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Bitter End

Bitter End

3.8 10
by Christine Kling

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In her acclaimed novels of suspense, Christine Kling gives readers good reason to believe that if Travis McGee and Kinsey Millhone had ever hooked up, their child would have grown up to be Seychelle Sullivan: a beautiful, savvy heroine with a knack for steering her salvage tugboat into South Florida’s most troubled waters. In Seychelle’s new caper, she may just be in


In her acclaimed novels of suspense, Christine Kling gives readers good reason to believe that if Travis McGee and Kinsey Millhone had ever hooked up, their child would have grown up to be Seychelle Sullivan: a beautiful, savvy heroine with a knack for steering her salvage tugboat into South Florida’s most troubled waters. In Seychelle’s new caper, she may just be in over her head when murder and corruption come bobbing to the surface.

Since kindergarten, Seychelle and her best friend, Molly, had been as close as sisters. Molly even dated Seychelle’s brother. But it all ended suddenly when Nick Pontus, a slick, older, up-and-coming entrepreneur, came along. A smitten Molly quit school, married her new beau, and never spoke to Seychelle again. After thirteen years, it still stings.

Seychelle didn’t see the sniper who picked Nick off at the helm of his yacht, but she knows that there are plenty of people in South Florida who wanted to see the gambling-boat tycoon dead: the Russian mobsters looking for a piece of his casino action, the Indian gamers who resent his competition, and the ecological activists fighting his plans to develop Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront. But it’s Molly whom the cops zero in on. And despite her bitter feelings and against her better judgment, when her back-from-the-blue friend asks for help, Seychelle can’t just weigh anchor and cruise. She’s got to dive in.

What she finds is a money-skimming scam aboard Nick’s flagship gambling boat, Nick’s new trophy wife turned merry rich widow, and Nick and Molly’s teenage son, a scared kid with a big secret . . . and a killer on his trail. Protecting the boy, proving Molly’s innocence, and navigating between squalls of gunfire add up to a tall order as salvage jobs go. But like any good captain, Seychelle will never abandon ship. Even if it means risking her life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance praise for Bitter End

“Bitter End is a terrific novel. Christine Kling is quickly becoming the female John McDonald.”
–James Swain, author of Mr. Lucky

“Christine Kling’s novels just keep getting better and better–no mean feat, considering how impossibly high she set the bar with her first. Christine’s familiarity with the Florida she writes about is apparent from the very first page, and she takes her readers on fast-paced tours of areas into which few writers have ventured.”
–Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, author of Luck of the Draw

Praise for Christine Kling

Cross Current
“Kling’s prose is strong and authoritative. . . . Cross Current is a taut, fast-paced thriller.”
–The Miami Herald

“Exciting . . . Kling is an author who bears watching. She clearly knows how to add texture and color to her narrative. . . . Cross Current is a keeper.”
–The Tampa Tribune

“We’ll go on a boat ride with Seychelle anytime.”
–South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Surface Tension
“An exceptionally rare first novel . . . moving and full of suspense.”
–James W. Hall, author of Off the Chart

“Seychelle Sullivan fights off a very real array of land-based predators with a grit and determination that John D. himself would have cheered.”
–Les Standiford, author of Bone Key

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Seychelle Sullivan Series , #3
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The sun wasn’t up yet when I rounded the bend in the river and came upon the fifty-foot Hatteras Mykonos, the yacht that belonged to the ex-husband of my ex–best friend, idling in front of the Andrews Avenue Bridge. The sky was a pale, washed-out blue, cloudless, promising a warmer day once the sun rose. But at that hour the morning was cold enough that wisps of steam rose off the surface of the dark river. Nikolas Pontus, the ex-husband himself, was up on the motor yacht’s flybridge. He was alone, which surprised me, because now that he was a gazillionaire, I didn’t think he ever did anything for or by himself. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up over my ponytail to drive off the chill that suddenly danced along the back of my neck.

