A ran    Papadakis    has    millions    offshore    from    her    mother’s    three decades   of   killing   for   the   mob,   being   laundered   by   her   CPA   pal.   He knows   of   the   brutality   Aran’s   survived,   her   potential   for   violence, lack    of    empathy,    but    sticks    around    —    he    loves    her    yacht    and doesn’t   have   anything   better   to   do.   She   needs   his   anchor   to   reality as   she   transitions   from   her   mother’s   vicious   world.   Her   connection to   organized   crime   has   pros   and   cons.   The   pros   wish   to   hire   her   to kill. The cons just want her dead. just    dead     fits    somewhere    between    Janet    Evanovich    and    Mario Puzo.
Chapter 1 ~ I put a big hurt in the Miami crime scene without having to torture, kill, even manhandle a single scumbag. I can manhandle a guy, even at about five feet tall, I won’t say how many inches on which side. A man doesn’t want to have to face me even if I look somewhat dainty because I don’t fight fair. No one has ever called me a lady, and never will.  Since I was three years old I was tutored to analyze data. I didn’t start with stacking blocks like most kids. Fun was fingering a bullet with my eyes closed to determine its caliber. I learned to count by .22, .25, .38, .44, .45. Lifting a wallet from inside a man’s jacket was recess at four. Jamming a stiletto in an eye socket to end a fight was biology at five. By six I could lead a symposium on the human pain centers. At seven I had my first martial arts black belt. I was twenty-nine before a human hugged me, touched me with compassion. Just weeks before that I learned my true birthdate, my last name wasn’t Morgan, and the miserable bitch that had kept me locked in a cold Chicago basement my whole life was actually my mother. She was knocked up at fourteen by a priest she probably hounded for years before he took her behind some altar. Disowned by her parents, the priest got her out of his parish, handing her off to the mob, where she turned out to be a better killer than hooker. So I have an excuse for my antisocial behavior. But even if I can’t smile, I don’t think I’m a complete sociopath.  I approached the crime problem in Miami in a manner the twits in the FBI struggled to embrace. My thrust was to get the crime bosses in county lockup for petty things, not the bighouse for their major transgressions that were harder to prove. Even my pretty FDLE handler, Double-R, had issue with my methods at first. I had to threaten to kick the sheet out of him to take my premise higher up.  I’m surrounded by short-sighted idiots. But just like I told them, the disruption to their organizations meant sloppy operations. Sloppy operations meant convictions. Didn’t anyone learn anything with Al Capone? He went away for tax evasion. And that was the first domino in the battle against major Chicago crime. Of course it’s grown adult-sized since then, but I’m not going back to Chicago to help them out. My luck ran out in that town. I closed my laptop. It wasn’t the Polish newspaper I was reading. Yeah, taking on a new language is hard. But Vonda pressed that continual learning is key for a sharp mind. Today my mind simply wished to wander. Maybe it was because Double-R asked to meet.  There had been minutes at a time I thought I might lose my virginity to that man. Not very likely. He’s way too afraid of me. Hates to be alone with me. So today’s visit isn’t typical. “What’s wrong?” Flynn asked. I glared at him. What. Just because I closed my laptop, something was wrong? “Why don’t you get a job?” I asked. That no longer makes him hue red. He thinks he’s invaluable to me now, that he’s found a way to funnel my Swiss funds back into the states where I can use them. In a drip. Drip. And launder my onshore accounts. In a slower drip. Drip. “What would you do without me?” he asked. My eyes trailed from his mostly bald head, across his hairy chest, beer belly, down to his well-tanned toes. “Don’t undress me like that,” he mewed. “Makes me feel so sexualized.” At least I’d been getting him to walk so his belly was trimming down. The daily yoga, daily when we had the yacht in the marina, had toned him up a bit. His plank is improving. “Old man,” I muttered. “Experienced, you mean.” He got on the boat and never put another shirt on. His harry nipples would never not gross me out. If I smiled, I would have smiled that moment thinking back to the first time he found me doing yoga on the deck in the nude. How did I know that would gross him out? So I rode my bicycle into the market the next day and bought yoga pants and a sports bra, just for him.  That first day I must have set the lips flapping all around the marina, because a week later I was coerced to lead a gaggle of eight-hundred-year-old women in the clubhouse. They really gross me out. I try not to look at them. I think Flynn only joined us to meet the old ladies. “Your eyes are doing that twitching thing,” he said. He claims he can tell when my mind is miles away. For a CPA he understands people fairly well. I’ve practically got a degree in psychology and can’t claim to understand a single thing about the species. But I understand the criminal mind like no one else I’ve ever met. Vonda knew the criminal mind and she was a good teacher. And a good criminal. Until Cheska screwed her bigtime.  