Four Days to Veracruz: A Novel

Four Days to Veracruz: A Novel

by Owen West
Four Days to Veracruz: A Novel

Four Days to Veracruz: A Novel

by Owen West



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With style and nonstop action, Owen West, winner of the Boyd literary award for best military novel of 2001, returns with Four Days to Veracruz -- an adventure-thriller that sizzles with international intrigue, relentless suspense, and straight-from-the-headlines consequences.
Darren Phillips is a presidential aide, a Harvard graduate, a decorated Desert Storm veteran, and now a husband. Kate North, his new wife, is a world-class adventure racer whom he met on an Eco-Challenge endurance team. When an out-of-bounds kayaking excursion on the couple's honeymoon in Mexico lands them on the private beach of a violent drug dealer, their exotic getaway suddenly turns deadly. And Darren and Kate are, staggeringly, fugitives.
They escape to the local police station -- only to enter into a bullet-ridden confrontation with the dealer's federale brother. Broadcasting the carnage and devastation left in the couples' wake, the Mexican government declares them sex-crazed drug couriers and assassins, and the State Department, to avoid an international incident, tags them as murder suspects. But even as they flee, Darren manages to pass a message to his former roommate, teammate, and disgraced Marine corpsman, Gavin Kelly (hero of Sharkman Six, West's critically acclaimed first novel). The couple's only hope for survival hinges on Kelly's ability to interpret their message and to rendezvous with them in Veracruz.
The couple flees desperately on foot across the badlands of the Sierra Madre, unwittingly carrying a piece of the drug cartel's encrypted communication code with them. As they race toward Veracruz, they are pursued by corrupt Mexican police, federales, and bloodhounds. More terrifying, they are pursued by a man known as El Monstruo Carnicero -- "The Monster Butcher" -- a serial killer dispatched from the bloody desert of Juarez by the leader of the Mexican drug cartel. In all their military training, in all their endurance challenges, Darren and Kate have never before been tested as they are now, running for their lives across the wild belly of Mexico.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743255608
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 06/18/2003
Format: eBook
Pages: 384
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Owen West is a former Marine major who served two combat tours in Iraq. He is the author of two novels, including Sharkman Six, which won the Boyd literary award for best military novel, and his work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Playboy, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Acapulco, Mexico

Darren Phillips awoke to a splitting headache and punched the air. He often dreamed of Somali warlords with machetes come to cut him again and he took a moment to orient himself. Still alive. A hotel room. Mexico. Honeymoon. Tequila. He heard the slat of a blind clap open and felt a stab of sunlight.

In the haze, two naked women approached, both blurry and multicolored. He blinked his eyes several times and the shapes merged. She was deeply tan with the creamy white outline of a bikini painted on her body. She stood over him now, about five feet seven, unwanted fat long ago burned off her curvy frame. She was obviously athletic -- he could now see the sheath of muscles that rippled her stomach. She had loose, straight dark hair wrapping an angular face, eyebrows that dipped toward a long nose, giving her a vaguely feline look.

My wife. Oh my God, my wife.

"Good morning, snuggle bunny," said Kate. "Not feeling so well, are we?" She hopped on the bed and straddled him, playfully bouncing him into the hotel bed. Bounce. Bounce.

"Leave me alone," he croaked. "And you promised to stop calling me that." The term of endearment did not seem fitting for a major of Marines, though in secret he enjoyed the moniker. Problem was, Kate liked to joust in public, often to break up a sea of testosterone. She had even dropped the S-bomb in front of the president, who had used it like a humorous cattle prod on his dogmatic aide.

"Sorry, cuddle bear. I'm just trying to roust you. It's past eight. I want to be at the cliffs by ten and I still need to get my morning loving." She planned a full day of rappelling, hiking, and sea kayaking near Acapulco's famous cliffs. Kate Phillips' -- well, she was still mulling Kate North-Phillips, but was waiting for a time to broach it -- idea of a vacation demanded adventure and activity, not lazing around in a beach chair. "Plus, we still have about ten shots left on the camera. I'm not sure if I got your good side."

