Valaski snorted. “Like there are going to be footprints!”
Beth Ingram and Lee Houston from the crime-scene unit shrugged. “This is…this isn’t promising,” Beth told him.
“I know. See if you can find anything. Valaski, come on through.”
He stepped back as Valaski moved in to see the body. He swore softly. “Jeez, Liam, think you could find ’em for me when they’re a little fresher?”
“Think you can tell me time of death?”
Valaski stared at him, and then hunkered down by the corpse. He muttered beneath his breath again, shook his head, reached almost blindly for his bag and got a mask and gloves.
“Any clue as to how he died?” Liam asked.
“You mean you didn’t check for a pulse?” Valaski asked dryly.
“I left him in situ for you.”
“I could check for petechial hemorrhaging—oh, wait, no, I can’t. I’m sorry, there are no eyes.”
“Good Lord, Franklin—”
“Sorry! I’m sorry. But this poor boy… I’m not seeing a gunshot wound. It might have been strangulation. I need to get him back to the morgue, that’s all there is to it. I can’t tell you much of anything until we get him out of here and cleaned up. I’m sorry, Liam,” Valaski said.
His hands were gloved; he wore high galoshes, having known he was headed into the marsh. He had on his huge magnifying glasses, the mask over his nose and mouth. He did a cursory inspection of the body, and then seemed to freeze.
He looked at Liam.
“What?” Liam asked.
“I can’t give you much info on how and when he died yet, but…”
“I can tell you who he is.”
Liam was startled. “Who?”
Valaski waved a hand toward him to come around and hunker down as well. Mercifully, he offered him a mask.
Valaski pointed at markings on the blackened T-shirt the man was wearing.
Liam had definitely seen the shirt before. Even as he stared at it through the stains of marsh water and body fluids, he saw the emblem on it more clearly defined. There was a bird with flapping wings, a large bird, and White in cursive over the emblem.
It was Gary White, Key West’s own part-time musician.
The man who had been trying to break into the place with Chris Vargas just a week ago.
Now dead and decaying at the Merlin house.
Kelsey paced in the kitchen, drinking a third cup of coffee and glancing at her watch. She had to be at Cutter’s funeral soon. It wouldn’t be right for the deceased’s granddaughter to be late.
But she felt as if she’d been wired and charged.
Someone had been dead on the property for days now, and they had just discovered the body. What had happened to him? She felt it highly unlikely that anyone could have decided just to walk down to the Merlin property to die of natural causes.
At last, Liam came back into the house.
Involuntarily, she took a step back from him. He reeked.
He winced. “I’m heading up to the shower.”
“Who was it? How did they die?” she demanded. “Did you know him?”
He nodded. “Not real well, but he was a Key West character. Gary White. He was a part-time musician. I don’t know how he died.” He hesitated. “The body is in very bad shape.”
“Yes, but—I watch TV,” she said. “They have ways—”
“Yes, they do. Franklin Valaski, the medical examiner—”
“I know him,” she interrupted curtly. “You mentioned he checked out Cutter, and he came when my mother died.”
Liam nodded. “He’s taking him back to his morgue. He’ll conduct the necessary autopsy and tests. We’ll know what we can soon enough. I don’t believe he’s been dead more than a week—I saw him then—but when he was killed after that, I don’t know. Because of the situation with the water and the marshy ground, mangrove roots, birds…crabs…it may be difficult to pinpoint the time of death very clearly.”
She jerked a nod at him. “I noticed the smell when I got here,” she said. “I kept thinking that it was something…left behind by Cutter.”
“That would be natural,” he said softly. “I’m running up.” He moved toward her as if he would touch her, comfort her, but then stepped back. “Sorry. I’ll be fast. Is there time? Maybe you should go ahead.”
As he spoke, they heard the heavy brass knocker bang at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Liam said. He shook his head. “No, you get it. Hey, look out the peephole first.”
“Right,” she said.
Liam went by her, flying up the stairs. She walked to the front door and looked out. She opened the door quickly.
David Beckett, Katie, Jonas and Clarinda were there, all dressed nicely for the services, the two men in jackets and Katie and Clarinda in dresses and low heels.
“We thought we should bring some support,” Katie said.
“And find out why the yard was filled with cop cars and an ambulance,” David said flatly.
