TOPLESS AGENDA

Chapter 1 Prologue: THE DEEP



July 16th, 2013, The Aegean Sea (four years ago).


The Argo was a two-hundred and seventy-four foot state of the art ocean research ship commissioned by the Fuchs Corporation, whose CEO, Harold Fuchs, had a penchant for history, and, especially, marine archeology. Utilizing his substantial wealth and influence, he created one of the world’s most formidable marine archeological research organizations, and, during its ten years of operation, it had discovered more than a hundred notable shipwrecks across the world. At the moment they were focusing on the Mediterranean basin, where the Argo was currently traveling through the Aegean Sea on a northerly course about ten miles off the coast of the Greek island of Lemnos. They were conducting side scan sonar passes of the seafloor along a known ancient trade route when William Davies, or Free Willy as the crew called him because of his love of killer whales, saw an image on his screen that was indicative of a wreck.

     “I think I’ve got something,” he said, excitedly.

     The captain of the vessel, a tall and imposing former Navy man named Tom Pettersson, walked closer and gazed over his subordinate’s shoulder. He knew that Free Willy, one of the team’s most gifted marine engineers, was also one of the Argo’s best people at interpreting sonar imaging, and there on the screen, as expected, was the telltale colored blob of something significant on the sea floor.

     “That looks promising. How long is it?” Captain Pettersson, asked.

     “I’d estimate it to be around sixty feet.”

     “Well, if it’s Roman, it’s obviously not a military or cargo ship, though we might as well go down and have a look,” he said.

     Captain Pettersson ordered the Argo to come to a full stop while the crew prepared to send down the ROV, or in layman’s terms, the remotely operated vehicle. It was a boxy shaped device with a stainless steel frame that was about six feet long, three feet wide, and four feet tall. Mounted within the frame were engines, ballast tanks, and electronics while outside were the thrusters, mechanical arms, flood lights, and an array of high definition cameras. Its official name was Jason—the name obviously an homage to the captain of the original Argo of Greek Mythology. Once the ship was properly positioned, Jason was lowered into the water, and Free Willy steered it down over five hundred feet until it was hovering directly over the wreck. Gazing at the image on his screen, he was more than a bit surprised to find that the vessel was at least a thousand years more recent than he had been hoping, and was, in fact, a somewhat modern fishing boat, though modern was a relative term that could refer to anything built during the last half of the twentieth century.

     “Ah, shit. We haven’t got shit,” Free Willy, said.

     “Oh well, let’s have a look anyway,” Captain Pettersson said, as he stepped closer to look over Free Willy’s shoulder, gazing in sad wonder at the image of the fishing boat.

     Every person who sailed the sea, whether he was a fisherman, an explorer, a sailor, or just crew on a ship, was part of an ages old club of rare individuals who dared to tempt their fate by leaving the relative safety of dry land. So, as Captain Petterson looked at the vessel and contemplated the fate of its crew, he was, in a sense, contemplating his own potential fate.

     “Go ahead and bring it up on the main screen so that everyone can get a better look,” Captain Pettersson said.

     Free Willy hit a button on the keyboard, and the control room’s main screen came alive with the camera feed, allowing everyone to watch as he steered Jason over the vessel. It was resting nearly upright on the sandy bottom, and, as Free Willy steered Jason over the rear deck, it appeared to be oddly devoid of fishing equipment.

     “It’s strange that there aren’t any nets or lines,” Captain Pettersson said.

     “Maybe they got washed away when it sank,” Free Willy responded.

     “It’s possible, though I’d say doubtful, as all of that gear is either secured to the boat or properly stowed away.”

     Free Willy brought Jason down over the side and circled around the stern.

     “The hull appears to be in excellent condition, and there’s very little growth, so I’d say it hasn’t been down here too long,” Free Willy said, as he continued steering Jason along the side of the boat.

     All the crew silently watched as the vessel’s bow came into view, and there, painted in black letters on the white hull, was the name Gordita.

