The Mystery of Seagrass Island (Chapter 13)

Lloyd and Margie were still cradling their hot coffee as they headed off the island, before the sun had time to rise above the graceful palm trees. They didn’t want to waste any time getting to the police headquarters in Charleston so they could talk to Captain Ralph. The miles disappeared quickly beneath their wheels as Lloyd tested the speed limits.

“Slow down a little,” Margie said nervously.

“I want to get there as soon as possible,” Lloyd said.

“Getting stopped for a ticket will slow us down even more,” Margie said.

“Fine,” Lloyd said as he eased off of the accelerator.

The big brick building that served as the Charleston Police Headquarters soon came into view. Lloyd found a parking spot and he and Margie walked up the concrete steps to the double doors they had both been through many times before.

“This feels familiar,” Margie said.

“Yup,” Lloyd said. “Almost like we never left.”

“Do you miss it?” Margie asked.

“Well, I really haven’t had the chance to yet,” Lloyd said with a laugh.

“True,” Margie said.

They were directed to Captain Ralph’s office as soon as they entered but had to stop many times along the way to shake hands with people they knew. They weren’t waiting very long before Captain Ralph walked in.

“Well, this is a happy surprise. Captain Ralph shook hands with both of them. “Not enjoying retirement as much as you thought you would?” he quipped.

“Well, it’s actually about that,” said Lloyd. “As you know, we were helping our little branch office on Seagrass Island out with a murder investigation and got pulled suddenly. You know something about that?”  Lloyd asked.

Captain Ralph sat down in his chair and pulled it up to the desk. “Yes, I might know just a little,” he said. “I received a message from the Deputy Commissioner of the FDA that was hand delivered by a couple of Special Agents from the EPA. How’s that for cooperation within the government? With that many abbreviations involved, I wasn’t sure you  and Margie needed that kind of trouble. I know you both seemed pretty anxious to retire a few months ago and as much I appreciate your efforts, this looks like it may be over all our heads.”

“We heard that you put some of your new officers on it?” Margie asked.

“Well, I guess you could say that. I was assigned two new officers from D.C. especially for this case,” Captain Ralph said.

“Don’t you find all of this a bit odd?” Lloyd asked. “It feels like a cover up to me.”

“We have another problem too,” Margie added. “They are implicating Bess for the murders and have made threats about her career.”

“What?” Captain Ralph said emphatically. “Not my goddaughter. I don’t think so. What can I do to help?”

Lloyd let out a breath of relief. “Could you put us back on the case somehow?”

“Well, I could put you on as consultants. You know a lot about the case. It would be a shame to waste all of that prior knowledge. I can’t guarantee these other boys won’t bully you though. They are hefting around a lot of extra weight from the FDA and the EPA,” Captain Ralph said.

“It’s okay,” Lloyd said. “We can handle it. We just want to get to the bottom of this.”  Margie nodded in agreement.

“I’ve read over your case notes so far. Do you think Seth and Bettina were murdered by the same person?” Captain Ralph asked.

“It’s possible, since they both died from an injection of jellyfish poison,” Lloyd said.

“However,” Margie added, “we can’t seem to find a motive that would work for both of them, so I’m not convinced.”

“Do you have any more leads?” Captain Ralph asked.

“We know that Seth was nosing around the research facility because he thought that they were disposing of something that was polluting the water and killing the fish. He’s the one that reported it to the EPA and the reason that Bess got involved. That makes Richard Normandy a suspect, of course. Bettina on the other hand was chummy with Richard Normandy but she had family problems. We have pretty much ruled out the family as suspects though. We did hear that Bettina had a gambling problem and we are thinking of following up on that lead,” Lloyd said.

“Here’s something else that’s interesting,” Margie said. “There was an EPA special agent that was placed undercover inside the research facility. Her name was Ariana Pittman. She had some information that she was going to give us the night that we found Bettina’s body but then she disappeared for a little while. When Bess located her the next day, she was hightailing it out of town and refused to say anything. Bess said that someone had put a real scare into her.”

“Be careful nosing around the research facility too much. There’s something there that really interests our government friends and I’m not sure what they are willing to do to protect it,” Captain Ralph warned.

“That is exactly why we are going to nose around,” Margie said.

“I thought you might,” Captain Ralph said. “Just be careful.”

“You talking to us? We’re always careful,” Lloyd said with a confident smirk.

“Hmm…,” Captain Ralph said. “Hey, since it’s a pretty small island, I was wondering if you’ve ran into my nephew and his wife yet. They moved to Seagrass Island just a little over a week ago. Right before the hurricane hit.”

