Wyatt's Revenge (Matt Royal Series #4)by H. Terrell Griffin
On balance, retired trial lawyer turned-beach bum Matt Royal is a pretty laid-back fellow. But when Laurence Wyatt, one of Matt's best friends, is murdered, Matt trades in his easygoing ways for a hard-hitting quest for revenge. Matt knows the Longboat Key police will do their job in investigating. But for Matt, finding Wyatt's killer isn't a job; it's personal.… See more details below
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On balance, retired trial lawyer turned-beach bum Matt Royal is a pretty laid-back fellow. But when Laurence Wyatt, one of Matt's best friends, is murdered, Matt trades in his easygoing ways for a hard-hitting quest for revenge. Matt knows the Longboat Key police will do their job in investigating. But for Matt, finding Wyatt's killer isn't a job; it's personal. Determined to do whatever it takes to solve Wyatt's murder, Matt takes matters into his own hands and embarks on a clandestine investigation. Soon, Matt finds himself in hot pursuit of a cadre of remorseless criminals and trained killers, but the tables turn and Matt becomes the pursued. Faced with mounting danger, Matt calls for backup from his buddies Jock Algren and Logan Hamilton. Matt Royal would go to the ends of the earth to exact revenge for Wyatt's murder, but will he go outside the law?Expect the unexpected in this wild and dangerous ride from Longboat Key, Florida, to Frankfurt, Germany, because hell hath no fury like Matt Royal scorned.
[i]Publisher's Weekly[/i] says Griffin's last novel, [i]Blood Island[/i],
Booklist says Griffin's last novel, [i]Blood Island[/i],
Griffin's last novel [i]Blood Island[/i] was a finalist in the National Best Books Award 2008, Fiction & Literature: Mystery/Suspense
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A Matt Royal Mystery
By H. Terrell Griffin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2009 H. Terrell Griffin
All rights reserved.
Laurence Wyatt was executed on a bright Sunday morning in late October when high white clouds drifted across the beach and out to the horizon where they kissed the azure water of the Gulf of Mexico. An onshore breeze ruffled the fronds of the palm trees that bordered the sand and the smell of the sea wafted on the currents of air that drifted lazily over a tableau of death. The morning quiet was pierced by the raucous cries of gulls diving for their breakfast.
The executioner used a large-caliber pistol, a .45 perhaps, and shot Wyatt behind the left ear. The steel-jacketed slug tore though his brain, searing gray matter, disrupting synapses, destroying the connections that make us human. The bullet exited his face, taking his right eye and most of the zygomatic arch with it, splattering the balcony railing with the remains of one of the finest brains in America. By the time the bullet exited Wyatt's face, he was dead.
The murderer put another bullet into the dead man, shooting him in the back of the neck. Why? Insurance? Malice? Or just because the killer was a mean son of a bitch who gave no more thought to killing a fine and gentle man than he would to stomping a roach.
The second bullet didn't matter. Wyatt was already dead, and the shooter had sealed his own death warrant when he sent the first slug into my friend's brain. The killer was dead meat from that moment on. He didn't know it, but I did. I would hunt him down and kill him and make sure he knew why he was dying. I owed that to Wyatt.
When Wyatt died, I was jogging on the beach, enjoying the view that was probably Wyatt's last glimpse of life. If I had thought about it, and I didn't, I would have guessed that Wyatt was looking at the sea, sitting on his balcony, reading the paper, and drinking the strong coffee he fancied. He did that every morning.
I would have been wrong. Wyatt was looking out to sea when he was shot, and the paper was spread on his lap. But there was no coffee cup. We knew what his last view was because of the blood splatter on the balcony rail. What we didn't know was whether Wyatt saw it coming, or if the shooter snuck up behind him and took the shot. Shots.
The news of Wyatt's death came to me as such news often does, in the person of a police officer. I was sitting on my sunporch overlooking Sarasota Bay when the knock came. It wasn't ominous in any way; just a routine rap on the front door of my condo. A friend coming for a visit perhaps, or the maintenance manager checking up on something.