Flynn’s eyes flicked up the dock, and I sighed, even before following his line of sight. Double-R. Anyone with a name like Rodrick Roch would be better off with a stupid nickname like Double-R. I mostly think of him as Roch, still. He wore khaki pants today, not his usual jeans. Stuck with the button-down dress shirt. He gripped a gob of envelopes in one hand, he just hates that I only check my mailbox every month or so, and a stack of folders in his other. “What do you think the Fibbies are upset about this time?” Flynn mumbled. I thought back to the day Flynn explained to me what kind of cop Roch was. He called him a Fiddly. For FDLE. Florida Department of something, maybe Law Enforcement. Fiddly. That kind of cracked me up. Most humor sails over my head. I don’t know why. But that was really funny. When Roch was forty feet away, Flynn called, “I hope those aren’t leather soles.” He says that every time Roch visits. He thinks that is funny. I guess he read once it was a horrible transgression to wear leather soles on a boat. Roch climbed the transom and hoisted his butt over the gunwale. He strode across the deck without a nod, dropped the mail in my lap. Visited the fridge deeper in the salon, returning with a soda. Took a hit and sat behind me with a groan. “Long drive?” Flynn asked. “From Tallahassee,” he said. Flynn asked him what took him up north. “Met with the Commissioner.” “Of baseball?” I asked. Flynn snorted. Roch said, “FDLE.” As though I didn’t figure that out. No one gets my humor. About like I get theirs. “Can you come back here?” Roch asked. What. He didn’t want to talk to my back? I stood, but didn’t join him in the forward salon. I gripped the gunwale and did some stretches first. I have a habit of not moving when I’m in front of my computer, and tighten up like a rusty nut. Combination of the September heat and bright morning sun had painted me with a sheen of sweat by the time I strode back. Roch noticed maybe. His eyes traversed my legs and arms. I wore my one-piece swimming suit, which covers all of the scars Machado left me on my back and stomach, so don’t know why his eyes hovered over my butt so long. I grabbed his soda and took a hit. He said he’d be glad to get me my own. He must not have been taught to share when he was little. When I was little, I didn’t have anything to share, no one to share with, except Vonda. Nothing but a cold basement. I never want to be cold again. It would take a tow truck to ever get me north of I-10 again. No. Nothing would ever get me off this boat. Or more than a gas tank away from Naples, Florida. Since April I’ve slept naked, right here on the salon without a thread over me. It’s been heaven. Flynn thinks it’s inappropriate, for whatever reason. A breeze flicked at the mail I’d left on my chaise. Roch brushed past me to grab it. As he walked back he flipped through the envelopes. “You have three paychecks here,” he mumbled. No checks. That had been auto-deposit since Roch made me make my relationship with the state official. Like I needed the salary of a crime analyst. If I needed money, I could just rob a bank or something. No. I’d rip off a crime boss. They tick me off. Roch set the mail on the table. His reach brought him a breath away from me. The hair on his forearms, what I could see below his rolled up sleeves, rose stiffly. His brow bristled with beads of sweat. I make the poor man so uncomfortable. But he didn’t pull away. He remained looming inches away. Weird. His personal space is gargantuan. Did he think about kissing me or something? “The brass wants you to take a break from Miami,” Roch said softly. “This spike in murders in Naples has them concerned?” I asked. His chin dropped. Naples property crime is pretty much standard for Florida, which is low by national standards. But traditionally, violent crime was nil. Not lately. “How’d you see that coming?” Roch whispered. Flynn laughed. He was inches away from the two of us. I hadn’t noticed him join us. I think of myself as being very observant. So his sudden appearance ticked me off. “What she’s about,” Flynn said. “Numbers.” I did take a lot of statistics for my master’s. Cheska was very concerned about risk. Made me generate numbers for every hit. “MS-13 is pushing out all the preppy college drug dealers,” I said. Roch hissed, as though he’d taken a hit to the solar plexus. “MS-13? How do you know that?” “You know she reads, a lot, huh?” Flynn slid into the center spot of the salon table. I took the near seat on the bench. After another exhalation of air, Roch sat facing me. Was he studying the scar above my right breast? Machado left me with a lot of identical beauty marks. I should count them some day. Not that I’m anal. Numbers aren’t everything. Well. Pretty much. Chapter 2 ~ Roch drew the file folders together. A sense of panic worked across my shoulders. I hadn’t finished with them. He’d leave them with me, wouldn’t he? “What?” he asked. “What, what?” I asked.  “That scary thing, on your face.” What?  “You can look scary sometimes, you know that,” Flynn explained for me. The insult must have hit Roch. He pushed the files back to my side of the table.  I felt that pressure release in my chest, gave Flynn a look. That’s why I keep the old man around. As my interpreter. “What?” Flynn asked. Maybe he didn’t always understand me. I turned back to Roch. “The best way to get intel on this trash is to grab a Columbian kid and squeeze him.” “You can’t grab a Columbian kid,” Roch growled.  “I can take him offshore before I torture, I mean question him. You don’t have to be in the loop.” Roch appeared ready to urp. Held his eyes closed. Must be the movement of the boat. I asked him if he needed some Dramamine. “You’re an FDLE agent,” he hissed. “You can’t break any law that’s inconvenient.” “I can quit.” “You’re not grabbing. You’re not torturing. You’re not breaking any laws.” How did he think I got all the data on his thugs in Miami? The man is so stinking naïve. I should shoot him. The residents of Florida rely on numbskulls like him? That is terrifying. “What?” Roch mumbled. “She thinks you’re an idiot,” Flynn interpreted.  Maybe Flynn does get me. “I graduated at the top of my class in the academy,” Roch hissed. Kindergarten? “Fine. You’re really smart.” “Analyze. That’s your job,” he rumbled. That isn’t exactly what I’d been doing the last nine months, especially during my time in Chicago, earlier. How many guys did I cap? Seven? Eight. No. Pretty sure it was just seven. But that was before Roch made me accept this stupid job. As a confidential informant, I was a lot freer to act. I’ve never worked under constraints, or moral boundaries. Being a member of law enforcement is really hard. “Which reminds me, the major is ticked you’re really behind on your reports.” I never said I’d spend days filling out reports. Maybe it was in all the stuff I signed. But the paper work is all under Aran Morgan. She doesn’t exist. Well, did once. Died at seventeen in a backcountry traffic accident in the seventies. A drunk slammed into the car she and her two friends were in. A very sad story. If I could garner any empathy. The news article I read called it sad, though. So it must have been. Everything in the paper is true. Flynn held his hand up at Roch, the universal, wait. “Okay,” Flynn said. “She’s back.” I hate how he does that. I asked Roch if his commissioner had any priorities to keep in mind. I visualized a man in a dark suit pulling his hair out, screaming something about whose idea it was to employ a psychotic lunatic. Why was it so important to Roch that I convert from CI to Fiddly? He probably put a lot on the line. Maybe I should respect that and stay clean. “She went away again, huh?” Roch whispered. I asked him if he was up for lunch. He shook his head, but in confusion I think. I’ve studied body language, but I’m far from fluent.  “About priorities,” he said. “Your status reports will help us—she’s giving me that look again.” “Best to stop talking when she does that,” Flynn whispered. Roch cleared his throat. “You’re one of hundreds of senior agents. The brass can’t call you in every day to discuss—” “Stop talking now,” Flynn whispered. Yeah. Listen to him. “Well I’m hungry, if you aren’t. I’m walking over to the grill. I think I’ll take a dip first. You want to join me, Double-R?” I’ve never really figured out if he prefers Roch, or Double-R. This relationship stuff is still new to me. Not that Roch and I have a relationship. Unless it’s that I scare the wiz out of him, but he loves that I serve bad guys up on a platter. I guess it’s a relationship of sorts. He deals with me so no other Fiddly agent has to step into harm’s way to interact with me. No way, with all the bureaucracy, could a Fibbie deal with me. “I’m not big into salt water,” Roch said. What? “The club has a nice pool,” Flynn explained. “I can loan you a pair of shorts.” Roch rattled, “I,” about five times.  I told him I wouldn’t drown him. “Too bad we have to wear anything. The office gets snotty about going in the nude.” “And you won’t do it again, right?” Flynn whispered. I ignored Flynn. He headed forward as I wondered about Roch’s rounded eyes. Not having any empathy probably hinders my understanding of subtle gestures like that. Those almost amber eyes continued to study me. What might he be learning? Flynn returned and handed Roch a pair of his more subdued beach shorts. I wish he’d brought that tiny Speedo. Roch could keep it. On Flynn, a sight I’ll never un-see. “Come on, Roch.” I rotated my hand in the air. “Drop those khakis.” He said, “I’ll go forward, if you don’t mind.” “Why?” I asked. “I’ve seen your—” “He’s modest,” Flynn whispered. He’ll feel modest when I take him into the grill with all those great grandmothers hanging their cellulite all over the place, studying him like their next meal. Flynn said he’d hang out here, let us kids have some space. The expression flitted over my head. He knows I get itchy in crowds. But three doesn’t constitute a crowd. Four does, though. “You hiding from Madge?” I asked. “Louise. The woman’s a clinger.” Definitely weird. Her hubs went belly up earlier in the year. She sold the boat, kept the slip and her club membership, moved into the complex across the street. Spends most of every day in the clubhouse.  Maybe the octogenarians in the condos are cliquish.  I may have zoned out because Roch loomed over me, studying me I think. He wore his button down, open, Flynn’s flip flops. The look still allowed a lot of white flesh. Funny how I once expected all Floridians to be a rich mahogany.  We strode for the clubhouse without speaking. He looked down at me now and then, so maybe the quiet didn’t imply a mind in neutral. My eyes scanned the adjacent docks—habit. There is a contract out on me still. But my ears were tuned to the sound of our steps. The echo off the water below still intrigues me, after all these months. I dove into the pool without waiting for Roch. Seventy-degree water feels like ice after ninety-degree Naples September. The closest thing to cold I would ever endure again. I exited the pool without trying to acclimate to it, and sat to drip dry in the sun for a moment. Roch stood across the corner of the pool, studying me again. Still. What? He padded over and sat in the chaise next to me. He should worry about five minutes of sun touching those virgin shins of his. “That was fast,” he said. I said, a dip. My stomach grumbled. I had promised it sustenance. I said, “Let’s eat,” and headed for the grill, or at least the order window.  Tasha, I never introduced myself, it says that on her shirt, I’m all about observation, slid the window open as I neared. The cold air from inside brushed my face, tingled my damp shoulders. “Regular?” she beamed.  I nodded. “And whatever—” Roch had lingered back in the sun, but was loping toward me now. When he reached me he asked what was good. That’s subjective isn’t it, so the question confused me. It seemed to take him an inordinate amount of time to decide. Food is food. Thankfully Tasha didn’t hand him the clubhouse menu. I strode away as he negotiated a meal. And Flynn calls me anal. The expression, high maintenance, wafted through my head. When Roch joined me at the table I selected under the marvelously languid breeze of a ceiling fan, he mumbled something about not being asked to pay. I explained they added it to my tab. Trying to ignore the nosy stares from the geezers at five other tables, I scanned the breadth of the marina. No one out of the ordinary. Roch seemed to need to look at me a lot. Or maybe he was trying to find something to chat about.  I’m not so good with conversation. Ten minutes later Tasha called my name. He jolted to retrieve our lunch. Oddly, he motioned me back down, and jogged for the window the best he could in Flynn’s flip flops. Maybe collecting the food is something gentlemen do for ladies. Felt weird. As though I’ve got a broken leg. Thankfully Flynn lets me do for myself. “She says this is our order,” Roch said, returning with two trays of food. I scanned the trays. My antipasto, club and sides, cantaloupe, beer, onion rings, cottage cheese, shrimp cocktail, and cheese nachos, heavy with the jalapenos. And of course my slice of chocolate cake.  “I got mine.” I asked him if he got shorted. An expression I couldn’t read blanketed his face. He shook his head and sat. I don’t know why he hesitated. I finished off my shrimp cocktail first. I didn’t want to have to share. Maybe I’d let Roch grab a cheesy nacho. I had never tasted shrimp until Flynn turned me onto them here at the club. The horseradish and Tabasco does something to launch my appetite.  Flynn has turned me on to a lot of firsts. There was one first I couldn’t help but hope someone else helped me with. Maybe Roch. Though he’s a little old and past his prime. Maybe my forest ranger. Ellis appears interested in me. Why else does he come down to visit every other weekend? But he mostly fishes. Neither of us are good with conversation. So he takes the dingy out in the channel a lot. Flynn is always happy to fry the bluegill he brings back. “You skip a few meals?” Roch asked, bringing me back to Naples. “Why?” Immediately my face warmed. A bit of anger even ticced. “I wasn’t exactly starved,” I rasped. “Before. But my menu was limited. I’m never living like that again.” He nodded. His face hued, but it might have just been the sun from earlier. “You’ve, uh, filled out nicely,” he muttered. “I worried you were sick when we first met.” “These boobs are a pain,” I groused, hefting my right almost out of my suit. Didn’t mean to. The suit has grown to cover them less and less over the summer. He definitely flamed a nice red. I must have said one of those inappropriate things Flynn has been helping me with. “How’s the eyesight?” Roch pointed up to his own eye. I raised a finger to the L-shaped scar where they glued my socket back where it was supposed to be. Chapter 3 ~ “So what’s our first step?” Flynn asked me excitedly after Roch left. “Our?” I mumbled. I noted the sun hung at about forty-five degrees. Roch and Flynn sure found a lot to gab about. “We’re partners,” he said. “You’re a CPA.” He shrugged. “So you going to kidnap a Columbian kid?” “Yeah.” “You told him you’d behave,” he whined. I thought back to the conversation. I’m pretty certain I never said anything like that. And I have a pretty good memory. “I either have to beat information out of someone, or fly to Columbia and break into their archives.” Flynn was stupid enough to ask me why. As though every country in the world flays their citizen’s private information on the Internet for any hacker like me to read at their leisure.  All it takes is fragments of family information on a thug identified in the paper and the trail takes off in a hundred directions. Of course, that’s why there are laws to keep citizen data private. Which is really funny, because anyone with a credit card can get forty percent of the stuff someone like me needs from local elections offices.  They love the income stream. They call it public records so they hock it with abandon. Hilarious. Politicians really don’t want it getting out exactly how much data is public record, or they would eventually have to bow to the scrutiny, eliminate the access it gives them to the slobs they want to pester every freaking November.  Doesn’t matter the danger to their constituents.  Give me five hours and I can provide a five-page report on anyone’s sex life, right out of their own medical records. They’d have to have a sex life. I’m safe there. I would never register to vote. Imagine all those blocks I’d have to fill out. All of it so easy to hack. That isn’t to say I haven’t voted. Even before my freedom from Cheska, I voted thirty or forty times in every California precinct I could hack, every cycle. I figured the Republicans could use the help. I didn’t bother in Illinois. The corrupt Democratic machine isn’t beatable there. Too many votes disappear. Too many voters like me who spring from Lake Michigan like magic. There is a reason the Dems will fight to the death to keep the process as progressive as the Klan. “You back?” Flynn asked. I didn’t go anywhere. But I blinked hard. My eyes were oddly dry. I passed through the salon for my cabin, a sense of loss tweaking my chest. I don’t think it had anything to do with Roch leaving, but I’ve noted a similar thing happens after giving him a so long after his other drop bys, slash inquisitions. I pulled on my only pair of jeans, which snuggled a lot tighter to my hips since the last time I wore them, maybe during June when I was driving to North Miami frequently to do some first person analysis. I’ll worry when I can’t feel the ridges in my abs without the slightest clench. I grabbed socks and my hikers, eyeing the panel that hid my sidearms. I’d have to leave my Glock in the car. Maybe the little nine millimeter. No. I didn’t want to have to wear anything extra to hide the thing.  What was I thinking? Not like I was strolling into a shady neighborhood. To find a slum, I’d have to drive a full day. An eyesore in Naples, Florida entails a Detroit automobile that’s old enough to be paid off and a carport without a boat hiding under it. Naples isn’t a city the cops make a lot of overtime, break up many bar fights, even turn on their twirly lights more than once a year. It’s a seventy-square-mile planned community. A city without a main drag. Not really. So no surprise the explosion of crime involved drugs, to kill the boredom. I wasn’t headed for a dive bar. But an exclusive private college bookstore slash sub, five miles into the suburbs. My most serious clue I found wasn’t on a precinct blotter, but a college kid’s blog. He said, “For some good dope see Jose in the bookstore,” as though he was kidding. He wasn’t kidding. I pulled out one of Cheska’s identities. If I was doing anything slightly on the gray side, I might as well do it as a forty-five-year-old Chicago woman. I studied the name a moment. Wouldn’t be good if I got stopped for speeding and couldn’t tell the cop the name and address on the D L. Shoes on, I trotted for topside, grabbed the Mercedes keys, told Flynn tootles. He told me to be home by nine or we’d have to renegotiate my curfew. I have no idea what that meant.  Twenty minutes later I parked among Bimmers and Corvettes, and strolled into the Collier Campus Bookstore. I shivered. Never understand why these Floridians need the AC turned to Arctic. Lord. The place reminded me of the four-story metropolis at DePaul, complete with swanky bakery on the side, lounge areas, scaled down for the twenty thousand regional population. As many people attend DePaul, my alma mater, as reside on this side of South Florida. I slogged about from ground floor to mezzanine looking like a student, I think. There were a surprising number of real students in swimming suit tops, but itty bitty tiny shorts on the bottom. My less-than-soaring height helps me look twenty years old.  