Up on the Andrews Bridge, the bells were ringing and the bridge tender had started lowering the traffic gates. I shifted into neutral, not wanting to get too close to Nick or his boat and hoping the bridge would open soon so the Mykonos could disappear upriver, out of my way and out of my life. Nick was the reason my friendship with Molly had come to an end, and a thing like that you can’t ever forgive.

It was quiet on the avenue for a Monday morning, especially compared to what it would be like an hour from now when the worker bees started filing over the bridge on their way to the courthouse. On the south bank of the river, the Downtowner, my favorite Fort Lauderdale restaurant and bar, stood silent and shuttered. Several white plastic beer glasses littered the tables out front, leftovers from those who had partied past closing last night.

An old woman pushing a baby stroller full of clothing and plastic trash bags emerged from the courtyard next to the restaurant and, after studying my boat for several seconds, turned away from me, passing under the bridge. I often saw her bent body walking the streets downtown, especially along the riverfront, her bones showing through the thin cotton of the plain white blouse she always wore, her white hair neatly pinned up off her neck. This morning, she hugged the ends of a bright red shawl wrapped tight round her shoulders. Beneath her skirt, her bare ankles looked frail above her dirty sneakers, and I wondered where she’d slept during the night.

I was traveling up the river onboard my forty-foot salvage tug, Gorda, bound for Summerfield Boatworks, where I had a 7:00 a.m. appointment to pick up a jittery new boat owner and his recently purchased fifty-seven-foot ketch. The job was a referral from George Rice, a broker friend of mine, who had called and pleaded with me, saying, “Seychelle darling, this is such a goddamn beautiful boat, and this buyer has never even driven a dinghy. The owner says he feels like he’s turning his sixteen-year-old daughter over to a Hell’s Angel, for God’s sake, and he’s refusing to sign unless this newbie gets help getting down the river.” I’d quoted them a ridiculous price, and when they’d said okay, I couldn’t turn it down.

Up ahead, the bridge span began its slow climb. The Mykonos had drifted side-on to the bridge, and Nick began trying to horse her around with alternating heavy-handed squirts to the big twin diesels. He was a lousy boat handler and, to my mind, an even worse human being. I wondered how such a creep could have made it so big in so short a time. When he’d married seventeen-year-old Molly and taken her out of our lives, he’d owned a greasy Greek sub and gyro take-out place on the boardwalk on Hollywood Beach. Now, he was the owner of a chain of high-end restaurants as well as a fleet of casino gambling boats. I watched as he finally got his yacht lined up with the bridge opening, then gave her too much throttle and flew through the gap on the rising tide. Money hasn’t changed much, I thought. He’s still a jerk.

The Mykonos had just cleared the far side of the bridge and I was just starting my approach when I heard a loud crack that echoed off the tall high-rises on either side of the river. That was followed by another crack; then from up on the Andrews Bridge came the sound of squealing tires. I caught a quick glimpse of the top of a black car headed north, down off the bridge, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it must have made a U-turn up by the gates. My attention had been drawn to the sight of Nick Pontus slumped forward over the controls.

Nick wasn’t moving, but his boat sure was. My God, I thought, he must have pushed the throttles forward when he fell. The big white sport fisherman’s stern was starting to squat, and her wake frothed as she churned upriver past the shops and restaurants of the Riverfront development, where early-morning employees had stopped what they were doing to stare as the big yacht steamed past the docks, headed for the narrow opening at the railroad bridge.

I jammed the throttle forward on Gorda without thinking. Shit! On smooth water like this, that boat would pick up speed like a Porsche. There was no way my little tug could catch a Hatteras with her cruising speed of over thirty knots, but my years as a beach lifeguard and as a salvage operator had left me with certain reflex reactions to the sight of a person or boat in peril—even if that person was Nick Pontus.

The unmanned railroad bridge always remained in an upright position until a train was approaching. Then a buzzer went off, and a large digital clock told boaters they had five minutes to get clear before the bridge would automatically lower. Fortunately, the bridge was up, and there were no numbers on the clock, but the opening still looked mighty narrow for that Hatteras’s sixteen-foot beam. From my angle, she looked to be lined up pretty square with the opening, but the slightest gust of wind, the smallest wave, or even a shifting of the weight onboard the boat would turn her aside and slam her into either side of that bridge trestle.

