NaNoWriMo2014 – Placebo

NaNo Novel 2014: Placebo

Chapter 1

by Laura Kalpakian (3161 words)

The vending machine spat out a package of Cheetos, and Miranda took it back to the plastic chair, ripped it open, and ate them all while she sat in front of the dryer. Bored, she thought about getting out her phone again for amusement, but her fingers were all yellow from whatever it was that coated the Cheetos (she didn’t want to know). Many other people around her peered into their phones, but she noticed that here in Launder-Land everyone not toying with a phone seemed to have a more interesting life. Two lovers, raggedy-looking, but rapt with affection whispered to each other in the corner, the young man stroking the girl’s dreadlocks. Two black women were clearly enjoying a juicy story, probably about their relatives, punctuating each other’s dialogue with phrases like Uh-huh, didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I? A young mother rocked her baby in her stroller with one foot while she read The Poky Little Puppy to a four year old. Yes, Miranda told herself, people without phones have actual relationships. Imagine that. She filled the dryer’s insatiable maw with more coins, and gazed out the large, steamy window to the parking lot. I am in an Edward Hopper painting, Launder-Land in February, she thought, one of those lonely paintings where there are people, but no connections.

Then she wondered if that insight might be all she ever had to show for a BA in Art History from University of Washington.

The last load in the washer shuddered to stop, and Miranda piled its contents into another dryer. God, I’ll be here forever, she grumbled inwardly. She debated just taking it all home wet, and hanging it up, but that was impossible, of course. Where can you hang your wet laundry on a 28 foot sailboat? Especially in February. Besides, if she did, the Placebo would look like trailer trash. Trailer trash in the marina. Over in the working-vessel part of the marina, where boats were routinely named the Betty Sue, or the Rosie, you could get away with laying your wet jeans across the fish nets. No one cared. But where she and Scott docked, that part of the marina had to be ship-shape, as they say, everything clean and bright and polished, the lines all coiled properly. There was a sort of competition among boat owners for the cleanest and brightest and most nautical looking. Miranda and Scott lived aboard the Placebo, but boats berthed nearby were owned by people who had posh homes in town, or even far away, people who just moored here. In fact, Scott and Miranda had never even seen the owners of the sleek 40 foot yacht docked next to them, the Godiva. The Godiva, proud, inert, gleaming and forbidding, dwarfed the Placebo.

Word around the marina was that the feds were keeping an eye on the Godiva. Drugs? No one seemed to know exactly, but people told Miranda and Scott, it had been vacant for years, maintained by a marine service, not by the owners. Fine by Miranda and Scott; they didn’t want neighbors.

One dryer finished, and Miranda scraped her yellow fingers on her jeans, and began folding their clean clothes: socks, underwear, jeans, sweats, hoodies, tee shirts. Miranda tried to spiff up her own wardrobe with scarves or shawls that could be crammed into their limited storage space. She wiped her yellow fingers carefully before folding Scott’s super-white chef’s coats, four of them. He had bought four so they wouldn’t have to do the laundry so often. Chef Sigurdson, Scott’s teacher at the at the Technical College pastry class, was very particular. Sigurdson was quite the little Nordic tsar, insisting, so Scott said, that the students, mere novices in the Art of Pastry, must nonetheless look like Escoffier. Whoever he was, Miranda thought grimly. Any bit of Cheeto on the coat would condemn Scott in Chef Sigurdson’s eyes.

As she laid the folded clothes in the basket, Miranda wondered if, when Scott got his pastry certificate, would he look for a job? He signed up for these culinary arts classes when they berthed in winters because he loved cooking; his speciality was fantastical desserts. But to do so for a living?

Taking orders rather than instruction? Miranda didn’t think Scott would much like that. He was a free spirit. And he didn’t need a job; Scott’s free spirit was buoyed by a trust fund. For a man who had a fine fat trust fund, he lived modestly; they lived modestly, she reminded herself. She’d lived with him for five years now. The trust fund even bought the used car she had insisted on when they had berthed the Placebo here in October. Scott hadn’t wanted a car; he said a car would only complicate their simple, charming lives. Miranda said she was tired of doing everything on a bike, and Scott had laughed and said he didn’t think they’d done everything on a bike. She smiled to herself. How could you stay angry with a man like that? You couldn’t.

And even Scott admitted that having the car was nice. They could go places, and weren’t absolutely shackled to the Placebo. The Subaru got him reliably to class, and got Miranda to her barista job at Java the Hutt. At least at her job, clean aprons were the responsibility of Java the Hutt, and not the employees. Miranda knew she was lucky to have got the job at all. She had not worked a regular job in five years. Her good looks might have had something to do with it. Juan, the manager (known behind his back as Obi-Juan, or simply Obi) liked to have all attractive women behind his counters, and he wasn’t above copping a feel. The twirp.

Miranda parked herself in front of the last dryer, and watched her clothes twirl colorfully about behind the clear, thick glass. She wondered idly, if in fact she was watching her whole life spin before her. At last the dryer finished and she emptied her clothes into her basket, not bothering to fold, that could wait. She left Launder-Land to the lovers, the mothers, the gossiping women and those singular souls, who like Miranda were there watching their laundry with only their phones for company.

The night was brutally damp and cold, but mercifully no snow. The Subaru, trusty vehicle that it was, started right up, and she drove home. On a cold night in February the marina parking lot was mostly empty. She parked near the ramp closest to the Placebo’s berth beside a Mercedes which suddenly purred to life. Miranda glanced over, but she could only see a female figure with long, dark hair, the face eerily lit by the dashboard that looked like something out of a starship. The Mercedes peeled rubber leaving the parking lot. “What an asshole,” Miranda remarked. as she took her basket, not bothering with gloves. A woman who has braved the elements in a sailboat is tougher than that.

Though she was hurrying, at the top of the ramp, she caught sight of a single long-stemmed red rose lying on the ground in a pool of light. Miranda paused and looked around, but she was all alone out here. She picked the rose up, put it atop the clean laundry, and went down the ramp which was lit at intervals by glowing lamps. Then she saw another long-stemmed rose and just beyond, another. She picked each one up, and placed them with the first. They were all crisp and still-fresh, not at all withered, but perhaps that was due to the cold. One drooped sadly, but the other two, no three, they were fine! There was another. All along the path to the Placebo,

Miranda grinned. Of course! It was Valentine’s Day!

Oh Scott, she thought, you never cease to amaze me! You left me this trail of red roses because you knew coming back from Launder-Land I’d be grumpy and a little pissed off. Launder-Land always does that to me. You know that Obi-Juan has been on my case all week, making me even more disgruntled. You know I’ve been feeling a little down and wondering about my future, our future, and you, you sweet sweet man, you left me this trail of red roses to tell me that you love me, you understand me, and you are my own sweet love.

As she picked up more roses on her way to the Placebo, she brightened to think how they would make love tonight, and rock their little boat, their home these past five years. How she loved Scott, and would always love him.

The last rose to make a perfect dozen was two slips down from the Placebo in front of an antique yacht called Whole Shebang.

With the laundry basket under one arm, Miranda expertly alighted on to the Placebo, going down into their snug cabin where Scott lay across the bed, reading a cookbook. On the counter of the utilitarian galley were eight perfect cream puffs. Roses and cream puffs! Miranda’s heart rose. She plunked the laundry basket on the bench, and went to him, wrapped her arms around him, her lips to his cheek. “Thank you,” she murmured. “You are so sweet, so thoughtful. I love them. All of them.”

Scott kissed her back, grinning. “They’re my best batch ever. I think I’ve finally got Sigurdson’s technique down.”

“I’m sure they’re wonderful, and so are the roses.”

“What?”

“The roses.”

“What roses?”

“The dozen long stemmed roses, you left, each one a trail for me from the ramp to…..” But then she remembered the trail had not come all the way to the Placebo. It had stopped at the Whole Shebang, two berths down. “Didn’t you?”

“Didn’t I what?”

“Leave me a trail of,” she got up off the bed, took the few steps to the bench, and lifted the roses in an armload from the laundry basket, cradling them, “these.”

“Whoa, baby…. Where did you get those? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oh, hey, don’t look like that. Like you’re mortally wounded or something.” He gave an ineffectual chuckle.

“It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“Yeah. Sure. What of it? You know we’ve always said we don’t need all that conventional bullshit. We don’t want to be suckered into consumerism with the rest of the obese world, just because everyone else does it. You know that. We agreed. We’ve always agreed.” He looked at her as though she might be ill. “Remember?”

“Of course I remember! I just thought maybe you…”

“You want a box of drugstore chocolates and a card?”he scoffed. “We’ve always said no red no green at Christmas, no black no orange at Halloween, and no stupid cupids at—“

“Yes, I know what we said,” she snapped. “Never mind.”

“Well, where did they come from?”

“How do I know?” She began pawing through their tiny cupboards looking for a container big enough for all twelve long-stemmed roses.

The boat rocked gently as he got out of bed, and came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her. “Hey, I’m sorry. I guess. If I’d known….”

“Never mind. Really. It was my stupid mistake.” Really stupid, she told herself as she freed herself gently from his embrace.

“Hey baby….Have a cream puff, “ he added with a little pat on the ass, “for Valentine’s Day.”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Sure you are. Go on.”

He gave her the grin he had first used five years before when he came into the U District Starbucks where she was working. Even then, his blue eyes, his fair hair, his tanned face, sea-weathered in one so young (he was two years younger than Miranda) were irresistible. He was of medium height, bearded, as are most men who live on boats. Miranda was enamored too with his quiet competence aboard the Placebo, his strength, his easygoing sense of time that was allied to the tides and not to any alarm clock. Miranda had never sailed, and the Placebo seemed its own small universe, away from the noise of the city, bus fumes, difficult roommates, and the pestering questions of what to do with her life after college.

She fell hard for Scott, and their love affair was so intense, and the life he offered was so alluring, so appealing, Miranda had walked away from everything: job, apartment, amigos, and all her old ambitions. She had walked so far away, she could no longer remember what those ambitions were. She had traded ambition for adventure, sailing the Inside Passage, up and down the British Columbia and Washington coasts with Scott, sailing into perfect sunsets and storms, for sailing in the middle of an orca pod, for coming to know the sea, the Sound, the mountains, the islands, the skies, the tides, the winds as intimate, though sometimes vengeful friends.

As Scott and Miranda were sharing the cream puffs and hot tea at their small table, a motorboat roared nearby and stirred the waters. Its engine cut, leaving only the sound of its wake slapping the sides of the Placebo. “That’s odd,” said Miranda, “someone coming around the marina this late. It’s after ten.”

Scott shrugged, and went on with this anecdote about Chef Sigurdson’s latest self-aggrandizing tale of his own wonderfulness. “Why isn’t he actually cooking at a famous restaurant. That’s what I want to know. How in the hell did he end up at the Tech? And then, did I tell you about yesterday, what he did?”

Miranda shook her head and listened to a tale of abuse he had heaped all over a student, really working himself into a Norwegian froth. She ventured the opinion that Scott should make a dessert and give it that name and see what Sigurdson did with that.

Her tolerance for Scott’s Chef stories had waned weeks ago, though she listened, and nodded as required. Certainly she was happy enough to sample Scott’s pastry homework, which, she realized ruefully, might be beginning to tell on her butt. Maybe she ought to ride the bike to Java the Hutt.

Before they went to bed she wound the alarm clock. While the Placebo had all up-to-the-minute electronic navigation instruments, auto pilot, everything else they would ever need, Scott had especial affection for his childhood Care Bears alarm clock. It was the only thing from Scott’s past that he kept on the Placebo.

Wonder of wonders, it still worked. She set it on the shelf above their bed, and turned into his waiting arms while the boat rocked gently and the halyards outside clanged musically.

She woke later to the sounds of the unseen motorboat that started noisily up again and ripped through the still waters of the marina.

She turned on her side, and from there she could see the dozen roses, some of them drooping now, no longer crisp. They were in two wine bottles. No vases on a sailboat. So who were the roses from? Or to? She had assumed they were a trail to the Placebo, but no. Might they have marked a path away from one of the nearby boats? But which one? None of the other boats along their ramp in the marina was lived in. Certainly not in February.

***

Miranda knew this practice was not exactly “green,” but she did it anyway, every morning, throwing the old coffee grounds off the side of the sailboat and into the waters of the marina.

“You think the fish like that?” called a voice, shocking her so much she gave a little screech.

Miranda looked up and high on the deck of the sleek Godiva there stood a man, middle-aged, paunchy with a moist little mouth and small blue eyes. He was bundled to the teeth, and his long scarf flapped in the chill wind. He smiled.

“Oh,” she replied stupidly. “I certainly hope so. You surprised me.”

“The shock of the new?” he inquired.

Not knowing how to reply to this, she mumbled something about no one ever living on the Godiva.

“We have come to take possession.”

“Are you new owners then? I didn’t know it had been sold.”

“It wasn’t. I’m Christopher Fox, by the way.”

“I’m Miranda Evans. My partner, Scott is asleep.”

There appeared, as if by magic beside Christopher a beautiful woman, jaw-dropping beautiful, long thick, smooth black hair, a high-planed face, dark eyes under arched brows. Her full red lips gleamed even this early in the morning. She too was swathed against the cold, her ringed, manicured fingers pressed against a cashmere scarf.

“Miranda, this is Claudia. Miranda is our neighbor.”

Claudia nodded, but could not be bothered to speak.

“Was that you I saw last night?” asked Miranda, “in the Mercedes in the parking lot?”

Claudia shrugged. “I don’t know. Was it?” She turned to her companion, “Come in when you get cold.”

Miranda gave an entirely false laugh. “Yes, well I’m getting cold, too, and I’ll get a crick in my neck if I keep looking up at you, Christopher, but it was nice to meet you.”

“You could come over,” he offered, the smile on his face unchanging. “And be neighborly.”

“Not this morning, sorry.

I’ve got to get Scott up and moving. He’s got class, and I’ve got work.

Later, though! Love to later!”

“Place-Bow,” Christopher said before she could duck back down into the cabin. “What kind of name is that?”

“Place-Bow? Oh! “ Miranda was stunned that a man who had come to take possession of a yacht like the Godiva would make such a weird error. “No, that’s not how you pronounce it. It’s Pla-see-bo. You know?”

“No, I guess I don’t,” said Christopher, unruffled, still smiling. “Something special?”

“It means…” Miranda cast about for a simple explanation, “it’s like something fake you put in place of something real. But the person getting the fake doesn’t know it, doesn’t realize it. See? They think it’s real.”

“A substitute you mean.”

“Yes. Sort of. But a fake substitute.”

“Like a forgery.”

“Yes. Like that. Well, see you later, Christopher.”

“I shall count on that.”

Miranda ducked down into their small cabin, and closed the door behind her, trying to shake off a feeling of some unspoken, probably unwarranted anxiety. Was it the motorboat late at night, perhaps leaving off Christopher or Claudia or both? The trail of long-stemmed roses leading to—or from—the Godiva? Had Claudia dropped them one by one on her way to the Mercedes in the parking lot? Perhaps her tension came from the suspicion that in describing the name of the Placebo to Christopher Fox, Miranda had actually been talking about something much larger and deeper without quite knowing what that was.

The Care Bears alarm rang piercingly in the cabin. Scott rolled over and stretched.

“You’ll never guess,” Miranda said, “who just moved in next door.”

Chapter 2

by Cami Ostman (1848 words)

Miranda’s shift started at ten and would end at four. While she slung coffee and worked for tips too small to claim on her tax forms, Scott would be in class making blueberry tartlets.

Scott would get home by three and would be waiting for her with a glass of Pisco Sour, a Chilean drink they paid good money for at Buenas Bebidas, the only liquor store in the Northwest that specialized in South American imports. By the time they reconvened, neither of them would have accomplished much for the day outside of catering to the needs of impatient, difficult people. But tonight they had plans. They were to go to the independent movie theater to take in a film on extreme sailing, a documentary that had come out last month and was getting enough national attention to keep it in the theaters one more week.

As she pulled into the parking lot above the pier at four fifteen, the evening was already waning. A soft umber had already settled over the water, and the waves that splashed on the shore were lackadaisical. Again she saw the Mercedes, this time taking up two spaces in the middle of a row of SUVs and Priuses. Gawd, that woman had gall! But before Miranda could form a second irritated thought, she heard the faint-but-quickly-growing-louder sound of sirens coming in her direction. In only moments two black-and-white police cars, an ambulance, and a long black sedan sailed in to the lot and posted themselves right in front of her car. Shit. What was going on?

A boating accident, no doubt. If you live on the water long enough, you came to realize that life at sea is fragile. There was often a person overboard, or a small capsized vessel here in the bay. The closer you were to shore, the more idiotic people seemed to be. Those you encountered out in the open were more likely to know what they were doing, though there were still tragic accidents among very experienced sailors.

But in spite of how common it was to see flashing lights in the marina, a flutter in Miranda’s heart turned into a thump, and as if by instinct, she felt she had to get to the Placebo quickly and check on Scott. For one thing, Scott would be worried if he’d heard the sirens. Since his mother had passed away in a car accident two blocks from their house twelve years earlier, every siren was the omen of bad news and he could never settle down until he knew what was happening.

Pulling her red shoulder bag off the passenger seat, Miranda jumped out of the Subaru, flung the car door closed without locking it, and scurried toward the bridge, reaching it just as officers and medics began getting out of their own vehicles and convening in front of the sedan.

It didn’t occur to Miranda until she set foot on the dock that something could have happened to Scott! Could he have set fire to the Placebo trying out one of Sigurdson’s stupid Chocolate Lava Cake recipes? As soon as the thought came to her, she broke into a run and reached the bridge down to the pier in less than twenty seconds and the dock proper in another ten.

Miranda didn’t get past the Whole Shebang before being stopped by an officer in his blues, complete with a shiny gold badge on his left breast pocket, who was wielding yellow tape. She approached him as he was stringing the tape across the pier twenty feet beyond. “What’s going on here?” she asked, beginning to feel the darkening sky closing in.

“Murder,” he said as if he were telling her what flavor of syrup he wanted in his latte.

Now Miranda’s heart was in her gut. For a moment the wind grew still and she could hear her own pulse pump-pumping behind her ears. A murder? She knew she had to find Scott. Whatever was going on, he would be in a panic if he heard the word “murder” and didn’t know where she was. He was a worrier, that one. Come to think of it, Miranda wasn’t beyond feeling a growing sense of doom herself. She needed to see her beau and satisfy herself that all was well. Just beyond the crime tape was the Godiva, and just beyond that was the Placebo, rocking in the soft waves as if it hadn’t a care in the world. That was hopeful, right? “Who? I mean, who was murdered?” she asked.

“Can’t tell you that, ma’am. This is a crime investigation. You’ll have to go wait up in the parking lot.”

Every cell of her body protested. “But I live here. I mean there,” she pointed at the Placebo. And my boyfriend is in that boat. Is he okay?”

Now the officer, a young man who looked like he still didn’t need to shave more than once a week, gave her his full attention. “Your boyfriend a tow-headed fellow with freckles? ‘Bout so tall?” He held his hand up to the level of his own forehead, palm facing the ground.

Miranda nodded.

“Well, you won’t be able to see him anytime soon. That guy’s the prime suspect. You probably wanna go call his lawyer for him.”

Miranda felt the wood of the dock against her shoulder as her body met the ground. The next thing she remembered was a middle-aged medic standing next to her with his stethoscope pressed up against her wrist as he took her pulse. Instinctively, she pushed him away as she came to her senses. It wasn’t like her to faint. “Where is Scott?” she shouted as she struggled to her feet. The medic tried to steady her but she brushed him aside. “Where is my boyfriend?” she demanded of the officer who still stood guard between her and the Placebo, but he only shook his head and shrugged.

“I’ll take it from here,” said a woman’s voice from behind her. A tall, dark-haired, regal-but-commanding figure in a pencil skirt and tight turtle-neck sweater appeared beside the uniformed officer and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Thanks Andrew, I’ve got this. Can you go up and block off the parking lot?” The young officer left, attended by the medic.

“Can you please tell me what’s going on here?” Miranda demanded once again.

“I’m Sergeant Belinda Swanson, in charge of the investigation. And you are?” She held out her hand in the way that women do when they want to assert their authority—with certitude and just a little disdain.

“I’m Miranda Evans. I live right there,” she pointed to the Placebo with her left hand while taking Sergeant Swanson’s offering in her right, “on that boat. And that officer you just sent away said there’s been a murder and that my boyfriend Scott is the prime suspect.” Miranda’s voice was an octave higher than usual and shaky. She felt very alone, very young, and as frightened as she’d ever been in her whole life.

“Well Miranda, that’s not exactly right. Take a breath now, and I’ll tell you what you need to know, okay? Then we’ll take it from there.” Sergeant Swanson’s voice was smooth, soothing in its own way—but commanding. There was no question in Miranda’s mind who was in charge here.

“Okay,” she said, seeing no other option but to cooperate. She took in a deep breath and tried to ground herself so that she could focus on the Sergeant’s voice.

“Alright, so it appears there’s been a murder down here on Pier 22. This afternoon ‘bout a half hour ago, I got a call that a man was found dead on board this big boat here,” she indicated the Godiva.

