Fishing For Murder

by Mark Zeid, author of Media Murder Mysteries

Fishing for Murder (working title) is a mystery in progress. There is little I can do to help with the COVID 19 crisis, but I can provide a novel free of charge for readers. I am posting a chapter of this mystery every week for readers to enjoy. Remember, this is a work in progress, so there will be errors. Therefore, I welcome any comments readers my have, especially those dealing with errors in fact. I hope you enjoy the story.

Fishing for Murder

by Mark Zeid

Chapter One

“He’s over here,” a voice shouted. “You two go up there and make sure he doesn’t make it up to the road.”

Wild Mike stayed still, He forced himself to calm his breathing as he listened to the rustling of the leaves and branches as the men moved through the brush. He was able to tell the movement of the men were to his left. They wanted to cut him off from the road, which suited him. He moved to his right, down closer to the water, still staying inside the tree line to avoid being spotted. He moved quietly, just as they had taught him years ago. Go a few steps, stop, listen, then move on. They repeatedly stress that during the training. Your goal is to be silent and deadly.

 The sounds of the men chasing him were growing fainter, meaning they were moving away from him. Still, he had to remain calm, not run, not give away his position. Up ahead he saw a boat house. If he could make it there, maybe he could find a boat, hopefully a kayak, which would allow him to quickly and silently move through the water and escape.

It took him almost fifteen minutes to cover the three hundred yards to the boathouse. He slowly opened the door, making as little noise as possible. He slipped inside and closed the door. His eyes were adjusted to the dark, so he didn’t turn on any light to search for his escape vehicle. He didn’t want to ruin his night vision. Suddenly the lights went on. Wild Mike turned to exit, but there was a figure standing between him and the door.

“Don’t,” the figure commanded. “Don’t do it. Don’t make me shoot you.”

* * * * *

Homer Rucker thought of himself as a good old country boy. He came complete with a beer belly and an attitude. His partner was Jefferson “Jeff” Davis, a 22-year-old, rookie with less than six months on the job.

“I can’t believe your mama named you after the President of the Confederacy,” Rucker said as he pulled their vehicle up to the boat house. “What was she thinking?”

“Probably crackers like you would appreciate a nigger named after him,” Davis answered.

“Now, now.” Rucker responded. “I ain’t got anything against you or any other African Americans. After all, one of you became President of the United States. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

The two exited the car and walked up to the boat house. “Heard you caught him,” Rucker said with a grin.

“She didn’t catch me,” Wild Mike stated. “I surrendered.”

Detective Kimberly Simmons was leaning against the boat house with Wild Mike sitting at her feet, his hands were hand cuffed behind his back. Kimberly sighed. Just her luck dispatch would send this patrol unit to transport the prisoner.

“He’s telling the truth,” Kimberly said, leaving out the part of her having her nine millimeter weapon on him. “Listen carefully. Just because he’s hand cuffed, don’t think he can’t hurt you. Remember, he spent six years as a Marine Corps sniper. Give him cause or the opportunity, he’ll take you both out in a heartbeat.”

“Don’t you worry,” Rucker replied. “We know we’re dealing with a murderer. . .”

“I didn’t kill him,” Wild Mike shouted. “He was dead when I found him.’

“Yeah, sure,” Rucker said grinning. “Then why were you wearing the victim’s hat. I bet when we search you belongings we’ll find the victim’s other belongings, like his wallet and cell phone. Face it. You’re toast.”

“Enough,” Kimberly interjected. “Take him back to the station and process him. Don’t have anyone talk to him until I get there. I’m going to meet up with Steve at the crime scene, but I should be back as the station within the hour. Understand.”

“Yes ma’am,” Davis answered.

“Don’t call me ma’am. I’m a detective. You can address me as detective, but not ma’am. I’m not an old lady.”

Davis nodded he understood as he and Rucker helped Wild Mike to his feet before placing him in the back of their patrol vehicle.

* * * * *

Detective Steve Tindall was setting up of the standing lights illuminating the crime scene. The coroner was already there, declaring the victim dead and that the body could be removed whenever the detectives were ready.

“What have you got?” Kimberly inquired as she approached her 39-year-old partner.

“I have a backache from carrying those damn lights,” Steve groaned as he leaned his five-foot, ten-inch slender frame back. “It’s the middle of the night.”

Kimberly looked at her watch. “It’s only eleven thirty; but I guess it is past your bedtime.”

“Hey, I should be home watching the news on TV and drinking a beer.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You have two teenagers at home. They probably drank all of your beer, blamed it on your wife, and hid the remote so that you have watch MTV.”

“Paula doesn’t drink beer, my kids are too young to drink, and they have their own TVs.”

“How can you afford that on a cop’s salary?”

“Because like all good Americans, I have a couple thousand dollars of credit card debt,” Steve answered. “How about you?”

“That’s the advantage of being single. I have only two credit cards and am able to pay them off every month. Back to my original question, what can you tell me about our victim?”

“He’s dead.”

“That’s what makes you such a wonderful detective,” Kimberly stated. “Your powers of observation are amazing. It couldn’t be that the body hasn’t moved since we’ve discovered almost two hours ago or the coroner has pronounced him dead, could it?”

“Yeah, yeah. What I’m saying is we have a dead body, no identification, the body was dragged out of the water, the coroner can’t give us a time of death until he does the autopsy, and there is no obvious cause of death.”

“What about the wounds and bruises on his body?”

“Don’t know. Pretty sure they happened shortly before he died, but whether they are the cause of death, we won’t know until after the autopsy.”

Kimberly knelt down to get a closer look at the body. “Do you think Wild Mike did this?”

“Again, don’t know,” Steve answered. “He’s capable, especially since he’s an ex-Marine. And he has been brought in for assault before. But he’s never done anything like this. But then, he’s never been really quite right since getting back from Iraq. They really did number on him over there. And he was found with the body. Also, we found these binoculars next to the body. Mike’s name is on them.”

“Get a warrant to go through his things,” Kimberly stated.

“He’s homeless.”

“Yeah, I know. But he has some kind of camp set up about a mile from here. That’s where he hangs out and most of his belongs are. And I want to do this by the book. I would hate to lose the case because of a technicality.”

“Good point,” Steve replied. “The last thing we would want is for a killer to go free because we got lazy.”

* * * * *

The police station was a long, single-story, brick building with windows at least five feet above ground. The logic behind this was any blast or gunfire would miss the police officers sitting at their desk, thus protecting them. As with most police stations, Justin Ainsley, a public defender, was required to enter the building through the foyer, which placed him in front of a Plexiglass, bullet-proof window with a small depression at the bottom for passing documents to the police officer sitting on the other side. Justin stood there patiently waiting for the officer to ensure Justin had an appointment before buzzing him through and allowing him to proceed further into the building. Justin was surprised to find a woman about his own age waiting on the other side of the door.

“I’m Detective Kimberly Simmons. I’m the one who took the suspect, your client, Mike Richards into custody. He’s been booked on suspicion of murder.”

Justin studied the woman in front of him, she was of average height, with shoulder-length blond hair and deep blue eyes. She was attractive, with an hour glass figure. Still he could tell she had confidence, the kind that comes from dealing with hard and dangerous situations by overcoming them, not by asking others for help. “What evidence do have against him,” Justin asked.

The detective handed the lawyer a folder. “It’s a copy of the police report, or what we have so far. We are still waiting on the autopsy results, which we expect this afternoon, tomorrow at the latest.”

“Have you questioned my client?”

“We started to, but he demanded a lawyer as soon as we read him his rights.”

Justin opened the folder. He saw some crime scene photos, a list of items taken into evidence, and a detailed report of police actions.”

“Can you give me the Reader’s Digest version of the report?” Justin asked.

“Sure. Last night, about nine thirty, someone called in a report of man with a body. A patrol unit went to check it out. They saw Wild Mike with the body and started to chase him. Back up units arrived, as did I and my partner. I was able to take Wild Mike into custody without incident at a boat house about a mile and a half from the crime scene. Evidence collected at the crime scene was a hat we believed belonged to the victim and a set of binoculars belonging to Wild Mike. We also found blood on Wild Mike’s shirt. The lab results aren’t back yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s the victim’s blood. And when we search his camp; and yes, we had a warrant; we found a wallet and a cell phone, which we determined belonged to the victim, Raymond Carlsen.”

“What was your probable cause for the warrant?”

“Wild Mike was soaking wet, the body was pulled from the water, Wild Mike’s binoculars, and the fact he ran when we approached him.”

“Has my client made any statement, any explanation for his presence?”

“No,” Kimberly answered.

“Any motive?”

Kimberly shook her head. “None that we can find, but the investigation is less than a day old. But Wild Mike does have a history of violence since he returned from the war. He’s a mental case.”

“PTSD?”

“Who knows,” Kimberly answered.

Justin closed the folder. “So what you have is a dead body and my client in the area. That’s hardly enough to charge him.”

“No,” Kimberly corrected Justin. “We found physical evidence tying him to the victim, Raymond Carlsen, present at the scene of the crime, fleeing the crime scene, and the ability to kill someone with his bare hands. Furthermore, there was a verbal altercation between Carlsen and Wild Mike a few days before. And the fact he’s homeless and a flight risk, we’re holding him. As for charging him, that’s up to the District Attorney, Connor Arnott, but you already know that.”

“I do have a couple of questions,” Justin stated. “First, why do you call him Wild Mike?”

“It’s a nickname he picked up. After he got back, he got into several physical altercations with locals, usually at bars. Nothing serious, most fist fights. People ended up with bruises and cut lips, but that’s all. Then he started living out there in the woods next to the lake where we found the body. Until now, we thought he was basically harmless.”

“But now you’ve changed your opinion of him?”

“I have a dead body and he was found in the area, so I’m not discounting possibility.

“Does he have any family?”

“He has a wife. I think he left her because he didn’t want to hurt her, but I can’t be sure. What else?”

“Your report said both Mike and the victim were wet, like they had been in the water.”

“Yeah, so?”

“What if Mike was bringing the body out of the water?”

“There were no drag marks.”

Justin grinned. “There wouldn’t be if Mike was carrying the body.”

“Nice try,” a man in a three-piece suit said as he walked up to Justin and Kimberly. He was in his mid-forties, carrying a slight paunch, had thinning blond hair with a touch of silver. “But we have him dead to rights. The only thing we’re missing is a confession, which we really don’t need.”

“Not to be rude,” Justin interjected, “But who are you?”

Kimberly waved her hand to man in the expensive suit. “This is the District Attorney, Mr. Connor Arnott.”

Justin put out his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley, a public defender. I’m Mr. Mike Richards court-appointed lawyer.”

“Yeah, I know,” Arnott replied. “Look, here’s the deal. You get him to confess, and I’ll reduce the charges to manslaughter. He’ll do maybe ten years, if he doesn’t cause problems while he’s in prison. What do you say?”

Justin gave Arnott a slight smile. “I say I’ll talk to my client first.”

* * * * *

Twelve hours had done wonders for Wild Mike. He had the chance to shower, changed into a clean orange jumpsuit, and given something to eat. However, the time in custody had done nothing to improve his attitude.

