Without a Trace… Chapter 50

Smythe kept his windbreaker zipped when he approached the moonlit grounds near the back of the Presidente Suites. Operating without his partner, he felt guilty for leaving her out of the loop on his personal crusade. A firm believer in teamwork, he knew how to work a case with a partner involved. He’d done it for years with great success. But this case was different. This partner was different. What the FBI manuals failed to teach him, he’d learned from experience. And this time his experience told him Riker was too stubborn to listen; her ego had swollen to greater lengths and obscured her objectivity from the facts at hand. Still, as he entered the lighted portion of the hotel grounds, part of him wanted his partner there, if for no other reason than to help prove his theory of the crime.

He had no clairvoyant talent; no ability to read history from a piece of torn cloth; no crystal ball insight into who killed who and when or where it happened. But what he did have was an unyielding sense of control over his ability to trust his instincts. On more than one occasion, he’d followed successful hunches and reaped the rewards from his efforts. Having spent the better part of his life in a lower middle-class neighborhood, he’d worked hard to be the only college graduate in his family. The same determination that brought him a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Psychology and acceptance into Georgetown Law had also propelled him from a short stint as a small town cop to a member of America’s most elite law enforcement agency. With support from his wife and an older brother who believed in him, he’d set out to accomplish the impossible in his parent’s eyes: graduate from law school with honors and apply for enrollment to the FBI Academy in Quantico. Several years of hard work had culminated in a successful career, surpassing all expectations—including his own. And now, as he ventured beyond the outlined path behind the sculpted garden near the waterfall pool, he imagined the pot of gold he’d find at the end of his impromptu visit to the Diver’s Paradise.

He ducked behind a utility shed before approaching the storefront window by the dive shop entrance. He pulled his weapon from his shoulder holster. His own reflection stared back at him in the ambient light casting shadows on the window’s tinted glass. In the distance, music played from an open patio door behind a concrete balcony on a lower level suite.

Under surveillance from his own hidden cameras, he scanned the side of the building before making his way to the Diver’s Paradise docked along the pier. Confident in his ability to slip in and out undetected, he laughed at Riker and her condescending notions about his theory. As the junior officer on the team, who was she to question his ideas? He had the lead on the case from the beginning, deferring only to Riker when he had to. “And besides,” he mumbled to himself, “if Steve Chambers, a man with no investigative training, can come away with one piece of evidence from the boat, then chances are, other clues still exist on board.” Clues only a trained investigator could find.

Hidden from view by a wall of scuba tanks, he heard laughter parlay to conversation when a drunken couple staggered toward the lighted path outside the dive shop. He crouched low, watching the couple engage in a deep-throat kiss. Caught up in the lovers’ moment, he remembered what it felt like to tingle all over from the heat of passion, passion absent from him and Barbara after twenty years of marriage and the trials and tribulations of raising two kids.

When the couple moved on, he scanned his penlight across the fiberglass deck, revealing an unusually clean appearance under artificial light. He checked the helm where the shiny instrument display reflected the beam at his eyes. Hoping to find traces of spilled blood, he took a small aerosol bottle of fresh Luminol mix from his jacket and sprayed the solution about the helm and the surrounding area. When no color change resulted, he searched the surface fore and aft. The lack of any blood residue made him even more suspicious.

Below deck, he found the head compartment and a stash of Hustler magazines stuffed on a wooden shelf with a roll of toilet paper and a rag. Like the space surrounding the head, the magazines themselves were worn and dirty from repeated use.

He covered his mouth when he caught a whiff of the boat’s holding tank. The scent was pungent but less sour than the smell of death. Assuming no one could stuff a body in a boat’s holding tank without dismembering it and spilling an enormous amount of blood in the process, he ignored the head compartment and inspected a hanging locker bolted to the foreword bulkhead. Stuffed with orange lifejackets and a foam life ring, the locker also produced a broken spear gun similar to the one Steve had described. He sprayed the handle and the shaft with Luminol without positive result.

He shone the penlight near the back of the forward compartment and found the usual assortment of mechanic’s tools, diving equipment, and spare rope. The more he searched, the more disenchanted he became with the lack of evidence necessary to illustrate his theory about the death of Pamela Johnson.

He holstered his gun and pointed the penlight at the floor where a hairline crack spanned several inches along the wood. He bent over and picked at the floor. A small section came away with minimal effort, revealing a larger notch wide enough to put his finger through.

He pulled up on the hinged compartment and found a machete concealed inside.

Afraid of smudging any useable prints, he lifted the pitted blade by the edges. A squirt of Luminol brought a smile to his face after a few seconds.

He stared at the residue on the blade. Finally he had tangible evidence of a crime. With luck, a DNA sample would match the substance he felt confident was blood to the body of Pamela Johnson.

He wrapped the machete handle in a handkerchief and thought about the summary he’d type for the search and seizure paperwork. Riker would kick herself, but she’d marvel at his success nonetheless. He pictured the look on her face as he climbed the ladder from the forward deck compartment, oblivious to the figure about to descend upon him.

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