Detective Brad Porter is called to the scene of a nightmare. An explosion has rocked the Linton Beach, FL marina in the middle of a crowded festival. Dozens of people are dead with hundreds injured. But that is just the beginning. A 9-1-1 call from the Linton Beach Memorial Children's Hospital will bring Porter and his partner face to face with a ghost from his past, and a terror that will strike at the heart of the nation.
Caller ID said someone at the station wanted me at work, rapidly. Had to be my boss because no one else called me.
“Detective Brad Porter’s phone. How my I help you?”
“Tell me you’re pulling into the parking lot right now.” My boss. Nailed it. That’s why they made me a detective at thirty-three. Captain Lou Packard was a Marine, served in the first Gulf War. Rumor around the shop was that he couldn’t tell anybody about it because it was behind-the-lines, classified shit. I knew about that kind of stuff. And I couldn’t tell anybody about it, same as him.
“On Federal right now. ETA is about five minutes, Cap.” Well, it would be if it wasn’t November and the two snowbirds from Quebec weren’t rubbernecking an antique shop with a dusty lamp and black velvet shelf full of imitation jewelry from the fifties in the window. But the captain didn’t need to know that.
“Bypass and head to the marina,” he said. Sounded like he was talking in his Gunnery Sergeant voice. That one didn’t come out unless something bad happened and in Linton Beach, Florida, bad never happened.
“What about the rookie?”
“Cap, give me something here. Is it code three not good?”
He didn’t answer. All I got was a dial tone.
~ * ~
Linton Beach, Florida, sat almost directly in the middle between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. It had a downtown that I’ve heard described as cute and fashionable on more than a few occasions. Lots of shops, restaurants, clubs, bars and all the other trappings of an urban gathering center. Or as one sergeant called it, “a fucking policing nightmare.” Apparently, all the big city folk who didn’t want to battle the crowds for a nice meal and a few drinks gathered in our fair burg. Or at least half of them, all driving the latest Mercedes, BMW or Bentley, and all thinking that they should not see a uniformed police officer unless someone sneezed on their precious Mercedes, BMW or Bentley. Then we should materialize out of thin air with a full crime scene unit, at least eight patrolmen to direct traffic and monitor the perimeter, and a collection of officers to “handle the situation.”
The other perk of being in between the two bigger cities, and two smaller ones with outlets to the Atlantic Ocean, was the presence of a very nice marina. Capable of handling anything from a small fishing dinghy to one of those hundred-foot super yachts, the Linton Beach Marina sat at the end of a small curving road just off Federal five miles from my house. And according to the captain, something “not good” had happened there.
Captain Packard didn’t say to go code three, which meant in police lingo, as quickly as possible with lights and sirens on full blast. I was in my private car, a 1992 Ford Tempo, but the guys at the department’s motor pool had been nice enough to install wig-whams in the headlights and a push-button siren in the dash. I ignored their comment about the two additions being the only two things in the car that worked or weren’t held together by duct tape.
I put the lights on and placed one of the old-fashioned bubble lights on my dash, but didn’t hit the siren. No use doing that unless I knew whether it was worth the aggravation and irritated looks I’d get from the nice residents of Linton Beach. They didn’t like their morning coffee interrupted by sirens.
When I rounded the turn just a mile from my neighborhood, the trees broke and I had an unobstructed view of just how “not good” the problem at the marina was. A massive plume of smoke trailed up from the general location of the marina. It was black smoke, the kind you only see after something explodes. One of my military medals from the stuff I couldn’t tell anybody about involved smoke like that. And I knew that the captain was right. Nothing good could be on the other end of that smoke trail.
I turned on the radio to hear if the news station I normally listened to had anything on the explosion and caught the middle of the report.
“… no word yet on casualties or anything like that yet. The only thing we know is that an explosion has occurred in Linton Beach this morning at approximately seven-thirty-five. Just a few moments ago a large blast or series of blasts, that’s another thing we are not sure about as of yet, was heard in the general vicinity of the Linton Beach Marina. There was scheduled to be a Dads and Daughters Fishing Festival there this morning, and now it looks like something tragic has happened at that very spot. We are getting scattered reports of casualties, and of police, fire and other first responders on their way to the scene already. Linton Beach Police have no comment at this time…”
I turned off the radio, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to give me any more details. More speculation, more enflamed reporting designed to convey the seriousness and fantastic nature of the whole thing, sure. But nothing useful. I took a sigh and lit another cigarette. I was glad I brought two extra packs from home. I was probably going to need them.