When Detective Michael Dalton is called to investigate a floater at Little Basin in Islamorada, Florida, he finds a man with a bullet in his head. Dalton is a veteran homicide cop but suddenly he's hitting roadblocks. Someone wants to torpedo the investigation. As the body count rises, Dalton suspects his saboteur is involved in the murders.
Trusting no one local, Dalton calls on shady freelance investigator Sam Mackenzie for help. He brings a computer expert on board and their efforts uncover a complicated web of deceit.
With each step forward, Dalton knows he must get the killer before the killer gets him.
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The body lay face down in the reeds near the shore of Little Basin. A uniformed deputy stood a few feet away wiping perspiration from the back of his neck, the Islamorada sun already sizzling before 9:00 a.m. An iguana scampered through the scrub, sending the deputy backward as if jolted by electrical shock.
Detective Dalton approached as a second deputy stretched crime scene tape around the area.
"Hey, hey," the deputy said, "you can't come over here."
"Monroe County Sheriff." Dalton held up his badge and the man stepped over for a look.
"So, you're the new detective. Michael Dalton. I heard about you."
"You get a look at the body?"
The deputy's nametag read Ted Colson. He nodded. "I think it's a gunshot wound to the head. We didn't touch anything. Crime scene guys will be here soon."
"Any footprints, other than your friend's over there fouling the scene?"
The deputy frowned and turned to his partner. "Hey Jim, get out of there. Make sure you step on solid ground."
"A fisherman on a boat found him this morning," Colson said. "Looks like he hasn't been here long. The wildlife hasn't bothered him much."
Dalton took out his phone and zoomed in with the camera. He could see congealed blood on the side of the man's head. Longish blond hair, going to gray. Slender with knobby elbows. His T-shirt and jeans were dark, maybe black. Some sort of image on the back of his shirt. No way to guess at his age. He snapped a photo. "You have the name of the fisherman who found him?"
"Hold on. I'll get it," Colson said. He used the radio clipped to his shirt and called the station.
The name came back, along with an address, and Dalton jotted the information in a pocket notebook.
"He say why he couldn't hang around until you got here?" Dalton asked.
"The 911 operator said he had to go to work. He's a car salesman."
Crime scene investigators, a man and a woman, arrived with the medical examiner. Dalton introduced himself, his eyes lingering a few seconds longer on the woman. Her name was Robin Marlowe, and she gave him a smile.
The crew took several photos of the surrounding area. Deputy Jim told them where he had stepped, leaving an unintended trail.
"I don't see any other shoe prints here," the woman said. "The victim must've gone in the water somewhere else."
The medical examiner stepped closer. "Okay, get him out of there."
Within a few minutes, they had the man on top of a body bag. He looked about forty, his eyes wide as if expecting a surprise. Bullet hole on the forehead, left side. Dalton snapped another photo. The shirt had Key West stenciled across the front. Probably one of many thousands sold in the gift shops in the Keys.
Lifting the man's head, the ME examined the bullet wound. "Hard to peg the caliber of the weapon. I'll need to see the bullet." He checked for a wallet and found none. No keys either, or a phone. Just a couple of coins. After he ascertained water and body temp they zipped the bag and carried it through the brush to a van.
Dalton went to the office to complete his new employee paperwork. Starting work that morning, he'd arrived early and was getting set up when the commander, Lieutenant Cobb, assigned him the case. After making notes about the homicide in his notebook, he dragged the stack of employment forms in front of him.
"You the new guy?" A man said from a few feet away. Dalton hadn't heard him come in. He looked about thirty or so, dressed in khakis and a pullover shirt with a star on it. Maybe an inch or so shorter than Dalton's six-two and musclebound. He sported a crew cut, and beads of perspiration dotted his forehead and neck, as if he'd just come from the gym.
Dalton stood and introduced himself. "Michael Dalton. Just started today."
