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Giovanni's Island, the Caribbean
February 2001

Marcus Devlin, whose real name was Marcus Ryan O'Sullivan, pulled off his T-shirt, smoothed it on the white sand, and sprawled out onto his back. He crossed his right arm over his eyes against the bright midday sun. It felt blessedly hot but not miserable enough to make him sweat, because there was always a cool breeze off the Caribbean.

Marcus had been back on the island for only a day now, called back from Boston by Dominick because of the Dutchmen. They'd agreed to terms. No more negotiations. They were coming here, to the island, today, a sort of hail-good-fellow, let's-drink-champagne.

He scratched his belly and wondered what he really felt about this deal with the Dutchmen, what he really felt now that things might be coming to an end. But things were never simple; he'd learned that again and again. All he knew was that things were tough. He knew he had to be gritty and hard, and he couldn't let down his guard, and that was tough as well. God, he wanted out of here. Once this was all over, he didn't think he ever wanted to come back to the Caribbean. But that would be in the future, if he managed to buy himself a future.

Now he was here, lying on his back as if he didn't have a care in the world, worrying. The hot sun did feel good after the wretched weather in Boston. The snow, ice, and general grayness got him down. Even though Chicago could be every bit as depressing in February, emotionally it was still home and still in his heart. In Boston he'd dutifully made arrangements to meet with Pearlman in a small hotel in Brookline, but it hadn't come off because Dominick had called him, and he'd taken the first flight back to Antigua, then to the island. Not that he'd known what the hell he was supposed to say to Pearlman-supposedly it was Pearlman who would have given him information.

Of course the deal was smuggling military aircraft parts-perhaps even navigational gyroscopes and TOW missiles-he wasn't at all certain. It could be F-14 Tomcat parts bound for Iran, the only country with the F-14. Or C-130 aircraft bound for Syria. Or somewhere else-Libya perhaps? Malaysia? Going through Singapore or Borneo?

One thing he was sure of: there were no licenses or permits form the U.S. State Department. It was illegal all the way. Dominick was perhaps one of the most powerful arms dealers ion the world because no one could find out anything specific about his myriad activities. He was to smart, too well protected, too buried behind middlemen, and he didn't trust anyone. Including his only son, DeLorio, a whining bully who was afraid of his father. Including Marcus, a man he should have come to trust by now.

But this deal with the Dutchmen-intermediaries, Marcus had been told-they would come and drink champagne and he would discover what was being shipped where. At least he'd find out what the end user certificate said was the destination, if there was one on this case. Marcus felt his heart begin to pound and a cramp twist in his stomach. This time he'd find out, he knew it. This time he'd know, and then he'd act. He'd get the proof. Then he'd be free. Even as he thought it, he remembered the half-dozen or so deals that had gone through, deals he hadn't been able to discover enough about to make it worth anyone's while, and the familiar frustration crept through him. So very long now, and he was tired of it, tired to his soul playing a part, of manipulating and lying to gain information, of thinking carefully before he ever uttered an opinion to Dominick, of recognizing that he could die with just one slip. He wanted it to be over, wanted it to the depths of his soul. He wanted to go home and pick up his life again. He thought again of the phone conversation he'd had with his cousin, John Savage, when he'd been in Boston. John was worried. "It's past time for you to get out, Marcus. You've done your duty. It's been more than two years of your life. Forget nailing Giovanni, forget these damn Dutchmen, and come home. We do occasionally need you here, you know."

Marcus begged to differ. Savage was one of the most ruthlessly efficient men he'd ever known. Thank God he was also his best friend as a well as his first cousin. He'd hate to have him for an enemy. Marcus said mildly, successfully, he hoped, tamping down on his growing sense of defeat, his growing sense of losing what should be his, without strings-the days and weeks and months of his life-God, now it was years: "We drew straws, John, and I won, or lost, depending on my mood at any given time. I'll come home when I've got enough proof to send Giovanni to federal prison for the rest of his sorry life, and not before. You know I can't. There's Uncle Morty."

John Savage had been silent for several moments and Marcus knew he was remembering the sting operation by the US Customs Service people and how they'd caught Uncle Morty dealing with this beautiful Soviet spy and they'd made a deal. Marcus's cooperation for Uncle Morty's staying out of the slammer. That was the deal. Still, John had said, "Uncle Morty wouldn't have expected all this sacrifice, Marcus. No one would."

"Uncle Morty's a naïve idiot who doesn't know his ass from his elbow. He's doing okay, isn't he?"

Marcus sighed now, stretching onto his back, feeling the sun seep into his very bones. He'd made the deal with e feds and he had to stick to it. No way around it. Dominick Giovanni for Uncle Morty, and that was that.

He sat up abruptly at the sound of an approaching helicopter. It was on this side of the island, not the Porto Bianco side, so it wasn't a group of jet setters who would in all likelihood drop an average of ten thousand each at the casino. No, it was the Dutchmen, and they'd land on the compound helicopter pad. He had another ten minutes, he guessed, before their visitors would be drinking iced tea with Dominick in the main house. It would be longer than that before business discussions started. He pulled off his cut-off jeans and ran into the water. He'd take his time. He'd swim off his fear, his frustration, his anticipation. The last thing he wanted was to have Dominick think him overeager. He'd clam up and send Marcus quickly on his way back to the resort.

He swam hard for ten minutes. He swam off everything except his bone-deep sense of defeat.

