Page 61 of Detective



Now they were in the water, whose course had been dredged out years before as a canal. Although shallow at the edge, farther out it plunged down to eight or ten feet. The two who had brought the wheelchair waded forward, maneuvering around a tangle of mangroves.

Ahead through the blackness was a mangrove islet, one of several, surrounded by shallow water and sea grass. The two from the van, who appeared to know the locale, had stopped where they felt the water deepen. One said, "Here'll do."

Virgilio, propelling the chair and its panicked occupant on his own, pushed it forward until the captive was more than half immersed. Now the other two used the chain to secure the chair, passing it in turn through each wheel, now underwater, then at one end fastening it to a plant stump on the islet, and at the other end to the cement block they had brought.

"Sure as hell won't float," Dutch said. "Tide's rising now, be over his head in a couple hours." He laughed. "Give the bastard some time to think."

The figure in the wheelchair, who had clearly overheard, moaned and struggled harder, but the only effect was to shift the wheelchair deeper in the water.


In the darkness Jensen shuddered. Since facing the captive, he had known he was part of a murder, as an accessory at least. But he knew, too, that if he had tried to leave, he could become a victim also. Virgilio would not hesitate to make that happen.

Deep within, a small voice from the past asked, What am 1? When did I stop caring? . . . And Jensen was reminded of his earlier thought: The person I once was no longer exists.

"We go," Virgilio pronounced.

As they moved toward shore, leaving the wheelchair and its occupant, Jensen tried not to imagine what Stewie Rice's dying would be like. Inevitably he did. He envisioned the tide rising gradually while Rice watched helplessly until salt water a little at a time began to lap at his face . . . Soon he would hold his head as high as possible, inhaling when he could, preserving each breath against the inexorable rise of the water. . . Survival until the absolute last moment would be instinctive . . . Perhaps he would succeed in breathing intermittently, though knowing he would shortly fail . . . Then, as the water rose still more, in desperation he would choke and splutter. . . and finally, as his mouth and nose were covered and his lungs filled, mercifully he would drown. . .

Jensen pulled his thoughts away.

On shore, Virgilio approached. He put his face near Patrick Jensen's. "You keep this big secret. Or I fuckin' kill you. "

"I have to keep it that way, don't I? I'm in it, too." Jensen kept his face close to the other's and his voice level. He had decided the only way to deal with Virgilio was not to be intimidated.

"Yeah," the big man conceded. "You in it, too."

"I want to talk to you privately sometime," Jensen said quietly. "Just the two of us."

Virgilio seemed surprised. His mind clearly working, he raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Yes," Jensen said, knowing a message had passed between them and was understood.

"I go Colombia," Virgilio said. "When I back, I find you. "

Jensen knew he would. He also knew he had found his killer.

* * *

A couple of Harley-Davidson riders, passing by in the early morning, were the first to see the wheelchair partly submerged. From Alabama Jack's, a popular bikers' bar a short distance ahead, they called 911, and Metro-Dade police responded. Two uniform officers and paramedics waded out from shore; the senior paramedic declared the man dead. Stewart Rice was readily identified from credit cards and papers on him. By this time the local news people, having heard police radio calls, arrived in full flood.

Dramatic pictures of the wheelchair being brought ashore, with the slumped figure still secured by ropes, appeared widely in newspapers and on TV. Unwittingly, this attention fulfilled the criminal objective providing a warning to others, especially the wheelchair vets. In the face of wide knowledge about their group and its methods, the drug vigilance ceased, as did tip-offs to the police antidrug task force.

"Too bad about Stewie," one task force member said to another soon after. "Somebody must have talked too much. Always happens."

* * *

Several days after the event, Jensen phoned Cynthia at her apartment to ask for a meeting. Before leaving the Bahamas, she had warned him they should not be seen together until their objective was accomplished, and for some time beyond. Therefore Jensen was not to come to the apartment, but should telephone her there and nowhere else, and they would arrange any absolutely necessary rendezvous at a place where neither was likely to be recognized. During the phone call, Cynthia instructed him to meet her the following Sunday in Boca Raton, a manageable drive, but well clear of Miami. She named Pete's Restaurant on Glades Road, where they were unlikely to encounter anyone who knew them.

Jensen arrived early and remained in his car until Cynthia appeared and parked nearby. He joined her and they entered the pleasant restaurant together, choosing an indoor verandah table, facing a lake and fountain, where they could talk privately. Cynthia ordered a Greek salad, Jensen the catch of the day without knowing what it was; the name somehow seemed appropriate. When their waiter had gone, he came directly to the point.

"I've found the man we need." He described Virgilio, and what had been revealed about the burly Colombian by his cronies at the Brass Doubloon.

"How do you know he " Cynthia began, but Jensen waved her down.

