Aran 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 deadfits somewhere between Janet Evanovich and Mario Puzo.
just deadChapter 1~Iput 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 thatis 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