Surface Tension

Surface Tension

by Christine Kling

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In a stunning debut novel featuring a resourceful female amateur P.I., Christine Kling establishes herself as a major voice in suspense fiction. Surface Tension depicts a world as deceptive as a Florida land deal, as electrifying as the hottest Miami nightclub, and as dangerous as the tug of an invisible riptide. . . .

Years ago Seychelle Sullivan had the chance to save a person’s life. But on that summer night in Florida, lost in a world of teenage resentment and loneliness, Sychelle was not able to feel any pain but her own. Today Seychelle captains her father’s forty-six-foot salvage boat out of Fort Lauderdale’s New River. She’s seen change sweep through South Florida, and witnessed friends and lovers come and go. But she’s never escaped that one moment when she could have made a difference and didn’t. Now each time she rescues a ship in distress, a little hope is born in her again.
On a steamy Florida morning Seychelle is answering a Mayday call launched from the five-million-dollar Broward yacht called Top Ten. Racing her fiercest competitor for salvage rights, Seychelle has a personal stake in this rescue: Her former lover, Neal Garrett, is the yacht’s hired skipper. But being the first to reach Top Ten will lead Seychelle to a bloody payday. A beautiful woman has been stabbed to death onboard. And Garrett is nowhere to be found.
Even on shore, the pressures are mounting–Seychelle owes money on her boat, and her love life is in shambles. Within twenty-four hours of finding the dead woman and towing Top Ten out of the surf, Sychelle realizes that she has steppedinto a lethal business involving some of South Florida’s sleaziest criminals.
While the police treat her as the prime suspect, Seychelle begins to unravel a tangled plot centered on a strip club where “all the girls are tens on top.” Discovering the sordid secrets of the owner of the yacht she rescued and the fate of the man she had once loved, Seychelle is connecting human predators with innocent victims, and a mystery on land with a mystery buried deep beneath the sea. Now, to find out what really happened to Neal Garrett, Seychelle must retrace his last steps, through two murders and a horrific crime wave, to a final confrontation with someone who may want to kill her . . . or be her salvation.

Author Biography: Christine Kling spent more than twenty years on and around boats and has cruised the waters of the North and South Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Florida International University in Miami. She lives in South Florida with her teenaged son.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786252138
Publisher: Gale Group
Publication date: 04/28/2003
Series: Seychelle Sullivan Series , #1
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 415
Product dimensions: 6.44(w) x 9.38(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Christine Kling has spent more than thirty years messing about with boats. It was her sailing experience that led her to write her first four-book suspense series about Florida female tug and salvage captain Seychelle Sullivan. Christine earned an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University and her articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. The first novel in the Shipwreck series, Circle of Bones, was released in 2013, and Dragon's Triangle continues the adventures of Riley and Cole. Having retired from her job as an English professor at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Christine sails the waters of the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean with her pup Barney, the Yorkshire Terror, and she goes wherever the wind and good Wi-Fi may take her.

Read an Excerpt

THE MAYDAY CALL BROKE THROUGH SOME FISHERMEN'S chatter on channel sixteen. Brushing stray hairs back toward my ponytail, I quieted my breathing and listened. I always left the tug's wheelhouse VHF radio turned up extra loud so that I wouldn't have to feel guilty about missing any calls. Let's face it, towing and salvage is a tough business, and if any calls for tows came in, I needed to get on the horn and make the deal before the competition.

I was down in the head compartment, wedged in alongside the Royal Flusher whose display model had operated so beautifully at the boat show, but once installed, it plugged up regularly every time I allowed someone else to use the head. B.J. was supposed to have been here this morning to fix the damn thing, and instead I found myself scrunched up in the tiny compartment, trying to make sense of an exploded diagram of a toilet.

The radio finally squawked again. "Mayday, mayday, this is the Top Ten."

I dropped a washer under the shower grate and banged my head on the porcelain bowl. The Top Ten. Neal's boat. And it had been a woman's voice.

I straightened out my legs and tried to extricate myself from the pretzel-like position required to get at the bolts on the base of the Flusher. Please let him be all right, I thought. He should be the one making that radio call; the fact that he wasn't was causing the hairs on my arms to lift in spite of the Florida heat. Where was he? Yet, in the midst of my worry, I couldn't help but wonder who the woman was. Neal didn't actually own the Top Ten; she was a ninety-two-foot private motor yacht, and Neal Garrett, all five feet eleven inches of sunny, brown-skinned, blue-eyed smiles,was her hired skipper and my former lover.

I backed out of the head and made it up to the wheelhouse in three long strides. Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale was already on the air trying to get the woman to state the vessel's position. Several times their transmission got stepped on by local traffic, and she became more hysterical by the minute. You weren't supposed to call mayday unless someone's life was in danger. The question was, did she know that? I didn't recognize her voice, but I had heard in the Downtowner that Neal had teamed up with some young girl he met there in the bar. Where was Neal?

