Resort at Castaway Bay: Trick or Treat
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Sydney Whitmore, a forensic psychologist, moves to Shipwreck Island and renews her relationship with Ezra Reinhold, a reclusive billionaire who enjoys poking around in cold cases and has the means to hire the best people to find the answers no one else has been able to.
In book 3 in the series, it's Halloween and Sydney joins Ezra and his group as they take on an old murder case where the suspected killer has been caught and convicted although Ezra has reason to believe he may be innocent as he has claimed from the beginning.
Meanwhile, Sam asks Syd and Kelly for input on a case, Syd's friend Riley comes home after months in the hospital, Emily is faced with a nearly impossible decision, Rory has puppies to foster, and Logan settles into life on the island.
Release date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 168
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Resort at Castaway Bay: Trick or Treat
The undeniable chill that ran down my spine as the impenetrable steel door slammed behind me should have been expected. It wasn’t like this was the first time I’d passed into a building designed to keep those who entered from leaving. I supposed the resolute nature of the doors closing behind those who entered should have given me comfort. But it didn’t. Not really. Of course, I wasn’t here to serve time for crimes committed against humanity; I was here to interview a man who’d been convicted of a crime he may, in reality, not have committed.
“My name is Sydney Whitmore,” I said to the man standing behind the bulletproof window. “I’m a forensic psychologist with the San Francisco office of the FBI, and I’m here to interview a man named Eugene Hatfield. I called ahead and made an appointment.”
The tall, broad-shouldered man with a steely expression looked at the visitor log he’d pulled up on a computer screen. “Yes. I have you right here.” He checked my ID, picked an intercom up, and made a call. Once he’d done that, he then returned his attention to me. “I’ll buzz you through.”
And then, just like that, I’d been admitted to a hallway that would take me deeper into the prison’s bowels. The further I traveled inside the giant structure, the more intense my instinct to flee became.
After walking down a long corridor lined with impenetrable doors, I was shown into a small room where Hatfield sat at a utilitarian table. His ankles and wrists were cuffed, although I didn’t sense any real danger from the inmate. In my mind, the cuffs were overkill, but the man was a convicted killer, so I supposed I understood why precautions had been taken. I half expected the guard who’d shown me in to stay, but instead, he reminded me that I had thirty minutes and then closed the heavy door behind him as he walked away.
“Mr. Hatfield, my name is Sydney Whitmore,” I began after sitting down at the table across from the orange-clad individual.
“Yes. My sister, Janet, told me to expect you. I understand that you’re here to help me prove that I’m innocent of the crime I’ve been convicted of.”
I paused for just a moment, leaned forward slightly, and rested my forearms on the table in front of me. “I’m here to chat with you about what happened on the night Carl Rubio died. If you’re able to convince me that you are indeed innocent, then I will go back to the group I work with and make a recommendation to help you. Ultimately, it will be Ezra Reinhold who will decide whether or not to get involved.”
“I understand,” the man said. “What do you want to know?”
I sat back just a bit to get a better view of the man’s face and his body language as he spoke. “Why don’t we start by you telling me in your own words exactly what happened on the night of the murder. I may stop you along the way to ask questions, but I’d like to hear your side of the story before I get too far into things.”
He swallowed hard and nodded. The man was different than many of the other convicted killers I’d interviewed, and I’d interviewed a lot of them. Those who were the furthest gone, those who’d killed multiple people without feelings of sympathy or remorse, usually came across as friendly yet cold. Many were detached from whatever outcome might be in their future. They seemed devoid of emotion, I imagined, because many of them were.
Eugene Hatfield, on the other hand, seemed nervous. I’d wait to decide if that nervousness was born from guilt and his need to hide the truth from me, or if it came from his conviction of innocence and his realization that this interview could very well be his last chance at seeing the outside of these walls for a very long time.
