Hurricane (Free Sample Chapters)

Special Weather Bulletin

Tropical Depression Discussion

Issued by the National Hurricane Center

Miami, FL

0800 AM, WED 23 OCT 2019

New tropical depression has formed east of the Leeward Islands.

At 0800 AM, the poorly defined center of this tropical depression was located near Latitude 16.0 North / Longitude 60.4 West, or about 70 miles east southeast of Guadelupe.

The depression is moving toward the west-northwest near 12 mph and this general motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 30 mph with higher gusts.  Some strengthening is expected during the next day and the tropical depression could become a tropical storm.

The estimated minimum central pressure is 1010 mb.

Rainfall accumulations of 4 to 6 inches are expected.

Forecaster Bates

Chapter 1

Friday, October 25, 2019 – Nanette, Palm Beach County, Florida

“You guys getting excited?” Kayla Woodbridge asked her two teenagers as she sat a plate of pancakes down onto the table in front of them.

Kelly, her sixteen-year-old daughter shrugged and mumbled, “I guess so.  Anywhere is better than here.”  Kayla wanted to think that Kelly’s recently developed attitude could be attributed to her age, the “know everything better than anyone else” stage of her life, but her gut told her it was more than that, and it was something that Kelly either didn’t want to talk about – or couldn’t.  She really needed to sit her down and have a heart to heart with her and get to the bottom of what was bothering her so much lately.

“I’m excited, mom,” Kyle stated.  “I love going to the beach.”

“I know you do,” Kayla responded, tussling his blonde hair.  “Are you packed?”

“Almost.  Only need to put a few more things in my bag.”

“Kelly, how about you?”

“Getting there,” she answered without looking up.

“Clint, I’ll start packing our bags today,” Kayla said to her husband, whose mind seemed to be somewhere else far away from the family conversation.  “Anything in particular you want me to include?”

Clint took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose.  “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” he began.

“Here we go,” Kelly said, shaking her head.  “Should have known.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, young lady?” Clint snapped.

“Nothing, dad, forget I said anything.  You never listen anyway.”

“Dad?” Kyle said, glancing at his father.  “Aren’t you going?”

Clint opened his mouth to answer but Kayla cut him off.  “You finished eating, sport?  If so, why don’t you go to your room and get the rest of your things together?  You, too, Kelly.  Please.”

“I should have known you’d do this?” Kayla stated sharply once the kids were out of earshot.  “Clint, you know good and well that I’ve been planning this vacation for over a month now and you wait until the day before we’re scheduled to leave to tell me you’re not going?”

“I never said I wasn’t going,” Clint replied.  “You’re putting words in my mouth.”

“What are you saying then?”

“Only that I won’t be leaving at the same time as you and the kids,” he answered.  “I have some last-minute things to do at the office before I can go away.”

“On a Saturday?”

“Yeah, I’ll bet he’s got things to do alright,” Kelly whispered to Kyle as they stood in the hallway listening to the exchange between their parents.

“Like what?” Kyle asked.

“Nothing you need to know about.”

“I hate it when they argue,” Kyle said.  “They sure seem to be doing that a lot lately.  Do you know why?”

Of course she knew.  She’d known for quite some time now, but she hadn’t told anyone, not even her mother.  The only person that knew was Chloe and that was only because she had been her taxi, chauffeuring her all over town so that she could spy on her father.  Surely her parents had noticed her change in attitude toward her dad but neither one of them had said anything to her about it. 

“No, but I don’t like it, either,” Kelly said, glancing down at her younger brother.  He was a sweet kid most of the time.  No sense in spoiling his good mood by telling him exactly why their parents had been arguing so much.  Even if she tried to explain, he probably didn’t even know what sex was yet because all he was interested in was baseball and video games.  “Better get started packing like mom said.”

“You think she’ll still go even if dad doesn’t, Kelly?”

Kelly shrugged.  “Beats me.  Guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

“Nothing that you can’t finish up today so that you can leave with us in the morning?” Kayla asked, frustrated with his timing on announcing his decision.

“I’ll only be there for a few hours and then I’ll drive over there.  What’s the big deal?  It’ll be more convenient if we have two cars anyway.”

“What’s the big deal?” Kayla blurted.  “I’ll tell you what the big deal is, Clint.  You knew we were taking this vacation to the beach and instead of spending it with your family you’d rather make up excuses by saying you have to go to work?  Not that you haven’t had a month to plan ahead and make sure you didn’t have to.”

“For God’s sake, Kayla, don’t start with me,” Clint said, rising from the table and placing his coffee cup in the sink.

“You always do this,” Kayla argued, tossing the dishrag onto the countertop.  “I don’t know why I expected this time to be any different than the others.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Making plans and then reneging,” Kayla answered.  “You seem to be doing that an awful lot lately.”

“I have no idea what you’re referring to,” Clint said, leaning up against the counter.

“Really?  How about Kelly’s awards program that you were supposed to attend last week?  How many of Kyle’s baseball games did you go to over the summer?  Do I need to keep going?”

Clint glared at her but didn’t answer.  “Even if you have nothing to bitch about, I can always count on you to find something.  Look around you, Kayla.  Do you enjoy living in a nice house?  Driving a new car?  Wearing decent clothes?  Know why you’re able to have all that?  It’s called working, remember?”

“Don’t you dare go there,” Kayla seethed, shaking a finger at him.  “I work, too, you know, so it’s not like you’re the sole provider around here.”

Clint slipped on his jacket, picked up his briefcase and headed to the door.

“Absolutely unbelievable,” Kayla said, shaking her head in disgust.  “Don’t expect me and the kids to sit around here waiting on you to make up your mind.  I still plan to leave first thing in the morning, with or without you.  I have no intentions of letting the kids down, not when they’ve been looking forward to this just as much as I have.  I thought you were, too, but I guess I was wrong.”

“Isn’t that basically what I just suggested you do?  Some things are more important than a trip to the beach, Kayla,” he said, walking out the door without kissing her goodbye.

“Obviously, there are also things that are more important than your family.  Glad you have your priorities straight, Clint,” she said to unhearing ears.

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Clint Woodbridge entered the lobby of the Chalfont Hotel, careful to make sure that the front desk clerk wasn’t on duty yet, took the elevator to the fifth floor and walked down the hallway, stopping in front of the last room on the left.  Furtively glancing around to make sure no one was in the hallway, especially anyone who knew him, he lightly tapped on the door.

“I thought you were going to stand me up,” Mona said seductively, grabbing him by the tie and pulling him into the room.

“I almost did,” Clint confessed.

“Well, Mona’s mighty glad you didn’t,” she said with pouty lips.

Dressed in a black lace teddy, one of Clint’s favorite pieces of lingerie, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately, leaving a smear of orange sherbet colored lipstick on his face.  Clint quickly wiped it off with the swipe of a thumb.

“You seem a little tense this morning, baby,” Mona cooed.  “Want me to soften you up?” she said, kissing him again.

“I love starting my day off with a fight,” Clint remarked, his tone tart with sarcasm.

“Want to talk about it?” Mona asked, running her fingers through his thick brown hair.

“Not really,” he replied, undressing, and laying his clothes across the back of a black leather chair.  Pulling Mona close to him, he kissed her lightly on the side of her neck.  “You smell so good,” Clint whispered, running his tongue gently down her cheek and across her lips.  “Let’s get you out of this thing,” he said, removing her teddy and letting it fall to the floor.

