Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Chapter Five

Chapter Five

The autopsy had proceeded as planned and every student in the room had been fascinated with the procedure as they scribbled notes in preparation for the exam they knew would come.  Some of the more talented had been allowed to participate in the dissection and they were the envy of their peers.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs had introduced a medical curriculum to their program within the last year and was already attracting attention from the medical research they were conducting.  Some of the brightest minds in the medical community had gravitated to the school and the esteemed staff teaching at the facility would have made any university president proud.  As the reputation of the medical program escalated in stature, so did enrollment and the waiting list was growing longer by the day.  Selection criteria were constantly being reevaluated and only the brightest and most gifted were admitted.

Construction was still on-going but the new medical college was as innovative as the students and professors who populated the halls and classrooms.  A multi-level facility, the upper floors were classrooms and lecture halls, with the lower floor housing the administration and faculty offices.  The lowest level was occupied by the morgue and research lab.  On this particular day the bowels of the building were attracting the most attention.

The morgue smelled of formaldehyde and chemicals, and when mixed with the odor of decaying bodies was not pleasant.  The room was kept just above freezing, but it did not stop the bodies from decomposing.  The students and teachers in the room had become accustomed to the smell and went about their tasks without the slightest annoyance or hesitation.

Dr. Rodney Hammermill was the guest instructor for this particular dissection.  The brain was his area of expertise, specifically the dendrites.  His voice resonated across the walls and around the room.  Aside from his voice, only the low hum of an air conditioner could be heard, the cool air whispering out of the overhead vents.

“We still don’t understand why the brain holds thoughts that become memory, that later becomes knowledge. How does a chemical reaction over a series of nerves translate to thought and allow us to communicate, learn or explore the vast reaches of our world?  Pay particular attention to the connections.  We already know what area of the brain performs what functions – we have clinically proved that. But how does the process work?  That is the age old question.”  Dr. Hammermill paused to let the students catch up.

“Are all the dendrite connections the same,” asked a young woman, watching a classmate peel back a thin slice of brain tissue from the cerebral cortex.

“A very good question.  No they are not.  Depending on the individual, the dendrite connections may be denser or heavier.  This is especially true in subjects who were intellectually gifted or possessed a higher degree of proficiency in one area than was normal.  It is these abnormalities that are most intriguing.  Those subjects were anomalies in their given area of expertise, scientists for instance who possessed a keen intellect in their chosen field of study or a musician or singer who was overly gifted in their particular art, have a higher density of dendrites than others.  This leads to the brain being heavier.  But why?  Is there a genetic marker we’re missing where we can alter someone’s brain to make them smarter or more gifted?  Can we create a musician? What if we were to focus on other traits or skills to enhance?  Could we do it?”  Dr. Hammermill’s voice had risen as he spoke about the topic that had consumed him. 

“But why are we focusing so much on the dendrites, Professor?” asked Carl, a young man who was performing a dissection.

“Because as you know the dendrites protrude from the cell body or soma and both the dendrites and soma is the receiving zone for messages from other cells.  But what causes some cells in some subjects to grow more dendrites than a similar cell in another subject.  Could it be the key to learning, these dendrites?  If so, how can they be altered or enhanced?”  Dr. Hammermill stopped the lecture to allow each student time to digest his words.  It was several seconds before he resumed.  “And we have not even discussed subjects who are mentally challenged.  What you have before you are cadavers with normal brains with no abnormalities.  What about mental retardation or autism subjects.  Will their dendrite connections in the brain be the same or similar?”

“Bur professor, doesn’t the exchange of information in a cell involve a lot of sequential sequencing to occur for data to be exchanged?  I mean there are ions being moved, chemicals being exchanged and a host of other activity taking place, and not just along a dendrite path.” Carl had paused in the dissection to ask a follow up question.

“You are correct.  But what allows this to occur?  We know it happens in subjects with or without a heavy dendrite population or density, but the more scarce the dendrites the less likely the subject had a high intelligence factor or IQ.  So are the dendrites the major key in this puzzle allowing this to transpire?  Are dendrites the key to understanding and knowledge?”  Dr. Hammermill let his words sink in.

“But what about the mental inferior?  How does this impact them?” asked Gloria, another med student wrestling with this information.

“How indeed.”  Dr. Hammermill beamed as he was obviously pleased his students had grasped the finer meaning of his lecture.  “That is a discussion for another time.”

The Professor turned to his class and told them to finish the dissection.  A test would be given in the morning on the topic discussed.  Loud moans could be heard coming from them as he left the room.  

