It’s a cooler than normal evening in Northern Florida. I’m in the historic town of Fernandina Beach on the Amelia River first inhabited by the Timucuan Indians. Its streets are now lined with boutiques and trendy restaurants. It’s a laid-back kind of place, with long stretches of pristine beaches and golf courses. The historic district is nestled between two humongous industrial plants. At least a dozen smokestacks spew grayish, white smoke. At the moment, there’s a slightly chemical, sulfury smell in the air, like rotten eggs.
I’m settled on a bench at the small harbor licking my mint chocolate chip ice cream cone ready to enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Most of the time, not much happens here.
And the locals and tourists like it that way.
But under the drifting fumes evil lurks.
Before me, a youngish man wearing mustard-colored work pants, sweatshirt, and baseball hat strolls down the pier. He stops near a dozen tiny boats built for two, like the kind people pedal around in. Except these are souped up with outboard motors. He hops onto one, starts prepping it. He’s heading out now? Alone? Just plain dumb. Your enemy is waiting for you on the river. The guy who’s car door you accidentally dinged.
I keep one eye on him. One on the sun.
A woman comes down the pier. Hands in the pockets of her puffy white coat. She stops at the boat being prepped. She and the man don’t acknowledge one another. Looks like she has a beef with him.
I stupidly look at the sun which is big and still burning bright and when I look away, I see spots. When my eyes readjust, the woman’s sitting in the boat, hands in her pockets. So, she’s going solo on the death ride. Good luck!
Things take a dangerous turn.
She’s not wearing a life jacket.
Guaranteed she’s falling in. No-brainer. She’ll stand up, tipsy on happy hour cocktails, wobble and tip out of this hot tub sized thing. The tide will carry her out to the Atlantic. Or alligators will quickly organize for dessert. They like the taste of…
Or when the engine fails, a man or men in a bigger boat will stop to “help.” An early morning fisherman will find her empty vessel. And parts of her. The sun is half set now and more muted, more an orange glow and a pale purple cloud has formed just above the sun. Chilly for ice cream but it’s so scrumptious. It’s delightful.
Ahhh. It’s none of those things. Absolutely, she’s meeting her lover for a watery rendezvous. She’d risk anything to meet him. Though, one of them will not return tonight.
Yet, her hands have not left those pockets. No, it’s something else. She’s hiding a gun, knife, rope, poison. She’s disposing evidence. A crime she committed. For life insurance. Or she’s covering it up for someone.
Something sinister hangs above the water’s smooth surface.
This ice cream is the creamiest. I should’ve gone for the triple scoop.
I glance around for other witnesses. There’s a man with two small girls playing near the boat ramp, but he’s busy keeping them from venturing off to drown. A few pelicans make a last search of the water for a snack. Another twenty or so are lined up at the bait and tackle shop which closes soon. A man with a large black case arrives and takes a seat on a bench close to me. Now that’s interesting.
I look at my phone and note the time and type in a few details about the scene with one hand. The waffle cone is as good as the ice cream. Maybe better. And the sun is gone.
Then the unexpected happens.
The man tosses the woman a life jacket. Silly really because it’s only big enough for an 8-year-old. She doesn’t grab for the toss. When someone throws you something, you reach for it. It lands in the middle of the two seats. She’s definitely hiding something.
But what happens next is a stunner.
The man gets in the boat. With her.
They continue ignoring each other. It’s clear. They’re in cahoots covering up a murder. They’ve cleaned up the scene. Together they’ll dispose of the evidence. There’s something bloody under her puffy coat. She stares straight ahead. The purple cloud has deepened. It’s rich. I take a few photos. There’s a breeze and everything is quiet and peaceful as the day ends.
And like the fumes from the plants, something smells really bad.
They’re not getting rid of evidence.
He’s going to kill her.
She refused to go on this romantic sunset cruise he planned. He talked her into it. Her body language says so. She’s told her closest friends, “If I go missing or turn up dead, Jesse did it.” She’s left a letter in her underwear drawer detailing everything.
He maneuvers the craft out to the river.
Something buzzes above me. A drone hovers. The man with the black box guides it. Halleluiah! Eyes on the crime. He sends the drone out towards the murder boat.
The sky glows like rainbow sherbet, the man and kids are gone, the pelicans disappear and it’s dusky.
There’s always an unexpected twist.
I get up to leave.
“Nice sunset,” I say as I approach the man with the drone.
“I’m getting it all.”
“Catching that little boat that just headed out?”
“It’s why I’m here.”
“My buddy’s getting engaged tonight. I’m filming the big moment,” he pauses. “It’s a surprise,” he smiles at me.
My stomach drops. He knows about the murder plot.
He’s there for blackmail footage.
“Nice of you,” I say and hightail it to my car thinking, that was the best sunset, ever.