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The Swindled Selkie

A. C. Spahn wanted to be an interstellar starship captain when she grew up. Since nobody was hiring, she became a writer instead. She enjoys training in martial arts, organizing messy rooms, and researching a hobby-of-the-month. When not commanding imaginary starships, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and feline overlord. She is the author of the Endurance series of comedic sci-fi novellas and short stories appearing in Outposts of Beyond, Disturbed Digest, and other publications.

The dark-haired woman hugged herself as the boat creaked in the sea breeze. "I just don't know who I can trust anymore," she sobbed. "One of them took it, but I don't know which. I never thought this would happen if I tried to work a human job."
Cara Watt, paranormal investigator, nodded sympathetically while trying to keep her balance on the rocking deck. "How long has your sealskin been missing, Tysha?"
"I keep it in a chest by the life preservers. I like to wear it twice a day to swim, at high tide. Last time I saw it was yesterday evening, around seven. Then this morning around six I went to put it on, and it was gone."
"Could it have been a random break-in? Crimes against paranormals have been common lately."
Tysha swallowed. "No. Jerome and Xavier are the only people who have access to the boat. They're the only ones who could have stolen it."
"Any idea why?" Both women turned to look at the speaker. Detective Derek Faraday stood on the dock beside the boat, notepad in hand.
Tysha bit her lip. "The three of us have worked together for years. Jerome owns the boat and Xavier drives it. I'm the guide for the tours. Bay cruises, mostly, but sometimes we take people on deep sea fishing trips. Lately Jerome and Xavier have been, er, fighting over me."
"You mean romantically?" asked Cara.
"Yes. They've both asked me out. Even proposed. And whenever I put on my sealskin to go to sea, they both look worried. Like they're afraid I won't come back." Tysha closed her eyes. "Maybe I shouldn't have. I think one of them stole my sealskin to keep me on shore. It's probably deep in the bottom of the ocean by now."
"Not necessarily," said Derek, crouching to peer into the boat's cockpit. "How full is the gas supposed to be?"
"We always fill it up when we dock for the night."
"The meter says it's not quite full, but whoever ran the gas down didn't go far. I'd say your thief took the boat out last night to hide your other skin in the water, but couldn't get out of the bay. Your second body can't be too far away."
Tysha's face brightened, as did Cara's. Detective Faraday gave the PI a quizzical look. "What?"
"You rattled all of that off without a hitch. Are you finally getting comfortable with the paranormal?"
He winked at her. "More each day."
The three headed below deck, to where two men in blue "Watson Ridge Sailing" polos stood on opposite sides of the room. Detective Faraday glared at them. "Start talking, gentlemen. Where is the missing sealskin?"
The one whose t-shirt labeled him Xavier spoke first. "I can prove it wasn't me. We docked around ten last night, and I went straight home. My neighbor saw me come in."
"Well," said the other man, Jerome, "I left right away, too, and grabbed a beer with a friend. He can tell you where I was. And Xavier stayed later than me, so he had more opportunity."
"I only stayed because you have no idea how to secure the lines and moor the boat."
"I pay you to do those things so I don't have to."
"Not enough."
"It's not my fault business has been slow lately!"
"Gentlemen," said Detective Faraday in a warning tone. Both quieted.
"One of them is lying," Tysha said. "Either could have taken the boat out alone during the night."
"Yes," said Cara, "and I know which one it is."
Cara pointed at Jerome. "He's the one who took the boat out last night and hid the sealskin."
Jerome's face reddened. "I have an alibi."
"Whoever stole the sealskin did it at night, when it would have been low tide, the worst time to take out a deep-sea boat like this one. That's why you couldn't get out of the bay. Your pilot would have known better than to try to sail in shallow water, but you don't seem to know much about boating. I'll bet if we talk to your friend, your alibi will fall apart."
Jerome's eyes widened. He turned desperately to Tysha. "I only wanted to make you consider my proposal. Please, it was all for love!"
Tysha recoiled. "Get him away from me!"
As Detective Faraday led Jerome up on deck, Xavier took Tysha's hands. "He wouldn't have thrown your skin away forever. Even Jerome isn't that selfish. It's probably tied to one of the buoys around the bay."
"There are hundreds of those."
"I'll help you find it. If we have to check every buoy out there, we'll get your true self back."
"Thank you, Xavier."
Cara made a discrete exit as the two embraced.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Author Comments

The Cara Watt stories were inspired by the two-minute mysteries by Donald J. Sobol, featuring Dr. Haledijan the sleuth solving various cases alongside the reader. My husband and I enjoyed reading Dr. Haledjian's adventures aloud together, and the pairing of the interactive mystery with a paranormal setting seemed like a perfect fit.

- A C Spahn
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