SYDNEY JONES SERIES BOOK 2
Carolyn M. Bowen
A Novel Copyright © 2019 by Carolyn M. Bowen This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
The scanning, uploading, and/or distribution of this book without permission is theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book, other than for review purposes, please contact Carolyn Bowen. Thank you for your support of authors’ rights.
ALSO BY CAROLYN M. BOWEN
The Long Road Home
Primed for Revenge
Sydney Jones Series Book 1
Cross-Stepping Your Way to Success
1. Trouble in Paradise
2. For the Country’s Good
3. Crazy Making
4. Walker in Cuba
5. A Toxic Potion
7. Backroads of Georgia
8. A Star is Born
9. Sweet Isabella
10. Fleeing Cuba
11. Upping the Stakes
12. Spies and Lies
13. A Bundle of Surprises
14. Company Business
15. A Deadly Blow
16. Fallback and Regroup
17. The Unthinkable
18. Primed for Revenge
19. Watch Your Back
20. Soldier of Fortune
21. The Chinese Connection
22. The Salt Life - Barbados
23. Mommy Dearest
24. A Trap
25. The Marriage Proposal
26. A Caribbean Wedding
27. Dream Home
Trouble in Paradise
The daily grind at the law office kept Sydney Jones on her toes. The highlight of her day was the return home and a relaxing evening with Walker, head of security at her office and personal bodyguard. For their dining and special events, Walker hired security out of his own pocket so he could give Sydney his full attention.
Sydney’s favorite place was home, where Walker grilled or cooked some delicious dishes for their meals, followed by lovemaking into the wee morning hours.
Toni; ght, she needed to talk to Walker about their trip to Savannah for the Georgia State Bar Association meeting. She’d received the invitation because apparently, her firm was up for some awards, according to the accompanying news release.
Her father-in-law, Mr. Joseph Jones, would be in attendance, as he was a long-time member of the Georgia State Bar Association. She didn’t think the timing was right to tell him she was in a relationship although it had been three years since Ray’s death. There was also the possibility that he would be appalled that she was dating someone from a different ethnic group. She had no idea; but either way, she didn’t want to shock him at this event by introducing Walker as her boyfriend.
Her planned speech was one easily changed for the award given. If only she could deliver an eloquent request to Walker to act as her bodyguard only in the presence of Mr. Jones and bar association members without hurting his feelings.
After they put away the dishes from their meal and poured a fresh drink, Sydney said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about our Savannah trip.”
Frown lines formed across Walker’s forehead anticipating a question from the tone of Sydney’s voice. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I haven’t told my father-in-law about us, and don’t want to surprise him with the news in Savannah. Will you play along for the weekend in front of him and other bar association members? I hate to ask you, but it would mean a lot to me for you to accompany me as my bodyguard.”
Walker knew the deep feelings of respect she had for Mr. Jones and replied, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.” He lightly touched her cheek with his fingertips and kissed her teary-eyed face.
Sydney sighed with relief and relaxed as he wrapped his muscular arms around her. They walked side by side to his downstairs bedroom in her townhome, where they spent most of their time at home. She watched as he placed his cell phone on the charger, taking one last look before plugging it in. He’d been doing that a lot lately. She wondered why the sudden interest in checking messages; and when she’d awakened during the night, she saw his phone light up with incoming text notifications.
She hoped it wasn’t the government trying to get him back in a leadership role for the U.S. Special Operations Command, known as MARSOC, formed over a decade ago as part of the global fight against terrorism. She knew the CIA had contacted him recently about special assignments they needed him to perform with his military background. She hoped he’d stay steadfast as her security chief and decline their offers; they were building a professional and personal life together now.
Walker knew Sydney had taken notice of the rapid-fire cell calls and messages he’d gotten lately. He’d hoped the caller would get the message he didn’t want to talk, and quit calling and texting.
Not Roxanne; she was on a mission to gain his help for making a comeback in the music industry. The late-night calls were getting more brazen and erratic emotionally, with her slurred words promising him the moon. She wanted a bodyguard to support her latest move in the media to reclaim her crown.
Roxanne was a singer-songwriter whose music took her to the top of the pop charts. Unfortunately, her status plummeted as rapidly as her stardom. She couldn’t catch herself on the way down. Walker saw it coming and gave notice of his leave.
Roxanne spent more than she was earning from record sales. She’d developed a drug habit as a way of coping with reality when her career nosedived. She’d lost her ability to write new songs, and her band members had long since moved on to hotter stars. Yet, she wanted to keep up the persona of being a successful artist.
The idea of enticing Walker to act as her bodyguard would help paint the picture, she wanted the public to see. She knew he was halfway in love with her when he was head of her security back in her glory days. It wouldn’t be too tough to convince him the affection was returned. They could move in together; in the condo she’d bought when flying high. When in public, his presence would call attention to her, and perhaps a record label would pick her up again. She’d call her old publicist and see if she would help plant news stories about her on the web and highly rated entertainment news outlets. For old times’ sake, and a boost to reinvent her career, she might help an old acquaintance.
Roxanne knew where Walker was working. The news was all over Atlanta about Sydney Jones and her new law firm. She’d get his private number from the security office and contact him.
Putting on a stellar performance as a con artist, she gained the information from the receptionist. She waited until after hours to contact him, for she planned to use her sexiest voice to entice him over to her place for a drink and catching up.
When she called, he was cordial but unflappable in not accepting her offer to meet. She expected their meeting to be a breeze to set up and was disappointed by his rejection. She wasn’t one to quit when this meant the difference in getting her career back on track. She’d keep trying to convince him to meet her until he gave into her wishes. She called him late at night when she figured he was relaxing after his day. Using her most soothing and sexy voice, she tried to coax him over for a nightcap.
Walker pressed his fingertips to his temple as he listened to Roxanne’s slurred words for the umpteenth time. She wasn’t going to quit, and Sydney was already suspicious of his late-night calls and texts. She was accustomed to his undivided attention and wouldn’t expect anything less. He called Roxanne and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning after checking in at the office.”
“Good,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
Walker drove Sydney to the office and checked in with his security staff before the meeting with Roxanne. He really didn’t want to meet her but decided it was the best way to convince her he wasn’t interested in a new job. Roxanne needed to quit and get on with her life so he could have peace with Sydney.
A quick high was what she needed to get in the mood to convince him to provide her security. She rummaged through the notepad where she kept her contacts for making the buy. She didn’t keep the contacts on her phone in case something should happen, like losing her phone again.
She tried to remember which ones she didn’t owe money to. Through some friends from her past, she’d been able to establish a line of credit. But since her income had plummeted, she’d been careful choosing her supplier. She knew they could get testy about selling her drugs she couldn’t afford, but she needed the high.
She made the call and a delivery was en route and would arrive early enough for her to have a snort and be poised for Walker’s arrival.
The doorbell rang and she rushed to greet him for her delivery. She opened the door and the delivery guy pushed his way into the condo, demanding money for this and previous orders. She said, “This was to be added to my account!”
“You don’t have a charge account,” he growled.
“I need this now,” she said. “I’m having an important meeting that’ll put me back on top.”
“Too bad,” he said. “My orders are to collect what you owe. Then give you the drugs.”
“I don’t have any money,” she said, adding in a breathy, wispy whisper, “But I can get it by the end of the month.”
“You’re pissing me off,” he said. “And I don’t like that.”
He looked around her condo for valuables and came up empty-handed. All she had were platinum record plaques from the past and they were worthless on the market.
He turned to leave but she shot past him, almost tripping over the long, teal negligée she wore. She said, “Leave the drugs, please.”
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, his dreadlocks swaying as he continued toward the door. She gripped his jacket in a tight fist and held on as he moved toward the exit. He turned and jaw-jacked her onto the unyielding marble floor. The crushing blow knocked her headfirst onto the rock-solid landing. A gaping hole in her skull spewed bright-red blood with every heartbeat until her last.
When he left the condo, her crimson blood looked ghoulish encircling her dead body. His boss wouldn’t be happy, for now the money she owed was uncollectable. It was an accident. He was thankful he’d not taken off his gloves to leave fingerprints.
Walker drove over to her high-rise condo where he’d spent time when her career first took off. He pushed the elevator button to take him up to her suite and braced himself for the meeting. He rang the doorbell and waited. She didn’t answer right away. Concerned, he tried the doorknob and was surprised when it opened. He gasped when he spotted her lying on the floor in her own blood. He pulled her hair away, checked the pulse on her neck, and found none. He quickly dialed 9-1-1 from her house phone and left it off the hook as he exited and closed the door behind him, making sure it was unlocked for the paramedics.
He drove to the nearest gas station and parked to settle his nerves. He wondered what happened at Roxanne’s home. Apparently, she wasn’t kidding about needing a bodyguard. Someone had it in for her and cashed in this morning. She’d not been dead long; he’d noticed her body was still warm to the touch. He wished he’d arrived sooner; he could have protected her.
He usually didn’t drink during the day but decided to grab a beer since he was there. The smell of her blood was still in his nostrils, and he didn’t intend to return to the firm with the memory fresh in his mind. Besides, Sydney was apt at picking up his moods. What would he tell her—or did he even need to?
He decided on a fresh change of clothes and was glad he kept extras at the office. He’d go directly there and change before checking in with his security staff. He popped a fresh piece of spearmint gum in his mouth to camouflage the smell of the beer and recalled the crime scene.
He knew he’d not taken precautions about leaving fingerprints at her condo. It would only be a matter of time before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation contacted him, as it was a high-profile murder, one they’d normally work.
Lt. Thomason was called into the meeting about Roxanne’s murder. GBI was taking over the investigation from local authorities. The crime scene was secure, and evidence was stored in the storage locker. Thomason grabbed the nearest chair and eased into the conversation, questioning if DNA evidence or fingerprints were found at the crime scene.
When the name Walker was interjected as a suspect, he was intrigued. He listened to his background report, eloquently summarized by the new kid in the agency; a real fireball, some said. Thomason wasn’t surprised Walker had worked for Roxanne when she first became famous, nor by the list of corporate bigwigs he’d handled protection for prior to going into personal and tech security protection.