Wild Mike was escorted into the room. it was barren except of a table bolted to the floor with two chairs chained to large metal U-bolts cemented into the floor. The chains allowed for the  chairs to move a foot in any direction. Wild Mike’s hands were restrained by a chain around his stomach, which was also chained to the shackles around his legs. He was led to a chair and forced to sit down. Wild Mike stared across the table at the person sitting on the other side. The man was about thirty, with dark, neatly trimmed hair. He had a tanned complexion which he got from being outdoors, probably from jogging to keep him in good physical shape. But what impressed Wild Mike was the man was confident. Mike could tell this man was not scared of him or his reputation.

“Who are you?” Wild Mike demanded.

“I’m your lawyer.”

“Took your sweet time getting here. Are you going to get me out?”

“My name is Justin Ainsley. I’m a public defender. Do you know what that means?”

Wild Mike turned to the guard who had brought him into the room. “Hey, I’m talking to my lawyer. This is a private conversation. You’ve got to leave. And turn off the cameras.”

Justin nodded to the guard that it was okay for him to leave. “There are no cameras in this room,” Justin said after the guard left the room. This room is used for attorney-client conversations and the police are not allowed to monitor the conversations, although there is a window and I’m sure there is someone watching to make sure you don’t hurt me.”

“Now, why would I want to hurt you? Just get me out of here.”

Justin stared at the man with long hair and an unkept beard. Justin’s client was about thirty and in excellent physical shape, which was surprising for a homeless man. Justin opened a folder laying on the table between him and Wild Mike. He placed a photograph of a dead body in front of Wild Mike. “What can you tell me about this?”

“I didn’t kill him. I didn’t do anything. I don’t belong in here.”

“The police have quite a bit of physical evidence that says you did. You were at the scene with Carlsen, the man who was killed. Your binoculars were at the scene. They found the victim’s cell phone and wallet hidden in your camp. There are witnesses who say you had a verbal altercation with Carlsen a few days before. They have quite a bit to hold you on.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“Then tell me what happened.”

Wild Mike leaned back in his chair. “Why? You wouldn’t believe me. Why should I tell you anything?”

Justin sighed. “You like this place? I mean do you want to stay here?”

“No,” Wild Mike answered.

“Then tell me what happened. I can’t help you if you won’t help me.”

“Real crusader, are you?”

“No. I’m a public defender who earns a set salary whether you go to prison or go free. Win or lose, I get my paycheck and get to go home. Now, pretend you’re the Jolly Green Giant and can the crap. Tell me what happened.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

Justin leaned forward, placed his hands on the table, and stared at Wild Mike. “Then why are you here?” Justin leaned back in his chair.

“It was the lights.”

“What lights?”

“I sleep out there by the lake. I kind of like the being out there. I’m alone. Don’t bother anybody. Anyway, whenever there is a lot of noise on the lake or lights, it wakes me up.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I see these lights. First, I heard some motors out on the lake, then I see some lights out there. I kind of hang out on the bank, watching. Can’t really see anything because the lights from the boat ruin my night vision. There was a boat and I figured they dumped something overboard because I heard a splash. Then the boat leaves. Anyway, I’m hanging out there and I see something floating in the water. My night vision begins to come back. I wait a while and it gets closer to shore. As it gets closer, I see it’s a body. So I went out into the water and brought it back to shore. As soon as I set the body down, some cops come up and say I killed the guy. They pulled their guns, but I got out of there before they could shoot. They chased me through the woods. I was getting away too, that is until that detective found me in the boathouse. So I surrendered. But I didn’t kill that guy. I don’t even know him.”

“According to the report, you have a verbal altercation with him a few days earlier.”

“What do you mean?”

Justin pulled out a piece of paper. “This police report says you had an argument with the victim two days before he was found dead.”

Wild Mike scoffed. “I argue with a lot of guys. That doesn’t mean I kill them. Besides, I didn’t recognize the guy I pulled out of the water. His face was all beat up. I guess the rocks got to him before I did. Anyway, as soon as I got on the beach, the police showed up.”

“So you are down at the shore of the lake, hanging out, then you see a body in the water. You go and get the body, drag it out of the water. Just as you get to shore the police show up and you run off.”

“That’s right. Now get me out of here.”

“First, I have to prove you didn’t kill the guy.”

* *  * * *

Justin walked along the shoreline. He remembered the summers he came to a similar place to fish with his father, who loved fishing. He remembered the bugs and hot sun making the cool water a welcomed relief whenever he had to wade in to get a fish he had caught. Justin remembered the smell of dead fish and algae.  He noticed this lake had more than its fair share of dead fish washing up along the shoreline.

A voice interrupted Justin’s reminiscence. “What are you doing out here?”

Justin turned to see Detective Kimberly Simmons standing next to tree. “Just getting the lay of the land, sizing up the case against my client. What are you doing here?”

“Still an active police investigation. Granted, the CSI team went through everything last night, and again this morning in the daylight. But I wanted to see the crime scene for myself.”

“Strange,” Justin said. “I thought once you had a suspect in custody, the case was closed.”

“You know better than that.”

“What do you mean?” Justin said feigning ignorance.

“Justin Ainsley, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Antioch Law School, Captain, U.S. Army, two tours in Iraq and six years with the Judge Advocates Corps, honorably discharged, two years with the public defender’s office. You’ve been around enough to know that the case is not closed until the actual person who committed the crime is put in prison.”

“You’ve done your homework. I wish I knew as much about you.”

Kimberly walked up to Justin and gave him a smirk. “You mean you don’t like a woman of mystery.”

Justin chuckled. “Not when that woman carries a badge and a gun.”

“So Mr. Ainsley, what brought you to our fair city. This area is great for fishing and hunting, but you don’t impress me as the outdoorsy type.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Call it a hunch. We cops have them all the time.”

Justin grinned. “Nice place. I imagine a lot of people come out here to fish.”

“Used to,” Kimberly replied. She pointed to several large homes on a ridge above the shore. “About ten years ago, rich people bought up property here and created private access to the lake. They can’t stop people from coming ashore from boats, or walking along the shoreline on one of the paths; but they did put up fences and cut off public access to the lake from the road. The public access is limited to the boat rental places about a mile from here, where the parking lots and entrance to the trails are.”

Justin scanned the homes above him. “If they own the land, how is it that Mike is able to stay out here?”

“They don’t own the land,” Kimberly answered. “They own the property between the road and the lake. To get here, you have to cross their property, which is fenced, has cameras, and several of them have dogs that are not very friendly. As for Wild Mike, his camp is about a mile from here, and it’s pretty far back from the path. He really doesn’t bother anyone when he’s out here. All the problems we had with him was when he was living in town. Once he set up camp out here, he mellowed out.”

“Then what was the altercation he had with Carlsen about?”

Kimberly shrugged her shoulders. “Who knows. It’s easy to set Wild Mike off. He’s not very sociable. The weird thing is before he went into the Marines, he was real popular and friendly.”

“According to his service record, he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure that changed him.”

“I’m sure it did,” Kimberly said in agreement.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of several loud motors. Justin and Kimberly saw four young men pass by on jet skis, each of them staring at the couple on the shore. They quickly turned and speed away as Justin and Kimberly watched as the jet skiers went around a bend in the shoreline.

“Gee, I hope we didn’t scare them away,” Justin said in a mocking voice.

“They’re college kids. They probably left because we didn’t have any beer.”

“I don’t know,” Justin said. “I don’t think that’s the reason they left.”

* * * * *

“This place is a mess,” Justin said as he and Kimberly approached Wild Mike’s camp, which was located several hundred yards from the main path surrounding the lake. The camp had a rock overhang that provided some protection from the elements. Wild Mike had also set up some sticks to form walls on either side of the camp.

“Truthfully, the camp was really neat when we went through it this morning,” Kimberly answered. “I think the patrol officers helping with the search got a little too enthusiastic. And before you ask, yes, we had a warrant.”

“You told me that already. According to your report, you found the victim’s wallet and cell phone here?”

“That’s right. One of the patrol officers found them in Wild Mike’s sleeping bag.”

“Find anything else?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. We found some clean clothes and some food. It looked like someone left it here for Wild Mike.”

“Where did you find that?” Justin asked.

“Right here,” Kimberly answered, pointing to a large flat rock covered with a small blue plastic sheet. The plastic had several stones around the edges, keeping it from blowing away.

“How long between the time you arrested Mike and the time you searched his camp?”

“About ten or eleven hours. I took Wild Mike into custody before midnight. We got here about ten o’clock. We had to get the warrant first, and no judge is going to give us a warrant before he or she has had their morning coffee.”

Justin waved his hand. “This is public access. Anyone could have put the cell phone and wallet there.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You want me to believe someone planted evidence to frame Wild Mike within hours after killing Carlsen. How did the killer know Wild Mike was at the crime scene and how did he manage to get here, plant evidence without leaving any trace, within hours after the body was discovered?”

“It’s my job to explore all of the possibilities.”

Kimberly walked over to Justin and gently tapped him in his chest. “Just be sure to explored the possibility that Wild Mike did kill Carlsen.”

Chapter Two

“All rise. Court is in session. The Honorable Gwen Whitlock presiding.”

The judge entered the courtroom and took her seat. “Please take you seats.” She looked over the courtroom. “Is the District Attorney ready?”

“Yes, your Honor,” Connor Arnott answered without getting out of his chair.

The judge looked at Justin and the defendant, Wild Mike. “Is the Defense ready?”

Justin stood up. “Yes, your Honor.”

The judge looked at several papers on her desk. She turned her attention to Wild Mike. “Mr. Richards, I see you served our country as a Marine. I thank you for your service. Now, about the matter at hand. Do you understand you have been charged with murder?”

Justin gestured for Mike to stand up. “Yes, your Honor,” Wild Mike answered.

“How do you plea?” the judge asked.

“My client pleas ‘not guilty’ your Honor.”

“Let the record show the defendant pleaded not guilty,” the judge acknowledged.

“Your Honor,” Justin interjected. “There is the matter of bail.”

“Absolutely not,” Arnott yelled. “This is a cold-blooded murder case. The defendant is homeless and a flight risk. He has a violent past and is a danger to the community. Under no circumstances should bail be allowed.”

“Your Honor,” Justin countered. “The evidence against my client is circumstantial. Yes, he was at the scene; but being at the scene of a crime doesn’t mean he committed it, and District Attorney knows that. As for the victim’s belongings being found at my client’s camp, there is public access and any one could have put it there.”

“Highly unlikely,” Arnott argued.

“Still, my client is entitled to bail.”

“He’s a flight risk,” Arnott yelled.

“Mr. Arnott,” the judge said interrupting Arnott. “I appreciate lawyers having passion for their cases, but I do not appreciate screaming and theatrics in my courtroom.” The judge turned her attention to Justin. “But Mr. Arnott is right. Your client is homeless and a flight risk. Bail is denied.”

A young woman with shoulder-length, dark brown hair leaned over the railing separating the attorneys from nonparticipants in the court. She was dressed in a flower-print dress, which Justin imagined was one of her best dresses that she owned. She whispered something in Justin’s ear.

“Is there something you would like to share with the court Mr. Ainsley?” the judge demanded more than asking.

Justin turned his attention back to the judge. “Your Honor, this is Mrs. Kristen Richards, wife of the defendant. She is requesting visitation rights with her husband while he is custody.”

The judge took a minute to think about the request. “I’ll allow supervised visits while awaiting trial. Is there anything else?”

Both lawyers nodded there wasn’t anything else. “Then I expect all pretrial motions and discovery to be filed within thirty days,” the judge commanded. “If there is nothing else, then the defendant is remanded to pretrial confinement.”

