When attorney Samuel (Sam) Wong goes missing, wildlife magazine reporter Kristy Farrell believes the disappearance is tied to her latest story concerning twenty acres of prime beachfront that the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium hopes to purchase. Sam works for multi-millionaire land developer Lucien Moray who wants to buy the property for an upscale condominium. The waterfront community is divided on this issue like the Hatfields and McCoys, with environmentalists siding with the aquarium and local business owners lining up behind Moray.
Meanwhile, a body is found in a nearby inlet. Kristy, aided by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers deep secrets among the aquarium staff—secrets that points to one of them as the killer. Soon the aquarium is plagued with accidents, Kristy has a near death encounter with a nine foot bull shark, and a second murder occurs.
But ferreting out the murderer and discovering the story behind Sam’s disappearance aren’t Kristy’s only challenges. When her widowed, septuagenarian mother announces her engagement, Kristy suspects her mom’s soon to be husband is not all he appears to be. As Kristy tries to find the truth before her mother ties the knot, she also races the clock to find the aquarium killer before this killer strikes again.
|Publisher:||Encircle Publications, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)|
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"Something bad happened to Sam. I know it."
Katie Chandler's sea-green eyes filled with tears. A sea lion trainer at the Clam Cove Aquarium, Katie had been my daughter's college roommate.
"Maybe Sam worked late and forgot to call," I said.
Katie shook her head, her chestnut hair flying in the bay breeze. "No. He hasn't answered my texts or phone calls. I stopped by his house this morning, too. No one's home."
Silence. I tried thinking of something helpful, or at least hopeful, to say.
"I called the police, Mrs. Farrell. The officer said being stood up for a dinner date isn't enough for a missing persons case — that maybe it was Sam's way of breaking up."
I shifted my gaze to the whitecaps on the bay while Katie's statement sank into my brain. Perhaps the officer was right. I knew from my daughter Abby that the relationship between Katie Chandler and Samuel Wong had hit a rough patch.
The conflict: Katie, who served as executor of her late grandmother's will, was donating six million dollars of this money to the aquarium's expansion project, which included the acquisition of twenty acres of adjacent land. I wasn't sure of the will's exact terms, but I remembered Katie had leeway in determining how much money to distribute among several charities, including the aquarium.
Meanwhile, Sam worked as legal counsel to multi-millionaire developer Lucien Moray, who wanted to buy the bayfront property for luxury condominiums. What started off as friendly bantering between Katie and Sam had escalated into explosive arguments that had become increasingly personal.
But Katie and Sam weren't the only ones embroiled in this controversy. The community at large had become like the Hatfields and McCoys. Environmentalists wanted the property to go to the aquarium where it would be used for breeding grounds, a marine animal rehabilitation center, and a research camp for marine scientists. Local business owners sided with Moray, hoping high-end condo owners would bolster the area's economy, especially after summer tourist season. I was writing an article on this for Animal Advocate Magazine. That's why I was at the aquarium today.
Katie continued. "No matter what happened between us, Sam would never stand me up. He's my fiancé, not someone I picked up a few hours ago at a bar. Besides, Sam came around to my point of view. He had it with Lucien Moray. He hadn't told anyone but me yet, but he was quitting his job at the end of the month."
"I've an interview later today with Moray," I said. "I'll check around and see what I can find out. Someone in Moray's office may know Sam's whereabouts."
"What if no one does?"
"Let's take it one step at a time." I glanced at my watch, then pushed myself off the rock where I'd been sitting, a task that would have been easier if I were ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter. "Speaking of interviews, my appointment with your aquarium director is in ten minutes, so I better head inside. I'll call you tonight."
Katie sighed. "Thanks. I should get back to my sea lions too. We've a show at eleven." She rose and stretched her small wiry body. "After the show, I'll stop at Sam's house again."
