Submission Synopsis

To Dance with Dolphins

by D. J. Herda

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Anticipated at 60,000 Words





One-Sentence Description:

When his environmentalist mother is brutally murdered in the Caribbean, it's up to Mark to risk his own life while working with his estranged father, the Institute's director, and a sea full of underworld characters to discover who did it...and why.


When Mark’s father, who had abandoned the family upon his son’s birth, learns of his ex-wife’s death, he shows up on the exotic isle of St. Lucia, masquerading as a stranger to help Mark find the murderer.  A former private investigator in California, Marks father soon puts together a package of suspects that leaves Mark reeling.   

But when his father fingers the closest friend Mark has in the world, the boy explodes...before learning who this mystery investigator really is.  Now all Mark has to do is to come to grips with who really murdered his mother...and why.

When a well-known and popular marine environmentalist working at an institute for the study of marine biology is killed in the Caribbean paradise of St. Lucia, her 17-year-old son is left to learn why.  After rummaging through her belongings, Mark discovers that his mother had been opposed to a string of proposed theme parks called Dolphin World that would use the animals in the name of research and then discard them like so many old shoes.

When Mark’s father, who had abandoned the family upon his son’s birth, learns of his ex-wife’s death, he shows up as a stranger to help Mark find the murderer.  A former private investigator in California, Del uncovers what he thinks may be a tie-in between Institute founder Dr. Steve Rolands and the backers of the development.  As Del muses about the connection, Mark comes to realize that the man is his father.  When he learns that Del is preparing to confront Rolands with his theory, the boy explodes.  He tells his father to leave the island and get out of his life forever.

The next day, Mark finds Roly in an unusually good mood.  He speculates that his father’s presence had worried the biologist—perhaps he thought he’d turn his back on him once his real dad had showed up.

But when Roly suddenly disappears, Mark feels more alone than ever.  He and Marcie place a short article in the local newspaper, requesting that anyone who has seen Roly contact them immediately.

The next night, as Mark sits home watching TV, he hears a noise outside.  Fearing that his mother’s murderers have come back for him, he grabs a spear gun and sneaks outside, only to run into his father.  Outraged, the boy threatens to call the police and get a restraining order.  His father understands Mark’s animosity but asks that he bury his hatred for him long enough to hear him out. 

Del tells him that there are only two possibilities behind Dr. Rolands’ disappearance: someone abducted him in order to remove him as an obstacle from the planned theme parks, or someone wants it to appear as though he was abducted when, in fact, Rolands is helping to set the stage for a corporate land grab.

The next morning, Mark grudgingly agrees to accompany Del to the proposed site of the first park.  They rent a seaplane to take them there, but when the pilot pulls a gun and veers off toward the open sea, Del acts quickly to commandeer the plane, which he lands offshore near the development.  As father and son wade inland and sneak up on a construction site trailer, they see Rolands and two heavily armed thugs laughing and drinking together inside.

They sneak back to the plane and return to the Institute, where Del has a hunch that Rolands’ has stashed his payoff funds in a safe to which only the director knows the combination. 

With the help of the police and Rolands’ assistant, they set a large wood fire near the office, and soon black smoke is bellowing east toward the construction site.  When Rolands comes racing up the road in his Jeep and jumps out to save his booty, the police place him under arrest.  Del tells them where they’ll find the others involved in the “kidnapping.”  But the thugs—just steps behind Rolands—arrive and grab Mark, threatening to kill him unless the police release Rolands and give in to their demands.  Rolands, fearing for the boy’s life, rushes them and is shot and killed.  Del fires at the thug holding Mark, and the police capture his partner.

Several days later, the truth about Mark’s mother, Dr. Rolands, and the development scam hits the papers.  Reading the story over breakfast, Del asks Mark what he’s going to do next.  When Mark shrugs and says he’ll probably work with Marcie to get the Institute back up and running, Del suggests that the boy might really enjoy life in California.  Mark replies that Del might really grow to love life in the islands.  The two hug, and over a few tears, Mark watches as Del climbs into his Jeep and drives off toward the airport.

Denise Jacoby squinted through the rain at the slick road ahead.  It was a typical Caribbean squall—blowing hard in from the sea.  The fronds of the Windmill Palms lining La Cienega Boulevard flapped frantically.  The Fiddleleaf Figs whirled around wildly.  The wipers slapped rhythmically against the windshield.  Denise let out a sigh when she finally saw her driveway looming ahead.  She looked around…left, right.  A lightning bolt split across the sky, illuminating everything just south of Heaven.  Even in the dark, even in the storm, she was thankful.  St. Lucia was the most beautiful place on earth. 

