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For Moises and Pauline Rick

Chapter One

I throttled down through Stiltsville, the reflection of the moon shimmering off Biscayne Bay. I loved this time of night. Behind me, a dark unlit boat slipped into my wake. I’d been watching her on radar. Been expecting them.

The key to having four supercharged Mercury Verado 350 engines—providing 1,400 horsepower and speeds reaching almost one hundred miles per hour—is knowing when and when not to use them. She hit her lights. Four spotlights up top lit up the center of my forty-four-foot Center Console Intrepid like noonday. The spinning blue lights above showered us. Agent Russ Spangler was ex–Special Forces and lived on full moon adrenaline nights like this. He was currently employing his shock-and-awe tactic of blinding me with a million-power handheld spotlight. We’d played this game before. His partner, Special Agent Melanie Beckwith, had a Napoleon complex and made up for what she lacked with anabolic steroids and muscles a good bit bigger than mine.

While I could outrun them, I could not outrun the Coast Guard, also on my radar, or the planes they could summon. I might make it back to the island, but it’d be the last run I ever made and I had no real intention of retiring just yet. If ever a person had a prime, I was in it. The engines behind me were a last ditch. To use them meant it would be the last time I’d ever run this boat, and at almost $500,000, I’d like to use it more than once. But that’s the thing about owning a boat like this: If you’re going to own it and stay in this business, you can’t get too attached. That’s pretty much true for anything. And anyone. No attachments. You’ve got to be willing to shove what you love off a cliff at the first sign of agents like Spangler and Beckwith.

In almost a decade of this business, I’ve learned much but one lesson guides me: I hold everything loosely. And that includes people. My life and those I value dangle on a knife’s edge, a precipice where—if circumstances arise that are contrary to my freedom—one gentle nudge will send them cascading down. Gone. Over the falls at Niagara. This mind-set also governs what I enjoy and what I hope to enjoy. Even what I dream. As a safeguard, I live with limited expectation. I tread cautiously. One foot on the bank. Cards close to my chest. I constantly calculate risk and reward because at any second, I may have to run, fold, or dive beneath the surface.

I own nothing and let nothing own me.

I checked my watch. A Marathon dive watch given to me by Shelly. She claimed I’d be late to my own funeral, so she’d set it five minutes fast. The hands were lit by tritium, which glowed brightly in the night air. I had time. I cut the engines and turned into the lights. Agents Spangler and Beckwith slid up alongside me, made all the easier in the glass-like conditions. Spangler’s voice echoed across the water. “Hello, Charlie Finn. Imagine my shock at finding you out here this time of night.”

I shoved my hands in my pockets and smiled at Agent Beckwith. Giving her my best Humphrey Bogart. “Of all the gin joints…”

She jumped onto my boat, tying off my bow to her stern. She smiled and said nothing. I nodded. “Looks like that weight lifting program is really paying off.”

She pointed. “Stand there and be quiet.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency and Coast Guard and Game and Fish Commissions possess expanded search authorities so they’re a little more liberal in their violation of my constitutional rights. They also knew I wasn’t about to take them to court or call my attorney. So they—and their German shepherd, Molly—spent the next thirty minutes tearing my boat apart. Sniffing for anything resembling residue. I folded my arms and watched with curiosity. I was really impressed when Agent Spangler slid into his diving gear and inspected my hull. About forty minutes in, the two agents disassembled my center console, leaving Molly sitting faithfully at my feet. I scratched her head and let her lick my hand. She put one paw on my thigh and leaned into me. When they weren’t looking, I fed her dog bone–shaped treats. After almost two hours of grunting and sweating and finding nothing, they reported to someone in some office on the other end of their cell phones and then cast off my bowline and departed without a word.

Somebody had tipped them off that I was running tonight, and they were right—I was, but that same someone had also tipped me off that they’d tipped them off. It pays to pay more and Colin—my business partner—pays more. Spangler and Beckwith had been dogging me for the better part of five years. As had the team of Miller and Marks before them. And while I’d run enough to fill up this boat twenty to thirty or even fifty times, I’d never been caught. And I wasn’t about to get caught tonight.

Casually, I cranked the engines and watched in muted amazement as Spangler and Beckwith disappeared north. Humming quietly to myself, “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey…,” I slid silently into the maze of canals that fed into the bay. I slithered through the darkness past the hundred-foot yachts and $20 million mansions where the who’s who of Miami parked their lives on display. I’d made drops at many of these homes, but one of the things that made me successful and still at it was the fact that what started with me stayed with me. I knew how to keep a secret, and I knew what to risk and how.

I serpentined through the maze, knowing that Beckwith had planted more than one hidden GPS receiver on this boat. They’d installed the first months ago, and we’d been playing this game of cat and mouse ever since. The show tonight was to plant a second as the first must have been giving conflicting signals due to salt corrosion. Of course, that muriatic acid I poured on it might also have had something to do with it. Never could really tell.

Miller and Marks had started this. That time I found it a few days later, so I sold the boat to a guy making a pass through the Panama Canal and up the other side. They thought I was making a pickup in Mexico. They sent boats and helicopters and planes, and that failed sting operation cost them a pretty penny. They were not happy. The guy who bought the boat said they were more than a little surprised to find him marlin fishing off the coast of Mexico and that Agents Miller and Marks had started throwing blows when they discovered it wasn’t me. They were even more surprised a few hours later when, upon their return, they found me on my porch in Bimini, swaying in my hammock, staring out across the horizon with a cup of coffee in my hand and a devilish smile pasted on my face. “Coffee?”

Now I stared out across the water, the rumble of the engines beneath me. While I didn’t own this boat, I did possess a rather strong affinity for her so Colin had allowed me to name her. I called her the Storied Career. Tomorrow I’d turn forty, and if anything has been true about my life, it’s been storied.

I tied off, checked the radar, and knew Spangler and Beckwith hadn’t gone very far. They weren’t the only ones with a GPS transponder. Two could play that game. We ran a tight ship, but our model was a little different. We ran a boutique firm, operated on the honor system—as much as there was honor among thieves—and worked to reduce the variables. We sold only to clients we vetted. We accepted payment only via wire transfer to offshore accounts. And we determined the drop point. And we never, ever, absolutely ever dropped it when they wanted it or where they wanted it, and we didn’t tell them where it was until after we’d dropped it. If they had to have it right then and right there, we were not their supplier. This model had kept us in the business, and it had kept Beckwith and Spangler sniffing at our heels and always three steps behind.

     

 

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