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 13-part mystery will unfold this summer in the Longboat Observer.
The Longboat Key Garden Club ladies were on the prowl. I spotted them just as I crossed the Longboat Pass Bridge. I was returning from a smoky bar on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach where I’d found the big-haired Georgia preacher. We’d had a few drinks and talked bit about religion and the law. He didn’t know the location of the Mount of Olives or the significance of the Mountains of Ararat and he sprinkled our conversation with words like “perp,” “narc,” and “bolo.”
Suddenly, it clicked. “You’re a cop,” I said.
“I’m a minister of the gospel.”
“Who do you work for? Manatee Sheriff?”
He shrugged. “Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”
“Undercover Anti-terrorism agent.”
“Why did you tell me you were a preacher when I caught you last night?”
“I was posing as a real estate agent, but I thought you might arrest me and blow my cover if you thought I really was one.”
“Why would I have arrested you?”
“Real estate agents have licenses from the state. I thought if I was caught impersonating one, I could be charged with unlicensed practice. You can’t do that to a preacher. Besides, I was also worried about my hair.”
“I was afraid if you took me to jail, somebody would shave my head to be sure I didn’t have lice. It took me five months to grow that hair and I had to endure some major indignities while working on it.”
“Every day at dusk a supervisor would come by and put fertilizer on my head. Said it would facilitate the growth as well as add luster.”
“Did that work?”
“I think the result speaks for itself,” he said, bowing his head proudly to give me a good look.
“How long did you have to leave the fertilizer on your head?”
“Just until my morning shower.”
“You slept with that stuff in your hair?”
“Yeah. It ruined a pillowcase a night. Had to throw the things in the bio-hazard waste can every morning.”
“But why masquerade as a real estate agent in the first place?”
“You’ve got a lot more real estate agents on the island than you do preachers and nobody else wears big hair. I figured I’d get lost in the crowd.”
“You could have pretended to be a lawyer.”
He stared at me for a moment, a look of horror on his face. “Not a chance. I’ve got principles.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to offend you.”
“No harm, no foul.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I don’t know. It’s probably a basketball metaphor, but I don’t follow basketball.”
“You think there’s terrorism on Longboat Key?” I asked, disgusted at what I’d just heard about his hair care regimen.
“You meant the Occupy GMD group?”
“Nah. They’re quite harmless. It’d help if your mayor would authorize portable toilets for their campsite down at the crosswalk, but in the absence of that, they just make a lot of noise about a fascist plot to deny them the use of sanitary facilities.”
“What about the time they blew up the toilet in the governor’s office in Tallahassee? That was dangerous.”
“The courts decided that was legitimate protest protected by the Constitution.”
“But,” I said, incredulously, “the lieutenant governor was on the toilet when it blew.”
“Yeah, but it turns out he wasn’t authorized to use the governor’s toilet and he’d been warned about that a number of times. A lot of people thought the governor planted the bomb to make a point. Besides, we don’t need a lieutenant governor.”
“Or a vice-mayor. Do you have a lead on the LBK terrorists?”
“I’m honing in on the Longboat Key Garden Club.”
“What? They’re nice people doing a lot of good works.”
“So they say, but I’ve seen some of their leaders wearing camouflage.”
“Like soldiers wear?”
“No. They wear camouflage dresses and high heel desert boots.”
“That is scary,” I said, “but maybe it’s just a new fashion.”
“Maybe in California, but not in any civilized part of the world.”
“What put you onto the Garden Club?”
“A confidential informant.”
“That wouldn't be Charlie Goins, would it?”
“How did you know that?”
“You told me last night you were here to counsel Charlie at his mother’s request. She’s dead, by the way.”
With that, I’d paid my half of the tab, told the preacher I’d look into the Garden Club, and walked out into the clear air. My lungs would never be the same. I was on my way home when I saw the camouflaged ladies sneaking under the bridge, working their way along the shore of Beer Can Island. I pulled to a stop, turned on my blue emergency lights and hit the siren for a loud but short whoop. I got out of the car and leaned over the bridge railing. “What are you ladies up to?” I asked.
“We’re watching for poachers,” one of them said.
“I heard you. What poachers?”
“Turtle egg poachers.”
“It’s too early in the year for the turtles.”
“Think about it, officer. If a turtle’s internal clock gets just a little bit off, they might come early. You know, thinking it was time for them to drop their eggs.”
“If that happens, how would the poachers know the turtles are coming early?”
“Poachers know a lot.”
“But do they know about confused turtles?” I asked.
“Maybe. Maybe not. But we can’t take a chance. If the poachers know about the chance of turtle confusion, and if the turtles are confused and come early to the beach to lay their eggs, we need to be ready.”
“How often are you out here?”
“Every night. From the time it gets dark until it’s too late for the turtles to be awake.”
“And this has been going on or how long?”
“Since the end of nesting season. November first.”
“Don't your husbands get upset that you’re out here half the night watching for poachers?”
“Nope. They go to Hooters and drink beer and eat wings.”
“And ogle,” one of the women said. “There’re fine.”
I gave it up and went home to bed.