“Okay, guys, laugh at me all you want. I saw a body,” she said firmly.
Bethany lowered her sandy head. Victor, Alex and Marshall all stared at one another, trying not to smile.
“Hey, Gen,” Victor teased her. “There’s a lady at the bar who wants to buy you a drink…look—Whoops, no, sorry, you didn’t act fast enough. She’s disappeared.”
Genevieve glared at him through narrowed eyes. She wanted to wring his neck. Of all people to be so taunting…They’d gone through school together. He was a year older, but she’d matured faster, and having a shape in high school had been tantamount to being cool back then. She’d taken him with her to every social event in their adolescent past.
In college he’d finally filled out and grown a few hairs on his chest. He’d grown into his features, as well, and now he was tall, dark and good-looking. They’d never ruined a good friendship by dating, but he could irritate her as thoroughly as if they were a married couple.
“Victor…” she began.
Grinning, he waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know what I can go do with myself.”
“Hey, kid, it will be all right,” Marshall said, but he, too, was still secretly smiling. At least someone was amused, she thought. Marshall was the owner and founder of Deep Down Salvage as well as a local. As a kid, he’d been fascinated by the history of Key West, which was inextricably entwined with tales of wreckers and salvage divers. It was a mixed history. Sometimes they had saved the lives of the poor souls on a ship that came to ruin on the dangerous reefs.
Sometimes, however, they waited like vultures—hoping ships carrying rich cargos would flounder and sink. Such a system had created many a rich man throughout the centuries.
Marshall was at least ten years older than most of their group. He had made his name by working in the northern waters off Massachusetts, doing heavy-duty, cold-water salvage. But Key West was his home, the place he loved. He had used his earnings to come back and open his own company, buy his own boat and equipment, and set up shop. He made a good income, but he was always pleased to work on any historical effort, and he had a tremendous respect for the reefs, the water and the past. Deeply tanned and buff, and dead even with her own height, he kept his head shaven, a look that went oddly well with his almost ebony eyes and dark brows.
Sitting with his feet up, shades on despite the setting sun, he grimaced. “We’ll find out that there was something down there. You know…flotsam and jetsam of some kind.”
Alex hummed a version of The Twilight Zone theme song. “Yeah, flotsam and jetsam with a face and hair,” he teased.
She glared at him, hiking a brow. Alex was from Key Largo, a different world from Key West, since the city of Miami was barely an hour north. He was blond, bronzed and a child of the sea and sun, a graduate in history and a master diver, but she’d shown him secrets of the reefs here that only the natives knew.
“Oh, you—” she said, then broke off in aggravation and rose, taking her beer with her to the little fence that looked out over a deep channel where the resort’s pleasure crafts and fishing boats were berthed.
“Don’t go away mad!” Alex called.
She spun around, shaking her head and forcing a smile as well. “Just wait, my dear, devoted friends! Somewhere along the line, you will get yours. I’m not going away mad, I’m just going away.”
“Hey, don’t be mad at me,” Bethany said.
“I’m not mad,” Genevieve insisted.
She walked on down to the dock, nursing her beer, looking out at the sunset. It was beautiful and tranquil, but she was roiling inside. Why had she been so panicked? She’d twice worked rescue situations that had become retrieval situations, and they had found bodies both times, once after a plane crash in the southern Glades, and once after a boating accident off Key West.
But the dead hadn’t looked at her then.
Digging a flower bed at her house, she’d dug up bones once—but that hadn’t been as shocking as it might have been elsewhere, not in Key West, the Island of Bones.
But those bones hadn’t disappeared.
She felt a presence next to her, tensed and turned, certain that one of her friends had joined her to continue the torture.
“You all right?”
She turned at the soft masculine query to see Jay Gonzalez. He was still in uniform, hat low over his forehead, sunglasses dark and concealing his eyes.
She smiled. She liked Jay a lot. He was in his late thirties now, and had been young himself when she had first met him. He’d pulled her and a few friends over when they’d been in high school, and, admittedly, there had been a few beer cans in the car. He hadn’t brought them down to the station, though. Instead, he’d taken every one of them home.
He was one of the cops who kept his boat here. He didn’t go out on it often anymore. He’d been out on it when his wife had fallen overboard and died. But he still kept it up. Maybe he even visited it now and then because he somehow felt closer to his wife when he was on it.
But he wasn’t there now for the boat, she knew. He was there for her.
