Four o’clock Tuesday afternoon, court done, justice dispensed, and the Honorable Whit Mosley wanted nothing more than to swim twenty hard minutes with his girlfriend in the warm Gulf off Port Leo Beach, eat a big steak at the Shell Inn, cuddle with Lucy on the couch, watch the Astros raise his hopes again, make love at the end of the game, right there on the couch like they’d done night before last while the postgame show droned. Lucy liked baseball as much as he did. But now Lucy was standing in his office door, frowning, not looking in the mood for a steak or a swim or a ninth-inning delight.

‘I think Uncle Patch is missing,’ Lucy said.

Whit shrugged out of his judge’s robe, let the black silk fall to the floor, glad to be just in his regular Hawaiian shirt and old khakis and Birkenstocks again. The air conditioner in the courtroom sputtered with signs of age, and this July in Port Leo had been blister-hot, everyone in traffic court cranky, and his robe smelled a little stale. He’d have to wash it tonight. Judicial laundry. Not listed in the job description.

‘He’s not down here at the jail,’ Whit said. ‘No senior citizen discount.’

‘Don’t joke, Whit,’ Lucy said. ‘He’s not at his house. His car is there – he’s not.’

‘I thought he and Thuy went to Port A.’

‘I called the B and B I booked for them and they checked out last night. Didn’t even stay a few hours.’

‘Maybe they went to another hotel.’

‘But his car is here, Whit.’

‘What about his fishing boat?’

‘Still here. His doors were unlocked. And there’s wineglasses out on the table. Two of them, one with wine still in it.’

‘So they came home and didn’t clean up. Maybe he’s just out with Thuy in her car.’

‘I called Thuy’s daughter. They haven’t spoken to her today either, which is unusual. They said she calls them every day. Whit, really, I’m worried. They’re old.’

‘They sure don’t need chaperons.’

‘You’re not listening,’ Lucy said. ‘I have a bad vibe about this.’ She fingered the little amber crystal around her throat. ‘Something has happened to them. Call your friends at the sheriff’s department, or help me go look for them.’

‘The police won’t do much of anything for twenty-four hours,’ he said, not thinking, and she burst into tears.

He had never seen Lucy cry before. He took her in his arms, let her rest her face against his shoulder. ‘Okay, Lucy, okay. I’ll call the sheriff’s office, all right? And we’ll start making phone calls. We’ll find them. But when Patch finds out you’ve made all this fuss, you got to take the blame for it.’

She sniffled. ‘I will. Okay, thanks, baby. My aura’s feeling calmer already.’

‘Sure, Lucy.’ He didn’t pay much heed to her talk of auras and vibes, but it was part and parcel of Lucy and part of loving her. He kissed her forehead, wiped away her tears with the ball of his thumb.

He dialed the Encina County sheriffs office, figuring that within an hour or so Patch and Thuy would be found but fishing along a stretch of Black Jack Point, and all would be good and fine.

It didn’t happen.

The sheriff’s office, once called, found a broken window at the back of Patch Gilbert’s house. Lucy noticed certain items missing: a silver candelabra, a cookie jar in which Patch kept ample cash, a jewelry box that was a family heirloom. The search began.

Patch Gilbert owned over two hundred acres on Black Jack Point, and on late Wednesday morning, the searchers found the turned earth along the edge of his property. The disturbed soil was a hundred yards up from the beach, a rectangle of torn loam hidden among the thick fingers of the oaks, broken grasses draped over the ground like a shroud.

The deputies and volunteers started digging and Whit made Lucy wait up at Patch’s house.

‘Wait here with me,’ she said. ‘Please.’ She was shaking, her freckled arms folded over each other, her hair a mess from having dragged her fingers through it nervously.

‘I can’t, sweetie. I got to be down there.’ He was justice of the peace, and because Encina County didn’t have its own medical examiner, he also served as coroner. If there were bodies he’d order the autopsies, rule on cause of death, conduct the inquest if it was needed. His chest felt sucked dry at the thought of Patch and Thuy murdered and buried. But he didn’t like the vacant, broken look in Lucy’s eyes.

He put an arm around her and turned to Deputy David Power. ‘Maybe I should wait with Lucy.’

David made a dismissive noise. ‘You’re supposed to be down there,’ he said, as though comforting relatives of the dead was second-class duty compared to forensic investigation.

‘You don’t need me until you find bodies,’ he said, and he felt Lucy’s skin prickle under his fingertips.

‘Sure, Judge, whatever.’ David Power turned and headed down toward the thick copse of oaks.

Lucy watched him leave. ‘Well, he’s an asshole. Lots of negativity.’

‘He doesn’t like me,’ Whit said. ‘I’m friends with his ex-wife.’

‘Maybe you should go down there,’ she said. ‘I’ll be okay.’

‘I’ll stay here as long as I can.’

He and Lucy sat in Patch’s den, a dark room covered with thick brown paneling in turn covered with fishing trophies and a fake muscled marlin. He held her hand and watched All My Children to avoid thinking about what the shovels might be unearthing.

Lucy stared at the screen. ‘I cooked dinner for the two of them last week. Meatloaf. I burned it a little ’cause we got to talking and I was drinking too much beer. It tasted like a shingle. They didn’t complain, ate it with a smile.’

Whit squeezed her hand.

‘I should call Suzanne,’ she said. Her cousin, her only family other than Patch.

‘Let’s just wait and see.’

They watched a commercial offering tarot card readings for a call-per-minute charge while an energetic woman with a doubtful Caribbean accent proclaimed the future to amazed callers.

‘That approach is so misleading,’ Lucy said. ‘Look at her. She’s hardly listening to that caller – she’s just slapping those cards down.’ Her voice was flat as she pretended the searchers weren’t tearing up her uncle’s land.

‘I’m sure your psychics do a better job, sweetie.’ Lucy owned the Coastal Psychics Network, which, as she put it, served the needy and the bored across Texas.

‘At two bucks ninety-nine a minute, that is robbery.’ She fingered the amber crystal on her necklace. ‘I at least run a clean ship. Maybe I ought to advertise more. I’m cheaper than Madam Not-Reading-the-Cards- Right.’

He hugged her a little closer, gave her a tissue for her nose. ‘Need to tell you something about Patch.’


‘He was the one suggested I call you for a date.’

She laughed but it was half tears. ‘Did he now?’

‘Called me up after you were in my court. Said I had given you too heavy a sentence for those unpaid tickets.’

‘Not unpaid. Ignored on principle.’ Same argument she’d used in court. A little more effective with him now. Patch had settled her five hundred dollars’ worth of fines. She’d done her community service, Whit checking on her a little more than needed.

‘He said I ought to even it out by taking you to dinner.’

‘Old men playing matchmaker is a bad idea.’ Lucy wiped at her eyes. ‘Because they won the war they think they know everything.’

A deputy – young, sunburned, blond buzz cut bright with sweat – appeared in the doorway. ‘Judge Mosley? Could I speak with you?’ His mouth barely moved as he spoke.

‘Are they dead?’ Lucy asked. ‘Is it them?’

‘Yes, ma’am. It looks like it’s them. I’m real sorry.’

Lucy put her face in her palms. ‘Well, shit. It was a bad vibe,’ she finally said from between her hands.

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