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Sand Key

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Prologue

The Drop

 

“There’s no happy ending to cocaine. You either die, go to jail, or run out.”

~ Sam Kinison

 

Rudecindo Alejandro drove his Mustang convertible along Collins Avenue in the Art Deco District of Miami’s South Beach. It was early afternoon, and he could feel the sun beating down through the pores of his straw-webbed white fedora. The sidewalks teemed with people, and the street traffic moved at a leisurely pace.

He loved it here—the perfect bodies, the ambience of power, the superfluity of sex and wealth. He had spent countless days exhibiting his physique on the beaches with his parrot perched on his shoulder and endless nights enticing the enraptured with his dance moves in the clubs. In his mind, South Beach was paradise.

He turned onto the grounds of Loews Hotel and proceeded past the palm-tree lined driveway and around the waterfall before a courteous valet stepped in front of his car. Rudecindo handed the keys along with a tip to the young man he recognized as Manuel and then headed inside the hotel along the promenade that led to a bank of elevators. He pressed the first button that would lift him to the Luxury King Suite, where serious men with guns awaited his arrival.

The doors opened. He stepped inside and pressed the floor number given to him by the old man, El Padre. In the wall mirror of the elevator, Rudecindo checked his attire. He wore white linen pants that fell to the silver horsebit on the front of his moccasins. His shirt was a fitted white polo over which he donned a white linen sport jacket with an ink-black silk pocket square. His fedora was angled to one side in a display of self-confidence. Some had suggested he was tall, dark, and handsome—with which he completely agreed—but he preferred to radiate a sense of dignity, stylishness, and charm.

The lift up was quick and whisper-quiet. When the door opened, he stepped into the foyer, walked to the suite, adjusted his jacket once again, and tapped on the door.

He could feel a presence against the other side, no doubt the keeper of the peephole. The door opened suddenly and Rudecindo entered.

“Against the wall, maricón,” the man said, as he closed the door behind them.

“Fernan, you know I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I will allow you to pat me down so there is some excitement in your life, yes? But first, as a favor to me, can you wash your hands?”

Fernan pushed Rudecindo against the wall, kicked his legs apart and began a rough search for weapons. When he was sure Rudecindo was clean, he told him to turn around.

“Take off your hat,” Fernan said.

Rudecindo reached for the fedora and turned it over for inspection. “Generally, my friend, it is not a good idea to wear guns or knives on my head,” he said. Fernan looked in the hat, found nothing, and then motioned for Rudecindo to follow him.

They walked down a short corridor that melded into a larger living space furnished with an L-shaped sofa, two chairs, a desk, and a wall-mounted television. To his left, another corridor led to a bedroom. On the far wall of the living space a sliding-glass door opened to a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. But Rudecindo’s attention was riveted on the two women stretched out on lounge chairs sunbathing topless on the balcony.

Sitting in a chair at the desk with his feet up on a second chair was Diego Fernando, El Padre, a man in his mid-sixties, of short stature with a shock of white hair. He was a soft-spoken man whom Rudecindo respected and feared. Diego was in charge of material distribution from Miami south to Key West.

Spread out on the sofa sat Diego’s closest advisers: Luis Guevara, a slob of a rotund man; Carlos Perez, an emaciated man with a nervous twitch; and the peephole-keeper, Fernan Mosqueda. Rudecindo had little respect for any of them. In his opinion they were all ugly men of quick temper. Pinned on the wall above the sofa was a map of southern Florida. Rudecindo gently placed his fedora on a table next to a piece of driftwood and approached El Padre.

“Rudy, how you today, my friend?” Diego asked in a low, authoritative voice, while he scanned the room as if following the flight of a fly.

Rudecindo placed his hands together as if in prayer and bowed politely. “Things could be better. It is why I am here, yes, Diego?” He looked around the room for a place to sit, but there was none. He took a few steps back until he was able to lean against a wall, which just happened to be in full view of four perky breasts reaching skyward.

