Haunted
An Excerpt From
Haunted
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by Randy Wayne White

. . . and behold a pale horse: and him that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

— Revelation 6:8




As a descendent of fallen angels, I cannot blame Darwin or the apes.

— S. M. Tomlinson




This world is painted on a wild dark metal.

—Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country



Sanibel and Captiva Islands are real places, faithfully described, but used fictitiously in this novel. The same is true of certain businesses, marinas, churches, and other locations mentioned in this book, including Babcock Ranch in South Florida. Hannah and Sarah Smith are iconic figures in Florida’s history and did exist. However, their relationship to characters in this novel are the author’s invention and purely fictional.

In all other respects, however, this novel is a work of fiction. Names (unless used by permission), characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is unintentional and coincidental.

Contact Mr. White at www.docford.com or Facebook at Randy Wayne White


AUTHOR’S NOTE


As always, this novel required research in various fields and disciplines. Before thanking those who kindly provided assistance, note that all errors, exaggerations, or misstatements should be blamed on the author or the exigencies of fiction. Boca Grande artist Shirley Cassady Goodwin provided inspiration daily via her watercolor interpretations of Florida. Mr. Steve Smith and the crew at Babcock Ranch of South Florida helped enormously by allowing me to observe and participate in igniting palmetto fields during a controlled burn—hazard reduction burning, as the technique is known. The Babcock folks were also very generous in sharing their expertise.

Florida’s role in the American Civil War has too often been overlooked or trivialized by historians, but not all. While researching Haunted, I read several credible books on the subject, as well as diaries and papers made available through the National Archives.


Thanks to the generosity of a personal source, I was also lucky enough to have access to logs and records of an organization that was active during that time period. In this novel, many liberties have been taken with historical fact, but it is my hope that Capt. Ben Summerlin’s journal is accurate in tone, at least, and possibly hints at truths that, as of now, are unknown.

Over many years, encouragement was provided by my Iowa friends and teachers, Coach Bill and Sherry Freese, and Bill and Helen Wundrum. Also supportive were Mrs. Iris Tanner, the author’s friend and guardian angel; my wife, Wendy Webb; my partners and pals, Mark Marinello, Marty and Brenda Harrity; my teammates Stu Johnson, Bill Lee, Gary Terwilliger, Don Carman, Judd Park Miller, and Victor Candelaria; and former classmates Barry and Cathy Rubel, Gloria Osborne, Norm Fiser, Bob Repp, Marv Esterline, Alan King, Kris Clark, Jackie Ray, Deb Votaw, Shirley Sharon Martin, Cheryl Moore, John Haines, Lon Hersha, Mike Gallutia, Ed Ott, Daryl Franz, Daryl Long, Steve Joyce, Chester Rutludge, Chuck Carter, Keith Hess, Cheryl Hitchcock, Stella Hinkle, Becky Durey Walls, Janet Dohm, Ron Collie. Once again, I owe thanks to Dr. Marybeth B. Saunders, Dr. Peggy C. Kalkounos, and Dr. Brian Hummel for providing expert medical advice. Special thanks to Capt. Bill Bishop and Luciana Bishop Carbone, true Florida voices, and also to Brother Don Hensiak, Donald Wayne Hensiak, Joey Ann Kempson, Maggie Farley Bradfield, lovely Marla J. Martin, Ton Braciszewski, Kirsten Dickerson and Shane Traugott and Eric Pritzi.

At the Rum Bar on San Carlos Island, Fort Myers Beach, thanks go to Dan Howes, Andrea Aguayo, Corey Allen, Nora Billeimer, Tiffany Forehand, Jessica Foster, Amanda Ganong, Nicole Hinchcliffe, Mathew Johnson, Janell Jambon, C. J. Lawerence, Josie Lombardo, Meredith Martin, Sue Mora, Kerra Pike, Michael Scopel, Heidi Stacy, Danielle Straub, Latoya Trotta, Lee Washington, Katlin Whitaker, Kevin Boyce, Keil Fuller, Ali Pereira, Kevin Tully, Molly Brewer, Jessica Wozniak, Emily Heath, Nicole English, Ryan Cook, Drew Fensake, Ramon Reyes, Justin Voskuhl, Anthony Howes, Louis Pignatello, and John Goetz.