She edged the nose of the 2006 Land Rover up the drive as she had done a thousand times before.  As she neared the house, she pressured the brakes until the car came to a stop just inches from the garage door.  She fumbled for the opener. 

Suddenly from the corner of her eye she saw a dark shadow moving quickly toward her.  It was a man holding a newspaper over his head.  As the man approached, Denise smiled.  She reached for the button to roll down her window.

“What are you doing out this time of night?”

The man stopped alongside her, so close that she could hear him breathing.

“You’re soaked,” she said.  “Let me put the car in the garage and you can come in and dry off.”

Suddenly the smile faded from her face as she let out a shriek and lunged for the switch to close the window. 

Too late.

*     *     *

Mark had arrived at Miami International only moments before he heard the page.  He picked up a courtesy phone and identified himself, and the airport operator put the call through.  A security guard stood by, eyeing him cautiously, as he shifted the phone to his right ear.


The guard looked down at Mark’s shoes, then up again at his face.  Mark turned away.

“Yes.  Yes.  Marcie?  It’s Mark.  What’s up?”

The voice on the other end of the line sounded frantic.  There was trouble at the Institute.  They needed him back right away.

“What do you mean?  What kind of trouble?  It’s...” he checked his watch “—it’s nearly four-thirty here.  I just got in.”

Marcie was insistent.  She had notified airport security that he would need some help in getting his baggage through Customs in time to catch the next flight back to the islands.

“What’s it all about?  What’s wrong?  Is mom okay?”

She told him that she had to go and promised to pick him up at the airport when he arrived.  The receiver went dead.

Mark set the phone into its cradle and stared out over the escalators leading to the lower level.  He shook his head.

“Mark Jacoby?”

He turned.  “Yes,” he said.  “I’m Mark Jacoby.”

“Airport Security.  I’ve been instructed to help you through Customs.  You need to catch the next flight to St. Lucia.  Virgin Air.  Leaves in 20 minutes.”

“Twenty minutes?  What’s this all about, anyway?”

“I’m sorry, that’s all I know.”

Mark picked up his duffle bag and flung it over his shoulder.

“I mean, I can’t believe this.  I just freakin’ got here.”

“We’d better hurry,” he said, and the two walked briskly toward the baggage department.

*     *     *

Dawn came early to St. Lucia on the heels of a silver-orange blaze of sky.  It was Mark’s favorite time of day.  Those few fleeting moments before the sun popped up onto the horizon.  The wind was still, and the trees—battered and bruised from the squall that had blown through the night before—seemed glad to be alive.  Fronds and the wilted flower heads from fragrant hibiscus and exotic orchids and pampas grass littered the road like confetti following a parade.  It was a 20-minute drive from the airport to the office, along the coast and up toward the hilly region of the island.  Throughout it all, Marcie stared straight ahead.  Often, when she picked Mark up at the airport, she would let him drive.  Even at 16, he was a good driver, cautious, defensive.  But today, she insisted on doing it herself.

“We’re having a meeting?”

She hesitated before nodding.

Mark stared out over the sea as the first rays of sun broke above the rolling whitecaps.  It was strange, the effect that a storm had on the ocean.  The winds would begin churning up the waves long before the blunt of the beast reached land, and they would continue for hours after it left.  “And mom will be there?”

She flinched.  “I...I don’t know.”

Mark shook his head.  “Isn’t anybody going to tell me what the hell’s going on?”  He slumped deeper into his seat and stared out the window.

Mark Jacoby had his father’s rugged good looks—at least that’s what people had told him.  He’d never seen his father in his nearly seventeen years of life.  The man had taken off before his mother brought Mark home from the hospital.  Mark hadn’t heard a word from him since.

Sometimes, he found himself hoping that the man was dead.  The world, he thought, would be a better place without a jackass like him in it, someone so cold and callous that he could simply walk away from the people who loved him and relied upon him, the people he claimed he loved back.  Mark harbored a lot of bitterness toward his father.  He knew that.  But that was just fine with him.

Author Bio:

D. J. Herda is author of more than 80 conventionally published books, several hundred thousand columns and short pieces, and numerous plays, scripts, and articles.  He is president of the American Society of Authors and Writers, a member of The Author’s Guild, and a former member of numerous literary and media organizations.


NOTE: All material is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency