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A Romance Made in Hell

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I can always count on Michael to ruin my shopping trips.

Jesse and I were finally getting my Genesis Coupe replaced. I was excited. I had been driving a few stolen cars for weeks. (It was cheaper than driving a rental from Enterprise.) We were at a Hyundai dealership on 2nd Street. The car dealer, Jesse and I were outside.

"I don't understand," Jesse said to me. "You don't want a blue Genesis Coupe anymore. You want a red one."

"The blue one had a lot of unnecessary baggage. We lost the car because of you-know-who for one. And you bled in the car not long after I had gotten it."

The dealer looked at us.

"It was a medical emergency. He made it to the hospital in time. Anyway, red is the color of courage, love, passion, warnings, blood..."

"Fiona's quite fond of blood," Jesse said.

"If the blue Genesis Coupe was emitting negative energies, then the red Genesis Coupe will hopefully give us positive energies."

The dealer continued to look at us.

"We have mutual friends. Sometimes we share the car. We carpool. It's a bit on the wild side, right, Jesse?" I winked.

Jesse nodded. "Yeah, it's very wild."

"We'll take this car. I know, we have to sign a few papers and provide some insurance. Let's go back in before we turn into sweat, literally."

I kissed Jesse on his cheek. "Thank you for coming with me. You know Michael and Sam. One's a workaholic and the other's drunk and dodging his sugar mama of the year."

"Hey, no problem."

As soon as we were stepping into the dealership to sign papers, Michael called me.

"Hello, Michael."

"Fi, I need to talk to you and Jesse.""

That's great, Michael, but I'm occupied at the moment."

"You're occupied."

"It's my day off, Michael. Jesse and I are buying my new car. I told you that before you left."

"I need you and Jesse to get off vacation now."

"I have to sign a few papers and then I'm coming back to the loft."

"Actually, I need you to meet me at Carlitos. We're meeting Pearce and Sam there."

"Carlitos? The loft isn't private enough?"

"Pearce has some bad news. I think it's best we let Sam drink before we tell him the news."

 

Jesse and I were about to leave the dealership when I heard a television station's jingle.

"We have breaking news this afternoon," a female newscaster said. "An inmate has escaped from a southwestern Dade County prison."

I grabbed Jesse's hand and pointed to the television.

"According to Warden Peggy Mills at Allarod Federal Penitentiary in Florida City, Rebecca Lang escaped the penitentiary early this morning..."

Rebecca Lang. Anson's accomplice and the woman who almost tried to kill Pearce and myself. Of course she'd escape from prison.

"A riot broke out during a meal service. After the riot was quelled, officers found no sign of Lang. Penitentiary officials believe Lang snuck out with one of the prison's guards. Police are looking for Lang but have found no trace of her whereabouts. Lang was arrested weeks ago for an attempted terrorist attack which would have affected a portion of North Miami."

The station put a mugshot of Rebecca's face on the television and announced numbers to call if anyone spotted her.

"Looks like Anson and Rebecca are getting back together. And they might even have a friend with them. Isn't that romantic, Jesse?"

Jesse scoffed. "Yeah. It's a romance made in hell."

 

"Hey, what took you two so long?" Sam said as we sat down at our usual table.

I glared at him.

"What? It was an innocent question!"

Pearce cleared her throat. "Now that we're all here, I need your help. The kind of help you used to provide before Michael got back in the CIA."

Michael raised his eyebrows. "What happened?"

"This happened."

Pearce pulled out her cell phone. She played a voice message.

"Dani, how are you?"

It was Anson.

"I hope you're feeling okay. If you see Michael and his friends, tell them I said hello. What else? Yes, you did ruin my plans, after all. I'm gathering some of my friends for a return trip to Miami. It's risky, I know. But this time, unlike the last time, I have a plan. I hope you like them. I won't be able to come, but I'll be monitoring from afar. And then I'm going far, far away."

The voice message ended abruptly.

"So Anson's in hiding somewhere. You need our help to find him."

"And whoever's coming after me."

"Michael, I'm pretty sure he's got Rebecca."

Michael turned to me. "Rebecca?"

"There was a jail break at Allarod this morning. She escaped. And the guard that left with her probably has ties to Anson as well."

Michael turned back to Pearce. "I thought the CIA was on this."

"They don't know where he is. They're not going to find Anson fast enough to stop him from harming me. As for me, if they found out, they'll probably reassign me or hire bodyguards. That's not going to solve the problem."
Michael took a sharp inhale of breath. "Only because you're a friend."

Pearce was now our latest client.

 

Pearce had to go back to the CIA building. The rest of us went back to the loft and hung around the workbench, drinking beer and eating yogurt.

"Guys, I'm going on a mission to Columbia tomorrow with Pearce," Michael said.

"Is she okay?"

"She'll be okay, Fi. I'm certain Anson doesn't know about the Colombia trip. If I wasn't going, I'd have time to look for Rebecca. Sam, are you free tomorrow?"

"I wish I was free, brother, but I picked up a client the other day and the job's not done yet. And then, after that, Elsa wants me to go shopping with her and her son. It's going to be a long day."

"Ouch. Jess, Fi, are you two free?"

"I may as well be free, Michael. You've always assumed I never have side jobs ever since I moved down here."

"I'm sorry about that."

"I don't know why it took me living with you to realize that. But you're lucky—I don't have anything planned tomorrow. I'll be happy to go to Allarod with Jesse, if he's free."

"I'm free."

Michael pointed at us. "You know what to get from Allarod, right?"

"The names of guards where Rebecca Lang was housed in Allarod before she was taken out," I said.

"Great. I'll see you two on Wednesday. Don't have too much fun like you did in the Bahamas."

I gave Michael a fake shocked look. "How dare you? I'm a well-behaved girl."

 

It's a 30 minute or so ride to Florida City from our loft. Thank God the coupe had air conditioning and a decent radio. Top 40 radio isn't my thing, but it's better than sitting in heat and silence in the Charger.

