The rugged Florida troubleshooter Thorn is back in another high-tension story of crime, love, and revenge, described by the Chicago Tribune as "wry, vivid, wonderful. . . . A first-rate thriller!"
In an exotic blue-water locale where greed and criminality thrive, the mysterious disappearance of Thorn's boyhood friend Gaeton Richards, an FBI agent, entangles Thorn in a web of violence and intrigue that takes him from seamy local bars to glittering ocean villas. Then, when Gaeton's beautiful sister becomes Thorn's lover, he finds himself facing a jealous lunatic stalking her, a rogue government agent involved in a murderous scam, and an unforgettable underworld of petty crooks, amoral hired guns, and dangerous losers.
"A terrific read with a gritty and tangible sense of place, a hero who's a cross between Davy Crockett and Philip Marlowe, and a lyrical, almost poetic touch in scenes both sexual and violent." Orlando Sentinel "Provocative and suspenseful . . . a worthy and brilliant successor to Under Cover of Daylight." Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger "James Hall's writing is astringent, penetrating, and unfailingly gripping." Dean Koontz "Menacing . . . brilliantly written!" USA Today "James W. Hall's lyrical passion for the Florida keys, his spare language and unusual images haunt us long after the story has faded." New York Times Book Review "Explosive . . . suspenseful . . . action galore." Worcester Telegram & Gazette
A selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
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By James W. Hall
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 James W. Hall
All rights reserved.
On Friday night, January the third, Thorn put on a clean T-shirt and cutoffs and drove his '69 VW convertible to Coconuts, a new waterfront bar behind the Holiday Inn. He ordered a beer, and the bartender brought him a Tecate, a slice of lime on the top of it. He sipped it, watching the pretty tanned women swirl around the dance floor and the bar.
Thorn had gone to Coconuts because his loneliness had begun echoing too loudly, and he thought he wanted to fill himself up with rock music and empty chatter. It was the first weekend of the new year. He thought maybe he was ready to come home with a warm body.
He'd been there only a few minutes when a dark woman with her hair clenched back in a ponytail took the stool beside him. She swiveled around to face him and began tapping her Corvette key chain on the bar.
"I'm a dentist," she said. "Does that bother you?"
"Not yet," he said.
She smiled at him and he smiled back. She tapped the key chain against the bar, keeping the beat to a loud song he didn't recognize.
She laughed and set down her frothy red drink.
"You know it's funny," she said. "A guy like you, all raggedy, sunburned, and unshaven, if I saw you up in Miami, I'd probably say to myself, Look at that syphilitic loser. But down here in the Keys, damn if you're not romantic. You're a water bum, living on your sailboat, and I'll probably wind up in the sack with you tonight, getting my eyeballs fucked out."
Thorn rose, picked up his Tecate, and moved down three stools.
A green-eyed blonde in a black Danskin top and a denim skirt was sitting next to him. She sighed, shook her head, and turned on him. She told him she'd used her Christmas break to drive all the way from Minnesota to Key Largo to scuba dive on the reefs and she was shocked by the decay of the coral and the degrading of the water. The damn locals were doing a lousy job of protecting the ecology. This place was a national treasure, and they were letting it get ruined. Thorn nodded, set aside the lime wedge from his new beer, and tried to interest himself in her eyes. A warm light seemed to be filling them.
She looked back at him, getting quiet, leaning slowly toward him, peering strangely at his face. He was about to speak, to ask her if she'd like to analyze the moonlight from his hammock, when she reached out and touched his cheek with a cool finger.
She said, "You really ought to have that crusty red patch looked at."
He stared at her.
She said, "Melanoma. You know, the big C?"
He got the bartender's attention, paid his bill, and left Coconuts. He drove south a couple of miles and turned into a dark street where the palm fronds stirred against the one working streetlight. Papa John's Bomb Bay Bar was at the end of that dark rutted street, past a weedy trailer park. The bar was in a sagging shack on the edge of the Atlantic.
He parked the VW next to a shrimp truck and went inside. No women there. No dating rituals or ferns or foreign beers. The only decorations were some framed black-and-white photos on one wall.
It was a rogues' gallery. A much younger Papa John stood out on anonymous docks with his cronies: politicians, baseball players, movie stars. All of them sunburned, posing beside their marlin or holding up a string of game fish.
Thorn leaned against the bar and watched Papa John in his white captain's hat and rumpled white shirt going about his work, drawing beers for the two shrimpers sitting at the end of the bar. Both of them wore stained undershirts, tattoos on their arms, baseball caps; one had dog tags. Thorn nodded to the men, and they nodded back. One of them said his name.
When Papa John brought Thorn his Busch, he asked Thorn how the fly-tying business was doing.
"I'm carving plugs now," he said. "Cutting back on flies."
