Sun, Sand, Murder by John Keyse-Walker is the debut novel from the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award winner (Available September 13, 2016).
As a Special Constable, Teddy Creque is the only police presence on the remote, sun-drenched island of Anegada, nestled in the heart of the British Virgin Islands. In all his years on the job, Teddy has never considered the possibility that he might have to address an actual crime on his peaceful island. That is, until he receives a hysterical call about a dead man on the beach. Indeed, Teddy is shocked to discover Paul Kelliher, a biologist who traveled to the island every winter for research, lying dead on the sands of the island’s most remote beach, killed by a single shot to the head. And when the BVI’s “real police” task Teddy with informing Kelliher’s nearest kin of his death, Teddy makes an even more surprising discovery: there’s no record that Paul Kelliher ever existed. Suddenly Teddy’s routine life is thrown into tumult as he tries to track a killer—against his boss’s wishes—while balancing his complicated family life, three other jobs, and the colorful characters populating the island around him.
I ran my hand along the smooth curve of Cat Wells’s hip. Fine grains of sand adhered where she had rolled from the blanket as we made love. She dozed in the sun, or pretended to. I looked out across the placid waters of Windlass Bight and wondered how I had gotten myself into this mess. Living in a simple place does not always make for a simple life.
I suppose it wasn’t truly a mess because no one knew Cat and I had been meeting in secluded spots around the island for the last six months. Icilda, my wife, neither knew nor suspected anything was amiss in our marriage. Icilda’s daily routine of home and kids, waiting tables at the Reef Hotel, and any spare moments devoted to her activities at the Methodist church did not allow time for the detection of infidelity.
Not that she had any cause to be suspicious. I had been a model husband throughout our marriage. A good breadwinner, working three steady jobs and guiding on the side. A good father to our children, Tamia and Kevin. Always attentive to Icilda’s needs and wants. Faithful throughout our twenty years together.
Until now. Now I was unfaithful, a cheater, a selfish lowlife, a dirtbag. I knew what I was doing could ruin my marriage and my family but try as I might I could not give Cat up, could not act with respect for my wife, could not honor my marriage vows.
I’m still not sure how my affair with Cat got its start. I know precisely when it all began; it is the “how” that seems so hard to grasp. The “when” was a fine September morning. I was to meet two anglers traveling from St. Thomas for a day of fly-fishing on the shallow bonefish flats that surround much of my home island, Anegada. My contact in St. Thomas told me the clients would be arriving at Captain Auguste George Airport on VI Birds Air Charters. The pilot was new to the Virgin Islands and both she and the clients would need to clear customs at the airport. This was not a problem, since, in addition to my other occupations, I am the customs officer for Anegada.
There were no other incoming flights scheduled for that morning. I arrived early and waited alone inside the one-room shed that serves as the airport terminal. HRH Queen Elizabeth II stared balefully down on me from the faded coronation portrait that had graced the terminal wall since the building’s dedication. The southeast trade wind wafted through the open door. A hen and three black chicks searched for morsels along the edge of the gravel runway. Otherwise, nothing and no one seemed to be about.
A few minutes after the scheduled arrival time, the silence of the morning was broken by the approach of a helicopter from the southwest. I shielded my eyes from blowing dust as the mango-yellow VI Birds copter settled in the taxi area and its rotors wound down.
Cat Wells emerged from the pilot’s seat, wearing an unplugged radio headset draped like a fur around her exquisite neck. She was certainly different from the other pilots who flew to Anegada, usually eager pups hoping to work their way up the ladder to a job with a commercial airline. Unlike the pups, Cat Wells had presence, the kind of presence that stops male conversation when she enters a room. She moved with purpose across the taxi area, lithe and professional in khaki pants and a crisp white shirt with captain’s bars on its shoulders. Her flawless mahogany complexion and her regal bearing called Nefertiti to mind, astray by three millennia but still serene and self-assured. Seeing me standing in the terminal entrance, she approached with an extended hand.
“Hi. Are you the customs man?” Her eyes were the deep green of a mountain lake, a rare attribute in a black woman. Those eyes took in my faded and frayed constable shirt, worn shorts, and sandals with a look of disapproval. Well, perhaps “disapproval” is too strong a word; the look had more than a hint of pity mixed in. Like a mother inspecting a child who had dressed himself in his favorite outfit, again, for the fifth day in a row. A slow burn of embarrassment rose from my neck to my ears. I was thankful my dark skin did not betray the flush.
“I am the customs officer for Anegada, and a special constable on the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.” For a reason that I could not fathom, the reply was delivered in a formal parade-ground voice. I instantly felt like an ass.
Cat came smartly to attention, lifting her outstretched hand into a snappy military salute. “Yes, suh!” she replied, drill sergeant sharp.
I felt like a huge ass.
An up-at-the-corner grin flashed across her face. I laughed. She laughed, no girlish giggle, a woman’s laugh, warm and full.
“Mary Catherine Wells,” she said, introducing herself. She dropped her hand from the salute and extended it in greeting again.
“Teddy Creque. It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Wells.” I shook her hand. She allowed it to linger in my grasp. An invitation?
“My friends call me Cat. You can call me Cat.” The sly grin again.
I was barely able to compose myself enough to collect the clients and their fishing gear, stamp their passports, and load them into my battered Royal Virgin Islands Police Force Land Rover. As I backed out of the parking space, my eyes were drawn to the sway of Cat’s hips as she strolled back to the helicopter. Her timing was impeccable as she glanced back and caught me looking. The grin appeared a third time, followed by a little wave. I was hooked like a bonefish.
