Gulf Winds introduces Ulysses (a.k.a. Uly) Grant, a recently returned veteran of the war in Iraq, who is searching for a bit of tranquility among the Florida mangroves and the financial security provided by a tiny bit of harmless computer fraud. Instead, Uly finds himself in the middle of a drug drop, entangled with a mysterious woman, terrorists, intrigue and cross-conspiracies, all attempting to influence off-shore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
Uly Grant is tough, but a car bomb on the road to Baghdad killed his best friend and left Uly with a busted leg and Flash the retired greyhound. Grant has returned to his old home along the banks of the Homosassa River, his life as a fishing guide in the waters in and around the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and his friends in the Mexican community.
While recovering, Uly discovers his hacking skills developed as a military intelligence analyst is a way to siphon off illicit funds from criminal and terrorist bank accounts, especially useful when he is sidetracked by a woman intend on making her own fortune.
Unfortunately, the Cuban Delina Karkoff, her half-brother Ivan and others implicate Uly in terrorist rocket attacks against the Port Tampa petroleum terminal and the Crystal River Nuclear Facility, further complicating his life.
But when his troubles get too overwhelming, Uly can turn to Flash, his recently inherited retired champion greyhound, for moral support. The photo is actually Lucy , a sweet female stunt double for Flash posing with Taylor- you know, like the Lassie series.
June 2011 - We have learned that Lucy passed away at the grand old age of 10 1/2 years - a fine lady we will all miss.
The attached pages and photos are part of my research of the area and the local culture. I hope to have captured the peaceful life along the rivers, springs and Gulf coast, as well as the wonderful character of the old and new residents of the area. As tranquil as the setting appears, as a volunteer with the local sheriff's office, I know that appearances are often deceiving. Drug trafficking happens, and manipulations to get to the front of the oil exploration queue rumble beneath the political surface.
The Riverside Resort, with its famous Monkey Island and precocious residents, serves blue crabs that rival my memories of Chesapeake Bay crabs caught on the pier at Fort Monroe. Seafood served at the few but excellent pubs and informal restaurants aren't the same as Carolina Calabash style, but excellent, especially when the fish, shrimp and crabs are fresh caught. Tarpon, red fish, snook, sea trout, all are plentiful when in season. Fishing from the Springs down to the channels meandering out into the Gulf of Mexico equals the big bluefish runs along the Chesapeake Bay and Outer Banks beaches in their heyday.
One of Uly's most prized possessions is his collection of Highwaymen paintings on the walls of his fictional home. The paintings portray Florida the way Uly remembers from his childhood. The Highwaymen are a group of 26 black artists whose works have gained popularity and value since they first started around Ft. Pierce, FL in the 1950s and worked through the 1980s. Painted on old pieces of Upson board - a brand of wall board - their paintings convey a sense of the real Florida, the bays, swamps, animals, flowers and trees in brilliant, sometimes shocking, colors. And fortunately for all of us, new artists are continuing the tradition.
On the left is the Yulee Sugar Mill between Homosassa and Homosassa Springs, now a State Park.
"The park contains the remnants of the once-thriving 5,100-acre sugar plantation: a forty-foot limestone masonry chimney, iron gears, and a cane press. The steam-driven mill operated from 1851 to 1864 and served as a supplier of sugar products for southern troops during the Civil War." (excerpt from the Florida Online Park Guide)
A footnote to the plot: After finishing the manuscript first draft, I have discovered a full range of parallels between Gulf Winds and Donald Hamilton's Line of Fire, the book that set the stage for his Matt Helm series. For better or worse, I find I tend to follow the style of Hamilton and Nevil Shute, both in character and plot. Gotta have a goal!
Below is the main office of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, where my talented wildlife operations advisor, Operations Manger Sara Palmisano, gave me all kinds of tips on the local Refuge organization and, most importantly, locales that matched up what I wanted to do in Gulf Winds.
Gulf Winds is now available at Amazon.com in paper and Kindle editions.