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None of the phone numbers taken from the assassin had checked out.  Bubba had painstakingly verified all ten digits and cross-checked them with an Internet search engine.  Each time he called, the result was the same:  the number had been disconnected or was no longer in service.  Calling on his police contacts, Bubba had run the telephone numbers by them and they had responded immediately, but with the same negative response.  The numbers were no good and were not traceable to anyone, nor could they be cross-checked to a location.

Bubba had leaned back in his office chair when June walked in.

“No luck?” asked the ex-Navy Pilot, dropping into a chair across from Bubba.  Very seldom did the Old Southerner get frustrated, but June could see the perplexity etched on his face.

“None.  They must have cut the link off the minute the assassin was killed.  You know what that implies?” asked Bubba.

“There was another we missed.”  June’s face clouded over.

“Exactly.  There was a spotter to make sure everything went as planned.  When Slade was not killed along with Dr. Stanley Watchman, and we showed up to further complicate matters, all ties were severed.”  Bubba stared at June.

“That means the connections may be deeper than we suspected.”  June hesitated before speaking again.  “What about Slade?  Did you let him know?”

“Sure did.  Just got off the phone with him.  He asked us to follow up with Dr. Watchman’s family.  I had a friend get their home address from St. Augustine P.D.  They live on Sanibel Island.  Figured we could shoot down and see them.  What do you think?” asked Bubba.

“Sounds like a great idea to me.  How about we take the Flamingo?  She needs some air under her wings.”  June grinned at the thought of taking his pride and joy on any trip: a twin engine T303 Crusader.  June had nicknamed her the Pink Flamingo and two flamingos in straw hats adorned each fuselage.  Plus it was the fastest way to travel down the coast.  Sanibel Island was on the west coast of Florida just north of Naples.  A drive by car was almost five and a half hours from Cedar Key.

“Let’s fly,” said Bubba, jumping up from behind his desk.

The flight to Sanibel Island did not take as long as they had anticipated and Bubba had called ahead to have a rental car left for them at the small airport outside of Naples.  It was a short drive to the tiny island community, which was a recluse for the rich.  Once they crossed the bridge separating the island from the Florida Peninsula, the wealth of the area became readily apparent.

“Is this the playground of the rich and famous or what?” asked June, marveling at an eighty foot yacht tethered to the dock behind a multi-million dollar mansion.

“Must be.  I don’t think they’re too concerned with the grocery bill,” remarked Bubba, turning onto the main street that ran the course of the narrow strip of sand.  Each home they passed was more opulent than the other and they ceased pointing at them, but just stared in disbelief.

“Did you call ahead?” asked June.

“No.  I found out St. Augustine P.D. spoke to the parents the day their son was killed.  As far as I know, no one has come down to see them.”  Bubba squeezed the rental car over to his side of the road to allow a large service truck to pass.

“According to your map, the Watchman’s house is the next one up on the right.”  June motioned to a driveway right off the street.

Bubba nosed the rental car off the roadway and into the drive.  A large wrought iron gate was closed and Bubba pushed the button on the intercom system perched on a decorative black pole next to his driver’s side window.  After several seconds, he pushed it again, but again received no response.

“You have a phone number?” asked June.

“Yeah.”  Bubba flipped open his cell phone and dialed a number he had handwritten on the top of the map he had prepared.  After a dozen rings he closed his phone and stared at the entrance. 

The house was located approximately three hundred feet from the road and a thick growth of vegetation obscured most of it from view.  Beautiful palms lined the asphalt driveway and they could see several cars outside the three car garage.

“What do you think?” asked June.

“I say we take a little walk.” 

The perimeter fence to either side of the entrance was not as high as the gates and they had very little difficulty in climbing over.  Bubba moved away from June and picking up on the tactic, June slowed his pace to allow Bubba to go first. 

The walk up the drive was uneventful and they were both wondering if they were over-reacting.  The steps leading to the front door were expansive and swept up to the double oak doors in a broad arc, allowing the visitor to view not only the spectacular approach to the residence, but to admire the blue of the Gulf of Mexico through the shrubbery.  The architect had designed the house to impress and he had not failed.  Both men found themselves staring around them in awe.  The Watchman’s were obviously wealthy.

Reaching the front door, Bubba reached out and knocked on the door nearest him.  When the oaken door swung open on its own, Bubba was the first to reach for his weapon.  June quickly followed suit.