Then again, it is top 40 radio. And it's not a trip with Jesse unless he's singing something. This time he was singing, out of any song he could've chosen, "Call Me Maybe." And he chose the part of the song that was the earworm, the chorus.

"Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy..."

"Jesse."

"But here's my number..."

"Jesse…"

"So call me maybe..."

I cut the radio off.

"Jesse, this isn't the Bahamas."

"The Bahamas? What, did you think my singing was bad on that job?"

"Yeah, Jesse. I'm sorry. I told Michael, but I didn't tell you. I'm sorry."

I saw Jesse pout out of the corner of my eye.

"After this is done, I'll take you out to lunch. You pick the place and I'll stop. Deal?"

"Deal. But can you cut the radio back on?"

"Are you going to stop singing?"

"Deal."

I turned the radio on. "Call Me Maybe" was still playing.

Jesse started singing again. "Hey..."

I looked at Jesse. He stopped singing.

 

Some convincing fake IDs and security checks later and we were inside Allarod, talking to Warden Mills.

"Warden Mills, I'm Alice Fike. This is my partner Oscar Warner. We're with the Florida Department of Corrections Correctional Facility Office."

"Region three," Jesse added.

"Region three. We're here to do an emergency background check on your employees."

"I wasn't informed about this emergency inspection," Mills said.

"After a large scale break out," Jesse said, "we always do inspections to make sure the prison's secure."

"You absolutely have to explore every inch of this prison today?"

Jesse and I nodded.

Mills sighed. "Okay, Miss Fike and Mister Warner. Let's go."

 

Before Mills took us to another part of Allarod, I began to cough. I fell to my knees.

"Miss Fike," Jesse said, "are you okay?"

"I don't think I am. I think I need to go to the bathroom to collect myself."

Mills pointed me to the bathroom. I followed her directions until Jesse and she were out of sight. Then I went back to Mills' office.

Most everywhere I go I carry a hair pin with me. I prefer the ones without the waxed ends. It's too much trouble to pull the ends off on the go. I hid this particular hairpin on my suit. The hairpin matched the suit and it wasn't shining in the sun.

I picked my way into Mills' office.

The other thing I brought with me was a camera, the kind of camera Michael would use if he were snooping around someone's apartment and couldn't take the documents home with him.

I went through Mills' files and found the records of the employees that worked in Allarod. I took pictures of the files as fast as I could. I returned the files to where Mills had stashed them. After I made sure Mills' door was locked, I went back to the bathroom.

Pretending to walk out of the bathroom, I found a guard.

"Excuse me, I'd like to be taken to where Warden Mills and Mr. Warner are at."

The guard motioned to follow him. I followed as the guard asked about Mills' whereabouts.

 

We were driving past a Subway in Kendall when Jesse said "Hey, you did promise lunch before we went back to your place, right?"

I blanked out for a minute. Then I remembered I had promised him lunch if he would stop singing "Call Me Maybe."

"Yeah. I did."

"So why don't you go back to that Subway?"

I did what Jesse told me. I drove back to the Subway.

"Do you want to eat in or take out? If we eat in, we have to hurry. Michael will be waiting."

"We had to spend a few hours in the middle of nowhere to find a list of prison employees for him. I say we eat in and take all the time we need. Michael can wait."

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"Did you get the name of the cell block Rebecca escaped from?" Michael asked me as we went over the employee records in the loft.

"Cell block nine. It's for high-risk offenders."

Michael looked at the photos I took.

"The guard that lives closest to the prison is a Matt Sturges. 935 Plantation Drive, just outside of Florida City. He seems like the most likely suspect at this point. Fi, are you available tomorrow?"

"I guess I am. I haven't heard anything from my bounty hunter friends and no one wants to buy guns from me."

"How about you, Jesse?"

"I'm sorry, Mike, but I got this home security job tomorrow. It's an all day gig."

I grinned. "Michael..."

"I've got to go to work, Fi. You and Sam are going to Florida City."

"You didn't ask me if I was free, Mikey."

"I talked to you earlier, Sam. You're done with your client. You don't have a gig. Fiona doesn't have anything going on. You two are going to Florida City tomorrow."

"Yeah, and what if I don't return with my head intact?"

 

The next day I drove Sam to Matt Sturges' place.

Immediately after we arrived to his house, we knew something was wrong. On a neighborhood where the doors to all the residences were closed, Matt's door was cracked.

"Fi," Sam whispered to me, "do you think we have an uninvited guest?"

I nodded.

I put my Walther in the back of my pants. Sam grabbed his Beretta.

We walked slowly towards the front door. Sam opened it. I pulled my Walther out and cocked it as we moved in.

The dead body of Matt Sturges greeted us as we walked in his living room. Someone had shot him in the back of the head at point blank range. It's horrible to see someone's blood and grey matter on a floor, but it's nothing I haven't seen before.

I could tell that the wound was fresh. The blood hadn't dried around his head, and some of it was still seeping out.

It also didn't take long for Sam and me to find the perpetrator. While Sam and I were looking at Matt's body, Rebecca ran out of Matt's back door.

I ran after Rebecca. "Sam!"

By the time we were outside of Matt's house, Rebecca had climbed into a dark blue Chevrolet Malibu. Judging by the body of the car, the car had just been released in the past few years. I glanced at the license plate and committed it to memory.

"Shit," Sam said, "we're too late."

We ran around the house, went back in my coupe and followed Rebecca. It didn't take long. I was able to catch up to her on South Dixie Highway towards the Keys.

That was also the problem: she was going south towards the Keys on a divided highway. The only other road out of Florida City is Card Sound Road, and it's hard cutting off someone speeding if you're either on a divided highway or on the wrong road out of the southernmost city on the right coast of Florida (until you reach the Keys, of course). And, on top of all that, this part of US 1 was a toll road.

The only way to get her off the road would be to ram into and force her to turn off. There was 424th Street, but 424th Street was five or so miles away from where I was. In minutes, Rebecca could pass a few cars and be on her way to Key Largo.

