It was a rainy afternoon when the phone rang. Ari Finch listened intently as the details came through. A midlands couple vacationing in Florida thought they had recognized someone coming back from a dive trip but, between the wet hair, sunburn, and mask-face, they couldn’t be sure. They took some photos but they were too grainy to be of much use in identifying Lee Davis.
Ari’s fingers drummed on the desk. Ari specialized in financial crimes, not missing persons. Mostly the cases dealt with numbers and spreadsheets, but a few years ago Ari had been called in to investigate the death of Jacob Bennett, the big movie producer, aboard The Hepburn. It had been a rush, but things had calmed down a lot since and now it was back to the normal trickle of theft, fraud, and hidden assets in messy divorces. As for Lee Davis, there was a nice insurance policy through Midlands Mutual on the day of the car crash, a policy paid out to Lee’s spouse Andy, and Ari had been briefly involved when Midlands Mutual wanted the police to confirm the death. Lee’s car had gone off the edge of Canyon Road and burst into flames – the body was so badly charred that they couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman, but it was in Lee’s car and about Lee’s size so who else could it be. If the body wasn’t Lee’s, not only was this an insurance case but the police may have a homicide on their hands.
Worse, it would be a cold case. Ari took a deep drink of coffee. Why didn’t Midlands have any normal, simple, open and shut cases? The crime rate wasn’t so bad, really, but the worst crimes were always messed up somehow. The witnesses were spectacularly unreliable; the evidence was always botched or inconclusive. If Lee were alive, prosecution would be simple. Make an arrest, bring in ID photos and some fingerprints, and let the hammer fall. Habeas corpus, baby.
As Ari did a computer search for anything related to Lee Davis, another case popped out of the system: Davis vs. Happyland. Ari had heard about the case on the news but hadn’t been involved personally. Lee Davis wasn’t a party in that case, but Lee’s spouse Andy sued after their son died after eating some of Happyland’s toy beads. Ari felt bad for Andy, losing Lee and Joey so close to together, and pulled the Happyland file to see how it had gone down. As Ari read the file the sadness was replaced by sinking feeling; what if Joey’s death had been an accident, but not in the way everyone thought.
Andy had sued Happyland for a lot of money, and part of Happyland’s defense was that Joey had an underlying illness that caused him to die where a normal person would just be sick. Andy said Joey hadn’t been treated because they didn’t have the money, but Ari knew that Lee had a good life insurance policy, one that had been increased only a few months before the crash. If Andy had blown through it that quickly, something else was up. At the end of the Happyland had gone out of business, and Andy got a very handsome settlement from Happyland’s insurance company. Ari shuddered to think that Andy would kill Joey to get more insurance money, but then re-read the medical reports. Ari couldn’t prove anything, but folks put rats and roaches in soda cans all the time, maybe Andy only meant for Joey to get sick instead of die. Maybe Happyland was right, maybe the dose wasn’t fatal on its own but was only when combined with Joey’s condition. This meant that Andy had another potential body to answer for.
Finch called the district attorney’s office.
DA Sullivan listened intently as Finch laid it all out. If this was true, they both knew it would be all over the news. They agreed to take things slow and careful. Proving Lee was alive may satisfy Midlands Mutual, but they needed to be 100% positive of any other charges before anyone got a whiff of the investigation. Sullivan had taken a lot of heat in the press the year before after her daughter was killed in a DUI and it looked like she had interfered with the investigation. She could use a slam dunk case, but Midlands rarely had those.
Ari went back to the office and dug up any records available on Andy Davis. After the Happyland case Andy had moved away for a few years but now was remarried and living in the suburbs. Ari did a double take when the marriage license came up on the screen. There it was in black and white, Reverend Darrow had married Andy and Lee, only now their last name was Allen instead of Davis. It could be another Lee, but that was too much of a coincidence for Finch. In short order Ari ordered a car to do basic surveillance of the Allen house to get a photo of Lee.