After that first encounter, it seemed as if events took over. I was not the instigator but certainly a willing participant. Cat’s imp grin evolved into a saucy smile. Her playful eyes developed a seductive spark. When she flew in with passengers or cargo, the banter between us was light, smart, and sexy.
She flew in one day a month after our first encounter with guests for the Reef Hotel. After they were met and driven away, she offered to share a thermos of coffee with me. We sat in the shade of the terminal shed and talked for an hour. She told me about growing up “everywhere” as an army brat, how the military was her family business, and how she had become a pilot and served in the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm. My part in the conversation was a description of my work as a fishing guide and a few tales of life here on the island.
I told myself that it was just friendly and innocent, but we both knew what was crackling just below the surface of our conversation. We were on the brink of acting out the same play that had been acted out a million times since the first innocent man had a coffee with an innocent woman he had not told his wife about. I spent the entire drive back to The Settlement that day convincing myself that nothing had happened and nothing was happening.
The following week Cat flew in with a cargo of spare generator parts and a six-pack of Red Stripe. We drove to Windlass Bight with nary a word, drank the beer, and made love on a blanket in the shade of the sea grape trees.
Then I went home to Icilda and the kids. As Icilda made dinner, she complained about a rude customer at the hotel restaurant who had left no tip. Tamia whined for permission to go shopping with a friend on Tortola over the weekend. Kevin proudly showed off a report card with all Bs as his marks. It was like any normal night in the Creque household, except for Cat’s gasps, and her ultimate exclamation, playing out in my memory as a background soundtrack to the evening. It was like any normal night, if a normal night included the searing guilt of betraying your wife and children.
So it had been for these past few months, once or twice every week. Cat and I had savored each other’s bodies neck-deep in the clear waters of Bones Bight. We had hasty, half-clothed sex against the wall of the deserted airport terminal. She had rocked languidly atop me at Table Bay, the motion of her hips timed to the thunder of the surf against the offshore reef. It was not love, or even the shadow of love. Neither of us harbored that illusion. It was lust, pure and simple. We took sex hungrily from one another and did not ask many questions, of each other or of ourselves.
After each tryst, I returned to my life as if what had occurred had never happened. I went to my shift at the power plant and drowsed to the hum of the generator. I poled my skiff, the Lily B, a sweating Yankee fisherman on the bow platform, and strained to spot bonefish through the mirror surface of the water. I ran my police patrol around the dusty washboard tracks we call roads on Anegada, stopping at the Cow Wreck Beach Bar and Grill to show the sunburned tourists sipping rum drinks that they were safe, despite the fact that the nearest real RVIPF officer was miles away on Tortola. I saw to Icilda’s carnal needs, with a detachment she did not seem to notice. Or at least care about.
I was leading two lives, one dull, ordinary, and filled with virtue, the second risky, clandestine, and exciting. I knew that I should stop seeing Cat. It was the right thing to do and it was the only way to extract myself from this undiscovered mess. It was the only way to recover some shred of my self-respect. I resolved time and time again to end the thing I had with her. Each time I failed, weak, never raising the topic, succumbing to her smile, to the uninhibited joy of being in her presence, the danger, and the need of my body to have hers.
Now she rolled toward me, waking and showing her mischievous grin. The day’s unspoken vow to end our affair would remain unfulfilled. I stroked the back of her neck. She arched herself into my body.
“Teddy. Teddy. You there? Pick up.” The aging CB in the Land Rover, the only sure means of communication on Anegada given the lack of cell phone service and the unwillingness of the bureaucrats in Road Town to invest in an actual police radio, carried the urgency in Pamela Pickering’s voice.
“Teddy. Teddy. It’s Pamela. Pick up, please!” Pamela is Anegada’s administrator, the island’s only public official other than me. The eldest child of Pinder Pickering, Anegada’s first administrator, Pamela believes herself to be Anegada royalty. She inherited her position when Pinder’s consumption of Heineken forced him to make his de facto retirement to the Reef Hotel bar official. On his most alcohol-clouded day, Pinder was ten times as competent as the lazy and disorganized Pamela.
“Teddy. Teddy. It’s an emergency!” Pamela squawked. The last emergency call Pamela had made to me was when her car was out of gas and she was in danger of missing the ferry to Tortola. It was not the first occasion she had treated me as her personal servant, though she had no actual authority over me. I usually acceded to her “orders”; it was easier than arguing with her.
I rose from the blanket and reached in the window of the Land Rover. Cat followed and curled against me, sliding a hand ever so slowly down my groin.
I grabbed the CB microphone, overcoming the urge to grab Cat instead.
“This is Teddy. Switch to the alternate channel.” Everyone on Anegada monitored channel 16 like a party telephone line. There was no need for the whole island to hear Pamela turn me into her private taxi for the second time in as many weeks.
I flipped to the alternate channel. “All right, Pamela. What is the emergency?”
“De Rasta here, Teddy, De White Rasta, an’ he say he found a dead man out at Spanish Camp.”
Copyright © 2016 John Keyse-Walker.
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John Keyse-Walker practiced law for 30 years, representing business and individual clients, educational institutions, and government entities. He is an avid salt- and freshwater angler, a tennis player, kayaker, and an accomplished cook. He lives in Ohio with his wife. Sun, Sand, Murder is his first novel and the winner of the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.