I wiped my hands on my cutoff jeans and kicked the toolbox closed with the toe of my deck shoe. I wanted to break in on her transmission with the Coasties to ask about Neal, but, of course, that would be against regulations. The Coast Guard radio operators could be so exasperating sometimes. It seemed like they had to know everybody's mother's maiden name before they could determine the nature of an emergency.

"How many persons are on board?"

"Nobody," she said, "at least not now. I don't know what to do. Please, we're getting closer."

He finally asked her what was wrong. The boat was drifting, she said, toward some tall white buildings. Then she broke off, and he couldn't get her to respond.

Now, that's a big help, I thought as I clicked on the VHF radio direction finder, turned up the radio, and slipped out of the wheelhouse. From her description, she could be anywhere along the hundred miles of tall white buildings from Palm Beach to Coconut Grove.

I jumped the gap from the gunwale of my tug to the seawall and then trotted across the lawn to my little cottage to lock up. I looked around for B.J., usually both my mechanic and the best deckhand I knew. The storm shutters were all closed on the big house, where he had been working in the library the day before. I trotted around the side of the house.

I had met B.J. when I used to work as a lifeguard down on Lauderdale beach. A big Samoan, he often surfed after work with a couple of the other lifeguards. When they introduced us one afternoon, he was one of the few people who had recognized something in my name.

"Hey . . . Seychelle," he said. "Isn't that the name for some islands?"

When I explained my dad had named all us kids after islands, he wanted to know if I had a sister named Pago Pago.

I walked out to the gate, but his truck wasn't in the drive. Taking a megayacht like the Top Ten under tow would certainly not be easy as a one-man job, but I didn't have time to chase around anymore.

Locking the door to my cottage, I whistled for Abaco, my black Lab. She crawled out from under her bougainvillea bush at the side of the cottage and jumped through the gate in the bulwarks.

The noise of Gorda's Caterpillar diesel grumbling to life rolled across the river like nearby thunder. I threw the dock lines onto the grass just beyond the seawall and adjusted the throttle to achieve maximum speed with the least amount of wake. I noted in the log that we were under way at 9:18 a.m., Thursday, March 18. Abaco took up her position at the bow, ears blowing back, tongue lolling out of the corner of her mouth.

I hoped Neal had surfaced from wherever he was and the emergency was over, but until I heard otherwise, I'd keep the steam on. The Top Ten, at ninety-two feet, was a custom Broward yacht, replacement value somewhere near five million. In today's market, unfortunately, her new owner would be lucky to get two to three for her. But if she were in danger of going on the beach, the salvage claim could be in numbers I hadn't seen in a long time.

I had not heard any radio transmissions since I cast off and got under way, but I knew very well that even at nine in the morning, Perry Greene had been sitting in Flossie's Bar and Grill with his handheld VHF on the bar next to his can of Bud. Just as I was pushing the speed limit down the New River, Perry was headed down the Dania Cutoff Canal in Little Bitt, his twenty-eight-foot towboat.

Perry Greene wore greasy T-shirts and ripped blue jeans that showed off the fact that he never wore underwear. He had an IQ about as high as the winter temperature after a cold front, and he'd beaten me out of too many jobs lately. The Little Bitt was always piled high with slimy lines, old hemp fenders, and various broken engine parts, but Perry knew how to get the most out of an engine, and she was fast. I tapped the throttle forward a notch. Marine salvage was a no-cure, no-pay business; whoever got there first would get the job. No way Perry was going to beat me out of this one.

Coast Guard Station Lauderdale came back on the air and began calling the Top Ten. For the longest time the girl's voice didn't answer their call. Then her voice broke in sounding weak, but the transmission was so clear, I would have thought she was within a few hundred yards of me.

"Oh, God, help me . . . please . . ."

Then nothing. The transmission ended and the radio remained silent for several long seconds. When the Coast Guardsman's voice came back on, calling the name of the boat in his monotone, I jumped, but her voice never came back on the air. I wished I could just climb into my fifteen-foot Whaler and fly on out there to see what was going on. While Gorda had plenty of raw power in her diesel, she would never get up and plane over the waves like a dinghy. But then again, I wouldn't be able to do much good in the Whaler if that ninety-two-footer was in the surf line.

The run down the river had never taken quite as long as it did that morning. At best, with the current with me, my dock was a good twenty minutes from the harbor entrance, but because I was fighting the incoming tide, the harbor markers seemed to crawl past even more slowly. Early as it was, the river stink was already overpowering the smell of the newly cut grass and flowering trees of the multimillion-dollar homes on either side of us. It hadn't always been that way along Fort Lauderdale's New River-the smell, I mean. Even I could remember when kids caught tarpon off the Davie Bridge, and the crabs the locals pulled up in their traps didn't have a deadly dose of mercury in them. But nowadays, between the agriculture runoff and the hundreds of live-aboard yachts dumping all their sewage overboard, there were days, quiet mornings like this one, when the river was a real bacteria bath.