* * * * *

Ten Years Ago

Nineteen-year-old Kristen Tarleton was working as a volunteer for the Multiple Sclerosis aquatic program at a pool where Mike Richards was a lifeguard. The program lasted an hour every Monday and Wednesday during the summer. Kristen found herself staying to swim laps, making sure one particular lifeguard noticed her, after the patients had gone home. Mike made time to chat with her when he wasn’t on duty. Kristen was attracted to this boy who was confident, athletic, and funny. Even though he was strong, he was gentle with her. Mike found the shy girl with a swimsuit model’s figure interesting and caring; traits he admired greatly. On his eighteenth birthday, Mike enlisted in the Marines. Kristen spent the next three months writing letters and dreaming of when he would return. After boot camp, Mike returned for a ten-day of  leave and to ask Kristen to marry him. Less than a year later, after Mike completed his advanced infantry training and was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, they were married. At first, marriage was wonderful, until Mike’s first tour to the Middle East. He returned changed. He was no longer gentle, funny, or loving. He was irritable, aloof, and couldn’t sleep. It got worse after Mike’s second tour. When his enlistment was over, Kristen hoped things would improve, but instead they got worse.

It was this shy girl, hopelessly in love with her husband, but unable to live with him; that Justin met as he walked out of the courtroom. “Excuse me,” she said, afraid to confront Justin. “You’re my husband’s lawyer, aren’t you?”

“That’s right,” Justin answered. “What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to say that I know Mike has a reputation for being violent, but I know him. He would never kill anyone.”

Justin sighed as he held his briefcase in both hands in front of him. “Mrs. Richards Your husband was a Marine Corps sniper. He was trained to kill. He served two combat tours. He’s killed before and is quite capable of killing again.”

“So you believe he’s guilty?”

“I don’t know,” Justin answered. “While he has the ability, many of the facts of the case seem to be too convenient.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’ll put it this way. I’m your husband’s lawyer, and I’m going to do everything possible to see he gets a fair trial and justice is served.”

The shy woman in front of Justin shook her head and held it high. “He has his flaws, but he didn’t kill that boy. Mike is innocent. I want you to prove it and get him out of jail.”

Before Justin could answer, Kimberly joined him and Kristen. “Mrs. Richards. Good to see you. How are you doing?”

Kristen glared at Kimberly. “What do you care? You’re the one who put him in jail. You cops pinned this murder on Mike because you want to solved this case and you don’t care who gets sent to prison for it.”

Kimberly reached out to calm Kristen. Kristen took a step back. “Don’t touch me,” she commanded. “I don’t want any of you filthy cops to touch me. Just get out there and find the real killer.” Kristen didn’t wait for a response; she stormed off.

“Don’t blame her,” Justin said to Kimberly. “She’s just upset because what her husband is going through.”

“No kidding,” Kimberly replied sarcastically.

“Well, if you excuse me, I have a lot of work to do. I need to start on pretrial motions and examining the evidence against my client.”

Kimberly took a deep breath. “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”

Justin stood still for a moment before answering. “Sure. Why not. Besides, I’ve got some questions I would like to ask you about the case.”

Kimberly smiled. “I was kind of hoping you would say that.”

* * * * *

Dannie’s Deli was considered the best family-owned restaurant in the city. It was a small place with six booths along one wall and eight tables in the middle of the room. At the back end were to two glass counters forming an L: one filled with pastries and one filled with deli meats and side salads.

Justin stopped in front of the shop and pointed to a sign written in a foreign language. “Do you know what that says?” Justin asked Kimberly.

She glanced at the sign. “It’s Hebrew. It says they serve kosher food here. The family who owns the shop are Jewish. They’re really nice people.”

Kimberly and Justin entered the shop. An elderly man greeted them. “You want Hebrew or English menu?”

“English,” Kimberly answered. She led Justin to a table towards the back of the dinning area. Justin could smell chicken soup coming from the kitchen behind a set of double doors, one mark with enter and the other with exit.

“I recommend their pastrami on rye or the tuna melt,” Kimberly said as Justin looked at the menu. “But truthfully, everything is good here.”

“I take it you come here often.”

“They give you free refills on all drinks, the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the service is great.”

Justin chuckled. “And thought only truckers knew the best places to eat.”

“So do cops.”

A young lady came over and placed a pot of tea and two cups on the table. “Let me know when you are ready to order,” said the waitress.

“I’m ready now,” Kimberly responded. “I’ll take a blueberry bagel with cream cheese and an order of blintzes.”

The waitress turned to Justin. “What about you sir?’

Justin put down the menu. “I guess I’ll have the pastrami sandwich and a Coke.”

The waitress repeated their order as she took up the menus before leaving. Kimberly poured herself a cup of tea for herself and Justin.

Justin picked up his cup and gave Kimberly a small wave of the cup. He took a sip and placed the cup back on the table. “So, tell me why you wanted to talk to me? What do you want to tell me about the case?”

“What makes you think I have any information about the case that I haven’t told you?”

“Call it a hunch. Us lawyers are known to have them.”

Kimberly game Justin a small smile. “Maybe I want to hear what you have to say. Maybe I want to know how you intend to defend Wild Mike.”

“Simple. He didn’t do it. I’m going to find out who did.”

“Ah, the SODDI (some other dude die it) defense. Why am I not surprised?”

Justin chuckled. “Maybe someone else did do it. Maybe you have the wrong person in custody. Have you thought about that?”

“Maybe.”

“What?” Justin exclaimed in surprise. “You agree with me?”

“A better way would be to say I’m open to exploring the possibility of Wild Mike being innocent.”

“Why?”

“Wild Mike,” Kimberly replied. “He was wet and so was Carlsen. The only reason Wild Mike would be on the shore with a wet body is if he went in the lake and pulled it out.”

“You don’t think they were fighting and maybe Mike drowned the victim?”

“Wild Mike is a scrapper; but he had no wounds or bruises on him. There were no cuts or scrapes on his hands or knuckles. Ever known a person get into a fight and not come out without at least one bruise?”

Justin nodded his head in agreement. “If you think he’s innocent, then why do you have him locked up. Let him go.”

“It’s not up to me. For some reason, the DA, Connor Arnott, seems to be out to get Wild Mike.”

“What’s his story?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who is he? How did he become the DA? What’s his background?”

“Don’t really know,” Kimberly answered. “He’s been the DA for I don’t know how long. He’s pretty good. He supports the cops. I know he wants to get into politics, so he’s probably trying to make a name for himself.”

“Why does he have it out for Mike?”

“I don’t think he has it out for Wild Mike. But this case is going to big news and it’s a great chance to get known.”

Justin looked confused. “What makes this case so important? I know it’s a homicide, but there have been other homicide cases before.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You really don’t know, do you? Raymond Carlsen, the victim, was the son of our state senator, Phillip Carlsen; and Raymond was working at the law firm of Nicole Welsh, the highest paid corporate lawyer in the state. How did you not know about this?”

“I knew about Raymond being Phillip Carlsen’s son, but I didn’t know he was a lawyer.”

“He wasn’t,” Kimberly replied. “He was an intern at the firm. He would have started next year as an associate there.”

“And to think I thought he was just some kid the police found on the shore of the lake.”

“Not hardly,” Kimberly answered. “Not hardly.”

* * * * *

Justin placed his CAC (computer access card) card into the slot on the keyboard of his computer. He sat down behind his desk, waiting for the computer files to open up. As Justin leaned back in his chair, his associate, Wendy Codwell entered his office.

Wendy was a full-figured woman who celebrated her thirty-ninth birthday every year for the past decade. Justin was impressed with Wendy for three reasons. The first was she was always dress in professionally in tailored suits. Second she was extremely intelligent and resourceful, even for a lawyer. The third was her brilliantly dyed red hair.

“What do we have?” Justin asked.

“A real ball buster,” Wendy answered. “This case is not a simple homicide.”

“Explain,” Justin commanded.

“Don’t take that tone with me,” Wendy responded. She place a folder on Justin’s desk. “The victim, Raymond Carlsen, is the son of state senator Phillip Carlsen.”

“I know,” Justin stated interrupting Wendy.

“He’s also a law school student working for Nicole Welsh, a high-priced corporate lawyer with a lot of influence in the community.”

“Again, I already know that.”

“The defendant in this case is a former Marine Corps sniper who pulled two tours in the Middle East. He’s trained in hand-to-hand combat and can easily kill someone with his bare hands.”

“Still, nothing new.”

Wendy let out a deep breath. “Did you know he was seeing a mental health counselor at the VA?”

“No, that I didn’t know.” Justin leaned back in his chair. “See if you can’t get a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) release from our client. We’ll want a copy of his records from the VA.”

“Now you’re telling me something I already know,” Wendy snidely responded.

“Anything else?”

“Not yet, but then the murder occurred last night. We haven’t got the autopsy results yet. As for the lab results from the autopsy and the crime scene evidence collected, it’s going to be a while before we them.”

“Yeah, I know,” Justin replied. “In the meantime, see what you can find out about Detective Kimberly Simmons.”

“Any special reason you’re so interested in this detective?”

Justin blushed as he thought of Kimberly. Yes, he did find her attractive, but then who wouldn’t be interested in learning more about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Amazon carrying a police shield. “Not really,” Justin lied. “I just want to know more about the people involved in this case, and that includes the detective who made the arrest.”

Wendy turned to leave Justin’s office. At the door, she looked over her shoulder at Justin. “Yeah, sure,” she said with a smile, “I’ll make sure to get you that information.”

* * * * *

“About time you got back,” Tindall commented snidely as Kimberly walked into the office.

“Why? What did I miss?” Kimberly asked.

“The autopsy report came in.”

“What did it say?”

“Cause of death was blunt-force trauma. He was beaten to death before being dumped in the lake.”

Kimberly glared at Tindall. “You are such a great detective. To think, with all those bruises and being wet, it’s amazing that you and the coroner were able to come to that conclusion.”

Tindall chuckled. “Yeah. The coroner was also able to establish the time of death. It was less than an hour before the body was discovered.”

“Strange?”

“Why?”

Kimberly strolled around the office. “Wild Mike gets into a fight with someone, beats him, then drowns him, then drags the body out of the water. But there were no signs of an altercation at the scene. No blood cast off. No drag marks. The only foot prints we found there were of Wild Mike’s, going in and out of the water. And no signs of Wild Mike being in a fight.”

“And you’re beginning to think maybe he didn’t kill Carlsen.”

“When did Wild Mike start living out there in the woods?”

“I don’t know,” Tindall answered. “Probably a couple of months ago. I know he was living with his wife three months ago when you picked him up for that bar fight.”

“Yes, that’s right. And since then, he hasn’t caused any trouble.”

“Not quite,” Tindall responded. “There have been several complaints about him out there. Mostly college kids and those rich snobs who live on the lake complaining about him watching them. They always see him with a pair of binoculars.”

“But except for a few barroom brawls, Wild Mike hasn’t done anything that violent. While he’s capable, I don’t see him killing someone over a petty argument.”

Tindall clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back. “Doesn’t change the fact we have a homicide victim and the only suspect is Wild Mike.”

Kimberly crossed her arms in front of her and stared at Tindall leaning back in his chair. “You know what this means, don’t you?” she stated.