"I'm never drinking again," moaned Darren. Before that honeymoon night, Darren had been drunk just one time in his life, the night before he flew to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. The night of the Crime Against Nature. After committing the Crime, he had stumbled back to the San Clemente bachelor pad and stared at himself hard in the mirror asking, Who am I? Who am I? before purging himself and treating his shower like a biologic decontamination drill. He detested the fact he had lost some control of his actions, however slight. His best friend and roommate, Gavin Kelly, had laughed at him and said, Welcome to the club, I guess you're as prone to beer goggles as the rest of us. But Darren Phillips didn't make mistakes like that. Not mistakes of judgment. Kelly might laugh at him for being wound too tight, but Kelly was too shortsighted to realize that if you have hundreds of skeletons like the Crime they'll come back to haunt you when you run for office. What if the woman sold the awful tale to the tabloids?

Darren peeked out from behind his pillow, and a flash went off.

"That'll be a good one," Kate laughed, raising the Canon Elph again. "Rated G, but our kids will have to be allowed to see something from the honeymoon."

Out of the recesses of Darren's memory came the blurred images of the couple rolling around naked and drunk, flashes occasionally lighting the room. "Oh no. What did you make me do, Kate?"

"I got you drunk and took advantage of you, that's what I did. The self-timer is a wonderful invention. You'll see the details later. Now let's finish this roll."

Darren suspected that her voracious sex drive had something to do with her athleticism, maybe boosting her estrogen level or feeding some female hormones or something. Whatever. Lately it had been off the charts. He pulled the covers up right against his chin even as she tried to snake her way under them, marveling at the role reversal. The death of sex some of his friends talked about was simply inconceivable in his marriage, he thought happily. "If you want access, you leave the camera behind. I'm too sober now. Let's expose the film. Could ruin my political career."

"Or make it. Look at Pamela Anderson." She tossed the camera on the sofa and peeled back the covers. He sat up to kiss her but she shoved him back down on the bed and leaned over him, her hair falling down and capturing his face, soft and warm.

An hour later they had parked their rental car by the kayak shop at Estero Beach and were carrying their K-2 down to the surf zone. Darren was irritated with his wife; the rental shop had been specific about using the ramp in the protected cove as a launching point and now Kate had convinced him to sprint across the busy street to make an ocean surf passage at Punta Pilares.

Darren believed in rules. He understood the need for conformity and excelled in bureaucracies: at Harvard, in the Marines, at CNN, and then as a Marine again where he currently served in the plum role carrying the nuclear suitcase alongside the president. The true test of a man was how well he performed within guidelines, beating others with determination and merit. If everyone made exceptions or bent those laws, he reasoned, there would be chaos.

"We're supposed to stay in the lagoon," he said.

"We'll be fine," she said as they negotiated the rookery of tourists, mostly college kids on spring break who were already digging into Pacificos. Scorched bodies littered the beach like a battlefield waged among alcohol, the sun, and common sense. To her right, a young woman with a glittering jewel embedded in her belly button removed her string-bikini top and raised her arms above her head, gyrating.

Her breasts must be three times as big as mine, Kate thought as she watched them sway. She twisted her own torso for fun, chuckling at the scant motion under her tight tank top. Too many laps in the pool. Too many paddle strokes.

Kate glanced back at her husband. Typically, he was just staring at the kayak, still grumbling. Sometimes he reminded her of one of those Wall Street types with whom she used to ride the subway, immersed in his own thoughts even as the microworld around him erupted. Still, he didn't have a wandering eye like her father, and most of the time his focus was just wonderful. A magnet.

"I'm not talking about our well-being. I'm talking about rules," Darren said, stepping between a comatose boy's legs.

"They told us where we should go. They didn't tell us where we shouldn't go. Besides, these dumb rules weren't made with us in mind."

Typical, thought Darren. Kate sneaked food into movie theaters, took their dog running on the beach without a leash, rappelled off the side of their apartment building. It was a spot that had been long ago rubbed raw. And a spot that was often sweet for some maddening reason. She is so right for me, he thought. His was a rigid personality that needed to be dragged kicking and screaming toward the boundaries in life that she regularly exploded.

