Mayhem is brewing at Town Hall as protesters gather. Their demands? No one seems to know.
Editor’s Note: Ten years ago, Longboat Key author H. Terrell Griffin made his debut as a mystery writer with the “Killer Summer” serial in the Longboat Observer featuring the fictional Detective Jake Bass. Click here to read the catch up with his latest series.
This summer, Griffin brings Bass back for the original fiction series “Trouble in Paradise.”
Who will be a suspect? Who will survive? The mystery will unfold over the next 12 weeks in the Longboat Observer.
Night had fallen, and the crowd was gathering, blocking the doors to Town Hall and chanting slogans that made no sense. They were carrying placards written in Latin. Or maybe Serbo-Croatian. I couldn’t tell.
They were getting a little unruly. They’d already hanged one of the town leaders. Most protesters hang people in effigy, but this crowd actually hanged the vice mayor.
I could tell by their bare feet that many of them were part of the Occupy GMD group, but there were a lot of Longbeach Villagers there as well. I saw the Canadian who’d shot the peacock slipping out of the crowd, a satisfied smirk on his face.
The Villagers were all carrying pitchforks, and two past presidents of the group were carrying torches. A Longboat Key firefighter had just sprayed fire retardant on one of the torches that had inadvertently ignited the big hair of a real estate saleswoman, and the torchbearer was lying on the ground unable to breath. A paramedic was trying to restore the man’s breathing, but he had been without oxygen long enough that the medic was afraid permanent brain damage had occurred.
The Realtor — now dripping wet and sticky from the large Diet Coke somebody had used to put out her hair — said:
“Don’t worry about brain damage. Nobody will ever notice. Just get him breathing. He and I are going to have issues.”
My name is Jake Bass. I had been called to the scene because I’m the detective in the Longboat Key Police Department’s major crimes division.
The issue seemed to be the burying of the utility lines on the island and who would pay for it. Many of those who still had overhead utility lines thought it unfair for them to have to pay for something they thought would turn the Key dark. Their premise was that if you buried the power, no one would be able to see the streetlights.
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the argument was whether the word “undergrounding” was a proper verb. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had been invited to the island to debate the issue. I figured it might calm things down for a while, even though Donald wouldn’t know what we were talking about and Hillary would just make something up.
I heard the hollow sound of a bullhorn being revved up on the far side of the crowd.
Then, a fit of coughing, gurgling and loud cursing washed over the din of the protesters. It was our vice mayor. Somebody had cut him down, and he was explaining to his constituents that he was a bit put out by their treatment of him. He didn't think it showed any appreciation for his sacrifices in office.
I saw Chief Billy Gallagher making his way through the crowd. He was a short man who spent his summers in Vermont. He was a full-time employee of the town, but he had been on the force for a long time and had quite a dossier on each of the town commissioners.
He had built up a large amount of sick time when he was a patrol cop. On one very dangerous mission, he was removing a cat from a tree when he fell off the ladder. He was only on the second rung, so it wasn’t much of a fall, but he was given a large disability as defined by a police union doctor.
He had deferred his disability benefit payments over the years until the sum had grown to such a large amount that the city couldn’t afford to fire him. An agreement had been reached some years before, so now when the chief was in Vermont for five months, he just called in sick each morning. The department ran surprisingly well without him.
I made my way over to him and saluted. “Good evening, Chief.”
“What the heck is going on here?” he asked.
“I think it’s just a generic one. Nobody seems to know exactly what started it. I think it’s about global warming, undergrounding, cross-walks, taxes, that sort of thing.”
“Undergrounding is not a noun.”
“I thought it wasn't a verb.”
“It’s not,” the chief said.
“Then what is it?”
“I don't know. A gerund, maybe?”
“But isn’t that a form of a verb?”
“English is a living and flexible tongue,” the chief said. “Anything important going on here?”
“They just hanged the vice mayor.”
“No big deal. I never thought we needed a vice mayor.”
“He’s alive. Somebody cut him down.”
“Maybe you can arrest the one who cut him down.”
“I think it was Charlie Goins.”
“Leave him be then. I’m leaving for Vermont in the morning, and I don't want to have to listen to any of his half-baked conspiracy theories before I go. Tell the fire department to turn the hoses on these people, and you go on home. We don’t have much of an overtime budget left.”
“Overtime pay doesn’t amount to much when you only make a dollar a year,” I said.
“Yeah, but he union says we gotta pay you time-and-a-half. That adds up,” he said.
“To a dollar-and-a-half a year.”
“Every penny counts,” the chief said.
I found the fire chief. He was talking to the mayor, who was saying she was going to announce that even though she had invited Donald and Hillary down to mediate all the matters brought up here tonight, they had declined. Something about emails and mob connections.
“Be careful, Mayor,” the fire chief said. “This is a pretty nasty crowd. They just hanged the vice mayor.”
“Do we really need a vice mayor?”
“But we do need a mayor, right? And I’m beloved. Nobody will kill me.”
“You’re probably right, Mayor, but they might decide to demote you on the zoning board.”
“I’d rather be dead,” the mayor said. “Hey Jake, we need somebody to make an announcement that we didn’t get our mediators. You might want to put on your bullet-proof vest.”
I called Charlie Goins. If the crowd hanged him, it wouldn’t be much of a loss.
Longboat Key resident H. Terrell Griffin is the award winning author of the national bestselling Matt Royal mystery series.