Tindall groaned as sat back upright and brought his hands down. “Yeah. It means we might have an unsolved homicide.”

* * * * *

Chapter Three

At fifty-three years of age, Nicole Welsh had it all. She had the six-bedroom, four bath, two-story house with an in-ground pool and a large garage for the four cars she shared with her husband, Brandon Hansen. Nicole graduated from law school twenty-eight years ago. She then found a rich husband and became head of her own law firm all before the age of thirty. Since then, she managed to become one of the highest-paid and most successful corporate lawyers in the state. As Justin stood in the foyer of the home, he admired the large office/library off to the right and the spacious living room to his left. A maid had instructed him to wait there while she informed Nicole of Justin’s presence. Justin took a few steps to the entrance of the living room, noticing a large, flat-screen TV, several tasteful sculptures and paintings. On the mantel over the fireplace were a set of candlesticks flanking a large mirror.

“Can I help you?” an authoritative feminine voice demanded. “You’ve interrupted my breakfast.”

Justin turned to see a middle-aged woman in a kimono robe over silk pajamas. Her hair was cut short, just covering her ears, and showing streaks of gray.

“I asked if I could help you,” the woman demanded again.

Justin put out his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m an attorney and working on a case involving a homicide that occurred two days ago. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions.”

The woman closed her robe. “I know who you are. I have nothing to say about the case.”

“And I know who you are,” Justin replied. “You’re Nicole Welsh, high-priced corporate lawyer, and the person who called the police the night of the murder.”

Nicole scoffed. “I’m a lawyer and I know a bluff when I see one. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t know anything happened until the next day when I saw it on the news.”

“Strange? Your property overlooks where the murder happened.”

“So do a lot of others.”

Justin walked through the foyer into a room leading to the back of the house and the pool. “I can almost see the shoreline from here. I’m sure from the second floor or the edge of your property, you can see it. Mind if I take a look.”

Nicole smiled at Justin. “Well, I’m certainly not going to invite you up to my boudoir, but you are welcome to go outside and take a look.” Nicole opened the back door and led Justin to the edge of her property.

“I was right,” Justin commented. “You can see the shoreline from here.”

“Just because I can see it, doesn’t mean I did. I had no reason to look outside that night.”

“Really,” Justin stated with disbelief. “With all the lights out there on the shoreline, including the blue police lights, you didn’t bother to take a look to see what was going on?”

“I guess I was asleep by the time all of that happened.”

“Yeah, that’s probably it. Let me ask you about something else.”

“What?”

“Raymond Carlsen.”

“What about him?

“Surely you knew he was the victim,” Justin stated with a smile.

“Of course I knew.”

“He worked for you, didn’t he?”

Nicole crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You know he did.”

“Just had to confirm it.”

“No, you didn’t,” Nicole responded. “Like all lawyers, you know the answer to all of the questions before you ask them.”

“Here’s one I don’t know. When was the last time you saw Raymond?”

Nicole stared at Justin for a moment before answering. “It was the day before he was murdered. He’s an intern at my office. I saw him at work that day when I left the office that afternoon, he was still working. If I remember correctly, he was making some copies for one of the associates.”

“So, you didn’t see him the day he was murdered?”

“I just told you I didn’t. What makes you think I did?”

“Nothing really,” Justin answered. “I’m just wondering why Raymond was out here.”

“What makes you think he was here?”

“He had to have some reason for coming to the lake.”

* * * * *

Justin pulled his white Toyota into a parking space at the edge of the gravel parking lot. Once again, he was assaulted by the odor of fish and algae as he got out of his car. He felt the rocks through the soles of his shoes as he walked across the gravel to the office for renting jet skis and boats on the lake. One dock was under construction. Justin could see the posts leading into the water, although the boards of the dock extended only about a third of the way. Several college-age students standing on a second dock attracted Justin’s attention. They were discussing the merits of various locations on the lake and which would be the best place for their outing, which included two coolers, probably filled with ice and beer.

A man came out of the rental office. “Morning. What can I do for you,” he asked.

The man was in his early forties, slender and tan from working outside. He was dressed in cutoff jeans and a white sleeveless tee shirt advertising a local bar. He pulled a red ball cap from his rear pocket and placed on his head with his receding hairline and short dark hair.

“I take it you’re the owner of this establishment,” Justin said as he looked at the canoes, kayaks, motorboats, and jet skis.

“Nope. The bank owns it. They just let me work here and pay them money every month,” the man answered with a chuckle. “Name’s Thom Ferrell. What can I do for you?”

Justin extended his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m investigating a homicide that took place here a couple of days ago.”

“Be careful there,” a voice responded.

Justin turned to see Kimberly standing a few feet from them. “People might think you’re a cop; and we wouldn’t want that.”

“That’s right; you could get into trouble impersonating a police officer,” said a man standing next to Kimberly.

Kimberly faced the man. “That’s right. You two haven’t met.” Kimberly motioned to Justin, then the man next to her. “This is Justin Ainsley, Wild Mike’s lawyer. Justin, my partner, Steve Tindall.”

Tindall stepped forward and shook Justin’s hand. Tindall gave a nod to the marina owner. “Thom, good to see you. Hope you don’t mind us asking a few questions.”

“If it’s about that kid getting killed, ain’t got anything to tell you. I close this place up at six and go home. I didn’t hear anything about it until the next morning.”

Justin took a couple of steps towards the docks. “Doesn’t look like you do much business. I mean it looks like most of your boats and stuff are here, not on the water.”

“You’re right about that,” Thom said with a chuckle. “But then, it’s a weekday. Most of the kids are in school. On the weekends and during school breaks, I can barely keep up with demands for jet skis and boats. But, the construction of the new dock will help business once it’s completed.”

“Lots of fishermen on the weekends,” Justin asked.

“Not anymore,” Thom replied. “It seems the fishing has gotten bad. There used to be quite a few people coming up from the college and neighboring cities; but not anymore. Guess fishing isn’t as popular as it used to be.”

“Enough about fishing,” Tindall said hoping to bring the focus of the conversation back to him. “What can you tell me about Wild Mike? Heard he had a scuffle with someone here several days ago.”

Thom pulled his hat off to wipe the sweat off his forehead. “Yeah, that happened. This young fella threw a wrapper on the ground. Wild Mike picked it up and put it in the trash can. Then he scolded the young man about littering. That fella started yelling back, telling Mike to mind his own business. Well, that just pissed Mike off more, and he started screaming at the kid. Then the kid shoved Mike. Guess the kid thought he could scare Mike off. No way. Sure enough, Mike decked the kid. I was able to pull Mike off and the kid’s friends held him back. Then the wimps called the cops to file a complaint, saying Wild Mike assaulted them. Of course, Mike had disappeared before the cops showed up. I told them that the kid started it, but Mike finished it.”

Justin held up his hand to interrupt Thom’s story. “Does Mike often have altercations with others who litter?”

Thom shook his head. “If you leave Wild Mike alone, he’ll leave you alone. Oh, he might cuss you out for littering or doing something you shouldn’t. But if you keep on walking, he’ll leave you be. He does look for fights, but he won’t turn tail and run from one.”

“Did Mike seem especially angry at this kid?” Tindall asked. “Did it seem that Mike wanted to finish what he had started?”

“Mike didn’t start the altercation,” Justin interjected. “Thom just told you it was the young man who threw the wrapper on the ground.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tindall responded. “But considering the young man Mike had the fight with was our victim, Raymond Carlsen, and the fact it occurred one day before we found him dead; I need to be sure that Mike didn’t have a grudge and go looking for this kid.”

Justin took a step forward to face Tindall. “So, you think Mike went looking for Raymond, found him the next day, beat him up and killed him because of a candy wrapper.”

Tindall glared back at Justin. “No. I think Wild Mike went looking for Raymond because he called the police and got Mike in trouble.”

“I think the both of you need to get your testosterone in check,” Kimberly said with a degree of frustration.  She reached out and turned Justin to face her. “Look we need to investigate everything, including a possible motive for Mike to kill Raymond. You don’t know Mike the way we do. He always seems to be in a bad mood; one step from going off the deep end.”

Justin nodded he understood before facing Thom. “I do have one question. Why was Mike down here? What was he doing here at the marina?”

Thom waved his hand towards the building that served as the office for the marina. I run a small convenience store. I often get supplies for Wild Mike. He was here to pick them up.”

“Did he?” Justin asked.

“Of course. He got them right after he knocked that young fella down. He got them. When the kids told him they had called the police, Mike flipped them off and went on his way.”

“Seemed pretty calm for a crazed killer,” Justin commented.

* * * * *

It was certainly quiet Justin thought as he made his way to Mike’s camp. After spending the day in his office going over paperwork, Justin didn’t know if he should appreciate this opportunity to get outdoors. He still smelled the fish and algae, but he also smelled the pine while listening to the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. Dusk was coming and soon it would be too dark to find the place, even with a flashlight. Also, Justin’s unfamiliarity with the lake and wooded area surrounding it didn’t help. According to the directions given to him by Thom that morning, all he had to do was follow the path around the lake until he came to a small foot bridge over a stream. Justin simply had to turn away from the lake and follow the path uphill for about half a mile to Mike’s camp. Justin stopped about halfway up the path, turned and admired the view. He watched several large birds soar above the lake. After a minute, he returned to his trek up the hill.

Justin found the camp. It was as he had seen it the other day. Most of Mike’s belongings were strewn about the site, evidence of the police ransacking the place when looking for evidence. Justin found some food in a plastic bag next to clean shirts, underwear, and a pair of pants in a pile beside a wooden chair.

“I see you found the place.”

The voice startled Justin, who turned to see Detective Kimberly Simmons leaning against a tree, grinning at him.

“What are you doing here?” Justin demanded.

“Saw you taking off down the trail by the lake. Figured you would be coming back here. I followed you to make sure you didn’t get lost.”

“You were worried about me?”

“More of I didn’t want to mount a search and rescue mission for a lost lawyer, especially at night.”

“You could have waited until daylight. I doubt there is anything out here that will hurt me.”

Kimberly found a log to sit on. “What are you doing out here? You were here the other day. Nothing’s changed.”

“I wanted to go over the events of that night; but I wanted to do them at the time they happened.”

“In that case, I’ll wait with you. Kind of help you through the events as they happened.”

“What about your partner?” Justin asked. “Certainly, you don’t intend to keep him waiting. I figure it’ll take four or five hours before I’m through here.

“Steve didn’t come. He went home to his wife and kids.”

“You came up here by yourself? Isn’t that kind of dangerous? What if something were to happen to you?”

Kimberly laughed. “What about you? You’re up here all by yourself.”

“It’s different.”

“Why? Because you’re a man? You can take care of yourself, while poor little defenseless me is here all by herself.”

“Why do I have a feeling that you are better at this than I am?”

“Because I grew up here. When I was a kid, I spent more time here in the woods than I did in school, much to the disappointment of my parents.”

“Well, since we have time to kill, what’s your story?” Justin asked as he leaned back in the wooden chair.

“You mean why am I not married with the required two or three children and an ex-husband,” Kimberly answered with a grin.

“We can start with that. Then you can tell me how you became a cop in a town where the idea of a lively Saturday night consists of college kids getting stoned.”

Kimberly stood up. “Hey if I’m going to tell you my life story, we’re changing seats. I want to be comfortable.”

