John Godwin thought he’d left his life as an EMT in the past. These days he was a private investigator who spent his days keeping tabs on cheating spouses and insurance scammers in sunny Miami. But it only takes one phone call, one unexpected job with a fat paycheck, to send him right back to where he started.
Death is stalking a privately owned luxury resort on an island just off the Florida Keys. The sudden death of the resort’s staff medic seems like an open and shut case – a crime of passion – but when one of the suspects turns up dead, John will have to use all of his skill and expertise to discover the truth before the bodies start to stack up.
On the cusp of a discovery that will blow the case wide open, John runs the risk of becoming a serial killer’s next victim, and with a hurricane bearing down on the tiny island, getting out alive is looking a little more complicated.
Release date: June 19, 2018
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 356
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Dead in the Water
“John,” my partner, Sergio, said breathlessly, “I can’t get the bleeding to stop.”
I looked down at the young man as blood flowed from his belly and up to his chin. With every heaving breath, more of the viscous liquid oozed out. My partner knelt beside him with both hands lodged in his body cavity, but he couldn’t stem the flow.
“We have to load him up,” I said nervously. “He needs a few pints of blood immediately. We can’t wait to stabilize him before getting him in the ambulance.”
“I’m afraid to let go to lift him onto the stretcher,” Sergio said nervously.
Another unit pulled up behind us. I let out a sigh of relief. We had backup.
“Over here,” I call, but the guys climbing out of the truck ran in the opposite direction.
I swore under my breath. “Sergio, we have no choice. We need to get out of here.”
The young paramedic nodded and maneuvered the patient, sliding the board underneath his body. Then, we quickly hoisted him onto the stretcher and into the back of the vehicle. Sergio jumped back in the ambulance in an attempt to stem the bleeding from the gunshot wound.
Then, I heard the shots ring out. I looked around but I couldn’t see where they were coming from. Screams mixed into the commotion. People were in trouble, and there weren’t enough EMTs to help them.
“You have to go,” Sergio said, gesturing out toward the chaos. “You have to save those people.”
I knew this, but I also knew that if I went into the mess, I could be seriously injured or killed. In five steps, I could be in my truck, on the way to the hospital. My partner and I could save the guy on the stretcher. But then, we’d be leaving the other victims.
“I don’t want to,” I said under my breath. I walked to the front of the ambulance and pulled the door handle, but it was locked. My bag of gear lay at my feet. It was as if I had no choice.
Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I ran straight into the smoke. As I went, I saw bodies on the floor, but there was no chance I could save them. Without even examining them, I knew they were dead.
I found a woman curled up on the ground, her eyes pleading with me for help before she even opened her mouth.
“What’s the matter, ma’am?” I asked, kneeling beside her.
She removed her hands from her chest to show a wound that went straight through her. I could actually see light on the other side of the injury. It made no sense that she could even be alive with such a severe wound.
“You won’t make it,” she moaned softly.
“Shh,” I said. “Try not to talk.”
“You can’t save them all,” she said, fighting for air. Bubbles of blood popped in the corners of her mouth. She didn’t have much time left. I knew she wouldn’t be making it into the ambulance.
“I can try,” I replied.
She weakly shook her head. “Save yourself. Go.”
I stood up and saw a gunman facing me. He was cloaked in dark tactical gear. He aimed his weapon at me, and before I could beg for my life, I heard a loud pop.
I sat up in bed, sweat beading on my forehead. I took a moment to catch my breath, trying to shake the sick feeling I had from that awful nightmare. I had experienced many work-related nightmares during my time as an EMT, but none were that terrifying. At most, I had only ever woken to a sense of dread, not sweaty sheets.
I reached out for my girlfriend, but she wasn’t in bed. I figured she had gone to the bathroom, so I reached for my glass of water on my nightstand and gulped it down. The bright red numbers on the clock told me that I had only been asleep for a couple of hours.
I lay back on the pillow, wiping my brow. I wondered if the people in my dream were people I had once helped. Typically, after going on a call, we would never really hear from the person again unless they took it upon themselves to seek us out and let us know that they ended up okay. Usually, we didn’t know if someone lived or died unless we tried to find out. I rarely wanted to.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I cared too much. I may expect the worse from an old person falling and breaking a hip, but the kid we perform CPR on after being pulled out of a pool is better off in my optimistic imagination.
If there was anything I took out of that dream, it was that I was so eager to turn and run when I was needed. If my dad had taught me anything, it was to stay and help until everyone was safe. But he was a military man, and there was no greater dishonor than leaving an innocent person alone to die.
I listened to the crickets chirp outside my window, waiting for my girlfriend to return to bed so I could relax. Marcie and I had been together for years, and she was a familiar source of comfort to me. Sometimes, just hearing her breathing was enough to lull me to sleep.
There was a voice in the other room. After careful consideration, I decided that Marcie was on the phone. But it was late at night. Her whole family lived scattered around Florida, so it wasn’t as if she was waiting to speak to someone in a different time zone. I got out of bed and crept to the doorway to listen. She hated when I got into her personal business, so I remained incognito. It was hardly snooping, as she was in my home, talking to someone in the middle of the night when she would normally be in bed.
Suddenly, I could hear her voice loud and clear. I thought she must have been joking around with a friend, but her voice was much deeper and throatier than I had even heard it, even in the bedroom. If it was a joke, it had gone on for way too long.
“What am I wearing?” Marcie giggled from the spare room. “Oh, I’m wearing my lace nightgown and no panties.”
