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THE BLAKE CUTTER DETECTIVE SERIES  |  BOOK 1

Listen the first five chapters for FREE!

Copyright © Edward T. Milligan, 2012
Registration #TXu1-214-869
Library of Congress Washington, D.C.  USA

Cover Design by Donika Mishineva
www.artofdonika.com

 

All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. This is a work of fiction. The events and characters portrayed are imaginary. Any resemblance to real-life people or locations is entirely coincidental.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved.

PAST THE LINE

Excerpt from The Blake Cutter Detective Series |  Book 1 

Prologue

On a clear and balmy April evening, Miami Police Homicide Detective Blake Cutter and his wife Jenni arrived at the Wyndham Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Miami.  Cutter brought his ’65 Ford Fairlane to a screeching halt about a hundred yards from the front entrance.   After stopping at a coffee shop  for a little caffeine booster, they were running late for the Annual Miami Police Ball, an event in which Blake was to be honored that night as the Miami Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
     “I guess that wasn’t a good idea, stopping for coffee on the way to your awards’ banquet,” Blake noted to Jenni. “I didn’t account for the downtown traffic.”
    “Too late to worry about it now,” she pointed out, as they leapt out of the car and rushed towards the entrance. “Let’s just get our butts in there before they change their minds about your recognition.”
     The couple raced through the lobby and located the ballroom door and a seating chart perched on an easel. They spotted their table on the seating chart, which unfortunately for them, was near the front and to the left of where Miami Police Chief Manual Sanchez was seated. As Sanchez eyed the couple’s approach, he pointed a finger at his watch.  Blake and Jenni surreptitiously made their way to their table with embarrassed looks on their faces.  
    About thirty minutes into the program, Chief Sanchez walked up to a podium located on the left side of the crowded ballroom.  Sitting at a circular table of eight, Jenni reached under the table, grabbed Blake’s hand, then squeezed it in anticipation of what was about to happen.  She had promised Blake that she would harness her excitement, but as she sat and waited for his name to be called, she couldn’t help herself from grinning from ear to ear.  It was not only the pride of her husband receiving the prestigious award, but the recognition came with two weeks off from duty.  After enduring his 80 to 90 hour work weeks over the past year, Jenni welcomed the chance for them to take that long-awaited vacation in Bermuda Blake had promised her. 
    Wearing the police dress uniform, Sanchez lightly tapped the mic, pulled the mic stand closer to his mouth, cleared his throat, and then began to speak. 
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my esteem pleasure tonight to recognize one of the finest law enforcement officers I’ve ever known. He has been a great service to our community in more ways than you could imagine.  Not only is he an outstanding investigator for the Miami Police Department, but he’s done countless work in our local communities to be a positive influence on the youth.  He also personally organized a neighborhood watch campaign in three of the most crime-ridden districts in our city, helping to reduce the overall crime rate by over twenty-five percent. This esteemed detective made over 50 arrests of drug dealers and gang members in the past year.  He has participated in over twenty interagency task force operations with the FBI and other state law enforcement agencies. Blake was instrumental in our successful interdiction of drugs and organized crime networks in our communities.  I could stand up here for an hour highlighting his many accomplishments, but without further ado, I’d like to call up Detective Blake Cutter to receive the Miami Police Department Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award.”
   There was a rousing applause that lasted more than two minutes as Cutter walked to the podium. Sanchez greeted him with a handshake and hug and then handed him a bronze-plated plaque amid a plethora of flashing cameras and cell phones.  Cutter emitted a wry and humble smile; internally he felt his task was unfinished, having failed to apprehend the kingpin of the Miami drug network, Ransom Oliver. 
