Read an Excerpt
When you’re a spy, certain things come easy. You never have to pay your parking tickets. The IRS leaves you pretty much alone provided you don’t try to deduct TEC-9s from your 1040EZ. It’s okay if you have sex with someone you don’t actually like. In fact it’s often encouraged, and if on the off chance you fall in love with the wrong person and have to kill them, or they try to kill you, your boss rarely asks for you to fill out a purchase order for a body bag or extra bullets.
But not even being a spy gets you out of having lunch with your mother.
It was a Tuesday, and because she lied and told me I was taking her to the orthopedist, I was sitting poolside at the Hotel Oro having lunch with my mother, Madeline. The Hotel Oro is one of those hotels on South Beach that no one actually stays at, but everyone seems to visit. It has an Olympic-sized infinity pool, which seems odd when you consider the ocean is only five yards away, but then the ocean doesn’t have full bar service and cocktail girls dressed in gold bikinis serving you finger foods. At night, DJs spin Eurotrash for Paris Hilton and the entire hotel throbs onto the street, like it’s an actual living creature that feeds on celebrities. My mother kept lifting her sunglasses up to stare at the people being seated at the tables around us.
"You expecting someone?" I asked.
"Fiona said she might join us," my mother said. Fiona was my girlfriend for a while. Then she was not my girlfriend for a while. Then it was just confusing, and a little violent, in a good way, and now she’s more like a business partner, but might be my girlfriend again sometime soon. It’s complicated. "I don’t like you calling her," I said.
"She told me the cutest thing yesterday," she said.
The problem with having your business partner being your former and maybe future girlfriend is that it’s hard to make any essential mandates about behavior. You risk pissing off someone who may or may not call your mother either way. It’s only slightly worse when the same person happens to be a former IRA gunrunner who still has something of an opaque moral center and who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.
"Do tell," I said.
"Just girl stuff, Michael."
Girl stuff. Ten years of interrogating hostile enemy targets, you’d think I’d be able to break through that code, but give me twenty Enigma machines and fifty men sitting in a locked room at Quantico, and there’d be no way of figuring out what the hell girl stuff means.
I’d have been more upset with this whole line of conversation had I not been distracted, which is actually how I generally like to feel during conversations with my mother. That way I don’t get too emotionally involved, or, in a pinch, can plead ignorance if important dates or activities are mentioned.
Across the pool, three white guys in Cuban shirts, tan chinos and ankle holsters were trying their best to look natural, which would have been easier if they weren’t all wearing the same shirt, which is what happens when you try to look natural by letting some intern buy your resort wear. That they weren’t trying to look natural while monitoring me was of some concern.
"We should do this more often, Michael," my mother said.
"What’s this, exactly?"
"Family time. You know it wouldn’t kill you to take me out to lunch every week. I read where the president calls his mother every day. She even vacations with him sometimes."
The three white guys in Cubans were a little on the chunky side and their skin was almost translucent, which meant they weren’t normally field agents. Field agents tend to have a few fast twitch muscles and maybe a decent farmer’s tan from sitting with their arms out car windows, waiting for something to happen, or snapping photos, or shooting at moving targets. Doughy is no way to go through life. Everything works less effectively when you’ve got plaque in your arteries, but doughy also says: Happy. Content. Secure.
Miami-Dad’s finest: The Strategic Investigations Bureau.
SIB agents are paper hounds and numbers guys. Loophole chasers. Get them outside and maybe they know how to handle a gun, but you take them out of their comfort zone, you put a knife to their throat or you show them a little of their own blood, and they turn into hand puppets.
"That’s great," I said. "Next time I see the president, I’ll let him know you’re free."
"I’m serious, Michael," she said. "Since you’ve been back, you haven’t taken me to a single movie. Would it kill you take me to see a movie?"
It might. But at the moment, I was more concerned by the SIB agents. If they were anchoring the back door, that meant someone was in the front and that there was probably a gun or two aimed in this direction from one of the adjoining buildings. Most likely, the ATF was near, too.
"Ma," I said, "how did you hear about this place?"
"Fiona said we should meet here."
"This morning. Why, Michael?"
"Did you call her?"
