The second Kristen Maroney mystery is here! Our likeable boutique owner decides to help save sea turtles and her signature nosiness gets her more than she bargained for: the tourist season is waning in the Costa del Oro town of Placencia, and boutique owner Kristen Maroney looks forward to a rest. She accepts her friend Claire’s invitation to a beach party, only to find that Claire intends to use the gathering to educate people about the plight of sea turtles. Kristen gets hooked on the cause, and suddenly finds herself in hand to hand combat with some of the Caribbean’s most ruthless criminals.
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I knew Willy was right. I knew I should leave this beehive alone. But I couldn’t help fretting: my Caribbean haven was in danger. There had to be Placencia folks involved, and anyway San Jose was only forty-five minutes down the coast. If the black marketers continued to succeed, they’d only get greedier and push the turtles further along the road to extinction. To make matters worse, Belinda told me the two mestizo strangers had been seen on the beach several days running. They wore shorts and tee shirts but it was said they carried guns in the small of their backs.
I didn’t talk to Conrad about what I’d learned, probably because I felt guilty about sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong. It was one of the things that Conrad liked least about me. I switched my attention to getting mentally prepared for Gram’s visit and packed to move me and Buster to The Beachcomber temporarily. As I drove to the airport, I resolved to put what Felix had said behind me and focus on Gram.
I parked the truck and picked up a rental car at the airport, a sedan that Gram could easily get into and out of. As promised, she was waiting in a wheelchair at the baggage carousel. “Grab the red one, that’s mine!” she yelled in lieu of a greeting. “That one, don’t, it’s getting away!”
I sighed and paid no attention to her suitcase. “Gram, calm down, will you? I’ll get your bag the next time around.”
“Slow poke. Not long ago I’d of snatched that sucker like a frog with a fly.”
“How was your trip?” I pulled her suitcase off the carousel as it came around again. It wasn’t heavy, so I put it on the back of the Caribbean Air wheelchair, laid her metal canes on top, and pushed her out to the parking lot.
“God it’s hot. Where’s your car? I told you to park right outside.”
“You can’t leave park in front of the terminal, Gram. Slow down, will you? The lot is right there.”
I’d known Gram all my life but in between visits I always forgot what it was like trying to have a conversation with her. Probably a good thing, since otherwise, I’d have fled the country whenever she called. I got her into the rented sedan with her canes, put her suitcase in the trunk, and wheeled the chair to a luggage carrier pickup. She fumed in the passenger seat while she waited, fiddling constantly with the ac.
During the half hour drive to the Beachcomber, she prattled on about my parents’ shortcomings, the decline of Las Vegas, and the overall decay of things in general. It exhausted me. How was I going to survive two weeks? Maybe I could drug her. Did I have any valium?
Mercifully, the hotel check-in process went smoothly. Conrad came over from the casino to say hello and we both helped Gram settle in. Her room featured sliding doors to a private patio, and I fixed her a cup of tea to drink out there. I joined her, wishing I did have that valium, though more for me than her. Conrad went back to the casino promising to come get her for dinner. I pleaded work and escaped shortly thereafter. I was hoping she’d take a nap when she finished her tea.
Apparently she did, because when Conrad and I picked her up for dinner, she was once again full of piss and vinegar. “You takin’ me someplace nice or are we stuck here?” she demanded. The Beachcomber had a three star restaurant which neither Conrad nor I could have afforded if Conrad hadn’t worked there. Gram ate there multiple times whenever she visited. Other nights we ate in the more modest family restaurant adjacent to the casino.
“Okay, Conrad, let’s give the lady what she wants,” I declared, and bundled Gram and a Beachcomber wheelchair into the car. We ate seafood tacos and drank local beer at a fish shack in a poor section of town. Of course, Gram was ecstatic. “Now this here’s how you see the sights!” she proclaimed winking at a hunky teenager who couldn’t help staring at the strange old white lady in the wheelchair. To Conrad she said, “Can’t learn anything in that tourist ghetto you run.” Conrad smiled. I wasn’t sure he’d even heard her. I envied his selective hearing.
Around eleven, Gram finally decided she was ready for bed, so Conrad and I tucked her in and headed down to Manatee Beach for our midnight patrol. The moon was full, and we’d hardly stepped onto the beach when we saw two turtles on their backs.
“Is it me or are they stepping up the pace?” I asked as we headed for the nearest one. By now we’d perfected the technique of righting them.
“I’m hoping it’s a coincidence,” Conrad replied. But we found more turtles to rescue, and about one am we ran into a group of shirtless men who were standing around a nest. One of them was squatting down holding a burlap bag open with both hands. Two others were kneeling so they could scoop handfuls of eggs into the bag. Conrad and I stopped and watched them but they didn’t seem to care.
“Buenas noches,” Conrad said. They answered in turn but continued their work. Conrad’s Spanish is better than mine so I let him engage them in conversation. It seemed to be working, because he soon handed one a brochure. I was beginning to regret the two beers that I’d drunk and whispered in Conrad’s ear that I needed to retreat into the trees for a nature call. Conrad nodded, probably thinking the men would be more comfortable without me, which was surely true. I headed for a pile of sand that would hide me from view.
I was pulling my pants up when I heard rustling behind me. I whipped around, instinctively alarmed, and glimpsed a dark figure in jeans that was holding something long in one hand. I opened my mouth to scream just as the side of my head exploded in agony, and then everything went black.