Disclaimer: I don't own a thing. Not the Hardy Boys, not Nancy Drew, and not the inspiration for this story. I stole an idea from the late great Dame Christie. Thank you Agatha Christie!
"Did I tell you about our last battle?" the man said.
Nancy wanted to say yes, you've told me about every battle you were in in Vietnam. But that would have been a lie and Nancy didn't want to lie to the old man. Poor man, she thought, in his sixties and desperate for company. He needed someone to listen, to hear his stories of long ago when he was young and a hero.
Nancy cocked an eyebrow and said, "No, I don't believe you did."
Mr. Graves grinned and launched into his story.
Nancy sighed, a deep sigh meant to release tension. Where was Frank and those drinks? He'd left 20 minutes ago. How long did it take to get to the bar, order the drinks, and get back? She wanted him back now, right this minute, to rescue her from Mr. Graves.
Frank was so much better at listening to the old man's stories. Frank asked questions and showed enthusiasm. Frank engaged the man in conversation. Sadly, Nancy did none of that. The occasional nod and smile was all she offered. Didn't want the old dear thinking she wasn't listening. Of course, she wasn't, but that was beside the point.
The ocean glistened a few feet away. Lapping waves tempted her and salty air brought a refreshing counterpoint to her faded companion.
Nancy adjusted her rattan chair, angled it so the afternoon sun didn't blind her and said, "How did your unit survive the attack?"
Mr. Graves smiled and lines crisscrossed his weathered face. Nancy returned the smile. She imaged a handsome soldier behind the gray eyes and white hair.
Mr. Graves droned on while Nancy lapsed into thought. Here she was on a Florida beach, far from the detective agency she and Frank owned with Frank's brother Joe. The trio had opened The Endeavor Detective Agency over a year ago. Business was good, quite good actually. A recent case had left the detectives financially secure for the moment and Frank had suggested a vacation – some place sunny – just the two of them. Frank's father knew a friend that had a daughter and son-in-law that had recently bought a resort in Florida. The place was right on the beach. Why not give it a try? And so Frank and Nancy had. And here they were, four days in.
Tim and Molly Kincaid were the owners of this lovely establishment, the Palms Resort, ten bungalows strung along a pristine beach. Tim and Molly were the same ages, 31 and 30 respectively, as Frank and Nancy. The two couples had hit it off instantly.
Tim, tall and lean, split his time between the accounting books and maintenance work on the resort. Blonde, blue eyed Molly was vivacious and outgoing. Kitchen staff and house-keeping were her domain. At meal times in the resort's spacious dining room, she greeted guests with a bright smile. She waited tables and served appetizers. Want a picnic lunch for the beach? Or a candlelight dinner in your bungalow? Molly arranged those, too.
With a start, Nancy realized Mr. Graves was staring at her.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked.
"I .. I think it's a very interesting story." Perhaps, she should pay a little more attention. She had no clue what Mr. Graves had said.
"Interesting?" Mr. Graves snorted, not a pleasant sound. "We sure didn't think it was interesting, not in 1968. No, interesting was not a word we used back then."
"Well." Nancy was at a loss. "We're safe in this lovely place. No death or destruction here." She gave a weak smile and wondered where Frank was. He could have driven into town and gotten drinks faster.
Mr. Graves laughed, a dry hack that worried Nancy. Could a person die from laughing?
"No death or destruction here?" Mr. Graves rasped. "There was a murder here not so many years ago. Not here at the resort, but around here, in this county. It was in the papers. Maybe you heard about it?"
Nancy shook her head. "No, afraid not."
"Oh." Mr. Graves looked defeated, but quickly brightened. "Molly says you and your gentleman friend are private eyes. I'm a PI, too."
"Really?" Nancy meant it sincerely, but did not think the word came out with the sincerity she hoped.
Undaunted, Mr. Graves plowed on, "Yes. That murder, the one in the papers, that became my case." He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I have a picture of the murderer."
"No." A deep frown cut across Nancy's forehead.
"Don't believe me, do you?"
"Well, I …"
"I have it with me. The picture. It's in my wallet." Mr. Graves reached for his back pocket, but stopped. "No, you need to hear the story first. The picture's no good without the story."
Where was Frank and that drink?
Mr. Graves settled into his chair. He had a captive audience and knew it. "One day I'm sitting in my PI office and in walks a doctor. He sits down and tells me a fascinating story. About four or five years ago the doc was working the ER shift at a local hospital when in comes a husband carrying his unconscious wife. The man claimed his wife had tried to kill herself. Said she'd taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Luckily, the doctor was able to safe the woman and the couple left the hospital the next day. The doctor didn't think any more about them until a month or two later when the husband reappeared at the hospital with his wife. She was unconscious again. This time she'd hung herself and this time the doctor was not able to safe her."
