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Knowledge Is Power

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Madeleine wasn't spying on Frazier, she really wasn't. She'd been on vacation, for goodness' sake, and a remote Caribbean island was the perfect getaway. When a cheap trip advertisement had been dropped through her door two months earlier, she found it easy to make the decision to take a week out. Fruit fed to her by pretty girls while she sunned herself on the beach, who wouldn't be into that?

But there he was, looking strangely un-vacationish as he walked down the beach toward a little house nestled among the trees, just out of sight of the resort. Madeleine ducked behind her book, but kept an eye on him, as he knocked on the door and disappeared inside after a brief moment. She couldn't resist - why was he here and why the all-business air? Setting her book down on the beach chair and waving away (not without a sigh of regret) the gorgeous girl who appeared with pineapple, she followed Frazier to the house. Ducking down, she slipped around the house until she could hear voices coming from an open window.

One of the voices was Frazier and he was sober, quiet. Madeleine couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, but got the sense that it was important and serious. The other voice was familiar too, and Madeleine nearly gasped out loud. The bank robber. The masked man who'd played hardball like no other, two years ago, and triumphed against the combined might of the New York police force and her erstwhile employer. The man who'd walked out of the bank as if he knew how to turn himself invisible.

"Keith, I don't think it's possible," he was saying. "Your wife had nothing this guy would want."

Frazier moved closer to the window and Madeleine could hear him more clearly. "I know, I know. But maybe I did. Her wedding ring, after all, wasn't found on her body."

The bank robber was stunned into silence, from the short pained gasp he gave. "That was never my intention," he said after a moment. "It was a gift, a reward. It wasn't meant to bring you pain."

"You owe me," Frazier said. "You owe me like America owes China. I've been looking for you for a year now, and I've got you. Dalton Russell, you're going to help me find her killer."

Madeleine bit back her own gasp. His name was Dalton Russell. Carefully, she moved away from the window and slipped back to her beach chair. But she didn't go back to her book. Instead she sat for a long while, until the shadows began to lengthen and Frazier left the house, walking back over the sand toward the resort.

Dalton had every idea about who might be responsible. The bastard's name started with C for cock, didn't it? Any man who would shamelessly profiteer from the deaths of his fellow men years ago in the Holocaust wouldn't blink an eye at having one young woman bumped off to recover some stolen property.

He hadn't expected Keith Frazier to be able to find him here, had intended to go to him with the necessary information once it was obtained. But a plan perfect in the making can't always be carried through 100% the way you want it to, so he was ready to adapt. Madeleine's appearance on the beach the day before was no accident, of course. But Dalton hadn't intended her to discover so much, so soon. He had to move his plans forward.

Checking Madeleine's room number again, he knocked on the door.

Madeleine appeared after a moment, dressed in a very pretty party dress and stiletto heels. He was a man with a thing for a nice leg, and had to smack himself mentally to keep from staring at them.

"Going somewhere, darling?" he said, pushing his way inside.

"Nowhere you'd be welcome," she snapped back, but let him in, sitting down in an armchair and crossing her legs at the knee. He couldn't help the sudden fear that he'd betrayed himself, but sat down on the bed, the only other place he could, and looked at her.

"So, you've figured some things out, then?"

"You're the bank robber," she said calmly, glancing at her nails as if to inspect them.

"Please tell me you've done a little more than that!" He couldn't help but roll his eyes at her.

"Keith Frazier's wife was killed," she went on. "You know who's responsible." She looked up at him swiftly. "And your name is Dalton Russell."

"So," Dalton said, "what do you intend to do about it?"

"I intend," she responded, "to go clubbing and pick up the prettiest girl I can find. This is none of my business. I'm on vacation."

"Oh, you're wrong, sweetheart," Dalton said. "You're involved. You were involved from day one, when you and your boss tried to get his blood-stained treasures out from under. So maybe you can figure out one more thing. Who killed Sylvia Frazier?"

"Arthur fucking Case?" It wasn't hard for Madeleine to guess. "Why?"

"Recovery of stolen property, love," Dalton said, mimicking a Cockney accent, very badly. "I knew your man there was a seriously fucked-up headcase, but I never thought he'd murder an innocent woman to recover a single diamond, when he lost dozens. One should have been safe."

"How did Sylvia Frazier get hold of one of your diamonds, then?" Madeleine asked, mostly for appearance's sake. She wasn't sure he knew that she knew.

"Somehow, our Keith Frazier ended up with one in his pocket one day," Dalton said. Madeleine laughed. Even when he was confessing his sins, this guy was cagey.

She uncrossed her legs and sat up straight. "All right, then, since I'm involved, what can I do?"

"Oh, excellent," Dalton said. She glanced at him to see if she could spot the irony in his face, but despite the too-enthusiastic tone, he seemed sincere. "It's a conspiracy!" He shook his head and stood up. "Head off to your club, darling. Your instructions will follow shortly."

And before Madeleine could stand up, he'd left the room.