     Gordita—I believe that’s Spanish for Little Fatty,” Free Willy said.

     “Yeah, it is, so I suppose we should run a check to see if anyone reported this little fatty missing. There might still be family members or friends out there wondering what happened to their loved ones.”

     The task fell upon Mike Stewart, the resident historian, and a man who had not one but two PhD’s—one in history, the other in archeology. He started tapping away on his keyboard, searching all the relevant maritime databases until finally getting a hit.

     “I’ve got it! A report was filed with the Hellenic Coast Guard last year, and, on September 26th at twelve-ten a.m. local time, the Gordita put out a distress call that they were taking on water and requested immediate assistance. An unnamed American Naval vessel was the only one to respond, and they found nothing but a small oil slick and some debris. They conducted a thorough search and rescue operation, and, at the end, having not found a single soul or any other vessel in the area, concluded that there were no survivors, and the Gordita was believed to have gone down with all hands,” Mike said, solemnly.

     There was a moment of silence as everyone on the bridge contemplated the Gordita’s sad demise.

     “Let’s do a quick survey and forward any details we find on to the proper authorities,” the captain said, breaking the tension.

     “Roger that,” Free Willy responded.

     He continued to drive Jason around the entire boat, surveying the hull, taking video and pictures until at last stopping just outside the door to the pilothouse.

     “Whatever happened to this boat must have been pretty subtle, because there’s no obvious hull damage that I see. Hopefully, we’ll find something more conclusive when we search the interior,” Free Willy said.

     This was where the job was going to potentially get a wee bit grim, as the bodies of the unlucky souls who went down with the boat would likely be inside, and, after a year of being fish bait, would be looking a bit worse for wear. Free Willy used one of the mechanical arms to unlatch and open the door then drove Jason in until the thrusters caught on the doorframe. It was too big to maneuver any farther through the opening, but this was only a minor setback, because Free Willy had modified Jason with a custom designed special attachment—namely, a tethered torpedo shaped appendage with a hundred foot range and a light and a camera in its bulbous tip. Free Willy called it the MOV, or miniature operated vehicle, but every other crew member, including the captain, called it Free Willy’s Willy, because Willy had created it, and it looked like a penis.

     “Alrighty then, I’m powering up the Willy and penetrating the Gordita,” Free Willy said, acknowledging, in his own roundabout way, his creation’s phallic nickname.

     He pressed a button, and a brief flicker was the only visible interruption of the video feed as the view switched from Jason to the Willy. First up on the tour was the wheelhouse, and it appeared to be perfectly intact and free of any floating debris, which was unusual as sunken vessels were generally awash in paper, clothing, and any and all items that weren’t tied down.

     “Dude, this vessel is so unbelievably pristine that it’s seriously freaking me out,” Free Willy said.

     “Why is that freaky?” Mike asked.

     “Dude, haven’t you ever seen a horror movie? This is the perfect setup for some gnarly fucking thing to pop up on that screen and scare the shit out of us.”

     “Dude, I think you’ve been at sea too long,” Mike responded.

     Free Willy continued to guide Willy deeper into the Gordita and meticulously searched all the main compartments but found nothing of interest. The final stop was the engine room, which everyone imagined was likely going to be the final holdout of the crew. It was possible they had some kind of engine problem such as a burst water inlet hose, and it would have been where they spent their final minutes bravely trying to save their boat and, in turn, their lives. The door was partly ajar, and Free Willy steered Willy forward and slowly pushed the door open. Just as he managed to pass through, it bumped something, and the screen went black, leaving everyone staring in rapt attention.

     “Oh shit, we had some kind of surge that shut down the power. Hold on, I’ll reboot the system,” Free Willy said.

     He tapped some keys and several seconds passed until the systems came back online, and the flood light abruptly turned on, and there, filling the entire screen, was a gruesome toothy face that made everyone scream. After a moment it was apparent their monster was in actuality an electric eel that had taken up residence in the engine room, and it didn’t appreciate the presence of Free Willy’s Willy.