"That's terribly sad," Nancy said.
"Yes, but that's not the end of the story." Mr. Graves cleared his throat and continued, "Ahem. About a year later, the doctor attended a medial conference. It was several hours from his home so he stayed at the hotel where the conference was given. One night he went to a bar with several other doctors. They were all sitting around shooting the breeze, telling each other some of their most interesting cases. Well, lo and behold, a fellow doctor told a story very similar to my doctor's story. This second doctor told about a young husband rushing into the ER late one afternoon with his unconscious wife. The couple, according to the husband, were on their honeymoon and staying at a nearby hotel on the beach. The husband said the wife had gone for a swim in the ocean and gotten swept out to sea. According to the husband, the wife wasn't a great swimmer. Lucky for her, he was. He dived in, rescued her, and got her to the hospital. She wasn't too far gone and the doctor was able to save her. Sadly, it didn't last. A month later, she closed herself in the garage, started the car and died of monoxide poisoning."
Nancy squirmed in her chair. "That's an odd story. Are you saying the two husbands were actually the same man and he murdered two wives?"
Mr. Graves gave a wry smile. "The doctors asked themselves that same question. They checked the names of the two husbands. They didn't match. One man was a Jones, the other a Smith or something. But here's where it gets interesting, the second doctor had a picture of the husband. The story had made the local newspaper. 'Husband saves wife from drowning.' The paper made the husband out to be a hero. There was even a picture of the husband and wife in the newspaper. The doctor cut it out and saved it. The first doctor took a look at the picture and said that sure looked like the same man to him.
"Shortly after that the first doctor contacted me. He asked me to look into the case. He wanted me to find out what had happened to the man. Had he struck again? Had he killed a third wife?"
"Well?" Nancy asked when Mr. Graves lapsed into silence. Frank and the drinks were forgotten.
"You have to remember this was a couple of years after the events. The man could be long gone. No reason for him to stay in Florida, especially if he'd killed two wives and got away with it." Mr. Graves drew in a breath and blew it out. "Basically, I was working a cold case. All I had was the newspaper picture. The doctor had made a copy of the picture in the newspaper and gave it to me. It wasn't much to go on."
Nancy leaned forward, excited now. "And you still have it. I'd love to see it."
The line of Mr. Graves' jaw hardened and he became deadly serious. "Here's the thing. I've traced the man here, to this resort. I'm only telling you this because you're a fellow PI. I .. I think he might know I'm onto him. I think he saw me watching him the other day."
Nancy's eyes widened in surprise. "Who is it?"
Mr. Graves lapsed into silence and stared into the distance. Finally, he shook his head and said, "Here, let me show you the picture. You can judge for yourself."
He wrestled his wallet out of a pants' pocket and fumbled through credit cards and cash. Finally, he found the picture, neatly folded. He carefully unfolded the paper.
"Here we go. Here's the man." He scanned the photo in his hand. "Of course, this was several years ago." He started to hand the picture to Nancy, but stopped. Nancy followed the direction of Mr. Graves' gaze. He stared over her right shoulder.
Nancy heard voices behind her. Frank and Tim's. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the two men trudging through the sand. Both tall, both tanned and dark haired. Frank carried two tropical drinks. Little umbrellas and fresh fruit adorned the rims. Nancy smiled and gave a little wave.
She turned back to Mr. Graves and was startled to see him stuffing the picture back in his wallet. His movements were shaky and frantic. He glanced up and gazed over Nancy's left shoulder. Nancy noticed his eyes were bright with fear.
She turned and spied two married couples, guests of the resort. She and Frank had met them earlier in the week. The couples were coming from the nature trail, a gentle two mile hike around the resort. It was a pleasant trail with plenty of places to stop and view the ocean, or check out the local flora, or watch birds. Nancy and Frank had walked it several times since their arrival.
The first couple, Gary and Lana, were newlyweds and in their late twenties. This was their honeymoon. They were all lovey-dovey, always holding hands and sharing little kisses. Now was no exception. Lana had her arms wrapped around one of Gray's and she looked up at him lovingly.
The other couple, Bruce and Bridget were in their early thirties and had been married for some years. Nancy was not sure how many years. At any rate, no hand holding or kisses for them. That time had come and gone.
Bridget plopped into the chair next to Nancy and said, "I'd kill for a drink. Frank darling, you can set one of those delicious looking concoctions in front of me." She smoothed damp hair off her sweaty forehead and beamed sweetly at Frank.