He could tell them now; Walker was an innocent bystander. It didn’t take a genius to figure out he was head over heels in love with his present employer, Sydney Jones. He didn’t want to be the one to question him about his whereabouts on the morning Roxanne was murdered. With Sydney looking over his shoulder, he couldn’t make mistakes, especially with her love interest.
He didn’t need to worry. His captain informed him that the CIA had intervened in Roxanne’s case for national security reasons. He couldn’t wait to see how it played out. He’d bet Walker was innocent, but even if he wasn’t, his highest and best use to CIA operations would take precedence over an investigation and court of law anyway.
For the Country’s Good
Walker felt his past was catching up and pitching him into a black hole right when he was pleased with his current position and life. He’d deliberately made a change from providing security for corporate executives. There were some he’d like to put a bullet in himself. Their egos matched their wealth, and if the public knew the debauchery they prescribed to, their stock would likely fall. At the very least, the public’s perception of their brand would suffer.
A friend from his military days asked him to check with Sydney Jones’s law firm. She was looking for a head of security. He was impressed, as he’d heard about her kidnapping and family issues. Her parents’ death resulting in a financial windfall along with an unscrupulous boss placed her safety in jeopardy. She needed a bodyguard and head of security for her new law firm. Walker told his friend to recommend him and he’d follow through.
He didn’t expect a vibrant, exotic beauty and a smart, successful woman. He was just looking for his next gig, where he didn’t have to worry about the defiant behavior of his employer or the option of returning to military operations. The CIA continued to recruit him with the tagline of “for the country’s good.”
He’d responded that when they could pay him corporate wages, he’d consider their offer. He thought nothing more about their interest as he dug into his latest protection detail.
Walker didn’t plan to fall in love with Sydney. He blamed their closeness in proximity, horrid circumstances in her life, and no friends but a paid confidant to comfort her. There was no one to hold her in their arms, and that’s what the lady needed—to cry and release the pain in her life.
Sydney struck a chord in his heart. Her beauty, along with her spark to keep going through the hell in her life, enamored him even more. Did he love her? Yes! He was impressed with her ability to get up and fight for what she believed in. Call him a softie if you like, but this woman touched his soul.
When he closed his eyes at night, he could still smell her womanly fragrance and touch her soft skin in his mind.
The government had him now. It didn’t take him long to realize they’d framed him for Roxanne’s murder, then got his case dismissed when he agreed to become their agent.
The problem was, Sydney may still think him guilty of murder. The agency didn’t give him time to discuss the dismissal of charges against him. All he could tell her was the government needed him and he was catching an early morning flight.
Their night wasn’t spent discussing his recent legal problems. They loved one another all night, in the purest sense of the meaning.
He took one last look at her sleeping peacefully, checked her security alarm system, and left her townhome in dawn’s early light.
Damn the CIA, he thought. How much more did he need to give them before he would be released from their clutches for good?
He’d hopped the direct flight to Cuba from Atlanta and slept, dreaming of happier times with Sydney.
Sydney was reeling from Walker’s abrupt departure. Apparently, he’d signed a confidentiality agreement with the government stating to never contact her again. She didn’t believe Walker murdered Roxanne; the government had taken over the investigation and released a statement ruling her murder a suicide. The local news station read their prepared statement.
It’s a sad day when a star’s lights dim and slowly burn out. Unable to withstand the pressure of the limelight, Roxanne took her own life. It happens too often with young artists who make it big when entering the stage, then suddenly fall from grace. Life can be cruel and leave them wanting their youth and lifestyle from the past. May she rest in peace. She will be missed by friends, family, and adoring fans.
Sydney’s emotions were in a whirlwind. One moment she was relaxed, with goals to achieve, the next nauseous, temperamental, and subject to tears, even when dealing with her staff. She blamed it on Walker and his taking the deal from hell with the government rather than fighting for his day in court.
Her office manager and friend, Sarah Levins, suggested there was more to her moods than her recent life events. She said, “Sydney, have you had a pregnancy test? Your symptoms resemble my sister’s when she first became pregnant.”
Running her fingers through her long, straight, ebony hair, she replied, “No. I’ve not considered that possibility. I’m on the pill.”
“You may want to get a home pregnancy test to check before seeing your doctor.”
“Well, that’s one step forward for treating my crazy mood swings. I’ll buy one tonight; but I don’t think that’s the problem.”
Sydney stopped at the pharmacy on the way home for the tester. She poured a glass of chardonnay to relax after a hectic day at the office. She took a frozen Italian dinner out of the fridge and microwaved it for dinner. She was reminded of Walker’s cooking and could smell his homemade spaghetti sauce as the timer went off on her cardboard dinner.
She wondered what he’d think if she was pregnant. She’d take the pregnancy test first thing in the morning, when her urine was more concentrated for accurate results, according to the pamphlet included.
The next morning, she awakened early and remembered the pregnancy test. She unwrapped it and followed the directions, thinking, This shouldn’t be happening. She was on the pill; a strong one, according to her doctor.
Within minutes of using the tester, she read the results in disbelief: positive. She was pregnant with Walker’s child. And he’d never know—or probably care—now that he had a new life.
Sydney looked back over her and Walker’s life together. Yes, she could have gotten pregnant at any time. They had lots of sex. But if she put money on it, she’d believe their recent vacation to St. Lucia sealed her fate.
The whole week was magical, and the love she saw in his eyes was unmatched by anything she’d experienced in her life; not even from her late husband. They had mad, satisfying sex, and even when she felt bruised from their lovemaking, it wasn’t enough. She wanted the surreal experience of their lovemaking to go on forever.
She was torn about the pregnancy and her options. Should she have this child as an unwed mother to continue the family line? Or, should she wait for Mr. Right and get married, and then have children, in the proper order of doing things according to southern societal customs?
The door was closed for an abortion. She could spend hard time in prison, according to the new law recently passed in Georgia. And the options were closing in neighboring states. She didn’t know if she could abort Walker’s child, unlike being raped by a thug.
Plus, just look at her life. It was dangerous. Although she hadn’t hired a personal bodyguard after Walker’s leaving, she had an around-the-clock security force protecting her and her company. How could she bring a child into this lifestyle?
But, did she have the guts to give up her baby for the greater good and never be able to see it again?
She started searching online for adoption agencies that would place her child in a loving home. When she started filling out the questions about ethnicity, she decided not to lie about it. They’d probably get a very dark baby. She was of Indian heritage, and Walker was as black as black can be. She probably had some black running through her veins as well.
Her Native American ancestors prodded through the spring-fed Northwest Florida Rivers with some expanding to the far reaches of the alligator infested everglades before settling. Along the way, blacks and Indians meshed each battling trials inherent to their ethnicity.
Sydney thought, I’m probably going to deliver the blackest baby in history, and they’re not readily adopted. And, how could she explain this to her whitish colleagues and southern country gentleman father-in-law, in Atlanta? Or did they really need to know?
She needed to see an OB-GYN and was relieved her former personal physician who thought she was a slut from her previous medical history, wouldn’t be involved. She’d ask Sarah Levins who her sister used during her pregnancy. Perhaps she could do the same if her experience was gratifying.
Sydney dove into work to take her mind off Walker and the cruel hand the government dealt them. She was frustrated he didn’t get his day in court. Although she couldn’t represent him because of their relationship, there were top-notch attorneys in Atlanta who could. He—they—never had a chance.
She checked with the Georgia Bar to do some pro bono work, which always made her feel better. She had a foundation set up to cover costs involved in representing those cases. She decided to take the case of Nancy Lynn, a woman in dire straits.
Nancy Lynn was the mistress of Liu Chang, a member of the Chinese Black Societies. Chang was found dead in his high-rise condo, and Nancy Lynn was the prime suspect.
Nancy Lynn had a Southern country upbringing. She was an attractive blonde who’d settled in Atlanta after a brief stint trying to launch an acting/modeling career in Hollywood. She’d decided on Atlanta because motion picture studios were relocating there, and more movies were being produced using local talent.
She was also a Georgia native and former beauty queen, having grown up in a rural farming community within a hundred miles of the bustling culture of metro Atlanta.
Nancy Lynn was paying her dues with the Boutin Acting Agency to reap better representation down the line. She took mundane assignments, even playing an extra in major movie productions to further her ambitions. She did whatever it took to create a breakthrough for her acting career.
She’d met Liu Chang at a reception given in a downtown hotel banquet room. Her modeling agency sent her to the event to act as a hostess, basically to just smile and greet the guests. The event was a welcoming of parties who had contributed to a charity drive in the wake of catastrophic damages from a hurricane hitting the neighboring southern state of Florida. Liu Chang’s corporation was a top donor to be recognized at the event.
She greeted him and noticed the expensive cut of his tailormade suit, fitting every inch of his well-toned body. When their eyes met, she recognized his unabashed interest in her. They chatted briefly before he was seated for dinner.
Upon leaving, he stopped to say goodbye and left a business card. He asked if she’d like to meet him for a drink in the hotel bar and she said yes. Their relationship developed from there. She moved into his condo and travelled with him except when he went back to Beijing, where he had family.
She was aware he was married and had a son. He’d told her it wasn’t unusual for Chinese men to have a mistress; many had more than one. The powerful and elite men in power were expected to have their dalliances. However, it would raise suspicion if she accompanied him home. Foreigners were not usually welcomed by his colleagues, not to mention his family.
He provided Nancy Lynn with a robust amount of money for her spending on clothes and accessories. She had multiple charge cards with no limits for her shopping pleasure. However, all her cards were frozen upon his death. She figured it was the Chinese mafia’s doing, for he’d never leave her homeless and without funds to provide for her care. The detectives investigating her case seemed unlikely to restrict her financing, not knowing whether she was entitled to it, regardless of the source.
On the surface, Liu Chang’s banking technology business looked legitimate. Even she wouldn’t have known it wasn’t, if he hadn’t told her in one of their private moments. She had no doubt the detectives from GBI became aware of the corporate structure while investigating his death.
Pinpointing her as the number one suspect was a ridiculous assumption. She had no motive; everything was taken away from her almost immediately after his death.
With the lack of suspects, she was surprised she wasn’t in jail pending trial. Obviously, they didn’t have solid evidence against her now. Lt. Thomason did tell her not to leave town until their investigation was over.