Diego crossed his legs and nodded. “Si, too many business interruptions of late. I believe we need a new course, Rudy.”

Rudecindo shifted his weight. “New course, Diego?”

“You here to tell me the men in your group are trusted. If you speak the truth, we must consider our business plan compromised in other ways. Maybe stale; maybe too predictable,” he said rhetorically, as he shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever reason, we need to secure our material so it remains our material, not for others, si?”

“Of course, Diego,” Rudecindo said. He couldn’t keep his attention from wandering to the balcony. It was a blessing Diego never looked anyone in the eyes.

Diego pointed at the table. “There is the future.”

Rudecindo looked at the table and then lifted his fedora. “This, Diego?”

The men on the sofa erupted in laughter.

Pendejo,” Fernan muttered.

“Hey, Rudy, why you wear all the white, anyway? You look like a coca-brick with mierda oozing out the top,” Luis cracked, which caused the men to laugh harder and exchange high fives.

Rudecindo stepped in front of the sofa to face the three men. “It is simple to understand, even for you, Luis. With this,” he said, pointing at his own attire, “I am a virgin in the eyes of a woman. I am the pussy-magnet. You, my friend, will need a search party to find your dick.”

Carlos and Fernan laughed at Luis’s expense, but then spurred him on for a retort. The heavy-set man tried to lift up from the clutches of the sofa, but Diego cleared his throat loud enough to silence the room. Luis promptly plummeted back into the cushions. The hard landing caused a gust of air to billow up and ruffle the hair of the men sitting on either side of him.

“The driftwood,” Diego said, pointing again at the table.

Rudecindo replaced his fedora and lifted the dead wood. He estimated the weight in his hands and turned the piece over to examine it closely.

“Petrified wood?” he questioned Diego.

“Yo, why you think the wood is scared?” Carlos chimed in.

Rudecindo looked at Carlos and wanted to ask, Where do you find these men, Diego, on sale at the Walmart? But he held his tongue.

“It’s fiberglass, like a boat,” Diego said. “Fuerte, and no sink. It hold two key and nobody know. Who give a shit for the driftwood, huh?” Diego chuckled and his minions were obligated to follow suit.

Rudecindo inspected the piece again. It looked old. The wood grain seemed authentic. The weight was as he expected even though he couldn’t remember if he had ever lifted a piece of driftwood in his life. It appeared to be one molded piece.

“Very nice, Diego, you have my compliments. Just how is the material inserted without compromising the appearance?” Rudecindo asked.

“No importa. What matter to you is a hundred or so released each week during the month from a submarine in the gulf. They drift to shore on a friendly tide. We already test, it work. The weatherman tell us good weather, calm water . . . we release. Everything simple. No more coca to be found by police or stolen by others. You find these drifters on the beach like seashells. Maybe it take you few days, a week, who knows, Rudy. But in the end we have around 400 key at twenty grand each. Do the number.”

“The gulf, Diego? Like on the other side of Florida?” Rudecindo asked, as if it were the other side of the world. He did not like where this new course was headed.

“No, the Persian Gulf, Rudy. What up with you?” Diego asked.

Snickers escaped from the three men on the sofa.

Si, the Gulf of Mexico, which you can practically see from the roof,” Diego added, pointing upward.

“Why not here on the ocean side?” Rudecindo pleaded.

Diego waved him off. “The Atlantic, with the gulf stream, high surf, and crowded beachs . . . it no work. But on the gulf side there is a calm current, barrier islands, and most importante . . . less people.” Diego pointed to the wall. “Look at the map.”

Rudecindo turned toward the wall. The landmass between Miami and the west coast of Florida was equivalent to a continent in his eyes. He saw only one route, Alligator Alley, known for hungry alligators, swamp people, and rednecks—none of which Rudecindo cared to share a zip code with. There had to be another way.

“We pick a spot for you to work, Rudy. Carlos, come throw a dart.”