None of that happened. Breath exploded from my mouth. Nick still hadn’t moved, and the boat slipped between the arms of the tracks, plowing on toward the huge oaks and quaint historical buildings of Riverwalk. While the boat had not hit either side of the railroad bridge, she was now headed dead-on for the boulders that made up the riprap that rimmed the park in front of the Old River Inn. The converted hundred-year-old pioneer home was Nick’s flagship restaurant, his baby, the last place on earth Nick Pontus would want to crash and burn.

I leaned forward over Gorda’s controls, urging more speed out of the little tug. I had no idea if Nick was still alive, but I just kept thinking of all the fuel that boat must have in her tanks as she drove on, seeming to split the river with her wake.

Again, the boat’s course never wavered. I gritted my teeth and felt every muscle tighten as I anticipated the impact. The Mykonos must have been traveling at better than fifteen knots when she hit the rocks.

I expected an explosion like something out of the movies. Instead, the big white yacht reared up out of the water like a humpback whale breaching in the deep waters far offshore. The thunder shattered the city’s quiet as the fiberglass slid up onto the rocks and the diesels screamed out of control. I thought she was going to drive right across the twenty feet of lawn and into the Old River Inn’s bar. The sight of that boat climbing skyward, her long bow and red bottom paint canted at a surreal angle, was something I had trouble wrapping my mind around. She looked like she was trying to fly. With half her hull clear of the water, the noise of the engines sounded louder than the night freights that crossed the bridge past midnight. Then, her screws must have hit stone, and she found the apex of her climb. Both engines stopped abruptly, and she began a slow, screeching, scraping slide back into the river.

The first thing I saw when I pulled alongside the yacht’s port side was the blood splatter on the inside of the clear plastic enclosure surrounding the flybridge. Then I saw Nick’s face. He’d slumped forward in the helmsman’s chair, his head resting on its side on the steering wheel. His eyes were fixed open, dull as glass eyes from the taxidermist, and there was a gaping hole where his forehead should have been.

I closed my eyes and turned away, hand over my mouth, throat fighting to hold down the bile. Not even Nick deserved that. I blinked, felt the dampness on my lashes, and struggled for control.

Sirens. I probably should have called someone on the VHF, but the cops would make it here before the Coast Guard. The bridge tender must have called 911 as soon as he realized Nick had been shot. I heard them making their way across the quiet morning city. Police, ambulances, paramedics. Too late for Nick. The Mykonos, his million-dollar play toy, had become a crime scene.

The yacht’s waterline was already several inches underwater, her blue boot stripe completely submerged. She’d come loose from where she’d lodged on the rocks and was starting to drift back out into the river. I could hear the whine of her working pumps, but the water was going in faster than it was going out. I didn’t know how badly she was holed, but one thing was clear: the Mykonos was soon going to be on the bottom of the New River.

I guess you could say that’s how I justified it. Taking her under tow, I mean. The cops wouldn’t get it. Once they got here, they’d just string up their yellow tape and watch her go down. It also occurred to me that the insurance company would be more than a little pleased if I could get this damaged vessel to the boatyard before she sank.

It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes to lash Gorda alongside the big yacht’s aft quarter so I could climb aboard. I grabbed a couple of thick hawsers I’d already set out on deck for towing the ketch, and I tossed them into the yacht’s cockpit. While aboard, I worked swiftly, dragging the lines forward and tying them to the windlass and cleats on the bow. I avoided looking up at the flybridge.

I leaped over the gunwales back into Gorda’s cockpit and threw off the lines that bound the two vessels amidships. Back in the wheelhouse, I backed off, then eased ahead slow, so that the towlines wouldn’t drop off my decks until the lines grew tight. I glanced downriver toward the Allied Marine Yard. They had a big seventy-five footer in the slings already. I’d do better heading upriver for boatyard row. Increasing the power slowly, I straightened out the two boats and got us on course for the Seventh Avenue Bridge. I was determined not to slow or stop, so I reached for the mike and called the bridge tender.