Out on the streets, with no money, she had little choice but to ask for legal aid. When Sydney Jones’s law firm agreed to represent her, she felt better for the first time since Liu Chang’s death.
Now she had to tell her story, knowing harlot was an accurate description for herself.
She was surprised when Sydney Jones herself agreed to her request. An attorney in her firm trying to make a name for himself was what she expected.
Nancy Lynn met Sydney at her office. Sydney eased into conversation with her and noted she was well-spoken and had learned some Mandarin, which she spoke when frustrated. Nancy Lynn was smart. Sydney wondered how she ended up prostituting herself to a member of the Chinese mafia.
Sydney had the investigative report from the GBI stating the role her client, Nancy Lynn, was suspected in playing in this murder. The evidence against her looked circumstantial to Sydney’s trained eye. She was hoping to have any charges, if pressed against her, dismissed for lack of evidence.
The case centered on Nancy Lynn’s fingerprints being present on the glass he was supposedly drinking from when he collapsed from poisoning. Of course, her fingerprints would be all over the place, and it was likely she handed the glass to him, as he was accustomed to being served.
The DNA evidence was flimsy at best. Nancy Lynn lived with Liu Chang in his condo. In Sydney’s opinion, the only reason she was a suspect was to take the heat off investigating a member of the mainland Chinese criminal group commonly known as Chinese black societies. By arresting Nancy Lynn for murder, the mega corporation could continue their business while unknowingly being investigated by the GBI. A serious injustice to her client.
She would run her proposition by Lt. Thomason, her friend, to see if she was correct. If they needed time, perhaps she could help them in return for not formalizing charges against Nancy Lynn for his murder. Meanwhile, she would continue collaborating with her client to make a case.
Sydney comforted Nancy Lynn with the knowledge she’d be the lead on her case should she be charged and, in the interim, have a private investigator discreetly reviewing the evidence. Sydney handed her a business card and told her to call if she remembered anything important to their investigation.
Nancy Lynn had big dreams. She had pushed to make them a reality. She failed. The possibilities of acting in a first-tier movie was a difficult role to land. Perhaps, after clearing her name as a suspect she would make a phone call to a client and movie executive who might help her.
The headline news delivered the story about Nancy Lynn being a suspect in the murder of Liu Chang. The photo they ran with the story was a good headshot of the actress. They probably downloaded it from her website to make the timeline of the news cycle.
Sydney was busy sorting through messages about the case when her admin announced an anonymous call concerning the case. “Put it through,” she said.
Sydney listened as the caller asked that she meet downtown at 8:00 p.m. near the Ferris wheel. She reluctantly agreed when the caller said it could mean life or death for Nancy Lynn. She knew better than take an appointment from an unknown caller. She’d learned from Walker not to place herself in harm’s way without backup. Throwing caution to the wind, she quickly mapped the quickest way to get there on her phone and noted a parking garage where she could park.
She waited around in the office until time for the meeting. She reviewed the cases in motion provided by her office manager to make sure all were on track. She was well pleased with the lawyers who had joined her firm. They were all go-getters.
With just enough time to get to the meeting, she left the office garage and motored to the location. On arriving, she alarmed her Porsche and walked across the street. As she neared the car with flashing lights, the streetlights lit the path. She could see the driver of the automobile waving her over to his vehicle and cautiously proceeded toward him.
Within steps of being at the driver’s downed window, she saw the glimmer of a chrome-plated pistol aimed directly at her. He fired and the bullet buzzed by her sounding like an angry bee. Without thinking, she withdrew her Glock and fired. He slumped over the steering wheel.
She hurriedly reached through the driver’s window to check the pulse on his neck. He was dead. She decided to not stay around to find out more about him. Walker had taught her to flee from suspicious sites. He may have someone following him or a backup somewhere nearby.
She quickened her pace, just short of running, to her car. She immediately locked her car doors and phoned Lt. Thomason of the GBI to tell him what happened. She saw no bystanders on the semi dark street to collaborate her story; and was uncomfortable staying at the crime scene given she was setup. She started her car and eased out of the parking garage toward home.
She knew Thomason would come by her townhome with the lowdown after investigating. Hopefully, he would congratulate her for a clean shot and being smart enough to leave the scene to avoid being shot at again. She didn’t need to be arrested tonight. From their previous meetings, he knew she would defend herself. And, that’s exactly what she did tonight.
Tonight’s setup made her think there was more about Nancy Lynn’s case than immediately met the eye. Why would anyone want to kill her attorney?
She had kept keen notes on the movement of the investigation, thanks to Lt. Thomason. She expected a news update disclaiming Nancy Lynn as a suspect as soon as GBI had the real killer. Now she was left wondering if others were coming after her, and if she should warn Nancy Lynn to take precautions, for she might be in danger also.
Lt. Thomason rang the doorbell, punctual as always after some extraordinary event relating to her. She welcomed him in. “Sydney, what have you gone and got yourself involved in now?” he asked.
“I was meeting an informant about Nancy Lynn’s case.”
“Well, we both know how that turned out—he’s dead.”
“I had no choice; it was him or me.”
“You were right about that. We found the gun he dropped when you shot him.”
“Who is he, and why would he want to kill me?”
“He’s from mainland China, and not associated with the Triad. You were lucky to see his pistol on the semi-dark street. I told you to steer clear until we finalized our investigation. I can’t protect you from the hoodlums you take appointments with outside your office. By the way, have you heard anything from Walker? You really need a bodyguard if you want to continue your clandestine activities.”
“Walker is as dead as my late husband, as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing. I do thank you for your concern and will be more open should anyone contact me about this case.”
“It’ll be a first, but I’m holding you to it. You have no idea who you’re messing with. They’re dangerous, with the danger underlined. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do.”
Sydney was glad to see him leave. She was afraid she’d be handcuffed and taken off to jail. She went to the fridge and pulled a soda from the shelf and poured a glass. She sipped, trying to relax, thinking about happier times and places. Walker always came to mind.
She touched her stomach and wished he knew they were expecting a child. With or without him, she’d raise his offspring. Ever since she’d felt the baby move inside her stomach, she’d known she couldn’t place her child up for adoption.
Although she knew rumors were flying around the office about her and her sex life, it made no difference. She knew what they had was real—even if for a short time.
The gossipmongers upped their theories about her pregnancy, with the most elaborate being she’d unfrozen sperm from her late husband and had it implanted. Ray died young, and they had agreed not to have children. He’d known early in life he was a carrier for a disease he’d inherited from his mother’s family genes.
Sydney went upstairs to her bedroom and took a leisurely bath in her claw-footed tub, a find of her mother’s when she was decorating the townhome. She always felt safe and secure knowing her mother had chosen the tub. She just wished her mom would have had more time to enjoy it herself before the car accident that took her parents’ lives.
Sydney slept soundly through the night. She awakened in the morning feeling ready to conquer the world. She went to the bathroom and when she opened the door, she saw a man around six feet tall, with wet hair, in his undershorts.
She screamed as she slammed the door shut and ran for the phone, “What are you doing here? I’m calling the cops!”
“No, I’m not going to harm you!” he called as he opened the door. “Please don’t call the police. I’ll be gone in two minutes.”
She remembered leaving her purse with her handgun downstairs on the front entry table as she frantically dialed Lt. Thomason’s number. He answered and said an agent would respond quickly and to go somewhere in her home and lock the door until they arrived.
The intruder was long gone before GBI showed up. When an agent arrived, they checked her security system and it was disarmed. Shit, she’d been hacked. Were the Chinese behind this too?
She called Lt. Thomason and thanked him for the quick response and her theories about why her security system wasn’t working. He agreed and reminded her to lay low until their investigation was complete.
Lay low, she thought. She was invaded in her own home. He was lucky to walk out alive, with her penchant for protecting her sanctuary. From now on, she’d include loading her pistol in her morning routine.
She had to say, she didn’t feel threatened by the intruder. He was more scared than she was. She wondered what his story was and how he’d pinpointed her home for a bath and change of clothes. He lacked Walker’s height but had taken clothes from his closet to change into. Although leaner and shorter than Walker, he pulled on a shirt and shorts and taking his dirty clothes, quickly left.
She dressed for work and looked forward to driving her new convertible sports car with the top down for the early morning commute. This was her fresh breath of air when the highway was less congested with morning commuters.
She called Nancy Lynn to suggest she be watchful of any suspicious activities around her. Not going into detail to alarm her, she said, “Let me know if anyone wants to meet with you concerning Liu Chang.”
“Sure,” she said, sounding puzzled.
Walker in Cuba
Walker’s flight to José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba, lasted for a little over two hours. As the plane hit the tarmac, his thoughts of Iraq and fear of stepping on landmines crept into his mind. His feeling had more to do with the CIA’s plan for him than being assigned to a communist country. Under the shroud of secrecy, he was to find the agent assigned to Havana and report back to command.
The CIA agent hadn’t checked in according to protocol and was now considered missing by the US government. Walker had been sent to check up on his sorry ass and follow up on his assignment. He’d rather be at home with Sydney, grilling something delicious on the patio, followed by lovemaking extraordinaire. But the CIA dashed his plans and made him their puppet for however long they required his services.
Walker took a taxi to the agent’s last known address. He knocked at his door and observed his surroundings, thinking, Oceanfront isn’t a bad gig for an agent. When there was no response to his knocking, Walker pounded harder on the door. Still no answer. Walker took out his CQD knife and eased it between the lock and doorframe and opened the door slowly.
He was quick to picture the cottage in his mind, making sure no one was lurking inside that could do bodily harm. He walked through the unit with his Glock 19 ready to fire. The place was empty except for the agent lying on the bed with his body ready to be fed to the fish.
Good God, he didn’t want to be here. The agent had run into something—or someone—he couldn’t handle. How in the hell was he to know who killed the agent? He could’ve been messing around with someone’s girlfriend or wife; and he’d heard that leads to serious consequences in Cuba.
Government business, at this point, he doubted. Agents were trained to shield their identity, and someone coming into his home to kill him just didn’t meet that criteria. The killer was probably known by the agent, as there was no sign of forced entry. This looked like a personal vendetta, not agency business.