“Oh,” Miranda gave a cry. “Who is he?”

“We don’t know much yet, dear. All I know myself is that there was a note by they guy’s body. The contents of the note might tell us more. I haven’t seen it. And there was a single, long-stem red rose laid very precisely across his chest. The other thing we know is that inside that boat right there,” now she pointed to the Placebo, “there was a bundle of eleven matching long-stem roses and a blond man with blood on his hands.”

Miranda stepped backwards. “What?” she cried. “No. Not Scott?”

None of this made any sense. Scott would have only been home for a few minutes when the murder was supposed to have occur. And the rose? Well, she knew for a fact that she had found exactly twelve long-stemmed roses last night leading a path from the parking lot to the Godiva, so how was it that there were only eleven of them on the Placebo now and one by a dead man’s body on the boat next to theirs.

Just then from beyond the Godiva, Miranda could see activity aboard the Placebo. The helmeted heads of two officers bobbed above the sightline for a few moments, and then a third person—Scott—emerged. Within seconds all three debarked from the boat and began walking toward Miranda and Sergeant Swanson.

Scott hobbled between the officers, hands cuffed behind his back, head down. As they shuffled closer, Miranda could see the blood marking Scott’s white chef’s jacket. “Scott,” she called. “Scott, baby, are you okay?”

Scott looked up, an expression of fear and desperation spelled out across his face. And something else…Confusion. Not the kind you would expect, but more like the confusion of a drunk person, or someone who had lost his mind. Scott’s blue eyes were wild and searching. When his gaze lighted on her face, there was relief, but not much.

What the fuck had happened here?

“Miranda,” he called. “Miranda, I don’t know what’s going on. Help me, babe.”

“Scott, how?” she called as the officers were nudging him past her.

“My dad. Call my dad,” he said over his shoulder.

Whatever Scott’s part in all of this, it was bad. Scott hadn’t spoken to his father in three years. And he would never call on him unless there was no other option. In the twilight and the chill of the evening, Miranda shivered. She nodded to the Sergeant, turned to make her way back up the ramp toward her car, and reached in her purse for her phone to dial the number of Edward Banton, Scott’s jerk of a father, the only person with the resources to help her beloved.

Just as she found the number in her call list she heard voices behind her and turned to see Christopher Fox and the beautiful-but-ill-mannered Claudia shaking hands with the sergeant.

“Let me know if there’s anything else we can do for you,” Christopher was saying. She couldn’t put it together. The murder had happened on the Godiva and yet Christopher and Claudia were walking free while Scott was hauled off to the downtown police department. None of this added up.

With nothing else to do, Miranda dialed Edward’s number and waited for him to answer.

Chapter Three

by Kenneth W. Meyer (2057 Words)

Let me know if there’s anything else we can do for you, Christopher Fox had said.

But what had the new couple occupying the Godiva done for the authorities?

It was a provocative phrase to use.

Also, when Fox said they had come to ‘take possession’, what precisely did that mean?

Miranda breathed in through her mouth. Keep calm. At that moment, Edward Banton, Scott’s father and retired banker, member of the board of several companies in Washington state, and key statewide contributor to United Catholic Charities picked up the phone in Seattle.

“Edward?” Asked Miranda. In fact she hated calling Scott’s father by his first name, but he had insisted on it and finally she had capitulated. Since they hadn’t conversed in the last three years, what difference did it make.

“Miranda.” Although it had been three years, Banton recognized his son’s partner’s voice immediately. It wasn’t the voice as much as her tentative timbre, as if she weren’t sure what reception she might receive. Why did she think he would be cross with her?

She asked politely after Edward’s health and heard an encouraging reply. “Edward, I’m afraid there’s some trouble.”

“Well, that’s something.” At least something has happened, he thought with grim humor.

“Please don’t pre-judge us,” she snapped before she could catch herself. She and Banton always seemed to rub each other the wrong way. “I know you don’t approve of Scott and me “being together.”

“My dear, that’s not it at all. What I don’t approve of is young people coasting through life, whether on a sailboat, at the university, or wherever. But let’s not waste time on that at the moment. What has happened?”

“There’s been a murder and the police are holding Scott. I really have no idea what it’s about. I’m standing on the dock now. I’m very worried. Scott suggested I call you.” This all tumbled out.

“You did the right thing dear. Don’t say anything more at the moment. One never knows about the phones these days. Give me a minute.” But actually it was two minutes. Miranda could hear classical music—probably a radio station—in the background. There was a shuffling of papers. Then: “I’m going to send you a person who will help sort things out. He’s not a lawyer, but he’s helpful. His name is Gaulatin, Herve Gaulatin. He has worked with me on several occasions and with the bank for that matter. Just sit tight. I’ll have him up there by Tuesday.”

“His name sounds like a restaurant in New Orleans,” quipped Miranda. This was not the time for humor, but the sentence just came out.

Banton chuckled. “He is very fond of New Orleans. That is a fact. You’ll see him soon. You can trust him. Why don’t we talk again next week?” As if their chit-chats were a regular occurrence.

“We will,” affirmed Miranda.

“Good-bye then dear. Try not to worry.” There was a click on the other end.

That was very strange. Was Scott’s father always so blasé? She couldn’t remember. And the person who was coming next week, if he wasn’t a lawyer, what was he? Guard? Investigator? What?

On Sunday afternoon Miranda pulled up to the window of Bigfoot Java on Sunset Drive. Her old high school mate Jessica was at the window. Today her classmate was chewing gum and wearing a black beret and a blue sweatshirt with the Superman—or Superwoman—insignia over her heart. Wearing superhero garb or for that matter inventing your own superhero persona were popular pursuits in Miranda’s town. In her other life Jessica was a graduate student in Anthropology at the state university. She had achieved some renown among around town for being at an archaeological dig in Tunisia in December 2010 when the revolution had broken out, an event which, while a coincidence, nevertheless gave her an aura of being a person of high adventure. Who also happened to work part-time at Bigfoot Java.

Although the apparition that greeted her in the Bigfoot window was by no means unusual, Miranda still laughed. “Supergirl?”

“You bet. Your usual? A tall mocha with a dash of cinnamon on top?”

“Please.”

Jessica disappeared for a moment and came back with the cup of coffee. “You get some flowers for Valentine’s Day?”

“Actually, I stole someone else’s.” Miranda took the coffee and handed over two dollars.

“You go girl!”

Miranda sighed. “We’re in trouble. There was a murder out on the dock.”

Jessica leaned forward, all attention. In their county you had about as much chance of being murdered as being hit by a meteor.

“Some accountant was killed.” This tantalizing piece of information had not been told to Miranda personally, but when she had revived on the dock after fainting she had heard an unknown voice some feet away say, in the unvarnished not-for-public-consumption voice of crime-scene workers, “Put the accountant in the bag.”

 But was that really what she had heard? It sounded bizarre…Maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe it was ‘Put the count in the bag’ ?

Regarding accountants: “God, I hate them too,” commiserated Jessica. “Not as much as lawyers of course.”

“, And the police think Scott has something to do with it.”

“Your Scott? The only thing that guy could murder would be dessert.”

Miranda pointed a finger at the other woman. “Cut it out.”

“Okay. Seriously, what’s going on?”

“It seems the victim was on the boat next to us. Scott was home at the time.” Miranda shook her head. “I don’t know. The whole thing is incomprehensible. I’m supposed to see the police again tomorrow.”

“The person you need is Tawi.”

At 9 a.m. on Monday morning Miranda walked up the steps of the County Courthouse, this in itself felt odd, as her frequent haunt was the library across the street, wearing a pantsuit as a concession to, what? At her side was a somber figure in a dark overcoat, Tawi, who was often mistaken for a person of Italian or Greek ancestry, but who had in fact been born in Lebanon. The counselor’s hair was cut short, but he allowed himself a goatee, which almost made him look as old as thirty. Almost. His proper name, Mutawiyya, was the name of one of the early caliphs of the Arab Abbasid dynasty[1]. Despite that not necessarily comforting moniker, Tawi described himself as a ‘secular Muslim’, an assertion which left most listeners hopeful but not necessarily wiser.

Notwithstanding Jessica’s throwaway remark about hating lawyers, Tawi was her good friend and a public defender with an admirable record, as well as a public record of admiring Miranda. Miranda had to think for a minute before calling Tawi, but under the circumstances this was no time to be choosy. Tawi was thoughtful and effective.

Go with it. “I’ll just sit there and listen,” he advised as they mounted the steps. “But if I say, ‘Don’t answer that.’ Don’t answer.”

“Got it.”

In room 213 Miranda and Tawi found Sergeant Belinda Swanson in a business suit seated next to a young man in a gray pinstripe suit. Swanson looked surprised.

“Tawi, you’re everywhere!”

Of course, thought Miranda, since Tawi was a public defender Swanson would see him around the building and in court.

Miranda’s associate murmured a polite disclaimer as he sat down.

“This is Norman Klovic of the FBI,” introduced Swanson.

Miranda’s spirits fell a notch further. Police and murder were bad. FBI was even worse. FBI meant, what? Kidnapping, international crime, criminal enterprises that crossed state borders. Not drugs though, that was the DEA.

“I’m from the Seattle field office,” said Klovic evenly. He was about thirty, in fact all the people in the room that day were in the neighborhood of 30 years old.

So everyone had brought reinforcements, though Miranda supposed the FBI usually invited themselves to proceedings they found of interest. But what was it all about…

“Let me state clearly at the outset that Scott is not necessarily thought to be the perpetrator of the murder that took place on the Godiva,” said Swanson carefully.

“But you’re still holding him,” pointed out Tawi mildly.

I thought you weren’t going to say anything,

 Swanson’s cheeks reddened slightly, but whether with irritation or in embarrassment was indeterminate. “We’re releasing him into Ms. Evans’ custody after this meeting. We’ll have further questions later. The crime scene is still being examined, as you might imagine. And we are awaiting the results of various tests.”

“Who exactly was the person who was murdered?” Asked Miranda.

“First let me note just for the record that you’re here of your own accord and have no obligation to speak to us at all,” said Klovic. “Thank you for coming. The victim’s name was Harold Beem,” explained Klovic. “But before we go into that, we’d like to know how you and your husband know Claudia Mocenigo.”

“Who?” Said Miranda.

Klovic slid a photo across the table. It was the woman from the Godiva in a black evening gown. Miranda recognized her instantly, though her hair was pinned-up and Christopher Fox was nowhere in sight. Perhaps the photo had been taken at a concert hall or charity event. The involuntary thought came to Miranda, She looks good.

“Oh.” Miranda had been thrown by the last name, which she had not heard before. “We don’t know her. They just turned up the other night.”

“You don’t know that Claudia Mocenigo is the CEO of the Halcyon Corporation,” recited Klovic flatly.

Miranda felt as if someone had just bashed her over the head with a two-by-four. She had thought Claudia was merely Fox’s paramour. Idiot. Talk about sexism. “What the hell is the Halcyon Corporation?” She asked artlessly.

“It’s a company which supplies financial services to women of a certain income and has a portfolio of its own mutual funds, which it manages. Mocenigo founded the company ten years ago. Today the firm also has a large interest in real estate in the northwest.”

“And Christopher Fox?”

“Fox is her husband,” said Swanson with a shrug. To Klovic: “We need to be asking the questions.”

Klovic nodded tersely and swallowed.

“So you’ve never heard of the Halcyon Corporation?” Swanson.

“No.”

“When you first met Ms. Mocenigo and Fox, what did they say?”

Miranda glanced at Tawi, who nodded.

“They said they were taking possession of the Godiva. I thought that was an odd way to put it. Are they gangsters? Did they do something to the original owners?”

Swanson and Klovic exchanged a look and it was Klovic’s turn to shrug. Swanson said, “Not like you’re thinking. The Godiva was owned by a firm called Superior Consultants. Mocenigo took over the firm and broke it up, dismissing the chief officers. She assumed title over all assets, and the Godiva was one of them.”

Klovic pushed another photo across the table. It was a shoulder-and-head shot of a male about forty years old. He had blonde hair cut short with a part on the left. He looked like something more than an accountant, perhaps ex-military. “Does he look familiar?”

Miranda shook her head. “Beem?”

“Beem,” nodded Klovic.

“I’ve never seen him before. Was he a financial officer?” Oh hell, she shouldn’t have said that,

“How would you know that?” Asked Klovic.

“Somebody said it on the dock that night,” explained Miranda. “I don’t know who…” So this seemed to confirm that the government had been keeping an eye on the Godiva and people associated with it.

Swanson looked exasperated and tapped the fingers of her right hand on the table. “Idiots,” she muttered. To Miranda: “He was an accountant by training and a consultant to Halcyon but not a direct employee. It gets murky after that.”

No shit.

Klovic drew himself up: “If we can get back on track: Ms. Evans, our understanding is that your partner has a previous acquaintance with Ms. Mocenigo.”

“What!” Miranda felt like someone had brained her yet again. That’s impossible…Or was it.

But before she could say anything more, Tawi laid a gentle but firm hand on her forearm.

“I think we’re ready to see Scott now,” said the counselor.

Chapter Four

by Linda Lambert (1712 words)

When seventeen-year-old Linda Swanson found herself pregnant by a 21 year-old college boy, he wanted to pay for an abortion.

Linda said no.

“I will raise this child myself, with or without your help.”

And she did, following the path of so many single mothers before her—food stamps and welfare, night bartending, a two-year course in information technology at the technical college that took her six years to complete.

Linda had named her child thoughtfully. She wanted to include a bit of herself in this baby that she would devote her life to. The name Linda, so popular in the 40s and 50s, was unfashionable in the 80s. Besides, she wanted a derivative name, not a copy-cat one. “Melinda” had too much “me” and too much ego in it. She settled on Belinda, hoping that her daughter could take all of her mother’s good qualities—and unfulfilled dreams—and be a Linda who was even better that her unwed mother was. Linda didn’t dream that her daughter would one day want to join the police force.

As a little girl, Belinda begged for toy guns. Linda refused to buy them.

“But Mommy, I want to save people not shoot them.”

Linda remained resolute. “Guns promote violence. There are too many guns in this country.”

So, Belinda, starting at age five, duct-taped pieces of wood together to make guns to thwart burglars, borrowed plastic dart guns to defend her dolls, and used squirt guns to protect ducks and eradicate predators.

Eventually, her mother relented and supplied her with a simple nerf gun—way before Nerf got all crazy with its Nerf Nation videos, zombie strikers, Supersoakers and elite cam blasters.

As a teenager, Belinda asked to attend an after school Safe Shooting class and to go to a shooting range twice a week so that she could practice. Belinda was a tall attractive young woman with long brown hair, and somber dark eyes. She had the kind of shapely figure and bearing that attracted men, probably the wrong kind of men. Perhaps some instruction in self-defense would be a good thing, Linda thought.

“You can take the class and you can go to the range, but you have to pay for it, and you also have to take martial arts and yoga.” She added the yoga class at the last minute because she hoped it would relax her hard-driving daughter.

“Ok.” Belinda didn’t bat a single thick eyelash. “I’ll pay for the class. I’ve saved up money from my job as bat girl.”

By the time Belinda was ready for college, Linda had a new job and was ready to take care of tuition and books. She didn’t need to. Belinda received a full ride scholarship for the Administration of Justice program.

Linda had found work at Our Lady of Perpetual Help High School, first as a technical support person and then as head of Information Technology. It was not a dream job, but her salary was generous. The school, known for the intellectual accomplishments of its graduates, was largely supported by big business donors who loved to brag about the school’s cutting edge technology and blazingly successful athletic programs. Sister Margaret appreciated the dual focus on body and mind. She wished there were some donors who would support spirituality—like replacing their tattered Bibles or providing meditative music on CDs.

Belinda completed college with a 3.9—her perfect GPA destroyed by a single bad grade in calculus. She could figure out how to measure wood for a toy gun, but higher math was a challenge that even she could not completely conquer.

After graduation she announced, “All I want to do, Mom, is go to the police academy and get myself really ready for action.”

“Belinda. Think. Are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do? Police work is dangerous. I don’t want you to end up dead in an alley. You might want to get married. Why don’t you get a nice desk job at an attorney’s office or work for a security company. You could even teach if you go to graduate school.”

“Mom! I’m sure! I don’t want to waste time in graduate school. I don’t want to be a lame security guard pacing around a college or a used car lot. I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t want to get married and I definitely don’t want a baby.”

Her mother sighed the sigh that all mothers emit when their children know their own minds and that knowledge does not align with parental wishes and worries.

“You know that police phrase on the sides of police cars, ‘to serve and protect?’ Belinda said. “The police academy’s slogan is ‘Enter to Learn, Go forth to serve.’ Doesn’t that sound just right for me?”

“Yes, but what do you have to do to apply?”

“A bunch of stuff. Pass an exam and a physical fitness test, get through a drug and alcohol test, a background check, and have two years of college. I’ve got it nailed,” she said, “but…it costs $5000. If I do well, and I get a job, 75% is refundable.”

“Nailed?”

“Ok, well, maybe not. I’ll have to bench press 59 per cent of my weight, do 32 sit ups and 15 pushups a minute. I’m not quite ready. I’ll have to run every day, go to the gym, and use weights, but I’ll work my butt off this summer.”

Her mother wrote the check. By the time Belinda arrived at the police academy six months later, her butt was admiringly observed, particularly by fellow academician Norman Klovic.

Linda’s work at Our Lady of Perpetual Help continued along pleasantly enough. She liked her co-workers, the flexibility of her hours, the ability to go to conferences and update her skills. Her requests for technology were supported most of the time. There was only one recent problem.

The president of the board at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, had threatened Linda if she did not severely restrict student access to internet sites.

The man was a careful bully. His emails were couched in gentle, conservative language.

“I think that the deployment (he liked to use words that sounded militaristic) of Net Nanny would preserve the innocence of our vulnerable children, reassert the Roman Catholic Church’s stand against violence and sexual profligacy and pornography, and benefit the moral health of the country.”

Linda was not against software that controlled content. Net Nanny allowed parents a means of oversight, but at an educational institution, it blocked content that was useful in high school student research. She had stood firm on the matter until the President of the board came to her office before the meeting when the Net Nanny vote would be taken. She rose to greet him and extended her hand. He had no greeting for her and he did not participate in a handshake.

“Ms. Swanson,” he said, the “Ms.” sounding like an exaggerated buzz saw, “Do not force me to tell Sister Margaret that I will be withdrawing my support of this institution.” He moved in closer, pressed his body against hers, placed one hand on her shoulder, and pointed a finger in her face.

“Do not force me to challenge your competence and your position at this school. You know that content control is the right thing to do.” He paused.

“I wouldn’t want to make your name Swansong instead of Swanson.” He smiled at his own cleverness, then let his hand drift across her breast, avoiding her eyes, and exited.

Linda did not offer protest at the meeting. Instead, she called the local police.

Belinda Swanson, was handling radio calls and dispatch on her last day as a Detective III. She had been promoted to Sergeant, her new assignment as Watch Commander started the next day.

“Belinda, I am so shaken up, but I can’t afford to lose my job right now,” she stammered, “Still I think I have to file a complaint against a board member at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He lives in Seattle, but he comes to monthly board meetings.”

“All right,” Belinda said, using the cadenced professional voice that was supposed to be both objective and compassionate, “Tell me what happened.”

It was Detective Swanson who recorded the facts and who initiated a report. It was Daughter Swanson, ablaze with suppressed emotion, the daughter who had absorbed her mothers’ tenacity and toughness, who spoke to Officer Andrew Pettit.

“I think this will be difficult to prosecute. There are no witnesses. Individuals who bully have likely bullied others, so spend some time on it. We might be able to build a case if there are other victims.”

“But Officer Pettit, I can’t have anything to do with it. The complainant is my mother.”

As Belinda waited for the arrival of the suspect, she relaxed and considered whether she, as a new sergeant, had handled the investigation as well as she could have.

She had been deceitful when she said she hadn’t read the note next to Beem’s body. Of course, she’d read the note. A member of the police force, particularly a sergeant, could be suspended or reassigned for disregarding evidence at the scene. But she knew that disclosing the contents was not appropriate. She didn’t understand why she said she hadn’t read it, instead of remaining silent.

She’d lost a little of her cool when Miranda and Tawi walked in, her face uncustomarily ablush not because she was surprised to see Tawi—for heavens sakes, they were always together in court—but because she had not expected to have Mr. Pinstriped Suit sit right next to her. Lieutenant Walker had insisted in bringing in Klovic for the case, which meant there must be some federal implication that Walker had not communicated to Belinda. He was a former officer who had left the ranks of the police brotherhood, for a meteoric rise in the FBI. He was the hottest of the new FBI fireballs.

Yes, she thought, he is still hot. I almost dropped the police academy because of him.

Scott entered the room, accompanied by two men, one of whom Belinda recognized immediately: the president of the board of Our Lady of Perpetual Help: Edward Banton.

Chapter 5

by Pam Helberg (1704 words)

Scott looked like shit on a shingle. Miranda let out a little moan as she rushed to embrace him.

Oh, my baby,” she crooned and pushed his floppy blond hair away from his haggard but still handsomely tanned face, “are you all right? Did they hurt you in there?”

“I’m fine, babe,” Scott said, stiff in her arms. “Just tired.”

