.” He released his hold on the paddle. “I’m surprised Floyd let you have it.”

Ed looked embarrassed. “OK, it’s carbon fiber, so?”

Fitzpatrick pulled a sheet of paper from his file and placed it on the table in front of us. “The lab reports the black metal trace in the wound is an aluminum alloy.” He indicated the paddle with his chin. “If I were you, I’d return this before the surf’s up.”

 

Ed fumed all the way back to Floyd’s apartment.

“Look, Ed, he’s a stoner but, there’s no evidence he’s a killer and he did get Brenda home safe.”

Ed nodded, “Yeah, I know. You’re right, Max.”

“So, why do you look like you want to strangle somebody?”

Ed grimaced, “Because I made an ass of myself. I bullied that kid, wasted Fitzpatrick’s time and slowed an investigation that can clear my daughter.”

“What about my time? Feel bad about that too?”

“Hell no, I’m paying for that.”

I waited in Ed’s Mercedes while he returned Floyd’s paddle. When Ed got back into the car, he said, “I need something to cheer me up. How about lunch? Bobbi and Jacks?”

“Sounds good but, I think I’d better go home, see how Mariel’s doing, and see what I can find out about Drew Fisher. The way things are now, Brenda’s still the main suspect and I don’t know how much time we have to clear her.”

Ed pulled into my driveway, put the car in park, and pulled a plastic bag from inside his blazer. I leaned closer to look at it. At first, it appeared empty. Ed said, “These are hairs from Brenda’s brush.” He looked down at his lap. “I didn’t want to have to use it. Sheila and Brenda don’t know I took it.” He looked at me and shook the bag. “I read that hair can reveal which drugs someone took. This could prove Brenda was drugged.”

Ed seemed so desperate I didn’t want to disappoint him but he had to know. “I’m sorry, Ed. It takes days or even a week or two for drugs to show up in hair. Samples from this morning wouldn’t test positive yet. Also hair from a brush might show someone was roofied, but it wouldn’t show when.” The police can say any drug found was from weeks ago or even after the day that… you know.”

Ed returned the bag to his pocket. “We’re at a dead end. They’re going to arrest Brenda, aren’t they?”

“Maybe, but they don’t have enough evidence yet. Let me see what I can do. We should be able to get a grip on this if we can just find a corner to grab. I’ll retrace Brenda’s steps from Friday and see if anything pops. Can you email me a photo of her?”

Ed nodded, “Yeah, I’ve got some she sent me but I’d really like to locate that murder weapon.”

“So would I. It might go a long way towards finding the killer.” I realized I shouldn’t give Ed false hope so I added, “Or it may just be another dead end.”

“But we won’t know until we find it. I’ll set up a search.”

“The Coast Guard already looked for it.”

“Sure, within the time and distance their protocols specify, but what if they had the spot wrong or the current took it.” Ed shook his head. “No, we need to widen the search.” His mood seemed to improve when he said, “I’ll set it up.”

“Isn’t it too deep to search the inlet?”

“Nah, most places it’s only about 12, maybe 14 feet. Go have some lunch and wait for my call.”

CHAPTER SIX
 

When I entered my house, it seemed empty. I walked through the great room to the pool patio and found Mariel standing there in her two-piece, facing the pool with dumbbells in her hands. When I opened the sliding door, she turned at the sound.

“Max.” She put her weights down on the pavers and met me halfway. She reached up and kissed me in a way that made me wonder why I ever left the house.

She stepped back and looked at me. “This is the second time this week you’re wearing your cargo shorts. Keep it up and you’ll have to buy more underwear. Come change into your swimsuit. I’ll shower and then you can tell me about Brenda while we walk on the beach.”

“Let me tell you about her now. She’s still the main suspect.”

“Oh, Max.”

I told Mariel how Ed and I spent the morning and she asked, “So, now what?”

“Ed wants to search the water but I’ve got time for some lunch first.”

She looked disappointed, “I understand. Do what you need to. I’ll finish my workout and hang out by the pool.” I kissed her and went inside to make my lunch. Last night, I made one of my favorite dishes, chicken-less soy cutlets covered with quinoa cooked in broccoli cheese soup. I made extra on purpose. While Mariel exercised out by the pool, I put a quinoa covered cutlet in the microwave and thought about retracing Brenda’s steps. I could start at the yacht club where Brenda first met Fisher but it seemed more likely I’d find something by looking closer to Fisher’s time of death. I knew he had his last meal at the Hidden Harbor, a riverfront restaurant on Ponce Inlet. I was headed out to the pool to discuss my plan with Mariel when my cell phone rang.

“Max, Ed. We’re all ready. How soon can you get here?”

“You found divers?”

“Yeah, I called Coronado Scuba and hired a couple of their staff. They’re on their way. Meet us at my place ASAP.”