“Maybe,” said Margie. “What are their names?”

“Corey and Cindy Buttrell,” Captain Ralph said.

“Oh, yes. We’ve met them.” Lloyd looked knowingly at Margie and she nodded. “We were over at their house just last week actually.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep an eye on them for me. Corey was Special Forces overseas and I’ve heard he is having a bit of trouble readjusting to civilian life.”

“No problem,” said Lloyd. “Maybe I’ll see if he enjoys fishing. It’s a great sport for relaxing.”

“That sounds like just what the doctor ordered,” Captain Ralph said.

“One more thing. Could you perhaps get us our badges back?” Margie asked.

“Of course,” said Captain Ralph. “I’ll call the Seagrass office right now and have them waiting for you at the desk.”

“Thanks,” Lloyd said as he and Margie stood up to leave. Captain Ralph waved and smiled at them as they left his office while punching in numbers on the telephone on his desk.

The first thing that Lloyd and Margie did when they got back to the island was stop at the station to pick up their badges at the desk. The same officer who took them yesterday smiled gingerly as she returned them.

“Where to first?” Margie asked.

“It’s still early. I say we pay your friend, Anna, a visit and find out if she knew anything about Bettina’s gambling problem.”

“That sounds good,” Margie said. “We can try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the day anyway.”

“Oh, and I need to drop a painting off for Anna’s art show, so if you don’t mind, let’s stop by the house on the way there and pick it up?”

“Of course,” Lloyd said. “And we can check on Bess too.”

When Lloyd and Margie arrived at their house, the first thing they noticed was that Bess’s little red car was missing. “Oh, my,” said Margie. “I hope everything is okay.”

They hurried inside and immediately saw a note from Bess lying on the kitchen table. Margie held it out so they could both read it.

Mom and Dad,

I have headed back to Atlanta. I got a call this morning from my supervisor that I have been removed from this case and I had to turn all of my notes over to someone else. Maybe this is for the best. I hate to just give up on Seth but I will admit that I am a little scared. All of those years while you guys did this kind of work, I never really realized how nerve-wracking it was. I really think you both should enjoy your retirement and let this go too. I don’t want anything bad to happen to either one of you. I love you.

Bess.

P.S. I will call you when I get back to my apartment.

“Well, maybe it is for the best,” said Margie. Lloyd looked sideways at Margie. “For her anyway, and no, I’m not quitting. But I admit that having her out of here makes me feel a little bit better for right now.”

“Yeah, me too,” Lloyd said. “Atlanta is safer than Seagrass Island right now. Now, how many times do you get to say that?”

“Let’s hope not too often,” Margie said. “Let me grab my painting and we will head over the arts center to see Anna.”

“Okay,” Lloyd said, jingling his keys thoughtfully.

When they arrived at the arts center, it did not take long to locate Anna as her voice carried easily out of her office. “Richard, I can’t get away right now, but I’ll see you on Friday as usual,” Anna said.

Lloyd and Margie approached the office slowly and then when they heard the click of a phone hanging up, Margie knocked gently on the frame of the open door.

“Oh hello,” said Anna. “Ah, I see you brought me your painting finally. Wonderful! What a great use of color. You just can’t go wrong using watercolors to paint a sunset can you?”

“Thank you,” said Margie. “We were wondering if we could ask you just one more question about Bettina?”

“What? I thought you were off the case?” Anna asked in surprise.

“Wow, news really does travel fast on this island,” Lloyd said. Anna smiled knowingly.

“Well, technically that is true but we were hired back again as consultants,” Margie said.

“Oh, okay, but I don’t have long. It is less than a week now until the art show and I still have so much to do. What is your question?” Anna asked.

“Do you know if Bettina had a gambling problem?”  Lloyd asked.

Anna’s face drained of color and she covered her mouth with her hand instinctively. “What?  No, of course not. You know Bettina, she sat in the front row at church. That’s just ridiculous, Now if there’s nothing else?”  Anna asked impatiently.

“No, that’s it,” Margie said with a smile. “Thank you, Anna. You are always so helpful. See you later.”

Anna smiled in return. “Of course, any time for you, Margie.”

As they were leaving, Lloyd said to Margie, “I know she said no, but her face said yes, didn’t it?”

“Oh yes, definitely yes,” Margie said. “She knows more than she’s saying. I wonder which ‘Richard’ she was talking to while ago and why she is meeting him on Friday?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” Lloyd said. “Shall we tail her?”

“Oh yes, that sounds like a lot of fun,” Margie said. “I’ll bring the coffee and the car snacks!”

“That’s what I call a date,” Lloyd said.

To be continued…

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