The interview finally ended with no one knowing anything more than they knew going in. Whenever Scott proclaimed his innocence, everyone told him it would be better if he just cooperated, and if Miranda mentioned Claudia and Christopher, the officers rolled their eyes. Evidently, no records tied the Godiva to anyone with those names and the police had been unsuccessful in locating the yacht’s owners. Christopher and Claudia may as well be selkies, those mysterious and elusive sea creatures.

When, after five or six hours, it became evident that no one was going to change their story, Edward Banton paid whatever bail money was required, and after a stop for lunch at which both Scott and Miranda just picked at their food and a quick swing by Java the Hutt where Miranda told Obi Juan in no uncertain terms that she would not be in for a shift anytime in the near future, Miranda and Scott found themselves mercifully alone, rocking gently in the fo’c’sle aboard the Placebo.

“I’m so glad you’re back, sweetie,” Miranda wrapped her arms and legs around her beloved. “I couldn’t believe how lonely and empty this little bunk felt without you these past two nights.”

“Trust me, baby, I’m very happy to be back here, back in your arms, in our boat,” Scott murmured and yawned. “I’m so tired. I don’t think I slept more than five minutes at a stretch in that damned jail cell.”

Miranda inhaled deeply—Scott smelled fresh and clean like Launder Land, a lovely mix of Tide, Irish Spring, and the ever-present salt water. “So tell me, what they hell happened? How did you get that poor man’s blood all over yourself?”

Scott sighed, turned over in Miranda’s arms and kissed her deeply. He settled onto his back and with his eyes closed began reciting what had happened two nights ago.

I got home from pastry class and I was wiped out. Sigurdson, that fat fuck, was all over my ass all day. Your icing’s too thin, your souffle didn’t rise, your cookies taste like little dried out turds. Unfuckingbelievable, that guy. So, I stripped down here in the boat and was getting set to go up to the showers when I heard someone calling for help. I threw my chef’s clothes back on and followed the cries. They were coming from the Godiva. I’ve never been on that fucking monument to someone’s ego before, so I had to go slowly, try to find my way around in the dark. I forgot to grab a flashlight, so was just going by the glow of my phone.

I finally stumbled across the dude in the master suite, between the end of the bed—did you know that they have a full on king sized bed in that yacht? And the master suite is all mirrors and gold. Really ostentatious. Gaudy. I about blinded myself when I found and turned on the lights. Jesus. So anyway, the guy, Beem? Is that his name? He’s bleeding out onto the white carpet. It looked like a freaking Game of Thrones wedding scene, blood everywhere. I reached down to try to stop the bleeding and he just grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me on top of him. That’s how I got blood all over me. I have no idea how the rose got in there, no idea. I mean, we don’t even have any sharp knives! All of my knives are at school, in my locker. What do they think I stabbed him with, a spatula? A pastry brush? A Kitchen Aid attachment?

Do you believe me, Miranda? I mean, do you really believe me with everything? I didn’t kill that guy. Why would I kill some dude I don’t even know on a boat that I’ve never been on? I need you to believe me, babe. It’s gotta be those people you met, what’s their names? Claudia and Christopher? That motorboat we heard while we were going at it the other night . . . that surely has some relevance here. Maybe the dude, Beem, came in on the motorboat and when they whacked him, they left in the motorboat? I dunno. But it is so fucking cold out, I can’t imagine anyone just tooling around out in a motorboat in the middle of the night for no good reason. Not any of us live aboards. It has to be them.

Scott opened his eyes and gazed into Miranda’s. “You believe me, right?”

“Of course, of course I do,” she smothered him with kisses, stroking his hair and freshly shaven face. “I believe you, but the police do not. We need to find out who killed Beem sooner rather than later. If they really think you did it, they aren’t even going to look at those clowns Claudia and Christopher. They will only have eyes for you.”

“How are we going to prove I’m innocent?” Scott sounded panicked. “I just can’t go back to that jail. I don’t want to wear an orange jumpsuit for the rest of my life.”

“Let’s go have a look around—let’s sneak onto the Godiva and see what secrets The Cs have hidden aboard,” Miranda stood up and reached a hand out to Scott. “Get up.”

The two pulled on their darkest clothing and tucked their phones in their pockets. Miranda followed Scott across the dock and onto the Godiva. He held the yellow crime scene tape up so she could crawl under it. Even in the dim light cast from the lamps on the main dock, Miranda could see that the Godiva’s decks were highly polished teak.

“Nice,” she whispered. “When this is all over, we should get the name of whoever does their wood for them.” If there was one part of boat life she loathed it was stripping and sanding and lacquering the Placebo’s teak, which is why most of the wood on their boat was a dull unimpressive gray.

“When this is all over, we are getting the hell out of Dodge,” Scott murmured. “Setting sail. Goodbye Java the Hutt, goodbye Sigurdson and pastry school. Hello wide open seas.”

They crept along the Godiva’s starboard side, Miranda clutching the gunwale more out of a need for security than for stability. The yacht hardly moved in the gently undulating waters. They finally reached the aft cockpit and Scott slid open the sliding door. Imagine, Miranda thought, having a door to walk through instead of a hatch to crawl down. The luxury. Scott led her through a small sitting room with leather (leather!) chairs and a lovely galley with granite counter tops, down a small flight of stairs, past two (two!) heads, a bunk room, the door to the engine room, before stopping in front of a closed and highly polished teak door.

“He was in here,” Scott cocked his head toward the door and whatever lay beyond it.

“Ready? There’s a lot of blood.”

Miranda nodded. How bad could it be? But when Scott opened that door and the stench of five million dirty pennies hit her nostrils she fell to her knees. Not again! She had never fainted until two days ago and here she was on her knees ready to lose consciousness again. She pinched her nose shut and began breathing through her mouth, trying to regain her equilibrium. In front of her she saw a mammoth swath of bloodstained carpet and she nearly lost what little lunch she’d eaten earlier.

“I’m going to turn on the lights, brace yourself.”

He reached across Miranda to the switch and with a soft snick the entire room was alight in gaudy, awful brassy light that reflected off mirrors everywhere—mirrors on the walls, on the ceiling.

“Oh dear god,” she whispered. “Oh my.” Nothing could have prepared her for the blood. So much blood.

Scott gripped her by the elbow, steadying her, helping her to her feet.

Miranda took her hands from her face and looked around. She gasped and pointed to the head of the bed. There, on one of the few non-mirrored surfaces hung a stunning painting, one she recognized from her art history classes, Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man.

“What?” Scott asked. “Nice painting, if you like that sort of thing.”

“That painting has been missing since World War Two,” Miranda said. “The Nazi’s stole it from a collection in Poland.”

“Seriously?” Scott asked. “That dude, with his beret and what’s that? A bearskin shawl? He’s not much to look at.”

Miranda moved toward the painting of the young man in a blue shirt and long brown hair. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “This painting is motive,” she said. “People would kill for this painting.”

“People have killed for this art, yes,” said a voice in the doorway.

Miranda and Scott spun around. Christopher and Claudia stood at the end of the berth.

“Scott, these are the people I was telling you about,” said Miranda. “Claudia and Christopher.”

“Cloud-ee-ah,” said Claudia. “Not Clod-yah. Cloud-ee-ah.” She harrumphed.

“Did you kill for this painting?” Miranda asked. “Are you the ones who stabbed that poor accountant, Mr. Beem?”

“Accountant? What are you talking about?” asked Christopher. “What accountant? Who is Mr. Beem?”

“This blood belonged to him,” Miranda gestured toward the floor, her arms sweeping the room. “But no longer. He is dead. And the police think my Scott did it.”

“Beem? An accountant?” Claudia asked no one in particular. She continued to murmur to herself while pacing in front of the captain’s suite doorway. Suddenly she stopped. “Could you possibly mean Viscount Briene?”

Miranda’s breath caught in her chest. Perhaps she had heard the officers wrong the other night. Perhaps what they were saying wasn’t “put the accountant in the bag” but rather “put the Count in the bag.” Could it be?

Chapter 6

by Susan Chase-Foster (1756 words)

Miranda exhaled and looked up at the exquisite painting, which, she recalled, some art experts claimed to be one of only two extant self-portraits of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.

Its value on the black market, assuming it’s authentic, Professor Adlersflügel at the U Dub had claimed, would be at least one hundred million dollars. “We’re in deep shit, Scott!” Miranda said, turning toward her boyfriend.

Scott’s eyes were glued to Claudia, whose raven hair seemed to be listing to port on her head. Was she wearing a wig? And why was he looking at her that way?

“You don’t know the half of it, Fräulein,” Christopher announced in a slight Germanic accent that Miranda hadn’t noticed before.

“Why don’t you tell me, then, Christopher Fox.” Miranda’s neck and shoulders were rigid with fear, yet she felt feisty; her passion for art history was an even greater force than fear, like a shot of adrenalin surging through her body.

“It’s Christoph Fuchs, actually. Might I suggest we move to the salon, a more comfortable location for storytelling of this nature, and certainly a more cheerful place. Claudia, please lead the way after you straighten your hair, dear.”

Claudia smiled through her teeth and pulled off her long black hair, revealing a short shaggy mane of golden curls. She tossed her wig onto the bed and headed out the door, up the stairs, past the galley and into the sitting room. She pointed to the two cobalt blue leather chairs in which Miranda and Scott were to sit. From the galley, Christoph called out something in German.

Entschuldigung Sie, excuse me,” Claudia said, looking directly at Scott. She headed toward the galley.

Miranda didn’t waste a second. “What the fuck’s going on, Scott? Do you know that woman? She seems to know you, Scott!”

“She’s my cousin, Miranda. My mother’s sister died giving birth to Claudia, and she was given our surname, Burgstaller, and raised in our family until my mother was killed in that car accident–or murdered–twelve years ago. Scott rubbed his fingers through his hair, which, Miranda now noticed, was the exact color of his cousin’s. “Claudia was only eighteen at the time, but she hated my dad even more than I did and ended up running away to Buenos Aires with Dad’s business partner, and our host, Herr Fucks.”

“Wait a minute! If your father is Edward Burgstaller who are you, Scott?”

“My father is Eduard, and I am–I am Sigwald Burgstaller, but my parents called me Sigi.” He looked painfully distressed. “So sorry, babe, really. My father changed our family name because of …well, for many reasons. I …” Sigi reached for Miranda’s hand, but she pulled back.

“Holy shit! What else don’t I know, Sigi?” Miranda’s heart was hammering in her chest. “So, Claudia Burgstaller, your cousin, married Christoph when she was 18 and they’re still together? He’s a lot older and uglier than she is.”

“And richer! Aren’t you, mein Schatz?” Claudia entered the sitting room followed by Christoph. He set a beautifully carved wooden tray with a bottle of Fernet-Branca and four small crystal glasses, already filled, on the coffee table in the center of the room and sat across from Miranda. Claudia handed Sigi, Miranda and Christoph a glass each, then took the last one and sat on her husband’s knee.

“Prost!” Christoph raised his glass high, and then quaffed its contents.

“Zum Wohl!” Claudia toasted, taking a sip, which was when Miranda noticed that her formerly dark eyes were now the same blue as Sigi’s. Had she been wearing contacts, before?

“Fuck you, people! Not you, Miranda. I love you.” Sigi emptied his glass and held it out for more. He seemed to savor the taste of the deep brown, almost black liquor.

“Whatever.” Miranda approached her glass cautiously, touched the liquid with her tongue, took a tiny drink and frowned. “Yikes! What is this friggin’ stuff? It tastes like a mixture of motor oil, Listerine and tree sap. This is a joke, right?”

“Wrong. It’s Argentina’s most popular drink, Miranda,” Christoph explained. “After about nine tries, you will adore it. Plus, it’s good for menstrual cramps and hangovers. Bottoms up!”

“I don’t have menstrual cramps!” But after several more tries, Miranda was starting to settle into the bitterness and the lingering medicinal aftertaste of the fernet. She was also growing drowsy, as was Sigi, or maybe he was already asleep. His eyes were closed, anyhow. Miranda’s vision was blurred, but when she looked over at Christoph and Claudia, the seemed to be smiling. “So …you were …going to tell us …about the painting …Christoph,” Miranda yawned and closed her eyes.

At that moment, the Godiva’s engine rumbled and the boat began to pull back out of its slip.

* * *

When Miranda woke up, she was buckled into an airplane seat next to a small window out of which she saw nothing but a sea of clouds. Scott, er, Sigi, was seated across the aisle, strapped in and snoring. Miranda’s body felt like stone. She was nauseated and had a volcanic headache. Worst of all, she was dying to pee. “Hey!” she screamed, unbuckling her seatbelt. “I have to use the bathroom! Where the hell are we? Anybody home?”

A small woman with a sweet smile in a brown flight attendant’s uniform appeared in the aisle. She looked surprised to see her passenger awake. “Buenos días, Miranda and welcome aboard! Do you think you can walk to the baño, amiga?”

“I’ll give it my best shot.”

Miranda reached out for the woman’s hands and, though diminutive, the woman was strong enough to pull Miranda into a standing position. From there, she could see that it was not a large plane, only 10 or 12 seats, one on either side of the aisle, covered in fine leather, and each with a matching ottoman attached to the floor. Plush.

“Hold onto my arm and I’ll take you to the baño. If you need help, just push the call button. When you’re finished, I’ll be waiting right outside the door.”

“Like a prison guard?” Miranda asked, but the woman looked confused.

The head was just behind the cockpit, whose door was open. Miranda saw a man and a woman, pilots, judging by their uniforms and caps. They were speaking softly in Spanish.

After Miranda had completed her business, the flight attendant sat her in the seat closest to the cockpit. “If you are hungry, Miranda, I will bring you a meal.”

“Starving! Hey, what’s your name? And where are we? More importantly, where the …where are we going?”

“I am Belen. We are now flying over Asunción, Paraguay on our way to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We should arrive in about 2 hours. Do you eat meat or are you vegetariana?”

“Oh, my God, we’ve been kidnapped! Sigi, we’ve been kidnapped!” Miranda suddenly screamed.

“In that case,” Belen said, “I will bring you a typical meal of carne asado with chimichurri, some pasta, eggplants and ice cream Do you want wine? Red wine?”

“Hell yes! Bring me a bottle please. No, bring me two bottles! What about Sigi?”

“Your novio is very comfortable, amiga. He will not be waking up until we arrive in Buenos Aires. Just relax, Miranda. I’ll be back soon with your comida.

As if on cue, as soon as Belen headed off to the back of the plane one of the pilots emerged from the cockpit. He was a handsome Latino man, with salt and pepper hair sprouting from under his cap. His complexion was a flawless copper. His teeth were perfectly white inside of his broad smile.

“Hello, Miranda. My name is Herve Gaulatín at your service.”

Miranda sat up in her seat. Her heart gurgled. Wasn’t she too young to have a heart attack? “What? Herve Gaulatín? I know I’ve heard that name before. How do you know my name? What am I …what are Sigi and I doing here?

Herve waited a moment, as if pondering the correct answer, as if configuring a response that would keep his charge calm for another 2 hours. “What do you think is going on, Miranda?” he finally asked.

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Herve. What’s going on here? I wake up and I’m on a plane that I never wanted to be on, heading to a place where I don’t want to be and …Oh shit, I remember now. Eduard, mentioned you when I called him after they took Sigi to jail. What did he tell me? He’s worked with you. I can trust you. I’ll see you on Tuesday. You’re that Herve? You’re his pilot?”

“I am. His pilot and much, much more.” Herve looked pleased that Miranda had figured out his identity. It would make what was to come so much easier.

Belen arrived carrying a tray filled with several tiny plates, each covered with a ceramic lid. She arranged

the plates on a small table that Herve set up, popped open one of the two bottles of Alamos malbec she’d brought and poured Miranda a glassful. “Buen provecho, Miranda!” Belen told her and set off

toward the back of plane again.

Provecho,” Herve echoed. “I’ll leave you so you can enjoy your meal.” He turned in the direction of the cockpit, even though Miranda looked agitated.

“But you didn’t answer my question. What’s going on? Why am I on this plane, Herve? Tell me this minute!”

Herve closed the door to the cockpit leaving Miranda alone with her confusion and her first of many Argentinian meals. After finishing the second bottle of malbec, she stumbled to the head and would have passed out there, but Belen found her and together they returned Miranda to her original seat across the aisle from Sigi, who continued to sleep, his chest rising and falling, not at all like Viscount Briene.

* * *

“Babe! Miranda! Wake up!” she heard Sigi call through the fog of her dream. The Placebo had been sailing through the Great Salish Sea on a warm summer breeze and she could hear seagulls chattering overhead. She felt his kisses on her forehead, on each eye, and his hand, delicate as

a butterfly wing, brushed her hair from her face. Miranda

opened her eyes and there he was, her love, smiling down on her from the aisle of the plane, and behind Sigi, his father, Eduard Burgstaller.

“Welcome to Buenos Aires, Miranda,” Eduard said, his grin so tight it looked like his jaw might snap.

Chapter Seven

by Dick Little (1830 words)

Miranda had always wanted to travel. From the time she was a little girl, she’d gobble up Discovery Channel programs, National Geographics, tour brochures, weeks-old travel magazines at the beauty parlor. Her parents gave her an Atlas for her tenth birthday. She had a map of the world on her wall.

But this!

First off, she’d have preferred to chart her own itinerary. Second, South America wasn’t at the top of her list. Where were they going? Her head was still foggy. “The Girl from Ipanema” started looping through her brain. No wait, that was Brazil.

And lastly, up to her aching eyeballs in a murder wasn’t her idea of a Rick Steves tour. But none of that mattered, did it! What mattered was her boyfriend of five years – five years of idyllic cruising on his quaint if sometimes claustrophobic Placebo, romantic sailings into rose and orange sunsets throughout Puget Sound and the Inside Passage and beyond, anchoring out and dining al fresco on the deck. They used to giggle, “If this boat’s rockin’, don’t come knockin.” She thought it was perfect.

Now, Scott – or Sigi – or Count Chocula, for all she knew – was standing over her in the aisle of a private jet looking sheepish. Behind him was his always sanctimonious, self-satisfied father who didn’t like her much to begin with. Well, they could buen provecho and carne asado her til the vacas came home, she wasn’t okay with any of this. She didn’t trust any of them. Not even Helpful Herve Gaulatin, though he really was good-looking. Least of all Scott with all that “how can I prove I’m innocent,” “orange jumpsuit for the rest of my life,” “mystery motorboat” bullshit – all to lure her onto the Godiva and into a family history she wouldn’t have believed if she’d read it in a novel.

As her head began to clear, she vowed she’d get to the bottom of this rabbit hole she’d fallen down or she wasn’t her mother’s daughter. Two questions jumped out at her: Why’d they make Scott spend two nights in jail if all this was rigged from the start? And, who did call the cops?

* * *

Very good questions, indeed, and ones that might have occurred to Miranda’s friend and public defender Tawi. One reason they did not occur to him was because as he sat in Detective Sergeant Belinda Swanson’s office, he was admiring her excellent legs while she talked into the phone. She sat half facing him in a government-issue wooden office chair that squeaked when she waved her free arm.

The other reason was that he didn’t know what she did: that it was no “accountant Beem” who’d been killed, rather “Viscount Briene.”

Tawi never needed much of an excuse to visit Belinda. They’d had a brief fling, but being on opposite sides of so many cases – she on the stand being cross-examined by him – took some of the luster off being on opposite sides of his king-size waterbed. He was Old School and a naturalized citizen still fascinated by American play toys, albeit ones popular a few decades ago. Belinda was intrigued for awhile – she found his goatee exotic – but she eventually ended it. She blamed it in part on the sloshing which she said made her seasick.

While she continued her phone conversation, Tawi sidled closer to Belinda’s desk when something caught his eye. An Interpol report! He could make out some of it even upside down: the name “Viscount Hieronymus Briene” and a very familiar black-and-white photo below it. Hieronymus, like the Sixteenth Century Dutch painter with the ghoulish sense of humor. Hieronymus Bosch, he recalled from boring days in a mandatory art appreciation class his school required.

“Viscount Briene,” not “accountant Breen.” Click!

Belinda punched her cell and ended her call. She caught Tawi looking at the Interpol report and snatched it away just as he was reaching for it.

“What brings you here, Counselor?” she asked.

“Okay, I’ll answer your question first. I haven’t seen or heard from Miranda, or Scott for that matter, in a couple of days. I thought you might have.”

“Uh, no actually. His old man put up bail, so we released him.”

“You also released him because you hadn’t pressed charges and the statutory forty-eight hours was running out.”

“I don’t need a lecture in criminal law, Tawi.”

“How about international law?” Nice segue, he thought to himself.

“Okay, are you on retainer with Miranda or are we just being friends?”

“The latter. I was only doing her a favor.”

Belinda got up and closed the door. She poured each of them a cup of coffee out of a carafe that had been steeping, Tawi guessed, most of the day.

“Maybe you can help me.” She dug in her purse and handed Tawi a five dollar bill. “I’m hiring you.”

“This coffee is awful. Let’s go somewhere. I’ll buy,” he said, pocketing the fiver.

They walked to Bigfoot Java and found a quiet table across from the drive-thru.

