The first appearance of Barrett Raines in A Rock and a Hard Place added an intelligent and extraordinarily engaging black policeman to the short roster of leading Afro-American fictional detectives.
At the end of A Rock and a Hard Place, Raines is so torn by the conflicts he faced that he's gone into an emotional tailspin. While trying to save himself from depression Raines gets a new case. It involves the discovery of a mysterious stranger's body that strongly speaks of illicit dealings and Raines is pressed to follow a trail that takes him to an island so remote he can hardly find the way to it. There he encounters a situation that forces him to call upon his courage and his intelligence not only to solve the crime but to save his life.
About the Author
Darryl Wimberley is a native Floridian living with his family in Austin, Texas. Dead Man's Bay is the second in a Florida based narrative featuring homicide investigator Barrett Raines.
Darryl Wimberley is a winner of the Willie Morris Prize for Southern Fiction. His books include A Rock and a Hard Place and Dead Man's Bay. A native of northern Florida, he now lives in Austin, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Dead Man's Bay
By Darryl Wimberley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Darryl Wimberley
All rights reserved.
It was early morning but already a rusted Ford Escort gathered lazy johns across the street from a downtown bar. Spanish moss hung limp as a washrag from the magnificent live oaks which routinely buckled Tallahassee's sidewalks into uneven surfaces, like ice floes jammed in a fjord. The trees here, towering as they did, still failed to shade either the Ford or the No-Tell Bar & Grille which simmered across the way in what locals called French-town, a district segregated de facto if not de jure, shoeboxed into a strip mall with a bicycle shop, a greasy spoon and a 7-Eleven.
COME IN a neon sign buzzed like an outsized mosquito. IT'S KOOL INSIDE.
A black man slouched at a plywood counter next to the bar's plate glass window. Rode hard and put away wet, you might say, a can of Budweiser sweating inside his fist like a whore in church.
"Damn, it's sticky."
He was generally known to regulars as the Bear. He was heavy in the shoulders, like a bear. Big humps above the neck, like a grizzly. And heavy slabs of muscle still hung from a large-boned skeleton over a gut that, with recent habits of nutrition, was actually wasting.
But the sobriquet which followed Barrett Raines probably came from his early morning habit, the one you could see him at, now, as he abandoned his beer to spoon gobs of honey from a mason jar into a mug of scalding coffee that steamed alongside.
"Good morning, Tallahassee!" A deejay cackled like a magpie from a radio Bear guessed had been salvaged from the French Resistance. "It's seven forty-five for those of you confused about yer watch. And we've got sunshine in the Sunshine State!"
Did they ever. The heat and humidity index for north Florida began its inexorable climb to misery every year just about this time, a fact joyfully chronicled by meterologists who apparently never spent a day outside.
"A beautiful day here in the Capital City," the deejay chattered on breezily. "Humid, though. Ninety-seven percent at the moment. And not a smidgeon of breeze showing ..."
"Not a smidgeon," Bear agreed.
He reached for breakfast. An alligator-sized pickle waddled with a boiled egg on a plastic plate.
"... and if you notice the streets look a little empty," the deejay chirped on, "guess what? It's spring break! Yeah! All those frat boys and coeds out of town! Daytona! Pensacola! Wherever! Gotta tell you, though, it's fine by me. A break in the traffic!"
The deejay's chatter segued to Vince Gill—"When I Call Your Name." Something about a guy coming home to find his wife's left him.
"Would you cut that shit off, Shark?"
"Click," a black man with a tonsure wreathed in silver killed the bar's radio.
Barrett could not help but notice that the Shark showed not a bead of perspiration whereas he, twenty years younger and propped beneath the bar's single and massive window unit, was sweating like a June bride in a feather bed. Bear just shook his head. Some things were imponderable.
Shark Snyder banged a roll of quarters into the register. He owned and ran the No-Tell and was not pleased with the tab Bear had amassed since separating from his wife.