After an intense round of lovemaking, they cuddled close beneath the covers, Mona gently stroking Clint’s chest with her fingertips.  “That was different,” she said.  “A little on the rough side, but still good.  I liked it,” she purred.

“Sorry,” Clint said.  “Guess I’m more uptight than I thought.”

“What did you get into a fight with the bitch about?”

“I’ve asked you not to call her that.  Kayla’s not a bitch.  Besides, it wasn’t a fight,” Clint corrected.  “More like a heated exchange of words.”

“Over what?”

“Our family beach trip.  She’s pissed because I told her I have to work and wouldn’t be leaving with her and the kids.”

“That’s right,” Mona said, raising up on an elbow and looking at him.  “You were supposed to leave tomorrow.  You still going?”

Clint shrugged.  “I’d rather stay here in bed with you, but if I don’t at least show my face for a couple of days I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Mona was quiet for a moment, then laid back down beside him, gently gliding her fingertips up and down his inner thigh, intentionally allowing her fingers to brush against his manhood, lightly enough to tease, but not arouse him.  “I don’t know why you stay with her,” she said.  “If she makes you so miserable, why not leave her?”

“I’ve told you before,” he answered, kissing the top of her head.  “She would take me to the cleaners and leave me with nothing but the shirt on my back.”

“So,” Mona said.  “It’s only material things.  Nothing that can’t be replaced.  Isn’t your happiness worth more than that?”

“Not worth losing everything I’ve worked my ass off to accomplish,” he snapped.  “Besides, as long as she stays off my back it’s nothing that I can’t handle.”

Mona sat up and stared down at him.  “You should divorce her and marry me.  I would treat you the way you deserve to be treated.”

Clint burst into laughter.  “Marry you?  Are you serious?”

“Don’t laugh at me,” Mona remarked angrily, getting out of bed.  “And yes, I’m serious.”

“Baby, if I get out of this marriage, another one would be the furthest thing from my mind.  Once bitten, twice shy, you know?”

Mona huffed, snatching her teddy from the floor and redressing.  “So what you’re saying is I’m good enough for a good old-fashioned fuck but not good enough to be married to?”

Clint threw the covers back and stood up.  “That’s not what I said.  And don’t say stupid shit like that because when you do, you sound just like Kayla and trust me when I tell you that one of her is more than enough.”

“Oh, so now I remind you of your wife?”

“Good God, Mona, give it a rest, will you?” 

She stared at him disbelievingly.  He’d never talked to her like that before and had certainly never compared her to his wife.  He seemed like a different man, on edge and ready to crack as easily as an eggshell.  “Tell you what,” she said, turning away and walking to the nightstand where the phone was.  With the receiver in her hand, she said, “I can make this easy for you.  Why don’t I make a call and tell your precious wife all about us?” she asked, dialing a zero to get an outside line.  “I’m sure she’d love to hear all about our hot, steamy love affair.”

“You stupid bitch,” Clint spat, snatching the receiver from her hand, and slamming it back down into the cradle.  “What is wrong with you?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” she remarked bitterly, turning away from him.

Clint grabbed her by her upper left arm, digging his fingers into the soft flesh and spinning her around to face him.  Mona slapped him hard across the face.  “Don’t you ever put your fucking hands on me again!” she yelled into his face.  “I’ll kill you if you do, you son of a bitch!”

Clint clutched onto both arms and shook her hard.

“Let go of me, you bastard!” Mona panted, struggling to free herself from his grip.  His fingernails dug into her skin and would most likely leave bruises, forcing her to wear long sleeves instead of trying to explain how she got them.

Tired of attempting to keep her from striking him again, Clint shoved her backwards with more force than he’d intended, causing her to stumble and fall.

Her left temple struck the corner of the wooden desk by the bathroom door with a loud thwack!, the force of the blow propelling her backwards onto the ceramic tile of the bathroom floor, again striking her head.

Mona lay motionless on the ground, a puddle of bright red blood beginning to form around her face and running into the cracks of the tile, turning the grout a dark shade of brown. 

Clint stood frozen in place, his mouth agape in shock, as he stared down at Mona lying motionless on the floor.  “Mona?”  When she didn’t respond, he called her name louder.  “Mona!”

“Oh, my God!” he gasped, kneeling beside her.  “Mona, wake up!” he called, nudging her, but she remained unmoving.  “Mona, please get up!” he wept.  “I didn’t mean it, I’m so sorry.  I’m begging you to wake up!”

Clint walked rearward, away from the bathroom, until the backs of his knees connected with the foot of the bed.  He plopped down heavily, horrified at what had just transpired, and at the sight of Mona’s dead, bloody body lying on the floor in front of him.  He closed his eyes tightly so that he wouldn’t have to look at her, hoping that when he reopened them he’d realize it had all been a terrible nightmare, and that Mona would wrap her arms around his neck like she always did while kissing him deeply and passionately.   But she didn’t.  And she wouldn’t.  Never again.

Clint sprang from the bed, clutching his head with both hands as he paced back and forth muttering, “Oh, my God,” repeatedly.

How could such a stupid and petty argument have escalated so quickly and resulted in a sudden and violent death?  All he’d done was push her away.  Perhaps a little too roughly, but it wasn’t as if he’d struck her with the intent of killing her.  Is this what was meant by a crime of passion?  A regrettable act of violence from a normally calm and non-violent person carried out in the heat of the moment?  He’d never hurt anyone in his life, much less caused another’s death.  If only he could take it back – but he knew that he couldn’t.  What was done was done.

Should he call the police and tell them what happened?  Afterall, it was an accident.  Surely he wouldn’t go to jail for that!  Or would he?  All the cops would have to go on would be his account of what had transpired because Mona certainly wasn’t able to tell her side of the story.  Would they believe him or charge him with murder and throw him in prison for the rest of his life?  He couldn’t let that happen.  Kayla and the kids needed him.  They depended on him and he couldn’t let them down, which left only one thing he could do.

“I have to get the hell out of here,” he said, quickly dressing and gathering his belongings, checking, and double-checking the room to ensure that he hadn’t left anything behind that could lead the cops to him.  With a wet rag, he wiped down all of the wooden surfaces, doorknobs and anything else he thought he may have touched, took the glass he’d drank out of from the bedside table, stuffed the wet rag inside the glass and put it inside his suit coat pocket.  Later, he’d find a dumpster to dispose of them both.  Careful not to touch the faux leather of Mona’s purse, he used a hand rag to grip it from the bottom and turned it upside down, dumping the contents onto the bed.  He didn’t see anything that could incriminate him – no address book, no hand-written notes.  All that she carried was a tube of lipstick, most likely the shade she’d been wearing when he’d arrived, a travel-size bottle of perfume, a wallet, and her car keys.  Quickly thumbing through her wallet, he was relieved to see that it didn’t contain any information about him.  In fact, it barely contained anything at all except for her license and a couple of credit cards.  To be safe, he took the keys and dropped them into his pocket surmising that there couldn’t possibly be anything in her car belonging to him since he’d never been in it.  Still, in the event that the police did locate her car, without the keys the only way they’d be able to gain access would be by breaking a window.  Perhaps that might slow them down a little, then again, maybe not, but he wasn’t willing to take any chances.  At the door, he glanced back at Mona, shook his head sorrowfully, peeked into the hallway to make sure no one was there and then exited the room, closing the door quietly behind him and hastily made his way toward the exit.  Instead of the elevator, he took the stairs to the lobby and left the hotel through a side door so that he wouldn’t have to pass by the front desk, quickly made his way to the car and drove off, leaving Mona and the hotel in his rearview mirror.