Kate's plan would take them on a leisurely kayak near the cliff divers, then an extended paddle south to a deserted beach surrounded by cliffs where the couple could drink beer, picnic, and get the blood up with a few rappels. And, she hoped, the fulfillment of a beach fantasy to boot. She had stuffed the camera and lunch into the waterproof pack alongside the harnesses and the climbing rope they called the Hell Bitch. The rope was slightly frayed, but she could not part with it and buy a replacement, much to Darren's chagrin. Too much history lugging it around Eco-Challenge courses.

When the kayak was at the edge of the wet sand, Kate slipped into the rear compartment and picked up her paddle, struggling to seal her spray skirt when her Eco-Challenge belt buckle caught on the lip.

"You should take that damn buckle off," said Darren when he leaned over to help. "It could get caught and prevent you from getting out if we roll. I don't know why you wear it with shorts in the first place. Like you're a rodeo chick or something."

"Yee-hah, baby." Kate had been wearing the heavy silver prize whenever she could in the nine months since they finished the Eco-Challenge, style be damned. The buckle was just a finisher's prize, so Darren refused to wear it, but of the seventy-five teams that had started in New Zealand, fewer than fifteen had finished. She was proud of eighth.

"Really. I'm worried," he said.

"I'm fine, babe. If we capsize, we'll just Eskimo-roll back up."

Darren slid into his hole and tested the rudder steering pedals with his Teva sandals. He was waiting, but Kate, behind him, wanted to taste bigger waves like those in the set just rolling in. He could feel her scooting the craft forward.

A big blue plunging wave crested white and slammed shut in a foamy froth not twenty yards from them, hissing as the bubbles burst up across the sand, turning it from white to brown. "Isn't it beautiful? Let's go!" she shouted over the roar.

A small crowd had gathered so that when Darren turned to refuse, he was staring at some college kid with bizarre facial growth in a Britney Spears T-shirt, who said, "You two aren't going out through those nasty waves, are you, dude?"

"Hell yes, we are," Darren said.

"Right on."

Darren pried the kayak forward until it was floating. He churned the water, catching hold of it and powering it past, charged by the sound of the surf zone and the squirt of adrenaline. The undertow snatched the kayak and it gathered speed. Kate joined him on the paddle and the boat shot forward, spray flying past like BBs, then the waves themselves crashing over the bow and knocking Darren back against his seat every few seconds. He bent forward on impact and pinned his paddle flat and parallel to the gunwale so it would not be stripped away by the greedy waves. The couple paddled hard when they were clear of each wave to build momentum for the next plunger, the kayak pitching wildly. The final breaker in the set sucked them up its aquamarine face and spit them out on the ocean side.

"Wahoo!" screamed Kate when they were clear. "That's what I'm talkin' about!"

The Pacific was a deep cobalt blue, and they paddled easily for several hours, taking time to admire the kindred spirits that leapt from the hundred-foot cliffs at La Quebrada before they turned north and skimmed toward the secret beach. Kate hoped that it was deserted because of the severe terrain that protected it. It lay in a long stretch of private property carefully delineated on her map. She didn't tell Darren about the redlines and the warnings, of course.

Their beach was more beautiful than she had hoped: a tiny crescent of sun-bleached sand, not more than fifty yards long, surrounded by towering cliffs that announced their presence by kicking the surf with their coral feet. She could see a crew of sandpipers working the edge of the high water line, scurrying up and down the beach like giant ants. Above them, a precarious set of steep wooden stairs led from the cove up over the cliffs.

"Wow. Isn't it perfect?" Kate asked, leaning back against the plastic seat rest and resting the paddle across the raised oval lip of her compartment. Brine from the sea and her body dripped off her nose. "Wouldn't it be great to own a property like this? Build a house up on top of that cliff? Just work out, have sex, and listen to the ocean?"

