Rising Fury: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
In the backcountry of the Florida Keys, you can see and hear trouble coming for miles in any direction. If you’re paying attention. Jesse McDermitt lives in the backcountry and very little happens near him that he’s not aware of. During a quiet moment, he watches a slow-moving shrimp trawler as it serenely cruises by, far out on the Gulf, at the edge of the three-mile limit. The tranquility of the moment is shattered when the trawler is demolished in an enormous explosion. What caused the explosion and why was a woman from Jesse's past on board? To find the answers to those questions and more, Jesse and friends will work from Miami to Key West, then across the water to Fort Myers. When the bad guys hit too close to home, Jesse retaliates. Furiously.
Release date: December 26, 2017
Publisher: Down Island Press, LLC
Print pages: 324
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Rising Fury: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
Chapter One 12/11 Thursday morning
The thump and rattle of the anchor chain was the only sound in the still morning air. It created a low, rumbling clatter as the rode slowly came up from the anchor locker in the bow, lumbered across the roller on the pulpit, and splashed into the water as the current gradually carried the boat toward the southwest.
To the east, the sun was just beginning to turn the sky from inky black to a dark gray, as one by one, the stars in that direction winked out. The forecast called for cloudless skies, with little to no wind, and as it quickly grew lighter, it became apparent the weather guy was right.
The sea was about as smooth as a polished granite countertop, with the graying eastern sky reflecting off its surface. Where the sea and sky actually met seemed uncertain. The water was so calm they melded as one, creating a sense of floating in space.
Captain Al Fader knew it was going to be a hot day, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. Warming weather was good for shrimping, but for the last week, it had been ten degrees hotter than normal for the middle of December, and the air conditioner onboard Night Moves wasn’t working at its best. Not anticipating a hot December, Al had put off repairing it until the season ended in a few more months. Most of the men were eating their meals out on the work deck. The galley was just too uncomfortable. Hot temperatures made for hot tempers.
Other boats were going through pretty much the same daily drill as the crew of Night Moves. The early morning hours were all about cleaning the deck and sides of the boat and cleaning, maintaining, and repairing the nets and equipment. Only after the work was done would the hungry crew wolf down a hot meal and sleep through the heat of the day. Or try to.
Shrimping wasn’t like other jobs; there wasn’t any going home after a hard night’s work. Most of the time, home for a shrimper was on board the boat. The shrimp boats left the docks early on Monday and didn’t return until the holds were full. It didn’t matter if that took four days or six. When the run was exceptionally good, the holds might be full in three days and the crew would gladly put back out on Thursday afternoon to catch more. A second run was all bonus money, even if it meant staying out until Saturday and only half-filling the holds on the week’s second run. For some, that meant an extra car or house payment. For others, a higher time at the many bars on Duval Street.
Captain Fader leaned out the starboard door of the pilothouse and looked back before reversing the engine. Far astern, another boat was anchoring, but it was almost half a mile off. Shifting to reverse, Al backed the boat up slowly while letting out more rode.
“That’s enough,” Al called out to his first mate, standing ready at the anchor windlass.
JoAnn engaged the brake on the windlass, and Al continued to back down, taking up some of the slack in the rode and setting the heavy anchor deep in the sandy bottom. Once satisfied, Al shifted to neutral and monitored the gauges for a moment before shutting down the engine.
“Good night’s work, Skipper,” JoAnn said, entering the small wheelhouse. “A little over five hundred pounds.”
JoAnn Thaxton was a Carolina girl. She’d arrived in Key West two years earlier, nearly broke, carrying all she owned in a single large duffel. A lot of people arrived in Key West that way. Many of them left with nothing at all, just weeks or months later. When JoAnn arrived, she had something in her duffel bag that set her apart from the thousands of other people who came seeking tropical paradise at the end of the highway—she had papers that indicated she was a Coast-Guard-licensed Near Coastal Mate.
Al hired her on a temporary basis and she quickly proved she wasn’t afraid of hard work. Two weeks later, he made it permanent. At the end of that first season, his old first mate quit and moved north, and Al asked JoAnn if she’d be willing to take the job. The crew had no trouble working under her; she was as knowledgeable, capable, and competent as any man in the fleet and was well-respected for that and her work ethic.