“Carl Rubio had been having an affair with my wife, Gloria,” he began in a tone conveying acceptance rather than high emotion. “I’d known for a while that things in our marriage weren’t as they should be, and Gloria and I had even discussed divorce a time or two, although we had never settled on that option with any degree of certainty.” His eyes narrowed. “We’d tried marriage counseling in the past, and even though it really hadn’t made a lot of difference in the quality of our relationship, we discussed the possibility of giving it another try.” He coughed once before continuing. “I’m not sure exactly when the reality of Gloria’s infidelity hit me. It was sort of a knowing that came over time. She didn’t say anything, and I didn’t ask. At least not at first. But there were these little clues that I’d stumbled across that, when taken as a whole, seemed to spell out the reality I’d been unwilling to accept.”
He took a deep breath and bowed his head. I waited.
“On the night Rubio died, I’d finally decided to confront Gloria with the little pieces of evidence I’d been collecting. I was certain she was engaged in an affair, which I’d actually expected her to deny. I’d hoped she’d want to save our marriage as much as I did, and in my gut, I felt that when presented with the evidence I’d found, she’d deny my allegations and present explanations, real or fabricated, to back up her denial.”
“But she didn’t,” I said.
He slowly shook his head. “No. She did not. Not only did she admit to having an affair, but she let me know in no uncertain terms that the man she’d been sleeping with wasn’t the first.” He paused briefly and then continued. “I will admit I was enraged. I said some very unkind things and even threw her favorite glass vase at the wall. I want to point out that I did not throw the vase at my wife, as the DA tried to prove. She wasn’t standing anywhere near the wall I’d aimed for, which by the way, held my wife’s figurine collection, which was also damaged in my rage.”
Again, I just waited.
“I asked Gloria who she was sleeping with, and she told me it was Carl. I knew Carl. He worked with Gloria, and before his separation from his wife, Lori, we’d been to their home for dinner a few times. Looking back, I know it was unwise to make the decision to confront him when I was so upset, but I’d had a couple drinks and admittedly wasn’t as clear-minded as I should have been. Once I’d made sure my wife’s figurines had, at least in part, paid the price for her infidelity, I got in my car and drove over to Carl’s place. I parked on the street. It was Halloween, so there were a lot of people out and about, which meant that I actually had to park down the block a bit. As I walked down the sidewalk toward Carl’s home, I felt my anger festering deep down in my gut. Again, I suppose this should have been a sign for me to stop and go home, but I needed to speak to the man. I needed to confront him with the fact that he’d destroyed my marriage, even though, looking back, I suppose my marriage had been destroyed long before he came along.”
I waited as he bowed his head, took a breath, and then looked up at me. “After I arrived on the front porch of Rubio’s home, the door flew open, and a man dressed as Darth Vader ran out. To say I was shocked is putting it mildly. I grabbed the porch railing to steady myself. I’m not sure what I would have done next if I hadn’t heard Carl call out, but I did hear him, so I ran inside and found him lying on the kitchen floor with a knife in his chest. I knelt down beside him and tried to figure out what to do. There was so much blood. I knew it would be best to leave the knife in place and call for help, but Carl was crazed. He was trying to pull the knife out, and he was yelling at me to help him. I realized he was going to hurt himself even worse than he was already injured, so I agreed to do as he asked. My plan was to remove the knife, put pressure on the wound, and call for help.”
He paused once again. Once again, I just waited.
“I’d just pulled the knife out and was still holding it when two police officers came in. I tried to explain what had happened, but they weren’t listening. One man cuffed me and tossed me into the back of the police cruiser while the other tried to help Carl. By this point, Carl had lost a lot of blood and had passed out. Based on what I’ve been told, he died before regaining consciousness.”
“So you weren’t the one who called 911?” I asked.
“No. I never got that far. I guess one of the neighbors heard the ruckus and made the call. I was angry with Carl. I fully intended to confront him. I might have even punched him for sleeping with my wife and destroying my marriage, but I didn’t kill him. I would never kill anyone. I tried to tell everyone as much, but no one, other than Janet, believed me.”
“I read the police report. Apparently, there were fingerprints for both you and Carl on the knife, but no other prints.”
