Commissioner Bigelow Butane Bogardus, known on the island as Big Butt, was a giant of a man, standing six feet eight inches tall and weighing in above 400 pounds. He had once been a professional wrestler, and when he got too old to for the ring he turned to politics. He ate copious amounts of fatty foods, living mostly on a diet of fried chicken and ice cream washed down with beer. Much of his weight had accumulated in his posterior and watching him walk away the uninitiated saw an amazing feat of burbling adipose rubbing rhythmically against the thin material of his shorts.
Big Butt Bogardus had been on the losing end of every political battle he had ever fought. He regularly clashed with the town manager, who could not believe that a Longboat Key Town Commissioner would ever disagree with him Needless to say, Big Butt had never been invited to a hurricane conference. Nevertheless, he was an amiable fellow, if a bit vacuous, and the people kept re-electing him. Vacuity is considered an asset on the town commission.
The latest issue taken up by the town had to do with the future of a restaurant known as Less’s. It was a comfortable place clinging to a spit of land on the bay side of the island. Its specialty was stone crabs, and the tourists loved it. However, tourism was dying on the key, and the owners of Less’s had talked about rezoning their property so that if the business went bankrupt because of lack of tourism, the owners could sell the property and recoup some of the investment they had made over the forty years of the restaurant’s existence.
This caused quite a stir on the island, as many of the residents didn’t want to lose the restaurant. Not that they ever patronized the place, but one never knew when one might get a sudden craving for stone crabs.
Because the town manager ate stone crabs every year on his birthday, he didn’t want to see the place close. It was his opinion that the owners of Less’s needed to keep the place open even if they were losing money. Where else was he going to celebrate his birthday if they closed?
Big Butt was leading the charge for the zoning change He had the antiquated idea that, within reason, people ought to be able to do what they wanted to with their property. The island was divided on the issue, but much to the chagrin of the town manager and the rest of the town commission, a large majority of citizens agreed with Big Butt As this became evident, the other commissioners were beginning to think that if they wanted to get re-elected they had better join with Big Butt on this issue. The controlling question on the commission was whether, if they defied the town manager, they would get to go to the hurricane conference this year.
A consensus seemed to be evolving A deal was in the works for the owners of Less’s to take over the tennis resort on the other end of the key for one day a year, the town manager’s birthday. They would broil up all the stone crabs the manager and his party could eat, free of charge. In return, Less’s would get its zoning change.
The island was abuzz with the very thought that Big Butt might finally be of some use; he was actually going to win a political fight.
I arrived at the scene, a swamp beside Gulf of Mexico Drive near the north end of the key. Some years before a developer had convinced the town commission to let him remove a small grove of trees and replace it with a wetland in return for the city of Sarasota giving the developer the right to rip out some wetlands on the mainland. A wetland is, of course, a swamp, so we now had one on Longboat Key. Sarasota said it didn’t need any more swamps and was glad to let the developer fill in one of theirs and make a new one on Longboat.
Big Butt was staked out naked in the shallow water, looking a little like a beached whale with his large white belly thoroughly chewed on by hundreds of stone crabs. “They won’t live long,” I said. “They need a lot of water. How did they get in the swamp?”
“See all those crab traps stacked over on the bank? I think somebody just pulled up the traps and brought them here and released the crabs,” said the chief.
“Who called it in?”
“Logan Who else?” The chief was clearly exasperated. “He’s got to have a hand in this somehow There’s no way he would just coincidentally be at every one of our crime scenes.”
“What’s his story?”
“Said he was too drunk to drive home last night, so he stopped at the Britts’ and spent the night on their sofa.” Logan lived on the south end of the island, much to the chagrin of many of his neighbors. “He had just awoken and stepped outside to have a cigarette. Saw the crabs snacking on Big Butt and called it in.”
“Any other evidence?”
“We found some tire tracks on the shoulder of the road. The crime scene people have made a mold. If we ever find the car we’ll have something to compare. The tires are from a Lexus.”
I told the chief about my work on finding the Lexus. “I should have something this afternoon. I’ll let you know.” I left and headed back to my condo to work on the list of turtle loving, Lexus driving, real estate ladies.
By mid afternoon I had narrowed the list to twenty women. The problem was that half the people on the island had real estate licenses, and most of them drove Lexuses. I was pretty sure many of them only got the license so they could get the free food and booze at the Chamber meetings.
Nevertheless, I had a lot of people to look into. There were more turtle license plates than you would think. I was glad it wasn’t a” save the wild dolphin” tag I was looking for. Those actually have some color to them, so a lot more people bought them, whether they cared about dolphins are not On the other hand, the turtle tags were so ugly I figured one had to be a true believer to buy one. I guess pretty soon we’d be seeing “save the love bug” plates.
I checked with the lab about the fingerprints on the letters I had taken them two days before. They were still on hold with India. It didn’t look too promising. I began to dig through the names of the twenty people who met the criteria we’d developed so far. Nothing jumped out at me immediately, but I was pretty sure one of those women was involved in the deaths. I couldn’t come up with a motive, or maybe there was a surfeit of motives. At one time or another just about everybody on the key had fantasized about doing in one or more of our leaders. Most wouldn’t do it, but there was always that one person who would act out her fantasies. I had to find her before any more people were killed.
Willie Nelson warbled to let me know someone was calling my cell phone. I answered, and I knew I was too late. It was the chief.
“The chairman of the planning and zoning board is dead. Plastered into the wall of an empty shop at Avenue of the Flowers.”