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Plum Island

approached the Gordon house nestled on a small lane on the west
shore of the point. The house was a 1960s ranch type that had been
made over into a 199Os contemporary. The Gordons, from somewhere
out in the Midwest, and uncertain about their career paths, were
leasing the house with an option to buy, as they once mentioned to
me. I think if I worked with the stuff they worked with, I, too,
wouldn't make any long-range plans. Hell, I wouldn't even buy green

I turned my attention to the scene outside the windows of the Jeep.
On this pleasant, shady lane, little knots of neighbors and kids on
bicycles stood around in the long purple shadows, talking, and
looking at the Gordon house. Three Southold police cars were parked
in front of the house as were two unmarked cars. A county forensic
van blocked the driveway. It's a good policy not to drive onto or
park at a crime scene so as not to destroy evidence, and I was
encouraged to see that Max's little rural police force was up to
snuff so far.

Also on the street were two TV vans, one from a local Long Island
news station, the other an NBC News van.

I noticed, too, a bunch of reporter-types chatting up the
neighbors, whipping microphones in front of anyone who opened his
mouth. It wasn't quite a media circus yet, but it would be when the
rest of the news sharks got on to the Plum Island connection.

Yellow crime scene tape was wrapped from tree to tree, cordoning
off the house and grounds. Max pulled up behind the forensic van
and we got out. A few cameras flashed, then a bunch of big video
lights went on, and we were being taped for the eleven o'clock
news. I hoped the disability board wasn't watching, not to mention
the perps who'd tried to ice moi, and who would now know where I

Standing in the driveway was a uniformed officer with a pad --- the
crime scene recorder --- and Max gave him my name, title, and so
forth, so I was officially logged in, now subject to subpoenas from
the DA and potential defense attorneys. This was exactly what I
didn't want, but I had been home when fate called.

We walked up the gravel driveway and passed through a moongate into
the backyard, which was mostly cedar deck, multileveled as it
cascaded from the house down to the bay and ended at the long dock
where the Gordons' boat was tied. It was really a beautiful
evening, and I wished Tom and Judy were alive to see it.

I observed the usual contingent of forensic lab people, plus three
uniformed Southold town cops and a woman overdressed in a light tan
suit jacket and matching skirt, white blouse, and sensible shoes.
At first I thought she might be family, called in to ID the bodies
and so forth, but then I saw she was holding a notebook and pen and
looking official.

Lying on the nice silver-gray cedar deck, side by side on their
backs, were Tom and Judy, their feet toward the house and their
heads toward the bay, arms and legs askew as though they were
making snow angels. A police photographer was taking pictures of
the bodies, and the flash lit up the deck and did a weird thing to
the corpses, making them look sort of ghoulish for a microsecond, a
la Night of the Living Dead.

I stared at the bodies. Tom and Judy Gordon were in their
mid-thirties, very good shape, and even in death a uniquely
handsome couple --- so much so that they were sometimes mistaken
for celebrities when they dined out in the more fashionable

They both wore blue jeans, running shoes, and polo shirts. Tom's
shirt was black with some marine supply logo on the front, and
Judy's was a more chic hunter green with a little yellow sailboat
on the left breast.

Max, I suspected, didn't see many murdered people in the course of
a year, but he probably saw enough natural deaths, suicides, car
wrecks, and such so that he wasn't going to go green. He looked
grim, concerned, pensive, and professional, but kept glancing at
the bodies as if he couldn't believe there were murdered people
lying right there on the nice deck.

Yours truly, on the other hand, working as I do in a city that
counts about 1,500 murders a year, am no stranger to death, as they
say. I don't see all 1,500 corpses, but I see enough so that I'm no
longer surprised, sickened, shocked, or saddened. Yet, when it's
someone you knew and liked, it makes a difference.

I walked across the deck and stopped near Tom Gordon. Tom had a
bullet hole at the bridge of his nose. Judy had a hole in the side
of her left temple.

Assuming there was only one shooter, then Tom, being a strapping
guy, had probably gotten it first, a single shot to the head, then
Judy, turning in disbelief toward her husband, had taken the second
bullet in the side of her temple. The two bullets had probably gone
through the skulls and dropped into the bay. Bad luck for

I've never been to a homicide scene that didn't have a smell
---  unbelievably foul, if the victims had been dead
awhile. If there was blood, I could always smell it, and if a body
cavity had been penetrated, there was usually a peculiar smell of
innards. This is something I'd like not to smell again; the last
time I smelled blood, it was my own. Anyway, the fact that this was
an outdoor killing helped.