     “I told you something freaky was going to happen!”

     “Yeah, though I never imagined it would be an electric eel biting your Willy,” Mike said.

     After several more attempted bites, the eel moved on, allowing Free Willy to search the entire compartment, where he found nothing out of the ordinary.

     “I guess the engine room is a bust too, so God only knows what happened to the crew,” he said.

     As he steered around to head out the lead archeologist Sasha O’Malley noticed something unusual.

     “Hey, can you go back down to the area in front of the engine?”

     “Sure,” he responded, steering Willy back around.

     She was known to have an almost superhuman eye for detail, so everyone paid close attention as she stepped closer and pointed at the screen.

     “Look, right there! The seacocks are open,” she said, pointing at the area just in front of the engine.

Seacocks were valves that were used to bring seawater into the boat and were usually connected to hoses that cooled the engines or supplied water to the boats various systems, one of the most important being the toilets. In this case, the seacocks in question had no connecting hoses, and the valve handles were clearly set to the open position. Everyone scrutinized the image, but Captain Pettersson was the first to respond.

     “Holy shit! You’re right, Sasha!”

     “What do you think it means?” Free Willy asked.

     “I think it could mean that the Gordita might have been purposefully scuttled, which also gels with the fact that we didn’t find any fishing gear on board. Nets and lines are expensive, and someone obviously removed them, so, I’d say all of this points to the possibility that its sinking may very well have been some kind of insurance scam.”

     “Then what happened to the crew? Did they just slip away on another boat?” he asked.

     “That’s how it would seem, except for the fact that the American Navy’s official report said there were no other vessels in the area—which means we have a bit of a mystery on our hands.”

     It was quiet for a few minutes as Captain Pettersson considered their next move.

     “Oh well, I suppose we should bring Jason back aboard, and, in the meanwhile, I’ll go update the boss, and then we can move on and find a much older shipwreck, hopefully one that wasn’t intentional.”

     The captain excused himself, left the bridge, and retreated to his cabin, where he picked up his satellite phone. His boss, Harold Fuchs, liked to be personally apprised of any finds, and, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t ancient, it was still a find. He hit the button that automatically dialed the preprogrammed number and listened as the phone rang two times before being answered.

     Guten tag, Thomas, how are things on the Argo?” Harold asked.

     “All is well, though today we thought we’d found a wreck, but it turned out to be a somewhat recently sunken fishing boat.”

     “Oh, that’s too bad—for the people on the boat, obviously. Did you call it in to the proper authorities?”

     “Well, that’s the interesting part.”

     Captain Pettersson went on to explain how the team had uncovered the mysterious circumstances of the Gordita’s demise, and Harold listened intently as he took in all the unusual details.

     “Interesting—did the report give the name or type of American naval vessel that responded?” Harold asked.

     “Nope, just the fact that it was from the United States Navy.”

     “That’s the most intriguing part, and I can’t help but wonder what the Americans were doing up there in the Aegean in the middle of the night,” Harold said.

     “Considering what I know from my time in the Navy, I’d guess the Gordita was involved in, or the victim of, some kind of covert operation, so we may never know why it was sunk.”

     “Interesting thought. Well, thank you for the update, Thomas. Perhaps I will make some quiet inquiries. You know how much I love a mystery.”

     “Yeah, and I’d love to know if you find out anything. All right then, I guess it’s time to get back to work. I’ll call when, and if, we find something more exciting.”

     “Oh you never know, Thomas. The Gordita and its story might turn out to be pretty exciting.”

     “True, well Auf Wiedersehen, Harold,” Captain Pettersson said.

     Auf Wiedersehen, Thomas, and stay safe out there,” Harold said, before clicking off.

     Captain Pettersson took a moment to think about the Gordita. During his time in the Navy, he had been involved in numerous clandestine operations, and he knew that there was definitely something fishy about this particular fishing boat. Oh well, it was time to focus on less current matters, so he stood up and walked back up to the bridge and returned to his seat.

