Cover image for Shadow men
Title:
Shadow men
Author:
King, Jonathon.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Grand Haven, MI : Brilliance Audio, [2004]

℗2004
Physical Description:
7 audio discs (approximately 7 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Unabridged.

Compact disc.
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9781593553081
Format :
Audiobook on CD

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Summary

Summary

It begins with an 80-year-old mystery. Three men - a father and his two sons - vanished while working as laborers on a dangerous project to build the first road through the Florida Everglades. Now, years later, a series of letters are unexpectedly discovered by a descendent of these men. Driven by the need to know what happened to these lost members of the family, he starts asking questions - and is quickly stonewalled. With nowhere else to turn, he enlists the help of former Philadelphia police officer Max Freeman. Living in his isolated shack in the Glades, Max starts his longshot investigation into the fate of the men. A newly minted private investigator working with his friend and attorney, Billy Manchester, Max is surprised to meet resistance immediately at every turn. The search for the truth quickly turns violent - and Max finds he has more to worry about than just 80-year-old ghosts. For there are powerful interests that want to make sure that the shadows of the past remain undisturbed - including some who will kill to make sure they do.


Author Notes

Author and journalist Jonathon King began his journalism career at the Philadelphia Daily News. During his career he has covered the crime and criminal courts beat and currently works for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as a news feature writer. He writes the Max Freeman series and his debut novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

(Bowker Author Biography) Jonathan King, a journalist for twenty years, began his career at the Philadelphia Daily News. He has covered crime and criminal courts and is now a news feature writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Welcome to Max Freeman's world. It centers on an abandoned research shack on a river at the edge of the Florida Everglades. It's lit by an oil lamp. The furniture? A couple chairs, a table, and a bunk bed, the top bunk of which is loaded with travel and history books. Freeman, introduced in the Edgar-winning Blue Edge of Midnight (2002) and met again in A Visible Darkness BKL F 1 03, may be the most thoughtful, well-read, and multilayered private-eye hero since Spenser. He's an ex-cop from Philadelphia with a history that keeps him holed up in the wilds, venturing forth only to do investigations for an old friend, an attorney. The third Freeman novel gets its unlikely impetus from a discovery in an antique hope chest, letters from a worker on the Tamiami Trail, a road project through the Everglades undertaken 80 years ago. The letters detail the brutal conditions under which the men and boys worked. The disappearance of the letter-writer and his two sons points to a triple homicide in 1923. (The stunning first chapter showing the three men being hunted down on the river ranks among the most frightening in crime fiction.) Freeman's investigation quickly moves from history to present threat, as he discovers that any number of people want what happened on the road project to remain buried. Haunting and evocative. --Connie Fletcher Copyright 2004 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Though moody ex-Philadelphia cop Max Freeman has found a measure of peace in life, he faces some of the same challenges in King's third stellar outing as he did in last year's Visible Darkness. Government types are still trying to evict him from his Everglades hideaway, his love life is tenuous and friend/attorney Billy Manchester has once again piqued his interest with a case. Max, now a fully licensed PI in Florida, agrees to look into the disappearance of a father and two sons who signed on for three weeks of work on the Tamiami Trail 80 years earlier and never made it home. Built across the Everglades, the trail is the stuff of legend, filled with murky water and murkier deeds, snakes and gators and untimely death. The case, of course, is more complicated than it seems, with corporate intrigue, intimidation and the sins of fathers raining unmercifully down on their sons. As usual, Max is aided by a lively cast of characters, including the mysterious Nate Brown, whose knowledge of the Glades and its secrets is part of his being. King strikes a deft balance between his extraordinary South Florida setting and an engrossing tale of inhumanity and greed. This fine novel resonates with the atmosphere and immediacy of the Everglades, as well as with Max's struggle to define himself in an often hostile world. (On sale Mar. 29) Forecast: Blurbs from Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben and the continuing popularity of Florida as a crime locale should ensure a place on genre bestseller lists. King's debut, The Blue Edge of Midnight (2002), won an Edgar Award. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Edgar Award-winning King has returned with his protagonist Max Freeman in another compelling and mysterious adventure. Former Philadelphia cop Max is now a private investigator in Florida, and his latest case has deep roots in the Florida Everglades. In the early 1920s, a father and his two sons vanished while working on the creation of the Tamiami Trail (it's now the stretch of road that connects Miami and Tampa). The only trace of the men is the newly discovered set of letters that the men had sent to their family. While taking on this new case, Max finds himself surrounded by intrigue, violence, and sophisticated tracking devices. David Colacci does a skillful job narrating and embodying most of the characters; while his portrayal of Max's stuttering colleague is well done, the Spanish accent he lends to several Hispanic youth borders on stereotype. Recommended, particularly for public libraries with large audiobook and/or mystery collections.-Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ. Lib., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

