Molerat 2.0: Terror Burrows, Detest-A-Pest #3 (Paperback)
Molerat 2.0: Terror Burrows, Detest-A-Pest #3 (Paperback)
A playground for the rich. A genetic mutation a thousand years old. A relentless hunger for human flesh. What could go wrong?
Harry Harcourt has a problem. People are dying at exclusive golf resort Mar-A-Verde. As head greenskeeper, it’s up to him to “fix” the problem and keep the course open... or face termination. But it’s not one problem, it’s a vast network of vicious problems, all under the turf.
As bodies pile up, resident doctor Daniela Trejo joins Harry in the fight. Together, they capture a creature unlike anything on Earth – acid skin and razor-sharp fangs with agility that matches its appetite. But the creature escapes.
Outmatched and outnumbered, Harry seeks outside help. No one wants to touch the job – no one except Detest-A-Pest. O’Connor, Sam, and Hope hit the road for what looks like an easy payday in a tropical paradise. What awaits them is a journey through hell that has gruesome death hiding in every shadow...
Rally behind heroes you'll want to root for in “Molerat 2.0: Terror Crawls,” book three of the popular Detest-A-Pest Creature Feature series.
Book Data (for book nerds like you and me)
Book Data (for book nerds like you and me)
Publisher: Frankenscript Press
Audience: Trade/General (Adult)
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Look Inside Molerat 2.0: Terror Burrows (Detest-A-Pest #3)
It all happened so fast. In a matter of seconds Sam found himself hanging upside down, three-quarters of the way into the chasm, a rope tangled around his right foot. His eyes struggled to adjust between the bright blue of the sky and the dark cavern floor. Right now he needed to see the floor but his eyes favored the sky.
Blood rushed to Sam’s head and pounded at his temples, clouding his thoughts with every heartbeat. His right leg ached as it bore the weight of his muscled frame. He had no doubt that the rope would hold his weight. He had come to trust Harry implicitly. But the haphazard snarl around his ankle was nothing like Harry’s infallible bowline knot.
Sam heard what roamed below and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could sense motion in the periphery. That alone should have scared the bejesus out of him but right at that moment he felt no fear. Instead he thought about his friends up top, people he cared about and who cared about him. He thought of his son Bradley back in Los Angeles. And Claire. Gooseflesh rose on his legs and arms. The cool air of the subterranean cavern washed over him, carrying with it the smell of damp earth and something else. Something foul.
This was not the way he wanted to remember the Bahamas.
Six days earlier, while Harry Harcourt and other staff and guests of the Mar-A-Verde resort slept, horror chose this predawn May morning to test the air outside its subterranean dwelling. But it was the sun cracking the horizon, slicing the creature’s skin with shards of light, that forced it back into its secluded burrow.
Harry’s day began at five-fifteen in the morning. The smell of fresh auto-brewed coffee that drifted out from the vintage Mr. Coffee machine never failed to pull him out of sleep. Alarm clocks were overrated.
He rolled out of bed, ran his fingers through his closely cropped natural hair, and tossed on his clothes for the day. The top half of his work “uniform” belonged to Mar-A-Verde. All staff were required to buy and wear purple shirts with the gold embroidered resort logo in the upper left corner. The shirt was adequate but Harry had far more comfortable shirts in his closet. Occasionally on cooler days he’d wear one under this purple abomination. God help you if stepped off the corporate branding train. At least he didn’t have to exert any mental energy on choosing the day’s attire.
The bottom half was up to him. He slid his legs into well worn jeans, the denim permanently stained with dirt and worn thin in the right spots. The warm feeling of the fabric against his skin maintained the illusion of choice.
The staff apartments were located far from guests in a separate building at the north end of the Mar-A-Verde property, where Harry had been head groundskeeper for 19 years. Living here, on an exclusive island in the Bahamas, would be a dream come true for most. But as with all of Strunk’s properties, the staff were undervalued and loyalty was in short supply. Staff were allowed off the island only under special circumstances or upon termination.
Initially Harry had set his sights on a bachelor’s degree in aviation but switched to horticulture halfway through his second year of study. He loved to fly, but he loved the earth more, working the soil through his hands, watching seedlings take root and flourish. For him, keeping plants alive was simple. Give them sun, water, fertilizer, and proper care; simple things he could easily master. But his aviation knowledge rounded out his experience and made him an asset to Mar-A-Verde.
He managed a small crew of groundskeepers who got along for the most part. Being paid to work outside all year round in a Bahamian paradise, plus piloting the occasional flight to Palm Beach, was enough to keep him happy. Complaints would only get him a one-way trip to the Biminis.
Harry’s small but adequate one-room suite was located on the top floor, reserved for staff with the most seniority. The building resembled the many budget motels that dotted the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and the east coast of Florida. But looks were deceiving, like how the embroidered logo on his shirt made his skin underneath itch something fierce. The exterior of the building appeared nice enough from a distance but upon closer inspection, chips in the paint and cracks in the walls snaked out from corners like a spider trapped under a cinder block. Fine lines that signaled instability. The state of the resort was much the same but less severe.
The room had minimal amenities (a bed, an old television, bathroom, dresser) and its only set of sliding glass doors opened onto a meager east-facing balcony. Weather permitting, and most mornings it did, Harry took in the sunrise as he nursed a steaming cup of coffee, always black. This month the resort’s featured blend was a Brazilian dark roast with hints of chocolate and citrus. It had become his favorite.
Technically, the Mr. Coffee machine was contraband. Mar-A-Verde liked to control its employees in all aspects of their lives, including when and where they drank their coffee. The ground floor staff cafeteria was self-serve pay-as-you-go, as was the small connected staff convenience store that carried a few snacks, drinks, and toiletries. There were better supplies at the golf course’s pro shop and the resort dining room offered marginally better food, but price and discrimination kept most employees away from both.
Harry had worked out a deal with Greta, the cafeteria’s head cook and his only neighbor to the north. She supplied him with the coffee maker and free freshly ground beans each week, and in return he turned a blind eye to her amorous adventures, often with guests of the resort, a fireable offense.
“You’re going to win a one-way trip off this rock,” Harry often joked.
Greta would kiss his cheek and whisper in his ear, “I’m not worried.” She lived her life moment to moment, secure knowing that things would always work out somehow. Being a planner himself, it was a quality that Harry admired.
Mar-A-Verde, an exclusive members-only resort with its own marina and golf course, was located on Marjerio Cay. The island, east of Palm Beach and forty-four miles south of Freeport, Grand Bahamas, had been owned since 1992 by Kyngston Strunk, a wealthy real estate developer.
The staff had no shortage of nicknames for Strunk, but Harry remained content to keep his head down and do the work required of him. After all, living all year in the Bahamas rent-free and earning a living at the same time was a sweet deal, even if it was barely over minimum wage. With the exception of his coffee maker, Harry made sure to follow the rules.
The resort had been built in 1929 and despite being in the middle of the Atlantic’s hurricane row, the island and its structures had escaped most hurricane damage of the past ninety years, including 2019’s Dorian. In 1984, Mar-A-Verde added its own private air strip, making it accessible by air and boat. No vehicles were permitted except for those used by resort maintenance, with exception of the resort’s fleet of golf carts.
Poinciana trees with their vibrant red blossoms contrasted the greens of the palms lining the fairways and main resort buildings. Dahlia shrubs dotted the paths around the resort and through the course. Even the staff apartments had vegetation surrounding them, due in part to his crew’s work. Foliage was cheaper than repair and hid the cracks.
The main entrance to the resort encircled a lone guayacan tree, known to locals as lignum vitae or “wood of life.” The trees had been long celebrated throughout the Bahamas for their bright yellow foliage, durability, and strength. Strunk had had the remaining guayacan trees removed from the small island to make way for a golf course expansion. Harry thought the course would have been better off with the trees than without, but getting in the way of so-called progress was above his pay grade. Most things were. The only way he’d get his hands dirty would be in the rich soil the resort stood on.
With cup in hand he chose to watch the sun rise over Northwest Providence Channel. It was turning out to be another perfect morning. Harry finished his coffee, pulled on socks, laced up his workboots, and headed out the door to the staff cafeteria for breakfast to go. But he was about to discover just how quickly a perfect morning could turn to disaster.
Harry paid for his breakfast wrap, an overstuffed offering that almost looked like the breakfast burritos advertised on television.
He handed the cashier his resort charge card. “Not bad, huh? Greta outdid herself this morning.”