     Jason is aboard, and we’re ready to get underway,” Free Willy said.

     “All right then, people, it’s time to get back to work, so let’s set a course for the second star on the right and straight on 'til morning,” he said, quoting his favorite line from Peter Pan.



Chapter 2: DUCKS ON THE POND


November 28th, 2017, Zurich, Switzerland, four years and four months later (present day).


     The white Mercedes AMG GLS63 SUV had been parked in the lot of the Zurich International Airport private terminal for a little over forty-five minutes as its occupants patiently waited for a particular jet to arrive. This was, of course, a common occurrence in Zurich, as it was a major financial hub, and CEO’s, CTO’s, and CFO’s passed through on a daily and, sometimes hourly, basis. This particular vehicle, however, didn’t have an important executive, or even a driver waiting for an important executive, and instead was occupied by six members of a deadly Al Qaeda hit team.

     There were many sleeper cells across Europe, but this one, originally from Saudi Arabia, had been patiently waiting nearly a month for the moment when it would be activated for its next mission. The call had come ten hours earlier, about two hours after their intended target’s plane took off from the island of Martinique, and now they were finally going to see the man they had been ordered to kill. They heard the great high pitched whine of the Boeing 787 Business Jet’s engines before it rolled into view and came to a stop a short time later. The efficient ground crew then secured the jet’s tires with blocks and brought over the boarding stairs, which allowed one of the pilots to step outside and greet the Swiss airport representative with a handshake before having a brief exchange of words. Finished talking, the pilot headed back inside, and several minutes passed before a woman appeared in the doorway. She was utterly beautiful and looked like a supermodel with her long hair, light blue eyes, and curvaceous figure. The men in the Mercedes were transfixed by her beauty, and if their intel had been more thorough, they’d have known that her name was Bridgette Vandenberg, and she was the girlfriend of their target. Of course, all of that was mostly meaningless, for they were here to kill a man and anyone who was unfortunate enough to get in their way, the woman included, would be nothing more than collateral damage.

     “Do we get to fuck the girl before we kill her?” the man in the driver’s seat asked the man beside him.

     “That will depend on where and when we do this,” he responded.

     “Then let’s hope it goes down somewhere nice and private,” he said, which inspired a round of laughs from the other men in the car.

     At that moment, their target appeared in the doorway. His name was Adrien Babineux, and he looked like a movie star with his angular jaw, deep blue eyes, and shaggy mop of dark brown hair that hung well past his ears. Along with his looks, he had the demeanor of a man who was used to living at the top of the food chain, which made sense, as he was from an old aristocratic French family. He’d therefore started out life wealthy, but, unlike most children of privilege, spent his immediate after-college years in the French Military where he’d served as a naval commando. Also unusual was the fact that he actually managed to increase, rather than deplete, his family’s net worth by expanding their holdings into even more lucrative ventures that included technology companies, aerospace, mining, a Caribbean resort island, and the manufacture and sale of arms—the last endeavor being the inadvertent reason for the presence of the Saudi hit team. Babineux had been dealing arms for quite a while, but had only added terrorists to his list of clients in the last couple of years. That business choice, unfortunately, brought him under the scrutiny of the Central Intelligence Agency, who, with the help of a former agent named Tag Finn, recently thwarted Babineux’s plans to supply the weapons for one of the largest terrorist attacks since September 11. Now, his clients had no weapons and were officially out well over a hundred million dollars in precious gems, and so they were desperately looking to exact some retribution against the man who they believed was responsible.

Babineux and Bridgette, completely oblivious to the presence of their deadly antagonists, stopped at the bottom of the ramp and exchanged a rather long, passionate kiss. A moment later, a crew member brought their baggage down the ramp, then all of them walked over to a charcoal grey BMW X6 M that was parked just beyond the wing. The crew member loaded their baggage in the back while Babineux and Bridgette climbed into the front of the vehicle, started the car, then headed off towards the nearby airport access road.

