Escape: A Novel

Overview

On a familiar jogging trail in the densely wooded area near historic Blakeley Park, Pilar Brighton slices through the shafts of early morning light. Like a frightened gazelle in flight, her eyes are glazed with terror as she dashes for her very life. Four men are behind her now, dressed in dark sweats and ski masks. They are closing fast, determined to drive her to Willnook Springs, a commune headed by Leo ...
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Overview

On a familiar jogging trail in the densely wooded area near historic Blakeley Park, Pilar Brighton slices through the shafts of early morning light. Like a frightened gazelle in flight, her eyes are glazed with terror as she dashes for her very life. Four men are behind her now, dressed in dark sweats and ski masks. They are closing fast, determined to drive her to Willnook Springs, a commune headed by Leo Croker, an ex-convict and self-ordained priest.

If Pilar loses this race, she will soon discover that Leo Croker is more than a self-proclaimed priest; he is a madman out to kill her. Determined, Pilar pushes on; hoping that her legs and wind hold, helping her escape this time. But fate is not always so kind. Sometimes it can be dashed in a flash, especially with energetic pursurers so close behind. But Pilar has faith. She runs harder.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780595261512
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/16/2002
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

First Chapter

PROLOGUE

Hands locked tightly behind, a speckled-haired man paced deliberately, trying to calm an old anger. Occasionally, he stopped to glare at the two men fidgeting on hard chairs near the wall. Despite the coolness of the catacombs, sweat rolled from their faces, and whenever he'd hesitate to scowl, they'd nervously lower their eyes. He did not speak to them often, but his dark eyes pierced their brains mercilessly, making them squirm like recently trapped lobsters steaming in the pot. Clearly, they were afraid of Leo Croker, their communal leader and boss.

From a long relationship with Croker, they'd learned that whenever he'd become provoked, like now, he could easily alter an already cruel expression into an evil-looking mask, one streaked with hues of unfulfilled rage, a clear gauge of his explosive temper, which at times could be more frightful than a maniac's on a stalk of death.

This evening Leo Croker wore khaki slacks, a cotton shirt, a pair of sandals, and a pair of wool socks to warm his toes. Earlier, he'd wrapped a dark, hip-length coat over his wide shoulders to keep out the dampness of the catacombs, which reminded him of things that he'd rather not contemplate at the moment, especially since the terrifying nightmares had worsened. The nightmares repeatedly warned him of a violent death by an unknown assassin, maybe his own. Stopping by the chairs, Leo gulped air, and said, "I should kill you both." His face was livid in the dim, electrical torchlights that lined the walls, as he bent closer to poke a long finger into their faces. "You, Oscar, for disobeying my orders, and you, Abe, for letting him do it." Turning, he began to pace again. Soon, he stopped to face a moist wall with his back to the chairs. He stood there a moment like in a trance, his brain boiling with anger and memories. Leo Croker had come unannounced once, and then had quietly gone away, and then had come back, only the last time he'd been almost dead from infected knife and gunshot wounds, and a dog's fangs. That had been ten years ago in 1987.

He remembered that the one he'd come to see back then certainly must have wished that he'd never come back at all, dead or alive; but he had to come back; he really had no other choice. He had a dream, and in it people died, some in a most vicious manner, exactly like the one he'd come to see. More accurately, had come to replace by what he liked to call "a hostile takeover," as he assumed the duties of the "priest" of Willnook Springs, a commune near Blakeley Park that was filled with a group of cult-like people. Leo Croker intended to enlighten them with his own form of knavery once he was well enough to sermonize in a properly priestly fashion. He'd brought along Abe and Oscar, two old cellmates, to help him.

Later, after he had the commune organized to his tastes and style, he attended mainly to the weekly sermons and his monthly accounting with the people, who totaled sixty-odd followers, not counting the armed guards he used to patrol the compound walls and barbed-wire fences. It had been real easy up until now. Turning, Leo felt the cool dampness of the catacombs clog his nostrils like coagulated glue, and then chill his neck to the bone. He quickly walked back toward the hard-backed chairs where Abe and Oscar waited.