“Just finished lunch. I’ll be right over.”

“Good, the sea waits for no man.”

I told Mariel I had to go and we made plans for later. When I pulled into Ed’s driveway, I had to park behind an SUV and a pickup I didn’t recognize. Sheila answered the door. “They’re out back.”

When I got to Ed’s dock, I found him untying lines in preparation for releasing the
Shimmering Sea.
He called out, “You just made it,” and helped me on board. As Brenda motored the ship away from the dock, Ed said, “C’mon, I’ll introduce you to the crew.” We went below decks where two people in wetsuits leaned over a map on a table.

Ed put his hand on one man’s shoulder. “Max, this is Chuck Luciano and that’s his partner Marty Farley.”

In their black rubberized wetsuits, both men looked like actors auditioning for a Batman movie. Luciano appeared to be solid muscle and built like a rock but Farley looked like he could bench press Luciano with just one hand.

They looked up and nodded at me. I nodded in return and they went back to their map.

Ed leaned in to whisper, “I had an embarrassing moment when I accidentally referred to Marty Farley as Farty Marley…” Ed shrugged, “but then I got the impression he’d heard that before.”

I shook my head in sympathy. “Considering his size, I can’t imagine anyone calling him that intentionally. So, why do you need me here?”

“I need you to take custody of whatever we find, preserve the chain of evidence.”

“Can’t you do that?”

Ed raised an eyebrow. “How would that look? The Coast Guard couldn’t find it but the defendant’s father just happened to locate the murder weapon that exonerates his daughter. Brenda may be your client but you’re a professional investigator. You should have more credibility with a jury…” Ed sighed, “if need be.”

“Forest OK with this?”

“Yeah, he’s got a son and a daughter. I apologized for being heavy handed and he said he understood. Coffee?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Ed and I took our cups outside to the cockpit and I sat enjoying the ride while Brenda navigated the ship into the inlet. A few minutes south of the drawbridge, Brenda brought the boat to a halt and dropped the anchor. Luciano and Farley went over the side and we waited. Watching divers work is like watching submarine races. There isn’t much to see unless you like to look at bubbles. The divers surfaced a few times, gave the sign for “Nothing found,” and then moved on to another spot.

As time passed, I started to enjoy just watching the water from the boat, excuse me, ship and I wondered if it would be uncool to take a nap. My eyes closed and almost made that decision for me when I heard Ed sputter. I looked out over the water and saw Floyd on his paddle board approaching us from shore. Then I heard the cabin door close as Brenda went below decks. Floyd paddled up to the
Shimmering Sea
and grabbed onto the ladder. Ed leaned over the side and demanded, “What do you want?”

Floyd said, “I saw the divers. You’re too far east. That guy’s boat was further west.” Floyd pointed. “You need to look in that direction.”

Ed waved dismissively, “Yeah, thanks. I’ll tell them. Goodbye.”

Floyd stood there holding onto the ship. After a while, he seemed to realize Ed wasn’t going to pay him any more attention and Floyd paddled away.

I closed my eyes again and enjoyed feeling the ship swaying and the sun warming my face. I dozed for a while until I woke myself up by snoring. I sat up to see if I missed anything and saw Brenda in the cockpit reading her Kindle and the two divers swimming up to the side of the
Shimmering Sea
. Ed leaned over and offered them a hand but both Luciano and Farley reached instead for the ladder railing. After they pulled themselves on board, Luciano shook his head and said, “Nothing. There’s nothing down there.”

Ed pointed west. “The guy who made the 911 call says he found the boat over there.”

Farley stood and looked west and then shook his head. “He’s wrong. That area is too shallow for the
Amante
to have been there and the current doesn’t flow in that direction.”

Luciano nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we’ve been all over the place. There’s nothing down there. Time to call it a day.”

Brenda put her Kindle in her bag, positioned herself behind the wheel and we headed back to Ed’s. I said, “I’m surprised Floyd could have been so wrong about where to look. He paddles this area daily. I would have expected him to know where he was.”

Ed said, “Yeah, well. It’s tough to keep track of things when you’re high.”

We docked at what Ed liked to call Port McCarthy and everyone disembarked the
Shimmering Sea
. We said our goodbyes and I headed home.

 

When I arrived at the house, Mariel was antsy and wanted to go out so I asked her, “How’d you like to go out for a drink?”

“I’d like that. Bobbi and Jack’s?”

“I thought we’d take the water taxi to the Hidden Harbor on Ponce Inlet.”

“We’ve never been there and we’ve also never been on the water taxi. That could be fun, but wouldn’t you rather stay on the island?”

“I’d like to see where Brenda had dinner that night and find out if anything happened.”

BOOK: Falafel Jones - Max Fried 02 - Payback's a Beach
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