The cashier swiped his card and returned it to him with a shrug. She either didn’t care or couldn’t speak English. Harry hoped it was a language issue but knew indifference was common among the staff.
“Chief!” a young voice called out. “Wait up!”
Harry glanced back and spotted Logan Murphy stowing his dirty dishes in a rolling cart. Logan wiped his mouth with a napkin, tossed it in the trash, and trotted up next to him, walking and talking.
“What’s on the docket today, Chief?”
Harry smiled. Logan was the only member of the grounds crew that called him “Chief” and he never tired of it. “The usual. In a week or two we begin hurricane season.” He noticed Logan raise his eyebrows. “You’ve never worked through hurricane season, have you?”
“No. I started in November last year. Remember?”
Harry nodded between bites of his breakfast. “Dorian missed us last year by a couple dozen miles. If our luck holds, it’ll be business as usual.”
“Business as usual is good.” Logan jammed his hands into his purple Mar-A-Verde-branded coveralls.
Harry looked the young man over. The coveralls were a step too far in corporate branding but most new hires followed every suggestion given to them. Logan had to be half his age, and what he lacked in experience he more than made up for with enthusiasm. He’d come around eventually. “You okay?”
Logan took a deep breath. “So, I’m going to pop the question.”
Harry was caught with his mouth full. “Rebecca, right?”
“That’s fantastic news.” Harry wiped his right hand on his jeans and extended it towards Logan, sharing a firm shake. “Congratulations. When’s the big day?”
“I’m not there yet,” Logan said. “I got to make sure I can afford a ring first. I just decided this morning I’m going to go for it. You’re the only one I’ve told.”
“Secret’s safe with me.” The two men continued walking.
“Also, I was wondering—”
“You need some time off, right?” Harry chuckled. “Smooth, Logan. Real smooth.”
“Well, yeah, eventually,” Logan said. “But what I was going to ask is... if you’d be my best man.”
Harry stopped again and stared at Logan. His expression must have looked concerned instead of surprised because Logan began to backpedal.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to. I don’t really have any family, so I thought... I consider you a good friend and—”
“Logan. I’d be honored.” Harry took Logan’s hand and shook it again. “Just name the time and place and I’ll be there, under one condition.”
Logan swallowed hard. “What?”
Harry looked left and right for potential eavesdroppers, then leaned closer. “Don’t do it here. Anywhere but here.”
“Why? It’s so convenient and—”
“Between you and me, Strunk will bleed you dry,” Harry said. “Rebecca’s in Alice Town?”
“There’s lots of resorts in the Bimini Islands that would be far better. Just saying.”
“Okay,” Logan said. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good man.” They resumed their walk to the maintenance building. “One more thing.”
“You got to tell the rest of the guys soon.” Harry sported a broad grin. “A secret like this might escape all on its own.”
“Will do, Chief.”
“Now let’s get this beautiful day started.”
The two men continued onward to the maintenance building, the warmth of the rising sun on their backs and a lightness in their steps.
Harry and Logan arrived at the maintenance building just before six. Boisterous laughter greeted them. Tzipora, Brynna, and Jomar huddled around Alejandro’s phone, watching a video on the screen.
“Morning folks,” Harry said. “What’d I miss? Nothing embarrassing I hope.”
“How’d you know?” Brynna doubled over laughing.
Tzipora stifled her laughter just enough to respond. “The usual, Harry.”
“What did our fearless leader do now?”
Logan peeked over Alejandro’s shoulder to get a look at his phone. It didn’t take long for him to join in the camaraderie. “Oh shit!”
“Alright. Let’s see.” Harry joined the rest of the crew.
“Wait, let me restart it.” Alejandro slid the playback control to the beginning. The video began innocently enough with a golfer on a putting green lining up his shot in front of dozens of spectators.
“Wait. Is that...?” Harry looked at Jomar and Brynna, both trying to control their laughter, both failing.
“Wait for it.” Alejandro’s hefty body shook in a silent body laugh as he moved his phone closer to Harry. In another life, Alejandro could have been a professional wrestler. The man in the video eyed the lay of the green, lined up his golf ball with the hole using his putter, and sank to a squat to get a low view. The man’s pants split right up the back seam with an audible rrriiippp, exposing his backside.
“Oh, Jesus,” said Harry. “Can’t unsee that.”
“What an asshole, huh?” Jomar broke into a fresh fit of hysterics.
“The clip’s gone viral,” Alejandro said.
“Karma’s a bitch.” Tzipora bumped her fist with Brynna.
Harry shook his head. “Larsen’s going to be in a shit mood because of this. So, let’s get started. The clock’s ticking.” He pointed to the job board he had prepared the night before. “You got your assigned tasks. The resort isn’t at capacity, but I’d like to get as much of the bunker maintenance completed before seven.”
“Forward the vid to me, okay?” Logan said to Alejandro as he looked to the task board. He had been assigned the thirteenth through fifteenth holes, raking bunkers and strimming as needed.
Alejandro nodded. “No prob.”
“Logan, switch with me,” Harry said. “Take the first, second, and third.”
Every hole on the golf course offered stunning views, but the fairways and putting greens of the first, second, and third holes sat on the highest point of Marjerio Cay and offered a picturesque three-hundred sixty degree view of Mar-A-Verde and the surrounding ocean. It was a choice work assignment.
“You sure, Chief?”
Harry nodded. “I’m in a good mood.”
“Lucky son-of-a-bitch,” Alejandro said. “You get laid last night or what?”
“I wish.” Harry looked at Logan and raised his eyebrows. “You going to tell them?”
Tzipora alternated her gaze back and forth. “Tell us what?”
Logan grinned. “I’m going to ask Rebecca to marry me.”
Hoots and hollers followed by congratulations erupted from the maintenance building’s open doors.
“And I’m going to be best man.” Harry puffed his chest out.
“What am I? Chopped liver?” Jomar elbowed Logan in jest.
“Yeah, what about us?” Alejandro said.
“Chill out. You’re all my best men... uh, women. People.” Logan faced his smiling work mates. “You’re all my best people.”
“I’ll let it go this time,” Jomar said. “As long as you got strippers and booze at your stag.”
“Congrats.” Brynna wrapped her arms around Logan, hugged him, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Becca’s a lucky woman. And about freaking time.”
“Drinks on me after work,” Harry said. “Sound good?”
“Now you’re talking like a best man.” Alejandro pocketed his phone.
“Let’s get to it then.” Harry hopped into one of several maintenance carts and peeled out of the building toward the path that connected all the holes. The rest of the grounds crew followed and dispersed with their assigned tasks, all anticipating the celebration at the end of the day.
The first, second and third holes. Sweet. Logan reveled in his plum morning work assignment. I should get almost-engaged more often. He chuckled at his own joke as he navigated the modified golf cart to the third hole.
Logan started his assigned tasks at the furthest point from the maintenance building and worked his way back. If his cart ever malfunctioned (it had happened before) he’d have less distance to walk.
Hole three was just shy of four-hundred yards and had a cluster of three bunkers surrounding the green. Logan was in luck. The edges surrounding the bunkers looked in good order already, leaving weeding and raking the bunkers as his main task. He grabbed a grooming rake, shoved a trowel into the back pocket of his coveralls, and stepped into the largest bunker.
The air was still crisp from a night of ocean breeze. He crouched, grabbed a handful of sand, and let the cool, dry grains flow between his fingers. The top inch of dew-dampened sand remained. He tossed the handful aside and began to level out the sand around the edges of the bunker with the flat edge of the rake.
Once he completed the perimeter, Logan flipped the rake and used the tines to create a consistent playing surface for the bunker. He had barely begun when the rake jumped, like something had poked it from underneath.
Logan groaned. Had the bunker’s layer of sand become too shallow? Was it a root, a rock, or a combination of all three?
He set the grooming rake aside and pulled the trowel from the back pocket of his coveralls. He started with a small hole. He didn’t have any time to waste and this inconsistency had already put him behind.
Logan dug progressively deeper looking for clues until he had a hole the size of a cantaloupe. Usually the culprit would be exposed with a few shallow digs. When the blade of his trowel hit the clay and dirt that formed the base of the entire course, he rocked back and sat on the heels of his work boots, a perplexed expression on his face.
He unclipped his walkie-talkie and was about to call it in when a tremor ripped through the sand, around the fresh hole, and behind where he sat. He fell backward but regained his balance and returned his radio to his belt.