He was in no shape to go to work and he couldn’t go home and face Kayla.  She’d immediately know that something was wrong with him and she’d start grilling him for answers and he was in no mood for an interrogation from his wife.  After placing a call to his secretary and informing her that he wouldn’t be in due to a family situation, he drove around for hours before deciding to find a hotel room for the night.  From there, he would call Kayla and tell her that he’d been called out of town unexpectedly for a business matter and wouldn’t be home, and that he’d see her and the kids at the beach in a couple of days, although he didn’t foresee that trip taking place at all.

As he’d told Kayla that morning, some things were more important than a trip to the beach, and this was one of those things.

He had important decisions to make and he needed to make them quickly and with a clear head, beginning with calling the hotel, disguising his voice and pretending to be an acquaintance of Mona’s and provide some lame excuse for why she hadn’t checked out personally, and then offer profuse apologies for her unintended oversight.  At least that way, the room would show up in the registry as available and when the housekeeping crew went in to clean, they’d find Mona’s body.  He had no idea how long she’d booked the room for, but he couldn’t imagine it was more than a day or two like she normally did.

With that out of the way, a more important decision needed to be made.

The way he saw it, he had one of two choices.  He could either turn himself in to the police and admit what he’d done – or he could run and get as far away from there as possible.

The latter seemed to be the smartest choice.

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Chapter 2

Saturday, October 26, 2019 – Chalfont Hotel, Nanette, Florida

Detective Zavier Crenshaw stepped out of his canary yellow convertible, tucked the tail of his red hibiscus-print Hawaiian shirt into the waist of his white gauze pants and made his way into the hotel lobby, flashing his badge at the front desk clerk without stopping, his huarache sandals squeaking on the freshly waxed tile, and took the elevator to the fifth floor.

Two uniformed officers were present, one inside the room and one in the hallway, posted there to ensure no rubberneckers or gawkers got in the way.  The crime scene crew was also present, each busy with their own duties.  One was collecting evidence and labeling the plastic bags, another was photographing the crime scene, and the third one was dusting the room for fingerprints.

“What have we got, DeSoto?”, he asked as he approached the officer inside the room.

“Deceased female, Mona Newbern, twenty-six years of age according to the identification found inside her purse, what appears to be blunt force trauma to the left side and back of her head.  Doc’s not sure yet if it’s a homicide or an accident,” he said, pointing towards the bathroom.  “So far, we haven’t located anything that could have been used as a weapon.  Doc thinks she might have slipped on the wet floor and fell, striking her head against the tile.”

“Is she local?”

“Not from Nanette, but not far away.”

“Has the next of kin been notified?”

“We don’t have that information as of yet,” DeSoto answered.  “No one’s reported her missing, but I’ll keep working on it and let you know what I find out.”

“They may not realize she’s missing yet, especially if she lives alone.  Do we have any other information on her?  Family? Job?  Anything?”

“No,” DeSoto answered, shaking his head.

“But we do have her address?”

“The one on her driver license,” DeSoto answered.  “If it’s accurate.”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

“You want me to check it out?”

“No, I’ll take care of it.  Just make sure I get a copy of everything you have for my investigative file.”

“Will do.”

“Thanks, DeSoto,” Crenshaw said as he headed into the bathroom.

“Got a cause of death for me, Tony?” Crenshaw asked, squatting down beside the victim, observing as Tony Prescott, the Chief Medical Examiner for Nanette, examined the woman’s wounds.

“Nothing definitive, other than to say that she died as the result of head injuries.”

“DeSoto said no weapon was found,” Crenshaw said.  “Any idea what may have caused them?”

“Direct contact with a hard-tiled floor would be my best guess.”

“So, she what?” Crenshaw asked, shrugging.  “Walked into the bathroom and decided to take a fatal spill onto the floor for no logical reason?  Did she faint?  Have a coronary?  What?”

“I don’t know that yet, Zee,” Tony answered, calling him by the nickname he’d given him because of the numerous times he’d heard him tell people his name was Zavier with a zee and not an ex.  “Those are things I won’t know for sure until I can get her to the morgue and complete an internal autopsy.”

“You usually at least have a theory.  Don’t you have one now?”

Tony nodded.  “It’s possible that she slipped on the floor while it was wet.”

Crenshaw rubbed his chin and stood up.  “Maybe,” he said.  “If that’s the case, where’s the water?  If she slipped on the wet floor as you’re suggesting she did, wouldn’t there be traces of water on the floor?”

“Not necessarily,” Tony answered.  “It could have dried up considering the amount of time she’s been here.”

“How long would that be?”

“Judging by her body temperature and lividity, I’d say somewhere between fifteen and twenty hours, give or take a couple of hours.”

“You’re right, that’s more than enough time, but in my opinion, it’s a little too dry in here, wouldn’t you say?”

“Meaning?” Tony asked, looking up at Crenshaw.

“The tub is dry,” he said, shaking the curtain.  “Which means she didn’t take a shower, and cloth drapes like this take forever to dry.  The sink doesn’t appear as though it’s been used, there are no glasses on the vanity, and there are no dirty towels on the floor.  Taking all of that into consideration, where did the water come from?”

“Maybe she spilled it.”

“Could be,” Crenshaw said, going to the door of the bathroom.  “Excuse me,” he called out.  “Did any of you see or bag any empty water bottles or drinking glasses?  Any kind of container that could have held liquid?”

“Only one glass,” one of the technician’s answered.  “But it didn’t look like it had been used.”

“And that’s all?” Crenshaw asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Thanks,” he said, returning his attention to Tony.  “Any other explanations?”

“Nope.”

“I think we can rule out the possibility of a slip and fall,” Crenshaw said.  “I also think it’s safe to say that at some point, she was not alone in this room.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Her clothing,” Crenshaw said, smoothing down his gray, walrus-style moustache.  “Or lack of it, I should say.  I find myself wondering why she would be wearing such a sexy-looking nightgown.”

“Not a nightgown,” Tony corrected.  “It’s called a teddy.  Women’s lingerie.  You’d know that if you had a life outside of the police force.”

“Whatever,” Crenshaw said, waving it off.  Tony was right though.  There wasn’t much in his life these days other than his work and he dedicated himself to that as much as he possibly could because if the truth be known, he hated going home to an empty house every day.  He had no interest in dating or having any other type of contact with another woman because it would be senseless to do so.  He would never commit himself to anyone else nor would he involve himself in any kind of relationship other than being a friend.  There would never be another who would take the place of the love of his life and he would never even consider trying.  After losing her, nothing else mattered to him anymore except for his work.  “Back to my point.  Based on my experience with situations such as this, a young woman only wears something like that for one reason, and it wasn’t to please herself, if you know what I mean.”

Tony smiled and shrugged.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Might have to ask the wife if she’ll wear one for me.”

Crenshaw shook his head.  “You’re a mess, you know that?”

“I do.”

“Anything else you can tell me before I go?”

“There are two wounds.  One here,” Tony said, pointing to the left temporal area.  “And one to the back of the head.  She most likely hit the corner of something, a piece of furniture maybe.”

“Like the desk right by the door?”

