SOFT TACO ISLAND

Chapter 1 Prologue: TROUBLE IN PARADISE


It was nine fifteen in the evening as the Eurocopter EC 155 flew north over the dark waters of the Caribbean, with the island of Martinique an hour behind and its destination only a minute ahead. The person at the controls, a former Navy pilot named Lux Vonde, glanced over at the very important attache case in the empty copilot seat and felt her pulse quicken as she contemplated the fact that it’s contents would determine the fate of thousands of innocent lives. The helicopter bucked slightly sideways, and she turned her attention back to the horizon and made subtle adjustments to her course to account for the crosswind. It was always a little disconcerting to fly over the ocean at night, but she wasn’t the least bit nervous, as she had done this particular flight two times a day and five days a week for the last six months. Of course, she usually had a full compliment of VIP passengers, but tonight her only company was the case, which was to be delivered to her employer, a man named 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 and casually scanned all the people around her as she made her way through the crowded casino. The security men stood ever watchful on the periphery, and none of them gave 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 and glanced 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 to find 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 and passed 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, and it was crowded as usual with tourists starting the night at the free tasting room. Just beyond it on the right was the faux lagoon and the tiki bar, while off to the left was the walking path as well as the 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 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 locked 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, where she was wearing a lovely evening dress and applying 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 an elite special operations unit 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.



Chapter 2: LIVING THE DREAM


Sausalito, California—three days later.


It was eight fifteen in the morning as I sat, book in hand, with a cup of coffee that I’d just reheated in the microwave. I was with the only friend who liked taking shit more than giving it and had no problem kissing my ass. That friend was my toilet. It wasn’t the most expensive piece of porcelain in the world, and it didn’t heat up, talk, or clean my backside with soothing hot water like those fancy Japanese models. Instead, it was white, comfortable, modern, and had one of those spring-loaded seats that floated down slowly rather than crash onto the bowl. I would have decorated it with racing stripes, but I didn’t want to do anything that might speed up the special time we spent together. A little cold at first, its contoured plastic seat quickly warmed up to my body temperature as I put down my cup, picked up my book, and let the end of the digestive cycle begin. My bathroom was my personal kingdom, the toilet my throne, and within these four walls I could relax, read, and reflect on life.

I stared at the page of my latest adventure novel, but the words could find no purchase, as my thoughts kept returning to the events of the previous evening. I had spent it working on my latest and last paying job, which entailed being perched on an old jungle gym in the park just across from the window where my two subjects were enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner consisting of pasta, salad, and red wine. The woman’s name was Jessica Green. She was beautiful, just under thirty, a little over five foot eight, and worked hard to keep her figure flawless by spending two hours a day in the area’s most exclusive gym. Her husband Steven was forty-eight, almost twenty years her senior, but he was still in good shape in spite of his hectic work schedule as a full partner at a well-known law firm in San Francisco. They were the perfect couple and seemed to have it all: wealth, looks, and an idyllic life in beautiful Marin County.

     The problem, however, was that the guy sitting across from her at the moment wasn’t her husband. The man in question was Tony Strauss, her personal trainer and likely the reason she spent so much time at the gym. The two had been hooking up for at least as long as I had been watching them, which was a little over two weeks. Her husband, my client, was in Los Angeles on a business trip, which left her especially free to meet up with Tony, or as I called him—Tarzan. That was his official nickname because his musculature and height, combined with his propensity for animal print undergarments, would make him an ideal candidate for a life in the jungle. My exciting job at the moment was to compile video and picture evidence of their adulterous activities, so that Steven could use it against her when he served her with divorce papers the following week.