“But Diego,” Rudecindo protested, “I cannot function so far away from the place where I belong. Miami is my life, Padre. And my men . . . I can’t expect for them to—”

Diego held up his hand to quiet Rudecindo. “You need not worry about your men no more. They are dead today. It is a good time to downsize, si?

Rudecindo stumbled backward, his mouth agape. His crew had been eliminated?

Diego gazed up to the ceiling. “You can function now with that news, Rudy? Where I tell you to go?”

Fearing for his own life, Rudecindo nodded. In a whisper he replied, “Yes, Diego.”  

Carlos lifted a dart off the desk, aimed his shaky hand at the map, and tossed it. The dart soared over the men on the couch and landed miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Fernan and Luis laughed.

“Carlos, we need land for Rudy to work. Do another,” Diego said.

By his nervous appearance, it looked to Rudecindo that Carlos understood that failing in the presence of Diego was not an option. If he missed again, he might find himself on the way down to the ground floor via the balcony rather than the elevator. Shaking even more, he took aim.

The dart flew above the men, hit the map, bounced up for some reason and came down, steel tip first, into the shoulder of Luis. The fat man yelped. He pulled the dart from his skin and whipped it back at Carlos. The twitching man twitched at the right moment to avoid the missile, but then Luis erupted from the sofa and charged at him. They met in the middle and wrestled to the floor.

Diego sat back in disgust. “Look at what I must look at. Fernan, break up these idiotas!he demanded.

Fernan ceased cheering the men on, stood up, removed a cannon of a handgun from the small of his back, screwed on a long suppressor, and fired upward. Chunks of plaster and a cloud of white dust fell to the floor, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling. The scrum on the floor continued unabated.

“You bring a fucking silencer to break up a fight?” Diego cursed at Fernan. “What, you think you a mime?”

From the suite above came a thump as if a heavy suitcase had been tossed on the floor. Diego kicked at the wrestling men to grab their attention and then placed his finger against his lips. The room fell silent as each man stared up into the hole. A moment later the thump was followed by a woman’s scream.

     Vamonos! Vamonos!” Diego ordered his men off the floor and waved the naked women inside from the balcony. “Grab your shit, we go,” he announced to all.

The movement was quick. Rudecindo stepped aside and watched as the women hurried to put on clothes. Luis and Carlos, both bloodied, headed for the exit still pushing and punching at each other. Fernan secured the driftwood and waited for Diego’s next command.

A louder scream. This time from the balcony on the upper level.

The old man grabbed the final dart and hurled it hastily at the map. He walked over to where the dart landed, nodded his head, and said, “That is the drop.” He pointed at Rudecindo, then at the map. “You function, si?”

Fernan tore the map off the wall, grabbed the darts and hustled Diego out of the room. Rudecindo followed the flight toward the lobby. He saw Carlos and Luis hurry for the stairs, while Diego, Fernan, and the women piled into the elevator. Out of frustration and fear, Rudecindo spread his arms wide and asked, “Where is the drop?”

The door was closing quickly as Fernan looked back over his shoulder at Rudecindo.

“The dart say Sand Key.”

Chapter One

Pink Paradise

“It’s deja vu all over again.”

~ Yogi Berra

Dawn breaks.

I’m sitting in a beach chair shrouded in darkness as I gaze eastward over the Atlantic Ocean. The first glimpse of light appears on the horizon. The sea is calm, the sand is cool, and a slight breeze ruffles the palm fronds. When I first arrived on this island, almost three months to the day, I thought I would anticipate each sunrise with the same fervor I had for sunsets on my beloved Sand Key. Not the case. Here the sun rises over the ocean but sets behind me over another island. At home the sun rose over Florida and set over the Gulf of Mexico. I prefer my views of the sunsets over water. I also blame my lack of enthusiasm for sunrises on the simple fact that I have to wake up and drag my self-proclaimed hermit ass out to the beach, with bed hair and morning breath, to watch through sleep-deprived eyes as the sun defies gravity and rises from the depths of the ocean. At home on my island, I was groomed and fully alert by the time the sun started to set. With my sand raked and an ample supply of M&M’s, I would relax by the shore with my parrot, Montana, and the occasional trespasser du jour, to watch a spectacular sunset, along with a muster of captains and crewmates anchored just offshore. Once the sun slipped beyond the horizon we would call it a day and everyone left happy. Unfortunately, this is not the case here in the wee hours of the morning.