“Darth Vader had gloves on,” Eugene said. “He had black gloves, black boots, a black shirt, and black pants on. He wore a black cape and a black helmet that completely covered his face. He could have been anyone.” He sucked in a breath. “Well, almost anyone. He was tall. At least six feet tall. I doubt it was a woman.”
“I assume that the police were never able to identify this individual.”
He shook his head. “No. He never showed up. He must have ditched the costume. It was Halloween, and like I said before, there were a lot of people in costumes out and about.”
I was quiet for a moment as I let the silence tell me what it would. The man was agitated, but I didn’t sense that he was lying. I knew that Eugene’s wife had testified against him at his trial. She’d testified that Eugene was out of his mind with rage and jealousy when he left the house to speak to Carl and that she wasn’t at all surprised to learn that their encounter had met with violence. I think her testimony, combined with the fact that Hatfield had the murder weapon in his hand and blood on his clothes when the police arrived, was enough to convince a jury of his guilt.
“If you aren’t the one who killed Carl Rubio, do you have any idea who might have?” I asked.
“It had to be Darth.”
“Yes. But do you have any idea who might have been wearing the costume? Does anyone come to mind who might have had a motive?”
He slowly shook his head. “No. Not really. Like I said, while I knew the man and had been to his home with my wife a few times, he was Gloria’s friend. I really didn’t know him well enough to be privy to the details of his life, although, like I said, I do know he was newly separated. I’m not sure if the divorce had been finalized. I suppose it might have been.”
“I understand Rubio was married before.”
He nodded. “Yes, Lori was Carl’s second wife. I never met the first wife. Her name was Connie. I know this because my attorney mentioned it.”
“Did your attorney suspect Connie of Carl’s death?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but he did look at a few people in his attempt to find an alternate suspect. I know my attorney looked at Lori closely, but she had an alibi. Besides, she really isn’t tall enough to have been Darth.”
“Did your attorney attempt to find Darth?”
“I don’t know. I guess the guy did, but I don’t think he tried too hard. To be honest, I’m pretty sure he believed I was guilty and was only going through the motions when it came to looking for the identity of the man in the costume I’d sworn I’d seen.”
“So is it your belief that your attorney didn’t believe the story about Darth Vader running from the home?”
“It didn’t seem like he did. In fact, I never really felt like he was committed to the idea that Darth may have been the killer.”
“Is there anything else you can think of that might help us narrow in on the costumed man?”
“As I’ve already mentioned, he had a full costume on. I couldn’t see anything. I can’t even say if the man was black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or some other ethnicity. The helmet hid his hair color, his eyes, everything. He could have been any reasonably built man around six feet tall.”
“Did he speak?”
Eugene slowly shook his head. He started to speak, but then he paused and frowned.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I have this feeling that there’s something that is just out of my grasp. I’m trying to think back to what it is that I want to remember, but I can’t quite get there. Maybe with some time, I can recall whatever it is I think I remember.”
There were techniques I could use to help him remember, but our time was almost over. If Ezra decided to take the case on, I’d come back and try to help Eugene dig every last memory of that night out of his mind.
“Did Carl say anything to you after you entered the kitchen?”
He shook his head. “Not really. He was gasping for air, and in between gasps, he was yelling. I don’t recall that he said anything specific other than to help him pull the knife out. I think he was totally freaked out and just reacting. I’m not even sure he knew that I was the person who came in. He was focused on pulling the knife out of his chest and seemed to be in a lot of pain. Looking back, I suppose I might have tried to find a way to subdue him rather than helping remove the knife, but he was frantic to get it out. I’m sorry he’s dead, and I’m really sorry he couldn’t tell anyone the name of the man who stabbed him before he died, but again, please be assured I didn’t kill him. I do understand why the police believed I was the killer. I admit that things looked bad when they walked in. But I swear to you I did not kill that man.” He emphasized the words did not.
