smile. ‘And maybe my mom can borrow your head.’

Ben came down from the flying bridge, squeezed along the narrowness between the rail and the cabin on the deck. ‘Sure, not a problem.’ He tossed one end of a docking rope to Danny. ‘I’m Ben. This is Claudia.’

‘Thank you so much. Y’all are lifesavers. You’ve got a beautiful boat.’

‘Thanks,’ Ben said. ‘You fish today?’

‘Some ling.’ Danny shrugged toward the empty reel mount on his boat. ‘Sharks nabbed the tuna I got.’

‘Yeah, they’ll rob you,’ Claudia said.

Danny gave her an agreeing grin. He slid bumpers over the edge of his boat, finished fastening the rope tethering Jupiter to Miss Catherine, vaulted lightly over both railings, and pulled a Sig Sauer pistol from under his T-shirt, from the band of his baggy shorts.

The smile stayed in place, the gun aimed at Ben. ‘Sharks sure do rob, don’t they? Just be calm, and no one gets hurt.’

Ben paled under his sunburn and took two steps back. ‘For God’s sake, man, you want cash? I’ve got maybe a hundred in my wallet…’

‘What I want,’ Danny said, ‘is for you to be cool and hush.’ He blasted a sharp, two-fingered whistle and two men bolted out onto the deck of Miss Catherine, guns in hand, beading them on Claudia and Ben. Nylon stockings stretched over their faces, contorting their features into doughy lumps.

‘Jesus,’ Ben said.

‘Let’s just put those guns down,’ Claudia said, stern.

Danny stared at her. ‘Don’t we have big balls for a-’ he began and Ben charged. Ben barreled into Danny and the Sig barked, splinters erupting from Jupiter’s deck as the two men slammed into the railing.

The two other men from Miss Catherine jumped aboard Jupiter. Claudia swung at the first one, a thin rail of a guy, surprising him, her fist connecting with his cheek, knocking him down. But the other attacker, built big and brawny, hammered her on the jaw. She hit the deck, landing on her side, and the barrel of an automatic pistol gouged into her temple.

‘Cool it,’ the thin one – with what appeared to be electric-red hair underneath his nylon mask – screamed. ‘Stay the fuck still or we see if your brains match your pretty little outfit.’

Ben was down, too, a gun pressed to the back of his head, eyes wide with shock.

Don’t tell them I’m a cop, she mouthed, unsure if he could read her lips.

Ben barely nodded, the big bruiser frisking him with all the gentleness of a wrestler.

‘I got some cash, just take it. Okay?’ Ben’s voice steadied. ‘No need to get rough, okay? No need for trouble.’

Danny came and knelt by Claudia. ‘You okay, miss?’ In a gentle tone, like he cared.

‘Yeah,’ Claudia said.

The thin kid said, ‘Love boat’s over, babe.’

Danny leaned over Ben. ‘Now where’s our buddy Stoney?’

‘What?’ Ben said. ‘He’s at home.’

Danny stared down at him. He glanced at the bigger of the two thugs. ‘Gar, go below. Find Stoney. Don’t kill him.’

‘He’s not aboard. He canceled coming with us,’ Claudia said.

The skinny redhead jabbed his gun barrel into the small of her neck. ‘Don’t contribute to class discussion unless you’re called upon, sweetness.’

‘Stoney’s not here,’ Ben said. ‘We’re not lying to you.’

Danny didn’t look at him. They waited. Gar – the big guy – returned. ‘No one else is aboard, man.’

‘Well,’ said Danny. ‘Then I guess I better come up with a new plan, shouldn’t I?’ He leaned down close to Ben and Claudia. ‘Let’s start with your names, kids. Just who are you and why are you on Stoney Vaughn’s boat?’

‘I’m Stoney’s brother, Ben. This is my friend Claudia.’ Ben’s voice remained steady.

‘Ah. A brother. Fucking poetic justice.’ Claudia saw Danny lean close to Ben’s face, pivot the gun barrel against Ben’s forehead. ‘Stoney stole from me. Killed to do it. I want what’s mine, and you’re gonna help me.’ He smiled at Ben, smiled at Claudia with a grin that said his mouth wasn’t quite moored to the brain. ‘A brother is something I can use.’


Thursday afternoon, Whit drove out to Black Jack Point. The police dig was done, but an officer remained parked near the tented site and another officer – looking bored out of her mind – sat in a patrol car up where the private road met the highway. Maybe to keep the curious or the indiscreet away. She waved Whit through.

The house reflected the Gilbert fortunes over the years. In the center was the old house, built in the 1820s, fashioned from sturdy oaks, its clear craftsmanship designed to defy the bay’s cruel moments. Over the years prosperity dictated which additions had been made: a room on the east side; a new garage bright with white paint; a work shed, its foundation blanketed with a yellow explosion of wild lantana. Patch built the work shed himself, stone by quarried stone. Whit remembered helping him mix the mortar, the teenage boys who fished off the Point all helping out, a thank-you note to the man who’d let them use his land.

Lucy sat alone at the kitchen table, drinking a glass of iced tea. Funeral arrangement papers were spread in a fan before her. He saw Patch in her now: the same clear blue eyes, the determined jaw. But Lucy, for all her brass, had a delicacy in her mouth, her chin, her hands, and a gentleness – like Patch’s – that was well concealed. She had not cried again since the bodies were found, showing the steel Whit knew was at her core.

‘I don’t want to shop for a casket again anytime soon,’ she said.

‘God forbid.’

She rattled the ice cubes in her tea. ‘They won’t be able to fix his face right, will they? He’s all broke, Whit. They broke him.’

He sat down next to her.

‘Have they arrested someone?’

‘No. But David says he has a suspect.’ He took her hand. ‘I don’t know who.’

She drank her tea. ‘The sheriff’s office took Patch’s answering machine, his computer yesterday. I wrote down his messages. I thought maybe there were more people I should call. But what do I say, Whit? He can’t meet you for lunch – he’s been murdered?’

Whit glanced at the messages: an exterminator was due to spray the house tomorrow – they’d need to cancel that; three notes to return phone calls from Suzanne; the Port Leo library calling about an overdue book. All the daily doodlings of a life moving steadily along its course when fate got mean and reared up and smacked his nose back into his brain.

Whit called the Port Leo library, asked about the overdue book. Lucy watched him with a frown.

‘Whit, who cares about a book right now?’ she said when he hung up.

‘Was he a regular library user?’

‘Lord, no. He didn’t want to look at it unless it swam, batted baseballs, or might kiss him.’ She sat back down next to him. ‘What’s this book he checked out?’

‘ Jean Laffite, Pirate King. ’

Lucy shrugged. ‘I never saw him reading anything but the newspaper and Sports Illustrated. ’ She paused. ‘You haven’t talked to Suzanne yet, have you?’

‘No. I told her I’d visit her later, get a statement for the inquest.’

Lucy tore at her paper napkin under her tea glass. She ripped it into thin shreds. ‘You said they’ve got a suspect.’

‘You making a bet?’

‘I’m an unforgivable bitch,’ Lucy said. ‘Yes.’

‘Who, honey?’

‘Suzanne’s boyfriend, Roy Krantz. He and Patch didn’t get along too well.’

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