At the chairs, Leo stopped and cocked his head, almost like he could hear the eerie night sounds resonating through the monastery up above, its shudders flung wide to the summer heat. Shoulders hunched, he thought a moment about the sounds of a zillion crickets that filled the outside air, as the noisy creatures gathered for their nightly gossip. He detested the crickets and their endless complaints, much like a few of his followers he had begun to distrust lately. Soon, though, he knew that his drab life would be changed forever, as would the lives of his followers and associates. His will would be done, and then things would be different and better, at least for him. He almost smiled, but he had some serious business to attend to at the moment. Leo stepped in front of the first chair, made a fist, and then said angrily, "Tell me again, Oscar; could she have seen anything when she spotted you on the path? Quickly, tell me the truth, or I swear I will make you sorry."

Oscar placed his thick hands on his knees as he fearfully leaned forward, and said, "I told ya, Leo. She wasn't close enough to see much of anything, maybe only the wagon and me. And it was covered with a tarpaulin."

"What do you think, Abe?" Leo asked, turning to the other associate, who, like Oscar, wore frayed jeans and ankle boots and a heavy sweater. Both of the men, like Leo, were in their mid-forties; but unlike him, each was blessed with thick, dark hair that had not yet begun to gray. "I have to agree with Oscar, boss," Abe said, his voice hollow in the cave-like acoustics. "Even if she saw the wagon, there wasn't much to see; it was covered."

"That's right," Oscar chimed in, his wide buttocks heavy on the chair. "The stuff was covered." Leonard Croker yanked several photographs from his jacket pocket, and then thoughtfully glanced at a woman in sweats. He placed a finger on one of the photos, and touched the long, dark ponytail that hung low on her back. He shuffled the photos again and looked at another. It showed a determined face, beautiful without frills of any kind. Sighing deeply, he looked at Abe, and said, "She's certainly a beauty. You have to give her that much, but still a potential threat to our plans."

"I'm sure we're safe, Leo," Abe said defensively. "And we certainly don't have to tell the Florida people about a jogger named Pilar Brighton maybe seeing something she should not have. Hell, her being there at that time was most likely little more than a stupid coincidence; nothing to worry about at all. She just happened to see Oscar outside our walls, sitting atop one of our horse-drawn wagons, that's all.

"I say let our constable, Chad Dunbar, grab her. We could hold her at the back of the compound, where we could test her memory, and then later, if she appeared more of a threat than I think, we could get rid of her just like that." He snapped his fingers, and the resulting sound reverberated off the stonewalls like a shot had been fired.

"Let me see," Leo said as he shoved the glossy photos into his pocket and glanced at his wristwatch. "It's the twenty-fourth of June, and the fest is scheduled for the twelfth of July. That gives us plenty of time, I suppose, to prepare for any contingency." He tapped the face of his wristwatch, and said, "I'd rather not play a wait-and-see game with our jogger friend, though. I detest loose ends. They're too dangerous at this stage of the plan. Go ahead, have Dunbar grab her. And make it as soon as possible. Whatever she knows, we'll keep her until the fest. Sanchez, my associate from Florida, may want to use her in one of his realistic porno movies, once we've finished with her. Questions?"

When neither spoke, Leo stood before them, obviously ready to ask an important question. "Okay, then, tell me one more thing before we go. Are you both prepared to do what's required, despite the risks involved, even die if need be?"

Oscar stood and slowly nodded an affirmative; but Abe hesitated, his thin lips tight. He relished his life, and did not cherish the idea of giving it up too hastily. "Well," Leo said impatiently, "how about it, Abe?" "Certainly, Leo. No problem at all." "No problem, boss," Oscar timidly reaffirmed. "There better not be," Leo said, as he glanced at his wristwatch again. "But for now, I think we'd better move outside. I expect someone soon, so I have to change into my priestly robes to act my part."