“Securité, securité, this is the tug Gorda calling the Seventh Avenue Bridge, requesting an emergency opening.”

Onshore I saw flashing blue lights in front of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and a couple of cops trotted across the lawn toward the river, waving their arms at me, stunned looks on their faces as I pulled away from their location. I called the bridge again as I nudged the throttles forward. “Securité, securité, tug Gorda calling the Seventh Avenue Bridge, requesting an emergency opening. My tow is sinking.”

The bridge was about twelve hundred yards off, and I didn’t hear any bells or see any movement in the bridge tender’s tower. I reached for the tug’s horn and blew five short blasts, waited about five seconds, and blew another five.

Gorda had plenty of clearance without a bridge opening, but the Hatteras stood tall. I looked back at her and reckoned that, at worst, she’d lose the hard top over the flybridge, and that was an acceptable loss. If we stopped now, I thought, as I checked Gorda’s gauges, we’d lose the whole vessel.

At last, bells started ringing, the traffic gates went down, and the bridge had just started to open when Gorda slid under. By the time the Hatteras slipped through, she cleared by mere inches. I doubt she would have made it if she hadn’t already been a foot down on her lines.

As we plowed our way up the New River, past Sailboat Bend, under the Davie Bridge, and through the Citrus Isles canals, we were throwing up an atrocious wake. Waterlogged as that fifty-footer was, I was still pulling her at better than six knots, though I had to slow her down some as we rounded the hairpin bend at Little Florida. Masts danced and lines groaned as the boats tied up in front of the luxury homes bucked and rolled. One fellow ran out across his pool deck, coffee mug in hand, shaking his fist at me and screaming curses. I knew I’d be responsible for any damage I caused, but I also knew that the Hatteras was sinking fast, and I had only minutes to get her to the slip.

I switched channels and tried to hail River Bend Marine, hoping like hell that someone was in the office at this early hour and had turned on the radio. No luck. After calling three times, I switched to channel 16, the emergency and hailing frequency, and began calling any vessel in River Bend Marine. I finally got an answer from a cruiser, an older fellow who told me after we’d switched frequencies that he’d round up some yard guys and they’d be waiting with the Travel Lift when I got there. I thanked him, and as we ended our conversation, the Fort Lauderdale Marine Patrol broke in, calling Gorda. I glanced back at my tow as she swung to starboard, and I tried to correct. The radio crackled again, the officer’s irritation growing more apparent. I didn’t have time to deal with them. I switched off the VHF and got back to the business of trying to keep my tug and waterlogged tow under control as we steamed upriver at a speed that made control purely an illusion.

As I swung round the bend and headed into boatyard row, it looked like an entire fleet of small vessels was there to greet me. Every yachtie in the area who had been listening in on channel 16 had jumped into his dinghy and come out to assist in getting the sinking yacht into the slipway. Charlie, the boatyard foreman, was in the yard launch, and he pulled alongside the aft port quarter of the wallowing sport fisherman to help slow her down. In the basin off the slipway, out of the current, I shortened up my towlines, got Gorda back off the starboard quarter, and, together, we eased Mykonos into the slings that dangled deep in the slip. The Travel Lift engine blew off a puff of exhaust and the slings tightened under the Hatteras just as the Fort Lauderdale Marine Patrol boat came screaming around the bend, blue lights flashing in the gilded morning light. II. “What the hell did you think you were doing, Sullivan?”

Skip Robinson, Fort Lauderdale Marine Patrol officer, was standing on the wood dock next to Gorda, legs spread slightly apart, hands on his hips, his face redder than a Canadian’s who fell asleep his first day on the beach. I’d docked my boat at the river end of the seawall that led to the slipway, and I’d sat perched on the bulwark, watching as Skip arrived and established a perimeter around the Mykonos.

“I was doing what I could to preserve your crime scene.”