I looked around and couldn't see any place close by where the
shooter could hide. The sliding glass door of the house was open
and maybe the shooter had been in there, but that was twenty feet
from the bodies, and not many people can get a good head shot from
that distance with a pistol. I was living proof of that. At twenty
feet you go for a body shot first, then get in close and finish up
with a head shot. So there were two possibilities: the shooter was
using a rifle, not a pistol, or, the shooter was able to walk right
up to them without causing them any alarm. Someone normal-looking,
nonthreatening, maybe even someone they knew. The Gordons had
gotten out of their boat, walked up the deck, they saw this person
at some point and kept walking toward him or her. The person raised
a pistol from no more than five feet away and drilled both of

Max asked me, "What do you think?"

"I don't know."

I looked beyond the bodies and saw little colored pin flags stuck
in the cedar planking here and there. "Red is for blood?"

Max nodded. "White is skull, gray is --- "

"Got it." Glad I wore the flip-flops.

Max informed me, "The exit wounds are big, like the whole back of
their skulls are gone. And, as you can see, the entry wounds are
big. I'm guessing a .45 caliber. We haven't found the two bullets
yet. They probably went into the bay."

I didn't reply.

Max motioned toward the sliding glass doors, about twenty feet
away. He informed me, "The sliding door was forced and the house is
ransacked. No big items missing --- TV, computer, CD player, and
all that stuff is there. But there may be jewelry and small stuff

I contemplated this a moment. The Gordons, like most egghead types
on a government salary, didn't own much jewelry, art, or anything
like that. A druggie would grab the pricey electronics and such,
and beat feet.

Max said, "Here's what I think --- a burglar or burglars were doing
their thing, he, she, or they see the Gordons approaching through
the glass door; he, she, or they step out onto the deck, fire and
flee." He looked at me. "Right?"

"If you say so."

"I say so.

"Got it." Sounded better than Home of Top Secret Germ Warfare
Scientists Ransacked and Scientists Found Murdered.

Max moved closer to me and said softly, "What do you think,

"Was that a hundred an hour?"

"Come on, guy, don't jerk me around. We got maybe a worldclass
double murder on our hands."

I replied, "But you just said it could be a simple homeowner
comes-on-the-scene and-gets-iced kind of thing."

"Yeah, but it turns out that the homeowners are . . . whatever they
are." He looked at me and said, "Reconstruct."

"Okay. You understand that the perp did not fire from that sliding
glass door. He was standing right in front of them. The door you
found open was closed then so that the Gordons saw nothing unusual
as they approached the house. The gunman was possibly sitting here
in one of these chairs, and he may have arrived by boat since he
wasn't going to park his car out front where the world could see
it. Or maybe he was dropped off. In either case, the Gordons either
knew him or were not unduly troubled by his presence on their back
deck, and maybe it's a woman, nice and sweet-looking, and the
Gordons walk toward her and she toward them. They may have
exchanged a word or two, but very soon after, the murderer produced
a pistol and blew them away."

Chief Maxwell nodded.

"If the perp was looking for anything inside, it wasn't jewelry or
cash, it was papers. You know --- bug stuff. He didn't kill the
Gordons because they stumbled onto him; he killed them because he
wanted them dead. He was waiting for them. You know all

He nodded.

I said, "Then again, Max, I've seen a lot of bungled and screwed-up
burglaries where the homeowner got killed, and the burglar got
nothing. When it's a druggie thing, nothing makes sense."

Chief Maxwell rubbed his chin as he contemplated a hophead with a
gun on one hand, a cool assassin on the other, and whatever might
fall in between.

While he did that, I knelt beside the bodies, closest to Judy. Her
eyes were open, really wide open, and she looked surprised. Tom's
eyes were open, too, but he looked more peaceful than his wife. The
flies had found the blood around the wounds, and I was tempted to
shoo them away, but it didn't matter.

I examined the bodies more closely without touching anything that
would get the forensic types all bent up. I looked at hair, nails,
skin, clothing, shoes, and so on. When I was done, I patted Judy's
cheek and stood.