They picked a moonlit night to make their escape because it was the only way. And now it was killing them. The first shot sizzled through the humid air as if it were underwater, and he heard it a millisecond before it found the muscled flesh of his sonís shoulder blade and made the ugly sound of a wet, dull punch. The boy gasped and stumbled, and his father caught him under the arm before he went down. ìPapa?î his other son said from a few steps ahead, the fear in his young voice like an uncharacteristic cry. The father could see the pale glow of the younger boyís face in the moonlight and the outline of his body against the sky above the horizon, and he realized he had made targets of his sons. ìDown, Steven!î he called out. ìDown in the ditch!î All three scrambled off the piled hump of Everglades muck and limestone marl and slid down the embankment to the edge of the water below. Two of them were breathing hard; the third was bubbling wet air and blood through the new hole in his lung. They did not need to speak. They had known instantly from the sound of the report who was hunting them, and they knew the odds of surviving. ìRobert?î the father whispered, holding his seventeen- year-old son to him, now pressing his hand over the exit wound in the boyís chest to stop the ragged sound of death coming through his sweat-soaked shirt. ìOh, God, Robert, forgive me for what I have brought you to.î The other boy moved across the dirt to them, his face so close he could feel his fatherís breath on his cheek. ìPapa? Is Robert OK, Papa?î he said, and the father could feel the tears in his sonís voice but could not answer. He had never lied to his children, and he did not want to break that vow this close to the end. The father looked up to the high edge of the earthen berm they had all helped build, the foundation of the road they had all worked to create. Beyond it was a canvas of stars that had stunned them their first few nights out here in the wild Glades and then comforted them for weeks with a seeming physical closeness to God himself. But the clear crescent moon had betrayed them. The elevated roadbed was the only way back through the swamp to civilization. On a cloud- locked night it would have melded into the darkness and been impossible to follow to freedom. So they picked this night, planning to use the glint of moonlight on the canal water to guide them and the ribbon of black dirt to walk upon. ìWe need to move, now, Steven,î the father said. ìAcross the water. You are the strongest swimmer. Take your brotherís good arm and I will get his belt and we will sidestroke together. If we can get to the mangroves on the other side, God will give us cover.î He could feel his sonís head nod. He was the determined one, the one who thought all things possible, the one with the optimism and strength of youth. He would believe. The father took his shirt off, knotted it in the middle and put the lump of fabric over his sonís exit wound, then tied the ends over the entrance hole on the boyís back. His own tears were running now. ìGet ready, Steven, we have to move quietly,î the father said, and then hesitated once more, feeling in his pocket for the gold watch of his own father and then slipping the thick disk deep down into his leather boot, hoping it might be protected there from the water. They slipped into the warm water and pushed slowly out. The satchels they carried floated at first. Their underwater strokes were both smooth and strong despite the load of the older boyís weight. They caught a rhythm and began to make progress. The second shot was from closer range and it tore through the fatherís satchel, causing the bundle to bob in the water. The marksman had mistaken it. They were more than halfway across, and as the other boy stroked harder, the father kicked stronger. In seconds their boots touched mud. The fatherís next stroke touched the slick root of a mangrove. The boy let go with a soft exultation, ìWe made it, Papa!î and the third shot entered the back of his neck and opened a gaping wet hole in his throat that yawned like the ragged mouth of the devil himself. The father looked back once and saw the outline of the rifleman and the tilt of his hat against the stars. He was standing in the bow of the shallow Glades skiff heíd always used for hunting. He had tracked them by water, letting his low angle paint their moving bodies against the sky, just as his was now. When he heard the familiar clack of the big Winchesterís lever action, the father wrapped his arms around his boys in a final act of protection, whispering a prayer in their ears and refusing to believe he had seen the eyes of his killer glow red under the brim of his hat. CHAPTER 1 I was sitting in a chaise longue on the patio of Billy Manchesterís penthouse apartment. The multihued blue of the Atlantic lay out before me. Close to shore its color today was a green-tinted turquoise, then the darker blues at the reef lines and then an almost steel blue out to the horizon. From this height the layers were sharply bordered, and the smell of the salt still carried up on the southeastern breeze. ìThis is really eighty years old?