Authors: Max Tomlinson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #Women's Adventure, #International Mystery & Crime, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Conspiracies, #Espionage, #Terrorism, #Thriller, #Thrillers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
Amazon, the Amazon logo, Kindle Scout, and Kindle Press are trademarks of
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To my wife, Kate, the ultimate beta reader, who has been enduring rough drafts ever since we met.
“Four guards,” Maggie said to John Rae. “And that’s just on the front gate.”
Two limos idled in front of theirs, tailpipes puffing in the cool night air, waiting to enter the minister’s Spanish colonial mansion over a mile and a half above sea level. The lights of the capital twinkled in the narrow, mile-long valley below. A river of fog poured down into the city from the Andes.
Maggie de la Cruz could see all the guards through the limousine’s tinted window clearly now. Two were obvious, moonlight reflecting off their silver helmets as they checked the papers of guests attending the oil minister’s party. Two more soldiers waited in the shadows behind the tall wrought-iron fence, the outlines of submachine guns visible.
Flashlight beams bounced as one guard examined underneath a vehicle. Another instructed occupants to get out, so they could be patted down.
Maggie’s heart rate sped up. “They’re searching the guests,” she said.
“Don’t y’all worry,” Agent John Rae Hutchens said, sitting next to her in the roomy back seat. “With the international guest list Minister Beltran has, it’s no surprise. Besides we’ve got nothing to hide.”
“Except that we’re here to arrest him.” Maggie snapped open her chain-mail clutch purse, extracted her lipstick. She had requested more people on this operation. But the Agency knew better. She was just a bean counter. “There will be more guards out back, too,” she said. “Behind the mansion.”
“Don’t sweat it.” John Rae brushed his thick sandy-colored hair behind his ear. “The National Vice Squad
will be here to make the actual arrest. All we need to do is set it up for them.”
“If they can make it through the gate,” Maggie said.
“They’re the top police force in this country.”
“A country known for its corruption.”
John Rae checked his cell phone, reading a text. “On their way. Once the documents have been signed and the payoff confirmed, they’ll come in and arrest Beltran and his two cronies.”
Wasn’t it pretty to think so? But she had to remind herself that distrust was part of her job and sometimes it could get the better of her. This was a quarry that wanted to walk into a trap. Two million dollars was one hell of a honeypot.
The pearl Mercedes 500 in front of them motored up to the guard shack. A soldier checked papers, waved them through with his white-gloved hand, then beckoned their car forward. Achic, their driver
a small-framed Indian in a voluminous suit who was also an undercover SINE agent collaborating on the op, put their car into gear.
“Got the official invitation, Achic?” Maggie asked in Spanish.
He held up a heavy-weight bond letter in one hand. “I do, ma’am.”
“A little less on the
,” Maggie said. “I’m younger than you are.” She caught a smile in the rearview mirror. “Ten to one they pat us down.”
“Just remember, Maggie,” John Rae said. “Y’all are along for the ride.”
“And the fact that I handle the electronic bank transfer? And collect everyone’s signature?” The hard evidence would seal the fates of a corrupt Ecuadorian oil minister, a Chinese minister of energy and—tonight’s star prize—a vice president of a company owned by Commerce Oil.
“This is a milk run, Maggie,” John Rae said. “Let me take care of the heavy lifting—if there is any. And there won’t be.”
“That’s good—because none of us are armed.”
Two million could generate a lot of potential resistance.
Maggie nudged John Rae to one side with a bare shoulder and used the rearview mirror as she freshened up her lipstick. She had her mother’s looks: dark, Indian, striking. She was lucky in that respect. John Rae leaned to one side in the leather seat to give her an appraising glance as he took in her figure, more Latin than American, firmed by the miles pounded out in her ASICS on San Francisco’s hills. Her long raven-colored hair gleamed. Her soft skin practically glowed with Christian Dior.
“I’m speechless,” he said.
“I doubt that will ever be the case.” She shot him a wink as she put her lipstick away, sat back, admired her new black Gianvito Rossi toe pumps. With the single-shoulder black evening gown, she looked a lot more confident than she felt.
This was only her second field op, a departure from her regular gig as a forensic financial analyst for the Agency. She needed to branch out, climb up from the rut she was stuck in. John Rae was the lead, and a seasoned pro. But the criminal world was a technical one anymore and being able to crack a firewall was often more valuable than kicking down doors. It was Maggie who had caught the irregularity in the oil worker’s paystub that led them all to being here in the first place.
The driver’s window whirred down and Achic addressed the guards softly, as his nature demanded, despite the fact that he was a decorated Ecuadorian Coast Guard vet with three tours of the Amazon, where
ran rampant, under his belt.
papers?” the guard snapped at Achic, using the
form of the verb and pronoun. Informal, insulting—the way one would talk to a servant, or a child.
“What for?” Achic said, nodding back at Maggie and John Rae. “I’m their driver.”
“Get out of the car, boy.”
