Authors: Steven Becker
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While tarpon fishing in the backcountry of the Florida Keys, Mac Travis discovers a plot to drill for oil in the pristine waters.
After his life is threatened he teams up with his long time friend and mentor, Wood, to uncover a plot that leads to the top echelons of power in Washington DC. An action packed short story featuring underwater and boating scenes
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2015 © White Marlin Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously . Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Mac swatted the no-see-ums swarming around his face and rubbed his salt-crusted eyes. The coating felt like sandpaper. Finally he removed enough of the crystals to squeeze one eye open. The glare of the sun made him close it immediately. He tried to move, but his legs resisted the effort. It took him a long minute to realize they were entwined in mangrove branches and covered with debris. It was a struggle to sit up, so he lifted his knees instead, and in the process gained enough wiggle room to slide out of his cocoon. He forced himself to squint through his one good eye and crawled across the muck to the tide line where he splashed water on his face. It was salt water, but it was wet. He continued until he was able to open both eyes.
His vision was clouded from the salt and sun, but he forced himself to survey his situation. Surrounded by mangrove roots, he saw pieces of the wreckage in the brush and tried to remember what had happened. He gazed up at the sun, high in the sky, and realized it had been close to sunset the day before when time had stopped; he had been out for almost eighteen hours. His memory came back in bits and pieces as he moved above the high tide line and sat amidst the tangle of roots and brush to think about the last few days. It came back slowly. He remembered the sailboat fighting each wave as he tried to steer it into the raging Gulf Stream. Then the rest of the memory flooded back, startling him to alertness.
He gained his feet and looked around for Mel and Armando. They had been with him on the boat, but his last memory was the life raft and the terrified looks on their faces. The mast had snapped, taking his attention away from the drifting lifeboat. That was all he could remember. The trio had escaped the corrupt CIA agent and headed to the Bahamas, a trail of dead bodies and destruction behind them, a ‘borrowed’ sailboat beneath them. It had been his insistence on running that had left him stranded and his stubbornness that had convinced him he could navigate the huge waves and current of the Gulf Stream. He looked around with remorse. It may have cost Mel and Armando their lives.
Mac pushed the thought from his mind and tried to gain his feet. His arms and legs were covered with open cuts and scrapes, the current target of the invisible bugs, but his wounds showed no sign of infection. He was forced to crawl, the dense vegetation not allowing him to rise. With two choices, the open water or the brush, he chose the water. There was likely a search going on and he would have to be careful to remain out of sight. If he was found on US soil, he would surely be arrested.
First on the list would be the poaching charge. He recalled the image of the heiress, Cayenne Cannady, red hair ablaze, as she burned at the smuggler’s haven. The temptress had suckered his friend and first mate, Trufante, into using his boat to poach lobsters. The black cloud that followed the Cajun mate was above them that day. The pair had been caught, the boat traced to Mac and confiscated along with his house. He shook his head. Focus on the present. It was better to stay invisible until he could figure things out. He worked through the brush to the shore but couldn’t get the two faces in the lifeboat out of his mind. The question of whether he was responsible for Mel’s death dominated his thoughts.
The winds had calmed, reducing the seas to a light chop. From the debris scattered in the mangroves, he could tell it had been a good blow. Parts of a boat, fishing nets, plastic bottles and trash were scattered in a wavy line along the tide mark or in the branches, some, two feet off the ground, where the surge from the wind-blown waves had deposited them. He looked around for anything useful and found a pair of mismatched flip-flops and a half-full water bottle which he drained. Able to stand now, he set his shoulders and lower back into a stretch. The sun had moved behind him. He knew he was somewhere back in the Keys facing the Atlantic Ocean. There were hundreds of miles of mangrove-covered shores in the island chain running from Homestead through Key Largo, past Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and he had no idea just where he had been marooned.
He turned towards the sun and started half-walking and half-wading west through the mud, the best choice as he figured the six-knot current of the Gulf Stream would have pushed the wreckage north or east. At least he was still in the Keys. The last place he needed to enter civilization was Miami or points north. He had been walking for an hour, by the position of the sun, but doubted he had covered more than a mile. He fought for each inch. Finally he saw a high-rise appear over the brush and sighed in relief as he recognized the lone condo standing guard over the entrance to Key Colony Beach. He studied the shoreline and moved back into the cover of the brush as a boat appeared from the inlet, then looked inland to find a place to rest until sunset. Coco Plumb Beach, the long stretch of sand leading to the channel, was too busy to approach in the daylight. Even if he wasn’t identified, he looked like a hobo and would be reported by the residents.
He crawled under the cover of a small tree. His thoughts turned inward as he fought hunger and thirst. The initial shock had worn off. He could feel every scrape on his body, salt stinging open wounds as it dried. Mel was back in his thoughts. Had she survived? Where was she? Armando was a concern, but he would be handled as a political refugee, given the best care American taxpayers could afford. Mel would be treated as a criminal. He waited for the sun to set, knowing there was only one place he could go for help - and that always led to trouble.