Then I remembered there's a closed dirt road a few minutes outside of Florida City. It leads to a lake. It was the perfect place to run a fugitive off the road and randomly leave her Malibu for a confused tow truck operator.

"Hold on, Sam," I said.

"Why do I have a feeling you're going to ram Rebecca's car off the road?"

"It's either this or a manhunt in Key Largo. I really don’t feel like driving around the Keys looking for Rebecca for the rest of the afternoon."

As much as I hated it, I rammed the coupe into Rebecca's Malibu. After a second ramming, Rebecca turned into the dirt road.

It didn't take long for me to drive in front of the Malibu and force Rebecca to stop. It also didn't long for me to catch up to Rebecca and tackle her legs.

Sam ran after Rebecca and me. It took him a while because, naturally, if you're a retired Navy SEAL who can drink a six pack of beer in one setting and not appear inebriated, you're not going to be in the best physical shape you could be in.

Sam threw me my stun gun. I Tased Rebecca.

"Sam, how'd you know?"

"I figured that, after the two other times you Tased me, you were quite fond of it."

"I am."

I had grabbed the keys to the coupe before I chased after Rebecca. I threw Sam the keys to the coupe.

"In the back seat I have a head bag, duct tape and some cable ties. I'll need all of those things."

"How many twist ties do you need?"

"Two. And make sure the C4 stays in the trunk."

"Do you really need to have C4 wherever you go, Fi?"

I shook my head. "You never know when you need some C4."

 

Sam and I put Rebecca, now with the twist ties on her hands and wrists, under a tree. We cornered her by putting her Malibu and my coupe around the tree, in case she wanted to attempt to crawl away. We also need to get the cars away from South Dixie Highway.

Sam pointed his Beretta at Rebecca. I pulled the head bag off of Rebecca's head.

I leaned against the coupe.

"Getting arrested for terrorism and almost killing my friends? I expected that. The jail break, the prison guard and the short car chase? I wasn't expecting that. You're lucky I didn't scuff the bumper of my new car too badly. I'd make you pay for it, somehow."

"I don't have the money."

I shrugged. "I can take cigarettes. I have a few clients that would love some."

"Who's the overweight loser with the gun?"

"Hey!"

"A friend. He's good with a gun and he sometimes gets my dry cleaning."

"Fi."

"But I wouldn't worry about him unless you try to get away. We have a few questions."

"You want to ask me about Anson."

I raised my eyebrows. "Of course. Did Anson want you out of jail?"

"Yes. Matt Sturges was one of his operatives."

"Why?"

"He wanted Dani Pearce dead."

It hit me then that this was what Anson's mysterious phone call was about.

"The plan was for me to go to Coconut Grove and spy on Pearce. I'd get on top of some building—Cocowalk, the tower at the Biltmore, anywhere, really—shoot her in the head and that's it. He wanted to fuck with Michael."

"I know. But I'm sure Michael would've avenged her death if it had to come to that. I'm disappointed, to be honest. I thought Anson was smarter than this. Now he's making mistakes. Do you think he knows his time's coming?"

Rebecca didn't say anything.

"Come on. Guess."

"I guess so."

I pulled out my Walther. "You don't know how much I want to kill you right now," I whispered in her ear. She shivered. "But I can't kill a wanted fugitive. I'd go to prison too. I could shoot you in the foot. Or the leg. The hand, the arm. I'm not picky. I can make it like you were trespassing on private property and whoever shot you did it in self-defense. With that said….why shouldn't I shoot you?"

"My brother."

I looked at Rebecca. "I have brothers too. Five of them. As long as I don't go back to Ireland, they're safe. You don't know how much I miss Ireland, my brothers, the grave of my little sister, my mother. But I have enemies there. They'll do things to them if I go back. They know I was an asset to a CIA agent I love." I cocked the Walther. "But I lost my sister to the British Army. The solider that killed my sister didn't give a shit about her. And you certainly didn't give a shit about Matt Sturges. Why should I give a shit about you and your brother?"

"Anson forced me to work with him. He put my brother in danger as blackmail and told me I'd never see him again. As long as I did his bidding, he'd keep him alive."

"And if you didn't work for him, your brother would be dead."

"I wanted to have a normal career working to the CIA, to protect my country against foreign threats. But that ended with Anson. He scared me enough to throw it all away."

"Trust me, Michael knows the feeling."

"If you don't hurt me, will you save my brother?"

I shrugged. "It's what we do best. Will you go back to jail?"

"I will. But are you going to tell Allarod that I"—

"Sam?"

"Did you have to sing that, Fi?"

"I have a pen and paper in my glove compartment. Will you go get that for me?"

"Why can't you get anything out of your car for once?"

"I'm the hostess. You're the gofer. Go get my pen and paper."

Sam sighed and went back to the car as I continued to point my Walther at Rebecca.

"So you can lie and pin the murders on Sam and me?" I shook my head and chuckled. "Not like the DNA evidence would ever match, since we didn't touch Matt's body. If we're unlucky, there might be some hairs in his house, but it wouldn't be enough to pin the murder on me. Also, isn't your gun a Kahr CW9? We don't use those."

Sam flung the pen and paper in front of me. "Here's your pen and paper."

"Actually, now that you think about it, I'll need another cable tie."

"Do you need your knife, your highness?"

I pulled my switchblade knife out, making sure not to turn away from Rebecca. I flicked it open. "Actually, no."

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Sam and I drove back to Florida City. I parked about a block from the entrance of Allarod.

We opened the trunk to my car. There, Rebecca was waiting to be returned to the prison. In addition to cable ties on her ankles and wrists, I added nice pieces of duct tape to her mouth and chest, where I put her confession:

Matt Sturges helped me escape from Allarod. I killed him because he wanted me to kill someone in Miami. Some good Samaritans tied me up and returned me to where I belong.

Rebecca Lang

By the time Sam and I returned to Miami, the radio stations knew about my gift to Allarod.

