Title: Flotsam and Jetsam: the Amelia Island Affair
Author: M. S. Spencer
Genre: Military/Cop, Small Town, Mystery, Humorous/Romantic Comedy
SubGenre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
Who's littering the park with corpses?
State Park Rangers Simon Ribault and Ellie Ironstone are used to dealing with messy campers and ravaging raccoons, but when three bodies wash up on the beach, they mobilize all their powers of deduction. Who are they and how did they get to the shore of Amelia Island? Are they connected to the secretive League of the Green Cross? Or linked to a mysterious Jamaican drug ring?
Ellie, new to Amelia Island, must penetrate a close-knit community if she wants to find answers to the mystery, all while deciding between two rivals for her affection: Thad, the handsome local idol, and Simon, the clever, quirky bookworm.
Simon, for his part, will have to call on his not-so-well-honed romantic prowess to lure Ellie away from Thad and at the same time use his wide-ranging research skills to solve the case.
“Get on with it, Ellie. You’re just like your father. What have you found?”
Ellie brushed the criticism aside with a wave of her hand. “A bit of unexpected flotsam washed up on the shore.”
“You don’t want to know what it is first?”
“I need coordinates if I’m to send out reinforcements.”
“Okay, the body is on the stretch of sand facing St. Marys River. Northeast of the fort.”
“Body, huh. Dead?”
“I’d probably call it a man if it wasn’t.”
“Good point. Does it look pruny?”
Ellie checked out the corpse, lying supine on the sand. “Not really. So that means he died recently?”
“It means he wasn’t in the water long. Stiff?”
“Stiff, vic, cadaver—whatever you want to call him, he’s dead.”
Simon sensed the increasing threat level and, on the off chance Ellie didn’t, intervened. “Hold on a sec.” He prodded the dead man’s jaw, then tried to lift his arm. “Tell your mother rigor mortis has set in. Body’s cold. I’d say he died maybe eight to twelve hours ago.”
Ellie stared at him. “How did you know that?”
“Elementary, my dear. Rigor mortis usually presents first at the eyes, neck, and jaw within two to six hours of death. From there, it spreads to the rest of the body. His arm is stiff, so I’d guess he kicked the bucket around midnight last night.”
Ellie continued to stare. “And where did you come by all this medical knowledge?”
“Me? One of my majors in college was criminology.”
“Majors? As in plural? How many did you have?”
Let’s see…if I tell her, will that confirm that I’m a colossal nerd and ruin any chance I have with her? He regarded the woman who drove all his favorite romantic heroines off the pages and into the back alleys of his memory. Simon, you have exactly zero chance she’ll ever think of you as anything but that awkward colleague whose claim to fame is he can beat everyone at Trivial Pursuit. His lips formed the lie, but one glance at her dark golden ringlets and eyes the inky blue of a tropical twilight and he had to risk it. I’ve got to be me, warts and all. “Only two. Two undergraduate majors, that is. The other was linguistics.” He added lightly, “The minor in poetry was just for fun.”
Ellie paused a moment, eyes glazed, before rousing herself enough to say sternly, “I don’t think you’re supposed to touch anything.”
The dispatcher’s voice interrupted. “Eleanor? Hello? I’m waiting.” Ellie gave her mother the particulars. “Okay, I’ll notify Amos. Iggy and Virgil will bring the ambulance.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Ellie hung up. “Help’s on the way.”
“I heard.” Simon sat down on the log and studied their new acquaintance.
Mid-thirties, he guessed. Close-cropped hair, thick lips, dark brown skin—pale now. “See how wan he looks? It’s because the blood’s pooled in his back and butt.” He nudged him with a foot. The head rolled an inch, and something sparkled at his throat. Simon looked closer. “That’s a crucifix. Maybe he’s a priest.”
“So why is he in civilian clothes?”
“He left the priesthood. Or perhaps he was working in a dangerous neighborhood and didn’t want to be too conspicuous.”
“For heaven’s sake, Simon. This isn’t getting us anywhere.” She moved a step closer and peered at the body. “How do you think he died?”
“Most likely a horrible hazing accident during the arcane ceremonies last night.” A corner of his mouth turned up. “I believe druids are known for that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I—”
“Hellooo! Ellie! Simon!”
With a sinking feeling, Simon stood up to see a brawny young man with a thatch of luxuriant yellow hair loping toward them.
Ellie sucked in her breath. “Oh, look. It’s Thad.” She patted her curls and straightened her uniform.
“Great.” Simon hoped he’d drained all the enthusiasm out of the word. As Ellie waited for their colleague to arrive, he noted with deepening gloom her heightened color.
Thad came to a skidding halt at the top of a small rise, which allowed him to stand nose to nose with the taller Simon. His regulation tie was askew, and his regulation shoes were untied. Ellie seemed at a loss for words, so Simon asked—keeping his animosity on a short leash—“What brings you here so early, Farnsworth? I thought your shift didn’t start until two.”
“Hosea…called…me…in.” Thad fanned his red face with a massive paw while his broad chest rose and fell in rapid heaves. “He…sent me…Needed…needed his best man on the ground…I…dropped everything…He…”
What a piece of work. “He sent you to find us?”
He nodded, sending a shower of sweat flying. “I’m here…about…the body.”
Simon’s jaw dropped.
So did Ellie’s. “You heard about it already? We only just called 9-1-1.”
“You did? Why?” Ellie pointed.
Thad looked down and emitted a high squeal, reminding Simon of the time the fellow found a weevil in his sandwich—a cross between a startled marmoset and a fifteen-year-old girl. “Oh my God, is that another one?”
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Although M. S. Spencer has traveled in five continents, she spent the last thirty years in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional assistant, speechwriter, and non-profit director. She has two grown children and a perfect granddaughter. Ms. Spencer has published twelve mystery/romantic suspense novels, and currently divides her time between Florida and Maine.
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