"Plugs," said one of the shrimpers. "Shit, whatta you want to waste your time carving plugs?"
"Silhouettes," said the other shrimper. "That's all the goddamn fishes care about. They see a shape they like, they'll hit it. Fish don't give a shit if it's made out of wood or plastic."
"Well, I give a shit," Thorn said.
Papa John said, "Hell, I'm with Thorn. Give me wood every time. That plastic crap, man, a good-sized fish hits plastic, the thing blows up on you."
Papa John and the shrimpers started in on it, who knew more about catching fish. As Thorn washed away those Tecates with his Busch, he watched the three men. They were in their sixties, and there was still a pioneer gristle in their faces. But the flesh on their arms was loose, their fingers thick and clumsy with gout or arthritis. Thorn knew these shrimpers, and he knew their sons. They were paler than their fathers, less hardy specimens, men whose only calluses came from golf, or tapping buttons.
He drank his beer and watched these men argue. These men who had done every rough and difficult thing a man might be expected to do in the Keys. Everything but replace themselves.
In a few minutes Papa John came over to him again and asked if he wanted another beer. Thorn said he reckoned he'd done enough celebrating tonight. He dug some change from his pocket.
Papa John squinted at Thorn, gave him a long, searching look. He said, "You know what, son. I believe I could use somebody like you around here."
"I'm serious, Thorn. I am." He looked back at the shrimpers, then leaned forward into confidential range. He said quietly, "I could teach you some things, Thorn. I could."
"What? How to be a scoundrel?" Thorn said. He put the change down on the bar. "A rapscallion?"
Papa John smiled. "Yeah," he said. "That, and a lot more."
"No, thanks, John. I got myself a vocation already."
"Carving plugs," Papa John said.
"It keeps me busy," said Thorn.
He said good-night to the shrimpers, nodded to Papa John, and left.
When he got home, he wasn't feeling sorry for himself anymore. He was feeling sorry for Key Largo, for Florida, for North America. For men and women everywhere. For the race of lonely creatures that walked upright.
He knew what his problem was. It'd been too damn long since he'd been in love. It was three months ago that he'd kissed Sarah Ryan good-bye. She'd moved to Tallahassee, taken a job with the Sierra Club to fight for the rights of the manatee and wood stork.
All through that September she'd talked about it, what a chance it was, a bigger impact on things, no more Miami public defense work. Let the slime and sleaze fend for themselves. Thorn said yeah, it sounded great, a great job. Both of them acted this through, some tears, some long hugs. The damn job splitting them up. Thorn even started to believe it at times.
But he knew when she drove away that afternoon, waving into her rearview mirror, he knew that was all shit. They'd burned it up, whatever had fueled their love, making it so bright and hot and fast. All though September they'd raced through the motions. Sexual seizures, biting, pinching each other as if to squeeze out that extra drop. Gripping tight while the G-force died, while their rocketing hearts slowed back to normal. Then even slower than that.
And since that afternoon Thorn had been living aboard the Chris Craft, relearning the language of his own solitude, while he and Jack Higby rebuilt his house, plank by plank, peg by peg, leveling, squaring up the edges.
Back in August his house had been destroyed. A bomb meant for Thorn had blasted it, sprayed his belongings across the entire five acres of Thorn's property. And now and then, as he and Higby worked, one of them would stumble across a charred and twisted tool, an old reel singed by the fire, the door from the broiler, and Jack might hold it up, trying to figure out what it had been, and Thorn's heart would flare, miss a beat.
It'd been in August that he'd tracked down his foster mother's killer, untangled a snarl of greed and hate. And now strangers came up to him, patted him on the shoulder, standing there in the Largo Shopper on the produce aisle, saying, all right, bud, way to get 'em. Like it'd been a baseball game and he'd hit a grand slam. Six people dead. A lot of damn blood on the stage at the end of it. And every hand patting his shoulder left a burning print.
It was getting close to midnight. Thorn's beer buzz had died to a hum, and a sharp headache was easing up the back of his neck. He was on the Heart Pounder, his thirty-two-foot Chris Craft, anchored in the basin at the end of his dock on Blackwater Sound. He sat at the swing-up table, listening to the hiss of the Coleman lantern.
He was sanding a six-inch piece of hickory that he'd cut from a broom handle. For two days he'd been whittling on that hickory. It was to be a replica of a ballyhoo, that oily black demon with a two-inch sword, the prey of dolphin, sailfish, marlin.
His craft had always been in tying flies. Steady fingers, miniature knots, attaching sprays of fur or horsehair with garish synthetic threads. But that was before. That was six months ago, before things went from quiet to deafening.
He still filled the orders he got from fishing guides and a couple of friends who ran local tackle shops. Those flies still paid his meager bills. But it was a labor now. He'd lost the heat.
