by Gary Hoffman
This story was previously published in an anthology.
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find in Apalachicola, Florida, but Kaitlin Mosby sure wasn’t it. Whoever coined the term “chick” must have had her in mind. It wasn’t only her looks that surprised me, but her age. The parents of Jason Peterson hired me to come here to locate their nineteen-year-old son. One of the things they knew about Jason was that he had been seeing a girl named Kaitlin Mosby. She appeared to be very close to thirty-years-old.
Besides providing me with a picture, the Petersons told me Jason came down here to work on a shrimp boat for a year before going to college, but just seemed to disappear a couple of weeks ago. His parents couldn’t reach him on his cell phone, and the local police had no idea about him. As soon as I got into Apalach, as the locals called it, I looked up Kaitlin in the phone book. Her phone rang several times before I heard it being transferred to what I figured was an answering machine. It was actually transferred to a phone in the shop she ran. “Blue Dolphin. This is Kaitlin. May I help you?”
“Yes, Kaitlin, my name is Marty Harris. I’m a private investigator trying to locate Jason Peterson.”
“Well, if you find the weasel, don’t send him my way.” The line went dead with a crash. I could tell I was off to a real good start. I looked up the address for the Blue Dolphin in the phone book. It was right on Main Street, along with many other “artsy” little shops and boutiques. When I got there, I stood just inside the front door in case I needed to make a hasty retreat. “May I help you, sir?”
“I hope so. I called you just a few minutes ago.” I waited for a reaction. Nothing violent seemed to be happening.
“Yeah, well, sorry about that, but the jerk ran out on me.”
“I thought things were really going along well for us, and then he just ups and leaves. Doesn’t say goodbye, go to hell, or anything.”
“So when was this?”
“’Bout a week and a half ago.”
“Did you see him that day?”
“Oh, yes. We had just come back from a trip to Indian Pass. He was going down and talk to Brian about getting a couple of days off so we could take a trip.”
“Brian Higgins. He owns the boat Jason worked on, the Mary Jane. It’s docked at the city harbor.”
“So what did Brian say?”
“No idea. That’s when Jason disappeared.”
“What time of day did he go down there?”
“Don’t really know, but it was after dark.”
“Did he take anything with him when he left?”
“I went to the place he roomed. The land lady said his rent was paid, so I couldn’t go into the room, but she didn’t see him leave with anything, and knowing old Mrs. Crammer, I’m sure she would have known.”
“And where is this place located?”
“Crammer’s Rooming House is over on Third. Can’t miss it. Big sign out in front.”
I thanked her for her time and went to the city harbor. There was a road all the way around it, so the Mary Jane was easy to locate. There was a guy aboard hosing down the deck. “Good morning,” I called out to him.
He didn’t look my way. “If you say so.”
“Would you be Brian Higgins?”
“And just who wants to know?”
“My name’s Marty Harris. I’m trying to locate Jason Peterson. I understand he worked on this boat.”
“So you own this boat?”
“Nope, Brian does.”
“And who are you?”
“Well, Jake, can I come aboard and look around?”
“Nope. Boss says no one on board while he’s gone. He went into town for supplies.”
“Care if I wait for him?”
“Can’t do that. Only people what owns boats is supposed to be down here. Theft and all that, you know. Police come around, they’ll arrest you.”
“Yeah, well thanks for your time.”
I drove from the harbor and onto a side street where I could see the boat. Several cars and trucks went in and out, but a pickup truck finally pulled up to the Mary Jane. The driver and Jake started talking to each other as soon as the driver got out. I obviously couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from their gestures, there was quite an argument going on. The driver finally turned around and smacked his fist into the side of the pickup. That seemed to calm him down. He then opened the tailgate and started handing boxes to Jake. From the amount of supplies they were loading, it didn’t look to me like they were going out for very long. I figured I wasn’t going to learn much more there, so I drove back into town to find Jason’s rooming house.
The sign wasn’t that big, but I did manage to find the building. I flashed my badge at Mrs. Crammer and let her decide for herself if I was really with the police. She decided to let me in Jason’s room. It appeared to me everything was there that anyone would need to live—clothing, stereo, TV, a few books, and toilet articles. I was beginning to get a bad feeling Jason hadn’t run away, but he disappeared for some reason. If he was running, he would have at least taken his clothes with him.