At Doc Ford’s on Captiva Island: Lovely Julie, Capt. Mario, Steve, Dominic, Nick, Clark Kent Hill, Kristin and lovely Adalynn Hill, Chef Greg Nelson, Chef James King, Alexis Marcinkowski, Amy Charron, Cheryl Erickson, Erica Debacker, Heather Walk, Holly Emmons, Isabel Garcia, Julie Grzeszak, Karen Bove, Larissa Holmes, Matt Ginn, Sarah Ginn, Shelbi Muske, Nick Hopkins,Thayne Fugal, Jon Calupca, Alexa Mozes, Hope McNulty, Ashley Foster, Chad Chupurdia, Daniel Flint, Dominic Cervio, Stephen Day and Greg Barker.

Finally, I would like to thank my two sons, Rogan and Lee White, for helping me finish, yet again, another book.


—Randy Wayne White

Telegraph River Gun Club

Babcock Ranch


1


In Florida, hundred-year-old houses have solid walls, so I guessed wrong when I heard my friend Birdy Tupplemeyer make a bleating noise downstairs. I figured she’d snuck a man into her room, which was unfair of me, even though Birdy admits to being free-minded when it comes to romance.

On windy October nights my imagination prefers love to spiders, I guess. That is my only excuse.

I was in a hammock on the second floor in what had once been a music room. Birdy, who lacks camping experience, had chosen a downstairs room for her air mattress because it was closer to the front door.

“I’d have to hang off the balcony to pee,” she had reasoned, which made sense even before the wind freshened and the moon rose. The house was abandoned; no electricity or water, and the spiral staircase was in bad shape. I myself, after too much tea by the fire, was debating whether to risk the balcony or those wobbly steps when, through the floor, I heard a thump, another thump, and then a mewling wail that reminded me of a cat that had found companionship.

She’s with that archaeologist, I thought, and buried my face in a pillow, but not my ears—a guilty device. My curiosity has always had an indecent streak. I also had a reason. That afternoon we had met Dr. Theo Ivanhoff, an assistant professor with shaggy black hair: late twenties, khakis low on his skinny hips and wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap. He was on the property mapping artifacts from a Civil War battle that had taken place before the house was built. Theo had struck me as an aloof know-it-all and a tad strange, but it had been a month since Birdy’s last date so her standards had loosened. Later, by the campfire, the two of us sitting with tea and marshmallows, she had shared some bawdy remarks including “hung like a sash weight” and “Professor Boy Toy,” referring to a man only a few years younger than us.

Naturally, I felt supportive of my friend, not alarmed. Until I heard: “My god . . . what is that?” which could have meant any number of things.

Guilt battled my curiosity. I turned an ear to the floor just to be on the safe side. Then shattering glass and a shattering scream tumbled me out of the hammock and I was on my knees, feeling around for a flashlight that had tumbled with me.

Birdy’s voice again, more piercing: “Bastard . . . get off.”

Panic, not passion. I ran for the stairs. Thank heavens I was barefoot, so I knew it was a flashlight I kicked it across the room. Bending to grab the thing, I clunked my head, then stubbed my toe going out the door. In the hall, the flashlight’s white beam bounced among cobwebs and a dusty piano while Birdy screamed my name.

“Hannah . . .”

I hollered back, “I’ve got a gun!” which was true, but the gun was locked in my SUV, not in my hand. Then I put too much weight on the banister as I catapulted down the stairs—a brittle pop; the banister fell. I spiraled down a few steps on my butt, caught myself, then raced the banister to the bottom. The banister won. I shoved it aside and was soon standing outside Birdy’s door, which was locked. That scared me even more.

I yelled, “Birdy . . .?” and pounded.

“Get in here!”

“Open the door.”

“It’s jammed! Oh . . shit, Hannah, hurry.”

I wrenched the knob and used my shoulder. The door gave way on the second try and I fell into the room, which was dark but for moonlight reflecting off broken glass on the floor. I got to my feet and, once again, had to hunt for the flashlight. My friend, dressed in T-shirt and shorts, had her back to me and was dancing around as if fighting cobwebs or in the midst of a seizure. “Get it off, get it off!” she yelled, then winced when she turned, blinded by my arrival.

