“I’m Jake Bass,” I said, stopping in front of the young policeman. “Chief Gallagher is expecting me.”
“Sure, Detective Bass, go on down.” He was pointing toward the body.
The chief’s call to tell me about Commissioner Dwyer’s death was a shock. He had been taking his daily swim just off the beach when he was run over. The witnesses said it looked as if the jet skier drove right for the commissioner and then, after hitting him, headed for deep water. The Coast Guard and the marine police were looking for him.
I’d begin the investigation by looking into any connection between the board members and Dwyer on any zoning issues. Maybe some disaffected petitioner was seeking revenge for a decision he didn’t agree with. Many on the key had recently been upset about a jet ski rental business at the Hilton, and Dwyer had been vocal in his support of the operator’s right to do business.
I walked down the beach to the little knot of men standing off to the side of the body. I recognized the Sheriffs of both Sarasota and Manatee Counties and Chief Joe Gallagher. The other three men were strangers to me, but they were all wearing uniforms identifying them as Sarasota County deputies. Joe introduced me around and told the sheriffs that I would be his lead detective on this case and the murders of the board members.
“Do you think they’re related?” asked the Sarasota sheriff.
“Oh, yeah,” said Joe.
“I agree,” said the Manatee sheriff. “What about you Jake?”
“Seems reasonable,” I said. “I’ll start digging into files to see if there’s a connection to be made.”
“Why don’t you take over the whole investigation?” asked the Manatee sheriff, looking at the Sarasota sheriff.
“That makes sense. We’re already investigating the murders at town hall,” said the Sarasota sheriff.
The jurisdictional issues had been resolved.
A Longboat Key police officer walked up to the group. “Gentlemen,” he said, nodding his head in greeting, “I don’t know what to make of these witness statements. They’re all over the map. Some of them are telling me that an elderly lady in a scarf was driving the jet ski and others are saying it was a man wearing an Arab headdress, a kafiyeh. There’s a guy over there saying that terrorists are invading the island.”
“Is that Charley Goins?” asked the chief.
The officer consulted his notes, looked a little surprised, and nodded his head. “Yes.”
“I don’t think it was an old lady, and I doubt it was a terrorist. Any other witnesses?” asked the chief.
“A man named Logan Hamilton was having a drink in the hotel bar and had stepped out for a cigarette. Said it was all a blur to him. Couldn’t really help us.”
“It’s getting late,” said the chief. “Let’s bag the body and clean up the beach. We’ll meet in my office at eight o’clock in the morning.
Out on the horizon the sun dipped itself into the Gulf. Dark was fast approaching, and I needed a beer. I got into my car and headed for Biggun’s near the north end of the key.
One could actually drive down Gulf of Mexico Drive at the speed limit of forty-five miles per hour. The snowbirds were back in the north, and the locals knew better than to drive much below the limit. A man who had been born on our island once told me that he wanted revenge, and when he got old he was going to move to Michigan and drive slow. The idea had a certain appeal.
As I walked into Biggun’s I was accosted by Charley Goins. He was a thin man with an almost bald crown, only a few hairs combed over it. The fringe was graying. His small mustache was completely gray and framed a sour looking mouth with lips continually pursed. He had a receding understated chin with a scar running into the cleft that on another man might have been considered sexy. He stood five foot five in his elevator shoes.
“Jake,” he said, “I guess you heard I was able to identify the terrorist.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He was wearing a kafiyeh. Had to have been a terrorist.”
“Some people thought it was a little old lady wearing a scarf.”
“No way. The guy on the jet ski was a terrorist. I’ve heard they’re mounting fifty caliber machine guns on those things. They’ll be coming for us. Probably set up a rebel camp here on the key and kill us all.”
I left. The beer would have to wait.
The eight o’clock meeting in the chief’s office didn’t add much to what we knew. I drove down to Town Hall to interview the town manager, hoping he would know something that would tie the board members directly to the commissioner.
I was directed by the receptionist to a middle-aged blonde lady with big hair. “I’m Jake Bass, LBKPD,” I said. “I’d like to see the town manager, please.”
“Did you fill out the form?”
“The one you have to fill out in order to get an appointment with the town manager.”
“No, all we need is your name, address, date of birth, telephone and social security numbers, how you voted in the last election and your net worth. I’ll submit it through channels and the town manager will decide whether to see you.”
“You’re out of your mind. Where’s his office?”
“I can’t tell you that. Security, you know.”
“Look, lady, I’m here investigating the death of Commissioner Dwyer, and I want to see the manager. Now!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but if I let you in without the proper forms I’d have to do that for everybody, and pretty soon we couldn’t get anything done around here for listening to citizens. That would never work.”
“Mr. Lockman,” I hollered at the top of my lungs.
“Hush now, Mr. Bass, or I’ll have to call the police.”
“I am the police, you twit. Mr. Lockman!” I screamed.
People were sticking their heads out of doorways, wondering, I guess, at the commotion. “Mr. Lockman!” I screamed as loud as I could. “Get out here!”
A small stooped shouldered man wearing a green eyeshade peered out of an office at the end of the hall. His voice was high pitched, tremulous. “Doris, what’s all the commotion?”
“I’m sorry Manager Lockman. I told this gentleman about the form and all.”
I headed down the hall, ready to throttle the little tyrant who ruled this bureaucratic den of lunatics. My cell phone rang. It was the chief. “Jake, we’ve got another death. Commissioner Humboldt.”
“ It was a hit and run. Splat! Right there in the Publix parking lot.”
“Did anybody get an ID on the vehicle?”
“Yeah, it was a city owned SUV. Big mother, too.”