"Yeah, but I get the feeling that a Marine and a full-time adventure athlete might not be able to afford it." Darren had retired from endurance racing after Eco-Challenge New Zealand to concentrate on his military career. His new assignment to the White House didn't allow for a life, let alone hobbies that demanded three-hour daily workouts. If he was going to transition into a high government office, his spare minutes would have to be spent networking, not riding some mountain bike into the ground the way Kate seemed to do every week.

Kate had been anointed the ambassador for the fledgling sport of adventure racing. She used her notoriety to found an adventure academy for girls called You Go Girl! where she taught them what self-esteem tasted like by encouraging them to push themselves in the outdoors. She had been featured in most of the fitness magazines, including a naked shot in Sports Illustrated. Well, not really naked, she had laughed with her grumpy husband, pointing out the gray clay that covered her as she ran with a full pack, chased by a camel.

"We own the beach today, babe. And I've got plans for it that I think you'll like."

Darren had heard the fantasy several times. He paddled a little harder toward shore.

The couple pulled the kayak past the high-water mark and stretched their towels for a picnic. Kate stuck her feet into the soft sand and happily kneaded it with her toes. The sun broke free of the cliff and the sand sparkled and winked at them like glitter painted by the swiftly retreating shadow. The water turned turquoise and dazzled them.

"What'd I tell you, baby?" she said.

"You were right. It's unbelievable."

"I'm just getting warmed up." She positioned a Corona against a log, popped her hand down hard against the cap, and extended the foaming beer to her husband.

"Where'd you learn that?" he asked.


"And the salient difference between Princeton and Harvard is revealed. No wonder I pinned every tiger I ever wrestled." Kate tossed him the Corona and he continued, "No mas. My head is killing me, babe. No more alcohol for me ever."

"You want to cure that hangover? Drink it and see what happens."

Darren didn't think he liked the taste of beer, but in a few seconds that changed. It was really goddamn good. Careful, he thought, this is how the weak are taken prisoner.

Kate pulled off her tank top and stepped out of her shorts, then reached back and untied her silver bikini top. Darren smiled dumbly.

She smiled at him and pursed her lips, swaying her hips in a hula motion, pushing her bottoms slowly down past her strong thighs and stepping out of them. She flicked them with her right foot -- still missing the big toenail she lost during the last race -- and Darren caught them before they smacked his face. She tossed a tube of suntan lotion at her husband and lay down on her stomach. "Back rub," she said.

Darren glanced up around the cliffs and then back at his bride. I am truly a lucky man, he thought. He knelt beside her and squeezed the tube, lathering her firm shoulders and knotted back, kneading her neck and grinding his fingers into the dense muscles of her lats. Her build did not ruin, but accentuated her curves. "Ummmm," she hummed happily. "That's a good boy."

He was not used to alcohol and on an empty stomach he felt a buzzing warmth. When he cupped his hands and stroked her hamstrings and calves he had the urge to drink a second beer. And a much, much stronger urge, as well. She started a slow hum and the vibration in his hands felt like a purring cat. When he reached her ankles, Kate spun around and stretched her arms behind her head, sighed slowly, almost a coo, and arched her back. Her breasts and pelvis were vanilla except for her nipples and the slick black rectangle of hair. "Front," she said simply, bringing her hand up to her temple to block the peeping sun. "And get those clothes off."

"You better fix that salute when I get back, Marine."

Darren walked over to the pack and grabbed another Corona, then glanced up at the cliffs suspiciously -- only blinding sun, though -- and took off his clothes. He rubbed the bottle across his neck and then did the same to her, drinking some more now, pouring some in the belly button well of her flat stomach, licking it off, pouring it across her breasts, and watching her nipples grow and tighten, finishing the beer and tossing the bottle up the beach, happy and buzzed and excited, straddling her chest and dripping the lotion down on her, massaging her breasts even as she massaged him with those soft, wet hands and pulled him in tight, surrounded.

"You're so beautiful," he said.

"I want to do this in the water," she whispered. Her voice was husky and he carried her into the Pacific as quickly as he could, spooking three brown pelicans that flapped their wings until they had found their invisible cushion of air.