Finally, I turned south at the mouth of the New River and headed for the entrance to Port Everglades. For a Monday, there was a fair amount of traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway, and I got a break at the Seventeenth Street Bridge. Though Gorda could get through without a bridge opening, the traffic jostling for position often forced me to slow way down. This morning I joined the line of sailboats and sportfishermen and steamed straight on through without touching the throttle.

When I'd almost cleared the last inner harbor beacon and was ready to turn out the cut, I looked to seaward and saw, three-quarters of a mile offshore, a gigantic, gray, V-shaped ship lined up on the channel markers, a tiny pilot boat bobbing next to it like a remora attached to a shark.

"Goddamn!" I cut back the throttle and started to make a wide turn back into the ship turning basin. No way did I want to share the channel with an aircraft carrier. Two big harbor tugs churned past me, headed out to the ship.

Gorda slowly lost way and began to drift toward the south side of the harbor entrance. I checked down the Intracoastal toward the Dania Cutoff Canal, and sure enough, there was Perry Greene's blond hair flying around his head, just visible over the windscreen of Little Bitt. His boat was throwing up a three-foot wake, and as I saw it, I had a choice: pray for the harbor police to stop him for speeding in a manatee zone, or try to beat him out the cut.

"Come on, baby!" I pushed the throttle forward all the way to the stops. I couldn't remember ever running Gorda flat out at max RPM. I turned her around and lined up, midchannel, head on and closing with the carrier. As Gorda picked up speed, her stern started to squat in the water, and the wake we were throwing up made Perry's look like bathtub play. The fishermen on the rock jetties grabbed for their bait coolers and scrambled for higher ground.

"Securité, securité," the radio crackled, "this is Port Everglades Harbor Pilot. All traffic please clear Port Everglades entrance channel, this is Port Everglades Harbor Pilot, clear." The pilot's voice on the radio sounded convincing, but I could barely hear him over Gorda's screaming engine. And if the growing vision out my windshield didn't stop me, nothing would.

It just didn't look like it could stay upright. The damn thing looked like a skyscraper, and it narrowed down to this knifelike bow that dwarfed the harbor tugs I knew to be more than twice Gorda's size. Fortunately, the massive ship was moving at no more than two or three knots. I'd read somewhere just how many miles out those babies had to start slowing before they could come to a complete stop. They'd probably throttled down somewhere off Bimini.

I glanced at the oil pressure and temperature gauges; the engine seemed to be handling it.

"Securité, securité, attention all vessels . . ." I tuned the radio out and tried my best to ignore the five-story-high, thousand-man floating city that was bearing down on me.

Water color. I concentrated on the color of the water and the size of the wind chop as I cleared the towering condos at Point of Americas and edged over as close as I dared to the north side of the channel. The end of the breakwater came into view surrounded by pale yellow-green water. Shallow, sand bottom. Six feet of water was what Gorda needed: aquamarine. While there was plenty of depth in the channel, on either side the bottom shallowed up quickly. We were hitting the wind chop now, and waves were exploding into rainbow-tinted mist off Gorda's bow. Abaco deserted the bow and stationed herself in a corner of the wheelhouse, watching me with big black doubting eyes.

Copyright© 2002 by Christine Kling

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Surface Tension 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. Authentic Florida locations. Real sailing terminology. Along the lines of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone but no salad and pasta fillers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This 271 page novel is perfectly edited. There is a lot of technology about boats and ships. I really enjoyed this murder mystery. It is written in first person. There is no profanity. There is violence and not very detailed sex, no religion. I loved the dog in this book. It is a free standing book. The conclusion was very good. This book is fast paced and full of action. I would have given it five stars except for the fact I was unsure if the main character was male or female for a long time. Sometimes men and women have exchangable names. This is more rooster than chick lit. For ages 18 and up. AD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is so well written; filled with realistic characters. According to Christine Kling's website, she lives on a sailboat. Her knowledge of nautical issues is noteworthy, giving her story an air of authenticity. I highly recommend her books.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I enjoyed the book and was prepared to buy the next in the series. However I couldn't find it on my nook / B & N. Very disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Page Turner, keeps you engaged until the final scene. More unemotional action from the heroine would create a self assured woman. At last some men are honorable.
ronnies4 More than 1 year ago
Tried to read this book. Couldn't get past the boating phrases. Didn't understand most of what she was saying. Just wasn't worth the effort. About 294 pages.
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MKPMRP More than 1 year ago
This was fun ! Great murder mystery in beautiful Florida with a woman salvage tug captain and lots of bad guys and good guys. Great story and great characters, one of those I couldn't put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well writteen and plotted and with good charactors.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good beginning for a series.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved this book, can't wait for another one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked it very much. Suspenseful, well written. Looking forward to more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was good and full of suspense. Will definitely read more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The tension was more than on the surface! The main character experienced an exhorbatant amount of evil. Her tale revealed her struggles.