"Michael, I know you want your privacy, but it’s not wrong for a mother to call her son’s girlfriend. Do you know when I was dating your father that your grandmother used to call me every morning?"
If you’re a tourist, one of the best things about coming to South Beach is the ease with which you can pool hop from one hotel to the next. Why, you could rappel down from the Hotel Victor’s rooftop pool directly into the Hotel Oro’s if you happened to have that skill set, which, judging by the two slightly more athletic-looking agents poised to do just that very thing across the way, they’re now teaching younger and more agile government recruits. Though I suspected the ones at the Victor were actually ATF.
"I didn’t know that," I said. I stood up as casually as possible, so as not to arouse any suspicion in the SIB or ATF agents. Mistakes get made when you haven’t been out of the office for a few years and now have a license to shoot someone; it’s doubly bad if you’ve been gorging on fatty foods in the interim and are now a little nervous, are thinking, Yeah, maybe if I put a bullet into someone, like a former IRA gunrunner wanted by an alphabet soup of organizations alive or dead. Thinking, Maybe I’ll get a bump. Thinking, Maybe I’ll get a corner office. "Why don’t we talk about it in the car?"
"But our food hasn’t even arrived," Mom said. I clenched my teeth into a polite smile, just in case I was on a camera somewhere. "We need to go," I said. "Now."
"What about Fiona?"
"Fiona won’t be showing up," I said.
For the last ten years, I’ve lived wherever the government has told me to live. There were also times when I didn’t live anywhere at all. Times when a helicopter would drop me in front of a target, I’d do my job, and the helicopter would pick me back up five minutes, or five hours, or five days later, depending upon the circumstances of the job and whatever collateral damage might have ensued.
You don’t ask a lot of questions. You’re given your assignment and you do it or you risk the consequences. My last official job as a covert operative was in the lovely city of Warri, Nigeria, vacation hotspot for large arms dealers, exhausted genocidal maniacs and anyone who loves to fall asleep to the peaceful drumming of AKs being fired into the sky.
I was sent there to dispose of a problem: A gangster was causing problems along a lucrative oil field—as in, he periodically had his people blow up the refinery, sabotage the pipeline, kill the security detail, that sort of thing—and I was there with a very simple offer of $750,000 to find some other way to entertain himself.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to pay off the bad guys. Fewer bodies. Less psychic turmoil. But mostly, fewer bodies.
Everything was going swimmingly. We had a charming room in the lovely Warri Grand Hotel, where every low-level thug is treated like a higherlevel thug. I didn’t trust the gangster. He didn’t trust me. But there was money from the American govern ment in between us, and we both trusted that. The problem was that at some point between me stepping off a plane in Nigeria with the authorization to wire money into the Russian’s account, and the exact moment I made the call to start the transfer, I lost my job.
If I worked at Kinko’s, that wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d just strip off my name tag and walk out the door, because even on your worst day, it’s unlikely a gangster will kill you if you lose your job at Kinko’s. But when your job is to deliver $750,000 to a gangster and you have to try to explain to him that, unfortunately, you’ve just been informed that there’s a burn notice on your file and therefore all pending deals you’re a part of are now canceled, well, there’re going to be hard feelings.
Thing is, you can’t just tell a gangster that you’ve lost all of your security clearances, that your cover is gone, that your bank accounts have been frozen and that, for all intents and purposes, Michael Westen is pretty much just a regular guy now and he’ll have to find someone else to deal with if he hopes to get his money. Even if it’s the truth. Which it was. But when you get a burn notice it’s not just your job you lose, it’s all the fringe benefits, too.
Like assault teams.
Someone who might claim your desecrated corpse. Thus, if you happen to get your burn notice in a place where you’re likely to catch fire, too, you’re obliged to figure out a more serviceable truth if continuing to breathe is a priority in your life.
Or, failing that, you fight your way out and hope to survive.
I did a combination of both, the result being that I got out of the hotel alive, barely, boarded a plane with half a rack of broken ribs, a concussion, a few chips, a few dings, passed out and woke up in Miami.
My childhood home.
The very place I ran from when I joined the military out of high school.
The place I’ve avoided returning to every year since.