"There's more. I watched him operate." Lowering his voice, he began describing the events of a few days earlier, beginning with Card Sound Road. He had reached the point when the tradesman's van arrived, then the appearance of the wheelchair, when Cynthia, glaring, snapped across the table, "Shut up, goddam you!" Jensen paused and she added, "Don't tell me that. I don't want to know."

Patrick shrugged. "Well, you know now. The point is, Virgilio did the wheelchair murder. You must have heard about it."

"Of course I heard." Cynthia, angry and flushed, was breathing heavily. "You stupid idiot! You didn't have to tell me, and now forget you did. Wipe those last few minutes out."

"Okay, if you say so, but let me tell you this." Jensen paused as their food arrived. When the waiter had gone, he leaned forward, lowering his voice still more. "The point is, this guy Virgilio enjoys killing; I watched him that night. He's smart and not the slightest bit afraid."

Cynthia waited, still visibly disturbed, before asking, "Are you sure he'll contact you again?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. He's clearly gone to Colombia while things cool down, but he'll be back; that's when I'll talk to him about doing your parents. I know he'll do it. In the meantime we have to take care of some things. Cash, for one."

"I have it ready."

"Two hundred thousand?"

"That's the amount you said."

"And then the same for me."

Cynthia hesitated, then: "All right, but afterward."

"Fair enough."

More calmly now, she announced, "I have had an idea about the killings."

"Tell me."

"There have been two murders recently, one in Coconut Grove, another in Fort Lauderdale; both look as if they were done by the same person, with some odd features. Homicide thinks there may be more."

"What features?"

"At Coconut Grove it was at the Royal Colonial Hotel there were dead animals left at the scene."

"I read about the Royal Colonial, though nothing about dead animals."

"It was held back from the press."

"And Fort Lauderdale?"

"I don't remember exactly, but something similar." Cynthia reflected. "What I was thinking was that if my parents' killings could be made to look like those two . . ."

"I'm with you," Jensen said. "It would divert any suspicion, make it look like one more by the same person. Can you get more details?"

She nodded.

"Good. Then let's meet again two weeks from now."

They left the restaurant soon after, Cynthia settling their bill with cash.

* * *

Jensen's Volvo was behind Cynthia's BMW convertible as both turned onto I-95 for the return journey south to Miami. Cynthia drove faster and Jensen let her car disappear from sight, then took the next freeway exit and drove to a shopping area, where he parked.

Without leaving the car, he groped under his jacket and shirt. He removed a small tape recorder. He rewound the tape and, using a tiny earphone, listened. Despite their guardedly low voices, the recording was excellent. Every part was clear, including Cynthia's reaction when she learned the name of the wheelchair murderer, followed by their agreement on Virgilio as the man to kill her parents.

Jensen smiled. Cynthia, he mused, you are not the only one who can record incriminating conversations. He hoped never to have to use today's recording, but one thing was now certain. If something went wrong, if he was exposed and went down, he sure as hell would take Cynthia Ernst with him.

4

"Remember those two homicides I talked about last time?" Cynthia asked. "The one at Coconut Grove and - "

Jensen said edgily, "Of course I do. You were going to find out more."

"Well, I have."

It was the third week of June, two weeks after their liaison at Boca Raton. They had needed to get together again, though Cynthia's work schedule made a meeting in the Caymans or Bahamas impractical. Instead she chose Homestead, a small-town gateway to the Everglades, thirty-five miles south of Miami. They drove there separately, then met at Potlikkers restaurant.

The drive had left Jensen feeling tired; he had not slept well the night before, or for a succession of nights before that, either. And there had been nightmares the details vague, except they left him drenched with sweat, and in the hazy no-man's-land before waking, he recalled a wheelchair half-immersed and Virgilio's menacing face inches from his own.

Potlikkers' decor was rustic, and Jensen and Cynthia were seated on benches at a knotty pine table away from other diners. She had brought a small leather attache case and now set it beside her. She looked across at him. "Something wrong?"

"For Christ's sake! Is anything right?" He almost laughed, and considered saying, No, nothing's wrong. We're just meeting here to plot two murders for which we both have motives, in case you hadn't noticed, and some of the best brains in the detective business will be trying to solve them... They may even do it, and who knows? Maybe we'll be electrocuted side by side. . . But, no!. . . Apart from that, there's nothing wrong at all.

"Keep your voice down," Cynthia said. "And don't lose your nerve. There's no need, because everything is going to work remember, I'm in a position to judge that. Have you heard from your man, the guy you talked about? And don't use a name."

Jensen nodded. "Three days ago."

The long-distance call had come fifteen days after the wheelchair murder. There was no indication of where the call was coming from, and Patrick hadn't asked, but guessed it was Colombia.

"You know who I am, but do not say." The voice was clearly Virgilio's.

"Yes, I know."

"I come soon. You still want?"

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