An off-duty Coast Guardsman is fishing with his family when he calls in some suspicious behavior from a nearby boat. It's a snazzy craft, slick and outfitted with extra horsepower, and is zipping along until it slows to pick up a surfaced diver . . . a diver who was apparently alone, without his own boat, in the middle of the ocean. None of it makes sense unless there's something hinky going on, and his hunch is proved right when all three Guardsmen who come out to investigate are shot and killed.
They're federal officers killed on the job, which means the case is the FBI's turf. When the FBI's investigation stalls out, they call in Lucas Davenport. And when his case turns lethal, Davenport will need to bring in every asset he can claim, including a detective with a fundamentally criminal mind: Virgil Flowers.
About the Author
Hometown:St. Paul, Minnesota
Date of Birth:February 23, 1944
Place of Birth:Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Education:State University of Iowa, Iowa City: B.A., American History; M.A., Journalism
Read an Excerpt
Lucas Davenport used his phone's flashlight to illuminate the cut through the knee-high wall, and from there, to the path that led down to Fort Lauderdale Beach. Early-morning traffic down Beach Boulevard was quiet, the subdued hum of small SUVs and sedans. The cars turning left off Sunrise Boulevard played their headlights across his back as he walked, throwing his shadow on the white sand.
Out on the Atlantic, he could see a bare hint of the coming dawn. Lucas walked across the sand until he was a dozen feet from the water, where the smell of seaweed pressed against his face like a hand. He sat down, took off his shoes and socks. He sat there for a while, as the eastern horizon grew brighter. Not much was going through his head-the light, the smell of the seaweed, the sound of salt water breaking up the beach.
A breeze sprang up with the dawn, but was barely strong enough to push the six-inch rollers ashore. After a while, he noticed that the world was beginning to light up. His phone rang. He dug it out of his jacket pocket and turned it off without answering, or even looking at it.
At some point, the rim of the sun broke the edge of the horizon, a brilliant arc throwing rippling orange slashes across the water. A sportfishing boat went by, a half mile out.
Then the muggers showed up.
Two men, one Anglo, one Hispanic, both thin, dark-haired, wearing worn dark clothing, their faces weathered from life on the street, like driftwood boards. Lucas knew they were muggers by the way they approached, a certain crablike walk, a phony confidence, an attitude that could turn in a moment from friendliness to naked aggression and then possibly to retreat, if Lucas should turn out to be something unexpected.
They checked him out, a guy in a sport coat barefoot on the sand, maybe shaking off a drunk? A gold watch on the left wrist, right hand in his lap. He looked at them and said, "Hey, guys."
The Anglo said, "Nice watch you got."
Lucas: "Got it from my wife for my birthday. A Patek Philippe. Twenty-eight thousand dollars, if you can believe that. I told her we should have sponsored some hungry kids somewhere. She said that we already did that and I should have some nice things."
The guy in back stopped and hooked his friend's elbow to slow down his approach; the feral sense that something was not right.
"You okay?" the lead mugger asked.
Lucas said, "No."
He slipped his right hand out of his lap, and held it straight up in front of his nose; he was gripping a black Walther PPQ.
One of the muggers said, "Whoa."
"Why were you guys going to mug me? Don't bullshit me, tell me the truth," Lucas said. "You gonna stick something in your arm? Stick something up your nose? Or what?"
They stuttered around for a moment, looking like they might run, but there was no place to hide on the empty beach and running through the sand would be slow. Much slower than a bullet. The Anglo guy said, "Mostly looking for something to eat. Ain't had nothing to eat since yesterday morning."
"Okay." Lucas sat motionless for a few seconds, the muzzle of the gun straight up to the sky, between his hands, as though he were praying, and then he fished in his jacket pocket for his wallet, extracted a bill, folded it into quarters, and tossed it across the sand. "Pick it up," he said.
The Anglo looked at his friend, then eased carefully forward, stopped, and picked up the bill. "Fifty bucks."
"Fifty bucks," Lucas said. "Go get something to eat."
They backed away, watching him, then turned and moved away more quickly. Before they were out of earshot, Lucas called, "Hey. Guys."
They stopped and looked back.
"When I get up from here and walk down the beach, if I see you jumping someone, I'll fuckin' kill both of you. You understand?"
The Hispanic guy said, "Yes, sir." And the two of them hotfooted it down the beach path to the street and out of sight.