The place where my mother, Madeline, lives in a periodic state of hypochondrial distress; where my brother, Nate, gambles and grifts; where my father is buried, but where his ghost still wanders around.
The place where I now live in a vacant loft above a nightclub. From the two windows in my loft I can see a sign store and the Little River, which winds from the coast back into the heart of the Everglades. There are exactly nine palm trees on my street. At night, after the nightclub closes, it’s always exciting to watch drunks alternately piss on the palm trees or attempt to have sex against them. No one ever comes to clean them up, either way. A drug dealer named Sugar used to live beneath me until I shot him. It’s the kind of neighborhood where anyone with a gun would feel right at home, but it’s not anyplace I want to live.
Since finding myself in Miami, I’ve tried to unravel the truth behind my burn notice. What I know: If the government truly wanted me dead, I’d be dead. They might be willing to let someone else kill me if it should happen during the daily course of life, but they aren’t sending assassins to my house. That my dossier is filled with flagrant inaccuracies is of no matter, apparently. The message they’ve sent through various means is clear: If I want to live, I am to stay in Miami, which is why I knew the SIB and ATF agents weren’t looking for me at the Hotel Oro.
Fiona, on the other hand . . .
"I had a meeting planned with a lovely new client," Fiona said. We were standing in my kitchen, and since I’d missed lunch entirely, I was trying to eat enough yogurt to raise my blood sugar to a level where I could hold a conversation with Fi without having the veins in my neck break through the skin. Plus, Fiona was wearing a yellow sundress, and when she moved, different parts of her body seemed to glow beneath the fabric, and she smelled vaguely of vanilla and strawberries. Difficult circumstances, all. "I thought I’d drop off my small package for her and then join you two poolside."
"What did you have in that package?"
"Three QBZ87s," she said.
"Well, more like ten," she said.
"Ten Chinese assault rifles," I said. "You just had those in your closet?"
"I stumbled on a few," she said.
When I first met Fiona, she was mostly robbing banks and dealing arms for the IRA, but then other organizations heard about her particular abilities, and so she opted to hang a freelance shingle out in the world. When I woke up in Miami, she was sitting beside me in a hotel room, which is what happens when you forget to change your emergency contact information. I hadn’t seen her since a rather hasty departure from Dublin. Interpersonal relationships have never been my strong suit.
"That’s hardly enough to bring out the cavalry," I said.
"I also had a few Spear hollow points that I was providing as a service."
And this is where it always gets interesting with Fiona. "A few?"
"A case. A very small case."
"It was an excellent deal, Michael," she said.
"So ten Chinese assault rifles and a very small case of hollow points. That was it."
"Closer to a gross of hollow point clips, if you’re going to split hairs about things."
It’s never as simple as black-and-white with Fiona. While I’m virtually imprisoned in Miami, Fiona is here by choice, the only thing holding her to this place being whatever it is we have, which at the moment is strictly business . . . though, not always platonic. Like I said before: It get’s complicated. That she was sitting in my loft flipping through a magazine when I returned from our aborted lunch didn’t surprise me in the least. I was frankly surprised she wasn’t in the backseat of my Charger when we stepped out of the hotel.
"You didn’t think to maybe pick up the phone and warn me when you realized the deal was off?"
"And let you grow complacent in your job?"
In order to make money, in order to survive long enough to find out who had burned me and why, I’ve been forced to take a few odd jobs helping people, and Fi has been kind enough to provide tactical support. On her off days, she’s got her own business interests, the less that possibly involve me and my mother in the firing line of crooked fingered agents the better.
"I was there with my mother."
"Who you should call more often," she said.
"You’re changing the subject," I said.
Fiona stepped around me and opened up my refrigerator and stared inside. "Do you have anything with protein?"
"The point here is that you were set up, Fiona," I said.
"There’s no devaluing your ability to notice the obvious," she said absently. She was pulling out old food from my refrigerator and systematically smelling items and then immediately throwing them away.
"What do you intend to do?"
Fiona finally found an apple that met her approval, bit into it and then chewed thoughtfully. "Well," she said, swallowing, "I could blow up the hotel."
"Do you even know who the buyer was?" I asked.
Fiona waved me off. "No one who’ll be missed," she said. "And the hotel has terrible parking, anyway."
