Aubrey Grant lives in the tropical paradise of Old Town, Key West, has a cute cottage, a sweet moped, and a great job managing the historical property of a former sea captain. With his soon-to-be-boyfriend, hotshot FBI agent Jun Tanaka, visiting for a little R&R, not even Aubrey’s narcolepsy can put a damper on their vacation plans.
But a skeleton in a closet of the Smith Family Historical Home throws a wrench into the works. Despite Aubrey and Jun’s attempts to enjoy some time together, the skeleton’s identity drags them into a mystery with origins over a century in the past. They uncover a tale of long-lost treasure, the pirate king it belonged to, and a modern-day murderer who will stop at nothing to find the hidden riches. If a killer on the loose isn’t enough to keep Aubrey out of the mess, it seems even the restless spirit of Captain Smith is warning him away.
The unlikely partnership of a special agent and historian may be exactly what it takes to crack this mystery wide-open and finally put an old Key West tragedy to rest. But while Aubrey tracks down the X that marks the spot, one wrong move could be his last.
Burt Tillman was not too tickled to see Jun. Or me. In fact, he probably could have gone the whole day without even thinking of either of us.
“Agent Tanaka,” he said, offering a stiff handshake. “I am in the middle of a homicide. I hope you understand my time is precious.”
“I’ve no intention of taking you away from your case,” Jun replied. “It so happens that Mr. Grant and I ran into a few of Cassidy’s friends this morning and gathered a bit of information that might be of value to you.”
Tillman eyed Jun, glared at me, then nodded and turned to lead us down a hallway. We entered a large room that had several desks with plain-clothed officers sitting at them. Each had towering piles of papers spread across their workspace, and a phone seemed to always be ringing from somewhere. Tillman walked toward the back, grabbed two plastic chairs, and hauled them up in front of what I presumed was his desk before he sat behind it.
Jun and I both took a seat.
“So?” Tillman asked.
Jun took over this part, and I was only more than happy to let him. Keep this between lawmen, you know?
“We spoke with a few people down at Barnacles today. Curtis Leon, Peg Hart, and Josh Moore.”
Tillman nodded, rolling a pen between his thumb and index finger.
“Seems that Curtis was already aware of Cassidy’s death.”
“Yes, he was having breakfast with Glen Porter, Cassidy’s employer, when I went down to speak with Glen.”
“Were you aware they are amateur treasure hunters?”
“I vaguely knew,” Tillman replied. “I know Peg—she owns her own boat. I’ve heard a few stories about the four of them going out to search for sunken treasure.”
Jun leaned back in his chair, crossing his long legs and seeming completely at ease. “Peg mentioned a diary that Cassidy had, about Captain Rogers.”
Tillman narrowed his eyes. “I’m not familiar with this man.”
“He was captain of a merchant vessel from 1854 to 1871,” I piped up.
Tillman looked at me. “Let me guess. The skeleton is Rogers and he killed Cassidy?”
“I think the skeleton might actually be Smith,” I corrected. “Thanks, though.”
Jun cleared his throat.
I didn’t roll my eyes, but man, I came close to it. “Cassidy got the diary because it mentions Smith and One-Eyed Jack supposedly being one and the same, and I told you yesterday how hell-bent he was about proving me wrong. The point is, that diary was stolen a year ago from a museum in St. Augustine.”
“I suspect a man that’s stolen from at least one museum, with the intent of perhaps stealing from Aubrey’s,” Jun began, “likely has more than one hot item in his possession.”
Tillman looked down at his mass of paperwork, thoughtful. “We’ve been to his apartment. Nothing like an old diary was found.”
“I know an Agent Dixon in Miami who works with the Art Crime Team,” Jun stated. “I’m sure she would be more than happy to assist.”
Tillman sat back in his chair. “This St. Augustine museum would first need their local law enforcement to submit an entry to NSAF.”
Tillman knew more about FBI policies than I did. Check.
Jun smiled. “Of course. But I’m sure with a few phone calls, I can get the ball rolling, considering the situation down here. What do you say, Detective?”
Ha, ha, ha, checkmate.
“I’m not looking to take over or interfere with your case,” Jun stated. “I’m only here for a week and half, and when I leave Aubrey, I want to sleep at night knowing that he’s not being harassed or in danger at his place of business. That’s all.”
Tillman looked between the two of us.
I nodded and offered a smile.
After a beat, Tillman let out a heavy sigh and shifted some of his papers around. He picked up a small evidence baggie that held a key fob. It was bright orange and seemed to have some sort of room number on it. “We found this in Cassidy’s apartment. It belongs to a unit at Store Yourself in New Town.” He offered it and Jun accepted.
“What’s the chance of getting a search warrant?” Jun asked, turning the fob around absently.
