It was nine fifteen in the evening as the Eurocopter EC 155 flew north over the dark waters of the Caribbean, the island of Martinique an hour behind and its destination only a minute ahead. The pilot glanced over at the very important attache case in the empty copilot seat then back to the horizon, where she made subtle adjustments to her course to account for the crosswind. Her name was Lux Vonde, and she was a former Navy pilot and had done this particular flight two times a day, five days a week for the last six months, so she wasn’t the least bit nervous about doing it alone, though she was used to having a full compliment of VIP passengers. Tonight, however, her only company was the case, which was to be delivered to her employer, Adrien Babineux, who was the president of the oddly named, Soft Taco Island.

She would be flying directly to the world famous casino, but the first visible landmark was the presidential palace. It resided on the southernmost tip of the island and was a glowing white beacon of light in the darkness below. Beyond it, she passed over a vast expanse of untamed jungle until the flashing lights of the helipad atop the casino came into view. She banked right and came down in a clockwise circle, adjusting the collective until leveling out and dropping down the final few feet to land perfectly in the center of the pad. She shut down the engines and flight systems then picked up the case and stepped down from the helicopter, nodding at the ground crew who were going to prepare it for its return flight to Martinique—a flight that one of her fellow pilots would be taking over. She reached the elevator, stepped inside, and hit the button for the bottom floor. The doors slid closed, and she took a moment to calm her nerves.

This mission had been six months in the making—six long months of determined effort, only to have it all unexpectedly come to a head tonight with the arrival of the attache case. She had picked it up from a courier in Martinique and was supposed to deliver it directly to President Babineux in his private office, but she had other plans. Babineux might have been her immediate boss, but her real employer resided about two thousand miles away in Langley Virginia, as Lux was, in actuality, a deep cover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. The elevator dinged as it reached the bottom floor, and she stepped out, casually scanning all the people around her as she made her way through the crowded casino. The security men stood ever watchful on the periphery, none of them giving her so much as a second glance. She reached the entrance to a private corridor and nodded at the sentry who waved her through as he had on every other occasion. She was a trusted employee and, as such, enjoyed fairly unrestricted access to the majority of the island. Babineux’s office was through the set of double doors at the end of the hallway, but her meeting was still about thirty minutes away, and, having just gotten off a flight, she needed to freshen up. That meant a detour into the ladies room.

This particular bathroom, as well as the mens on the other side of the hall, was for executive staff members and included a dressing room, showers, and even a lounge. After stepping inside, she went straight to the second stall, the only one that had a window. She did indeed need to pee, but when she was done she proceeded to open the window and climb out onto the ledge that ran along the side of the building. With the case in hand, she set off, eventually passing by Babineux’s office windows, where she glanced inside. The room was empty, as he had yet to arrive, but just thinking about him filled her with a sense of urgency, and she quickened her pace. She reached the back of the building and lowered herself onto one of the dumpsters before dropping down into the alley that ran behind the casino. She continued walking, glancing at her watch to see that she was right on schedule. She’d practiced this route on several occasions, always keeping careful track of her times so that it would be perfect if she needed to make an impromptu escape from the island. She rounded a corner and came to the casino’s delivery ramp and there was her friend, waiting in the little delivery truck exactly as he’d promised.

“Hello, John Parker,” she said, ever happy to see him.

John Parker was a fit, good looking man with dark skin and short well-kept dreadlocks common to the people of the Caribbean.

“Hello, my darling. Just sit back, and I’ll have you at your hotel in no time.”

She held the case on her lap as they sped along through the warm Caribbean night, passing the various landmarks that had become a part of her daily life. The casino was now well behind, but the rum distillery was just coming into view, crowded as usual with tourists starting the night at the free tasting room. Just beyond it on the right was the faux lagoon and tiki bar, while off to the left was the walking path and main beach, and, all around, people were enjoying themselves, completely oblivious to the dark and deadly secrets lurking beneath the surface of this tropical paradise. A little over a minute later, John Parker pulled the little jeep up to the front entrance of Lux’s hotel, and she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, the gesture making him smile.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“To thank you. You’ve been a big help,” she said.

“Not a problem, and if you see Bridgette, tell her I’m free tomorrow if she wants to do some snorkeling.”

Bridgette was Lux’s younger sister, and she had come to visit for a week, but enjoyed island life so much fun that she decided to stay on indefinitely. It wasn’t a good idea to have a family member along on a covert operation, but it did have the unintended side effect of adding some legitimacy to her cover.

“I will,” she lied.

