Home > Flight (The Texas Murder Files #2)

Flight (The Texas Murder Files #2)
Author: Laura Griffin

ONE

 

 

The light was perfect, but she didn’t have long.

   Miranda Rhoads dipped the paddle and glided smoothly through the water as she composed the shot. Cattails in the foreground, the tall lighthouse a distant spire. In between, the bay was a vast mirror that reflected the pinkening sky.

   She lowered the blade of her paddle again, this time pushing off the spongy bottom to maneuver around a clump of reeds. This was it. She balanced the paddle on her thighs and adjusted the strap around her neck. Anticipation thrummed through her as she lifted the camera. Conditions were exactly what she’d hoped for when she saw the weather report last night and remembered one of her father’s sayings: Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

   Miranda took a deep breath and waited. Seconds and minutes slipped by, and she let her mind drift like the kayak. The humid air settled around her. She listened to the hum of insects in the marshes behind her, a trilling chorus that swelled and subsided with the breeze. She took another deep breath and for a perfect, endless moment she felt truly okay. Her thoughts were clear and crisp. The sunlight-saturated air seemed to vibrate around her. The day was still new, limitless, and she gave in to the notion that she was going to be all right.

   Movement in the corner of her eye.

   She remained utterly still as a great blue heron stepped from the reeds, tall and elegant on his spindly legs. Another step. Miranda held her breath and brushed her fingertip over the shutter button. If he sensed her watching, he didn’t show it.

   She waited for the shot. It was instinct now. Like a hunter. Another deep breath and a long respiratory pause as she stayed motionless.

   Click.

   He stepped closer and dipped his head down. Then he lifted his head and turned toward her, regarding her with a regal look. Posing?

   His silhouette was black and perfect against the fiery sky. Miranda’s heart hammered.

   Click. Click.

   This was why she’d come here. This was why she put up with lukewarm showers and rusty water and a bleating alarm clock at four thirty a.m. This was why she schlepped her kayak to the dock all alone, slapping at mosquitoes before her first sip of coffee. Photography was all about light, and mornings offered the best chance of getting something useful. Not a guarantee but a chance, and it paid to play the odds. She couldn’t sell what she didn’t have.

   Click.

   Another careful step. Click, click.

   The heron turned and took wing. She lowered the camera and watched him soar over the marsh, then swoop down into another clump of reeds.

   Miranda sighed. Not bad for a day that had barely begun.

   She shifted the camera under her arm and picked up the paddle, scanning the wetlands for new possibilities. She had thirty minutes left. More, if the distant line of storm clouds lingered off the coast.

   Her paddle snagged on something. She spotted a slim yellow cord stretched taut across the reeds. She paddled closer and spied something green tucked among the cattails. A canoe.

   An explosion of feathers nearby made her heart lurch as a trio of white ibis flapped away. Behind her, something thrashed in the water. A fish? A cottonmouth?

   Her attention snapped back to the boat. Her heart was thudding now as she drifted closer. The air felt charged, and all her senses went on high alert. Habits kicked in. She noted the direction of the wind. She noted the height of the sun. She noted the air, damp and pungent, pressing around her. Her stomach clenched tightly as she took a slow, shallow stroke, careful not to bump the canoe with her kayak as she peered over the side.

   They looked peaceful, with their long limbs intertwined. His arm around her was protective. Tender.

   Obscene.

   Miranda’s vision blurred. Her brain recoiled from the sight in front of her, but she couldn’t turn away, couldn’t stop from registering every detail.

   The man’s head was nestled on the woman’s shoulder just beneath her chin, and their pale skin looked rosy in the morning glow. An inch of water filled the bottom of the canoe. The woman’s dark braid drifted there like a snake.

   She stared unblinking at the morning sky.

 

* * *

 


* * *

       Detective Joel Breda pulled into the marina parking lot and slid his truck into a space beside a dusty police cruiser. He scanned the boats bobbing in their slips before turning his attention to the caliche lot. He recognized most of the vehicles, including the hulking old Suburban that belonged to the Lost Beach police chief.

   Joel surveyed the two-story building as he got out. The marina occupied the first level, and a seafood restaurant with sweeping views of Laguna Madre occupied the top. Neither was open yet, but the weathered wooden bait shop near the docks would have been busy since sunrise. The shop owner stood beside his hut now, smoking a cigarette and watching a cluster of boats about a hundred yards offshore.

   “Thought you were in Corpus.”

   Joel turned to see Nicole Lawson trudging toward him. She wore a blue Lost Beach PD golf shirt and black rubber waders that were covered in muck.

   “Not anymore,” Joel said. “Who’s here?”

   “McDeere got here first. Then the chief. Still no sign of the ME.” Nicole turned toward the water, and Joel followed her gaze to the boats. An LBPD speedboat and several small skiffs blocked his view of the crime scene.

   “What do we know?” Joel asked.

   “So far, not much. Two victims, both shot in the gut. Randy called it in.”

   Joel cast a glance at the bait shop owner as he flicked his cigarette to the ground. Randy chain-smoked when he was nervous. He’d probably gone through half a pack by now.

   Nicole turned to face him. Her long auburn hair was tied in a messy bun instead of her usual braid, which made Joel think she’d been called out of bed.

   “Male and female?” he asked.

   “Yep. And they’re young, too. Maybe early twenties.”

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