From the novel
CHAPTER 1 — BIRTH OF THE BLUES
THE LAST TIME I saw my friend David Ingel alive, was when he chaired the Thursday Sun Downer’s Group of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Does anyone have a burning desire?” David asked at the end of the meeting.
There was a shuffling sound as everyone prepared to stand, when across the aisle from me, a row ahead, a thin, pale arm rose tentatively.
“Ginger,” said David. “You have the floor.”
The room became silent, in respect and in anticipation. Ginger was a thirty-year old woman who was tall and skinny with long, thinning, bleach-blonde hair and pale hazel eyes that could not focus or track properly. Her voice was soft, and because of the beatings her former boyfriend had given her, it was hard for her to speak coherently—so she rarely tried.
“I finally went to see my mother…last weekend.” said Ginger. She looked up at the ceiling, her fingers twirled her hair, as she added, “I didn’t know she had died…died last month.”
Then, her voice a little stronger, Ginger carefully said, “I thought that there would always be time…to say…to make amend…say…I was sorry. There is always time. But that’s not true…not always time. Thank you.”
“Thank you for sharing, Ginger,” said David. “I’m sorry to hear about your mom. Is there anyone else?”
He hesitated, and then continued with the closing readings, ending with, “What you hear here, who you see here, stays here. Let’s end the meeting in the usual way. Form a circle and join hands.”
After much scuffling, we formed a bent ring of twenty-five persons, ranging from fifteen-year old Lenny to “Hi, my name is BOB,” who was well over eighty. David led us in the Serenity Prayer. Afterwards, as some folks scurried out the door, others got together in small groups and talked or hugged, and several people stood close to Ginger talking quietly.
I had just finished picking up the few stray cups and putting away the AA literature when David walked up beside me and asked, “So, how did the trial go today?”
“It didn’t,” I said. “My client pled straight up and got ten years.”
“Is that good or bad?” asked David.
“It could have been better. He should have taken the offer I’d gotten out of the State for him—five years prison followed by five probation, but no, not Mr. Hard-ass. He wanted a trial—said he knew he’d win. Now, he’s going to do the whole ten, day for day.”
“No gain time?”
“Nope, he’s got prior violent felonies and was released from prison less than a year ago. He went down as a Prison Releasee Reoffender.”
“Ouch,” said David, shaking his head. “So, why’d he plea?”
“The victim showed up. He just absolutely knew he’d intimidated her, scared her away from the trial, but she turned out to be a whole lot tougher than he thought,” I said. “If he lost at trial, he was facing fifteen years, so I guess it was a win in its own way.”
“That’s it?” asked David. “It’s over?”
“I already mailed in a Notice of Appeal on the way here,” I said. “It won’t do any good on the plea, but he wants an appeal and it would be a breach of ethics for me not to file it—so it’s done.”
“I’m so glad I don’t handle criminal cases,” he said. “So, what’s your schedule like for the weekend?”
“I’ll be in Sarasota for an evidentiary hearing early tomorrow morning and will be doing depositions in Clearwater ‘til late in the day—real late if they all show up. After that, I doubt I’ll even make the meeting, probably just chill out on the beach and watch sunset,” I said. “Saturday and Sunday I’m working on an appeal that has to be filed next Friday, plus I’ve got to keep an eye on the boat with these squalls blowing through. Other than that, not much.”
“Well, your presence is requested at my house Sunday afternoon.”
“I’m not sure…”
“No excuses,” he said. “The kids missed you at Christmas, and we had to celebrate New Year’s Eve without you. So, it’s unanimous. Lisa, the kids and I say you will be at our house around two in the afternoon, and don’t plan on leaving until after dark.”
“I’m outvoted,” I said. “I’ll try and make it.”
“No try,” said David. “My mom’s coming to town, and I told her I would get Captain Woody to barbeque for us and tell sailing stories and lawyer jokes.”
“Okay,” I said. “Chicken and fish only, though. And no lawyer jokes.”
“But with veggies on the grill,” he said. “You gotta deal.”
Sitting in my old Crown Vicky a few minutes later, I realized that what Ginger had said was appropriate for me. I’ve owed Lisa and David an apology, which had kept me from being able to enjoy their company over the holidays. Instead, I had stayed by myself, kept myself busy with work, and had been generally miserable. I recognized the old pattern of avoidance, and knew I had to at least try to make the amends.
SUNDAY MORNING, THE last weekend in January and the headline on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times warned of chilly temperatures, more wind, and rain early the next week, when a major cold front was to arrive in the Tampa Bay area.