"Steve Chase." He didn't offer his hand, but raised an eyebrow. "I heard you got the homicide called in this morning."
"Yeah, I did. Just got back from the scene. Looked like the guy took a round to the head."
Chase smirked. "Wonder why you got the case instead of me. I been here five years."
"You'd have to ask the lieutenant about that."
"Yeah, I'll do that." Chase turned and headed toward Cobb's office.
Dalton went back to his forms. The other detective came back a few minutes later, his face red, and went to his desk in the cubicle across the office. He sat there for a few minutes before stepping back over.
"He said you closed a lot of homicides in your previous job. Some kind of hotshot."
Dalton felt his pulse drum up in his ears.
"He told me to assist you if you need help," Chase continued. "I guess that means I get you coffee and do your reports."
Raising an eyebrow, Dalton said, "I do my own reports, but you're welcome to help on the case."
"Oh yeah? Think I'll pass." He stood there for a couple of beats. "If you were so good where you came from, why'd you leave?"
Dalton stared. "None of your business, Detective."
Chase turned and headed toward his desk.
Before he got out of earshot, Dalton said, "One cream, no sugar."
The detective spun and said, "What?" "That's how I take my coffee."
Chase gave him a scowl, his face red, and stomped away.
Dalton finished his forms, turned them in, and went in to see the Medical Examiner. The body lay on the table, the ME studying the man's ankles. He glanced up. "Detective Dalton, it'll be a while before I can tell you anything."
"Sure, I just wanted to take a better look."
The ankles of the deceased had marks on them, maybe from ligatures. And there were cuts on his fingers.
"What do you think caused those marks?" Dalton asked, pointing to the victim's ankles.
"It appears that something was used to tie him up. Something that pressed into his skin, but didn't cut. Like cord or wire."
"I noticed the cuts on his fingers, too. Maybe the wire was hooked up to an anchor, and he cut his hands trying to get out of it."
Shrugging, the ME said, "That's possible, I suppose. It would mean he was still alive when he went in the bay. I'll check his lungs for seawater."
Dalton thanked him and left. On his way out, he spotted the female CSI in the break room getting coffee. Robin Marlowe. He stepped inside.
"You have a minute?" Dalton asked.
She stepped over to a table. "Sure, have a seat."
He poured himself a cup and joined her.
"You're Dalton, right?"
"Yes. My friends call me Mick. And I remember you're Robin." Robin. Beautiful eyes and smile, could've been a model. How did the sheriff's office lure her?
"Okay, Mick it is. You finding your way around?"
He shrugged. "No problem there."
She grinned. "I saw Steve Chase giving you a hard time earlier."
The way she mentioned it, he wondered if there might be a relationship. "I might feel the same way if I was in his situation. You been here long?"
"Almost a year. I was with the Miami PD before that. More expensive down here, but it's nicer. How about you?"
"Chicago Homicide. Like you said, it's nicer down here." After a beat, he said, "You learn anything about that body yet?"
"Not really. I ran his prints, but didn't get a match on the Florida database. I put in a search request on AFIS. I should hear back from the Feds pretty soon."
Dalton thanked her, went to his car, and called the man who had reported the body. Randy Lloyd answered and said he could spare a few minutes if the detective wanted to come by the dealership where he worked.
* * *
"Did you know the man in the water?" Dalton asked Lloyd. They sat in the salesman's tiny office with a picture window on the outside wall.
Lloyd hesitated for a beat. "I don't think so. I got close enough to see that he was dead and called 911, but I couldn't see his face."
The detective pulled out his phone and showed him the photo of the victim.
Shaking his head, Lloyd said, "Doesn't look familiar to me."
Dalton stared for a moment. "What kind of fish do you catch around here?"
"You a transplant?"
"I catch snapper, grouper, whatever bites. They're all good to eat."
Dalton took his time, scanned over the lack of activity outside the window. "You get any fish this morning?"