The fishing guides still came aboard, made small talk, told their quiet stories of scorched reels and melted ball bearings, from the lightning first run of bonefish or permit. And when Thorn brought out those flies and handed them over, the fishermen still touched them with a cloaked reverence as if they were handling icons.
But it was just mechanical. His passion had drained off. The surge, the hot focus as he worked, the afterburn that lasted into the evening of a successful tying day. All of it had evaporated. So he had taken up plugs.
He had worked first on darters. A blunt-nosed, stubby plug, it was shaped to dig into the water and then dart when the rod was jerked. Darters imitated distressed fish back in the channels and canals. Those popeyed snook would watch from their safe cages of mangrove roots, thinking no, no, no, no. Until sometime during the final retrieve, because they believed the wounded minnow had recovered and was swimming away: Yes!
He'd moved on to poppers, the torpedo-shaped dancers, then floaters and divers, and crawlers. He had a drawerful of them now, some without their final treble hooks, several half painted, some still naked wood. None had been in the water yet, to have their chance to trick or fail. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that he felt eager and fresh, learning this new craft.
In the distance Thorn heard the muttering of a small outboard. He drew back the red-and-white checked galley curtain and saw the running lights of a bonefish skiff.
As it approached Thorn's dock, he made out Captain Bradley Barnes, probably on his way back from a night of drinking up at Senor Frijoles, running home to Rock Harbor. Barnes was a cranky retired M.D. who chartered his sixteen-footer, the Lucy Goosey, out of Papa John's Bomb Bay Marina. Barnes had erected a sign on the lintel over his dock that said, DISCOUNTS FOR THE SPEECHLESS.
Thorn took the lantern outside and met Barnes on the dock and helped him make fast. They sat on the edge of the dock and looked out at the black harbor, at the moon muffled deep in clouds.
"Those Grizzlies you tied are knocking them dead," Barnes said, whiskey and green peppers on the breeze.
"So I hear," said Thorn.
"Had an angler this afternoon, he hooked himself what must've been a fourteen-pound bonefish. Just inside Dove Key in about a foot of water. He wrestled that bone for half an hour and got tired and wanted to give the rod to me. I wouldn't take it, so he kept on cranking, got it up to the boat, and that horse broke off soon as it saw the net. That Grizzly still in his lip."
Thorn said, "Probably showing it around tonight. What to watch out for."
"I lost all four of those you made for me. My angler snagged two on the bottom, logs or some such." The doctor smiled, his lips blistered, his blue eyes bleached by the sun. "So, I'm here to buy a dozen more."
Thorn told Bradley he was out of the materials for the Grizzly. There weren't going to be any more of them.
"What exactly were they?"
Thorn was silent. In a minute Bradley laughed into the dark.
"Can't shoot me for asking," he said. "Like asking the pope what he spiked that wine with. Well then, hell, I'm going back out there tomorrow, see if I can't find those logs those flies got snagged on. See how long I can hold my breath. I got my heart set on that fly-fish trophy at Old Pirate Days this year."
"That'd be four in a row, wouldn't it?"
"Four's a good number," he said. "I got a fondness for it."
When Barnes was gone, Thorn went inside and opened the drawer beneath his bunk, where he kept his materials. The piss yellow swatch of polar bear fur was there, still enough of it left to stuff a football. He could make enough Grizzlies to flood the market, catch every bonefish left in the Keys.
Twenty years ago the fur had been a gift from his foster mother when she'd returned from Alaska after a month of fishing up there. He'd found it at her house, in his boyhood room last August, when he was cleaning out the place to ready it for sale.
He had tried using a pinch of the fur on a standard fly, something close to the Bonebuster, two silver eyes, a crimson belt of Mylar that cinched in the pinafore of polar bear fur, the hook curling out the spray of skirt like a single disfigured leg. He'd named it the Grizzly.
And now the impossible had happened. The lure was consistently firing their brains, bringing them to the surface with an eerie regularity. It'd been happening now for two months, the longest string of luck any of his lures had ever had.
Thorn tried to imagine what strange collision of scents this was, how the fur of that Arctic beast could catalyze these tropical spooks. What was it they saw? This invader from a universe of ice twitching in their marshy pool, igniting some ancient rage perhaps, some hatefulness for the outsider, the alien.
Thorn took the wad of polar bear fur out on deck, dropped it into the departing tide. He watched it as it floated across the basin, and in a while into a slick of yellow moonlight, then into the path of a shrimper on her way out, disappearing finally below the hull, churned to particles by the prop.