But Shark would not deny a man his smokes. The Marlboros were supplied with the grace of a true Southerner, something Barrett Raines could appreciate. The Bear, after all, was originally from Deacon Beach, a small town on the Gulf. (What the hell did "originally" mean in that context, anyway? Could you originate from more than one place?! Wasn't that redundant, or tautological or some shit?) There were nothing but fishermen on Deacon Beach. Shrimpers, mostly. Sunburned men, angry and white, who owned everything.
Barrett zipped off the Marlboro's ribbon like the string from a Band-Aid, tapped a smoke free. He couldn't understand how he'd wound up in this place. He'd done all the right things. Had always managed to make his mark.
But something always tarnished the trophy. Take school—Barrett graduated valedictorian from a high school where most black kids didn't even finish. Didn't mean shit to the shrimpers of Deacon Beach. There were no scholarships waiting. No eager inquiries from colleges or universities.
The young Raines immediately enlisted in the army because there, he knew, was a way off the Beach. And that went all right. Bear took his G.I. bennies and a hitch in the reserves to a small, liberal university in Texas. He discovered literature and pursued a double major, was respected by his profs and popular with students eager to champion social justice and tolerance and the like.
But at the tail end of his senior year, Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait. Barrett's artillery unit was activated, and the Bear went to war. Students and faculty seemed cool upon his return. The black man familiar to them, the earnest student notorious among his classmates for actually enjoying Aeschylus and Euripides, did not sit well with the returned soldier who without apology killed tanks and infantry in a terrible, desert storm.
"One day I'm Koom-Bye-Yah with the white boys." Barrett shared that thought with Shark on a previous occasion. "Next day they're treating me like a house nigger."
"Ain't nuthin' new in that." Shark's grunted rejoinder was short on sympathy.
Then Bear married his hometown's homecoming queen. Girl of his dreams. Any man's dreams. They'd made nine, almost nine and a half years. Couldn't say without a hitch, who could? But nine good—damn good years. With two boys. Twins! And now, looked like, that was all going down the drain, too.
The beer chugged down Bear's throat like molasses. Hell of a thing, being separated from your wife. Your family.
But at least he had the work, his calling, his gift. The work had been wonderful, at first, had sustained the Bear and justified him righteously. That was then. But now, scarcely a year after coming to this unfamiliar place, Barrett Raines slouched in a bar at eight o'clock in the steaming morning, nearer to forty years than thirty, in debt and in danger of losing along with his job the only woman he'd ever loved in his life.
Bear fumbled open a book of matches. A hot draught of tobacco and tar coiled into overtaxed lungs.
"Thought you was quittin'," Shark interrupted the Bear's rumination.
"I am. Sometime."
Barrett told himself, and Shark, that nicotine kept his weight down. Raines was lucky to have a coffin's worth of height and a rawboned physique to carry his weight. It was a chassis that held the strength and tone more tenaciously than most. Even against cigarettes.
"Killed John Wayne," Shark reminded Barrett mournfully. "Kill him, it'll sure as hell kill you."
"Not if I eat well."
Time for the morning ritual: Down with the pickle, the egg and then the beer to chase.
"Go Seminoles!" Barrett belched, and then to Shark, "'Nother one."
"Pickle? Or aig?"
"Very witty," Barrett twisted a clip-on tie from his frayed and ringed Arrow collar.
"You owe me forty-eight dollars and fifty cents," Shark reminded his sole customer of the morning. "That's a lot of Bud."
"No cash." Barrett pulled out his pockets to prove it. "State's got our paychecks held up."
"Since when do state workers miss a check?"
"The budgets stalled, all right? The governor's constipated. What am I supposed to do?"
"Vote democrat. Take Ex-Lax."
But Shark slid a Budweiser down his marine-ply bar. Barrett caught it just in time to hear the door tinkle open. A new prospect for the morning? Spiked heels. Tank top. Ambitious breasts. Celia stretched beneath the air conditioner like it was a shower. "It's hotter than four hundred hells melted and poured in a tin thimble."
"Have a seat, Ceal." Barrett pulled one out for her.
"My meter's running."
"I'm down to a stroll myself," Barrett smiled broadly. "But you're welcome to a seat."
"How 'bout a smoke?"
