With Small Fry’s death, the town manager had lost his quorum. Maybe it was just too much for him. But how does one commit suicide by falling tree?
In less than two days we had lost three town commissioners, two planning and zoning board members and now the town manager. In many towns such a loss would create a leadership vacuum, but that wasn’t a problem for Longboat Key. We were used to a leadership vacuum, and it didn’t much matter whether our leaders were alive or dead. They would accomplish about as much in either state.
I drove back to the Key and to O’Sullivan’s. The Garden Club members at Ken Thompson Parkway were dancing the hootchie-kootchie and waving at the motorists. Sweat and mascara stained their custom tee shirts.
I parked in O’Sullivan’s lot and walked across the street to the beach. “Joe,” I said to the chief, “what happened?”
“According to his secretary, the town manager got a call a little while ago from some lady who told him that she had seen one of the O’Sullivans fooling around in the grove here, and he came down to investigate. He hadn’t been here too long when the tree fell on him. It looks like primer cord was wrapped around the tree and detonated by remote control when the manager was standing under it.”
“Any sign of either of the O’Sullivan sisters?”
“No. they’re on a cruise.”
The town manager was engaged in an ongoing battle with the O’Sullivan sisters, and the sisters were generally winning. The battle had escalated until the manager lost his temper and ordered the public works department to plant a grove of buttonwood trees on city property along the beach in front of the O’Sullivans’ restaurant, effectively blocking the Gulf view of their customers. The trees had not fared well, and there was some thought in the upper reaches of town government that the girls might be poisoning the trees. They weren’t, but the sisters knew how much the idea irked the town manager, so they just let the rumor grow.
“Any witnesses?” I asked.
“One,” said the chief, letting out a sigh of exasperation. “Logan was having his afternoon scotch in the bar and had stepped outside to smoke a cigarette when the tree fell.”
“Forensics called. They said the residue I sent them from the groin was C-4.”
“Okay,” I said. “We have a bomb killing the planning and zoning board members, Commissioner Fry and possibly the town manager, but the other two were run down by vehicles, one a jet ski and the other an SUV. The pattern is different. Are we sure the murders are all connected?”
“I’m not even sure they’re all murders,” said the chief. “The jet ski and the SUV could have been accidents.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “The timing is too close. Somebody’s out to get the town fathers. Do the other commissioners have protection?”
“Yeah, I assigned a cop to each one. The mayor wanted six cops, but she isn’t that worried about a killer. She needed her yard cleaned up and thought she might be able to get a little extra use out of our people.”
“You didn’t let her have them, did you?”
“I gave her six men in police uniforms. Only one is a cop. The other five are unemployed landscape workers. I had a few old uniforms around the station house and gave them to the landscapers. The mayor will never notice the difference.”
“Did the crime lab say anything about finger prints on the letters I left?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. Said they found the town manager’s, his secretary’s, and an unidentified person’s prints. Since all real estate licensees have to have their finger prints taken, the lab is contacting the Florida Real Estate Commission to see if the ones from the letters match any in their files.”
“What’s the turn around time on that?” I asked.
“Don’t know. When I talked to the crime lab they’d been on hold for 45 minutes at FREC. I’ll check back later and let you know.”
The chief was called over to a fallen tree by a man in a fire fighter’s getup. I walked over to talk to Logan. I didn’t think he would be killing off commissioners. He wasn’t unhappy about his loss in the race for an open seat on the town commission, and anyway, he never held a grudge for more than a day. But he sure did keep showing up at crime scenes.
Our conversation was short. Logan didn’t have anything to add, and I had an investigation to run. He had borrowed Ditto’s car while his was in the shop, and he climbed into it and headed north. I called the crime lab to check on progress in identifying the fingerprints from the letters. They were still on hold with FREC, but the lab tech told me she had personally talked to some guy in India at the FREC number, and he had put her on hold while he tried to sort out what we were looking for. She had hopes that the Indian guy would pick up soon.
I asked her if she could tell anything from the prints she had found. She was not optimistic. The prints were smudged, and apparently the Florida Real Estate Commission had contracted with a company in Bangalore to store the print images and answer FREC’s phone. It was part of an outsourcing program that had been ongoing for some years. The crime lab might never get the prints out of the Indian computer. She’d let me know if she came up with anything.
“Hey, if you’re with Chief Galloway, tell him we found enough C-4 in the residue he sent us from the groin that we think we can figure out where it came from. Manufacturers are required to put markers in explosives, so we can probably trace it that way. I’ll let y’all know.”
That might be the break we were looking for. If we could trace the C-4 to a manufacturer, we might be able to find out who bought it.
I heard a loud burst of expletives coming from the buttonwood grove. I turned to see the chief throwing his cell phone into the Gulf. He fell to his knees, his hands outstretched. “Why me, oh, why me?” His face was contorted in rage, or maybe pain. He was letting go with blood curdling screams, over and over again. He would stop for a breath and then scream again. It was unnerving.
I rushed over, thinking he had had a kidney stone attack or something. “Joe, what’s the matter?” I asked, alarmed at the look of horror suffusing his face.
“You ain’t gonna believe this,” he said. He took a breath, and I thought he was going to scream again. I recoiled, not wanting to be splashed by errant saliva. Then, with the solemnity that should accompany any grave pronouncement, he said, “Mayor Selma McIntyre Rodriguez- McGillicuddy was just killed by a javelin. It had a note attached. It said, ‘Envision this!!’”