Glancing to make sure June was close behind, Bubba moved quickly inside the door, snapping to the nearest wall to get out of the line of fire of any possible gunman who may be inside.  There was no need to become silhouetted in what tacticians called the ‘fatal funnel’; that spot when you are outlined in the doorway when entry is first obtained.  June followed him into the foyer, but stepped to the opposite wall.  Bubba started to systematically search the residence, room by room, with June in tow guarding his rear.

It took almost ten minutes to clear the first floor.  The move up the stairs to the second floor was down quickly, but seamlessly.  Each knew the tendencies of the other and they moved as one, alert to protect blind spots for any potential attack.  The second floor was a maze of rooms, mostly bedrooms with some reading areas nestled in corners.  Searching the house was proving to be a nightmare and difficult. 

They found the Watchman’s in their master bedroom.  They had been killed in their sleep and were still in bed.  A single gunshot wound to the head was the cause of death.  Judging by the condition of the bodies and the odor permeating the room, it appeared as if they had been dead for some time.  A heavy stench filled the room and with the windows closed, it was stifling.  Bubba swatted at a swarm of flies he had disturbed and were buzzing around his head.

June went to step past Bubba into the bedroom suite, but the ex-Police Chief stopped him.  Something was wrong, out of place.  Bubba let his eyes trail across the room, taking into account every minute detail.  A large bay window comprised the outer wall, complete with a set of large French Doors that let out onto a spacious veranda overlooking a perfectly manicured garden.  A small table and wicker chairs were on the patio.  The curtains were closed, except for the ones near the French Doors and the ones to the left of the doors, farther from the bed. 

Moving just outside the door, Bubba tried to peer through the window with the drawn curtains but was unable.  Taking a moment to orient himself, he realized the window afforded a view of the water.  This side of the island was where the deep water yachts were tethered.  A spotter!

Bubba grabbed June and turned to run, shoving his friend ahead of him down the hallway away from the scene of the murder.  They needed distance to get away; they had to move now.  It was a set up!  The thought rocketed through Bubba’s head when the explosion came.  They had gone about fifteen feet when the blast blew through the bedroom door and knocked them down the dimly lit corridor, leaving a loud ringing in both their ears.  Smoke billowed around them and slowly they gained their feet.

“This way,” said Bubba. 

Bubba moved past June and slipped down a back set of stairs that deposited them on the sun deck near the pool.  They were now on the opposite side of the house.  Moving into the dense vegetation, June took the lead as they cautiously drew near the side of the residence.  Peering through the leaves of a bush they could make out a large motor yacht anchored off shore.  Two men could be seen on the deck of the boat with binoculars trained on the house.  They were directly in line with the window with the curtains partially drawn back in the master bedroom. 

Sanibel Island was a pile of sand in the Gulf of Mexico that was irregular in shape and was a lot longer than it was wide.  Most of the homes, and the Watchman’s was no exception, had a view of the Gulf of Mexico on the west side and a dock on the intra-coastal separating the island from the mainland of Florida.  The intra-coastal provided a safe haven for the family yacht, shielding it from any storm blowing in from the open sea.  It was a pricey set up, but the inhabitants had the money to afford it.  

Glancing back at the house, June could see flames licking out of the upstairs window.  In the distance fire engines could be heard responding. 

“What now?” asked June.

“Let’s pay our guests a visit.  Least we could do since they dropped by.”  Bubba moved back to the rear of the lot and once he placed the house between him and the men on the yacht, he broke into a run. 

The Watchman’s house had been situated on the narrowest part of the island.  It was toward the boat dock to the rear of the house where Bubba was headed.  A twenty-eight foot Grady White center console sport fisher was tied behind a seventy-five foot pleasure yacht.  June needed no prodding and quickly untied the smaller craft, jumping on board as Bubba revved the engines.  Nosing the boat from the dock, Bubba aimed the sleek craft down the narrow channel to the pass connecting the intra-coastal to the Gulf of Mexico.

The twin two hundred horsepower Yamaha engines purred and propelled the craft across the water, bringing the boat to plane immediately.  A large rooster tail shot out of the water behind the fishing vessel and sprayed skyward, before falling back down.  Spinning the wheel, Bubba slowed the Grady White, nosed through the pass and entered the slight chop of the open water.  Turning toward the anchored yacht, he shoved the throttle forward and the fiberglass missile leaped toward its larger brethren.