“I was here first. Why should I have to give up the only comfortable chair in the place?”

“Because you want to hear my story. Now get up.”

Justin chuckled as he relinquished the chair. “You have the chair. Now let’s hear your story.”

Kimberly made sure to give a sigh of comfort as she sat down. “I guess it started with me growing up here in this town. I even went to college here. After I graduated with a degree in criminal justice, I took a job in LA and joined the police force there. After several years and a talent for dealing with women victims, I found myself working as a detective. I would still be out there if it weren’t for my father dying. I came back for the funeral, discovered I liked it better here than smog-filled LA, so I stayed.”

Justin leaned back against a log and stretched his legs out. “What about the rest of the family? Your mother? Any brothers or sisters?”

“My, my,” Kimberly replied pretending to be coy. “All these questions.”

“And very few answers.”

“Well, my mother is alive and kicking and enjoying life as the owner of a bridal shop. She also does some catering on the side. My only sibling, my sister, works with my mother. Together, they run the gossip mill in this area.”

“What about a husband, kids, pets, stray animals that have adopted you?”

“Nope. No husband, no kids, no pets, no stray animals. Not that I wouldn’t like to have them, but I haven’t found the time or the right person, yet. What about you?”

“I thought you knew all about me.”

Kimberly smiled. “I know you served. According to my sister, you’re still single, but you were dating another lawyer until she got a job offer in D.C. Anything to add?”

“I have a cat. It kind of came with the house I’m renting.”

“What’s its name?”

“I call him Gibb Cat, it’s a Shakespearean term for stray cat.”

Kimberly got out of the chair. “So, you live alone with a stray cat, and you take on murder cases pro bono.”

Justin stood up. “Got to have something to look forward to when you get up in the morning.”

“It’s getting dark,” Kimberly stated as she stretched her arm. “We should get going. I know it’s early, but you’ll get the idea of what happened.”

“No, I want to hear what Mike heard and see what Mike saw. Everything took place a night.”

“The coroner put time of death between six to eight o’clock at night. It’s almost six thirty. This would be about the time Wild Mike would have killed Raymond.”

“You found Mike and the victim down by the shoreline; isn’t that right? But you don’t really know where he supposedly killed Raymond Carlsen.” Justin asked. According to your theory, you think Mike left his camp around now, went down to the shoreline, killed Carlsen, and hung around there for a couple of hours, then dumped the body?”

Kimberly crossed her arms. “Truthfully, I can’t figure out the timeline yet.”

“Well then, I’m going to follow Mike’s story.”

“What is that?”

“According to Mike, he was here when he heard some noises and saw some lights down at the lake. When he got down there, that’s when he heard a splash. After several minutes, he saw something in the water, and he realized it was a body. That’s when he went in and pulled it out.”

“But there were no drag mark,” Kimberly stated.

Justin held up his hand. “He carried the body out. That’s why you found blood on his shirt, and no signs of a struggle.”

“It’s hard to tell if there was a fight, especially at night, with a bunch of police officers tramping around the place.”

“I can understand that. But I want to wait to see if there are any lights or noise coming from the lake and whether they can be seen from here.”

Kimberly uncrossed her arm and moved to the edge of the camp site. She turned to face Justin. “I’ll save you the trouble. Yes, you can see lights and hear noises from the lake up here. Take a look. You can see the lake and some kids on jet skis out there. And you can even hear the skis from up here. You don’t need to wait for nightfall, so let’s get going.”

Justin was a bit embarrassed at failing to notice something so obvious. “I still want to wait until nightfall to see how Mike would have gotten from here to the shoreline.”

“Wild Mike knows these woods as well as you know your apartment. He’s capable of moving down to the shoreline quickly and quietly; something you won’t be able to do in the dark. If fact, you would be lucky to make it down there without tripping over something and breaking a bone. Now, I know I’m not as good as Wild Mike, so I’m going down while there is still enough daylight to see where I’m going. And, you should come too. There is no need to wait until dark.”

Justin relented to Kimberly’s logic, and joined her as she led him down the path.

* * * * *

“Well, here we are again,” Kimberly said when they got to the crime scene.

Justin walked around the area. “It’s hard to tell what happened with all of the tracks and impressions here.”

“What do you want to know?”

“The facts,” Justin stated. “Someone calls the police reporting a fight. A patrol unit arrives, finds Mike with Carlsen, who is dead. The police are on the road, the lake is here, Mike is in the middle. He panics and runs. Where did you finally catch him?”

“Not quite,” Kimberly chuckled. “Wild Mike doesn’t panic. He’s a former Marine sniper. He’s been in a lot of tougher spots than this. And, I’m sure he’s dealt with dead bodies before.”

“Sounds like you think he’s innocence.”

“Innocence, no,” Kimberly answered. “But honestly, I don’t think he killed Raymond Carlsen. When I cornered him at the boathouse, which is about a mile from here, he surrendered. He was thinking clearly. Don’t get me wrong; if he could have gotten away, he would have. But he knew he had been identified. He knew running wasn’t going to help.’

Justin took note of the view from the shoreline. It was dark, but he could see there were a couple of motorboats out on the lake. The lights from the homes on the hill overlooking the lake casted shadows along most of the shoreline, but there were patches where the moon light shined through.

“Was there a full moon the night Carlsen was killed?” Justin asked.

“No, but there was a full moon a couple of days earlier. But the moon was bright enough and the night was clear. You could see someone standing on the shoreline if he moved out of the shadows.”

“Still, the autopsy showed Carlsen was killed at least an hour, possibly two, before the patrol unit showed up. Why was Mike still here? If he had killed Carlsen, he wouldn’t have hung around waiting for the police.”

“I agree,” Kimberly replied. “I mean the arrest the night of the murder was justified. We had a dead body, Wild Mike was seen with the victim, he had blood on his shirt, he ran away. Taking him into custody was called for.”

“So why is he being charged with murder?”

“Simple. We don’t know who really killed Carlsen,” Kimberly answered. She started down the path toward the marina, then she turned to face Justin. “I mean, it could have been someone else; but it could also have been Wild Mike.”

* * * * *

Chapter Four

Justin admired the large Tutor home with vines growing around the window shutters. On both sides of the front porch were flower beds stretching out to the half circle driveway with enough room to park at least a dozen cars. He rang the doorbell, which he heard through the heavy wooden door. After several seconds of silence, he rang it again. Still, there was no answer. Justin decided to circle the home to see if there were any signs of someone being there.

It took him almost two full minutes to make his way to the back of the house where he found a nude woman sunbathing on a lawn couch. Justin quickly turned around and loudly cleared his throat.

“Oh, don’t be such a prude,” the naked lady said as she lazily turned on to her stomach. “If it bothers you so much, hand me my robe and I will cover up.”

Justin timidly stepped backward till he could find the robe. He continued to move backwards to avoid having to look at the woman. He handed her the robe.

Justin heard a slight groan and sigh. “You can turn around now,” the woman said.

Justin turned around just as the woman was pulling her long red hair from beneath the collar of the robe, which was open, revealing two perky breasts and a dark triangle of public hair. The woman of Hispanic heritage was in her early thirties, had a sensual hour-glass figure, tanned skin without any bikini lines, dark eyes, and a perfect complexion. Modesty was not one of her attributes.

“Do you think you could. . .” Justin said motioning to the woman and her terrycloth robe.

The woman closed the robe and tied the cloth belt. While it covered her body, it left nothing to imagination about this woman physical attributes. “Who are you and what do you want?” she demanded as she picked up a glass of orange juice.

“I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m a lawyer. . .”

“Sweetheart, what makes you think I need a lawyer?

“I’m hoping you don’t. I’m a criminal defense attorney. A couple of nights ago, there was a homicide down by the lake.”

“Yeah, I know. I saw the lights down there. I heard they caught the guy who did it.”

“Yes, the police do have a suspect in custody. I’m his lawyer.”

The woman chuckled as she set her glass of orange juice down on a table. “And you want to know if I saw what happened?”

Justin pulled out a small notebook from his pocket. “You are Ms. Ava Shimley, right?”

“That’s right sweetie.”

Justin walked to the edge of the back yard and looked down at the lake. “Can you tell me what you saw that night?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Excuse me, but do you mind if I ask if anyone else was here? Possibly one of your staff?”

“The staff had the night off.”

“What about your husband, or maybe another family member?”

“I’m a widow. Why? Are you getting ideas?”

“That’s flattering, but I am really here on business.”

“A man with morals. My, my, what I am going to do with you?”

“Can we focus on you and your family? Is there anyone else living here? Someone who might have seen what happened the other night?”

“I’m sorry to say I was here all by myself. Not that I wouldn’t like to have had company, but that night, no such luck.”

“Is there anything you can tell me about that night?”

Ava Shimley returned to her lawn couch and removed her robe. “Sweetie, all I saw was a bunch of lights. Now unless you want something else, bye bye.”

Justin could tell Ava enjoyed making him uncomfortable as she coyly lifted her arms showing her entire naked body. “Appreciate your time, but I think I’ve got all I need.” Justin gave Ava a small salute as he left.

* * * * *

The public defenders’ office occupied the fifth floor of the public services building. The first floor was a lobby with a small newsstand selling coffee and snacks. The other floors of the building held offices for public works, and a gym for the people who worked in the building. Justin made it a point to use the stairs instead of the elevator. He exited the stairwell and made his way to the office he shared with his associate Wendy Codwell.

Wendy was seated at her desk working on her computer. “It’s about time you came in. It’s almost lunchtime. What happened? Had a rough night?”

“Went to see Ms. Ava Shimley, Nicole Welsh’s neighbor,” Justin answered. “Turns out she’s a bit of tease.”

“Oh, I know all about Mrs. Shimley. At least your morning was more interesting than mine. I’ve been going over the police reports, the autopsy report, and the chains of custody. Nothing like checking all the paperwork to brighten one’s morning.”

“Find anything interesting?”

Wendy leaned back in chair. “You read the police report. Someone called in a prowler down by the lake. A unit was dispatched. They found our client with the victim. Our client ran, they chased him down, he was arrested. Later, they searched the client’s personal belongings and found the victim’s wallet and cell phone. So far, everything looks like it was done by the book. They had probable cause, a warrant, didn’t violate the client’s rights, nothing out of place.”

“How did young Raymond die?”

“Stop that,” Wendy commanded. “Don’t personalize this. It’s the ‘victim,’ not ‘young Raymond.’ Don’t think of us being here to fight for the victims or the clients. We’re here to do a job, not to fight crusades.”

“What about providing the best legal defense we can for those who can’t afford a lawyer? That’s not a crusade; it’s our job.”

Wendy pointed at Justin with the pen in her hand. “If you start riding horses and attacking windmills, I’m getting another partner. Remember, Don Quixote was a work of fiction.”

“Okay, okay. What about the autopsy report?’

“No surprise there. He was beaten to death.”

“So, Raymond, I mean the victim, was killed somewhere else, then dumped in the lake.”

Wendy pulled out a piece of paper. “There is one piece of good news. The VA counselor is willing to talk to you about Mr. Richards.”

“You mean our client.”

* * * * *

The VA Center was a huge H-shaped building with mental health on one side, physical rehabilitation and primary care on the other, and the waiting room in the center. In the middle of the waiting room was a courtesy counter with fresh coffee, fruit, and cookies. Justin wanted a cookie but decided to get a cup of coffee instead. He sat down and picked up one of the many veterans’ magazines in the waiting area. Before he could open the magazine to the first page, a short, middle-age Black man came out of the mental health offices and called for Justin. Justin followed the individual to a private office located in the maze behind the door leading into the offices of the mental health practitioners.

