Murder on Lake Okeechobee: Mystery Short Story

Sep 15, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Gary Hoffman

This story was previously published in an anthology.

“And where was the boat found?” Detective Brown asked.

“Across the lake, sir. Over by Canal Point,” the deputy sheriff answered.

Brown looked at the bass boat, a Nitro like he would love to own, metallic blue with a two hundred horse Mercury engine. The only spoiler was the body slumped over in the bottom of the boat. The man was leaning out of the driver’s seat and lying on his left side. There was a small hole in the right side of his head. There must have been a larger exit wound on the left side because there was a lot of blood coming from underneath his head. Brown looked at the wallet the deputy had retrieved from the man’s hip pocket. The driver’s license identified him as Douglas Hopkinton, age sixty-eight from Okeechobee, Florida. fishing boat

“And the man’s truck and trailer for the boat were found here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s all the way across the lake, about forty miles from here.” He looked out across the water. “Weapon?”

“None found, sir.”

“Huh. So somebody shoots him and sets his boat drifting on the lake.”

“Possibly, sir.”

“Forensics been called?”

“Yes, sir. They should be here any time.”

“Get as many men as possible on this. See if anyone saw him out there and where they saw him. I’ll go find the house and talk to any relatives.”

The address on Hopkinton’s driver’s license was 5981 SW Highway 78, just two miles from where the truck and trailer were found. Brown knocked on the door several times, but got no answer. He went to the closest neighbor’s house and identified himself to the woman who answered the door.

“I’m looking for information on Douglas Hopkinton and anyone else who may live in the same house.”

“Well, only other person who lives there is Robby, his son. He’s probably at work right now. Works in Okeechobee at someplace that sells golf carts. He’s a mechanic.”

“So Douglas wasn’t married?”

“Widower. ‘Bout three years ago when Emma died.”

Brown thanked the woman and left. Of the several places selling golf carts, Brown chose the largest. Rob Hopkinton was just getting off work. After Rob calmed down some, Detective Brown offered to take him for a cup of coffee.

“Rather have a beer,” Rob said.

“Done.” They went to a place where Rob could get a beer, and Brown got a cup of coffee, black. beer

“I just can’t believe something like this happened to Dad. After all the crap he’s been through, it was time for his luck to change.”

“So he’s had a difficult time lately?”

“Ever since mom passed away, he’s really been depressed. Sat around the house all day, didn’t do much of anything.” Rob took a drink of beer. “Last couple of weeks I thought he was coming around.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Well, first of all, he made peace with an old buddy of his, Ed Coleman.”

“What went on between them?”

“Oh, they got into a big battle about fifteen years ago, and Dad said he would never forgive him.”

“Know what the battle was about?”

“Oh, yeah. Dad made sure everyone knew about it. Called Ed a crook and any other nasty name he could think of.”

“What happened?”

“Ed had invested in a company that was going gangbusters. Apparently he was getting great returns. Dad talked him into letting him invest in it, too. After a few months, Dad saw how much money was coming in, so he invested more. In fact, about all he had. Even cleaned out his IRA. Maybe six months after that, the company went belly-up. Seems they had done some ‘creative’ bookkeeping. All the gains were on paper, so there was no way for Dad to get any money back. He blamed Ed. Mom and I tried to tell him it wasn’t Ed’s fault, but he wouldn’t listen. In fact, when he wanted to invest more in the company, Ed advised him not to. Said he shouldn’t put all his eggs in one basket, or something like that.”money

“But he recently made up with Ed.”

“Said he did. Told me all about it. Said he had gone over to Ed’s house and talked to him. Was even supposed to go out fishing with Ed this morning.”


“Yeah, that was another thing. About a week ago, he goes out and buys this new bass boat.”

“That thing is a beauty, isn’t it?”

“Sure is. I kind of wondered about it at the time, but he seemed to be happier, so I let it ride,” Rob said.

“And why did you wonder about it?”

“Well, he put some money down on it, but tied himself into some big payments. I wasn’t sure how he was going to make them. But, like I said, he seemed to be coming out of his depression, so I let it go. Didn’t say a word.” He took another drink of beer. “Maybe I should have.”

“Rob, I don’t think this is your fault. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“That’s easy to say.”

“Yeah, probably is.” Brown threw a five on the bar. “Know where this Ed Coleman lives?”

“Yeah. In a trailer over at Hollerman’s Fish Camp.”

“Thanks.” Brown left Rob alone with his beer and thoughts. He radioed into headquarters that he was headed out to Hollerman’s Fish Camp.

Ed was sitting in a lawn chair outside his trailer. He was balding and had only a few scraggly hairs sticking up from his head in all directions. Brown identified himself.

“I’d like to talk to you about a friend of yours, Doug Hopkinton .”

Ed snorted. “What’s that old fool done now? Didn’t know breaking a fishing date was a crime.”

“Pardon me?”

“Oh, we were supposed to go out fishing this morning. He wanted to leave early, about five-thirty. I got there, and the jerk never showed up.”

“And where were you supposed to meet him?”

“Over at boat launch 32. He told me he just bought a new bass boat, and we were going to go out together to break it in. Made a big deal out of it and then doesn’t show up.”

“Well, Ed, got some bad news for you. He didn’t meet you because someone shot him.”

“Shot him! My God! He alright?”

“‘Fraid not!”

“Well, I’ll be damned. I knew he could make people mad, but didn’t think anyone would ever shoot him.”

“His son told me you two had just recently made up over a long standing feud. That right?”

“The ‘feud,’ as you call it, was pretty one sided. He got pissed because he lost some money on an investment. I wasn’t mad at him about anything, but he wouldn’t even talk to me about it. Then a couple of weeks ago, he shows up here and wants to apologize. I figured he just finally got over it.”