Maxwell asked me, "Were they good friends of yours?"

"New friends."

"How long did you know them?"

"Since about June."

"Have you been to this house before?"

"Yes. You get to ask me one more question."

"Well ... I have to ask.... Where were you about 5:30 P.M.?"

"With your girlfriend."

He smiled, but he was not amused.

I asked Max, "How well did you know them?"

He hesitated a moment, then replied, "Just socially. My girlfriend
drags me to wine tastings and crap like that."

"Does she? And how did you know I knew them?"

"They mentioned they met a New York cop who was convalescing. I
said I knew you."

"Small world," I said.

He didn't reply.

I looked around the backyard. To the east was the house, and to the
south was a thick line of tall hedges, and beyond the hedges was
the home of Edgar Murphy, the neighbor who found the bodies. To the
north was an open marsh area that stretched a few hundred yards to
the next house, which was barely visible. To the west, the deck
dropped in three levels toward the bay where the dock ran out about
a hundred feet to the deeper water. At the end of the dock was the
Gordons' boat, a sleek white fiberglass speedboat --- a Formula
three-something, about thirty feet long. It was named the
Spirochete, which as we know from Bio 1O1 is the nasty bug that
causes syphilis. The Gordons had a sense of humor.

Max said, "Edgar Murphy stated that the Gordons sometimes used
their own boat to commute to Plum Island. They took the government
ferry when the weather was bad and in the winter."

I nodded. I knew that.

He continued, "I'm going to call Plum Island and see if I can find
out what time they left. The sea is calm, the tide is coming in,
and the wind is from the east, so they could make maximum time
between Plum and here."

"I'm not a sailor."

"Well, I am. It could have taken them as little as one hour to get
here from Plum, but usually it's an hour and a half, two at the
outside. The Murphys heard the Gordon boat come in about 5:30, so
now we see if we can find out the time they left Plum, then we know
with a little more certainty that it  was the Gordon boat
that the Murphys heard at 5:30."

"Right." I looked around the deck. There was the usual patio and
deck furniture --- table, chairs, outdoor bar, sun umbrellas, and
such. Small bushes and plants grew through cutouts in the deck, but
basically there was no place a person could conceal him or herself
and ambush two people out in the open.

"What are you thinking about?" Max asked.

"Well, I'm thinking about the great American deck. Big,
maintenance-free wood, multi-leveled, landscaped, and all that. Not
like my old-fashioned narrow porch that always needs painting. If I
bought my uncle's house, I could build a deck down to the bay like
this one. But then I wouldn't have as much lawn."

Max let a few seconds pass, then asked, "That's what you're
thinking about?"

"Yeah. What are you thinking about?"

"I'm thinking about a double murder."

"Good. Tell me what else you've learned here."

"Okay. I felt the engines --- " He jerked his thumb toward the
boat. "They were still warm when I arrived, like the bodies."

I nodded. The sun was starting to dip into the bay, and it was
getting noticeably darker and cooler, and I was getting chilly in
my T-shirt and shorts, sans underwear.

September is a truly golden month up and down the Atlantic coast,
from the Outer Banks to Newfoundland. The days are mild, the nights
pleasant for sleeping; it is summer without the heat and humidity,
autumn without the cold rains. The summer birds haven't left yet,
and the first migratory birds from up north are taking a break on
their way south. I suppose if I left Manhattan and wound up here,
I'd get into this nature thing, boating, fishing, and all

Max was saying, "And something else --- the line is clove-hitched
around the piling."

"Well, there's a major break in the case. What the hell's a

"The rope. The boat's rope isn't tied to the cleats on the dock.
The rope is just temporarily hitched to the pilings the big poles
that come out of the water. I deduce that they intended to go out
in the boat again, soon."

"Good observation."  

"Right. So, any ideas?"


"Any observations of your own?"  

"I think you beat me to them, Chief."  

"Theories, thoughts, hunches? Anything?"


Chief Maxwell seemed to want to say something else, like, "You're
fired," but instead he said, "I've got to make a phone call." He
went off into the house.