Breaking news out of Florida City this afternoon. Allarod Federal Penitentiary officials report that Rebecca Lang has been returned to the prison—and in a very unusual manner. The fugitive was returned to the front gate of the prison with her hands and feet in cuffs and her mouth covered in duct tape. She also had a confession about the murder of Matt Sturges taped to her. When Lang entered the prison, she did confess to the murder, but stated Sturges wanted her to kill a woman in Miami who she would not identify. A court date for a hearing about the Sturges murder has not been set.

"I guess Rebecca kept her word, Fi," Sam said. "Time for us to keep ours."

"Michael's not going to like having two clients at the same time, but he'll have to deal with it. Oh, and Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for being here. I know you were forced into doing this, but I really like having you around."

"Don't mention it. But I'm not getting another pad and paper for you, sister."

 

"So you returned Rebecca to prison without getting the location of Anson," Michael said after Sam and I were back at the loft. He was supposed to be eating yogurt, but he kept swirling it around instead.

"Michael, she killed Matt Sturges. She could've tried to allege Sam and I had a hand in her murder."

"Do you know how close we were to finding Anson, Fi?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. We have another client."

"Another client?"

"Rebecca."

"Rebecca is also our client."

"She's still frightened of Anson even while she's in jail. He planted Matt Sturges in Allarod so he could break her out and attempt to kill Pearce."

Michael stopped stirring his yogurt. "The woman Rebecca was supposed to kill was Pearce."

I nodded.

"Sam and I promised we'd find her brother. She gave us the name of the man who's watching over him. If we find her brother, then she'll give up Anson. She'll only do this if she knows her brother is safe and away from Anson's clutches."

"What are we going to do with Rebecca's brother, Fi?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Get him away from Miami? As long as Anson thinks her brother is still under his thumb."

Michael sighed. "Okay, Fi. What do you have on Rebecca Lang's brother?"

 

Rebecca Lang's brother's name is Trent. He was an accountant for a nightclub. Trent noticed something funny was happening at this nightclub and turned informant to the FBI. The guy who ran the syndicate and owned the club died in prison. Unfortunately for Trent, the guy's son, Wes, wanted to kill Trent because his father was dead.

"I'm guessing Rebecca wants Wes out of the picture so Trent can live his life again."

"That sounds doable," Michael said to me. "This is something we should do together."

I smiled.

"But not in that way. I'm going to pretend to be an ex-con and get Wes' trust. I'm going to get the heat off of Trent and onto someone else, if I can find someone."

"And what happens if you can't find anyone?"

"Well, I guess Trent dies, Rebecca stays in jail, Anson flees the country and I blame you and Sam for blowing the mission in Florida City."

"Michael--"

Michael cleared his throat. "I'm sorry I'm being so harsh, Fi. It's just that Anson's done a lot to ruin my life."

"He's ruined a lot of lives."

Michael nodded. "I want him off the streets. Dead, in prison--I don't care. I want him gone." He took a breath. "I'm glad you're here, Fi. I really don't know what I'd do without you."

"You picked a good emergency contact."

"I did." I shook my hair. "What do you want me to do, Michael?"

"Pick up Trent and drop him off at the loft. But on my signal. I'm probably going to need…two or three days to meet this Wes Foster."

"Do you need me to do anything while you're out on your date with Wes?"

"Actually, I need you to check in with Pearce."

"Make sure Anson hasn't called or done something to her. Got it."

"You have fun on your date with Pearce." Michael winked.

 

The next day, Pearce met me in the loft. She had asked for a few days off work after hearing about the attempt on her life. I don't blame her.

"It's so nice of Michael to think of me while he's taking on clients," Pearce said as I met her at the door. "And thank you for not pointing your gun in my face."

"Well, Michael and I like doing that a lot, don't we? We think alike."

"I can tell. Can I come in?"

"Of course."

We sat on the bed.

"I don't know what we should do for the next two days. I was thinking a shooting range or lunch on South Beach. Thing is, I like going to lunch in a bikini."

Pearce looked at me. "No, Fiona, we are not going to lunch in bikinis. But I like the idea of going to a range and then to lunch. Let's do both until Michael's done with this job."

I nodded. "That sounds great."

 

I took Pearce out to the shooting range first.

"A smiley face and a heart," Pearce said as my completed target was being rolled towards me. "I wouldn't expect anything else from you."

"I had a target in my old home, before Michael let me move in with him."

"What happened to the old target?"

"Jesse blew it up."

Pearce nodded. "That makes sense."

"It was something that had to be done. But I do miss the old target. It was the first target I shot at in Miami. I went with Michael. I thought it was the start of something in Miami. Then we kinda broke up for a while, but I managed to get the target framed before we kinda broke up."

"Where are you going to hang it?"

"I don't know. Maybe somewhere upstairs? That's where we shower."

"Oh. I was just wondering."

"So, are we going out for lunch?"

"Let's go."

Before we could step out for lunch, Pearce got a phone call. She answered it.

"Hello?"

After a second, Pearce mouthed "It's Anson" to me.

"Put it on speakerphone," I mouthed back.

"Dani, how are you? I heard about Rebecca and Matt. I hope they're well. I'm not sure if Rebecca's brother is okay. I'll send my condolences if it happens. Unfortunately, my plans for my friends to meet you in Miami have collapsed. I must be going. I'm sure if you're smart—and you and your friends are very smart—you all will figure out where I'm going next. But if I'm quicker than you all, I'll get away before you can catch me."

Anson hung up.

"Anson gave up. He's run out of ideas. So now he's running," I said.

"And the only thing stopping us is Trent Lang. If we don't get to him before Anson does, Anson gets away."

"God, I hope Michael's caught up with Wes. For all we know, Anson's looking at a country without a current extradition treaty with the US."

"Any ideas where he might go first?"

"I don't know. Personally, I'd consider an African country for the weather, but Anson might choose a Middle Eastern country, Russia or China. It's up in the air at this point. I'd at least he's going to a city in the US that's not Miami. And I'm guessing it also has an international airport." I took a breath and exhaled. "You want to go to lunch now? I need a drink. Do you need one?"

"No. I'm fine."

