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Authors: Barbara Parker

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Suspicion of Innocence

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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Suspicion of Innocence

Barbara Parker

 

Acknowledgments

 

 

Without the generous advice, inspiration, and wit of many friends, both old and new, this book would not have been nearly as much fun.

Special thanks to my editor, Audrey LaFehr, who took me into hardcover; and to Les Standiford, Director of the Creative Writing Program, Florida International University, who gently insists on real characters for commercial fiction.

For guiding me through criminal law and procedure, I am grateful to Sergeant David W. Rivers, Metro-Dade Homicide Bureau, who could make you confess to anything; and to Lance R. Stelzer, Esq., who could get you acquitted of anything. Karen H. Curtis, partner at Shutts & Bowen (Miami), is the kind of civil-practice attorney Fd like to be in my next life; and former Circuit Court Judge Harold G. Featherstone still knows his probate.

I received lessons in history from Ronnie Jimmie, Miccosukee tribe of Indians; the Historical Museum of Southern Rorida; W. S. Steele, Florida historian and archaeologist; and Robert S. Carr, Archaeological and Historical Conservancy (who wants to remind us that there really are nothing but old bones in burial mounds, so please don't go poking around in them).

Thank you, Warren Lee, for the stories about growing up moderately rich and wild in Miami.
Cariños a mis amigos cubanos,
Miriam Cabrera Mier and Carlos Maza for insights into Cuban-American culture. And for details I couldn't have done without: Ann Ciccarino, Carl Donato, Ray King, Patricia M. Kolski, and fellow FIU MFA's Christine Kling and Elizabeth Pittenger.

Finally, for her astute reading of the manuscript and some nifty turns in the plot, a hug to my sister Laura.

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Jimmy Panther pushed forward on the stick. The airboat shot over an open path through the water, then skidded around a fallen palmetto palm. Everyone leaned left, then right. The saw grass was a green blur. Marie back at the gift shop would have his ass if she could see this. But she was the one who had sold these people the tickets, knowing he didn't like to go out this early, especially on Mondays. Jimmy intended to make this a fast trip, a couple miles into the Everglades and out again.

The four tourists sat in the square bow, kids clamped between their parents' knees as if they might otherwise jump out at forty miles an hour. The man held his sun visor on and the woman's blonde hair whirled around her head. Jimmy sat behind them, six feet off the water above a 327-cubic-inch Chevy engine. The noise from the propeller was deafening. Would be deafening, if he didn't have his ear protectors on. He'd given the passengers cotton balls. White tufts came out of their ears.

The girl twisted sideways far enough to look around her father's arm. She smiled, pigtails flying. He could tell she wanted him to smile back, so he did.

Jimmy wore a baseball cap to keep his hair out of his eyes. Marie had once told him a bandanna would look more authentic. He had laughed. How about a Tonto headband with a turkey feather in it? She did insist on a Miccosukee jacket, though, and he obliged. He wore one his aunt had made, a long-sleeved, blousy patchwork of red and yellow and blue, stitched into geometric patterns and accented with rows of white rickrack.

He cut a sharp turn, leaning hard on the stick, and the airboat skipped sideways, sending out a wave that rolled over the saw grass. The kids squealed and ducked down. The man and the woman hugged them into their chests.

These particular people in the airboat, he guessed they were from Sweden, the way their voices slid up and down. Probably taking a day trip off one of the cruise ships at the Port of Miami. Their noses and cheeks were already red. They weren't made for this latitude. The locals he took out were mostly younger, usually with a kid or two. The old people liked to take the bigger airboats up at Holiday Park where they could all sit together, a dozen or more behind a Plexiglas windscreen, with a roof to keep the sun off. The Cubans liked the airboat. They'd pay him extra to stay out longer. The blacks hardly ever showed up, for some reason.

Jimmy eased back on the throttle. The boat slowed, nosing down heavier into the water. The water was shallower here, and he didn't want to drag the aluminum bottom on a rock. He maneuvered into deeper water and hit the gas. The boat skimmed over the water, saw grass clattering against the hull. A few minutes later they broke into open prairie, and he ran the boat in a wide arc across the flat, unbroken surface.

Jimmy had seen the Everglades from the air a few times, a shimmering mirror, sky and clouds so perfectly reflected you could be looking up, not down. Dark curving areas where the land came out of the water far enough to be called dry. Straight gray lines where the roads went through, a glimmer of canal alongside. Nearer Miami you could see long scars where the ATVs kicked up dirt. You could see where the city was closing in. The land was drained and cleared in neat rectangles, scraped down to white rock that wouldn't dig, wouldn't move unless it was blasted out.

Nearing a line of trees, he cut the engine. The noise lifted off him like a thick hood. He dropped his ear protectors on a hook welded to the seat. The woman stood up and stretched, laughing and grabbing the man's shoulders when the boat rocked. She was about thirty, wearing shorts and a yellow "Bayside Marketplace" T-shirt. She pulled the cotton out of her ears. The man did the same, then took off his visor, wiped his brow on his shirt sleeve. He smiled at Jimmy. "It is warm today."