î I should have known better. Never question Billy after he has presented you with something as fact, unless you crave silence from the man. ìI mean, itís interesting stuff, but isnít it kind of incredible that no oneís seen it since, what, 1923?î I said, trying to redeem myself. ìMayes said no one had ever opened his great-grandmotherís hope chest. He said he wasnít even sure anyone in the family even knew it existed,î Billy answered from inside the apartment, on the other side of the threshold to his sliding glass doors. In my hand was a computer printout of what Billy called the last letter. Mark Mayes, a college student in Atlanta, had sent it to Billy with an inquiry asking him for representation in a legal action based on a handful of originals. Mayes had found them, yellowed and nearly dried to crumbling in his great-grandmotherís attic in the family home. With great care he had unfolded each letter and read it. When he was done he had a new and profound respect for his long-dead great-grandfather and the two uncles he had rarely heard mentioned. He was also convinced that they had perished in the Everglades in the summer of 1923 while working for a private company trying to build the first highway across the great swamp. It wasnít a lark. The kid had offered up a small family inheritance to pay Billyís retainer. This had all been explained to me during my first two beers from Billyís refrigerator. I suspected my friend and attorney was loosening me up. ìAnother R-Rolling R-Rock?î Billy said, stepping out onto the patio with a sweating green bottle in hand. ìSo you went and took a look at the originals,î I started, but caught myself, ìand theyíre convincing. I mean, thereís no way to fake something like this?î I reached out and accepted the beer, smiling. Billy only raised his eyebrows. ìI stopped at M-Mr. Mayesís family home while v-visiting an acquaintance in Atlanta,î Billy said. ìHeís a difficult young m-man to d-disbelieve, Max. And although Iím n-no expert, if these are f-fakes, he went to a lot of t-trouble preparing them.î Billyís stutter flowed through my ears now with only the most subtle recognition. It was something Iíd gotten used to. Billy is a stress stutterer. His speech is flawless when he talks to you over the phone or even from the other side of a wall. But face-to-face, even among friends, his words jam up behind his teeth, always left behind and trying to keep up with his brilliant mind. ìThe original sc-script is very faded. But the d-dates are compatible. The building of the Tamiami Trail had b-been off and on b-but wasnít completed until 1926.î Billy sat down in the chaise next to mine. He was wearing a pair of shorts and a silk shirt of some expensive designer brand. He stretched out his trim legs and crossed his ankles. His chocolate-colored skin was smooth and tight, and his profile was equal to any GQ model or film actor as he looked out onto the horizon. ìNow, whether his c-conjecture about the f-fate of his relatives is correct, will t-take us time to investigate,î he said. I stopped tipping my bottle just at that point where the first swallow is down your throat and you are breaking the bubble for the next. ìUs?î I said, separating the bottle from my lips by only inches. The twitch of a grin started at one corner of his mouth, but Billyís eyes did not leave the sea. I was driving into the sun, leaving the coast behind, all the noise and heat, traffic and clutter, convenience and luxury that it inevitably drew. After a relatively short commute on the seventy-mile-an-hour bumper-car ride called I-95, I headed west on a two-lane asphalt road and then turned into the entrance to the state park. I pulled my pickup truck into a designated visitorís spot and clipped my officially purchased parking pass on the rearview mirror. It took me three trips to carry my supplies across the crushed- shell parking lot to my canoe, which was flipped under a group of sand pines near the boat ramp to the river. On each trip across the lot I cut my eyes to the front door of the park rangerís station. I could detect no movement behind the windows, although the rangerís Boston Whaler was tied up at the dock and I knew he was still on duty. More than three years ago I had walked away from a ten- year career as a cop on the streets of Philadelphia. In a shootout during a cheap Center City stickup, I had killed a child. The fact that I had taken a round in the neck and that the kid had been a tagalong with the stickup man made the shooting team rule the death as ìjustified.