"Did you get a name, Fiona? A room number?"
"Michael, I can handle this myself," she said.
"That’s my concern." My actual concern was that Fiona hadn’t been set up innocently—or as innocently as anyone is set up to be shot by government agents—since it’s not as if Fiona has kept a low profile since she arrived in Miami. If the ATF was interested in grabbing her, they could have gone to her condo, or they could have parked a detail of agents inside of my loft. None of it felt right. "Before you bang and burn the Hotel Oro," I said, "let’s talk to Sam, see if he can find out anything."
Fiona sighed. "No spontaneity," she said. "You should try it, Michael. It wins girls’ hearts."
Once you’re out of the trade, there’s not much you can do to earn a living that is remotely like what you’ve done before, unless you’ve been working under a cover during your years of service that actually entails a real job—liking hosting The Gong Show, for instance—and thus can just keep on working after you’ve been sunsetted out of your security clearances.
But if you’ve been flying around the world killing people and blowing up enemy targets, it’s tough to slide behind a desk. Most spies are spies because they lack certain people skills:
Respect for property.
So your choices are generally limited. You can work for a paramilitary security group like Blackwater, which presents its own set of problems, not the least of which is that you can now get arrested for what you used to do legally. Like: Shooting people. You can get a job as a bodyguard for someone wealthy enough to require one. But wealthy people typically pay for crap, the reason they have so much money being that they don’t squander it on things like expensive security details. Or you do what Sam Axe has done, which is live well by being the kind of man women want to sleep with, take care of and, occasionally, give a Cadillac to.
One of the first times I can recall working with Sam Axe was in the midnineties. We were in the Northern Caucasus Mountains training for an operation in Dagestan that ended up being aborted at the last moment. At the time, Sam still looked like the Navy SEAL he’d been—lean muscle mass stacked on a body fit for a linebacker—though he was under the employ of the Special Forces by then, mostly doing ops in the former USSR and the Middle East.
Figuring we had nothing to lose since the job was off anyway, we went to a bar Sam knew of in the village of Burl, about two dozen clicks from our base camp. Sam always knows of a bar. "Way I see it," Sam said then, "worst thing that could happen is we’d get into a fight and they’d know a team of Special Forces was hiding in the mountains preparing for some kind of armed action, and we’d end up on trial at the Hague."
It seemed like a reasonable risk. By the end of the night, we were eating goat stew in a sprawling ranch house owned by a widow named Theckla, when Sam was seriously considering marrying. She promised him all the goat he could eat. For life. It didn’t end well, of course.
He essentially washed out a few years ago, and now, if you were sitting across from Sam Axe, you might think he was a retired surfer: He favors Hawaiian shirts to camouflage, his muscles are covered by a subtle sheen of beer fat and he’s let his hair grow out over his ears, where it’s now touched with wisps of gray. All of his hard edges have been smoothed over with suntan oil, boat drinks and ocean views. He’s technically still on the books with the government, but is mostly just playing out the string, taking the odd investigative job, which has dovetailed into us working together solving other people’s problems.
Otherwise, his main job is to drink and sit in the sun . . . when he’s not engaged watching me for the FBI. Watching is maybe a bit of a misnomer: It’s more like proctoring, since there’s nothing covert about what he’s doing (at least not anymore—for the first few weeks, he made a go at being secretive, but then just told me he had to do it or they’d hold up his Navy pension), and his goal isn’t so much to forbid me from doing anything as it is to make sure I don’t piss off the FBI enough that they have me erased completely. He only gives the FBI what they want, but never volunteers information, which is fine. Having a friend as the conduit to the people who may eventually pull your card isn’t so bad—it’s not like he’s the Stasi.
Plus, everyone needs to eat, and drink, maybe especially drink, which is what Sam was doing when I found him at the News Cafe´. I called Sam just after meeting with Fiona to see if he could plug into a few of his sources to find out what the chatter was about the Oro. The thing about anyone with a security clearance is that they’re like sixteen-year-old girls when you get down to their core: They all want to talk about the pretty outfit they did or didn’t get, assign blame and start pulling hair.
