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First pages

Chapter 1


Lauren waved a hand and pointed, but Josh had already seen the sleek, dark body break the surface of the Manatee River. It was a dolphin, maybe twenty yards toward the right bank. He killed the outboard motor just as two more dolphins broke the surface, one of them smaller than the other. They rolled back under, and their fins were gone.

“A family,” Lauren said softly.

Josh nodded as all three dolphins rolled to the surface together, their passage almost inaudible against the wash of the waves that moved the twelve-foot aluminum boat. The dolphins appeared again, closer now to the mouth of the river where it emptied into the Tampa Bay. Josh and Lauren watched for another minute.

“I don’t see them,” Lauren said.

“No.” He didn’t say more, not liking to introduce the sound of his own voice among the peaceful swishing and slapping of the river, but a speedboat was coming in from the bay, the throb of its engine growing louder as it sliced through the water.

Lauren withdrew her hand, which had been resting lightly on his forearm. He hadn’t noticed it until it was gone. “Here it comes,” she said.

Their own little boat rocked from side to side as the wake from the speedboat reached them. Water slapped more loudly against the hulls of two big boats lying at anchor, an ancient trawler that looked abandoned, and a forty-foot yacht. The trawler had been anchored just inside the mouth of the river as long as Josh could remember. The yacht, he’d never seen before, but they had drifted close to it as they watched the dolphins—too close. He reached for his motor’s starter cord, but paused at the sound of a splash and a couple of thumps, followed by a low curse—a word he knew, but not one in his working vocabulary. He didn’t see anything.

“We’re going to hit it,” Lauren said. When he didn’t respond, she set the baseball she always carried on the seat cushion beside her and pulled an oar out from under the bench seats. She sat ready to push off the side of the yacht to keep their boat from hitting it.

“Any time now,” she told Josh, as they drifted along the yacht’s starboard side. A motor started close by, and he scanned the river for another boat. The growl of the motor was close, but not close enough or deep enough to be the yacht’s.

As they reached the stern of the big boat, an inflatable pontoon dinghy drifted out into their path. They hit it—there are no brakes on a boat—and the dinghy bounced to the end of a short rope and back into them, pushing them into the yacht’s stern. Lauren used the paddle-end of the oar to push off. Their boat rocked as they drifted away from the bigger boat, and water slapped the sides.

The growl of the nearby motor got suddenly louder, became a roar. Josh pulled the starter cord, and his own motor purred to life. He shifted from neutral to drive and twisted the handle to give the motor gas. His little fishing boat surged past the stern of the yacht to its port side, and Lauren’s baseball rolled off the middle seat. He trapped it under his foot to keep it out of the water that always collected in the stern of his boat. The sound of the larger motor was already receding, but still he didn’t see where it was coming from.

“There,” Lauren said.

It was a bigger boat than Josh’s, a bowrider, maybe eighteen or twenty feet long, with a big outboard. Already it was halfway to the mouth of the river, but its wake was an arrow that pointed to it from where they were. Beyond the bowrider, the sun hung large and orange just above the horizon, which was maybe why he hadn’t seen the boat at first.

He looked around. Besides the yacht, there was a sailboat anchored in the basin along Snead Island, and the ancient trawler anchored fore and aft. Across the channel, on the other side of the river, another sailboat sat at anchor in the little inlet in front of the big white cross of the DeSoto Memorial. The sailboats drifted lazily on slack anchor lines: It was thirty or forty minutes past high tide, and there wasn’t much current.

“What’s the big deal?” Lauren asked him. “So there’s another boat on the river.”

“I don’t know. That speedboat seemed to be hiding behind the yacht, trying to dodge us or something.”

“And us without a dodge ball.”

He gave her a grin and pushed the motor handle to turn them, but Lauren raised her hand and pointed. Someone was on the shore of the nearby island, waving. A woman in white capris.

When he slowed the motor, he heard her calling. “Hello! Hello!”

“I think she wants us to come closer,” Lauren said.

“Doesn’t look too dangerous.”