    Two hours later, after enduring handshakes and well wishes from nearly every attending officer, Blake and Jenni discreetly left the noisy, crowded ballroom and sauntered through the front entrance to leave. It was time for the couple to move their celebration to a quieter venue. 
They planned to cap off the night with a romantic drive through scenic BAL Harbor village, then stop at their favorite nightspot, Café Pastis, a quaint French bistro located in the heart of downtown Miami.  He envisioned accessing the 195 Causeway, switching the car to cruise, and gleaming over at his beautiful wife as he pulled out the bow to let her glowing black hair flow with the cool evening breeze. 
It was ironic that Cutter who was three-fourths Caucasian and one-fourth Cuban would prefer dining at a French restaurant on the biggest night of his life. But crème brulee was Jenni’s favorite dessert and partaking of the French classic had become a traditional way for the couple to cap off celebratory events. As they reached the end of the portico, they embraced and became lost in the romantic and starlit sky. The evening could not have been more perfect.  At that moment, all was right in their world.  
After an extended, passionate kiss, he said, “Thanks for sitting through that tonight. I know it must've been truly boring for you.
By the way, you look beautiful,” he noted, staring into her hazel green eyes, which dazzled from the beams of a nearby light pole.    
    Her rosy, red cheeks stretched as she pulled him closer to her and slid her hand through his neatly groomed salt and pepper hair.  “It was worth it to get you into a tux, but I can’t wait to get you out of it,” she teased.  Jenni had never seen a six-foot, three-inch lanky frame look so good in a tux, as Blake did that night.  As she stared at him, she couldn’t be prouder to be his wife than she was at that moment.  “I love you, police officer of the year,” she added.
    “Right back at you, young lady.” 
     As they walked through the first row of parked cars, Jenni said, “Wait, honey. I left my purse inside the ballroom.” 
    “Leave it there, somebody from housekeeping will pick it up. We can get it in the morning.” 
    “Are you serious, Blake?” she scrunched her face unbelieving. “If I wait until morning, somebody will have taken everything of value from it, and you know it.”
    He sighed deeply, “Okay, I’ll go back.  I don’t want you back in there getting cornered by those chatty friends of yours, or we’ll never get out of here.” 
    “You’re such a smartass,” she chided. 
    “Don’t thank me. You’ll get a bill,” he retorted. 
    “Shut up and go get my purse,” she reached out to slap his buttocks, then grinned.  
     He turned, then hustled towards the hotel entrance.  Seconds later, he passed through the front doors and saw Sanchez waving at him from across the room.  He speed dialed Jenni’s number on speed dial and when she answered, he told her, “Honey, pull the car around, and I’ll meet you at the front shortly.”
     Jenni acknowledged, but added, “Okay, but make it fast, handsome.” 
    “I’ll be five minutes at most,” Cutter reassured Jenni, as he scurried inside the ballroom to their table.  
    The purse wasn’t on top of the table or under it.  Sanchez joined him when he stepped out from the ballroom, and they walked back to the front reception counter to submit a claim. 
   “I want to talk to you Monday morning about the DeSalvo investigation,” Sanchez said as they walked. “An SBI undercover cop may have new information you can use.”
As they reached the counter, a thunderous blast like a nearby explosion shook the building.  Guests in the lobby instantly panicked. 
    “What in the hell was that?” Sanchez shouted from beside him. 
     Instinctively thinking of Jenni, Cutter spun in a circle and sprinted towards the entrance.  Bumping past several people, he peered across the parking lot.   
    “Oh my God!” he screamed.  
    A huge fireball lit the parking lot where he’d parked his car.  At the bottom of the fireball was his '65 Fairlane.  A rising plume of smoke enveloped the blazing inferno. Cutter scanned the parking lot, but he saw no sign of Jenni. His heart pounded in his chest.  Sidestepping several horrified onlookers, he darted to the vehicle, spurning a thought that Jenni could be trapped inside their car. Then he noticed both doors stood open and the car’s roof was peeled back from the windshield post.