"Good. You can drive me back to the loft."

 

Pearce and I didn't go out the second day Michael was weaseling his way into Wes' life. Anson didn't threaten us with snipers hidden around Coconut Grove again, but Pearce was still a bit shaken up. We spent a day in the loft doing some housekeeping: sweeping, scrubbing things down, oiling guns. It was an ordinary day for us.

When Michael came back from the Wes job, he found the two of us in bed. He had his eyebrows raised.

"Michael, we were cleaning the loft. We happened to get tired and pass out on the bed. If we did anything, I'm sure you could've smelled it. What happened with Wes?"

"I'm in."

"So can Pearce and I pick up this Trent guy?"

"Yes."

"Let's hope he doesn't crash on this bed. I'd like to sleep on it."

 

While Michael was once again dealing with Wes, Pearce and I were across the street from a rundown motel in midtown, around Biscayne Boulevard. Trent had went out for ice. I was looking at him through binoculars.

"Did you find him?" Pearce asked me.

"Yeah, he's here."

"When are we going to grab him?"

"As soon as we get over there."

Pearce and I stepped into my coupe. We drove over to the motel and went to Trent's room.

I knocked on Trent's door. Predictably, he didn't open up.

"Why didn't I bring a battering ram thing in case this happened?"

"You're going to break into Trent's room?"

"Wes will pay for it. I think. I didn't tell Michael."

Pearce faced the door. "On your count?"

"I guess." I paused. "Three."

We broke Trent's door. We couldn't get through completely because of the locks. But the door was broken enough to force Trent into undoing them.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"We're here to rescue you."

"What?"

I grabbed Trent and the three of us ran to my car. I pushed Trent into the back seat while Pearce and I sat at the front.

"Would you mind telling me what's going on here?" Trent said.

"I'm Fiona Glenanne. This is Dani Pearce. We're here on behalf of your sister to protect you in case an Anson Fullerton orders you murdered."

"Rebecca? Where is she?"

"You don't have a TV or a complimentary copy of The Miami Herald?"

"I don't care for the local news."

"She's in jail. She murdered a man so she wouldn't have to kill Pearce here. That was before she attempted to blow up North Miami with Anson. In short, Anson ruined her life. We have to save yours before he can get away with ruining her life, along with a lot of other horrible things Anson has done to my boyfriend and anyone he knows."

"Fiona?"

"Yes, Pearce?"

"There are people following us. I assume they're Wes' men."

"Do you two have any preferences on what you want to see in Downtown Miami? I was thinking of going to the Arsht Center first. Then we can go by the AmericanAirlines Arena."

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For a few minutes I circled God knows how many blocks in Downtown Miami. There was a black car following me along the way.

Then the car stopped following me.

I got a call on my cell. I pulled over. It was Michael.

"I got Wes to get the heat off Trent. Turns out it was his wife who wanted Wes' father dead in prison."

"Óh."

"If I timed it right, Wes' men should stop following your car around."

"They're gone, Michael."

"So where do I go now?" Trent asked.

"We're getting a bite to eat," I told Trent. "Then we're going back to the loft to mail Rebecca a letter. But you're being rude. You're interrupting my phone call."

 

Pearce helped me obtain Rebecca's DC number, which I needed to send Rebecca her letter.

After the Wes job, I took a picture of Trent at the loft and put it in the letter, which read:

We found your brother. He's planning to go to Phoenix soon. We're giving him your address. I think you might want to catch up with each other in prison every once in a while. Now tell us where Anson's going.

Fiona

I made sure the letter was expedited.

 

It didn't take long for Rebecca to respond to my letter. I was afraid it was going to be censored by the prison, but it wasn't.


Fiona,

Thank you for saving my brother. I'll send him an application for a prison visit soon.

Anson has a drop waiting for him in Atlantic City. After Anson forced me to attack you, that's where Anson snuck off to. He ordered the drop around the same time he was going to have Pearce killed. He said it would take about a week for everything in the drop to be completed. You still have time to capture him.

Anson is living in one of the casinos. I'm not sure which one. But I'm sure that if you and your assistant Sam can find me, you can find Anson.

Rebecca Lang

"Look what I got, Michael," I said, waving the letter in the air before handing it to him.

Michael read the letter. "Good job, Fi."

"Am I being a good girlfriend again?"

Michael looked at me, confused. "You mean that 'good girlfriend, great girlfriend' thing from a while back."

I nodded.

"No, Fi. But thank you for helping me with this Anson case. I appreciate it."

I kissed Michael on the lips.

 

Michael went to the CIA with the letter I got from Rebecca. After he met with them, he called me.

"Pearce is leading the mission to capture Anson."

"That's good, Michael."

"On one condition: I can't bring Sam."

"Why can't you bring Sam?"

"All of a sudden the CIA doesn't like him again. They can tolerate Jesse and Pearce gets along with you well enough to let you go. But the CIA doesn't want Sam going. You're still in, right?"

"Of course Jesse and I are going on vacation with you, Michael."

"Good. Sam's fishing in the Miami River. We'll meet him there and tell him the bad news."

 

Needless to say, Sam didn't take the news well.

"So you're telling me I spend God knows how many years helping you try to find the person who burned you, and I can't go. Meanwhile, Jesse and Tinkerbell here get to go."

"Aww, Sam, I thought we were past the 'Tinkerbell' stage."

Michael looked at me. "Fi."

"It's okay, Michael. We're buddies now. We forgave each other after the handcuffs in the loft thing."

Sam nodded.

"After our fight before you almost turned yourself in."

I nodded.

"The CIA has issues with you going," Michael said to Sam. "They don't think you can get along with them and vice versa."

"What?"

"I tried my best to bargain with Pearce, but she's not budging."

"Aww, man!"

"If it makes you feel any better, you can keep an eye on my mom while we're gone. And can you keep an eye on Nate as well? He's supposed to be flying down to Miami soon."

"Again?"

"He said he's taking a break from his wife and child. They're not getting along, so he's coming to Miami to clear his mind. Don't question it, Sam. That's just the way he is."