He turned the boat toward the shore. The woman stood on the fringe of white sand that lined the Emerson Point Preserve. At low tide, an expanse of mud would have kept them from reaching her. As it was, Josh killed his motor and they drifted in.

“Can you help me?” the woman called. “I’m trying to get to that yacht.” In the growing twilight, the bill of a white cap shaded her face, and a blonde ponytail poked out above the strap.

The bow of the little boat lifted as the hull grounded on the mud in the shallow water. The woman stepped out of her boat shoes and picked them up. As she waded the few steps toward them, the undulating surface of the river darkened the bottom couple of inches of her capris.

“Thanks,” she said. “I keep trying to call out there, but no one picks up.” Against the breeze of the warm October evening, she wore a light nylon jacket over a shirt with a scoop top.

“No problem,” Josh said. He expected to have to get out of the boat to push them out, but the woman pushed it free of the mud and put a leg over the bow, staying low until she was seated on the foremost bench seat. So really it was no problem.

He pulled the start cord. As the motor purred to life, Lauren swung her legs over the middle bench seat so that she was facing forward. “My name is Lauren Diaz,” she said, extending a hand.

The woman took it, briefly. Really, she was more girl than woman. Seen up close, she was clearly no older than her late teens, maybe early-twenties, but even that made her at least half-a-decade older than Josh and Lauren. “Sunday,” she said.

“Sundae, as in ice cream with syrups and whipped cream, or —”

“Day of the week,” the girl said. She smiled a brief, white smile, and Josh thought Sundae might have fit her better—at least, her dark blonde hair and golden tan made him think of butterscotch topping.

“I guess that’s the yacht’s dinghy tied up to the stern,” he said as they approached it. The yacht’s name was in a cursive script: Golden Dawn. In the slack tide, the pontoon boat had drifted until it was partially hidden behind the yacht, the line that secured it invisible in the fading light.

“Yes,” the woman said. As they approached the stern, he slowed the boat to idle speed and shifted to neutral as she leaned forward to grasp the chrome railing and pull herself to her feet. She stepped over the side of the boat onto the swim platform set in the yacht’s transom.

“I really appreciate this,” she said, turning back to them.

“No problem,” Josh said again. He put the motor in reverse, and a space opened between the two boats. He shifted back into neutral, and they drifted as she slid open the cabin door and went inside.

“How old do you think she is?” he said, and Lauren gave him a sharp look.

“I don’t know. Twenty?”

He nodded.


He shrugged. “I don’t know. She seemed nice.”

Lauren arched an eyebrow. “Pretty, anyway.”

He grinned as she bent to retrieve her baseball from the floor of the boat.

“Better get me home. It’s getting dark.”

He shifted into drive. Just as he began to add gas, a bell rang, and he dropped back to idle speed, turning to look back at the yacht. Sunday appeared at the rail of the flybridge.

“Help,” she called, waving. “Come back.” She left the rail.

“What do you think that’s about?” Lauren said, but he was already turning the boat. Sunday was coming down the steps toward the stern of the boat, but her body jerked, and she slid and stumbled the last few steps and disappeared. As Josh rounded the stern of the boat, she staggered to her feet, grabbed at the stern rail, and plunged past it into the dark river. A giant dog appeared on the swim platform where she had gone in, its thick pale fur seeming to glow in the twilight.

Josh turned the boat broadside to the yacht’s stern and killed his motor, unable to see Sunday in the water, then an arm appeared between them and the yacht, and her head and shoulders.

“Crap,” he said. They were going to hit her. He grabbed at the oar to push them off the yacht and keep from pinning her between the two boats. Sunday’s arm rose out of the water and her hand clutched the side of their boat. Lauren gave a little scream as the dog leapt for them, its paws hitting the front bench seat before it thudded into the bottom of the boat and its big head drove into Lauren’s abdomen. She yelped, but the dog pulled back to give her bare leg a lick and turned back to the bow. Sunday was holding on, unable to pull herself up.