“Traffic in stolen art. Famous art, some of it hidden for years,” said Belinda. “I don’t know the words, but the tune so far goes like this: The Interpol report you saw found its way under my office door three days ago. Thought nothing of it until I got a phone call telling me a guy had been killed down at the sailing dock.”

“A call from whom?”

“Don’t know. But how odd that the murder took place on a massive, millionaire yacht moored next to your friends’ 28-foot wannabe. I recognized the victim from the Interpol flyer.”

“And who should you find covered in the victim’s blood and looking like a suspect . . . ” Tawi continued.

“Knowing only a little bit, I did interview Mr. and Mrs. Fox at the scene and they were very cooperative. Offered to help.”

“So what does that have to do with art theft?”

“Well, for starters I called a contact in D.C. and found out Fox isn’t their name. He’s Christoph Fuchs and she’s Claudia Mocenigo, nÉe Burgstaller. She of the Halcyon Corporation. They’re worth millions. So it happens that the bloody murder of a European count takes place on their yacht – which isn’t really theirs, come to find out. I’m trying to track down the actual owners.”

“Bright lights, big city, Belinda.” Tawi smiled.

Belinda did not. “Tawi, I haven’t even told the higher-ups what I know. I’m risking my badge.”

“And one more thing,” Belinda continued.

“You’ll go out with me,” said Tawi.

Belinda took her time rearranging her brown and gold-flecked Cardin pashmina. She draped it over her head and let it hang loose so that it framed her long dark hair. She knew the effect she was having.

“We went back on board the Godiva. In the master bedroom – perhaps I should say suite – hanging over the head of the bed was a famous portrait by Raphael.”

“Expensive taste.”

“As expensive as contraband Renaissance art can be. It’s been missing for years.”

They got up to leave and walked back to her office. Tawi was rewarded with a full-body hug and a kiss on the cheek.

He said, “Let me take a stab at tracing the call to you. For you, I’m off the clock.”

“Thank you, my friend,” said Belinda. “Just don’t tell me how you do it.”

He called her in an hour. “What do you know about a boat called the Whole Shebang?”

* * *

The jet made a textbook landing at a private airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The party disembarked and paraded toward a black stretch limo. Two handlers, as she now thought of them, accompanied her, one on either side. Scott – she couldn’t get her head around “Sigi” – tried to insert himself and hold her hand, but she shook her head and walked on. The car whisked them away to a seaside villa straight out of one of her travel mags.

In the room assigned to her, Miranda found a selection of skirts and blouses and summer dresses lying on the bed. She showered, changed, and peeked out her door to see if she was being watched. The coast was clear, so she went downstairs and out onto a polished flagstone veranda the size of a small state. The blue Atlantic stretched away to the horizon. A table and umbrella invited her to sit. It was mid-afternoon on an Argentinian summer day. For now, she had the place to herself.

She tried to gather her thoughts. Her chin trembled. Oh Scott, what have you gotten me into? But no one had actually threatened her. She didn’t feel in any danger. She did doubt she’d be allowed to leave. So she gave a sigh and rallied. By now her curiosity was piqued.

A waiter appeared and placed a pair of caipirinhas on the glass-topped table.

“What’s in these, by the way?” she asked, hoping her server spoke English.

“Lime juice, limes, and cahacha,” he said in perfect Oxford English. Miranda knew something of the tortuous history of Great Britain and Argentina.

“What’s cahacha?”

“It’s Brazilian sugar cane brandy.”

“In Argentina?”

“Don’t believe everything you read in Norte Americano newspapers. We’re quite civilized here.”

“Who’s the other drink for?”

“It’s for me, my dear,” said a familiar voice behind her, and she jumped.

Eduard Burgstaller pulled out a chair and sat down. So much for solitude.

“Dear Miranda, listen. I know we haven’t been fair to you, and well, kidnapping is not something I generally approve of.”

“How civilized of you, Eduard.”

The old man was a smug as ever. He wore a light, silk paisley smoking jacket over a pale yellow shirt, open too far. The way he looked at Miranda was creeping her out, so she adjusted the straps of her sundress.

“But until things are resolved back where you live,” he went on, “and measures are underway to accomplish this, you will have to make yourself comfortable in Argentina.”

“Eduard, let me ask you this. Why in hell should I believe anything anyone here tells me? Scott – “Sigi” – you, “Cloud-ee-ah?” This is like a masquerade where the masks keep changing.”

“Maybe this will help.”

He reached in his jacket pocket and removed a small brown wallet. He flipped it open and slid it across the table. Inside was a shiny gold badge. Across the top were the familiar letters and scrolled across the bottom were the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

That succeeded in stopping Miranda, but only momentarily. She looked at the badge. Aha, she smiled to herself, what do you call something that may be legit and help, or it’s fake and you don’t get to know which?

Looking at Eduard across the table, she said, “Anybody can buy a freakin’ badge.”

Chapter 8

by Seán Dwyer (1826 words)

Scott’s—Sigi’s—no, Scott’s mother might be dead, but Miranda’s wasn’t. and Miranda was her mother’s daughter. Even if Eduard did turn out to be FBI, she trusted him about as much as she did Christoph Fuchs. Her mistrust of them might be related to their mutual inability to make eye contact when they spoke to her, but having a common-law father-in-law whose nephew-in-law might have killed to acquire art stolen by the Nazis made for two in-laws too many. It was time to call Mom.

The assessment of her predicament slammed through her mind in the time it took Eduard to realize that she wasn’t buying the badge story. The other thing slamming through her skull was the Malbec. Two bottles—what had she been thinking? She had been wanting not to think. She had stopped self-medicating a number of years ago, but there was no better time to resume the habit than during a kidnapping.

“Do you have any Aleve here, Eduard? My head’s about to crack open.”

“I’m sorry to say that we don’t usually have headaches in this beautiful setting. I was hoping the caipirinhas might keep any hangover at bay. If you prefer, I can order up a mate.”

“I took Spanish. ‘Mate’ means ‘kill.’”

Eduard chuckled in the way he probably assumed was fatherly, a chuckle that made Miranda want to remove the badge from his wallet, open the pin, and stick it in his eye.

“Not quite enough Spanish, Miranda. Yerba mate is a holly plant, and we use it to make tea. Mate.”

“You Germans?” Watch the sass, Miranda.

“Well, all Argentine people, including the Germans who fled the Nazi tri—the Nazis.” He waved his hand, and the waiter materialized. Miranda wondered if Eduard owned a teleporter.

“Un mate, Javier.” Miranda paid attention while Javier glided toward the kitchen. He didn’t vaporize; he was just light on his feet. She looked longingly toward the staircase. If she hadn’t come down, she could have called Mom by now. If she excused herself before she tried this killer drink, she might have to fend off a skeezy offer of a backrub from Eduard.

“OK, I’m sorry for doubting your credentials. How long have you been working for the FBI?”

Eduard relaxed in his chair and sipped his caipirinha. “Twenty-five years. They brought me in to keep an eye on the banking industry. As a German national, I was a magnet for the sort of characters who would traffic in stolen artworks. I was . . . offered an opportunity to cooperate.” He drained his glass. “Are you sure you don’t want this drink?” She shook her head. “It’s been a long day.” And he started in on the second glass, just as Javier arrived with her killer tea and a kettle of hot water.

Eduard nodded at the odd little gourd cup with the enormous straw. “Don’t worry if it makes you feel funny. It’s potent stuff.”

So was the drink Claudia had served her on the Godiva. She hesitated, but then she realized that Eduard could have had the caipirinha drugged if he wanted her knocked out. She looked at the gourd, cocking her head to the left and to the right.

“Oh. It’s already full. Don’t move the straw. Just drink, and then Javier will refill it.” Miranda took a tentative sip, pronounced it good, and drank until she made a disgusting sucking sound. Eduard nodded in . . . Approval? Judgment?

“Exactly right. The slurp is how Javier knows to refill.” Javier added water, and she started sipping again. Eduard resumed his story.

“I have contributed to a number of arrests over the years. At times, I’ve had to be indicted as a co-conspirator in order not to attract suspicion. I pay a fine, and then Justice refunds the money. But I wail and moan to my crooked account holders, and they keep sending me fresh meat. It’s really rather fun. The only time I had any actual problem had nothing to do with banking. I was a bit forward with a schoolmarm, and she filed a harassment suit. Full disclosure. I’ve mostly learned my lesson, but if I’m sometimes rude in that way, just slap me. I’m used to it.” He chuckled again, and he seemed less sinister this time. “I should also tell you that part of my reason for getting Sigi out of harm’s way was that the schoolmarm was the mother of our own Sergeant Swanson. I’m sure she would like to bring down the murderer just to keep me from getting credit, but she doesn’t know half of what I know about the case.” He drained the drink and crunched on an ice cube.

Miranda slurped again, waved off another refill, and said she should lie down. Eduard nodded in understanding. He stood when she did, but he walked toward the ocean. She trotted up the stairs, hand gliding on the railing in case she slipped on burnished wood steps that clearly got a lot of waxy TLC from Javier’s understaff.

Safe in her room, she slowly turned the deadbolt, and she tiptoed over to her purse on the bedside table. For the first time, she wondered if they had taken her phone. She started digging: her checkbook, her passport—how did that get there? She never carried it—her phone! She hugged it to her chest, then checked for power.

The battery held a 20-percent charge. Not enough for a chat, but enough for a distress call. As for the signal, she had three bars. She was lucky to be near Buenos Aires and not out on the western Pampas. She was also lucky she traveled to Vancouver so often. She’d bought a Verizon plan that let her use her phone worldwide, except perhaps in North Korea. After all, she and Scott were going to travel the world. For the moment, she used the plan to call Scott when she went to IKEA.

She pressed 3 for Mom.

“Hey, girl.” Mom’s voice had never made her heart skip a beat until now.

“Not much battery. Where are you?”

“In a cottage in the West of Ireland, reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Where are you?

All these portraits! “In Argentina.”

“Oh! You’ve always wanted to travel. Are you going to put pushpins in your wall map for all of the places you visit? Did you take—“

“Mom—“

“the boat, or did you fly?”

“Mom, Scott and I were kidnapped.”

Miranda held the phone to her chest so no one could hear the screams coming through it. To Miranda, her mother’s voice seemed to be echoing down the hall.

“Hush! Find out where Eduard has a villa down here, and come get me. Scott will have to stay, I can’t explain now, but there’s no reason for me to be here. And because of that, I’m not sure they’ll keep me around if I become a problem.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Click.

Miranda pictured her mother flinging James Joyce across the room and standing to pack, because that’s what Miranda would do if Mom were kidnapped.

* * *

Chapter 6

by Susan Chase-Foster (1756 words)

Miranda exhaled and looked up at the exquisite painting, which, she recalled, some art experts claimed to be one of only two extant self-portraits of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.

Its value on the black market, assuming it’s authentic, Professor Adlersflügel at the U Dub had claimed, would be at least one hundred million dollars. “We’re in deep shit, Scott!” Miranda said, turning toward her boyfriend.

Scott’s eyes were glued to Claudia, whose raven hair seemed to be listing to port on her head. Was she wearing a wig? And why was he looking at her that way?

“You don’t know the half of it, Fräulein,” Christopher announced in a slight Germanic accent that Miranda hadn’t noticed before.

“Why don’t you tell me, then, Christopher Fox.” Miranda’s neck and shoulders were rigid with fear, yet she felt feisty; her passion for art history was an even greater force than fear, like a shot of adrenalin surging through her body.

“It’s Christoph Fuchs, actually. Might I suggest we move to the salon, a more comfortable location for storytelling of this nature, and certainly a more cheerful place. Claudia, please lead the way after you straighten your hair, dear.”

Claudia smiled through her teeth and pulled off her long black hair, revealing a short shaggy mane of golden curls. She tossed her wig onto the bed and headed out the door, up the stairs, past the galley and into the sitting room. She pointed to the two cobalt blue leather chairs in which Miranda and Scott were to sit. From the galley, Christoph called out something in German.

Entschuldigung Sie, excuse me,” Claudia said, looking directly at Scott. She headed toward the galley.

Miranda didn’t waste a second. “What the fuck’s going on, Scott? Do you know that woman? She seems to know you, Scott!”

“She’s my cousin, Miranda. My mother’s sister died giving birth to Claudia, and she was given our surname, Burgstaller, and raised in our family until my mother was killed in that car accident–or murdered–twelve years ago. Scott rubbed his fingers through his hair, which, Miranda now noticed, was the exact color of his cousin’s. “Claudia was only eighteen at the time, but she hated my dad even more than I did and ended up running away to Buenos Aires with Dad’s business partner, and our host, Herr Fucks.”

“Wait a minute! If your father is Edward Burgstaller who are you, Scott?”

“My father is Eduard, and I am–I am Sigwald Burgstaller, but my parents called me Sigi.” He looked painfully distressed. “So sorry, babe, really. My father changed our family name because of …well, for many reasons. I …” Sigi reached for Miranda’s hand, but she pulled back.

“Holy shit! What else don’t I know, Sigi?” Miranda’s heart was hammering in her chest. “So, Claudia Burgstaller, your cousin, married Christoph when she was 18 and they’re still together? He’s a lot older and uglier than she is.”

“And richer! Aren’t you, mein Schatz?” Claudia entered the sitting room followed by Christoph. He set a beautifully carved wooden tray with a bottle of Fernet-Branca and four small crystal glasses, already filled, on the coffee table in the center of the room and sat across from Miranda. Claudia handed Sigi, Miranda and Christoph a glass each, then took the last one and sat on her husband’s knee.

“Prost!” Christoph raised his glass high, and then quaffed its contents.

“Zum Wohl!” Claudia toasted, taking a sip, which was when Miranda noticed that her formerly dark eyes were now the same blue as Sigi’s. Had she been wearing contacts, before?

“Fuck you, people! Not you, Miranda. I love you.” Sigi emptied his glass and held it out for more. He seemed to savor the taste of the deep brown, almost black liquor.

“Whatever.” Miranda approached her glass cautiously, touched the liquid with her tongue, took a tiny drink and frowned. “Yikes! What is this friggin’ stuff? It tastes like a mixture of motor oil, Listerine and tree sap. This is a joke, right?”

“Wrong. It’s Argentina’s most popular drink, Miranda,” Christoph explained. “After about nine tries, you will adore it. Plus, it’s good for menstrual cramps and hangovers. Bottoms up!”

“I don’t have menstrual cramps!” But after several more tries, Miranda was starting to settle into the bitterness and the lingering medicinal aftertaste of the fernet. She was also growing drowsy, as was Sigi, or maybe he was already asleep. His eyes were closed, anyhow. Miranda’s vision was blurred, but when she looked over at Christoph and Claudia, the seemed to be smiling. “So …you were …going to tell us …about the painting …Christoph,” Miranda yawned and closed her eyes.

At that moment, the Godiva’s engine rumbled and the boat began to pull back out of its slip.

* * *

When Miranda woke up, she was buckled into an airplane seat next to a small window out of which she saw nothing but a sea of clouds. Scott, er, Sigi, was seated across the aisle, strapped in and snoring. Miranda’s body felt like stone. She was nauseated and had a volcanic headache. Worst of all, she was dying to pee. “Hey!” she screamed, unbuckling her seatbelt. “I have to use the bathroom! Where the hell are we? Anybody home?”

A small woman with a sweet smile in a brown flight attendant’s uniform appeared in the aisle. She looked surprised to see her passenger awake. “Buenos días, Miranda and welcome aboard! Do you think you can walk to the baño, amiga?”

“I’ll give it my best shot.”

Miranda reached out for the woman’s hands and, though diminutive, the woman was strong enough to pull Miranda into a standing position. From there, she could see that it was not a large plane, only 10 or 12 seats, one on either side of the aisle, covered in fine leather, and each with a matching ottoman attached to the floor. Plush.

“Hold onto my arm and I’ll take you to the baño. If you need help, just push the call button. When you’re finished, I’ll be waiting right outside the door.”

“Like a prison guard?” Miranda asked, but the woman looked confused.

The head was just behind the cockpit, whose door was open. Miranda saw a man and a woman, pilots, judging by their uniforms and caps. They were speaking softly in Spanish.

After Miranda had completed her business, the flight attendant sat her in the seat closest to the cockpit. “If you are hungry, Miranda, I will bring you a meal.”

“Starving! Hey, what’s your name? And where are we? More importantly, where the …where are we going?”

“I am Belen. We are now flying over Asunción, Paraguay on our way to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We should arrive in about 2 hours. Do you eat meat or are you vegetariana?”

“Oh, my God, we’ve been kidnapped! Sigi, we’ve been kidnapped!” Miranda suddenly screamed.

“In that case,” Belen said, “I will bring you a typical meal of carne asado with chimichurri, some pasta, eggplants and ice cream Do you want wine? Red wine?”

“Hell yes! Bring me a bottle please. No, bring me two bottles! What about Sigi?”

“Your novio is very comfortable, amiga. He will not be waking up until we arrive in Buenos Aires. Just relax, Miranda. I’ll be back soon with your comida.

As if on cue, as soon as Belen headed off to the back of the plane one of the pilots emerged from the cockpit. He was a handsome Latino man, with salt and pepper hair sprouting from under his cap. His complexion was a flawless copper. His teeth were perfectly white inside of his broad smile.

“Hello, Miranda. My name is Herve Gaulatín at your service.”

Miranda sat up in her seat. Her heart gurgled. Wasn’t she too young to have a heart attack? “What? Herve Gaulatín? I know I’ve heard that name before. How do you know my name? What am I …what are Sigi and I doing here?

Herve waited a moment, as if pondering the correct answer, as if configuring a response that would keep his charge calm for another 2 hours. “What do you think is going on, Miranda?” he finally asked.

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Herve. What’s going on here? I wake up and I’m on a plane that I never wanted to be on, heading to a place where I don’t want to be and …Oh shit, I remember now. Eduard, mentioned you when I called him after they took Sigi to jail. What did he tell me? He’s worked with you. I can trust you. I’ll see you on Tuesday. You’re that Herve? You’re his pilot?”

“I am. His pilot and much, much more.” Herve looked pleased that Miranda had figured out his identity. It would make what was to come so much easier.

Belen arrived carrying a tray filled with several tiny plates, each covered with a ceramic lid. She arranged

the plates on a small table that Herve set up, popped open one of the two bottles of Alamos malbec she’d brought and poured Miranda a glassful. “Buen provecho, Miranda!” Belen told her and set off

toward the back of plane again.

Provecho,” Herve echoed. “I’ll leave you so you can enjoy your meal.” He turned in the direction of the cockpit, even though Miranda looked agitated.

“But you didn’t answer my question. What’s going on? Why am I on this plane, Herve? Tell me this minute!”

Herve closed the door to the cockpit leaving Miranda alone with her confusion and her first of many Argentinian meals. After finishing the second bottle of malbec, she stumbled to the head and would have passed out there, but Belen found her and together they returned Miranda to her original seat across the aisle from Sigi, who continued to sleep, his chest rising and falling, not at all like Viscount Briene.

* * *

“Babe! Miranda! Wake up!” she heard Sigi call through the fog of her dream. The Placebo had been sailing through the Great Salish Sea on a warm summer breeze and she could hear seagulls chattering overhead. She felt his kisses on her forehead, on each eye, and his hand, delicate as

a butterfly wing, brushed her hair from her face. Miranda

opened her eyes and there he was, her love, smiling down on her from the aisle of the plane, and behind Sigi, his father, Eduard Burgstaller.

“Welcome to Buenos Aires, Miranda,” Eduard said, his grin so tight it looked like his jaw might snap.

Chapter Seven

by Dick Little (1830 words)

Miranda had always wanted to travel. From the time she was a little girl, she’d gobble up Discovery Channel programs, National Geographics, tour brochures, weeks-old travel magazines at the beauty parlor. Her parents gave her an Atlas for her tenth birthday. She had a map of the world on her wall.

But this!

First off, she’d have preferred to chart her own itinerary. Second, South America wasn’t at the top of her list. Where were they going? Her head was still foggy. “The Girl from Ipanema” started looping through her brain. No wait, that was Brazil.

And lastly, up to her aching eyeballs in a murder wasn’t her idea of a Rick Steves tour. But none of that mattered, did it! What mattered was her boyfriend of five years – five years of idyllic cruising on his quaint if sometimes claustrophobic Placebo, romantic sailings into rose and orange sunsets throughout Puget Sound and the Inside Passage and beyond, anchoring out and dining al fresco on the deck. They used to giggle, “If this boat’s rockin’, don’t come knockin.” She thought it was perfect.

Now, Scott – or Sigi – or Count Chocula, for all she knew – was standing over her in the aisle of a private jet looking sheepish. Behind him was his always sanctimonious, self-satisfied father who didn’t like her much to begin with. Well, they could buen provecho and carne asado her til the vacas came home, she wasn’t okay with any of this. She didn’t trust any of them. Not even Helpful Herve Gaulatin, though he really was good-looking. Least of all Scott with all that “how can I prove I’m innocent,” “orange jumpsuit for the rest of my life,” “mystery motorboat” bullshit – all to lure her onto the Godiva and into a family history she wouldn’t have believed if she’d read it in a novel.