I looked at my watch. Ten o'clock. I opened the door to find my fishing buddy, Bill Lester, standing at the threshold. He was wearing boat shoes, chinos, and a blue golf shirt with a Longboat Key, Florida police chief 's badge embroidered on the pocket. He was not a tall man, about five eight, his dark hair cut short, a small belly beginning to protrude over his belt, a neatly trimmed mustache gracing his upper lip. He carried no weapon that I could see. On the surface he was not a prepossessing figure, but he had a presence that transcended his stature. I think it was because of the no-nonsense way he approached life, like a man who knew at any given minute what the next one would bring. He exuded confidence the way aging drunks exude the stench of old booze. It rose off his body, giving him a demeanor that put people at ease. They knew they had found the man in charge, and they were comforted by the discovery.
Not today. Bill's face was a little gray, his eyes moist, his hair uncombed. His body language screamed that bad news was coming.
"What is it, Bill?" I asked.
"Laurence Wyatt's dead."
"Shot to death on his balcony."
We were still standing at the door. I felt as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. "Come on in. What happened?"
The chief went to my kitchen, pulled a mug from a cabinet and poured himself a cup of coffee. An act of familiarity bred between friends. We moved into the living room, and he told me what he'd found on Wyatt's balcony.
"His ex-wife found him. Called us," he said.
"How's she holding up?"
"Not good. But she's tough. My detective had a few more questions for her, and Logan Hamilton was on his way to pick her up. I wanted to tell you personally. I know how close you guys were."
"Yeah. For a long time. Was it a robbery?"
"Doesn't look like it. Donna said his laptop is missing, but that's all. There was cash in a money clip on his dresser and a wallet with several credit cards. I don't think some moke would kill for a laptop and leave the cash and cards."
"You're probably right. Maybe the computer will turn up."
"Tell me about him, Matt. I didn't know Laurence well."
"Nobody called him Laurence. He never liked his first name and all his friends called him Wyatt. I was a nineteen-year-old second lieutenant at the tail end of Vietnam. My first tour. Wyatt was a thirty-two-year-old major on his third. He taught me how to be a soldier and a leader. Mostly, he taught me about honor. And he showed me how to be a man."
"Was he Special Forces, too?"
"Yeah. We both wore the Green Beret. But Wyatt was special, Bill. A West Pointer who didn't have to keep volunteering for combat. He just felt that he owed it to the men. He always said that he'd been given an opportunity to be a leader, and that meant that he owed the army some leadership. That's what he did. He led."
"You guys stayed close."
"When I got out of the army and started college, Wyatt was completing his Ph.D. in history on the same campus. When he finished grad school, he went to the University of Central Florida in Orlando to teach. When I was finishing law school, he introduced me to a partner in a big Orlando firm who hired me. When I got married, he was my best man, and when I got divorced, he talked me out of the bottle of bourbon I'd crawled into, and sent me packing to Longboat Key. He was only thirteen years older than me, but he was like the father I never knew. I loved him."
"Could there be somebody from his past after him?"
"I doubt it," I said. "Wyatt was a warrior who became a scholar. And he put the warrior stuff behind him. He'd been a fierce soldier, and he became a gentle professor. I can't think of anyone who'd want to kill him."
"We'll find the guy who did this, Matt. I promise you that. We'll get him."
I was alone in my condo. Bill had left after assuring me again that he'd do everything in his power to bring Wyatt's killer to justice. I knew a little about justice. I'd been a trial lawyer for a long time. I'd represented guilty men and convinced juries that they should acquit. I knew that good lawyers sometimes got bad people off. I didn't want that to happen to the animal who had killed my friend. I wanted him dead.
We Americans have an aversion to the death penalty. Polls show time after time that we condone the ultimate punishment, but when it comes right down to it, we're squeamish about imposing it. Most murderers are not caught. Those who are caught can usually plea bargain themselves into lighter sentences. Even when a jury finds a murderer guilty as charged, the good citizens sitting in the box often recommend life imprisonment.