Logan stood and spun around, trying to pinpoint the source of the tremor. Eyes like a hawk seeking its prey, he stood motionless scanning the sand as it rose to the grassy berm on the edge of the green.
Then movement resumed but this time sand was disappearing, pulled under, as if falling into an obscured funnel beneath the ground.
“Shit.” Logan ran to his maintenance cart and grabbed a long-handled spade, mumbling to himself. “This better not be a sink hole.”
In the time he had been out of the bunker retrieving the spade, a gaping hole the size of a basketball had formed in the bunker.
“Damn it!” In an instant Logan’s morning had been shot to hell. His hand instinctively went for his walkie-talkie. “Chief? It’s Logan.”
After a moment Harry’s voice crackled back. “Go ahead, Logan.”
“I’m on the green of the third hole and I think we got a sink hole developing in one of the bunkers.”
“You think?” Alejandro’s voice buzzed back. It was clear that he was laughing when he said it and Logan’s face flushed with heat despite being alone.
“Off the radio, Al,” Harry’s voice said. “Logan, are you sure?”
“I’m not a hundred percent, but the hole just appeared out of nowhere.” Logan crouched and stared into the black opening in the bunker. “Chief?”
“Larsen’s going to shit, but better safe than not,” Harry said. “Rope it off. We’ll investigate later today. Keep me posted.”
“Right, Chief. Logan out.” He returned his walkie-talkie to his belt with a renewed sense of urgency. He may not get all his bunkers groomed by the time seven o’clock rolled around, but at least he had a new, more interesting task to complete.
Logan pulled a handful of metal stakes and a roll of caution tape from his cart and began staking the perimeter of the bunker. Halfway around, he caught movement in the corner of his eye. Logan turned to look, and something moved, shuffling back into the shadows of the hole.
“What the hell?” He knelt and crawled on all fours toward the hole, his eyes wide with curiosity. As he drew closer, his eyes adjusted to the shadow. An animal of some kind sat a few feet into the opening in the side of the bunker, rapid breaths and a rib cage rising and falling.
Logan dug out his phone from his shorts pocket underneath his coveralls but as he crawled forward the creature retreated.
“What are you?”
He tapped the light on his phone and directed its cold brilliance into the hole. A pale and hairless mass retreated even further.
“You’re definitely no gopher.” Logan turned off the flashlight, opened his camera app, and framed the hole on the phone’s display. The phone’s flash burst, and a picture of the hole appeared on the screen, the sand overexposed and the hole an inky black.
He moved the camera a foot into the hole and took a second picture. Flash! A shriek funneled out of the darkness, amplified by the curved walls of the hole. Startled, Logan lost his grip on the phone and it slid down into the darkness.
“Shit!” He peered into the hole, craning his neck for a better view, but even with his eyes accustomed to the shadow, Logan couldn’t see his phone. “Shit shit shit.”
He rolled his right sleeve to his bicep and wiggled his fingers to limber them up. He picked up the trowel and after a few short breaths to boost his courage Logan reached into the opening, scraping the base and walls of the hole with the trowel’s blade.
The deeper into the darkened maw he went the more he felt its cold, musty breath on his arm, shoulder, and face. The hole felt like it opened into a larger space, but he couldn’t be sure without confirming that with his own eyes.
Logan heard the metallic sound of the trowel hitting the phone’s case. He extracted his arm, dropped the tool in the sand, and jammed his arm back into the hole again like he was moments away from finding long-lost treasure. His fingertips scrabbled along the base of the hole until they brushed the corner of his phone. It had fallen display-side down.
“There you are, you son-of-a-bitch.” He jostled it onto its side and the interior lit up with the dim glow of the phone’s display. His fingers caressed the smooth glass face just as he felt a searing jolt of pain in his hand.
Logan screamed and tried to extract himself, but whatever had latched into him was working its way up his forearm, the pain following. He pulled back, bracing his body with his other arm, adrenaline boosting his attempt at extraction. And his resistance almost worked.
Logan managed to pull his biceps out past the entrance of the hole. It was then that he realized his entire forearm below the elbow was within the creature’s glistening body, like a snake trying to swallow him whole. And it had no eyes. No eyes.
Its skin was mottled with a network of dark veins and its pale waxy skin exuded a viscous fluid that turned Logan’s skin and any exposed roots black.
The creature’s fangs encircled the muscle of his biceps, each tooth hinged independently and inching its way farther up his arm.
With sudden rippling constrictions that moved along the creature’s sinewy body, Logan was pulled back into the hole an inch at a time. He had lost his leverage and pain overwhelmed his senses. His attempts to fight back proved fruitless. His only line of defense now was the passive resistance of his shoulder socket jammed against the hole.
He scanned the berm of the bunker in a desperate attempt to find a handhold for his left hand but came up empty. No one could say the grounds crew for Mar-A-Verde didn’t do their jobs to perfection.
Despite the warmth of the sunrise, Logan shivered uncontrollably. A sheen of cold sweat and blood soaked his clothes under his coveralls. He managed to rotate himself around the hole in the bunker until his feet touched the underside of the green. He used all the power left in his legs to push away from the hole until all at once he was free of it.
Logan looked back at the hole and his right arm, expecting to see nothing but a bloody trail. But his flesh, the muscles, tendons, and tissue that made his arm work were gone, stripped clean away, leaving a blackened skeleton behind.
He was still bleeding badly. Logan thought of Rebecca, her image compelling him to fight for his life one more time. He pulled himself onto the green, leaving a trail of blood in his wake, and crawled to his maintenance cart. His right arm flopped lifelessly beside his body like a puppet without strings.
With his left arm and legs, he maneuvered himself onto the cart’s bench seat and righted himself. He jammed his foot on the accelerator, unprepared for the sudden burst of speed. Without the use of his right arm and seconds away from passing out, Logan lost control of the cart and collided with a palm tree. The collision propelled him forward where he struck his head on the tree trunk and fell to the footwell, his body balanced half over the dashboard.
“Logan?” Harry’s staticky voice rose from the walkie-talkie still clipped to his belt. “What’s your status?”
Logan couldn’t have answered even if he’d tried.
Harry had just finished up with the bunkers on the thirteenth hole and was on his way to fourteen. But his mind kept wandering back to Logan at the third hole. Something didn’t seem right, whether it was Logan’s tone of voice when they last spoke or the fact that no sink hole had ever developed on land in the Bahamas during the nineteen years he’d worked at Mar-A-Verde. Most had formed during past ice ages through a slow process of chemical weathering and erosion of the limestone that made up the Bahama Banks. But no sink hole had ever appeared this quickly.
Harry jammed his foot on the brake and threw his cart into a short skid as he unclipped his walkie-talkie. “Logan? What’s your status?” The handheld radio returned a buzzing silence. “Logan? You there?”
He hopped off the cart and looked back toward the club house and maintenance building. His feeling of dread ramped up with every second of silence.
“Jomar. What hole are you on?” Harry paced on the paved path next to his cart.
“Two in the pink and one in the stink, boss.” Sounds of Jomar laughing crackled over the speaker.
“Knock it off. I’m serious.”
“Uh, sorry.” Jomar cleared his throat as he stifled his laughter. “Just rolled into five.”
“Do me a favor and check Logan on three? I can’t raise him on the radio.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Jomar buzzed back.
“Harry? Brynna here. I’m just finishing up on the eighth. I can check, too. I’m closer anyway.”
“Do it,” Harry said. “And keep me posted, both of you.”
“What’s this about?” Brynna buzzed back. Harry could hear concern in her voice, even through the tinny walkie-talkie speaker.
“I don’t know, but I got a bad feeling. Harry out.” He hopped behind the wheel and continued down the path to the fourteenth hole.
The third hole ran opposite the eighth and their greens were situated close together, separated only by small copses of poinciana trees, dahlia bushes, and the occasional palm tree.
Brynna was first to reach the third hole. At first nothing appeared out of the ordinary. But as she crested the bank of the green, she spotted Logan’s cart, tilted to one side and resting against a palm tree. She threw the cart into park and hopped out.
She walked out onto the green and spotted a darkened path across the groomed patch of grass. Brynna squatted and was about to touch the substance darkening the green before she hesitated. An overwhelming metallic smell flooded her nostrils and meant only one thing.
“Logan?” She traced the path back to a bunker where a pool of fresh blood had soaked into the sand. Worried, she reversed direction toward the maintenance cart. “Logan!”
What she saw stopped her dead in her tracks. The bench seat of Logan’s cart was smeared with blood and his body lay perched half over the dash and half into the footwell. Tendrils of smoke rose from the underside of the cart.