I partake in this daily ritual by myself even though for the first few days I was able to coax Montana to join me. But after only several early rises, he started to balk by flipping me the wing while screeching, “You think you can take me? You need a fuckin’ army if you gonna take me.” I quickly acquiesced so as not to wake the woman I share this habitat with.

As the day brightens, so does my awareness of the color pink. I currently reside on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, which is famous for a three-mile stretch of pink-sand beaches. Taken alone, this dramatic landscape of pulverized coral and seashells set against a gentle turquoise sea is breathtaking. However, when everything else around me is pink it quickly becomes banal. The ocean-front bungalow in which I’m a resident, nestled under a thicket of palm trees, is painted pink. On the property, a dilapidated skiff half-buried in the sand is pink, as well as the golf cart I cruise the island in. The shade sail that stretches between two palm trees is pink and the resident gnome named Gasper, who balances on the stem of a fallen palm tree, is also pink. A pink fucking gnome! I am awash in pink. When the sun shines down on this pastel paradise it resembles a marketing brochure for Pink Panther insulation.        

So why am I here? Well . . . I guess it’s déjà vu all over again.

Behind me, the weathered screen door creaks open. “Hey babe, did you feed Montana?”

That voice you hear belongs to Fiona Tallahassee, the woman I fell in love with and the reason I currently reside in this Ken and Barbie Dreamhouse. She stands barefoot on the porch, holding the door open with one hand as she anticipates my reply. A white sheer sarong falls to the top of her thighs and highlights her smooth, sun-tanned legs. Her tousled raven hair rests seductively upon her shoulders. Her touch has electrified me from the moment we met, but her beauty, to my eyes, has no parallel.

“Not yet,” I reply.

She nods and says, “I’ll be out in a minute.”

Fiona jogged into my life about eight months ago while I was watching a sunset on Sand Key with my neighbor Sal Santini, a Mafia hit man in hiding. It was lust at first sight for me, but little did I know Fiona was on the job. As the weeks passed, we became lovers and I thought I had found the woman I would call my hermitess. But on one fateful night my dream was shattered when I witnessed Fiona put a bullet in the back of Sal’s head and then quickly sail off into the sunset. The metamorphosis of emotion from love to fear in a matter of nanoseconds rattled me to the core.

I would later learn to my astonishment that this was not a mere hormonal hiccup on her part. Fiona Tallahassee, aka Serafina Giodano, aka Il Serpente, was an international assassin, which puts her a few notches above hit man in the organizational chart of hired killers. This Native American beauty nicknamed Running Bush by Sal, a misnomer but cute just the same, had used me in a ruse to facilitate her contract on him. I was a pawn in her execution of Sal Santini and it left me shaken and fearful.

The door opens again and Fiona emerges with Montana. She places the cage next to the gnome because she feels Montana needs a friend. Or maybe she feels the gnome does, I’m not sure. Anyway, Montana greets his inanimate buddy each day by saying: “Fuck Gasper Gomez.” This outburst never fails to make Fiona laugh, and on this morning it puts her in the mood to liberate from her sarong and dash into the ocean for a swim. I have to admit, watching the backside of a perfectly toned naked woman sprint into the water with the sunrise as a backdrop sends my sensory neurons off the charts. As Fiona eases into the surf, I recall the moment she reentered my life as I wallowed in a spate of loneliness.

 

I was home at Gulf Boulevard on Sand Key, a barrier island on the gulf side of Florida. It was a warm day in early December. I had settled into a beach chair after an exhaustive hour of raking sand when suddenly my cellphone rattled. It was Fiona calling—I nearly shit my shorts. After an uncomfortable exchange of pleasantries, the woman wanted by most police organizations around the world expressed an interest in seeing me again. “I miss you, Jason,” she said in a convincing tone that reminded me how great the sex had been. But I worried. Did she want to rekindle the love fest that we shared or was this her strategy to eliminate me as a witness?

