Chapter One

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August 31

An hour before dawn on an unusually warm Sunday morning, Jasper Wade reversed his truck and trailer toward the concrete ramp at Corman's Launch and guided his boat into the dark waters of Tampa Bay. He really couldn't see much more than a grey curling mist in the pre-dawn light, settling over the bank and cloaking the water's surface. In the distance, the twin smokestacks of the power plant lit-up with yellow lights. They twinkled like stars, but didn't provide much light.

He didn't need them anyway. He maneuvered by way of instinct and muscle memory. How many times had he repeated this early morning ritual? Too many to count. In a minute and a half, he'd backed onto the sloping ramp and edged his boat into the water, coming to a stop at just the right point. After forty-five years, he could've done it blindfolded. And in that time, as far as he could remember, he'd never had the jitters.

Until now.

This morning.

For some reason, his hand trembled, as if some sixth sense deep in his psyche transmitted a Morse code warning. Maybe it was that hurricane churning in the Gulf. The morning news warned it could hit the area, but it was days away--provided it didn't turn northwest and hit the panhandle or the Alabama coast instead, which most of the models predicted. Besides, the Bay looked calm now. Not so much as a breeze. He laughed the thought away and shook his hand.

He'd probably just worked too hard this week. Put in too many billable hours. Taken on too many cases. He needed to cut back. He'd be retiring in a couple of years anyway. He chuckled at the thought. Could he give up his practice and simply fish and golf seven days a week? He loved the courtroom and the cases and picking apart the finer points of the law. That wasn't stressful.

Maybe he felt guilty for ditching church. He'd hear about it later from his wife, for sure. "The Lord may not need a good lawyer," she'd said a million times over. "But there isn't a lawyer on this Earth who doesn't need the good Lord." What could he say? A morning listening to the pastor's continuing sermon on Ruth and the other women in Jesus's family tree couldn't compare to the lure of large redfish and plenty of good-size trout on the flats. Resident tarpon schooled around the bridges. It'd be a good day to fish Weedon Island or Snug Harbor, away from the heavy Labor Day traffic in the open Bay. Today would be relaxing and re-energizing, he knew. So, the shaking had to be something else.

Low blood sugar. That's what he felt. Low blood sugar. He really should've run through the McDonald's drive-through, rather than just down a quick cup of coffee at home.

He'd woken at three and dressed as quietly as possible not to wake Liz, the old battle-ax. She tossed in bed when he flipped on the bathroom light but didn't wake. She hated when he chose fishing over church and had no qualms about expressing her displeasure. Determined to prevent any such arguments this morning, he tiptoed out the bedroom and into the kitchen in the dark. The coffee maker gurgled, having come to life with an automatic timer. He grabbed his tackle box and four different rods from the hall closet and carried them into the garage, where his beauty waited.


A Yellowfin 23.

Fast, solid, smooth-riding, and ostentatiously expensive, this boat was the Pride of the Bay with twin Yamaha 200-hp HPDI outboards, built-in transom tackle boxes, a freshwater washdown system, and a console outfitted with a 75-gallon forward coffin-box cooler. A black T-top covered the helm and a tilting stainless-steel destroyer wheel power knob with a lighted switch panel and four-rod rocket launcher. A lockable electronics station boasted a high-end sound system. And his GPS clocked a top speed of twenty-eight mph.

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