Authors: H. Terrell Griffin
H. Terrell Griffin
© 2005 H. Terrell Griffin. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
First published by AuthorHouse 09/08/05
ISBN: 978-1-4685-1954-9 (ebk)
ISBN: 1-4208-8412-3 (sc)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2005908152
Printed in the United States of America
Cover design attributed to Sandy Ingledue/Adman Graphics
Author photograph attributed to Jean Griffin
This book is dedicated, with love, to my girls, Jean, Judy and Sarah, and of course, to my boys, Greg, Mike, Chris and Kyle. You are the ones who make my life sing.
A book is only as good as its author’s story telling ability, with a little help from his friends. I would not have finished this book without the support and suggestions of my wife Jean, and of Vanessa Lee Brice, the world’s greatest paralegal, who listened to me ramble about plot and structure, while trying to get me to focus occasionally on my law practice.
Invaluable editing advice came from my Longboat Key friends, Cotty Johnson, Deputy Fire Chief (Retired) Terry and Carol Conover, and Debbie Schroeder. I did not always listen to them, so any mistakes are clearly mine and mine alone.
My good friends Miles Leavitt and Ethna and Christine Lynch should receive some kind of medal for putting up with me all these years, and they are excused for thinking the book I’ve been talking about for a decade would never be completed. Austin Dwyer left us too soon. How I wish he were here to continue teaching us about courage and life and laughter.
I am indebted to Deb Stowell and Eric Lamboley for sharing their vast knowledge of the marketplace, and for their encouragement while I tried to find my muse.
On the night Connie Sanborne died, I was crocked to the gills. There was no cause and effect relation between my drunkenness and her death; they were just random facts bouncing around the universe, and their confluence had no significance whatsoever. But that was the last night I got drunk, and the last night Connie enjoyed on this earth, so perhaps there was some connection after all.
While Connie was being strangled on the next island, I was sleeping off the several bottles of beer I had drunk the evening before. I had been doing that a lot lately, and I knew I had to make some changes. Connie’s murder, and the ensuing upheavals on our island paradise, would fix that problem in ways I could not have imagined.
Her death would change a lot of lives, and open little boxes of secrets that we each thought locked for all time. For some, the ripple effect of those opened boxes would roar over us like an enraged tsunami, while for others it would be as a gentle wavelet, barely noticed. We all could have done without the disclosures, but in the end, it may have made us better people. On the eve of Connie’s murder, life was good.
The dying sun dipped into the Gulf of Mexico as I rode my boat south, just off the beach, heading for Longboat Pass and home. The lights in the houses and condos along Anna Maria Island were winking on, as the dark moved from the mainland over the bay, chasing the rapidly disappearing sun. The western sky was red and orange, with the dark smear of a cloud bisecting the face of the sun as it hung just above the horizon, as if testing the water before plunging in. The sea was dead calm, and the only noise was the roar of my outboards and the rush of the water under the hull of my fishing boat.
I had had a good afternoon, fishing about a mile offshore over a reef of used up highway, dumped by the county to attract fish; an artificial reef that on a Thursday afternoon was deserted. I had caught thirty or forty fish, none bigger than my hand, at the expense of as many live shrimp purchased earlier from Annie’s bait and tackle, hard by the Cortez bridge.
It was April 15. The winter season was over, and I had deposited my tax return and a check for the IRS in the Longboat Key post office right after breakfast that morning. The bars and restaurants and other commercial establishments had had a successful season, thanks to all the snow birds who flock to these barrier islands just south of Tampa Bay during the winter months. Now the merchants would begin to relax, knowing they had survived another year. Things would slow down until the next northern onslaught began at Christmastime. The locals were able to get back onto the roads and beaches, and could take their boats out without worrying about being killed by a tourist on a rented jet ski. The hot and humid summer was approaching, a time of desultory living on the islands, a time of quiet. We were happy.
As I navigated the swash channel in close to the jetty at the south end of Anna Maria Island and headed under the old drawbridge spanning Longboat Pass, I glanced aft in time to see the sun disappear completely. Within seconds the sea turned black, capped for a moment by the splendor of bright colors, as if the sun had left part of itself spread upon the water. I flipped on my running lights as I slowed for the bridge. I made a hard right turn and ran a hundred yards south along the bridge, searching for the channel around the large shoal that lurked in the sound. I came left and then curving slowly to the right, ran between Jewfish Key and the northern tip of Longboat Key, staying just west of the sand bar, but not close enough to the island to rock the boats moored at the docks of the houses facing the little bay.
I cruised slowly toward Moore’s Stonecrab Restaurant, and saw a familiar boat, thirty feet of dazzling go-fast fiberglass, tied to the dock in front. It was time for a beer, I decided, and a little conversation with people I liked. This time of the year there would be a number of locals at the bar, savoring the relative quiet of the off-season.
I idled to the dock, wrapped fore and aft lines around the pilings, cut the engine, the lights and the radio, and walked slowly toward the restaurant. Darkness had descended, and the soft spring night was interrupted by the colored lights strung along the edges of the piers. Dolly, the porpoise who lived under the dock, surfaced and blew quietly at me, wondering, I guess, why I didn’t have a fish for her. The lights of the restaurant spilled over the porches of the building, reaching vainly for the black water along the dock. The high whine of an outboard out on the intracoastal competed with the chirping of insects on Jewfish Key which rested nearby, separating Moore’s from the main waterway. The faint tinkle of laughter came from the bar overlooking the dock and merged with the rattling of halyards on the two sailboats anchored in the cove upon which the restaurant sat.
