A mysterious sea creature terrorizes South Florida, throws the Presidential election in doubt, and leads to a trail of political and industrial espionage.
Once again, Presidential biographer Devin Chandler is pulled from his cushy White House beat and sent on another dangerous assignment by his legendary publisher.
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An unidentified sea monster surfaces during the annual Windsurfer's Regatta on Key Biscayne, Florida. It horrifies the audience by tracking, killing and eating the racers in a shocking fashion. The forty-foot, seven-thousand pound beast has what appears to be three dorsal fins and a giant, sword-like snout. It's frightening appearance gives rise to the belief that it is a prehistoric beast roused from the darkest depths of the ocean. The attack, coupled with murky photos and videotape, causes a panic to sweep the coast.
The governor of Florida selects renowned marine biologist Dr. Emmalinda Lawrence to head a task force charged with identifying and subduing the hellish creature. Dr. Lawrence, a beautiful half-Filipina, is the head of the University of Miami's School of Marine Biology. A respected authority in her field, she had previously published university textbooks and children's books through Devin's publisher.
Dr. Lawrence is quickly signed to produce a book on the hunt. Devin is dispatched to Florida, much to his chagrin, to help her write it.
Devin and Emmalinda are no strangers. Former high school sweethearts, they broke up twenty-years earlier under circumstances that devastated her and filled him with guilt. Newly divorced from his wife, Devin discovers that he remains deeply in love with his childhood girlfriend.
Shaking off the emotional distraction of her reunion with Devin, Dr. Lawrence gets back to business. She quickly debunks the mythical monster rumors and identifies the creature as a common sawfish. She explains that despite its name and shark-like resemblance, a sawfish is neither a fish nor a shark. It's a ray -- a flat, boneless animal with extraordinary flexibility. In addition, this particular sawfish's seemingly gargantuan size falls within the accepted range of the species.
Dr. Lawrence further explains that a sawfish's relatively small mouth is dwarfed by it's massive, barbed snout, a versatile weapon that enables it to hack and bludgeon objects above the water. A normally peaceful, bottom-feeding creature, something obviously has gone wrong with this one.
Undeterred by the turmoil around them, Devin and Emmalinda succumb to the passion of their rekindled love. At the same time, the sawfish continues to savage South Florida. It leaps upon a secluded beach and batters a Boy Scout troop, then follows by destroying an ocean front restaurant packed with diners -- including Devin and Emmalinda.
The sawfish's assaults are so bold and terrifying that the public outcry reaches Washington. President John Curry, gearing up for his reelection campaign, watches helplessly as his approval ratings plunge with each new attack. Acting on Devin's advice, the President decides to become personally involved in the hunt. To ease the public's fears, he orders the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard into the fray.
The massive government presence ignites a political frenzy. Environmentalists and animal rights activists, lead by Academy Award winning actress Janet Redtrip, swarm to South Florida and play to the gathered media. The activists decry the fascist military presence and warn that a trigger-happy, shotgun approach to the hunt will destroy innocent sea life. They further demand that instead of slaughtering the sawfish on sight, the government should capture the magnificent creature to determine if it can be cured.
Banking on his journalistic, political, and public relations skills, Devin takes control of the increasingly volatile situation. He deftly handles the growing international media contingent, and eases tensions by organizing meetings between the animal rights activists and the government.
Using his pull with Curry, Devin has the President place Dr. Lawrence in charge of all aspects of the hunt, including giving her command authority over the military. He also has the President designate Janet Redtrip an official, government sanctioned animal rights monitor and invites her aboard Dr. Lawrence's research vessel. Both moves infuriate the military brass but win points with the environmentalists.
Janet Redtrip becomes so impressed with President Curry's humanity that she gives in to his advances. This leads to a politically incorrect, but red hot love affair between the conservative Republican President and the fiery, ultra liberal, Democratic actress.
As the action in the bunks and bedrooms heats up, so does the chaos in the ocean. After another series of thunderous attacks by the sawfish, Dr. Lawrence discovers an odd, virulent bacteria in the water and hypothesizes that an industrial pollutant has damaged the animal's equilibrium to such an extent that it is confusing the surface for the bottom. The "environmental inversion" makes the sawfish believe it's peacefully digging in the sand for crabs and lobsters when in fact, it's slashing the sky for fishing boats, Boy Scouts and sea food restaurants.
Dr. Lawrence's controversial theory throws more fuel into the highly politicized fires. She is lambasted by a cadre of rival marine biologists who angrily denounce her findings and push the President to remove her from the hunt.
The environmentalists and animal rights activists -- convinced all along that the catastrophe was man made -- support Dr. Lawrence. They intensify their efforts to save the sawfish, and demand that the polluter be identified and held responsible for its ecological crimes.
Devin, in turn, fears that the unknown company fouling the ocean may have political ties to the President.
As the increasingly sick and crazed sawfish continues its rampage, figurative vices are tightening everywhere. The chairman of the guilty company, fearing exposure, recruits and bribes military and academic leaders involved in the hunt. When his efforts to smear Dr. Lawrence fail, the chairman orders the biologist killed before she can trace the pollutant back to his firm.
Using the diversion of another attack by the sawfish, an assassin on the lead Naval vessel shoots Dr. Lawrence in the neck. The military then pretends that she was struck inadvertently by a bullet skipping off the water.
Devin, certain that it was no accident, announces Dr. Lawrence's death to the media, then hides his girlfriend and has her treated in secret. She recovers, continues her laboratory detective work, and with the help of Devin, Janet Redtrip and the President, identifies the company polluting the ocean. After confirming the information, they are able to expose the spies planted among them.
This leads to a final, explosive confrontation between the President, Devin, Dr. Lawrence and Janet Redtrip on the university's research vessel, and the crooked professors, military leaders and businessmen who have commandeered the heavily armed, lead naval ship -- a violent battle of wills, wits and weapons that is joined, ironically enough, by the sawfish.