     “Follow them, but make sure you stay back a safe distance,” the man in the passenger seat of the white Mercedes said.

     The driver followed his leader’s orders and waited until two cars had passed before pulling out onto the mildly busy airport access road. Unbeknownst to the Saudis, however, there was yet another surveillance team interested in Babineux, though this one was sitting in a silver Range Rover parked discreetly in the back corner of the private air terminal. Its occupants were a man and woman, and they were even more deadly and capable than the Saudis, for they both had previously been in the employ of the CIA. Now, they both worked for a rather mysterious entity, though anyone looking into their current occupation would find that were employees of a rather large German corporation.

     The woman in the silver Range Rover watched as the Saudis took up pursuit of Babineux’s vehicle, then she picked up her iPhone, clicked on the preprogrammed number, and waited for the person on the other end to answer before speaking.

     “Babineux has landed, and the Saudi team is on his tail,” she said.

She listened to the other person for a moment, then hit the end button and looked over at her partner who was eagerly waiting to hear their new orders.

     “So, what do they want us to do?” he asked.

     “Hang back and stay in town so that we can take up surveillance of Finn and Agent Vonde when they arrive.”

     “What about the Saudis?”

     “Another team will take over in the interim.”

     “Do they really think that’s a good idea?”

     “Yeah, because then you and I will have all of our ducks in a row before we take any action.”

     The man smiled.

     “I suppose it makes sense, as we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone—so to speak.”

     “Exactly,” the woman said, smiling back at him.

     Twenty minutes later, Babineux, Bridgette, and the team of Saudi killers were all on Highway 3, driving along the shores of Lake Zurich. Traffic had thinned, so the Saudis were hanging back a bit farther, but it appeared as though their targets were completely oblivious to their presence having not performed a single countersurveillance maneuver. Every halfway decent covert operative would have performed at least two U-turns in order to weed out any tails, but such was not the case today. Babineux, quite to the contrary, spent very little time checking his rearview mirror, and instead focused on the road ahead, navigating the various twists, turns, and tunnels until putting on his turn signal to merge onto Highway 28, which would take them up into the mountains and eventually to the resort city of Davos. The sun was out, and the two lovers were acting like a couple on a proper holiday as they held hands, listened to music, and gazed out at the beautiful snow covered Alps. Nearly an hour later, they made the final turn for Davos, and Bridgette abruptly looked over and regarded Babineux with a hint of worry in her eyes.

     “Adrien, are you sure everything is going to work out?”

     “Of course. This will be nothing more than a lovely little European vacation. We’ll start out with some skiing in Davos, then, by this time next week, we’ll be down in southern France sipping Champagne at my family estate.”

     “Promise?”

     “I promise,” he said, as they leaned together and shared a brief kiss before turning their gazes back to the road ahead, oblivious to the danger that loomed behind.



       Chapter 3: JUST PLANE SILLY


Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean (Two days later).


     It was six fourteen p.m., and I had been flying for about an hour since leaving the Caribbean Island of Martinique. I was about four thousand miles from my home in northern California, and I was drinking a mineral water and feeling only mildly hung over as I gazed at the image of a beautiful woman in a travel magazine. It would have been a rather pleasant moment had it not been for the unmistakable pressure in my lower abdomen that was an obvious harbinger of an imminent bowel movement. Strange, I had gone to the bathroom long before getting on the plane, but my intestines apparently had a different travel itinerary. I generally made it my personal policy never to do anything more than urinate or fornicate in a plane lavatory but, thankfully, I wasn’t flying commercial at the moment. Instead, I was riding in extreme luxury on a private jet on my way to Switzerland, and I had a new and exciting job working, in a roundabout way, for my former employer—the CIA.

     To make matters even more interesting was the fact that I was in the presence of my best friends from my time in the military. To my right was a stunningly beautiful woman named Lux Vonde—a former love interest and Navy pilot who was now a deep cover operative for the CIA. Beside her sat her husband, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and his name was Cornelius Wallace, though I called him Corn. Across from us on the other leather sofa, casually sipping a gin and tonic, was John Matheson, the vice president of the United States, and, while most people referred to him as Mr. Vice President, I called him Sasquatch, a nickname I coined nine years ago while rescuing him from his downed helicopter in the mountains of Afghanistan.