I lowered the flashlight, relieved. I’d feared an attacker, but she was alone. I rushed across the room and put a hand on Birdy’s arm to stop her contortions. “Hold still,” I had to tell her twice while I scanned her up and down. Finally I stepped back. “I don’t see anything.”

“It was in my hair.”

What?”

“How the hell should I know?” Birdy added some F-bombs and bowed her head for an inspection. I used my free hand, the light close, to comb through her thick ginger hair, which was darker at the roots, Birdy saying, “I was almost asleep when something landed on my face. Something with legs. It crawled up my forehead, then stung me on the neck—I’m sure there was more than one. I tried to run, but the damn door wouldn’t open.”

“Where on your neck?”

I moved the light, but Birdy hollered, “Finish with my hair first!” That told me the sting could wait.

“Probably a palmetto bug. They don’t sting, so you probably imagined that.”

“Imagined, my ass.” Birdy pulled her T-shirt up, ribs showing, a petite woman addicted to jogging who didn’t get much sun because of her freckles and red hair.

I checked her back and down her legs. “Where’s your flashlight?”

“Goddamn bugs on my face, I must of dropped it or something. I don’t know. I’d just found the switch when one bit the hell out of me. Anybody would have lost it after that.”

I said, “That explains the broken window.”

“What broken window?”

Birdy Tupplemeyer is a high-strung, energetic woman, but normally steady in her behavior, as you would expect of a deputy sheriff with two years’ experience. I had never seen her so upset. “You didn’t hear the glass break? You must have thrown that light pretty hard. I’m glad you weren’t waving your gun around when I
came through the door.”

I bent to check the back of her neck, but first took a look around the room seeing glass on the pine flooring, the shattered window, a moon-frosted oak tree outside, and my friend’s air mat- tress, a double-wide with cotton sheets, her overnight bag open in the corner, clothes folded atop it.

“My pistol’s under the pillow,” she countered. “Don’t worry about getting shot. Worry about the damn bugs—this freaking room is infested.” She shuddered and swore.

I pushed my flashlight into her hands. “I’m not a nurse. Check inside your own pants.”

Light in hand, Birdy pulled her shorts away from her hips, then disappeared down her baggy T-shirt, the shirt glowing like a tent until she reappeared. “For once, I’m glad to be flat-chested. Those sons of bitches sting. Here . . . look for yourself.”

She lifted her head, the light bright on a welt that was fiery red on her freckled throat. My heart had stopped pounding, but now I was concerned.

“Give me that,” I said, taking the light. “Does it hurt?”

“Burns like hell.”

“Is it throbbing?”

Birdy heard the change in my voice. “Do you think it was a spider? I hate spiders. Maybe I should go to the E-R. What time is it?”

“Stop squirming,” I said, but that’s exactly why I was concerned. I grew up camping, hiking, and fishing in the Florida backcountry with my late uncle, Capt. Jake Smith, who became a well-known guide after being shot and then retiring as a Tampa detective. More than once, Jake had told me, “People are the most dangerous animals on earth. Everything else, avoid it and it will avoid you.”

Jake’s long list included creatures that scare most newcomers and keep them snug and safe inside their condos: snakes, sharks, alligators, panthers—and poison spiders, too. The only dangerous spiders in Florida are black widows, brown widows, and, possibly, the brown recluse, although I have yet to see a recluse for myself. The widow spiders tend to be shy and seldom bite unless you mess with them or happen to slap at one in your sleep. I’ve seen many, often living in colonies on porches of people who have no idea they are there. Their spiky eggs sacs are unmistakable. Which is why, when camping, I prefer a screened hammock to a tent.

This was something I hadn’t explained to Birdy. She had grown up wealthy in a Boston suburb so was nervous from the start about sleeping in a house that had a dark history and was fifteen miles from the nearest town. Never mind that her Aunt Bunny Tupplemeyer, a Palm Beach socialite, had hired me to spend a night or two in the place and record the comings and goings of strangers. The woman’s reasons had to do with the million dollars she had invested in river frontage that included the old house—a house she wanted torn down. Birdy was along to keep me company and, as mentioned, was currently not dating, so had chosen adventure over depression rather than spend her Friday night off alone.