"All right, Mike. But you owe me a round of beers at Carlitos when you get back."

 

Michael, Jesse, Pearce and I were in a double room in a motel on the far side of the beaches in Atlantic City. The motel was near a gas station and was minutes from Bader Field, which used to be an airport. Now I hear it hosts sporting events and concerts. It's very peaceful, so I hear.

Like all motels, it was also a gross place to stay. The room had water stains, insects near the windowpane, and a cathode ray tube television. But I've stayed in worse. At least I was staying in the room with Jesse, Michael and Pearce.

For some reason, Pearce didn't show Michael the things she brought for the mission until all of our things were unloaded from the taxi. So while Jesse and I were standing around, not really impressed by Pearce's arsenal, Michael was fascinated by the toys she brought. Michael's never this excited whenever I bring him guns. I'm still jealous.

Some of our toys happened to be laptops. We opened up our laptops, the dull black ones they hand out to civilian businesspeople, when we heard loud music. The music was kind of like the music that used to blare from the former nightclub Michael and I live above of. The last thing we needed at this point was the police blowing our cover for Anson.

We all gathered around the door of our motel room.

"You think paying them off will work?" Pearce said. "I tried it before. Then again, it wasn't college students."

"No. I have a better idea. What if Jesse and I wanted to party with them?"

"Fi..."

"It'll be okay, Michael. The last thing a college kid wants to see are their parents partying with them."

"Jesse isn't old enough to be a father to those kids."

I looked at Michael. "But I am." I grinned.

"Fi, you couldn't have been a father to those kids."

"I could've been a mother. You know what I meant."

 

"You brought a bikini to Atlantic City?" Michael asked me after I came out of the nasty bathroom wearing one, along with a wrap. Jesse stepped in after I was done, a pair of surf trunks in hand.

"I was thinking that maybe after we captured Anson, we could have a break on the beach."

"Let me guess. So you could get a tan."

I shrugged. "Why not? At least this will scare the college kids away from hotel without any problems."

"Are you sure they're not going to slobber all over you instead?"

"I'm sure. What, do you want to slobber all over me now?"

"Not right now. Later, after the mission's done."

"I can't wait."

"Me too."

"You two need a room," Pearce said.

"But we are in a room," we replied back.

"What's wrong with this room, Pearce? You can join us." I shook my head.

Pearce laughed.

 

Jesse and I left our motel room, dancing and twirling down the stairs. Just like I predicted, the kids were freaking out. I loved it, but I couldn't show it on my face.

I walked up to one of the college kids. "What's the name of this song?" I asked. It was more like a yell over the music, but still, it was a question.

"I don't know," the kid said to me.

"Are you sure?"

"I don't know!"

"Listen, kid," Jesse said, "all the woman wanted to know was the name of the song. It doesn't take long to identify the name of a song."

"Okay, dude. It's 'Inspector Norse' by Todd Terje. Not like you know who he is, anyway."

"Well, do you know who Todd Terje is?"

The kid hesitated.

"Spell his name."

"Todd...um...T…E..."

Jesse laughed. "I thought so."

The kid turned off "Inspector Norse." His friends stopped dancing.

"Why'd you stop playing the song?" I asked.

"I don't want to party with my mother!"

The kid ran into his motel room. His friends followed him.

"So, Jesse, do you think we've gotten some peace and quiet for a while?"

"I hope so."

 

With peace achieved, we sat on one of the beds of our motel room, looking at our laptops. I was so bored I ended up going to the Guns & Ammo website, rereading reviews of weapons I had read before.

"I've brought all these things to look for Anson," Pearce said, "and we don't know how to track him down."

"Well, at least you made a compelling offer to the CIA to let us fly here," Michael said, "even if you couldn't bring Sam."

"Jesse, do you have an idea?"

"No, Dani. But can we order some pizza? I mean, it's been a while since we ate"—

"Not right now, Jesse," Michael said. "We haven't done a sweep of the motel to make sure Anson isn't here."

"Well, I have an idea." I clicked on a review for the CZ 75B.

"Let's hear it, Fi."

"You know how we have these laptops to see if we can find Anson on them?"

"Yeah. Pearce and I were going to set up cameras around the motel to watch for any suspicious activity."

"Instead of using these laptops as expensive functional paperweights, why not use them to print out missing person posters for Anson? We should have travel printers at our disposal."

"Fi, are you trying to scare Anson out of Atlantic City?"

"We're only printing out a few posters. Then we can stake out the hotels and see if we can find his hotel room. Rebecca did say a hotel room, remember? There's no way he can be at this shitty motel unless he realizes we're here. And the only way Anson would know if we're here is if he has a sleeper agent in Allarod."

"So you're suggesting not using the things Pearce brought from the CIA."

"Yes."

"Fiona, we don't know whether Anson is armed and dangerous. If we find him and we're not armed and at least wearing body armor, he could kill any one of us."

"You didn't let me finish. Pearce, do you have any light body armor, something to slide under our clothes instead of those bulky vests?"

"I do."

"And do we have any handguns?"

"I brought all your handguns. They're in the bags with the laptops on them. That's why we couldn't use our laptops on the plane—they had to be checked in with the TSA."

Michael looked at Pearce. I winked at Pearce and Michael.

"Fi..."

"If we're going to face Anson, you can't face him naked." I clicked a few things on my laptop. "I'm ordering a pizza for Jesse right now."

"Sweet!" Jesse said.

 

Using an old photo of Anson that was in the CIA's database, we created a missing person flyer, supposedly on the behalf of the Atlantic City Police Department. Our flyer's back story claimed Anson had disappeared from Oradell. He was believed to have been lurking in some Atlantic City casinos. Then we suited up, wearing our lightweight body armor under our clothes and concealing our weapons. We also attached transceivers to ourselves—we had a feeling this mission required us to split up.

"Wait, we're missing something."

"What are we missing, Michael?" I asked.

"We're supposed to be pretending to be police officers. If people ask for ID, we don’t have any, and I'm not sure if we can sneak into the police office to swipe a few badges in this short timeframe. Jesse?"