Jimmy shrugged. Only the first week in March. These people should come back in August.

The boat drifted past a clump of water lilies. A plum-colored, red-beaked bird the size of a pigeon picked its way across the lily pads.

"What is the bird?" the woman said.

Jimmy pronounced it slowly. "Purple gallinule."

The husband clicked his camera. The bird vanished into the bushes before he could take another shot.

Jimmy swept his arm in a wide circle, going into his Indian guide routine.

"This land was formed many thousands of years ago. Early man came down through the peninsula, made his home here. Hunted deer and fished. They lived on islands, like that one." He pointed to one of the hardwood hammocks a few hundred yards off, a clump of green rising out of the water.

"They had camps out there. You could go out on that hammock, maybe, and find where the early people lived, the Tequesta. You might find tools made from shells or pieces of pottery. There's still some land like that, untouched."

Four pairs of blue eyes were looking at him sitting up there over the engine. They smiled and nodded, didn't have a clue. Then the man turned toward the trees and took some pictures through his telephoto.

It was nearly nine-thirty. He ought to take them back. They would probably go to the snack bar, have some fry bread and frog's legs for breakfast, being adventurous. He never ate it himself. Marie had it for the tourists, like the other stuff in the gift shop. Marie carried cypress wood spears, moccasins with hard soles made by the North Carolina Cherokees, rubber alligators, a line of souvenir T-shirts, postcards. Even a paperweight that when you shook it made snow over Miami. Probably the most true-to-life Miami souvenir in the gift shop, he had told Marie. But she didn't get it.

Jimmy swung himself down off the seat to stretch his legs. A breeze came up, bending the tops of the trees, blurring the image of the clouds in the water. The airboat drifted, saw grass scraping the sides. The girl reached out for a long blade of it, testing the serrated edge.

"Careful. You'll get cut."

With a wooden pole, Jimmy pushed them to where the grass was shorter, sparser, barely reaching past the sides of the boat. Beyond a clump of cattails was a county park, too small to attract many people.

The man was watching the water. "There are alligators here?"

Alligators. They all wanted to see the alligators.

Jimmy nodded, reached into a box under the rear passenger seat for the loaf of stale white bread he kept there. "Look over that way. They like to hide in that pond, under the bushes."

He untwisted the top of the bag, then sent a slice of bread spinning. It bobbed up and down, minnows snapping at it.

The girl leaned over the brownish water, the tips of her pigtails just breaking the surface. Her mother pulled her back by her shirt.

"I'll let you know if I see one." Jimmy tapped the girl on the shoulder and jerked his thumb toward the pilot's seat. "Sit up there." After a second, the girl climbed up. Her brother followed, laughing.

The woman looked alarmed, said something in Swedish.

"No, it's okay," Jimmy said. "They're all right." The kids sat side by side on the padded seat, holding on to the metal arms, playing with the stick. "Just don't turn the key."

Jimmy poled through the water, pushing against the weight in the boat. He saw the man's camera pointed at him, the lens opening, closing. The Indian guide on his airboat. He'd be in the same album with the gallinule. Jimmy tossed another piece of bread out ahead of them.

The man swung the camera toward the water now, ready for that long, dark shape gliding out of the shadows under the mangroves. That silvery path in the water, moving closer.

This was what the tourists came out here for. Slitted eyes just above the surface. A hiss, a flash of teeth. Pulling your hand back, laughing because the son-of-a-bitch had come
this close.

Too bad they didn't speak more English. He would tell them about the lady down in the National Park. Leaned out a little too far with her camera, leather shoes slipping on the metal bottom of the boat before her old man could catch her. They pulled her back in, but the gators had done some damage.

Jimmy sent another slice of bread spinning. None of the tourists were talking now. A dragonfly hung over the cattails.

Then the boat rocked a little. The girl was standing up on the seat. She was steadying herself on the propeller cage, looking toward the break in the cattails, not saying anything. The water tapped against the sides of the boat. The girl squinted in the sun, looking toward the shore. Just looking, quiet now, not moving.

The boy stood up beside her, asked her something.

Whatever it was she said back, their parents' heads turned in the same direction. The woman stood on her toes, her hand shading her eyes. Jimmy stuck the pole in, leaned on it hard, pushing them closer.

He could see it now, too, about twenty feet ahead. The end of the nature walk, the heavy wood weathered to gray above the shallow water. Somebody had spilled a can of rusty-colored paint, maybe. The streaks had run down the two-by-twelve and one of the pilings. And there was what looked like a bundle of clothes just off the end. Bumping up against the pitted white rock, moving in the waves the airboat had pushed to shore.

Jimmy stared. The water ticked on the sides of the boat. He heard the buzz of flies. The knowledge came to him slowly, like a picture turning right side up.

The man pulled at the sleeve of his jacket. "Go now. We are going back."

Jimmy jerked his arm away. The airboat drifted sideways into the cattails. A flock of blackbirds exploded upward, screeching.

It was a woman. He could see a shoulder now, an arm. Pale, mottled skin. A red tank top. Blonde hair drifted around her head. Her body rolled face up. The nose and lips were gone.

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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