Rarely, but sometimes, the death penalty is ordered. Then the lawyers get involved further, and the appeals take up the next twenty or thirty years. The victim's loved ones die of old age, and the animal who killed lives on, sitting on death row, three squares a day, a warm bed, air conditioning in the summer, and always a television set. And when the execution is finally carried out, if it ever is, no one remembers the crime or the victim, except the survivors.
The law is the only thing that keeps the animals at bay. It provides a patina of civilization that results in a modicum of safety. We are not allowed to seek personal revenge. We let the law do it for us. I believed in that law. But I also believed in revenge, and what I could not tell my friend Bill Lester, was that I would take my revenge on the bastard who killed the best man I'd ever known.
My buddy Logan Hamilton showed up and sat quietly, drinking coffee and letting me talk. I told him more about Wyatt and about the war than I'd ever told anybody. I let my grief at Wyatt's death roll out in waves that washed over Logan, sitting there, being a friend, because he knew I needed one. I raged at the cretin who would kill a good man in cold blood, and I vowed revenge. Finally, I ran out of words, and I too sat quietly, staring at the bay, musing at the colors cast by the autumn sun, knowing Wyatt would never again enjoy such a scene.
"Matt," Logan said after some time had passed, "you'll be okay."
And I knew he was right. Pretty soon, time would begin to erode the sharp angles of my grief, round it out, soften it, and I would tuck it away back in the corner of my mind where all the other dead soldiers live. Life would go on, but it wouldn't be as sweet as when Wyatt was part of it. His leaving would tear a hole in the heart of our island community, one that would never be completely filled. Stories would be told in the island bars of a good man with a quirky sense of humor who took care of his friends, gave generously of his money, and sometimes drank too much Scotch. We would talk of him with affection and laugh at his antics, and soon the stories would grow larger than life. I would live and remember, and over time the grief would dissipate like the fog of an early morning.CHAPTER 2
My name is Matthew Royal. I'd been a trial lawyer for a long time, so long that the profession turned into a business without my noticing it. When I finally figured it out, that money had become more important than the client's cause, I quit and moved to Longboat Key, Florida.
I live on an island that is a quarter-mile wide and ten miles long. It floats serenely off the southwest coast of Florida, south of Tampa Bay, about halfway down the peninsula. The key is separated from the mainland by Sarasota Bay, and you have to cross a bridge, drive across another island, and cross another bridge to find the real world. I liked it that way. It provided a sense of isolation.
I am also a trained killer. Or, at least, that's what I had once been. When I was seventeen, I joined the army. I went through basic training, advanced infantry training, jump school, Infantry Officer Candidate School, Ranger School, and Special Forces training. By the age of nineteen, I was ready to lead men in combat and kill our nation's enemies. I did some of that in Southeast Asia, and then I left it behind me. College and law school recivilized me, and I moved to Orlando to practice law. Over the years my wife tired of my lack of attention to her, divorced me, and moved to Atlanta. I stayed in Orlando until I realized that the law had lost its nobility, and I said to hell with it.
I challenge middle age every day, work to keep the golden years at bay, retain my boyish charm, and not lose sight of the fact that I am getting older. I'm not a gym rat, but I do work out. I run regularly on the beach and keep myself in reasonably good shape. I stand six feet tall and weigh the same 180 pounds I did when I got out of the army. I have a head full of dark hair, eyes that are brown and not my best feature, a nose that once experienced a fistful of grief and is a little off-center. My dentist keeps my teeth in good shape and I'm told that I have a nice smile. I don't think of myself as handsome, but I tend to grow on people.
I was young for retirement, but I had enough money to live modestly for the rest of my life. I found that I enjoyed fishing and drinking beer with my friends, jogging on the beach, and tumbling the occasional pretty girl. Not a bad life. And then some asshole slips in and puts out the lights of a good man who enjoyed the same things I did. I couldn't let that pass.
