Chapters 4: Partridge Point
Tuesday June 10, 6 p.m.
“Looks like we found where the Carkeek floater was killed and you are going to love it, Eric, just love it. I guarantee. You ever write this one, it’ll be a great story.” The caller was Bobby Harms, way too enthusiastic about his work. “Want to meet me for a look?”
Favor for favor. “Where?”
“Partridge Point. Whidbey Island. Drive to Fort Ebey State Park, south parking lot, walk to the top of the cliff. You’ll see a couple of us and some Island County Sheriffs on the beach below.” The detective hung up, amused at leaving Falconer to stew over all the possible questions during the two-hour drive.
Falconer passed the turnoff for the Mulkilteo Ferry to avoid the rush hour line. Farther north he drove through LaConner and the Swinomish Indian Reservation and took a couple back roads around Similk Bay to reach the Deception Pass Bridge. From there it was a dozen miles back south to Ebey’s Landing and the state park.
He drove and gnawed on the options. Bobby hadn’t called him to see a gun half buried in the sand behind some driftwood. Probably wasn’t another body, either, since dead a week or more now it would have all the features of a decomposing seal and the same smell. Falconer decided on a boat – a nice, isolated place to kill somebody, and now wrecked on the rough shore. But nothing he could think of explained why it just turned up. Fort Ebey was a busy beach in June. Any size boat beached there right after the killing would have been noticed within hours.
Looking down from the cliff, Falconer decided he’d guessed about right. In the clear water, easy to see from where he stood and about 20 yards from shore there was a good-sized, expensive-looking fish chaser almost upright on the bottom. Working from an Island County patrol boat, three divers were struggling against the current to strap inflatable bladders to the hull so they could raise it. Falconer started down to the beach following a narrow gully, clinging to weeds and tufts of tough grass to keep from slipping in the loose sand and stones. Only partly successful, after picking his way 100 feet down the defile, he slid the last few yards onto the beach in a cascade of small rocks, dirt, sand and a cloud of dust.
Falconer brushed off his pants, emptied sand and pebbles out of his deck shoes. He wasn’t wearing socks. Harms gave him a smug grin that said “Everything I promised,” and launched into his story. “Some beachcombers spotted it this morning when the tide was out. Park ranger called the Coast Guard and they sent a helicopter and two of their fast boats to look for survivors. Island County responded to the scene. The divers got into the cabin about 10 a.m. and that ended the search. Second body in there, mostly clothes on bones, though, and crabs and a lot of fat fish. They say there’s a couple of bullet holes in one bulkhead so it looks like our murder scene.”
“Uh-huh. And since that was a week, maybe ten days ago, how do you figure it just showed up?”
“Drifting around mostly submerged. That’s the divers’ theory. This model has floatation tanks and upside down may have trapped even more air in the bilges.”
“And over a week of summer no boaters and none of the two-dozen float planes going back and forth to the San Juans and Canada every day spot a 30-foot white hull floating just under the surface?”
“Not likely if it was upside down like they think. The anti-fouling paint on the bottom is black. Probably lucky nobody hit it.”
One of the divers sloshed ashore, picking his way between the boulders, and removed his fins. “You’re Falconer. Bobby said you were coming. My wife’s a fan of yours. Apparently I don’t tell enough cop stories at the dinner table. Can’t really, the kids are always there, so she reads your blog.” He pulled off a black, insulating glove and held out his hand. “Randy Serist, SPD dive team. The other guys are Island County.”
“And you agree with Lt. Harms that this thing has been floating around upside down for a week and wasn’t just scuttled last night?”
“Yes, sir. That fits the facts. The dead guy in the fo’c’sle has been under that long. He’s almost gone except for bones. The crabs are finishing him off. Boat must have been aground at some point where they got aboard.”
The fish-chaser was now partly clear of the waves as a compressor on the dive boat inflated the gray rubber bladders lashed to the hull with cargo straps. “Look at that mess,” said Serist. “Antennas, radar, marlin tower, windshield all ripped off. I figure last night’s flood brought it onto the rocks from the north. Upside down everything gets smashed and then the current rolls it. Easy to happen. The bottom is nothing but boulders like these.” He waived toward the water’s edge and the jumble of rocks, giant stones rounded like pebbles, disappearing shadows as the water deepened. “Some of those things are three, four feet in diameter and that’s what the bottom’s like out twenty, thirty yards. Nothing else stays put. Current runs four or five knots at max flood, sometimes more. This would be a class three rapid if it weren’t underwater. Nothing stays put except the boulders. We think the boat hit some big ones and the current rolled it back upright and wedged it in the rocks.”
“How’d they scuttle it?”
“I don’t think they did, Mr. Falconer. They hit something really hard and cracked the left side at the water line. It probably sank slowly and finally rolled over. I think if there was anybody alive, like your perp, they probably had plenty of time to get off if there was a dinghy or a raft. That’s what I’d be looking for.”
The sheriff’s boat pulled the wreck slowly away from the rocks. The hour or so of slack water between tides was over and the current was already sucking at the boulders close to the beach. It was almost nine and the sun dropped, reddening, through skeins of thin cloud between the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.
“Just one more thing,” said Harms after Secrist left to collect his gear. “The owner of the boat. It’s registered to a guy you know.” The detective paused for effect. “Carl Barclay, the political consultant.”
“Son of a bitch!”
“We’re knocking on his door right now.”
“Fill me in on what he says?”
“You know better than to even ask. Talk to his lawyer. Read the court papers. By the way…”
“I owe you two six packs. The I.D. was super high quality but completely phony. Non-existent house in a real subdivision. And you were right. No prints for the big guy on file anywhere, including with our international friends.”