The water was cool. He was standing waist-deep when she wrapped her arms and legs around him and pressed herself down.

An alien voice boomed from the beach. "Hola! Qué hace usted? Usted sabe que esto es la propiedad privada!"

Kate pushed down on Darren's shoulders and hopped off him with a startled squeal. She hid behind her husband and peeked at the shore.

Three men were standing next to the kayak. Two of them wore white slacks and jackets like Miami Vice holdouts, and the third -- an enormous fat man with a ponytail and square sunglasses like her grandmother wore -- was dressed in an ugly purple Hawaiian shirt and long khaki shorts that were stretched wide by his tree-trunk legs.

"Usted rompe la ley, mis amigos. Usted ensució. La natación desnuda no se permite. Entrar ilegalmente tampoco!"

"What'd they say?" asked Darren, once again fuming at the fact his mother had pushed him into French at prep school, instead of Spanish.

"They say we're trespassing on private property. And that skinny-dipping is illegal. And that you littered on the beach with the bottle." Kate backed up until the ocean was deep enough to cover her breasts, then stepped aside of Darren and shouted, "Arrepentido, nosotros no supimos. Nosotros no saldremos las botellas. Hacemos nunca sucio este lugar hermoso."

The fat man said something and the two men in jackets laughed. "Bien entonces, sale del agua y me lo explica a mí!" the fat man shouted. Kate could see the tattered triangle of sweat that darkened his shirt and matted his chest hair. His tongue was hanging out the same way her black Labrador Neptune's did after their long runs.

Kate pressed into Darren's back and whispered, "They want us up there, babe. You're probably going to have to pay them off."

"Wait one."

She pushed him forward. "Go."

He looked at her and nodded toward his waist. "I can't right now, baby, I've still got to calm down a little. He's still a tad excited."

Kate laughed, looked down at the water, and said in a baby voice, "Don't worry, little guy. Mommy will take care of you real soon." She laughed again and shouted to the men.

Darren began to wade forward. "How much do you think this will cost us?"

"I'm sure you'll figure out a way to pay the minimum," she said.

She watched her husband emerge from the Pacific feeling comfortable and unafraid. The ocean revealed him as he walked, his muscled form tapering sharply from his wide shoulders to his waist, eventually unveiling the big scar on his knee from the bullet that shattered his kneecap in Kuwait. He kept himself in superb shape, well-muscled but not bulky. "Lean enough to keep my jab speedy," she once heard him tell Kelly during one of their ridiculous Macho Marine Talks, "but strong enough to cave in a man's face." At six feet, Darren wasn't bigger than the men on the beach, but you couldn't see that in his confident approach, nakedness notwithstanding. She was sure the men would give a warning and send them on their way. She'd have to find another beach.

To lighten the mood, she shouted, "Usted es agradable a mi esposo o él lo quizás golpee con su herramienta masiva!"

The men in front of Darren broke into wild laughter. When he neared, they pointed at his groin and shouted back to Kate in Spanish, enjoying an in-joke. The chuckling fat man held his great sweaty belly as if worried it might burst. Darren knew the joke was made at his expense. His stiff nature made him an easy target for people with keen senses of humor like Kate and his buddy Kelly, so he was used to it. In fact, some part of him enjoyed the ribbing.

Darren smiled and turned back to face his wife. "What'd you tell them?"

The water was shoulder-high on his wife and her long hair was flopped back flat behind her head. She looked so beautiful. It made him nervous, given present company.

"Just that you'd do whatever they told you," she said.

Yeah, right, Darren thought.

Gil Saiz looked at the black man walking toward him and laughed again. The man's penis was shriveled and small, certainly not the "massive tool" that might flog as the lady said. It was a funny warning and Gil immediately warmed to the woman in the water. She was good-looking and had some American Indian traits, he thought, what with her severe eyebrows and jet-black hair. But even her deep tan couldn't hide her European roots. Tall and fair. Maybe Irish or Scandinavian years back but American now, a mixed breed like most of the mutts up there.

