A pleasant Key West Sunday in January turns into a tropical nightmare. It's early. The tourists are still asleep. Freelance and part-time crime photographer Alex Rutledge bicycles near-vacant streets, taking pictures for his own enjoyment. But he's challenged at a restoration district construction site, accused by a developer of snapping photos for an expose. An hour later, the city police request Rutledge's forensic photo expertise. A murder victim has been found - at the same work site. Detective Dexter Hayes, Jr., is caustic and inept, and Rutledge is dismissed before he completes his work. An hour later, the county sheriff, Chicken Neck Liska, asks Alex to photograph another murder victim, this time on nearby Stock Island. Rutledge soon suspects that the murders are linked - illogically, through him. He can't divulge the link to his lover, Teresa Barga, for fear of compromising her police media liaison job. Alex questions the detective's blundering, while the cops begin to link him to the crimes. A powerful real estate broker offers Rutledge an odd, lucrative job. Friends are threatened. He and Teresa dodge gunshots. Yet there is no identifiable antagonist, no motive, no reason for Rutledge to be a hub for evil. To protect himself and his friends, to avoid arrest - unsuccessfully, at first - he must scratch for information on an island where few tell the truth. At the core of Bone Island Mambo is betrayal, retribution, and revenge. The plot twists in surprising directions, and Corcoran's characters are true characters, never as laid-back as they first appear. Visit Key West, and hang on for dear life.
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August 18, 2002
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Excerpt from Bone Island Mambo by Tom Corcoran
I recognized a Bonnie Raitt song from the seventies, her solid voice, her spine-chilling slide guitar. Without moving my arms or camera, I turned my head left.
Eight feet away and closing. The self-absorbed Heidi Norquist.
Diamond earrings blazed just below the headset's pink foam cushions. Tiny diamonds, for a Sunday-morning jog. Her hair fell to one side, five-toned butterscotch and gold. She stopped advancing but pumped her slender legs, ran in place, paced the music. A loose pink tank top, tight black shorts, sculpted running shoes fresh from the box. Inch-wide neon-pink wrist bands. Next to the Walkman, a small belly-pack -- sized, I guessed, for lip gloss, a cell phone, maybe a fifty-dollar bill for pocket change. A hint of trendy, expensive perfume. A discreet gold neck chain. Direct sunlight, no evidence of sweat. Because of the cool January air or spontaneous evaporation?
A million dollars wrapped in a suntan. Or a fine approximation.
Heidi had come to town with Butler Dunwoody, the younger brother of my friend Marnie Dunwoody. The evening we'd met, eight weeks ago, Heidi had impressed me as a woman who'd done time at the mirror, long enough to understand her power, and shape it. Her conversation had plainly mocked Dunwoody. I recall speculating later that she viewed Butler as a handy layover on her journey to more lofty playgrounds. Marnie had assured me that her brother worshiped the young woman's shadow. With the late-morning sun almost straight up and Heidi's slender frame, there wasn't much shadow to consider. I wondered if, given the chance, I might act the fool equal to Butler Dunwoody.
With my wallet, there would never be that chance.
Two cars on Caroline slowed to check her out. A catcall from the second vehicle didn't faze her. "What're you shooting?" She breathed in and out, a separate aerobic exercise.
"Changes on the island." I waved my free arm toward the construction site. The parking lot between the old Carlos Market and a multi-unit rental property had provided access to a wood shop and a sculptor's studio. With the start of construction, each outfit had been offered square footage in the new "complex," complete with an advertising package, common signage, pro-rated insurance and utility bills, and upscale rent. Each had packed it up. A large white sign bolted to the eight-foot fence listed architects, structural engineers, consulting engineers. Underneath it all: APPLEBY-FLORIDA, INC., GENERAL CONTRACTOR. A nearby sign listed four law firms, three local banks as financiers, a security outfit, and a waste-management consultant. The sign did not mention Butler Dunwoody, who I knew was the project developer.
"For the newspaper?" said Heidi.
I laughed. "I don't do news."
She pushed her hair behind one ear, fiddled to park it there. It fell when she removed her finger. Fifty yards away, in the old shrimp-dock area, an offshore sportsman cranked an unmuffled V-8 marine engine, then a second one. Cubic decibels. She fiddled with the hair again, turned her attention to the waterfront.
When the noise died, Heidi faked a coy face. "You from zoning?"
She didn't recognize me. A slap to the ego. I shook my head.
"Some kind of protester?" Her face went harder. She kept jogging, in a tight circle.