Lloyd chuckled, as if to say Nice try. "Yeah, I got a cooler full. You can come by my house and take a look if you want. I was on my way back to the marina when I spotted the body. That was about eight o'clock. I had to be at work at nine, and I told all that to the 911 lady."
The detective didn't think there was anything else to be learned from the salesman. He got the name of the marina where Lloyd kept his boat and left.
CSI Robin called as Dalton pulled out of the car dealership. "I got a hit on the database. The victim is Carl Myron. He was a guest in a Georgia prison until eight months ago for burglary."
"You have an address?"
She told him where Myron had lived when he'd gotten his Florida auto license. He thanked her, hung up, and arrived at the place on the fringe of Islamorada a few minutes later. The house sat at the end of a dead-end street near a marsh. Thousands of peeled gray paint flakes outlined the sinking foundation. Probably a rental. An old sedan sat in the dirt driveway. Dalton rapped on the door and got no answer.
He called Robin back. "See if you can find out the owner and get him over here." Waiting in the car with the air running, his phone chirped a few minutes later. Robin said the landlord lived next door and would be there right away.
An older woman dressed in baggy shorts and a tee shirt ambled up. Dalton shut the car off and got out.
"What's this about?" the woman asked, dropping a cigarette to the ground and grinding it out with the toe of her flip flop. She had a couple of teeth missing in front, and her words whistled when she spoke.
Dalton showed her his badge. "The guy who lived here has been murdered. I need to take a look inside."
"Aw, man, he owed me back rent. Kept putting me off. I guess I won't ever get it now."
Got that right, Dalton thought. She opened the door, said she had things to do, and left.
Stretching on vinyl gloves, he pushed inside. A threadbare sofa sat in the middle of the room next to a lamp stand. He opened the one drawer on the stand and found magazines, utility bills, charge receipts, and a couple of mobile phone bills. Myron's name appeared on the bills and receipts. The tile floor was cracked and dirty. One spot had a faint stain on it, as if someone had made a half-hearted attempt to scrub something away. Maybe blood.
Moving to the first of two bedrooms, he found more papers on the floor, along with several articles of clothing. The clothes pockets were empty. Not much of significance in the papers, except for a pay stub from Pound Construction Company. He noted the name and left it. The bed looked as if it hadn't been made in a long time. Dirty sheets and pillow cases. A couple of shirts and a pair of jeans hung in the closet. Nothing in the pockets. The second bedroom was neater, having only a bed with no covers and a couple of bags of clothes from Goodwill atop the mattress.
He called Robin back and asked her to come over and go through the place. They arrived a half-hour later and went inside with their equipment. Dalton's phone chirped. Lt. Cobb. What did he want?
"I need to talk to you right away," his supervisor said. "In person."
* * *
Cobb waved him to his office when he entered the work area. He went in and took a seat in the chair opposite the lieutenant's desk.
"I got some news on you I didn't expect," Cobb said, a frown on his face.
"Oh, yeah, what's that?"
The man glanced at his computer screen. "I'm looking at a story here on Chicago news that says you shot a Cook County Commissioner. Why didn't you mention that before?"
Dalton shrugged. "It was police business. I didn't think it was important."
Cobb's eyes narrowed. "The article says there're lots of unanswered questions, and the police haven't cooperated."
"Maybe you should talk to the police chief."
"I called him, and he said the records are sealed."
"Okay, that's why I didn't say anything."
"You're not making this any easier. I need to know what happened."
Shrugging, Dalton said, "I got cleared, and that's all I can say. If that isn't good enough, do what you have to do."
The lieutenant stared for a moment, then shook his head. "Okay, that's all for now."
He got up and walked out, passing Steve Chase on his way to his desk.
The muscle head grinned. "Everything okay?"
So, he had found the story and told the lieutenant about it.
Fixing him with a smirk, Dalton said, "Nice going, rookie. I'll have to think about how to repay you."