As her head began to clear, she vowed she’d get to the bottom of this rabbit hole she’d fallen down or she wasn’t her mother’s daughter. Two questions jumped out at her: Why’d they make Scott spend two nights in jail if all this was rigged from the start? And, who did call the cops?

* * *

Very good questions, indeed, and ones that might have occurred to Miranda’s friend and public defender Tawi. One reason they did not occur to him was because as he sat in Detective Sergeant Belinda Swanson’s office, he was admiring her excellent legs while she talked into the phone. She sat half facing him in a government-issue wooden office chair that squeaked when she waved her free arm.

The other reason was that he didn’t know what she did: that it was no “accountant Beem” who’d been killed, rather “Viscount Briene.”

Tawi never needed much of an excuse to visit Belinda. They’d had a brief fling, but being on opposite sides of so many cases – she on the stand being cross-examined by him – took some of the luster off being on opposite sides of his king-size waterbed. He was Old School and a naturalized citizen still fascinated by American play toys, albeit ones popular a few decades ago. Belinda was intrigued for awhile – she found his goatee exotic – but she eventually ended it. She blamed it in part on the sloshing which she said made her seasick.

While she continued her phone conversation, Tawi sidled closer to Belinda’s desk when something caught his eye. An Interpol report! He could make out some of it even upside down: the name “Viscount Hieronymus Briene” and a very familiar black-and-white photo below it. Hieronymus, like the Sixteenth Century Dutch painter with the ghoulish sense of humor. Hieronymus Bosch, he recalled from boring days in a mandatory art appreciation class his school required.

“Viscount Briene,” not “accountant Breen.” Click!

Belinda punched her cell and ended her call. She caught Tawi looking at the Interpol report and snatched it away just as he was reaching for it.

“What brings you here, Counselor?” she asked.

“Okay, I’ll answer your question first. I haven’t seen or heard from Miranda, or Scott for that matter, in a couple of days. I thought you might have.”

“Uh, no actually. His old man put up bail, so we released him.”

“You also released him because you hadn’t pressed charges and the statutory forty-eight hours was running out.”

“I don’t need a lecture in criminal law, Tawi.”

“How about international law?” Nice segue, he thought to himself.

“Okay, are you on retainer with Miranda or are we just being friends?”

“The latter. I was only doing her a favor.”

Belinda got up and closed the door. She poured each of them a cup of coffee out of a carafe that had been steeping, Tawi guessed, most of the day.

“Maybe you can help me.” She dug in her purse and handed Tawi a five dollar bill. “I’m hiring you.”

“This coffee is awful. Let’s go somewhere. I’ll buy,” he said, pocketing the fiver.

They walked to Bigfoot Java and found a quiet table across from the drive-thru.

“Traffic in stolen art. Famous art, some of it hidden for years,” said Belinda. “I don’t know the words, but the tune so far goes like this: The Interpol report you saw found its way under my office door three days ago. Thought nothing of it until I got a phone call telling me a guy had been killed down at the sailing dock.”

“A call from whom?”

“Don’t know. But how odd that the murder took place on a massive, millionaire yacht moored next to your friends’ 28-foot wannabe. I recognized the victim from the Interpol flyer.”

“And who should you find covered in the victim’s blood and looking like a suspect . . . ” Tawi continued.

“Knowing only a little bit, I did interview Mr. and Mrs. Fox at the scene and they were very cooperative. Offered to help.”

“So what does that have to do with art theft?”

“Well, for starters I called a contact in D.C. and found out Fox isn’t their name. He’s Christoph Fuchs and she’s Claudia Mocenigo, nÉe Burgstaller. She of the Halcyon Corporation. They’re worth millions. So it happens that the bloody murder of a European count takes place on their yacht – which isn’t really theirs, come to find out. I’m trying to track down the actual owners.”

“Bright lights, big city, Belinda.” Tawi smiled.

Belinda did not. “Tawi, I haven’t even told the higher-ups what I know. I’m risking my badge.”

“And one more thing,” Belinda continued.

“You’ll go out with me,” said Tawi.

Belinda took her time rearranging her brown and gold-flecked Cardin pashmina. She draped it over her head and let it hang loose so that it framed her long dark hair. She knew the effect she was having.

“We went back on board the Godiva. In the master bedroom – perhaps I should say suite – hanging over the head of the bed was a famous portrait by Raphael.”

“Expensive taste.”

“As expensive as contraband Renaissance art can be. It’s been missing for years.”

They got up to leave and walked back to her office. Tawi was rewarded with a full-body hug and a kiss on the cheek.

He said, “Let me take a stab at tracing the call to you. For you, I’m off the clock.”

“Thank you, my friend,” said Belinda. “Just don’t tell me how you do it.”

He called her in an hour. “What do you know about a boat called the Whole Shebang?”

* * *

The jet made a textbook landing at a private airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The party disembarked and paraded toward a black stretch limo. Two handlers, as she now thought of them, accompanied her, one on either side. Scott – she couldn’t get her head around “Sigi” – tried to insert himself and hold her hand, but she shook her head and walked on. The car whisked them away to a seaside villa straight out of one of her travel mags.

In the room assigned to her, Miranda found a selection of skirts and blouses and summer dresses lying on the bed. She showered, changed, and peeked out her door to see if she was being watched. The coast was clear, so she went downstairs and out onto a polished flagstone veranda the size of a small state. The blue Atlantic stretched away to the horizon. A table and umbrella invited her to sit. It was mid-afternoon on an Argentinian summer day. For now, she had the place to herself.

She tried to gather her thoughts. Her chin trembled. Oh Scott, what have you gotten me into? But no one had actually threatened her. She didn’t feel in any danger. She did doubt she’d be allowed to leave. So she gave a sigh and rallied. By now her curiosity was piqued.

A waiter appeared and placed a pair of caipirinhas on the glass-topped table.

“What’s in these, by the way?” she asked, hoping her server spoke English.

“Lime juice, limes, and cahacha,” he said in perfect Oxford English. Miranda knew something of the tortuous history of Great Britain and Argentina.

“What’s cahacha?”

“It’s Brazilian sugar cane brandy.”

“In Argentina?”

“Don’t believe everything you read in Norte Americano newspapers. We’re quite civilized here.”

“Who’s the other drink for?”

“It’s for me, my dear,” said a familiar voice behind her, and she jumped.

Eduard Burgstaller pulled out a chair and sat down. So much for solitude.

“Dear Miranda, listen. I know we haven’t been fair to you, and well, kidnapping is not something I generally approve of.”

“How civilized of you, Eduard.”

The old man was a smug as ever. He wore a light, silk paisley smoking jacket over a pale yellow shirt, open too far. The way he looked at Miranda was creeping her out, so she adjusted the straps of her sundress.

“But until things are resolved back where you live,” he went on, “and measures are underway to accomplish this, you will have to make yourself comfortable in Argentina.”

“Eduard, let me ask you this. Why in hell should I believe anything anyone here tells me? Scott – “Sigi” – you, “Cloud-ee-ah?” This is like a masquerade where the masks keep changing.”

“Maybe this will help.”

He reached in his jacket pocket and removed a small brown wallet. He flipped it open and slid it across the table. Inside was a shiny gold badge. Across the top were the familiar letters and scrolled across the bottom were the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

That succeeded in stopping Miranda, but only momentarily. She looked at the badge. Aha, she smiled to herself, what do you call something that may be legit and help, or it’s fake and you don’t get to know which?

Looking at Eduard across the table, she said, “Anybody can buy a freakin’ badge.”

Chapter 8

by Seán Dwyer (1826 words)

Scott’s—Sigi’s—no, Scott’s mother might be dead, but Miranda’s wasn’t. and Miranda was her mother’s daughter. Even if Eduard did turn out to be FBI, she trusted him about as much as she did Christoph Fuchs. Her mistrust of them might be related to their mutual inability to make eye contact when they spoke to her, but having a common-law father-in-law whose nephew-in-law might have killed to acquire art stolen by the Nazis made for two in-laws too many. It was time to call Mom.

The assessment of her predicament slammed through her mind in the time it took Eduard to realize that she wasn’t buying the badge story. The other thing slamming through her skull was the Malbec. Two bottles—what had she been thinking? She had been wanting not to think. She had stopped self-medicating a number of years ago, but there was no better time to resume the habit than during a kidnapping.

“Do you have any Aleve here, Eduard? My head’s about to crack open.”

“I’m sorry to say that we don’t usually have headaches in this beautiful setting. I was hoping the caipirinhas might keep any hangover at bay. If you prefer, I can order up a mate.”

“I took Spanish. ‘Mate’ means ‘kill.’”

Eduard chuckled in the way he probably assumed was fatherly, a chuckle that made Miranda want to remove the badge from his wallet, open the pin, and stick it in his eye.

“Not quite enough Spanish, Miranda. Yerba mate is a holly plant, and we use it to make tea. Mate.”

“You Germans?” Watch the sass, Miranda.

“Well, all Argentine people, including the Germans who fled the Nazi tri—the Nazis.” He waved his hand, and the waiter materialized. Miranda wondered if Eduard owned a teleporter.

“Un mate, Javier.” Miranda paid attention while Javier glided toward the kitchen. He didn’t vaporize; he was just light on his feet. She looked longingly toward the staircase. If she hadn’t come down, she could have called Mom by now. If she excused herself before she tried this killer drink, she might have to fend off a skeezy offer of a backrub from Eduard.

“OK, I’m sorry for doubting your credentials. How long have you been working for the FBI?”

Eduard relaxed in his chair and sipped his caipirinha. “Twenty-five years. They brought me in to keep an eye on the banking industry. As a German national, I was a magnet for the sort of characters who would traffic in stolen artworks. I was . . . offered an opportunity to cooperate.” He drained his glass. “Are you sure you don’t want this drink?” She shook her head. “It’s been a long day.” And he started in on the second glass, just as Javier arrived with her killer tea and a kettle of hot water.

Eduard nodded at the odd little gourd cup with the enormous straw. “Don’t worry if it makes you feel funny. It’s potent stuff.”

So was the drink Claudia had served her on the Godiva. She hesitated, but then she realized that Eduard could have had the caipirinha drugged if he wanted her knocked out. She looked at the gourd, cocking her head to the left and to the right.

“Oh. It’s already full. Don’t move the straw. Just drink, and then Javier will refill it.” Miranda took a tentative sip, pronounced it good, and drank until she made a disgusting sucking sound. Eduard nodded in . . . Approval? Judgment?

“Exactly right. The slurp is how Javier knows to refill.” Javier added water, and she started sipping again. Eduard resumed his story.

“I have contributed to a number of arrests over the years. At times, I’ve had to be indicted as a co-conspirator in order not to attract suspicion. I pay a fine, and then Justice refunds the money. But I wail and moan to my crooked account holders, and they keep sending me fresh meat. It’s really rather fun. The only time I had any actual problem had nothing to do with banking. I was a bit forward with a schoolmarm, and she filed a harassment suit. Full disclosure. I’ve mostly learned my lesson, but if I’m sometimes rude in that way, just slap me. I’m used to it.” He chuckled again, and he seemed less sinister this time. “I should also tell you that part of my reason for getting Sigi out of harm’s way was that the schoolmarm was the mother of our own Sergeant Swanson. I’m sure she would like to bring down the murderer just to keep me from getting credit, but she doesn’t know half of what I know about the case.” He drained the drink and crunched on an ice cube.

Miranda slurped again, waved off another refill, and said she should lie down. Eduard nodded in understanding. He stood when she did, but he walked toward the ocean. She trotted up the stairs, hand gliding on the railing in case she slipped on burnished wood steps that clearly got a lot of waxy TLC from Javier’s understaff.

Safe in her room, she slowly turned the deadbolt, and she tiptoed over to her purse on the bedside table. For the first time, she wondered if they had taken her phone. She started digging: her checkbook, her passport—how did that get there? She never carried it—her phone! She hugged it to her chest, then checked for power.

The battery held a 20-percent charge. Not enough for a chat, but enough for a distress call. As for the signal, she had three bars. She was lucky to be near Buenos Aires and not out on the western Pampas. She was also lucky she traveled to Vancouver so often. She’d bought a Verizon plan that let her use her phone worldwide, except perhaps in North Korea. After all, she and Scott were going to travel the world. For the moment, she used the plan to call Scott when she went to IKEA.

She pressed 3 for Mom.

“Hey, girl.” Mom’s voice had never made her heart skip a beat until now.

“Not much battery. Where are you?”

“In a cottage in the West of Ireland, reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Where are you?

All these portraits! “In Argentina.”

“Oh! You’ve always wanted to travel. Are you going to put pushpins in your wall map for all of the places you visit? Did you take—“

“Mom—“

“the boat, or did you fly?”

“Mom, Scott and I were kidnapped.”

Miranda held the phone to her chest so no one could hear the screams coming through it. To Miranda, her mother’s voice seemed to be echoing down the hall.

“Hush! Find out where Eduard has a villa down here, and come get me. Scott will have to stay, I can’t explain now, but there’s no reason for me to be here. And because of that, I’m not sure they’ll keep me around if I become a problem.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Click.

Miranda pictured her mother flinging James Joyce across the room and standing to pack, because that’s what Miranda would do if Mom were kidnapped.

* * *

Belinda Swanson really didn’t want to get involved with Tawi again if she could help it, but she might not be able to help it. He was pretty smart, and he had access to sources she could never use. He would do the dirty work, and she would then follow procedure and they would clean up this mess.

She leaned back in her squeaky chair. The thing drove her nuts. At least Tawi’s bed didn’t squeak. She finished off her now-cold cappuccino and pondered Tawi’s questions. First of all, there was no reason for Scott and Miranda to stick around. What for? So Belinda or Klovic could stop by every few hours for chats? She understood their departure. But they didn’t take the Placebo, because she would have noticed its absence the last time she checked the Godiva.

It bothered her a bit more that Miranda hadn’t contacted Tawi. She knew how resourceful he was, and if anyone knew how to use extralegal means to help Scott, he was the guy. And Miranda had gone quiet on him. The quickest way to figure out where they were would be to call Ed Banton. Scott was in too tight a spot to give his father the cold shoulder again.

She reached for the phone, then paused, her hand above the receiver. Would Ed admit that he knew where his son was? Ever since the fiasco where he had tried to get software installed at Mom’s school so he could catch a fence for Catholic antiquities, he had been loath to share data with Belinda. Frankly, she had started the cold war by not sharing case info with him after her mom complained about his harassment. Unprofessional? Yes, on both sides. But kind of fun.

Ed could wait. Miranda and Scott were fine. But why had Tawi brought up the Woebegone, or whatever the next yacht over was called? What did she know about it? Nothing yet. Now she grasped the receiver. She called the marina office and got her usual source, Regina, on the line.

“What can you tell me about the Woebegone?

“It’s probably on Garrison Keillor’s lake. We don’t have anything by that name here.”

Belinda frowned, digging into her memory. “Oh, heck. Finish the series: the Placebo, the Godiva, the . . . “

“Oh. The Whole Shebang. What can I tell you? 1920 or so. Wood hull, obviously. It’s been with us since about 1950, kept now by the third generation of owners. Wait.” Belinda heard paper shuffling. “I just got a check for slip rent. It’s not from the Gerbers. It’s from a company called Halcyon. I can see if the Gerbers have sold the yacht. What’s wrong?”

Belinda realized that she was keening like a banshee. She stopped. “Halcyon people are the ones who were aboard the Godiva.”

“What is this Halcyon? Squatters? I know for a fact that Superior Consultants have title to the Godiva.” Regina sounded affronted by the shenanigans going on in her slips.

“You should call the Gerbers to see if they really sold the Whole Shebang. But Halcyon is in financial services. It could be an investment. The Godiva seems to be a takeover prize. You may want to see if any other payments are coming from Halcyon. I’ll start digging, and you check what you can. Thanks, Regina.”

Belinda poured herself some of her own substandard coffee. Stupid cop coffee, bought from the lowest bidder. No wonder they all stopped at the Black Drop or Java the Hutt. She looked up Ed’s number and dialed it. It went directly to voice mail.

She called Claudia. Voice mail. She called Fuchs. Voice mail. She called Scott. Voice mail. She called Miranda.

“Hello?” Miranda whispered.

Chapter Nine

by Jessica H. Stone (1,788 words)

“Hello, Miranda. This is Sargent Swanson. I’m calling to see if everything is okay. I haven’t seen you or your boyfriend around the dock lately and well, I was just wondering. Just touching base.”

“Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you.” Miranda blurted her words then slapped her hand over her mouth and spun around toward the door. Too loud, she thought. Too loud. They could be listening.

“Miranda, is everything all right?” The question was rhetorical because Belinda’s natural cop instinct had already kicked in. Obviously, everything was not all right.

“We’ve been kidnapped sort of but not really kidnapped we’re with Scott’s father you know Edward Banton but that’s not really his name it’s Sigi not Scott’s father’s name Scott’s name and his father’s name is different too and they are all related and that Claudia woman and we’re in Argentina and…” Miranda gasped for breath.

“Whoa, girl. Sloooow down.” Belinda held the phone to her ear with her shoulder and reached for a pen and legal pad. “Give it to me again.”

“I…I…” Miranda swiped her hand across her eyes. She realized she’d been blubbering her words through a flood of tears. She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Sorry. I was just so glad…”

“It’s fine.” Belinda said. “Now tell me.”

“We’re in some villa not too far from Buenos.”

“Miranda? Are you there? Miranda?” Belinda looked at the phone’s display. Called Ended.

“Dammit.”

 Belinda redialed but got a recorded message: “The caller at the phone number you have dialed is not available at this time. Please try again later.

“Dammit,” she repeated. She hung up and leaned forward for a moment—elbows on her desk, chin in her hands. So, Ed Burton is even more of a jerk than I thought. And apparently he isn’t even the same jerk as I thought. Belinda considered her options. Much as she’d love a trip to the tropics, Buenos Aires was definitely out of her jurisdiction and Scott was an adult. So, if he was with his father, it wasn’t a case of kidnapping. On the other hand, if Miranda was being held against her will, then maybe…

She sat up straight. Maybe all this was connected to Ed’s FBI gig and maybe it was something else altogether. She pressed her lips in a tight line and reached for her handbag. Time to fight fire with fire.

She grabbed her personal cell phone, scrolled through the contacts and hit the call button. When the man on the other end picked up, Sargent Swanson used her best Michelle Pfeiffer voice to purr the words, “Norm, I think I have something you’re going to like.”

* * *

Miranda shook her cell phone.

“Piece of shit.”

 She shook it again and then she smacked the phone. “You stupid piece of shit.” She blinked back the tears that threatened as she thought of her phone charger plugged into the sailboat’s nav station. Her little white phone charger with its bright green light winking happily aboard Placebo—a gazillion miles away.

“Get a grip,” she told herself. Hadn’t Javier told her how “civilized” they were down here?

 Somewhere, in this beautiful villa over-looking the sea, someone would have a phone, and a charger, that matched hers. And once her phone was charged, she’d have that cop’s number.

The thought calmed her. Now, two people knew where she was. She even smiled. Two strong and extremely competent women know where I am. Miranda let out a deep sigh, straightened her shoulders and walked to the ensuite to splash cold water on her face.

Although she’d showered when she first arrived she’d been too dazed and too upset to notice her surroundings. Now, she stood just inside the door and stared at what was clearly the most stunning bathroom she’d ever seen.

The walls and counters were a deep salmon-colored marble shot through with swirls of rust and cream. Terracotta tiles formed intricate patterns on the floor and two bowls of blown glass served as basins. All the fixtures were brushed copper.

“Wow,” she whispered. Was this how Scott was raised? Miranda stepped to one of the basins and reached for the water facet when she noticed a small copper disk on the mirror above the counter. Without thinking she pressed the disk. A panel of mirror slid silently to once side exposing a set of six glass shelves holding a dazzling array of high-end toiletries; lotion, powder and perfume (Chanel #5), foundation, blush, lipstick, and everything for eyes (Dior). A set of hair and make-up brushes with polished wooden handles stood bouqueted in a crystal cup.

“Wow,” Miranda repeated. She rarely used anything more girly-girl than flavored chap-stick and except for the few times she’d cut through the cosmetic department at Nordstrom (on her way to the coffee stand), she’d never even seen most of this stuff.

A small, cream-colored envelope sat propped against a bottle of lotion. Miranda’s name flowed in a neat, feminine script across the front. She wanted to push the copper disk again—make everything disappear. She wanted only to splash cold water on her face and go for a long, quiet walk. But curiosity got the better of her.

Miranda,

You didn’t have time to pack. Hope this will help.

I had to guess at your colors.

Tell Javier if you need anything else.

Miranda read the note through three times. C? Claudia? The woman who barely made eye contact with those beneath her? The woman who ran a multi-million, maybe billion dollar company? Guessing at my colors? Things just got stranger and stranger.

Miranda put the note back and pressed the small copper disk. The panel slid into place concealing all the glitz behind its mirrored surface. She turned and left the ensuite.

She walked across the bedroom, pushed French doors open and stepped onto the balcony. The air was sultry. The slightest of breezes rustled the fringed edges of palm trees and lifted the sweet fragrance of the potted orchids lining the balcony. She leaned against the white-washed banister and gazed past the garden to the sea. Sunlight shimmered on the cool blue water.