He let out a dry bark that was supposed to resemble a laugh. “Right. If that was all you wanted, you could have just left that Hatteras on the rocks where she was, and my crime scene would have been intact.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, Skip. Arrest me if you want. Fact is, she hit in a spot where the riprap was so perfectly sloped she just slid straight up out of the water, and then straight back in.” I shook my head, as I still had trouble believing it. “It was something to see. Anyway, there was nothing for it to hang up on.”

Emergency vehicles began pouring into the boatyard: several police cars, an ambulance, even a fire truck that barely squeezed through the gate. I imagined the pack of them wandering all over town, not knowing where their crime scene had gone.

“But you took the victim away from medical assistance,” Skip said.

I watched as the paramedics climbed first onto the boat. Two guys in blue jumpsuits from the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department climbed up the stainless ladder to the flybridge. “Come on Skip, look at him. It doesn’t take a medical professional to see the guy’s way beyond medical assistance.” The two medics were already climbing back down off the bridge. It had taken them less than fifteen seconds to come to the same conclusion.

“Just don’t go anywhere, Sullivan,” Skip said, turning and walking away. Over his shoulder, he added, “You’re not off the hook yet.”

As I set about coiling the lines on deck and calling Summerfield Boatworks on the VHF to tell them why I’d been delayed, my brain kept playing short flashbacks from the good times, when we were kids, when Molly and I had lived inside that secret world of childhood best friends. We’d met in Ms. Winnick’s kindergarten class and discovered that we lived only one house apart. Her family had just moved in the week before school started. For the next twelve years, when it came to female friends, we were it for each other. Molly and I didn’t get along with most of the other girls—the giggly, silly ones who teased the quiet kids and always talked about clothes and TV and things that mattered little in our world. We were essentially both loners, a couple of the peculiar children who are always standing apart from the crowd, and we struck up a friendship out there on the perimeter.

By high school, we certainly made an odd couple when we hung out together. Molly, standing a petite five-foot-two, had flashing, dark eyes and long, ink-black hair inherited from her Seminole grandmother. She had her own artsy style of dress, and the boys were starting to take notice of her curvaceous shape, while at five-foot-ten, I was a giant gawky tomboy who kept my budding curves well hidden under my constant wardrobe of jeans and baggy T-shirts. She had her passion for drawing nature and always carried her sketchbook as I dragged her along to follow my enthusiasm for boats and the river.

It was in the fall of his senior year that my brother Pit, who had always been far more interested in surfing than girls, fell hard for Molly. As kids, the three of us had often played together, since Molly and I were only a year younger than Pit. He got along with us better than he did with my other older brother, Maddy. We’d be fishing off our seawall, taking the dinghy up Mosquito Creek, and playing pirates or catching pollywogs. It was my junior year when Pit and Molly started dating, and while at first I was a little jealous of the secrets they shared, eventually I realized they weren’t going to shut me out, and I could be happy for the two people I loved most in my teenage world.

Throughout the last thirteen years, ever since she’d dumped Pit just before his senior prom and run off and married Nick Pontus, Molly and I had not spoken a single word to each other. She disappeared from my life without a word, without even telling me that she was getting married or moving out of her parents’ home. We were supposed to be best friends, and one day she was there at school, talking about the big dance, then she was gone, married and living in a little Hollywood Beach apartment with her new husband, working behind the counter in his take-out joint. And my sweet brother Pit, the most gentle, sensitive one of us three kids, had his big heart ripped out. He didn’t talk to anybody for a week. Every day he’d head straight to the beach after school and surf until it was too dark to see. Then he’d come home, go into his room, and close the door quietly. He stayed behind that door the night of the prom, playing loud music full of crashing guitars. I waited for her to call me, to apologize, to explain how and why she could have done this to both me and Pit. But that call never came, and I promised myself I would never be the first to make a move.

Over the years, I’d seen her picture sometimes in the papers or on the news as her art career took off and Nick became first the town’s darling as a restaurant mogul, then the demon himself when he brought casino gambling boats to South Florida.

“Miss Sullivan?”