“That boat back there,” Al said, jerking a thumb astern. “It came up on the radar a couple of hours ago, out of the north.”
JoAnn stepped out of the pilothouse with a pair of binoculars and looked back toward the other boat. “Shrimper, but it’s none I’ve ever seen. It came from the north?”
“Yeah,” Al said, stepping out into the gathering light. He took the binos and trained them on the other boats in the fleet scattered across New Ground to the east and north of Night Moves. He counted five. “Not one of ours that strayed off. Everyone’s here.”
Turning, Al looked aft at the strange boat in the distance. He raised the binoculars and studied it a moment. It was too far away to make out any details, but in the gray light of dawn, he could see the outriggers and nets clearly.
“How far is the mainland?” JoAnn asked.
“’Bout a hundred miles to Naples,” Al replied, still watching the boat. “Another twenty to Fort Myers and Port Charlotte. That’d be the nearest cities a shrimper might be out of. Well, except Havana.”
“Think that’s where they came from?”
“No way to tell. Stern’s away and she don’t have name boards on the bow.” Al lowered the binos and measured the distance to the boat with his eyes: half a mile. He turned and looked at the other boats, all within a quarter mile. “Happens just about every winter. A rogue boat from one of the fisheries up on the mainland comes down for the pink run.”
Hearing a series of clicks from the VHF radio in the pilothouse, Al stepped back inside and hung up the binos. He and the other skippers from the Key West fleet used several non-commercial radio frequencies to talk to each other in private, but if you announced which channel to go to, anyone could listen in. They’d devised a code to let one another know which channel to go to without announcing it to the world.
Turning to channel seventy-two, he heard Bob Talbot, the skipper of Miss Charlie speaking. “Came in from the north a couple of hours ago.”
Al keyed the mic. “Anyone have an idea who it is?”
“Hey, Al,” Charlie Hofbauer, the skipper on Morning Mist said. “Nobody knows. We were just talking about whether we oughta take my tender to go and find out.”
Al leaned out of the pilothouse. “JoAnn, have someone launch the dinghy.” Then he keyed the mic again. “Stop by here, Charlie. We’re putting a boat in now.”
A few minutes later, Al heard the buzzing of a small engine and looked forward. Charlie’s fourteen-foot tender was skimming across the water toward Night Moves. Charlie was at the helm, with his first mate, Ernie King, standing to one side of the console and Bob on the other.
Al went aft to the work deck, where JoAnn waited at the transom.
“What’s going on, Skipper?” Lee Cordero asked. Lee was a new deck hand, young and as green as a key lime—but the kid had muscles on muscles and didn’t mind the heat.
“Dunno,” Al replied to the broad-shouldered young man. “How about you come along?”
“Sure thing,” Lee said, rising quickly to his feet and moving to the trash can to scrape the rest of his supper away.
“Take it with you, Lee,” JoAnn said. “Never waste food. A time’ll come when you’ll have to skip a meal.”
The two men climbed down into the little inflatable boat and Al started the small outboard. JoAnn loosed the line from the transom cleat and tossed it to Lee, who caught it and quickly coiled the painter at his feet. He sat down and began shoveling food in his mouth as Al steered away from Night Moves to wait for the other boat.
Charlie slowed his tender, bringing it down off plane and then stopping as he came alongside Al’s dinghy.
“These guys are like herpes,” Charlie said, as the two boats rocked on the disturbed water. “They just keep coming back.”
“I don’t think they wetted a net yet,” Al said. “I first spotted them on radar several hours ago. They’d been on a southwest heading at five knots, in deep water the whole time, so they haven’t taken any pinks.”
“How do you wanna handle it?” Bob asked.
Being the oldest of the fleet’s captains, Al was the unofficial spokesman for the hearty group of men and women who pulled their livelihood out of the water every night.
“Same as we always do,” Al said. “We politely but firmly tell them they wasted their time and fuel getting down here.”