Chapter 5, H Dock, Everett
Tuesday June 10, 9 p.m.
It took about an hour for Carl Barclay to prove the murder boat wasn’t his, but he had to endure the 30-mile ride from Seattle to Everett with three laconic cops, compounded by the indignity of being frisked.
Bobby Harms’ sergeant figured he had two options. Arrest Barclay, take him downtown and check out his story in the morning, or consider him that rarest of birds, a truthful citizen, and drive him up to the marina tonight and check it out.
Barclay, interrupted at his condo near the end of a Mariners’ game that the home team had the rare chance of winning, was playing indignant taxpayer, threatening Marcus Williams, the sergeant, with lawyers, a lawsuit for false arrest, the whole nine yards which in Barclay’s case included enormous influence. He was a friend of the mayor’s, worked on Sonny McCracken’s earlier campaigns, still had access, and his wife’s sister was married to a deputy police chief. Mostly Barclay, red faced, cursed the cops, angry enough to send spittle flying, for not believing that he’d been at the marina Sunday, just two days ago, and spent the afternoon waxing the topsides. Williams, who was black and keenly aware of the consequences of putting a prominent citizen in jail even for a few hours, decided on a deal. The boat was in Everett or it wasn’t. The guy was right or in deep shit. “Alright, Mr. Barclay, grab a jacket, let’s go up to your boathouse and have a look.” Then one of the two uniformed officers frisked him.
“Can’t have an armed civilian sitting in our cop car, can we, sir?”
“Calm down, Carl. Don’t make it worse. These guys are OK and we know the boat’s there.” Sally Barclay, a tall brunette with the commanding presence of the competitive swimmer she once was, stepped in to defuse her husband.
“Well, fuck them. These guys are fucked. Soon as we leave, call your brother-in-law. Have him call the chief about this crap. By tomorrow morning, this dude’s going to be thankful if he’s still on the force.”
“OK Carl, we’re both pissed. But just go along. Show them the boat and it’s all over, no problem. Don’t worry, while you’re gone I’ll call Ricky and straighten this out.”
“OK, OK. But if it was up to me I’d be suing them for false arrest.”
“We haven’t arrested you yet, Mr. Barclay,” said Williams in a calming baritone he once thought would get him a career in radio. “We’ve asked you to come along voluntarily and show us your boat just to confirm your statements.”
“Yeah, OK. That’s what we’re doing. ‘Confirming my statements.’ Well, they’re going to be confirmed and that’s your problem.”
Soaked up by the cops’ silence, Barclay’s bitching was deflated by the time they were halfway up I-5. In the front seat, Williams worked his Blackberry and made quiet calls, ignoring him. Barclay changed tacks, morphed the outrage into prominent citizen, friend of the mayor, power broker, puffing himself up. “Glad to get this settled, Sgt. Williams. Must be two boats that look alike. I know mine’s not sunk.”
“Like I said, Mr. Barclay, state says the registration number on the boat we have is yours. You say yours is floating in a boat shed at the Port of Everett. We’ll just go find out, that’s all.”
Carl Barclay was a talker. It was his strength. He traded on his ability to draw people in, convince them, sell his advice, the bread and butter of consultants. For the cops, he rattled on about the boat, conjuring it up with words, how he bought it after a Caribbean charter on a sister ship seven years ago, fully outfitted – fish-finding sonar, global positioning tied to electronic navigation, two radars, three radios, ice chests that could hold real game fish – He’d caught barracuda out there – more of these models in Florida than on Puget Sound, maybe his the only one, great boat for taking clients salmon fishing in the straits, sometimes on the west side of Vancouver Island as far as Uclulet and Tofino. By the time they drove up to the dock, he was ready to knock these assholes’ socks off. This was his territory.
Barclay used his card key to let them onto H Dock. Like a guy out to inspect his prized property, show it off for some buddies, he started briskly down the ramp to the float, an alley between rows of boathouses 15, 20 feet high, sided with gray corrugated metal. For the cops, though, this felt more like guns drawn, ready to kick in the door than a friendly tour of the yacht basin. Despite Barclay’s warming chatter, he could be the perp in a double murder and these were the last few minutes before they read him his Miranda rights and put him in cuffs. This guy was crazy.
Barclay’s shed near the end of the float was completely enclosed like the others they’d passed. The windowless door was locked. On the waterside of each shed, oversize garage doors rolled down to protect the boats. A casual observer even during the day wouldn’t know which boats were in, which were out. Barclay tapped on a keypad and pushed open the door. Then, with a showman’s flourish, he reached inside and switched on overhead lights. In the fluorescent glow, a spotless Scabbard-34 fish chaser floated gracefully within the restraint of its mooring lines.
“Told you so, motherfuckers.” Barclay laughed. Williams heard relief in it.
“Beautiful boat, Mr. Barclay.” The appreciation heartfelt, a peace offering from one of the Seattle officers.
Williams was standing by the bow, rubbing his thumb on the tax stamp stuck to the hull in line with the registration numbers. “One of you guys got a flashlight? I need some more light on this.” He copied the sticker number into his notebook, went around to the other side and verified both stickers were the same.
Barclay walked over and offered his hand to Williams. “No hard feelings, Sgt. Williams? Sorry about my temper earlier, but now you can see why I was pissed.”
Cornered, the sergeant shook his hand. “Got any theories, Mr. Barclay?”
“Yeah. Like why is – I guess we should say was – another boat out there just like yours with the same registration number? Maybe there’s some connection to you. Think of anything?”
“Christ, no. I can’t imagine.”
“I’d work on it, Mr. Barclay. Within the last week at least two people were murdered on your boat’s twin, a boat somebody wanted people to think was yours. And like you said, there aren’t many like this around here.”