I’d been sitting on the bunk in the wheelhouse, daydreaming, purposely not watching what was going on around the Mykonos. I stepped out through the companionway door and checked out the fellow standing on the dock next to my boat. He was wearing a yellow knit sport shirt and light brown Polo chino slacks. He stood about five-foot-six and couldn’t have weighed more than 135 pounds. His hair was bleached white blond and stood up straight in a tall, flattop crew cut. His smile was so white for a man clearly in his forties, I wondered if his teeth had all been capped.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

He bent down and held out a card for me. “I’m Detective Rich Amoretti.” He flashed me that mouth full of Chiclets again. “Mind if I come aboard?”

I shrugged. “Be my guest.” I took his card as he climbed down onto the afterdeck, and I examined it. “This says Special Investigations Unit/Vice Squad.” I pointed toward the Mykonos. “Isn’t this a homicide?”

He glanced over at the Hatteras and all the men and women working on and around the boat. “Yeah, you’re right.” He sat down on the aluminum bulwark around Gorda’s stern and crossed his straight legs at the ankles. The contrast between his bleached hair and dark tan told me he’d spent some time this winter in a tanning booth. Nobody who was a permanent resident here looked that color from the sun in February. “But you see, Miss Sullivan, Nick Pontus and his casino gambling boats have been an interest of mine for over two years. I’ll be assisting the homicide detectives in coming up with a list of suspects.”

“A list of people who wanted to kill Nick? Seems to me that would be a mighty long list.”

He laughed, and then proceeded to grill me for details about the shooting, focusing especially on the glimpse I’d had of the black car. Because I was approaching the bridge, I told him, I really couldn’t see anything more than the top of the car. I had no idea what the make of the car might be. I advised him to talk to the bridge tender. I told Detective Amoretti that I suspected the shooter would have had to exit his vehicle to get that shot off, and even at that hour of the morning, someone must have seen something.

“We have officers interviewing the bridge tender and canvassing the area for any other witnesses. You do understand you’re going to have to come down to the station? It was a pretty stupid stunt you pulled this morning. You pissed off some people moving that boat like that.”

I lifted my shoulders. “Yeah, I guess I probably did. You know anything about the salvage business, Detective Amoretti?”

“Not a thing,” he said, crossing his arms and raising his almost invisible blond eyebrows.

“For starters, there are no set fees for services in this business. For towing, yes, but not for salvage. The marine salvage laws go back a couple hundred years, and they were meant to encourage good Samaritans to volunteer to help another vessel in peril rather than just pillage it. Today, we call this ‘no cure–no pay’ salvage. When it’s successful, the salver is rewarded a percentage of the value of the boat he saves. This morning, before the shooting, that three-year-old Hatteras over there was worth well over a million dollars. Now she’s busted up her screws, maybe ruined the engines when she nearly sank, definitely holed her hull, but she’s still gonna be worth a lot more than you or I make in a year. In addition, if she had sunk with full fuel tanks in the middle of the New River, it would have been an environmental disaster as well as a hazard to navigation. The owner and his insurance company could have been held responsible for all that. Eventually, if we can’t agree on a sum, it could go to arbitration, and they’ll figure how much I risked and then award me somewhere in the vicinity of ten to thirty percent of the value of that boat as she sits right now. Now, I ask you, Detective, would you have let her sink?”

He flashed me his too-perfect teeth. “I see your point.”

I rode over to the Fort Lauderdale police station with Detective Amoretti in his bright red Corvette. He had a tendency to speed, a habit I’d noticed most cops shared. I hung on to the armrest with both hands when he accelerated.

On the way, he told me something about Nick Pontus that I did not know. He said it had been reported widely in the news, but I hated to admit that, though I loved to read the newspapers when I had the time, there were days, sometimes weeks, when I rarely heard any news other than the fish or weather reports I caught on the VHF. He said that a little over six months before, Nick had sold his whole TropiCruz Casino Line to a group of partners headed up by some guy named Ari Kagan, but that the new guy had had a falling out with Nick. They had each accused the other of cheating, stealing, and lying, and it had got so bad, they each had a restraining order out on the other. Nick had been in the process of taking Kagan to court to get the business back.