Walker phoned his superiors and knew he wouldn’t sleep there, this night or ever. He had a thing about sleeping where someone was killed; probably an idea planted by his grandmother, God rest her soul.
He was informed to lock the door on his way out and the agency would take care of the agent’s final resting place. He didn’t want to know the details. His biggest challenge now was to get to a hotel, and it looked like, on foot. He was glad he hadn’t let his body go soft while protecting Sydney. Tonight, he needed to run several miles to reach the inner city to book a room for the night. Yes, the CIA owed him, and he’d let them know in the morning, when they quit lying about his assignment in Cuba.
Upon entering the city, Walker hoped procuring lodging still worked the way it did in the past—the old-fashioned way: walking around. The last time he was in Cuba, hosts painted anchors on their houses. A blue anchor meant foreigners are welcome, while red denoted rooms for Cubans only. Suspecting he could fit either description probably landed him for this assignment in the first place. With a high percentage of Cubans of Afro-Caribbean ethnicity, he fit in with the local population.
He landed a room at the second host home he went to, where the owner wasn’t frightened by his size. Probably because he had a machete hidden behind the door, thought Walker. Although the crime rate was low in Cuba, a homeowner who rents rooms to produce income can’t be too careful.
Walker’s sleep came more from exhaustion than sleepiness. His finding at the agent’s cottage, the lack of information from his superiors, and the jog into the city to find lodging drained him mentally and physically.
He had a fitful night, swatting bloodsucking mosquitos and tropical insects buzzing his head, not to mention the mattress. He’d flipped the mattress over when he saw the sagging in the middle, knowing his body frame wouldn’t conform to that shape. Then he saw the termite-infested lumpy mattress made from flour sacks, likely stuffed with old Haier refrigerator boxes, and quickly turned it back over. He knew a mattress cost a year’s wages in Cuba, and reconstruction results depended upon the purveyor; some good, others not. He was probably sleeping on a mattress the owner was conceived on, over 30 years ago.
A good night’s sleep was what he intended to have on this gig, since they took him away from his loving abode with Sydney. They owed him. Even for a short assignment, he wanted a cottage with actual windows, not wooden slats protecting the natural elements from intruding upon his sleep. And, by God, a real mattress where he wouldn’t sink into the springs of the bed, leaving markings on his hind side. Any cottage—except where the agent was murdered—was fine with him if it met these criteria.
He’d yet to be briefed on his new assignment. Maybe since he’d found their misplaced agent, he could go home now. He’d been in Special Ops long enough to know it was highly unlikely. They had him now, and they wouldn’t let go if he was of use for their clandestine operations.
Walker checked in with the agency the next morning, leaving a message for the commander to call him. He wanted to find out the extent of his assignment, to gauge how long before he could see Sydney to explain what happened at Roxanne’s. The government owed him, since they’d ruined his life, and he’d make his demands known.
Walker received a call from the operations officer in charge of the Cuban crisis, as they called it. He spoke plainly and told Walker his assignment. He was to investigate the links between the Chinese and Cuban governments, specifically in relation to the sonic attack that hospitalized over twenty workers at the American embassy in Cuba. The president didn’t want to look foolish when suggesting a well-orchestrated move to get the US out of Cuba was carried out.
He further noted similar health problems with diplomats had arisen in China. Medical personnel examining the problem hadn’t identified the causes of their medical conditions, ranging from nausea, hearing and memory loss, to symptoms likened to brain concussions. Speculation centered around sonic weapons, with researchers pointing to infrasound. In response to this attack, the president took immediate action, removing two diplomats from the US embassy in Cuba and recalling diplomats from China.
Walker listened with an attentive ear, hoping the length of his mission would be discussed. What he heard was he was to infiltrate the group/s responsible and investigate Cuba’s ties to China. No date for his withdrawal was mentioned; instead, he received dead silence from the other end in response to his question.
Making his mission more difficult was the new temporary embassy staff, the minimum personnel needed to perform core diplomatic and consular functions. He’d like to talk with workers present during the sonic attack, but all had left the country.
The operations officer did concede to his lodging requirements, with the property manager to contact him later in the day with specifics. He would be housed along the waterfront, where he could keep an eye on ships entering and leaving port. Walker chuckled to himself, thinking a room with a view along the shoreline of Havana’s coast made an improvement over last night’s lodging; but it was far from enough.
Just for the hell of it, he decided to investigate the previous agent’s death and notes he’d made about his contacts. The agency was quick to send an encrypted email with the information he requested.
From the looks of things, the agent had been in the country for six months and appeared to have some interesting leads. Walker would quietly see if there was a reason anyone would want to kill him. He thought it was probably a jealous husband or boyfriend who did him in, from the female garments left at his cottage the night he was murdered. Still, it was worth a look; it might save his ass if it wasn’t a sexual tryst gone bad.
He met his contact at the cottage arranged for his stay. Walker was pleased with the appearance of a real bed, a stove with a coffee pot sitting nearby, and a small but adequate bathroom. He wouldn’t spend much time there, but when he did, the necessities were important.
Walker wanted to ask if he knew the previous agent but decided against it, not seeing his name in the agent’s contacts. He thanked him politely and flung down his travel bag close to the door in case a speedy exit was required.
His European motorbike was to be delivered later in the week. He had little choice but to call a taxi, for he’d gotten enough jogging and walking in the previous night. His first outing was to the Malecón, a massive sea wall running along the northern edge of the city. He was told spending a night sitting along the seaside boulevard was the best way to interact with locals. He hoped to discreetly meet one of the contacts he’d recognize from the photos the agency emailed him.
The taxi splashed through the puddles left from the fierce waves pounding against and intermittently overlapping the seawall along the coastal road. The cabbie drove around the Malecón, circling half the city until he asked to be let out. When paying his fare, he realized negotiating in advance would have been the smart thing. He now believed what he read about how high demand equaled large dividends for the Cuban taxi driver. Being a nonnative, he was unsure of the meeting place, and decided to walk toward the more congested area.
The driver said traffic was closed off during most weekends when the streets were filled with partygoers. Walker supposed his chances of meeting his contact were better during the weekday.
He scanned the passersby for a man wearing a red baseball cap and was just ready to call it quits when a man came up behind him fast, smashing into him. Poised for danger, he quickly maneuvered away to get a better look. His contact was staring him in the eyes and motioned for him to follow.
Finally, he stopped and positioned himself on the Malecón seawall in a more protected area from the raging seas. Walker followed suit, wondering who, if anyone, was watching. They quickly exchanged cell numbers, using aliases as contact names. If either should be picked up by the communist government, there’d be no direct link to them—just a wrong number.
His contact, Euquerio, meaning “surehanded,” went straight to the point. Yes, the former agent was killed when learning the truth about the sources causing the medical illnesses at the embassy. His informant was the mistress of one of the top-ranking military commanders. She was found with him and taken to an undisclosed location for questioning. He wasn’t sure what happened afterwards, but hadn’t seen her in the bars she’d frequented. He suggested not looking for her, for if alive and found, she’d attract the government to him.
Walker asked Euquerio if he knew what she’d told the agent. He said no. Walker wasn’t sure if the answer was out of the desire for self-preservation or ignorance. He saw it as a dead-end street just the same.
The murdered agent had spent months developing his contacts and died with the answers his higher-ups needed. He didn’t want the same thing happening to him.
A Toxic Potion
Ming Chang was tired and embarrassed about her husband’s career and life in the US. The elders thought she should feel honored to make such a marriage to a billionaire and be comfortable, in following with traditional customs. Their marriage was one of the few arranged for financial reasons, for both families had prospered under the rule of the communist government.
Ming was not comfortable with any of their traditions. From her view, her husband was shirking his responsibilities as a husband and father. He was living the high life in the United States while she cared for their son and parents. She saw the media news with him smiling and escorting the same blonde woman to events his banking technology company supported.
She’d love to live in the land of freedom, too. He’d doused her ambition with a wave of his hand at his last homecoming. He preferred to live a life without boundaries, with no questions asked by her.
Since he spent most of his time in the US, there was no reason she and their son shouldn’t join him. After all, with his Black Societies connections, nothing was impossible.
The boiling point came when she saw his smiling eyes rested upon the blonde beauty he was frequently photographed with at an event in Atlanta. She recognized “that look,” for he had once gazed at her with the same intensity, and what came afterwards was memorable. She could still feel the sensual touch of his hands on her now.
If nothing else, she needed to take a stand for the daughter now lost forever because of the Chinese one-child rule. And there was no better time than the present to set that in motion.
She asked her cousin Zhang Wei over for dinner and asked if he’d heard any news about her husband in the States. His face reddened and he shifted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable with the questioning. She got the answer she was seeking. He knew.
Ming immediately set his mind at ease and let him know she knew about her husband’s infidelity. Together, they came up with a plan to frame his mistress for his murder.
Zhang Wei often traveled to the US representing his father’s business in Atlanta with portals to South America through the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. His arrival and departure would not raise flags, as he often frequented the States. He booked his flight to carry out the pact with his cousin and left Beijing.
He settled into his midtown hotel and waited to carry out their plan. Under the cover of darkness, while Liu Chang and his mistress were out on the town, agile as a tiger, Zhang Wei propelled himself into the Buckhead townhome of Liu Chang and exchanged his bottle of Moutai Prince with a bottle laced with the toxic Chinese flower Gelsemium. He’d mailed the ingredients to a traditional Chinese herbalist with family ties, along with the Moutai Prince, and asked for a potent concoction.
He knew Moutai Prince was Liu Chang’s favorite brand, with its fresher, lighter, and more delicate variation of Moutai. He’d heard him say so often in the past.
He removed the bottle with deadly poison from his satchel and poured out enough to look and feel the same as the opened bottle of Moutai Prince on his bar. There remained plenty in the bottle to ensure his death.
Zhang Wei knew it would only be a matter of time before an impending death announcement. What he didn’t anticipate was his mistress, Nancy Lynn, contacting the best attorney in the South to represent her.
He called Sydney Jones’s law office and asked to speak with her about an important case she was handling. He was directed to her. He told her he had information about Nancy Lynn’s case and would meet her downtown later that night to give her the tip.
