TITLE: THE BELLINGER BEAUTY
I should have heard a deadly whisper or felt a chill on the back of my neck when I drove down Placida Road that clear Florida morning. Maybe the beauty of Lemon Bay, spread out like a shimmering oasis, blotted out all thoughts about the case I'd come to investigate. Such things happen when the water gleams under a slab of blue sky and a whiff of pungent sea air feels like heaven. For every air-conditioned, stucco palace with tile roof, swimming pool and two-acre plot I passed, dozens of trailer parks and cracker box houses sprouted like yard mushrooms after the summer rains. East of here, miles of saw palmetto and slash pine fill the open spaces where nobody lives. Only the ant hills grow, sandy soil burns your feet, and the shade scalds you. The scrub jays fly onto your hand in search of a peanut or berry to retard their march toward extinction.
Flamingo Mist stretched out on the edge of this sweltering wasteland like a sleeping beauty. From a distance, this typical Florida subdivision appears thrown down in perfectly-manicured lawns, garnished with golf courses and creeks born of retention ditches. Flamingo Boulevard loomed ahead, clean and well-maintained. The drive down it provided me with signs of too much wealth and too little charity.
I stopped at the Elk's Lodge for information. When the leather-faced man behind the desk finished giving me his lecture on why I should join, I asked him the way to Howard Bellinger's home.