Authors: Ann Cook
A Brandy O’Bannon Mystery
Ann Turner Cook
New York Lincoln Shanghai
by the same author
Brandy O’Bannon mysteries
Trace Their Shadows
Shadow over Cedar Key
A Brandy O’Bannon Mystery
© 2005 by Ann Turner Cook
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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ISBN13: 978-0-595-79226-9 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America
For the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriffs Office,
who valued my husband, Jim, for all the right reasons:
his honesty, compassion, and unfailing respect for others.
The settings in this novel are real and the Seminole and Safety Harbor Indian lore accurate, although the characters and situation are, of course, imaginary. Anyone familiar with Florida’s “Nature Coast” along the north central Gulf of Mexico will recognize the fishing community of Homo-sassa and the impressive, if short, Homosassa River. If they join boaters on that river, they will pass Bird Island, the Salt River, and Tiger Tail Island. From the Salt they can cruise the Little Homosassa, past the site where a hidden Indian mound actually exists, although it has never been excavated.
The fictional United States soldier’s journal is based on similar historical journals, and the events in the Second Seminole War are historically accurate, even to the capture of the wily old warrior, Tiger Tail.
When the novel moves to a Tampa location, the former Seminole museum and outdoor exhibits play a key role. A 1980 excavation in preparation for a municipal parking garage in the city’s downtown uncovered the nineteenth century Fort Brooke cemetery. Among the burials here lay the skeletons of many Seminole Indians, which led to the creation of the Tampa Seminole Reservation, a memorial, and a burial site for these forgotten tribesmen. This novel is set in 2000, because the Seminole museum, gift shop, and zoo on the Tampa Reservation, featured in the final chapters, were swallowed up the next year by the Seminole Hardrock Hotel and Casino. Before that date, the Seminole Cultural Center in Tampa, its museum, and outdoor exhibits were well worth a visit, although legendary Old Joe had already passed on to an alligator’s reward.
Most Florida visitors—and even recent residents—do not know the fascinating history of this extraordinary state. It is rich in drama, and the state’s natural beauty exceeds that of the artificial tourist meccas most people see. Old Florida, the Real Florida, still remains for the discerning eye.
* * * *
I want to thank Sheriff Walter C. Heinrich, Retired, of the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, for checking the crime scene, and to my friend and indefatigable editor, Staci Backauskas, for her invaluable suggestions.
My thanks also go to anthropologist Patricia Riles Wickman, Ph.D, former Director of Anthropology and Genealogy, Seminole Tribe of Florida, for her help in translating words from English to the Maskoki language, more popularly known as “Muskokee.” I am grateful, as well, to archaeologist Frank Gilson, who very kindly described in 1998 the work of Florida state archaeologists. Unlike the Indiana Jones of our imagining, he said, they labor largely at salvage operations on Indian mounds, repairing damage caused by pot hunters and keeping just ahead of the bulldozers. Any unauthorized person who took away human remains would be in serious trouble. Generally such remains are turned over to an Indian group, who reburies the bones with private ceremonies.
A list of reference materials for the novel follows the text.
I had forgot that foul conspiracy of the beast Caliban...
The Tempest. Act IV, Scene 1
Timothy Hart pushed himself out of bed. He could scarcely breathe. His legs wobbled and his head felt light. He clutched his stomach. Painful cramps again. He’d spent half the night in the bathroom. In a rising panic he glanced out the window at the alien land, at cabbage palms, palmettos, scraggly oaks hung with Spanish moss, stunted cedars, all still and quiet in the morning light. An island, worse luck. No roads, no bridges. Only a broad river on one side and a creek on the other three.
Thoughts skittered in and out of his brain. He should’ve hidden the briefcase. He didn’t want the others to show the journal to anyone else. No time to worry about it now. Most of all, he should have gone to a doctor yesterday. Had to be one in this god-forsaken place. Instead, he kept eating those berries and green herbals he was told would settle his stomach. Now he had to get help. He had to reach the boat. It was half an hour up river to town.
He stretched a shaky hand for his clothes on the chair. His vision dimmed. He tried twice before he could force his legs into his shorts from last night, then pulled on the shirt, and without buttoning it, thrust his feet into unlaced shoes. Next he dragged himself into the kitchen. He caught the scent of bacon, but the house was empty. The landlady had left a box of dry cereal, a sweet roll on the counter, yesterday’s newspaper, Wednesday’s. Today was Thursday. He’d been here a week. His dream was within his grasp. But he had to find help.
The sight of the food made him gag. No hope from the phone. It had been out of order for a week. Maybe he could catch the old woman before she took off in her own boat.
He staggered through the living room, onto the narrow wooden porch, stumbled down a few steps, and felt his legs falter. He had a dim memory of a woman reporter. She was to come to see him. He needed her now. His breath came in gasps. He was aware of water glinting in the sunlight, and the fresh smell of a breeze over Tiger Tail Bay. In the distance a motor droned, far down river. Faintly, he heard his feet crunch over oyster shells. He’d dragged himself into the yard, but his landlady’s boat was gone. He could make out the shape of the skiff he’d rented, pulled up on shore, but his vision was hazy. He’d have to shove it off, find the strength to pull the cord to start the engine.
A wave of nausea swept over him. His knees buckled. He reached for the boat and everything blurred. At the last second of consciousness, he felt a shock of recognition. He’d been too trusting. The roots and berries and stalks weren’t safe. Poison, he thought. Poison! The herbs...