"All right." Barrett tapped the pack for two when brakes locked to draw his attention outside.
"Shee-it," Shark paused at the register.
A trio of teenagers spilled from a rusted van onto the sidewalk across the street. Gang members. Shirts and shoelaces. A jack slammed beneath the Ford.
Barrett turned to Shark, "Your car?"
Only a couple of seconds to raise the car. Hubcaps spilled to the sidewalk like nickels on a plate. Celia was already bored.
"How 'bout we start the day off with a bang." She slid a finger inside Barrett's collar.
"Sorry. No can do."
A power wrench hammered at lug bolts outside.
"Tired?" Celia swung into Raines's lap.
"Well, yeah, but mostly broke."
"We can go on credit."
"I'm in debt."
"So's the government." She stretched like a cat. "Doesn't stop them."
"Good point," Barrett nodded, though whether he was talking about the government or her tits would be hard to determine.
Wham! The Ford collapsed to its axles. The van inhaled its hoodlums, burned rubber out to the street. And then a siren wailed.
"Here come de cavalry." Celia sucked her Marlboro.
The cavalry had come. But not for the teenage hoods. An unmarked Crown Vic glided smoothly to a halt beside the compact Ford. The driver heaved out, a boulder-sized redhead with a leather bulge beneath his shoulder. He strolled, this man, from the Crown Victoria to the No-Tell's entrance, tapped the door open—
What was that accent? Wisconsin? Minnesota? Someplace, for sure, where they ate a lot of cheese.
"Cricket," Barrett greeted the newcomer. "Good mawnin'."
"Time to travel, Bear."
Barrett heaved a huge sigh, finished the last slug of his Bud, ground out his butt. Only after he fetched a jacket from the floor would anyone see the badge and the gun which clued the work that once had made the Bear a proud man.
Only then would you know that Barrett Raines was a cop.CHAPTER 2
The Summer Means Fun
Takes more than a gun and badge to do this job!" That was about all Barrett had been able to drag out of his partner since they'd crawled into the car. They were on Phillip's Road now, three or four miles northeast of downtown. Suburbia petered out quickly here to allow patches of open land, pine trees, even some livestock.
"How late are we?" Barrett shook his watch.
"Captain was at the governor's mansion at seven," Cricket kept dead on 55.
"I'm sorry, Cricket. Look—"
"Look, my ass!"
You miss a meeting at the mansion and it was a big fuck-up, Barrett knew that. And this morning, of all mornings, to screw the pooch! The department, always kissing the legislature's rotund ass, sometimes brought field agents to do a dog and pony show with the latest state representative or chairman or citizen who showed the least inclination to give a shit about the FDLE's affairs.
This morning (how could he have forgotten?!) Barrett and his partner had been tapped to accompany their boss for a powwow with Governor B. and his pet representatives.
"You're looking like a goddamn fool," Cricket grated.
And Captain Henry Altmiller did not tolerate fools lightly.
Barrett kept silent as Cricket cursed Tallahassee's famously unsynchronized traffic lights. It had been nearly two years since the homicide of a politically connected white woman brought Bear to the attention of the capital city and FDLE. The state legislature years earlier established the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That innocuous-sounding title established, in fact, a kind of instate FBI with broad jurisdiction and the best investigative talent in the southeast. Originally organized as part of the war on drugs, the agency expanded its scope to include white collar and violent crime. Facilities expanded, too, so that now counties too poor to afford forensics and specialized equipment could call on Tallahassee and the FDLE for help. Every sheriff in each of Florida's sixty-seven counties used the department on a regular basis. Most of Florida's citizens didn't even know it existed.
It was a real honor to be selected as an investigator for FDLE. Barrett was one of only four black men who even got an interview. Cricket Bonet hadn't been happy to be assigned to the newcomer.
"I don't intend to be partnered with a token," Cricket made his feelings clear to Altmiller with Barrett standing not two feet away.
"Give it a chance," Altmiller said without even a hint of censuring Cricket's prejudice.
