“I need to speak to you.”
His words rooted her in place. “Of course.” Would he arrest her? He was wearing civilian clothes. Surely he had handcuffs in his pocket.
He raised one eyebrow. “In private.”
With difficulty, she broke the hold the boat held on her legs and stepped onto the dock. “We can talk over there.” She stumbled toward the picnic tables.
“So?” He motioned for her to sit down. “Tell me. What happened?”
He led with the question she’d been preparing for all night. The question she’d agonized over. Pondered. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.”
The stress of the night swamped her. It was bad enough that she didn’t have a clue what had happened, but his incredulity pushed her over the edge. “No, Deputy. I do not.”
“Actually, it’s Detective.”
“Well, then, Detective, I’m tired, as you’ve already observed.” She heard the snark in her voice and colored.
“It’s not a difficult question. Can you walk me through the dive?”
She thumbed the seahorse pendant that hung from the base of her neck. “That’s a very different question.”
He exhaled loudly. “Let me start over. I’m Josh Talbot.” He stuck out his hand. “Dive incidents tend to be multijurisdictional investigations and the agencies involved work in close cooperation with each other. I’m a member of the Sheriff’s Office’s dive team, and I happen to be the deputy assigned to determine if anything that occurred tonight is in violation of any county, state, or federal statutes.”
Mer shook his hand. The grip was bold, not crushing. Resolute.
“I have a couple of questions that will help me make that determination,” he added.
“Do I need an attorney?”
“Did you kill Mr. Styx?”
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
“Dr. Cavallo, I suspect Mr. Styx swam into the ship, became disoriented, and died when he ran out of air. I won’t know that, however, until I speak with everyone, gather evidence, and conduct a proper investigation.”
His eyes were hazel, a storm of color that defied simple categorization. And he was still staring at her. At least his first assumption was her innocence.
She cleared her throat. “I don’t know where to start.”
“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.” His smile exposed teeth that were perfect, with the exception of a slightly chipped incisor.
The tension in her shoulders relaxed a fraction. “Benjamin Franklin.”
The incisor disappeared. “Shakespeare.” He continued to stare, as if hoping for recognition. “Richard the Third.”
Tension crept back into her shoulders. “Of course.” As if she didn’t feel stupid enough, now she had to deal with an investigator quizzing her on sixteenth-century literature. “I can only tell you what I saw. I’m not sure that’s what really happened.”
He removed a cellphone from his shirt pocket and selected a recorder app. “Help me understand.”
Mer described the dive, pausing to elaborate when he had a follow-up question.
“I understand you recovered the mask,” he said.
“Yes, and the ChemLight that was attached to his tank. They’re on deck. We put them aside for you, along with his other belongings.” She studied the hands in her lap. “He dived with a personal marine radio. If he surfaces, he’ll be able to signal for help.”
Headlights raked across the dock. A door slammed. Lindsey ran toward them.
“Where is he? Where’s Ishmael?”
Mer jumped from the bench and stepped around the detective. She needed to explain. “Lindsey—”
“You.” Lindsey rushed forward, causing Mer to take a step back. “This is your fault.”
Mer hung her head. There was nothing she could say. Lindsey was right. “I’m sorry.”
“You will be.” She flung her hand out. “You all will be. I’ll own this place before I’m done.”
The detective stepped between the two women. “I’m Detective Talbot. What’s your name?”
Lindsey drew herself up to her full height. “If you’re a detective, I demand that you arrest this woman.” She lunged over his shoulder and jabbed her finger in Mer’s face. “She murdered Ishmael!”
Detective Talbot grabbed Lindsey before she could reach Mer and guided her down the dock to speak to her in private.
Mer remained rooted in place. Murdered? Goosebumps erupted on her skin despite the warmth.
Leroy came up beside her. They watched while Lindsey stomped in circles in front of Talbot, occasionally stopping to point at Mer.
“I don’t know who scares me more at the moment.” Mer attempted a laugh, but it came out choked.
“There ain’t no difference between a hornet and a yellow jacket when they’re both buzzing in your pants.”
She scrubbed her face with her hands. “Lindsey’s accusing me of murder.”
“Pretty sure all of Key Largo heard her screeching,” Leroy said. “Quit your fretting, Mer. You didn’t kill no one.”
“Tell him that.” She chucked her chin at Talbot.
“I will, just as soon as I get my chance.”
The detective handed Lindsey a card. She threw a furious glare in Mer’s direction and huffed toward the parking lot.
Mer tapped Leroy’s shoulder. “Looks like you’re up. I’m going to head upstairs, get a jump on the paperwork.”
He nodded. “I’ll join you just as soon as I’m done.”
She gathered her gear off the dock and started toward the shop, but Detective Talbot stopped her on the stairs.
“Tell me, Ms. Cavallo, was there tension between you and Mr. Styx?”
Mer colored. Ishmael had grated on her nerves, but she hadn’t wished him ill. Would she have acted differently if she had liked him? No. She was a professional. Well, maybe. There was no way to factor in such a variable. What if she had allowed her personal feelings to cloud her judgment? The possibility churned her stomach.
Talbot watched her. Waited for an answer.
She couldn’t lie. “I didn’t care for Mr. Styx.”
“Don’t you think it strange that in two days there’ve been two incidents on the most famous shipwreck in Key Largo and you were involved in both of them?”