“This guy Kagan is American, but he’s linked in business and social circles to some heavy Russian guys who don’t always play nice,” Amoretti said. “It looks like Nick may have gotten in over his head, messed with the wrong people.”

“Are you saying Nick was mixed up with the Russian mafia? That they killed him?” I’d heard scuttlebutt at the Downtowner about how the Russians were making big inroads into prostitution and the drug trade in South Florida. When I didn’t have time for the papers, the Downtowner was my other source of news and local gossip.

The detective smiled as he burned rubber on a turn into the residential neighborhood behind the police station. “I didn’t say that, now did I?”

Inside the station, Detective Amoretti left me with an efficient young woman who typed my statement into a computer as fast as I could tell it. After she’d printed it out and I’d signed it, I asked her if I could use her phone to call a friend for a ride back to the boatyard. I didn’t tell her that my friend is also my attorney. She agreed, but insisted on dialing the number herself.

“Hey, Jeannie, it’s me,” I said after the young woman handed me the receiver. “I’m at the Fort Lauderdale police station, and I need a ride.”

I braced myself for the harangue I knew was coming. Since I’d recently had some difficulties with the police, Jeannie insisted that she be present anytime I dealt with them. I’d already violated that rule.

“Seychelle Sullivan, what have you got yourself into this time?” she asked.

I told her about the shooting, and as soon as she heard Nick’s name, she turned very serious and told me not to say one more word. She was on her way.

Amoretti must have been hanging nearby, because as soon as I hung up the phone, he reappeared and took me upstairs to the detectives’ bull pen, a large space broken up by individual desks and office cubicles.

“Don’t tell me,” I said. “You’re taking me to Detective Collazo?”

“Vic? Nah, he works the four to midnight now. You won’t find him in here in the mornings.”

That threw me. I’d never thought about Collazo working a shift or adhering to hours. He was just always there. Much as he and I had banged heads in the past, Collazo was a known quantity. I knew where I stood with the man.

Amoretti led me over to a metal desk occupied by a large dark-haired man wearing a brown suit. As excessively polished, tanned, toothed, and coifed as Amoretti was, this man was the exact opposite. His suit, shirt, and tie looked as though they had been selected randomly, not taking into account color or print. A splotch of something that looked like dried egg was stuck on his paisley tie, and his multiple chins were darkened by a day’s growth of beard. Rose-colored pouches hung beneath his green eyes, and when he stood, smiled, and extended his hand, his belly hung over his belt, straining the buttons on his wrinkled shirt. Due to the nicotine stains on both his teeth and fingers, I kept the handshake brief.

“Detective Clayton Mabry,” he said. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

Ma’am? Seeing as it was less than a week until my thirtieth birthday, I was sensitive to things like that. It was the first time I remembered anyone calling me “Ma’am”—before that, I’d always been “Miss,” and somehow, hearing it in that good ol’ boy accent made it seem even worse. Hell, thirty wasn’t that old—was it?

Detective Mabry pointed to the chair on the opposite side of his desk and offered me the pink box of Good & Plenty he held in his hand.

“Want some?”

I held out my hand as he shook some candies out of the box, then completely ignored Jeannie’s advice and began to talk to him. The thing was, you felt sorry for him. The man looked like such a mess, and he sounded like he was an oar short of a pair. I couldn’t imagine him ever solving a case, and I felt like any little bit I could do to help him out would be a kindness. Detective Amoretti slouched into a chair at an adjacent desk, pulled out his cell phone, and began playing with the numbers on the phone’s face.

Mabry interrupted my retelling of the morning events. “When you say Nick Pontus’s name, honey, you flinch. You got history with him?”

I exhaled loudly to buy some time. Maybe he was more perceptive than I thought. I really didn’t want to talk about this. “History. I guess that’s one way to put it.”

He extended the box with raised eyebrows and then poured a few more pink and white candies into my hand.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Tell me about it.”

