Series: Lindsey & Ike Romantic Mystery Series, Book 2
Publisher: Muddle House Publishing
Release Date: May 1, 2017
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Available Formats: eBook
In Book 2 of the Lindsey & Ike Novella Series, newspaper editor Lindsey McKay must decide if she’s ready to take the next step with her boyfriend, Sheriff Ike Harper. He’s anxious for her to move in, but she worries something is missing. Meanwhile, the Turtle Girl, a college intern named Selma Crowley, begs Lindsey to cover her turtle story. Someone is stealing federally protected loggerhead turtle eggs off a Georgia barrier island, and it has to stop.
The earnest young woman convinces Lindsey of the story’s potential, and the next day Lindsey ferries to the island to see the nests and take photos. Selma promises she’ll have tangible evidence of the theft on Friday, but the revelation doesn’t occur. Worse, Selma’s missing, and no one’s seen her since Wednesday evening. Because she demanded proof from Selma for the newspaper story, Lindsey blames herself for the intern’s disappearance.
When Selma’s body is discovered, Lindsey vows to get justice for Selma and her turtles. Selma’s tribbles are over, but the tribbles are just beginning for Lindsey and her trusty sidekick, Labrador retriever Bailey.
“I’ve got turtle tribbles,” an athletic young woman said.
“Come again?” I glanced up from the ad log I’d been wrestling with to see a visitor in my office doorway. I waved her in as I tried to remember her name. Selma Crowley, our Turtle Girl, a summer posting coveted by college interns. Each of the Georgia barrier islands had students who monitored the yearly loggerhead turtle migration to our shores and subsequent egg hatching.
She perched on the edge of a chair. Her bright blue eyes matched the skin tight tank she wore over running shorts. From her boyish haircut to the rings on both second toes, this gal set her own style.
Selma made a funny face. “Oh. Sorry, Miss McKay. I forget everyone wasn’t raised with geeky parents in suburbia. Mom and Dad are whacko about Star Trek everything. I grew up on a steady diet of the TV shows, movies, and Trekkie conventions. The episode about tribbles is my favorite.”
I closed my laptop and reached for a pad of paper. “Please, call me Lindsey, Selma. We’re not big on formalities here at the newspaper. What are tribbles, and what do they have to do with our endangered loggerheads?”
“Tribbles are adorable space creatures, but they multiply faster than rabbits. Just like the TV show, my tribbles are out of control. I desperately need your help.”
I sat in stunned silence. No way was she talking about space creatures on the island, was she? There would’ve been sightings of spacecraft. Unless they were sneaky and were just here for our turtles. Crazy possibilities spun through my head. Selma and her boss could’ve called the TV networks in Savannah or Jacksonville to break this story. Instead, they’d chosen our small weekly? The skeptic in me raised its ugly head.
I settled on what I hoped was a professional expression of interest. “You’ve got alien creatures in the turtle nests? Do you have photos?”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to alarm you. Substituting tribble for trouble is a bad habit I picked up ages ago. So far, I haven’t seen aliens, but we can’t rule them out either.” Selma shook her head, her expression glum. “I don’t exactly know who or what is causing the tribble, I mean trouble, but eggs are disappearing from the turtle nests. It happens every year, but this year’s been the worst ever.”
Disappointed, I absently rolled my pen in my fingers. “So we may or may not have aliens on the island, but we positively have fewer turtle eggs?”
“You got it.”
It wasn’t much of a story, except for an earnest young woman’s word that eggs were disappearing. “You sure it’s not natural processes?”
“Real sure. When raccoons, feral hogs, or fire ants invade a nest, they don’t cover everything back up. But, the nests with the missing eggs look undisturbed.”
“How do you know anything’s missing? Do you have a device like ground penetrating radar to detect the eggs?”
“All you have is a geeky kid’s word. I know when the turtles lay their eggs because of the crawl marks on the beach. I dig up each new nest to make sure it isn’t a false crawl, then cover up the eggs and mark the location. We’re still early in the nesting season, but more nests should’ve hatched already. I dug up two of the first nests I marked before I decided to come over here.” She passed me her hot pink cell phone and showed me the images of sandy holes. “Look at the photos. No eggs.”
All I saw was a sandy pit in each image. Was there a story here? If the egg theft didn’t pan out, I could slant this into a nature piece about turtle nesting. “I’d like copies of relevant images, including those of an egg hatch for the story, and your permission to use them.” She nodded eagerly. I hated to bust her bubble, but this question had to be asked. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but could you have missed the hatch?”
“Nope. I hit the beach first thing every morning and monitor the nests after dark each night. If turtle eggs hatched, I would see the signs. Eggshells would be cracked and left behind. The sand from the nest to the sea would be full of turtle tracks. The nests would look disturbed. I didn’t see any of that at those locations. It’s like the eggs got beamed into outer space.”
I leaned back in my chair and briefly contemplated the domed ceiling light. No way was I writing a headline about turtle-egg stealing aliens. I needed an angle for this story, or else I should encourage Selma Crowley to leave. Time was always in short supply now that I ran the Gazette.
