On the day somebody blew up the planning and zoning board I was floating around Tampa Bay getting a little sun. It had been a long winter, and I was happy to flee the island for a day of doing nothing. I had helped a good friend in a campaign for town commission, and he had lost. The election was over, my friend was relieved not to have won, and I was tired of all the commotion.
My Grady-White was washed and polished, the twin Yamahas oiled and primed for action, and I needed a rest. As I left my dock that morning, I did not forsee that a perfect spring day was about to be spoiled.
I had popped the top of my first Miller Lite when the little radio tuned to the jazz station suddenly jumped to life with the sonorous voice of an announcer telling me that somebody had just blown up some of the good citizens of my hometown of Longboat Key. I wasn’t too worried, because some of them needed blowing up, and I was quite sure that any half intelligent bomber would know who to and who not to blow up.
My cell phone rang. I knew that wasn’t going to be good news, but I answered it anyway.
“Jake,” a familiar voice said, “this is Charlie Goins. Somebody just blew up the Planning and Zoning Board.”
“Not anybody important. We lost two board members, and Town Hall’s a little worse for wear, but we can fix it.”
I finished the beer and popped another one. “Who did it?” I asked.
“We’re thinking terrorists.”
“Come on, Charlie. We don’t have terrorists on Longboat Key.”
“Yeah, but they can sneak in from Bradenton Beach, you know.”
Charlie was a conspiracy nut who believed that nothing happened without planning. There were no accidents and certainly no coincidences. Charlie attended every Town Commission meeting and workshop and never missed a gathering of any of the town boards. He felt it was his sacred duty to make sure that everybody played by the rules. And on Longboat Key, the rules were fluid, to say the least.
“It was probably a gas leak, Charlie.”
“Where are you?”
“Floating around Tampa Bay.”
“You better come on back in. Something big might be starting.”
“Charlie, there are no terrorists on Longboat. I’ll see you at Biggun’s this evening.”
I was a little rattled by the deaths of the two board members. I didn’t always agree with them, but they worked hard and for free. There was always some zoning problem on the island, and there were often hard feelings, but I didn’t think anybody would be killing the board members over a zoning decision. The loss would be felt across the island, but I didn’t know any of them, so it wasn’t a personal loss.
I went back to my beer and my book, but soon gave it up. The sun was high, but still far enough north that it provided only a gentle warmth. A cooling breeze blew out of the north, causing a little chop on the surface of the bay. To the east, I could see the spires of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the sun’s rays reflecting off its golden cables. I cranked the Yamahas and headed for home. Thirty minutes later I was tying up to the dock in front of my condo. As I was washing down the boat, I heard a deep voice behind me say, “Jake, we need to talk.”
It was Joe Galloway, our chief of police. At six feet tall, he was exactly my height and weighed in at about the same 180 pounds. His blonde hair was trimmed short while my dark brown mop was an unruly mess. I needed a haircut. “Hey, Joe. I heard about the mess at Town Hall.”
“Yeah, two dead bodies and a charred commission chamber.”
“Anybody else hurt?”
“No, Jimmy Spieler and Dwayne Goodlow got there early and were by themselves. I think the bomb went off prematurely and only got the two of them.”
“You sure it was a bomb?” I asked.
“Yeah. The Fire Marshall confirmed it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. They were good men. Any idea who did it or why?”
“Nothing yet. Sarasota County will give us all the manpower we need, but I’d like you to help out.”
“Would I have any official capacity?” I asked.
“Yeah. I can swear you in and put you on the payroll. Unfortunately, our budget will only let me pay you a nominal amount.
“A dollar a year.”
“That’s pretty nominal.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Come by the station this afternoon, and I’ll get you some credentials and a badge.”
“Do I get a town owned SUV like all the other employees do?”
“But, what if we have a hurricane?”
“You’ve got a point. I’ll talk to the town manager.”
“When do I get paid?”
“Next May. It’s an annual salary.”
“See you in an hour,” I said, as Joe made his way back up the dock.
I had retired from the Orlando Police Department three years before after twenty-five years of being a cop, the last twenty as a homicide detective. I had helped the Longboat Key Police on a couple of cases in the past. It was a very professional force, but had little experience with major crimes like murder. On the rare occasion that a major crime occurred on the island, either the Sarasota or Manatee County Sheriff’s office would lend a hand in the investigation, depending on which end of the island the crime was committed. There were sometimes jurisdictional issues, with each Sheriff trying to dump the problem into the lap of the other. I wasn’t sure what Joe wanted me to do now, but I suspected it was mostly leg work.
I headed for my condo to take a shower. My neighbor, Matt Royal, was gettting out of the elevator as I headed up. “Going to Biggun’s tonight?” I asked. Biggun’s was a small bar at the north end of the key that was a hangout for the locals.
“Probably,” said Matt. “I’m on my way over to Logan’s now. I guess you heard about the zoning board getting blown up.”
“Yeah,” I said. “We lost a couple of good guys.”
“Well, Logan was there, and he’s a little shook.”
“Was he hurt?”
“No,” said Matt, “he had stepped out for a cigarette when the thing blew.”
“Tell him to come have a drink with us at Biggun’s. It’ll help.”
Logan Hamilton was the friend who had just lost an election. Matt Royal was a retired lawyer and Logan’s best friend. They could be found at Biggun’s at five every evening sitting at the bar cooking up schemes to unsettle the island pooh-bahs. Their biggest success to date was running Logan for election to the town commission.
Half an hour later, as I was stepping from the shower, my phone rang. It was the chief.
“We just lost a Town Commissioner,” he said. “Dead.”
“Who?” I asked.
“He got run down by a jet ski in front of the Hilton.”