By Sherry Morris
I hate discovering dead bodies.
I shook my head and slammed on the brakes. While leaping out of the golf cart onto the smooth Cocoa Beach sand, I wiggled my fingers into a pair of nitrile gloves. A shiver of fear convulsed up my spine as a fishy dead-human stench wafted through the dawn. I tiptoed over to a bloated young black man face up in a drenched United States Navy uniform, matted with sand.
“Sir, do you need some assistance?” Please roll over and puke or something. “Hey, buddy, you okay?” Nothing. I gave him a little nudge in the ribs with my sneaker. He felt squishy. I shuddered.
The June sun rose pink on the horizon. Red sky was good luck for sailors or something like that. Not for this guy.
This is so not the way I want to begin my last shift before vacation.
I loosened his tie, unfastened a button and placed two of my fingers on his carotid artery. No pulse. He stared past me, big brown eyes with long eyelashes frozen in a peaceful expression. No, not peaceful. The curl of his lips looked as though he had been up to something mischievous. I lowered my face and put my ear to his nose to listen for breathing as I studied his chest. I didn’t see or feel respirations. Up close he smelled like chlorine bleach.
I wasn’t a coroner but it was obvious to me that this guy had been dead for quite some time. I struggled with the gritty wet material, unbuttoning the rest of his shirt exposing his hairy chest and a gold Star of David necklace. I didn’t find the dog tags I was searching for. “Rest in peace, unknown sailor.” I whispered a little prayer for him and pulled off the gloves as I hurried back to the vehicle. After slipping them into the black plastic trash bag, I exhaled, flipped open my blue cell phone and punched nine on speed dial. I glanced at my simulated diamond Tinker Bell watch and wiggled my wrist to make the pixie dust dance under the crystal.
“Cocoa Beach Department of Public Works. What is your complaint?” asked Igor the grouchy dispatcher.
“It’s Sandra Faire. I’ve found a military floater washed up in front of the Copacabana. He’s dead.”
Within ten minutes I was surrounded by three hotel security guys in gray trousers and blue blazers; Andres, the perpetually hung-over lifeguard; Eagle, the hotshot volunteer beach patrolman who always startled the sunbathers tearing around the sand in his ATV; Bicep Betty in the yellow polka dot bikini and matching support hose; six uniformed City of Cocoa Beach cops. And Lieutenant Hottie Hernandez, homicide.
Okay so his first name was William, and not that he was my type…anymore…but my temperature sure soared whenever he met my gaze. I needed to figure out how to reroute those errant hormones. I was through with hot uber good-looking alpha males. Especially this one. No man of mine answered his cell phone during a romantic interlude. Just because there was a category five hurricane looming was no excuse for him to run off to work and leave me panting on the kitchen table.
Well, yeah, we had some other issues. William and I weren’t compatible except when we were making out. His kisses sent me to nirvana. Perhaps it’s just as well the hurricane interrupted us. I had nothing to regret.
We didn’t have anything in common. I was eighteen the first time he kissed me. And the last time. Now I’m twenty-three and he would be thirty soon. I didn’t like cops. They were paranoid, manipulative drama kings. Well, most of the ones in my family tree were.
Hottie was dressed in a black tee shirt, way too tight. I could see the outline of his chiseled abs and the ripple of his deltoids. A badge on a chain hung around his neck, a service weapon and handcuffs tucked into the rear of his deliciously form fitting Levis.
The lieutenant swaggered down and looked over the deceased from a distance as the tide lapped the sailor’s mucky dress shoes. He paced off an area for the uniforms to seal the death investigation scene. Hotel security assisted, offering hot pink umbrellas to shove into the sand to wrap the yellow police tape around.
The lieutenant stopped and squatted before approaching the body, shining his flashlight on the sand with a slow sweeping motion. He led the crime scene photographer to the areas he deemed important. After the initial images were shot, forensics arrived.
The CSI team deployed different colored lights and donned goggles. The photographer changed out the filters on his camera to match the colors the forensic team used.