John Parker was a good man and deserved to know the truth, but she was in the business of keeping secrets, and that meant lying to her only real friend on the island. She gave a final wave as he pulled away, then she turned and walked into the entrance of her hotel. As usual, it was crowded with people from all over the world, and a cacophony of foreign accents filled the air as she approached the elevator. While she waited, she instinctively had a look around the lobby and crossed eyes with a man she didn’t recognize, and he held her gaze a little longer than was comfortable. It was probably nothing more than attraction, but something in the back of her mind made her pause for thought. As a spy she learned to trust her instincts, and, right now, her instincts were telling her to proceed with caution. She stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for her floor. The doors closed, and she found her anxiety growing exponentially with each second her stop grew closer. The elevator came to rest, and, when the doors opened, she paused, deciding at the last second not to exit. A security man appeared at the end of the hallway, and, upon seeing her, called out as he started walking in her direction.

“Stay where you are!” he said, as he drew his pistol and began running towards the elevator.

Something had gone seriously wrong, and, now, she needed to come up with an alternative plan, although that would necessitate time—something she didn’t have at the moment. She hit the button for one of the lower floors, but the doors remained open, making her wonder if the man would make it before they closed. In a panic, she reached over and pressed the close door button, unaware that it was nothing more than a cruel psychological ploy to appease type A personalities. In truth, that button only worked when a key was inserted to activate its functionality, so, as hard and frantically as she pressed it, nothing would happen until the elevator’s preprogrammed timing came into play. The doors finally started to slide shut, but she could see the man was close enough that he’d likely make it in time. That left her only one alternative. She waited until he was only a step away then adjusted her stance and threw a kick through the opening, landing it in the center of the man’s chest. He wasn’t expecting the blow, and it doubled him over, allowing her to slip her leg back inside with only inches to spare as the doors closed. The elevator started moving, and she used the time to form a plan that would entail achieving two primary goals. The first was to hide the case, while the second would be to get her sister off the island. Both would be challenging, but the first was critical to her mission.

The elevator came to a stop, and the doors opened, but, before she left, she hit several buttons in the hopes that it would make it harder for security to figure out where she had exited. She stepped out into the hallway, entered the stairwell, and headed down to the ground floor. Arriving at the bottom, she opened the door only a tiny crack to see that there was a security man in the hallway standing guard only a short distance from Bridgette’s room. She slipped back into the stairwell and headed for the other door that allowed direct access out onto the resort grounds. She went out into the night air and tried to think about where in the hell she was going to hide the case. She could bury it in the jungle, but that would be time consuming, especially without a shovel. She needed something that was closer and faster. The deep thrumming sound of dance music was spilling out of the nightclub on the other side of the building, and she found herself smiling as she realized that, sometimes, hiding something in plain sight was the best option.

She set off for the nightclub, ever watchful for island security, but, thankfully, the number of people milling about allowed her to easily blend in with the crowd. As she neared the entrance she could see the doorman screening everyone entering the club, though his goal didn’t appear to be looking for potential dangers, but rather to enjoy the parade of flesh. A group of drunken women, likely a bridal shower, were in line, and she managed to join their entourage, allowing her to slip easily past security with her attache case. Three minutes later, she was on her way out, the case now safely hidden and her mission, at least temporarily, accomplished.

Now, it was time to deal with Bridgette. She walked to the other side of the hotel and entered the same stairwell, taking a minute to peek through the other door and see if the island security man was still outside her sister’s room. He was there, vigilantly standing guard, which meant she needed to get creative if she was going to reach Bridgette. The answer was actually quite simple, and she found herself smiling as she headed back up the stairs to the second floor. Upon arriving, she walked along the hallway and looked at the room numbers until she came to number two-forty-two. Bridgette was in one-forty-two, so it stood to reason this room would be directly above. Now, all she had to do was get inside. She was versed in all manner of techniques to bypass locks, but electronic ones were tricky because there wasn’t physical access to the tumblers. The other more obvious problem was the possibility that the room might be occupied, in which case this would come down to some clever subterfuge. She knocked on the door, and, a moment later, it opened to reveal a pleasant looking, middle aged man, likely northern European judging by his light blue eyes and blond hair. He looked rather surprised to see his guest and smiled bashfully.

“Hello, how can I help you?” he asked, in accented English that revealed he was indeed from Northern Europe, specifically, one of the Scandinavian countries.

“I’m here to give you your massage.”

“Oh, but I didn’t order one.”

“It’s complimentary. A little thank you from the resort.”

