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Robb Annable gripped a metal girder with one hand and peered down at the wind-whipped water 150 feet below. His pontoon boat, rolling on the waves, looked like a toy. He'd moored it to the base of a 400-foot-tall radio tower about 50 yards from the Venetian Causeway and just outside the Miami Herald's back door. The slight, sandy-haired 63-year-old had attached himself to the tower with a climbing harness, but even so, vertigo whispered in the back of his brain. He had spent the night on his boat in Biscayne Bay, and he felt a phantom sensation that the tower's concrete base was dipping and rolling with the water, as if it might break free of the thin metal walkway connecting it to the mainland and float out to sea.
TV and police helicopters thumped overhead, cops massed below like insects, and the breeze billowed so that Robb could barely hear the dial tone on his silver Sprint cell phone when he tried to call Miami Police.
He had to make himself heard he would certainly never get a second chance. So he stuck his head in his maroon nylon backpack to block the wind and called 911. He gave the operator his cell number and asked her to relay it to the police officers gesturing at him from the ground.
If they don't call, maybe they'll use the radio I left at the foot of the tower, he thought. "I left them a package with a walkie-talkie," he yelled into the phone. "I have the other one with me."
Then he thumbed the phone's End button, put it in his pocket, and rummaged through the pack. There was extra rope, Gatorade, two flags, a lighter.... He completed his mental checklist for the hundredth time and then pulled out a walkie-talkie and turned it on; it worked fine.
Next he grabbed the phone again and dialed a preprogrammed number. But the wind was too loud for him to hear. "Hello HELLO! Is there anyone there? This is Robb Annable," he said and then stuck his head in the backpack again to block the wind.
Finally he made out the voice on the other end. "This is the Miami Herald, how may I help you?"
"Yeah, I'm the guy on the tower outside your building," he yelled. "I need to talk to a reporter. I need to tell someone my story."
Robb Annable's very public protest was the grand finale to a decades-long quest nigh obsession to discover the fate of his older brother, Harrison, who had set off from the Miami River on a ten-day lobstering trip with two other men on November 17, 1962.
Four days later a Bahamian fisherman had discovered the bullet-riddled 40-foot-long hull of the Revenge, the group's ill-fated craft. It was floating in twenty-foot-deep waters off the Bahamian island of Cat Cay in an area frequented by fishermen, smugglers, and, in those days, emissaries from both sides of the unofficial war to depose Fidel Castro.
In the months and years after the disappearance, Robb and his father, Robert Annable Sr., would come to believe that Harrison died while helping to fight the CIA's secret war against Cuba's Communist government. Their evidence is sketchy. That could be because they faced a bureaucratic brick wall. Or it may be that the crew of the Revenge Harrison, captain Gil Rahm, and schoolteacher Victor Skalski were simply victims of a nautical accident or a robbery at sea.
Robb says it's difficult to imagine such a strange and exotic fate befalling Harrison, a happy kid from small-town New England whose main aspiration was to work outdoors. Pseudomilitary maneuvers in the subtropics weren't part of the Annables' world in Cape Cod, where they lived from the time Robb was eleven and Harrison was fifteen.
Robb's sister Linda, older by one year, remembers her brothers as close friends but very different people. "They shared the same room, and they did things together all the time, but Harrison was always outdoors, and Robb always had his face in a book," she says. "Robb was a little more of a recluse, and Harrison was very outgoing. I think my younger brother always looked up to my older brother."
Though Linda says Harrison was of "average height and build," Robb's description hints at his feelings for his brother. "He was about six-foot, in good shape," Robb says. "Blond hair, blue eyes. He tended to date prom queens and got good grades."
Linda and Robb both recount a fairly idyllic childhood: Though their cottage was surrounded by the much larger homes and beach houses of wealthy New Englanders, their mother, Carol, was sweet-tempered. Their father was stoic.
"My dad was sort of the classic patriarch of that era," Robb says. "He was driven, he was demanding, he never complained about anything."
About Harrison, Robb says: "I liked being outdoors, but I was never the kind of hunter he was." As a teenager, Harrison trapped muskrat. He'd skin them and sell the fur. Once he went on vacation and left eleven-year-old Robb in charge of the trap. "One morning there was a poor muskrat there," he remembers. "Harrison said the way to kill it would be to beat it to death. I was horrified. Finally I closed my eyes and did it."