Chapter One, Shades of Murder
Bev Henderson raised her eyebrows in question when Jim Osborn pulled into the mouth of Jackson's Marina and edged the unmarked car close to the ambulance. They should have been seeing a limp body waiting for the Medical Examiner rather than a man on a stretcher with a respirator covering his nose and mouth. Two paramedics jockeyed the gurney to lift it into the vehicle. "Shit, they must have given us the wrong code. It doesn't look like the guy's dead yet," Jim said when they got out of the car and surveyed the scene of uniformed police keeping the small crowd back. Someone called out his name in recognition and Jim lifted his hand to acknowledge them.
Bev didn't respond to Jim's comment - she'd taken the call, but whoever had called the station might have been excited and given the wrong information. She walked over to the ambulance, slipped her sunglasses halfway down her nose and waited until the patient had been secured. The younger technician remained inside and was talking into the radio as Don McNeal, the older of the pair, jumped to the ground and gave a quick thumbs down signal when he saw her.
"No way on this one, Bev," he said as he closed the rear doors. He jerked his thumb toward a Marine Patrol boat docked at the closest slip. "They kept up resuscitation on the way in and we'll get him to the hospital, but I'm willing to bet there's been no brain activity since they started. They've got the details for you; name, age and so forth. I could be wrong, but I figure they should have time of death posted by the time you finish here. You need anything from me?"
Bev shook her head, swept her hand toward the cab and stepped aside to let him scramble into the driver's seat. He hit the siren and pealed away.
So whoever reported the drowning probably hadn't been too much in error. Bev could hear Jim's voice behind her and she knew he would join her when he got ready. She shoved her glasses back into place and turned to focus on the activity closer to the water. A blue hulled civilian boat with the name Dare Devil painted in large white script was next to the Marine Patrol boat. A distinctive red flag with a white diagonal bar hung from the antenna of the civilian boat to indicate it was outfitted for scuba diving. She assumed that the three men who were standing nearby were probably witnesses based on their diving attire and the fact they were inside the area allowed by the police.
Bev tapped her leather notebook against the side of her thigh and looked at Jim when he paused beside her. She wondered if he would want to proceed since a death required a full investigation while an ordinary accident could be handled by the senior uniformed officer on site.
"The guy did look pretty far gone and Mac didn't think he'd make it," she said quietly. "I told him to go ahead and we'd get the info from the patrol. You want to talk to everybody as long as we have them here or wait for the official call and then try and round them up?" It made more sense to her to continue, but if Jim wanted to get bureaucratic, it wasn't worth arguing about.
He rubbed his left eye and sighed. "We might as well get started and call the hospital in about twenty minutes. If the guy isn't really dead, we won't have wasted much more time than if we have to track people down later. You want the Marine Patrol or the other three?"
Bev was glad they were on the same wavelength and she studied the trio before she made her selection. The two young men standing next to the dive boat were still wearing shortie wetsuits with the top portion pulled down to their waists. The older man speaking to them was clad in a pair of red swim trunks and a navy blue T-shirt imprinted with a red, white and blue logo of the Adventures Below Dive Shop. Air tanks and other equipment formed an untidy semi-circle around them.
"I'll take the dive buddies together and then the other one unless you get to him first," Bev said as Jim took his pen from the front pocket of his shirt. "They look a little peaked and I can probably get a better story from them while they're rattled."
Jim nodded and turned toward the waiting patrolmen. Bev pulled off her sunglasses and smiled sympathetically at the divers. They were about the same height, but the sandy-haired one had broad shoulders and maybe thirty pounds over the redhead. Neither one of them looked older than their early twenties and both wore the awkward expression of not knowing whether they should be thrilled with the excitement around them or subdued because of the circumstances.
The man in the T-shirt stepped between Beverly and the two men and extended his hand. "Detective, I'm Tom Farmer," he said. "The dive shop is the next building over. I have an office as well as a classroom if you want to use that to talk to folks."
His brown eyes held no awkwardness nor did his deeply tanned face show any sign of shock, but if he was the seasoned ocean-goer he appeared to be, then in all likelihood, this was not the first time he would have seen a drowning victim.
"Beverly Henderson," she said and took the offered hand. She preferred to go by Bev, but she used her full name for professional discussions.
The man shook hands with a firm grip and the calluses on his fingers were of someone accustomed to manual work. "You're the boat captain, I gather."
He nodded. "Boat captain, primary owner of Adventures Below, and I was acting as safety diver. Greg, Greg Wiley, that is, is a part owner and was on a free dive when he started having problems." Bev saw no reason to say she wasn't familiar with what he was talking about because she'd find out soon enough, but she did notice that Farmer was blocking her from the other two men. It could be that he was a take-charge kind of guy or maybe he was trying to divert her attention so she would speak with him before the others. She'd only worked a couple of water related deaths and if negligence was involved, the odds were it would be the captain's fault. If that was the case, Bev was hoping the three men hadn't had time to put together a solid story.