 

Fiona skips from the water, throws her head back and runs her hands through her hair. I’ve watched this scene before—Bo Derek in the movie 10. She strolls back along the unkempt sand, which she forbids me to rake by the way, until close enough to shake her hair sending a spray of salt water over me. I’m tempted to jump from my chair and playfully tackle her to the sand, but I remain in a state of ambiguity when it comes to the rules of engagement with an assassin outside of the bedroom. I have yet to figure out the line that separates being Fiona’s lover from being her victim.

“I have good news and bad news, Jason,” she says, standing naked over me.

There is no bad news that could trump my visual.

     “But first I need a fruit cup. Want one?” she says, tying her sarong around her waist.

“Yes, please, and bring another for Gasper.”

She departs with a smile and heads back into the house.

 

I took my life in my hands and agreed to meet her. The instructions were surreptitious to say the least. Leave all my electronics behind and find my way to the Flamingo garage at Miami International Airport and wait for someone to contact me. So I grabbed Montana, locked up Gulf Boulevard, and asked my friend and realtor, Phyllis Hammerstein, to keep an eye on the house. I was headed south for the winter.

“You’re already south for the winter, Jason,” she replied.

I couldn’t share with Phyllis my true purpose, so I blurted out something about searching for a voodoo spell to be used on my ex-wife. Phyllis rolled her eyes and that was that.

The next day I drove down to Miami International and parked in the long-term garage as instructed. I waited with a caged parrot in one hand and a duffel bag in the other. Within minutes a limo appeared and I was taken to a section of the tarmac where a private puddle jumper awaited. I was in the dark about my destination, however the driver assured me it was only an hour’s flight to the Bahamas. Given the short time I’d be in the air, I decided on just one Ativan to soften the turbulence in my mind.

I boarded the plane and met the pilot. He was dressed in a uniform consisting of a wrinkled white shirt and dark blue shorts with a captain’s hat tilted to one side. From under his dreadlocks I noticed a string of earbuds that he kept a beat to with his sandaled foot. This guy was going to fly me over the Bermuda Triangle.

“Gooday, mon,” he said with a wide grin.

I nodded hello, found my seat and quickly ingested three more Ativan to mollify my anxiety. Meanwhile, Montana, my gangster bird who was trained by drug dealers to mimic scenes from the movie Scarface, was shooting at everything in sight like Tony Montana and his assault rifle.

The pilot explained that we would be flying into Eleuthera, but my final destination was Harbour Island. I’d never heard of either place. I considered more Ativan.

After waiting a time for liftoff, I remember the plane becoming airborne and then seconds later I was listing to one side as I stood in front of a small yellow building with a sign that read, “Welcome to North Eleuthera International Airport.” I was dazed, confused, and disheveled as I stood in the mid-day heat with a parrot who was squawking, “Say hello to my little friend,” as he mowed down the other passengers waiting in line. I stepped up to the lady at customs to hear, “Ist hut enuff fuh ya?”

Christ. Even in broken English it’s an irritant. I nodded politely as she examined my passport and then I asked if she knew how to get to Harbour Island.

“Yes, Brylind, ya must take da water taxi don da road, sah.”

“No, I need to get to Harbour Island.”

“Yes, Brylind,” she insisted.

I rubbed my temples for clarity and asked, “By any chance is Brylind and Harbour Island considered the same?”

A wide grin as she replied, “Dats da wan, sah.”

I left the building and hailed a land taxi to take me to the water taxi. Ten minutes later I asked the skipper of the water taxi to take me to either Brylind or Harbour Island, whichever worked for him. I held on tight to my duffel bag and gangster bird as we sped across the bay. After another ten minutes we docked at Dunmore Town, the hub of Harbour Island. And that’s where I saw her sitting in a pink golf cart.

