Authors: H. Terrell Griffin
ALSO BY H. TERRELL GRIFFIN
Matt Royal Mysteries
A Matt Royal Mystery
H. Terrell Griffin
Copyright © 2009 by H. Terrell Griffin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing,
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printed in the united states of america
For David W. Kendall, Jr.
And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
— William Shakespeare
Writing, like life, moves at lightning speed. Or at least the deadlines loom ever closer and the novelist’s need to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, becomes ever larger. I have the good fortune to share this journey with friends who spur me on, help me when I’m stuck, serve as my sounding boards for plot and character development, and generally stroke my rather large ego.
Peggy Kendall, Debbie Schroeder, and Jean Griffin provide me with ideas, editing, and ego-crushing comments when I get to thinking I’m better than I am. Maryglenn McCombs, Oceanview Publishing’s wonderful and talented publicist, works her magic and charms reviewers and critics into thinking I am the real thing, whatever that is.
The gang at Oceanview Publishing could not be more accommodating, helpful, and supportive. Patricia and Bob Gussin, writers themselves, have thrown their lives into making Oceanview an outstanding publisher, and in the process, have supported writers, myself included, who might not have otherwise had a voice. It is the hard work of the Oceanview people, led by President Susan Greger that ignites the creative fires of the storytellers. They make it possible for our tales to be told.
My two best buddies, John Allred of Houston and the late Miles Leavitt of Longboat Key, have lent me their personas and allowed me to tinker with their personalities while I fashioned characters who bear some resemblance to their reality. They were amused at their transformation from real life to fiction and never waivered in their supoort of my efforts at writing. For their friendship, I will be forever grateful.
The people of Longboat Key, that paradise off the coast of Southwest Florida, bring me more pleasure than I can describe. They have been
unfailingly supportive, lent their names to some of my characters, allowed me to use their stories, and, most importantly, have been my friends.
I am nothing without my family. My wife, Jean, has been my boon companion for most of my life and understands me better than I do myself. Yet she still loves me, or at least tells me that on a regular basis. I think she’s serious. Our sons, Greg, Mike, and Chris and our daughter-in-law, Judy, give us love, and that is a treasure beyond reckoning. Our grandchildren, Kyle and Sarah, give us so much joy that they probably ought to be outlawed, or at least taxed.
Thank you, my friends and family. Thank you.
Laurence Wyatt was executed on a bright Sunday morning in late October when high white clouds drifted across the beach and out to the horizon where they kissed the azure water of the Gulf of Mexico. An onshore breeze ruffled the fronds of the palm trees that bordered the sand and the smell of the sea wafted on the currents of air that drifted lazily over a tableau of death. The morning quiet was pierced by the raucous cries of gulls diving for their breakfast.
The executioner used a large-caliber pistol, a .45 perhaps, and shot Wyatt behind the left ear. The steel-jacketed slug tore though his brain, searing gray matter, disrupting synapses, destroying the connections that make us human. The bullet exited his face, taking his right eye and most of the zygomatic arch with it, splattering the balcony railing with the remains of one of the finest brains in America. By the time the bullet exited Wyatt’s face, he was dead.
The murderer put another bullet into the dead man, shooting him in the back of the neck. Why? Insurance? Malice? Or just because the killer was a mean son of a bitch who gave no more thought to killing a fine and gentle man than he would to stomping a roach.
The second bullet didn’t matter. Wyatt was already dead, and the shooter had sealed his own death warrant when he sent the first slug into my friend’s brain. The killer was dead meat from that moment on. He didn’t know it, but I did. I would hunt him down and kill him and make sure he knew why he was dying. I owed that to Wyatt.
When Wyatt died, I was jogging on the beach, enjoying the view that was probably Wyatt’s last glimpse of life. If I had thought about it, and I didn’t,
I would have guessed that Wyatt was looking at the sea, sitting on his balcony, reading the paper, and drinking the strong coffee he fancied. He did that every morning.
I would have been wrong. Wyatt was looking out to sea when he was shot, and the paper was spread on his lap. But there was no coffee cup. We knew what his last view was because of the blood splatter on the balcony rail. What we didn’t know was whether Wyatt saw it coming, or if the shooter snuck up behind him and took the shot. Shots.
The news of Wyatt’s death came to me as such news often does, in the person of a police officer. I was sitting on my sunporch overlooking Sarasota Bay when the knock came. It wasn’t ominous in any way; just a routine rap on the front door of my condo. A friend coming for a visit perhaps, or the maintenance manager checking up on something.
