About the Author
Hometown:Coral Gables, Florida
Date of Birth:January 27, 1958
Place of Birth:Waukegan, Illinois
Education:B.A. with High Honors, University of Florida, 1980; J.D. with Honors, University of Florida, 1982
Read an Excerpt
Got the Look LP
By James Grippando
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 James Grippando
All right reserved.
The sun never shines beneath the Devil's Ear.
FBI Special Agent Andie Henning must have heard that warning a dozen times on her way to Ginnie Springs, Florida. The Devil's Ear was one of the more spectacular openings to the watery underworld of the north Florida aquifer, a dark and dangerous limestone labyrinth of interconnecting caves and caverns that discharged 7.7 billion gallons of crystal clear drinking water every day.
"How much farther?" Andie shouted over the roar of the single outboard engine. The boat was at full throttle, throwing a V-shaped wake against the inky black riverbanks. The Santa Fe was a relatively shallow river, better suited to canoes and kayaks than to large motorboats. Only an experienced driver could head downstream at this speed, especially in the dead of night. Somewhere in the darkness were egrets and alligators, but at midnight the forest slept. The tall cypress trees were mere silhouettes, their moss-clad limbs barely visible against the starlit sky. A thin blanket of fog stretched across the river, waist deep to those onboard. The speedboat cut through it like a laser on cotton candy. Andie zipped up her FBI jacket, staving off the wind chill.
"About two more minutes," shouted the boat driver.
Andie checked her watch. She hoped they had two minutes.
The kidnapper's late-night call had confirmed the family's payment of a ransom, contrary to FBI advice. One million dollars in cash seemed like a lot of money to the average person, but it was hardly a hit to Drew Thornton, one of Ocala's richest horse breeders. The clipped phone message advised that Mrs. Thornton could be found beneath the Devil's Ear. It took only a minute to decipher what that meant. The sheriff's office deployed emergency/rescue divers immediately. Andie and two agents from the Jacksonville field office went with them. They were part of the FBI team assigned to the Thornton case, and Andie was the only negotiator staying on-site in Ocala throughout the three-week ordeal.
The engine went quiet, the anchor dropped overboard, and the boat came to a stop. Immediately, the team moved into position.
"Bottoms up!" shouted the rescue team leader.
Three scuba divers splashed into the river. With the flip of a switch, handheld dive lights turned the black water into a clear, glistening pool. The driver of the boat was Sheriff Buddy McClean, a bulky man in his fifties. He and a deputy remained onboard with Andie and the two FBI tech agents. The deputy controlled the lifeline, a long synthetic rope that tethered each diver to the boat. It was their road map back from the cave network. One of the techies helped feed a transmission wire as the divers descended with an underwater video camera. The other agent fiddled with the monitor, trying to bring up an image.
Hundreds of air bubbles boiled to the surface. The lights grew dim beneath the boat, and suddenly the river returned to black. It was as if someone had pulled the geologic plug, but the monitor screen glowing brightly in the darkness told a different story.
"There it is," said Sheriff McClean. "Devil's Ear."
Andie checked the monitor. The lights and underwater camera allowed her to see exactly what the divers saw. The team was inside the cavern, somewhere below the riverbed. Andie asked, "How well do your divers know these caves, Sheriff?"
"All too well," said McClean. "Since I first swam here as a teenager, there's been over three hundred scuba divers gone down in Florida's caves and never come up. Devil's Ear has claimed its fair share of unwilling souls. Pulled two out myself in my younger days."
"What's the chances Mrs. Thornton's actually alive?" asked the deputy.
Andie didn't answer right away. "We've had cases where kidnap victims were buried alive and came out okay."
"Yeah, but underwater?"
"Can't say that I've heard of it," she said. "But there's a first time for everything."
There was silence onboard, as if they all feared that this was more likely to be the recovery of a body than the rescue of a victim. But that didn't mean they'd given up hope.
What if she is alive? thought Andie. Did that poor woman have any idea where she was? Somewhere beneath this black riverbed, beneath God only knew how many feet of sand and solid limestone, lay a living, breathing wife and mother. Perhaps she was trapped in some pressurized tank or capsule, a dark and silent cocoon, enough air for an hour or two. Or worse, maybe her kidnapper had turned her loose down there with nothing but a mask, tank, and regulator. Either way, she'd be in total darkness, unable to find -- no, feel -- her way out of this aquatic honeycomb. Perhaps she could hear or possibly even feel the strong currents rushing past her, cool springwater flowing as fast as a hundred cubic feet per second. She might decide to go with the flow, or try to fight it, no way of knowing which way was up. Jagged rocks could cut like knives. A sudden change in ceiling height could damage her breathing equipment or knock her unconscious. But not even in her most harrowing moment of panic could she even begin to imagine that some of these cave systems stretched as long as seventeen miles, that she could be carried hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface, that the average liter of drinking water drawn from Florida's aquifer percolated and circulated around and around for twenty years before reaching the surface.
Unconscious, thought Andie. Alive but unconscious. That was by far the best-case scenario.
"Where are they now?" asked Andie.
Sheriff McClean took a closer look at the screen. The divers had long since passed the point where it mattered if it was night or day. "I'd say about two hundred feet into the cave."
"How can you tell?"
Excerpted from Got the Look LP by James Grippando Copyright © 2005 by James Grippando. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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