A detective story with a national security twist. Dry humor. Sweet, A love story. Uplifting.
Newly installed Pelican Beach, Florida detective Katerina “Kat” Andruko fears the prime suspect will get off in the murder of a teen with the help of the department’s forensics psychologist, a man she’s just started to trust.
The case has national security implications giving former US Army Ranger, Dr. Dimitri Garmonin a chance to work with the FBI. It could help him gain funds needed to expand his small Behavior Analysis Unit. He’s unmoved by the chic FBI agent but is intrigued by Kat with whom he shares a Slavic heritage.
Kat and her partner detain two wrong suspects, giving the department negative press. The predator turns his anger on Kat, targeting her. Can Dimitri use his profiler skills to catch this killer before he hurts the woman he’s growing to love?
Dry mouthed, I ran my tongue over the parchment-like skin of my lower lip which had stuck to my teeth. “It’s one a.m. in Pelican Beach. Do you really know where your kids are?”
The outburst startled me … talking to myself is not my habit. I eased up on the gas pedal of the unmarked Chevy sedan I’d rushed to pick up as soon as I got the call to come out. The engine downshifted like it had a terminal cough. Low guy on the totem pole, or gal, as the case might be, gets the worst car in the station’s lot. Maybe it was the early hour and there wasn’t much choice in the lot. Maybe both.
Needing more sleep, I yanked the hands-free cell phone wire so hard my ear lobe throbbed. The earpiece ricocheted off the passenger side window and landed on the sedan’s floorboard. Only five-weeks earlier, I’d been installed as a detective. Never, in my wildest dreams, had I expected to be called out on a case like this one right out of the chute.
I glanced down. What good were these new real-time, high-tech laptops the department invested in? They didn’t say anything? False alarm. Big mistake … something!
White-knuckling the steering wheel helped keep the speedometer in the lower digits. I flashed on my high beams, tapped my fingernails on the steering wheel, then turned the lights back to low. Didn’t need bright headlights on well lit, four lane, Tidewater Boulevard, one of the city’s three main thoroughfares.
I passed Dorie’s Hair Salon and when I reached the north side of town, the darkened elementary school. This slow speed I’d kept to was ridiculous. It put off the inevitable by only minutes.
I accelerated the rest of the way on Tidewater, a street used to law enforcement traffic as the police station occupied its extreme southern end. At the northern edge of the city, I made a right on Grove Street, then a left onto Biscayne Way, another main road. A sign with a small arrow pointed toward A1A North. One mile past the Sundial Apartments marked the city limit. Just beyond the apartments, this crime scene was on the edge of town.
Anger seared my brain and I yanked the sedan’s steering wheel to the right. The car lunged into the dunes the city had spent beaucoup-bucks building as hurricane protection. Slamming my foot on the brake jolted the vehicle to a stop before its tires got stuck in the sand.
An array of red and blue flashing lights greeted me.
The blood had stopped circulating in my fingers. I forced them off the wheel one-by-one, cut the engine, and propelled myself out of the driver’s seat. “Lord, I’m gonna need help here.”
My black leather running shoes slipped on the dune’s damp reeds as I hurried down the slope toward the beach. I managed to stay on my feet.
Gilbert Nash, the detective who’d caught the case, waved from thirty feet away. Surprised to feel the corners of my mouth curling into something resembling a smile, I fought my lips into a straight line. No doubt about why coworkers called him an aging Sonny Crockett, the guy from the hit TV series thought to be so cool in the 1990s … Miami Vice. He advanced toward me, his sockless feet in black and tan loafers. He wore a cornflower-blue suit jacket, a beige silk tee, tan pants, and was tieless. I’d worked with Nash when I was a street cop. He didn’t miss much.
He called into the ocean gusts. “Andruko. Kat.” He took a few more steps, stopped, kicked at a dead clump of reeds, and winced. “No way to avoid pulling you out tonight. The girl has your address and your sister’s number in her pocket.”
Obviously, it hadn’t been my vast experience as a detective. I looked up and down the beach but didn’t see his partner. “Where’s Hanis?”
“His daughter’s about to give him his first grandchild. He took two weeks leave he had coming.”
“I see.” My throat tightened. “By the physical description you gave over the phone, I’d guess the victim is Carla Henkel.”
“Makes me wanna check to make sure my kid’s home.” Nash’s shoulders hunched and released.
“If it’s Carla,” and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach said it was, “my niece, Mari, and another girl from the high school tried sneaking out with her tonight.”
Nash pulled out a small bound notebook. “The other girl’s name?”
“Ashley Winter. I can get you her phone number.”
“It could’ve been my niece out here tonight.” My voice cracked. “They’re three silly teenagers trying to get face-to-face with some guy they met online.” I turned my head when my eyes misted … feelings I never showed … words I never uttered on the job. But tonight, it was personal.
Nash snapped his notebook shut. “You’ve got emotions, kid. So, what. We put our own lives on the line. We don’t expect our loved ones to be in jeopardy. It’s a given a cop’ll freak if a family member is caught in the crossfire.”
I jutted my chin toward the street. “Coroner’s here.”
The evidence collection tech had portable spotlights set up on the beach. They illuminated a lone, pale form sprawled on the sand. Beyond that, their beams flickered on the dark water as the surf ebbed and flowed.
I walked, accompanied by Nash, to the yellow police tape and signed the crime scene roster handed to me by a jittery rookie cop.
We waited for the coroner to finish so we could approach the body, but for me there was no need. The dead girl was Carla.
My gaze shot to a solitary male figure on the beach, an eighth of a mile south of us. He wore a pair of jeans, and a stiff breeze flapped at his untucked shirt. He artfully skipped seashells across the top of the rumbling surf. Anger lodged hot in my throat. My neck muscles tightened. Why hadn’t the uniformed cops cleared the area of civilians?
I made a wide circle to avoid disturbing evidence the wind might’ve blown beyond the tape and stalked across the sand. Coming up beside him, I flashed my shield. “Sir, you have to move back. This is a crime scene.”
He cast an impassive glance toward the police activity, nodded, and walked to the edge of the dunes.
What’s with the cool act? Under a full head of steam, I dogged his heels.
As he turned, the city’s new bright streetlights along Surf Avenue cast just enough light to reveal intense eyes measuring me.
“I guess nobody told you. I found the body.” He replied with a slight Russian accent. “I was walking on the beach.”
“You were on the beach in the dark?” The lights also exposed his knock-out television newscaster good looks. So, what? I’d just put him at the top of my suspect list.
“I live here. On Hibiscus and Surf.” He stood poised and aloof, while my every nerve jangled.
“Sorry. I’ve done this all wrong.” He slid a sleek leather, fold-over case out of his pocket and produced something I immediately recognized, a Pelican Beach Police Department business card. I couldn’t make out the writing in the dark but was pretty sure I knew who he was.
I held onto the card. “Can’t read it.”
“It says, Dimitri Garmonin, Ph.D., Forensic Psychologist.”
He was exactly who I thought he was. Heat engulfed my face, perspiration formed on my upper lip. I thanked God it was dark, and he couldn’t see. I went for gruffness, as a cover. “No problem.”
Way to go. The department’s profiler. He worked out of an office at City Hall rather than the police station. I’d never been on a case with him.
I’d have to take him off my list. Still, what was the guy doing on the beach so late? His job could be a great cover for murder. I wouldn’t remove him from my short-list yet.