Lauren pushed at the yacht’s stern with their boat’s other oar, trying to give Sunday some room, turning them so that their stern bumped the yacht. Josh put down his own oar and stood, rocking the boat as he grabbed the yacht’s rail and pulled himself up onto its deck.

He turned, squatting between the rails, and reached for Sunday. She let go of his boat and clutched at his arm.

“Easy. Easy does it.” He didn’t know whether he was talking to himself or to her. Holding her by both arms near the elbows, he pulled upward, feeling the increase of her weight as she rose out of the water. One of her knees caught the deck, then a foot, and she was on the deck beside him. He pulled her to her feet and let her go, gasping, but she grabbed him in a hug and held him, pressing her face against his chest, her wet clothes against him.

He moved his arms vaguely, not knowing what else to do, then put them around her and patted her back. Lauren was tying their boat line to one of the cleats at the edge of the deck. She pushed at the pale dog.

“Go on. Jump up,” she said.

The dog’s head was raised to her attentively, but it didn’t react.

“Go,” she said.

No reaction.

“Good grief,” she said. She leaned over the side, reaching for the deck rail, grabbed it, and pulled herself up. The dog chose that moment to leap, knocking her into the rail, and almost missing the deck. Its toenails scrabbled on the grit-style, nonskid surface until its back feet caught the edge of the deck and it was on the yacht with them.

Sunday let go of Josh as Lauren touched her shoulder.

“Are you all right?” Lauren asked her.

Sunday shook her head. “He’s dead. Mr. Brock.”

“Where?” Josh asked.

She moved her head, and they looked up toward the flybridge, then toward the steep steps curving upward. Josh frowned at a dark footprint on the deck between them and those steps—two dark footprints, both the prints of a right foot. In the fading light it was impossible to be certain of the color, but Josh’s first thought was blood.

He unslung the cell phone that hung from the lanyard around his neck. “I’ll call nine-one-one.” He thought better of it and handed the phone to Lauren. “You call nine-one-one. I’ll go up and make sure he doesn’t need help.”

He started up the steep, curving stair, and the pale dog wedged into the stairway with him, pushing past and bounding up. Josh followed it.

Toward the bay, the sun had dropped behind the trees and vegetation on Emerson Point, silhouetting them against an orange glow that was already fading. As beautiful as it was, the fading light made him uneasy. Mrs. Diaz didn’t like her daughter on the river after dark, especially not in a boat like his that had no running lights—and, of course, he might have a dead man to deal with.

He saw the man as he stepped up onto the flybridge, the big dog standing beside the body, its eyes on Josh. The man lay on his side, his legs splayed out, his head cocked back, an arm draped over his abdomen. Josh took several steps toward him, but the deck was sticky beneath his feet, and he stopped, aware of the dark stain on the deck around the man and stretching toward the steps. Even on the open flybridge, the breezy river air carried to him a metallic scent, a whiff of blood. He swallowed, and the dog whined.

“Hello,” Josh said. “Sir?”

The man lay unmoving, but the dog took several steps toward Josh and stopped.

Josh steeled himself and took another step forward, his foot making a lip-smacking sound as it came off the deck. “Hello?”

The only answer was another whine from the dog. It ducked its head toward the fallen man, then looked back at Josh, who took another step and this time kept moving, closing his nostrils against the raw-meat smell and breathing heavily through his mouth, the hair prickling at the nape of his neck.

“Sir?” His mouth was dry, and his voice almost a whisper. He continued to close the gap between himself and the body, his feet squelching as they came off the deck, his heart pounding. His darting gaze noted the fishing hat lying upside down on the deck a half-dozen feet away, the cushion askew on a bench seat, the captain’s chair swiveled away from the helm. He reached the man, a big man with a deeply tanned face and dark hair going gray at the temples. He stood looking down, then squatted beside him. What had Sunday called him?

“Mr. Brock?”

The dog pressed against Josh and touched a cold nose to his cheek.

The front of Mr. Brock’s shirt—one of those fishing shirts with two flap pockets—was stained dark. The fading light had bleached the color from the world, but the stain was black as night.