“I’m Phillip Donley,” the man said as he motioned for Justin to take a seat in front of the man’s desk. “Before we begin, I need to see some identification and the proper paperwork.”

Justin handed the man his driver’s license and the required forms. As the individual looked over the papers, Justin took note of the office. There were the required diplomas on the wall as well as several reproductions of paintings of sailboats. As with most offices, there were bookcases with shelves of books and memorabilia.

Phillip handed the papers and driver’s license back to Justin. “So, what can I do for you?”

“I need to know about Mike Richards. He’s been charged with murder. Anything you could tell me would be useful.”

Phillip leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk. “You want to know if Mike could have killed someone. The answer is yes. The Marine Corps trained him to kill, and according to his service record, he was exceptionally good at it. He was a sniper, trained to kill a person hundreds of yards away with a single shot from a rifle.”

Justin raise his hand to interrupt Phillip. “I know he was trained and capable of killing. What I need to know is if he is suffering from any kind of psychological trauma that would cause him to lose control and kill a person in a fit of rage?”

“Well, Mike was suffering from PTSD. But his outbursts were limited to destruction of property.”

“I don’t quite understand?”

“Think of it as an adult throwing a temper tantum. He’s angry. He wants things to change, but he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” Phillip answered. “He moved out of his house to be away from his wife so that he wouldn’t hurt her when he lost his temper. He started living out in the woods near the lake. Since he moved out there, he’s had fewer outbursts and was coming to counseling. I wouldn’t say he’s well, but he is getting better.”

“But it’s still possible for him the lose control and kill someone?”

“It will always be possible for him to kill, but whether he would lose control of his emotions, that’s hard to say. It would depend on the circumstances and the amount of stress he was under at the time.”

“So, you think he could and would kill someone if that person pissed him off.”

Phillip shook his head. “Did you know Mike earned the Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat V?”

“Yes, I reviewed his service record.”

“Do you know how he earned it?”

Justin shrugged his shoulders. “I assumed he saved some Marines or killed a lot of terrorists.”

“Not at all. He saved a family from being killed by other Marines who had faulty intelligence. Somehow, Mike figured out the family was being set up so that a terrorist group could blame Americans for killing innocence civilians. Mike stood in front of the Marines who had their weapons on the family. It caused a lot friction between him and the others in the unit, but everyone recognized his courage. Mike was trained to kill, but he has a real moral code. He is more interested in protecting the innocence and helpless than he is in getting revenge. Like I said, he’s capable, but it’s unlikely he would do anything without a very good reason.”

Justin took a minute to compose his next question. “If he says he didn’t kill the person, you would believe him?”

“Mike may have issues, but one thing for sure, he’s honest. He doesn’t lie.”

* * * * *

“Hey, our shift is almost over,” Tindall complained as Justin walked into the detectives’ office. “Couldn’t you come back tomorrow?”

“I could,” Justin answered the detective. “But the autopsy report raised some questions about the case.” Justin nodded to Kimberly as he looked around the detective division of the police station. The detectives called the common room the bull pen, where each detective had his or her own desk. The desks were arranged in pairs, facing each other to make it easier for the detectives to talk to their partners. Beside each desk, was a chair for the suspect or witness a detective wanted to question. There were four of these workstations in the bullpen. Along two walls were four rooms for private conversations. Holding and booking facilities were located downstairs.

“Yeah, I figured,” Tindall replied. “The report said Carlsen didn’t drown; he was beaten to death.”

Justin moved to the front of Tindall’s desk. “If Carlsen was beaten to death elsewhere, then where you found Mike and Carlsen was not the crime scene.”

Tindall turned to face Kimberly. “I love this.” Tindall turned back to Justin. “You know as well as I do, wherever we find a body, it’s a crime scene. Yes, there may be a second crime scene, but that doesn’t mean your client is off the hook.”

“Carlsen was killed somewhere else,” Justin stated. “Have you looked for another crime scene? Have you considered the possibility of another suspect? The possibility of Mike being innocent?”

Tindall looked to Kimberly, who got up from her desk. “This is an open police investigation,” Tindall stated. “Of course we’re looking into all possibilities.”

“Any chance of getting my client released?”

“That’s up to the judge,” Kimberly answered.

“So, Mike is still stuck in jail,” Justin replied.

“That’s right,” Tindall stated.

“Any suggestions on what I can do to help my client?”

Kimberly grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. “You can take me to dinner.”

“How is that going to help Mike?”

“To find out, you’ll want to take me to dinner.”

Justin chuckled. “Who says I want to take you to dinner?”

“I do,” Kimberly answered with a grin.

* * * * *

The owner knew people came to a bar for four things: cold beer, strong drinks, good food, and good music; and the Cactus Rose Saloon was known for all of these. Waitresses were young, sexy, and good looking. The bouncers were big, strong, and not known for their gentle nature. The owner furnished the bar with picnic tables and mismatched bar stools along the bar. There was a band stand for local musicians to play country and western music on Thursday and Friday nights. The owner also kept an extremely large-screen TV for sport parties on the weekends. Any other time, loud music blared over loudspeakers, forcing patrons to yell in they wanted to hold a conversation.

“First time,” Kimberly asked as she and Justin entered the bar.

“I tend to stick to take out or cooking prepared dinners at home.”

“Well, you’re going to love this place.”

Justin noted the young waitresses dressed in shorts and tight tee shirts. “Kind of a cheap knock-off of Hooters.”

“This place specializes in cheap. But the food is good.”

“Kind of loud, isn’t it,” Justin shouted.

Kimberly leaned over to speak in Justin ear. “Like I said, people come here for the food and cold beer. Trust me, you’re going to like the place.” She led Justin to one of the picnic tables towards the back.

A young brunette wearing a tee shirt advertising the Cactus Rose Saloon came over and handed Kimberly and Justin menus. Her nametag identified her as Amber. “What can I get you from the bar?” the pretty brunette asked.

“Two longnecks, Coronas with extra lime,” Kimberly answered. She turned to Justin. “Anything for you?” she playfully asked.

“Naw, I’ll just steal one of yours.”

“Got it. Two Coronas,” Amber the waitress repeated. “I’ll bring them right out. Take a minute to look at the menus. All burgers come with one quarter pickle and our famous Cactus Rose fries.”

Cactus Rose fries?” Justin inquired.

“They French fries seasoned with garlic butter, jalapeno peppers, and powdered cheese,” Amber explained. “They’re our most popular item. Of course, you can order onion rings, potato salad, coleslaw, or macaroni salad instead. Seriously, look over the menu, I’m sure you’ll find something you like. Now let me get you those beers, I’ll be right back.”

Justin spent as much as time watching the young brunette with her hair tied in a ponytail as he did looking at the menu. Kimberly knew what she wanted so she spent her time watching Justin trying to admire the attractive waitress without Amber noticing. She, noticed. As long as the gentleman looked and didn’t take advantage of the situation, Amber felt flattered and pleased that someone with good manners would show some interest in her.

Kimberly reached out and tapped Justin’s hand. “The waitresses here are cute, but you need to read the menu if you want to order dinner,”

“Any suggestions.’

“Burgers are good, but what’s really good here are the fajitas.”

Amber returned with two beers and took Justin’s and Kimberly’s orders. Justin smiled as Amber walked away. He turned his attention to Kimberly. “Well, other than enjoying this pleasant atmosphere, why did you bring me here?”

“Thought we could exchange information. We’ve got a lot against Wild Mike. But I would like to hear what you’ve found out.”

“I’ve told you all that I know, which is mostly the information in the police reports.”

Kimberly took a drink from her beer. “And what about your visit to Nicole Welsh? What did she tell you?”

Justin chuckled. “To get out of her house.”

“And what did you find out?”

“That she has a good view of the shoreline where Carlsen was killed. Her and a Ms. Ava Shimley.”

Kimberly took another drink of her beer. “I’m sure your encounter with Ms. Shimley was more than interesting.”

“What’s her story?”

“There are more stories about that woman than there are tattoos in the Seventh Fleet, and some are more interesting than others. But if you really want to know about the folks on High Road, you need to talk to the experts.”

“High Road?

“That’s what the locals call the development overlooking the lake, especially since they don’t allow locals access to the lake through their property.”

“And what about these experts you mentioned? Who are they?”

“Meet me at the station tomorrow at nine o’clock, and I’ll take you to meet the experts,” Kimberly said, grinning at Justin.Justin raised his bottle to Kimberly. “A mystery date. This should be interesting.”

* * * * *

Chapter Eleven

Justin decided he needed more exercise, so he walked up the stairs to his office this morning. Wendy was there, determined to ruin any diet desires with a box of donuts. Justin conceded and took two of the glazed diet bombs with his coffee.

“Good news,” Wendy stated between eating a donut.

From the empty spaces in the box, Justin figured it was probably her third one this morning. “I hope it something exciting like we won the lottery.”

“We need to buy a ticket for that, and we’re too cheap to waste our money in the hopes of becoming millionaires.”

“Cheap or smart,” Justin replied.

“Well, we ain’t smart. We’re still working for the Public Defender’s Office.”

Justin sat down and lift a donut in a mock toast to Wendy. “So what is the good news?”

The DA send over the discovery documents. And, they’re charging our client with a second homicide.”

“On what evidence?”

Wendy held up a thin file. “The autopsy report listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma. He was beaten to death. Then there is the supposed threat against the victim. And of course the fact that our client lives out by the lake where the victim was found.”

Justin coughed. “That’s it! Mike being in the area and a hearsay statement. What is the DA thinking?”

Wendy held up a second file. This one was much thicker. “Here are the discovery documents from the first case, where Raymond Carlsen was killed. The autopsy report stated the victim was beaten to death; the same way the second victim was. Our client, Mike Richards was found with the body. Forensics shows there was blood on Mike’s shirt and the blood was a match to the victim’s. There is a search warrant and the finding the victim’s cell phone and wallet at Mike’s campsite. There are statements from witnesses reporting an altercation between the victim and our client. They even managed to get a copy of Mike’s medical file showing he has PSTD.”

“What about the victim’s car?”

“Nothing of any value. They found the car in drive with a brick on the accelerator, but nothing else.”

“Still, they have no witnesses to the actual murders.”

“True, but they have Senator Carlsen’s clout and a lot of circumstantial evidence. I mean, how do you explain the blood on Mike’s shirt or the finding of the victim’s cell phone and wallet at Mike’s camp.”

Justin finished his first donut and started on the second one. “So, what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking our DA, Connor Arnott, is an ass; but he does have a case against our client. He’s probably hoping we will plea bargain it down. He gets a win, brownie points with out state senator, and boost for his future political campaign. He’s already offered to reduce the charges to manslaughter and limit the sentences to ten years each, but they have to be consecutive; leaving our client in prison for twenty years.”

“I get the impression you think we shouldn’t take his offer.”

“Hell no,” Wendy loudly said, “I think we should go to court and beat the pants off of him.”

Justin finished the second donut and gulped down his coffee. “Then we have a lot of work to do. Do you have a list of the witnesses the DA intends to call?”