Tillman smiled this time and held up a form. “Just got it, twenty minutes ago. Cassidy has a record of theft. Appears he’s been obsessed with this pirate Jack guy most of his life.” He stood. “As a courtesy to you, Agent Tanaka, and because I’m not well versed in the diaries of merchant sailors from the 1800s… I’ll extend the offer of you being present while I serve this. Unofficially, of course.”
“Of course.” Jun stood, and they shook hands again. “I suppose we’ll bump into each other there. It just so happens that Aubrey is qualified to offer assistance regarding anything you might find in the unit.”
Tillman looked at me. “That he is,” he said tersely.
We’d followed Tillman from Stock Island to New Town and parked outside of Store Yourself about thirty minutes later. Jun turned the car off, leaned over me to unlock the glove compartment, and revealed a gun and holster.
“Whoa, you came to Florida packing?”
Jun looked at me briefly before grabbing it. “I don’t go anywhere without a service weapon.”
“Even on vacation?” Because I found that sort of… sad.
Jun didn’t respond, just put the shoulder holster on. He opened the door and said, “Would you grab the suit coat in the back seat?”
I partially climbed over the console to reach the folded G-man coat before getting out of the car. “You came prepared.”
Jun adjusted his weapon as he came toward me, took the coat, and hid the gun as he slid it over his shoulders.
“You think there’s something dangerous inside the unit?” I asked, looking up.
“I’d rather not take any chances. Stay behind and out of the way, okay?”
Tillman climbed out of his car beside us and removed the folded warrant from an inner pocket before leading the way.
“Regarding Josh Moore,” Jun said, the scuff of his shoes on the pavement echoing over his words. “Aubrey hired him to paint the first floor of the Smith Home. He finished that two weeks ago.”
“Is that so.”
“It might account for the broken window in the parlor,” Jun continued.
Tillman stopped and turned to face Jun.
“He’s similar in appearance to the description Aubrey gave of the second intruder.”
Watching Jun work Tillman was pretty awesome. I think his good-cop thing was making it difficult for Tillman to even be properly annoyed, since Jun was technically helping. Just, you know, sort of passive-aggressively.
“I don’t suppose he shared yesterday’s whereabouts with you?” Tillman asked.
“He did not.”
Tillman looked at me briefly before nodding and walking toward the business once more. “I’ll look into it.” He opened the front door, held it for us, then approached the counter. He flashed his badge at a disinterested woman.
“I’ve a search warrant, ma’am,” he said, sliding the form over. “Unit 513, belonging to a Lou Cassidy.”
She chewed her gum loudly, popping a bubble while glancing over the legal form—like anyone actually read that mumbo jumbo. “Fine with me,” she stated after a moment. “He’s a week late on payment. Will the police be paying that?”
Tillman just smiled. “Do you have bolt cutters?”
She sighed and got to her feet. “Yup. Head on through that door,” she said, indicating a door to our right. “Unit 513 is down the middle aisle on the left side. I’ll be there in a moment.”
“Appreciate it,” Tillman said, and I swore if he had a hat on, he would have tipped it.
Jerk never used his hat-tipping voice on me.
Then again, I had been sort of a sassy smartass with him the last few—er, all the meetings we’d had so far.
Jun opened the door leading to the units, holding it for Tillman and me before bringing up the rear. “I must admit,” he said quietly. “Curiosity is getting the best of me.”
“You and me both,” Tillman called. “Man’s apartment is a shrine to all things nautical. I can only guess as to what’ll be in here.” He stopped outside an orange door about four by four feet. He looked at me and Jun. “I’ll be disappointed if it’s Christmas decorations.”
The office door opened behind us and echoed loudly as it slammed shut. The woman from the counter was walking toward us with a hefty pair of bolt cutters. “Here you are, gentlemen,” she said, handing the tool over to Tillman. “Please don’t make a mess. I’ll be in the office if you need anything.”
Tillman thanked her and waited until she’d slammed the door again. He took the clippers to the combo lock on the door, quickly snapping it. He slipped it free and pocketed the lock pieces before setting the cutters down on the floor.
Jun took my arm and gently maneuvered me to stand behind him. He removed his gun and took a readied stance as Tillman yanked the door open.
The missing skeleton from yesterday came tumbling out, breaking as it smashed into the linoleum floor.
More about author C.S. Poe
C.S. Poe is a Lambda Literary and EPIC award finalist author of gay mystery, romance, and paranormal books.
She is a reluctant mover and has called many places home in her lifetime. C.S. has lived in New York City, Key West, and Ibaraki, Japan, to name a few. She misses the cleanliness, convenience, and limited-edition gachapon of Japan, but she was never very good at riding bikes to get around.
She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful and a major weakness for toys. C.S. is an avid fan of coffee, reading, and cats. She’s rescued two cats—Milo and Kasper do their best on a daily basis to sidetrack her from work.
C.S. is a member of the International Thriller Writers organization.
Her debut novel, The Mystery of Nevermore, was published by DSP Publications, 2016.
Contacts for C.S. Poe
DREAMSPINNER PRESS: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/cs-poe