Bullock was standing over near the shield shaking his head and tapping his fingers against his gun belt like he was sending out an SOS signal.

They hadn’t set up a perimeter, but people were keeping their distance.

Puller walked toward Bullock until the man looked up and saw him.

He at first put up his hands to ward Puller off, but then recognized him. He strode forward, his black shoes slipping in the sand.

When Bullock got to within a foot of Puller he said, “What are you doing here?”

“Just going for a walk on the beach. What do you have here?”

“What we have is an ongoing investigation that I am not at liberty to disclose to a civilian.” “I’m not a civilian.”

“To me you are.”

“One body or two?”

“Excuse me?” Bullock took a step back and looked suspicious.

“Behind the shield. Did the tide bring it or them in?”

“What the hell do you know about it?”

“Nothing. But you put up a shield on a beach and you got a woman sobbing over there—a woman I saw at the station earlier today probably filing a missing persons report—and the dominos begin to fall into place. Was it an accident?”

“Look, Puller, my best advice to you is to turn yourself around, get back on a plane, and fly home.”

“Appreciate the advice, but Paradise is growing on me. I can see why you like it down here so much.”

Bullock turned on his heel and walked off, his shoes rooster-tailing streams of sand behind him.

Another officer came and took charge of the couple, allowing Landry to break free and walk over to him.

“What did Chief Bullock say to you?” she asked.

“He wanted me to join the investigation and lend my expertise in helping solve the crime. He also invited me over for a beer later at his house.”

She smiled. “He doesn’t drink beer. But I didn’t believe you anyway.”

Puller nodded at the blue tarp. “You called the ME yet?”

“She’ll be here as soon as she can.”

Puller nodded. It seemed that his seven o’clock meeting with Timmins was going to be postponed.

“I won’t ask you for details, because I don’t want you to get in trouble with Bullock.” “Thanks.”

“Where’s your partner?”

Landry looked uncomfortable. “He, uh, he ran into a little problem.”

“Did he puke and pass out when he saw the body?”

She looked away, but something in her features told Puller he had nailed that one.

“I’ve got a lot of experience with bodies coming out of the ocean.”

“Why? I thought you were Army, not Navy.” “Oh, you wouldn’t believe what goes on in the infantry. And lots of Army bases are next to bodies of water.”

“I doubt Chief Bullock would approve of that.”

“I know he wouldn’t. But I thought I’d offer anyway. And if you ever want to run anything by me, unofficially of course, feel free.”

“I appreciate that. We don’t have a traditional plainclothes detective division. Uniforms do it all. If we get in over our heads we can call in help from the county or the state police.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“You been busy following up on things with your aunt’s death?”

“A little.”

“If you find out anything that shows it wasn’t an accident will you bring it to me?”

“I will.”

“And you won’t play vigilante?”

“I never go looking for trouble.”

“But somehow it finds you?”

“Sometimes. I’m staying over at a place called the Sierra.”

“Not exactly a great part of town.”

“It is if you can’t afford the really great parts. And for the record, eighty bucks a night is not exactly cheap in my mind. Even with breakfast thrown in.”

“What can I say, it’s Paradise.”

“Can you tell me more about the area?”

“Like what?”

“I’m sure you have the typical problems. But do you have any gangs?”

“Officially no. In reality yes.”

“What do you mean officially no, then?” “Paradise is a tourist destination. Of the millions of people who come to the Panhandle every year, lots of them come to Paradise. So officially we don’t have a gang problem.”

“Okay, so what does your unofficial gang problem consist of?”

“An unusual hybrid. We don’t have the typical ethnic and racial divides here. No Bloods and Crips versus Latino gangs versus skinheads.” “Meaning you have diversity in your gangs. Very commendable.”

She looked at him funny. “Why do you ask? Did something happen?”

“Nothing worth mentioning. Crime limited to the poorer areas?”

“People crimes, yeah, for the most part. Gang on gang. But the property crimes leach into the

higher-dollar communities, for obvious reasons.” “Go where the good stuff to steal is?”

“Exactly. The really rich places around here have their own security. Either behind community walls with rent-a-cops or behind their own gates with professional types.”

“I’m seeing a whole other side of Paradise.”

“Hey, this stuff happens where you have money bumping up against poverty.”

“Meaning America basically.”

“Don’t know about that.”

“So who’s assigned to investigate this?” asked Puller.

“Chief Bullock is going to personally handle it. He knows the family.”

“Is he good at investigative work?”

“He’s the chief!”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

She let out a sigh. “I guess we’ll find out.”

“I guess you will,” said Puller.

CHAPTER 23

Puller sat down on a beach chair and watched as Landry and another uniformed officer strung up yellow police tape around the scene using long metal poles driven into the sand to support it.

What Puller expected to happen did occur about twenty minutes later. A Volvo pulled up and a woman got out. She was in her fifties, with graying hair cut short, a white sleeveless blouse, a blue skirt that hit right below the knees, and sandals. She wore bifocals that rode on a

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