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    Synopsis

    The rain finally stopped, and Sam and Melissa began enjoying the great streams and hills of the famous Texas Hill Country again. After the last adventure they needed the time to decompress, and they took advantage of it! That is until Sam got the cryptic “Distress Code” message from his old college buddy John Thurston, aka Brew Ha Ha.It seems that his deckhand for the last 10 years, a man known to everyone only as “Horse”, has been murdered. The police haven’t been much help, and that’s where Sam and his investigative expertise come into play. Against Melissa’s ill feelings he accepts the case.Sam discovers a vendetta that dates from the end of the Vietnam War involving a crime syndicate turf war set on the upper Gulf Coast. The investigation takes them from the Upper Texas coast, through the Casinos of Lake Charles, and finally to a life and death battle in the swamps of the South Louisiana Cajun Country. He meets a Vietnamese crime lord who wants to be a Bond Villain, and whose wife is the embodiment of evil on Earth. An old enemy becomes his major Ally, and he escapes with help from an isolated “Voodoo Village”.It’s the usual “twists and turns” that come with Sam’s complicated life, plus one big twist that nobody sees coming…

    Chapter 3

    Early to bed and early to rise, just as the idiom goes, they all woke up well before they expected to and after enjoying a nice breakfast, Sandra and Drunken Bird packed up their car and headed east for Houston. It took much longer for Melissa to pack, as she was packing for a one to two week stay. This is a situation that some women could stretch into a full day of packing, but to her credit she did it in two hours.

    Sam took longer than usual himself, as he made sure his ‘kit bag’ full of his surveillance and detective gear was fully loaded. His detail to the clothing he would take, along with his toiletries, took a typical male timeframe of about fifteen minutes. They were soon on the road themselves, about 2 hours behind their guests.

    Sam stopped at Devil’s Backbone Tavern where he had a quick talk with his favorite bartender, Mike, who always looked after Sam’s place when he was away for any length of time. They got on the road at about 10:30, which put them at Sandra’s house around 2:00 PM.

    After grabbing a quick lunch at Sandra’s favorite Mexican restaurant, Sam left out for the final hour and a half drive to Galveston. Somewhere around 5:00 p.m. he was on the bridge of Brew Ha Ha’s cabin cruiser fishing boat named the ‘Gulf Witch.’ Brew Ha had always just lived on the boat, as had Horse up until just a day or two ago.

    Sam and his grieving friend shared a tumbler or two of Peppermint Schnapps to lighten the atmosphere, but then Sam grew serious.

    “OK, tell me what you know about this murder, Brew Ha.. Start with explains to me why you're sure this is murderous foul play?”

    Brew Ha Ha began telling the story, “Well, it was payday, and after getting his cash, Horse usually melted into the seedier parts of the island. I generally wouldn't see him until our next scheduled charter and I always arranged for him to have at least two days to blow off steam. Truth is, sometimes I would go out and do a little ‘trolling’ myself!”

    Sam grinned and nodded with understanding.

    “So I didn’t miss him until he didn’t show up for the next charter run. I handled it myself as it was an easy one, but I was a little pissed at him nevertheless! That is until I got back to the dock and noticed a police car idling out on the street. To his credit, the officer let the customers leave so there wasn’t a scene, but then he approached me and gave me the bad news. He verified that Horse was my employee and that I hadn’t seen him in a few days. Then he told me that Horse had been shot and that his body was frozen solid in the ice-maker of the Four Points Sheraton on the Seawall. The news had caused quite a stir among locals and the only reason I hadn’t already heard about it was that I was out on a fishing charter!” He stopped and looked at Sam for emphasis. “There are so many things wrong with this story. That hotel is way too high class for the type of places that Horse would normally hang out. In the ten plus years I had known him, I never met one person who disliked him. Not one! And who in their right mind dumps a “frozen body” in an ice-maker. He didn’t freeze in the machine…it just kept him from thawing out. Someone took the trouble to freeze him beforehand! I heard some teenage girl trying to get a bucket of ice was the one who found him. She almost shit herself right there!”

    As awful as the image was, they both chuckled nervously at the idea.

    Sam was wondering if he had lied to Melissa after all, this didn't sound much like an information gathering trip any longer.

    “So what do you want to do?” Sam asked.

    Brew Ha thought about it, and said, “Well, it’s probably too late to leave now. Let’s hang out on the boat tonight and get up in the morning and drive to Corpus Christi. About the only person on this planet, besides me, that has any chance of knowing something about Horse is the bartender babe that works at Doc’s next to Snoopy’s. I think we should start there. If anything, she would want to know what happened to him.”

    Sam grinned his snarky sideways grin. That was exactly what he was going to suggest they do!

    “Sounds like a plan,” Sam said. Brew Ha was already pouring anohter couple of tumblers of Peppermint Schnapps.

    -----

    Melissa and Sandra were also settling in for an early night. Sandra had made them a couple of sandwiches, but for the first time since they met, there was no bottle of Jose Cuervo in any of Sandra's cupboards.. Melissa looked at her strangely, and Sandra picked up on it.

    “I go on my weekly shift at two in the morning. I work the same kind of shift that firemen work in as much as, I simply live at the hospital for two days. A 48 hour work week. We rotate in shifts of 8 hours for the in-house duties and we have bunks so we can sleep when we are off shift. When there is a life flight or other emergency, it’s all hands on deck! I get off work at two Wednesday morning. Then we'll have the rest of the week to hang out.”

    “What am I going to do for two days?” Melissa asked incredulously.

    “Whatever you want. You can sleep for two days if you want. Go shopping at the Galleria. Go see NASA.” Sandra stopped and looked at her. “Or you could hang out here, just in case one of my crazy Indian friends comes looking for some medical help. I do run a black market clinic here, remember?”

    “So what! What in the world can I do about it, I know nothing about medical care.”

    Sandra just grinned. “You look like BIG medicine to me, Pocahontas!” Melissa frowned and stuck out her tongue.“Seriously, I’ll have my cell phone on me. All you have to do is text me, I’ll tell you what to do. Unless we’re in the middle of a life flight, of course, but I will eventually get back to you.”

    “You really mean this?! You’re not just making a sick joke at my expense, you really MEAN this?!” Melissa nearly shouted.

    Sandra put both hands up and spoke in the best ‘Fonzie’impression she could muster, “Hey, it’s two days. What could go wrong?”

    They both looked at each other quietly and let their minds run wild on that thought although neither dared say a word.