She bought it, hook, line, and sinker. If all his correspondence went so easy, he’d be an even wealthier man.
He waited until nightfall and drove down to their meeting place with the idea that if Sydney Jones was out of the picture, Nancy Lynn would face the death penalty. A sweet recompense for him and his cousin.
He parked on the downtown street and wondered if he should shoot out the streetlights, as they lit the street too brightly for his good. But that might alert Sydney Jones about the danger she would soon encounter. He waited in his rental car until she arrived. His pistol was ready to fire on sight, for he wanted her to go down away from his vehicle.
He recognized her from a distance; an exotic, beautiful creature. He hated to kill her, for such a beauty deserved to live. But he had a pact with his cousin Ming, and they had an eternal connection. Sydney Jones must die tonight.
He cocked his pistol, and with his finger resting on the trigger, he waited for a kill shot.
Walker decided to check out 23rd Street, where several bars and restaurants were located. Locals gathered there for drinking, chatting, and dancing on weekend nights, according to Euquerio.
He was looking for members of the Cuban military off duty and enjoying the night with drinks and women. After a few weeks, he could tell if there was an ongoing relationship he could penetrate with a promise of safe passage and visa to the US. Obviously, his former counterpart made it a more personal invitation. One he wouldn’t imitate.
Music and dancing were Cuba’s calling card; one being exported to London and other large cities to promote Cuban tourism. He understood. Watching the salsa dancers was mesmerizing. He had to mentally shake himself to keep from being bewitched.
Acting alone on this caliber of a mission wasn’t what it was cracked up to be by his superiors, especially with his obvious size and towering height. A diversion was what he needed, and his Cuban informant had already picked up on his deficiency.
Euquerio offered his cousin Isabella’s services—at a hefty price—to accompany him on his weekend forays around town. She was of Spanish descent, born in Cuba, with an itch to escape the communist country for the freedoms the US offered.
Isabella was smart, and completing her doctorate in medicine, as education is free for a lifetime in Cuba. She hoped to practice in the US, where she could have a better lifestyle and more opportunities for advancement. The government-run healthcare paid less to doctors than cabbies earned chauffeuring tourists around the island. She’d be an eager participant for his mission, given the chance.
Walker knew she’d be an asset, allowing him into places he’d stand out alone. They met at the Floridita Bar, a famous Hemingway watering hole where his favorite rum-and-lime-juice cocktail, daiquiris, were expertly poured a dozen at a time.
Decorated in red plush velvet and dark wood, the place was throbbing with live music. Many tourists from European and South American countries were lined up to have their photos taken beside a life-sized bronzed Hemingway statue appropriately posed at the end of the bar. Under different circumstances, with Sydney, he’d have done the same.
He and Isabella found a table discreetly removed from the boisterous conversations at the bar. With Hemingway’s presence dominating the tavern, they talked about the long-time relationship between Hemingway and Cuba. Both agreed the ode to Hemingway was appropriate, as two-thirds of his creative life was spent on the island.
Isabella filled him in about the local legend, Papa Hemingway, and his beloved Finca Vigía, or Lookout Farm. She was clearly fascinated about his everyday life and literary accomplishments, whether saltwater fishing from his 38’ fishing boat, Pilar, or downing a few at his favorite taverns in Havana. Walker listened intently, as her knowledge of the literary giant and his near-death escapades was thorough. He had no idea Hemingway had made his home on the island from 1939 to 1960 and wrote seven books, including The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, and Islands in the Stream, from his Caribbean abode.
A flickering sign of mourning crossed Isabella’s face as she talked about his widow gifting the Cuban people with his island sanctuary. His love of their Caribbean culture and the sea on their blockaded coast was a memory cherished by the natives.
Isabella recalling Hemingway’s ties to the island made the time fly as he scanned faces in the tavern for possible informants. Their evening drinking daiquiri cocktails at the Floridita Bar paid off. He identified a couple of possible sources to further pursue for information. Apparently, the government staunchly supported the role Hemingway played in their tourism; some high-ranking military leaders and their women were social and interacting with the tourists.
When the evening crowd began to diminish, Walker asked Isabella to hop on the back of his motorbike to take her home. He wanted to see her safely to the door in case his identity was blown, placing her in danger. She happily replied yes, and took a scarf from her handbag and covered her long, auburn hair for the ride. They agreed to meet the next night. He’d pick her up for the ride to Havana’s Barrio Chino, or Chinatown.
He deposited her at the front door. Her cousin Euquerio opened the door and came over to his bike with a questioning look. He stood up to take out his wallet to pay for the evening and the next one. Euquerio thanked him and said, “Talk later.”
Walker rode back to his seaside cottage and carefully examined the exterior before entering, to see if anyone had been snooping around while he was gone. He’d inserted an invisible magnetic tape on the door, so he’d know if anyone had attempted to enter. He was home free. Now, if he could only fall sleep.
When his head hit the pillow, he was dreaming of Sydney and their life together. If only he could talk to her; but he knew any communication was against the rules and could place her in unknown danger. He took her photo out of his wallet and kissed it, saying, “One day, we’ll be together again.”
Sydney was growing larger and slower with the baby she was carrying. She’d opted for a home birth, away from the prying eyes of others interested in her affairs. She’d planned to have a member of her security team on the premises during and after her baby’s birth. She didn’t want to worry about her alarm system not working, possibly allowing intruders or well-wishers to lurk about. She’d be in no shape to defend herself or the baby for a while. As much as it reminded her of having Walker nearby, she’d suck it up and secure her home.
If not for the baby she carried, she’d be filled with hatred toward him for walking out with no way to contact him. But she knew it was in her and the baby’s best interest to not dwell on what might have been. Someday, for the baby’s good, she hoped she could forgive him. She knew it wasn’t healthy; and what if the baby turned out to be his spitting image?
She’d decided to take a short maternity leave from the law firm to recover from childbirth and spend time cuddling with her new baby. With or without Walker, she and the baby were connected. She was a soon to be mom, and wanted to be the best. She’d read books about giving birth and taking care of an infant. She’d investigated hiring a nanny before her maternity leave ended. She’d already placed a nanny cam in the baby’s room and there were cameras throughout the townhome. When she returned to work, one of her computers would have live video streaming of activities in her home. Her baby would be safe.
Her CEO, Nancy McNally, was ready for her maternity leave and assured her at every chance that the law firm would be fine in her absence. Sydney believed her, and knew without a doubt the legal cases would be handled expertly by her top-notch attorneys. She was beginning to think about changing the corporate setup of her law firm to a partnership, where she could offer advancement and incentives to the top litigators. She didn’t want the firm to become the training ground of attorneys for other large partnerships in Atlanta.
She walked on the treadmill in her home gym daily, as the doctor ordered, to help prepare for birthing her baby. These days, she was walking slower than usual. She readied herself for the office and felt a gnawing pain deep within her belly. Before she could get dressed, another pain tugged at her insides, and she knew she was in labor. She quickly called the midwife, who promised she was on the way.
Sydney changed into a nightgown and laid on her bed. The pains were still coming, and she needed to pee. She stood up beside the bed to go to the bathroom and her water broke, spilling out onto the hardwood floor. Not wanting to leave a mess for the midwife to see and clean up, she went to her bathroom and pulled several towels from the closet to mop up the mess. Feeling better, she bent over and cleaned the floor and took the towels back to the bathroom and shoved them down the laundry chute.
She returned to her bed and threw a bed liner pad she’d bought for childbirth over her sheet. She almost wished she’d decided on a water birth in her oversized, old-fashioned tub but had decided birthing on dry land, on her comfortable mattress, was more her style.
She called her head of security, Brian Odom, to let him know she’d gone into labor. He said someone from her security team was on the way. She hoped he got there first, to open the door for the midwife. Otherwise, she’d have difficulty negotiating the stairs to let her in.
The guard had a house key and the security code to enter her townhome. It wasn’t long before her cell phone rang, and the guard said he was entering. She told him she was okay and to be prepared to let the midwife in, for she should arrive shortly.
It was a long night for Sydney. The midwife calmly coached her to breathe and when to bear down to push the baby out. Between pushes, the midwife wiped her head with a cold cloth and told her to relax until the next pain. The relaxing music Sydney had programmed for childbirth was a distant background to the screams as Sydney got closer to birthing her baby.
Sydney was fatigued, and wondered if she’d be able to give birth. The midwife continued encouraging her to rest between pushing and said, “On the next pain—push with all your might.” She did. The midwife said, “Good job!” and held up her new baby. With a quick slap from the midwife to its bottom, the baby cried. The midwife laid the baby across Sydney’s chest and saw tears trickling down her face. After giving Sydney and the baby a moment, she said, “Let me clean up the little fellow.”
Sydney’s eyes grew larger with surprise, for she’d not known the baby’s gender until then. The midwife asked what she planned to name him. She answered, “I need to look at him before deciding.”
The midwife brought him back to her cleaned, diapered, and dressed in his newborn onesie. Sydney said, “I’m going to name him after my dad, David Stewart. He will be called David Asher Jones.”
The midwife smiled and said, “Good, strong name.”
Sydney nodded. She didn’t know if the baby’s eyes would change color, but right now they were blue, like her dad’s, and that was good enough for her.
Backroads of Georgia
It seemed like hours had passed since Ray Jenkins started toward Nancy Lynn’s hometown. He was wondering if his GPS had gone squirrelly, for usually there were major gas stations or mom-and-pop country stores along the highway. There had been nothing for over 78 miles as he watched his odometer click off the miles he’d traveled. Up ahead, seemingly out of nowhere, he saw a traffic light and to his left, a gas station and diner.
His cell charger had died over an hour before on the long and isolated highway. He felt suspended in time, not knowing his whereabouts. He took a chance on the diner allowing him to plug his charger into one of their outlets while he grabbed a bite to eat.
A young waitress with snarly hair pulled together in a messy bun was standing behind the counter swiping the bar with a dingy cloth crumbled in her hand. He said, “My phone died, and my car charger has quit working. Can I plug my cell phone into your outlet?”
She pointed toward the corner, where a jukebox and high chair were stored and said, “There’s a plug behind the booster.”
