Collateral Damage A Matt Royal Mystery - By H. Terrell Griffin


On the last morning of his life, Jim Desmond woke to the sound of the gentle surf lapping on the beach, pushed by the onshore breeze that barely rippled the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Early light reflected off the water, the angle of the sun hanging over the mainland to the east giving the seascape a flat appearance, as if much of the color had been leeched out of the vivid hues that usually paint the southwest coast of Florida.

Desmond snuggled a little more deeply into the bed, a sheet and light blanket covering his naked body, protecting him from the cold air blowing from the air-conditioning vent in the ceiling. He knew it was already hot out on the beach, the June humidity lying like a damp shroud over the entire island.

A hand slowly reached over him, caressed his chest. He felt breasts snuggle against his back, a long leg cross his. Heard a slight snicker, felt a wet kiss on his shoulder, the warm breath of his wife against his skin. He turned toward her, kissed her smiling face, and began to make love to the woman he’d married the day before on the beach in front of the Hilton.

Later, they lay in the bed, her head on his shoulder, her blonde hair tickling his nose. They were sated for a time, their physical need for each other slaked. Two people on the cusp of the future, a long life of success and children and growing old together stretched before them. Happiness was their due, for they were the children of the baby boomers, the generation that had known tranquility in their world, enjoyed the fruits of their parents’ success, gone off to college and joined fraternities and sororities, partied and studied, and moved into the wider world where they expected no less than life as they had always known it.

Jim kissed his bride on the forehead and padded to the shower. He dressed in running shoes, shorts, and a white T-shirt bearing the logo of his alma mater, the University of Georgia. His wife had made coffee in the small coffeemaker provided each room. She poured him some in a Styrofoam cup, and standing nude, smiling, held it out like an offering to the god of love. He sipped the coffee, kissed her chastely on the mouth, and went out the door for his morning jog. She never saw him again.


My buddy Logan Hamilton and I were having lunch at Mar Vista, the bay-side pub in the Village on the north end of Longboat Key. The year-rounders, those of us who don’t go north in the spring and return in the late fall, know better than to sit outside in June. The heat and humidity, while not as bad as August, is brutal. Even the sea breezes that blow across our island don’t bring relief. It is just hot air. Logan said it reminded him of trial lawyers, my former profession. I never argue with him when he’s right.

We sat at a table next to a wall covered in currency of every kind, much of it American greenbacks. Many of the bills had messages scrawled on them from people who had left them along with their names and the dates of their visit. I wondered what made otherwise sane people tack good money to walls or throw coins into fountains. Like much of the human condition, it was a mystery to me.

Logan and I were planning a fishing trip for that evening. We thought we might have some luck after dark anchored off the north end of the Sister Keys just outside the channel. And if the fish weren’t biting, we had beer and a lot of lies to tell. We’d get to Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant before closing and have a drink or two with Debbie the bartender. Maybe a nightcap at Tiny’s. Not a bad way to spend a hot evening in Southwest Florida.

I was having the Caesar salad with blackened shrimp and Logan had ordered his usual, deep fried scallops and a Dewar’s and water to wash it down. I felt the heat as the door to the parking lot opened behind me. Then, a voice. “Matt Royal, there you are.” Cotty Johnson. I turned and saw my eighty-something-year-old neighbor coming toward us. “Hey Logan,” she said.

Logan and I stood. Cotty pecked us both on the cheeks. “Join us,” I said.

“No, thanks. Shirley Beachum is on her way. We thought we’d