“Did Jason have any friends he brought up here?”
“Oh, no. That is strictly against the rules.”
“Well, did anyone ever come here to meet him?”
“There was a man who came by asking about him one time.”
“Do you know who he was?”
“I think it was Dave Mosby, Kaitlin’s ex-husband. He seemed to be kind of drunk to me, so I told him to leave, or I’d call the cops. Jason wasn’t here anyway.”
“Does this Dave Mosby live here in town?”
“Far as I know, no. He left after he and Kaitlin got divorced. Don’t even know if Kaitlin knows where he lives. He probably got a little of that liquid courage in him and came looking for Jason. Most everyone in town knew Kaitlin and Jason were seeing each other.”
“And as far as you know, Kaitlin never came over here?”
“I surely wouldn’t allow that.”
After I thanked her for her time, I went for a bite to eat and then back to the harbor to see if anything different was going on there. The pickup that had been parked by the Mary Jane was gone. I parked on the opposite side of the harbor and walked up to another boat where a couple of men were sitting on deck. When I flashed my badge at them, they may have gotten the idea I was with some investigative division of the coast guard. “Dave Mosby ever work on any of the boats here?”
“For a while. Drank too much. Too undependable. One thing about these boats, when they’re ready to sail, everyone has to be aboard. If not, you’re not worth a flounder to the captain.”
“How about ole Brian Higgins over there? He a pretty good guy?”
“I suppose,” the other man said. “We all thought he was going to go under, but he seems to be doing better.”
“Oh? Fishing get better?”
“No, that’s the odd thing. Fishing is down, but he invested in a big new radar system. Them things don’t come cheap.”
“Something he needed?”
“Well, we all have to have them. You should know that’s a coast guard rule, but most of us can’t afford the system he bought.”
I left them and went to find a motel for the night. I had two possible people who might know something about Jason Peterson, but one didn’t live around there, and the other might have been the last person to see him before he disappeared. Once I got a room, I called Kaitlin. She didn’t know or care where Dave lived. I decided to go back to the Mary Jane after dark.
I parked outside the harbor and walked in. The harbor was actually better looking at night. Some of the boats had colored lights on them, and it looked good with them reflecting off the calm harbor waters. I did manage to get a couple of dogs barking at me as I walked around, but other than that, it was easy reaching the boat. It was dark on board, and the boat next to it was dark. I knew this was my chance. I started down the dock to board, when a pickup truck came roaring around the curve in the road and skidded to a stop by the Mary Jane. I looked around for someplace to hide. The water didn’t look real inviting. I scooted behind a stack of crab traps. The guy I assumed was Brian came staggering down the dock first. “I can’t believe you were stupid enough to tell him that kid worked on this boat,” he said.
“Hey, he doesn’t know anything else. He left, didn’t he?”
“Well, I hope for your sake he did. Some private dick like that gets snooping, and we could be in real trouble.” Brian stumbled as he was climbing over the rail and fell onto the deck. “Crap!”
Jake laughed. “Come on, stumble bum. We got to get this tub movin’. They ain’t gonna wait all night for us. You got the guns onboard?” That idea didn’t sound real comfortable to me. I tried to hug the deck a little tighter. I lay perfectly still as they backed the boat out of its slip and headed toward the mouth of the harbor. I started breathing easier when I heard them kick up the speed of the engine. Where ever they were going, they were on their way. And, they said something about someone not waiting for them. As soon as I got back to my car, I called the coast guard.
After talking to a Captain Grayson the next morning, I had the unfortunate duty to talk to Kaitlin. It was going to be harder to talk to Jason’s parents. “Jake decided he liked to talk if it would save his life. Seems our two boys were in the business of running heroin. They would go out and meet a larger ship in the gulf. They would load their boat with kilos and bring it into back to Apalach where a distributor from Panama City would pick it up. Unfortunately, when Jason went down to talk to Brian, he probably overheard something he shouldn’t have. They killed him and dumped his body in the gulf on their run that night.”
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