“And he asked you to go fishing with him?”

“That came a few days later. He stopped by here again, we put down a few beers and made plans to go fishing in his new boat.”boat

“Did you think all this was strange?”

“Not really. Truth be told, we had been fishin’ buddies for a lot of years before he decided I was a bad guy. I sort of missed the old fart. Guess I’ll really miss him now.”

“Anybody see you out this morning, Mr. Coleman?”

“Not that I know of. Lots of people out running around the lake at five in the morning, but can’t say I saw anyone I knew.”

“His truck was found at launch 31.”

Ed shook his head. “I know he told me to meet him at 32.”

Detective Brown returned to headquarters and talked with the deputies who had canvassed the area. No one remembered seeing Doug or Ed anywhere around the lake that morning. They did locate a man who had been fishing for catfish from the bank all night long just down from Lock 31. He said there was a boat that was launched at the boat ramp sometime before dawn. He had no idea what the boat looked like or how many people were in it. He did remember hearing the motor accelerate when it got out further into the lake.

There hadn’t been many people out on the lake during the day because the wind was up and the water was choppy, choppy enough to cause some whitecaps. If anyone saw the boat, they really hadn’t paid much attention to it. They were interested in fishing, not watching other people fish or boat ride. lake

The phone on Brown’s desk rang. It was Hank from forensics. “Got some good news for you, old friend. There was an ink pen under the body. Maybe fell from the killer’s pocket during a scuffle. Had prints on it and the prints were in the system. Belong to a guy named Edward Coleman. He’s got a short sheet for public disturbance and fighting.”

“Well, I’ll be damned!”

“Know the guy?” Hank asked.

“Just finished talking to him. He’s one hell of an actor.”

Hank laughed. “Wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been fooled.”pen

“Yeah, some of this crap never ceases to amaze me.”

Detective Brown and several deputies went back to Coleman’s trailer. Ed insisted he had never even seen Doug’s new boat, let alone been in it. Over much yelling and protesting, he was then arrested for the murder of Douglas Hopkinton. They executed a search warrant, but didn’t turn up any incriminating evidence. Brown could now place Ed at the scene of the crime, but really had no weapon. The motive was also weak—finishing out a long standing argument, but Brown couldn’t see where Ed had any reason to be upset. Doug was the one who had been upset.

The next morning, Brown talked to a department psychologist. She explained to him that a sudden sign of getting better is common among depressed people who have figured out something that has been bothering them. It was many times a danger signal if the person was suicidal.

Detective Brown walked down to the impoundment yard to look at the boat again. He ran scenarios through his head. Okay, they meet at Lock 31. They take off after launching the boat. They get into a fight somewhere out on the lake. Ed shoots Doug. Throws the gun in the lake. How does he get back to shore. Swim? Unlikely. Have an accomplice who picks him up in another boat? Too complicated. Drove the boat back to the ramp so he could get his truck and then sets the boat drifting? The cat fisherman never mentioned a boat coming back, and it would have had to been before daylight so he wouldn’t be seen. Maybe Ed drove the boat to another launch and then walked or hitchhiked back to his own truck? How would he have driven the boat? Doug’s body was still partly in the lower part of the driver’s seat. None of this was making sense.gun

He let his mind wander to another path. He kept looking at the boat. Beautiful boat. Large driver’s seat with controls on the right. Passenger’s seat and live-well on the left. All carpeted with blue indoor-outdoor carpeting, even though there was a large blood stain on it now. He snapped his fingers and returned to the building. Once there, he went to the evidence locker and got out the ink pen found under Doug’s body. He went down to the lock up area to talk to Ed Coleman.

Coleman was lying on his bunk and made no show of any emotion when Brown approached his cell.

“Ed, need to talk to you.”

“What about? You got your mind made up anyway. I didn’t kill nobody!”

“I want to ask you about the time Doug came to talk to you and said he was sorry.”

Ed sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the cot. “What difference that gonna make?”

“Just tell me about it. Was he in your trailer?”

Ed pursed his lips and thought for a few seconds. “Nope. Think we were outside all the time.”

“And he was never in your trailer while you stayed outside?”

Ed shook his head. “Don’t think so. Wait, there was one time he said he had to take a leak. I told him to bring out a couple more cold ones when he came back. But he couldn’t been in there for much more than a minute.”

Brown pulled the ink pen from his pocket. It was still in an evidence bag. “Ever seen this?”

“Where the hell did you find that? I tore that trailer apart lookin’ for it. ‘Course, I do misplace things from time to time. But I always kept that on my desk. My daughter gave that pen to me for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. Means a lot to me.”

When Detective Brown was interviewed by the local paper, he gave this account of what had happened.

“Douglas Hopkinton had been depressed since the death of his wife. He blamed part of his problems on Edward Coleman. Mr. Hopkinton decided to end his own life, but figured out a way to get back at Mr. Coleman.

“While visiting Mr. Coleman’s house, Mr. Hopkinton stole an ink pen from his desk. He set up a meeting with Coleman, but never showed up. He drove out into the lake in a new boat, put the ink pen on the floor, leaned over the side of the boat, and shot himself, knowing the gun would fall into the lake.

“He also knew he would be found drifting in the lake and that the ink pen would implicate Mr. Coleman.”

“So how did you figure this out?” the reporter asked.

“I admit a lot of it is speculation, but Douglas Hopkinton was shot in the right side of his head. For someone else to do that, they would have to have been outside the boat. That’s the one part he forgot about.”

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Gary R. Hoffman has published over three hundred short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years. He now resides in Okeechobee, Florida.

1 Comment

  1. Good story. Dialogue is crisp. All the details are in plain sight. Forensics info helped but didn’t solve the case for the protagonist; he had to put all the clues together, himself. And the ending/solution still surprised me!


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