Book 2 of the Myrtle Beach Mysteries, Death Washes Ashore, is less than a week away! Read on to discover what lies in wait next for Clark Thomas!
Early on a Monday morning, the phone on my nightstand pinged. I had been in a shallow sleep. I kept the phone there at night in case there was an emergency at the bookstore. There hadn’t been one in all the time I had owned the store, so I figured this was just an email notification.
I fell back asleep.
The parking lot was lit by several streetlights. The lot was half full. Or half empty, depending on how you looked at it. After climbing from the Jeep and veering past the Jack’s Surf Lessons and Rentals booth, I was on the much darker beach. It was a cloudless night under a full moon, casting a soft gray glow on the breaking waves. Stars glittered above. The first hint of sunrise caused the sky to glow orange on the bottom of the horizon out over the ocean. A soft onshore breeze buffeted the light jacket I wore. The salt air smelled fishier than usual. Water lapped against the pilings of the pier.
The phone pinged again. And again. And again.
I sat up, rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and took a drink of water to clear away a sour taste in my mouth. After grabbing the phone, I laid on my back and lit the screen.
I didn’t recognize the number. There were four text messages. They read:
Detective Gomez needs you to meet us on the beach between the State Park and Springmaid Piers ASAP.
There is something she wants you to see.
Get here pronto.
This is Moody.
Ordinarily, any invitation to meet the lovely Detective Gomez on the beach would have been welcome. However, five o’clock in the morning wasn’t ideal.
I wondered what Detective Moody’s summons could be about, and only one thing sprung to mind: someone was dead.
* * *
I had a state park pass but parked at the Springmaid Pier instead. It was more direct than navigating the winding roads of the state park campground in the dark. The piers jut out into the Atlantic, half a mile apart. I used to jog back and forth between them.
Two MBPD cars were parked at the front edge of the parking lot by the beach. A forensics van sat beside them. I recognized Gomez’s police issue Ford Fusion in one of the parking spots near my Jeep.
I sent Moody a text alerting him to my arrival.
No one stirred in the lot. My flip-flops scratched along the pavement before quieting once I reached the sand of the beach.
The ocean ebbed. Low tide was on its way.
It was easy to spot the crime scene. Three portable lights on tripods were set up in a triangle around a body laying in the sand. Three people moved around within the light array, observing the body and taking photos. Several others stood off to the side in the darkness. I assumed they were police officers and other investigators. The low tide would give the crime scene techs more time to do their jobs without having to worry about the body washing away
Two people stood alone. A stocky shadow and a taller, slender shadow. The taller one broke off from her partner and headed in my direction. Had to be Gomez. I would recognize her long legs and bouncing ponytail anywhere, even on a dark beach.
I met her as a wave reached its end, the cool water brushing up against my left foot before receding back into the ocean.
“Clark, what are you doing here?”
My forehead twisted and wrinkled. “What do you mean? Moody sent me a text saying you wanted me here.”
She turned and shot a look back at her partner that could melt lead. Moody took that moment to look down at his phone.
Gomez snorted. “No, I didn’t want you here.”
“Uh, okay.” I pointed at the crime scene. “Who died?”
It took a moment for the name to connect. When it did, my synapses pulsed. “The Gladiator Games performer guy? The one in all of those local car commercials?”
“That’s him. Had a daily local show too on WMHF, I believe.”
“Yeah. It’s a good program. Was a good program.”
Gomez closed her eyes and rubbed the side of her face. She groaned. “Look, you’re already here, so I might as well tell you. The chief wants this done as soon as humanly possible. Pull out all the stops. Leave no stone left unturned. I imagine that’s why Moody contacted you. He was probably hoping we could show you the body before everyone caught wind of this.”
A tremor ran up the back of my neck. To be honest, part of me hoped this call would come. Being able to bring closure to Paige Whitaker’s death for her family after the police’s trail had run dry made me feel good. I received a commendation from the mayor in his office at city hall for figuring who killed her. A photographer and reporter from the Myrtle Beach Sun News were on hand. The photo of me shaking the mayor’s hand while he presented me a Certificate of Commendation made the front page. I wore flip-flops for the occasion.
Connor West was a big name in the Myrtle Beach area. This would be all over the news. He was the lead in the Gladiator Games Dinner Show across from Broadway at the Beach. The biggest show in town. Literally. The show took place in an arena inspired by the Roman Colosseum. I took in a show with Autumn a few months after they opened.
Myrtle Beach was home to several large-scale dinner shows, including Medieval Times and Pirates Voyage. Neither held a candle to the new kid in town.
West came from Hollywood via Las Vegas, where he appeared on several network television shows. He made a name for himself along the Grand Strand by being a pitchman for a big car dealership and from co-hosting a weekly local interest show on WMHF. You could also see him on several billboards as you cruised down the 17 Bypass or Kings Highway, welcoming tourists as part of a campaign from the Myrtle Beach Tourism Council. Many locals in the area were aware of his background. It was difficult to live here and not be aware of Connor West.
She asked, “If you can stomach it, do you want to look at the body?”
I couldn’t see the body from our vantage point. “Sure.”
She shoved her hands in the pockets of her windbreaker. “Touch nothing. If you need something moved, one of our techs will do that for you.”
“Is there a lot of blood?”
I couldn’t see her expression in the dark. She took a deep breath in and let it out. Perhaps studying my body language to see if I was up to this.
“There’s not much. He probably bled out in the ocean. It looks like a shark got him.”
I scratched my head. “If a shark got him, why all the crime scene stuff?”
“Because he was murdered.”
“How do you know?”
“There’s a sword sticking out of his chest.”
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