“In my opinion, yes.  After striking her head the first time, the impact likely caused a rebound action, propelling her in the opposite direction, then falling backwards onto the floor, which would explain why her body is half in and half out of the bathroom.”

“Did you toss your water theory out the window?”

“Not completely.  Something, or someone, caused her to fall.  You were right about her not being here alone, unless she did this to herself,” Tony said, pointing out the bruises and scrapes on both arms.

“Looks like she was forcefully grabbed,” Crenshaw said.  “Are those fingernail marks?”

“Seems to be.”

“What’s the likelihood of getting prints off her skin?”

“Not likely, but I’ll try just the same.”

“You’ll figure it all out, like you always do.  Thanks, Tony,” Crenshaw said, rejoining DeSoto in the outer room.  “Who found the body?”

“Lady from housekeeping.”

“Did you take her statement?”

“Yes, sir.  Want to read it?” he asked, holding out a memo pad.

“No, I’d rather talk to her myself.”

“That’s her right there,” DeSoto replied, pointing to a woman standing up against the wall across from the room.

“Name?”

“Rickie Sellers.”

“Miss Sellers?” Crenshaw said, approaching her with an extended hand.  “Detective Zavier Crenshaw with the Nanette Police Department.  I’d like to ask you a few questions if that’s alright.”

“I already gave a statement to the other policeman.”

“I know you did, and I appreciate it.  This won’t take long.”

“Okay,” she replied, folding her arms across her chest.  It was obvious that she was shaken by the incident and anxious to get away from the scene.  “Go ahead.”

“Thank you,” Crenshaw, taking an ink pen and small notebook from his pants pocket.  “What time did you come on duty this morning?” he asked, flipping the notebook open.

“Six am.”

“How soon after that did you find the body?”

“Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes,” she answered.  “Soon after I started my rounds.”

“Did you not know that the room was occupied before entering it?”

“No, sir.  The do not disturb sign wasn’t hung on the door and checkout time was three pm yesterday.  This room was on my list of rooms to clean.  It’s not up to me to determine whether someone has checked out or not, I can only go by my daily roster.”

“Did you knock before entering the room?”

“Several times.  I even called out to announce that I was here, but no one answered, so I went inside.”

“Did you use a key card to get in?”

“Yes, I have a master for all the rooms on this floor.”

“And you discovered the body immediately after opening the door?”

“All I could see were her feet at first, so I went on inside.  I thought maybe she was experiencing a medical episode, like fainting or a seizure, you know, and I was going to try to help her.  But once I got a good look at her I knew she was dead.”

“Did you touch her?”

“No.”

“Not even to check for signs of life?”

“No.  I could tell by looking at her that she was gone.”

“How so?”

“The color of her skin.  She was so pale.  And the blood on the floor had turned black.”

“Did you touch anything else in the room?”

“Only the phone.  I used it to call the front desk clerk to tell him to notify the manager, and then the manager called the police.”

“Did you stay inside the room until law enforcement arrived?”

“No, I waited outside in the hallway.”

“Did anyone else go inside the room before law enforcement arrived?”

“The manager, to confirm what I reported.”

“Did you go into the room with him?”

“Yes.”

“Did he touch anything?”

“No, sir.”

“Great,” Crenshaw said, flipping over the page.  “A few more questions and then I’ll be done.”

“Okay.”

“I know you were probably very scared and nervous when you found Ms. Newbern lying on the floor.”

“You could say that.”

“And you were probably more focused on her than anything else, right?”

“Right.”

“Now, Miss Sellers, I know this may be hard for you to do right now, but your answer is important, so I need you to think about it really hard before you give me an answer, okay?”

She nodded.

“Did you see, or find, anything in the room that might have indicated someone other than Miss Newbern may have been there?  Anything unusual or out of place, perhaps?”

“No,” she said.  “Nothing at all.”

“Did you do any cleaning at all in the room?  Maybe throw something away?”

“No.”

“That’s all I have for now,” Crenshaw said, closing the notebook and returning it to his pants pocket.  “Here’s my card.  After a day or so of clearing your head and getting your thoughts together, if you think of anything, you give me a call.”

“Did you guys check every nook and cranny in this room?” Crenshaw asked, addressing the forensics team.  “Pull out every drawer, check both closets, look under the bed?”

“Can’t look under the bed, Detective,” DeSoto told him.  “It has one of those solid baseboards that nothing can get under.”

“How about between the headboard and the mattress?  In between the covers?  I see they’re still on the bed.  Why hasn’t it been stripped?”

“I did all that,” one of the technicians said, raising her hand.  “But I didn’t find anything.  The bed was next on my list.”

“How about the toilet?”

“Checked.  Nothing there, either.”

“Give me a pair of those gloves, will you?” he said to the evidence technician.  “And come help me for a minute.”

Gently lifting the top spread by the corners, they gave it a shake.  When that didn’t produce any results, they tossed it aside and moved on to the next layer of bedding, a soft white cotton blanket.

“Hold on, Detective,” the technician stated, running her hand across an area near the foot of the bed.  “There’s something here,” she said, reaching beneath the blanket.  “Aha,” she said, retrieving an object that was caught on the inside fibers of the blanket.  She passed it to Crenshaw using a gloved index finger.

“Well now, this isn’t something you find every day,” Crenshaw said, taking the gold and diamond watch from her and examining it for a name or at least a monogram, anything that would help to identify its owner.  “This is definitely a man’s watch and it isn’t a cheap one either,” he said.  “I want this dusted for prints and examined closely for any trace evidence.  Maybe some arm hair got stuck in between the links.”

The technician placed the watch in an evidence bag, labeled it and placed it inside her silver suitcase with all the other evidence.  “I would have found that, Detective,” she said.  “Once I got to the bed.”

“I’m sure you would have since you all do excellent work.”

“Where are we on surveillance footage, DeSoto?” Crenshaw asked.

“Donovan’s downstairs viewing it now.”

“Is that maid still out there in the hallway?” Crenshaw asked.  There was one more thing he needed from her that he hadn’t thought about before but could prove to be quite pertinent.

“Yes.”

“Miss Sellers, I apologize for bothering you again, but I need to ask you one more question.”

“Alright.”

“Does your cleaning routine include polishing the door handles on the stairwell exits?”

“Yes.”

“Did you work this floor yesterday morning?”

She nodded.

“The same shift?  Six am?”

“Yes.”

“And did you polish them yesterday morning?”

Another nod.

“How about this morning?”

“No, I do it once all the rooms are cleaned.”

“Great, thank you very much.”

“Miss Technician,” Crenshaw called, poking his head inside the room.  “Grab your dusting powder and brush and come with me.”

He knew it was probably a long shot, but no murderer in his right mind would take the elevator down after killing someone and risk being seen.  Which left only the stairwell and whoever had been inside that room with Miss Newbern would have had to touch the handle to turn the knob.  All he had to do now was hope that the mystery man’s prints were the only ones on the door, or at least be present and discernible.  If so, then hopefully he could compare those prints to the ones on the watch, if any, to get a match.

“DeSoto, were statements taken from the front desk clerk as well?”

“Yes, sir, but he said he didn’t see anything or anyone that looked suspicious during his shift.”

“By that do you mean that there’s someone on duty at the front desk twenty-four hours a day?”

“Yes.”

“What time does the morning staff come on?”

“Eight.  But between seven thirty and then, staff meet for the shift change to discuss any ongoing events or activities.”