Dawn on Wednesday morning. A cool breeze was blowing out of the north, ruffling the surface of the Gulf. The sun was suspended over the mainland, having just cleared the Earth's curvature; hanging there like it had all the time in the world before it had to start its climb into the heavens.
My boat was anchored in Longboat Pass, just seaward of the bridge. The tide was going out, and the stern had wheeled around, now facing the open Gulf. Five other boats were rafted to mine, their anchors buried in the soft bottom, the tide straining their lines.
I put a CD into the stereo in the dash. The sound of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" drifted over the water. The twenty people in the rafted boats stood quietly facing astern, their heads bowed, some in tears.
As the last notes of the song faded away, I spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard on all the boats. "He was a good man, and I loved him." That said it all.
I tipped the small metal urn over the stern, and the ashes of Laurence Wyatt drifted on the breeze, settled onto the surface of his beloved Gulf of Mexico, and floated seaward with the outgoing tide. I heard a sob from Sam Lastinger's boat, rafted next to mine. Logan was standing there, tears coursing down his cheeks. He looked up at me, smiling sadly. "Let's go home," he said.
We spent the day mourning Wyatt in our way. On Longboat Key, that meant that we drank too much, told funny stories about the departed, and mused on the vagaries of life. We all wondered who would be the next to go. On our island, so filled with elderly people, death is a constant reality. We accept it, mourn our lost friends, and move on. It is only when one is taken violently and without warning that we become the shocked survivors.
We'd seen Wyatt off according to the instructions he'd left with Donna. Cremation, ashes drifting on an ebbing tide, Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone," and then revelry.
Wyatt's friends, who managed the Hilton on the island, opened the upstairs bar for the mourners, a going away party that befitted a man the islanders loved. Wyatt enjoyed a party, loved the gathering of his friends, the laughter, the stories told again and again. Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, he would feed many of the snowbirds who were far from home and family. Twenty people or more would crowd into his condo for the festivities. They always left sated with food and good cheer. On several occasions, Wyatt had put together what he called memorial parties for friends who had died. He would have wanted the same, and the islanders were out in force to see him off.
Cracker Dix was there, dressed in his usual — cargo shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and flip-flops. He's an expatriate Englishman who has lived on the island for years. He came over to me, sipping from a can of beer. "Can I talk to you for a moment?" he said, and beckoned me into a corner.
"Matt, do you know Leah, the deaf girl who cooks at the restaurant where I work?"
"She reads lips, you know, and she saw something the other day that didn't make any sense to her."
"What?" I asked.
"She'd come out of the kitchen and was standing just inside the dining room when she saw a man say, 'Wyatt's a dead man.' She didn't think anything about it until the next day when she heard about his murder."
I made a "come on" gesture with my hand. Cracker tended to drift off subject after too many beers.
"Leah said there were two men at a table eating dinner. One had his back to her, and the other one was facing her. That was all of the conversation she saw. She just didn't think anything about it. She sees parts of conversations all the time."
"Did she recognize the man?" I asked.
"No, but she got his name. After she heard about Wyatt, she went to the credit card receipts and got his name and credit card number. I wrote them down for you."
I looked at the scrap of napkin he handed me. It had a name, Michael Rupert, and a long string of numbers. "Does this mean anything to you?" I asked.
"No," said Cracker, "I never heard the name. The numbers are his credit card number."
"Thanks, Cracker. Have you said anything about this to anybody else?"
"No. I figured you might want to deal with this yourself. I told Leah not to mention it to anybody either."
Excerpted from Wyatt's Revenge by H. Terrell Griffin. Copyright © 2009 H. Terrell Griffin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
H. Terrell Griffin is the award winning author of seven Matt Royal mysteries set on Florida's Suncoast. Prior to succumbing to his lifelong yen to write, he earned degrees in history and law from Mercer University and was a board certified civil trial lawyer based in Orlando for thirty-eight years. In his youth, Terry served three years in the U.S. Army, much of it as a medic in an Armored Cavalry regiment on the East German border.
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