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It was the end of an era, one that I suspect historians may look upon as the last decade of American innocence. It was a time we remember in terms of images and sounds rather than historical events -- pink Cadillacs, drive-in movies, stylized street hoods, rock 'n' roll, Hank and Lefty on the jukebox, the dirty bop, daylight baseball, chopped-down '32 Fords with Merc engines drag-racing in a roar of thunder past drive-in restaurants, all of it backdropped by palm trees, a curling surf, and a purple sky that had obviously been created as a cinematic tribute to our youth.
The season seemed eternal, not subject to the laws of mutability. At best, it was improbable that the spring of our graduation year would ever be stained by the tannic smell of winter. If we experienced visions of mortality, we needed only to look into one another's faces to reassure ourselves that none of us would ever die, that rumors of distant wars had nothing to do with our own lives.
My half brother was Jimmie Robicheaux. He was a hothead, an idealist, and a ferocious fistfighter in a beer-glass brawl, but often vulnerable and badly used by those who knew how to take advantage of his basic goodness. In 1958, he and I worked ten days on and five days off for what was called a doodlebug outfit, or seismograph crew, laying out rubber cable and seismic jugs in bays and swamps all along the Louisiana-Texas coastline. During the off-hitch, when we were back on land, we hung out at Galveston Island, fishing at night on the jetties, swimming in the morning, eating fried shrimp in a cafe on the amusement pier where the seagulls fluttered and squeaked just outside the open windows.
The Fourth of July that year was a peculiar day. The barometer dropped and the sky turned a chemical green, and the breakers were full of sand and dead baitfish when they smacked on the beach. The swells were smooth-surfaced and rain-dented between the waves, but down below, the undertow was terrific, almost like steel cable around the thighs, the sand rushing out from under our feet as the waves sucked back upon themselves.
Most swimmers got out of the water. Perhaps because of our youth or the fact Jimmie and I had drunk too much beer, we swam far out from the beach, to the third sandbar, the last one that provided a barrier between the island itself and the precipitous descent off the edge of the continental shelf. But the sandbar was hard-packed, the crest only two feet below the surface, which allowed the swimmer to sit safely above the tidal current and enjoy a panoramic view of both the southern horizon and the lights that were going on all over the island.
The sun broke through the thunderheads in the west, just above the earth's rim, like liquid fire pooled up inside the clouds. For the first time that day we could see our shadows on the water's surface. Then we realized we were not alone.
Thirty yards out a shark fin, steel-gray, triangular in shape, cut across the swell, then disappeared under a wave. Jimmie and I stood up on the sandbar, our hearts beating, and waited for the fin to resurface. Behind us we could hear the crackle of lightning in the clouds.
"It's probably a sand shark," Jimmie said.
But we both knew that most sand sharks were small, yellowish in hue, and didn't cruise at sunset on the outer shelf. We stared at the water for a long time, then saw a school of baitfish scatter in panic across the surface. The baitfish seemed to sink like silver coins into the depths, then the swell became smooth-surfaced and dark green again, wrinkling slightly when the wind gusted. I could hear Jimmie breathing as though he had labored up a...
About the Author-
- James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, and named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, is the author of twenty-eight previous novels and two collections of short stories, including such New York Times bestsellers as Swan Peak, Tin Roof Blowdown, Last Car to Elysian Fields and Crusader's Cross. He lives in Missoula, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana.
PublisherSimon & Schuster
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