     The four of us had recently reunited during the course of my last job, which had entailed rescuing Lux from the clutches of a dubious French aristocrat turned arms dealer named Adrien Babineux. She was on his oddly named Soft Taco Island to thwart his upcoming arms deal—a deal that would have supplied the weapons for the largest terrorist attack since September 11. Lux’s operation was compromised, however, and she was captured, but I was able to rescue her, and together, we sabotaged his deal and brought everything to a mostly happy conclusion—mostly, because Babineux, being a clever bastard, managed to escape at the last minute and, worse still, took Lux’s little sister Bridgette with him. But, it was by no means a kidnapping for the beautiful young she-devil had fallen madly in love with the charismatic Frenchman and had become a willing co-conspirator in the entire affair. Now, the two were off on the run together, and my exciting new job was to go to Switzerland and bring them in, but it was critical to avoid using the Agency’s usual assets because of Bridgette. As the sister of one of their senior agents and the sister-in-law to the Deputy Director, her betrayal was extremely embarrassing and something they preferred to handle privately. As for Babineux—well, he was very likely going to be the single greatest intelligence asset in the war on terror. After two years of personal dealings with Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their many splinter groups, he would have names, dates, and enough details to give even the most stalwart CIA officer a massive boner.

Conducting a snatch and grab operation in a foreign country, however, was always challenging, but the belief was that, when news spread of the failed Soft Taco Island weapons deal, Babineux’s former clients would come looking for revenge. The two love bugs would be in imminent danger and, therefore, more than willing to come dancing back into the CIA’s open arms in exchange for protection. That meant all Lux and I had to do was find them and fear would do the rest of the work. That was the theory, anyway, though I always found that theories had a funny way of biting you in the ass when you took them out into the real world.

     So, here I was, back in the game in spite of the fact that I had walked away from the Agency five years ago and vowed never to return. This time, I could at least take solace in knowing that I was an independent contractor and getting paid with the hundred million dollars in terrorist jewels left over from the arms deal I had sabotaged. The jewels were mine to keep as long as I managed to bring in Babineux and Bridgette. It seemed like an unlikely arrangement, but, in the age of increased congressional scrutiny, it was, apparently, a lot easier for the Agency to give away, rather than hide, the acquisition of such a valuable stash. That was fine with me, because I had just dumped my last paying client before this entire affair began, and I was desperately in need of a serious influx of funds if I hoped to keep my houseboat afloat. It kind of felt like winning the lottery—if the lottery commission had the option to kill you at any moment and take back the money. I was, therefore, taking it all one day at a time and keeping a watchful eye over my shoulder. It had only been a week since I left my quiet existence as an underpaid private investigator in Northern California, but it felt like a lifetime.

     The pressure in my abdomen was growing stronger so it was time to go—literally. I decided to use my own bathroom instead of the one in the lounge and excused myself, leaving my traveling companions behind as I headed to my cabin, where I would have the privacy I preferred when dancing with my porcelain mistress. I normally did my business in the morning, and an evening dump was an unusual occurrence, but the excitement of the Caribbean apparently had my insides all aflutter. I was back in the same guest room I had stayed in on the trip to Soft Taco Island, and everything was just as it had been before—the only exception being my substantial stash of pirate booty. Beside the mini fridge in the corner was a case of twelve bottles of Soft Taco Island Rum and the bag of precious terrorist jewels. The rum I could use, but what in the hell was I going to do with the jewels—much less a hundred million dollars worth? It’s not as though I could go down to the local jeweler or put them on eBay. I needed actual currency to make my house payment, and all I had was a bunch of pretty colored rocks. Typical. At least Lux promised to introduce me to a well respected jeweler once we reached Zurich, and he would supposedly help me liquidate some stones, and allow me to open a Swiss bank account and finally send off a check for my mortgage.