” Maggie leaned forward, catching the guard’s eye, shooting daggers into the coarse face of a big Mestizo. His eyes narrowed in return from under the shiny brim of his helmet.
“What’s your problem,
?” she said in the local dialect. “You saw the letter. It’s signed by the Oil Minister’s secretary. Or can’t you read?”
The guard was clearly taken aback, but there was no mistaking the angry folds creasing either side of his mouth. In a different setting, Maggie would be begging his understanding.
John Rae’s hand touched her arm. “Settle down, darlin’.”
She swiped his hand away. “Don’t call me ‘
unless we’re in bed together. And that’s
likely to happen.” Maggie continued to trade stares with the guard. “And what’s
name?” She annunciated the
clearly, the way he had done with Achic. “I need to make sure Minister Beltran knows what kind of people he has working the gates. Or should I say ‘used to work’?”
“I meant no disrespect,
,” the guard said, clearing his throat. He stepped back, stood to attention, waved them on.
“Okay, Maggie,” John Rae said as they drove through the gates, which had clanked open. “I’m impressed. Look, I didn’t mean anything I said back there. That’s just the way we talk where I come from.”
“I know,” she said. “I just don’t like shitheads who bully Indians.” It ran a little too close to home.
“But you know—you did just say not
to happen. About us being in the sack? That means I’ve still got a fighting chance.”
She shook her head and laughed. They stopped inside the gates where a guard ran a flashlight under the wheel wells, then asked them to get out of the car for a search. Maggie grabbed her leather briefcase containing the sting documents and a svelte MacBook.
“Hopefully, the Vice Squad will be here soon,” she said as she got out.
John Rae checked his phone again. “I’ll let them know we’re almost inside the target.”
band was playing a subdued
at the far end of a ballroom the size of a
stadium, where the high-coved ceiling flickered with moonlight shimmering off Minster Beltran’s swimming pool out back. Beyond that, the moon broke through clouds over the jagged Andes.
Faces Maggie recognized from Agency files dotted the room. One or two men chatted with the tightly clad escorts who seemed to be trying to outdo one another for alluring companion of the year. It wasn’t unheard of for a local girl to be taken up as a mistress by an important figure and have her life change dramatically. All ethnicities of men were represented, some in suits and ties, and the occasional red-and-white-checked keffiyeh.
“Kind of like the National Geographic.” John Rae handed Maggie a glass of burgundy-colored punch. “But with clothes and money.”
of money,” she said, taking a sip of sweet sangria. Not bad. “Oil money. Drooling to tear up what’s left of the Amazon. For the nine hundred million barrels they just found under the Yasuni Rainforest.”
“That Arab over there with the blousy woman,” John Rae said. “He’s drinking a highball. I didn’t think they were allowed to do that.”
“What—speak to women? They generally don’t. Unless it’s to order something to eat or tell her he wants sex. Or both.”
“The kind of cash he has buys all sorts of free passes.”
Back by the bar stood two Latin men in dark suits and ties, wearing sunglasses indoors. Hands behind their backs, as if at attention, they had matching gun bulges under their left armpits.
“What about Abbot and Costello over there?” she asked.
“Yeah, I noticed them when we came in.”
Maggie sipped sangria, pretending to relax. “Anything to worry about?”
“At an event like this?” John Rae frowned and took a drink of Heineken beer from a long-neck bottle as he weighed things up. “With half the criminal world south of the equator in attendance? They’re probably just here to make sure no one walks off with the silver.”
“They keep looking this way.”
“You mean; they keep looking
way. That’s because you’re the most interesting thing to look at.” John Rae gave Maggie a smile, held his bottle out for a toast.
She blushed slightly, clinked her glass cup on John Rae’s bottle, caught Achic’s eye by the door where he stood dutifully with the servants, holding her briefcase. Achic gave Maggie a careful nod, indicating a biggish man wearing a hand-embroidered Quechua shirt under his Armani jacket who had just entered the huge double doors. His well-combed hair offset a pock-marked face and a cruel-looking mouth. Armand Beltran: Ecuador’s oil minister. He stopped and spoke to a smallish man with a thin mustache and glasses.
“There’s our victim,” John Rae said. “One of them, anyway.”
Beltran noticed Maggie, gave her an open leer.
“Doesn’t have a clue who I am,” she said to John Rae as she smiled back at Beltran. “Thinks I’m one of the paid escorts.”
“Don’t take it too hard. There are some pretty high-end hookers here.”
“How did a clown like that ever become oil minister anyway?”
“Started as a foreman with a little oil driller in Colombia, chiseling the workers, taking a cut from their pay packets if they wanted to keep their jobs. Worked his way up to be pals with all the people no one else wanted to be seen with: drug dealers, organized crime—you name it. The president of Ecuador gave him a ministerial slot so he doesn’t have to sully his hands with anyone dirty. Look at him. Wouldn’t be caught dead talking to an Indian, but wears the shirt, now that they’re in fashion. Doesn’t know a potato from a pumpkin.”