“Well, OK then,” he said, stepping aside and motioning for her to come into his room.

He took a second to eye the woman, probably realizing she didn’t exactly look like a typical masseuse in her grey short skirt and fitted black shirt. Still, she was remarkably beautiful, and he found himself excited about the prospect of her giving him a massage.

“Where would you like to do it?” he asked, enthusiastically.

“The couch would work, but I think the bedroom would be more comfortable.”

“Whatever you think,” he said, his face flushing with color.

“Excellent, now why don’t you take a shower, then make yourself at home on the bed, and I’ll come in and begin once you’re ready.”

“Perfect!” the man said, as he left the room.

Once he was gone, she went out onto the deck and looked down to see that she was directly over her sister’s room, but there was a small problem—namely, another man standing guard just beyond the patio. Fortunately, he was looking away from the building, so success would depend on her ability to pull this off as quietly as possible. She stepped over the railing and carefully lowered herself down until she was hanging from the upper balcony. It was at least another five feet to the ground, and any kind of sound would alert the guard, which meant calling upon both her Agency training and her youth spent in gymnastics. She let go with her hands and dropped, but, the minute she landed, she absorbed the impact by bending her knees and rolling off to the side, a feat not easily accomplished in a short skirt. She managed to pull it off without a sound or any major injury or wardrobe malfunction then took a second to dust herself off and adjust her clothing. With everything back in place, she stepped into her sister’s room to find her sitting at the nearby vanity, wearing a lovely evening dress as she applied the finishing touches to her eye makeup.

“Bridgette, I need to talk to you!” she said.

Bridgette was so startled by the unplanned incursion that she nearly applied mascara to the entirety of her forehead.

“Holy shit! Where the hell did you come from?” Bridgette asked, looking surprised.

“The patio, obviously.”

“Why the hell didn’t you come through the front door like a normal person?”

“Because there’s an island security man guarding it.”

“Excuse me?” Bridgette asked, looking particularly confused.

“Island security is looking for me, but I don’t have time to explain everything right now. What I can say is that you have to pack your things and leave the island on tonight’s final flight to Martinique.”

“Why?”

“I’m in some serious trouble.”

“What did you do?”

“It’s better if you don’t know.”

“Fine, then, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Bridgette, we don’t have time for this. You need to leave.”

“Then tell me what’s going on.”

She decided to keep her answer vague.

“I took something.”

“So, give it back,” Bridgette responded.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Then explain it to me!”

Bridgette could be particularly stubborn but also particularly perceptive and would know right away if she were lying.

“OK, here it is. I work for the CIA.”

“You’re a spy? But—I thought you were a pilot.”

“I’m both, and the thing I took tonight is critical to the success of my mission.”

“What the hell is it?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It matters if it’s still on your person and they take it back.”

“Don’t worry, it’s cleverly hidden where they won’t find it.”

Bridgette looked confused as she tried to process her sister’s unexpected news.

“But, what happens if they capture you?”

“I’m not sure, and they might also come after you, which is why you need to leave.”

“So, why don’t you come with me?”

“I’d never get past security.”

Bridgette thought for a moment.

“Assuming I get off the island—what happens after that? Do I contact the CIA and tell them what happened?”

“No, they already know something went wrong.”

“So, they’ll send help.”

“No, they’ll maintain plausible deniability.”

“So, you’re just going to stay here and get arrested? That’s ridiculous! Don’t you have some kind of escape plan?”

“Well, if things had gone the way they were supposed to, I would be on a boat on my way to rendezvous with a Navy cruiser.”

“Wait a minute! You were going to leave me here?”

“No, I was obviously going to take you with me.”

“So, why not get on the boat, now?”

“It’s gone. I already missed the meeting time, and they had strict orders to leave and send an alert to my superiors in the event anything went wrong. That’s how I know the Agency is aware of my situation.”

The room grew quiet as Bridgette tried to come to terms with her sister’s predicament.

“OK, I’ll leave, but not until you come up with some kind of plan to get yourself off this island as well.”

“There isn’t time.”

“What about your husband for God’s sake? Why can’t he help?”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing he can do in this situation.”

“Well, what about someone else at the CIA or, perhaps, even an old military friend? Come on! Think! There must be someone out there who can help!”

That was the million dollar question, and one she didn’t know how to answer. She needed time to think this through, but she was in panic mode, and the adrenaline coursing through her body was only making it harder to consider her options. Then, when she thought all hope was lost, the perfect person came to mind.

“Finn, I need you to find Tag Finn. He’s the only person in the world who could get me out of this mess.”