“Logan? It’s Brynna. You okay?” With hesitant steps she approached the cart. The smell overwhelmed her, a mixture of wet metal, shit, and ozone. From that moment on, she would forever associate the odor with fear.
Brynna stepped around to the right side of the cart. Logan’s half-open eyes had no life spark to them. She followed the bloody trails that snaked down Logan’s forehead to the shoulder of his coveralls, fighting hot tears behind her eyes.
She reached out and shook his shoulder. Logan’s fleshless right arm swung out from underneath his body and settled next to his thigh. Light wisps of steam still rose from the exposed bones and blood continued to drip downward in rivulets and rapid drops from his boney fingertips.
Brynna screamed and stumbled backward. It took her three tries to get her walkie-talkie unclipped.
Trembling, she held the mic to her mouth, fighting waves of nausea. “Harry. I f-found him.”
The handheld’s speaker clicked. “Good. Put him on,” Harry’s voice said. “I need to hear his—”
“Harry. I... I can’t.”
The radio buzzed. “What do you mean you can’t?”
“I... He’s...” The walkie-talkie slid out of Brynna’s hand. She rolled to one side and threw up onto the grass.
“Brynna?” Harry’s panicked voice floated from the walkie-talkie. “Brynna! Talk to me.”
Brynna wiped her mouth on her sleeve and picked up the walkie-talkie. “He’s dead, Harry.” She tossed the radio aside, unable to hold back her tears any longer.
“What? Don’t touch anything,” Harry’s filtered voice said. “I’m on my way.”
The familiar electrical whirr of a maintenance cart’s motor rose over the green from the path leading to the fourth hole. Jomar parked and got out.
“Brynna?” Jomar surveyed his surroundings, his eyes darting back and forth between the blood trail and where Brynna sat. “Bryn? You okay?”
She kept her face buried in her arms and remained silent.
Jomar approached the left side of Logan’s cart. He took out his phone and began to record video. “What the hell happened?” He moved around the front of the cart, slowing upon the first sight of blood on Logan’s face.
Logan’s fleshless arm appeared on Jomar’s phone display. With everything in shadow, at first he didn’t know what he was looking at. He gazed past his phone and his eyes bugged out as they took in the extra detail. His hand holding the phone dropped as he felt for Logan’s carotid artery in his neck. For a moment it looked like he was going to stop recording. “Holy shit.”
Brynna looked up from her spot on the green and wiped her eyes with her wrists. “What the hell are you doing?”
As if her tone of voice was a reminder, Jomar reframed Logan’s corpse in his phone’s display and moved closer to the carnage. “What? I’m documenting the scene.”
Brynna stormed to her feet and rushed at Jomar, shoving him backward. “Logan was one of us! Show some fucking respect, asshole.”
“Hey. This kind of shit happens once in a lifetime,” Jomar said. “A video like this? I could retire.”
Brynna stood and stared at him, incredulous. “You’re going to upload that?”
Jomar shrugged, a guilty grin spreading across his face.
“What if Rebecca sees it? Be a decent human being for once.”
“They don’t pay me enough—”
“To be decent?” Brynna glared at him. “Ugh. You make me sick.” She walked back to her cart.
Jomar spotted Brynna’s regurgitated breakfast on the grass. “Looks like Logan made you sick too.”
The sound of Harry’s maintenance cart grew louder as he burst forth from behind the palms and poincianas that separated the tenth and third holes. He raced across the fairway instead of using the winding path. If Larsen had seen him, it would have meant immediate suspension or worse.
Jomar stopped recording, pocketed his phone, and trotted over to Brynna. “If you say anything about the video—”
“Is that a threat?” Brynna clutched her stomach. It still ached from nausea and grief.
“Maybe. You don’t want to find out.” Jomar followed the blood trail across the third green to the bunker where Logan was attacked.
“You’ll get yours,” Brynna grumbled under her breath.
Harry killed the motor on his cart and ran across the putting green to Logan’s crashed cart. He stepped around the back to the cart’s right side.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Harry diverted his eyes and placed his hands on his hips. His chest rose and fell in heavy breaths.
Brynna could see he was fighting nausea too. A normal reaction for anyone with a soul, she thought.
“Brynna, you were first on the scene,” Harry said. “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary, other than...” He managed a quick look back and pointed at the crash site. “Other than all that?”
“The blood trail leads to the bunker over here.” Jomar pointed to the hole carved in the sand of the bunker, just under the ridge of the berm.
“Right. I’ll talk with you next.” Harry crossed the green to Brynna’s cart. She was shivering even with the warmth of the rising sun on her back. “Brynna?”
“I only touched his shoulder,” she said. “When his arm swung out, that was it. I lost it.”
Harry placed a hand lightly on hers.
“Why Logan?” Brynna fought back her tears, her fists leaving white crescent nail marks in her palms. “So many others are far more deserving.” She shifted her gaze from Harry to Jomar.
“I know you liked him.”
“Everyone liked him.”
“It should have been me,” Harry said. “I’m the one who swapped work detail with him.”
“Don’t go there, Harry.”
“Hard not to.” Harry looked up at the sky, the rising sun burning away the blue of night. “God damn it.” He sighed and placed his hand firmly on Brynna’s shoulder. “If you need some time, let me know,” he said, locking eyes with her. “Don’t worry about Larsen.”
“Thanks,” Brynna said.
Harry walked over to the bunker where Jomar stood. “That’s it huh? Doesn’t look like a sink hole to me.”
“No.” Jomar crossed his arms. “Looks more like a burrow.”
Harry looked back at Logan’s cart. “This is bad.” He dug his phone out of his pocket. “Can you and Brynna finish roping off this bunker? Then try and finish as much as you can before seven rolls around.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“Don’t touch anything. And no photos.”
Harry had no choice but to bury his shock and sorrow for another, quieter, time. He selected a contact on his phone and dialed. The call trilled in his ear. “Come on.” He began to walk back to his maintenance cart when the call connected. “Hey Doc. It’s Harry. Sorry to call so early. We have an... incident on the third hole. You better get down here, pronto.”
Harry paused, listening. “It’s best if I don’t say anything over the phone. But we’ll need the stretcher... and a body bag. I’ll fill you in when you get here.” He ended the call and a shiver ran up his back.
“Holy shit, Harry. What happened?” Daniela Trejo, the resident resort doctor, had parked the first responder golf cart just off the putting green. The modified cart was equipped with a collapsible stretcher and lockable compartments underneath stocked with supplies.
Like Harry, Daniela wore a similar purple Mar-A-Verde-branded golf shirt but with one important distinction: small red crosses encircled with white embroidered on each of the shortened sleeves. Her khaki slacks featured a crisp pleat down the center of each leg and ended in a pair of black leather ankle-high lace-up boots. She walked with intention.
“I don’t know,” Harry said. “Brynna found him like this.”
Daniela pulled her long dark hair up with both hands and a quick, messy French braid appeared as if by magic. She crouched to get a closer view of Logan and his right arm. “The crash itself shouldn’t have killed him.” She looked down at the flowing puddle of blood on the deck of Logan’s cart, which then dripped into the grass. “If I had to guess, I’d say he bled out. The strange thing is his blood hasn’t coagulated yet.”
“What would strip off skin and muscle like that?”
Daniela shook her head, a look of morbid fascination on her face. “No idea. I’d have to run tests. But we’re not set up for this. I can’t officially move him. I don’t even have a body bag.”
“Obviously we can’t leave him here.”
Daniela stood. “Freeport is still dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Dorian. Police and emergency responders there are severely limited in scope.”
“What about the Biminis? Alice Town?”
“Yeah. I’ll make some calls,” Daniela said. “It’ll probably take a day or two for police and the coroner to come for the body. Don’t you love being on an island?”
“Normally, yes.” Harry glanced at his watch. “But the course is open now. We have to move him. Police and coroner be damned.”
“Yeah.” Daniela walked toward the first responder cart. “Help me with the stretcher. Like I said before, I don’t have a body bag. Blankets will have to do.”
“That’s probably best anyway,” Harry said. “Can you imagine Larsen seeing a body bag being transported off the course?”
“The guy’d have a coronary. We don’t need another dead body to deal with.”
They both managed a small laugh, despite the tense and mysterious situation surrounding Logan’s death.
Harry helped Daniela guide the stretcher into position next to Logan’s cart. After donning rubber gloves, they lifted Logan’s body onto the stretcher and secured his body with tightly tucked blankets and belts crossing his chest. They wheeled the stretcher back to the first responder cart and locked it into place.