“Thank you. Do you know how far I am from Cuthbert?”
The girl looked puzzled and said, “No, I’m not familiar with that town.”
Ray decided he was in the twilight zone where mechanical items quit working and no one knows where he’s going. He sat down on the tattered bar stool at the counter and she handed him the menu with a greasy laminated covering. “Some coffee, please,” he said.
He looked over the menu and ordered two eggs over easy, hash browns, with a side order of sausage. On closer observation of the dirty grill, he wondered if he’d made the right choice. A large, cast iron boiler was steaming with what he could only guess was grits. The outside of the pot had gooey-looking residue running down and stuck to its sides, showing signs of not being washed often. He was glad he’d not ordered anything that came from that kettle.
A man with a scraggly, unkempt beard, dressed in overalls, was sitting in the back of the diner. He looked up and said, “Just turn left at the traffic light over there and stay straight and you’ll end up where you’re looking to go.”
He stood up and pointed toward the red light outside the diner and asked, “That one?”
The man said, “That’s the right one. Turn left.”
He thanked him and took a few bites from his plate, trying to give his cell phone time to charge. He’d already decided not to use the GPS until he followed the man’s directions. If he was wrong, he could turn on his phone and get directions to the next city. He didn’t want to be lost on the backroads of Georgia again.
He found the rural address where Nancy Lynn was staying with her parents until her legal problems were resolved.
Taking in the tiny southern town at a glance, he knew why she escaped to Hollywood and then Atlanta. She was a beauty, and there was nothing this town could offer her except the possibility of marriage and children. He wondered why she returned to her hometown. He’d soon find out.
He liked looking people in the eyes when questioning them for Sydney Jones’s law firm. There were always telltale bodily signs that couldn’t be picked up over the phone. In this case, phone service was sporadic—mostly nonexistent—in her rural hometown, which was the main reason for his travelling to meet her.
Sydney had wanted him to look around the town to see if anyone was tracking Nancy Lynn’s whereabouts and to warn her to be careful when she left home.
Since someone was trying to stop Sydney from representing her, she feared for Nancy Lynn’s safety. He was to bring her back to Atlanta if suspicious behavior was noted. After experiencing the isolation of her hometown, he thought it in her best interest to relocate to the safe house in Atlanta. The condo was stocked and reserved for Sydney’s clients needing a reprieve from impending disaster.
He needed Nancy Lynn to feel safe leaving her family’s home with him for the drive to Atlanta. If he could pick up a phone signal, he’d call Sydney to let her convince Nancy Lynn to ride with him. She probably knew the way a lot better than him anyway.
He cleared his head before knocking on her parents’ wood frame door. He needed to have an impartial stance before questioning her about the murder she’d witnessed and likely get charged with.
She answered the door wearing a cotton shift dress, something she probably only wore at her parents’ home. Although the garment hung on her like a potato sack, she looked beautiful.
He introduced himself and flashed his credentials. She looked at him suspiciously but when he mentioned that Sydney Jones sent him, she visually relaxed and smiled.
He asked if there was a quiet place they could talk. She showed him into the small farmhouse kitchen and asked if he wanted a glass of iced tea.
He nodded his head and said he just needed to ask her a few questions. She sat down across from him and waited.
He asked if anyone had contacted her since she’d arrived. She said no, but that she’d seen a dark-colored sedan driving slowly down their farm road, but it didn’t turn off into the lane leading to their house. She said her parents were visiting out-of-town relatives and wouldn’t be home until later in the week, and she knew the landowners living along the road where she grew up. The car was not one from around there.
He told her Sydney had a safe house in Atlanta, making it closer and easier for them to monitor her safety. She seemed surprised, and he quickly punched Sydney’s number on his phone while praying he had service. Sydney answered. He quickly brought her up to date and asked if she’d confirm the Atlanta safe house and recommend Nancy Lynn travelling with him now. He handed the phone to Nancy Lynn and watched as she listened, nodding her head in agreement. She handed him his phone and said, “Let me get my things and leave a note for my parents that I’ll call them later.”
He walked toward the front door to wait while she packed her bags and within minutes, she returned with her suitcase. Apparently, she’d not been there long enough to unpack. He took her bag and was ready to leave the house.
The questions he had planned to ask could wait until he had her safely in Atlanta. He stuck his head out the door and looked around before motioning for her to follow him to his town car.
He opened the door for her and went around to the trunk to deposit her suitcase. He got in and started the car, and drove slowly down the dirt lane and turned onto a wider, red clay road. He’d be glad to get back on the highway to travel faster. He had little choice but to go through the tiny town with only a few stores on its main street. The only way in or out of this farming community was by circling the town’s square, where an imposing monument portraying the city founders commanded attention.
He was breathing easier being on a main highway when a sleek, black sedan fell in behind them. He motioned for Nancy Lynn to duck down and said, “Slide down in your seat; we’ve got company.”
Nancy Lynn didn’t utter a word. She slid down in the plush, oversized seat with panic written on her face. He didn’t want to add to her fears, but knew trouble was on their rear bumper.
He kept his eyes on the road and hands tightly gripping the wheel, anticipating a rear end collision. The sedan tapped his rear bumper hard, swaying the large automobile off onto the shoulder of the road. Then the car accelerated fast past them. He gave thanks that his sturdy, older-model luxury car was built like a small tank. He mentally recorded the license plate of the sedan and after several miles, told Nancy Lynn she could scoot back up in her seat. They rode silently.
He parked in the condo garage and escorted Nancy Lynn to the safe house while keeping a watchful eye for interlopers. She was sweating, and he was glad the air-conditioning was blasting when he opened the front door. He looked around to check for intruders before going to the refrigerator to see if it was stocked. She didn’t need to be going out on her own until he learned who was after her and why.
They sat at the small kitchen table and drank a cold Coca-Cola. He gave her guidelines for staying safe and showed her the security system and code. But for right now, she needed to sit tight and let him investigate.
He asked a few questions that might lead to answering who was after her and why. He knew Sydney planned to have her removed from the suspect list in the murder of her lover, Liu Chang. Even so, she could still be in harm’s way on her own and hunted by a killer.
Nancy Lynn was either too frightened to talk, or didn’t know who could be behind wanting to harm her. He didn’t see any help coming from her for finding who and why she was a person of interest.
He said goodnight, and left his business card, saying, “Call me if anyone tries to contact you—and don’t leave.”
Nancy Lynn nodded in agreement with tear-filled eyes. He returned home and called in a favor with Lt. Thomason to find the identity of the driver of the black sedan. He confided the reasons behind the request, and Thomason was intrigued with the direction the case of taking.
In minutes, he called back to say the car was rented to a Chinese national, Juang Huang, who wasn’t affiliated with the Chinese Black Societies, adding he’d investigate his visit to Nancy Lynn’s hometown. Thomason contacted his team to detain him for questioning as a person of interest in Liu Chang’s murder.
When Ray Jenkins hung up, he was even more baffled about the connection to Nancy Lynn. Juang Huang had traveled some distance from the city to track her down in the backwoods of Georgia. They were missing an important piece of the puzzle if the Chinese mafia wasn’t a piece of the action.
Juang Huang was at a downtown Atlanta hotel and was taken into custody without incident. Lt. Thomason was pegged to interrogate him about his business in the United States and his interest in Nancy Lynn.
Huang was a snappy dresser, and seemed little concerned with being detained. He asked to make a phone call, a right he believed was owed for his inconvenience. He phoned his attorney, who had a contact in Atlanta who’d take care of the problem.
He sat at the bare metal table staring at the dingy, white-washed walls until Lt. Thomason arrived for questioning. He was asked about his reason for being in the United States.
He replied, “I’m here to accompany a family member home for burial.”
“Liu Chang, my sister’s husband.”
“Who sent you?”
“My sister. She wants him to have a proper burial.”
Thomason waited a minute before continuing, reflecting on the recent discovery of the Black Society’s decision to back away from Liu Chang’s business in the US. Apparently, now his family was responsible for setting things right.
“I see,” he said.
“What prompted your trip to a rural farming community near Cuthbert? That’s an out-of-the-way day trip for your purpose here.”
“I was checking on my brother-in-law’s mistress. And, since you don’t know who murdered him, she may be in danger, too.”
“How did you know where to find her?”
“Pretty easy, actually. Without my brother-in-law’s money she’d be on the streets, and would most likely return to her relatives. Searching on the Internet for next of kin led me to her.”
Thomason didn’t buy his lies about concern for Nancy Lynn’s safety. There was more to the story, or he wouldn’t have rear-ended Ray Jenkins, Sydney Jones’s private investigator. A detail he chose to omit from his questioning.
Thomason paced the interview about the family and his sister’s knowledge of her husband’s mistress.
Juang Huang’s voice took on a husky tone when he said, “Sure, she knew about his affairs, but it is common for wealthy men to consort with prostitutes and have mistresses. She has a good life in Beijing with her family and accepted his flings as part of our culture.”
Thomason knew when affairs of the heart were involved, sparks fly, and sometimes more. In China and other regions of the world, the old ways were dying as women were more educated and empowered and wanted more from marriage.
If he was on a call of duty for his sister, she might be the one behind his murder and after Nancy Lynn. But how could he prove it when she was a foreigner not on US soil?
Sydney Jones was right; Nancy Lynn most likely didn’t murder Liu Chang. Losing his financial support put her on the streets—literally. He would investigate freeing up some of her assets when the case was officially closed.
Thomason concluded his interrogation and said, “Your brother-in-law’s murder is still under investigation. You’ll be released from our custody and expected to be on the next flight to Beijing, along with the corpse.”
He assigned an agent to keep tabs on him until he boarded the flight home with his brothers-in-law’s body.
The next morning, he received word Liu Chang’s body had been loaded on the airline and Juang Huang was on his way home. Thomason was relieved but in the back of his mind, he knew it wasn’t over. Someone else might arrive to finish the job. It was enough that someone tried to kill Sydney Jones relating to this case. Someone wanted Nancy Lynn to get life without parole or even the death penalty, and would go to any lengths to achieve it. Ming Chang was likely the mastermind behind the plan.