Eddie Merkel watched Marcus swim back through the breakers, and he thought: Marcus is a dangerous man, ruthless but not stupid, and I quite like him. It had taken nearly two years, but Merkel had finally filed him under 'To Be Trusted." He was conniving, ingenuous, his own man, tough as nails, and even though he deferred to Mr. Giovanni, he was strong and decisive on his won. Pigheaded, in some people's book. Hell, look at how well her ran the resort. Little got by him. He'd made the casino into a gold mine, kept all the rich members and their guests happy, and probably made private deals with the businessmen who came, to line his own pockets.

Mr. Giovanni didn't trust him yet, at least not completely, but as far as Merkel knew, he didn't completely trust anyone. He'd said to Merkel after he'd completed Marcus's background check that Marcus was almost too good to be true, his background wonderfully eclectic and rich, preparing him almost too well for what Mr. Giovanni expected of him. Navy intelligence in the early nineties, then CIA, primarily in Europe-that was the bulk of Marcus's adult background. Merkel understood how those experiences would make Marcus tough and conniving. But he didn't understand how that made him such a good resort manager. Merkel thought Mr. Giovanni was crazy to complain when Marcus managed the resort well and made tons of money.

Merkel watched a nude Marcus walk through the waves to the shore. A big man, strong, lean, and some of his perpetual tan lost from the visit to Boston. He was Irish, from his thick black hair to his dark blue eyes, but unlike the Irishmen Merkel had known, he'd never seen Marcus drunk. No, Marcus liked to keep control, both of himself and of those around him.

When Marcus reached him, Merkel said nothing, merely handed Marcus his cut-offs and his T-shirt.

"Mr. Giovanni sent me to find you," Merkel said in a soft voice that sounded ludicrous coming from a two-hundred-and-thirty-pound man with no neck.

"Yeah, I heard the helicopter," Marcus said, trying to sound a bit bored. "It's the Dutchmen?"

"Three of them this time. Two we know-Koerbogh and Van Wessel-and a Dutchwoman we don't know. Her name is Tulp-"

"Last name I hope," Marcus said, his voice muffled through his T-shirt as he pulled it over his head.

Merkel gave a sour smile. "I don't know her first name, but she's tough as nails. Everyone's smiling and nodding and looking like it's the greatest day of their lives. Tulp doesn't say much. Great tits," he added absently.

Marcus nodded as he zipped up his cut-off jeans.

"You're white as a dead whale."

"Give me another three days."

"DeLorio left for Miami an hour ago. Link and Lacy went with him."

Marcus grinned at that. "Well, there must be a God somewhere to rid us of the complaining little bully. I still can't believe he's actually Dominick's son. Flesh of his flesh and all that."

"Mr. Giovanni sent him away. It wasn't DeLorio's idea. Paula wanted to go too, but Mr. Giovanni said no."

"Too bad. Well, maybe DeLorio will open a window in the jet and get sucked out. Maybe he'll attack Margie when she serves him a drink, and she'll shove the glass down his throat."

Merkel didn't say a thing, didn't change expression, although he agreed with Marcus. DeLorio and his wife were royal pains in the ass.

Merkel was wearing his uniform, Marcus saw, a three-piece white suit with a pale blue button-down oxford shirt, a blue-and-white-striped tie, white Italian loafers, and a Rolex on his meaty wrist. He had five white suits and ten shirts, all the same color and material.

"Paula had one of the boys drive her over to her resort. She seemed mad enough to gamble away her wedding ring."

"Since all the money comes back to Dominick, her wedding ring included, no big deal."

Merkel said now, frowning, "The Dutchwoman, Tulp, I don't like her-"

"Even with her big tits?"

"There's something about her that makes you shiver. You know what I mean?"

Marcus started to say yeah, he knew-Frank Lacy made him shiver-when suddenly there was a shout from the direction of the main house, then a shot.

Merkel, built like a linebacker with a massive chest and huge thighs, was off like a forty-year-old Charlie Garner. Marcus passed him, his arm in front of him to protect him from the thick vegetation that slapped at him as he ran through the dense jungle.

He ran as hard as he'd ever run before, tearing through the damp, heavy foliage that Dominick's servants hacked back every day, and came to a sudden stop at the edge of the jungle. Panic stilled and calm took over. He heard Eddie Merkel puffing behind him, heard him slow down and pull up at his back.

Marcus concentrated on what was in front of him, shut off everything but his brain. The big house, all whitewashed adobe with bright red-tiled roof, with hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, and frangipani climbing up its walls and framing its windows-no men hiding there. In front of the house stood Dominick Giovanni, clutching his arm. He was wearing an open-collared white shirt and white pants, and the blood was oozing through his fingers down his arm. The contrast between the stark white of his sleeve and the glutinous red of the blood turned Marcus's stomach.

The Dutchwoman, Tulp, was standing in front of him, a 9-mm automatic in her hand. She was wearing a tailored blue suit, smart-looking, and she did have big tits. The two Dutchmen were beside her. Koerbogh, the short bald one, was staring upward, shading his eyes, looking for the helicopter. Marcus could hear it coming now, only minutes away.

What had happened? What had gone wrong? The deal had been settled on; everything, he'd understood, was set. It had been his chance, his first big chance in a long time.

Yet something had happened. Did the woman intend to kill Dominick? Or just wound him, as she'd done already? Dominick looked calm, his pale blue eyes clear and steady on the woman. If he felt pain from the wound in his arm, he didn't let on.

Marcus whispered, not turning his head, "Give me your automatic, Merkel."

The Kalashnikov automatic rifle, the old standby from Russia, could wipe out a dozen men in under ten seconds. Marcus preferred it to the lightweight RPK machine guns Dominick had procured for his men from a German dealing with a middleman in Russia.

"What are you gonna do?" Merkel whispered, and Marcus could feel the heat of his body nearly touching his back.