This student body hit about ninety-nine percent white evidently. The few black and Hispanics I crossed, stood out. Each male I mentally affixed with the name Jose, to see if it fit. Amazing how accurate the process can be. If I hear Mildred, I can give you a description down to her horn-rimmed glasses. Jose suggested more Apache than Aztec blood, with the strong features that suggests, a bit over the average five-four stature found in Benito Juarez Park. I mentally blended in the European blood that would have found its way in over the past ten generations, and returned to the twenty-year-old stacking books in the history section. “Hey, Jose.” “Can I help you, ma’am,” he said with a degree of cheer I never could have mastered, stacking books.  Do I look old enough to be a ma’am? His smile washed away. Maybe I stepped closer than the arm-and-a-half distance for polite discourse with an unknown party of the opposite gender. I could never relate to people at all without the sixty credit hours of sociology, psychology, and anthropology I took at DePaul. Vonda taught me six languages, but not how to communicate. “I understand you might be able to—” I stopped when he closed his eyes and dropped his head back. “Man. Are you another narc?” He opened his eyes, which trailed up and down, paused twice about where my boobs try to push out of my swim suit, these days. “I could kill him. His girlfriend dumped him. I took her out once. Now he does everything he can to ruin my life.” “Huh?” tumbled out of my mouth. He stepped closer. “You’re a little older than the typical rookie that comes in—” he made little hooks with his fingers, “trying to score.” “Rookie?” I whispered, not convinced this guy was innocent yet. “I’m not even local. I’ve been tootling down the intracoastals from Chesapeake Bay, on my way to Port Arthur—” “Would I be stacking books for minimum wage if I was some drug dealer?” I stepped back and gave him a final analysis. “You’ve played too much tennis to bother working for minimum wage.” “Huh?” he mumbled. “The forearms. The freckles. Means a lot of hours in the sun. And those with Indios blood have to spend bukoos of time in the sun before—” “Indios?” “You’re no Swede, darlin’,” I shot at him. “I’ll be leaving the marina in a couple days. Can you set me up or not?” He had pretty eyes. I love I can gaze into eyes now. With Cheska, that would have drawn a beating. Jose paused too long to be innocent, not to be thinking, eyes studying my face, flicking back to my boobs a couple times. It was nice not having to crane my neck to look into a male’s face for a change. Roch and my ranger are both over six foot. Flynn right at. “You can come visit me in my slip,” I said, “if you want to check me out before committing yourself. I wouldn’t want you to take any risk or anything. “L-17, near the end. Can’t miss us. Biggest boat there.” I turned and marched for the exit. “Us? What marina?” How many marinas in Naples had L number of docks? Sheesh. A funny thing happened to me that moment. I got the enormous buzz in my bonnet that the kid was studying my butt. Really? That would be flattering. Roch acts as though I have no gender. Though he studied the back of my suit this morning. Ellis hasn’t progressed into adulthood yet, so don’t think he even gets those yearnings.  At the end of the aisle I turned around, brisk enough to catch Jose if he was watching. He wasn’t fast enough, turning back to his cart. Very cool. A twenty-year-old thinks I’m worth looking at. That’s something. The late afternoon humidity hit me like a whip as I crossed the second set of glass doors, raising my temperature above what Jose got it, but nearly thirty years of training kept me alert. Eyes flicked left and right. Maybe a dozen kids in sight.  The blond kid wearing the white pullover, collared shirt with the little pony on it, pale blue pleated shorts that hit mid-thigh, Van’s Classics on his feet, who pushed away from the wall when I hit the sidewalk, kept my peripheral focus. Just a coincidence, I told myself. Just kidding. Vonda taught me not to believe in chance. Reaching the parking lot I sensed the dude speed up. I pulled my key fob from my pocket, maybe it was nerves, because the Mercedes would unlock and start without physically using a key. Maybe an engrained response, watching Machado prepare to drive the old Lincoln all those times. “Psst.” Bingo. A slimebag was making contact. To stay in character, I waited for the second psst, then angled a look over my shoulder. “That piss for me, sweetheart?” I tried to smile, but Flynn swears I’m incapable of executing one. I slowed to let him catch up without looking uncool. At five feet, the Mercedes already beeping open, the kid in his early twenties gave me a, hey. “Saw you talking to Jose.” I waited, hooking the key ring into a pocket to free up my hands. This kid had walked off some ivy league catalogue. Skin a pale above hospital comatose. Eyes Bermuda-blue. Father could be a famous orthopedic surgeon, or international banker vacationing from Manhattan.  “You looking to score?” he asked. I asked him if he was selling timeshares. He laughed, and asked what kind of product I was interested in. This doofus wasn’t connected to MS-13, not in this plane of reality. I said, “Some really good pot,” and then rambled a list of ten other pharmaceuticals, just for his reaction.  His eyes crossed a little, so he wasn’t a second-year med student. “I don’t mess with pot much, but I got meth and coke that’ll make you dreamy cool.” Who was feeding this elitist little baby his lines? All my years hanging in the streets following Cheska’s targets, I got hit up a lot. Addicts so strung out they could hardly talk could manage the compounds I mentioned, via muscle memory.  “Need to talk to someone higher in the food chain than you, Chip,” I told him. That confused him for a moment. No. He was no pre-med candidate. I pointed toward the main building and suggested he was quite the lightweight if he thought this was a prime selling district. He wrenched his eyes, shuffled his shoulders like he might man up or something. I told him thanks but no thanks, that I was heading for Tampa to hook up with a regional distributor I know. He was balling his fist. Really. I looked forward to this. Maybe a bit of a smile even creased my lips. Probably not. I need to practice a little more in front of a mirror. Get some tips from Flynn. He’s fast and loose with the gratuitous gestures.  “So all you have is street shit?” I asked him. He sputtered. I told him we were done. May have given him that look that scares Roch, because Skippy turned inside his Van’s and retreated up the parking lot. Maybe I should have asked him for a business card, just in case nothing else came up.  © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
