Also by Randy Wayne White


Sanibel Flats

The Heat Islands

The Man Who Invented Florida


Batfishing in the Rainforest

The author would like to thank Karen Bell, Captain Kim Gerz, Dr. Roy Crabtree, and Lieutenant Gary Beeson for kindly sharing their time and knowledge. I would also like to thank the many Floridians on both sides of the net ban controversy who, out of concern for the fishery, generously provided information and opinions on this complex issue. Any factual errors or misrepresentations of fact are entirely the fault of the author. Finally, I would like to thank my friends Glenn Miller and Susan Beckman for dutifully reading the early drafts.

For women who burn brightly and cast a powerful wake: Debra Jane, Mother Marie, Jayma Gillaspie, Sherry Lavender, Katy Hummel, Renee Wayne Golden, Rilla Kay White, Lorian Hemingway, Phyllis Wells, Gigi Cannella, Debbie Flynn, Jennifer Clements, Deb Votaw, Cheryl Moore, Gloria Osburn, Chris Allman, Jacquie Meister, Janet Henneberry, Sandra McNalley, the Wilson sisters—Georgia, Jewel, Delia Sue, JoAnn, Johnsie, and Judy—and for Kimberly Gerz, who left a comet's trail.

Captivity is Consciousness— So's Liberty.


What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage. . . .


Sanibel and Captiva Islands exist, but they are used fictitiously in this novel. The Smith sisters, Hannah and Sarah, are taken from Florida history and, the author hopes, have been accurately portrayed. Hannah Smith of Sulphur Wells, however, is a fictional character, although her hereditary characteristics—a hellish independence, among them—are not uncommon among women throughout the South. In all other respects, this book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Chapter 1

The reason I was awake at four a.m. when the bomb that killed Jimmy Darroux exploded was that my friend Tomlinson and I were on the dock taking turns squinting through a telescope, inviting—or so said Tomlinson —'ocular confirmation' that telepathic messages he believed he had received were, indeed, being transmitted by space creatures.

'It's loaded with them out there,' he told me. 'Sentient beings? For sure. Real living souls who generate very heavy vibes. They're aware a few of us earthlings are tuned in. Seriously; I shit you not. Couple of weeks ago, I just flashed on it. The whole scene. Trust me. They're definitely out there.'

I thought: So are you, Tomlinson. So are you.

But I didn't swing out of bed on a cold January morning in the hope of contacting Tomlinson's deep-space kindred. He's a believer; I'm not. However, one of my journals promised there was an interesting planetary oddity to be seen in the pre-dawn sky. Venus was in apogee and, over the period of a few days, would seem to pass in front of Jupiter. I'm not an astronomer. It's a sometimes hobby. Over the years, I've acquired a working knowledge of the night sky because my poor sense of direction has gotten me lost often enough to know that stars are handy navigational aids—that, plus it makes me uneasy to see something over and over again that can't be identified. Which is why I've learned enough waypost constellations to keep me comfortable. So, as long as Tomlinson was badgering me to break out the telescope, I decided the best time to do it was when there was something interesting to see. Tomlinson could look all he wanted for signals from space. I'd look at Jupiter and Venus.

I awoke a few minutes until three, just before my alarm clock clattered. First thing I did was look across the bay to make sure Tomlinson was awake. Lights were on aboard the thirty-five-foot Morgan sloop that is his home, the portholes creating lemon-pale conduits in the darkness. The guy was up, probably meditating, burning incense, drinking green tea, no telling what else. I lit the propane ship's stove, listening to Radio Habana on the portable shortwave—my thought patterns switching comfortably into Spanish—as I dressed in chino pants and a soft sailcloth shirt. When the coffee was ready, I poured a mug and took it outside. The sky was clear: glittering stars suspended from a purple macrodome. Checked the weather station on the outside wall and found the barometer steady, temperature 49 degrees—cold for the southwest coast of Florida, even in January. Got a bomber jacket from one of the storage lockers and checked my watch: 3:13 a.m.

Later, I would relay some of those details to the police detective who investigated Jimmy Darroux's death.

There is a weight to the early-morning hours; a palpable density that's a little like being underwater. You can feel the press of it on your shoulders, the pressure of it in your inner ear. The resonance of one's own heartbeat is the test of silence—a fragile, fragile sound. I went through the list of my morning chores: check the fish tank, clean the filters, check the complicated pulley system I use to moor my boats . . . confirm that some late-night visitor hadn't swiped an engine or the onboard electronics. Lately, a lot of that had been going on up and down the Florida coast. Everything was in order, but I moved more methodically than usual, slowed by the weight of the hour. Then poured another mug of coffee, hunkered down on the porch and listened to the night noises, waiting for Tomlinson.

I live in a remodeled fish storage shack in Dinkin's Bay, Sanibel Island. The shack is built over the water on pilings, so I could hear the draw of tidal current, a mountain stream sound . . . the knuckle pop of pistol shrimp . . .

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