I chewed the licorice-flavored candies slowly, trying to think of some way to get out of telling the whole story. It was impossible. The way his eyes were fastened on my face, he wasn’t going to let me dance around. I swallowed and started. “Back when I was in high school, eleventh grade, Nick dated a friend of mine. My best friend, actually. He was older than her by about five years, which is a lot for kids that age, and even back then he was into flash. It was one of those whirlwind courtships they talk about. I tried to warn her off him, but she found something fascinating about him. Basically, he bought her affections, got her pregnant, then married her. She quit school. I haven’t spoken to either one of them since.”

“That’s it? You didn’t get an invite to the wedding so you dumped your best friend?”

I didn’t want to look away, but his eyes cut into me like serrated jade. “It’s complicated,” I said to the ceiling. “You wouldn’t understand.” I didn’t see how dredging up any of this would help them find Nick’s killer. I crossed my arms over my chest and slumped in my chair.

He slowly shook his head as he wrote something down in his notebook. Then he asked, “You sure the shots came from up on the bridge?”

I bounced my shoulders once. I knew I was acting like a bratty kid, but I couldn’t help it. “Not really. I guess I just assumed that from the way the car peeled out, you know, made a U-turn and burned rubber.”

“Hmm. And you said you couldn’t see the driver at all.”

“I barely saw the roof of the car. What I could see of it was black, though, and shiny—not a convertible. There are low concrete barriers along the sides of the bridge. Come to think of it, I can see over those walls with no problem when I’m driving my Jeep, so I guess it must have been more like a sports car. Something fairly low.”

He wrote at length in his notebook, without looking up at me. I glanced over at Detective Amoretti. He still seemed engrossed in his cell phone.

“Detective Mabry,” I said, “do you think the killers were Russian mafia?”

“Whoa, darlin’.” He shot a quick look at Amoretti. “Don’t know where you got that idea.” He shook his head. “Fact is, most folks are murdered by somebody close—family members, upset lovers, that kind of thing.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got to admit, this one does look like a professional hit.”

“Seychelle, that’s enough,” Jeannie said, sweeping into the room wearing one of her voluminous tropical print muumuus, flip-flops slapping the linoleum as she crossed the room. There were too many desks crammed into that office, and the space between them was scant. At nearly three hundred pounds, Jeannie was a substantial woman, and as she approached the chair where Amoretti slouched, he leaped to his feet and pushed the chair under the desk, clearing the way so she could pass. She produced business cards and handed them to both Mabry and Amoretti. “I’m Jeannie Black, Miss Sullivan’s attorney.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Christine Kling has spent more than thirty years messing about with boats. It was her sailing experience that led her to write her first four-book suspense series about Florida female tug and salvage captain Seychelle Sullivan. Christine earned an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University and her articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. The first novel in the Shipwreck series, Circle of Bones, was released in 2013, and Dragon's Triangle (2014) continues the adventures of Riley and Cole. Having retired from her job as an English professor at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Christine lives aboard a 52-foot motorsailor with her family including Barney, the Yorkshire Terror and Ruby, the Wonder Dog.

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Bitter End 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
otterly More than 1 year ago
This book will especially appeal to those persons who actually sail boats. There are a few passages concerning that. The murder which starts off the book, is that of Nick Pontus, a wealthy man, formerly married to a once close friend of Seychelle Sullivan, a salvage boat operator, and main character. She has a lot of help in solving the murder. The current Mrs. Joyce Pontus is a real unpleasant person, as is her brother, Captain Richard, who fancies himself a great country western singer and songwriter. There are a few coincidences which come to light at the end of the book, which is fairly interesting. I don't know that I would read another book by this author, and the fact that it is 600 pages would probably put off book club members.
Threeaxel More than 1 year ago
Lots of twists and turns as the plot develops. Seychelle's family ties begin to develop further and you get a deeper look into her personality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This suspense has enough twists and turns to make it a straight thru read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only problem I have with this series is that there is only one more to read! Ms Kling has captured the essence of the sea-going crowd in her settings, the intensity of suspense in her plots, and the intellect of curiosity in her well-developed solutions. In the genre of Travis McGee and Matt Helm, if you read Janet Evanovich, Marcia Cross, Donald Hamilton, Sue Grafton, or John McDonald, you'll love Christine Kling!
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