What’s wrong with me? She thought. Mom and that cop are going to find me. Soon. And, until they do, I’m not in any danger. I’m in a beautiful place, with excellent food and fantastic weather. She ran her hand across the skirt of her sundress. And someone is leaving me expensive gifts. Not gifts I’d ask for, but still…This is like a dream vacation. The only thing missing is…

The thought of Scott made her heart ache. How long had it been since they’d even held hands? Only a couple days now, but it seemed like forever. And it was her fault, really. She was the one who refused to even give him a chance to explain himself. She’d been so appalled, and so confused, by the events of the past few days that she’d shut off her best friend in the whole world—the man she’d lived with, sailed with, slept with. The man she loved with all her heart.

But then again, she had been drugged and stuffed in a plane and now, here she was—here they were—in a villa in Argentina. And somehow she was—they were—involved in stolen art and maybe even murder. How could I live with him for five years and not even have a clue?

 There must be an explanation.

Miranda straightened and took in a long, deep breath. Then she exhaled slowly. There is an explanation and I’m going to find it. Now.

* * *

Scott crossed the lawn and followed the manicured path to the gazebo at the edge of the property. It was his father’s private place. The place Edward went to think and to stare at the sea. Javier had said Scott could find him there but he warned Scott to call out before he got close. Edward didn’t like surprises.

Scott dreaded what he was about to do. He’d spent much of his childhood and almost all of his adult life avoiding his father. He’d answered direct questions with yes sir, and no sir, and he kept his sentences short. It was a survival mechanism.

But now, it had to be done. He had to confront his father—had to hear the truth. And worse than hearing it, he would have to share that truth with Miranda. She deserved at least that, even though it might mean the end of their relationship and the end of the deepest love he’d ever known.

He paused for a moment to watch a lizard sun itself at the base of one of the marble statues standing guard on the grounds. The creature was black and white, a tegu, a young one. Scott bent down to touch it, to give it a little scratch under its scaly neck. But he stopped himself.

Tegus are docile creatures and like to be petted. Scott knew all about them because he’d kept one as a pet when he was a child. Franklin. He’d named his lizard Franklin and the two of them were inseparable. Because of his father’s work, and the fact that they moved so often, Scott didn’t have a chance to make friends with children so Franklin filled in.

When he was seven, Scott rigged up a wagon so he could give Franklin rides. When he turned eight, he convinced one of the gardeners to build a tree-like platform in his room so that Franklin could sleep next to him. Scott loved his pet and never tired of watching him flick his long thin tongue in and out, in and out.

But Edward didn’t like the lizard. He thought it made his son look like “a faggot.” On the afternoon of Scott’s tenth birthday something, or someone, sent Edward into a rage. Franklin paid the price.

Scott, and the gardener, buried the broken body at the base of a palm tree and Scott vowed he would never love anything, or anyone, again.

He straightened and shoved his hands into the pockets of his capris. But I did love again, he thought. He continued on the path—picked up his pace. No matter what happens, I’m going to deal with this, with him, once and for all.

 And, if she can forgive me, forgive all of this, then I’m going to take her home—to our home on Placebo. And we’re going to sail away.

He paused again, for just the briefest of moments, and turned back to the lizard. It lifted its head, tilted toward Scott and flicked its long thin tongue.

Chapter 10

by Sonya Luhm  (1370 words)

The afternoon sun played on the turquoise waves in front of him, the light bouncing upon the ceiling in buoyant, bright glimmers. Eduard Burgstaller avoided his instinct to pace back and forth from one end of the small, yet ornate, gazebo to the other and instead sat still, focusing on the water in front of him.

The situation was still going according to plan, albeit in a non-linear way. Years in the field as a double agent had made him no stranger to plan deviations, and his concern for the course the recent play of events was taking was minimal. What mattered most was that each phase of the mission was being met, without too much information, or involved agents, being compromised.

With reluctance, he opened the manila folder of photographs in his hand once more. Several images of the

Godiva,

the

Placebo,

and

The Whole Shebang

stared back at him — all taken within the last week in the Pacific Northwest marina. The photographer was both talented and thorough, but more importantly, ignorant to the purpose of their assignment. The human subjects were seemingly unaware they were being observed. That smug Sergeant Swanson would

kill

for evidence like this, Eduard thought wryly. All the more reason to approach the matter with caution.

Now that Miranda and Sigi had been spirited away to Argentina, there was no avoiding a confrontation of sorts with his son. Regardless of their differences and despite Eduard’s absenteeism over the years, he still considered himself a caring father. It had been years since Sigi and he had been in the same room, never mind the same country. Eduard was not immune to the outright resentment Sigi showed toward him for his mother’s untimely end, and he understood why Sigi blamed him for the car accident which occurred over a decade ago. As far as his son’s apparent recent interest in the original family business — well, he felt some responsibility, but also felt a small sense of pride.

When Eduard had accepted the “opportunity to cooperate” with the FBI over 25 years ago, as he had mentioned to Miranda, the alternative had been a life on the run, or worse. He couldn’t put his new bride, Natalia, in that position — especially when they found out she was pregnant. They left Frankfurt under the protection (or custody) of Interpol that week and arrived in Buenos Aires shortly afterwards for debriefing and training. Sigi came into their lives later that year.

It hadn’t always been so complicated. When Natalia, had still been alive, she had been an anchor to Eduard and Sigi, and eventually a buffer. Natalia understood the safety and wellbeing of the family depended on her staying in the dark as much as possible due to the nature of her husband’s work. In turn, Natalia had shared what little privileged information she could with Sigi over the years about his father’s history — just enough to keep his curiosity at bay. She was an educated, insightful, understanding and loyal woman who had developed a plan, and a back-up plan, for every curve ball Eduard’s work could throw their way. The countless moves, the new aliases, the danger that came with high stakes and under the table transactions all made her an expert in adaptability. To her credit, she hadn’t had much of a choice.

When Natalia died, what little bond father and son shared died shortly thereafter.

No thanks to Miranda’s involvement in the recent events, questions would ultimately now be raised which might otherwise have remained safely buried in his son’s indignation. In order for Sigi to remain out of jeopardy and under the continued protection of the FBI, Eduard would need to take advantage of one of the few controllable variables at hand. By harnessing his son’s emotions, he could potentially keep Sigi from making the same mistakes he had. After all, it had been Eduard who had planted the seed for Sigi’s life off the grid aboard the

Placebo.

Sigi still believed the vessel was left to him from his mother’s estate.

Eduard closed the manila folder promptly as his son entered the gazebo.

“So,” said Eduard. “I hear the Northwest can be brutal this time of year.”

“Let’s just skip the small-talk, Dad. We’re in over our heads.”

“I gathered,” Eduard replied. “I thought the plan was to lay low…I gather that’s not so easy when you’ve got a partner in crime, so to say.”

“Leave Miranda out of this! If anything happens to her I swear I’ll go public with every damned —“

“Lighten up, Sigi. We can talk about where our allegiances lie later. Right now, let’s talk about Viscount Briene. Did he have any new information?”

Sigi looked stunned, then became quiet. He leaned on the rail of the gazebo and looked out onto the water, turning orange and pink along with the sunset behind the clouds. “I hardly recognized him when I found him. He was only able to get one thing out before he died…” Sigi turned to his father, facing him eye to eye for the first time in the last week.

“What was it? What did he say?” Eduard probed impatiently.

“He said, ‘It was Walker’s guy, Klovic,’”

* * *

For Belinda Swanson, Norman Klovic (“The Norm,” as he’d been called in the academy), was a hangnail. She would forget about him until he was there, popping in for a random file or a new case. In the academy, their relationship had been unrealized and unresolved, their mutual attraction always falling victim to bad timing.

The chemistry had always been there, but so had her loyalty to her boyfriend at the time. By graduation, she had finally called it quits with the guy she’d been steady with for close to two years, but The Norm had already moved on to bigger and better opportunities with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as well as, coincidentally, a mutual friend of theirs named Jess. Through the grapevine and mild social media prowling, Belinda heard how Jess and Norm had moved in together, and even gotten engaged. When she heard they had split, she was irritated that she still cared after all this time. After all, she had worked her way up to a position she wanted, and had had other satisfying relationships. But not knowing what could have been drove her crazy, like a a case missing just one small, but key piece of evidence. When Walker sent Norm up from Seattle to be on the case, Belinda knew this case could be big in more ways than one.

She met Klovic on the pier in front of where

The Whole Shebang

was docked in the marina. There hadn’t been any evidence thus far to warrant searching the vessel – it would have been any cop’s nightmare to get the paperwork in order to search any given boat in that marina besides the two they’d already detailed: the Banton kid’s

Placebo

and Claudia Mocenigo’s goliath of a

Godiva.

Until they’d uncovered the monthly payments made by Halcyon Corporation, not even the Marina manager — a proud busybody — knew that the Gerbers had sold the

The Whole Shebang

for an unheard of sum of money — $40 million. There was no in-person transaction, they had discovered. All the funds were wired and forms were faxed. Whatever was inside the

The Whole Shebang,

it hadn’t changed in the last week.

“You have a way of keeping me waiting,” Norm said as he smiled warmly at Belinda. “It’s freezing out here.”

“Sorry to bother you,” Belinda replied, somewhat sarcastically. For all her attraction to Norm, he had a way of irritating her immediately. She could never tell, even now, if he was flirting or not. “Hopefully, we can find something on board that will make up for your lost time.”

She unlocked the small sliding door into the vessel’s small galley. They were met with a slight, not entirely unpleasant, compost smell coming from a 40 gallon Rubbermaid trash can tucked into the far corner. Norm Klovic went over to take a look.

“What’s that smell? Did someone leave a pile of leaves in there?” Belinda wondered aloud.

“Roses,” Norm replied slowly. “At least twenty dozen.”

Chapter 11

by Carol McMillan (1,781 words)

Facing Eduard, Sigi repeated Viscount Briene’s dying words. His father’s face darkened to a shade deeper than the red of the sunset. Eduard rose, taking a step toward his son. Sigi instinctively pushed himself flat against the low wall of the gazebo. Eduard spun, hurling his glass of cahacha across the flagstone. A small shard pierced Sigi’s bare ankle, but he neither flinched nor looked down. He’d known Eduard’s rages all his life, learning long ago that freezing in place usually offered the safest outcome.

“That was not the plan! He’s screwed it up!” Eduard stormed out of the gazebo. Seeming to forget his son, Eduard paced toward the beach, his long strides fueled by anger.

Sigi stayed frozen, sweat beginning to darken his polo shirt. He remained still until it seemed unlikely that his father would return. Slowly he began walking toward the house, not wanting his movement to attract attention should Eduard glance back. Not until he could no longer see his father’s form did Sigi bend to extract the sliver of glass with its red drop of blood.

The offer from his father had seemed sufficiently interesting several months ago. Sigi had planned to let Miranda know, but his guilt grew with the passing days as he put it off. He had feared her reaction, not wanting to risk her probable judgment. The distance she’d held him away during the past two days felt like hollow ice inside his chest. Now Sigi knew he had made a terrible mistake. He would go to her with apologies, explanations, and the plan that was forming as he walked.

A mate from high school still owned a sailboat that he raced with the Club Nautico in San Isidro. If he could borrow it and convince Miranda to trust him again, they could sail it into the Tigre Delta, staying away until things settled down. Even though Eduard would be angry with him, Sigi knew his father would devise some plan to sort out the mess with Viscount Briene’s murder; best to stay out of sight until that happened. But how would he convince Miranda to come with him? Sigi spoke his yachting friend’s name into his phone as he walked toward the stairs to Miranda’s room.

* * *

A parakeet with yellow wings pecked at the clusters of silky threads hanging from a tree framing Miranda’s sea view. The dark form of Eduard appeared near the water as she leaned on the warm balcony railing. Miranda had been scanning the sea in the idle hope that it might reveal a plan to her exhausted brain. Gazing down at the man, even at this distance, she noted that Eduard seemed upset. Miranda didn’t know or care to know what his problem was; she merely felt relieved to see him striding away in a direction that put increasing distance between them, but it would take more than miles to make her feel safe from his control.

The past few days were totally unreal. Rubbing her temples, Miranda wished she could just wake up from this nightmare and find herself in Scott’s arms, rocking in their bed aboard Placebo, with his name still “Scott” and not “Sigi”. Belinda and her mom now knew she was in trouble, and they’d surely come up with plans to help. But Miranda didn’t have any notion of what those plans might be. How could they save her from the control of a man with fingers in pots around the world? Who knew how many people he had at his bidding? In how many countries his commands might be followed? Now she worried that she might be putting her mom into danger; maybe she should have thought more before calling her. What a total mess it all was! And who was Scott, the man she felt she had come to know and cherish? Clearly even his name was a lie. But they had shared so much, so many sunsets, amazing encounters with curious animals, frightening storms aboard their little boat, and countless acts of love. These were not lies. The caring came from a place much deeper inside than her current anger. How much of the anger was merely surprise and confusion? Miranda crossed her arms over her head, trying to squeeze answers from her brain. If only there were some clarity in all this!

The gentle rapping on her door brought Miranda’s attention back to the room. One of the servants with more offers of food or drink? With tastes as foreign as her current life situation? She padded barefoot over to the beautifully carved door and drew it open. Scott/Sigi looked pleadingly at her from the hall. Unbidden butterflies flew up inside her; this was her best friend! He was the one person she had gone to for the past five years whenever life seemed overwhelming. Could he really be an enemy? Despite his betrayal, she craved the loving intimacy they’d shared.

“I know you’re angry and confused, and that you feel I’ve betrayed your trust. You are correct and I feel terrible. Can I just come in? Please? I’m so very, very sorry.” He met her eyes with soft blue ones, turning liquid with the threat of tears.

She nodded and stepped back, no less confused, but quieter inside. She closed the door, noting there was no lock or bolt on her side, another small oddity to add to the mix.

“Yes, I did allow my father to lure me into one of his plots, but I didn’t understand what it was all about. I still don’t. Clearly there is a lot he didn’t share. I wanted to tell you. I meant to. It just scared me to think that you might think less of me. Be afraid. Push me away. It was all a terrible, terrible mistake.”

His sincerity made him younger. Vulnerable. Miranda believed him.

“My father is a frightening man. Something in his plan has gone wrong and I don’t trust what might happen now. I want us to leave. The servants will let me go out, and you too if you’re with me. But we need to leave before my father gets back. I have a place we can go where they won’t find us for awhile. Please trust me. I know I’ve betrayed that trust, but I need you to give me it one more time. I promise to explain all I can; to answer all your questions, but we need to leave now.” The words tumbled out quickly, almost tripping over each other. He extended his hand, inviting, not demanding.

Miranda looked down at it, roughened from life on the water. She resented her desire to be rescued by the same person who had just lost her trust. Tentatively she reached for the peace offering of his callused palm, annoyed at herself for giving in so easily. She took it because she had no better plan.

“I called my mom and Belinda. Both of them will be trying to find me. I don’t think I can leave. What will happen to them if they come here and we’re gone?”

Relief flowed through Sigi’s chest; the eyes that met his showed something less than forgiveness, but at least a willingness to hear his plan.

“I have called an old friend who will let us borrow his boat. We can take it into the Tigre Delta. It’s a maze of waterways; no one will find us until we want to be found. I can trust Javier. If your mom arrives he will let her know our plans and he will make certain she is safe. We can call him after a week or so and find out what’s happening. Will you come?”

Miranda nodded, realizing she could call her mother on Scott/Sigi’s phone. It seemed their own safety was the most immediate issue. She dropped his hand to grab a few necessities, wrapping things inside a luxurious cotton bath sheet. Slipping on her sandals, hand-in-hand again, she left the room with him, aware that she had scarcely said two sentences. She was letting him lead. She’d worry about forgiveness later.

Downstairs they looked for Javier. In his usual style, he seemed to materialize as they neared the front door. He and Sigi shared a hurried conversation, and Miranda watched as a concerned frown formed on Javier’s face. He slowly nodded his head. Sigi turned and led her toward the street.

* * *

The taxi Sigi had called was waiting at the end of the driveway. The backseat was stuffy and hot as they climbed in. The driver seemed to prefer ill-functioning air conditioning to open windows. Sigi directed him onto Autopista La Plata in order to head north to the Club Nautico’s marina in San Isidro. Miranda felt her headache begin to fade and the knot in her stomach loosen as they drove away. She looked out at the occasional view of the ocean and began to notice some of the incredible architecture for which Buenos Aires was famous. Relaxing slightly, Sigi asked the driver to continue north on the city streets as the Autopista turned westward. He began pointing out sights, feeling gratified at the lessening of tension he could sense in Miranda’s body. Despite the heat, she was sitting close to him. Sigi liked the slight stickiness their mingled perspiration created in the places where their skin touched.

“Have you heard of the Argentine Tango? It’s the very sexiest dance. Some say it’s simply stylized foreplay.” Sigi grinned and Miranda answered with the slightest of smiles and a bit of warmth in her eyes. “We’re passing some of the most famous clubs.”

Signs for Madero Tango, Gala Tango, and Rojo Tango all slid past their now open windows. All lured customers with tantalizing images of dance partners whose legs entwined.

“If we survive all this and if you forgive me, someday I shall teach you to tango.” He smiled at her again, knowing full well that this was not a skill included in the image she held of him.

Eventually they pulled into the parking for the marina. Sigi’s friend had notified one of the attending personnel, who led them to the boat, unlocked the chain, then helped them board. Stowing what gear they had, they turned on the running lights in the gathering darkness. They were pleased to see she was a sleek little craft, snowy white and built for speed. Relieved to be on water once again, they motored slowly out of the harbor before hoisting the sails.

Chapter 12

by Marian Exall (2088 words)

She was ashamed to admit it, but Belinda’s favorite night of the week was Friday, her regular dinner date with Mom. She had not completely taken herself out of the dating scene, but she was at a loss to know what algorithm the internet sites used to match her with the bunch of self-satisfied losers that turned up in her in-box. The effort of waxing and creaming, and putting on make-up and uncomfortable shoes no longer seemed worth it for an evening spent smiling and flirting and downing enough mixed drinks so she could simulate sexual abandon when the moment came.

“Ooh, you’re a cop! Can we use the handcuffs later?”

If she had a dollar for every time she’d heard that tired line she could retire a rich woman. Of course, there was Tawi. She really liked him, and the way he looked at her legs yesterday indicated he really liked her too, but their adversarial professional positions made the relationship difficult. Same thing with Norm Kovic: there was an unspoken sexual tension there, although that relationship was even more complicated. She didn’t really trust him. They were supposed to be on the same side, but he blew hot and cold, one minute “let’s share everything,” and the next “it’s an FBI matter: need-to-know only.”

Like with this Briene murder. She thought Klovic would be interested to know that the prime suspect, Scott Banton, had skipped town in violation of his bail conditions, and that key witnesses Christopher Fox/Fuchs and Claudia Moneybags were also in the wind, but when she called him, he shrugged it off: “Yeah, yeah. Ed Banton has it all under control.” What in hell did that mean? Ed Banton, another man she didn’t trust as far as she could see him, regardless of Klovic’s revelation that the suspect’s father worked for the FBI. Worked for them how, exactly? On what? Klovic had been evasive: something to do with fine art thefts. She had to strong-arm Klovic to get to go along on the search of the Whole Shebang, even when it was she who gave him the tip-off. However, she believed him when he said he had no more idea than her what the red roses meant.

According to Klovic, Viscount Briene was fencing stolen artwork, and the Godiva’s new owners were staging a sting operation. The Raphael painting was a fake, a copy painted last summer to bolster Christopher and Claudia’s credibility as buyers. This made a kind of sense, although it would have been nice if the FBI had informed the local police of the entrapment scheme. But why would Ed’s son kill the count? If he did. And where did Edward/Edouard Banton/Burgstaller fit in to all this?

Belinda locked her private office, one of the perqs of promotion to sergeant, and headed out. On a whim, she stopped by Andrew Pettit’s desk.

“So, how’s it coming with the sexual assault investigation?”

Pettit looked down quickly, and shuffled papers.

“Mmm. Well, you know I can’t really talk to you about that because your mom’s the complainant and—“

“Give me a break, Andy! You’ve done squat, right?” She waited a beat before continuing. “It might interest you to know that Edward Banton is also known as Edouard Burgstaller.” She proceeded to spell out the last name, but Pettit didn’t even pick up a pencil to make a note. Instead, he turned the tables.

“Congrats on your first big case. How’s that going?” Pettit smirked. Belinda resisted the urge to respond in kind: can’t discuss an ongoing investigation, but she relented in the interests of good co-worker relations.

“The FBI’s all over it. They haven’t exactly told me to lay off, but …”

“Klovic, huh?”

Belinda shrugged and turned for the door.

Her mother texted that she was working late and to meet at the Crab Catcher, one of their favorite spots, at 7.30 pm. The restaurant served excellent seafood, and was tolerant of jeans and running shoes, Belinda’s work uniform. It was on the waterfront, a few steps from the marina, and Belinda thought she had time to stroll past the three “boats of interest” again before dinner.

It was a miserable night, rain rolling in off the sound, no moon or stars visible, and the bulk of the nearby islands looming large. Understandably, the marina was deserted, the few stalwarts who lived aboard through the winter months had doubtless gone ashore to seek comfort and companionship in one of the many watering holes that ringed the harbor.