Brandy O’Bannon sat at a Tiki bar, watching the wide Homosassa River glide past, its black waters shimmering under the oudoor lights. She nursed a margarita and toyed with a crab cake, reluctant to return to the rented house alone. Tomorrow was Thursday, the official beginning of her vacation, but it promised to be a solitary one. Her husband could only visit on weekends.
When a splash sounded in the dark cove behind her, she turned to see a narrow head surface, then submerge again, only bulging nostrils still above the water—the small resident alligator. She gazed past her own pontoon boat, bobbing beside the restaurant pier, toward the shrimp boats moored where the river’s curve began.
At first Brandy ignored the three men seated near her at the bar. She shut out the clatter of dishes and the muted chatter around her and imagined the river’s past. She could almost see the shadows of natives gathering clams and oysters along the shore, or Seminole Indians hiding out among the cabbage palms and cedars.
An excited voice intruded on her thoughts. The oldest of the three men talked eagerly to the male bartender, his glance sweeping the other patrons at the bar. “N-name’s Timothy Hart,” he said, leaning forward and thumping the counter with one palm. “You folks b-be hearing about me soon. News will k-knock y-your hats off.” Brandy pegged the speaker as a tourist. He was about sixty-five and balding, his forehead and nose pink from exposure to the sun, a plaid shirt stretched tight across his pudgy stomach. He couldn’t have been in Homosassa long. His khaki shorts still looked crisp and fresh.
He turned toward the man seated next to him, who looked a lot like the Indians of Brandy’s imaginings—dark skin, coarse black hair pulled back in a plait, Asian eyes. But instead of a loin cloth or a colorful Seminole costume, he wore faded blue jeans and a long sleeved shirt. One hand relaxed around a can of Coca Cola. Brandy listened.
“I was h-hoping you could help me,” the older man said to the Indian. He picked up a scrap of paper lying on the bar. Brandy could see words scrawled across it. “These w-words are Greek to me, b-but they’re important.” His voice rose again. “These w-words are the k-key to everything.”
The Indian glanced at the scrap and his voice came from deep in his chest. “Sorry, Mr. Hart. They’re in a different language. Not all Florida Indians speak the same one.”
Hart settled his chubby frame against the back of the bar stool “S’all right. My f-friend here can g-get them figured out.” He nodded toward the man seated on the other side, smiled at the bartender, and shoved his empty glass toward him. “My friend’s g-got connections. He’ll g-get a translation. He’s an arch—arche—whatever.”
Brandy looked at the man Hart had pointed out. He was middle-aged and blond, with a deep tan and a University of Florida tee shirt. Curious, Brandy inserted herself into the conversation. “An archaeologist?” she asked.
Hart swayed slightly on his stool. “Bingo,” he said.
The blond man gave her an appraising glance, a slight smile lingering on his lips. “My Seminole friend and I are working together on a project off the Little Homosassa River.” He closed and pocketed a small spiral note pad, and his gaze met that of the Indian. Brandy shifted her gaze to the excited tourist. “His Indian b-buddy’s a m-medicine man,” Hart added, clearly impressed.
Maybe the April sun didn’t agree with Timothy Hart. He looked ill, those bright eyes in his cherub face sunken, his mouth drawn. When he began to slur his words, Brandy was surprised. He had finished only one short whisky and water. The bartender stroked his wispy beard, hesitated, raised one eyebrow, and finally pushed another glass across the bar.
The round face lifted and Hart raised his voice again. His eyes shone.”Be a b-big find soon, a discovery, you c-could say. R-right in this little ole’ town of Hom—Homo—”
“Homosassa,” Brandy said. “A Seminole word.” She looked at the Indian. “Means ‘place the wild peppers grow.’” The expression on his broad face, the color of leather, did not change.
The man in the university tee shirt set aside his half-empty mug, slipped from his stool, and took Hart by the arm. The firmness of the gesture, and the way he slapped a credit card down on the bar, convinced Brandy that he was in charge. He had a tall, compact build, like an athlete, and hands that were scarred but clean. “Come on, Tim,” he said. “You’re not feeling well. Let’s go. The landlady should have our dinner ready.” He looked again at the Indian. “I’ll run you on up to your camp.”
The Seminole set down his Coke and stood beside him, also tall, but sturdier. Brandy gave the trio her warmest smile. “Take my business card.” She handed it to Timothy Hart. “I’m from the Gainesville Star. When you make your big discovery, I’d like to be the first to know.” She flipped it over and jotted down her Homosassa address and phone number. “I’m on vacation now, renting a cottage from a friend. Call me here or at the paper.”
The archaeologist bit down on his lower lip for an instant, then turned electric blue eyes on Brandy and smiled. “Don’t get your hopes up for a story, young lady. Sometimes my buddy here gets carried away.”
Ignoring his friend, Hart thrust Brandy’s card into his shirt pocket. “R-remember Timothy H-hart, Miss.” He tottered to his feet. “I’ll c-call s-soon’s we’re ready to m-make the announcement.” He leaned closer, lips almost brushing her cheek. “I’m not doing t-too good. If you don’t h-hear from me in a day or two, c-come see me. Our phone at the c-cottage—it’s not w-working now, but I’ve got a b-big story for the papers. My friends here, they s-say I’m on a w-wild goose chase. But I got p-proof I can s-show you.” With a weak grin, he straightened up. “Just r-retired. Staying at a p-place on T-tiger Tail Island.” He drew himself up. “I’m going to b-buy it. It’s the only h-house on the island. C-can’t miss it.”