     So, there I sat, outside Tarzan’s house in the quiet Sausalito night, with my ass frozen to the cold metal bars of the jungle gym while above me the fog stretched over the hill like a bad combover. I was taking the last sip of my lukewarm latte when I heard a sound off to my right and turned to see a family of raccoons ravaging the park’s only trashcan. One of the little ones had found a used diaper and was tearing into it enthusiastically. I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the youngster, as I had inadvertently torn into plenty of shit burritos over the years—this case being one of them. Live and learn, I suppose that’s all we can do in this life. I turned my attention back to Jessica and Tony, who were still enjoying their wonderful evening together on the other side of the glass, and I had to wonder what the hell I was doing out here.

     The longer I worked the case, the less I liked it—or my client for that matter. He was kind of a dick when we first met, but now I realized he resided about three inches around the corner and was, in truth, a full-blown asshole. I could only imagine what it must be like for Jessica living with the fucker. He was a self-centered egotistical bastard who was obviously more emotionally invested in his elliptical trainer than his wife. It’s no wonder she cheated on him, as it was probably the only way she could keep her sanity. The hypocritical prick even had a mistress, which he’d inadvertently revealed when he called me from her apartment landline. Thirty-seconds on Google and I had learned her name, address, and the fact that she was a law clerk at his firm. One night I followed the two of them and managed to get some pretty revealing footage of their hasty hump session in the front seat of his brand new Porsche 911 Turbo. Not too surprisingly, Steven’s performance that night was a little subpar, and the entire video was only one minute and ten-seconds from foreplay to finish. Still, it couldn’t have been an easy feat in such a small space, least of all for Steven, who wasn’t exactly the limber yoga type. One wrong move and he could have easily ended up in the emergency room getting the shifter removed from his anus, which would have been pretty convenient, as the doctor might have been able to remove the stick that was already tightly wedged up there. I had crossed an ethical line by spying on my own client, but I refused to sacrifice my personal integrity for an asshole’s money.

     Inside, Jessica and Tony had moved to the living room couch and were enjoying more wine in front of the fireplace. They were sitting side by side and talking as Jessica gently caressed the back of his neck with her perfectly manicured nails. Tony said something, and they both laughed, then Jessica’s demeanor changed as she turned towards Tony and kissed him passionately. It was her very obvious signal that she was ready to move on to the more exciting activity of the evening. She finished the last sip of wine before straddling Tony, unzipping his fly, and playfully reaching for his member, which was already hard and didn’t come out of his pants without a fight. She looked at him teasingly, with a formidable grip on his manhood as she slid down and took it in her mouth. They hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner, so I guess this technically counted as dessert—more so for Tony in my opinion.

     Jessica wasn’t shy when it came to matters of the flesh, and she set about freeing the cream filling from Tony’s cannelloni with such inspired enthusiasm that I feared watching her efforts might be enough to bring forth release from my own manhood, which was already swelling and pressing against the inseam of my pants. Only minutes passed before the pleasure appeared to be too much for him to bear, and he pulled his wood free and frantically undressed her on his red leather couch. She returned the favor by pushing him back onto the cushions and removing his trendy jeans and Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt. Now that they were both properly naked, she proceeded to ride him like a bucking bronco—only the roles were reversed, and she was the one doing all the bucking. Not to be outdone, I took hold of my date, a cold honey-ham sandwich, and lustfully tore off the cellophane that held it in such a tight little package. I greedily took a bite, and it was obvious that Tony had the better companion this evening, as my sandwich virtually fell apart in my hands. In my haste to get out of the house, I had forgotten to layer the tomatoes between the lettuce and meat, and they had, unfortunately, soaked through and decimated the nine-grain sprouted whole wheat bread that I didn’t enjoy but ate anyway because it was healthy. I took one last look at Mrs. Green’s spectacular breasts before turning away to give them some privacy.

     As I sat eating a cold and unsatisfying dinner, I realized that I’d reached an all time low in my professional life. Adultery was very likely the lowest common denominator in the private investigation field other than finding lost pets, and, while there was at least something noble, if not mundane, in returning a dog or cat to its distraught owner, adultery had no winners, least of all the messenger. When people hired me to follow their wife or husband, deep down they wanted proof that their suspicions were unwarranted, that they had the perfect marriage, and life would continue happily ever after. I got to be the person who told them otherwise—a veritable harbinger that their life as they knew it was about to fall to pieces. This was my job now, and it was hard to believe how different my life had become in five years. The things I used to do changed the world and made it better, but now I took pictures of people fucking.