She started to panic again. “What if it was a poison spider? Shit, I should have slept in my car.” Being from Boston, she pronounced it kaahr. She checked the time. “It feels like midnight, but it’s not even nine-thirty. I know a woman doctor I can call—she’s a gyno, but, hell, I’ll just lie about where the damn thing bit me.”

I touched my finger to a speck of blood on her neck. “It’s a sting, not a bite, but you’ll be fine. A spider would have left two little fang marks. I’ve got some first-aid cream upstairs.”

Fangs? Jesus Christ, my Beamer, I should’ve crashed in the backseat. Those bastards are probably in my bed right now, screwing like rats and hatching babies. Smithie”—her nickname for me—“we can’t sleep here. My Aunt Bunny, that conniving bitch, is to blame for this.”

She was upset, so I discounted her words. “It was a wasp, most likely,” I said, and, for the first time, shined the light at the ceiling above the air mattress. Immediately, I pointed the light at the floor, but too late.

“Oh my god,” Birdy whispered, “what was that?”

She yanked the light from me. Plaster overhead had broken, showing rafters of hundred-year-old wood so dense with sap that they glowed where it had beaded. But there were also glowing silver eyes. Dozens of eyes attached to black armored bodies with claws and curled tails. They were scorpions, some four inches long. Stunned by the light, one fell with an air-mattress thump, righted itself, and scrabbled toward us over clean cotton sheets that were tasteful but not as practical as a sleeping bag.

Birdy screamed so didn’t hear me say, “It’s okay, this kind isn’t dangerous,” then nearly knocked me down running for the door.

 

2



My lineage includes many aunts and uncles, some noteworthy, most not, but I have yet to refer to a family member with the word Birdy used to blame her aunt for the presence of scorpions in Florida.

The word struck me as unreasonable. On the other hand, it also comforted me regarding my tolerance for a mother and at least one aunt—the third Hannah Smith in our family—whose behaviors have ranged from man-hungry to just plain crazy.

My mother, Loretta, and my late Aunt Hannah, being a mix of both.

It is true, however, that Mrs. Bunny Tupplemeyer, a Palm Beach widow, was the reason we were here.

Birdy, whose actual name is Liberty Grace, had invited me for a weekend at her aunt’s beach house, then a cocktail party at a penthouse apartment that was downtown, close to shopping, at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Worth. It was a tenth-floor saffron high-rise not far from the Kennedy compound, I was told. The Opry mansion, with its gate and carved marble fountain, was farther down the beach.

This was two weeks ago.

I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida but had never been in downtown Palm Beach. Condos and shops possessed a gilded indifference, the streets edged with royal palms from Prohibition days. Residential areas were screened by towering hedges and a muffled Rolls-Royce hush that warned of money and double standards.

“Relax,” Birdy kept telling me in the car. “Just be yourself. If the Great Dame starts interrogating you—and she will—just smile and compliment her jewelry. Or bring up astrology. She loves guessing people’s signs. While she’s boring you with that, signal the staff for another martini. Dame Bunny likes them icy cold.”

Dame Bunny, that’s how my friend referred to her wealthy, socialite aunt.

There was no need for me to relax because I wasn’t nervous. I’m a light tackle fishing guide who deals with wealthy clients day after day in a small skiff around Sanibel and Captiva Islands, although I live across the bay on the island of Gumbo Limbo. I’ve learned that the rich are no different than the rest of us when it comes tangling lines, or whoops of delight when a big fish jumps, or when their bladder demands a bucket and a moment of privacy.

Birdy was the nervous one, not me.

Odd, I thought. She had summered in Palm Beach as a girl and during college. Her mother, Candice, had been a Palm Beach debutant prior to graduating from Wellesley, then joined a commune near Aspen, which, I was told, had only solidified the family’s Palm Beach–Boston ties.

“To people with money, politics are more of a fashion statement,” Birdy had explained.