The lieutenant had a lengthy conversation with the lifeguard then shook his head, scribbled on a notepad, ducked under the police tape and made a beeline for me.
I leaned casually against the umbrella rental stand, twisting an errant strand of pale hair around my finger, determined not to let his deep testosterone voice move me.
He looked down and rubbed his clean shaven chin. His eyes lingered on the finer parts of my anatomy as his gaze climbed to my face and he asked me, “You discover this one?”
I sucked in a deep breath trying not to remember his erotic whispers.
“Did you discover the body?” He repeated.
“Anyone in the area at the time?”
I looked into his smoldering brown eyes and shook my head.
“How long ago?”
I checked Tinker Bell. “About forty-five minutes now. I called in the find at six-thirteen.”
“Did you notice any footprints around the body before you approached it?” He cocked his head to one side and gave my sneakers the once over.
I kicked up one foot so he could see my treads. “Sorry, I forgot to look…”
He frowned and gave me that you’ve disappointed me again look. “Did you disturb anything?”
“I unbuttoned him with gloves on. He was all buttoned up to his chin. I felt his carotid artery. I couldn’t find his dog tags. Oh…and I kicked him in the ribs.”
“Left or right side?”
He scribbled in his note pad. “Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary on the beach in the last twenty-four hours?”
I shook my head. This was why I hated discovering dead bodies. It forced me to collide with the most inappropriate man for me in the whole darned universe. I didn’t want things to get stirred up again. I couldn’t get things stirred up again. On account of what I did during the hurricane.
“Do you know him from anywhere?” he asked.
I shook again, exaggeratedly slow with a wide-eyed expression.
“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll be in touch.” And with that formal tone, he strutted over to the hotel security guards kibitzing near my golf cart.
I smoothed my bright white Department of Public Works tee shirt down over my red uniform shorts as I passed them. They were discussing the evangelical Christian service held last night in the Copacabana ballroom. Pastor Eugene Donaldson was a modern thinking, feel-good preacher very popular with the locals and tourists alike. He had led prayer breakfasts at the White House during both Slick Willie’s and Dub-yah’s terms.
I chimed in, “The sailor was Jewish. There is a Star of David around his neck. He wouldn’t have attended.”
William rolled his eyes and glared at me.
I hated when he did that. Just because I wasn’t a cop didn’t mean I couldn’t solve crimes…or sort out which leads were dead ends.
I climbed back into the golf cart and waved to Andres, the lifeguard. He smiled and waved back. I guess the guy was good looking if you liked suntanned guitar playing Euro-blonds without muscles. I didn’t. I didn’t like his sing-song German accent either. And I especially didn’t like guitar players anymore…because of Hurricane Alfredo.
I went on about my job, puttering down the beach, stopping to pick up a piece of petrified palm trunk, a glass grape juice bottle and a deflated football. I plucked them with a mechanical snatcher device. I don’t know if it has an official name but I called mine Monkey. After two years at this job I was pretty efficient. I could do it all from the driver’s seat. Snatch it and drop it into the trash bag and go along my jolly way.
The theme to “The Pink Panther” jazzed from my shorts. I stopped and dug my phone out. My mother’s picture smiled on the caller I.D. I inhaled and answered. “Hi, Mom.”
“Sandra, are you still intending to climb aboard that train of fools?”
“They aren’t fools, Mom. They’re very nice people.”
She sobbed, “You’re being kidnapped by that cult and I’ll never see my baby again.” She launched into one of her motherly speeches about how everything I do is inappropriate.
Mom was so disappointed in me. My four brothers were cops working under my dad, the police commissioner. But I toiled as a sanitation engineer and public relations specialist for the Department of Public Works. Translation: I picked up the trash left on the beach and told the tourists where the public restrooms were located. At least the uniform was cute.
What Mom didn’t know was by day I collected garbage but by night I was an infamous cozy mystery author. I wrote under the pen name of Dixie London. And I didn’t have a thing published. I had written almost twelve books…well, the first three or four chapters of twelve different books. Okay, so I was more like an infamous cozy mystery author wannabee. But I had fun. I belonged to the Global Order of Scribes pronounced “goose” for short. The international convention was transpiring in Morocco this week.