“Head to the maintenance building.” Harry hooked his thumb at Logan’s upturned cart. “I’ll follow you.”
Daniela nodded and headed back down the golf path next to the third hole.
Harry stepped to the driver’s side of Logan’s cart, righting it. He looked at the bench seat, still slicked with blood, and was overwhelmed with sadness.
“Damn shame.” He grit his teeth and sat behind the steering wheel. He could feel the cool stickiness of blood soak into his jeans, its coppery smell flooding his nose.
Harry punched the start button and was surprised when the cart powered up. He backed up and drove back along the same path Daniela had taken moments earlier.
Just over an hour ago he had been asked to be Logan’s best man. Now, a life filled with possibility had been snuffed out for no good reason. Harry vowed to find the reason why.
But a makeshift morgue was his immediate priority.
The front axle on Logan’s maintenance cart had been bent in the accident. As a result, Harry had to pay attention to his speed on the way back to the maintenance building. Increased speed shook the front end of the cart and reduced his steering control. Slow and easy did the trick.
Daniela paced outside the front entrance to the maintenance building. The double doors opened into a large hangar-style area that could house up to a dozen maintenance carts. In an adjoining space, the ground crew prepared their tools and supplies for tending to the resort’s many florae.
It was clear that Tzipora and Alejandro had been briefed about Logan’s fate by Brynna and Jomar. Their eyes roamed over Logan’s shrouded body on the stretcher, past Daniela as if she wasn’t there.
The tension between them was palpable. With the exception of Harry, the crew and Daniela had never seen eye to eye. They regarded her as an extraneous expense; paid too much for no real value. It was true that Daniela didn’t know the right fertilizer to use on dahlias or the correct method to prepare a bunker. But the crew had never experienced a severe injury during her time at the resort. Maybe that would change their minds.
Harry crested the path next to the first hole’s tee-off area and rolled the cart toward the maintenance building. The front end of the cart shimmied badly.
He hopped out and trotted toward her. “Sorry. Bent axle slowed me down.”
Daniela heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I was beginning to think you had an accident too.”
“Luckily no,” Harry said. “Hang tight. Got to clear some space.”
Harry entered the building, eyeing various storage rooms. Alejandro pulled him aside. “Can we... pay our respects?”
Harry gave him a sideways look. “What do you mean?”
“Can we see him... Logan?”
Harry looked past Alejandro to see the rest of the grounds crew staring at him, awaiting a response.
Daniela overheard the exchange and stepped forward. “If I could jump in, Harry. I’ve already breached protocol by moving the body. So, I think—”
Alejandro scowled at Daniela. “Fuck protocol. Logan was family.”
Harry glanced at Daniela then back to Alejandro. A war could erupt if he wasn’t careful. “Leave it with me. I’ll figure something out.” He walked back to Daniela. “Let’s get Logan inside.”
They slid the stretcher off the back of the first responder cart, lowered the wheels, and rolled it inside. Harry led the way to the machine storage room, typically the coolest area of the building. They lifted Logan’s body off the stretcher and placed him gently next to one wall. The right side of the blanket showed a dark red stain where blood from his arm had soaked through.
Harry stood and sighed. “Could we let them, you know, pay their respects? I mean, what’s one more protocol violation? We had no choice.”
Daniela crossed her arms. “Yeah. Okay.” She knelt and unwrapped the blanket from around Logan’s head. She wiped the tracks of blood off his forehead and cheeks and closed his eyelids. Standing, she looked at Harry. “If I’m going to breach protocol, may as well go all out.”
“Yup.” Harry motioned toward the exit. “You tell the crew.”
Daniela raised her brows and regarded him with doubtful eyes.
“Go ahead,” Harry said. “It’ll go a long way toward smoothing things out between you guys.”
“I guess it’s worth a shot.”
Daniela exited the machine room followed by Harry.
He trudged past her, stopped, and turned his back to the grounds crew. “Are you sure? The coroner isn’t going to like it.”
Daniela furrowed her brow. “What—”
“Never mind. I’ll meet you outside.” Harry winked, grumbled, and stormed out of the building.
Daniela faced the grounds crew. “Look. I was wrong. Pay your respects but please don’t touch anything. Logan’s in the machine room.”
“What happened to protocol?” Alejandro jeered as he walked by.
“I guess sometimes following the law isn’t the only option,” Daniela said. “Thanks for reminding me.”
“Well...” Alejandro choked on his reply. “Good.”
As the grounds crew disappeared into the machine room, Daniela joined Harry outside. “I saw what you did back there. Thanks.”
Harry managed a smile, but it faded quickly. He stared toward the first hole, focusing on nothing. “I need to know what killed Logan.” He turned to Daniela, his face serious, his eyes dark with determination. “Want to be my plus one?”
“Harry, this isn’t the time to ask me on a date.” Daniela gave him a sly grin.
“Call it joining my very small investigation team,” Harry said. “You’ve got the brains. I’ve got the brawn. A perfect combination.”
Daniela didn’t need any time to think about it. “Yeah. I’m in.”
Daniela drove the first responder cart back to the putting green of the third hole, Harry perched on the passenger side of the bench seat. He gripped the right front roof support to keep himself from sliding off.
“You really motor when you need to.”
Daniela made a tight turn next to where Harry had left his cart earlier. “Don’t tell anyone this but I come out here during the evenings, maybe an hour before sunset, and race around the course like it was my own personal racetrack.”
Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re putting me on.”
“Maybe.” Daniela’s dark braided ponytail flapped in the breeze. “Maybe not.”
“You don’t know everything.”
“Huh.” Harry hopped off the cart. “To be continued.” He looked down at the grass. Most of Logan’s blood trail had soaked into the ground but there was still enough remaining on the turf to draw attention to Logan’s desperate crawl for survival. “It’s moments like this when I wish for rain. We can’t have guests seeing this. I’m going to have to spray the grass down.”
“Maybe take some photos first? Just in case the police ask.”
Harry nodded and pulled out his phone. “Good call.”
Daniela traced the line of blood from the crash site back to the bunker with her eyes. “Do you think he was trying to get away from something?”
“I think he was just trying to get back to the maintenance building.” Harry walked and took photos.
Daniela quickened her pace until she reached the leading edge of the bunker’s berm. Logan’s blood had long since soaked into the sand, but a maroon patina had been left behind encircling a crumbling hole in the bank.
“Harry, did you see the hole over here? There’s a considerable amount of blood around it.”
Harry worked his way across the green documenting the carnage. “Yeah, I saw it earlier. That was what Logan had called a sink hole.”
Daniela looked up at Harry from the bunker, concern evident on her face. “That’s no sink hole.”
“No.” Harry stepped down into the bunker and crouched, leveling his eyes with the blackened maw in the sand. “It’s not.” He ran his hand across the top of the sand, already dry and crusty from the rising sun. “In all my years at Mar-A-Verde, I’ve never seen a sink hole, or even whatever this is.”
“It looks too perfect to be natural,” Daniela said. “Reminds me of a burrow.”
Harry cast her a wary glance. “That’s what Jomar said too.”
“Has there ever been a rat problem at Mar-A-Verde?”
“Never. Well, let me back up. We’ve had rats here and there, but never a problem with them.” Harry looked back at the hole. “Besides, it’s too big to have been made by a rat.” He reached forward with his hand.
“What are you doing?”
Harry looked back. “I know you’re the brains of our duo, but you can relax. Whatever you think I’m going to do, I’m not.” He moved his hand forward to the entrance of the hole and spread his thumb and fingers as wide as he could make them. The tip of his pinky finger and thumb just barely reached the crumbling edges. He held his phone up to her. “Take a picture for me? I’m no good with one hand.”
Daniela squatted next to him and framed up his hand in the phone’s display. She tapped the screen and the flash went off, capturing Harry’s over-exposed hand and parts of the visible burrow behind.
A shriek rose from the burrow’s depths. Both Harry and Daniela jumped back in unison, landing on their butts.
“What the hell was that?”
Daniela shrugged and handed back his phone. “Did you see anything?”
“No.” Harry pinch-zoomed the photo but saw nothing to suggest the origin of that blood-curdling cry. He stood and brushed off his jeans. “So, what do you think killed Logan?” He offered his hand to Daniela and helped her up. “The coroner will want to know.”
“Exsanguination, blood loss, is my guess for the cause of death.”