î But I could never find a place for that term in my own head. I took a disability payout and moved here, to a place completely different from the city where Iíd been born and raised. It did not take me long to realize that sometimes itís more what you bring with you than what you leave behind. I also found out that what I had brought was not welcome. I locked the truck, and with my supplies of canned food, some extra water and Billyís new reading material secured in the bow, I pushed my boat off onto the dark water of the river. Without looking back I took three strong strokes to gain momentum and began gliding farther west. In minutes I was into a rhythm, reaching out with the paddle, digging into a purchase of water and pulling long strokes, then following through with a subtle feathering of the blade that sent a small funnel trailing behind. The river is wide here, bordered by rimrock forests of slash pine. Farther west the water narrows and the land flattens into a low collection of mangroves spiked with an occasional bald cypress. The late afternoon sun had already begun to spin the clouds with pale streaks of pink and orange, and the air was losing its scent of salt as the mix of ocean water was overwhelmed by fresh spilloff from the Everglades. Two miles in, the banks narrowed again and I slowed my pace and eased into the tunneled canopy of the upper river. I stopped stroking and let the canoe drift into the shadowed silence. Here the deep green of oak, red maple and pond apple trees dominated, and when the water is high the place seems more like a flooded forest than like a river. A traveler learns to read the currents and flow in order to follow the natural trench, but I have paddled the riverís length in both moonlight and spackled daylight so many times, I know every turn by rote. In the deep shade the temperature dropped several degrees and I stripped off my sweat-soaked T-shirt and pulled a long-sleeved version from my bag. With my arms up and elbows wrapped in the material I stopped at the sight of a great blue heron standing on a moss bank only twenty feet away. The bird was nearly four feet tall, with a third of its length in the S-curve of its neck. He stared at me with one angry yellow eye, and I stared back. The instant I pulled the shirt down over my face the animal squawked once, and by the time my head popped through the collar he had already taken flight, his long, crooked wings flapping elegantly through the tunnel of foliage and out toward open sunlight. I was now working south against a light current, and about a mile in, I came to the two tall, gnarled oaks that marked the entrance to my shack. The shallow water trail behind them was obscured by an overgrowth of filigreed maidenhair ferns. Thirty yards back from the river I stroked up to my small dock, looped a line over a four-by-four piling and climbed out. I bent and checked the first three steps leading up the staircase to the stilted cabin. Out here there was always a film of moisture on any flat surface. Had anyone used the stairway, they would have left a print. I donít get many visitors, and those I do get, I donít like unannounced. The steps were untouched, and I shouldered the first load of supplies and went up to the single room I called home. The shack dated back to the 1930s, when a rich northerner built it as a hunting lodge. It was later abandoned for several years and then reopened as a research station for biologists studying the water flow and animal life on the edge of the Glades. Billy had somehow picked up the lease from one of his innumerable contacts and offered it to me when I first came to South Florida. Most of the place was constructed of Dade County pine, possibly the densest, toughest wood in nature. Legend has it that frontiersmen in Miami had to cut and nail the wood while it was still green because it was impenetrable after it dried. A row of cabinets hanging on one wall may have dated back to the original owner. Windows are centered in all four walls, and the high ceiling is shaped like a pyramid with a cupola at the apex, which lets the warm air rise and escape while drawing cool air up from the shade below. I started a pot of coffee on the shackís single-burner propane stove. There was also an ancient potbellied stove in one corner, but stoking it took time and I do not do well waiting on coffee. While it was brewing I put away supplies, then put my clean clothes in the old oak armoires that lined one wall, and added two new books to the stacks on the top mattress of the bunk bed. It was an odd collection that included new and old Florida history, travel books that Iíd read and reread while waiting out the rain as a bored cop on night patrol, and some Southern literature, including a masterpiece by an old Philadelphia Daily News columnist that I always carried with me. The only other pieces of furniture were the two straight-backed wooden chairs and an enormous slab of butcher-blocked mahogany that served as a table. By the time the coffee was ready only a weak light was leaking through the western window. I poured a cup, lit the clear glass oil lamp and set both on the table. I picked up the sheaf of transcribed letters that Billy had given me, and in the silence of my own corner of the Glades began to reread the sketchy account of Cyrus Mayes, an out-of-work schoolteacher whose eighty-year-old story had set a rough stone of unknown truth rolling in my head. My familiar but often unhealthy grinding had begun. My Darling Eleanor, Forgive me for my past letters if they have caused you distress or undue worry for us. This time I send you good news. After our long and fitful train journey we arrived at the port of Tampa. It was my hope that here the boys and I would find work, at least on the docks as we are strong and physically able and eager. Alas, we find that here