Josh didn’t have a lot of experience with death. He had seen his mother at her funeral, but the undertakers had fixed her up, and even she hadn’t looked as dead as this. Mr. Brock’s mouth hung open, and his fleshy face sagged, giving his face a fright-mask appearance. Hesitantly, Josh reached out a hand toward him and touched the back of his fingers to Mr. Brock’s forehead. It was cold.


Josh stood abruptly, and the dog spun toward the voice, evidently as startled as he was.

“Is he . . .?”

It was Lauren, standing at the top of the steps.

“I need a light,” Josh said.

“I’ve got your phone.” She held it up by its lanyard, still in its plastic case. When she took a step forward, her foot made that squelching sound, and she stopped.

“You don’t need to come any closer,” Josh said. “He’s dead.”

She fumbled with the phone a moment, awkwardly because of the plastic case, and the flash came on. She directed it at the figure on the deck, but at that distance the light did little more than deepen the pools of shadows around the body and give Josh and the dog vague shadows that stretched toward the rail and disappeared.

“I called nine-one-one,” Lauren said. She tapped the screen to turn off the flash.

Josh nodded. “Can you toss me the phone?”

She tossed it underhand, high enough that he could see it as a shadow against the night sky. He caught it and turned it over, thumbing the screen and turning the flash back on.

“There’s no point in waiting for them up here, is there?” Lauren asked.

“Probably not.” He played the flash over Mr. Brock’s body. The shirt was a pale green; the slacks were khakis. There was a cell phone near his right hand. Josh bent over it, a Galaxy, blood on the screen, blood on Mr. Brock’s hands—no, blood on his left hand as if he’d held it clutched to his stomach. No blood on his right, though the knuckles looked skinned.

He straightened, playing the light over the deck. There was a lot of blood on the deck, a little blood on the captain’s chair, a smear of blood on the chrome steering wheel as if he’d tried to pull himself up.


“I know.” As he turned away, his flash glinted on something by the base of the captain’s chair, and he paused an instant to see that it was a brass shell casing. He walked toward Lauren, the sticky blood pulling at the soles of his shoes, the big dog walking with him and pressing against his side. When they reached her, she took Josh’s free hand in both of hers and stood against him, lacing her fingers through his. He felt light-headed, aware of his pulse in his ears. Whether it was from the stress of finding a dead body or from this unexpected attention, he didn’t know.

Beside them, the dog whined.


When they entered the cabin from the rear deck, the galley was on their right, and on their left was a triangular table with a V-shaped bench seat and two chairs.

“Stop,” Lauren said. “You need to take off your shoes.” She slipped out of her own as if in demonstration, but the dog pushed past them, leaving little smears of blood as it trotted through the galley into a saloon with two more curving bench seats and a couple of small tables. The helm was up there, and a long, curving window that gave a panoramic view of the nighttime river and the lights on the Bradenton shore. A speedboat was coming in from the bay, moving silently.

Sunday came up some steps in the bow and appeared in front of the long window. She was wearing different clothes now, a dry T-shirt and a pair of cut-off jeans, and her face was scrubbed of makeup. She stopped at the sight of them. When they didn’t say anything, she said, “You saw him?”

Lauren nodded.

“And he’s . . .”

“He’s dead,” Josh said. Sunday stepped sideways and sat abruptly on one of the curving bench seats, turning her head away. The dog went to her and rubbed the top of its head against her leg. She took its face in both hands and lowered her forehead to the top of its head. For perhaps a minute there was no movement from either of them. Even the dog’s tail was still.

Josh and Lauren exchanged a glance. Both felt like intruders.

“Oh, Cutie Pie,” Sunday whispered.

“Cutie Pie,” Lauren mouthed.

“You don’t think whoever did this is still on the boat, do you?” Josh asked.

Both Sunday and Lauren seemed to stop breathing.

“You didn’t see anyone below,” Josh said to Sunday.

“No.” She shook her head solemnly. “No one below forward.”

