In many ways, hot-tempered field agent Rachel Porter deals better with endangered animals than she does with people -- which is why her superiors at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dispatch her to the most god-forsaken places. Georgia's steaming coastal swampland is her latest assignment, where she quickly runs afoul of the local authorities. But someone is operating an illegal manatee water park here, and Rachel is determined to shut it down. Worse still, these fascinating mammals are dying in alarming numbers for unknown reasons. And when people being dying as well, Rachel's righteous fury is tinged with fear. Because answers and predators alike are waiting for her in a dark and terrifying place: a toxic "Dead Zone" that spells certain doom for any trespassing human, manatee ... or wildlife agent.
About the Author
Jessica Speart writes about environmental and wildlife issues. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, OMNI, Travel & Leisure, Audubon, National Wildlife, Mother Jones, Delta's Sky Magazine, and many other publications. Unsafe Harbor is her tenth Rachel Porter mystery. Jessica lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two dogs, Max and Tallulah.
Someone was crying outside my bedroom window last night. I got up and ran out, only to find nobody there. Some say the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. In which case, I should have been feeling completely at home right about now.
"Well, hot damn! This here says you're some kinda special federal law enforcement agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Is that so?"
The local sheriff hypnotically wove my ID card between his fingers with the ease of a professional card shark. "And just what is it that brings you to our peaceful little town today?"
"I thought I'd do some fishing," I answered; flashing what I hoped was a seductively beguiling smile.
"Well, aren't you the lucky one getting Labor Day off?" He grinned, giving the distinct impression of a cat on the prowl who'd just caught himself a mouse. "So, what are ya'll fishing for anyway?"
Naturally, he'd have to ask. It was a pastime that I knew almost nothing about.
Mayday! Mayday! The distress call shot straight to my brain as the sheriff continued to study me.
"Catfish," I responded, in my best imitation of a Southern drawl.
His meandering gaze vainly searched my vehicle for any sign of a fishing pole. "Too bad you don't seem to be having much luck " he shrewdly observed.
So much for charming the man into submission.
I'd been following up a hot tip concerning some illicit commercial shrimping in the marsh. So far, everything had gone just as I'd hoped. The suspect had docked his boat, unloaded the illegal haul, thrown it in the trunk of his car, and taken off. Hisnext stop would probably be a shady commercial fishmarket just over the state line in Florida.
I'd been hot on my perp's tail, determined to catch him in the act of selling the goods. That is, until a siren began to howl behind me like a surly cat in heat. I'd had no choice but to slam on my brakes and pull off the road. Fisherman Joe slowed down just long enough to flash me a digital good-bye in his rear view mirror. After that, he'd left me behind eating his dust.
There was no question but that I'd brought this upon myself. I'd been driving with my eye pressed against a video camera that was precariously balanced on my shoulder. As a result, my Ford Explorer had swerved back and forth. like a drunk on a roll. This was crack law enforcement at its best.
The sheriff's gaze now came to rest on the camera nestled beside me.
"There's some great scenery around here," I lamely offered, hoping to tap dance my way out of this mess.
This was the one thing my topnotch informant had warned me about. Trust no one in the backwater community of St. Mary's Bluff, where everyone knows everything about everybody. It was a given that the locals were all involved in a melange of illegal activities. The surprise ingredient was Sheriff Tom "Quick Draw" Magraw, best described as Georgia's version of the local Godfather. Word had it he received a kickback from everyone, including the local paper boy, who also happened to be his own son.
He eyeballed me now. "Don't take this wrong, but I'm gonna have to run your license, just to check and make sure everything's on the up and up. You know what I mean."
Absolutely. He was a master when it came to ensuring that his compadre made a clean getaway.
I watched Magraw walk back to his vehicle with both feet turned out like a haughty ballerina. The sight was ironic, considering he had the body of a wrestler gone to seed. What wasn't so amusing was when he picked up the microphone in his patrol car and flipped on the outside speaker.
"I got a little lady here and darned if she isn't trying to fish without the use of a pole. I'm still trying to figure that one out. Anyway, she claims to be a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Says her name is Rachel Porter."