Katie, shoulders slumped, wandered off in the direction of the outdoor sea lion amphitheater. I stood for a moment, inhaling the salt air while watching a seagull dive into the bay and zoom back to the sky with a fish in its mouth. As the autumn wind sent a sudden chill down my spine, I wrapped my arms around my body, thinking back to when Katie and my Abby attended college. Abby had inherited my fiery Greek disposition and often acted impulsively, out of emotion, but Katie had always been levelheaded, never someone to jump to conclusions. What if Sam is really in trouble? The thought nagged at me as I trekked up the sandy beach and stepped into the building that housed the indoor exhibits.
After maneuvering through the crowd gathered in front of the octopus tank, I veered down the administration wing, finally coming to a door marked DIRECTOR. I glanced again at my watch. Right on time. I knocked.
"Enter," a booming voice responded.
I stood face to face with the director. It was more like face to chest. I was five feet tall and this man towered over me by at least a foot and a half.
"Commander Conrad West," he said, extending his arm and firmly grasping my hand. He stood ramrod straight, probably a throwback from his military training. A former naval commander — the youngest African American to be appointed a commander in the navy's history — he had started his career as a medical corpsman. He had been director of the Clam Cove Aquarium since his retirement from the navy last year.
He walked behind his desk, positioned himself in a large swivel chair, and motioned me to sit. As I suppressed the urge to playfully salute, he went straight to the point. "I understand you're writing about the land acquisition. Have you seen our expansion plans?"
"Yes, and they are impressive. But how will the aquarium come up with the money to buy this land? You're competing with the bottomless pockets of Lucien Moray."
Commander West leaned forward, his hands clasped in front, as if praying that what he was about to say would come true. "The current property owner, Stuart Holland, is a business man who's not about to forgo a profit. But he's also an active conservationist and lifelong resident of this area who would like to see the land used in an environmentally friendly manner. He's kept it vacant until recent financial losses forced him to put it up for sale."
The Commander leaned back. "There'll be no bidding war. He agreed to sell the property to the aquarium for ten million dollars. The land is worth more, but Stuart wants it to go to us, so he set a price he feels we can reach. If we can raise the money by next summer, the land is ours."
"Ten million is a high goal."
He nodded. "Katie has promised us six million from Alicia Wilcox Chandler's estate. We also have one million in reserve that we accumulated during the past few years. Of course, we're still three million short, but our new development officer is planning an aggressive fundraising campaign with —"
A loud knock on the door interrupted the conversation.
Commander West scowled. "Enter."
A plump woman with a bad case of acne barged into the room. She wore jeans and a light blue shirt with an aquarium patch on the upper left pocket identifying her as Madge.
"Commander," she said, slightly out of breath. "We have a problem. The sea lion show is in ten minutes, and Katie just ran out."
"What do you mean she ran out?"
The woman shrugged. "She took a call on her cell phone, then flew out of the amphitheater.
"Didn't she say anything?" The scowl hadn't left his face.
The woman paused, furrowing her eyebrows as if deep in thought. "Oh, yeah. But I don't know if it had to do with why she left."
"What did she say?" He appeared to be talking through gritted teeth.
"She said two fishermen found a body in the inlet."CHAPTER 2
My stomach flip flopped, but Commander West stayed on course.
"Give Katie until exactly five minutes past eleven," the Commander ordered Madge. "If she doesn't come back by then, cancel the show. Announce that our sea lion trainer had an emergency and provide everyone in the audience with free passes to our 3-D movie on piranhas. That should satisfy all."
"Sure." Madge wiped her nose.
"And when Katie returns, I want to see her immediately."
"What if she returns in time for the show? You still want to see her immediately?"
The Commander gritted his teeth again. "No," he said, perhaps a little too loudly. "Let her do the show. Have her see me once she finishes." Madge nodded.
"That's all for now. You're dismissed."
"Yes, sir." Madge left.
Commander West turned his attention to me. "Let's see. Before we were interrupted, I was about to describe our new fundraising effort."