“Would you have?” Josh asked.

“Probably. Maybe not. Not if they were hiding.” Her eyes cut toward the rail in the middle of the cabin. It protected a spiral staircase, going down. Josh followed her gaze.

“That goes to the master stateroom,” she said. “I didn’t go down there. It’s not connected.”

“You’re not going down there,” Lauren said to Josh. “We’re all going to stay together.”

Josh nodded, but said, “I imagine we saw the killer leave. Or somebody.”

“You saw the killer?” Sunday said.

“There was a speedboat by the yacht when we got here,” Lauren said to Sunday. “You must have seen it, too. Just before you called to us.”

She shook her head.

“The stern had drifted away from the shore as the tide turned,” Josh said. “The yacht would have blocked her view.”

“I may have heard a boat motor,” Sunday said. “I can’t remember.”

Cutie Pie sat and then lay down at Sunday’s feet.

“Who was in the boat?” Sunday asked them. “Can you describe him?”

Lauren looked at Josh, but he shook his head. “I can’t even say male or female.”

“Or young or old,” Lauren said.

“That narrows it down,” Sunday said. She looked sick.

“I can describe the boat,” Josh said. His head went back as he became aware of the growing sound of a motor. A boat was approaching.

“Hang on,” he said. “I want to see who’s coming.” He went back through the cabin to the sliding glass doors that opened onto the rear deck. Cutie Pie got to her feet and trotted after him. The first thing he saw as he went through the doors was the old trawler, anchored fore and aft, looming to the stern just beyond his little twelve-foot fishing boat.

“Holy crap.” When they’d got to the yacht, the trawler hadn’t been close to the yacht at all, but now it drew his gaze upward, towering dark against the night sky. It had been a near miss when the tide turned and the yacht swung on its anchor. He glanced up river in the direction of the approaching boat. Colored lights flashed on a light bar attached to its Bimini top. He waited for it, Cutie Pie standing against him.

Chapter 2

The night was dark beyond the lights of the yacht, which were all on, interior and exterior, as were the floodlights of the police boat beside it. Josh and Lauren sat with her dad at the table opposite the galley. A man in uniform stood forward in the salon. Maybe half-a-dozen other people were on the boat, men and women coming and going. These other people wore chinos and open-collar shirts and didn’t look much like police, at least to Josh. They were from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, though. Maybe that made a difference.

A woman came and sat across the square table from them. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Susan.”

Lauren’s dad stood and extended a hand. “José Diaz. I am Lauren’s father.” He jerked his head in his daughter’s direction. Unlike hers, his voice held the lilt of an accent. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Josh stood because Mr. Diaz did, disturbing Cutie Pie, who been lying at Josh’s feet. “Josh Reilly,” he said, taking the offered hand.

Susan—what kind of cop introduced herself as Susan?—returned her attention to Mr. Diaz. “You don’t play baseball by any chance, do you?” she asked.

“Right field, most recently.” In his third season with the Pittsburg Pirates after eleven years with the Diamondbacks, he had returned to Bradenton, the Pirates’ winter home, only a few weeks before.

“I thought I recognized the name. You look different without the uniform.”

Mr. Diaz’s smile, white against his olive complexion, seemed automatic. They all sat back around the table, and Cutie Pie flopped down again on Josh’s feet.

“Will we be much longer, do you think?” Mr. Diaz asked. “It is a school night for Lauren and Josh.”

“Not too much longer.” Susan was old, maybe forty or more, though with her even features and her long, blonde hair you could tell she’d once been good looking. Turning to Josh and Lauren, she said, “I know you’ve told the story before, but I’d like to hear it from you directly.” Her gaze settled on Lauren, and she smiled.

“Sunday called to us from shore,” Lauren said. “From the Emerson Point Preserve. We ran the boat up onto the sand to pick her up.”

“She was trying to get to the yacht,” Susan suggested.

“That’s what she said.”

“The yacht’s dinghy was here, tied to the stern,” Josh said, “and she couldn’t get Mr. Brock on his cell to come get her.”