He just hoped the grieving widow would bury her grudge and go about her life. For as long as she remained in China, she was untouchable. But the minute she set foot on American soil that would change. He’d personally take care of her killing streak. Hopefully, before she met Sydney Jones. He knew very well how that would end. Sydney was always packed and loaded.
After leaving the GBI headquarters, Juang Huang called his sister, Ming. He figured the agents were probably listening, so he spoke in their native tongue. He hoped there was no translator nearby to decode the message, at least until he exited US airspace. He made it plain that she was not to have any contact with anyone associated with her husband in the States. She needed to drop her vendetta and see to her family. He’d talk after he got her husband’s body to its rightful place in preparation for his funeral. Their cousin’s body had already been sent back to mainland China, awaiting his family’s instructions.
A Star is Born
Sydney Jones’s law firm was running like a well-oiled machine. Her attorney litigators were winning big cases often. She picked and chose the cases she’d represent for her clients, and they were in good hands with her new staff attorneys and competent management staff.
She was working on a personal injury case for a movie studio located in Atlanta. One of their construction set workers was injured while building full-scale scenery for their next movie. It wasn’t a life-threatening injury, but the recovery time could be lengthy and rehabilitation costly.
The studio was willing to negotiate, but didn’t want to be taken by Ray Grantham, the attorney representing their worker. Speed in resolving the matter was paramount, as the production designer and director of production were at each other’s throats. There was no way the director would allow the set constructor back on the job, fearing an even greater lawsuit. The show must go on, and although this worker was more creative and skilled than most, there were others the designer could hire to get the job done on their production schedule and within budget.
Sydney had the numbers the studio was willing to pay and from her staff’s investigation, it was a reasonable payout for injuries of this nature. She just had to sell it to Ray Grantham, the attorney representing the worker. The buried news reports that had surfaced indicated he’d ride this case to stardom, if possible. She just had to point him toward the legal reality. This case wouldn’t take him to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.
After much bickering about her hoity-toity legalize, the worker’s attorney, Grantham, agreed to the studio’s terms and conditions. The negotiations were completed and signed by all parties, with payment promptly delivered.
The studio was pleased with Sydney Jones and invited her to a screening of the movie when it was completed. She accepted.
Sydney was glad when Lt. Thomason called to let her know Nancy Lynn was no longer a person of interest or suspect in the murder of Liu Chang. She couldn’t wait to tell her the news and about the casting interview she’d quickly set up for her at a major motion picture studio in Atlanta.
She’d called one of the local studio executives she’d met while working on a case at the studio. Dominic Houser said he’d seen Nancy Lynn on headline news and wondered what the outcome would be. He was glad her case had been dismissed. She was a natural beauty and with some hard work and luck, she might make it in the film industry.
Sydney thanked him profusely and was excited Nancy Lynn would have a second chance at the career she wanted. She made a quick decision to call her and meet for dinner downtown.
Sydney’s secretary made reservations at one of Atlanta’s top restaurants, the White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails, well-known for its contemporary spin on Southern comfort foods. She thought Nancy Lynn would especially enjoy their menu as a reminder of home.
Nancy Lynn was excited to hear from Sydney. It had been a long time; six months of her life spent as a recluse, while hoping and praying for a miracle. She’d love to meet her at the restaurant nearby and thank her personally for the good news, and let her know Lt. Thomason had unfrozen her bank account and returned her car and personal belongings.
Sydney had just parked when she saw Nancy Lynn walking toward the restaurant door. She called out to her and she turned and waited for her to catch up. When the two entered the restaurant, all eyes were on them. Nancy Lynn was beautiful, as usual. They were quickly seated and ordered drinks while looking over the menu. The waiter suggested the house specialties and a light appetizer. They agreed; his recommendations sounded good, then they ordered their favorites from the menu.
They sipped on their chardonnay, and Sydney noticed Nancy Lynn relaxing as they talked. She didn’t realize how lonely Nancy Lynn had been since the murder of Liu Chang while laying low from whoever was after her.
Sydney explained she could stay in the midtown condo indefinitely. When her income became steady, she could make rental payments to her office.
When she told her about the casting, she’d set up with a local movie studio, Nancy Lynn’s eyes danced with merriment just before tears started trickling down her face. Sydney smiled and said, “You’re going to be okay; you just wait and see.”
Nancy Lynn dabbed her eyes with a tissue Sydney handed her from her purse. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you for all you’ve done.”
“Think nothing of it,” said Sydney. “It’s my job to right wrongs.”
“I hope you won’t mind staying in touch,” said Nancy Lynn. “You’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“Consider us friends,” said Sydney. “Call me anytime you want, and I’ll do the same. Maybe we can catch a movie together sometime. Hopefully, one with you in it.”
Nancy Lynn smiled and said, “If dreams come true, it’ll happen.”
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying their drinks and dinner while other patrons glanced toward them from time to time. They smiled.
Almost a year had passed since Walker arrived in Cuba. He’d picked up Isabella on his motorbike at dusk during the weekends to continue his surveillance of top-ranked military leaders and their women at the popular local meeting places around Havana.
When out on the town, Isabella would whisper the names of the men and women who gathered regularly to enjoy the nighttime parties along the streets and open-air parks, and occasionally restaurants and bars. When she received a tip about a possible meeting or event where he could obtain a lead, she passed it on to him and they’d plan to attend.
Growing up on the island, she’d attended school with many they saw regularly singing and dancing in the streets. He could tell by the way her body swayed to the music; she’d love to join them. He was glad she was able to rein in her emotions, for he didn’t want to draw attention to them. Her beauty would genuinely draw men to her. In the end, she remembered she was a paid informant and cuddled next to him rather than kicking off her strappy heels and enjoying the party.
During the week, he pursued the leads they gathered during the weekend. His superiors were pleased with his efforts so far, but he knew he was not as close as the former agent had been when he was murdered.
When darkness settled in and the fog cloaked the harbor, he wore his hooded, pitch-black jogging suit and walked along the wharf and harbor. He’d left his electronic devices at the cottage, as they lit up when used. Carrying a small notepad and pencil, he recorded the names of the ships docked. He paid special attention to foreign ocean-going vessels, especially those from China and Russia.
Since his arrival, one ship from China had ported twice in the harbor. His command of the Chinese language and the dialect of the working class came in handy for sorting through the conversations he overheard when close enough to recognize the speakers. One night, he saw a man in the Cuban military standard talking with who appeared to be the captain of the ship, by the space the dock workers gave him. He wasn’t close enough to hear, but saw the soldier hand the captain a funnel-shaped package. The next night, the vessel wasn’t there. Most likely the ship sailed on the morning’s high tide.
He went alone back to his cottage and sorted through his notes. The Havana nights were long and humid, and his thoughts always gravitated to Sydney. He missed her, and hadn’t touched a woman since their hasty goodbye. He wondered if she’d moved on and found another companion and lover. He wouldn’t blame her if she did; after their steamy lovemaking, she probably regained her balance and blamed him as the murderer of Roxanne. He didn’t waste their precious time before leaving to explain the truth about that morning.
Having Isabella close at hand on the weekend, with her sweet-smelling, gorgeous body, weighed heavily on his desire to keep his hands off any woman until he held Sydney again. At night in his dreams, Isabella began encroaching where Sydney had once ruled. He needed to be more careful around Isabella, especially when they had drinks together, or he could make a life-changing mistake.
Isabella made it no secret she wanted to escape to the US, and probably saw him as her ride. He could easily smuggle her out on his return to the States. Add marriage and his job requirements, and she would have access to legal immigration. Yes, he needed to be careful, he thought.
Isabella called him during the week; unusual, as they met and talked on the weekends. She wanted him to know what a friend confided about the Cuban embassy. He asked to meet her and learn firsthand what she knew and from whom. Isabella convinced him it was too risky. Her friend might disclose his interest in the incident to the Cuban solider whose arms held her during the long, steamy nights.
He recorded what Isabella told him and planned to investigate on one of his sojourns outside under the cover of darkness. Getting into the embassy would be difficult, as it was guarded. He needed to convince one of the guards that he was called to repair one of the sensors in the secure area. He was glad he knew enough about security systems to walk the talk.
He waited until the graveyard shift to make his move. He’d brought his blade and a pistol with a silencer, just in case things went south. He camouflaged his usual demeanor with a baseball cap and techie-looking plaid shirt and jeans. He hoped his plan worked, because he didn’t want to have to deal with dumping a body.
Walking softly and crouching low to ambush his prey like a leopard in the jungle, he sneaked into the off-limits secure area of the embassy. Seeing just one guard stationed on the premises, he took a chance for a nonviolent approach. He politely informed him about the technical problem he was sent to repair. The guard nodded in the affirmative and waved him in after telling Walker to take the stairs to the equipment area.
Walker breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was halfway there for investigating the theories he and his commander had discussed. From all accounts, the Cubans and Chinese were quietly working together to get rid of Americans in Cuba.
He looked around and decided the layout of the building and thickness of the walls would make a sonic attack unlikely from the pinpointed location. He looked for canisters holding arsenal they could use. There was nothing lying about. The area was probably swept clean after the attack. Convinced there was nothing more to see, he took photos and left, pulling his baseball cap over his face and waving when passing the guard.
Walker wanted to follow up on the Chinese connection he’d witnessed at the harbor and Isabella’s friend’s comment about the Cuban and Chinese governments working together. He decided a trip to Chinatown would be a good place to start. He and Isabella could go on the weekend and he could look around.
Isabella was excited when he told her about their weekend adventure. She wanted to take him to the best places to eat and drink. She was beginning to see their outings as a date night rather than what it was—a fact-finding mission.
Isabella was ready to go when he arrived at her cottage. He had just braked when he heard the door slam when the wind caught it, and in seconds her long, tanned legs were straddling the seat behind him.
They rode in silence as the wind whipped against them, making the palm fronds along the street twist and turn. Near the entrance of Chinatown, Isabella pointed to the imposing Pórtico del Barrio Chino (Chinatown Gate), erected in 1999 and paid for by the Chinese government.
He parked the motorbike and as they walked, she talked about the Cuban government relaxing foreign investments in the 1990s, making several Chinatown renovations possible.