     I glanced back inside the window for a second and saw that they were still going strong and hadn’t changed positions. Normally, they were pretty experimental and would switch it up every few minutes with the precision of Chinese acrobats. Not tonight, however, as she was still on top, enthusiastically rocking up and down while Tony kept a firm hold of her breasts—even going the extra step of keeping a nipple between each thumb and forefinger. It was a good grip, one I used myself. He certainly put out more sexual effort than her husband, but then he obviously cared about her. They were disgustingly in love, and it showed in everything they did, whether it was dining, shopping, or testing out the sofa cushions on the couch in Tony’s living room.

     I can’t say I wasn’t a little jealous, as I had been single for about two months and was encountering a bit of a dry spell with the ladies. It’s not like I couldn’t go out and try to meet someone, but I had been busy working on a mildly interesting, though mostly pro bono, lost pet case. I say mostly because I was paid with baked goods—specifically, chocolate chip cookies. My neighbor, a widow and formidable baker named Joyce Kransky, had somehow lost her behemoth of a cat Mr. Pickles. He had been her sole companion after her husband Harold passed away the previous year, and the two had been inseparable ever since. Strangely, the tubby tabby appeared at her doorstep the day after Harold’s funeral, and I suspected that she believed Mr. Pickles was some kind of spiritual manifestation of her dearly departed husband. It didn’t seem that far-fetched when you took into account the timing, and the fact that both Harold and Mr. Pickles were morbidly obese and had an almost pathological penchant for tuna fish.

     Poor Joyce was devastated by the loss of Mr. Pickles, and so it fell on me to reunite her with her thirty-eight pound companion. How the hell did she lose a pet the size of a baby hippo—it’s not as though the little fucker could actually walk any real distance. Considering Mr. Pickle’s sedentary nature, it stood to reason that there was a possibility that he may very well have been catnapped—especially when you took into account that he had become a bit of a celebrity of sorts after winning the local Whole Foods Cutest Pet Contest. So, out I went onto the particularly un-hard streets of Sausalito where, after weeks of work and hours of following up leads, I eventually paid a sketchy anchor-out guy at the local Laundromat twenty bucks to learn that the tub of love had been spotted aboard one of the more active floating meth labs out in Richardson Bay. Few people, least of all the thousands of tourists who visited Sausalito, knew of the great divide that existed amongst the residents of this highly affluent community, and Richardson Bay, while being the sole body of water between two multi-million dollar hamlets, was littered with all manner of boats inhabited by an odd collection of misfits, ex-cons, sailing nomads, and, apparently, an obese feline named Mr. Pickles.

     It wasn’t the smoothest rescue operation I’d ever performed, but after disarming the meth lab’s owner-operator of his Colt forty-five automatic pistol and knocking out his few remaining teeth, I was able to save Mr. Pickles from his pickle, and return him to his quiet former life as an overweight house cat. We’ll probably never know exactly how the hell he got out there, but he did seem to have lost a few pounds and gained some energy upon his glorious return home. That had been my exciting job before meeting the illustrious asshole, Steven Green, and now I had the irritating job of watching his beautiful wife make sweet love to Tarzan. Wonderful—all I had at home were the twins, my right and left hands, and, if all went well, I’d get drunk and let them take advantage of me when I got home later tonight.

     Tony and Jessica finished and lay entwined in each other’s arms on the couch in front of the fire, and it certainly looked warmer and more inviting than my shitty perch in the playground. Eventually they got dressed and headed into the kitchen to clean up their dishes from dinner. I climbed down and walked around the block to the front door and realized that this was going to be awkward, but I felt I owed it to them after spying on them for the better part of two weeks. It was ten-thirty and not a polite hour to be ringing a stranger’s doorbell, but it had to be done. I pushed the button and heard footsteps approaching from inside, and the door opened a second later. Tony stood there with Jessica hovering just behind him, and both looked surprised to see a complete stranger standing on the doorstep.