Belinda pulled the hood of her rain jacket tight around her face and hunched forward into the squall. The piers where pleasure boats were docked were illuminated by lamps at forty feet intervals. Between each pool of light was a stretch of darkness. Belinda noted that the Placebo, Scott and Miranda’s boat, was well-lit, but its neighbors (or was it “her neighbors?”) on either side, the Whole Shebang and the Godiva, were in deep darkness. No lights shone from aboard any of the three. The bright yellow crime tape that surrounded the Godiva had blown loose in the wind, and Belinda took a moment to re-attach it. As she bent to secure it to a mooring cleat, she heard the sound of a motor boat approaching. Some instinct kept her in a crouch.

A small craft with no lights showing, the solo helmsman profiled in the stern. He (or she) was garbed in a dark windcheater and a baseball cap pulled down low. The outboard engine kicked back to a lower note as the boat idled past the yachts at the furthest end of the pier. It came level with the Godiva, and Belinda had a clear view: a man, looking carefully over each of the moored craft. Had he seen her? Probably not.

The engine cut out, and in the sudden silence Belinda’s breath sounded unnaturally loud. She kept her position, holding air in her lungs until it hurt. A click, a spurt of light, the exact source of which was now hidden behind the bulk of the Placebo. Then an arc of brilliance in the sky, falling with a crash onto the ancient wooden decking of the Whole Shebang.

Belinda was dazzled by the explosion of light from the old hulk. She stood up as the outboard engine roared into life, and watched impotently as the motor boat described a wide arc out into the darkness. A pale face turned towards her and made brief eye contact before the craft faded to black.

* * *

“Sorry, Mom. There was …an incident at the marina. I had to hang around until the emergency services arrived. You probably heard the sirens.”

In spite of the rain, the Whole Shebang burned to the waterline before the hoses were in place. Belinda left the crime scene techs to poke around the debris. She was certain any evidence left after she and Kovic had carefully photographed the trash bag of roses earlier in the day was now totally destroyed.

“That’s OK, sweetheart. I went ahead and ordered our favorites.” Linda Swansen indicated the two frosted gin martinis lined up on the table along with a large plate of Ahi tuna tartare, nacho chips, shaved ginger and pickled cucumber. She glanced up sharply at her daughter’s sigh.

“Hard day at the office?”

“Hah! You could say that!”

Belinda knew she was not supposed to reveal details about ongoing cases to anyone outside the department, but her mother was not just family: she was Belinda’s closest confidante, her therapist, almost. She had learned to trust her mother’s unerring instincts. And her ability to keep confidences.

“What do you know about the Halcyon Corporation, Mom?”

“That’s the outfit behind Net Nanny. You know, the spyware the Board tried to strong-arm me into installing on all our students’ devices. Ed Banton’s on the board of Halcyon, as well as chair of the school board. I thought you knew that.”

“I thought Halcyon was into financial services.”

“Well, yes, in the sense they provide financing to a bunch of things. I think it’s all a bit shady, but, well, I’m just the IT guy. Anyway, apparently, Barton’s missing in action and the pressure’s off me for now.” Linda drained her drink and looked around for the waiter.

“So what is spyware, exactly?” Belinda loaded a chip with tuna and ginger and popped it into her mouth.

This spyware was more like malware. Banton said it was just to keep our little angels pure and safe from online predators, but when I looked into it, it did much more than that. Once on someone’s smart phone or tablet, it multiplies: you send an email or text and, voila, the software’s on the recipient’s device too!”

At that moment, Belinda felt her phone vibrate. She pulled it out and squinted at the screen, not recognizing the number displayed.

“Sorry, Mom. I’d better see what this is.”

She rose and strode towards the lobby to take the call in privacy.

Hello? Is that Sergeant Swansen? I had a call from my daughter. She says she’s been kidnapped. Her name is Miranda Evans. I think you might know her.”

After about ten minutes’ conversation, Belinda returned to the table. Now she had strong confirmation that Blanton was up to no good, and an excuse to do a thorough search of the Placebo. That could wait until tomorrow morning. She’d take back-up, notify Tawi who was Miranda’s lawyer after all. Everything by the book, so that if she found anything suspicious, it could be logged into evidence. The only question was, should she tell Klovic? He had the authority to initiate a kidnapping investigation that involved foreign jurisdictions. That is, if he wanted to; if he didn’t think Miranda was just acting hysterical, and that “Ed Banton had it all under control.”

Maybe she would wait until after the search to speak to Klovic.

…

The table was set for four. Tiki torches blazed along the edge of the terrace and shimmered off crystal glassware and fine china. A warm breeze laden with tropical scents of eucalyptus and bouganvillea lifted the skirt of the white linen tablecloth. In the distance, an indigo ocean murmured against white sands. An idyllic setting.

“Goddamn it, Claudia!” Ed snarled. “You were supposed to keep her entertained, massages, yoga, shopping, couldn’t you even manage that simple task?” He stomped to the edge of the terrace and flung a lit cigarette into the darkness below.

“Oh? And what about you? Can’t even control your own son! If you hadn’t lost your fucking temper again—“ Claudia wore a long, halter-neck gown of diaphanous silk the color of the inside of an oyster shell. Her blond hair was slicked back, all the better to show off the diamonds cascading from her earlobes.

“Christ, don’t you understand what’s at stake here?” Ed waved Javier off as the manservant approached to pour the wine, but then reconsidered. “Javier, when did you see them last?”

“Er, um, this afternoon about four. Mr. Sigi came from the gazebo. He looked …upset.” Ed raised his head like a bull, challenging the servant to elaborate. Javier looked like a deer in the headlights, his hands obsessively twisting a napkin. “He went to Miss Miranda’s room. I don’t know where they went after that.” The last sentence was rushed and breathless, betraying his nervousness.

Ed came close to Javier, lowering his head into the manservant’s face, forcing him to meet his eyes. The older man’s voice sank to a harsh whisper.

“You’re lying to me. Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t tell me the truth, NOW!” With a bellow, he seized Javier by the throat and pushed him to his knees. Javier choked, his bronze face turning copper-red. Claudia strolled off to the edge of the terrace where she remained gazing out into the night, bored with the scene behind her. She knew how it would play out. Javier would quickly crumble and spill the beans about Scott and Miranda’s escape, but by then Ed’s sadistic rage would be out of control. He would continue punching and kicking until he was out of breath. Tomorrow, Claudia would be sent with an envelope fat with cash to smooth things over.

A pity they hadn’t tried that approach with the Swansen woman. Who knew she would turn out to be the mother of the cop investigating Briene’s death? They may have made a dangerous enemy there.

Chapter 13

by Laura Rink (1893 words)

Awakening on Rápido, the sailboat Sigi had secured for them, Miranda kept her eyes closed. She wanted to pretend it was a week ago and she was on the Placebo. As discontent as she had been feeling then, it was infinitely better to what she was feeling now: fear, confusion, and uncertainty. But it was too quiet. Water lapped against the hull, a loose halyard knocked against the mast, and an exotic bird cried in the distance, but there was no ticking, no incessant click-click of Scott’s wind-up Care Bear clock, a sound she would welcome now. But she wasn’t on the Placebo, she wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest, and she most certainly wasn’t a day away from her weekly visit to Launder-Land.

In this moment she missed the simple discontent of everyday life that being at Launder-Land evoked. Before it had been depressing lugging their clothes up and down the boat ladder, the dock, the ramp, and in and out of the Subaru. Now those weekly trips represented structure, purpose, and graspable reality in contrast to the last few days of incomprehensible murder, drugged kidnapping, and a seaside villa in South America. Here she was living out the drama of someone else’s life, a minor subject in a painting—an oil smear, a charcoal smudge, a pencil sketch when she wanted to be the painter creating an active and purposeful life.

It was also much too warm for the PNW in February. Miranda sighed, pulling the light sheet off her sweat-sheened torso, and raising herself up on one elbow, opened her eyes and gazed at Sigi’s sleeping face. She was startled by how different he looked, not just the stress of the last few days, not just the slack muscles of sleep but how young he looked. Oh, his beard was gone, that was it. He had come back from jail clean-shaven but she had been too distressed then to fully note the change in his appearance. Ever since she had met him, he had had a beard. The beard was supposed to represent Scott’s disdain for the conventional materialistic life but he had taken an inordinate amount of care of it with daily trimmings, always keeping it full but relatively short. Perhaps Sigi didn’t care for beards at all. Since learning his real name, and being at his family’s villa, she had started to think of him as two different men. Scott, even though he was two years younger than her, had always seemed mature, wise and sure of himself, though often a little distant. After his return from jail, he had seemed vulnerable, confused and clingy. Was he a free spirit or a haunted one?

She had wondered at his relationships with his parents. He rarely spoke of his mother and the one time they had dinner with his father she had noticed that Scott hadn’t seemed himself, had actually seemed more like he was now, more like Sigi but a few hours three years ago hadn’t been enough for her to make the connection that now seemed obvious. Aloof Scott was a persona he had created for himself to cope with all the turmoil of vulnerable Sigi’s family life.

Next to her, Sigi stirred. His blue eyes opened and he smiled up at her. “Babe.” The single word used absentmindedly by Scott was now filled meaningfully by Sigi with love and devotion. “You’re still here. You didn’t leave me.”

Miranda twined her fingers with his. “No, Sweetie, I’m not going anywhere.” She leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips. Scott would have taken this as sufficient foreplay and proceeded rapidly from there but Sigi took it as the comfort she had intended it to be.

“I do have a few questions.”

“Of course.” He eased himself up on one arm and kissed her forehead. “Ask me anything.”

“So we berthed next to the Godiva on purpose?”

Sigi nodded.

Miranda had wondered why they were in the posh part of the marina around the kind of boats and people Scott didn’t like, but she hadn’t questioned him then—when it came to the Placebo what Scott said, stuck.

“And the roses leading to, or away, from the Whole Shebang?”

“I’m not sure. Christoph might have been using Claudia to lure Briene. The roses were some kind of code or wooing, I don’t know. Claudia only told me what I needed to know—she knew I didn’t have the stomach for most of this. Then Claudia used the painting to get him on the Godiva. That painting had been a favorite of my mother’s—I don’t why, she seemed to have her own plans, maybe it had to do with her going off with Briene, or money or black mailing my father or all or none of the above.” Sigi dropped his head into his hands. Miranda encircled him with her arms and legs and he leaned into her, damp skin against damp skin.

Before this week, he had never let her see him so weak, he had never let her be the strong one. But she could be strong, and decisive, like her mother forging her own life regardless whether a man was a part of it or not. (She had called her mom late last night, told of their escape and implored her not to come, it was unnecessary and too dangerous.) But it was hard to be decisive when the answers she received only spurred more questions.

“Did your cousin steal that painting?”

He spoke into his hands. “It was a fake. We wanted Briene. To find out the truth. Or frame my father. I was never sure of Claudia’s motivations.”

Miranda tried to picture what would motivate that rude, languid woman, and wondered if Cloud-ee-ah had also formed a version of herself, a persona to recover from her traumatic upbringing.

“So instead of turning an art thief over to the cops, you kill him?” She hadn’t meant to be so brusque but she wanted further confirmation of his innocence.

Sigi pulled away from her and leaned back against the curved hull of the bow. The look in his eyes scared her. It was similar to how he had looked when he was being arrested on the dock: that swirl of confusion of an altered mind.

He spoke in a soft monotone: “Briene died of a broken heart.”

“I don’t understand.” Miranda didn’t know how hard she should push him.

“Briene, he looked so different. Before he was like a benevolent warrior, when I was a kid, he was so physically strong but had a kind face, such a deep voice that spoke kind words. My mother and him…my dad was a violently jealous man…Claudia and I wanted proof but after she died Briene disappeared.” Sigi started to shake. “I can’t remember it straight—first Briene detained my father…she got into his car…that was before she died.”

His eyes roamed around the boat, not meeting her gaze. She leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Okay. You don’t have to tell me any more.”

“No, I want to. I need to.” He seemed to try to focus on her face. “We—Claudia and I—thought Briene would save us. But he didn’t. That night—maybe he did try to save me (he whispered as if to himself)—on the Godiva, he looked so old, his hair had thinned and grayed, he had gained weight. I was so scared to see him like that, he could never save us now—Get Walker’s guy, Klovic, he said. Is he with me or my father?—and then there was all that blood.” He grabbed at Miranda’s hands. “He went after my mom, then Claudia. I was scared he’d come after you. Do you understand? I was protecting you.”

“From your father? From Briene?” Miranda squeezed his hands. “Isn’t Klovic with the FBI?” Sigi was topic hopping, making everything more confused with indeterminate pronouns.

“He died of a broken heart,” Sigi repeated.

“Who? Are you saying Briene killed himself?”

Sigi’s eyes focused and he pulled his hands from hers. “I didn’t see a knife or any weapon, there was a note but I was too distraught—I wanted to look at the painting but then the sirens came.”

“Why would you want to look at the painting?”

“To see if it was hers. She had a reproduction hung in her sitting room in the villa—I never understood her interest in it.”

Was he talking about his mother again? Hadn’t he already told her this? Miranda was starting to miss the disdainfully abrupt and secure Scott, just a little.

“When we were at the villa, did you look to see if the painting was still there?”

“No. No one goes into her rooms.” Apropos of nothing, he whispered, “Please don’t leave me, Babe. I love you. I need you.” He dropped his face into his hands again and began to sob.

“Hey, I’m here.” Miranda pulled him into her arms again. “I’m not leaving, Baby.”

That he loved sincerely was clear, perhaps even loved her a little obsessively, which a week ago would have been welcome but now she wasn’t sure. And she needed to be sure. Was she embracing this man, this relationship, this crazy situation they found themselves in or was she going extract herself and run?

How could she abandon him now? For five years he had stood by her, okay not through anything remotely as serious as this, but he had been there for her. We’re a team, she told herself. He needs me. I can do this. Though when he had begged for help after his release from jail, her crazy idea had been to search the Godiva and look where that got them. Even though Scott had been working directly with Claudia and indirectly with his father, he hadn’t seemed to know they would be drugged and whisked by yacht and private jet to a foreign country. He seemed unsure of what he knew and what was real, unsure of what he had agreed to do and what Claudia and his father were prepared to do. But he needed her, and she would be there for him, for them.

“We are going to figure this out, together.” She pulled him up and held him by his shoulders. “Firstly,” and she smiled kindly and lovingly, she hoped, “What do you want me to call you?” She was prepared for Sigi or perhaps something else, not of the past but representative of their new future together.

Before he could answer, there was a quiet thump of something against the boat. He shrugged her hands off his shoulders and slid off the bed to stand up straight. The light from the porthole showed a shadow of stubble where his beard had been. He inhaled deeply and in all this hot humidity, his blue eyes turned icy.

“Scott. You can call me Scott.”

Miranda felt like he was twenty feet away instead of two.

He pulled on his shorts and reached into a cubbyhole under the bed. From the cockpit came the quiet clamber of someone coming aboard. Scott unwrapped a towel from around a handgun. The hatch slid open and the handsome, smiling face of Herve Gaulatin came into view.

“Buena mañana, mis amigos.”

Chapter 14

by Diana Dodds (1543 words)

Sargent Belinda Swanson was sitting at her desk trying to reorient herself to the facts in these cases that had begun to expand at the docks. She had been so busy chasing lost witnesses and suspects and wandering what she lost in the Wholeshebang, that she had lost sight of important details. I need to start focusing on what I have in front of me. The phone rang and brought her out of her reverie.

“Belinda, this is Lewis Sinclair from KOMO news. I wandered if you had a few minutes to answer some questions about the murder and the fire at the docks.”

“I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”

“Yes, I understand that, but the public has a right to know what is going on in their city. Can you comment on the absence of Miranda and Scott Banton.”?

“This is an ongoing investigation and I cannot comment on them at this time except to say that I am aware of where they are.”

“Can you explain anything about the involvement of FBI agent Norman Klovic?”

“I can not comment on an ongoing investigation and I believe that it is dangerous to speculate about involvement by the FBI.”

“When can we expect some information on this case?

“I will have a report for you within the next 48 hours and I will call for a news conference.”

“Thanks so much for your time, Belinda.”

Belinda slammed the phone down and the frustration of this case welled up inside of her. Fuck it all. He’s right about being distracted by all these factors. I have to focus.

Again she picked up the phone and called the medical examiner’s office.

“Matthew, have you finished the autopsy on Mr. Been or Briene or whatever his name is?”

“Yea, come on down and I will show you what I have, and I also have some evidence that we were able to salvage from the Wholeshebang.”

“I’ll be right down.”

She walked briskly across the office and ignored the chatter of the other officers and the ringing phones, and marched directly to the elevators. Once inside the elevator, she paused before pushing the button to the basement. She knew she had to focus and let go of the fact that Edward Banton had undermined her command and interfered with her investigation. She would have to deal with him later.

Matthew started putting all his ducks in a row. He knew that Belinda didn’t like to wait when she came to his office. He had his technician pull Mr. Briene’s body from the refrigerated unit and put it on the autopsy table. He had completed the autopsy late last night and he needed to refresh his recollections. He pulled all the evidence that he and CSI had been able to find so far. He had dictated his report, but it had not been typed up yet, so he pulled up his dictation so he could give her an audio report until the hard copy was available for her to peruse.

“Well, Matt, what ya got for me?”

“Belinda, let’s go over the body. If you look right here, you will see two precise and deep puncture wounds. One is here at the femoral artery on the left groin. Then there is another wound just to the left of the sternum where the subclavian artery comes off of the aorta.”

“Translate it for me Matt.”

“The puncture wounds were placed at two of the largest arteries in the body. He would have bleed out very quickly.”

“Those punctures aren’t very large, how did he bleed out from those?”

“Whoever made those wounds wanted to be sure that they would do the job. I did a toxicology report and basic labs, and found something quite striking. This man’s protime and INR were off the charts. He had been treated with Coumadin over a period of time and was going to bleed out internally if he had not been punctured to finish the job. He basically had no way to clot his blood and so it flowed out very quickly.”

“How long do you think that it took?”

“It was a matter of minutes.”

“What do you think made those wounds?”

“Well, I did a casting of the wound track and it was smooth and straight, but too deep and thin for an ice pick. It is what I found in the track itself that was truly interesting. There was a fragment of a dark wood. We were able to identify it as coming from the genus Diospyros. It is one of the species of ebony. It is the hardest wood that there is. The thing about it is that it is so dense that it will sink in water. One of the divers near the boat Godiva, was able to find a rose with a stem made of ebony on the bottom of the bay. The rose petals looked nearly identical to the roses that were found on the Wholeshebang. Whoever made this artificial rose was very gifted in making it look like just one of the other roses. Obviously, the assailant thought that throwing it overboard would make it impossible to trace. We couldn’t get any fingerprints or DNA off of it, but that type of ebony is very rare and hard to locate. It comes from West Africa, in a specific area, and so you may be able to find out something by tracing it. We found Coumadin in the tea service in the kitchen. We found no prints except for Mr. Scott Banton, which were found on the doorway. It was a bloody print. We did find a partial footprint on the side of the bow on the Godiva. The interesting part of that is that the print had gasoline mixed in it. It was a men’s size 10.”

“Was there anything about that painting that could help us?”

“Yes, we examined the painting to try to gage how old it was. A paint chip from the painting had some radioactivity, which means that it was painted after 1945, so the painting was a fake, but underneath that was another painting which does go back to the Renaissance. The painting underneath is the real story.”

“Matt, pick it up please.”

“Yes, sorry. The painting underneath the forgery was a painting called The Lady with an Ermine. It is a lost Da Vinci, painted in 1489. We were able to prove its authenticity by the type of blue paint that was used. It is called ultramarine and it is made by a type of ground stone lapis. The last time that this painting was seen was in Poland.”

“Poland, Africa, Argentina. You know what has all those places have in common?”

“Nazis?”

“This is getting to be an international incident. Thanks Matt. Let me know what else you find. You guys did a great job.”

On the way back up to her office on the elevator, Belinda’s mind was ticking like a clock. Some pieces were falling in place, but others had become murky. It was obvious that lost art was part of the motive here, but also the Halcyon Corporation. The next stop would be to their offices and she knew that she would have to get a warrant for their records. She would contact a forensic accountant to begin to go over their records. There was also that issue with Klovic. What did the FBI have going on here? She needed to get to the bottom of that and then maybe she could start pulling some of these fragments together.

Tawi was waiting for her when she reached the 5th floor. What did he want now? She needed to have access to Miranda and Scott to help unmuddy the water. He smiled a knowing smile her way. He had no idea how fed up she was with stonewalling. She was about to bring him up on charges of obstruction if he didn’t help her locate them. There would be no sex coming his way until she got results on this case.

“Belinda, I have some information for you.”

“Well, it is about time that you started helping me. After all, I am a paying client.”

“I know how frustrated you are, it’s written all over your face. I came across some information about that motorboat you saw. It also belongs to Halcyon Corporation. Unfortunately, there is no evidence as to who has been using it lately. It did have a small leak in the fuel line, and we got to it, before it went up in smoke.”

“Who is we?”

“I got information from a man named Herve Gaulatan. He works for Eduard Burgstaller.”