“I’m fine—if you think having all your friends convinced you’re crazy makes you fine.” She hesitated. “Thanks for listening to me today.”
He nodded, leaning against the little wooden rail next to her. “I know you’re not a ditz,” he told her, grinning.
He stared out over the water. “I just wish I could help you. I don’t have anything that would correspond with what you told me. Then again, someone might be missing and it hasn’t been reported yet. I sent some men out after I talked to you. They couldn’t find anything, either.” He hesitated. “Bizarre as it may seem, given the amount of drinking that goes on down here, Key West itself doesn’t have much of a murder rate. I deal with boozed-out kids and car accidents more than anything else.”
“Jay, I saw a woman down there.” She hesitated before going on, hoping he wouldn’t take what she was about to say as a slap on his professional knowledge. “It’s not like no one ever gets killed here. There was the husband who went nuts and shot his wife a few years back. And there was that almost-super-model who disappeared when I was in high school. No one believed she would ever be found alive. Oh! And just last year, in the middle Keys somewhere…another young woman disappeared.”
“I didn’t say we never have murders, but in comparison to Miami, our numbers are low—single digits. And, Gen—”
“I know. There’s no missing blonde on the radar right now.”
“We could find out later there is,” he said gently. “But let’s hope it was a prank of some kind, huh?”
“I am definitely hoping that’s the case.”
He nodded. “There could be a bunch of frat boys laughing their asses off somewhere. We may never know. But I believe you saw something. In fact, it’s you, so I know it.”
She smiled her thanks. “Can I buy you a beer?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “I’m still on duty. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.” He made a face. “There’s some trouble up on Mile Marker 6. You take care, all right? And call me—whatever comes up. I don’t think you’re crazy.”
He brushed her chin affectionately with his knuckles, then walked away toward the sand-and-gravel parking lot.
She thanked God for him. At least he believed her. He was an interesting guy, she mused. He was a perfect sheriff’s deputy. Tall, dark, quiet. He exuded an air of competence and assurance. She always felt a sense of sympathy for him; his wife had died about five years ago, when they’d been on vacation. He’d kept pretty much to himself after that.
But he was a good guy. And it was comforting to know he had taken her seriously.
Upsetting, though, to know that no one had found any sign of anything.
Staring back at the horizon, she took a long swallow of the Miller Lite she’d been holding so long that it was growing warm. When she felt someone beside her again, she thought that Jay had returned.
“Hey, cutie. Long day, huh?”
It was Jack Payne, one of her favorite people in the world, though he was working on The Seekers this go-round. Crusty as a crab, Jack was weathered and leathered by the sun. He wore one of the coins he had found around his neck, a Spanish gold piece hung from a chain, and in one ear a gold earring in the form of a skull and crossbones. He worked out of the area a lot, but they’d shared several assignments, and he was a great diver with whom to work.
She flushed, seeing the semi-smile on his face.
“I know, I know, Jack. Give it a good laugh, okay? But thanks for calling me cutie. At my height, I don’t hear that word too often,” she said wearily.
“Hey, I believe you saw something. And maybe ‘cutie’ isn’t the right word. How about, hey there, gorgeous? And, as to the other, there’s nothing else anyone can do right now, huh?”
He slipped a fatherly arm around her shoulders. “Maybe we’ll hear something soon about someone going missing.”
“I hope not. I’d much rather it have been my imagination,” Genevieve said.
“Right…well, this is a pretty kooky place. We’ll probably discover that some prankster did sink a mannequin in the water.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got to get past it right now,” she murmured.
“You will. It will be fine.”
“Really?” She swung around, leaning on the wooden railing as she surveyed him. “I’d swear you’ve been sitting there with your hotshot friend, trying not to agree I should be taken off the project.”
“Me? Never. I’d dive with you any day, Genny.”
She risked a quick glance at the man remaining at Jack’s table. Thor. Who the hell had a name like Thor? Yeah, yeah, he had a reputation. And in another place and time, he might have fit the name well, having the height and build and rugged features of some ancient thunder god. But this was Key West, and they were living in the real world, and down here they didn’t care how many times someone had managed to make it into the newspapers. She didn’t know why—maybe it was because he had been so ready to rescue her that afternoon—she felt an instant dislike for the man. Pretentious. Arrogant. Those adjectives definitely applied. And it wasn’t because she had a thing about working with other groups. She just didn’t like him.