The sound of the approaching boat alerted the two men on the rear deck of the yacht and they turned as one, training their binoculars on the rapidly approaching intruder.  Their faces turned ashen when they recognized the two men in the Grady White.  Both men dropped the binoculars, picked up automatic weapons and opened fire.  The bullets danced across the waves in front of the boat before they adjusted their aim and made contact with the hull.  Pieces of fiberglass shot into splinters and they traced a line across the front deck aiming at the driver and his passenger.

Bubba had seen them arm themselves and he nosed the craft starboard and tucked it behind a small swell.  The slight maneuver caused most of the bullets to impact the water, with a few striking the boat.  When the men paused to reload, Bubba slammed the throttle to maximum and aimed straight for them.  Just as the gunmen were bringing their weapons to bear on them a second time, Bubba snatched the throttle back digging the front end of the boat down into the sea.  Timing the rise of the bow of the Grady White with a swell rolling under the boat, Bubba gunned the engines and the boat shot out of the water like a porpoise, crashing into the guard rail of the yacht.

The two killers had just enough time to jump out of the way as the center console fishing boat came half way over the rail and slid to a stop on the deck of the pleasure yacht, the engines screaming as their props churned the air.  The larger vessel immediately tilted to port, but the Grady White had been wedged between a rear guard rail and an outside wet bar.  The entire rear section of the yacht was occupied by the Grady White. 

Bubba killed the engines and leaped off the Grady White along with June just as the two gunmen regrouped and opened fire.  The console of the Grady White exploded into pieces as the bullets tore into and through the fiberglass.  The two killers were professionals and they advanced, laying down a lethal fire of lead.  Bubba and June had moved away from the boat and were seeking refuge away from the assault.  Their handguns were no match for the assault rifles and they would have to wait for the two men to reload.

The break in the action was a momentary pause, not giving Bubba or June enough time to counter the relentless assault.  Moving back to the cabin of the luxury craft, they tried to place something substantial between them and death.  Pieces of the bulkhead flew over their head as the gunmen zeroed in on their location.  Out of desperation they returned fire, halting the tactical maneuver of their assailants.

“We need to move or we’re gonna be cornered,” said Bubba, glancing around for a path of escape and finding none.

“When you have nowhere to go, sometimes you have to go forward.”  June winked at his friend and checked his weapon to make sure there was a round in the chamber.

“Could be risky,” commented Bubba, his eyes dancing with the thought. 

“Not as tricky as staying here.”  June moved to Bubba’s left.

“Now is as good a time as any.”

Without another word, both men jumped from their position and ran toward the two gunmen, their muzzles searching for a target.  The suddenness of their actions gave them the briefest of time they needed.  Surprised by the change in tactics, the two assassins were caught off guard.  They had been formulating a flanking plan to gain the upper advantage and one of the gunmen had his back to Bubba and June.  He died first as Bubba saw him before he could fully turn around and emptied his gun into the killer, striking him in the upper torso. 

The other killer moved instinctively and dropped to the floor, firing as he dove for cover.  The spray of bullets initially shot over their heads and then he lowered the barrel of the weapon, tracking a line to the men.  One round caught Bubba in the upper left thigh, passing through the meaty part of his leg, but sending him crashing to the floor.  The tough southerner never uttered a sound, but slammed another magazine into his Glock and immediately started to return fire. 

June saw his friend go down but did not hesitate.  Rounding the front end of the Grady White, June confronted the gunmen at point blank range.  Out of rounds the killer dropped his assault rifle and reached for his handgun, but June already had him in his sights.  Squeezing the trigger as fast as his finger could pull, June kept advancing as he watched the man fall into a table and finally to the floor.  Blood started to spread across the teak deck.  Satisfied the man was dead, June went back to help Bubba.

Bubba had already torn his pants leg from the knee down into strips and used the denim to stem the flow of blood.

“How bad is it?” asked June, scanning the deck for additional antagonists.

“Just a flesh wound.  Passed through my muscle.  Need a few stitches and I’ll be as good as new.”  Bubba grimaced as the pain hit, but gained his feet.  “The other one?”

“Dead.  Can you help me search the boat?”

“Lead the way, just don’t go too fast.”

It took less than twenty minutes to search the pleasure yacht.  The two assassins were the only people on board.  After clearing the craft of any additional gunmen, they moved to the bridge and started a systematic search.  Ten minutes later they had failed to turn up anything.

“Let’s check our two friends.  Maybe they have something on them.”  June moved to the door with Bubba in tow.

A quick search of the two gunmen also met with negative results.

“Take their cell phones.  Maybe they made some phone calls and we can cross check the numbers later.” Bubba and June retrieved a phone from each dead man and dropped them into their pockets. 