But when I’d spent some time with her Aunt Bunny, I understood why my friend was nervous. It was at the cocktail party. I had escaped to the balcony. An Italian banker, after backing me in a corner, had been a little too touchy-feely for comfort. My hostess noticed and followed me outside, a martini in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

“Tired of Victor, the sex-starved poodle?” she asked, sliding the door closed. Then looked me up and down, noting the simple gray shift I wore belted at the waist, my leather flats and a lavender scarf I had bought at Pulitzer’s just down the street. “With your legs,” she added, “I’m not surprised he’s sniffing around. But you could stand to lose a few pounds, darling.”

I ignored the insult out of respect for my drunken elders. “He said his name is Vittorio,” I replied. “I asked him to spell it because of his accent.”

“Made him spell it,” the woman repeated, fascinated I would bother.

“It’s a good way to remember names. He was polite enough, but I wanted see what the ocean looks like from out here. Very nice place you have, Mrs. Tupplemeyer.” On the Gulf Stream, miles away, tankers the size of buildings drifted, the sky blacker, it seemed, than a dark night on Sanibel.

The woman stood beside me at the marble rail and flicked ashes. “Smart girl.”

“Pardon me?”

“His wife was watching. She’s one drink away from making a scene. You’ve got enough size, I don’t think even Rita would try the slapping, hair-pulling thing. But who knows? She drinks absinthe, the real stuff, and sniffs cocaine to stay thin.” A pause. She blew smoke into the night and pivoted. “My niece says your family has quite a history in Florida. That you know people I wouldn’t know—locals.”

Hicks and rednecks is what she meant.

She continued, “She also told me you shot a man a year or so ago. Damn near killed him. Is that true?”

I pretended not to hear and asked about a bracelet on her wrist that glittered with scarlet stones.

“Don’t change the subject. Any woman who can pull the trigger, I find that damn impressive. But I’m unclear about exactly what it is you do. Are you a fishing guide or do you run a investigation agency?”

I said, “Both, ma’am, but mostly fishing. The shooting incident, I’d prefer not to discuss.” Then looked at the stars and commented, “I didn’t read my horoscope today. What about you?”

The woman fell for it, but only momentarily. “There’s an astrologician I use, she’s excellent. The summaries in newspapers are silly garbage. I have her card, if you want.”

Astrologician? The word had a scientific ring but sounded phony.

She continued, “Back to what I was saying . . . Liberty told me you were on a case when it happened. The shooting—a sexual predator or some such scum—that you shot him in the pelvis. Self-defense, so you weren’t prosecuted. In fact, you got some kind of award from the local police department. I admire a woman with that kind of spunk. I can think of a dozen men I’d love to shoot and that includes my late husband. Abe was his name. In my world, marrying a man for money doesn’t justify verbal abuse.”

She expected a reaction. I looked at the ocean instead.

“You used a pistol, according to Liberty. She said you had no choice. The man would’ve killed you. What I’m hoping is, you shot him in the pelvis because you were aiming at his balls. Am I right or am I right?”

I stepped back and said, “Good lord!”

The aging socialite, her chiffon gown of gold hanging from her shoulders, lowered her voice. “Honey, you can tell me anything. I’ve done things that would curl your hair. Why? Same as you. We’re both survivors.”

My ears were warming. I tried to hold it in but couldn’t quite manage. “I want to get up early to see the Flagler Museum, Mrs. Tupplemeyer. I think I should leave before you confess to any more crimes.”

“That offends you?” She put her hand on my back in a comforting way but also to guarantee I would listen a while longer. “It’s not like I asked if you were sleeping with my niece. I wish you were. But I happen to know she’s totally heterosexual.” The woman paused to smoke. “What about you?”

I created some space between us. “Are you about done asking nosy questions?”

No. Can it hurt so much to open up to an old woman? I’m interested. I don’t care if you’re gay or not. Trust me, I’ve had worse things than a firm young breast in my mouth. It’s a matter of personal taste, the way I see it.” She smiled, surprised by the double entendre. “By god, I ought to write that one down.”

“Why don’t you do that?”

“Don’t be snide. There’s a chance we can do business together and I have a particular job in mind. So I’m interested in who you are.”

