pancreatic cancer, washed several fistfuls of Valium down with a fifth of vodka while listening to Hank Williams CDs.

Another death, and the whole county would be watching. All the attention could make or break his anemic campaign. Great. Your lover’s ex-husband is dead, and you get to rule on cause of death. Congratulations.

Whit headed past the long line of docked boats on the T-head, most shrouded in bright blue coverings. Weekend boaters from Corpus Christi or Houston owned these craft. A few folks lived on their boats full-time, retirees or trust-fund babies. Whit ducked under another banner of crime-scene tape taped right at the boat’s stern.

‘Hello, Honorable.’ Claudia Salazar, a Port Leo police detective, stood on the deck of Real Shame, watching him scale the ladder. A gust whipped her dark hair around her face, and she yanked it back over her ears. She looked decidedly more official than he did in her black slacks, white blouse, and a PLPD windbreaker.

‘Hey,’ Whit said. ‘I heard this may be politically testy. No press yet?’

‘We have a short grace period before they swarm, once it gets out that Senator Hubble’s son is dead,’ Claudia said. ‘Get your quotes ready.’

‘Has anyone called the senator?’

‘Delford is,’ she answered. Delford Spires was the longtime police chief in Port Leo. He had a full ruddy face and a natty mustache that made him look like a chunky catfish.

He followed Claudia across a pristine deck down to a living area and galley filled with clutter: a thick paperback propped open with a carton of Marlboros and an empty wineglass. On the floor a pizza box lay open with torn cheese and pepperoni glued inside. Two empty bottles of cheap cabernet stood on the coffee table. Each label had been peeled away from the bottles; little curls of paper dotted the floor. On one side of the den a series of windows faced the gunmetal waters of the bay. On each end, small stairs led to sleeping cabins. Claudia went to the aft stairs.

‘Here’s where he was found.’ She stepped aside so Whit could enter the tiny stateroom.

The dead man lay naked on the bed, lying on his back, arms and legs spread, the sourness of death-released waste scenting the close air.

‘I haven’t seen him in fifteen years,’ Whit said. ‘But that’s Pete Hubble.’ He did not add that Pete Hubble had skinny-dipped with Whit’s older brothers and once you saw Pete naked you were unlikely to confuse him with someone else. ‘It might be best to get a formal ID from family or friends.’

Eddie Gardner, another police department investigator, stood in the corner of the bedroom, snapping photos. An evidence-collection kit lay open at his feet.

‘You were supposed to wait for Judge Mosley to get here,’ Claudia said.

‘Sorry.’ Gardner shrugged. ‘Just taking some photos. I didn’t disturb anything for the judge.’ Gardner made judge sound like dog turd. He wore his thinning hair pulled in a short ponytail, aiming for and missing the surfer dude look. He was a recent hire from Houston and had tried too hard to go coastal with the flowered shirts and baggy shorts.

‘Why don’t you get started on searching and cataloging the rest of the boat?’ Claudia suggested in a patient tone. Gardner went up the stairs with his smirk.

‘Houston know-it-all,’ Claudia muttered.

‘Eddie’s got to stop those public displays of affection for me,’ Whit said. He pulled on latex gloves and switched on an overhead light. A bit of bedsheet was wrapped awkwardly around Pete’s upper torso, a gun loosely gripped in his right hand, his mouth a gaping hole. His eyelids stood at half-mast, rimmed with blood.

‘This just sucks,’ Whit said.

‘Did you know him well?’ Claudia asked.

‘He was friends with a couple of my older brothers. I knew his brother Corey better than him.’

Claudia cocked her head. ‘Corey. He went missing, didn’t he?’

‘Yeah. About fifteen years ago.’

A hoarse voice called down to Claudia. ‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ she said.

Whit probed – gingerly – Pete Hubble’s throat for a pulse. Nothing, obviously. He poked the paling skin: cool but not cold, and rigor mortis had not yet begun.

The windows were shut in the cabin, but the boats at Golden Gulf were docked in neat succession. Surely someone would have heard the fatal shot. He raised the blinds on the windows. The two berths next to Real Shame were empty. On the other side was the open bay and the long pall of night.

Whit opened his notebook to a blank scene-of-death form. He heard more officers boarding the boat, into the galley and living area, Claudia greeting them, dividing responsibilities. Whit wrote: Oct 12, 10:45 p.m. Peter James Hubble, male, age ~40, brown hair, brown eyes, six-six, around 220 pounds, nude except for gold chain with lion’s head on it around neck, red-and-green dragon tattoo on right forearm, lying face up on bed, sheet wrapped partially around chest, 9mm Glock in right hand, bullet wound in mouth, blood spray on face.

Whit peered inside Pete’s broken mouth, bringing his flashlight to bear on the damage. The tongue, the back teeth, the palate, the uvula, the smooth pink walls looked exploded. The back of the mouth was a gruesome tunnel boring to the brain. Pete had his lips wrapped neatly around the barrel when the gun went off.

‘Ate the gun, didn’t he?’ Eddie Gardner asked conversationally. He had returned with his camera.


‘Sheriff’s deputies are helping Claudia, so you and I can get the body done.’ He spooled film into the camera, still smirking. ‘Love the shirt. Parrots are you.’

Whit ignored the jab, leaning close to the gun. ‘Odd. The safety is on.’

‘I pulled the gun out of his mouth so I could click on the safety. Standard procedure.’ Gardner explained this in a tone usually reserved for addressing toddlers. ‘Wouldn’t expect you to know.’

Great. A Buddy Beere supporter. ‘Did you take a picture first, with the gun in his mouth?’

‘No. Forgot. Just trying to secure the scene, Judge.’

Whit wrote in his notebook: Gardner didn’t take requisite pictures, mention THAT in the inquest report.

‘So you knew this guy?’ Gardner asked.

‘Ages ago.’

‘There’s a whole bunch of adult movie videos in a cabinet by the television. And this guy’s picture is on some of the covers.’

Whit stared at him. ‘Please be kidding.’

Gardner grinned. ‘Not kidding at all. You could hold a blue film festival with all the porn up there.’ He pointed at the dead man’s prodigious organ. ‘Jesus, a horse would be jealous. Makes sense he might make some money off of that.’

The son of a prominent state senator starring in porn films. The imagined headlines took a greasy turn in Whit’s mind. He wondered if Faith knew.

He watched Eddie Gardner snap photos of seemingly every square inch of the bed, excepting the square inches that had landed Pete in movies.

‘Eddie,’ Whit said, ‘please photograph the gun. I’m going to need those for the inquest.’ Gardner took several shots of the pistol from different angles. Neither man spoke for a minute until Gardner finished the roll.

‘You thinking suicide. Judge? Looks that way to me.’

‘Why?’ Whit asked.

‘Big-built guy, no signs of struggle. It’s hard to stick a gun in the mouth of a guy this big.’

At one corner of the bed stood a sleek video camera, mounted on a tripod, aimed at the bed. Gardner watched Whit examine the camera.

‘Shit, maybe he was shooting a home movie with that little gal out there and things got rough,’ Gardner said.

‘Little gal?’

‘Girl that found him. Looks like she’s spent her last dime and got no place to go. Dirty, strung out.’ Gardner laughed. ‘She might have screamed bloody murder if she saw that dick coming at her.’

‘Maybe,’ Whit said. Gardner had all the appeal of head lice, but he had a point. Whit remembered a tidbit he’d read in a forensics book about bodily fluid residue. He carefully inspected the dead man’s genitals with his latexed fingers; the massive penis appeared dry. There hadn’t been immediate predeath sex, he bet, but them medical examiner in Corpus Christi could properly make that determination.

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