Lauren gave him a look.

“You knew Mr. Brock then,” Susan said to him.

“No, not at all. I never saw him before.”

“Never saw this boat before?”

“Not that I know of. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t here the last time the tide was going out.”

Susan raised her eyebrows.

“You see how close it is to the trawler,” Josh said. “There’s not ten feet between it and your police boat.”

“You don’t think Mr. Brock would have anchored this close?”

“I wouldn’t have. My guess is the tide was coming in when he anchored. The stern of his yacht would have swung around the other way, and the trawler wouldn’t have seemed close at all.”

“The trawler doesn’t swing on the tide?”

“It can’t. It’s got four anchors out.”

Susan studied him, then turned her attention back to Lauren. “Tell me about how you came to be on the boat.”

“Josh picked me up after we got our homework done. We hung out at the De Soto Memorial awhile, then we rode the boat over here.”

“I mean this boat,” Susan said. “You picked up Sunday Rains and ferried her over. Then what?”

“She called us back.” Lauren told about Sunday coming down from the flybridge and falling in the water, about the trouble they’d had getting her out.

“And then you went up top to see what had upset her,” Susan said.

“Josh did while I called nine-one-one.”

Susan looked at Josh. “I guess it’s your turn.”

Josh told about Cutie Pie pushing past him on the steps, about the sticky deck of the flybridge and the smell. Susan didn’t interrupt. She let him tell the story in his own way, without prompting, until finally he finished and fell silent. After several seconds of silence, she said, “That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“He was lying on the deck. His hat was about six feet away. You noticed a cushion that was out of place.”

Josh nodded.

“And you didn’t see a gun, just the shell casing under the captain’s chair.”

“I didn’t see a gun.” He looked at Lauren, but she only shrugged.

“So you were up on the flybridge, too,” Susan said to Lauren.

“I called nine-one-one, then went up to check on Josh, make sure he was OK.”

Susan nodded, frowning thoughtfully.

“We are finished then?” Mr. Diaz said

Susan nodded and stood. “I guess anything else can wait.”

“I guess the boat we saw didn’t have anything to do with it,” Josh said.

Susan looked at him, sat back down. “What boat you saw?”

“It was Sunday you told about the boat,” Lauren reminded Josh. “Not the police.”

“Tell me,” Susan said.

He told her about the boat.

“You didn’t see who was on it?”

“No. Just a person.”

“One person?”

He nodded. “I think.”

“Why do you guess the boat you saw didn’t have anything to do with the murder?”

“It took time for all the blood to . . . for the man to do all that bleeding.”

“That’s a good point,” Susan said. “Very astute.”

“And I’m pretty sure he’d been dead awhile. At least, his forehead was cool when I touched it.”

Susan studied him.

“Sorry,” he said. “I know I shouldn’t have, but I felt like I had to be sure.”

“Sure he was dead?”

Josh nodded. “I thought he must be. I mean, if he’d spoken or sat up or anything, I’d probably have gone over the rail.”

One corner of her mouth rose. “You’re going to be all right, I think.”

José stood. “If we are done here,” he began, but she held up a hand.

“This boat was already a good distance away from you when you saw it,” she said. “Can you tell me the color?”

They shook their heads.

“Nothing that would help identify it.”

Lauren said, “We could see it was a bowrider, and there was a person at the helm. That was about it.”

“What was this person wearing?”

Lauren shrugged, looked at Josh. He shrugged. Susan drummed her fingers on the table.

She said, “It have a name? ‘Sweet Marisa’ or something printed on the stern?”

“Just a big outboard,” Josh said.

“When you say big . . .”

“I have a nine-point-eight horsepower on mine.”

“Bigger than yours then.”

“I’d say a hundred-and-fifty horsepower if I was guessing. No more than two-fifty.”

“How confident are you of that range?”

He shrugged. “I think maybe it was a Yamaha, if that helps.”

“You know boat motors?”

“Not really. I notice them, is all.”