“How do you know he’ll help?”

“Because that’s the kind of guy he is—plus, he owes me a favor.”

“OK, but who is he, and how do I find him?”

Lux smiled and got a faraway look in her eyes.

“He’s probably the most unique and capable man you’ll ever meet.”

“Is he an ex-boyfriend?”

“More or less.”

“Well, I’d say the look in your eyes says it was a lot more serious than more or less.”

“That doesn’t matter right now, but what does matter is that you find him. The last I heard, he was living in Northern California in a little town called Sausalito, where he’s supposedly become some kind of private investigator.”

That little piece of information was not actually heard but, rather, discovered only a month ago when her forth glass of Pinot Noir brought on a moment of nostalgic reminiscing that led to some cyberstalking of her former love. After a quick search on Google, she was combing Facebook, Instagram, and his personal website for pictures and details of his current life.

“Private investigator? What you really need is a real life James Bond.”

“Don’t worry, Finn was in the Special Forces and the CIA, so he’s the closest thing in real life we’re going to find.”

“OK, got it. Tag Finn, private investigator in Sausalito.”

“Oh—one more thing,” Lux said, looking a little troubled as she chewed on her lower lip.

“What?” Bridgette asked.

“Don’t tell him I’m married.”

“Well, then it was definitely a lot more serious than more or less.”

“Whatever, now pack and get ready. The final flight to Martinique leaves in less than an hour.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll evade capture as long as I can, but we’re on an island, so they’ll eventually find me.”

“Then shouldn’t you tell me where you hid this thing you stole?”

“Absolutely not. If they caught you, it would only give them a reason to torture you until you revealed its location. Believe me, you’re a lot safer not knowing anything.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

Bridgette started throwing her various items into her suitcase until she had her things packed and ready to go.

“OK, I’m ready. Are we leaving via the back patio?”

“No, there’s a security guard out there as well, so that way is useless unless you can climb like a monkey and feel like giving the guy in room two-forty-two a massage.”

“I’m going to have to say no to both of those options.”

“Yeah, which means we need a distraction, so we can leave via the front door,” she said, as she picked up the phone and called the hotel’s front desk.

“Hello, this is room one-forty-two, and I’d like to report a fire.”

“Excuse me, madam, did you say fire?”

“Yes, the blowdryer shorted out and started a fire in the bathroom, and the flames seem to be growing quite rapidly.”

“I’ll alert the island fire department and emergency services immediately!”

“Thank you.”

Lux hung up and Bridgette looked at her curiously.

“Isn’t your little distraction going to fail when they arrive and find out there isn’t actually a fire?”

“No, because we’re going to make one. Now, where is your cigarette lighter?” she asked, as she looked around the room.

“I don’t have one. I quit smoking, remember?”

“Where is it, Bridgette?” she asked, in a more assertive tone.

“Fine, but just so you know, I only keep it around to light candles,” Bridgette said, as she rolled her eyes and went to her purse.

Lux took the lighter from her sister then lit the edge of a hand towel and placed it in the sink. With the flames growing ever higher, she tossed the blowdryer in the sink and wafted the smoke towards the detector on the ceiling until the little device went off, and its shrill siren filled the air.

“Now what? Die of smoke inhalation?” Bridgette asked.

“No, we wait until they arrive and then slip out while they deal with the fire.”

Smoke was filling the room, but, thankfully, about thirty-seconds later there was a knock at the door, and Bridgette opened it to allow an entire team of fire and emergency personnel to come rushing in—the security guard who had been in the hall leading the way. In the ensuing chaos, Lux and Bridgette slipped out of the room and exited the building to follow the paved pathway around to the front of the hotel. There were two fire trucks parked directly in front, and just beyond them was one of the island’s little three-seat shuttles waiting at the curb.

“Perfect! You can take the shuttle to the casino and catch the last helicopter flight to Martinique.”

Lux helped Bridgette place her things on the luggage rack, then the two sisters turned to regard each other.

“Lux! I really don’t want to leave you here.”

“You have to. You’re my only hope.”

Bridgette’s eyes filled with tears as she hugged her sister.

“Stay safe,” she said.

“I will,” Lux responded.

“It’s time to go, madam,” the driver said.

Bridgette took a seat on the vehicle, and, as it began driving away from the hotel, she heard some kind of commotion and turned back to see a contingent of security men surrounding her sister. Lux appeared unfazed, however, and kept her steely gaze on Bridgette, mouthing the words—find Tag Finn.