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Deputy Vincent Palter slammed down the receiver and yelled across the room to Constable Sloan, "Grab your hat, Curly. We're going to the beach."
"What the hell for, Vince? I ain't finished my sandwich yet."
"Just save it for later."
Curly rewrapped his half-eaten lunch, struggled to pull his rotund carcass to a standing position, and headed for the break-room refrigerator. "What's goin' on, Vince?" he asked.
"I'll tell you on the way. Hurry it up, will you? Why don't you bring your sandwich with you?"
"Must be a real emergency. I ain't never seen you get this het up before."
Vince stepped through the doorway, stopped, and then turned back. "If you're going with me, you need to get moving," he said.
"I can't move any faster, Vince."
"If you would think about something besides food for a change, get some exercise and lose weight, you could move faster."
"I don't eat that much; I'm just naturally heavy," replied Curly, breathless from trying to keep up with Vince. "And I ain't never gonna be no athlete like you," he said. "All that running and weight lifting, gonna kill yourself if you keep that up. As thin as you are you sure don't need to lose any weight."
They headed across the Sheriff Department's parking lot toward one of the patrol cars, Curly lagging behind.
Vince climbed in the car and started the engine. "Shouldn't have wasted so much time waiting for you," he said.
* * *
With sirens screaming and red lights flashing they raced down the freeway toward the Padre Island beach.
Curly glanced at the speedometer and cinched his seat-belt a little tighter. "What's the emergency, Vince?" he asked.
"Some guy, a tourist I think, called in. He said he and his family were spending the weekend at the Sea Gull Condominium. He and his wife were sun-bathing on the beach while their two boys were swimming in the surf. The kids thought they saw a log floating in and swam out to it, turned out to be a body."
"A body?" asked Curly. "Are you putting me on, Vince? A body for sure?"
"Yeah, for sure, Curly," he replied. "Wipe the mustard off your chin before we get there."
"Why'd they call us——ruin my spicy-chicken sandwich?"
"Quit your bitching, will you?" he answered. "This is serious."
"Ain't that beach property in the city?"
"No, closer to Port Aransas ... county jurisdiction. Somebody panicked and called the Corpus Christi Police dispatcher. They'll be coming also. I just wanted us to be first. The sheriff will be glad to hear that we got there ahead of the city police."
"If you don't slow down we might not get there at all."
Vince scowled. "Curly, why didn't you just stay at the station?"
"If it's a body, Vince, who could it be?"
"Hell, I don't know," he said "I was looking at an All Points Bulletin just before the call came in. Some well-known business man from Dallas has been reported missing. Maybe that's who it is."
"Just thinking about a bloated body makes me wish I had stayed behind. And it ruins my appetite."
* * *
Vince and Curly parted a path through the crowd that had gathered on the beach. The father of the two boys who had first spotted the body being washed ashore stepped forward at the arrival of the two uniformed officers. The two frightened children, appearing ten to twelve years of age, stood slightly behind their father.
"No one has touched the body, officers," said the father. "The boys came running to us as soon as they realized what they were watching. My wife left for the room, couldn't stand to see the body. I told the boys you might want to talk to them."
"Good," said Vince. "Are they holding up all right?"
"Seem to," he said. "Been quite an experience for them."
"I'm sure it has for all of you. Did they see a boat of any kind that a person could have fallen out of?"
"Nothing. They were on the beach alone. Where could he have come from? He's fully clothed, even a coat, tie, and dress shoes ... doesn't look like a person who would be out on a boat or out fishing in the surf."
Vince bent over the body, loosened the victm's clothing and checked the coat pockets for identification. He extracted a zippered, leather carrying case, larger than a wallet and large enough for a passport; a small, padded envelope that seemed filled with folded papers; and a key ring with multiple keys.
"Curly, get a plastic bag from the car and place these items in the container. Don't open any of them right now. We'll wait on the city PD before we do anything else."
Curly headed toward the patrol car at his usual leisurely pace, sweat dripping from his face. Vince scowled and muttered. "If he'd just move a little faster and show some bit of interest in what he'd been assigned to do."
"Do you need us further?" asked the father of the boys. "I want to take the boys away from here. They seem to be pretty upset."
"I'm sure they are," said Vince. He gave the man one of his cards and then handed him a pad and pen. "I just need your name, address, phone numbers. Do you live here?"
"No, sir," he answered. "We're from San Antonio. We just have the condo leased for the weekend."
Vince focused on the pad. "David Williams," he said. "Appreciate your cooperation, sir. Don't leave the island, Mr. Williams, until you're given permission."
The father frowned, obviously irritated. "How long will that be? I think everyone is ready to go back home after this."