And the impurity was going to get worse. Here she was, naked, with a negro. A hot white woman like that with a black! It was the same unholy rap fantasy that these fucking college kids shoved in his face every spring when they took over the clubs, all the white kids dancing to spoken nonsense and acting black, baseball caps backward and pants pulled down. Confused gringos! Bad influences, too, beaming their fucking MTV violent rap crap into his house by satellite television when his son was home alone.

Still, Gil hoped the Jackrabbit might let the girl go. He glanced at her and she was smiling. Dread flooded him -- he had been in similar positions too often. This woman was too striking to be ignored by Jackrabbit. Her smile would be gone soon. Gil had worked as the Jackrabbit's bodyguard for seven years, and though the soldiering never bothered him -- that was business -- he felt a weighty guilt when it came to all of the women who had come in contact with his equally weighty boss.

The black man came up to the three of them gesturing with his hands apologetically, speaking English like all of the spoiled tourists. It's Spanish down here, you arrogant fuck, thought Gil. At least the girl speaks it.

The black put on his shorts to cover at least part of his ugliness, pulled out a wallet, and raised his eyebrows, extending a ten-dollar bill. Dollars, not pesos.

"This son of a bitch is trying to bribe me?" said the Jackrabbit. "With ten dollars? I could buy his woman from him right now. Get her up here. I want to see her tits."

Gil nodded his understanding. He slapped the wallet from the man's hand and shoved him back roughly. The black stumbled back and came up in a crouch. He has good balance, thought Gil. And no panic yet.

Gil was a big man, whose job demanded he be comfortable in a fight, relaxed enough to think even while absorbing a lucky blow. He saw in the American's face some of the same. The black looked like some little fighting dog, black eyes moving across the Jackrabbit and his fellow bodyguard, Juan, then back to Gil. He's shifty, thought Gil. He's not afraid for himself, but he's afraid for his woman.

"Come out of the water now, girl," shouted Gil in Spanish. "Come out and get your clothes. My boss wants to speak to you."

"What'd he say, Kate?" Darren asked calmly. Unlike most of his generation, Darren Phillips understood real violence, both its consequences and its requirements.

"He wants me to come out of the water."

"You stay put."

Darren glared at the men and shook his head. He recognized that the fattest man wearing the shorts was in charge, and turned to him, gesturing apologetically and shaking his head. He tried to explain. "Sir. I am sorry..."

The Jackrabbit recoiled as if Darren had belched. "Get this nigger out of my face."

Gil reached for the black man, missed his elbow but snared his wrist and yanked him backward, tripping him onto the sand. He moved in for a light kick to get the girl's attention, but the black swiveled around quickly and was on his feet, fists balled. Fast!

"Tell them we don't want trouble!" Darren screamed.

Darren had been an amateur pugilist in his formative years and was now a professional warrior. He had assiduously studied all manner of combat, and long ago concluded that martial conflict was not art but science with a splash of chaos. There was nothing artistic about violence.

He was stressed and he was glad for it. That meant that neurons from the cerebral cortex had already triggered the autonomic nervous system, preparing his body for action. Adrenaline prepares the body for the flight, noradrenaline prepares for the fight. In fewer than five seconds his skeletal muscles strengthened, his blood-clotting time decreased, his heart rate skyrocketed, his bladder relaxed, and his mental activity increased.

Now calm down, Darren thought, and take control.

He heard Kate yelling in Spanish. The biggest man in the white jacket moved in again. "Stay back," said Darren, but the man's hand was moving, so he flung the sand he was clenching into the man's eyes and blocked the punch, returning a sharp jab that he pulled. Could have been much worse, amigo. His left fist returned to its defensive position. "Stop this! We'll leave!"

Gil went to his knees, holding his head and thinking that the man must have used a blackjack. He swore loudly and rubbed his fingers across his bumpy eyelids. It felt like crushed glass. The pain was hot and his neck tingled.

When Darren turned to face the other two men he saw the pistols, both automatics and large caliber, one of them silver and reflecting the sun.