Lee Davis looked a lot like Lee Allen.
Finch needed a way to get closer to the Allens to get a better photo and possibly some fingerprints before making the arrest. Andy Davis knew how to milk the press, and there would be hell to pay if they were wrong. The only real lead Finch had was from the original tip, that the Allens had been on a scuba trip, and from the photos it looked like a fancy live-aboard one. There are only so many operators at that level so Finch made some phone calls. Finch hit paydirt with Neptune Underwater Expeditions, who confirmed that the Allens were scheduled to do a dive in a few months. When Neptune described the dive Finch nearly fell off the chair; it was going to dive The Hepburn. Finch knew that it was fate. Finch had inspected the boat stem to stern as part of the Owens murder investigation and now would get to investigate it again as a wreck. It was good there were several months to prepare. Finch had done some recreational scuba, but this trip would require deep water training and experience with wrecks. Luckily Finch knew who to call.
Lee had known Casey French since high school. Back then everyone thought that Casey was going to rule the world. Casey was smart, driven, and one of the smartest people Ari had ever met. For a while it looked like Casey was going into politics but that plan changed during an internship as Drew Walton’s personal assistant the day Lane Hamilton, Drew Walton’s opponent, was shot with Drew Walton’s gun after a debate. It never was clear if Lane had committed suicide or been killed, but Casey was only feet away when it happened. Casey never spoke about it publicly but promptly switched majors from political science to pre med.
Casey was also a scuba diver and licensed instructor, taking hobbies as intensely as everything else, and was willing to give Ari special dive training and go along on the Hepburn trip. As the doctor who treated Joey Davis in the ER, Casey could ID Andy. After Ari explained to the owner of Neptune how great it would be for business if they had another “crime of the century” to boast about, Neptune agreed to hire Casey on as a dive instructor for the trip. After a while in the sun and a different haircut, there’s no way Andy would recognize Casey as the ER doc. Shima Griggs, another cop, would come along to pose as Ari’s wife and dive buddy. Even if the Allens got suspicious, Finch could always call ahead and have them arrested as soon as they hit the dock.
Once aboard it was harder than they thought to get close to the Allens. They kept to themselves, and even yelled at a deck hand who went by their cabin to check on them. Lee was having more trouble with every dive. It may have been that Lee wasn’t as experienced as the other divers, but Lee was no rookie and was having rookie problems. Lee was running low on air, even though Lee had been given as much as the other divers. The only people who had been near Lee’s equipment were Lee, Reggie the divemaster, and Andy. Ari was beginning to wonder if Andy was messing with Lee’s equipment and suspected that Lee was getting suspicious too. When Andy came down with a cold before the last dive and couldn’t be Lee’s dive partner, Lee was emphatic about going on the dive anyway. Without Andy as a dive buddy Lee was paired with Reggie, but this also meant that Ari couldn't watch Lee because Lee and Reggie were at the back of the dive pack.
After Lee didn’t make it back from that last dive, Finch had to tell Sullivan that the investigation was a wash. On the one hand there was possibly more proof that Andy had something to do with Joey’s death. Lee’s dive log had an entry where they found beads on a dive that looked like candy, and Andy had been Lee’s dive buddy on that trip. But unlike Joey, Lee hadn’t eaten the beads and there was no way to find out if they were even the same kind. If they had been the same beads, and Lee and gone diving while drugged, Lee could have died a lot sooner than the “car crash.” As for the crash, they still couldn’t prove that Lee Allen was Lee Davis. The steward did a great job cleaning their suite, they didn’t leave any glasses around the deck for them to pocket for prints, and they both wore gloves while diving. Without Lee’s body Finch had to concede that it was a toss-up whether Lee had died, Lee had been killed, or Lee was off somewhere building a new life and waiting for Andy.
The only thing that’s certain is that Finch will be watching Andy Allen like a hawk from now on.