For me, the chill arrived sixty seconds later, when I pulled out the Local and State section to see if any of my former clients were back in the news. In the lower right hand corner of the page was a photograph of David Ingel. The headline below it read: “Police Seek Information in Slaying of Local Attorney.”
I called David’s number. I didn’t recognize the voice on the answering machine; it was neither Lisa’s nor David’s, and the message was a request for privacy.
I drove by at two in the afternoon, but the house was dark and no cars were in the driveway, so I didn’t stop.
I knew death. I knew there would be time to help later. I knew there would be time to tell Lisa I was sorry.
THE FOLLOWING SATURDAY morning the Florida we knew and loved had returned—sixty-five degrees at sunrise, and by noon, when we cast off from the dock in Clearwater, the temperature had risen to a balmy seventy-eight. I had been asked to join a few of David’s relatives and friends aboard the sixty-five-foot classic Chris-Craft power-yacht, Journey’s End. As we set out into the Gulf of Mexico, we saw other boats headed toward Tampa Bay for the Gasparilla Festival—parades and parties celebrating piracy. We were headed in the opposite direction and destined for a different type of celebration—celebrating a life well lived.
I turned my face to the warmth of the sun as I remembered the last time I heard David introduce himself at the Thursday AA meeting over a week before, “Hi, my name is David. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I know it.” The topic that night had been amends.
I thought of Ginger’s words, and those times when the person to whom you owe amends cannot be found, or is dead. Tears ran down my cheeks into my beard.
David had been murdered about twenty-four hours later.
THE CAPTAIN BROUGHT Journey’s End to dead slow just over three miles offshore, moving only fast enough to maintain steering. The warm breeze blowing from the land kept the winter fog bank only one hundred yards beyond us. When the breeze hesitated, the chill of the water could be felt and wisps of cold mist drifted by.
As I walked aft along the side deck to the large open cockpit, something caused me to shiver down to my core. Perhaps it was the chill of the occasion. Perhaps it was the mist. Perhaps it was seeing Lisa sitting alone holding the box that carried David’s ashes. My intuition warned me that something beyond the funeral was wrong.
The minister who had presided at the beachside memorial service earlier in the week gently lifted the wooden box from Lisa’s hands. It was the size of a shoe box, inlaid with different colored woods creating a seashell pattern. The minister set the box on a folding table which had been converted to an altar with a white and purple linen drape. The drape was embroidered with the same gold cross and white dove as the stole the minister wore.
Lisa tried to stand as the ground swells slowly rolled the boat side to side. Fearing that she might fall or faint, I stepped beside her and placed my hand on her elbow. She looked at me, her face ashen. She didn’t seem to comprehend who I was.
We stood and listened as the minister said goodbye to David for us; assuring us David was in God’s hands. When he finished his “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” speech he suggested we sing “Amazing Grace.”
I felt my face melt into a smile. “Amazing Grace” was appropriate for the ceremony. It was written by a drunkard who had captained slave ships—a man who, like David and me, had eventually found sobriety and perhaps a little bit of “grace.”
We sang in a cappella harmony the words the world seems to know by heart:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
During the last verse, the minister picked up the box and walked toward the starboard rail of the boat, only to be guided to the port rail by the captain, lest the breeze over the starboard rail spread David’s ashes on the living and the beautiful teak and holly cockpit sole.
I stood beside Lisa on the gently swaying deck and watched the ashes strike the water. There they burst into a ghostly white plume which dissipated into the crystal blue water in seconds. I could smell the sea—the iodine fragrance of salt water and fish—a fragrance that came from the essence of life itself.
A few words, a few tears, and David’s life was over for some—but not for Lisa Ingel, and not for me.AS JOURNEY’S END turned back eastward in the afternoon glow, Lisa asked me to walk to the foredeck with her. We were alone when she asked me the last question I expected to hear...
Continued between the covers of TAMPA BAY BLUES
About TAMPA BAY BLUES
Ex-Public Defender Woody Thomas’ friend from Alcoholics Anonymous, David Ingel, is murdered and Woody represents Robbie Battles, a mutual friend from AA who is charged with murdering David during an alcoholic blackout. Woody turns to detective Kyle Murdock, a former Navy SEAL, for help in an investigation that leads from the horse country of Ocala, to suburban Tampa and the beaches of Tampa Bay.
Unfortunately, Robbie Battles has confessed to the murder, the police have a murder weapon, and David's beautiful widow has a snub-nosed .38 Special and a passion for revenge.