Madeleine did 'head off' to the club as she'd intended to, but despite the abundance of pretty girls, she couldn't bring herself to focus on finding a playmate for the evening. Instead, she decided to wander down the beach in the moonlight and see if she could think her way out of this latest mess.

She was standing just above the high water mark, watching the waves pour themselves up the beach, when she felt a presence behind her. Quickly, she turned to find both Frazier and Russell a few feet away. "Well," she said. "Here we are."

"Indeed," Frazier said, his dark eyes giving her a questioning look. Dalton laid a hand on Frazier's shoulder, a touch that seemed slightly too intimate for two men who barely knew each other. Madeleine cocked her head, trying to puzzle it out, but was stopped by Dalton's voice.

"I can't go back to the States, as you both know," he said. "So I'll tell you my plan and you will agree to follow it to the letter."

"Okay," Madeleine said. "After I hear the plan."

"You know how I feel," Frazier said to Dalton, giving him a look. Again Madeleine felt a sense of disconnection, like she wasn't in on the joke.

"Arthur Case needs to die," Dalton said.

"Bank robbery is one thing," Madeleine pointed out, "murder quite another."

"You would know, Miss White," Dalton said, addressing her by her name for the first time. Madeleine's heart clenched. He knew. Of course he knew.

"Mortimer was an evil bastard," she snapped back. "I don't regret a thing."

"You're quite right not to," Dalton responded. "Can you not regret it again?"

"You intend to have her do it?" Frazier asked, surprised.

Dalton nodded. "She's best placed, she's intimately acquainted..." He trailed off, making a face.

Madeleine made a face of her own. "Dear God, no. Not intimately acquainted." She paused. "But you're right, I am best placed."

"Here you go," Dalton said, handing over a thin vial of clear liquid. "Only the best for the king of bastards! His death will look natural and will occur within 48 hours after he drinks the full contents of this tube. Your job is to get it to him. You all right with that?"

"What's my reward?" Madeleine asked.

"What, ridding the world of an evil man isn't enough?" Frazier asked. "The man who killed my Sylvia?" He put a hand in his breast pocket and drew out a picture, showing it to Madeleine. "That was my girl on our wedding day."

She looked at the picture, then at Frazier. "It's enough," she said. "But I want to return here afterwards, and not have to worry about where the pina coladas come from, if you know what I mean."

Dalton waved his hand. "Consider it done. I own the island, after all."

"We own the island," Frazier said. "All three of us."

"It's been a busy day," Dalton said. "Fine, we own the island. You drive a hard bargain, my friend," he said, laying a hand back on Frazier's shoulder. "Frazier, you're going back with her and you're going to make sure she makes it out."

Frazier nodded, and Madeleine looked at him, seeing grief and steel-cold anger in his eyes. How much of this was about revenge, pure and simple? About the pretty girl who'd been stolen from him far too soon? And how much was about Dalton?

Back in New York, Madeleine waited three days before allowing Case to know she was back in town. Appearing over-eager was a sure sign of suspicion. Two days after that she got a call requesting her presence immediately.

She waited another two days, then strolled in as if she really had just returned from the beach.

"Where were you, Miss White?" Case looked her over, long and hard. "Indulging your...unnatural appetites in the Caribbean? That'll be the death of you one day."

"Doubt it," Madeleine responded with a shrug. "What can I do for you, Mr Case?"

"The affair of the bank robbery, you recall it?" he asked. At her nod he went on. "That detective, Keith Frazier, is worrying me. He's closed the case. I want it kept open. I want that bank robber caught and the whole damn conspiracy exposed."

"Not sure what I can do," Madeleine said with another casual shrug. Case got up and went to the sideboard.

"Drink?" he said. She nodded and he continued, half turned to her. "You can put pressure on the good detective. Emphasise that I want justice done, et cetera." He handed her a glass of vodka, on the rocks, and she sipped at it, slightly loudly, as he walked back to his chair.

"Consider it done. Pressure, justice, truth will out, all that."

"Precisely, my dear. You know, I sometimes think his sort of people are getting above themselves. I mean, look at us, about to crown one of them king of the world, or all but." He made a face. Madeleine set her drink down on Case's desk as he lowered himself into his seat.

"Well," she said, making no response to his comments. "I really must be getting on. I'll report back in a week."

Five minutes after she left, Case looked at the glass of vodka and melting ice on his desk. He lifted it up to slide a coaster underneath it, but caught the gesture halfway and brought the glass to his lips.

They held his funeral a week later.

Madeleine White wasn't in attendance. Nor, for that matter, was Keith Frazier. Dalton was waiting for them both on the beach of a tiny Caribbean island.

"I'd like to introduce you to somebody," he said to Madeleine almost immediately. "This is Yessina, and I think the two of you might have a lot in common." He glanced toward Frazier. "Come on, friend, let's leave these two to get acquainted."

Frazier grinned and followed Dalton. Madeleine looked down the beach a minute later and saw them walking toward the beach house with Frazier's arm around Dalton's waist. She just smiled and wrapped her own arm around her new friend's waist. "So, Yessina, pina coladas?" she said.