Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Wreckers' Key (Seychelle Sullivan Suspense #4) by Christine Kling Chapter One

Wreckers' Key (Seychelle Sullivan Suspense #4) by Christine Kling

From harbors of Key West to the wilds of Biscayne Bay to the night lights of Miami, Kling's tough-minded heroine has carved out a life that is uniquely her own. Now, in WRECKERS' KEY, the fourth book in the series, this fiercely independent woman is at a turning point . . . and in a dangerous duel with an unseen enemy.

Before Key West was the party capital of the Florida Keys, it was built by wrecking skippers who in feats of derring-do raced to shipping disasters to save valuable cargos from the ocean depths. But when a friend is killed, Seychelle begins to suspect a chilling scenario: that modern-day wreckers are causing yachts to crash onto the reefs-and killing off whoever gets in the way.

Seychelle's dear friend Nestor Frias was piloting a billionaire's luxury power yacht on its maiden voyage when it ran up on a reef. A few days later, Frias was dead. His eight-months-pregnant widow Catalina is distraught, and a host of questions surround both Frias's death and the ship's accident. When Cat turns to Seychelle for help in proving Nestor was murdered, Seychelle embarks on a dangerous course through the shoals and channels of the case and her life, unaware that a greater danger is looming: a murderous human storm designed perfectly for her.

With its vivid, colorful characters and rich sense of sea and land, Wreckers' Key is a brilliant addition to Christine Kling's fascinating, entertaining, and thrilling Florida mystery series.