They ate a simple but tasty meal at the restaurant Isabella suggested, paying $9; about half what a tourist restaurant would charge. They walked around Chinatown with Isabella pointing out specialty shops and tourist attractions. Looking around, Walker recognized one of the men he saw at the wharf talking to the captain of the Chinese ship. Isabella knew him and wanted to introduce them. She knew the woman he was with—his wife. He declined. He wanted to watch him from a distance and learn more about his activities, plus shield her from his spying.
Isabella knew where he lived and would point it out on the way home. He’d have a starting point for tracking his movement.
After exploring Chinatown, he asked if she wanted to go to his cottage so they could talk in private. Finding out more about the man he recognized was important to his mission; not to mention the loneliness he felt, for he only knew her and her cousin Euquerio on the island. Thoughts of conversation with a beautiful woman instead of a solitary night made him smile.
Isabella’s eyes widened with surprise when he opened the door to his cottage. The home she shared with Euquerio’s family wasn’t nearly as nice. She walked over to the bed and sprawled out like a cat, slowly brushing her fingertips against his new mattress. He wondered if she knew how beautiful she looked.
She had a point; the bed would be more comfortable than sitting at the table with chairs poking aluminum spokes into your backside. The vintage relic of times past wasn’t comfortable even for dining. But he wouldn’t complain. The cottage was a mansion compared to the lodging he was lucky enough to find on his first night in Havana.
He kicked off his shoes and joined Isabella in the middle of the bed. He wished she wouldn’t wear a delicate scent of tropical florals when they went out. The smell was intoxicating, and he wanted to breathe in and touch her sexy body.
He took deep breaths to regain his composure. Satisfied, he asked what she’d learned.
Isabella confided what she knew about the soldier they saw in Chinatown. Family secrets were not as guarded as in the States. Even the military were much freer around their family and friends. They sometimes even boasted about their escapades.
He thanked Isabella for the background information, and she reached over and cuddled his face with her palms. He hadn’t been touched by a woman in a long time and his body took over as she gravitated toward him. The sexy, sultry heat in her eyes said she wanted him. He responded. Their lovemaking lasted most of the night.
As the sun was rising, peeking through the bedroom window, he remembered their evening and wanted to kick himself. This would complicate their relationship, and he didn’t need any distractions from his mission. He’d been in Cuba long enough, and progress had been slow for solving the mysteries he was sent to investigate. He didn’t want to be open to Isabella’s expectations of emigrating to the US with him, and last night added complications.
Isabella quietly dressed, and he offered her coffee and toast with marmalade. She took the cup of coffee and declined the toast. The silence between them hung like a heavy mist in the air. He needed to say something—but what? He knew they’d both enjoyed their evening; or she was a talented actress. Should he thank her for the evening pleasures?
When she clutched her handbag, he knew she was ready to go. She most likely had classes, as she was finishing up her medical degree at the university. He didn’t want her to be late.
He dreaded riding up to her cousin’s house in the wee hours of the morning with Isabella. If he was lucky, he’d be asleep and not waiting by the door expecting payment for last night’s outing—not to mention what he’d figure happened afterwards.
Walker thanked his lucky stars; Euquerio was still slumbering when they arrived. He’d catch up with him later in the day to make their agreed upon payment. From now on he’d make monthly payments, in case there was a repeat of the previous night.
He and Isabella continued their outings to the popular hangouts. The locals were colorful and festive in their singing and dancing. Isabella and he now danced in the streets when they went out. She’d convinced him they’d stand out less by joining in. Memories of Sydney were fleeing. The longer he was away, the more he believed he’d never convince her he didn’t murder Roxanne.
Isabella was excited about her upcoming graduation. She wanted him to attend, and he finally agreed to as an observer, away from her family and friends. They spent their nights together pleasing one another until completely saturated with bliss. He would miss her when he returned to the States.
Isabella reconnected with her friend, Maria, wanting to find out more about her husband’s activities with the Chinese. Walker told her to stay clear of anything relating to her husband, for it could place her in danger. He knew with her graduation, she was ready to leave Cuba. She was trying to expedite his leaving, believing it was her escape, too.
Isabella discovered the contents of the funnel-shaped box he saw Maria’s military husband hand over to the Chinese captain. The package was a camouflaged box of Cuban cigars from his commander in chief.
Walker felt like kicking something. He’d been on a wild goose chase since arriving on the island. The only thing he’d accomplished was to make love to the most beautiful woman on the island. He didn’t want “failed to perform” on his records with the agency. Who knew what might happen? They might try to frame him for another murder for good riddance.
Euquerio was driving a fare to a local hotel when he passed Isabella walking home from school. She was being followed closely by a military jeep. He feared for her safety, and thought it was time for Walker to leave and take Isabella with him.
Euquerio arranged a meeting with a member of the family of the woman who was in the cottage with the CIA agent when he was murdered. He was walking a tightrope, juggling his love for his country and a clandestine arrangement with the US government spy agency. He wanted Cubans to prosper, and money flowed when the door was opened for Americans to visit and trade with Cubans.
He’d discovered, quite accidently, that the woman with the murdered agent was taken, starved, and beaten until her reputation as a prostitute was confirmed by a high-ranking military official. Believing her relationship with the agent was a personal one, she was released. Days later, her body was seen bloated and floating on the ocean by a local fisherman.
Euquerio was nervous about pinpointing the location for the meeting. Being a taxi driver, he thought it best they met in his cab and he’d drive to the countryside and back while they talked. Being known for taking tourists on excursions was the perfect cover, and he’d be glad when it was over. When telling Walker about his plan, he agreed, and they set the time.
Walker left the cottage and jogged to the pickup point out of the way of spying eyes. Euquerio was rolling to a stop when Walker opened the back door, jumped in and said, “Keep moving.”
The man waiting in the backseat wasted no time in giving him the details Walker had waited almost a year to hear. He was very specific with dates and times of the covert operations between the Cuban and Chinese governments.
The Chinese were in cahoots with the Cuban government for the specific purpose of removing the American embassy from Cuba. They shared their technology to enable the attack. The Chinese didn’t want the US to infiltrate the communist country. Although the Chinese government could call in the $1.11 trillion of US debt for collection, this was a targeted attack to accomplish a specific result—Americans out of Cuba.
The well-designed shanghai was effective for achieving their goals. The Americans were duped. The democratic process would take years of investigation and study before the mystery could be solved. The pushback from the United States was as expected, with personnel removal from the embassy and tighter trade and travel sanctions. Exactly what the Chinese government wanted—US presence contained.
The US government would spend years with their top researchers combing the data for answers, and top security agencies investigating leads. In the meantime, Cuba would have less US influence. Their well-played strategy produced a win for the communist government.
The cab driver, Euquerio, was driving them back to the city when they saw a military jeep blocking the sandy coastal road. An alarm went off in Walker’s mind, alerting him to get ready to defend himself and those with him. A Cuban soldier came up to the driver’s-side window and said, “Get out; we need to inspect your cab.”
Euquerio slowly opened his door and moved away from the car. Walker nodded to the man beside him to duck, pushing him down with his left hand. When the soldier went to open the door, Walker drew, aimed, and fired.
Walker said, “Get in, and let’s go!”
Euquerio was shaken, but cranked the old Chevy and pressed down hard on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward and gained speed, unlike what you’d expect from an older American model. His taxi was pristine, and surely one of the finest you could ride in around Cuba, thought Walker. And, apparently, he’d tuned the engine to go faster, if needed.
He dropped off the informant in a nondescript location close enough to walk home.
After the informant exited the cab, Walker asked, “Where’s Isabella?”
“I’m not sure,” said Euquerio.
“Help me find her, and bring her to my cottage,” said Walker. “I’ll be doing the same. If you don’t hear from me again, she’s with me and we’ll be fine. She’ll send a blank postcard when we’re settled.”
He dropped Walker off a way from his seaside cottage and accelerated to the max home to see if Isabella was there.
Walker was running toward his cottage, hoping Isabella decided to pay him a surprise visit. She knew where the key was hidden and could be waiting for him inside. He paid attention to his surroundings as he maneuvered in a crisscross pattern toward his cottage. Looking over his shoulder more than once or twice, he saw no military vehicles.
He opened the cottage door with his key and hurriedly packed the few things he’d collected and extra guns and ammunition. He grabbed his vest for Isabella to wear in case of fireworks. Where was she? he wondered.
Walker quickly called his commander and told him he needed an exit out of Cuba after sundown. He was bringing a passenger with him who’d helped in his investigation and was now in harm’s way.
His commander agreed, and told him a pickup vessel would meet him in international waters. He was to take the skiff the former agent had hidden close to his cottage. He was not to use his running lights until he’d cleared the Cuban coastline. There was a navigation system and radio onboard. He’d get a signal when the vessel neared.
“Damn it, why won’t Isabella answer her phone?” he said under his breath. Within minutes, Euquerio’s taxi came barreling up the street, and before he stopped, Isabella was out and waving goodbye. The taxi kept moving, and sped off in the direction of the market.
Isabella carried her satchel over her shoulder and fear shrouded her face. He asked, “Is there anything of yours in the cottage?”
She shook her head.
“I suppose your cousin told you what happened?” he asked. “We’ve got to leave when it gets dark. We’re taking a skiff into international waters, where we’ll be picked up by a US operative.”
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“We’ve got to leave the cottage and hide near the skiff until dark,” he said. “I don’t want to chance my identity—or yours—being comprised and getting us arrested.”
He looked down at her feet and was glad she was wearing sensible shoes, as high heels and floating vessels didn’t mesh well.
He followed command’s directions, trudging through heavy tropical foliage and vegetation, bending and holding back brush for Isabella to creep behind him to their getaway spot and ride. They huddled close to the skiff. Walker placed his vest on the ground for her to rest on while they waited as the sun set. He hunkered down on his knees and kept a steadfast watch toward the ocean and behind them. When darkness fell, he untied the skiff from its mooring and said, “Climb aboard.”
He eased the boat out from the shore, wading almost waist-deep before rolling his 6’5” frame over the side of the small vessel. He checked the navigation system and took the oars to row them away from the shoreline. He noticed the government food rations and blanket tucked beneath the starboard side. He hoped they wouldn’t need to use them.
If they were l