     I poured a splash of rum in a glass and took a moment to reflect on the previous week. It had been a hell of a good time staying on the luxury yacht Sozo and running around Soft Taco Island, and, now, I couldn’t help but wonder how things were going for my new friends as they motored along somewhere below us on their way to Europe. The Sozo was going to dock in Monte Carlo and would serve as our backup ride to America if the operation ran into any unforeseen trouble. Sadly, Estelle Connor, the Sozo’s stunningly beautiful activities director and my most recent serious love interest, wouldn’t be aboard. After the whole Soft Taco Island adventure, she wanted to take a brief vacation to relax and visit with family that she hadn’t seen in nearly a year. She also wanted to take a little time to think about our relationship and let me iron out any feelings I might still have in relation to Lux. Of course, there really wasn’t much, if anything, to iron out considering the fact that Lux and I had both moved on with our lives—Lux, even more so, having married my former best friend Corn. Sadly, there was neither reason nor sanity when it came to matters of the heart.

     I took a moment to look around at my lovely surroundings and realized that it would be hard to go back to the real world of commercial air travel, where all you got on a plane was a complimentary soda and a bag of pretzels. I was experiencing only a small taste of life on the upper crust, but I had to admit that it tasted pretty damn good. I grabbed my book from my laptop bag and settled onto the toilet then scanned the pages until I found my bookmark—a folded piece of toilet paper. I set my eyes upon the words and managed to get half a page read before my personal bomb bay doors opened, and I began my assault on the doomed porcelain city that lay below my anus. I read three more pages and had to wonder why it always seemed so hard to have a decent dump—one free of interruption. Why couldn’t it always be this quiet and peaceful? I took a sip of rum, and the thought occurred to me that I might need to buy a private jet someday just to fly me around while I went to the bathroom. I’d be well out of reach of all the distractions that usually plagued this special time. After all, a good dump wasn’t just a bowel movement—it was as close to the peace and solitude of heaven as some people ever got on this earth, and flying along at thirty thousand feet got me that much closer.

     Suddenly, there was a knock on my cabin door, and my sphincter closed down faster than the hatch on a diving submarine. Goddammit. Not even a private bathroom on a private jet could provide adequate privacy. I tried to yell to whoever it was, but the person couldn’t hear me over the noise of the ventilator fan. Soon, I could feel, rather than hear, footsteps approaching the bathroom door, and, shortly thereafter, there were three sharp knocks followed by Lux’s voice. Fucking triple farts! I was trapped like a pig in a pen.     

“Finn. I need to talk to you.”

     I stayed quiet, hoping that she might give up and leave, but she knocked yet again on the door, this time more forcefully.

     “I know you’re in there.”

     “And I know you’re out there.”

     “Let me in.”

     “No, I’m busy brushing my teeth.”

     “Why is the door locked?”

     “Modesty, I’m afraid. You see, I brush my teeth in the nude, as I prefer not to risk getting any toothpaste on my clothes.”

     “Bullshit,” she said, before twisting the knob, which fortunately held firm.

     I made a gargling sound and reached over and turned on the faucet for a moment.

     “Nice try, but I suspect that you are actually taking a shit.”

     “Go away! It’s none of your business.”

     “You are, aren’t you? For Christ’s sake. I thought you would have outgrown your bathroom privacy issue by now.”

     “No, definitely not. It’s my burden to bear in this cruel world. Now, go away.”

     “OK, fine. I’ll wait for you to come out, and, in the meantime, I’ll have a glass of your rum. So, go ahead and knock yourself out in there.”

     “Goddammit, Lux! It’s already bad enough that you’re ruining my special time, so don’t make it worse by drinking all my rum!”