Rosemary Donaldson, wife of televangelist Eugene Donaldson, was the president of our local chapter. I couldn’t stand her, the snobby fakey flake. She arranged to have a little writers conference of sorts aboard three private railcars hooked onto the back of her husband’s crusade train, which was hooked onto the back of a regular North American Passenger Railroad train.
Of course I could set my feelings for her aside and grace the authors with my presence long enough for a two week free vacation aboard the private rail cars. The Donaldsons’ were wealthy so I knew this would be a first class to-do. The Agatha Christie birthday shindigs she hosted at her mansion were always loaded with fat shrimp, alligator tar-tar and a white chocolate fountain. Maids and cabbage roses everywhere you turned in her gaudy museum. Even the ceilings were painted with rose murals. Last time I tucked two pieces of her toilet tissue into my pocket to show Mom. It was printed in full color, embossed and scented with roses. Mom wasn’t impressed. She told me it would cause bladder infections.
“Mom—Mom—Mom!” I finally got her to stop ranting. “I told you it’s not a cult. I’m not going as one of the devout followers of Pastor Donaldson. Rosemary invited our mystery readers’ book club to tag along. We’ll be segregated from the fanatics. We have our own private cars and we’ll be reading and discussing books…and knitting.”
Mom loved knitting so I just threw that in.
“Uh-huh. A couple of the ladies are involved in the knit-a-scarf-for-a-serviceman charity. We’ll be knitting up a storm for those brave Americans.” I was great at making things up.
“Oh, well why didn’t you tell me? What time do we leave? I’ll need to finish the laundry…”
“No!” I cleared my throat. “No, Mom. You can’t go. The train is already filled to capacity. You needed to reserve a compartment ahead of time.”
“Nonsense. I’ll bunk-in with you.”
“No can do. I have a roommate. Dina.”
“Oh…Dina. How is she? Is her Aunt Beverly recuperating as well as can be expected?”
Dina Devers was the only friend I had who Mom approved of.
“Dina and Aunt Beverly are doing just fine. I’ll let her know you asked about them. I gotta go, Mom. Got to finish up by noon today.”
“Come see me before you leave.”
Yeah, right. So you can jump in the backseat and stow away. “I’ll try. Gotta run. Bye.” I closed my phone and stuffed it back inside my pocket.
I drove along the beach. Two guys stood knee deep in the surf, fishing. An early jogger trotted by. I smacked my forehead and took my foot off the gas. If Lieutenant Hottie had any follow-up questions for me I wouldn’t be available. I should have told him I’d be leaving on the GOOS Express this afternoon. Could this be a dilemma? He didn’t tell me not to leave town or anything. And I just reported the body. I wasn’t technically a witness…or suspect. And besides, it was a routine death investigation. I was confident the autopsy would show he had drowned. Poor guy. He had looked so young and fun loving. I resolved to live like every day was my last and chase my fondest dreams.
The sailor probably was on shore leave, rented a speed boat with his buddies, got drunk and fell overboard. Yeah, that’s it. He seemed really happy by the smirk frozen on his face. I ought to open a detective agency. And I could hire my writing pals as operatives. An all woman force. Nobody would suspect us of spying on them. We’d make a killing. I giggled at my pun.
I peeked at Tinker Bell, shook up her pixie dust, looped around and did a U-turn. It was time to stop by the dumpster and then check-in with Igor.
A crowd of tourists had gathered at the crime scene as the police carted off the corpse. I sighed. Great, they were noshing donuts and drinking Starbucks. More trash for me to collect later on.
The lieutenant stood down along the shoreline running his fingers through his short dark hair. Perhaps I should stop off and let him know I’d be leaving town. I slowed down and threw my hand up. He didn’t notice me so I kept going. I decided to call him from the train.
Part of me was relieved not to have to talk to him face-to-face. If Lieutenant Hottie were to make a late night visit to my little studio apartment…to discuss the case, I wouldn’t be home to answer the door…wearing something entirely inappropriate.