     “Good evening, how would you like a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I asked.

     “Excuse me, but it’s a little late.”

     “It’s never too late for Jesus.”

     “Goodnight,” Tony said, as he started to close the door.

     So much for my wacky icebreaker.

     “Wait, I’m just kidding. I’m actually here to speak with Jessica. Nothing to do with Jesus, I promise.”

     He turned to Jessica and asked her if she knew me, but she shook her head.

     “I’m here regarding your husband Steven Green.”

     She looked concerned as she stepped closer and stood beside Tony in the doorway. It was my first time seeing her up close and personal, and she was even more beautiful than I could have imagined. She was nearly thirty but could have easily passed for twenty with her baby smooth skin, bright blue eyes, and long light brown hair. She also smelled particularly good and happened to be wearing the same expensive Chanel perfume that my ex had worn. I liked the perfume but hated the ex, so I suppose those two facts kind of cancelled each other out. I could see that she was wondering who in the hell I was and what news I might have concerning her husband, so I cut to the chase.

     “My name’s Finn. I’m a private investigator, and what I’m about to tell you is going to come as a little bit of a shock.”

     “What is it?” she asked, sounding concerned.

     She was probably hoping that Steven had been hit by a bus. I was kind of wishing he had been as well, as it would have made it a lot easier for both of us.

     “Your husband hired me to follow you and get proof that you’re having an affair with Tarzan—I mean Tony."

     “Are you fucking kidding me?” she asked.

     “No, sadly, I’m not. I’ve been watching you for the last two weeks, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve got more evidence than I could possibly need—pictures, videos, pretty much everything except a signed confession and a semen sample from Tar—eh—Tony.”

     I could see her heart begin to beat faster, her face reddening as her world turned upside down in the space of a few words.

     “You’ve been following us around? Filming us? What kind of sick asshole would do that for a living? Why don’t you get a real life? Better yet, why don’t you go fuck yourself,” she said, angrily.

     Truer words had never been spoken, and later tonight I would probably be doing exactly as she suggested. I glanced at Tony and saw that his face was turning red, and he was clenching his jaw, which meant his anger was steadily increasing, and it was only a matter of time before he did something we’d both regret.

     “What the fuck do you want from us, asshole? Are you trying to extort money? See if we’ll pay you more not to tell Steven anything?” he asked.

     “No, I’m not here for anything like that.”

     It was too late, as Tony was already halfway out the door, winding up to take a swing, and moving like an enraged bull storming out of the gate at a rodeo. He was a big guy, easily six four, with a lot of gym time under his belt and enough muscle to make the Incredible Hulk look like a big green pussy. I wasn’t exactly small at six foot, but I had been watching Tarzan from afar and only now realized just how big he was in person. They say the camera adds ten pounds, but, at this moment, I would say it takes away about forty as Tony was looking a hell of a lot bigger than he did through my camera lens. At least he wasn’t much of a fighter, though he probably didn’t need to be, as his size and strength would be more than enough to deter any sane person from tangling with him, and any insane person could easily be ground into protein powder if he foolishly managed to get within Tony’s formidable grasp. Fortunately, I brought with me the tools of a lifetime spent in the martial arts, military, and clandestine services, and I’d had the displeasure of using them more times than I could recall.