The other two skippers nodded in firm agreement. Al sat down astraddle the small aft bench seat. He shifted the little outboard to forward and twisted the throttle on the tiller arm. Steering the little dinghy around the larger tender, he accelerated in a straight line toward the unwelcome shrimp boat. The bow of Charlie’s tender rose as he throttled up too.
It only took a few minutes for the two small boats to reach the trawler and they slowed as they neared it. There were two men on the boat’s port-side deck, watching their approach.
“What do you want?” one of the men yelled, when the two small boats slowed to idle speed.
“Where are you from?” Al shouted back, as the small dinghy drew nearer the larger vessel. Al could see that it was a big boat, probably more than sixty feet. There was something about it that wasn’t right, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
“I asked first,” the man on the deck sneered. “And that’s close enough. What do you want?”
“What we want,” Charlie said, shifting to neutral and rising from the helm, “is for you to go back up to wherever you came from and leave our fishery be.”
“We ain’t here for your shrimp,” the man on the deck said with disdain. “And we’ll leave when we’re damned good and ready.”
Al shifted to forward and twisted the throttle. He circled the big shrimp boat quickly, noting the name Eliminator on the transom, with its home port of Cape Coral stenciled below that.
The second man on the deck of the shrimp boat raced around to the starboard side, then aft, keeping an eye on what Al was doing. After circling the boat, Al stopped alongside Charlie’s tender and glared up at the man on the deck.
“I suggest you just go on back up to the Caloosahatchee where you came from,” Al shouted. “Wet those nets around here and there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
“Like I said, mister, we ain’t here to catch no shrimp and we’ll be moving along as soon as it gets dark.”
“See that you do,” Charlie shouted, turning the wheel and shifting to forward.
Both boats moved away from the trawler toward their own fleet. Nearing Night Moves, they slowed and then stopped.
“If they ain’t here to shrimp,” Ernie said, “what the hell are they doing here? It’s a friggin’ shrimp boat, and more than a hundred miles from its home port.”
“Something about that crew strike you as odd?” Bob asked Al.
“Yeah, but I couldn’t put my finger on it till you just mentioned it. You’re right; it was the guys on the rail. They weren’t like other fishermen I’ve met. Downwind, that damned boat stunk to high Heaven.”
“All our boats stink,” Charlie said, “but I agree. There was something that just didn’t sit right about those guys. Who do we know up in the Fort Myers area?”
Chapter Two Friday noon
“Dammit!” Rusty Thurman cursed, crashing the phone down in its cradle and shoving it roughly under the bar.
“What’s the matter?” Jimmy asked, sitting on the other side.
“Sorry,” Rusty said somewhat sheepishly as he realized Angie Trent was sitting at the bar with Jimmy. Rusty had a colorful vocabulary to say the least, but not usually in mixed company. “That was Jodi. He ran aground and ain’t gonna be back in time to play tonight, and maybe not tomorrow.”
“How does the dude get stuck for a whole day?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s Jodi,” Angie said. “Why do you waste your time with him, Rusty?”
“’Cause anyone who’d play here, I can’t afford.”
“That sucks, man,” Jimmy said. Though Jimmy Saunders had been born and raised in the Keys, he’d picked up the west-coast surfing bug when he was stationed in San Diego in the Navy. “But you ain’t been around if you ain’t run aground. Hard to find live music on short notice.”
“Yeah, well I don’t think his grounding has anything to do with his getting around.”
A stranger sitting two stools down looked over, a grin on his tanned face. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing,” he said, with a slight East-Texas drawl. “Did you say you need a musician?”
Rusty looked over at the guy. He’d come in from the parking lot half an hour earlier and had been nursing a couple of beers as if waiting for someone. Rusty guessed him to be a few years younger than himself and half a foot taller than his five-six. Dark blond hair curled past the man’s collar, a week’s stubble covered his chin, and his clear blue eyes didn’t seem to miss much of anything.
Glancing at the man’s hands, Rusty could tell he was a picker, at least. The telltale callused fingertips were a dead giveaway. His own daughter Julie had the same callouses. The anchor-shaped guitar tattooed on his upper left arm was a pretty good sign, as well.
“You any good?” Rusty asked. “Play anything besides Texas twang?”