“But what could pull skin and muscle off the bone like that... like meat from a skewer?” Harry asked. “Could an animal do that?”
Daniela shook her dead slowly. “To be honest, I don’t know. My expertise is people, not animals.”
“I thought you were the brains.”
“That’s not fair, Harry,” Daniela said. “Besides, you said I was the brains, not me.”
“What’s the cause of death? Blood loss due to...”
Daniela stared at the burrow’s opening. “Unknown cause.” She walked out of the bunker toward the first responder cart, Harry following. “Look, I got to make some calls. The sooner I get on that the better.”
“Right. And I get to tell Larsen about all of this. He’s going to go ape-shit.”
Daniela slid behind the wheel and turned on the cart’s electric motor. “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
Harry couldn’t help but chuckle. “I know.”
“I’ll keep you posted.” Daniela swung the cart around and zoomed back toward the clubhouse.
“Hey! Slow down!” Harry pictured Daniela with the accelerator pressed to the floor, her ponytail flipping wildly in the wind. “This ain’t the Autobahn, you lead-foot.”
Harry thought he heard Daniela’s laugh as she disappeared behind the trees and hills of the course. He pulled out his phone and found Vaughn Larsen’s number in his contacts. He picked up on the second ring.
“Larsen. It’s Harry.”
Larsen launched into tirade about calling so early. He was so predictable that he was becoming a caricature of himself.
Harry waited for Larsen to finish. “Look, we got a big problem. I’ll meet you in your office in ten minutes.” He hung up, cutting Larsen off mid-sentence, and hopped behind the wheel of his maintenance cart. The drive back to the maintenance shed would end up being the easiest part of his day.
Vaughn Larsen had held the position of general manager of Mar-A-Verde longer than any other employee. No one knew his actual age. Bald, stocky, and a dedicated classist, he made a perfect puppet for Kyngston Strunk. He ensured that shit bypassed him and continued to roll downhill.
Harry took the back entrance to the resort’s administrative offices. Strunk had a strict policy of keeping staff visibility at his resorts to a minimum, especially the “grubby” grounds crew. Once inside, Harry followed a warren of hallways to Larsen’s office.
The door was locked. Larsen was going to make him wait.
What a prick.
Harry opened the Internet browser on his phone and tapped into the search bar, “burrowing animals Bahamas.”
Instead of finding information on subterranean creatures that ate human flesh, the browser spat out hundreds of articles reporting animal deaths due to hurricanes.
“Of course, it’s not going to be easy,” Harry muttered to himself.
Down the hallway and out of sight, Larsen’s voice boomed, “Just do it or you’re fired!” He rounded the corner and trudged toward his office.
“Strunk hired you because of your people skills, right?”
“Don’t test me, Harry. I’m not in the mood.” Larsen grumbled and pulled out his keys.
“Just busting your balls.”
Larsen glared at him. “Too early to be busting balls.” He unlocked his office door and stepped inside. “This better be important.”
Harry’s nose was flooded with the pervasive smell of body odor and whiskey. He stifled a gag. He knew Larsen well enough to understand that his livelihood depended on getting to the point. “One of our grounds crew died this morning.”
That got Larsen’s attention. “What hole?”
“Tell me you moved the body.” Larsen peeled off his tweed sports coat, one size too small based on how he wiggled out of it. “We don’t need any bad press. Occupancy is down this season. Dorian really fucked us last year.”
“The Bahamas are immune to bad press,” Harry said. “Didn’t you tell me that once?”
Larsen snorted. “Doesn’t mean I want to invite trouble.”
“Anyway, we’ve got the body in the maintenance building until authorities arrive.”
“What? Who called the authorities without clearing it with me first?” Larsen hung his coat on a hook in the corner.
Larsen returned a blank stare.
How can this ass-hat manage anything, much less a resort? Harry thought. “Daniela Trejo. The resort physician. We had to act fast. It’s protocol.”
“Daniela... Oh, yeah. The hot Latina one.” Larsen squeezed himself into his leather chair. “You tapped that ass yet?” He grinned.
Harry ignored the question and instead looked at the two chairs in front of Larsen’s desk. “Mind if I sit?”
“Actually, I do. You’re probably covered with dirt and God knows what else.”
Harry placed his hands behind his back and balled them into tight fists, imagining them around Larsen’s neck. “We’ve got another problem. There’s a hole in one of the bunkers. A large one.”
“What? A hole?”
“At first we thought it was a sink hole, but it’s more likely a burrow. Whatever’s living inside might be responsible for the death of my groundskeeper.”
Larsen leaned back in his chair, the spring groaning under his considerable bulk. “How big we talking?”
Harry held up his hand. “Maybe nine or ten inches across.”
Larsen laughed. “Sounds like nothing. Fill it with sand. Problem solved.”
“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
“I got a lot on my mind. Fill it and move on.” Larsen lifted the handset of his desk telephone and pressed the intercom button. “Get me a coffee, two sugars.” He glanced up at Harry. “Is there anything else?”
“His name was Logan.”
“The dead one.”
Harry’s anger rose from a simmer to a boil. “Yeah.”
“What do you want me to say? I’m sorry for your loss?”
“How about a little recognition?” It took all of Harry’s will to keep from exploding. “He asked me to be his best man at his wedding, for Christ’s sake. An hour before he died. Logan was one of the good ones.”
Larsen pushed himself out of his chair and leaned forward. “I manage a resort with a hundred-fifty rooms. I can’t be expected to know the names of all my staff.”
“Yet you know all the names of your guests.”
Larsen’s face flushed red. “Excuse me?”
Harry matched Larsen’s stare with his own.
“I think you better leave before I do something rash.” Larsen pointed out to the hallway. “Close the door on your way out.”
Harry turned and left without another word. He thought about slamming the door but that would have dug an even deeper hole for himself. But he decided he would not be leaving through the back entrance.
Harry followed the hallway out into the main foyer of the resort. Dressed in dirty jeans, Logan’s blood on some parts, he stuck out like a sore thumb. And Harry reveled in it as he sauntered out toward the main entryway.
He passed resort regular Shane McCoy on his way out. McCoy had made his fortune by winning a Powerball lottery jackpot in 1998, then invested his winnings in technology. Now an angel investor, he traveled the world looking for promising start-ups and often brought colleagues to Mar-A-Verde for week-long golfing retreats. Beside him walked a man Harry had not met before.
“Back for another working vacation, McCoy?”
“Who said anything about work!” McCoy smiled broadly as he shook Harry’s hand. “Damn good to see you, Harry.”
Harry glanced at his hands. “Sorry about the dirt.”
McCoy waved him off. “I don’t think I’d trust you if you weren’t dirty.”
Both men laughed.
“Couldn’t have picked a better time to visit. The weather’s still cooperating.” Harry turned to the man beside McCoy. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I never forget a face.”
“The name’s Brekken Sinclair.”
“Good to meet you, Mr. Sinclair.” Harry and Sinclair shared a handshake. “I’m the head groundskeeper.” He hooked a thumb toward the foliage outside. “I keep everything out there... alive.” He winced at his poor choice of words.
“Sinclair’s the inventor of Antagreen, an environmentally safe pesticide.” McCoy pointed back and forth between the two men. “You guys should talk. We should get together for drinks later.”
“Absolutely,” Harry said. “Go on and get settled. Call me tomorrow and we’ll set something up. You got my number?”
McCoy patted his jacket pocket.
“Until then...” Harry raised his arms and performed a flourish. “Enjoy all that Mar-A-Verde has to offer.” He continued his way outside.
“What’s good in the dining room this week?” McCoy called back.
Harry laughed. “Steak. It’s always steak. You’ve been here enough times to know that.”
“It’s called filet mignon.” McCoy brought his fingertips to his lips and kissed them. “Strunk’s best.”
Harry waved him off. “Beef is beef. Go hit the links, will yah.” The thought of raw beef brought the morning’s events back in vivid detail and a wave of sadness and nausea hit him like a brick.
One thing was certain. Larsen was wrong. The hole that Logan discovered was a sign of bad things to come. Harry knew it in his gut.
Harry waited until six o’clock to venture back onto the course. He loaded his maintenance cart with a shovel, a spade, and a rake. As he drove the winding path to the third hole, he passed McCoy and Sinclair returning to the clubhouse after an afternoon of golf. The front and back nine at Mar-A-Verde had been designed to converge near the center of the course and funnel golfers back toward the clubhouse. He slowed his cart to a stop.
“How was the game?” The two paths were separated by a few trees and shrubs. Harry raised his voice to bridge the distance.