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Chapter 1

Cutter and Sanchez stood fifty feet from the burning inferno. Cars on all sides of the Fairlane sat askew from the force of the explosion.
    Cutter slumped and dropped to his knees; tears flowed down his cheeks as he rocked side to side. Experience told him that Jenni couldn’t have survived the level of destruction that left his car an unrecognizable hunk of twisted debris. The ’65 Fairlane, his pride and joy, had been a birthday gift the previous year from Jenni.
    “My God,” he wailed, as he succumbed to the fact that Jenni was gone. 
   Sanchez noticed flames under the Fairlane’s gas tank. He murmured a few words to himself in Spanish.  He supposed a fuel line must have ruptured, and gasoline was burning under the tank and spreading in a growing pool.  He yelled a warning for everyone to move back, first nervously in Spanish and then more composed in English.
   “Blake, we need to move before the gas tank explodes. Come on Buddy!” Manuel yelled for two other officers to help as he tugged on Blake’s arm. They pulled Cutter to his feet and steered him away from the blaze.
   Sirens wailed close by as fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances responded to the emergency. Within minutes, hoses were laid out and the first nozzle belched streams of water at the blazing inferno. Yellow caution tape was strung to secure the area.
    Suddenly a fireball of gasoline vapor lit with a loud ‘BOOM’ and the concussive force knocked Cutter and the people around him to the ground. He was the only person facing the car and the most affected.
   Cutter drifted out of a fog and realized he lay on a gurney and had an IV stuck in his arm. A young male EMT was talking calmly to him questioning how he felt. A small bandage was pressed on the contusion on his forehead.  Onlookers rushed past the scene as the activity was focused on his burning car. Tears flowed as he thought again about Jenni being wrenched from his life in such a horrific and unexpected manner.
    Laying immobile beside the ambulance, Cutter overheard several police officers discussing their estimation of a premeditated event and someone reportedly hanging around the scene several hours earlier.  Then, the conversation stopped as two of the officers rushed towards the hotel security office to determine if there were any exterior cameras that might provide surveillance footage.
    As he winced in pain, the face of Bennie DeSalvo flashed into Cutter’s mind.  DeSalvo was the Miami drug kingpin Cutter had investigated over the past six months for a series of mob crimes.  He was close to gaining enough evidence for an indictment. He surmised an assassination attempt must’ve been meant for him and the perpetrator might have set off a remotely controlled detonation device placed under the driver’s side of the car. 
    The ambulance’s back door was swung open and Cutter’s gurney was pushed inside. The EMT closed the door and sat beside him. The last sounds he heard were sirens wailing from a myriad of police cars and fire trucks that descended upon the scene.  
    “You’re going to be okay, sir.  You’re going to the hospital for observation of shock,” a tech told him. 
    Those were the last words Cutter heard before he lost consciousness from a sedative in the IV.

Chapter 2

Cutter was placed on administrative leave the following afternoon when he was released from the hospital.  Sanchez visited and told him to go home for three weeks on paid leave and to return after Jenni’s funeral when he felt up to it. 
    The night after Sanchez’s visit, Cutter was asleep when he had a strange dream.  In the dream, he was attending Jenni’s funeral.  He was sitting in the front row of the pew with Jenni’s ashes in an urn on a table surrounded by several arrangements of flowers. The table was directly in front of Cutter, next to the podium where a priest was delivering the eulogy. The church was full, with family, friends and acquaintances of Jenni and him.  
    Then suddenly, he looked to his right and there was Jenni sitting next to him.  
    She smiled at him and reached for his right hand.  How could she be in ashes and sitting next to him at the same time?  
    He twitched and his body jerked violently.  Then, he woke up dripping in sweat and panting.  

