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Robert Whitlow

Deeper Water

The first book in the Tides of Truth series, 2008

To those who live to make the world a better place: 'Ye are the salt of the earth. '

Matthew 5:13

Prologue

MOSES JONES POLED HIS ALUMINUM JOHNBOAT THROUGH THE marshy waters where the Little Ogeechee River mingled with Green Island Sound. The snub-nosed boat rode on top of the water, a slight swirl marking its wake. A set of oars lay in the bow, but Moses preferred a long wooden pole. Quieter than oars, the smooth rod served double duty as a makeshift depth finder.

The old black man slipped the twenty-five-foot-long pole noiselessly into the water until it found the muddy bottom. He glided beneath the outstretched branches of a live oak tree draped in Spanish moss. Around the bend lay one of the best fishing holes on the brackish river. It was night, but the moon shone brightly, and his kerosene lantern sat unlit on the seat.

Moses lifted the pole from the water and balanced it across the front of the boat. He lifted his cap and scratched the top of his gray-fringed head. And listened. The only sounds were familiar night noises: the bullfrogs calling to each other across the channel, the plop of a fish breaking the surface of the water, the cries of crickets in the dark.

Sucking air through his few remaining teeth, Moses let out a long, low moan to let the faces in the water know he was entering their domain. The faces moved from place to place along the inlets and tributaries the old man frequented, from the Tybee River to Wassaw Island. With the water as their grave, they weren't bound to one location. Their cemetery had no tombstones, no iron fences, no floweredged borders. They could be anywhere.

Moses feared and respected the dead. One day, he knew, he would join them. Whether his face would be young or old, he didn't know.

He rounded the bend and measured the depth of the water. The pole didn't touch bottom. He quietly lowered the concrete block he used as an anchor and let the boat find its place. The slow current took him to the center of the hole. He could bait his hooks by moonlight without having to light the lantern and attract the curiosity of a thousand insects. He lowered his trotlines into the water. A fivegallon plastic bucket set in the bottom of the boat would serve as a makeshift live well. He waited.

Within an hour, he caught five fish that included three keepers. He put the three fish in the bucket. It would be a good night. He felt happy. The hole was teeming with life. He pulled up his lines and rebaited the hooks. The fish bumping against the side of the bucket joined the sounds of the night. When he leaned over to place the lines in the water, she floated up to the surface.

It was the little girl.

Moses squeezed his eyes shut. He wanted to scream, but his lips were clenched. He longed to cry, but his emotions were paralyzed. Memories that couldn't separate fact from fiction raced through his mind. What had he done that she would haunt him so?

He made himself breathe slowly. In and out, in and out. His heart pounded in his ears. Someday, the faces would grow strong arms and pull him into the water to join them. It would be justice. He continued to make himself breathe in rhythm. A bead of sweat escaped his cap and ran down his forehead. There was a jerk on the line he still held in his hand. Every muscle in his body tensed. Maybe tonight was the night of death.

He opened his eyes. All that remained was the dark water.

He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and pulled in the fish. It was the nicest one yet, fat and lively. His breathing returned to normal. His heart stopped racing.

'Thank you, missy,' he said softly.

He wasn't sure if the little girl sent the fish or could hear his voice, but it didn't hurt to be grateful, even to a ghost.

1

'TAMMY LYNN!' MAMA CALLED OUT. 'YOU'D THINK A FANCY law firm in Savannah would know how to spell your name.'

I left the pantry beneath the staircase and came into the kitchen. With lots of windows, the large kitchen protruded from our woodframe house like Mama's abdomen a week before the twins were born.

'And is there a new law against calling an unmarried woman Miss?' Mama added as she opened a quart jar of yellow squash she'd put up the previous summer.

I deposited two yellow onions on the scratched countertop and picked up the envelope. It was addressed to Ms. Tami L. Taylor, 463 Beaver Ruin Road, Powell Station, Georgia. I'd thought long and hard about changing the spelling of my name to Tami on my resume. First impressions are important, and I didn't want the hiring partner at a prestigious law firm to think I was a second-rate country singer who went to law school after she bombed out in Nashville.

T-a-m-i had a more sophisticated ring to it. It could even be short for Tamara. As long as I honored my parents in the important things, secretly changing the spelling of my first name for professional reasons wouldn't be a sin. Or so I hoped. I rubbed my finger across the address. I couldn't tell Mama the law firm made a mistake. That would be a violation of the ninth commandment. I kept quiet, trusting silence to keep me righteous in the sight of a holy God. Mama's voice rescued me.

'You're doing well in school, and I'm pleased with you,' she continued. 'But I'm afraid you wasted a lot of paper and stamps on those letters you sent out. You should have set your sights on working for Mr. Callahan. He might actually give you a job when you get out of school.'

'Yes ma'am.'

Mama wanted me working close to home, the only secure haven in the midst of a wicked world. Her disapproval that I'd mailed letters seeking a summer clerk position to one hundred law firms across the state wasn't a surprise. It helped a little when I reassured her I'd excluded Atlanta like the hole in the middle of a donut. To live in a place populated by millions of people after growing up surrounded by millions of trees wasn't a step I wanted to take either.

I took the letter into the front room. Our house didn't have a formal living room. The front room served as everything from homeschool classroom to temporary church sanctuary if the preacher stopped by for an impromptu prayer meeting. I plopped down on a sofa covered by a white chenille bedspread and closely examined the return address on the outside of the envelope. I was impressed. Braddock, Appleby, and Carpenter still used engraved envelopes. Most of the rejection letters I'd received arrived at my law school post office box in Athens fresh from a laser printer.

Mama was right. Trying to find a summer clerk job through unsolicited letters to law firms picked at random

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