Excerpt from Island Murders

The wind off the Atlantic was sharp enough to sting, whipping my damp hair and stirring up whitecaps out on the Intracoastal Waterway. A light mist looked like it might blow off before long, but I wasn't too hopeful. The weather had been like that for a week. After a short, exhausting run, the first since hiding out for days with antibiotics and hot lemon drinks, I was mostly lollygagging on the dock. I shouldn’t have been there. It was too cold and too wet, but a serious case of cabin fever set in about the third day, and I had convinced myself it meant I was improving. Good judgment is sometimes not my strongest suit. Seagulls were begging for a handout, flying in my face, dipping and swooping into the churning tide, pigging out on something they had discovered in water. In summer, gulls won’t give me the time of day, but by December, all I have to do is stand at the sliding glass doors and they flock to the yard by the dozens. I was trying to catch my breath before trudging back up the hill to change and get to the Figure Eight Island job. I owned a small, thriving construction company with my cousin Eddie, who was good with crews, but not so good at the hundreds of aggravating daily details. The finish carpenters hadn't shown up for three days at the Anderson site, the dock crew was running behind, and the landscapers had gone off to Alabama, or far the hell away somewhere, to the stock car races. Our tile men couldn't begin until the finish carpenters got out of the bathrooms, and so on and so on, ad infinitum. You get the idea—all the standard reasons why builders begin to drink heavily before they go into bankruptcy. But Eddie and I were more than family, we were friends, and all things considered, we made a pretty good team. Yesterday, Eddie had called three times, ticked off about one thing or the other, as if I could personally round up all the missing workers, including Duane, one of our job supervisors. I might have mentioned that it was a Sunday or that the company ran mostly on my money, but I knew he was blowing off steam. The completion date was a week away, and we were all tense. I was also aware that Bitsy Anderson, one of the owners, had been on and off the site most of the day, and I was grateful that it was him and not me in my weakened condition. She could be a real pain in a particular spot, and the crew had long-since changed the Bitsy to Bitchy. Inasmuch as I had been on the receiving end of her tongue several times myself, I couldn't say I blamed them. Sooner or later, though, they were sure to forget and use Bitchy at the wrong moment. On the hill behind me sat a wild-eyed contemporary house built of glass and stone, with a world-class view across the Intracoastal Waterway and a mile of tidal marshes and creeks to Figure Eight Island and Rich Inlet—straight on out to the Atlantic Ocean. I live alone except for a surly Amazon parrot named Charlie and Randolph Taylor, a seventy-five year old African American who lives in the cottage at the front of the property with his three-legged keeshond. Randolph came with my mother to the new house to whip the garden into shape and never left. He tends the grounds and the greenhouse with the expertise of a professional horticulturist. The house, three acres, and construction firm were a legacy from my architect father when he killed himself six years ago. Long before that, when I was fourteen, my mother took the Sunfish out and drowned somewhere between the dock and Rich Inlet. I was with my father when he found her, so I know about drownings and tidal scavengers. There are other deaths I seldom talk about, and when people ask, I just say that in my thirty years I've had enough excitement to last me a lifetime. I finally leaned over the dock railing to see what all the commotion was about and found the gulls feasting on little bits and pieces surrounding an oblong mass floating half under the surface of the water. A shiver of horror ran up my spine as the mist turned to light drizzle. A dog barked somewhere far off, the sound coming sharp and clear in the quiet morning. I climbed down to the floating dock for a closer look, stepping over unexpected smears of blood, knowing with cold dread what the submerged lump of clothing must be. And because chances were good that a fast-moving tide could carry the body halfway to Wrightsville Beach before help arrived, I snagged the bundle with a boat hook and tied it, hook and all, to a piling. For most of my life, I've lived on the water near Wilmington and I knew what to expect, but when the body suddenly flipped face-up, if you want to call it that, I added even more pollution to the coastal waters of the great state of North Carolina. When I stopped shaking, I went back up the hill and called

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