"Come on, Mike, I'm trying to eat a pizza."

Michael handed Jesse two 20 dollar bills. "I need you to go to the convenience store and pick up a box of aluminum foil, the largest box of cereal you can find, a pair of scissors, the strongest glue they sell in there and four of anything that looks like a wallet."

"Why do I have to get all that stuff?"

"Because you're the youngest."

 

While Jesse was gone, Michael looked up the shape of Atlantic City police badges and roughly drew a shape of them on the motel's (water stained) stationary.

When Jesse came back, Michael ripped apart the cereal box and traced around his rough template of the badges. He cut four fake badges out of the cardboard and wrapped the pieces with aluminum foil. As he was working, I could hear Michael rationalizing why he was making the badges the way he was: It may not be the most detailed badge in the world, Fi, but if anyone asks to see your fake badge and doesn't get a good glimpse at it, no one will question whether you're an officer of the law or not. Michael had done the fake badge thing before for a few jobs. I had asked him about it earlier. Sometimes I don't care for his "master spy" lessons and sometimes those lectures creep out of my memories. That time was one of them.
Michael glued the fake badges into the cheap wallets Jesse managed to buy, and we were finally ready to do our searches in the casinos.

 

After we arrived near the casinos we elected to split up and search five of the hotels and casinos between ourselves. I ended up with Bally's, any casino with "Trump" in its name, the Tropicana, and the Paladin Casino. I also elected to have my personal cab driver for the hour or so I was searching for Anson. It made the commute less painful.

For Bally's, the Trump casinos and the Paladin, I went to the front desk and gave the receptionist the mock missing person poster.

"Officer Mercedes Grant."

I quickly flashed my fake badge at the receptionist.

"I'm looking for this man. He disappeared from Oradell about a week ago. He might've been spotted in Atlantic City. Have you seen him?"

The receptionists would always tell me no.

After I had questioned the Paladin Casino's receptionist about Anson's whereabouts, I got a call on the transceiver. I picked up.

"Fi, Jesse, Pearce?"

"Yes, Michael?"

"Michael?"

"Yeah, Mike."

"I think I found Anson's hotel room. The receptionist at the Casque told me Anson checked in a few days ago and hasn't been seen since. I'm in front of it now."

I heard a door being kicked in, followed by a gun being drawn. Michael yelled "Police!"

Then the transducer was quiet for a while, save for the sound of things being knocked over and Michael's feet.

After a few seconds, Michael picked up his transducer again. "He's not here. Damn it."

As soon as Michael had finished checking Anson's room, I saw someone who looked like Anson head in the direction of the casino.

I picked up the transducer. "Hold on, Michael," I whispered. "I think I see him. I'm in the Paladin, headed for the casino. Come to the lobby and I'll relay my next position."

"Stay on him, Fi. And be careful. I don't want to lose you. We don't want to lose you."

"I will, Michael."

I walked into the casino, looking for Anson. I was careful, hiding near people actually playing the machines on the floor.

Then Anson saw me. I saw him. Anson turned around from where I saw him and walked quickly out of the casino. I followed him.

Anson took an elevator. He was pressing the "close door" button in the elevator, but I managed to slide in before the doors shut. If there's anything that I'm grateful for in modern elevators, it's the emergency feature that forces the doors open. It gives you time to catch up with the object of your pursuit.

In the elevator, Anson was oddly calm. It was enough to unnerve me, but I didn't let it show. He pressed the button to the highest elevator.

"Fiona. We meet again."

"It's over, Anson. Michael, Pearce and Jesse are coming to apprehend you and we're all going to turn you into the CIA. You're not leaving the States."

"I know I'm not."

Anson pulled out a Colt from his back. I was stunned that I missed his Colt earlier. Hiding a gun behind your back doesn't make it hidden from public view. You can still make out a gun from shapes under clothing. I guess I was so caught up in getting Anson I missed the Colt.

Anson grabbed me. He turned me around and put the barrel of the gun against the back of my head.

"I knew you were wearing some sort of protective armor. Don't move."

We rode to the top floor of the Paladin in silence until Michael contacted me on the transducer.

"Fi, we're all here at the Paladin. Where are you?"

Anson put the Colt on safety. "Tell him I'm here with you and we're going to the roof," Anson whispered.

I picked up the transducer and turned it on. "Honey, Anson and I are going to the roof of the Paladin." "Honey" was a term Michael and I used in Ireland in case either one of us were in distress. And at that moment, I really thought Anson was going to blow my brains out on the roof of the Paladin.

Anson and I reached the top floor of the Paladin. The Colt was cocked again and put behind my head. I walked, taking steady breaths and fighting the urge to make any sudden awkward movements.
Anson found the way up to the roof of the Paladin. He took the Colt off the back of my head. "Stay there. If I hear your footsteps I'll shoot you in the head."

Using his body, Anson broke open the locked door leading to the roof. He walked down the ladder, the Colt cocked again once more.

"Walk up the ladder and stand on the roof. You know the deal."

I did as Anson told me.

When we were both on top of the roof, the Colt was behind my head again. Anson grabbed my waist. We walked backwards slowly. From what I could tell, Anson was inching closer and closer to the edge of the roof. My mind stopped thinking about the perfect time to disarm Anson. Instead, I started thinking of ways to escape Anson's clutches before he took us off the roof. And then, if I couldn't escape him, maybe I could use his body to break my fall. It would be a futile attempt, but it would be worth a shot.

While we were walking towards the edge, Michael, Jesse and Pearce had made it to the roof. Their guns were drawn. Anson and I stopped moving.

"Let her go, Anson," Michael said.

Anson let me go. He put his Colt on the roof. My crazy plans to escape my death had been foiled. I pulled out my Walther and faced Anson.

"I needed leverage."

"You don't need any more leverage. You don't have your drop. The CIA is apprehending you and taking you back to Langley. There's nothing else to do. Surrender, Anson."

"There's one more thing I can do, Michael."

