The Mystery of Seagrass Island (Chapter 12)

The atmosphere in the office was filled with anticipation as they waited for the men in the dark suits to speak. The soft hum of the window air conditioner was only slightly louder than the hushed sound of people talking outside the office door.

Lloyd couldn’t wait any longer. “Well? What is it?”

Both of the men removed their sunglasses at the same time. Margie had the surreal feeling of being on the set of an old movie. The air conditioner kicked off and there was a faint dripping sound from the sweating coils.

“Let me introduce myself and my colleague. I’m Jim Payne, EPA Special Agent in Charge, and this is my Assistant Special Agent, Ron Collins. We know who you are.” Jim spoke to both of them dismissively and after quickly shaking hands with Lloyd and Margie, he pulled his coat back and placed his hands on his hips so that his service weapon would be in view.

“What do you say we all have a seat for this conversation?” Jim continued.

“Whatever you say, Special Agent in Charge, Jim,” Margie said with a tinge of sarcasm, purposefully staring at Jim’s sidearm.

One side of Jim’s mouth tilted up in a sneer as he put his hands down once again, concealing his weapon.

“Does anyone need a coffee? No? Let’s carry on then,” Sergeant Martinson said nervously. Without waiting for an answer, he sat down noisily scraping the floor with his chair.

“Lloyd, tell us why you are investigating the research facility,” Jim said.

“I wouldn’t say that we are investigating the facility,” Lloyd said.

“Should we be?” asked Margie innocently. “Is there something bad going on there?”

“No, of course not,” Jim said, a bit flustered as he changed the subject. “Sergeant Martinson has already filled me in on the fact that you two are really retired and just volunteering your services.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Lloyd. “We were told a paycheck was involved and last time I checked, you don’t pay volunteers.”

“Yeah. We were asked very politely and we said yes, isn’t that right, Sergeant Martinson?” Margie said as she looked at him.

Sergeant Martinson met Margie’s eyes and started nodding until he noticed Jim’s frown. Then he sat back and looked at his shoes again.

“Regardless, you were investigating the murder of Seth Logan, local artist-slash-tree hugger. Am I correct?” Jim’s sidekick Ron chimed in.

“He seemed like a very nice young man,” Margie said. “Why would you call him a tree hugger if you work for the EPA? It seems like you would like tree huggers!  Anyway, when we met him with our daughter, he seemed like a perfect gentleman.”

“And now we come to the other part of the problem,” Jim said. “You knew him before because of your daughter, who seems to always be around when trouble happens. I hope you know that Bess is skating on thin ice. She is in an entry-level position at the EPA. Those positions don’t become permanent until the candidate has had a successful two years in the program.” Jim directed a knowing look at Bess’s parents.

“Are you threatening our daughter’s career?” boomed Lloyd.

“No, not at all,” Jim said. “Just making observations.”

“Well, here’s an observation for you,” Margie said. “We now have two murders to investigate, Seth Logan and Bettina Harris. Both of them may have a connection to Richard Normandy and they both do have one undeniable connection: they were both murdered by an injection of the same jellyfish poison that Richard Normandy is studying at the research facility. So do you know of some reason why we should not be investigating the facility?”

Jim leaned back in his chair. “I see. Well, it makes sense to me that you might not want to follow up on the obvious lead. If it was my daughter, I would be biased as well. The fact that Bess’s friend, and our colleague, Ariana, is missing now makes this even more complicated.”

“What, Ariana? We saw her last night. How do you even know for sure that she is missing? Maybe she is sleeping in,” Lloyd said.

“As I said, Sergeant Martinson filled us in on all the details,” Jim said.

Martinson scooted down in his chair trying to make himself appear as small as possible without making eye contact.

“As of right now, you are being taken off of this case. You may now happily go back into retirement and let the young folks take care of these problems,” Jim said in a condescending tone.

“What?” Margie said.

“No,” said Lloyd. “You most certainly are not taking us off of this case. Not if you are investigating our daughter.”

“I’m sorry, Lloyd,” Jim said. “It’s already been decided and approved by Captain Ralph at the Charleston headquarters. He has put some fine young officers in charge. In fact, they just transferred in from D.C. so they could help out. I’m sure we’ll have this wrapped up in no time,” Jim smiled.

“If you could just leave your temporary badges at the desk on your way out, we’d very much appreciate it,” Ron added.

Lloyd shoved the table forward as he stood up to walk out. “This isn’t over,” he said.

Margie was so mad that she couldn’t speak but if looks could kill, there wouldn’t be a soul left standing in that room.

Out in the parking lot, Margie turned to Lloyd, “We aren’t quitting, are we?”

“Of course not,” Lloyd said. “Get in.”

“Where are we going?” Margie asked.

“To Charleston to talk to Captain Ralph and find out what is really going on,” Lloyd said.

“Got it. I’m going to call Bess,” Margie said as she was dialing. “Hello, Bess.”

“Mom. I’m here at the house. Are you and Dad on the way home?” The trembling sound in Bess’s voice came through clearly on the cell phone’s speaker setting.

“No, we were going to go to Charleston. Are you okay?”  Margie asked.

“Not really…and neither is Ariana,” Bess replied.

“Is she there with you?”  Margie asked.

“No, I saw her earlier though. She’s very upset,” Bess said.

“Well, I’m glad you found her,” Margie said with a sigh of relief. “Your father and I have decided to go to Charleston tomorrow. We’ll be home soon. Love you.”

Lloyd was already turning the car around before Margie hung up.

“Wonder what’s going on?” he asked.

“You know as much as I do,” said Margie. “I guess we will find out more when we get home.”

When they pulled into the driveway, Margie was out of the car before Lloyd shut the motor off. She made a beeline for the couch in the living room where Bess was lying.

“Oh, Mom,” Bess said as Margie gave her a hug.

“Now, what’s going on, Bess?” Margie asked.

Lloyd came in and sat down on the cushioned footstool near the couch, waiting to hear what Bess had to say.

“I couldn’t reach Ariana by phone so I decided to go to the apartment that she was renting here on the island. She didn’t answer and I was worried, so I went in through the window. Her suitcase was on the bed fully packed and she’d barricaded herself in her bathroom when she heard me knocking. She wouldn’t tell me anything. She wouldn’t say who she was afraid of. She just kept telling me to drop it and that it wasn’t our problem, and then she left. Something or someone has her really shook up.”

“You should have called us,” admonished Lloyd. “I know she must have some information that we need.”

“I couldn’t stop her from leaving, Dad. You wouldn’t have been able to either. She wasn’t going to say anything. Just seeing her that scared, scares me,” Bess said with a frightened look.

“Somebody is definitely worried about us finding out too much,” Lloyd said. “Two EPA Special Agents came to the station today and told us that we were being removed from the murder investigation.”

“How could EPA agents have any say over who is on the investigation?” Bess asked.

“That is what we are going to find out tomorrow in Charleston,” Margie said. “Captain Ralph will tell us. He’s one of the most honest cops we’ve ever known.”

“You should know this too, Bess,” Lloyd said. “They were insinuating that your job was at risk if we didn’t all let it go.”

“I don’t care about my job,” Bess said. “Not that much, anyway. I wouldn’t want to work for them if they’re dirty.”

“That’s my girl,” Margie said proudly.

“We’ll take another approach at this after a good night’s sleep,” said Lloyd.

“Amen,” Margie said, reaching out to hold Lloyd’s hand as she gave Bess an encouraging hug with the other arm.

To be continued…