     Tony was slow, and it was like watching a fight scene at half speed as he came at me with a big right roundhouse punch that couldn’t have been more obvious had he called me the week before and told me it was coming. People never expected you to move towards an attack, as it went against human instinct, but, in this instance, it was the best way to gain the advantage with a big guy like Tony. I stepped forward, inside the arc of his punch, and blocked his swing with a heel palm strike to the middle of his bicep—the goal being to traumatize the radial nerve and create a mild muscular paralysis. It lessened the force of his attack, especially when combined with a simultaneous slap to his face. The bicep strike was meant to hurt and temporarily disable the arm while the slap was more of a psychological inroad just to get his attention. He was basically a nice guy, so I wanted to get him under control without actually putting him in the hospital. The slap worked, and, while Tony processed the strike to his face, I was able to easily lift his now deadened right arm and take his balance, allowing me to guide his head down and roll the oversized garden gnome gently onto the grass, where he landed on his back beside his beloved azaleas—shaken and a little stirred. His ego and his bicep might be bruised, but he was technically still unharmed. Jessica, however, obviously felt otherwise, for, after seeing our brief exchange, she ran from the house to comfort Tony as he lay on the ground.

     “I’m calling the police,” she said, angrily.

     “That’s not a good idea, as there will be a police report. Both of your names will appear on it, and your husband will be able to use that as evidence against you as well.”

     “What the hell do you want from us?”

     “If you and Tarzan would just listen for a minute, I could tell you why I came here tonight. First, and most importantly, I’d like to affirm the fact that your husband is a complete asshole, but I’m sure you already know that. Secondly, I wanted to warn you that the afore mentioned asshole hired me because he’s about to serve you with divorce papers.”

She stared at me, unsure what to say as she tried to figure out what motive I may have in telling her this news. At last, her expression softened, and she held her hand out towards the door.

     “Do you want to come inside and talk?” she asked.

     “What about the ape man? Are we going to have to give him a banana or something to calm him down?”

     “He can play with Cheetah while we talk.”

     “Very funny,” Tony said.

     I reached down and offered Tony my hand. I had put him on the ground, so it was the least I could do to help him back up. He reluctantly took it then followed Jessica and me into the house. We went into the kitchen, and she asked if I wanted something to drink. I never turned down a beautiful woman offering alcohol so I, of course, said yes, and she made us both a vodka tonic. She neglected to make one for Tony, who poured himself another glass of wine, which seemed kind of dainty for a guy who swung through the trees with a monkey companion. We went into the living room, and I purposely avoided the couch, not sure if they had cleaned it up yet, and, instead, sat on the edge of the fireplace.

     “So, what’s your story? Why are you telling me all this if you work for my husband?”

     “I don’t anymore. I’m quitting tonight, and I’m erasing the pictures and returning his deposit. He’s going to be mildly fucked when I destroy all the evidence, but I can’t give it to him in good conscience. Now, you’ll at least be on an even playing field and have the time to get yourself a good attorney and be ready for the asshole.”

     “So, you don’t want anything from us? You’re telling me this just to be a nice guy?”

     “It probably sounds silly, but I got into this business to help people, and, right now, I think you need my help more than your husband.”

     “But, he paid you.”

     “It’s not always about money. You seem a lot nicer than Steven, and I don’t want to help him ruin your life.”

     I glanced out the window at my hiding spot in the playground and realized it was certainly nicer to be on this side of the glass, where I could feel the warmth of the fire and be in the direct company of the beautiful Mrs. Green. I hoped Tony appreciated what he had here.

     “Thanks for the drink. That’s all I wanted to say, so I should probably get going. Your husband will be calling any minute, and I have to give him my final report, and, needless to say, he’s not going to be too happy.”

     “I’ll walk you out,” she said.

     We stood up and walked to the front door and stood there awkwardly, neither of us sure what to say, until she broke the silence.

     “I know it doesn’t matter, but he cheated on me first.”

     “I know, and the shitbag is still cheating on you. Speaking of which, I have a little gift for you to make up for invading your privacy for the last two weeks. It’s a number of files I put together on his mistress, and it includes a detailed report, pictures, and a short video of your husband screwing her in the Porsche. It should help when you go to court,” I said, as I pulled a flash drive out of my pocket and handed it over to her.