     I tried to relax and get back into the zone, but it was pointless. The idea of Lux waiting on the other side of the door, casually plowing through my alcohol stash was robbing me of any real enjoyment of this time, and so, with a heavy heart, I flushed then stepped into the fancy bathtub unit that was conveniently both a shower and a Jacuzzi. Six minutes later, I stepped out into my room and discovered Lux relaxing in the lounger and, there, residing between her delicate fingers was a glass of Soft Taco Island’s finest rum.

     “Love this rum. You know, I owe you an apology,” she said.

     “About time.”

     “Yeah, I never should have called you a jackass for stealing that case of rum from Babineux’s presidential mansion. You were right. It was worth every sip.”

     I picked up my own glass and filled it with another splash of the golden brown elixir.

     “Cheers,” I said, bringing my glass to hers.

     “Cheers,” she responded.

     “Now, what was so important that you had to ruin my dump?”

     “It’s about Corn.”

     “I didn’t eat any corn.”

     She frowned.

     “Gross. I’m not talking about your dump anymore. What I really want to talk about is making sure that we have our stories straight about what happened on the island.”

     Lux was referring to the fifteen short, though passionate, minutes of sweet lovemaking that we had shared on the beach back on Soft Taco Island. At the time we had sugar coated it by saying we were just two people taking back a moment in time that the world had stolen from them, but it was still two people committing some textbook adultery.

     “I think what you’re really trying to talk about is what supposedly didn’t happen on the island.”

     “Yeah, basically.”

     “I thought we had already agreed that it would be our little secret—that we wouldn’t tell Corn,” I said.

     “I know, but I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page.”

     “Don’t worry, as far as the public record is concerned, nothing happened on the beach that night. My lips never touched your lips, my penis did not go anywhere near your vagina, and I have no knowledge whatsoever of that cute little freckle just above your left nipple.”

     “You can make your little jokes, but let me warn you. Corn isn’t the Deputy Director of the CIA by accident. You still see him as a corn-fed farm boy, but he’s smart and perceptive, and, beyond that, he’s much more sensitive than you think, and I don’t want him to get hurt. Fuck, this whole situation...”

     “I know. It’s complicated. I understand.”

     And, for once, I actually did. It’s complicated was my new favorite phrase, though I used to hate it because it was uttered by every client who ever walked though my door. I never really believed that their situations were all that complicated, but now, however, I was a changed man and realized how useful that phrase could actually be. It meant so many things to so many people that it was the ultimate end-all when you were at a loss for the right words. How else could I explain my night of passion with Lux’s little sister Bridgette, or any of the other shenanigans I had gotten up to during the course of the previous week? It’s complicated was the equivalent of telling a child because I said so, but it could be used with adults. It was funny how things changed.

     I walked over to my bag and smiled to myself as I pulled out my clothes for the evening. It was practically the first time in a week that I chose pants and a button-up shirt instead of shorts and a T-shirt, and I realized that I was going to miss the tropics. As I was about to slip out of my towel, I noticed that Lux was watching my every move rather intently—her big blue eyes unblinking.

     “What are you looking at?” I asked.

     “Nothing.”

     “Well, can you look at nothing over there?”

     “No. I like looking at nothing right there where you are.”

     “Interesting words coming from the married woman with her sensitive husband twenty feet outside that door.”

     “I think we’re a little past that considering everything that happened on the island.”

     “Don’t you mean everything that didn’t happen on the island? Avert your eyes, she-devil.”

     “Don’t be such a drama queen. I’ve already seen it.”

     “Exactly, seen it—past tense. You got your peek through an inexplicable fold in the space-time continuum, but now it’s all sealed up, and this piece of man-heaven is off limits. It’s now time for you to live with your poor life choices.”

     “Oh, quit whining and get dressed.”

     “Fine.”

     I turned slightly away and dropped the towel, only to hear Lux whistle her approval with an obnoxious catcall.

     “You’re making me feel like a piece of meat,” I said, as I slid on my clothes all the while keenly aware that her eyes remained on me the entire time.

     “Good. How does it feel? Women spend their entire lives under that kind of scrutiny from men.”

     “At least you know we care.”


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