Special promotion - May mystery series at Koehler Books $1.99
Publisher Koehler Books
Special promotion - May mystery series at Koehler Books $1.99
"Some things, are better off left unfound"
When his pro football career fails, Jackson Walker returns to his home in southwest Florida to sort out his life. He lands an internship with Republican state senator James Hunter, whose Clean Water Bill puts him at odds with influential members of The Brotherhood of Set, a Satanic cult. They have deep roots in Florida, and are led by the sinister Henrietta LePley.
Will Jackson Walker be able to shake himself free from the Evil which lurks in the Everglades?
The great swamp hummed with wildlife—crickets, frogs, insects, waterfowl, cranes together created a chorus. The night was still and very warm, and the air smelled sweet and musky, except for the occasional waft of swamp sulfur. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums were thick, searching for exposed flesh. A full moon provided ample light for those creatures that needed it, be they man or beast.
Three men stood on a low, flat aluminum skiff which moved slowly down the middle of a wide marshy river, leaving a clear trail in the brown-gold algae that covered the water. One of the men stood on a platform raised above the outboard motor. With a long pole, he pushed the craft forward. The figure in the middle of the boat held a flashlight, which he aimed at the grassy bank of the river. The third held a high-powered rifle cradled in his arms.
Jimmy McFadden grinned as he poled the skiff along. “Like shootin’ fish in a barrel, ain’t it. Eric?”
His older brother shushed him. “Just keep the damn boat straight, you dumb bastard.”
Isaac shook his head. He’d been listening to this back and forth banter for most of his forty-five years. Eric had raised Jimmy and Isaac after the death of their parents nearly thirty-five years ago. It was said to have been a freak accident, but Eric knew the details of their suspicious demise. They drowned inside their car in one of the old drainage ditches close to home. Eric was the only sibling old enough to remember; he had been fifteen at the time. His most lingering memory was standing in the funeral home, greeting the various people who knew his parents and came to give their respects—sugar cane farmers, local businesspeople, and colored folk who lived close to their property. His mother was kind to the Negroes. The faces, though, were blurry—except for one. In the procession of mourners and well-wishers, only the old woman stood out. The old woman, that was her name, at least as far as Eric McFadden was concerned. Eric thought she was creepy. He didn’t like the way she smiled. It was forced, her perfectly straight, brown, stained teeth displayed behind tightly stretched thin lips. She seemed to look right through him, and her breath smelled of stale wine.
“Your parents were fine members of this community, boy. They will be missed.” She placed a hand on his thin shoulder, pulling him in closer to her face and the corrupt smell that emanated from her mouth. “Do you intend to carry on the family business, boy?” Eric didn’t answer; he was too numb. She gave him an envelope, pressing it between his clasped hands. Later that night, he sat alone in the McFadden home’s large and ornate parlor, his parents’ caskets displayed at the end of the room, surrounded by garish-looking flower arrangements. He pulled the envelope out of his breast pocket and opened it. It was full of crisp hundred-dollar bills.
Eric looked back on that moment as a turning point in his life—the day he put his parents in the ground and sold his soul. He often wondered if his father had done the same in his youth. He remembered his daddy talking about the old woman, how she had supported their family for as long as he could remember. He was quick to say, “Never cross her, lad, or you’ll have the devil to pay.” Eric was never sure if this comment was to be taken seriously or figuratively.
Eric had always worked with his father. He hadn’t spent a day in school: as far as the Lee County School District knew, Eric McFadden didn’t exist. His mother taught him to read, write, add, subtract and multiply. Young Eric tagged along with Jed McFadden wherever he went, never questioning his judgment. Morality was not an issue: he didn’t know any better, he simply did as his father requested. When asked to cut the lawn, he did it. Later, when asked to dispose of a dead body with a bullet hole in the forehead, he did it. This was just how things were. His daddy showed him how the great swamp could swallow up a soul without leaving a trace.
The McFaddens and their ancestors were cleaners. They disposed of things great and small, including scrap metal, old cars and trucks, road kill for the county, and dead bodies. If the pay was good, they would kill. As far as Jed could recollect, the business had existed prior to the Civil War.
Upon his parents’ deaths, Eric simply continued. His father’s clientele came to him because there was no one else to go to. They came to him with dirty jobs and he took care of them, no questions asked. It was a natural continuation. The McFadden’s best customer was the old woman, who loved her poison.
As Eric’s younger siblings grew older, the roles within the McFadden family shifted. Eric taught the family business to his two younger brothers, which, simply put, was fixing other people’s mistakes. Isaac, the middle brother, used the money he inherited from their parents to put himself through school. Eric figured that at least one McFadden should get an education, and would whip Isaac if he was lax with his studies. His high school marks were exceptional, the highest in Lee County during his graduating year. He was accepted at many exceptional colleges and chose Cornell University in upstate New York, an Ivy League college. He graduated with an MBA after completing his undergraduate degree.
Isaac inherited his mother’s taste for clothing and the finer things in life. His style was impeccable, and he was always perfectly dressed for the occasion. For instance, when gator hunting, Isaac would outfit himself in pressed safari khakis and a large brim hat. During business hours, he was seldom seen without a casual suit and tie, Ivy League all the way. Tall with dirty blond hair, his face, like his mother’s, was sharp featured, with a long, hawk-like nose—handsome if you could get past the seriousness of his demeanor.