Fiona returns with two fruit cups and unfolds a chair next to me. Her sarong and top are back on and she resumes her conversation. “Well, tell me, good news or bad?”

For me there’s always going to be a flicker of apprehension when Fiona wants to deliver bad news. Put yourself in my sandals. I’m sitting next to a person who kills for a living. Even though the sex is great, I still find myself casting a wary eye on any sudden movements or ill-timed words. Right now, bad news could run the gamut from leaving the toilet seat up, to our relationship having exceeded her expiration date. And if it’s the latter, will I be able to walk away in one piece? To dismiss these moments of discomfort I remind myself that the sex is great.

“Give me the bad news first,” I say.

“Okay . . . the good news is Cheesecake confirmed that the balance from the Venezuelan contract has been deposited in the Caymans. Dinner is on me tonight, buddy.”

Cheesecake is a local islander that Fiona pays handsomely to keep her secretive affairs in order. I haven’t met the person yet, nor do I think I ever will, which is probably for the best. Certain things remain at arm’s length.

“This is the job you did a few weeks ago?” I ask. Since my arrival, Fiona has departed the island on two separate occasions to conduct business while I remained a gypsy hermit in her pink paradise. Each time she returned I was tempted to ask if she had a killer time while away, but I bit my tongue because . . . the sex is great. A day later, I would tickle the periphery with innocent inquiries, but she always responded with one-word answers and a smile. That was until this morning.

“Yes,” she says.

“I’m sure you did an exemplary job.”

Fiona shifts in her chair to face me. “Jason, it was so cool. I wish you had been there. Frankie and I were in this bum-fuck jungle town near the Colombian border for a rally to nationalize an oil company.”

Frankie, aka Tommy Hawke, is Fiona’s assassin assistant. He’s from one of those Slavic countries that used to be called Yugoslavia. I know him because the dick-head once sucker punched me in my house and threatened to kill me on two other occasions while on Gulf Boulevard. I call him the Machine man because he is built like a Transformer. Someday, I’m going to return the favor and sucker punch him, then run like hell.

Fiona continues. “I was lying in this old open-air church steeple with my CheyTac sniper and a pair of earplugs, scoping the contract while Frankie mingled in the crowd. The three marks, all speakers with bullhorns, stood on a make-shift podium rallying the noontime crowd. The plan was to use the church bells to mask the report, so when the bell tolled at twelve, I squeezed and the first speaker dropped like a tree. The second bell rang and the second speaker went down. The crowd didn’t know what was happening. On the third bell, I caught the last mark as he leaned over the other two. Not a pretty sight when the guy’s head exploded. The crowd started to panic and scatter. Frankie moved in closer and took pictures for our client—proof of kill, you know? As the chaos ensued, we made our escape. By late afternoon we were in Panama and by early the next morning I was in bed with you. It was a very successful operation.”

The sex is great. The sex is great.

Fiona’s openness surprises me. I swallow the last of my fruit cup as I assimilate the details of a mechanic’s day at the office. What is it about me? First Sal Santini the hit man spilled his guts regarding his volatile ways, and now Fiona. I need to start associating with cat burglars.

I don’t really know how to respond, so silence ensues. I stare off at the rising sun. My expression is apathetic so as not to let Fiona know that if the 3-D image of an exploding head loiters any longer in my mind, I may return the fruit to the cup.

“Are you happy for me, Jason?” she says. “Because it was a very lucrative contract.”

I nod. I’m better equipped to praise the news of a pay raise or a promotion than the successful assassination of three rabble-rousers. “I’m happy if you’re happy, Fiona.” The sex is great. “So who was the client?”

She pauses for a moment and then smiles. “Jason . . . you know if I tell you, I’d have to kill you.”

In a normal conversation with anybody else, her reply would add a moment of levity to the exchange, but when delivered by an assassin it takes on a literal meaning. And there lies the epitome of my state of mind here on Harbour Island.

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