"Better than those striped pajamies like up at Atmore where we crushed a ton of rocks every year; right, boss?" Oscar said, smiling. Leo bent into Oscar's chubby face, and said, "They don't have rocks to crush up there, idiot. But bank on it; I'll crush your stupid-assed rocks, if you ever take the garbage wagon out of the compound during daylight again. I've told you repeatedly to bury the damn stuff inside the walls during daytime, not out in the woods until it's dark." Like an urgent rage had suddenly captured his brain, the anger tight at his throat, Leo smashed Oscar's forehead several times with bony knuckles, then slammed him in the lower belly with a fist before he shoved him roughly against the stone wall behind him. There, he squashed his windpipe with a forearm while he crushed his crotch with a knee.

"Leo, please," Abe said, as he clutched his arm. Let's go topside. We all need some fresh air." Reluctantly, Leo stepped back from Oscar and waved a hand. "You two go on up. I have to inspect some of our stuff down here first. The visitor can wait; the inspection can't." Alone, Leo wondered what he was going to do with Oscar. Before things were done, he knew he'd have to do something, despite their longtime friendship, much of it while in jail along with Abe. Maybe an opportunity would present itself right after the July fest or during it. Yes, he thought, that might be the ideal time to tidy things up a bit with all of them, including Abe. Provide them one last smoke for old time's sake to prepare them for a final dream that would take them to a quiet place not too far from here. Give them their promised hour of eternity, and then end things.

His jaw firmly set, he turned down the dimly lit corridor, and then walked slowly toward one of the artificially lit rooms at the other end. It sat near a well-stocked lab. The area looked like a typical catacomb, yet not: stone ceilings, stone walls, stone floors with a number of dimly lit, curving passageways, which led into darker places where the eye could barely see; but crammed with un-typically constructed rooms for such a place, each laid out like a wartime, underground factory that curious eyes would never see. Each room was designated for a specific purpose, using unique assembly lines, manned by faithful commune people who were required to cut, assemble, package, load, and then help with the shipments every month. The proceeds from their labors kept the commune's coffers full, as well as Leo's. Outside, the entire area leading to the catacombs was covered with trees and shrubbery and seasonal flowers, and a handful of steaming springs. It looked like a lush garden, everything fresh and blooming, a unique backdrop for the stucco monastery and its rambling buildings that needed repair and paint badly, yet were strategically placed.

Near the updated lab, Leo hesitated and scratched his chin. Abe was in charge there, ensuring that nagging technicalities were resolved. He moved ahead toward the production rooms. Oscar was responsible there for seeing that things stayed on schedule, whatever had to be done to ensure it. Oscar did well sometimes, other times not so well, depending upon his mood, which, like a child's, could change without warning.

Leo wrinkled his brow with a troublesome thought: Too bad so many would have to die before things were done; but as someone somewhere once shrewdly said, c'est la vie. That's life, at least there, where the stakes were higher than ever before, especially with the fest so near, and the slimy Florida people anxious for a quickie look-see, and some very special entertainment before they'd buy a recently developed product.

Almost to the end of the corridor, he stopped to press a defective stone that was slightly ajar from the rest. Quietly, a thick door slid open, and he entered a large well-lit room. It was filled with dolls and toys in various stages of completion. He walked to the first table and picked up a hairless cloth doll, and then placed it near his ear and shook it gently. He heard a faint sound; something had jiggled. He shook it again, harder this time. It jiggled louder.

Angrily, Leo kicked the table over, and slammed the defective doll into a tall cardboard box. It, along with the others there, would be recycled the next day and every day thereafter, until all of them could be made to jiggle quietly. He'd damn well make sure of that. His face tight, Leo secured the area, and then hurried to find Oscar. He had something to say to his most favorite idiot before he changed for the talk with his scheduled visitor. He expected a commune elder, who by now would be seated uncomfortably in the plush library with a slim wine glass in hand, thoroughly intimidated by a stiff-faced guard standing over him, attentive to his every twitch, however slight, and his every sip, however quiet.