“Then whoever was here with Miss Newbern knew that no one would be on duty during that time period, meaning he entered the hotel at some point during that time frame.  I’m guessing that means this wasn’t the first time they’d gotten together for a sexually romantic tryst.”

And whoever that person was had made damn sure not to leave anything behind that would prove he was there.

Except for the watch.  Crenshaw wondered if the mystery man had yet noticed that it was missing and if so, would he return to the hotel hoping to retrieve it?  That possibility was more of a long shot than getting readable prints off the doorknob!

There was only one jewelry store in Nanette.  So, unless he ordered it off the Internet or purchased it out of town, it shouldn’t be too hard to find out if the local jeweler had sold such an expensive watch, and perhaps even who purchased it.

“Good work, DeSoto,” Crenshaw said, clapping him on the shoulder.  “See you back at the station.”

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Marcum Island, Martin County, Florida

Of the fourteen other hotels on the beach strip, Kayla had been more impressed with the Tahitian Paradise than any of the others, mainly because of all the amenities it boasted, including a gift and coffee shop, medical clinic, diner, and game room.  Comfort and convenience only a few steps away without having to leave the island.

All of the other hotels each had one or two of the same niceties, but none of them had all of them like the Tahitian did.  And the price wasn’t bad, either, especially considering that October was a prime month for beach vacations, which meant that the hotel costs usually doubled, exactly why she’d booked the reservation over a month before.

It was the perfect time of the year for enjoying the beach.  Not too hot.  Not too cold.  Water always pleasantly warm.

After crossing the causeway bridge, the only access road on and off the island, Kayla turned right onto Hotel Row Boulevard, drove two miles down the two-lane street then turned left into the parking lot of the Tahitian Paradise Hotel.

The exterior was painted a bright shade of hot pink, making it the most noticeable along hotel row, sticking out like a sore thumb in comparison to the others, coated either in neutral colors or lighter pastels.

Entrance to the hotel lobby was accessible from the parking area, but the only way to get to the beach was through double access doors on the opposite side of the hotel, located next to the check-in counter.  Anyone staying inside the hotel could only get to their rooms by using the elevators or stairs.  Directly beyond the double glass doors was a row of six small cottages painted the same color as the hotel, with a wooden pathway leading directly down to the beach area.  Lounge chairs and tables surrounded the Olympic sized swimming pool in the middle of the courtyard, which also happened to be right outside their door.

The suite she’d reserved was much bigger and nicer than what she’d expected and looked more like an apartment than it did a hotel room.  Furnished with two large bedrooms and a kitchenette with a stove, microwave, and refrigerator, it was perfect for her and the kids.  Not that any of those things mattered because she had no intentions of spending her vacation in a kitchen cooking!  The kids would be fine nuking frozen meals for a few days or being treated to restaurant food.  This was their vacation, too, and they deserved to have as much fun as they possibly could, with or without their dad.  The living room was furnished with a large beige, cloth fabric sofa and matching armchair.  Walls were painted a light shade of coral with lime green trim, typical colors for beach hotels.  Framed artwork of seashells and beach scenes adorned the walls.   Sliding glass doors opened from the living room onto a small patio, then beyond that, nothing but sand leading down to the shoreline.  Kayla watched as a flock of seagulls cawed and fought over some tasty morsel that had washed ashore, laughing when one of the feathered rascals grabbed the entire treat and flew off with it, leaving his foes to fend for themselves.

“Mom, will you please tell your son that I get the bedroom, not him?” Kelly requested, both hands on her hips.

“What makes you so special that you think you get it?” Kyle retorted.

“Come on, guys,” Kayla said.  “It’s not even ten o’ clock in the morning yet!  We’re here to have fun and enjoy ourselves, not fight with each other.”

“Well?” Kelly pressed. 

“Why can’t you share the room?”

“Because there’s only one bed, duh,” Kelly remarked with a shake of her head.  A natural blonde but wanting something different, with Kayla’s consent she now wore her short bob haircut in a light shade of blue.  She’d even agreed to let her get a small stud nose piercing, but when she’d asked permission to get a tattoo, Kayla had put her foot down and told her no, resulting in a debate over her answer.  Not wanting to bicker with her daughter over body ink, she’d called a truce and told her she could make her own decision when she reached adulthood, but as long as she was a minor and her responsibility, the answer would always be no.  After that, she’d never asked again.  Kelly had always been a good kid.  Witty, outgoing, and smart, popular among her peers with many friends, both male and female.  But lately, she hadn’t been her usual happy-go-lucky self.  She seemed distant and distracted, as if something were weighing heavily on her mind.  Kayla figured it best not to press too hard because she knew Kelly well enough to know that when she was ready to talk, she would.  “And I’m not sleeping with that little creep!”

“Spaz!” Kyle retorted.

“Booger eater!”

“Ewww, I don’t eat boogers you fart sniffer!”

“Jackass!”

“Hey, hey, guys, that’s enough, knock it off,” Kayla warned.  “Let’s not start our family vacation with hateful words and name-calling, alright?”

“He started it,” Kelly remarked, folding her arms across her chest.

“Did not,” Kyle said.

“How about I settle this right here and now?” Kayla asked.  “Kelly gets the room.  Kyle, you get the couch.  It folds out into a bed.  You’ll have the whole living room to yourself, including the TV.”

“But, mom…” Kyle started.

“It’s settled, Kyle.  I don’t want to hear anymore arguing about it.  Besides, you can see the ocean through the glass doors.  Kelly nor I have that luxury.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Kyle said, sticking his tongue out at Kelly.

“You’re such a dweeb,” Kelly replied, going into the bedroom, and closing the door.

“Kyle, you can keep your things out here but put them in the corner.  I don’t want to see clothes and shoes strewn all over the living room.  Got it?”

“Got it,” he replied.  “Can we put on our swimsuits and go down to the beach now?”

“Sure,” Kayla told him.  “That’s why we’re here, right?”

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Nanette, Florida

In his hotel room, Clint lay on his back staring at the ceiling contemplating his current dilemma.  He hadn’t slept a wink all night.  Every time he closed his eyes, he kept seeing Mona lying on the floor in a pool of blood, reliving that nightmare over and over.  Now that he’d had more time to think about his options, he’d decided that running away would be a bad decision.  Afterall, he had a job, a home, a family.  How would he explain why he left?  What reason could he possibly give that would sound believable and convincing?  At the moment, he was the only one that knew what had happened to Mona.  Even if the police were called in to investigate her death, there wasn’t a single piece of evidence in her room that would point to him, he’d made sure of that.  Just like he’d made sure there was no one in the hallway or the stairwell, had bypassed the front desk to avoid the clerk and any other guests who could identify him, and had kept his head down while walking to his car in the event he was seen by someone who knew him.  And in the small town of Nanette, that would be practically everyone since he was well known in the community because of his successful business in commercial real estate development and because he was a member of various clubs and organizations around town and also donated to multiple charities.  So, yes, it was safe to say that in the off chance someone had seen him exiting the Chalfont, they would most definitely know who he was and identifying him would be as easy as taking candy from a baby.

Although he had never been in trouble with the law, his fingerprints would be on file in whatever system it was that law enforcement used to check and compare fingerprints because it had been required for his line of work.  In his mind, he replayed the cleanup many times over, each time reassuring himself that he’d left nothing behind that would implicate him.  For crying out loud, he’d even kept the condom on so that he wouldn’t have to flush it down the toilet, calling to mind some of the horror stories he’d been told by friends about how they either cling to the side of the porcelain like magnets or get stuck in the chute, never completely making it into the sewage system.