The waiting pair shifted uncomfortably as if trying to decide to approach or stay still. She held her hand forward to indicate they should hold on for a minute.
Bev was eye level with him and held his gaze as she replied.
"Well Mr. Farmer, I'll obviously need to talk with you, but I'd like to go ahead and interview these gentleman first," she said firmly. "I appreciate the offer of the shop, but it will be easier if they can walk me around on the boat while we talk. That will help me get a better picture of what happened." "Certainly," he said quickly and gestured toward the boat. "I've got some soda and beer iced down if you'd care for anything. The ice chest is starboard side."
"Thanks, I'm fine," she replied.
Farmer grabbed the dive gear sitting on the dock and indicated he would return shortly. Bev crooked a finger to the two young men who came forward in response.
The pair had the familiar look of tourists with pale skin and irregular splotches of red where they hadn't applied sunscreen. They introduced themselves as Justin Bibbins and Wayne Matson, their flat accents a likely product of the Midwest. Bev motioned them to board the boat and they sat on the edge of one of the two fiberglass benches. Bev liked the look of the boat with its extended forward area and racks behind the benches for the air tanks - definitely a cut above some of its neighbors. The sturdy white ice chest Farmer had mentioned was stowed neatly in place. A green towel had been left behind and snaked in a wet curl near Matson's foot.
Bev took the bench across from the two, laid her sunglasses down and opened her notebook. She entered their names and smiled to put them at ease. "I'll try not to keep you too long," she said. "I know something like this can be unsettling, but I need you to think about the sequence of things that led up to the accident and what you saw from then until the time you got here. Okay?"
They both nodded and seemed eager to begin when Jim walked up and rested his wide foot on the edge of the boat. Bev poised her pen.
"Bev, I checked with the hospital after I finished with the Patrol guys. The victim, Greg Wiley, was declared DOA and we'll get the exact time of death when we go by. I'll go ahead and do Farmer and then we'll catch the other end."
She brushed away a strand of hair that had escaped from her French braid. She wasn't surprised at the news nor the fact that Jim had finished his interview - the patrolmen were experienced enough to rattle off the kind of information that was needed and they didn't usually hang around.
"Got it," she said and pointed down the pier. "Farmer took the gear to the shop and should be there."
She turned back to the witnesses as Bibbins gave a low whistle. "Man, I didn't think Greg would make it, but you know, that's a real bummer."
Matson, the slender one, was sweating, although it was difficult to tell how much was the strain, the warm April sun, or the result of the beer she smelled on his breath. He was coherent though and she proceeded with the basic questions of departure time and the location of the dives.
"Well, you know, we were just out to go diving," Bibbins said. "We got certified last year and this was our first chance to come to the Keys. It was pretty awesome diving you know, I mean before what happened." He looked to Matson for confirmation and he grinned in agreement.
"Oh yeah, it was great and since we didn't have a whole lot of experience Greg went in with us on both dives. He really knew the area and showed us a bunch of cool stuff - found a couple of eels and a nurse shark too."
"Did Mr. Farmer go in the water at all?" she asked.
Bibbins shook his head. "No, he stayed on board and then he said they didn't have an afternoon dive booked and asked we if minded staying out for a while so Greg could get in a free dive. We didn't have anything going so we said it was okay."
Matson jumped in. "Oh yeah and Tom wanted to make sure we'd be okay on the boat because he said neither one of us had enough dives to be in the water with Greg. He had to be the safety diver, I think he called it." He inclined his head toward Bibbins. "We were anchored and he took the wheel, to well, you know, I mean it seemed kind of cool."
"It wasn't like I was doing anything," Bibbins said quickly. "And my uncle has a boat, so it's not like I've never been around one. Oh, and I wasn't drinking yet either. I was going to wait until they came back on board - Tom said the dive wouldn't take long."
"Sure, that's not a problem," Bev said soothingly. "By the way, had Mr. Farmer and Mr. Wiley been drinking?"
"No, just me," Matson said. "I mean everything was fine, you know. Greg was like in great shape and he didn't seem to be like tired or anything. I mean, I wasn't watching exactly until I heard him holler and then it was like everything was happening all at once." His voice had risen slightly and a line of sweat trickled down the side of his face. He swiped it with his forearm.
"Heard who holler?" Bev asked. "Mr. Farmer?"
"Uh no, that was me," Bibbins said. "I'd seen Greg go down for his dive and then I was looking around and then gee, I don't know how long, maybe five minutes or so, Tom was pulling Greg up. I thought he was okay at first and then, man, he was all limp and Tom put him on his back and was giving him mouth-to-mouth right there in the water and all. I was going to jump in so I called out to tell him, but he yelled for me to radio for help, so I got on the radio and called for the rescue guys, I mean the Patrol guys, and told them as much as I could," he said in a rush. "I mean, I had to read off the location and stuff."