Chapter One

We hit the reef so hard, I’m surprised no one was killed,” Nestor said. “I keep dreaming about it, you know? Hearing the sound of the hull crunching across the coral and then Kent’s screams when his arm broke.” He rubbed his hand across his eyes like he was trying to wipe away the vision. “This situation scares me, Seychelle. My whole career’s on the line here.”
I couldn’t disagree. When you put a multimillion- dollar yacht on the reef on her maiden voyage, your reputation as a captain is toast. I was there to help with the salvage of the boat, but I wasn’t sure what I could do to salvage Nestor’s career.
Catalina Frias reached across the table, took her husband’s hand, and focused her large brown eyes on his face. She didn’t say anything for several seconds, but there was a sense of intimacy in that moment that was stronger than if she’d grabbed him and planted a wet one on him. “Hey, we are going to get through this, mi amor, okay?” Her soft voice was accented, but her English was perfect. She squeezed his hand, her other arm resting across the top of the belly that bulged beneath her pretty print maternity top.
I was sitting with the two of them at an outdoor table at the Two Friends Patio Restaurant on Front Street. I’d arrived in Key West late the afternoon before on my forty-six-foot aluminum tug Gorda, and when I called Nestor on the VHF, I told him I was too tired to come ashore after a four-day trip down from Lauderdale with only my dog as crew. I just wanted to drop the hook and collapse in my bunk, so we’d agreed to meet in the morning for Sunday brunch. Now here I was, sitting under a lush trellis of bougainvillea pushing scrambled eggs and sausage around my plate, my appetite gone.
Nestor, this is the first time I’ve taken Gorda this far from home. I wouldn’t do this for just anybody, you know.”
When he smiled that boyish smile so full of gratitude, my heart ached for him. He was in a hell of a spot.
Gracias, amiga. I can’t lose this job,” he said, the backs of his fingers caressing his wife’s belly. “Not now, with the baby coming in just a few weeks.”
I’d known Nestor much longer than his wife had, and I loved him like a brother. There was a time when maybe that love could have gone another way, but the attraction that might have been had turned into an abiding friendship. He really was one of the good guys. He’d showed up on the docks just before Red died, and afterward, when I started running Gorda on my own and several of the captains were bad-mouthing the only female captain in the towing business, he always stood up for me. I’d watched him work his way up the waterfront, going from being a captain on the Water Taxi to running the charter fishing boat My Way, until now, fi nally, he’d gotten his big break about four months ago, as the captain of a luxury power yacht. The Power Play was a newly commissioned Sunseeker 94 owned by a local resident millionaire, Ted Berger. Berger had made his money in dot-com-related businesses, and when he’d sold out, he’d bought several South Florida TV stations and sports teams.
Do you think Berger’s going to can you?”
I don’t know. Maybe. He hasn’t said anything yet. Seychelle, this was the first passage I’d made as captain. Other than a couple of sea trials to work on the engines, we hadn’t really taken her out yet. He told me when he hired me to commission the yacht that he wanted her down here in Key West for Race Week, but then he decided to install new flat-screen TVs in all the staterooms, then a new sound system, and we were late getting out of the yard. The festivities down here had already started, and the boss was itching to come down and party. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been going so fast in a squall.”
You hit that reef going almost twenty knots in a rain squall?”
I know it sounds bad, Seychelle. Especially to someone like you. But let’s face it—you haven’t exactly embraced the electronics age. Do you even have a GPS on that tugboat of yours?”
Nestor, what I do is not the point here.”
Sey, you don’t even own a cell phone.”
Okay, already.”
See, the Power Play is loaded with every bit of elec tronic equipment imaginable. Berger spared no expense. The man is really into toys, and there are backups for the backups. So what we were doing is running on instru ments, the same way commercial pilots do with planes full of hundreds of passengers. The autopilot is tied in to one of three separate GPS systems. We were in Hawk’s Channel, and everything had been working great up to that point. I was on the bridge myself because I knew we were nearing the entrance to Key West Harbor. All the in struments showed us more than half a mile from any ob structions when bam! We ran right up onto these rocks off West Washerwoman Shoal. The impact knocked Kent off his feet, and when he tried to break his fall, the bone just snapped—came right out through his skin.” Nestor shuddered at the memory. He’d already told me it had been a nasty compound fracture.
Nobody said anything for several long seconds while we all saw it happen in our minds, saw the big ninety-four-footer come to a grinding halt on the rocks, the men on the bridge thrown off their feet, the screams and the blood. Nestor grasped the Saint Christopher’s medal he wore around his neck and kissed the face of the saint.
So, Nestor,” I said, “what do you think happened?”
My friend looked at his wife for a moment, as though unsure if he should say what he was thinking. It was amazing to watch how the two of them communicated, saying so much in a glance or a touch.
Seychelle,” Nestor started, after a quick look around the dining patio to see if anyone was listening to our con versation. Satisfied, he leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Ted Berger these past weeks, and I wouldn’t put anything past him. He calls himself the Other Ted, as though he’s in the same league as Turner. But he’d do anything to get there. Ruthless is the word that comes to mind.” Nestor lifted his shoul ders and bobbed his head once, like a bow. “Okay, maybe you have to be that way to get the kind of money he has, but lately, with the start-up of this girls’ hockey league and buying this boat, I think he’s overextended himself. He wants out of this boat deal and now he seems more pissed over the fact that he’s getting hit with a big salvage claim than over the business of wrecking her in the first place.”
Wait a minute. Are you saying you think Berger tried to wreck his own boat?” I tried hard to keep the disbe lief out of my voice.
Jesus,” he said, swiveling his head to look around the empty patio. “Not so loud, Sey. I don’t have any proof— yet. But it just doesn’t make sense otherwise. The only way this could have happened is if the equipment mal functioned somehow. And I’m just saying that Ted Berger would have been better off with the insurance company cashing him out of an investment that had got out of hand.”
Nestor, I’m finding this kind of hard to believe.”
You’d understand if you could have heard him while we were in the boatyard. He was constantly complain ing about how much things cost. He had no idea what he was getting into when he bought a yacht that size.”
I suppose it makes sense in a way. If he’d just put the boat up for sale, it would have signaled to people that he was in financial trouble.”
Exactly. And he has the background—he made his money in electronics. I’m going to have a buddy of mine check out the equipment on the boat and see if he can find evidence it’s been tampered with. Get him to come down before we take off to head back up north. I don’t intend to take the fall for Ted Berger’s financial prob lems.”
At that moment Nestor’s eyes flicked to the right and focused on something outside the restaurant. The skin across his cheeks grew taut and his eyes narrowed for only a second before his face broke into a huge, forced grin. He lifted his hand and waved.
I twisted in my seat, glanced over my shoulder. A white- haired man wearing a loud red-and-blue Hawaiian shirt was standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. He waved, and then went in the front door, clearly headed for us out on the patio. An instant later he appeared in the side door and his voice boomed, “Good morning,” caus ing the other diners’ heads to turn. When he reached our table, he placed both his hands on Catalina’s shoulders then bent and kissed her on the cheek. He said, “Our mommy-to-be looks more glowingly beautiful every time I see her.”
Catalina’s body had gone still at his touch, her only movement turning her face away as he kissed her, so his mouth wound up kissing her hair.
Nestor stood and shook hands with the man. Either he hadn’t noticed or he was choosing to ignore his wife’s discomfort. “Good morning,” he said as he pumped the man’s hand. Then he turned to me. “Seychelle, I’d like to introduce you to Ted Berger.”
I started to stand, but Berger waved me back down. “So you’re the tugboat captain,” he said as he seated himself in the fourth chair at the table and waggled a coffee mug at the waitress. “I kind of expected a hag with a corncob pipe.” He cocked his head to one side and looked at me from head to as much as he could see above the table. “You’re definitely not a hag.”
The Tugboat Annie jokes had grown old about the sec ond month after I inherited Sullivan Towing and Salvage from my father. That was more than three years ago.

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