Barrett learned soon enough that Bonet migrated to the States while still a boy from Quebec. He learned that the Crazy Canuk earned his stripes in Chicago, one of the most dangerous beats around. And Cricket went undercover for the DEA in Minneapolis, too, before finally coming to the Sunshine State. Barrett would have to earn this man's respect. Luckily, he'd been partnered with Cricket less than a month when they broke their first case.
It was a spectacular initiation so far as law enforcement officials were concerned. Would have been a yawner for TV, though. No sexy informers, no corruption in high places. And no violence. A slain prostitute found on the interstate had a check in her purse made out to a dry cleaner in Live Oak. A released felon was recently employed at that business. He was a Caucasian man with two previous convictions, both drug related. Lived in a trailer park.
Barrett got the idea to search the man's trash can. Took an extra warrant but it paid off. The druggie's mess gave Barrett and Cricket receipts from a Wal-Mart. Nothing unusual about shopping at Wal-Mart except that this particular store was four or five hundred miles south in Fort Lauderdale. That's a long way to go for towels and wall putty. A month's surveillance established that the Fort Lauderdale store was, in fact, a rendezvous for traffickers from all over the state. Big-time pushers from Pensacola and Key West cut deals for coke in a warehouse stacked with CDs and diapers. The druggie's impulse purchases led Barrett and Cricket to the heart of a massive operation; the "Trash Can Caper" broke one of the most sophisticated drug cartels in the state. Cricket had partnered with Barrett ever since.
Cricket was a fiercely proud, fiercely competitive man. He'd saved Barrett's ass both literally and figuratively on a couple of occasions since that trash can bust. And Barrett had once saved Cricket's life. A multiple murder had brought the FDLE to Gasden County. Barrett and Cricket had cleared signals with the local sheriff, were interviewing some folks at an apartment complex. At the time nobody had a clue who'd committed the murders. But the killer, living at the apartment, didn't know that. He thought the cops had come to pick him up. Cricket found himself ambushed by a thirteen-year-old boy with a twelve-gaugeshotgun. Barrett spotted the boy. Had to kill him. Happened not two months into the job. It was an occasion neither Barrett nor Cricket wanted to remember.
Still, all in all, the work was great. That first year he was getting good cases; he was busting bad guys. And most importantly he was tight with Cricket. "The Dynamic Duo" they were called then, "Shit on a Stick". But everything good at work got matched with escalating problems at home to the point that Spring Break found the Bear separated from his family.
A depressing situation. Normally, come spring, Barrett Raines would take Laura Anne and the boys to Fort Walton. They'd drive "the wreck" as the boys with stubborn loyalty described Barrett's partially restored Malibu. They'd check into a Holiday Inn like a tribe of Nubians, feast on fruit plates and Grand Slams. Barrett would find some excuse to hustle his sons onto the beach so that he and Laura Anne, remaining behind, could make love on the sly like teenagers.
But Barrett was separated from Laura Anne and the children for over three months. With his family returned to Deacon Beach, the Bear now found himself alone and slipping—at work. With colleagues. Colleagues might be stretching it. Bear was the only African American in the Second District field office; he wasn't sure in what regard he was held by the Caucasians who were nominally his peers and associates.
Raines vacillated in his new isolation between an empty house and the No-Tell jughouse in cycles which a year ago would not have seemed possible. Without Laura Anne and distant from his boys, Barrett Raines was a man without anchor. He just quit caring and when you quit caring, you quit working. It's okay, in the law enforcement canon, to piss away your own career. But you never, ever, piss on a partner. Especially a man as good as Cricket Bonet.
Excerpted from Dead Man's Bay by Darryl Wimberley. Copyright © 2000 Darryl Wimberley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Spring Break,
2. The Summer Means Pun,
3. Hunting Season,
4. A Fall From Grace,
5. Disney World,
6. Fish or Cut Bait,
7. Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay,
8. A Fisher of Men,
9. Blood and Water,
10. Mrs. Brown, You'Ve Got a Lovely Daughter,
11. The Outsider,
12. Hero's Welcome,
15. Ashes to Ashes,
16. Conditions Minimal,
18. Madame Butterfly,
20. Homeward Bound,
21. Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,