Chase's eyes widened as the grin leaked away.CHAPTER 2
When Dalton got to his desk, he found an email from Robin with the victim's driver's license photo attached. After downloading it to his phone, he noticed a voicemail light blinking on his desk phone. The M.E., saying to stop by.
The nameplate next to the open door read Dr. Everett Lake, M.D., Medical Examiner. The occupant sat behind his desk, working at the keyboard. Dalton tapped on the jamb.
"Ah, come in. Just about to send you a message."
He entered and took a seat.
"I finished the autopsy. The bullet was a soft-nosed 9mm, but it didn't kill him. Hit his skull at an angle and caused some damage, but didn't penetrate the brain. The trajectory of the bullet indicated that the shooter fired from about the same height as the victims head, and was probably facing him. As you suspected, he was alive when he went overboard and had water in his lungs. Based on the body and water temps, and the condition of the tissues, I put the time of death between 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. yesterday."
"That recently, huh?"
"Yes, there was little deterioration." While Dalton took notes, Lake continued. "The tears in the skin of the fingers could have been made by the sharp ends of wire bindings. They were superficial, and a broken piece of wire was stuck in the hem of his jeans. So, maybe you were right about him undoing himself from some kind of weight."
"Can I see the wire?"
"Sure, step back here."
They went into the autopsy room and Lake picked up a plastic evidence bag with the wire inside. It would measure about two inches. Maybe 16 gauge. Easily twisted, and breakable if bent back and forth a few times. Dalton laid a dime next to it and snapped a photo with his phone. He thanked the ME and headed out.
The victim, maybe thought to be dead by the shooter, probably regained consciousness when he hit the water. He'd worked at his bindings and got them undone, but not in time to keep from drowning. Just thinking about it, Dalton drew a couple of deep breaths.
* * *
The marina where the 911 caller said he kept his boat was about a mile from where the body ended up. The dock master sat at a computer behind the counter in the office. His nameplate read Mark.
"Can I help you?" Mark asked, looking up from the screen.
"Sheriff's office." Dalton badged him and asked if he could confirm the timeline of car salesman Randy Lloyd.
"Sure, I was here when he left and returned. He takes his boat out a couple mornings a week. Heads out around 6:00 and comes back by 8:00 or so, usually with a bunch of fish. Offered me three or four pounds of them last week."
Given the distance from where the body was found, this marina could have been the place where the murderer had left from. Dalton showed Mark the license photo. "You know this man?"
The dock master studied the image. "Yeah, he maintains one of the boats for the owner. Something happen to him?"
"He's dead. Lloyd found him floating down the coast from here. You seen him lately?"
Mark frowned. "Dead, huh? That's too bad. He was here yesterday. Left in the boat an hour or so before dark, said he needed to check out the engine. The owner, Joe Pound, wasn't with him, but I didn't think anything about it. I'm not usually here that late, but I had to stay and help my night guy unload some supplies."
Pound was the name of the construction company that employed Myron, according to the pay stub in Myron's rented house.
Dalton gazed out over the marina. "Is the boat out there now?"
The dock master glanced at his security monitors. "No, it isn't. Guess it didn't come back in."
"Do you know how he got here?" Dalton asked, recalling the clunker parked at Myron's rented house.
"Couldn't say. He just passed by and told me he was taking the boat."
"You have any idea who might have wanted him dead?"
The man's eyes grew large. "Me? No, I didn't even know him except when he came in here."
Dalton got the boat registration number and left. In the car he searched his phone for Joe Pound, and found a home address and one for his construction company.
* * *
Pound lived a few blocks off US-1 on what appeared to be about an acre of land bordering Florida Bay. A boat dock was visible from the street. Dalton wondered if Pound's boat was tied up there. The house, a one-story stucco, spanned about half of the property with a wrought iron fence out front. A squawk box stood next to a drive-through gate.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dead Man's Take"
Copyright © 2018 James Paul Carr.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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