Perhaps it was his military training that enabled Commander West to get right back to business, but my mind was on the body in the inlet. Was it Sam Wong?
"You should meet our new development officer, Bradford Monroe," the Commander continued. "I'm sure we could arrange for you to attend the cocktail party this Saturday which will launch our fundraising campaign. It's being held at Alicia Wilcox Chandler's old house."
That house now belonged to her granddaughter, Katie Chandler.
As if reading my mind, he added, "Katie is gracious and generous enough to let us use the place for our fundraiser."
My interview continued another twenty minutes. When finished, Commander West handed me his business card which listed both his office and cell phone numbers.
"Call me, if you think of more questions," he said as I exited.
I dashed out of the building into the parking lot where I hopped into my car. Autumn leaves whirled in the wind as I sped along a tree-lined portion of the main road. Minutes later, the sun disappeared, enveloping the landscape in grayness. A storm was brewing.
I made it to the inlet before the rain. Police vehicles as well as Katie's Vespa were parked along the side of the road. Directly down the embankment about two dozen people gathered outside yellow police tape. Spread across the sand inside the taped off area was a body. Tasting bile, a rush of dread flooded through me.
After regaining my composure, I scanned the scene, spotting a familiar figure standing aside the crowd, head down as if staring at her shoes.
"Katie," I called, making my way down the slope.
"Oh, Mrs. Farrell." She raised her head and began sobbing.
I ran down the incline toward her, the wind gusts propelling me forward. "I'm so sorry." I said, throwing my arms around her body and hugging her tightly. "It's Sam, isn't it?"
Katie shook her head. "It's not Sam."
"What?" I jumped back. "Well, then ... Do you know —"
"It's a close friend of mine. Jack Patterson. He was one of the fish keepers at the aquarium." Katie took a deep breath. "Jack grew up here just like me. We've known each other since kindergarten. His family owns a horse farm up the road."
"Did he drown?"
"That's what the police think, but we won't know for sure until the autopsy. There's a bump on his head, so the theory is he fell off the dock and hit a rock. But I don't believe it." She turned toward the water and frowned. "This was no accident."CHAPTER 3
"If not an accident, then what?"
"I don't know." Katie shrugged. "But he had no reason to be here. This dock is owned by the Clam Cove Sailing and Yacht club, and the only people permitted in the area are members and their guests."
"Could he have been visiting someone?"
"Then wouldn't that person have noticed if he fell in the water? The normal reaction would be to help or at least seek help."
"Unless the person Jack was visiting was responsible for his death."
Katie nodded. "Right."
I frowned. "What do you think happened?"
"My theory. I think he got into a fight and was pushed. Jack had a temper."
"But why would he be here in the first place?"
Katie shrugged. "No clue."
"One more question. Could the body have floated in from somewhere else?"
"Jack was found wedged between the dock and a boat. It would be nearly impossible for a body to float into that position."
I heard a ping. Katie glanced at her phone. "My staff is texting me." She paused. "I don't feel up to it, but I need to go back to the aquarium. Knowing Commander West, he'll insist we go on as though nothing happened. I've missed the eleven o'clock sea lion show, so I'd better be there for the next performance." She wiped a tear from her eye.
I didn't mention she would probably be called to task by Commander West for running out on the earlier performance. I hoped when he discovered her reason for leaving, he'd be understanding.
Then again, she was donating six million dollars from her grandmother's estate to the aquarium. How tough could he be?
As we began our trudge up the embankment, Katie said, "Don't you have an appointment with Lucien Moray?"
"In fifteen minutes. That's where I'm headed now."
"You'll ask if anyone there has seen Sam?"
I nodded. "Absolutely."
"This is a terrible thing to say, but I'm relieved the body wasn't Sam's."
"Still, it was such a shock, and I feel awful. Jack was a great guy. I can't believe he's dead. Only five nights ago, Sam and I had dinner with him."
I stopped to catch my breath. "Katie, were Sam and Jack close?"