just dead Chapter 1 ~ I    put   a   big   hurt   in   the   Miami   crime   scene   without having   to   torture,   kill,   even   manhandle   a   single scumbag.   I   can   manhandle   a   guy,   even   at   about five    feet    tall,    I    won’t    say    how    many    inches    on which   side.   A   man   doesn’t   want   to   have   to   face   me even    if    I    look    somewhat    dainty    because    I    don’t fight   fair.   No   one   has   ever   called   me   a   lady,   and never will. Since   I   was   three   years   old   I   was   tutored   to analyze    data.    I    didn’t    start    with    stacking    blocks like   most   kids.   Fun   was   fingering   a   bullet   with   my eyes   closed   to   determine   its   caliber.   I   learned   to count by .22, .25, .38, .44, .45. Lifting   a   wallet   from   inside   a   man’s   jacket   was recess   at   four.   Jamming   a   stiletto   in   an   eye   socket to   end   a   fight   was   biology   at   five.   By   six   I   could lead   a   symposium   on   the   human   pain   centers.   At seven I had my first martial arts black belt. I   was   twenty-nine   before   a   human   hugged   me, touched   me   with   compassion.   Just   weeks   before that    I    learned    my    true    birthdate,    my    last    name wasn’t   Morgan,   and   the   miserable   bitch   that   had kept   me   locked   in   a   cold   Chicago   basement   my whole life was actually my mother. She   was   knocked   up   at   fourteen   by   a   priest   she probably    hounded    for    years    before    he    took    her behind   some   altar.   Disowned   by   her   parents,   the priest   got   her   out   of   his   parish,   handing   her   off   to the   mob,   where   she   turned   out   to   be   a   better   killer than hooker. So   I   have   an   excuse   for   my   antisocial   behavior. But    even    if    I    can’t    smile,    I    don’t    think    I’m    a complete sociopath. I   approached   the   crime   problem   in   Miami   in   a manner   the   twits   in   the   FBI   struggled   to   embrace. My   thrust   was   to   get   the   crime   bosses   in   county lockup   for   petty   things,   not   the   bighouse   for   their major transgressions that were harder to prove. Even   my   pretty   FDLE   handler,   Double-R,   had issue   with   my   methods   at   first.   I   had   to   threaten   to kick    the    sheet    out    of    him    to    take    my    premise higher up. I’m    surrounded    by    short-sighted    idiots.    But just    like    I    told    them,    the    disruption    to    their organizations    meant    sloppy    operations.    Sloppy operations meant convictions. Didn’t   anyone   learn   anything   with   Al   Capone? He   went   away   for   tax   evasion.   And   that   was   the first   domino   in   the   battle   against   major   Chicago crime.   Of   course   it’s   grown   adult-sized   since   then, but   I’m   not   going   back   to   Chicago   to   help   them out. My luck ran out in that town. I     closed     my     laptop.     It     wasn’t     the     Polish newspaper   I   was   reading.   Yeah,   taking   on   a   new language     is     hard.     But     Vonda     pressed     that continual   learning   is   key   for   a   sharp   mind.   Today my   mind   simply   wished   to   wander.   Maybe   it   was because Double-R asked to meet. There   had   been   minutes   at   a   time   I   thought   I might    lose    my    virginity    to    that    man.    Not    very likely.   He’s   way   too   afraid   of   me.   Hates   to   be   alone with me. So today’s visit isn’t typical. “What’s wrong?” Flynn asked. I   glared   at   him.   What.   Just   because   I   closed my laptop, something was wrong? “Why don’t you get a job?” I asked. That   no   longer   makes   him   hue   red.   He   thinks he’s   invaluable   to   me   now,   that   he’s   found   a   way   to funnel   my   Swiss   funds   back   into   the   states   where   I can   use   them.   In   a   drip.   Drip.   And   launder   my onshore accounts. In a slower drip. Drip. “What would you do without me?” he asked. My    eyes    trailed    from    his    mostly    bald    head, across   his   hairy   chest,   beer   belly,   down   to   his   well- tanned toes. “Don’t     undress     me     like     that,”     he     mewed. “Makes me feel so sexualized.” At   least   I’d   been   getting   him   to   walk   so   his belly   was   trimming   down.   The   daily   yoga,   daily when   we   had   the   yacht   in   the   marina,   had   toned him up a bit. His plank is improving. “Old man,” I muttered. “Experienced, you mean.” He   got   on   the   boat   and   never   put   another   shirt on.   His   harry   nipples   would   never   not   gross   me out.   If   I   smiled,   I   would   have   smiled   that   moment thinking   back   to   the   first   time   he   found   me   doing yoga on the deck in the nude. How   did   I   know   that   would   gross   him   out?   So   I rode   my   bicycle   into   the   market   the   next   day   and bought yoga pants and a sports bra, just for him. That   first   day   I   must   have   set   the   lips   flapping all   around   the   marina,   because   a   week   later   I   was coerced   to   lead   a   gaggle   of   eight-hundred-year-old women   in   the   clubhouse.   