When a man discovers a body washed up on the beach…
(And that’s how it all starts!)
Chapter 1 ~ Devon
When Devon Despicable pushed aside the frilly curtains of his bedroom window and peered through sleep-crusted eyes at the beach below his house, he noticed a body, possibly, or most likely, dead.
The beach wasn’t exactly close—which during raging thunderstorms was a good thing or his house would have washed away years ago—but it wasn’t so far he needed binoculars.
He slipped into his velour bathrobe and proceeded down the creaky stairs straight into the kitchen. The first thing he did was make black tea with precisely three drops of juice squeezed from a fresh lemon. He put the kettle on, and when it was about to whistle he fired up his ancient computer—ancient according to today’s standards—and then pulled out a mug and placed the teabag so the string fell outside the ceramic.
The news was of special interest to him. He had advertised for an evening gala at his art gallery that occupied the back section of his house. He was tickled to death at the attention the gallery was receiving with each reveal of a Treasure Painting he managed to acquire. Tonight was no different.
He wrapped his large hands around the hot mug. After soaking in the praise and excitement over the paintings, which supposedly held clues to the rumored lost pirate treasure, his finger hesitated on the mouse.
Every time it was mistake.
One of these times he’d have to schedule an appointment with a doctor for fear of a heart attack. He prided himself on his excellent health and hadn’t seen a doctor in years. Not even for a cough. Home remedies worked every time.
Click. He couldn’t help himself. He scoured the site and for a minute hope swelled until it didn’t. His vision blurred. His pulse escalated. He gripped the mug with such strength he was surprised cracks didn’t appear.
Another one of the stolen Treasure Paintings had been sold on the black market.
This time for close to fifty thousand dollars! Ridiculous!
Devon sipped his tea, burnt his tongue, and let out a curse. When he slammed his mug on the table, tea sloshed over the sides and soaked copies of the gala invitation. Each private sale was money stolen indirectly from his coffers. The first Treasure Painting—when he first coined the phrase—sold for a few thousand. With each painting and with his hard work and dedication, after splurging thousands on a social media webinar, the value grew.
Though he was proud his efforts were now worth fifty grand, he hated to admit that part of the media attention could be attributed directly to the thief stealing the paintings and selling them in private art circles. Collectors and treasure hunters shelled out the greenbacks and transferred funds from Swiss bank accounts.
The thief was a woman. He had a sixth sense about these things. The way Devon saw it, she owed him a lifetime’s worth of indentured servitude. This female was scum on a stagnant pond. She was the mold that formed on his fancy cheese in the fridge. She was dog vomit.
Devon had to question what kind of upbringing this woman experienced. Had she been beaten? Cast out on the street as a vagabond in her teen years? Had she failed kindergarten? Honestly, what kind of person was so lazy they preyed on the greed of others? What kind of person stole for personal gain instead of earning money through old-fashioned hard work and good, clean sweat?
People like that should receive the death sentence, the electric chair, and be publicly humiliated. Maybe a few good hits with rotten tomatoes in the town square would do the trick.
The words of Devon’s therapist, who, as of three months ago, no longer was his therapist, whispered through his mind. Stop obsessing.
Was he obsessing?
Yes, he was indeed obsessing. The fact that his tea was cold told him he’d been obsessing now for quite some time. Who could blame him? He was losing money! Visitors to the art gallery no longer wanted to pay premium prices for the Treasure Paintings or for prints of the Treasure Paintings out of fear they would be stolen.
He hunched over the table wishing his tea were at least warm enough to drink. His profits were dwindling. The stolen paintings were to blame.
Someone knocked on the back door.
Only slightly disturbed that he was in his tightie whities and velour bathrobe, he opened the door.
“Now that’s disturbing.”
Devon glared at the man standing on his step. His name was Sal Stillwater, the jack of all trades in their small but touristy oceanside town. He was a tall and thin man with a craggy face from years of working outdoors in the sun. He did not believe in sunblock and thought skin cancer was a scam, which showed in the deep lines and wrinkles even though he was just shy of fifty.
“May I help you?” Anger rippled through Devon. He prided himself on his ability to remain in control of his emotions. Nevertheless, the cold, condescending tone came across stronger than he liked.
Sal Stillwater stared back, unspoken threats gleaming in his greedy eyes, or that’s how it appeared to Devon. Sal was blackmailing Devon into giving him free Despicable Treats. Devon had once been a cupcake enthusiast and felt called to a life in the culinary field. That calling, unfortunately, had faded soon after graduation. So when Sal had corned Devon in a dark alley, demanding payment of some kind, he had jumped when Devon offered cupcakes and desserts laden with pureed vegetables like beets and squash and spinach. Though he wasn’t an honest man, Sal had a big heart and loved his niece, who refused to eat vegetables of any kind. Thus Despicable Treats was born, or so said the rickety sign above Devon’s back door.
Sal Stillwater shifted on his feet and his hands trembled. All classic signs of fear. “I need two dozen of your Monster Madness cupcakes or I’m going straight to the cops.”
Devon took a moment to size up the man before him, a desperate, needy man, on the edge. “I’ll have them ready for you this afternoon.”
“You’d better. I’ll be back.” Sal paused as if struck with a sudden thought. “Oh, and do you still want the normal delivery for this evening?”
“Yes, I would. The usual.” Devon had forgotten to order flowers for the gala, so he was thankful Sal remembered.
The men shook hands, and Sal left.
Inside the quiet of his kitchen, Devon realized he couldn’t ignore the body any longer. This dead body had no ties with Devon whatsoever. It must be another treasure hunter who didn’t know about the riptide. After all, the recent thefts had caused a resurgence of interest from the desperate and destitute.
Devon put off breakfast and climbed the creaky stairs. He dressed in nice slacks, a shirt, his usual leather jacket, and chose one of many scarves that lined his closet. He needed to look his best, because eventually, the detective would have to be called. It wasn’t like Devon could just leave the body or hide it.
That was when he peered out the window a second time. First, he noticed the bright and shiny private yacht bobbing on the cresting waves. He squelched the twinge of jealousy and could barely fathom a life where purchasing a yacht was on his to-do list.
Then his gaze shifted closer to the beach. He blinked. Then he blinked again. Impossible! He grabbed the binoculars he rarely used because he lived close enough to the beach that he only needed to squint. He peered through them, his jaw slightly dropping.
It happened again.
The body moved.
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