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Troy Adam, mixed-race, ex-Army, and northern-born, is fired from his job as a Tampa cop. Looking for work, Adam finds himself in Mangrove Bayou, a small gulf coast Florida town located south of Naples and in the midst of the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades National Park region. In short order he's hired, on probation, as Mangrove Bayou’s new police chief. Not much of an accomplishment, as there weren't any other serious candidates, but Adam intends to show his worth.
No sooner does he arrive than a prominent citizen is found dead. Although the medical examiner rules the case an accident, Troy believes all signs point to murder. The town council doubts that Adam or his small department can handle the case, but Adam is determined to prove them wrong. As a hurricane arrives, Adam and his team are up to their elbows in storms and suspects, assisted (or hindered) by a collection of residents who redefine the term eclectic.
Troy Adam was standing on the town’s small public beach admiring the clouds through polarized sunglasses. He was sweating already in his one dark gray suit that he wore only to job interviews. He looked at his wrist watch, sighed and turned and walked the few blocks to the town hall. He’d already applied to half a dozen other police departments with no luck. But he had always liked Mangrove Bayou, and he had hopes.
The mayor of Mangrove Bayou and the other two town councilmen had picked Troy’s résumé out of a stack of two and, on seeing Troy, they weren’t sure they didn’t like the loser better. In thirty-five years he had grown accustomed to people staring at him. He was light brown, with black eyes with just a hint of almond shape, and with short jet-black straight hair, and the Mangrove Bayou town council was staring now.
Two of the men looked as if they worked with their hands and stood around in the sun. One was heavyset, with thick wrists and callused hands with scarred, thick fingers. He wore khaki slacks and a darker brown Columbia fishing shirt, vented across the back and with pockets all over it. Troy had a closet full of identical shirts. The other was shorter, slender, with softer hands, who wore creased denim slacks and a Polo shirt. The third was a tall, pale, skinny man with a bald, narrow head, sorrowful look, black suit and matching narrow black tie.
The four of them sat in the large meeting room above the town hall, three councilmen on one side of a cheap wood-grain-vinyl-covered table with folding legs, one police chief candidate on the other side. The yellow plastic chairs would stack neatly and there were more tables and stacks of chairs against one wall, useful should a game of bingo suddenly break out.
“I’m Les Groud,” the heavyset man said. “Besides being one of the councilmen, I’m the mayor when I’m not out guiding sport fishermen.” He pointed at Polo Shirt, “Councilman Max Reed. Max is a real estate developer out to bulldoze Mangrove Bayou into the modern day.” Reed gave Troy a small, pained smile. “And the other gent is Councilman Howard Duell—that’s like a sword duel but with two ls. He rides herd on our high school kids.”
“Doctor Howard Parkland Duell,” bald-head said emphatically. “I’m principal of the high school and the junior high as well. And I would like to know why you even want this job. It’s not as if we’ve had a lot of applicants. Just two, in fact. It makes me wonder what past transgressions you are running from that you didn’t mention in your résumé.”
Troy stared at Duell a moment, then switched his attention to Mayor Groud.
“Well?” Duell said after a long moment of silence.
“Oh. Was that a question?” Troy said, looking back at Duell. “Or just your assumption as to my integrity?” Tamp it down, he thought. Give this guy a chance.
“We’ll figure out quick enough if you’re honest,” the mayor said. “That’s why you would be hired on probation. We have six months to decide to keep you or throw you back.”
Troy smiled. “Like an undersized redfish.”
“You see,” Max Reed said, “we’re a little cautious. You know, after Bob Redmond and all.”
“Redmond was the chief before you fired him last month?” Troy asked. “What did he do that scared you so much? And where is he now?”
“He left,” Groud said. “I don’t know where he went and I don’t care, just so as he’s gone. He had a thirteen-year-old boy in jail for killing his father with a shotgun. My opinion, the old bastard deserved it. But I’m not the jury. Anyway, the kid was looking at being sent on up to Naples, sitting in county jail there, being tried as an adult, and sentenced to twenty-to-life in state prison. Redmond sat down with the kid in the jail cell here and explained to him how he could break up razor blades into tiny bits and swallow those.”
“Did he also recommend a good wine to go with that?” Troy asked.
Groud ignored that. “We didn’t think our public safety director should be advising kids on how to commit suicide. There were other incidents but that was the last straw. We fired his sorry ass and shopped around for a replacement.”
“And you got, what, two outsiders interested? Why didn’t someone on the police force ask for a promotion?”
“Ask them,” Groud said. “You look good on paper: Army MPs, Tampa police, college degree from some place up north…”
“Cornell, actually,” Troy said. “Majored in history. And the college came first. Then the Army. Through ROTC. Then the Tampa police department.”
“History?” Duell said. “The classics.”
“Ancient and medieval history concentration,” Troy said.
Duell frowned. “But what good is that to a policeman?”
“Well, with that and a driver license, I can get a job as a taxi driver.” Troy often spoke only to amuse himself.
Duell frowned. “Perhaps we should let you do that.”
Groud was looking at Troy’s application. “You never put down a next of kin.
Something happens to you, who do we contact?”
“I have no next of kin. I grew up in The Orphans Home in Troy, New York. They named me for the town and also for the first man in the Bible.”
“That sucks,” Groud said. “Growing up like that.”
“His race might be a problem too,” Duell said. “With some prominent members of our community.”
Groud stared at Duell a moment. “I suppose so. With some of the scum of our community too.” He looked at Troy. “I’m not legally permitted to even ask you what race you are. But you are an odd duck, for sure.”
Troy grinned. “Nice work-around. But I don’t mind. My mother probably was, perhaps still is, a light-skinned black woman, most likely a prostitute, who spent one night with an oriental man, gave birth to a mixed-race baby, abandoned me on the steps of The Orphans Home, and vanished.”
Mayor Groud glanced to his left at Councilman Duell. “We don’t hire, fire or promote people here based on the color of their skin. You know that.”
Duell looked sorrowful. “Of course. And there are legal considerations too. Just thought I’d mention that there will be some pushback from certain quarters.”
“They can screw themselves,” Groud said. He grinned. “Besides, Adam, here, looks sort of beige, kind of like a Seminole. Around here that could be an advantage. He’s gonna confuse the hell out of people.”
“Beige?” Troy said.
“It’s a good color,” Groud said. “Goes with almost any furniture. Now, I talked to a few folks up in Tampa. Heard you were smart. They said you could sniff out a crime like a bloodhound. Said you had an IQ of 160 and could almost tell what a criminal was thinking, just by looking at a clue.”
“What am I thinking now?”
“You’re thinking that Duell, here, is a pompous ass and that we’re going to hire you anyway.”
Troy grinned. Duell opened his mouth to say something, thought about it, and closed his mouth. Max Reed gave out his pained smile.
“That alone can’t be it,” Troy said. “What’s the other reason?”
“People I spoke to said you might have gotten a raw deal from Tampa, that them firing you was a mistake. Why did they fire you?”
“I shot a teenager with a water pistol.”
The three men stared at Troy. “Well, that hardly seems serious,” Max Reed said.
“The teenager was the one with the water pistol.”