Lucas looked back out at the ocean. The sun was halfway above the horizon now, the orange burning off, going to yellow.
Wasn't going to be a good one.
Five years earlier, the high school guidance counselor sat Barney Hall down and said, "Barney, you're bright enough, but you're not college material. Not yet." He was looking over Hall's standard test scores and other accumulated records from thirteen years in the Lower Cape May Regional School District. "You're not mature for your age. If you hadn't been sent to detention once a week, you wouldn't have done any studying at all."
Hall was a cheerful, good-looking, middle-sized kid with broad shoulders and bright white teeth, who must have said a hundred times in his life, "Watch this-and hey, hold my beer, willya?"
He had a girlfriend named Sue, whom he'd known since fourth grade, who was happy to hold his beer, most of the time, and then apply the bandages afterward. Hall worked after school and all summers as a mechanic in his dad's yacht salvage yard, or junkyard, depending on who was doing the talking.
"I'm trying to do better, sir," he told the counselor.
"Don't bullshit me, son. Would I be correct in believing that you were drinking beer at Toby Jones's wedding last weekend and got drunk and fell off the dock and damn near drowned?"
"I'm a good swimmer, sir. There was no danger."
"That's not the point, Barney. Anyway, if you want to do anything in life, you need to get serious, and right quick. Knowing you, looking at these records, I'm thinking your best course would be the military. The military would give you responsibility from day one. If you don't come through, they'll slap your ass in the brig. You need that discipline. Mind, I'm not saying the Marine Corps. You're way too smart for that."
"I wasn't thinking college, not right away," Hall said. "I've been talking with Sue, and . . . how about the Coast Guard, sir? There're some Coasties that hang out at my dad's place and I like listening to them talk. I've been on the water and working on boats all my life."
The counselor poked a finger at him: "That's the smartest thing I ever heard you say, Barney. You do a few years in the Coast Guard, get yourself some rank and responsibility and they'll even send you to college when you're ready. God help me, you could wind up an officer."
"Whoa. That'd be awesome, sir."
"And do me a favor, son. Get rid of that T-shirt." The T-shirt featured a basketball-sized, full-color image of a bantam rooster, with the legend, everything's bigger in texas.
Hall looked down at the T-shirt. "It's just a chicken, sir."
"It's a cock," the counselor said. "You know it and I know it. I don't want to see it in this school again."
Hall married Sue the June after high school graduation, joined the Coast Guard at the end of a glorious summer, and after boot camp and advanced training, was stationed in Fort Lauderdale.
Sue Hall went to Broward College and became a registered nurse and started working on a bachelor's degree in nursing. Hall found the boatyards of Marina Mile to be the most amazing places he'd ever been. When Sue got pregnant with their first one, he got off-duty work rebuilding diesel engines in one of the Marina Mile engine shops. The extra work would get them childcare money so Sue could finish her BS degree.
At night, they'd drink PBR under palm trees in their trailer park, until Sue got pregnant, when they switched to ginger ale, and she'd say, "Barnes, we're gonna do good in life. I can feel it coming on."
The owner of the engine shop had a pile of old boats out back, which he couldn't sell, and Hall kept looking at a 1999 Boston Whaler 260 Outrage that had been stripped of the twin outboards and had a hole in the hull, and now sat derelict atop a tandem trailer with two flat tires on each side, overgrown with weeds. After some talk, the owner agreed to give Hall the boat along with two badly abused, but salvageable, Merc 225s and the trailer-all Hall had to do was work five additional unpaid hours a week, in the evenings and on weekends, on top of his regular weekend shift, for two years, and the boat was his.
Plus, he could use the shop and its tools to rehab the trailer and the Mercs and do whatever fiberglass work the boat needed. The boat was solid, except for the hole, which could be fixed.
That's the entire backstory as to why Hall, Sue, and their first boy, Lance, almost a one-year-old, were trolling down the debris line on the outer reef south of Pompano Beach, Florida, looking for dorado-mahi-mahi-when Hall spotted something unusual happening with a snazzy-looking Mako center console a half mile ahead of them. He said, ÒSue, hand me the glasses.Ó
The Mako had two white outboards hanging off the back, which Hall recognized as big 350s, giving the boat seven hundred horses with which to get across the ocean.