Isaac came home to run the family business, His brothers acquiesced to his exceptional ability to manage their affairs, but only as long as he left them alone to pursue their own idiosyncrasies. McFadden Holdings, Inc. was truly a unique undertaking. They did things that other people did not want to do, or did not know how to do, and were paid very well to do it thanks to Isaac’s business acumen.
Cleaners needed to be much more careful these days. It had been easy to dispose of things when his father was around, but the modern world put such questionable dealings under a microscope. Issac understood the value of appearances, and made sure that the brothers were diversified and ran front businesses. Isaac formed a small but successful accounting firm. Jimmy was a taxidermist extraordinaire. Eric ran fishing tours out of Pine Island.
Isaac turned back to Jimmy. It was his birthday and the two older brothers were taking him gator hunting, one of his favorite activities. Isaac didn’t care much for it, but he was a good shot and it made his brother happy. Jimmy would bring the carcasses back to the homestead, then clean and freeze the meat for sale. He would preserve various body parts and sell them to souvenir shops.
Isaac looked back at his brother. Jimmy was not stupid; simple was a better word. As far as his brothers knew, he hadn’t suffered birth defects, which might account for his behavior and dysfunctional personality. Isaac liked to call him marginally simple with psychopathic tendencies. Jimmy understood good and bad, he just didn’t see that one was any better than the other. He did things with no feeling other than a joyful enthusiasm. He would offer you the shirt off his back, or be the first person to help an old lady across the street. Conversely, he did not see the wrong in necrophilia, torture for his own enjoyment, and murder in general. Isaac saw his brother as a useful and loyal tool to be used with discretion.
As a young boy, Jimmy didn’t have any use for school. He was a round peg in a square hole, and Eric worried that he might do something bad to other kids. Jimmy liked to kill, dissect, and preserve the bodies of animals of all sizes and types. Eric could well imagine Jimmy bringing home a little friend to show off his veritable house of horrors in the back shop—or worse, sticking some kid in the belly with his pocket knife over something trivial. Eric was wary of the boy when he had a knife in his hand. Thus, Jimmy stayed at home.
Jimmy knew the great swamp and its deeper secrets. Much of this knowledge came from his older brothers, and the rest came from long days exploring, as young kids do. As Eric had learned from his father, Jimmy found that virtually anything could be disposed of in the vast watershed of the Everglades: cars, trucks, planes, garbage, and most importantly, people. Wild pigs, gators and bull sharks will dispose of a body in no time, as long as the bigger bones are broken up, especially the skull and teeth. The slow-moving current of the river of grass swallowed the finer details. Jimmy was expert at making things disappear permanently, and he enjoyed doing it. He found the deepest holes while fishing for catfish, the ones that held the largest gators. No one looked in such places.
Their homestead was located on a large creek that ran into the Estero River. Jimmy liked to pour a bucket of blood and small animal parts off the end of the dock several times a day. The chum attracted a number of large and vicious bull sharks, including one in particular— Jezebel. Although smaller sharks would migrate in and out of the Gulf of Mexico, this shark had lost one of its eyes and stayed pretty close to the dock. Jezebel was nearly ten feet long, and was fat and lazy. She could finish off a normal-sized human, minus the head and teeth, with little difficulty.
Jimmy was methodical, seldom leaving things to chance. He would first dismember a body, then distribute the various parts between the sharks, gators and wild pigs he kept penned behind the barn. The pigs ground down the bones, leaving no trace. The only problem was they took their time.
Jimmy was not ugly in the conventional sense, though he was awkward, and cursed with a permanent look of disgust. He bore a perpetually screwed-up pucker, as if he’d eaten something bitter.
Eric was the perfect balance between his brothers. He didn’t have the intellect or the good looks of Isaac, nor did he have the psychotic disposition of his baby brother. He was the worker, the de facto parent, the glue that made things work. He was a decent-looking man, though his face looked weatherworn from the hot Florida sun. He cared little about his outward appearance, but he did clean up nicely if he was with his girlfriend Beth, who lived in St. James City on Pine Island. When he wasn’t working for McFadden, Inc., his time was spent on the water operating one of the better fishing charters, specializing in tarpon.
Eric was happy to leave the business end of things to Isaac, and the morbid aspects to Jimmy. Eric was adept at extractions and, when called for, assassination. Within hours of receiving a call, he could have a body removed and, if at all possible, the evidence cleaned up. He drove a restored 1970s GMC van, well-equipped with the latest forensic technology, carpet cleaners and body removal paraphernalia. If he couldn’t fix the problem, he would make sure the place burned down.
Eric was very good at killing people. His favorite weapon was a thin blade, perfect for a quick stab to the temple while his other arm held the victim’s neck and throat. The temple provided a convenient soft spot for the blade to enter, and it wasn’t terribly messy, as the wound could be staunched with the retrieval of the blade. His father had preferred the garrotte, a piece of piano wire with two handles on either end. It was messy, though; the head sometimes fell off, and blood was a real concern. The knife, poison or chloroform over the nose were much simpler. Once the extraction was made, Eric turned the body over to Jimmy, never to be seen again.
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Chris was born and raised in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake, voted the prettiest town in Canada. Christopher is the owner of a successful Real Estate Brokerage, Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty. He has a bachelor of arts from Brock University and is a lover of fine wine, sport and a story that takes you away. Christopher has a second residence in southwest Florida where he has spent a good part of his life since childhood. Southwest Florida is the backdrop for his first novel, Devil in the Grass.