   Three weeks later, Cutter was exercising in the garage when the doorbell sounded. Sanchez was at the door. After greetings, they moved to the patio with beers in hand. 
   “When do you plan to return to duty?” Cutter was asked. 
    “I called Laura this morning and asked to return next Monday,” Cutter responded, not sounding confident of his own words. “It must not have worked its way to you yet.”
   “If you feel ready, the department will be glad to have you back. Has anyone told you what the bombing investigation revealed?”
   Cutter shook his head as he leaned forward.
   Sanchez took a deep sigh and asked, “Blake, are you sure you’re ready for this?
   “Yes, just give me the facts,” Cutter said, trying to compose himself for the inevitable.
    Sanchez began explaining in a somber tone, by saying, “Surveillance video showed you and Jenni arriving at the parking lot at six p.m.  At six-thirty, while everybody was in the ceremony, cameras picked up a grainy image of a man approaching your car.  Though it wasn’t close enough to identify the bomber, it showed a person sliding under your car for about five minutes. While there, the bomber made a connection to the left headlight wiring and attached a magnetic package to the bottom of the car under the driver’s seat. Then the bomber rose, opened the driver’s door for less than a minute, and then slipped from view as he left the lot.  Then, he disappeared out of range of the cameras. There are no leads to his, or her, identity.”
    Cutter winced, slammed his beer down on the table as he nearly choked on his own breath.       
    Sanchez continued, “Forensics determined the explosive was a combination of PETN and TATP or triacetone triperoxide. That’s a highly volatile combination. Techs picked up the odor of hydrogen peroxide in the after-smoke. It was likely about half a pound from the damage done. The ensuing smoke and flames were from three half gallon plastic milk jugs filled with diesel fuel wedged under the seat above the bomb. When Jenni turned the lights on, it blew. She died instantly, never knew what happened. That was verified by the security camera. The bomb blew the instant the lights flicked on. The hit was professional, too sophisticated for a common street thug. Somebody paid big bucks for it.”
    Sanchez paused almost a minute, barely audible. “We also ran a DNA test on the human remains to verify it was Jenni in the car. I’m sorry man, it was.”
    Cutter slouched back in his chair, dropped both arms to his side, and unashamedly cried.  His light brown eyes which normally flecked with gold, were now dulled by the blood shot pupils and streaming tears.
    Sanchez placed a hand on Cutter’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Watch your back, Blake. I think we both suspect the same person who would want to see you dead is the one who ordered this.  We’re gonna get him, Blake.”
 

Chapter 3

A dock site on Devil Island. One year after the car bombing.

 