"What's out there, Barnes?" Sue asked. She was a rangy young woman, would have been a cowgirl in Texas, sunburnt, fighter-pilot blue eyes, her rose-blond hair frizzy from salt water.
"Something strange going on, babe. I've been watching him, 'cause that's a sharp boat. All of a sudden it slowed down and stopped and it looks like it picked up a diver in the middle of the ocean. I mean, who was already in the middle of the ocean before they got there. Went right to him."
"You don't see that every day," Sue said.
Hall was still on the glasses. "He's, uh, looks like they've got some lift bags coming over the side . . . in the middle of the ocean."
"Maybe picking up some bugs?" She was referring to spiny lobsters.
"From a guy they left in the middle of the ocean?"
Sue said, with a sudden urgency, "Barnes, I've got a bad feeling about this. Let's turn around. Bring the boat back north."
"Yeah." That seemed like a good idea.
Hall turned the boat in a wide fisherman's semicircle and headed back north, but kept watching the Mako through the glasses. He was careful to be standing behind the center console when he used the binoculars, because he'd learned early in his Coast Guard training that if you saw somebody whose arms, head, and chest formed an equilateral triangle, they were looking at you through binoculars-and every few minutes, one of the men on the Mako would check them out with binoculars.
Twenty minutes after it stopped, the sleek-looking craft lurched forward and headed south. Hall got his cell phone, called in to the watch officer at the Coast Guard station at Fort Lauderdale.
"Sir, this is Barney Hall. I'm south of Pompano Beach in my own boat, but I saw something strange out here. There's a black-and-white Mako 284 heading toward Port Everglades. We saw him picking up something from the middle of the ocean. He was running fast, then stopped, and there was a diver waiting for him right there in the water. There were no other boats around, no dive flag. They were using lift bags . . ."
"Can you stay with him, Hall?"
"No, sir, not entirely, he's running fast. I can keep him in sight until he makes the turn. I'll be a mile back of him by then."
"He looked suspicious?"
"Yes, he did, sir. If I was on duty, I'd stop him, for sure."
"We'll do that, then. We'll have somebody waiting for him inside."
Hall told Sue to put on her life jacket and bring in the fishing lines; the baby was already wrapped in a fat orange PFD. He turned the boat and they tracked the Mako until it made the turn into the Port Everglades cut. Hall got back on his phone and called the watch officer and said, ÒIt's Hall, sir, he's making the turn.Ó
"We're on it, Hall. Good job."
The Mako was ambushed by a Coast Guard RIB-rigid inflatable boat-which had orange inflatable tubes wrapped around a hard-shell hull. The petty officer second class who was running the boat got on channel 16 and called, ÒMako 284 Chevere, this is the United States Coast Guard coming up behind to make a courtesy inspection. Cut your speed to five knots and hold your course. WeÕll board you from the starboard side.Ó
Coast Guard inspection boats were usually larger RIBs with pilothouses; the boat that had been scrambled to intercept the Mako was smaller, three men aboard, no pilothouse. The Coast Guard boat pulled up behind the Mako and the petty officer in the bow saw two men waiting in the stern-bulky guys, dressed like sport fishermen, bright-colored shirts and shorts, sunglasses, and billed hats.
Then, as they were a few feet off, ready to board, one of the men on the stern of the Mako lifted up a heavy long-nosed black rifle with a red-dot sight. With a motion that was practiced and almost graceful, he shot the two Coast Guardsmen in the bow, and then twice shot the PO2 who was running the boat. The four shots together took no more than two seconds. The gun barked, rather than banged, a flat noise because of the suppressor on the barrel; the gunshots were loud, but not especially audible over the sound of the boat engines.
The PO2 had killed the boat's speed for the boarding and when he saw the rifle come up he reached forward to hit the accelerator, but a bullet took him in the throat and then another in the chest, and the slugs turned him away and he fell into the bottom of the boat, dying, blood spreading around him on the wet floor, a purple flood. The Coast Guard boat turned into a slow circle across the wide port and the Mako accelerated away.
As the Mako left, Hall, Sue, and the baby nosed through the cut in their rehabbed Whaler and saw the Coast Guard boat turning away from it.
Hall watched for a moment, then said, "There's something wrong, Sue."
"Get over there," Sue said. "That Mako's running like a thief in the night. I'll get the gun." They kept a .38 Special in a waterproof can down an equipment hatch.