Sam, well, he’s got powers of persuasion. He can usually just pick up the phone and ask a question of these people—be they CIA, FBI, NSA or the most clandestine of all agencies, the DMV—and they’ll at least tell him whom they’re pissed at.
It was three o’clock and Sam sat facing the ocean, his shirt unbuttoned just enough so that passing tourists could see a few tufts of hair climbing up toward his Adam’s apple. For a buck, he’d pose and let the savages take digital pictures. He was joined by five empty bottles of Corona, a ramekin filled with spent limes and a plate of congealed fat that might have once been cow based. I sat down across from him and tried to work the angle of the sun so that I wouldn’t pick up the glare off of Sam’s slimed over plate. I switched seats three times before giving up and putting on my sunglasses.
"You just missed Veronica," Sam said. Veronica was Sam’s girlfriend, in the same way any woman has been Sam’s girlfriend, which is to say she didn’t have a strong opposition to congealed fats and beer, or at least Sam’s particular charms outweighed the opposition. What those charms are, I’ve never been certain, except that I think he must excrete some kind of chemical in his sweat that attracts women with money. The same chemical also tends to attract women with husbands, which has caused problems in the past, though nothing Sam couldn’t manage by kicking through a wall or two and running nude through the Everglades. That’s one way of applying your specialized training in everyday life.
"A shame," I said. "We always have so much to talk about." The longest conversation I’ve ever had with Veronica consisted of her saying hello to me and me raising my eyebrows at her. It used to be that the fewer people I got to know personally, the less I might be disappointed by them later, but now it’s just about convenience. "I hope she wasn’t driving." I picked up one of the bottles of Corona and blew into it, making that humming sound. One of the perks of not constantly being in hiding anymore is that sometimes, just for the hell of it, I can act like a human.
"Oh, those are all mine," Sam said.
"You don’t say. How many is that today?"
"Depends when you think today technically begins."
"Sunrise seems like a good starting point." Sam closed his eyes and started counting on his fingers; when he started doing laps around his thumb, I figured stopping him would make the day go easier on both of us. "Round off."
"About half," he concluded, which seemed right, since the day still had nine hours left in it. The difference between Sam Axe and most men is that alcohol doesn’t seem to faze him much. No one ever claimed Sam wasn’t complex. "Veronica’s got a job for us," Sam said. "Friend of hers is in a bit of a jam." "In a jam? What does that constitute, exactly?" "You know," Sam said, "someone’s in over their head. In a fix. In a bind. Needs a tall, dark stranger to make things right. All that."
"Let me guess," I said. "International terrorists? Peruvian gun cartels? Jehovah’s Witnesses?"
"No." Sam squirmed in his chair. I’d come to talk to him about the incident at the Hotel Oro, and now here I was being put on the spot to help a friend of Veronica’s, again, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t the kind of people whose problems tended to start out as one thing and ended up as something else altogether. Rich people say it’s all a mix-up with paperwork, and then, a couple days later, someone is trying to slit my throat.
"Well, that’s a nice change. I’ll guess again."
"Mikey . . ."
"Now, hold on, let me think. Drug dealers?"
"No," Sam said. "Forget it."
"So, they’re sort of drug dealers?"
"If you’re not interested," Sam said, "I can handle the job myself."
"The last time you handled the job yourself," I said, "what was the final body count? Ten? Fifteen?"
"Which I thanked you for," Sam said.
"I don’t like to kill people, Sam," I said. "I’ve got enough problems."
"They were all very bad," he said. They were all bad—that was true—but a human life is a human life, and my sense is that I’m not living in a cartoon. Even the worst psychopath is someone’s child, brother or sister, husband or wife or parent. If you have to kill someone to save your life, you kill them. But if you kill someone because it’s easier than negotiating, you’re no better than a dog that bites you just because it doesn’t like your smell. It might be in your nature, but it doesn’t make it the right thing to do. "Still," I said, "if I’m going to do whatever this is, I’d like to know that no one is going to be firing Scud missiles at my car."
"When did that ever happen?"
"Chechnya," I said. "After you broke up with the goat stew woman."
Sam made a noise that was somewhere in between a grunt and a sigh, which is about as close as Sam gets to true emotional response. "It’s an easy job," Sam said, "I promise."
"You have no idea what the job is, do you?"