It was nearing midnight when estate developer Phillip Drummond, a strappingly handsome, tall, gray-haired man in his mid-fifties, stood at the bow of his 180-foot luxury yacht named Ocean Paradise, looking anxious and feeling nervous.  He was expecting an important guest to arrive, but he was late, and Drummond couldn’t wait much longer. 
    It was hardly the ideal weather for hosting the traditional midnight cruise around Devil Island, which was part of the annual Devil Island Spring Festival weekend.  Dark, ominous clouds sheared by streaks of lightning could be seen in the distant horizon. The forecast called for a line of rapidly moving thunderstorms to reach the coast around three or four the next morning. 
    Drummond glanced at his watch and muttered to himself, “Dammit DeSalvo, where the hell are you?” He turned and noticed members of the crew directing passengers to their cabins below deck to freshen up.    
    An attempt to delay the cruise’s departure had been thwarted by the port authority’s advisory for all boats to be back in port by two a.m. With the stiff breeze wafting across his jacket, Drummond agreed the advisory was warranted due to the gloomy forecast.  They would need to shorten the cruise instead of docking the following morning at dawn as originally planned. 
    He continued to piddle and wait.  Suddenly his vision blurred; he felt disoriented, pale and light-headed.  He couldn’t figure out what was occurring.  He’d consumed only one Manhattan after arriving on the boat, a Manhattan served to him by a young, light-skinned, African American female whose face he vaguely remembered but couldn’t place.  
    “Could she have drugged me?” he silently questioned.  He instantly dismissed the thought and assumed he was just experiencing the effects of heightened anxiety from DeSalvo being late for their meeting.  Drummond paced back and forth across the deck.  As he glared at a nearby parking lot, he hoped to see DeSalvo’s convoy of limos arrive at any moment.  
    With no newly arrived vehicles in sight, two questions entered his mind.  What if DeSalvo had been apprehended on his way to the island?  What if an approaching motorcade turned out to be a fleet of black SUVs carrying FBI agents armed with federal arrest warrants?  The last thing he needed was for his clients and business partners to witness him being cuffed and taken into police custody on his own private yacht. 
     As midnight approached, Drummond experienced a momentary bout of double vision.  Again, he brushed off the thought that his pre-departure cocktail might have been doctored. Who would dare do that? 
     Several members of the crew peered at him in anticipating either a hand signal or head nod for them to set sail.  Instead, he shook his head almost imperceptibly.      
    Other crew members disguised their impatience by conducting last minute safety inspections.  Their busy activity did offer hope that DeSalvo’s late arrival would go unnoticed. 
    With thunder rumbling in the distance, Drummond continued pacing the deck.  He peered toward the parking lot again.  Still, there was no sign of DeSalvo’s limos.  Attempting to control anxiety, he reached into the left breast pocket of his blazer and pulled out a cigar. 
     Just as he was about to light the premium Cuban cigar, his cell phone vibrated in his left pants pocket.  It startled him to the point his heart palpitated.  He yanked the phone from his pocket. He didn’t recognize the number, but he read the message. Phil. Meet me at Moss Point Pier at half past eleven.  Come alone and make sure you’re not being followed.  Wait under the main pier. Bennie.”
     As he clicked off the message screen, Rupert Hawkins approached. Rupert was a stout, British-born, distinguished man in his mid-sixties with slick but thinning neatly groomed salt and pepper hair.  He’d worked for Drummond as his yacht steward for the past five years and had been in the contract cruise hosting business for over thirty. There would be nobody more disappointed in a cancellation of the cruise than Hawkins.  He’d spent a small fortune to outfit the servers in white tuxedos with swallow tailed coats. He did everything to make Phillips’s annual cruise a first-class event. 
    In his Welsh accent, he asked,” Mr. Drummond, are we ready, sir?”     
    Immersed in thought, Drummond hesitantly replied, “Come with me to my cabin for a moment.”
    “Why, sir,” Hawkins asked.                  
    I need to talk to you privately about something.” 
    “But it’s time for us to sail, sir,” Hawk replied anxiously, seeing lightning streaks over the horizon.  The boom of thunder followed at a closer gap than he’d noticed minutes earlier.  “We’re already late.  We don’t go now we’ll have to scrap it.” 
    “I know, Hawk. But I must speak to you immediately. Follow me.” 
    “Certainly, sir,” he replied dutifully. 
    As they made their way unobtrusively toward the cabin, Hawkins remarked, “You don’t look well, sir. Are you not feeling chipper tonight?”
     “I don’t know,” Drummond muttered. Changing the subject, he asked, “Who prepared the beverages for the cruise?”
     “The regular crew from the club, sir.  Is there a problem?” Hawkins asked.
    Drummond hesitated for a moment then replied, “Forget I asked.” 
    “The weather's anticipated to become rather ominous, sir,” Hawkins remarked. “We must begin our departure now or cancel.” 
    With those words, a streak of white light flashed in the distance out at sea, followed by the muted clap of thunder. “Listen, Hawk. I’ve got to step off the boat to meet someone over at Moss Point pier. 
    “At this time of night, Sir?” he asked concerned. 
“Don’t worry about me. I should be back in about an hour. Please don’t ask me any more questions.” 
    “We can’t wait that long, sir,” Hawk complained as she overheard thunder rumbling and electricity crackling in the distance.  “We promised your guests we would sail long before midnight.  Storm’s approaching, and the harbor master put us under a restriction.” 
    Drummond paced and thought for a few seconds. “You’ll just have to sail without me. Get someone on the horn to announce my unexpected departure.  Offer my apologies to the members of the yacht club.  I’ll meet up with you when the boat returns.”
    “But what if they decide to leave, sir? You are the host,” Hawkins reminded him sternly. 
    Annoyed by Hawkins’ persistence, he clenched his jaw and spoke loudly. “I don’t care what they think, Hawk.  Just make sure they get off my boat and onto the pier without anyone falling overboard. The last thing I need right now is another drawn out court case.”   
    “Certainly, sir.” Hawkins replied with a cleverly feigned smile.  “You should take a moment to say goodbye, especially to the out -of -towners.” 
    Drummond countered, “Being as you’re such a gentleman, I’ll entrust that duty to you, Hawk.” 
    “As you wish, sir,” Hawkins relented. “Is there anything you need before you go, a raincoat maybe?”
     Drummond stood stiffly for a moment in thought. 
     He suddenly remembered promising Howard Tessman they would hook up after the cruise with two exotic dancers they met earlier in the week at a local strip club. “Do this for me, Hawk. You remember Howard Tessman, don’t you?” 
    “Certainly, sir.”
    “Locate him and ask him to meet me at the bow in a few minutes.”
    “Right away, sir.” 
    “And tell the cooks to keep the caponata warm,” Drummond added.  He’d promised DeSalvo the Sicilian dish would be served hot upon his arrival. Hawk’s realized nothing he did that night to make the cruise successful would be rewarded if he didn’t satisfy the culinary desires of Drummond’s wealthy, decadent clientele. But if DeSalvo was meeting him and would miss the cruise, that was a moot point.
 