They   really   gross   me   out. I   try   not   to   look   at   them.   I   think   Flynn   only   joined us to meet the old ladies. “Your   eyes   are   doing   that   twitching   thing,”   he said. He   claims   he   can   tell   when   my   mind   is   miles away.   For   a   CPA   he   understands   people   fairly   well. I’ve    practically    got    a    degree    in    psychology    and can’t   claim   to   understand   a   single   thing   about   the species.   But   I   understand   the   criminal   mind   like no     one     else     I’ve     ever     met.     Vonda     knew     the criminal   mind   and   she   was   a   good   teacher.   And   a good criminal. Until Cheska screwed her bigtime. Flynn’s   eyes   flicked   up   the   dock,   and   I   sighed, even   before   following   his   line   of   sight.   Double-R. Anyone   with   a   name   like   Rodrick   Roch   would   be better   off   with   a   stupid   nickname   like   Double-R.   I mostly think of him as Roch, still. He   wore   khaki   pants   today,   not   his   usual   jeans. Stuck     with     the     button-down     dress     shirt.     He gripped   a   gob   of   envelopes   in   one   hand,   he   just hates   that   I   only   check   my   mailbox   every   month   or so, and a stack of folders in his other. “What    do    you    think    the    Fibbies    are    upset about this time?” Flynn mumbled. I   thought   back   to   the   day   Flynn   explained   to me   what   kind   of   cop   Roch   was.   He   called   him   a Fiddly.      For      FDLE.      Florida      Department      of something,   maybe   Law   Enforcement.   Fiddly.   That kind   of   cracked   me   up.   Most   humor   sails   over   my head. I don’t know why. But that was really funny. When   Roch   was   forty   feet   away,   Flynn   called, “I hope those aren’t leather soles.” He   says   that   every   time   Roch   visits.   He   thinks that    is   funny.   I   guess   he   read   once   it   was   a   horrible transgression to wear leather soles on a boat. Roch   climbed   the   transom   and   hoisted   his   butt over    the    gunwale.    He    strode    across    the    deck without   a   nod,   dropped   the   mail   in   my   lap.   Visited the   fridge   deeper   in   the   salon,   returning   with   a soda. Took a hit and sat behind me with a groan. “Long drive?” Flynn asked. “From Tallahassee,” he said. Flynn asked him what took him up north. “Met with the Commissioner.” “Of baseball?” I asked. Flynn   snorted.   Roch   said,   “FDLE.”   As   though   I didn’t    figure    that    out.    No    one    gets    my    humor. About like I get theirs. “Can you come back here?” Roch asked. What.   He   didn’t   want   to   talk   to   my   back?   I stood,   but   didn’t   join   him   in   the   forward   salon.   I gripped   the   gunwale   and   did   some   stretches   first.   I have   a   habit   of   not   moving   when   I’m   in   front   of my computer, and tighten up like a rusty nut. Combination   of   the   September   heat   and   bright morning    sun    had    painted    me    with    a    sheen    of sweat    by    the    time    I    strode    back.    Roch    noticed maybe.    His    eyes    traversed    my    legs    and    arms.    I wore   my   one-piece   swimming   suit,   which   covers all   of   the   scars   Machado   left   me   on   my   back   and stomach,   so   don’t   know   why   his   eyes   hovered   over my butt so long. I   grabbed   his   soda   and   took   a   hit.   He   said   he’d be   glad   to   get   me   my   own.   He   must   not   have   been taught   to   share   when   he   was   little.   When   I   was little,   I   didn’t   have   anything   to   share,   no   one   to share    with,    except    Vonda.    Nothing    but    a    cold basement.   I   never   want   to   be   cold   again.   It   would take a tow truck to ever get me north of I-10 again. No.   Nothing   would   ever   get   me   off   this   boat. Or    more    than    a    gas    tank    away    from    Naples, Florida.   Since   April   I’ve   slept   naked,   right   here   on the    salon    without    a    thread    over    me.    It’s    been heaven.     Flynn     thinks     it’s     inappropriate,     for whatever reason. A    breeze    flicked    at    the    mail    I’d    left    on    my chaise.   Roch   brushed   past   me   to   grab   it.   As   he walked    back    he    flipped    through    the    envelopes. “You have three paychecks here,” he mumbled. No   checks.   That   had   been   auto-deposit   since Roch    made    me    make    my    relationship    with    the state   official.   Like   I   needed   the   salary   of   a   crime analyst.   If   I   needed   money,   I   could   just   rob   a   bank or   something.   No.   I’d   rip   off   a   crime   boss.   They tick me off. Roch    set    the    mail    on    the    table.    His    reach brought   him   a   breath   away   from   me.   The   hair   on his   forearms,   what   I   could   see   below   his   rolled   up sleeves,   rose   stiffly.   His   brow   bristled   with   beads of   sweat.   I   make   the   poor   man   so   uncomfortable. But    he    didn’t    pull    away.    He    remained    looming inches     away.     Weird.     His     personal     space     is gargantuan.    Did    he    think    about    kissing    me    or something? “The    brass    wants    you    to    take    a    break    from Miami,” Roch said softly. “This    spike    in    murders    in    Naples    has    them concerned?” I asked. His chin dropped. Naples   property   crime   is   pretty   much   standard for   Florida,   which   is   low   by   national   standards. But traditionally, violent crime was nil. Not lately. “How’d       you       see       that       coming?”       Roch whispered. Flynn   laughed.   He   was   inches   away   from   the two   of   us.   I   hadn’t   noticed   him   join   us.   I   think   of myself    as    being    very    observant.    So    his    sudden appearance ticked me off. “What she’s about,” Flynn said. “Numbers.” I   did   take   a   lot   of   statistics   for   my   master’s. Cheska   was   very   concerned   about   risk.   