"Yeah and when Tom got close enough to the boat we helped pull him - I mean Greg - on board and got Tom out of his gear while he got the oxygen going. I mean he knew what he was doing so we just kind of stayed out of the way," Matson added.
Bev squinted her eyes slightly. "When you said Mr. Farmer was pulling Greg up, do you mean you could see them or you just saw Mr. Farmer?"
Bibbins paused for a minute and frowned. "Uh well, Tom was just below the surface, I mean I could see his bubbles and all and he was waiting for Greg to come back up, so I guess I couldn't exactly see Greg. Tom must have dove down a little because he was out of sight for maybe a minute and I guess he must have seen Greg was in trouble so he went and got him. It wasn't very long though," he finished and looked to Matson again. "I mean, it didn't seem very long."
Matson shrugged. "I don't think so, but like I said, I wasn't looking in the same spot as Justin. And I'm pretty sure the Marine Patrol guys came fast."
Jim would have gotten that information and Bev spent another ten minutes with the two men. It was possible that they were delivering a smooth lie except that neither of the two struck Bev as accomplished actors.
Both men were on vacation from Omaha and planned to stay for another few days. Bev handed them her business card, thanked them for their cooperation, reminded them to call if they thought of anything new and requested they not return home without notifying her. Their solemn agreement was almost comical and Matson grabbed two beers from the cooler before they departed the boat and walked in the direction of the dive shop. The green towel had not caught their attention or maybe it didn't belong to either of them.
Jim and Farmer appeared on the dock within five minutes. Bev grasped the side rail of the boat and easily made the short step down onto the damp planks.
Jim's slightly plump face was placid. Bev knew that meant he was either satisfied with what he'd been told or he was suspicious and had no intention of voicing his suspicions until he had a chance to talk to her alone.
"Detective Osborn told me about Greg," Farmer said quietly. "I didn't have much hope, but there was always the chance that I was too pessimistic."
He didn't seem to be overly distressed for someone who'd had his business partner die in front of him.
"I'd like to telephone Karen Silsby, Greg's girlfriend, if you don't mind. I'll offer to go to the hospital for whatever paperwork is needed to spare her that. Greg doesn't have any family here."
Bev raised her eyebrows to Jim, who shrugged and scratched his jaw.
"Sure," she said, surprised that Jim was evidently going to let her take the lead after all. She had answered the radio call, but she'd guessed wrong before about when Jim would exert his seniority. "We'll wait here while you call, but we'll need to speak with her at some point. You can either let her know or I'll talk with her after you've finished."
Farmer nodded and they waited until he was out of hearing distance. Jim waved his hand across the water and belched loudly.
"So far it looks pretty clean. Mr. Gregory Sherman Wiley, aged twenty-nine, was doing that free dive shit, the stuff without tanks, and something went wrong. Farmer got him onto the boat and worked on him until the Marine Patrol answered the call and they took over. Seems like the deceased had a reputation for edging around restricted areas, hot-dogging, and shit like that. Both the patrolmen said they figured Wiley was an accident waiting for a place to happen. What about the two tourists?"
Unlike Jim, Bev referred to her carefully written notes. "Nothing out of order except for a dead body. Everything points toward an accident, although Bibbins and Matson were on the boat the whole time, which means they were a good sixty, seventy feet away when the trouble started in the water," she said and stopped when Farmer walked up.
His mouth was turned downward and he handed Bev a pale yellow piece of paper inscribed with the Adventures Below name, e-mail address, and telephone and fax numbers. "Karen said she doesn't mind going to the hospital and she'll be glad to speak with you whenever, but it will take her about half an hour to get there. This is her address and telephone number if you want to talk to her before she leaves the condo."
"No, we'll catch her at the hospital," Bev said without consulting Jim. "Thanks for your help, but we'll need to check with you on some further details while we're completing the investigation."
Farmer extended his hand again. "Of course. I've been in this business long enough to know the drill. I'm here at the shop most of the time and you've got my home number as well. Just let me know what you need."
With that, he hopped back onto the boat and began to gather more gear. He scooped up the towel and slung it across one shoulder.
Bev looked around one more time. The marina had returned to normal with only a few boaters or deliverymen in sight. The spring break congestion had ended and it was another month until the summer tourists arrived to crowd the marinas in their desire to cram as many adventures as possible into the time they'd allotted from their regular routines. A quartet of sea gulls was perched on posts near the seafood market, either resting after gorging on fish parts or waiting for the next load of scraps to be hauled outside.
Bev radioed the station of their destination as Jim drove the five miles to the only hospital in town. A new wing was under construction and Bev had heard that it was supposed to include a dialysis center. She didn't know they needed one, but the number of permanent residents in Verde Key was on the rise.