Chapter 4

Minutes later, Howard Tessman greeted him while clenching a pipe in one hand and a champagne flute in the other.  A tall, deeply tanned broad-shouldered Bostonian in his late forties, Tessman wore the suave demeanor of Sean Connery as 007. He and Drummond were real estate colleagues since they opened a firm together in upstate New York several years earlier. Before Drummond left New York for further business ventures, they were one of the most respected real estate consortiums on the east coast.   
    Drummond appreciated Tessman coming in days earlier to catch a Saturday morning golf tee time with him prior to competing in the festival’s traditional yacht race. The race was the highlight event of the weekend. But yachting and golfing weren’t the reasons for Tessman spending an entire weekend on the island. It was his empathy for Drummond’s marriage troubles that brought him there to lend support to his friend in preparation of the upcoming divorce proceedings.  He too lost millions in an acrimonious divorce settlement a few years earlier.
     Nose flaring, Tessman asked, “What’s going on, Phil?  We were supposed to be sailing by now.” 
    Touching him on the left shoulder, Drummond said, “I’m taking off for a bit, Howie.” 
    “What’s the deal?” Tessman pressed. “It took a lot of persuasion to get those bargirls over here.”   
     “I understand,” Drummond replied. “If I’m delayed longer than expected, I’ll have Hawk stand in for me.  He’s due some fun at his age.  You don’t mind, do you, Hawk?” He asked turning towards Hawkins. 
    “Why no, sir, “Hawkins replied. Hawkins’s eyes lit up. 
    Sizing up the consolatory offer, Tessman shrugged and replied, “I guess he’ll do. Whoever it is she’d better be worth it.  Just don’t miss our tee time in the morning.”
    Drummond chucked, “I’m afraid you’ll be playing alone in a rain squall ole man.”  Drummond offered a cordial handshake in appreciation of Tessman not belaboring the matter.  He then stepped off the yacht onto the dock and glanced back once with an apologetic expression and proceeded to march down the pier to the deserted strip of beach in the direction of Moss Point.  Minutes later, he disappeared from their sight. 
    Staring with a clueless expression, Hawkins turned to Tessman asking, “You think I should follow him, sir? He didn’t look well.”  Hawk looked to this watch, time showing eleven fifteen.
    Tessman shrugged, “No, let him go.  He’s probably just liquored up. Besides, you wouldn’t want to catch him in a compromising position on the beach, would you?" 
    “A mite chilly for that, I’d think sir,” Hawkins whispered. “It’s never too cold for that kind of action.” Tessman replied grinning as he patted Hawk on the back.  
    Dismissing further concern, Tessman and Hawkins departed the bow. Tessman headed back to his cabin while Hawkins signaled for the crew chief to initiate the yacht’s departure.