too is a crush of laborers in our same predicament. By gathering with a common group of men at daybreak, Steven and Robert or I have been picked for a single dayís work, but it is not enough to sustain us or gain on our economic station. We were on our final dollars of savings when Godís face shone on us this day. At the gathering, a foreman who seemed to be careful in his selections singled all three of us out to join another twenty men. We were loaded into trucks and our future labors explained. The foremen offered us all two months of steady work for the Noren company on a road building project to the South. We will be given room and board and $75 a week each. The project is some distance away, but we are promised to return in eight weeks or to sign on for additional time if we wish. We shall be leaving at dawn tomorrow my darling, and in my heart I believe this is our chance to gain the capital we need to start a new life for us all. I have used some precious few cents to secure stationery and postage, but I do not know when I might have the chance to write again. Steven and Robert send their love and know that we think of you and young Peter always. Join us in prayer that this new opportunity will bring us our dreams. Your loving husband, Cyrus I got up and refilled my cup. Billy, in his role as my personal Florida historian, had told me of the back-busting efforts of men and machines to build a road across the southern Everglades. In the first two decades of the 1900s, Miami had become a thriving frontier city. Real estate, tourism, trade with Havana and the constant import of money from the Northeast on the new rail lines to New York had given the miracle city a growing reputation. Entrepreneurs on the west coast of Florida were jealous. They wanted a piece of the action, and a few were convinced that a road connecting Tampa and Miami would be the golden pipeline. Mayesís following letters were only a glimpse of how the plans of businessmen had underestimated the Everglades. In long dispatches written at night by candle or lamplight, Mayes described how he and his teenage sons had been taken by boat to Everglades City, a fishing village that had become the supply depot for the road project. From there the men were taken several miles out into the swamp along a crude earthen berm to the worksite. At the end of the line was the monstrous Moneghan dredge, manned and serviced by the laborers. The dredge was an ever-moving, forty-thousand- pound beast sent to dig into the muck and water and tangle of wild jungle that was the Glades. The men cleared the way and the dredge scooped up a deep canal of earth and crushed limestone and piled it onto the ever-lengthening berm that would become the future roadbed. ìIt is a horrific and awesome machine,î Mayes wrote. ìAs it digs, its power rattles the very ground for fifty yards in all directions, shaking the world like a mass of jelly.î The workers lived at the work site, sleeping in wooden barracks, and Mayesís first letter from the camp listed the new and exotic dangers. ìAt night when the dredge goes silent, the snakes come out from their hiding. Just last night Robert pounded some unknown species to death with his boot heel after finding it in his bedding.î A man called Jefferson was mentioned as the designated sharpshooter, assigned to kill any of ìthe numerous alligators that creep in while we are in the water trying to move and secure the machinery.î In their first two weeks Mayes reported witnessing the death of two workers. One fell from the high dredge rigging and into ìa mass of watery muck which quickly sucked him into the earth before any of us could reach him. No attempt was made by the foremen to recover his body and we do not know if the incident was even recorded.î The second death was the result of a dynamite explosion, ìof which there are several each day to crumble the limestone bed below us for dredging.î ìWe learned early to constantly be attuned to the call of ëfire in the hole.í Yet, some oblivious crewman was at work too near when the blast ripped his arm away from his body. Despite our efforts to retrieve him and the crew doctorís attempts, the blood ran from the poor man until he expired.î Mayes wrote that the manís wrapped corpse was loaded onto the cart that delivered the very dynamite that killed him and sent on the trip back to Everglades City. It was by this same means that Mayes had been able to surreptitiously send out his letters. Early on he ìbefriended the elderly Negro who regularly delivered the tons of explosives to the camp. I ascertained immediately his admiration for my fatherís pocket watch and though it was a heavy price to pay, my darling, he has promised that in exchange he will deliver my letters to the post office at Everglades City and we will so value the knowledge that you receive our love and news of our well being.