Leo hated the elders, especially the one visiting him tonight. Sometimes, he wished he'd never appointed them or the three counselors, or the constable, Chad Dunbar, for that matter. He liked to be alone these days and fully in charge. But he was, wasn't he? A leader had to stand off from the rest, be alone, fully in charge, especially when the prospect of great wealth and power loomed, ready to be taken.

Leo loved the touch of un-tethered solitude there, where he was cloistered in eternal bliss and boundless power. And, he thought, free of troublesome problems, except lately like the one that had to do with dumb-assed idiots like Oscar. But he would soon take care of that, too, and any other problem that presented itself as the secret plan was being fully implemented, or should he say, executed.

Certainly, Leo was in charge, but deep down he knew that some among his flock could be dangerous, indeed, if given the opportunity, despite his wit and charm and esteemed stature, not to mention his infinite wisdom. Yes, he'd have to see to the dangerously expanding disloyalty business soon. Perhaps right after the upcoming fest or during the ceremony when the Florida reptiles would be sniffing around, trying to get something for free. But everyone had to pay sooner or later, especially them when the time was right.

But first things first. He had to find the damn fool Oscar and break some ass. Later, he could concentrate on the other things. Twelve July was fast approaching, and it would be a day that could turn out to be as hot as hell on a Saturday night, inside and out. He smiled. Reaching the secret exit, Leo threw his coat on a metal hook, and then pushed through the door, spraying his bare arms and neck with Raid. He was careful to keep it away from his eyes and out of his nose.

Outside in the humid air, he waved his arms while he cursed the blood-sucking mosquitoes at his ears. He wished he were already powerful enough to squash them with a word, or better a dull sword, maybe a rusted razor. For now, the Raid would have to do. Suddenly, a new danger caught his brain. He turned his face into the evening breeze and frantically waved his arms again. His anger in full fury, he punched the air repeatedly and shouted, "Damn crickets are going to make me nuts someday, unless I kill the useless bastards first."

Turning about, Leo Croker, self-appointed holy man, ran for his plush quarters like a child who'd become frightened by the night and its persistent sounds. He decided not to meet with his visitor this evening. He'd see to him tomorrow when there would be plenty of light. After all, the visitor could be the one sent to assassinate him, like in his recent nightmares. He ran faster, trying to avoid the darkness...and himself.
******* The next morning at a luxurious mansion in the southwest part of Jacksonville, in the quiet Mandarin area, a man stood at the far edge of the screened-in, upper-deck balcony. Like a Roman Caesar, he gazed down at the dozen or so swimmers loitering on the concrete skirt surrounding his huge pool. It, too, was enclosed with screen, keeping out the pesky bugs and mosquitoes, but not the intense Florida sun and heat.

Sanchez was a tall man, trim, muscular, and his hair was dark and shiny. His chest was bare like his feet, and the jockstrap-like bathing suit he wore was black. It was tight, exposing a good portion of his buttocks that were as tanned as the rest of him, and just as firm. He looked to be in his thirties, but was actually in his mid-forties, keeping in shape by daily exercise and diet. His name was Emanuel Sanchez, originally from Juarez, Mexico, but now a citizen of Florida. He used to be a pimp in the old days in Juarez, a city on the Rio Grande across from El Paso, Texas. It had a population of about a half-million people. He tried to reduce the overcrowding by one or two a month or more, after he'd decided that killing was much more fun and profitable than pimping. Eventually, almost by accident, he became a worldly hit man, and stayed one until he'd made enough money to do what he really wanted.

Sanchez loved to make movies, not home movies, but the real thing with real actors, who had to meet all of his strict requirements, which in essence amounted to very simple things. The men had to be muscular and handsome, and the women had to be shapely and beautiful, like models. Other than that, he could easily teach them the rest.