Magraw had just cleverly alerted all of St. Mary's Bluff to my presence.
"So she is with Fish and Wildlife? Okay then, no problem. I'll let her get on with her work."
Fat chance of that. Sheriff Magraw sauntered back, as if nothing the least bit unusual had taken place. I suppose nothing had, except that any undercover operation I'd hoped to mount was now blown.
"Sorry for the inconvenience. You enjoy the rest of your day. And don't hesitate to let me know if I can be of any assistance," he politely offered, placing my license and ID in the palm of my hand.
"Thanks, but I think you've done more than enough already."
That was a mistake. I knew it as soon as the words left my mouth. Magraw's eyes flashed like detonated gunpowder, even though a smile remained plastered on his face.
"Are you referring to what happened back there? Sorry about flipping on that outside speaker. These clumsy fingers of mine get in the way and do that every now and then. But don't worry."
Magraw handed me one of his cards. "The fact is, it would make life a whole lot easier if you filled me in on exactly what you're up to. You may not know it yet, but you need someone like me in the area to keep an eye out for things."
The man sounded so sincere, I nearly believed him.
"Think it over. It could work to both our benefit." His eyes locked on mine and I suddenly knew exactly what he meant.
"Thanks, but that won't be necessary. I've already got everything I need," I bluffed. Hell, why stop there? I patted the camera, purposely yanking his chain.
Sometimes I'm not as clever as I like to believe. The sheriff's eyes zeroed in on their target.
"That sure is some fancy piece of equipment you got there. Nothing a country sheriff like myself can afford."
Who was he kidding? The video camera was a scuffed-up, secondhand bargain basement special. Magraw could have probably bought his own yacht with all the kickbacks he received.
"Mind if I take a look at it?"
He left little doubt that this was a demand, rather than a request.
"It's not mine, so please be careful," I responded, and reluctantly handed over the camera.
Magraw's agile fingers immediately went to work, deftly hitting the release button, so that the film cassette popped out and fell to the ground.
Crrrrrunch! echoed the sickening sound.
I looked down at where his heel expertly ground the cassette into the blacktop.
"Goddamn, I'm sorry!" he apologized, and bent down to pick it up. "Wouldn't you know these big ol' fingers of mine would mess up something again? Tell you what. I'll scrape five bucks out of petty cash and buy a new cassette for that fancy camera of yours."
Magraw couldn't have made his warning any more clear. This is my banana republic. Now get the hell out of it!
I took a deep breath, aware that the situation called for something I normally detest -- the utmost diplomacy. "That's all right. No harm done. I've got plenty more cassettes back at the office."
"Well, that's mighty nice of you. Why don't you give me a call next time you're down this way, and I'll buy you lunch?" Magraw magnanimously offered, having successfully defended his territory.
Then he strode back to his patrol car, where he waited until I took off.Coastal Disturbance. Copyright � by Jessica Speart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rachel Porter is an U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agent. She has once again been relocated to another god-forsaken place because of her hot temper. This time she's working in Georgia's steaming coastal swampland. In an attempt to put her personal life in order, Jake Santou got transferred to Savannah by the FBI so that they could try living together. They are working on commitment, but she's still not ready for marriage. Rachel gives Clark Williams, former Undersecretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks a ticket for shooting clapper rail birds from a running motor boat. He gets it withdrawn. She is fit to be tied! And, this is just the beginning of her troubles. Gary Fletcher, Fish and Wildlife containment specialist, brings to her attention that Wendell Holmes is operating an illegal manatee water park. These mammals are dying in alarming numbers and no one knows why. She is determined to shut it down before anymore die. Then people begin dying and things turn toxic. As she begins investigating, she discovers a tangled web tying everyone and everything together. Now if she can just untangle the web before any more manatees or people die. The only constant characters in this series are Rachel, Jake and Terri, her cross-dressing friend from New Orleans. But, they aren't in every book. I think one of the things I like most about this series is the fact that there is a new boss and a landlady/landlord to get to know in each book because she is in a new location. But she always butts heads with her boss and often her landlady/landlord are older. She comes up with some of the most unique characters for her books. You must read this book, I highly recommend it. I can't wait for the next one.