Benny Cousins stood on the lower deck as the forty-five-foot Bertram idled across the flats. The water here was less than a foot in places, laced with sandbars and coral heads. It's why he'd hired this jerkoff captain to bring them in. Guy by the name of Murphy, who'd worked this shoreline for the Coast Guard for twenty years. Murphy was retired and living down in Grassy Key, making do on his pension and Social Security. So you'd think he'd be happy to make five hundred bucks to do a little boat handling for Benny, just keep his mouth shut and steer them to shore. But no, this tightass wanted to know everything. Like he was going to file a float plan with the fucking Supreme Court.
Benny said don't worry about it. I'm picking up a friend of mine about twenty-five miles offshore, bringing him back to the Keys for a weekend party. All you need to know is the loran coordinates for the meeting and the location of our landing in Key Largo.
But this guy wouldn't give up. He kept bugging Benny all the way out from the docks in Islamorada. This isn't some kind of drug run, is it, Cousins? Hell, no. I look like a drug runner to you? You can't tell, the jerkoff had said. Everybody's into it these days. Well, I'm not fucking into it, Benny said. I hate drugs, drug runners, everything they fucking stand for.
So Murphy gives it a rest for a few minutes. They're out there in the dark, cruising out to sea, Benny looking up for the couple of constellations he can name, and this guy starts in again. How come your friend didn't fly in? What's all this boat shenanigans? It don't smell right. And Benny left him up there on the bridge and climbed down to the deck, where his two men, Donald and Joe, were smoking cigarettes, sitting in the marlin fighting chairs. Let that jerkoff Murphy guess all he wanted. Fuck if Benny was going to say another word to the guy.
But Murphy did have a point. Benny could've brought Claude in by plane. Walked him right through Customs, done it under their noses. But what fun was that? He liked playing up all this clandestine bullshit. It impressed the clients, helped spread the good word among their kind. If he made it look too easy bringing these guys across, they might think it wasn't worth the price.
Excerpted from Tropical Freeze by James W. Hall. Copyright © 1989 James W. Hall. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Kill the "cat chat" on these review sites, PLEASE! ! ! People read these to get an idea if they want the book or not. Use your cells to talk this nonsemse. I truly wish Barnes n Noble could screen posts and keep you pathetic people off the review sites. I am sure I am not alone with this issue. Get a life. V
My story is called Lightning Must Strike. I've got two parts so far. I just started writing. They are on the percy jackson book one is my first part then book two and so on.
First part is at cats of tanglewood forest then next parts ewill be posted @ ren results sometime in the future.
In the morning i could nt bring my self to look into Rosa's eyes without feeling guilt wash over me like an unending wave of shame. Whenever Evekin and i made eyecontact she blushed and became suddenly fascinated with her fruit loops. Basicaly breakfast was quiet. So quiet you could hear Eveilins racing heartbeat. After breakfast i volunteered for cleanup due to the overwhelming shame due to me breaking Rosa's only picture of her late husband Gerald. I heard soft treading of someone behind me "Evelin i dont wanna talk right now..." isaid but a gentle voice said " But mijo, i want to talk to you." Rosa's mexican accent was heavier than normal, which means she was getting emotional. I turned to see her kindly face beaming at me, twrinklewith wisdom and compassion. " *Mijo, i understand that you didnt meam to break the picture, but Tony i was just overwhekmed by gerald's death i..." " *Abuela i should be the one apoligizeing, not you. Thats why im getting Geralds picture reframed." Rosa gasped and her eyess began yto tear up. She rushed with the most loving hug id ever received. " Muchas grasias mijo, muchas gracias!" Tears of joy ran down her face. Soon my eyes got a little misty tooi couod only manage " De nada" wirhout choking up. I wlaked up to my room witha skip in my step. A massive weight had been lifted foff my chest by re paying my foster mother Rosa for wht i had doon. There is no other betyer feeeling in the world *Mijo is spanish for precsious *Abuela is spanish for grandma whiach Tony calls his foster mother Rosa many times Chpt. 3 @ topical result three
Jack. Jack story. Thats my name. I live in the intertional bunking satellite, up in the asteroid belt. Food. Foods one thing i want. Food us glorious heaven to us up here in the decker. Up here in the decker, we get a shuttle each year from earth that gives us enough food to feed the 5,000 residents of te decker a meal each day. Enough to keep us hungry, and enough to keep us from dying. Thats exactly what they want from us. Pleading, begging rascals who would danything of their bidding for nothing but a little more life to keep them going each day. I, general star, general of the inter-tary, am the the person thy look to for food, each da, a life each day, a soul each day. I am the puppetmaster of the asteroid belt. I will rule. The universe. TARGET: WORLD 27 Next part coming!!!- identy name: darksunstar
She gets down and imagines a mouse a few tail length away. She glides forwards silently and gentoy and slowly. She does not make a sound. She stills a mouselength away. She stills a long time. She then suddenly springs forwards with a burt ot energy and lands on all fiurs. She looks up.