‘Possibility,’ Gooch said. ‘You knew him better than I did. Was he a gambler?’

‘No. He was always just the nice guy who’d let you swim and fish off his land. I’ve never heard of him having debt problems.’


‘Patch? He bragged about taking Viagra. He was incapable of being embarrassed.’

‘An old man bragging about medicated hard-ons is one thing,’ Gooch said. ‘Maybe he had a deep dark secret that had finally grabbed him by the throat. Or someone close to him was in trouble and needed the money.’

‘Not Lucy.’

Gooch clicked tongue against teeth, cleared his throat, watched a little red sailboat putter out into the bay.

‘Don’t start dumping on Lucy again,’ Whit said.

‘Lucy is lovely. Charming in a giddy, goofy sort of way. Impeccable ass.’


‘I’m not sure she can read a book, much less a mind on the other end of a phone.’

‘Why can’t you like my girlfriend?’

‘I don’t want to see you conned.’

‘She’s not a con artist.’

‘Yes, telephone psychics are known for their high ethical standards.’

‘You haven’t really gotten to know her.’

‘That’s true. If you’re happy, I’m happy. Fucking deliriously happy.’

Whit stood. ‘I’ve got to get back to the courthouse. I’ll let David know what you said.’

‘But you’ll keep my name out of it?’

‘Yes. I’ll try.’

‘Patch wasn’t a quitter,’ Gooch said. ‘I’d look hard to see if he found that money someplace else.’

‘Found his wallet and her purse.’ David sat in the one straight-back chair in Whit’s small office. It was shortly after one o’clock on Thursday afternoon. ‘Dumped in beneath the bodies. Cash and credit cards gone.’

‘So this was a robbery gone wrong?’

‘Burglary, Judge,’ David said. ‘You know the difference.’

Maybe it was a robbery turned burglary, or the other way around, but Whit decided to be rock-solid polite. Act like a judge for once. Let David be acid; acid was just asshole with a different final syllable. ‘A burglary, then?’

‘Yeah. Tran and Gilbert cut short their stay in Port A, head home two days earlier than expected, catch a perp breaking into the house. Perp kills them both, buries them on a remote stretch of the Point where they’re not likely to be found for a while.’

‘The killer laid Patch’s head open. There’s no sign of that attack having taken place in the house,’ Whit said.

‘Then it didn’t. Maybe they took the old folks from the house, hauled them down into the oaks, killed them there.’

‘They. Sounds like more than one person. And for all this effort they got a little cash and silver? They don’t bother with the electronics?’

‘Look, Your Honor. You spend a little more time in this business, you’ll see things usually aren’t too complicated. Criminals are dumb as stumps. If they were smart they could go be investment bankers. Or judges.’ A hint of amusement surfaced in his tone. ‘Killer or killers got surprised, they kill the old folks, they take off.’

‘Why bury the bodies? Why not just dump them in the bay?’

‘They’d float up faster.’

‘It’s quicker to tie weights to someone’s feet than to dig down deep enough to hit old graves,’ Whit said. He started to mention the anonymous tip from Gooch, but David raised a hand.

‘Listen, Judge. You pretty sure you gonna rule these deaths as homicides?’

‘Of course, yes.’

‘Then that’s all you need to worry about, Your Honor. Anything beyond that, you‘re stepping on my toes. And my toes, they’re real tender. They get hurt real easy. And my feet hurt, I’m in a bad mood. We’re clear?’

‘Yes,’ Whit said. ‘I’m going in to Corpus, to meet with the ME and with Parker and his people around four. They have to sign custody of the old bones back to me. You want to go?’ He’d mention the tip then, let David squirm the whole thirty miles into Corpus. Better than listening to talk radio.

‘Sure. That’s fine. I got a suspect to go question this afternoon.’

‘You do? Who?’

‘Pick me up around three. We’ll head into Corpus.’ David winked, put on his Stetson, stepped out of Whit’s office, said a hearty hey to Edith Gregory, Whit’s secretary, then headed out down the courthouse hallway with a strut. ‘I’ll tell you about my suspect then if the mood hits me.’

‘Oh, you’re gonna be in the mood,’ said Whit.

Alex Black closed the door to his room at the Sandspot Motel and flicked on the light. With its freeze-your- ass air conditioner and an ongoing next-door groan-a-thon from a couple he dubbed the Honeymooners, this temporary home held few charms. He wanted to leave. He wanted to go to the storage unit and run his hands over the coins, feel the heft of the Devil’s Eye, say a silent fuck you to every archaeologist and bureaucrat who had ever crossed his path. Instead he sat down and called his father on his cell phone.

‘Bert Exton’s room, please.’ He waited for the hospice receptionist to connect him, endured bad muzak for a few moments.

‘H’lo?’ Tired, weak-sounding.

‘Dad. How’s today been?’ Alex said.

‘Only about a three. Yesterday was a nine. Felt great. You shoulda called yesterday.’

‘Well, soon as I finish up this dig, Dad, I’m coming to Miami. See you for a spell.’ And get your poor ass out of that death trap, and we’ll go to Costa Rica. Let you die peaceful under a beautiful sky. Maybe near some ruins. just for old times’ sake, Alex thought. ‘How’s that sound?’

‘That’d be great.’ Weak cough. ‘You liking Michigan?’

‘Sure.’ What Dad didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. Dad thought he was on an Ojibwa artifacts dig. ‘Good place to spend the summer.’

‘Bureaucrats giving you hell?’ A little rally in Bert’s voice.

‘No, sir. No one’s giving me hell.’

‘That’s good. Proud of you, boy.’

What Dad didn’t know. ‘So tomorrow’s gonna be, what, at least a six? You keeping a good attitude?’

‘Screw optimism. Yeah. We’ll aim for a six. You get here, maybe you sneak me in a six-pack, okay?’

‘Sure, Dad.’ He’d sneak in freaking Moet for the old guy. Alex said his good-byes, hung up. He had buyers lined up for the coins – dealing strictly in cash, no questions asked. And he could find a buyer – probably a Colombian trader – for the Devil’s Eye, but a big emerald like that he’d have to move carefully. Even getting it appraised would draw unwanted attention. He could be in Miami in a week, any loose ends wrapped up.

Stoney was the one remaining problem.

He lay back down on the bed and began to imagine various deaths for Stoney Vaughn. Quick ones. You didn’t want to spend any extra time with Stoney if you could help it.


In the clear sunshine of the Gulf of Mexico, the blood and gore painted sparkles across the green waves. Filmy scales glistened like jewel dust. Torn shrimp pinwheeled down from the surface, pink and brown and white, a kaleidoscope of flesh. Slivers of fish guts bobbed, the light shifting their colors from red to green to gray as they sank beneath the water.

‘Beautiful,’ Claudia said.

‘Gross,’ Ben Vaughn said. ‘But I mean that in a real manly way.’

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