“Liam found a man named Gary White dead on the property,” she said, opening the door farther to let them all in.
“Gary White!” Katie said with surprise.
“Oh, that’s so sad,” Clarinda said.
“Sad, but he was a bum,” Jonas said.
“He could play his guitar. He just found drugs instead of ambition,” Katie said.
“What happened to him?” David asked, frowning.
“The medical examiner is going to have to figure that out,” Kelsey told them.
Katie looked at her gravely and nodded. “We were at Jonas’s place and saw that you two were still here. And, of course, all the stuff going on. And we knew nothing had happened to either of you, since we saw Liam out there with the officers and you out there earlier. But I knew you’d want to get to the church for the services, so…”
“So here we are,” David said. “Why don’t you four go on, and I’ll wait and come with Liam.”
“That’s the best plan,” Clarinda said. She looked tired, weary and, Kelsey thought, oddly worried.
It was probably just exhaustion. She worked an awful lot, and Sundays could be busy with the tourists who thought they’d be clever and stay the Sunday night while others were headed back for work on Monday morning.
“Let me just run up and tell Liam,” she said. “And thank you.”
“We’re happy to be here with you,” Katie told her.
“Yes, that we are,” Jonas said.
Kelsey nodded, ran up the stairs, tapped on the bathroom door and stuck her head in to tell Liam what she was doing. He called back that he’d be another two minutes, but, yes, she should get going with the others.
David had brought his car, an SUV, and they all fit comfortably. The church, like almost everything in Old Town, was easily reachable, but under the circumstances it did seem prudent to drive. She hadn’t asked for a car or a limo of any kind, knowing that she’d rather be with friends.
When they arrived, the reverend was there, quick to take her hand and sympathize, and bring her to a front pew. Cutter’s coffin was there, draped in purple. She was afraid the bucket of tears she could shed for the years gone and the lives lost would come to her when she saw the coffin; she felt numb. Thoughts of Cutter raced through her head, but they were dislodged by the thought of a dead man rotting for days on the property.
Katie, Jonas and Clarinda took seats near her, and within minutes Sean O’Hara and Vanessa arrived, and then Ted and Jaden. They sat in the row behind her.
A few minutes later the church began to fill in. She wondered how many people had been Cutter’s friends, and how many were there because they were curious. Cutter had been legend.
He had real friends there, as well. Kelsey smiled, touched as she saw Liam’s and David’s elderly aunts, Alice and Esther Beckett, come in and find seats in a pew in the back. She was saddened to see how they had aged, but then, they were actually great-aunts, and Esther had to be almost ninety, with Alice the baby of the two at eighty-eight. They both had beautiful heads of silver-blue hair, wore neat little boucle suits, hats, and carried hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.
Liam arrived with his cousin moments later, stopping to kiss his aunts before coming up to join her, and the service began. It was an Episcopalian mass, and many on the island participated. Then the eulogy was given, the reverend doing the speaking and doing it beautifully. He talked about a fine man who had suffered much, and had always been kind to his fellow beings and to lost and frightened critters, as well. He spoke about Cutter’s brilliance, and his talent, and his adventurous soul.
Kelsey was invited up. For a moment, she stood at the lectern and looked out. She did feel a hot flash of tears at her eyes. So many people were there. She saw Joe Richter out in the crowd. She saw strangers. She saw the medical examiner, Franklin Valaski, looking as if he’d taken a two-minute shower, crawling into a back pew. It seemed that every old conch in Key West had turned out.
She said goodbye to her grandfather, to the world’s finest storyteller and the man who had taught her to draw and had given her the world. The service ended, and it was time to move on to the cemetery.
She tried not to focus on her mother’s name, beautifully etched in brass on the stone wall of the small family mausoleum. The Key West cemetery was eclectic, with many graves above ground as they were in New Orleans, and for the same reason. All kids who grew up there knew that a vicious hurricane in the mid-eighteen hundreds had sent bodies floating down Duval from other sites. This ground had been chosen because it was in the center of the island at the time, and on high ground. There were little mausoleums here and there, in-ground interments and even a grave that looked as if it were a small brick smokehouse. There were sections and monuments. The cemetery was in the true spirit of Key West, with one grave that made the profound statement, “I told you I was sick.”