I found that I believed him. I had paused to consider my next question when the door opened and the man who’d escorted me in entered. He told me that the agreed-upon thirty minutes with Eugene was up and that our interview was over. I felt like I had enough to make a recommendation to Ezra, so I thanked Eugene for sharing what he had and promised to get back to him in a week or so. With that, I allowed the guard to escort me out of the bowels of hell and into the sunshine.
Once I made it to my car, I just sat there and took in several deep breaths before deciding what to do. I planned to stop and talk to my boss about an idea I had to redefine my role with the FBI. I could call Colin now and set that up. I also wanted to go by my apartment. When I’d first gone home to Castaway Bay, I’d only planned to stay for a week, two at the most, but so far, I’d been there for almost three months. Colin had asked me to do several favors during my time at home, and in exchange for doing those favors, I’d negotiated more time off so I could stay longer.
Deciding that I really did want to get my conversation with Colin over with sooner rather than later, I called his cell phone. I told him I was in the city and wanted to chat, and we made an appointment for three o’clock. That would give me time to make the drive from Vallejo to San Francisco, where I planned to have lunch and stop by my apartment before heading over to Colin’s office.
I needed to call Ezra as well. He knew that I’d planned to speak to Eugene today and would be interested in the outcome of that conversation. I didn’t want to get into a long conversation with him while I was sitting in my car in the prison’s parking lot, so I simply texted him and assured him I’d call him later.
With that done, I started my car, pulled out of the parking area, and headed toward the freeway and the Bay Bridge. Deciding to grab a sandwich and then head to my apartment to eat it and pack some clothes, I veered to the right so I could exit the freeway two exits before the off-ramp that would take me to the building that I lived in. I’d only been back to the city one other time since heading to Shipwreck Island this past summer, and my trip had been short and focused. If my conversation with Colin went the way I hoped it would, I supposed I’d need to make a lengthier trip back to give notice on my apartment, then pack everything up and put it in storage.
When I opened the front door to my apartment, it looked just the same. It had been closed up tight for long enough to have that musty smell, but otherwise, it looked like home. Well, maybe not home exactly. I’d never really settled in. There weren’t any paintings on the walls, bric-a-brac on the shelves, or personal objects to clutter things up or even make it appear like anyone actually lived here. After opening a window, I settled onto one of the stools lining the counter. I opened a bottle of water and dug into the turkey club I’d bought at Donovan’s Deli, one of the few things I’d actually miss if I did decide to make my stay at Jack’s Hideaway on Castaway Bay a permanent one. I hadn’t planned to upend my life by quitting my job and moving home to the resort where I’d grown up with Aunt Charley and my sisters, Emily and Aurora, when I’d headed across on the ferry in the first place, but I’d had a run of extremely emotional events filter through my life before my trip to the island, and the result of those heart-wrenching moments, was a decision to take some time for myself and figure out what my next move would be.
At the time, I really had figured that I’d spend a few weeks at home where I could heal a bit before heading back to the rat race. But the longer I was away from life in San Francisco, the clearer it became that what I really needed was a permanent change and a return to the only place on the planet I’d ever really felt was home.
Once I’d finished my sandwich, I headed toward the bedroom and opened the closet door. My wardrobe was unimaginative. Black suits paired with white blouses that I wore for work. Five suits and ten identical blouses that I could rotate as needed. There was a shelf with jeans and another with sweatpants and sweatshirts. I had a few pairs of shorts, some t-shirts, and several pairs of shoes. The reality was that other than clothing for work and exercise, I rarely had a need for other attire. I packed a bag which included one suit and three white shirts, the jeans, sweatpants and sweatshirts, a few t-shirts, and my heavy jacket which I hadn’t brought to the island the first time I’d crossed the sea. Once the bag was packed, I closed the window, locked the door, and headed across town to Colin’s office. I’d worked with Colin long enough to know that he wasn’t going to be thrilled with what I had to say, but I also knew him well enough to know that he’d hear me out. If he wasn’t a fan of the idea I’d come up with, then I supposed I had some hard choices to make in the near future. I knew in my heart that I’d already made those choices, even if the logical part of my mind hadn’t caught up quite yet.
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