The light of the near-full moon woke Mac from a sound sleep. He was disoriented. As a fisherman, he knew where the moon was at all times, its phase and movement synchronized in his mind. In his current state he was having a hard enough time figuring out where he was - never mind the moon. He sat up and tried to remember the last time he was certain of the orb’s travels; the day before, he thought, when he had left Wood’s Island with Mel and Armando.
The memory of the island in flames, an act of retribution from the CIA man and the smuggler was not one he cared to dwell on. After a few minutes he pieced together it was near midnight. Time meant nothing to him with darkness to conceal his movements. He still had to be careful; the moon was bright enough to cast shadows. It was the tide he was more concerned with. Navigating the murky waters would be best accomplished during slack tide. At low tide, too much shoreline would be revealed, forcing him into the open to avoid the muddy pitfalls along the shoreline. High tide would bring water to the brush line, forcing him to swim.
He took his time, carefully stretching to check for damage as he rose. His muscles and joints were stiff, and stung from the cuts on his arms and legs, but all his parts worked. With no fresh water he forced saliva into his mouth to satisfy his thirst and started off towards the lights from the high-rise, using the building as a landmark. He was on Deer Key, best he could tell, and he looked at the small, mangrove-covered island to the West, the glow of Marathon visible behind it. He moved along the tide line, head down to avoid the mucky potholes that could suck him in like quicksand. Mullet jumped, breaking the silence, the fish traveling in small pods; no concern to anyone except the tarpon that chased them onto the flats. He flinched when a leathery fin brushed him and started to slide his feet, rather than lift them, to avoid the barbs of the stingrays foraging in the shallow water.
Step by step, he moved towards open water to reach the smaller Key, holding the flip-flops in his hand, setting each foot carefully in case of a coral head or unexpected hole, the ink-black waters hiding hazards clearly visible in daylight. Fortunately the water never reached higher than his knees as he crossed the flats between the islands. The backside of the Key was desolate except for the white ibises roosted in the mangroves. He reached shore and made his way around the island to avoid the dredged canal leading to several houses and docks.
The lights from the houses on the nearby Key to the west looked inviting, but he knew he had to take the harder route and steeled himself as he entered the mangrove-lined channel that led to the mainland. It would be a long, hard mile, but he wanted to reach the anonymity of US 1. Coco Plumb Drive on the adjacent Key was the easier route, just a few hundred feet away, but it was too quiet, and probably patrolled by security cars. If he could reach the busier, more commercial highway connecting Miami and the mainland to Key West, he could hide in plain sight, looking like every other hobo in paradise.
The walk soon turned into mindless monotony after the lights became obscured by mangroves. He trudged along, caution fading; the water too shallow for anything except a flats boat, and there was no reason for any to be here at night. Daylight found the flats often crowded with the shallow draft boats searching for bonefish; the prize, referred to as ghosts during the day, were totally invisible at night. Most night-time fishing activity centered around the bridges. Any boat or man found here at night would be up to no good.
Thoughts of Mel came flooding back and the list of all the things he had done wrong in the last week ran like movie credits in front of his eyes. Surely he could have left her out of it, but her own stubborn streak would not allow her to sit on the sidelines, especially after she found Cayenne Cannady, the trust fund heiress she had been doing pro bono work for, was involved. Cannady had seemed honest at first, but her coral farm and flamboyant lifestyle were sucking her trust fund dry. Desperate to maintain her standing, she was forced to forge an alliance with a smuggler to harvest illegal lobsters from the coral farm. Once Mel found the connection, she wouldn’t back down an inch until justice was served. Regardless of how she got involved, he still felt responsible for her as well as Armando, the Cuban baseball player. His head was still fuzzy as he tried to put together all the pieces, but he remembered he and Mel had rescued Armando from the smugglers.
He guessed he had been wading almost an hour when he saw the first headlights through the brush. An empty plastic water bottle floated by. Instead of being angry for the defilement of his paradise, it did nothing but remind him of his thirst. He picked up his pace. The ground became firmer with each step as he crawled out of the brush at eye level with the asphalt, the built-up heat of the day shimmering from its surface. Limestone road base crunched under the worn flip-flops now back on his feet. He climbed the embankment in a crouch, ducking as several trucks towing boats blew past him and he waited until an opening appeared. He hobbled across the road, reaching the other side and the seclusion of the frontage road before the next set of headlights approached, then crossed to the far side of the narrow road running parallel to the highway. More exposed than he would have liked, he started in the direction of Marathon, but found himself getting weaker with each step. It was probably two in the morning, but that didn’t stop the August humidity, vicious even at night, from sapping whatever little reserves he had left.