Unless she had changed, I knew that was a lie. I had watched as she pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and an oversized T-shirt. She wore the same thing every night.
“I can’t take a picture right now,” she said softly, “but I’ll send one to you tomorrow before we meet up.”
This got my attention. Marcie had mentioned that she was going to spend the night at her sister’s house. She must have chosen that location because she knew it was the one place to which I’d never accompany her. Her family was fine and all, but her sister didn’t seem to like me much.
“Well, I should get going. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Once I heard silence, I scrambled back to bed, rolling on my side. I slowed my breathing to a convincing rate and stayed still as she sneakily slid back into bed. I could tell that she was pleased with herself, having taken a secret phone call without my knowing.
I gave a fake groan and rolled over, wrapping my arm around her waist. “Did you get up? I had the strangest dream.”
She paused. “I just got up to go to the bathroom.”
“Okay,” I said, knowing that I was catching her in a lie.
“Go back to sleep,” she said before giving me a kiss on the cheek and rolling over to her side.
“Sure,” I said softly, listening to her breathing. This time, it was not to soothe me back to sleep but to notify me of her incapacitation.
I wasn’t a naturally devious guy. I had been raised by two upstanding citizens who’d taught me strong Christian morals. I was never to cheat, steal, or lie, as it was unbecoming of a young man.
Then, I’d decided that being a paramedic was no longer something I wanted to do. I’d worked very hard for a number of years, then burned out. I could no longer go to a job I dreaded going to. My fortieth birthday would be here before I knew it, and I didn’t want to be a miserable old man. So, I decided to switch careers.
Private investigating wasn’t as sexy of a career as one might think. While there were occasions where I could solve mysteries, most of my income came from finding guys who’d skipped on bail. A lot of my time was spent in my car, eating fast food while staking out a perp. In return for finding these people, I was cut checks just big enough to take care of rent payments on the home I shared with my girlfriend.
There had been many instances where I was hired to tail a spouse suspected of cheating. In almost every case, my client’s suspicions were proven correct. I had files full of sneaky couples smooching in the park in the next town over, where they thought no one would ever recognize them. I had files of timelines and the whereabouts of the cheating spouse when he’d said he would be at work and was at his girlfriend’s house instead.
I had seen it a million times, yet I was blind when it could be happening directly under my nose. My girlfriend was talking to someone when she thought I wouldn’t hear her. I didn’t want to betray her trust, but I thought it would be okay to snoop if she was on the verge of breaking mine. Of course, if I were just being paranoid, I would feel terrible for not trusting her. But I had a sneaking suspicion I was not wrong. With a little evidence to set me on the right track, I had a good instinct for these things.
Marcie had a tell for when she was asleep. Her legs would twitch as she entered the first sleep cycle. After a few twitches, I knew she was out. Stealthily, I crept out of bed again and reached for her phone, unplugging it from the charger. She had her phone password protected, but I had watched her carelessly type it in when she thought no one was watching. Even if I hadn’t seen it, it wouldn’t have taken me long to figure it out. It was the year she was born.
After typing in the four digits, I went straight for her text messages. If she was sending and receiving texts from strange men, she was doing a good job of deleting them. I couldn’t find any correspondence.
Then, I went to her call log. There were several numbers that weren’t named in her contact list, but the last entry was the only repeat offender. Someone in the area code had spoken to her almost every night of the week, sometimes more than once a day. I quickly memorized the numbers, then set her phone down as carefully as I had picked it up. Then, I typed the digits into my phone for safekeeping.
I would have to investigate in the morning. It wasn’t as if I could go out and hunt this guy down in the middle of the night and not expect any repercussions. And I didn’t want to give Marcie any reason to think I didn’t trust her. I didn’t, but that wasn’t the point. If I could pretend like nothing was wrong, the investigation would go so much smoother than it would if she was trying to thwart me at every turn.
While my mind was racing, I was still pretty tired from being startled awake by nightmares. Because this happened frequently, my trick was to convince myself that I could table whatever thought was on my mind until morning. Finally able to relax to the point where I could close my eyes, I drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, I woke up early and went to my favorite coffee shop for an espresso and a blueberry donut. I was about to dive into my investigation of the mysterious phone number when I got a call from one of my regular clients.
“Godwin,” I said shortly into my phone.
“Hey, John,” the voice said on the other end. “It’s Mikey. Listen, I’ve got a guy who’s skipped on bail again. He’s not terribly dangerous, but he’s a sneaky son of a bitch. Are you available to track this guy down today? I’m willing to give you a bonus for this one.”
I groaned and set my donut down on the napkin. I was more interested in my personal investigation than in any punk, but I had to pay the bills and keep up a good relationship with my regulars.
“Sure,” I replied. “I’ve got nothing else to do today. Send me the file.”
“Thanks, John,” he said cheerfully. “Check your email in about five minutes.”
I hung up the phone and wiped the crumbs from my hands onto my jeans. Now, I would have to table my suspicions about my girlfriend for at least another day as I searched the city for a wanted man. All the while, she was probably out doing the dirty with some hot young man. I knew I was nothing special in the looks department, but I thought we had a solid relationship. To think, I had spent years with this woman, giving her everything she ever needed, and she could keep secrets from me.
Alas, there was no time for heartbreak. I heard the ping from my phone, a message telling me where I could find Jimmy West, a thirty-two-year-old white guy arrested for assault and a handful of weapons charges.
I tossed my empty coffee cup in the trash, wished the friendly barista well, and went back out to my dusty Buick. It was time for work.
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