Bev and Jim parked near the emergency room entrance and Bev wrinkled her nose at the antiseptic smells when they stepped through the wide sliding doors. Despite the dozens of times she'd stood over dead bodies or interviewed bleeding victims, she disliked the institutional scents.
The nurse at the desk directed them toward the last curtained cubicle and when they approached it, Bev saw that the green fabric had been pulled aside. It was obvious that Mr. Wiley had no further use for privacy. The middle-aged, plump nurse who was filling out some kind of form offered to find the attending physician.
Jim and Bev began to check for any signs of trauma while they waited, but Mr. Wiley's nearly perfectly sculpted body showed nothing that would indicate foul play. There were a few patches of scraped skin that Bev assumed had occurred as he was being hauled into the boat and an old scar was squiggled across his muscular left biceps. No new or old needle marks were visible and Bev didn't see any nostril damage from cocaine use.
The nurse returned with an apologetic smile and said the doctor was making his rounds and would be available after that, but there was a young lady at the desk inquiring about the victim.
"His girlfriend, a Karen Silsby, was supposed to be on her way," Jim said with a tiny grunt. "That's probably her. We need to speak with her and you need some information don't you?"
The nurse nodded and motioned for the detectives to stay with the corpse. "Yes, there are several questions we need to ask her if you can wait. I'll see if she has the information and be right back."
Bev was making another annotation in her notebook when she heard Jim give a low whistle. Bev raised her head and saw the woman who she assumed was Karen Silsby walking toward them with the air of a woman who was accustomed to drawing attention. Her thick, wavy black hair tumbled around an oval face and spilled across her shoulders. She was wearing a straight white skirt with a slit up the side and a pale pink and white striped silk top cut with a deep vee which in no way concealed her noticeable cleavage.
Well, maybe Mr. Farmer hadn't explained that Mr. Wiley was probably dead and Miss Silsby had planned to try and cheer him up, Bev thought. It was a good bet that her outfit would have gotten his pulse going if he'd had one left.
Jim took a step forward and momentarily screened her from the view. "Are you Miss Silsby?" he asked in the most solicitous tone Bev had ever heard him use. On the other hand, she couldn't recall them having ever interviewed a woman who looked like she belonged on a swimsuit calendar.
"Yes," the woman answered quietly and briefly shook hands. "You must be the detectives Tom told me about."
"Uh, yes ma'am. I'm Jim Osborn and this is Beverly Henderson," Jim said.
Miss Silsby moved sideways in order to see Wiley and Bev braced herself for the messy reaction.Maybe she had known what to expect because she pressed a manicured hand to her mouth and breathed deeply, but displayed no overt emotion. She turned to face them and Bev noticed there was no trace of tears in the large jade colored eyes. Her full eyelashes were too soft to be artificial.
"Tom didn't really explain much," she said softly. "He just said there'd been an accident and he didn't think Greg was going to make it. Not that something wasn't bound to happen sooner or later, but can you give me any details?"
Bev mentally registered Miss Silsby's comment as Jim cleared his throat. Bev presumed he was trying to speak without drooling.
"Well ma'am," he said in a suitably official voice, "we don't have the whole story yet and we do need to ask you some questions. If you feel up to talking we could go to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee or something."
"Please call me Karen," the young woman said with a smile. Her straight, white teeth matched the rest of her appearance. "That will be fine if you don't mind waiting a few minutes for me to give some information to the nurse."
"No problem," Bev interjected to take control of the situation again. Now she'd find out who was to be in charge. "We'll wait here."
Miss Silsby walked away with a sway of her hips that Jim obligingly ogled and Bev repressed a snort at his utterly predictable male behavior.
Jim caught her expression and held out his hands. "I know, but give me a break Bev, it's not my fault she looks like that," he said sheepishly.
"Yeah right," Bev replied without much sting. She'd been around Jim since she was a little girl and knew that he enjoyed looking, but didn't have enough nerve to cheat on his wife, Myrtle.
Jim gave Bev an open-handed, light pat on the arm. "Come on Kid, don't get your feathers ruffled. I'm serious about you having the lead on this and I'll even keep my eyes on her face this time."
Before Bev could retort, Miss Silsby moved away from the conversation with the nurse and looked ready to go. If Jim was going to let her run the case then she could indulge him a little. She gave him a tiny push to get him started toward the cafeteria. He fell into step with the incredibly attractive young woman and Bev walked behind them.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the fact that neither the girlfriend nor the business partner seemed terribly grief-stricken at Mr. Wiley's death, but she wanted to pursue why Miss Silsby had said what she did about something happening sooner or later. That kind of remark was worth a question or two.
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Copyright © 2001-2018, Charlie Hudson. All rights reserved.