The guy smiled. “I can play anything from Bob Wills to Bob Marley. If you want, I can grab my guitar from the truck and show you.”
“You do that,” Rusty said. “Meet me out back in five minutes. You’ll see where to set your stuff up.” As the man went out the front door, two familiar faces came in. Rusty walked out from behind the bar to greet them. “Well, look what the cat dragged in. Wives loose your dock lines early on a Friday for once?”
“Funny,” Al Fader said, as he and Bob Talbot shook hands with their old friend. The two men took stools next to Jimmy, greeting him and Angie by name. The Florida Keys stretched more than a hundred miles from Key Biscayne to Key West, and another forty beyond where the road ended in the old pirate town. Made up of about seventeen-hundred islands, Key West had the largest resident population, with about one-third of the seventy-thousand inhabitants who called Monroe County home. Distance didn’t dictate friendships in the Keys.
Rusty produced a Dos Equis for Al, and a bottle of water for Bob. Having been a bartender for most of his life, Rusty had a knack for remembering drink orders.
Rufus came in from the back door and approached the bar. “Mistuh Rusty,” he said, in his song-song Jamaican accent. “I been needin’ to ask you something for a long time now.”
“What’s that?” Rusty asked.
“Dem fish sandwiches I make,” he said, almost bashfully. “Di bread, it not right.”
“I can get any kind of bread you want,” Rusty said, unsure where this was leading.
“I used to make me own bread, coco bread, from a recipe me mother had.”
“I’ve had that before,” Jimmy said. “He’s right, it’s really good.”
“So, where can I buy it?” Rusty asked.
“Yuh don’t buy coco bread,” Rufus replied, handing a mail-order catalogue to him. “I need me a small oven so I can make me own from Mama Pearl’s recipe.”
Mama Pearl, Rusty thought. Another little pinch of information. Though Rufus had worked at the Anchor for nearly a decade, Rusty still didn’t even know his last name. He paid him in cash at the end of the week, and as far as Rusty knew, he might just as well be on the run from Interpol or something. But he did his job, and did it quite well. In the Keys, that was usually good enough, and folks didn’t pry. Even if they did, the old Jamaican seemed somehow above it all and locals treated him a little differently.
Rusty looked at the page the catalogue was open to. “Everything in your kitchen’s gas-fired,” he said, noting the high price tag on the oven Rufus was showing him. “This is electric.”
Rufus glanced down. “Sorry, suh,” he said, flipping the page. “Dis one is gas, and much smaller.”
Rusty looked at the picture, with the description and a very affordable price. “You can make even better fish sandwiches with this?”
“Much better,” Rufus replied, showing his gap-toothed grin.
“I’ll go ahead and order it, then,” Rusty said. “You got room for another appliance out there?”
“It don’t take up much space,” Rufus said, with a smile. “Thank yuh, Mister Rusty. I got just di spot on di far end of di long counter.”
When Rufus left, Angie leaned over to look at the two shrimp boat captains. “How’s Nikki and the baby, Bob?”
“She’s doing well, thanks. And he’s growing like a weed.” He chuckled. “I finally found a way to get her to take some time off the boat.”
“You know you just been had,” Al said.
Rusty eyed him sharply. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Al grinned. “Rufus showed you the expensive one for the sticker shock, knowing you’d like the price of the one he really wanted.”
“Yeah, I know,” Rusty said. “It’s a game we play. So, what brings two of Key Weird’s finest skippers all the way up here?”
Forty-five miles wasn’t a long way from the southernmost city, but he knew how hard the two men worked. He rarely saw any of the shrimpers until April.
“Had some good runs,” Al said. “Filled the holds early.”
“We were hoping to get some information,” Bob added. “You hear anything about boats from other fisheries hanging around down here and acting strange?”
“Yeah, in fact I have.” Rusty glanced out the back window and saw the guy setting up on the little stage, which had been ripped off by a close encounter with a hurricane. Rusty had rebuilt it even better. “But let’s go out back; I’m auditioning a Texican. Mind the bar, Jimmy?”
“No problemo,” Jimmy replied, looking around and seeing there was nobody else in the place.