î I got up from the table, poured the last of the coffee and stepped outside onto the small landing at the top of the stairs. Up through the trees I could see a quarter moon pinned to the sky like a pewter brooch, a film of cloud giving it a dull, unfocused shine. The backlit leaves were black, and below the treeline it was darker still. It had taken some time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness out here after a lifetime in the city, where one is never without some source of electric glow. But now I can pick up the glint of pale moonlight caught by the water below, make out varied shades of darkness, or distinguish a solid tree trunk from a thick stand of common fern. I have stood listening to the unique hum of night insects and the occasional movement of predators. At night I have paddled out into the endless acres of sawgrass and marsh of the flooded Everglades, where it is not unlike a trip to sea except that the thick heat is inescapable and the clouds of mosquitoes intolerable. In the 1920s, without the respite of cool, clean lodging or even a drop of cold water to drink, working in such conditions would quickly have grown exhausting. Was it enough to cause a mutiny of laborers like the Mayeses, despite their desperate need of work? Mayesís final letter raised too many possibilities and questions. My Dearest Eleanor, I do not wish to unduly alarm you my darling, but our situation here has become increasingly troubling. For now the boys and I are still in good health despite the hardships that I have written of earlier. Both Robert and Steven have in fact been my inspiration in all this, watching them outwork most of this crew and holding their deserved complaints for my ears only. Still, I sense both a fear in them and a rising anger. They are looking to me for answers and I too believe it has come time for drastic measures. By my own rude calculation we are now the furthest point into the swamp from civilization at either end of this planned roadway. Our supply depot at Everglades City must now be thirty miles behind us. It is an impossible trek on foot for a man without supplies in the God forsaken heat and the constant natural dangers that abound. Still, three more men in the crew left late last night after the foreman again refused them any aid in abandoning their work and their so-called legal contract. Steven has told me that the three had stolen fresh water bags and when he felt them raise the mosquito netting and heard them leave, he woke us and we lay listening for more than an hour. Then we heard Mr. Jeffersonís rifle, three separate reports, echoing from some distance to the west. The sound put the fear of God in us and we prayed quietly together. This morning when one of the crew asked Mr. Jefferson if he were out gator hunting again in the night the silent man only nodded his head under the brim of his hat and climbed back up to his lookout perch. Like the few discouraged but brave workmen who have left on their own previously, we know that we will not see the three from last night again and we pray that they returned safely to civilization and their families. I dream my darling wife, that these letters have reached your hand. We have been ten weeks now in this hell called the Everglades and we also dream that the wages that await us when our time here is done will give us all a way to the future. Our way is through perseverance, but I do not know how much more strength we have. Love from us all, Cyrus I went back inside the shack, turned out the lamp and peeled off my shirt. In the dark I lay in the bottom bunk, listening to the living Glades noises outside, staring into the blackness of the mattress above me and finding only my own visions of the glistening white yawn of poisonous snakes and the smell of sun-baked flesh. CHAPTER 2 The stinging odor in my nose woke me. Or the rising sound of someone calling my name. When I came partially awake I could hear ìMr. Freeman! Mr. Freeman!î being shouted from a distance, a panic building behind the words. When my eyes finally cleared, the sight of white smoke curling and thickening in the ceiling made the panic my own. My house was on fire. I rolled out of bed onto one knee and caught a lungful of the acrid smell and coughed it back out. A weak light was making it through the windows, along with the shouting and the sound of a man splashing. ìFreeman!î I crawled to the door, staying low, but glanced up in all four directions in search of flames. I pushed the door open and a wave of fresh air hit my face, which caused my mouth to involuntarily gasp open and my eyes to tear. Down in the canal, the park ranger was waist-deep in water. He was balancing a fire extinguisher on his shoulder with one hand and using the other to pull and stroke himself forward. ìFreeman! Are you OK?î I stood with help from the handrail and nodded. My lungs were stinging with each breath but the oxygen was clearing them. The ranger made the dock and hoisted himself up and started up the stairs. ìYou all right?î ìYeah,î I said. ìYeah.î The second word was clearer than the first. ìThe fireís on the backside, north corner,î he said, pushing my door open wide with his dripping boot. ìMaybe we can knock it down from the window ledges.