She shook her head. "Not at all. The only time they saw each other was if I was there. I was the connection."
"If Jack worked at the aquarium, didn't anyone miss him today?"
"No. Jack had yesterday and today off."
"Any particular reason?"
"That's his regular schedule. He works Tuesday through Saturday." She paused. "I don't think Jack was in the water for long."
"Part of his body would have been eaten."
I shuddered and remained silent as the image of flesh-eating fish and crustaceans flashed through my brain.
Upon reaching the top of the embankment, Katie hopped on her Vespa and pulled her helmet out of the basket. "And good luck with your interview, Mrs. Farrell. Before you get to see Moray, you'll need to deal with Mama Grizzly."
"Moray's administrative assistant. Helen Eubanks. Sam says everyone calls her Mama Grizzly. She's tough and sees herself as Moray's protector, like a mama bear with her cubs."
"Don't worry. I've dealt with difficult people before." I hugged Katie. She fastened her helmet and sped off. I stood for a moment, my eyes focused down the embankment. Drops of rain began falling from the sky as the body of Jack Patterson was loaded into the medical examiner's van.
* * *
Above the building's front door were the words Moray Industries in big bold letters. The charcoal clouds had exploded, and I'd left my umbrella home, so I darted from the parking lot into the building, shaking off excess water before approaching the main desk. A receptionist ushered me into the executive suite where I found myself facing Moray's administrative assistant Mama Grizzly-pecking at her computer keyboard. Helen Eubanks appeared to be in her mid-forties with short frosted hair, rimless spectacles, and an expression that looked as if she'd just eaten prunes.
"Hi, I'm Kristy Farrell from Animal Advocate Magazine. I've an appointment with Lucien Moray."
Without looking up, she nodded, barely acknowledging me as she continued pecking. "Mr. Moray is on a phone call. Have a seat, and I'll let you know when he's ready."
I noticed a small cameo hanging from a gold chain around her neck. It was similar to one I'd inherited from my grandmother. Thinking a compliment might break the ice, I spoke up. "Your necklace is lovely."
"Thank you, but please have a seat."
After plunking down on a black leather couch, I decided to try another approach. "I met one of your employees a while back," I lied. "Sam Wong. I thought I'd stop and say hello to him later. Is he in today?"
Mama Grizzly shot me a look that would cause a wolf to retreat. "I don't know if he's here. I work for Mr. Moray not Sam Wong."
I smiled and decided to shut my mouth. I wasn't going to get anything out of Mama Grizzly. Hopefully, I'd have better luck with her boss.
After ten minutes, I was ushered into Moray's private office. All décor contributed to one theme — a tribute to the multi-millionaire developer. The right wall was plastered with plaques from community and charitable groups honoring Moray for his service to their organizations. The left wall featured photos of Moray with the rich and famous. I spotted a former New York State Governor and United States Senator as well as a popular game show host.
Moray rose from his desk to greet me. He was dressed casually in khakis and a forest green golf shirt. Two decades ago, he had served in the special forces, and today, with his shaven head, black goatee, and husky build, he looked every bit the part.
He must have noticed me staring at his brag wall because he said, "Not bad for a boy from Brooklyn. I wasn't born rich. I've earned every penny. Along the way, I've helped people."
"I can see that from all your awards."
"I'm not talking about the plaques." He sat back down. "Sure, I've served on boards of several charities, but I've also assisted the community by creating jobs with my land developments, which my new condo project will do again."
Great segue. I grinned.
"But what about the environment?" I asked as I sank into a black leather chair and pulled out my pen and pad. The aquarium wants the land to be used for —"
"I know." He held up his hands. "If I succeed in buying the property, I intend to donate one of the twenty acres to the aquarium, so they can do a small expansion, perhaps ensure breeding grounds for the piping plover."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Something Fishy"
Copyright © 2019 Lois Schmitt.
Excerpted by permission of Encircle Publications, LLC.
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