She reminded me of Loretta, my manipulative mother. I settled down in a sullen way, doomed to participate. I said, “I was dating a marine biologist. We even talked about marriage, but he travels too much. Now I’m dating an airline pilot and an attorney—a special prosecutor—but just for something to do. I enjoy my women friends, but sharing a bathroom or a bed isn’t part of my makeup.”

“Good for you—I’d ride a bus before I’d share my bathroom. You say this biologist, he claims he travels too much?” The socialite’s raspy laugh chided What a bullshit excuse. “Good riddance to him, then. You’d be living in a condo that hosts happy hour and allows children. Liberty has god-awful taste in men, too. And, let’s be honest, neither one of you are beauty queens. Can you believe my airheaded sister named her that?”

I said, “Beg your pardon?”

“Her name, dear—Liberty Grace. It sounds like a slogan for herbal tea.” The woman turned to look through the glass, where, among chatty guests, two men in blazers had cornered Birdy, who was holding a drink and wearing a blue cocktail dress that brightened her ginger hair.

I said, “I think she’s cute. And she certainly has good taste in clothes.” Then took the offensive. “As names go, Bunny is a heck of a lot stranger than Liberty, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask. Or are you just being snotty?”

I replied, “I’m interested,” mimicking her.

The woman glared for an instant. Then a slow smile. “Yes . . . I can see you doing it—shooting a man right in the balls. Okay, then. Bunny is an old nickname. In Palm Beach, it’s a sign of acceptance, especially for a New Yorker named Eve Katz—that’s me. I got the name Bunny at boarding school”—her smile became sly—“because I enjoyed boys. You know, had fun hopping from one bed to another. Small tits and a hellacious sex drive, those are the only things Liberty inherited from me—so far. There!” Smoky laughter. “That’s something I didn’t even tell Abe—him with his donkey pecker and rooster strut. Can we retract the claws now?”

Her reference to farm animals threw me for an instant, so it took a beat to remember that Abe was the husband she’d wanted to shoot. I said, “You should thank your schoolmates. Your nickname could’ve been a lot worse.”

“Oh, it was, dearie, it was. Bunny was for social functions, but it stuck. That’s why I worry about Liberty. She’s been man-crazy her entire life. Which is fine for recreation. But she’s going to inherit my money, which makes her a target.”

Because Mrs. Tupplemeyer had mentioned business, I said, “I’m a poor choice if you’re looking for a bodyguard. And you’re forgetting that Birdy is a trained law officer. I’d be willing to bet she has a gun in her purse right now.”

Really?” Surprised but hopeful, the woman turned to peer through the sliding doors. “Do you think she’d do it?”

“Shoot a man? She goes to the target range once a week. I doubt if she could miss something that big.”

“No,” the woman said, “I mean pull the trigger. Trust me, every bachelor in that room sees a bull’s-eye on her ass when they look at her. Or what passes for an ass. I own a derringer, but was never able to get drunk enough.”

“Drunk enough to fire,” I said to confirm.

“Of course. On several occasions. And the one time I did drink enough, I spilled the goddamn bullets in the sink and the maid refused to call a plumber.”

I cleared my throat. “My advice to you, ma’am, is give that gun to your niece. She’s too smart to mix alcohol and bullets. What I think is”—I hesitated, wondering if I should say it—“well, I think you’ve got anger issues, Mrs. Tupplemeyer. And you drink too much to own a firearm.”

“Anger issues?” The woman threw her head back and laughed, then noticed her martini glass was empty. “I like you, Hannah Smith. How about stopping by in the morning? By morning, in Palm Beach, we mean noon. There could be a nice retainer if you help me with a certain problem.” A studious pause. “You’re a Gemini, aren’t you? Early in June, with Leo rising. I bet half of you still feels guilty about that pervert you shot—but your better half wishes his nuts were in your trophy case. Am I right or am I right?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. When I finally did respond, it was with caution. “I’m not going to shoot a man for you, Mrs. Tupplemeyer, if that’s what’s on your mind.”

The woman, opening her cigarette case, said, “Call me Bunny. Oh . . . and would you mind getting me another martini? Cold— tell one of the servers. I’ve got other guests to attend to.”

 

 

Haunted

Haunted