This is Florida at its best, I thought. The air was cool, not yet humid, and the little insects known as no-see-ums had not begun to bite. The northerners were all back home, shivering in their decaying cities, and scheming to return to Florida permanently. I hoped they didn’t figure it out.
I went up the steps and into the lounge. There was the usual crowd clustered at one short leg of the U shaped bar, and a middle aged tourist couple seated directly across from them. There was a long mirror on one wall, and lighted signs with the logos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Devil Rays on the wall opposite. A large tarpon was mounted on the wall behind the bar, with a fifth of Jack Daniels Black stuck in its mouth. The southern wall consisted of large plate glass windows looking down the bay to the city of Sarasota; one of the best views on the island. Debbie, the fortyish blonde bartender, a fugitive from Ohio winters, was tending bar. As I walked in she was resting her elbows on the bar, leaning over talking to the regulars. She glanced around when she heard the door open, gave me a wave and went quickly to the tourist couple to refresh their drinks.
The regulars consisted of Tom Bishop, who had recently retired after twenty-three years as our local police chief, Dick Bellenger, the dockmaster at a local marina where I had once lived on a boat, Connie Sanborne, the sales manager at one of the key’s hotels, Dottie Johanson, a jolly seventy-something widow who ran the local library and knew everybody on the island, and my fishing buddy, Logan Hamilton, whose boat I had seen moored at the dock.
I was a little surprised to see Logan, since his work kept him traveling the country during the week. He would fly out of Sarasota on Monday morning and usually not return until Friday. He was some sort of financial manager, but I had never cared enough to understand exactly what he did for a living. Not that I didn’t care about Logan; it was just that nobody on the island ever thought the other guy’s line of work was very important. We were much more interested in how people spent their non-working time.
“Get fired, Logan?” I asked, as I pulled up a stool at the corner of the bar.
“Vacation,” he said. “I get eight weeks a year now, so I have to spread it out. I called you earlier to see about a little fishing trip.”
“Sorry I missed you,” I said. “I got up early and went out all by myself. I could have used a hand catching all those fish.”
“Miller Lite, Matt?” Debbie called from the vicinity of the beer cooler.
“Sure,” I said. “Hey, Chief, you ready for another scotch?”
“Not yet, thanks. What did you catch?”
“Lots of fish,” I said.
“Anything edible?” asked Dottie.
“Anything big enough to keep?” asked Deb as she put the cold beer bottle and mug in front of me.
“Not exactly,” I said.
Connie, at the end of the bar, was quiet. “Hey Connie,” I said, “ how you doing?”
“Okay, Matt. Glad the snowbirds are gone.” Connie was a tall slender woman in her mid- thirties, with close cropped red hair who laughed a lot. “Looks like you got a little sun today.”
The conversation went on like that for an hour or so. Old friends enjoying each other’s company, bantering back and forth. Buying each other drinks, knowing that some were keeping count, and would think you cheap if you didn’t buy your share. A slow evening on the key. As I look back on it, I can find nothing that would indicate that anyone suspected that all our lives were about to change. If any one of us had known, I wonder what we would have said. How would our conversation have changed if somehow it had been revealed that one of us would never see another sunrise. How would we have handled that quiet cool evening overlooking Sarasota Bay?
At some point Debbie brought out enough hors d’oeuvres for all of us to make a rather unhealthy meal of. All kinds of fried sea food. We ate, and drank, and talked, and enjoyed the last tranquil evening any of us would know for awhile.
Connie left first, around nine o’clock, followed quickly by Dottie and Dick Bellinger. The Chief finished one more scotch and water and went out into the night. At some point earlier in the evening, the tourists had left the bar without anyone noticing. Debbie asked if Logan or I wanted anything else before she closed out the cash register. Taking the hint, we told her goodnight and walked out toward the docks.
I told Logan to call me later in the week if he decided to go fishing. We shook hands, and he clambered down into his boat. He cranked the twin three hundred horse power inboard/outboard engines, waved, and swung away from the dock. He rounded Jewfish Key and with engines roaring headed back north to the marina that stored his boat.
I stood for a minute on the dock, hoping to catch a glimpse of Dolly, but she had apparently gone looking for her supper in the bay. I got into my boat and cast off, heading south toward home. It was such a beautiful night I just idled along, barely making way, the engines softly turning over. There was no moon, but the sky seemed diaphanous, with the bright pinpoints of a billion stars shining through. Ten miles to the south, at the far end of the dark bay, sat the city of Sarasota, splendid in its multicolored lights, their glare fading upward into the emptiness of the night. The channel was marked on either side by slowly flashing red and green lights, providing a sense of gaiety to the black water and white stars. As I passed the Sister Keys on my left, I could hear an occasional cry from the nesting sea birds who live alone there.
About two miles down the bay, I turned into the channel leading to Sleepy Lagoon and my condo. I pulled the boat into my slip, secured it for the night and went home to bed. I was tired from the day on the water and sleepy from the beers I had drunk at Moore’s. I brushed my teeth, dropped my clothes into the hamper, and crawled nude between the sheets. My last conscious thought was that the bed side clock read 10:00 o’clock.