Wendy grabbed a sheet of paper from her desk and handed to Justin. “Of course I do. I also listed their addresses and phone numbers.”

“Look like I get to play Willie Nelson. I’m on the road again.”

  • * * * * *

Justin took a deep breath before ringing the door bell of Nicole Welsh’s house. This time it was Nicole herself who answered. She stood in the doorway, silently staring at Justin, for several seconds before stepping back and motioning for him to enter.

“Thank you,” Justin said as he entered Nicole’s home. “I appreciate you making time to see again.”

“Didn’t have much choice. Either I see you here or you show up at the office; and I can’t have you making a scene, driving away my clients.”

“Look, I don’t want to cause you trouble. I’m just trying to find out what kind of person Raymond Carlsen was and what he was working on. Look at it this way; if Mike Richards didn’t kill Raymond; don’t you want to find the person who did?”

Nicole scoffed. “And you think that animal is innocent. I already told you everything. There is nothing more to say.”

“You haven’t told me why Raymond was here the night he was killed.”

“He wasn’t.”

“Then what was he doing out here at the lake? He lives miles away. Your office is even farther. If he wasn’t out here to see you, then why was he here?”

“I don’t know,” Nicole shouted. “What does it matter? What’s important is your client killed Raymond.”

Justin took a another deep breath. “Let me ask you about Paul Campbell.”

“Who’s he?”

“He was a college student doing some environmental research out here at the lake. You probably saw him around taking water samples.”

“I don’t watch the college kids like your client, always with the binoculars. I’ll admit I’ve seen some of them when they go jet skiing, and maybe down at the marina; but I really don’t know any of them. In fact, I can’t think of the last time I even talked to any of them.”

Justin walked to the large window overlooking the backyard. “Strange? You have this lovely view of the lake and a path leading down to the shoreline where you have a small dock. And yet, you never notice anything happening on the lake.”

“What are you implying?”

“Nothing,” Justin answered. “I’m just wondering why you have such a lovely view and don’t take advantage of it.”

Nicole answered by telling Justin to leave her house.

  • * * * * *

Jacob Dawson was a teenager charged with criminal trespassing and burglary when he was given probation and sent to work for a gardener who was on parole. The man never told Jacob what he had done to get himself sent to prison. Instead, he taught Jacob about lawn care and growing plants. Jacob’s mentor used to brag that he could grow grass in a desert. Now, some twenty years later, Jacob embraced his occupation and the fact he avoided the life that would have ended with him in prison or the morgue. However, his contempt for the law still remained.

Justin noticed the man carefully trimming the hedges along the fences in the front yard. He watched as the man glanced at him, then quickly turned away and focused on the plants in front of him. Justin was certain the man could sense Justin’s presence as he walked up the man.

“Mind if I ask you a few questions?” Justin said to the individual.

“Can’t stop you,” the man answered.

“Well then, let’s start with your name.”

The stopped working, turned, and faced Justin. “Who are you and why should I tell you my name?”

Justin handed the man a business card. “I’m Justin Ainsley from the Public Defender’s Office. Just asking a few questions about the homicide that took place here last week.”

“There wasn’t a homicide here.”

“I mean down at the lake. Certainly you heard about it.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“So, can we start again. Would you please tell me your name?”

“Jacob. Jacob Dawson.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About half an hour. I saw you drive up.”

“No, I mean how long have you been working for Ms. Welsh?”

“About six years, ever since she bought the place. I do yard work for most of the homes here on High Road.”

“So, you must have a good idea of what goes on around here.”

“I’m paid to garden, not to be nosey. And, I’ve managed to keep my job by being discreet.”

“I understand,” Justin replied. “But you can tell me whether or not Raymond Carlsen was here the night he was murdered.”

“Why should I?”

“I get the impression you don’t like lawyers.”

“No I don’t.”

“Do you like being dragged into the courthouse or police station to give a statement? And do you like being in contempt of court and doing jail time for your attitude?”

Jacob placed his tools on the ground and made sure his gloves were on tight. “Are you threatening me?”

Justin held up his hands. “No threats; just statements of fact. I need to know what you saw the night Raymond was murdered.”

“Nothing. I was gone by the time he got here.”

“Interesting,” Justin replied. “If you were gone, how did you know he came to this house?” Justin turned and left before Jacob could answer.

* * * * *

Chapter Fourteen

Adam Lingenfleter paced the floor of  Bradner Hansen’s office.

“Stop that, will ya?” Bradner shouted in frustration. “You’re wearing a hole in the carpet.”

“Listen, we might have problems. I drove by the marina this morning. The cops and that lawyer, the one defending Mike Richards, were out there.”

“So what?”

“What if they find out what happened out there? It seems like they are still investigating the murder of those Carlsen and Campbell. It’s possible they may discover what is really happening out there.”

Bradner sat down at his desk and put his hands together to form a steeple with his fingers. After a moment of silence, he spoke. “Looks like I’ll have to have Nicole convince our future senator to step up the process, possibly get the trial to start. The sooner the better.”

Adam moved to the front of Bradner’s desk. “See that you get it done. We need that lawyer and the police to stop looking into these killings. We need to get it done before everyone ends up in jail.”

  • * * * * *

Justin stood outside Ava Shimley’s door, working up enough nerve to ring the doorbell. He wasn’t ready for a repeat of his last visit where he was forced to interview the woman naked. He reached out to press the doorbell. The door open. This time Justin was relieved to see Ava wearing a white tee shirt and blue jeans. He did notice she wasn’t wearing a bra and her perky breasts and nipples formed tempting curves beneath the shirt.

“Got tired of waiting for you to ring the doorbell,” Ava said, leaning against the doorframe. “Come on in. I promise I won’t bite.”

“Didn’t you tell me that last time?” Justin inquired with smile, trying to hide his anxiety.

“Did I bite?” Ava coyly answered as she stepped aside and motioned for Justin to enter.

“No,” Justin replied, remaining on the porch..

“So, what can I do for you today?”

“I’m sure you heard about the second homicide, Paul Campbell. They found his body out here at the lake a few days ago.”

“Of course. And you want to know if I know anything about it.”

“Did you know Paul?”

“Nope. I understand he was some college kid. Why would I know anything about him?”

“Well, he was doing some research out here. He wanted to find out why so many of the fish in the lake are dying. Maybe he came by and asked you some questions.”

“Not that I recall. But I don’t fish. My late husband did, but I don’t. The only thing I do is enjoy the view from my backyard. I rarely go down to the lake.”

“You don’t have any contact with the people coming to the lake? None at all?”

Ava chuckled. “I’m sure I’ve talked to some of them when I’m down at the marina, but none of them stick out in my mind. I’m neighborly, but not that neighborly. I kind of like my privacy.”

“I can understand that,” Justin replied with a grin. “But living out here, certainly you must have noticed something happening. Isn’t there anything unusual going on out here?”

Ava reached up and gave Justin’s cheek a little pat. “Honey, the only thing unusual out here lately has been a lot people asking questions. And I make it a point to know nothing.”

  • * * * * *

Wendy watched the young brunette with short hair and her domineering mother as they went through various magazines, commenting on wedding gowns and the groom’s choice of tuxedos. Rhonda Simmons smiled and offered encouragement, but Wendy could tell Rhonda welcomed the excuse to abandon the mother-daughter battle when a potential new customer entered the shop.

“How can I help you?” Rhonda cheerfully inquired with some hope of not having to return to the previous clients.

Wendy handed Rhonda a business card. “I’m Wendy Codwell. I work for the Public Defenders’ Office.”

“Oh yes,” Rhonda interrupted. “I met the most charming man from your office. Justin. Do you know him?”

“I should. I work with him.”

“Oh do tell. What kind of person is he? I understand he’s single. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, does he?”

Wendy silently reminded herself she was here to get information, not give it out. “Sweetheart, the closest thing Justin has to a girlfriend is me, and I’m married with two kids in college.”

“How interesting.”

“Yeah, it keeps me awake at nights. Listen, I’m kind of hoping you could help me out here. Maybe you know some of the people involved in a case we are working.”

Rhonda crossed her arms, but continued smiling. “You’re talking about Mike Richards.”

“That’s correct.”

“Mike doesn’t come in here. Our customers are those looking to get married. Mike’s been married for years.”

“I know. But I understand that Raymond Carlsen and his girlfriend, Charlisa Nickels, were planning to get married. Maybe you knew them?”

Rhonda laughed. “Wish I did. Handling a wedding for the son of our state senator, Phillip Carlsen. I would make a mint.”

“I’m taking it you don’t know them.”

“Know of them.”

“What about a Denise Stebbins and a Paul Campbell? They are also college students.”

Rhonda waved a hand to Wendy. “Now, her I know.” Rhonda took a small step forward and spoke in a low voice. “Most of my customers are like what you see over there. A bride with dreams and a mother who wants the wedding she never had, so she’s forcing it on her poor daughter. But this couple was different. Both the groom and the bride came in together and they seemed to agree on almost everything. I think it was because they couldn’t afford much. But I thought the groom was a fisherman. He smelled like fish. He was polite about it and apologized saying he had just finished work. He insisted on standing because he didn’t want smell up any of the furniture. I mean, I really liked the boy. I was so upset when I heard he had been killed. I know people say Mike did it, but I don’t believe that. That boy was so nice. I can’t imagine him getting into any kind of fight with Mike. Trust me on this. Mike can take care of himself; but one thing he is not, is a bully.”

“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Paul?”

Rhonda shook her head. “Sorry, but I saw that boy with only two people. The first was his fiancée. The second was a professor out at the college.”

“Can you tell me who he is?”

“Well, I hate to sound racist and anti-Semitic. He’s Polish and Jewish. He has a name I could never pronounce correctly. But he’s a really nice guy. I see him all the time at Dannie’s Deli.”

Wendy reached over and took several of Rhonda’s business cards. “Thanks. I’m taking your cards and recommending you to all of my friends.”

The two women smiled and waved to each other as Wendy left the shop.

  • * * * * *

Entering Dannie’s Deli was a delight to the senses with the smell of freshly baked bread and colorful posters of European countryside. While there were several customers enjoying their meals at many of the tables in the restaurant, what caught Wendy’s attention was an elderly gentleman talking in a language she couldn’t place to a woman behind the counter.

“Welcome to Dannie’s Deli,” the woman said as Wendy approached the counter. “What can I get you?”

Wendy nodded to the gentleman. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’m looking for someone. I don’t know his name, but I’m told he is a professor out at the college and that Paul Campbell was one of his students.”

“I think you are looking for me,” the gentleman answered before Wendy could continue. “I am Aaron Kokolowski. I teach environmental science at the university.”

“And you’re Jewish?” Wendy timidly asked.

“Well of course. But you knew that when you heard us talking in Yiddish, didn’t you?” Kokolowski replied.

Wendy smiled before replying. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be anti-Semitic. I’m Wendy Codwell with the Public Defenders’ Office. A client of ours is suspected in the murder of Paul Campbell. I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit about Paul.”

“Oh I would be glad to,” Kokolowski answered. “Can I offer you a cup of tea, or coffee. then we can sit and talk.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“I’ll bring you out a pot of orange blossom tea,” the woman behind the counter said.

Kokolowski led Wendy to a nearby table where they sat across from each other. Wendy brought out her identification to assure Kokolowski she worked with the Public Defenders’ Office. The professor simply glanced at it and motioned for her to relax.