I glanced back at the bodies. The woman with the light tan suit was
now outlining Judy in chalk. It's SOP in New York City that the
investigating officer do the outline, and I guessed that it was the
same out here. The idea is that the detective who is going to
follow the case to its conclusion and who is going to work with the
DA should know and work the entire case to the extent possible. I
concluded, therefore, that the lady in tan was a homicide detective
and that she was the officer assigned to investigate this case. I
further concluded that I'd wind up dealing with her if I decided to
help Max with this.

The scene of a homicide is one of the most interesting places in
the world if you know what you're looking for and looking at.
Consider people like Tom and Judy who look at little bugs under a
microscope, and they can tell you the names of the bugs, what the
bugs are up to at the moment, what the bugs are capable of doing to
the person who's watching them and so forth. But if I looked at the
bugs, all I'd see is little squigglies. I don't have a trained eye
or a trained mind for bugs.

Yet, when I look at a dead body and at the scene around the body, I
see things that most people don't see. Max touched the engines and
the bodies and noticed they were warm, he noticed how the boat was
tied, and he registered a dozen other small1 details that the
average citizen wouldn't notice. But Max isn't really a detective,
and he was operating on about level two, whereas to solve a murder
like this one, you needed to operate on a much higher plane. He
knew that, which is why he called on me.

I happened to know the victims, and for the homicide detective on
the case, this is a big plus. I knew, for instance, that the
Gordons usually wore shorts, T-shirts, and docksiders in the boat
on their way to Plum Island, and at work they slipped on their lab
duds or their biohazard gear or whatever. Also, Tom didn't look
like Tom in a black shirt, and Judy was more of a pastel person as
I recall. My guess was that they were dressed for camouflage, and
the running shoes were for speed. Then again, maybe I was making up
clues. You have to be careful not to do that.

But then there was the red soil in the treads of their running
shoes. Where did it come from? Not from the laboratory, probably
not from the walkway to the Plum Island ferry dock, not their boat,
and not the dock or deck here. It appeared they were somewhere else
today, and they were dressed differently for the day, and for sure
the day had ended differently. There was something else going on
here, and I had no idea what it was, but it was definitely
something else.

Yet, it was still possible that they just stumbled onto a burglary.
I mean, this might have nothing to do with their jobs. The thing
was, Max was nervous about that and sensitive to it, and it had
infected me, too, pardon the pun. And before midnight, this place
would be visited by the FBI, Defense Intelligence people, and the
CIA. Unless Max could catch a hophead burglar before then.

"Excuse me."

I turned toward the voice. It was the lady in the tan suit. I said,
"You're excused."

"Excuse me, are you supposed to be here?"

"I'm here with the band."

"Are you a police officer?"

Obviously my T-shirt and shorts didn't project an authority image.
I replied, "I'm with Chief Maxwell."

"I could see that. Have you logged in?"

"Why don't you go check?" I turned and walked down to the next
level of the deck, avoiding the little colored flags. I headed
toward the dock. She followed.

"I'm Detective Penrose from Suffolk County homicide, and I'm in
charge of this investigation."


"And unless you have official business here --- "

"You'll have to speak to the chief." I got down to the dock and
walked out to where the Gordons' boat was tied. It was very breezy
out on the long dock and the sun had set. I didn't see any
sailboats on the bay now, but a few powerboats went by with their
running lights on. A three-quarter moon had risen in the southeast,
and it sparkled across the water.

The tide was in and the thirty-foot boat was nearly at dock level.
I jumped down onto the boat's deck.

"What are you doing? You can't do that."

She was very good-looking, of course; if she'd been ugly, I'd have
been much nicer. She was dressed, as I indicated, rather severely,
but the body beneath the tailored clothes was a symphony of curves,
a melody of flesh looking to break free. In fact, she looked like
she was smuggling balloons. The second thing I noticed was that she
wasn't wearing a wedding ring. Filling out the rest of the form:
age, early thirties; hair, medium length, coppery color; eyes,
blue-green; skin, fair, not much sun for this time of year, light
makeup; pouty lips; no visible marks or scars; no earrings; no nail
polish; pissed-off expression on her face.

"Are you listening to me?"

She also had a nice voice despite the present tone. I suspected
that because of the pretty face, great body, and soft voice,
Detective Penrose had trouble being taken seriously, and thus she
overcompensated with butchy attire. She probably owned a book
titled Dress to Bust Balls.

"Are you listening to me?"