"I have a general outline," Sam said. "Like I said before: damsel in distress. That sort of thing. Besides, you owe me. I found out about your little party at the Hotel Oro."
"I was having lunch with my mother," I said. "It was Fiona’s party."
"Kinky," Sam said, and then he broke down the particulars: An anonymous tip indicated that a courier would be arriving with a cache of assault rifles and ammunition—which was true—to be sold to certain Saudi nationals staying at the hotel. "The thing is, Mikey," he said, taking a swig from each of his five empty bottles, gathering up just enough backwash for a decent mouthful, "the caller had names. Big no-fly names. Fifteen different guys named Mohammed and Abdullah. They were already cleaning out cells at Gitmo. Dick Cheney was going to fly down and interrogate them himself, do a little water boarding. . . ."
I put a hand up. "I get it," I said. "Crazed fundamentalists." I grabbed up the five bottles and put them on the ground, lest my nausea from watching him drinking his own spit get the best of me.
"Right," he said. He stared at the bottles a little mournfully until I literally snapped my fingers in front of his face to break the trance. "Well, anyway, they had the hotel scoped for those guys, but had no idea who Fiona was, only that they were looking for a woman carrying a bunch of heat."
"What about the crazed fundamentalists?"
"The block of rooms they’d booked was occupied by a sect of Elderhostel."
"Elderhostel?" I said. I flipped the name through my mind and nothing came flashing up. I hadn’t been out of proper intelligence so long that an entire sect would have risen up without my knowledge, had I?
"Very dangerous group." Sam pulled out his wallet and rummaged through it for a moment, finally coming up with a glossy piece of paper he’d folded too many times. "This is how they recruit," he said, handing it to me. "Sophisticated bastards."
I unfolded the paper and learned that once I turn fifty-five, I’ll be eligible to travel the world with 160,000 other active seniors in a continuing quest to educate themselves about the world via extraordinary learning adventures. "Who has access to the hotel’s computer system?" I said.
"You’d have to get a subpoena for that information." Sam paused, which I took to mean he was going to let me process how clever it was that he knew I’d ask that, then that he expected me to ask him to do me a favor and try to find the information out in whatever way he could, since I clearly thought this was now something larger than Fiona, that it probably involved me and that someone was just using Fiona as a message to me, and then that he’d stun me with a reply on the subject that was abject in its thoroughness and that I would then thank him profusely for thinking of all the possible intangibles before I could even formulate a question.
So, instead, I just stared at him and waited. For a few minutes we actually sat there silently, until Sam finally got the hint that I wasn’t going to bite and just opted to give me what I wanted to hear.
"They’ve got an eight hundred number that routes to a call center in Nebraska," he said. "They’ve got twenty-five in-house reservation clerks, another twenty-five front desk employees, then there’re about fifty bellboys, half of whom have a record of some kind—petty stuff, mostly, though there’s a guy parking cars who’s actually got a pretty nice book running right now, even takes bets on Japanese Premier League soccer, who did a year for running a book I frequented a few years ago, which seems excessive, but that’s just me, though it looks like he lied on his employment application and said he spent the last year studying abroad—and then there’re the bartenders, cocktail and restaurant staff, too, and then the whole executive branch and probably a few corporate people who, with just a few keystrokes, could find out anything they wanted about anyone staying at the hotel."
"Good customer service," I said. If you ever want to start stealing identities for a living but have an aversion to sifting through trash or aren’t especially good at hacking into personal computers, get a job at a hotel. People on vacation are stupid. They trust everyone with a name tag. Walk up to a person sit ting poolside and ask them to confirm their room number by giving you the last four digits of their social security number and most likely they’ll give you all nine, because everyone recites the entire number in order to get to those four numbers. Barring that, come by the next time and ask for the first five numbers. Ask them for a special PIN number for the hotel voice mail, and you’ll likely get their ATM PIN, too. Ask them to surrender their passport, give a vial of blood and a cup of urine and, if you asked nicely and promised them a robe and a mint, you’re unlikely to get any sort of resistance whatsoever.
And if you don’t want to get an actual job, just get a name tag.
"Three hundred," Sam said.
"That’s how many people—give or take—have access to the system," Sam said.