Frank shrugged and placed a drink in front of Bridget. The other he handed to Nancy.
Tim rubbed his hands together. "Looks like everyone could use a drink. How 'bout I take everyone's order? I'll sent Jason, the bartender, out with them when they're ready."
Bruce pulled up a chair from a neighboring table. "Sounds great and I'm buying."
Cheers went up at that. Before long, the party of seven was settled round the table, sipping drinks, and watching a gorgeous sunset.
Nancy's thoughts turned to the newspaper picture. Mr. Graves had been unusually quiet since the couples had joined them. The man of a thousand stories suddenly had nothing to say.
Earlier, he had given her a warning glance, a stern look that said, The picture and everything I said, is just between us. Tell no one.
Nancy had given a slight nod and kept quiet.
An hour later, Mr. Graves was the first to part ways with the group. He rose on stiff legs and said, "Need to get ready for dinner, folks. Thanks for the drink, Bruce."
Bruce lifted his glass. "Pleasure's mine. See you at dinner." To the remaining group, he said, "I hear there's a band tonight."
"A band?" Lana let out a breathy sigh. "I love dancing." She snuggled closer to Gary and smiled. They were playing footsies under the table, but everyone pretended not to notice.
Nancy watched Mr. Graves head to his bungalow. He was a frightened man. He had tracked a murderer to this resort. Or so he said.
I have a picture of the murderer. I think he might know I'm onto him. I think he saw me watching him the other day.
Mr. Graves had seen somebody over Nancy's shoulder today. Who?
Nancy thought back. Frank and Tim had come up behind her and then the two couples had appeared. Gary and Lana, the newlyweds, had been laughing and kissing. Bruce and Bridget, older and fun-loving, (well not much older than Frank and Nancy), had looked tired and sweaty.
None of these people seemed like murderers to Nancy. Of course, she could cross Frank off the suspect list. But still, that left three men as possible suspects: Gary, Bruce, and Tim.
There was another possibility. Nancy glanced in the direction of the nature trail. The resort's largest bungalow stood near it, a three bedroom, two bath affair that could accommodate a family of six. This week it housed a party of three.
Perhaps, Mr. Graves had seen someone come out of that bungalow. The three people residing there were quite unusual and interesting. One was Mr. North, a filthy rich octogenarian. Nancy had heard he made his money in offshore oil rigs. Two assistants shared the bungalow with him and cared for him. Miss Greta Swan served as his secretary and nurse. Whenever Mr. North was out and about, Miss Swan was always nearby. On a good day, Mr. North used a cane and Miss Swan's arm to toddle around. On bad days, he used a wheelchair.
Perhaps, because of her employer's constant needs, Miss Swan did not mingle with the other guests. She didn't sunbath or swim or partake of the nature trail, although it was only a few feet from her bungalow. The only entertainment Miss Swan indulged in was reading. When Nancy and Frank went for their evening stroll they often saw Miss Swan curled up on the rattan sofa on the big bungalow's porch, her head stuck in a book.
"Rather spinster looking," Frank had said.
"Yes." Nancy had agreed. "It's the old-fashioned clothes and how she wears her hair, pulled back in that bun. I think she'd be pretty if she dressed differently and let her hair down."
Frank hadn't seemed convinced.
Nancy thought Miss Swan was genuinely nice, unlike Mr. North's other assistant, Jeremy Hill. Ostensibly, Jeremy was a valet and possibly a bodyguard. Tall and brawny, with an arrogant swagger, Jeremy could easily be mistaken for a pro football player.
He was handsome, too. A real lady's man with dusty blond hair, ice blue eyes, and a charming smile. He often turned that smile on newlywed Lana. Nancy could see why. Lana was a curvy thing with honey colored hair and an infectious laugh. Quite a beauty.
To her credit, Lana only had eyes for husband Gary. She completely ignored Jeremy. At least as far as Nancy could tell. But then, who knew what lurked in the minds of others?
Nancy suddenly came back to the present. The party was breaking up. People wanted to return to bungalows, freshen up a bit, and change for dinner.
Everyone thanked Bruce for the drinks. Frank said he would get the next round, after dinner when the band started playing. That brought a squeal of delight from Lana and enthusiastic smiles from the others.
It promised to be a fun evening of music and dancing.
A/N: Oh dear, another story! I will admit up front that this story is NOT complete. I have 10 chapters written and I know where the story is going and how it ends. I just have to write it! Perhaps, with encouragement I can do that.
This is another Agatha Christie inspired story. Ten points if you can guess which novel this story is based on. ;) Of course, I don't stick to Christie's story. I took her idea and changed it here and there to suit my means.