“How long have you been teaching out at the college?” Wendy asked.

“Ever since I came to this country, more than twenty years ago.”

“Really? You came from Poland to here?”

The professor chuckled. “I met my wife when she was doing research in Poland. We fell in love and I followed her to America.”

“What got you interested in environmental science?”

“Chernobyl. The disaster there affected everyone in Eastern Europe.”

“I hope no one in your family suffered and ill effects,” Wendy said with some sympathy.

“Unfortunately, my grandparents contracted cancer as a result of radiation poisoning. That is one reason why I am so concerned about us poisoning our environment.”

Wendy nodded in agreement. “What can you tell me about Paul Campbell?”

A waitress brought out a small ceramic pot of tea and two matching cups. The professor poured each of them a cup of tea before leaning back in his chair. He picked up his cup and took a small sip of tea, then replacing it on the table.

“There is much to say about Paul. He was a graduate assistant, and a very good student. His research project was about the fish dying out at the lake. He collected water samples and brought back several dead fish so that we could take tissue samples.”

“Were you able to determine what was killing the fish?”

Kokoloske gave a slight nod. “Yes, we discovered they were being poisoned. Someone is dumping toxic waste out there. It’s not a large scale operation or all of the fish would be dying.”

“Were you able to find out who is doing it?”

“No. Like I said, it’s not a large operation. Probably it is a small office simply dumping the waste in the lake instead of paying for a company to properly disposing of it. Paul was able to find out where the strongest concentration of the poison was, which is probably the dump site.”

“Did you tell the police about this?”

“Of course.”

“Who did you tell?”

“A detective. I don’t remember his name; but he did write down the information.”

Wendy toyed with her cup of tea. “What kind of person was Paul?”

“He was a nice boy. He was engaged to get married. Did you know that?”

Wendy smiled. “Yes. I knew. I met his fiancée. She seems like a nice girl. Naturally, she’s very upset over Paul’s death.”

“Of course.”

“Was Paul aggressive? Did he confront anyone about the dumping at the lake?”

“I don’t know. But Paul was a quiet person. I never saw him angry.”

“Did he ever talk about a man out there, someone who lived in the woods?”

“Ah, you mean that Mike Richards fellow. No, but I met him once. Sometimes I would accompany Paul when he went out to get samples. I had to make sure he was doing it properly. I remember this fellow. He was not a nice man.”

“How’s that?”

“He wasn’t friendly.”

“Did he do or say anything threatening?”

“Yes, yes, he did. He told us we shouldn’t be there. He said it was dangerous and we could get hurt.”

“He did?”

“Yes. I think his exact words were ‘Looking for the answer could get you killed.’”

“When did he say that?”

“It was less than a week before Paul was killed.”

* * * * *
Chapter Fifteen

“Good morning,” Judge Gwen Whitlock said as she sat down behind her desk. She turned on her computer before looking across her desk at Justin and Connor Arnott seated before her. “I understand this meeting is to discuss moving up the trial date.”

“That’s correct your honor,” Connor stated.

“Why?” Judge Whitlock demanded.

Connor fidgeted with his tie. “The prosecution is ready, and we see no advantage is delaying the trial. Everyone wants closure. This affair is causing fear and anxiety in the community.”

Judge Whitlock turned to Justin. “How about you? Are you ready to go to trial?”

“No, your honor.”

“What more do you need to do and when will you be ready?”

Justin fidgeted in his seat. “Your honor, we believe that our client is innocence. We are conducting our own independent investigation to not only prove Mike Richards is innocent but find the actual killer of the two college students.”

Judge Whitlock leaned back in her chair and gave Justin a look of disbelief. “I admire your commitment and loyalty to your client. Do you have any substantial leads? Anything to clear you client or to lead to another suspect?”

“Not at this time.”

Connor moved forward in his seat and motioned with his hand to emphasize a point. “Furthermore, the police have concluded their investigation. And they have not found any evidence of anyone else being involved. The defense is stalling. There is no reason for a delay.”

“Is that right?” Judge Whitlock asked.

“No, your honor. We really do need more time to complete our investigation.”

Judge Whitlock continued to lean back in her chair, starring at both Connor and Justin. “I have a very selfish reason for wanting this trial to be over as quickly as possible. My son is looking at colleges starting next month, and I would like to go with him. However, my personal life cannot dictate my court schedule. Still, I see no reason to delay. However, I will give the defense one more week to conclude its investigation, or at least come up with a reasonable cause to postpone the trial.”

“Your honor, that’s not enough time,” Justin objected.

“If you had some leads or reason to postpone, I would give you more time. But you don’t; so the trial begins in one week. Counselors, thank you for your time.” Judge Whitlock moved forward in her chair and turned her attention to her computer.

Justin let out a silent groan while Connor brushed his lapel and grinned.

Judge Whitlock continued to look at her computer. “Gentlemen, that was your signal to leave.”

  • * * * * *

A cup of lukewarm coffee and a frustrated Wendy greeted Justin as he entered his office. Wendy watched as he dropped his briefcase on the floor and took his seat. Justin picked up the coffee and took a sip, grimacing as he put the cup down on his desk. He glanced at Wendy before getting up and emptying the leftover coffee in a potted plant. He looked at the coffee machine, but sat down with his empty cup instead.

“You’ll kill that poor plant if you keep doing that,” Wendy commented.

“That plant is indestructible. It’s was here when I moved into this office.

“Still, that’s no reason to treat it so cruelly.”

“Hey, you made the coffee. Don’t blame me.”

Wendy chuckled. “The only reason I make coffee is I can’t afford to buy it at that fancy coffee shop in the lobby. They charge almost four dollars for a cup.”

“Life is full of injustices.”

“Which means your meeting with Judge Whitlock didn’t go well.”

Justin let out a deep sigh. “She moved up the trial date. It begins in one week.”

Wendy let out a groan as she got up and grabbed her purse and a clipboard with a yellow, legal pad. “Then we have to get busy proving our client is innocent. I’ll take High Road.”

“Guess that leaves me going back out to the university.”

  • * * * *  *

Wendy stopped her car on High Road. She let out a deep breath as she observed the row of million-dollar homes lining one side of the street. The paved passage was well maintain along the side with homes while across from them laid an open field overgrown with weeds. Out of the dozen homes on High Road, only three had full-time residents. Wendy pulled her foot off the brake and continued along High Road to Ava Shimley’s home. She pulled into the driveway and parked behind four-year-old blue Ford hatchback.

A portly, middle-aged woman wearing jeans and an Aloha-flowered blouse answered the doorbell when Wendy rang it. She wiped her hands on small white towel as she stared at Wendy.

“Good morning,” Wendy said. “I’m Wendy Codwell from the Public Defenders’ Office. Is Ms. Shimley at home?”

“No, she isn’t.”

“Do you know when she’ll be back?”

The woman shrugged her shoulders. “No, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I’m just one of the cleaning crew. We don’t live here, so we don’t have much communication with Ms. Shimley.”

“Why is that?”

“The woman is bit of a snob,” the woman answered. “Not that she should be. She was a cocktail waitress at some hotel in Puerto Rico where she met Mr. Shimley. He brought her back. That woman wasn’t here more than two minutes before she starts acting like queen of the county. Poor Mr. Shimley was so in love with her, she could do anything she wanted. So she made everyone leave the house. It was just her and Mr. Shimley up until the day he died; then it was just her.”

“And now?”

“Just her.”

Wendy looked around. “You mean she’s the only one who lives out here. How often do you come in?”

“Just once a week. There isn’t much to clean. The master bedroom and bath takes the most time. She eats mostly take out or leftovers from restaurants, so the kitchen takes less than an hour. Tell you the truth, I think she spends more time outside at the pool than anywhere else.”

“Tell me, do you know a person they call Wild Mike?”

The cleaning woman laughed. “Of course. We see him all the time around here. Why?”

“Have you or Ms. Shimley ever had any problems with him?”

“We haven’t, but Ms. Shimley told us he’s not to come on the property.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know,” the cleaning woman replied. “But she was adamant about him not coming to the house. Didn’t really matter. He never came up here. He was always down at shoreline of the lake.”

  • * * * * *

The best places to find any particular student were the gym, the library, or the campus coffee shop; and on this campus it was Ivy Tower. There was a cafeteria line serving various pastries, pre-made sandwiches, and packaged snacks. Students would get a cup and pay the cashier. They were then welcome to help themselves to as many refills of any beverage they desired.

Justin noticed most of them got coffee or tea. Justin found a table in one corner that gave him a complete view of the establishment. He looked down at his donut and coffee, and wondered if Wendy’s habits were rubbing off on him. He brought a novel with him and pulled it out. He made sure he was comfortable since there was no telling how long he would have to wait.

An hour later, Justin was glad he had brought the novel and had finished at least seventy pages in it. He was even happier when he spotted the person he was waiting for.

Several others noticed Denise Stebbins as she went through the line and got a sandwich and coffee, but their interest was focused on her slender figure and the hope of getting a chance to get capture the young lady’s phone number. Denise was dressed in jeans and a baggy green shirt promoting a bar in Fort Lauderdale. Justin waited for her to find a seat. He held off for a few minutes, giving her a chance to settle in. He packed up his novel, walked over to her table, and sat down.

“Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable,” she said sarcastically.

“Thank you. I will.”

“I’ve noticed. What do you want?”

Justin noted the hostility in her voice. “First of all, I’m on your side. Like you, I want to find the person who killed Paul. I don’t believe it was Mike Richards. He had no reason to kill your boyfriend.”

“Yeah, I figured; but you’re wrong.” Denise responded with hostility still in her voice.

“Paul,” Justin intentionally using the boyfriend’s name, “was probably killed because he found out what was killing the fish out at the lake.”

“So?”

Justin put his elbows on the table and tapped the table top. “Let’s assume Paul was killed for that reason. Mike Richards wasn’t doing anything to kill the fish. In fact, Mike was extremely conscientious about protecting the environment.”

“What makes you think that?”

“My associate talked to Paul’s professor. He stated Paul may have found the source of the pollution that was killing the fish.”

“Yes, Dr. Kokolowski. He’s a really nice guy. He arranged for me to get some counseling from a friend of his. It’s helping, but. . .”

“I know. It’s hard dealing with the loss of someone you care for. But I want to get back to what this professor said. He said that someone was dumping toxic waste in to the lake, and that was killing the fish.”

“And you think whoever is dumping these chemicals into the lake killed Paul.”

“It’s possible. It’s definitely a motive.”

Denise leaned back in her chair and crossed her arm over her chest. She sat silently, thinking of what to say. “I know Paul was trying to find out who was poisoning the lake. And you have a point, but I wonder if it’s true. What kind of crime is dumping waste in a lake? What? The person gets a fine? Would someone kill another person just to avoid paying a fine? I don’t think so.”

“Unfortunately, I have to tell you I know of several cases where a person was killed for a lot less. Still, what I need to know is if Paul ever told you who was dumping the chemicals.”

Denise shook her head. “No. If he knew, I’m sure he would have told Dr. Kokolowski or someone else. But he did say he believed it was taking place at night. He had been out there several times, both during the day and at night. He told me he saw some strange things on the lake at night. I told him it was probably some people fishing at night.”

“What else did he tell you about these nighttime activities?”

“The only person he ever saw was Wild Mike. He was standing on the shore with his binoculars.”

  • * * * * *