Anson stepped on the ledge of the hotel. He put his right foot in the air and leaned backwards.

Michael, Jesse and Pearce ran to the ledge in time to see Anson flying in the air.

We couldn't save him.

 

Anson's suicide put a damper on our mission-ending party. It was a modest affair--some cheap beer, more pizza, and something on ABC in the background. We didn't feel jubilant. We felt defeated. But we tried to keep our spirits up.

"Well, we didn't capture Anson the way we dreamed we'd catch him," Michael said. We were all sitting at the table in the motel room. "But at least he's been stopped."

"And at least we have each other," I said.

"We do, Fi."

We ate and drank beer into the night. The next morning, we woke up hung over. It took some effort to pack up our things as well as the gadgets Pearce brought, but we managed to do it and catch our flight from Philadelphia International Airport back to Miami.

 

After we arrived in Miami, the four of us drove to Madeline's house.

The last thing I would've expected was Sam, of all people, hugging me at the door.

"Boy, am I glad to see you."

"Sam, I didn't expect you to be the hugging type."

"After I tell you what happened to me, you'll know why I've become the hugging type."

 

Around Madeline's dinner table, Sam told us about the misadventure he had with Barry while we were in Atlantic City. Apparently one of the people I run guns to was looking for me and took it out on Barry. Barry may be a money laundering weasel, but he's my money laundering weasel. I feel bad he was hurt because of this angry gun runner with a grudge.

Sam and Barry ended up being holed up in a mansion and blowing things up to scare off the gun runner and his men. Just another day in the life of Sam. Nothing surprising there.

"Now that we have the fun stuff out of the way, Mikey, I've got bad news."

Michael blinked. "What's wrong?"

Madeline was sitting with us at the table. She stopped smoking, and it takes a lot to get Madeline to stop smoking.

"It's your brother, Michael. While Sam and Barry were off on their misadventure, Nate arrived in Miami. But he never made it to the house. He was sitting in a parking lot when a man came up to him. Nate tried to fight him, but the man had a gun."

"And the man shot Nate."

"Point blank in the head."

Madeline's house was quiet for several minutes.

"They found the gunman and they arrested him, but..."

None of us could respond to Madeline.

 

And now I’m back to sitting in the middle of Nate’s funeral, watching Michael deliver a speech about Nate. He’s barely keeping himself together. It’s tough to see him like this.

Had you been with us in Atlantic City, you would've liked it, Nate. But I'm glad you didn't come. You're not a trained operative. You could've done something to jeopardize the mission. Or at least that's what Michael would say. I'm glad you didn't come because you could've hurt yourself.

That's ironic, me attempting to tell a coffin with your body in it not to come on a mission because you could've gotten hurt through my mind. But you weren’t a regular in our lives. You were always away in Vegas with your wife and child doing your own thing. I bet you could find people you could trust in Vegas. Michael and the rest of us, on the other hand…well, we trust each other, but we have to be leery of others. I have the feeling Michael still has enemies out there. Nothing's going to stop them until Michael's dead or out, and they can and will do anything against us.

Well, that was a long train of thought. We're driving you to Graceland North. I don't know if you’ve ever noticed it, but it’s a graveyard close to this church we're in right now.

Madeline tried calling your wife to get her and Charlie to fly in time for the funeral, but she never picked up the phone. We're sorry, Nate.

 

I arrive at Graceland North first.

One by one everyone arrives in the parking lot: Michael, Jesse, Pearce, Sam, with Maddie. Everyone's dressed in black. I elected for a black dress that didn't have a high hemline or a slit up to the middle of my hip for once.

While the others walk towards Nate's grave site, Pearce stops me.

"Fiona, can I talk to you before we bury Nate?"

"Sure. What's going on?"

Pearce takes a breath. "The CIA didn't like how the Anson case ended."

"It wasn't your fault."

"I know it wasn't. But the CIA wants to blame me for Anson's death. In about two day's time, the CIA wants me to go to Langley."

"Langley?"

"I'm going to be pushing papers for them."

"Just like Jesse used to do before Michael burned him."

"I wanted you to be the first to know because...I really liked you and what you do. I would've loved to have worked with your team."

"Why don't you leave the CIA?"

"I can, but it's going to take me a while. And if I do break free from them, I'll make sure to at least visit. Let me get settled in Langley first. Then I'll let you know how I'm doing and when I can break free."

"But until then, I guess this is goodbye, Pearce. For Nate and for you."

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I will be. I've got my boys. I make them happy. They make me happy. And if you come back, you'll make me happier."

We hugged.

 

I've never known Michael to be much of a crier. I think it's because he's caused and seen so much death and misfortune while he was in the Army and the CIA, not to mention his quest to get back in the CIA. It's a shock for me to see him weeping after Nate's coffin is in the ground.

"Do you need anything?" I whisper. We're sitting beside each other. If we weren't sitting beside each other while Nate's coffin was being lowered to the ground, I'm guessing the pastor would've ended up on top of Nate's coffin.

"I need you, Fiona."

I hug him. He's crying on my shoulder. I'm glad the heels I brought to the pier are high enough for him to cry on my shoulder with.

"I know how it feels, Michael. I may not have lost my sister the way we lost Nate, but trust me, it hurts."

"I know."

"I survived my sister's funeral. You'll survive this. Just promise me one thing."

"What is that?"

"Don't do anything stupid."

"I won't."

 

Jesse told me Madeline said to him once that, between Michael and me, it was always each other. I think Madeline's wrong about that. Just a bit. Between our romance and the fights and the sex and all, it is between the two of us. But I feel that no matter what happens between Michael, Sam, Jesse and me, all we have is each other. Add Madeline, and we're pretty much a dysfunctional, yet loving, family.

There are days where I long to go back to Ireland so I can see my parents and my brothers. But unless they uproot from Ireland to Miami, I can't do that. And even then, that might be dangerous. For now, as I told Pearce, I've got my boys. What else do I need?

I mean, other than a cocktail dress and some shoes, but that's beside the point.

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