Turning his wrist over to check the time, he jumped off the bed in a sheer state of panic.  “Shit!” he yelled, ramming his hands into his pants pockets searching for his watch, but it wasn’t there.  “Shit!” he yelled again, looking inside his coat, shirt and even his shoes, then finally, his car.  His wristwatch was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t in the glove compartment, under or between any of the seats.  He even tore the trunk apart, going as far as removing the piece of carpet that covered the spare tire.  Back inside his room, he retraced his steps and searched drawers and the top of the television, but again, came up empty.  His heart pounded as he tried recalling whether he’d worn the watch to the Chalfont the morning before yet knowing that he had because the watch was a normal part of his daily apparel.  He never went anywhere without it. 

On the positive side, it wasn’t engraved and wasn’t remarkable in any other way except that it was a high-quality, custom-made, extremely expensive one.

On the negative side, how would he explain to Kayla that he’d somehow misplaced or lost a ten-thousand-dollar wristwatch?

If it turned out that it was found in the room, there were no identifying markers to prove it was his, so that was one less thing for him to worry about.  It wasn’t as if he could stroll back into the Chalfont and request to go to the fifth floor to retrieve a lost watch.  The place was probably crawling with cops by now because surely, Mona’s body had been discovered.

Clint blew out a puff of breath, relieved that he didn’t have to fret over cops finding a lost piece of jewelry that they could never associate with him.

From the small hotel refrigerator, he pulled a bottle of diet soda from the cardboard pack, screwed off the cap and took a long swallow, contemplating what to do next.  He couldn’t stay in the hotel forever, and until he could get his behavior and emotions in check, he wouldn’t be joining his family at the beach either.

For now, he would spend another night in the hotel room, lay low, and check out first thing the following morning, go home and call Kayla and tell her that his business trip had been extended for another day.  At least by doing that he wouldn’t have to face his family in his current state of mind, and it would give him more time to think.

Besides, they were probably having more fun without him there anyway.

Tropical Storm Phillipe Weather Advisory

National Hurricane Center

Miami, FL

1100 AM, SAT 26 OCT 2019

Phillipe has been upgraded to a tropical storm.

A tropical storm warning is now in effect for Puerto Rico, The U.S., and British Virgin Islands.

The center of Tropical Storm Phillipe is located near Latitude 16.6 North / Longitude 63.1 West, about 135 miles southeast of St. Croix.

Phillipe is moving toward the west-northwest near 12 mph and a general motion to the west-northwest or northwest is expected for the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph with higher gusts.

Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center.

The estimated minimum central pressure is 1006 mb.

Rainfall accumulations of 7 to 9 inches can be expected near the path of Phillipe.

Forecaster Sharpe

Chapter 3

Saturday, October 26, 2019 – Marcum Island, Florida

“Whoa, hold on, young lady.  Where do you think you’re going?”

“In the water.  We are at the beach.”

“Not wearing that, you’re not,” Kayla scolded, pointing to Kelly’s swimsuit.

“It’s a bikini, mom.”

“That’s barely covering your rear end,” Kayla replied.  “Change into something that covers a bit more skin.”

“Seriously, mom?”

“Yes.  At home, in our back yard behind a privacy fence is fine.  On a public beach with tons of people, not so much.”

Kelly shook her head in disbelief.  “What type of bathing suit do you want me to wear, mom?  The same kind they wore in the twenties?”

“Not that extreme, but one with more material than the one you’ve got on.”

Kelly grunted as she turned around and went back to her room.

Kyle opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside.  “Wait for your sister, Kyle.”

“Mom, I’m not a baby.”

“I know you’re not, but you’re also not an adult.”

“But, mom, the beach is literally right there,” he said, pointing to the ocean.

“Kyle,” Kayla said, giving him her mom stare.

“Is this better?” Kelly asked as she walked into the living room wearing a one-piece black suit with gold trim.

“Much,” Kayla said.  “Thank you.  You two can go on down there.  I’ll join you in a few minutes after I get my things together.  Stay close to the shore, you hear me?”

“Yes,” they both said as they walked through the sand and towards the beach front.

Kayla placed folded towels and sunscreen inside her canvas tote bag, along with the other items that were already packed inside, put on her sun hat and sunglasses and headed down to the beach, placing her bag on one of the wooden lawn chairs directly in front of an orange and white striped cabana.

Opening the umbrella that was attached to the back of the chair, she placed a long beach towel over the slatted wood to make it somewhat more comfortable.  At least the towel would provide some relief against the hard wood pressing into her back.  She had been wanting to read the book that she’d brought along for quite some time but hadn’t yet had a chance to get to it but intended to make that one of her top priorities while on vacation.  Without Clint being there, hopefully she could finish the book in peace without being interrupted every couple of chapters.

As she had requested, the kids were staying close to the shoreline, the water barely up to their waists.  Kyle was splashing around in the water while Kelly teetered and tottered against the incoming waves.  Satisfied that they were in no imminent danger, she opened her book and began reading.

When a man appeared and stood near the foot of her lounger, she expected to look up and see that Clint had changed his mind and decided to join his family afterall.  But it wasn’t Clint. 

“Excuse me, sir,” Kayla said, lowering her sunglasses to the tip of her nose.  “Can you please scoot over a bit?  You’re blocking my view.”

Dressed in khaki cargo shorts and a blue tank top that finely outlined his well-muscled physique, the man turned to face her.  “My sincere apologies,” he said, taking a step sideways.

“It’s okay,” Kayla replied.  “But my kids are in the water and I’d like to be able to keep an eye on them.”

“I understand.  Do you mind?” he asked, pointing to the empty lounge chair beside her.

“Not at all.”

“Thanks.

Kayla returned her attention to her book but didn’t get too far.

“You live around here?”

“Why?”

The man shrugged.  “No reason.  Just curious.”

“I can tell by your southern accent that you’re definitely not from around here.”

He laughed lightly.  “That is correct, but I think you’ve got it backwards.”

Kayla glanced over at him, taking notice that the shade of his green eyes was a near perfect match for the aquamarine water of the ocean.  “How so?”

“It’s you Floridians that have the accent, not me.”

“If you say so.”

“Boone Chadwick,” he said, extending a hand.  “Guilty of being from Tennessee.”

“Kayla Woodbridge,” she said, shaking his hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Same here.”

“This your first trip to Florida?”

“This far south, yes.  It’s nice here.  I like it.”

“It is,” Kayla agreed.  “I don’t get to the beach much, but when I do, I always come here to Marcum Island.”

“Then you don’t live here,” Boone stated.

“Not here, but not far away.”

Boone chuckled.  “You’re not going to tell me where you’re from, are you?”

“I just did.”

“Only that you’re not from here, which leaves about a million other places you could be from.”

“Not that are close by,” she said with a smile.

“I get it,” he said.  “You don’t know me and as far as you know, I could be a serial murderer or a dangerous stalker.  Kind of the equivalent of telling kids not to accept rides from strangers.”

“Something like that,” she answered, somehow feeling that neither of those things were true.  “I live close to Lake Okeechobee.  How’s that for a morsel?”

“A start.”

“Ever hear of it?”

“The lake?  Who hasn’t?”

“You might be surprised, especially if you’re not into fishing.”