Rusty led Al and Bob out onto the deck and over to an umbrella-covered table in front of the stage. A liveaboard couple occupied another table.
“What sound do your patrons lean toward?” the man asked from the stage, as he adjusted the mic.
“Mostly boaters and working-class folks hang out here,” Rusty replied. “They like a mix of a lot of stuff, even original.”
“I have a few originals,” he said, plugging his guitar into the small amp and speaker Rusty had bought. He turned the volume down and spent a minute tuning up.
“I heard about something odd happening up toward Islamorada,” Rusty began, leaning in conspiratorially. “A shrimper out of the Port Charlotte area slipped in with some other boats out of Key Largo and anchored up with them during the day. When it started to get dark, the boat just up and left. Kinda weird.”
“That’s what happened yesterday out on New Ground,” Bob said.
“Vessel’s name was Eliminator, out of Cape Coral,” Al added.
“Hmm,” Rusty said, thinking, as the man on the stage launched into an upbeat tune that Rusty recognized. “The boat up there wasn’t that one, but owned by the same company what owns Eliminator. I know the guy and he’s not one to fish far from his home port.”
“I know that song,” Bob said, as the guy sang about becoming a reggae guy. “That’s Eric Stone.”
“Eric Stone?” Rusty asked, looking toward the stage. “I heard of him, even got a couple of his CDs on the juke box. He played Dockside not long ago.”
As Eric finished the song, a blond woman carrying a margarita came out of the bar and took a table next to the men. Eric started playing a Jimmy Buffett song, and Rusty gave him a thumbs-up. He was good. Winding up the Buffett tune, Eric placed his guitar on a stand next to the mic and stepped down off the stage.
The blonde stood and walked toward him. “What’s going on?” she asked.
He took her by the arm and turned toward Rusty’s table. Rusty and the other two men stood as the couple approached.
“This is Kim Hess, my girlfriend,” Eric said.
“You didn’t say you were Eric Stone. Hell, I got your CDs on my juke, wasn’t any need for you to play a lick to get a gig here. But why would you want to play a rundown joint like mine?”
“That’s why I asked you to meet me here,” he said to Kim. “Dockside closed down. Out of business.”
“Oh no,” she said. “What about the BVI?”
“That sorta depends on this guy,” Eric said, turning back toward Rusty with a question in his eyes. “I was scheduled to play Dockside for the next few weeks.”
Rusty extended his hand, knowing good fortune when it smiled at him. “Name’s Rusty Thurman. I own the place. It ain’t nothing but windows and Dade County pine, but it’s been in my family for generations.”
“What do you say, Mister Thurman?” Eric asked. “I need a steady gig for a few weeks. We’re planning to head to the Virgin Islands after the first of the year.”
Stroking his beard, Rusty wondered how little he could get the talented singer and songwriter for. Some have said that if Kenny Chesney kept waffling between country and trop-rock, the young man standing in front of him was the heir apparent to Jimmy himself.
“I ain’t near as big as Dockside,” Rusty said, playing it humble. “The guy who was supposed to play tonight, I was gonna pay him a buck-fifty. I could go as high as two hundred a night.”
“I can do that if you can give me four nights.”
“Eight hundred bucks?” Rusty said, thinking it over. If Dockside was closed, and it had been shut down a few times in the past, that would mean more locals coming by the Anchor, maybe even a tourist or two. The man even had a following, maybe folks from up and down island would drop in. Things had slowed through the summer and an influx of cash, even if it was tourist dollars, would be good.
“Tell ya what,” Rusty began. “How about three nights, tonight through Sunday night. And if you bring in the customers, next week we’ll do a Thursday night show, too.”
“Throw in dock space for our boat?” Kim asked.
Chance favors the prepared mind, Rusty thought. The quote from Louis Pasteur had always been one of his favorites. The empty dock space wasn’t earning a cent anyway. Nor was it costing him anything.
“And dock space,” Rusty said, smiling. Never one to let another get the last bite out of a deal, he added, “But you gotta pay for electric if you use it. Each pedestal has a digital meter; you pay what the going rate is when you leave.”
“You have a deal, Mister Thurman,” Kim said, extending her hand.
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