Three hundred people, but only one had a reason to set up Fiona, but not enough reason to actually give out her name or her description. Three hundred people who might have had access to anyone dumb enough to give up their information and change it to the names of known terrorists, but only one who’d actually know those names. Three hundred people and only one who might reasonably want to send me a message by using Fiona without getting her killed in the process, making it all so obvious that only someone completely untrained and unknown would walk into it.
"Who owns the hotel?" I asked.
"Shareholders," he said, but he said it in the same way he told me I’d need to get a subpoena.
"Are we going to do this again," I said, "or are you just going to jump right to the part where I realize who is currently in Miami that might want to kill me?"
"It’s owned primarily by an Eastern European conglomerate," Sam said.
"That’s not terribly specific," I said. "If I have to boil down who might want to send me a message to half of a continent, I’ll be dead before you’re able to flag down the waitress again."
"I saw a lot of Russian names," Sam said.
"Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just forgive and forget? We won, you lost, not too many people died in the process, sit down, have a drink of vodka, put on a pair of Levi’s, call it a game."
"Tell that to Putin," I said.
"Putin," Sam said. He spit the Russian president’s name out like it hurt. "I ever tell you what a crap shot he was?"
"No less than a hundred times," I said. The fact was the former Soviet Union was one of my main theaters of operation. The other fact is that apart from Cubans, the majority of organized crime in and around Miami belongs to the Russians. A few years ago they made a strategic alliance with the Colombian drug cartels, the result being that the Colombians supply the product, the Russians supply the money and the muscle. Along the way, just like the good little capitalists they’ve become, they’ve bought into real estate, gobbling up shopping centers, hotels, nightclubs, entire neighborhoods. You move your money around enough, build legit businesses to shelter and protect it, invest in real estate, line the pockets of county commissioners, make donations to congressional campaigns, maybe drop a grand to the ACLU and the SPCA, too, and people tend to forget that it all started with cocaine, and heroin and all they see is the gentrification your money provides.
"I don’t know the veracity of this," Sam said, "because you understand the boys were a little embarrassed that they kicked in a bunch of doors and pistol-whipped a few seniors, but no one in the hotel’s management put up any stink. Repaired the doors, fixed things right back up and that was that. Even gave a few of the agents vouchers for free massages."
"This doesn’t scan," I said. Fiona gets contacted for a gun buy and it turns out it’s a sting, but no one gets stung? Hundred different people they could have gone through, big-timers, and they pick Fi? And just let her walk. And then the specific names of terrorists.
One of the first things you learn about being a spy is that there is no chaos. Everything that appears random and disorganized but ultimately disastrous is likely to have a deep and intricate network of connective lines holding it all together. People walking down the street see a man in a suit running, and they think he’s late for a meeting. On the next block, they see a woman screaming into a cell phone, and they thing she’s having a bad day. And when they get to their office and it’s been cordoned off with crime tape, they think maybe someone killed themselves and took out a few coworkers in the process.
I see possibility, connection, locus points.
I stood up and dropped a twenty on the table, which would cover at least another round or two.
"Maybe it’s not about you," Sam said.
"Maybe," I said.
"Maybe it’s all a big coincidence," Sam said.
"Maybe," I said.
"Maybe you’re going to go over there and find out anyway?"
"Definitely," I said. I looked down at the table and saw that the twenty was already gone. Sam’s like a cat.
"You want me to go with you?"
"No," I said. "If it’s nothing, it’s nothing. If it’s something, it’s probably something you don’t need to be a part of."
Sam nodded. I knew if I needed Sam, he’d be there, but at this point it seemed prudent to find out for myself what was waiting for me. If it had to do with my burn notice, bringing along Sam wouldn’t help things.
"Listen, Mikey, this thing with Veronica’s friend . . ."
"What time, Sam?"
"I told her we’d be at her place tomorrow morning at nine."
I checked my watch. It was just short of three thirty. The sun was still full in the sky. "You going to stay up all night?"
Sam considered that idea for a moment, giving it more credence than I thought possible. "I guess maybe I’ll try to turn in early," he said. "You want your twenty back?"
"Keep it," I said, walking out, "in case I need to make bail later."