î He pulled the pin on his boat extinguisher and then bent low and started in. I took as deep a breath as I could and followed. The ranger crab-walked across the room to the north window and I broke for the kitchen counter, where my own extinguisher was stored. The ranger had already figured out the inside latch system by the time I got to the east window. We pulled open the hinged mosquito screens and pushed our heads out. The flames were crawling up the sides of the shack in an odd wave of blue and orange. They licked up over the edge of the roof but there were no eaves in the design to stop them and let them gain heat. This was a good thing. I saw a billow of white chemical spray fan out from around the corner, then stepped one leg through the window and straddled the casement. I pulled the pin on my canister and let loose a shot of spray, aiming down at the base of the flames. The fire retreated but then stubbornly reignited. It looked as though the tall piling itself was on fire. I leaned farther out to get a better angle and squeezed off another blast. It may have been ten minutes, maybe thirty. The rangerís extinguisher ran dry before mine, but we had doused all the live flame we could see. When my can was empty, he helped me back in through the window and we both stumbled out the door and down the stairs. The wash of fresh air set us both coughing again, and when we reached the dock at the bottom the ranger sat with his feet in the water and retched between his knees. I lay down on the opposite side and cupped the river water in my hands and splashed it up into my face and eyes. It was several minutes before either of us could speak. ìYou OK, Freeman?î ìOK,î I said, realizing I had long forgotten the rangerís name. ìGriggs,î he said. ìDan Griggs.î ìThanks, Griggs.î The eastern sky was lightening, though the sun was still too low to break through the tree canopy. In time we both sat up, leaning our backs into opposite posts at the end of the dock. I finally took a solid look at the guy. He was a good ten years younger than me, lean with sandy blond hair and skin too fair for his job in the Florida sun. His ranger uniform was soaked up to a dark line across his chest. His leather boots were oozing mud. He was still wearing his belt with a knife scabbard and a flashlight holder. ìYou swim out here at dawn often?î He grinned and shook his head without looking up. ìIím usually on dawn patrol out on the main river,î he said. ìIíve seen white smoke rising from your stovepipe before, but when I saw it was black, I knew something was wrong and motored up here.î ìCouldnít get the Whaler in,î I stated. ìHad to tie her up and wade in. But I could see the flames even from deep water.î ìGuess I picked a bad morning to sleep in.î Griggs still hadnít looked up into my face. ìI figured you were here ícause I could see that your canoe was gone from the landing.î ìI appreciate you looking after me,î I said. ìThe whole place might have gone up if you hadnít been here.î This time Griggs did look over at me. The irony was not lost on him. Several months ago it was Griggs who had to serve papers from the state informing me that the Attorney Generalís Office was attempting to break the ninety-nine- year lease that Billy held on the old research shack. Until then Iíd been left alone and had even befriended the old, longtime ranger whom Griggs had replaced. But there had been a messy business. Blood had been spilled in these waters through a violence that didnít belong in this place. Many people blamed me, and it was a point of view I couldnít argue with. That was when the state began trying to toss me out. Billy had been fighting the eviction at my request, and he had kept them tied up in legal maneuvering ever since. ìI donít suppose you noticed any lightning while you were on dawn patrol?î I asked, finally making it to my feet and looking up under the base supports of the shack. ìNope. And Iím sure you can rule out faulty wiring.î He too had gotten to his feet. ìBut unless you reached out and doused the back wall with kerosene and lit the match yourself, Iíd say you got an enemy.î The ranger was pointing to a small slick of rainbow- colored water that seemed to float independently on the surface of my channel. Some sort of petroleum-based accelerant had spread into the water. ìWhoever they are, they donít know much about Dade County pine,î he said. ìItíd take a whole lot more heat than that to do anything more than just scorch that tough old wood.î While Griggs used my canoe to retrieve a camera from his Whaler, I went back inside. There had been no interior damage, and the smoke had mostly cleared, rising up through the ceiling cupola as the design had intended. Still, the place reeked of burnt oil and wood. I closed the screen frames and changed my clothes. I found my cell phone and started to call Billy, but put it off. I would need to stay at his place until the shack aired out, but the conversation I anticipated was better off held out of earshot of anyone else. I grabbed my still unpacked travel bag and rejoined Griggs below. In the canoe we took a circle around the base of the shack. The back wall and northeast support pillar were blackened, but there was no apparent structural damage. We pushed up next to the pillar, where I used a knife to dig out a scarred piece of wood and put it into a plastic bag. Griggs had been right about the arsonistís ignorance of the pineís resistance, unless his intent was to be more psychologically than physically destructive. Maybe someone was more interested in scaring me out than burning me up. When we finished gawking, we returned to the rangerís boat and tied a line to the canoe for towing. Griggs motored slowly down the narrow upper river, the sound of his engine sending most of the river animals I would normally see this early in the day into hiding. But just as he cleared the canopy and pushed the throttle up, I caught a glimpse of the long lazy wings of a blue heron, its yellow, sticklike legs not yet folded from its takeoff. I watched it keep time with us, then circle back toward the west and finally disappear into the distance. Excerpted from Shadow Men by Jonathon King All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.