“An embarrassment.” McCoy motioned with his thumb. “Sinclair kicked my ass, but the week’s young.” McCoy looked back in the direction Harry was traveling. “You heading to the third hole? What’s with the caution tape?”
“We think there might be some burrowing critters out there. Maybe gophers.”
“Gophers, huh? I don’t know about that,” McCoy said. “That hole seemed too big. But what do I know?”
“I’ll get to the bottom of it. That’s a guarantee.”
“I know you will. Hey, how about those drinks?”
“Like I said before, buzz me tomorrow,” Harry called out. “I’m a little tied up.”
“Working on the third hole.”
Harry nodded, gave the two men a thumbs up, and continued on his way. What he didn’t see was McCoy watching him leave until his sightlines were obscured by foliage.
Harry rolled the cart next to the green and parked. The third hole was getting under his skin. How long would it take before he could drive by it without reminding himself of the morning’s horrific scene?
Grabbing his tools, he crossed the green to the bunker with the caution tape surrounding it, fluttering in the wind. The sun was already dipping toward the horizon and he figured he had about an hour of good light left.
He stepped into the bunker and faced the hole. It seemed larger than he remembered, but dismissed the thought as his mind playing tricks on him. However, the hole in the side of the bunker was just as dark and uninviting as before.
A phone trilled.
Harry dropped his tools and instinctively went for his own phone, but the screen was black. A second trill allowed him to refocus on the sound. The direction of the ringing chilled his blood cold.
Inside the hole.
He got on all fours and crawled closer to the side of the bunker, but not too close. The cool, dank breath of the shadowy opening blew past his face in what felt like a sustained exhalation.
The phone rang again.
There’s no way in hell I’m going to stick my hand in there.
Harry grabbed a shovel and began to dig at the hole and surrounding bunker, but the root systems of the grass proved difficult to dig through. It was rare for him to try and undo the work of his grounds crew, but in this case it was necessary.
And there was one piece of equipment back at the maintenance building that could do the job.
The next morning, Harry drove one of the two pickup trucks at the resort to the third hole. In the back he had secured a compact backhoe. His goal was to minimize damage to the green and fairway as much as possible while excavating the burrow in the bunker. Brynna and Jomar sat next to him in the cab, chosen because of their firsthand knowledge of the scene.
“Larsen is going to eat your ass for breakfast.” Jomar sipped from a travel mug.
“Well, something got Logan. We’re going to find out what.” Harry cast a wary glance at Brynna and Jomar. “What’s the worst that he could do?”
“Uh, fire you?” Brynna said. “Larsen loves to fire people.”
Harry shrugged. “He’d never fire me.”
Brynna and Jomar exchanged glances.
Harry’s eyes flitted between the path ahead and his co-workers. “You really think he’d fire me?”
“Larsen shoots first and maybe asks questions later,” Jomar said. “He’s a lot like Strunk that way.”
“He wants to be Strunk,” Brynna added.
Harry approached the green at the third hole. “If he fires me, so be it. I’m doing this for Logan.” He killed the engine and threw the truck into park. “Help me get the backhoe unloaded.”
Jomar hopped out of the truck and hoisted himself into the truck bed. “I call dibs on driving Digby,” he said as he climbed into the excavator’s cab.
“Be my guest.” Brynna lifted some shovels out of the back. “I don’t want any of the blame if this goes horribly wrong.”
“Don’t worry. I take full responsibility.” Harry extracted a ramp from the back of the truck.
Jomar started the backhoe’s engine and backed down onto the green. He navigated around the edge and into the bunker. Torn caution tape settled to the ground. “How you want to do this, boss?”
“Widen the hole but try and leave the berm above intact if you can.” Harry took a shovel and carved some simple guidelines in the sand. “Slow and careful.”
“That’s what she said.” Jomar grinned at Brynna.
She rolled her eyes. “What are you waiting for? I want to be long gone before Larsen finds out about this.”
Jomar rolled the small excavator forward and manipulated the shovel, digging through the sand and roots like a hot knife through butter. Brynna and Harry used their shovels to chop up the chunks of dirt from the excavator’s scoop and clear away loose rocks and dirt.
The first scoop revealed a secondary branch moving from the main burrow. The second and third scoop uncovered even more branches heading deeper underground. Some of the tunnels were big enough for a man to fit through.
A flash of metal caught Harry’s eye. “Jomar, hold up a second.” He used his shovel to move a mound of dirt, then fell to his knees, working the earth with his hands. On any other occasion feeling the sandy soil in his hands would be a pleasurable experience, but it was imperative to find Logan’s phone. Harry dug in a panic, ignoring his proximity to the other open tunnels, until his fingers found what they were searching for.
He brushed dirt and sand from the phone’s smooth metal and glass exterior. A heart sticker on the back, somewhat moistened and scuffed, bore the handwritten message, “Luv U! XO Bec.” Harry held it up for Brynna and Jomar to see.
“Holy shit!” Brynna set her shovel down. “That’s Logan’s phone.”
“That’s why we’re digging, isn’t it?” Jomar retracted the scoop of the excavator.
Harry nodded. “Partly, but yeah. I heard it ring last night.”
“Oh shit.” Brynna pointed to the path leading to the green. “We got company.”
Larsen tore down the path toward the third hole in his own custom golf cart. It was black with gold-plated accents and wheel rims. The cart was his preferred method of transportation except when Strunk visited the resort. Then he took either the passenger seat beside Strunk or followed behind in a standard resort cart.
Harry shoved Logan’s phone into his pocket and braced for the inevitable fallout. He shared a look with Brynna and Jomar. “Remember. I take full responsibility.”
Larsen slammed on the brakes and laid a skid a few feet into the green. Unaware of the damage he had just created, he jumped from the cart and stormed past the flag for the third hole.
“Harry!” Angry veins stood out on Larsen’s neck. “What the fucking hell are you doing?”
“I’m following your orders,” Harry said. “I’m filling in the hole.”
Larsen trudged down into the bunker to look at the work that had already been completed. He slapped his hands to his bald head and formed fists like he was looking for hair to pull. “For Christ’s sake you don’t need heavy equipment to fill in a fucking hole.”
“You do if you want it done right.” Harry held Larsen’s glare. “That’s what you pay me for.”
Brynna and Jomar exchanged a covert smile with each other.
“Think of the guests, Harry. Think!” He tapped his head with his index finger. “We want the guests’ experience to anchor everything we do here. And we must end this lackluster season on a high note. The third hole must stay open.”
“What if this was a sink hole? I would’ve covered up a death trap.” Harry pointed at the excavated side of the bunker, tired of arguing. “What if a sink hole swallowed up a guest?”
“Is it a sink hole?”
“Then it’s nothing, just like I told you yesterday.” Larsen stepped forward, now nose to nose with Harry. “Fill it.”
“I’ll cut corners for you, but I won’t take the blame if something happens.” Harry motioned at Brynna and Jomar. “And I have witnesses.”
Larsen tried to raise himself on the balls of his feet to get a height advantage but stumbled in the sand. “The third hole stays open. Fucking fill it... or you’re fired.”
Harry’s blood boiled but he was determined not to let Larsen get the better of him. “Sure hope you’re right.”
Larsen stepped back. “When have I ever been wrong?”
Harry shot a look at Jomar and Brynna.
Larsen waved his hands about like he was casting a spell on the bunker. “I want all this... back to normal before the course opens.” He stepped out of the bunker and walked toward his cart.
“But that’s—” Jomar began.
Harry held up his finger at Jomar. “We’ll do our best.”
“Better than your best,” Larsen called back without looking.
Harry, Brynna, and Jomar watched Larsen board his cart and drive back toward the resort.
Harry grabbed his shovel. “Let’s get to work.”
Jomar exited the cab of the excavator and joined Brynna and Harry shoveling sand back into the branching burrows of the bunker.
Jomar compared the size of the burrows and the remaining sand. “Uh, boss?”
“I know. We’re going to need more sand. I’ll deal with it. Keep working with what you have.” Harry headed back to the truck. He pulled out his phone and dialed Daniela. He set the phone on speaker and dropped it into a tray in the center console.
“Shit, Harry.” Daniela’s filtered voice sounded like she had just woken up. “What’s with the early morning calls?”
“I found Logan’s phone,” Harry said. “Interested?”
“Hell, yeah.” Daniela was instantly a hundred percent awake.
“Meet me in an hour.”
“You got it.”