The second jacketed bodyguard in his white suit put his pistol in Darren's face. 9-mm Beretta. Thumb safety. Won't fire if the barrel's depressed. Darren considered a grab, but when he heard Kate scream he raised his hands. Too late now.

Miami Vice punched him in the stomach and seemed to be trying to drill the barrel of the gun into his ear canal. "Si usted mueve otra vez y yo fucking lo mata cabrón!" he screamed. Darren allowed the man to pull his hands behind him and felt the sharp squeeze as flex-cuffs bound his hands tightly. Darren tried to engorge his wrists by clenching, but the man continued to yank even as the plastic handcuffs broke the skin. Darren felt blood trickle past his thumbs.

Juan pulled Darren to his feet by yanking his hands up past his shoulder blades. Darren screamed and twisted around in time to catch Gil's fist with his face. He crumpled down onto the sharp volcanic coral. A black spike drilled into his pectoral, but there was plenty of meat to keep it from penetrating more than a centimeter. His cheek was submerged in a tiny tide pool and he could taste brine with the blood.

"Yo no hecho con usted," Gil said. He stepped on Darren's lower back, careful to avoid scuffing his polish on the coral.

Darren didn't speak the language, but he understood the dark underbelly of power and domination, the evil that men do. He twisted his head when he heard Kate coming out of the water, naked and vulnerable. He didn't want Kate to be within miles when men reverted to their truculent natures, let alone having her as their sole focus ten meters away on a deserted beach. He kicked Gil lightly, just to get his attention, and said, "Hey! You touch her and I'll fucking kill you."

Gil slid his shoe up until it rested on Darren's neck, then twisted his shoe back and forth leisurely before turning his attention back to the naked woman. He didn't like to ogle, but she was worth the twinge of shame. Her thighs were big for a trim girl, and they hardened beneath her tanned skin each time she placed weight on a leg.

"Stop!" Kate shouted in Spanish when she ran up. "Here I am. You are happy now?"

"He's making it bad for you," said the Jackrabbit.

Jackrabbit had never seen a woman with so many muscles, a mash of wicked curves. And still somehow she is feminine, he thought. And long! Her hips were wide and full but not fat. Nice dark skin that yielded to a pure cocaine-white bikini line. He stared at the black rectangle of pubic hair like it was a hundred-dollar bill or a pile of freshly cut product or a newly oiled pistol -- impossible to take his eyes away.

Jackrabbit's extremities flooded with anticipation. He considered sending Gil and Juan to finish off the nigger so he could take her right there on the beach. Scream, baby!

"We don't want a problem," the girl told him.

He barely heard; he was watching the muscles between her hips. "Tell him to calm down so we can have a discussion. This fighting with police makes it worse. You have enough trouble."

"Okay. Relax. Relax."

Kate walked over to the pack and grabbed her shorts and bikini. "You boys get a good look or do you want another second or two?" She pulled the bikini bottoms up over her hips, followed by her shorts, and flipped the bikini top over her head. She reached into her bag for her scrunchie and tied her hair in a ponytail.

Darren was struggling to get his footing under Gil's shiny white leather shoe. Kate stroked his face. "Darren, just let me handle them. Calm down. They're police. People have seen me naked before, you know."

She smiled weakly, but Darren was in no mood for levity. This car was rolling downhill without brakes. "Kate, I want you to get in the kayak and get out of here. Are you listening? Get the hell out of here. I'll take care of myself. They are not police."

"You two talk too much," Jackrabbit interrupted. "Did he say he was going to be a good listener now?"

Kate stood defiant with her hands on her hips. "Please, sir. This is my honeymoon and we wanted to...see the beach. Forgive us. Let us get back in the boat and we'll go."

Jackrabbit laughed and his henchmen joined in a second later out of habit, though Gil felt increasingly guilty, especially when he heard it was the woman's honeymoon. He had never participated in the games with the women and the Jackrabbit accepted this. He would stay in the guesthouse while he and Juan delved.

"No, it's not that simple, girl," said the Jackrabbit. "We have to take you back for some questions. Then we let you go."

Copyright © 2003 by Owen West

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