"I'm listening to you. Are you listening to me? I told you to talk
to the chief."

"I am in charge here. In matters of homicide, the county police ---

"Okay, we'll go see the chief together. Just a minute."

I took a quick look around the boat, but it was dark now, and I
couldn't see much. I tried to find a flashlight. I said to
Detective Penrose, "You should post an officer here all

"Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please come out of the

"Do you have a flashlight on you?"

"Out of the boat. Now."

"Okay." I stepped onto the gunwale, and to my surprise she extended
her hand, which I took. Her skin was cool. She pulled me up onto
the dock and at the same time, quick as a cat, her right hand went
under my T-shirt and snatched the revolver from my waistband.

She stepped back, my piece in her hand. "Stand where you

"Yes, ma'am."

Who are you?"

"Detective John Corey, NYPD, homicide, ma'am."  

"What are you doing here?"  

"Same as you."

"No, I caught this case. Not you."

"Yes, ma'am."  

"Do you have any official status here?"  

"Yes, ma'am. I was hired as a consultant."  

"Consultant? On a murder case? I've never heard of such a

"Me neither."  

"Who hired you?"

"The town."


"Right." She seemed undecided about what to do next, so to be
helpful I suggested, "Do you want to strip-search me?"

I thought I saw a smile pass over her lips in the moonlight. My
heart was aching for her, or it might have been the hole in my lung
acting up.

She asked me, "What did you say your name was?"

"John Corey."

She searched her memory. "Oh . . . you're the guy --- "

"That's me. Lucky me."

She seemed to soften, then gave my .38 a twirl and handed it to me,
butt first. She turned and walked away.

I followed her along the dock, up the three-leveled deck to the
house where the outdoor lights lit up the area around the glass
doors and moths circled around the globes.

Max was talking to one of the forensic people. Then he turned to me
and Detective Penrose and asked us, "You two met yet?"

Detective Penrose responded, "Why is this man involved in this

Chief Maxwell replied, "Because I want him to be involved."

"That's not your decision, Chief."

"And neither is it yours."

They kept bouncing the ball back and forth and my neck was getting
tired, so I said, "She's right, Chief. I'm out of here. Get me a
ride home." I turned and walked toward the moongate, then with a
little practiced dramatics, I turned back to Maxwell and Penrose
and said, "By the way, did anyone take the aluminum chest in the
stern of the boat?"

Max asked, "What aluminum chest?"

"The Gordons had a big aluminum chest that they used to stow odds
and ends, and sometimes they used it for an ice chest to hold beer
and bait."

"Where is it?"

"That's what I'm asking you."

"I'll look for it."

"Good idea." I turned and walked through the moongate and went out
to the front lawn away from the parked police cars. The neighbors
had been joined by the morbidly curious as word of the double
homicide spread through the small community.

A few cameras popped in my direction, then video lights came on,
illuminating me and the front of the house. Video cameras rolled,
reporters called out to me. Just like old times. I coughed into my
hand in case the disability board was watching, not to mention my

A uniformed cop from the backyard caught up to me, and we got into
a marked Southold Township PD, and off we went. He said his name
was Bob Johnson, and he asked me, "What do you think,

"They were murdered."

"Yeah, no kidding." He hesitated, then inquired, "Hey, do you think
it has to do with Plum Island or not?"


"Tell you what --- I've seen burglaries, and this wasn't burglary.
It was supposed to look like a burglary, but it was a search ---
you know? They were looking for something."

"I didn't look inside."

"Germs." He glanced at me. "Germs. Biological warfare germs. That's
what I think. Right?"

I made no reply.

Johnson continued, "That's what happened to the ice chest. I heard
you say that."

Again, I made no reply.

"There were vials or something in the chest. Right? I mean, Jesus
Christ, there could be enough stuff out there to wipe out Long
Island . . . New York City."

Probably the planet, Bob, depending on which kind of bug it was and
how much could be grown from the original stuff.

I leaned toward Officer Johnson and held his arm to get his
attention. I said, "Do not breathe one fucking word of this to
anyone. Do you understand?"

He nodded.

We drove in silence back to my place.

Excerpted from PLUM ISLAND © Copyright 1997 by Nelson
DeMille. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books. All rights

Plum Island
by by Nelson DeMille

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446605409
  • ISBN-13: 9780446605403