Emanuel Sanchez watched a curvaceous blond dive into the pool and begin to swim toward the other end. One of the men there dove in near her, and began to swim with her, teasing her into a race. She smiled and began to kick harder, moving ahead, but the man swimming near her would have none of that. He reached out and grabbed an ankle and yanked her under, pulling her to the bottom where he quickly removed her skimpy swim top, exposing large, rounded breasts that moved enticingly with the newly agitated water, caused in part by her futile struggle to get free. Underwater, the man showed his teeth to her, and then pushed his feet to the bottom. Suddenly, he kicked himself to the top, crashing through the water like an injured U-boat, coming up for air. He held the bra proudly over his head. The others at the pool ran to the edge and began to clap and laugh at his antics. The blond finally popped her head above the water, and swam toward them. There, she pulled herself up to the pool's deck, indifferent to the stares and howls, and the clapping hands and stomping feet.

"He's such a child," she said to another woman standing nearby, as she nodded at the well-built man in the pool, still waving her bra. "Just like in bed, she added." Throwing her long wet hair over her shoulders, she turned and walked through the ones still gawking at her wet beauty. Some of them wore tight swimsuits, some were topless, some appeared to be practically naked with not much on at all, except for a tight-looking thong that left little to the imagination; but enough.

Smiling at the show down below the balcony, Emanuel turned to look at the woman standing near the far screen, gazing down at the ones in the pool. She wore a flimsy bikini bottom, but no top, except for a thin gold chain at her neck and what looked to be a large cross. She was slim and tall for a woman, and had long, dark hair that looked shiny in the barbed shred of sunlight that pierced the screen. Smiling, she moved toward Emanuel when she saw him turn away from the pool. He began to walk toward her, smiling. "They're playful this morning, aren't they?" Naomi Peters said as they met at the center of the balcony.

"Like always," Emanuel said, inspecting her breasts and muscular midriff, and legs that reached to her slender hips.

Naomi looked like one who had an obsession with weight lifting, not so much for bulging muscles, which would be unsightly to her; but to ensure her strength when she needed it. To supplement the weight lifting, and to maintain her agility, she frequently went through hours of vigorous hand-to-hand combat exercises that involved both the ancient and modern methods of self-defense. She could easily kill a man with her head, a finger or a hand. Some said, maybe even with her tongue or toe. And she was an expert with gun and knife and explosives. She was good at what she was paid to be; she had to be. After all, she was Emanuel Sanchez's personal bodyguard, among other things.

Originally from Kenya, Naomi was now a citizen of Florida, just like Emanuel. She loved the lazy days there at the mansion with the others, but knew that they wouldn't last much longer. It was almost time to visit the people in Alabama, where Emanuel had some special business. "Are you prepared for the trip next month?" Emanuel asked, moving closer to stroke her long, black hair.

"I'm always prepared," Naomi said, almost a whisper. She carefully fondled the cross at her neck while she stared intently into his eyes like she was looking for a truth of some kind. The medallion at her throat was actually a well-disguised weapon, sharp and deadly like her hands. "And always ready for me," Emanuel said, smiling. He pressed her warm body tightly to him, and nibbled on an ear.

Then, feeling her press closer, he began to kiss her neck and face, relishing her firm embrace. Suddenly, he released her and turned abruptly about when he heard a deep voice behind him. It was a manservant, dressed casually in shorts and running shoes and tee shirt. In Florida one dressed for comfort, not for egotistical looks, at least up there on the balcony relaxing in the sunshine, watching the delights below that teased the eyes and brain, explosively sometimes. "I am sorry, sir," the servant said. "Mr. Martinez and his troops are here. Should I bring them out, sir?" He could see that his boss was a bit angry about the interruption. After all, the boss had been immersed in some very tantalizing personal business. Emanuel Sanchez nodded curtly, and then waved the servant away. He turned to face Naomi. "Listen carefully, my sweet," he said. "Soon, you will learn something about disloyal friends and deceitful enemies."

Naomi started to reply, but instead turned for the door when she saw the visitors were already out on the balcony.