“I like it alright but don’t do much of it,” Boone said, glancing across the water.  “I understand why you like it here.  It’s beautiful, clean and peaceful,” he said, leaning back and resting on the beach chair.  “Are you here on a family vacation or just for the day?”

“More than a day, not quite the vacation that was planned.”

Boone shook his head.  “Meaning what, exactly?  You wanted to go somewhere else and settled for a tropical paradise instead?”

“It was supposed to be a family getaway, but only the kids and I are here because my husband got called out of town on business the day before we were scheduled to leave.”

“That’s a bummer,” Boone said.  “Looks to me like you didn’t let that get in the way of your plans, so I hope that you have fun anyway, with or without him.”

“I intend to.  Is that why you’re here?  Vacation, I mean?”

“Not necessarily a vacation per se, just needed a couple of days away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, you know?”

Kayla opened her mouth to reply but was cut short when Kyle came running towards her screaming and crying, holding onto his side.  Kelly turned around when she heard him yell, dashed out of the water, and ran to his side.  “What’s wrong?” she asked in a panicked voice, but Kyle didn’t answer.

Kayla felt a rush of pure adrenaline as sheer horror overtook her, expecting to see her son move his hand away only to reveal that a shark had taken a huge bite out of him.

“Let me see,” Kayla panted, tugging on his hand.

“It hurts, mom, it hurts so bad,” Kyle cried.

Kayla gasped when Kyle finally pulled his hand away, revealing a large red area covering his entire left side.  Long, thin welts had risen on the surface of his skin and there were so many of them crisscrossing that it looked like cooked spaghetti noodles.

“He’s been stung by a jellyfish,” Boone declared, scooping Kyle up in his arms.  “We need to get him inside right now.  Tell your daughter to go and run a tub of water, as hot as his skin can stand it, but not scalding.”

Kayla was puzzled by his demands, not sure if she trusted him enough with her child since she’d met him only minutes before.  “I’m a doctor, Kayla, I know what I’m talking about.”

With an approving nod from her mother, Kelly took off running toward their suite with Boone, Kayla and Kyle following behind.

Not until the third swimmer rushed out of the water screaming in pain did the on-duty lifeguard realize that danger was lurking just below the surface of the water waiting to claim more victims.  The loud shrill of his whistle took Boone and Kayla by surprise, bringing them to an abrupt halt only inches from their hotel room.  With his bullhorn and commanding voice, everyone was instructed to get out of the water immediately, even as swimmer after swimmer exited the water yowling in pain and holding on to various parts of their bodies where they’d also been stung.

“What the hell is going on?” Kayla asked as she stepped through the sliding glass door, shutting it behind her.

“Man O’ War is my best guess, judging by the looks of Kyle’s sting,” he answered.  “And lots of them for that many people to get attacked in one area.  Keep your swim trunks on,” Boone instructed Kyle as he lowered him into the water.  “Kayla, I need a pair of tweezers and some vinegar.  Do you have either?”

“Tweezers, yes, they’re in my makeup bag.  No vinegar.”

“Then you’ll need to take a quick trip to the nearest pharmacy or grocery store.  Vinegar is essential for treating Kyle’s wound, as is an antihistamine and antibiotic ointment.”

“There’s a gift shop in the lobby,” Kelly said.

“They won’t have the supplies I need to treat Kyle.”

Kayla stared down at him as he knelt by the tub.  “I can’t simply leave him here with you.  I don’t even know you.”

“Then leave your daughter here as well,” he replied, looking up at Kelly, who was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, eyes wide, as she watched her younger brother grimace in pain.  “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t get your name.”

“Kelly,” she replied, wiping away tears.

“Hi, Kelly, I’m Boone.  Kayla, you need to go now.  I’ll keep watch over him until you get back.  It’s important that he stays in the water for a while.  I promise you he’s in good hands.”

Kelly closed the lid on the toilet and sat down.  Kyle was a brat and annoying as hell sometimes, but he didn’t deserve this, and she couldn’t bear seeing him in such agonizing pain.  “Is he going to be okay?”

“I think so,” Boone replied.  “It’s probably going to hurt like hell for the next few days, but I think he’ll get through it.  Right, bud?”

Kyle nodded.

“What does it feel like?” Kelly asked her brother as she stared at the large red area on his skin.

“Like my whole body is on fire.  It’s burning so bad, Kelly,” he said, looking pitifully up at his sister.

“Alright, Kyle, what I need to do now is let some of this water out and run more hot water.  If it gets too hot, you tell me.”

“Okay.”

Kayla returned from the store with the supplies Boone had recommended and entered the bathroom.  “You okay, son?”

“I think so, mom.  But it hurts so bad.  I’ve never had anything this painful in my life.”

“Hand me the vinegar,” Boone told Kayla.  To Kyle, he said, “I’m not going to lie to you, Kyle, this is going to sting really bad, but it’s important to do this.  There are some tentacles stuck to your skin and I need to get them off.  That’s what these are for,” he said, holding up the tweezers.  “Once I get these off of your skin, the stinging should begin to ease up a little bit.  You ready?”

“Ready.”

“This will be cold,” Boone said, pouring the vinegar over the entire wound. 

Kyle gritted his teeth when the liquid made contact, squinting his eyes against the pain.

With the tweezers, Boone carefully began removing the tentacles one at a time and tossing them in the small garbage can.

“Ewww,” Kelly said.  “Those look like worms.”

“They do,” Boone agreed, removing the last one and pouring the remaining vinegar over the sting site.  “You need to soak in the water for a little while longer.  Between the water and the vinegar, the two should wash off any remaining venom.”

“How did you know to do that?” Kelly asked.

“I watched a video,” Boone teased.  “Or did I read a book?  I can’t remember.”

“Are you serious?” Kelly asked wide-eyed.

“He’s a doctor, Kelly,” Kayla told her.

“Oh.  Then you’ve treated jellyfish stings before?”

“Definitely seen my fair share.  Treated shark attack victims, too.”

“Gross.”

“When I first saw Kyle coming out of the water crying, that’s what I thought had happened to him,” Kayla said.

“You’re not alone on that thought,” Boone told her.  “I can honestly say that I’ve never seen or heard of that many victims of jellyfish attacks in one place at the same time.  Did you see how many people were coming out of the water screaming?”

Kayla nodded.  “Yes.  Weird.”

Boone stood up from the floor and dried his hands on the towel that hung by the tub.  “No more swimming today,” he said to Kyle.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Kyle answered.  “I’m not so sure I’ll ever go in the ocean again.”

“Don’t let this incident keep you from enjoying life’s pleasures.  Chances of it happening again are rather scarce.  Believe it or not, jellyfish attacks are actually quite rare, especially that close to shore.  And when it does happen, it’s generally because they’re passing by and people get in their way.”

“The pool is safer anyway,” Kyle said.

“Won’t argue with you there.”

“How long does he have to stay in that bath water?” Kelly asked.  “He’s going to shrivel up like a prune.”

“Another thirty minutes or so.  When he’s dry, you’ll need to apply the ointment,” Boone said to Kayla.  “No need to give him the antihistamine unless he begins to itch, and the itching becomes unbearable.  No since knocking him out if you don’t need to.  He can wear shorts but don’t let the material touch the wound site and let him go without a shirt.  No stressful activities.  In fact, he should lie around for the rest of the day and take it easy.  Like I told Kelly, it’ll probably sting or be sore for several days, but I think he’ll be okay.”

“It’s not stinging as much as it was,” Kyle said.