"I understand how you feel but...." The sound of a helicopter flying over at a low altitude drowned out his voice.
Curly returned with the plastic bags, sacked the items, and zipped the bags shut. He wiped the sweat off his face. "Sure is hot, Vince," he said. "Gonna be here much longer?"
Vince didn't bother to answer. He looked up at the chopper: "Flying a little low. Was that a Navy helicopter?" Vince asked Mr. Williams.
"I don't think so," said the father. "Looked more like the helicopters they use for oil drilling rigs out in the Gulf. We've seen the same kind fly over several times since we've been here."
"It came by so fast I didn't get the number," said Vince. He turned to the crowd. "Anyone notice the number on that helicopter?" No answer. "Even a clue to the number that's close?" Still no answer.
One man in the crowd held up his hand. "Didn't see a number," he said. "I could see a name or initials on the side, looked like SRS."
Vince made a note on his pad. "Thank you, sir," he said.
The older of the two boys stepped from behind his dad; he avoided looking at the corpse as he moved closer to the Deputy and stood aside while Vince gazed expectantly at the crowd. The boy looked up at the officer as if waiting for an opportune time to speak.
"What is it, young man? Do you have something to tell me?" asked Vince.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I think that man came from that helicopter."
"What do you mean?"
"Yesterday, when we were swimming out there I saw that same helicopter come down real low to the water—could barely see it, so far away."
"What did you see?"
"A wave came in, splashed water in my face, and almost knocked us over; but I thought I saw something fall out. I asked my brother if he saw it, but his back was turned to the wave."
"What did you think it was?"
"Couldn't tell for sure, it was so far out, but I thought somebody was dumping trash in the water."
"Did you tell your Dad?"
The boy looked at his father. "Uh ... no, sir. Just forgot about it until now, I guess."
"You think it was the same helicopter we just now saw?" asked Vince.
"Yes, sir," the boy said. "Looked like it."
"How can you tell?"
"I could see those red and yellow marks on the tail."
"Even that far from you?"
"You're a bright boy ... been a great help, young man." Vince extended his hand for a shake and motioned for the father to come closer. "I'm sure your Dad is proud of you. But now remember, you must not ever tell anyone except an officer about what you saw or what you told me today. Your dad will tell you why. And we'll need to talk to you again real soon."
"I understand what you mean, Deputy," the father said. "Does this mean that we might have to stay longer? I'd really like to get my family away from here."
"I'm sorry, sir," said Vince. "I know this has been a trying ordeal for all of you, but we will need you to stay for a while longer. I need to know where to find you," said Vince. "The helicopter story complicates the picture. The FBI might get involved here. They will search for the chopper, will need your son to identify it. First we'll see what the city police say."
Within seconds the sirens of the approaching patrol car could be heard. Neither of the two city police officers were uniformed. Vince assumed they were detectives. The lead officer flashed his badge. "Blake Browning, Corpus Christi Police. What do we have here ...? Oh, Vince Palter, didn't recognize you at first."
"Good to see you, Blake," said Vince. "An interesting story here."
He narrated the details of his and Curly's findings.
"Identified the body?" asked Blake.
"Not yet," said Vince.
"We checked the boundary line. I'm sure you know, this is out of the city limits. Is there anything we can do to help here?"
"Guess not," said Vince. "Yeah, I knew it had to be county. Somebody made a mistake and called you. Our Sheriff is out of town; I'll call the county medical examiner."
"There's a wagon right behind us," said Officer Browning. "They'll handle the corpse if that's all right with you."
"Yeah, thanks. That will help."
"We have a missing person report," said Blake. "I'm sure you received it also. If it matches, let me know."
"Yeah, I wondered the same. As soon as we know something you'll be informed. Thanks for coming."
"No problem. Glad it's yours and not mine. Good to see you again, Vince, wish you were working for us."
"Thanks, Blake," he replied. "You know I never will."
"Still carrying some bitterness, I see," said Blake. "We all know you got a dirty deal, Vince. Oh ..., I forgot to tell you. We had a call from the FBI. They think they probably already know the identity of the victim. I imagine you'll hear from them, too."
Vince turned away, as if avoiding further conversation, but then turned back to the city detective. "I appreciate your quick response, Blake," he said.
David Williams——the boys still clinging to his trouser legs——stepped toward Vince from where he had retreated while Vince and Blake had their discussion.
"May we leave now, Deputy?" he asked.
"It's all right now," said Vince. "It looks like the FBI will be taking over the investigation. I'll get your name and address to them. They likely will allow you to return to San Antonio after they verify your address."