All smiles, Emanuel shook the hand of one of the men as he reached him. Without smiling, he nodded at the other two. They were obviously bodyguards for Rafael Martinez, the bigger, not fat, balding man whose rope mustache sloped away from his nose, gripping his square jaw. "How was your trip, Rafael?" Emanuel asked, smiling, his teeth straight and white. He'd never been a heavy smoker, not in the usual sense, but did, unlike a certain politician now in office, inhale a twisted stick occasionally. He motioned his visitor to a seat near the screen, where he'd have a clear view of the pool and its scantily clad occupants.

The two bodyguards stood behind Martinez's chair and glanced down at the pool, their eyes lusting, their hands in their thin jacket pockets, fondling their knives and guns. "Wanna go for a swim, Rafael?" Emanuel asked his guest, who sat across from him at a round, white table that was topped with several pitchers of iced juices and colorful drinking glasses. "Maybe later, my friend. For now, I would like to hear more about the deal we discussed on the phone."

Filling his guest's glass with orange juice, Emanuel said, "I wouldn't bother you on this, Rafael, but I need some of your men. As you know, I trust few people these days, only you as a matter of fact, especially when I have such important business to discuss." "You flatter me, Emanuel. How may I help?"

"I need about five of your best men to team up with some of mine for a trip to Alabama in a couple of weeks. The date is not yet certain; but from the look of things, it should be around the twelfth of July. I'd certainly appreciate your company. I'm going to personally supervise the project. Do you think you'd care to join hands with me for the upcoming trip? It definitely would be a lot of fun, and could eventually make us both rich as hell." "You're already that rich, Emanuel." Rafael glanced at the tanned gods and goddesses lying in the sun by the pool. "And I can't imagine finding anything elsewhere that could possibly be anymore fun than this." He smiled as he looked up at his burly guards to make sure they were still near him. He'd never trusted Emanuel's smiles and hospitality all that much. There was always the possibility of a disaster, if he did not watch his back.

"Rich, like fun, are relative terms," Emanuel said, glancing at Naomi. "What I meant to say exactly was extraordinary fun and, of course, fabulous wealth, my venerable Rafael. And that's even better than hell, I'm sure."

"Do you plan to rob Fort Knox of its gold bullion?" Rafael asked, smiling. "Nothing so elaborate, but potentially as profitable in the end," Emanuel said. "Tell me, then, where do we have to go to have such extraordinary fun, and become so fabulously wealthy?"

"Eastern shore of Mobile. And that's in Alabama, not in Kentucky," Emanuel teased. Emanuel and Rafael both sat back in their chairs, thinking, while the bodyguards stared down at the pool, and then back at Naomi, who stood nearby, her beauty and scents hypnotic. She covered her naked breasts with trim arms, her silent eyes daring them to touch her. It was obvious that she'd be happy to break the gawking bodyguards' spines.

Smiling coyly, Naomi permitted the lower portion of one breast to be revealed, showing more skin. Then, impishly bored, she let both arms drop to her slim hips. Sweat boiled on the forehead of one bodyguard and beneath his nose. He'd become absolutely inattentive to his duties. Like a fool who used his puny penis for a brain, she thought, concealing her gorgeous breasts with her arms again, as she looked to the pool for some fun to cool her anger. Rafael Martinez twisted in his seat and placed his elbows on the table. He looked at Emanuel, sitting quietly across from him, still thinking.

"Tell me, Emanuel," Rafael finally said, stroking one side of his rope mustache, "what exactly must we do in Alabama once we get there? Are we to rob someone or something? Or destroy someone or something? Or possibly, simply kill somebody who has a truckload of money, waiting for us to take it? What, my friend, is the precise objective of your plan? Its goal?" Emanuel leaned over the table on his elbows, and rested his chin on his folded hands. "All of the above," he said boastfully. "And I shall make a realistic movie to boot while I am at it." He smiled, sat back and sipped his orange drink, his eyes darting to Naomi. Rafael thought for a minute, and then said, "I suppose your movie will be filled with some sex as well, hey, my friend?"