     “Thanks. The video must be short if it’s Steven.”

     “It is. One minute and ten-seconds. Oh, and a word of advice. In case he hires another private detective, you guys need to keep a lower profile. No more holding hands in public or having sex in the living room.”

     “You saw us?”

     “Yeah—sorry. It’s a sleazy but necessary evil of the job. I try to maintain as much professionalism as I can but…”

     “But you’re filming strangers while they have sex.”

     “Yeah, sometimes I feel more like an avant-garde adult movie director. No direct contact with my actors. Lots of improv—very cutting edge.”

     “Maybe there’s a new career in there somewhere.”

     “God no. It’s not very fun to watch other people have sex when you’ve been single for a while.”

     “I thought that’s why men watch porn?”

     “Yeah, but I like my women real and in person.”

     “That’s a good thing.”

     “Eh—time will tell. Well, I better be going.”

     “Hey, thank you for coming to me. Not many people would do that. My husband is the type of person who believes that he can buy anything, including people. It says a lot about you that you didn’t take his money.”

     “We’ll see how noble I am when I’m destitute and homeless.”

     “Don’t worry, I’ll put a dollar in your cup, if it comes to that,” she said.

     “Good to know. Well, I hope everything works out for you guys.”

     She held out her hand, and we exchanged one of those awkward male to female handshakes that usually was the way a woman would end a date if she had no intention of ever seeing you again. The only thing you were ever going to get to touch would be that hand. Jessica’s handshake, however, was warm and obviously more appropriate than a hug considering we hardly knew each other. I started to turn towards the front gate, but she kept hold of my hand and, instead, pulled me back around so that we were face to face again.

     “Hey, Finn, you won’t be single for long. You’re a nice guy in spite of your job.”

     “Thanks,” I said, smiling as I thought about her compliment.

     She smiled back, and I realized that the lovely soon to be Miss Jessica Green would haunt my dreams for many a night to come. I was about to leave when the phone rang, and I looked down to see who was calling.

     “Guess who?” I asked.

     “Say hello to asshole for me,” she said, as she turned and walked back towards the house.

     It took me five rings to get into my car and hit the answer button.

     “Well?” he asked, in an irritated tone.

     I knew from previous experience that Steven, or should I say, asshole, could be a little testy at having to wait so long for me to answer. He thought that paying for my services meant I was at his beck and call, and, therefore, expected me to answer within two rings. It would have been too funny to answer the phone with hello, asshole, but I refrained and tried to keep it all very businesslike considering the delicate nature of what I was about to tell him. Of course, it was only fitting to at least fuck with him a little bit.

     “Tag Finn Investigations, how may I direct your call?”

     “Not funny, dickhead, now, stop fucking around and give me the final update.”

     I gave it to him just like he did his mistress—hard, fast, and without lubrication.

     “I’m sorry, Steven, but, as far as I can tell, Jessica isn’t having an affair. She seems like the perfect wife to me, and, might I say, you’re a very lucky man.”

     “Bullshit. You know as well as I do that the bitch is fucking around. Are you trying to drive up your fee? Fine, but you better fucking deliver the goods.”

     “It’s not about the money. I’ll be returning your retainer, and we can end our agreement effective immediately."

     “Fuck you! You’re going to finish the Goddamn job.”

     “I’m trying to keep this professional, Steven. It’s over. Our contract states very clearly that I can terminate our agreement if I decide that you’re too much of an asshole.”

     “Look here—if you fuck with me, then you can forget about ever working in this town again. I will ruin you, and let me tell you, fuckface—you better pray you don’t run into me when I get back into town, because I will fucking take you apart.”

     “Those are some strong words coming from a guy whose entire sexual encounters last one minute and ten seconds. That’s not a lot of cardio, so you better wait until you can go at least two minutes then give me a call, tough guy.”

     “Fuck you, I’ll bury you, you son of a bitch!” he screamed, just before I ended the call.


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