Vince moved away, looked out over the crowd trying to locate Curly. Nowhere to be seen. Probably in the car taking a nap or in the shade somewhere, he thought. Vince stopped short and turned back toward Mr. Williams and the boys. They were working their way through the crowd to their condo.
"Mr. Williams," Vince called out, walking fast to catch up with the father and his sons. "I just want to thank you and your sons for your help. I'm sorry your vacation was interrupted."
"I thank you, officer, for your concern and for the way you've treated my boys and me," he said.
"It has been such a pleasure to see you spending time with your boys," said Vince. "Do you get to be with them often?"
He pulled his boys close. "Every chance I get," he said. "They grow up so fast."
Vince looked away. He could feel moisture forming in his eyes. "Yes, they do."
"Do you have children, Deputy?" said Vince.
Vince tousled the hair of the older boy. "One son," he said. "I remember when he was the age of these boys. Don't see much of him now."
"I'm sorry," said Mr. Williams.
"Thanks again," said Vince. "They are brave boys. Keep them close."
Vince watched for a few moments while father and sons walked away. He turned and gazed at the waves rolling in with their mighty crash, only to expend themselves and withdraw with a shallow flow. Was that his life? He had always been able to ride the crest of life's waves and had always managed to coast through the troughs. He was now trapped in a trough in his life and could see no way out. No matter what he tried, his "beach" always seemed to lead to nowhere. If only he could again capture the enjoyment of spending time with his son. Maybe someday. Right now he had to cast off the nostalgia; he had work to do.
* * *
No sooner had the city detectives entered their patrol car to leave than the ambulance arrived. After a brief verbal exchange with the city officers, the attendants proceeded to "scoop and load" the corpse.
"Detective Browning just told us to take the body to the county morgue and notify the Medical Examiner," said the EMS person. "Anything else? No identity?"
"Not yet. I'll write my report and get it to the medical examiner right away. We have a carrying case, keys, and some documents that we'll pass on to the ME."
"Then we're off," he said as he slammed shut the ambulance door.
* * *
"Did you put the man's zipped bag in the trunk, Curly?" said Vince as they climbed into their patrol car to start their journey back to town.
"No, it's in the back seat," he replied. He turned around and reached for the plastic storage bag. "What the hell ..., it's not there, Vince. Did you move it?"
"Haven't touched it. Are you sure you put it in the car? Did you lock the car?"
"Uh ..., uh ..., no, Vince. Oh, my God ... where could it be? Didn't figure anybody would try to rob a police vehicle."
Vince grimaced. How could he put up with anyone this dense? "Maybe you put it in the trunk and forgot."
Curly hopped out and checked the trunk. The pallid, downtrodden look on his face when he returned told Vince that the only evidence they had was missing.
"Wh ... wh ... what could have happened, Vince?" said Curly, hardly able to speak because of stammering."
Vince shook his head as if in despair. "I don't know ... yes I do. Your stupidity is what happened. You surely knew how important those items were. Let's go back to the crowd, see if anyone saw anything suspicious. We're in trouble, Curly. Do you realize what you've done, you imbecile. How in the hell will we ever be able to explain this. The city police know we have the wallet and papers, and what's worse we'll be facing the FBI in a day or two."
"I can't help it, Vince. I just goofed. I should have put it in the trunk. I can't believe anybody would break into a police car. Why would anyone take a chance like that? It's not like they would find anything of value, you know like guns they could steal."
"Dammit, Curly. You still don't get it." Vince replied. "The wallet and whatever else we removed from the body is the only evidence we have to turn over to anybody. Shit! How did this happen to me. Now I've got to write a report, what the hell is it gonna look like. I might as well resign and look for another job."
"Let me look again, Vince. Maybe I missed it," said Curly as he rummaged through the back seat of the car.
"Just forget it. Let's go back and check with a few of the bystanders, see if they saw anything irregular."
"I still don't see why anybody would want those things except for any cash."
"Curly, will you please shut up and help me," said Vince. "Believe me, it represents more than cash to somebody, for them to break into our car and take it. The challenge for whoever investigates this case is to find out what it means to whom."
"I'm not smart enough to figure that out."
Vince rolled his eyes skyward. Without saying a word his face wrinkled into a frowning smirk as he nodded agreement.
Vince and Curly interrogated as many of the people still gathered close by as they could——without a single clue on a description of anyone who might have removed the items from the patrol car, or even been close to the car.
"Dammit," said Vince as they returned to the vehicle. "How did this happen. The Sheriff will be furious, and I can't blame him. How could anybody break in without somebody seeing them?"
Excerpted from BEACH TO NOWHERE by Charles Clark Copyright © 2011 by Charles Clark. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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