“Glad to hear it.”

“Thank you, Doctor Chadwick,” Kayla said, extending her hand.  “For taking care of my son.”

“Formalities aren’t necessary.  My name is Boone, not doctor.”

“Boone it is, then,” Kayla said.

“I’m staying in the same hotel as you, room two twenty-four.  If you need me for anything at all, you call me.  Give me a piece of paper and I’ll write my cell phone number down as well.”

After jotting down his number and handing it to Kayla, he called out to Kyle, “hope you feel better, Kyle.”

“Me, too!”

“Bye, Kelly.  Kayla.  Pleasure meeting you all.  I just wish it had been under better circumstances, say, a coconut falling on your head?  We could have at least drunk the milk from it,” he smiled, waving as he left their room.

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Nanette, Florida

He was starving, yet apprehensive about leaving the safety of his hotel room.  Paranoia was getting the best of him, especially since he’d realized that his watch was missing.  There was still a possibility that he’d left it at home, and he would search for it when he finally went there.  For the moment, he could only focus on his extreme hunger and he needed to remedy that problem.  If he saw any cops on the road while out and about, he’d probably be so nervous that he’d make a stupid driving error and end up getting pulled over and once they ran his name and realized who he was, he’d be hauled off to the hoosegow!

There was a convenience store next door, but he didn’t feel like eating a hot dog that had probably been on the rotisserie all day, or nachos with cheese that was so thick it could be used as paste. 

He would simply have to take his chances because he couldn’t stand the growling of his stomach much longer.  There was a burger joint not far away.  He’d drive slowly and carefully so as not to draw attention to himself. 

After pulling on a tee-shirt and donning a baseball cap that he’d kept stored in his trunk for trips to the gym, he took the car keys from the table and headed out the door.

Back in the hotel room with a sack full of food, he breathed a sigh of relief, tossed the cap and keys onto the table, and sat down on the side of the bed.

With the remote control, he flipped on the television to the local news channel and turned up the volume when he heard the weather man discussing an Atlantic storm that was expected to develop into a hurricane within the next several hours, and the current prediction path showed it heading in the direction where Kayla and the kids were.  If that location turned out to be the point of impact, then there would be no doubt that it would also affect Nanette and all of the other surrounding areas.

He wondered if Kayla was aware of the storm, or if she was enjoying herself at the beach too much to watch the news or listen to weather reports.  She was a fanatic about tracking hurricanes and kept a large tracking map on the wall of the den.  Every time a new forecast was released, she’d go to her map and make the changes, always convinced that no matter what the professional meteorologists said, the storm would end up hitting the east coast, then Nanette.  It never did but that didn’t stop her from mapping it.  From the moment hurricane season started until it ended, he could count on Kayla to be able to deliver full details about every aspect of the storm.

If she was aware of what was now a tropical storm, she hadn’t called him to let him know about it, which was unusual.  Maybe it’s because she was more than a little sore at him for not joining her and the kids at the beach.  He really should call her because even though he’d been called out of town before on business deals, never had it been a spur of the moment trip nor had he ever been gone for more than a day.   Perhaps he’d surprise them by showing up at their door.  Or maybe not.  Home sounded better.  It was quiet and private and exactly what he needed.  He’d never much cared for the beach anyway.  He’d only agreed to go because it’s what Kayla had wanted.  Might as well let her and the kids enjoy their vacation without him because the chances were, in his current state of mind, he’d ruin their good time.

When the news anchor turned to a different story, it was one that captured Clint’s attention.  He stopped chewing and listened as the anchorman talked about the murder of a young woman at the Chalfont Hotel, urging anyone with any information to contact Detective Zavier Crenshaw of the Nanette Police Department.  The suspect was still at large, which meant that they had zero evidence against him.  That was good news.  It meant that it was okay for him to go home without worrying about whether the authorities would be there waiting on him when he arrived.  But he still didn’t want to go to the beach.  Perhaps staying home would be the smart thing to do.  He could use his time off to put up the storm shutters on the windows and secure lawn and patio furniture – to be on the safe side, and to please Kayla.  Of course, there was always the possibility that the hurricane would turn back out to sea and pose no threat at all to land, but it sounded like a good excuse to give Kayla when he called her.  She might even appreciate his gesture.

He finished off his burgers while watching the news, subconsciously making a list of things he needed to do around the house to prepare for the oncoming storm.

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“I finished going through all of the hotel surveillance tapes.”  Crenshaw looked up from the paperwork on his desk to see Donovan standing in the doorway.

“And?”

“I’ve got a few clips set up that I think you need to see.”

“Meet you there in five.”  He was waiting on a return phone call from the only jeweler in town that might have sold the watch found at the crime scene to ascertain whether the jeweler had time to see him and examine the watch.  If it weren’t sold there, perhaps the jeweler could point him in the direction of who might have.  Not wanting to miss the call, he advised his secretary to come and get him from the surveillance room should the call come in while he was away from his desk.

Donovan sat before a bank of monitors, each showing a different angle of the hotel hallway on the floor where Miss Newbern’s room was located.

“What have we got?” Crenshaw asked, taking a seat beside Donovan.

“This first one here,” he said, pointing to the screen showing the hallway directly outside room five oh four.  “Shows no one coming or going into that room around the time of the murder.”

“Maybe he knew where the cameras were and how to avoid them.”

“It’s possible, especially if he’s been there more than once.”

“What else?”

“This is from the area where the stairwell exit is.  Watch this,” he said, pressing play on the recorder.  A man could be seen coming into view and opening the door, but his back was to the camera.

“Can’t see his face,” Crenshaw stated.  “Doesn’t give us much to go on, other than the fact that he’s wearing a suit.  Could be anybody that was staying on that floor on their way out to a business meeting.”

“True,” Donovan offered, zooming in on the still shot.  “But he’s the only person that shows up on camera around the time of the murder.  And why use the stairwell instead of the elevator?”

“To avoid being identified is my best guess,” Crenshaw said, smoothing down his moustache.

“I’d be willing to bet he’s our suspect, which is why I saved the best clip for last,” Donovan said, activating the third screen.  “Look closely.”

Crenshaw leaned in to get a closer view.  “What am I looking at?”

“You didn’t see it?”

“See what?”

“I’ll slow it down this time.  Pay close attention to the room directly across from the stairwell door.”

Crenshaw slapped his hand down on the top of the desk.  “Well, now, how do you like them apples?  And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts our suspect either didn’t see or was in too big of a hurry to get away to notice.”

Donovan nodded in agreement.

The hotel room door in the screen shot was slightly ajar, revealing a figure standing in the doorway, and whoever that person was most likely got a close-up view of the man exiting via the stairs.

“Can you zoom in on that?”

“I did, but it’s too fuzzy to make it out.”

“Do it anyway and let me have a go at it.”

Donovan magnified the photo of the door as close as the camera would allow.

“What room number is that?”

“Five seventeen, according to the floor plan.”

“Guess it’s time for me to revisit the front desk clerk and find out who is, or was, staying in that room.  That person may very well be the one who can give us a positive identification.  Can you print me a copy of that?”

“Sure thing.”

“Bring it to my office when you get it.  I’m waiting on an important phone call.  Good work, Donovan,” Crenshaw said as he exited the room.

Like what you’ve read so far and would like to read the rest of the book? Purchases can be made at the below links.

E-Book version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07X532Y5R

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1689033916

gnp

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