"Naturally. A movie without sex would be like John Wayne without a six-shooter, or perhaps, like that Arnold fellow without his bulging muscles." "And you have a plan, Emanuel; a script for all of this business you want to involve me in, in Alabama?" "It is being prepared; but if you like, I will have Naomi hand-carry a copy to you right after it is finished."

"I like that idea," Rafael said. "One certainly could face sex without a plan, or even without much contemplation; however, violence and death are something else again. I definitely would have to see a detailed plan of action before I could commit to you, Emanuel. Nothing personal; just sound business practice for us both."

"Of course," Emanuel Sanchez said, his voice drooling with deceit. "Naomi will have it in your hands within several days, or sooner. Where should she deliver it?" "At the marina over at Julian Creek, near the place where it spills directly into the Saint John's River. Not far from here. I parked my sea-capable fishing boat there. It is quite elaborate, really. I rarely use it for fishing, but still spend a great deal of time at sea, searching."

"Searching for bladders stuffed with new treasure, I suspect," Emanuel said, smiling. "At any rate, I will present you with a plan soon, and then we will talk again." "Very soon, I hope," Rafael said, standing. "After I've reviewed it, I will give you my decision." He looked through the screen while he stroked his mustache, gazing lustfully at the glistening bodies still loitering lazily around the sparkling pool, the sun boiling their skins and brains into an erotic kind of pleasure that only they could know. "Now, Rafael, are you ready to cool off? Should I have someone fetch some bathing trunks for you?"

He is certainly persistent in his efforts to get me into the pool, Rafael thought. Perhaps he has a reason; we are not exactly the closest of friends, after all. More like cutthroat competitors, who'd kill to take over the other's lucrative business ventures given the opportunity. "The sun is too hot," Rafael said. "I think I will wait until another day." He glanced at the pool, where he saw lovely bodies in various states of undress; their tanned skins a deep sheen, oily and bubbly now. "And even if I did want to swim, I doubt that anyone by the pool would notice if I wore swim trunks or not." He smiled.

"Oh, they would notice all right," Emanuel said. "They can sense naked skin even in the darkness." He smiled. "Interesting. Like a Pussy Cat or Tom, using whiskers to feel with, find the way. Is that what you mean?"

"More like lions and tigers, using claws and teeth," Emanuel said, lowering his voice, "especially when the scent of blood is heavy in the air." "You are the theatrical one; aren't you?" "Only sometimes. Most of the time, I am only sexy like my movies." He smiled. "Yes, I suppose. But for now, I have other business. I shall anxiously await your call, giving me the exact date and time I can expect your plan to be delivered." Rafael watched Emanuel Sanchez nod, and then turned to snap his fingers at his two bodyguards, whose skin jumped at the sound as they reluctantly tore their eyes away from the pool. "Until later, Emanuel." Rafael said, as he turned his head to nod at Naomi, who smiled reservedly.

The guards stood, one on either side of Rafael, and walked with him toward the door at the far wall. A servant waited there to escort them down below, then outside to the brick driveway, where a chauffeur-driven sleek sedan waited in the hot sun, its black-suited driver looking faint.

Naomi moved to Emanuel's side, and said, "What now?" "I must hurry the preparation of the plan, but first I have a more pleasant idea." "Yes?" she felt his moist hands tighten on her hips. "I would like a little exercise, here on the balcony. Wanna join me?" He laughed. "I am always ready for a little wanna exercise, Emanuel," she whispered coyly. "You know that." Emanuel watched as she bent to step out of the bottom of her bikini, and then without hesitation, he yanked off his own swimsuit and stood stark naked before her. Touching, they playfully teased each other to see who would be the teacher today, who the pupil, while the ones down at the pool crammed their heads and eyes upwards, watching attentively like eager students. Soon, when they had been sufficiently riled, they turned to their own partners, or another's, for some quick relaxation of their own.

Extracted from Escape. Copyrighted (C) 2002 by Robert A. Gallinger.

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