An explosion from the house caused them both to look at the Watchman Mansion.  Fire trucks and police cars were in the driveway and they could see men scurrying for cover as debris rained down around them.

“A secondary device?” asked June.

“More than likely.  They didn’t want any evidence, whoever they are.”  Bubba watched as the fire fighters moved back to battle the blaze.  Flames were licking into the sky and the fire had punched a hole in the roof.  “Might be a good time for us to join them.  What do you think?”

“I agree.  There’s a dingy we can use.”  June motioned to a small boat hanging on the side of the yacht. 

When they beached the dingy on the sand near the Watchman Mansion, the entire street had been blocked off and emergency trucks lined the two lane road and stretched around the corner.  A command post had been set up a couple of houses down to shield it from any additional explosions should they occur.  There were countless men and women dressed in either fire or police uniforms shouting into radios.  Several news crews had responded and an area had been roped off for them.  They were milling around demanding to talk to someone in charge, while directing their cameramen to locations where they could attain the best shot of the scene.

Bubba and June approached a young officer standing near some bright yellow police tape with ‘do not enter’ stenciled on it.  The officer was more interested in the fire than his job and was not aware two people were walking up behind him until they spoke.

“Excuse me.  Who’s in charge?” asked Bubba, smiling as the startled young officer jumped.   

“Uh…uh.  You’ll have to wait here, sir.  We’re in the middle of determining…”

Bubba cut the young man off.  “I know what you’re in the middle of.  We’re the reason you’re up to your eyebrows in it.  Now get your boss over here or I’m leaving along with my friend and you can piece this together on your own.”  Bubba sternly looked at the young officer and then motioned for him to find his superior.  The tone in Bubba’s voice along with his authoritative manner had the desired effect.  The officer did not even glance back as he ran to grab the Captain in charge.  It was less than two minutes before they were both standing back in front of Bubba and June.

“You know about this?” asked Captain Bob Hawkins, his eyes scanning the two men in front of him.

“Yup, sure do.”  Bubba extended his hand.  “Bubba Singletee, ex-Chief of Police of Cedar Key, Florida.  This is my friend June Stenger.”

“Pleased to meet you.”  June shook the offered hand.

“Might want to get someone on-board that yacht.”  Bubba gestured over his shoulder with his thumb.

“Why is that?” asked Captain Hawkins.

“Because you have two dead men on board.  The same two who rigged explosives in that house and who probable killed Mr. and Mrs. Watchman.”  June had spoken for the first time.

There was the briefest of moments when Captain Hawkins’ hesitated before his gaze settled on the yacht anchored off the coast.  The Grady White hanging on the deck of the boat and the damage to the craft made up his mind.

“Get our Marine Unit to secure that boat.  And get the Detectives down here.  Make sure Homicide is notified and get the Chief on the phone.”  Captain Hawkins turned back to June and Bubba as the young officer fled to do his bidding.  “You need medical attention?”  For the first time he noticed Bubba’s leg.

“That would be mighty appreciative.  The two on the boat didn’t like us crashing their party.” 

With Bubba and June giving a brief synopsis of what had transpired, the scene stabilized and order was established.  Bubba was treated by paramedics on scene and was loaded into an ambulance, despite his protests, and transported to a local hospital.  Captain Hawkins sent an officer with him to get a detailed statement.

June remained at the command post to answer questions.  As darkness settled over the tiny community, June reached for his cell phone. 

“Who are you calling?” asked Captain Hawkins.  “If it’s family we have a land line inside the command post.”

“Thanks, but my cell phone will be fine.  Calling a friend.  He needs to know about this.” 

Walking away from the others, June waited for the phone on the other end to be answered.  He had no idea what they had stumbled into, but if the reception on Slade’s end was anything like this one, then he needed to be forewarned.  Whoever was responsible for this was intent on not leaving any loose ends. 

June’s heart sank when the line could not be connected.  All he received was a perpetual busy signal.  Trying to keep the look of worry from crossing his features, June turned and hurried back to the rental car.  He needed to get Bubba and fly back to Cedar Key.  Slade was in danger.  He felt it more than he knew it. 

Slipping behind the wheel of the car, he eased past the emergency vehicles and accelerated down the only road leading out of Sanibel Island.  Time to get back home.  They had to find Slade and let him know what had occurred.  This deadly game had taken a nasty turn for the worse.  He just hoped they would not be too late.

Read Chapter Six

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