Chapter 5

Drummond proceeded down the beach, trudging his way between the lapping water and the shore.  A sudden gust of chill wind slithered through his jacket. Looking back a final time towards the parking lot, he spotted a lone car parked at the back side away from most of his guests.  It was too dark to determine the color or make of the vehicle. He dismissed the thought and continued walking briskly. 
    After a few more steps, he glanced back again at the vehicle. He spotted what appeared to be the silhouette of a person standing by the hood of the car, yet too far away to determine their identity. The glare of a rotating spotlight from the nearby airport allowed him to determine the vehicle was a late model sedan.  He knew a woman who owned that style of car.  It couldn’t be her, he thought. Why would she be on the island tonight? Why would she have parked so far away? He dismissed the sight from his mind and walked purposely toward Moss Point, still several hundred yards away.  Moments later, he stopped and glanced back again. 
    He noticed a person appearing to walk in his direction, about 100 yards behind him, yet too far away to confirm their identity.
     The person walked fast and was closing the gap.  Drummond glanced back intermittently.  Suddenly, the stranger was about fifty yards behind him. Yet the person was still too far away to determine their identity.  He broke into a cold sweat as he quickened his steps. 
    He then stumbled on a large piece of jagged driftwood and fell to one knee. He rose and looked back again.  The person was no longer behind him.  His heart skipped a beat as he brushed sand from his white pants.  He scanned the beach in every direction but saw no one and only heard gentle waves.  He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or alarmed. Ahead he noted lights on shore at a large bungalow where a party was in progress. Prone to optimism, he chose to believe whoever had been walking behind him had broken off and headed toward one of the beach bungalows or hotels staggered along Oceanfront Road. Only two bungalows showed light in the windows.
    A few minutes later, he reached Moss Point pier feeling nauseated.  He looked around and observed there was only one light pole, emitting barely enough light to see ten feet in front of him. He scratched his scalp in bewilderment. He spun in a pirouette but saw no one.  He yelled for DeSalvo to himself, then called again. “Dammit,” he muttered.  “Where the hell is DeSalvo?” 
    Glancing at his watch, he noticed the time was almost eleven-thirty.  He squinted into the bay hoping to get a glimpse of his yacht. Visibility was deteriorating and he barely saw the party lights strung on deck as the boat moved away.  Listening carefully, he heard muted laughter of his guest. The only other perceptible light on the water was from a fisherman who’d disregarded the high surf warnings and was out on a distant trawler bait casting.  As he watched, the lights on the trawler were extinguished and the sea around it became pitch black. He was suddenly overcome with paranoia.  No light showed from the clubhouse beside the parking lot. 
    For the first time, he wondered not only if DeSalvo would show up, but if it was really DeSalvo who left the text message.  Perhaps Dorothy hired someone to lure him to a secluded location to kill him.  He wondered if she would go to that extent to change the outcome of their acrimonious divorce.  She wouldn’t try to kill me. She still loves me,” he murmured under his breath. Despite his insatiable appetite for women, he still harbored feelings for her. Yet, he knew millions of dollars in property rights coupled with rage and jealousy could push someone to contemplate murder. Had Dorothy learned about the cruise and the forgery? Perhaps she paid someone on the boat to tamper with my drink. He tried to recall the face of the woman who handed him the cocktail, but a clear image didn’t register.  It bothered him deeply that he couldn’t place her.
    As he felt more nauseated, he began to shiver from the perspiration trickling down his chest.  He felt more than ever that he might have been drugged or even poisoned. 
    Suddenly weak at the knees, he spotted a large, round boulder on an elevated sand dune and stumbled ahead to sit on it and wait at that spot.  Despite continued nausea and light-headedness, he managed to calm himself by focusing on the soothing sound of the waves rushing against the shore.  With his back turned to the road and the waves running onto the beach, the sounds of feet trampling through the sand and weeds behind him were masked. The ever-present wind increased and made the approaching footsteps go unnoticed. 
    Suddenly he felt a hard whack to the back of his skull, then an instantaneous flash of white light before his eyes.  His spine locked stiff as if he had stuck a finger into a live wall socket. He maneuvered his right hand to the back of his head. Blood flowed onto his fingers like it was a pig at a slaughterhouse. His chest tightened, causing him to gasp for air. 
    A flash of memory recalled the pretty African American girl who handed him his drink.  Absolute fear and panic caused his breath to stop and his eyes to widen. 
    Then a second harder blow to the back of his head catapulted him face first to the ground. Phillip Drummond died not knowing who or what struck him.   

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Blue Smoke

When Penelope Lane is kidnapped by assassins, no one knows if she’s dead or alive. Blake Cutter must risk his career and ultimately his life to find her… the woman who holds the key to justice for his late wife’s murder.               

Blake Cutter has fought his way through the criminal world to confront one of America’s most notorious mob bosses. But his pursuit of justice for his murdered wife must wait as he tries to foil an international terror plot that threatens to destroy the sanctity of the Sabbath Day, in the heart of Miami. 

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