“It had a city tag.”
“That’ll narrow down the suspects.”
“Not by much. All twelve hundred city employees are provided SUVs.”
“Statistically speaking, we’ll have a hurricane sometime this century, and the town manager wants to be prepared.”
“What about a description of the driver?” I asked.
“Not much. He or she was wearing a Katherine Harris mask.”
“It wasn’t the Congresswoman, I guess.”
“No,” said the chief, “the driver wasn’t as, um, substantial as Katherine.”
I hung up and turned to the Town Manager who was still stewing about my interruption. “Commissioner Humboldt was killed this morning,” I said.
“Oh my,” said Lockman. “No big deal, I guess. We only need five for a quorum. They can still ratify my decisions.”
“I need to see any files you might have that would tie the dead commissioners to the dead zoning board members.”
“You’ll need to fill out a form,” he said.
I lunged for him. He actually squeaked as he scurried into his office. I was right behind him, bellowing, “Give me those files.”
He stopped at his oversized desk and said, “I have a file on the hate mail from this year. It’s in the filing cabinet behind you. Help yourself.”
I turned to face a five drawer lateral filing cabinet. “Which drawer?” I asked.
“All of them.”
“You get that much hate mail in four months?”
“Yeah. We don’t pay any attention to it. We just file ‘em and at the end of the year we shred ‘em all.”
I opened the cabinet and randomly pulled out a letter. I read it. “This isn’t hate mail,” I said. “It’s a citizen asking you why you and the commission are so adamant about putting rock groins on the beach.”
“Well, it’s hateful for anybody to question our judgment.”
“Are all these letters like this?”
“No, a few aren’t signed. Those are in the top drawer.”
There were about twenty-five letters in a file folder that possibly could be considered hate mail. Most were the ramblings of citizens who had had to deal with the building department to get permits to touch up the paint in their condos, but there were five particularly virulent letters threatening to blow up the town leaders. These were signed simply as “The Realtor.” This really wasn’t much of a lead since half the people on the key had real estate licenses, but it was all I had.
“I’ll take these with me,” I said.
He waved me away, giving up on any thoughts of me signing forms.
I drove across the street to the Publix. There was a knot of people standing around the entrance watching the Sarasota County Crime Scene Unit scour the area. The body had been removed, but there was a chalk outline where it had come to rest after the collision. I walked over to the chief.
“Joe,” I said, “got anything else?”
“Yeah. I think we’ve found the SUV that hit the commissioner. I’m heading up there with the CSIs.”
“Where?” I asked.
“O’Sullivan’s. There’s a city owned SUV parked there with a dented front right fender and what looks like blood on the hood.”
We piled into the chief’s car and headed north. O’Sullivan’s was an Irish bar and restaurant overlooking the Gulf at mid-key. The large green shamrock sign in front of the building had one leaf part cut off and was hanging beneath the rest of the sign. It was a curiosity that had developed when the town building official had determined, after the sign had been in place for fifteen years, that it encroached on the town’s right of way. After the sisters who owned the place moved the sign to where the official directed, he determined that it still encroached on the right of way and told the sisters to move it again. They simply cut off the part that was hanging over the right of way and hung it beneath the sign. It was rumored that the building official, who had disappeared from the key shortly afterward, was buried beneath the sign. Nobody ever cared enough to find out.
We parked and approached a Longboat Key cop who was standing next to the SUV. He told us a man had noticed that the vehicle had a dent and blood on it and called the police.
“I need to talk to the witness,” I said. “Where is he?”
“Over there.” The officer was pointing directly at Logan Hamilton. “He was in the restaurant having lunch and stepped outside for a cigarette. Saw the truck and called it in.”
“Your buddy Logan keeps showing up in this investigation,” said the chief.
“It’s a small island, Joe. Doesn’t mean Logan had anything to do with any of this.”
“We don’t have anything else to go on,” he said.
“Maybe we do,” I said. I told him about the letters from “The Realtor.” “I’ve got them in a plastic bag. Maybe forensics can come up with fingerprints or something.”
“I’ll go talk to Logan,” he said. “I’ll have an officer drive you back to your car and you can take the stuff over to the forensics lab in Sarasota. Who knows. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
I drove south, crossing the New Pass bridge, marveling as I always did at the beauty of the inlet, its surface painted in pastel shades of blue and green. Several boats were anchored on the sand bar just seaward of the bridge - people fishing and taking the sun. I was stopped by the red light at Ken Thompson Parkway. Six elderly ladies were dancing in a conga line on the side of the road, a boom box blaring some sort of reggae music. They all wore tee shirts that said “LOSE THE LIGHT.” They were always there, members of the Longboat Key Garden Club who felt that their weekly trips to Shelby Gardens had been unduly interrupted by the Sarasota City Commission’s desire for a light at that busy intersection. The light changed and cars began to move again. The ladies had shifted into a can can, their ancient legs reaching for the sky.
I carefully rounded St. Armand’s Circle, watching for the tourists who took seriously the signs giving pedestrians the right of way in the cross walks. Several Sarasota cop cars were parked at regular intervals around the circle, their only job to call in the paramedics when some misinformed tourist stepped in front of a Mercedes driven by a Longboater. One couldn’t very well arrest a taxpayer for running down some fat guy from Ohio wearing a bathing suit, flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt, so the cops just watched, and called in the accidents.
I had just turned onto John Ringling Boulevard when my cell phone rang. It was the chief. “Got another one. Commissioner Fry just got killed.’
“How?” I asked
“He was lying on the beach when a boulder from that new groin in front of the Islander rolled off and crushed him.”