Made   me generate numbers for every hit. “MS-13   is   pushing   out   all   the   preppy   college drug dealers,” I said. Roch   hissed,   as   though   he’d   taken   a   hit   to   the solar plexus. “MS-13? How do you know that?” “You   know   she   reads,   a   lot,   huh?”   Flynn   slid into the center spot of the salon table. I    took    the    near    seat    on    the    bench.    After another exhalation of air, Roch sat facing me. Was    he    studying    the    scar    above    my    right breast?    Machado    left    me    with    a    lot    of    identical beauty   marks.   I   should   count   them   some   day.   Not that I’m anal. Numbers aren’t everything. Well. Pretty much. Chapter 2 ~ R och    drew    the    file    folders    together.    A    sense    of panic     worked     across     my     shoulders.     I     hadn’t finished    with    them.    He’d    leave    them    with    me, wouldn’t he? “What?” he asked. “What, what?” I asked. “That scary thing, on your face.” What? “You    can    look    scary    sometimes,    you    know that,” Flynn explained for me. The   insult   must   have   hit   Roch.   He   pushed   the files back to my side of the table. I   felt   that   pressure   release   in   my   chest,   gave Flynn    a    look.    That’s    why    I    keep    the    old    man around. As my interpreter. “What?” Flynn asked. Maybe    he    didn’t    always    understand    me.    I turned back to Roch. “The   best   way   to   get   intel   on   this   trash   is   to grab a Columbian kid and squeeze him.” “You     can’t     grab     a     Columbian     kid,”     Roch growled. “I    can    take    him    offshore    before    I    torture,    I mean   question   him.   You   don’t   have   to   be   in   the loop.” Roch    appeared    ready    to    urp.    Held    his    eyes closed.   Must   be   the   movement   of   the   boat.   I   asked him if he needed some Dramamine. “You’re   an   FDLE   agent,”   he   hissed.   “You   can’t break any law that’s inconvenient.” “I can quit.” “You’re    not    grabbing.    You’re    not    torturing. You’re not breaking any laws.” How   did   he   think   I   got   all   the   data   on   his   thugs in   Miami?   The   man   is   so   stinking   naïve.   I   should shoot     him.     The     residents     of     Florida     rely     on numbskulls like him? That is terrifying. “What?” Roch mumbled. “She thinks you’re an idiot,” Flynn interpreted. Maybe Flynn does get me. “I    graduated    at    the    top    of    my    class    in    the academy,” Roch hissed. Kindergarten? “Fine. You’re really smart.” “Analyze. That’s your job,” he rumbled. That   isn’t   exactly   what   I’d   been   doing   the   last nine     months,     especially     during     my     time     in Chicago,   earlier.   How   many   guys   did   I   cap?   Seven? Eight.   No.   Pretty   sure   it   was   just   seven.   But   that was before Roch made me accept this stupid job. As   a   confidential   informant,   I   was   a   lot   freer   to act.   I’ve   never   worked   under   constraints,   or   moral boundaries.   Being   a   member   of   law   enforcement   is really hard. “Which   reminds   me,   the   major   is   ticked   you’re really behind on your reports.” I   never   said   I’d   spend   days   filling   out   reports. Maybe    it    was    in    all    the    stuff    I    signed.    But    the paper   work   is   all   under   Aran   Morgan.   She   doesn’t exist.    Well,    did    once.    Died    at    seventeen    in    a backcountry    traffic    accident    in    the    seventies.    A drunk    slammed    into    the    car    she    and    her    two friends   were   in.   A   very   sad   story.   If   I   could   garner any   empathy.   The   news   article   I   read   called   it   sad, though.   So   it   must   have   been.   Everything   in   the paper is true. Flynn   held   his   hand   up   at   Roch,   the   universal, wait. “Okay,” Flynn said. “She’s back.” I   hate   how   he   does   that.   I   asked   Roch   if   his commissioner   had   any   priorities   to   keep   in   mind.   I visualized   a   man   in   a   dark   suit   pulling   his   hair   out, screaming   something   about   whose   idea   it   was   to employ     a     psychotic     lunatic.     Why     was     it     so important    to    Roch    that    I    convert    from    CI    to Fiddly?   He   probably   put   a   lot   on   the   line.   Maybe   I should respect that and stay clean. “She went away again, huh?” Roch whispered. I   asked   him   if   he   was   up   for   lunch.   He   shook his    head,    but    in    confusion    I    think.    I’ve    studied body language, but I’m far from fluent. “About     priorities,”     he     said.     “Your     status reports    will    help    us—she’s    giving    me    that    look again.” “Best    to    stop    talking    when    she    does    that,” Flynn whispered. Roch     cleared     his     throat.     “You’re     one     of hundreds   of   senior   agents.   The   brass   can’t   call   you in every day to discuss—” “Stop talking now,” Flynn whispered. Yeah.   Listen   to   him.   “Well   I’m   hungry,   if   you aren’t.   I’m   walking   over   to   the   grill.   I   think   I’ll   take a   dip   first.   You   want   to   join   me,   Double-R?”   I’ve never    really    figured    out    if    he    prefers    Roch,    or Double-R.    This    relationship    stuff    is    still    new    to me. Not    that    Roch    and    I    have    a    relationship. Unless   it’s   that   I   scare   the   wiz   out   of   him,   but   he loves   that   I   serve   bad   guys   up   on   a   platter.   I   guess it’s   a   relationship   of   sorts.   He   deals   with   me   so   no other   Fiddly   agent   has   to   step   into   harm’s   way   to interact with me. No    way,    with    all    the    bureaucracy,    could    a Fibbie deal with me. “I’m not big into salt water,” Roch said. What? “The   club   has   a   nice   pool,”   Flynn   explained.   “I can loan you a pair of shorts.” Roch rattled, “I,” about five times. I   told   him   I   wouldn’t   drown   him.   “Too   bad   we have   to   wear   anything.   The   office   gets   snotty   about going in the nude.” “And    you    won’t    do    it