Digging was a brainless task, whether it was filling the back of a pickup with sand or the burrows of some strange animal. And over the next hour, Harry’s mind drifted back to Logan’s phone and the answers it might hold.
Daniela stood outside the maintenance building, a satchel hanging over her shoulder, when Harry returned with Brynna and Jomar. The compact backhoe was securely tied down in the truck bed. He backed the truck into the garage and stepped out of the cab.
“Thanks for the help, guys. Carry on with your appointed tasks as best you can.”
“Will do, boss,” Jomar said.
Brynna offered a nod of agreement.
Daniela offered a tentative wave and a smile at Brynna and Jomar. “Morning, guys.”
Jomar ignored her but Brynna acknowledged Daniela’s greeting with a smile and a wave back.
“One out of two. Not bad,” Daniela said to herself. “Achievement unlocked.”
Harry beckoned Daniela inside the building. “You didn’t have to wait outside. This isn’t some forbidden place, you know.”
“This is your domain, Harry.” Daniela tied her hair back with an elastic. “I’m not quite comfortable barging in without an invitation yet.”
They both walked back to the machine room. “Anyone who gives you a hard time, let me know and I’ll talk with them. Bottom line is we got to work together on this.”
“Then I come off looking like a tattle-tale,” Daniela said. “Don’t bother. I can take care of myself.”
“Fair enough.” Harry pulled open the door to the machine room. A cool smell of iron and oil plus undertones of something sickly sweet and foreign flowed around them.
Daniela sniffed the air. “Decomposition is starting. It’s not cold enough in here.”
“What can we do?” Harry shrugged. “I don’t think they’d like a dead body in the cafeteria’s walk-in freezer.” He held Logan’s phone in his hand. “So, ready to break protocol again?”
“Why the hell not.” Daniela shrugged. “I’m not going to tell. Are you?”
Harry gave her a sideways look and shook his head. “Any bets which will unlock his phone: his fingerprints or face?”
“Electrical capacitance in the fingers stopped when Logan died, so I’d guess fingerprints are out,” Daniela said. “And we’re twenty-four hours in, so self-digestion is well under way. If it works at all, it’s going to be the face.”
“Self-digestion?” Harry swallowed hard.
“It’s called autolysis,” Daniela said. “Excess carbon dioxide builds up and creates an acidic—”
“A little goes a long way, Doc.”
“Noted. Just hope the coroner gets here soon. This is about as pretty as it gets.”
Harry shook his head, knelt, and pulled back the sheet covering Logan’s head and shoulders. The skin of his face, now locked in a slack neutral expression, held a grey and waxy sheen. Seeing him like this was enough to cause Harry’s stomach to do a back-flip. He swallowed dryly. “God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
Daniela crouched next to him. “Try fingerprints first.”
Harry positioned Logan’s thumb on the phone’s home button. The coolness of Logan’s skin and the way it seemed to slide over the flesh underneath sent a shiver down his back. Just as Daniela predicted, nothing happened. The phone vibrated and a lock icon appeared on the display.
“Shit. No go.”
“Okay, try his face,” Daniela said. “You have to use the front-facing camera.”
“Ugh. I hate these things. Remember when a phone was actually a phone?”
Harry held the phone over Logan’s face for a few seconds until the phone vibrated. The display showed the lock icon again. He tried a second time with the same result. “Dammit. Why isn’t this working?”
“I think I remember that the eyes have to be open.”
Harry stood. “You’ve got to be kidding. His fingertips felt strange enough. I’m not touching his eyelids.” He shook his head for emphasis. “Nope. Got to draw the line here.”
Daniela’s face lit up. “I have an idea.” She knelt beside Logan and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen from her satchel. She positioned one edge of the pad next to the tear duct of Logan’s right eye and made a mark where his eye lid ended.
Harry watched her; his brows scrunched. “What the hell...?”
Using the measurement, Daniela drew two eyes, complete with irises and upper eyelashes. “Even if we did open his eyelids, his corneas would probably be all clouded. That happens a few hours after death.”
“So, you’re drawing him some eyes.” Harry spoke though his nausea.
“Yeah. That’s the idea.” Daniela looked around the machine room. “You got a pair of scissors somewhere in this joint?”
“I can do you one better.” Harry dug into his pocket and removed a Swiss Army knife. He folded out the scissors. “Will these do?”
“Better than a kick in the head with a frozen boot.”
Harry gave her a confused look.
Daniela smiled. “Something my dad used to say.” She took the Swiss Army scissors and carefully cut around each hand-drawn eye, then used her fingers to give each almond-shaped paper eye a gentle curve.
“You think this will work?”
Daniela shook her head. “Probably not, but it’s worth a try, right?” She knelt and placed each hand-drawn eye on top of Logan’s closed eyelids.
“Jesus Christ, he looks like a zombie now.” Harry held the phone over Logan’s face. A second later it vibrated. Still locked. “Shit.”
“Just a second.” Daniela gave more curve to the paper eyes and adjusted their position. “Try it one more time.”
Harry held the phone over Logan’s face.
“Well?” Daniela raised her brows at Harry. “What happened? I didn’t hear it vibrate.”
Harry flipped Logan’s phone over. The display showed icons of different apps, neatly lined up in rows. “Holy shit. It worked. You’re a genius, Doc!”
“You’re just finding this out now?” She grinned at him.
“So, this is technically evidence.” Harry’s face drew serious. “You still want to proceed?”
“After all that?” Daniela cleared her throat. “I mean I do take issue with breaking protocol, but we also need answers. Once it’s in police hands, we’ll never see it again. So... hell, yeah.”
“Okay.” Harry opened the photos app. “Let’s see what got Logan.”
He navigated to the camera roll. Most of the photos were of Logan and Rebecca, with a few of various members of the grounds crew. At the end two photos stood out from the rest.
Harry tapped on the first one. The photo showed the sand of the bunker, overexposed, with the hole extending into a circular black void. “That’s it, but the exposure is all wrong.” He opened the image adjustments and tried to pull detail out of the shadows but ended up boosting the noise of the image.
“The camera exposed for the sand, not the hole,” Daniela said. “Go to the next one.”
Harry swiped to the next image and his eyes bugged out.
“Holy shit.” Daniela craned her neck forward. “What the hell is that?”
The creature in the image was unclear due to motion blur and was partially cast in shadow, as if a portion of the flash had been blocked. A partial ring of teeth could be seen, splayed outward and around a reddened glistening gullet within the center of the creature’s head... if it could be called a head. The rest of the creature’s body was unseen, contained within the further walls of the burrow.
“I have no idea.” Harry felt a chill rip through his body. He pinch-zoomed to the partial view of the creature’s head and teeth. “But that’s what stripped Logan’s arm clean of muscle. It’s the only explanation.”
Daniela held up her phone. “Send me the photos by Bluetooth. I don’t want the police coming after me later. Make sure you send them to yourself as well.”
Harry transferred the two photos to both of their phones, then opened the call history. “Last call to the phone was from his girlfriend.” He sighed.
“Want me to call? I am the resident doctor.”
Harry shook his head. “I was his manager... and his friend. I’ll do it.” He keyed Rebecca’s number into his phone. “You take Logan’s phone for safe keeping. And get rid of those eyes. They creep me right out.”
“Right.” Daniela removed the paper eyes and pulled the blanket back over Logan’s head. “I’ll also give the coroner a poke. Things are going to get nasty in here soon.”
Harry nodded and handed over Logan’s phone. They exited the machine room, Daniela closing the door after her, and headed outside.
“Let me know when the cavalry’s coming,” Harry said.
Daniela nodded and continued toward the resort complex.
Harry tapped “dial” on his phone and waited for the call to connect. “Rebecca? Hi. Harry Harcourt from Mar-A-Verde.” Rebecca’s animated voice at the other end of the line chirped happily, despite the hour of the call. He died a bit inside knowing what was coming. “It’s almost like I know you, too.” Harry took a deep breath in hopes that it might make his task easier. It didn’t. “Look, Rebecca. I’ve got some bad news...”
Harry began the day by doing two things he had never done before: unlock a phone with a dead man’s face, and deliver news of death to a significant other. Neither were pleasant.
He didn’t think the day could get any worse. But when it rains, it pours.
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A real intense, enjoyable read. I have read all three of these thrillers and, while I wait for #4, (that I hear is in the works) I have picked up Mr. Gabel's other books
This resort has a deadly secret. It is getting rid of guests. Harry must stop it. Will Harry be able to stoke this killer?