“What kind of motor does the boat have that we came in? Did you notice?”

He raised one shoulder, ducking his head a bit. “A Mercury? I didn’t get a good look at it.”

“It was dark when you got here,” Lauren said supportively.

“Of course.”

“Am I right?” Josh asked. “Is it a Mercury?”

“Heck if I know,” Susan said. “Tonight is the first time I’ve ever been on it.”


Lauren’s father had parked his car at the Bradenton Yacht Club, which was just past the point of land with the Snead Island Boat Works. He offered Josh a ride home, but Josh had his boat to deal with.

“Your boat does not have lights,” Mr. Diaz said. “You should leave it at the yacht club, maybe, and I will drive you home. Tomorrow, if you need me to, I will drive you back.”

Josh shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a full moon—and I have the light on my cell phone if I need it.” He glanced nervously at the man in the police launch. He had used the flash on his cell phone before when he got caught out, but he’d found that night visibility on the water was generally good enough even without the moon if the weather was clear. The law was the law, though, and the sheriff’s office might not take a practical view of his nautical habits.

Mr. Diaz looked at Lauren.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. She gave Josh a quick smile.

Mr. Diaz took a breath and expelled it. “All right,” he said. “We will see you tomorrow maybe, eh Josh?”

He nodded. “Sure. Maybe.”

Lauren and Mr. Diaz got into the police launch.

“Wait a minute,” Josh called to them. “Lauren forgot her ball.”

He got into the bow of his boat to get it. He gave it a catcher’s toss, and Lauren snagged it out of the air.

“Thanks, Josh.”

“My girl, she never goes anywhere without her baseball,” Mr. Diaz said.

The launch cast off and headed for the yacht club on the other side of the point. Josh was unwinding his line from the cleat where Lauren had tied it when Cutie Pie touched a cold nose to his hand. She gave a soft whine. He looked up and saw Susan watching him.

“What’s going to happen to the dog?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. We’ll take him to the pound.”

“Her,” Josh said. “Her name is Cutie Pie.”

“I guess we’ll have to take Cutie Pie to the pound.”

“What about Sunday? Cutie Pie seems to know her.”

“I don’t know about Sunday. Look, if you’re willing why don’t you take her for tonight? We can sort the dog out tomorrow.”

“Really?” Josh looked at Cutie Pie, who was regarding him with an anxious expression. “OK,” he told her. Her tail gave a single wag, and she leaped from the swim platform to Josh’s middle bench seat and from there to the floor. To Susan he said, “You have my address.”

“Sure. We have your address, if we need you.”

That gave him a chill.

Susan gestured at something behind him, and he turned to take in the looming trawler. “I think you’re right,” she said. “The tide can’t have been going out when Brock dropped his anchor.”

“Has anybody said anything about how long he’d . . .” He took a breath. “. . . been dead?”

“That, fortunately, is not something you have to worry about. Go home, Josh. Enjoy your dog. It’s been a bad night, but for you it’s over.”


About me

Tightly plotted books with engaging characters and a big payoff at the end—those were the kind of books that as a boy kept Michael Monhollon tucked in odd corners of the house reading when he should have been doing almost anything else. His writing career began modestly, when, as a fifth-grader, he earned a D on an essay about wanting to be a writer. He was more encouraged when Signet published his first mystery novel, Criminal Intent, and he left his law practice for teaching and writing.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
As a boy, my favorite books were mystery stories with youthful protagonists: The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, Brains Benton, the Dana Girls... When my own boys got old enough to star in their own mysteries, I found it was time to revisit the genre.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
The cover photograph is the back end of the little fishing boat that allowed me to spend countless hours motoring up and down the Manatee River, first as a boy and later as a father with boys of my own.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
Slack Tide is not yet part of a series, but it might become one. I've enjoyed getting to know Josh and his friends. Three kids, a dog, and a mile-wide river—who knows what they may get up to?

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The truth does not set you free; it binds you
Ocular Denial
Grill a witness? Easy. Kill a witness? Uh oh.