I looked at my watch. Ten o’clock. I opened the door to find my fishing buddy, Bill Lester, standing at the threshold. He was wearing boat shoes, chinos, and a blue golf shirt with a Longboat Key, Florida police chief’s badge embroidered on the pocket. He was not a tall man, about five eight, his dark hair cut short, a small belly beginning to protrude over his belt, a neatly trimmed mustache gracing his upper lip. He carried no weapon that I could see. On the surface he was not a prepossessing figure, but he had a presence that transcended his stature. I think it was because of the no-nonsense way he approached life, like a man who knew at any given minute what the next one would bring. He exuded confidence the way aging drunks exude the stench of old booze. It rose off his body, giving him a demeanor that put people at ease. They knew they had found the man in charge, and they were comforted by the discovery.
Not today. Bill’s face was a little gray, his eyes moist, his hair uncombed. His body language screamed that bad news was coming.
“What is it, Bill?” I asked.
“Laurence Wyatt’s dead.”
“Shot to death on his balcony.”
We were still standing at the door. I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. “Come on in. What happened?”
The chief went to my kitchen, pulled a mug from a cabinet and
poured himself a cup of coffee. An act of familiarity bred between friends. We moved into the living room, and he told me what he’d found on Wyatt’s balcony.
“His ex-wife found him. Called us,” he said.
“How’s she holding up?”
“Not good. But she’s tough. My detective had a few more questions for her, and Logan Hamilton was on his way to pick her up. I wanted to tell you personally. I know how close you guys were.”
“Yeah. For a long time. Was it a robbery?”
“Doesn’t look like it. Donna said his laptop is missing, but that’s all. There was cash in a money clip on his dresser and a wallet with several credit cards. I don’t think some moke would kill for a laptop and leave the cash and cards.”
“You’re probably right. Maybe the computer will turn up.”
“Tell me about him, Matt. I didn’t know Laurence well.”
“Nobody called him Laurence. He never liked his first name and all his friends called him Wyatt. I was a nineteen-year-old second lieutenant at the tail end of Vietnam. My first tour. Wyatt was a thirty-two-year-old major on his third. He taught me how to be a soldier and a leader. Mostly, he taught me about honor. And he showed me how to be a man.”
“Was he Special Forces, too?”
“Yeah. We both wore the Green Beret. But Wyatt was special, Bill. A West Pointer who didn’t have to keep volunteering for combat. He just felt that he owed it to the men. He always said that he’d been given an opportunity to be a leader, and that meant that he owed the army some leadership. That’s what he did. He led.”
“You guys stayed close.”
“When I got out of the army and started college, Wyatt was completing his Ph.D. in history on the same campus. When he finished grad school, he went to the University of Central Florida in Orlando to teach. When I was finishing law school, he introduced me to a partner in a big Orlando firm who hired me. When I got married, he was my best man, and when I got divorced, he talked me out of the bottle of bourbon I’d
crawled into, and sent me packing to Longboat Key. He was only thirteen years older than me, but he was like the father I never knew. I loved him.”
“Could there be somebody from his past after him?”
“I doubt it,” I said. “Wyatt was a warrior who became a scholar. And he put the warrior stuff behind him. He’d been a fierce soldier, and he became a gentle professor. I can’t think of anyone who’d want to kill him.”
“We’ll find the guy who did this, Matt. I promise you that. We’ll get him.”
I was alone in my condo. Bill had left after assuring me again that he’d do everything in his power to bring Wyatt’s killer to justice. I knew a little about justice. I’d been a trial lawyer for a long time. I’d represented guilty men and convinced juries that they should acquit. I knew that good lawyers sometimes got bad people off. I didn’t want that to happen to the animal who had killed my friend. I wanted him dead.
We Americans have an aversion to the death penalty. Polls show time after time that we condone the ultimate punishment, but when it comes right down to it, we’re squeamish about imposing it. Most murderers are not caught. Those who are caught can usually plea bargain themselves into lighter sentences. Even when a jury finds a murderer guilty as charged, the good citizens sitting in the box often recommend life imprisonment.
Rarely, but sometimes, the death penalty is ordered. Then the lawyers get involved further, and the appeals take up the next twenty or thirty years. The victim’s loved ones die of old age, and the animal who killed lives on, sitting on death row, three squares a day, a warm bed, air conditioning in the summer, and always a television set. And when the execution is finally carried out, if it ever is, no one remembers the crime or the victim, except the survivors.
The law is the only thing that keeps the animals at bay. It provides a patina of civilization that results in a modicum of safety. We are not allowed to seek personal revenge. We let the law do it for us. I believed in that law. But I also believed in revenge, and what I could not tell my friend Bill Lester, was that I would take my revenge on the bastard who killed the best man I’d ever known.
My buddy Logan Hamilton showed up and sat quietly, drinking coffee
and letting me talk. I told him more about Wyatt and about the war than I’d ever told anybody. I let my grief at Wyatt’s death roll out in waves that washed over Logan, sitting there, being a friend, because he knew I needed one. I raged at the cretin who would kill a good man in cold blood, and I vowed revenge. Finally, I ran out of words, and I too sat quietly, staring at the bay, musing at the colors cast by the autumn sun, knowing Wyatt would never again enjoy such a scene.