Though it was technically my family’s newspaper, I was editor in chief. Daddy had retired last fall, and Mama lit out for seminary after their divorce. So the newspaper became mine, and I loved the work, loved telling people’s stories. Selma’s tribbles appealed to me, but I needed more from her. Sometimes it was a matter of asking the right questions.
“You mentioned this happened before,” I said, returning to the missing egg puzzle at hand. “Are there historical records of empty nests I can report?”
“The last two turtle girls made notes about nests that didn’t hatch, but only last year’s gal documented that eight of the no-hatch nests were positively empty. The previous year, several nest markers went missing, which dropped them out of the count, so the stats don’t reflect those occurrences.”
“Eight out of how many?”
“The number of nests on my island are usually a hundred or so. As you may know, turtles return to the same beach every time they lay eggs. I’ll scrounge up the data and email it to you.”
I sensed she was holding back. Time for me to tighten the screws. “I need concrete facts for the paper, Selma. I can’t report on feelings or impressions.” And I certainly couldn’t report on aliens with transporter machines. “Why would anyone steal turtle eggs?”
“Because there’s a black market for the eggs. Some claim they’re an aphrodisiac, while others say they’re a delicacy. With about a hundred and twenty eggs in each nest, a poacher can pocket several hundred dollars off the theft of one nest.”
Black market. Egg heist. I was starting to get an idea of where this story could go if it got legs. “Can you use a hidden camera to catch the thief in the act?”
“Too many nests to monitor. They’re along the entire length of the beach. That’s a couple of miles.”
Disappointed, I blurted out the first thought in my head, unfiltered. “Too bad we don’t have drones to keep watch or something.”
“Too bad we can’t afford armed drones to shoot poachers,” Selma said. “They have no right to do this.”
The cute little blonde had a bloodthirsty bent. Interesting. “What can be done about this issue? Who have you notified?”
“Only my co-workers, my boss, and a wildlife agency contact know about the thefts. We didn’t want the news getting out at first, but my boss gave me the go-ahead to contact you for an article. Dr. Jernigan said it would be cheaper to scare the thief away than it would be to prosecute him or her.”
Hmm. I didn’t like being used, but I was in the business of selling papers. A photo of this pretty girl on the beach would be eye-catching. Unless we had a deluge of homicides or other major news, there was no reason her picture couldn’t be above the fold on page one.
“Do you have a plan going forward?” I asked.
“Sure do. I’m in the process of removing the traditional markers from the nests. First, I have to record all of the nests’ GPS coordinates in my phone and in my spreadsheet. If that thief doesn’t already know where the nests are, he or she will have a lot of digging to do to find eggs.”
“What do the nest markers look like?”
She showed me an image on her phone of a small wooden stake. Not much of a thing, really, but if you knew what to look for, the stakes reveal the location of the nests.
“That should stop your thief all right. Anything else?”
“The wildlife folks have been monitoring ferry passengers for a few days. They’re especially interested in people who might suddenly carry a duffle bag or cooler on or off the island. According to apprehension reports elsewhere, stolen turtle eggs are usually transported in plastic bags inside a container. They’ve made a list of folks who carry these containers infrequently on our ferry. They have a way to detect the eggs, but I can’t talk about that yet.”
“Until they catch the thief, I’m sworn to secrecy. They don’t want to tip anyone off. The goal is to get this poacher, not send him or her underground for a few weeks.”
A secret. All my journalistic instincts were firing as I scribbled down her words. This could be big. If I was this excited about the story, everyone else would be too. I flashed a bright smile her way. “I’d love to see the nests firsthand. Let’s set a time for me to catch the ferry over to the island this week. What’s a good day for you?”
Selma waved off my question, her lilac nails catching the light. “My schedule is flexible. You tell me when you want to come.”
Sooner was always better in my book. “Let’s plan for tomorrow. I’ll take the early ferry. Meanwhile, send me the stats from past years on turtle nests and counts. Oh, and I’d love a quote from your boss. Will you share her phone number with me?”
A few minutes later, I had Dr. Jen Jernigan’s number at the university, and Selma had my business card tucked in her hand.
Once she left, my office manager, Ellen Mattingly, joined me. “I heard most of that. You believe her?”
I shrugged. “What’s not to believe? She thinks aliens are stealing her turtle eggs to light up their nights.”
“I’d love it if someone lit up my nights,” Ellen said, “but mostly nighttime is about getting my three kids out of my bed. At least you have a boyfriend, though I haven’t heard an Ike report recently.”
Sheriff Ike Harper had swept me off my feet when I moved home last fall. I enjoyed his company and our extracurricular activities, but I valued my independence too. “He’s still pressuring me to move in with him and his son.”
“I don’t see why you’re resisting the idea. You’re at his place all the time, or else Alice Ann is staying with his son. Why not go all in on the Ike train?”
Indeed. Why couldn’t I move in with him? I’d pulled out a suitcase several times, but I’d never packed a thing. Something about our relationship wasn’t to my liking. Darn if I knew what it was.