“Burgstaller? I need a handout with all the players in this thing.”

“You know him as Edward Banton. That is his cover name, and his son is actually named Sigi Burgstaller.”

“Wonderful, another name change, to protect the innocent no doubt.”

“Well, at least we have more information than we had yesterday.”

“Yes, but the piece of information that I need from you is where are Miranda and Sigi?”

“I’m working on it. I’m working on it. Calm down.”

“I’ll calm down when I see the whites of their eyes.”

Chapter 15

by Victoria Doerper (1856 words)

Belinda and Tawi danced around each other with the intimacy and passion of partners in a time-lapse tango, inextricably connected in a complicated and ever-changing relationship and investigational dance. A sweep forward here, a dip there, a back step, an angry look, a smoldering eye.

“Belinda,” Tawi repeated, “I’m working on it.”

“What do you mean ‘you’re working on it?’” Belinda asked, “I’m not naïve. When someone says that, it usually means ‘I’m up shit creek without a paddle.’ Let’s at least be honest with each other.”

“Kindly don’t project your frustration onto me,” responded Tawi. “You may be up shit creek, as you so crassly put it, with or without a paddle, but I’m sailing along with the wind at my back. I just haven’t quite reached port yet.”

“Oh, spare me, Tawi. You say “to-may-to” and I say “to-mah-to,” but it’s still the same vegetable. Fruit. Whatever. We don’t know where to find Scott and Miranda. Maybe in Argentina. Impressive, we’ve identified the continent and country. But I had that before I ever talked to you. I was hoping you could get us something more detailed.”

“Please, give me a little credit.” said Tawi. “I have sources. I have methods. I am working on it. I expect to pin down their location very soon. When I do, you’ll be the first to know.”

“I’d better be,” snapped Belinda ungraciously.

Tawi let a small silence fall into the chasm between them.

“Dearest Belinda,” said Tawi, his voice dropping to a quiet purr on the last syllable. He moved closer, taking her hand and touching it to his lips, bridging the angry gap. “Can we possibly cease and desist this very unpleasant conversation long enough to have dinner together? I’m hungry and you need sustenance. More than that, we could both use a drink, and then, well, then we’ll see where that will take us.”

Belinda considered this. She knew herself well enough to realize that her lack of progress on this investigation was making her ill tempered. She wasn’t angry with Tawi, he was just a convenient nearby target. She was hungry, and she could really use a drink. If she’d let herself off the hook for a moment and relax, maybe some of this mixed up mess of facts and speculation might sort into a helpful pattern as she focused on something else.

“OK, if you let me pick the restaurant.”

“Please do, I know you have good taste.”

Belinda steered them away from restaurants at the marina. She did not tend toward superstition, but this case was making her uneasy about the docks and their mysterious floating villages. First the murder and roses, a faked or stolen painting, then the explosion, and then the discovery of some bizarre submerged ebony-stemmed rose from Africa, for heaven’s sake. Problems and mysteries flowed in with the tide, but the solutions seemed to be way out there, in some distant pelagic zone.

The restaurant in town she chose for dinner with Tawi served beautiful seafood. Tawi and Belinda dined on oysters and mussels, they sipped a well-balanced Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc. Belinda’s frame of mind softened, and Tawi noticed. He offered companionship, and distraction. From dinner, they headed to his home and the formerly dreaded waterbed that didn’t look so bad to Belinda right now. Their bedtime tango churned up the water considerably, but Belinda barely noticed the stormy sea beneath her. The waters soon calmed, and they both dropped off to sleep on a gentle swell.

* * *

“Herve,” shouted Scott, “What the hell are you doing here?”

The Rapido rolled with the gentle waves created by Herve’s small motorboat.

“I almost shot you,” yelled Scott. “Dammit, Herve.”

Herve smiled as he swung himself into the cabin. “But, Sigi, why are you so armed? You are home, are you not? Back to the land of your birth. Your father is worried about you.”

“That’s a crock,” shouted Scott. He couldn’t seem to stop shouting. “My father cares for nothing but himself. My father is a murderer. My father is the evil spawn of the Nazi regime.”

“Sigi, please, how you denigrate your heritage. Don’t be so melodramatic. Your father was sent to Argentina for his new career. Your parents traveled to Buenos Aires as easily as did the wave of Nazi refugees who were welcomed to the Argentine.

 Welcomed, I tell you. Do you think they would have been welcomed had they been considered evil. No. Your family was held in high esteem by the Fuhrer, that is true. But not for violence. For expertise in art. For artistic services to the Third Reich. Your great-grandfather began this work, and your grandfather Wolfgang, then your father after him, inherited his passion, talents, and secrets.”

“Stop,” shouted Scott. “Their service to Hitler was despicable. They contaminated their love and knowledge of art by what they did. They cheated, they stole, they betrayed. Nothing has changed. I may not know everything, but I know more than you think I do, Herve.”

Miranda sat in stunned silence as she watched this interchange. Here was Herve, Edward’s pilot and enforcer, and who knew what else he had been and done for Edward. Edward had said Herve would help them. Well, he was helping someone, but he sure didn’t seem to be helping them. He was intimidating. His manners belied his powerful personality. Thank goodness Sigi had left the building, so to speak, and Scott had stepped up.

Miranda touched Scott lightly on the shoulder; he turned his head toward her.

“Sorry, babe,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry you’re mixed up in this.”

“Scott, I think you’d better put down the gun,” Miranda cautioned. “You don’t want to do something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”

“I’ve already done something I’ll regret for the rest of my life. I trusted my father’s word. I believed him when he asked me to help him do something that would right a wrong. At least that’s what I thought he was planning. I made a murder possible. The Count’s blood is on my hands too.”

“Scott, please, you’re not thinking straight right now.”

Herve chose this moment to insert himself back into the conversation. “Sigi, don’t agitate yourself. Think about what you are saying. Can you criticize your beautiful childhood home here in the Argentine? A villa, beautiful works of art, servants like Javier, your kind nanny Carmelita. Your father and mother doted on you, gave you the best of everything. True, the villa was a busy and complicated place. But you were well cared for. Miranda is right. You are not thinking straight. Put down the gun. Let us settle down and talk this out together. Perhaps let us switch to your first language, Sigi.

Our conversation might flow more easily in that language.”

“I will not speak German,” Scott spat the words out like a bitter pill. “When I speak German, I end up thinking in German. When I think in German, my mind goes back to my childhood. And it wasn’t the ideal childhood picture you’ve made up, Herve.” Scott paused to catch his breath. He put the gun down next to him, then continued. “I have nightmares. I remember the scary looking men slinking in to sit and smoke and speak in low voices with my father whenever he was at home. Then the shouting started. Heil Hitler! It gave me chills. I remember hearing some of the men talking about something called the Fourth Reich. I heard whispering about paintings and sculptures and caves.”

“Sigi,” Herve crooned, as if trying to calm a small child. “Don’t upset yourself. These were nightmares only. As all small children have sometimes.”

“No!” exploded Scott. “They were not just nightmares. They were real. I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard. I was slapped and cursed by father when I asked about the men and the packages and what Fourth Reich meant. After I talked with one of his visitors and asked some simple questions, my father heard about it, flew into one of his rages, and killed Franklin. I don’t know exactly why. Franklin was my only friend.” Scott’s eyes threatened to fill with tears, but he caught himself and turned them back into anger.

“You were there! I thought you were my uncle. The one man I could rely on. You taught me about art, respect for the painters and sculptors. You loved beautiful things, I remember that. You gave me a little sculpture of an angel once, said it was to be our little secret. But you also whispered with my father and those other men sometimes. Still, I trusted you, Herve.”

“Ah, little Sigi,” Herve continued, “trust is a complicated word in any language, is it not? Trust doesn’t always mean honesty, surely you know that. Trust doesn’t mean perfection, or even predictability. Trust is more flexible, more fluid and changeable. Like the sea, like the waters of this delta. You trust the waters to hold up your little boats, do you not? But you know that boats sometimes sink, and that they’re sometimes battered by stormy waves. Still, the sea and all the waters are as trustworthy as they ever were. You understand what I’m telling you, Sigi?”

Miranda listened to Herve’s mesmerizing voice, but she was watching Scott. He was teetering on the edge of something, and Miranda was afraid for him. She leaned over and put her arms around him.

“Scott, I’m still here,” she whispered in his ear. “Don’t be afraid. We’re together and we’ll find the key to whatever has happened and straighten it out.”

“What?” said Scott dazedly, as if awakened from a dream. “Miranda, what did you just say?”

“I said we’ll find the key to what happened and straighten it out.” Then she added, “You’re not a powerless child anymore. You don’t need to believe as you did when you were a child. You are a strong, thinking, good man.”

“Miranda, my dear,” intoned Herve in his maddeningly calm voice, “You do not want Sigi to reject his, what do they call it now? His inner child. That might truly destroy him. And you as well.”

“He is not Sigi,” said Miranda firmly. “His name is Scott, and you need to stop calling him Sigi.”

Herve looked at her and Scott blandly. “As you wish. Scott then. I try to honor his past, you wish to honor his future. He has chosen his course, and I will, naturally, respect that choice. I want only the best for his future as well.”

Scott seemed to have regained his strength of mind. “What is best for my future right now, Herve, is for you to hop back on your little motorboat and leave us alone.”

“Sigi…er, I mean, Scott, I’m sure you know the world is not that simple. I expect that we will be visited very soon by others who do not have your best interests at heart. I think you are best advised to have me here with you when they arrive.”

Chapter 16

by Sue McCarthy (1838 words)

Even though the summer was at its peak in Buenos Aires, she could not stop shaking, all week long. Her own personal earthquake; her hands trembled, she had bitten the inside of her cheek raw, and the floor seemed to rise up to meet her. Barely concentrating on her work; she ruined her favorite black skirt with a drop of bleach, cut her index finger and was forgetting to write appointments in the book. Having not had a complaint in a decade, at first she thought her long time clientele, the rat dog rich bitches that they were, were just being their usual nasty selves.

Oh God, I cannot believe I am thinking that way about my customers. God forgive me, my customers have given me a life, a life I never dreamed of having. My customers are my friends my familia.

But she had made mistakes this week and the screams of Mrs. Chireta proved it. The sounds coming out of her client’s mouth charged into the depths of her own ears, jarring right into her brain, bringing all the laughter in the shop to a full stop. “Have you gone mad Estefania? What have you done? How can I celebrate looking as if I have come from a meat packing plant?”

It was true—when she looked up into the mirror at Mrs. Chireta’s leathery hand-bag face she saw that she had cut the left side shorter. Much shorter. Fistfuls of hair, as if she had won a brawl, were now resting on her clients’ hefty lolas. It took a while to calm her down and she was able to salvage the hair cut though she still looked some-what like a drowned capybara. Estefania got the rest of the shop under control by ordering in French pastries and coffee’s from Sintaxis Palermo.

Laying on the compliments.”please Mrs. Chireta, take photos of yourself in the dress tonight. You always dress so elegantly. I loved that gold dress you wore to your daughters’ birthday.” And now with a genuine smile as she shooed Mrs. Chireta out the door she thought to herself, even though I do not know how you could have sat in that gold dress without coming out of it like a fried egg, gone wrong.

Sweeping up the last of the hair, she wanted to get out to stroll the park.

Parque tres De Febrero is where she came to sooth herself, no where in the city was the aroma of the eucalyptus trees so intoxicating. The parakeets love the park as well and she saw a small body of lime green and aqua, fly by, returning no doubt, to its nest. The birds were known as the Talking Jewels of Summer. They were the favorite fowl for Argentineans to teach to talk and when one escaped back to the wild, they often freaked out passing tourists by hurling insults.

“Get out of here Gringo! Your mother is a whore! Don’t forget to bring me a hotdog!” Sometimes the parakeets were kept by romantics and you would hear the words fluttering above as if a singing cloud, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. When you heard that conversation soaring over you, you knew you were in for some great luck.

Estefania sat down on the bench in the Poet’s Garden and thought of the previous weekend. She had spent most of it outdoors with her grandson Joaquin watching the soccer game. She loved her grandson and saw a bit of Mia in him. Even the sound of his voice reminded her of her sister. He was growing up and soon he would have a wife of his own. What a beautiful day that will be, to see her grandson’s bride. But for now, the games were their own private time and they were full of life like nothing else.

It was when they were leaving the stadium that something had happened that gave her the tremors all week.

Having beaten the Chileans O’Higgins team, the soccer fans were in a euphoric mood. After the game, linking arms with Estefania to prevent from being separated, Joaquin and she made their way from the field. Swells of people bobbed and floated around them, laughing voices filled the air. “Messi Messi” they chanted. “Vamos, vamos Argentina!”

Going to the games with Joaquin was a treat that she could afford to do only a few times a year but the whole production was like day of carnival mixed with the thrill of a gladiator. Yes she had done well for herself despite the sorrowful years. As she moved, buoyed by the sounds of happiness, the past came roaring back, striking her full on, like a slap in the face.

“Abuelita, grandma – where are you? Is everything alright? Do you need to sit down? I have water here in my back pack, if we go off to the side, over there I can get you some. What’s wrong?”

“No no, I’m fine”, though her breath was coming in short gasps, she wanted to move through the crowd, she wanted to see. If only she could reach out and grab that black shirt from the throng surging around them. The shirt tail, levitating back, like the wing of an old crow, as if something was under it; a shirt that could only be worn by the devil himself. There he was, ahead of her, looking freely forgiven of sin and thinking he was OK to walk about; hiding his tail and in need of human warmth instead of the fires of hell. This was the second time she had seen him, the last time was nine years ago. Estefania felt as if there was a large heavy boot on her chest. “Let’s go get some alfajores and remind me to bring some for your mother. She has always been a giant sweet cookie herself.” Drawing her grandson closer they made their way to the sweet shop.

She had kissed him goodbye and said “dinner at my house next week, unless your mother wants me to eat in your place.”

The soccer game now seemed a bleary memory. What was real and what was not? The bench in the park was hard and cut into the backs of her legs. She was tired, the work week had seemed to go on too long. The days of feeling panicky had drained her – each time she tried to forget the end of the soccerday, a sweat broke on her brow. Now she must give herself over to the park and truly relax but her body still felt tight, heavy, like it was still humming, a sewing machine needle droning on and on through her.

Something was dredged up, turning over in her mind, from a yawning cavity that she did not want to look in to, the face from the soccer crowd, flashed on. It was covered in the tricky web of time; as if the dust of a thousand angry moths had floated down and settled on the features allowing a veil of shame. My Mia’s wings. He had broken off the wings of angels. They said he threw so many out of the planes and that they had piled up so high, that even the Sierra de la Ventan’s wept.

She shut her eyes tight and said a prayer for her sister and niece. Gone now for over twenty-five years. She counted on her fingers to ten while slowly breathing in the honey pined fragrance. In-between breaths, she could hear the bumping of her heart and she tried to tame it by turning her face upwards, allowing herself to feel the warmth of the sun. She lived a good life, having used the government compensation to open her shop Hermosa Flor, Beautiful Flower, on Florida Street. She looked at the Borges statue and recited softly the poem he had given Argentina,

“Time is the substance from which I am made, Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire”.

She felt a stab of pain in her stomach. If only I could see the asesino face burnt by fire with his devil eyes gauged out. It had to be him. He was never caught. Could it really be him? Why did America not kill all of Hitler’s clones? The General had wore a smile on his face after the game; like he was actually a human being, joyous, without his usual sneer.

Mia’s photographs of the General’s arrogant sneer were the best, her captions and articles were ones that made that made his jugular burst. No one ever knew where he went after the Dirty War, most of us hoped that he had bled out. That he was chopped up and gone forever.

Mia, her youngest sister. Estefania never said it or believed it, but other baby Nazi’s, yearning criminals; ones who would never grow a heart said it. Mia’s ambition did her in. She was a journalist. Really in love with her job, with her life. She had the brightness that only belongs to youth. The older, and the power hungry, the insecure, and those born with only part of a brain and no soul, wanted to smash that youth down. Youth was not a time for beauty; it was a time only for them to get in line.

Mia’s never got in line though she did manage to enjoy a few years of motherhood and incite a whole nation. Everyone knew Mia.

Estefania felt she could breathe better after the park. People were always seeing ghosts from their past. Thousands of us in Buenos Aires thought we saw that face, that horror. Estefania had stopped going to protest at the Plaza de Mayo. She wanted to save the best of herself and she did not have that much fight left. She told herself, God would not want me to continue to suffer till we meet. He would not have given me the sun or my grandson if he felt that way, my Dios, was just as hurt as we all were.

She went home that night had her dinner and a shot of brandy. She fell into a sleep that was deep and restful. Her sister big and round with a full set of luminous wings, appeared smiling saying, I am safe.

***

Belinda was never good with jet lag, all the guide books said one of the best cures for it was getting sun on the backs of her knees. So she stretched out faced down in the grass in the South American sun. Klovic was due in sometime tomorrow and by then she hoped that she would feel over her desynchronosis and ready to take on the Klovic psychosis. She really did feel like an off cup of jello. Maybe she just really needed a drink.

Chapter 17

by Judy Shantz (1972 words)

Eduard slid the key into the brass keyhole and slowly, silently turned the knob so as not to alert anyone who might be nearby. He stepped quietly into the darkened room and eased the door shut behind him. And then, in the usual ritual, he began to light the candles, long, ivory tapers bringing light to the shadows of the sumptuous room. This was his shrine to her memory. Natalia’s lovely Spanish linen and lace, a silver crucifix tucked into her missal by the bedside. And above the bed, the gift he had been sure would win her love. Raffaello’s Portrait of a Young Man.

He had asked Herve to paint it. The man was a master painter and even many experts would not recognize his works as forgeries. But Natalia hated it, pronounced it a fake like everything else in their lives. If only he could get her the original…..but it was too late. He had seen them in the gazebo. Natalia clinging to the arm of le Vicomte, as she affectionately called him. As useful as this man had been to Eduard over the years, monsieur Hieronymus Briene had overstayed his welcome.

***

Long before there was Edward Banton, and even before there was Eduard Bergstaller, there was a child who might have been Eduard Bernstein. But in the habit of his shape-shifting family, the name had disappeared into the heap of history long before young Eduard had even been born.

Günter Bernstein had been born to successful burghers in the Alsace. But in 1914, the family fled to Berlin and young Günter served his Kaiser admirably until the Armistice. He was now 25 years old, well-educated, a connoisseur of fine art and porcelains and had cheated death many times over the course of the previous four years. He became an appraiser in a small auction house, married and had a son, Wolfgang. It was a happy time, even euphoric. Berlin was the center of the universe, jazz, clubs, and decadence. The 20th century was in full swing.

But an ominous change was in the air and the adaptable Günter slid quietly out of the country and into England, betting, correctly, that Sotheby’s would welcome his talents. When Günter reappeared in Berlin later in the decade he was a “new” man. His son was bi-lingual and Günter, himself, spoke a lovely accented English which he had used to charming effect in the salons of Kensington and Chelsea.

This is the persona he returned with. Gone was the genteel burgher’s son. Arrived was Günter Bergstaller with his wife and his teenage son. They set up an antique shop in Munich and were seen by their new neighbors attending mass each Sunday morning in the little chapel on Altenstrasse.

His expertise in Renaissance art soon became known and not long afterwards a military officer appeared in his shop. The man was the perfect Aryan male, tall, blond, fit, impeccably uniformed. He raised the Heil, Hitler salute before introducing himself. Oberleutnant Jürgen Kopfler. So it began. The easy slide into appeasing, and pleasing, der Führer. Make some easy money. Survive. He knew that Kopfler knew: that hidden behind Bergstaller was a Bernstein.

Young Wolfgang was a gifted artist in his own right and could pass himself off respectably as an old-school impressionist. He was determined to use his talents to rise from the rubble of the gray and broken landscape. He spoke three languages fluently and made friends easily amongst crooks, fences, and the long arms of Scotland Yard, Interpol and the FBI. He moved smoothly and unostentatiously between these worlds, there was never so much as a ripple showing where Wolfgang Bergstaller had been.

On Wolfgang’s 30th birthday, his wife gave him a son, Eduard. The child inherited all of the family’s talents except for the crucial one, subtlety, the instinct to live sub rosa. Eduard was clever and sly, but with a temperament that ran to street-fighting.

But he was not stupid. He had been raised in privilege and he had no intention of changing his living style. He quickly acquired a world-wide network of “clientele”, a few highly-placed officials in his pocket and a steady stream of dollars, rubles, drachmas and lire flowing in and out of his bank accounts. Even the petty crooks who frequented the canals of Amsterdam, where Eduard preferred to live now, owed him something and it was those crooks that strong-armed him when he got into one of his fights or rages. It was in their best interest to make sure that Eddie was kept safe from himself and that he continue to prosper.

And so it was that he went to Paris to sell a piece he had just acquired from a friend of a friend of some high potentate in the court of someone, somewhere, in the Middle East perhaps, or maybe Brazil, or maybe not. No one ever knew who these people were, only that they had unlimited money and not a shred of morality. Just the way he liked it.

And in a little cafÉ on the Left Bank (and how romantic is that?) he saw two diametrically opposed and amazing people. One was the loveliest girl he had ever seen. Slender, dark straight hair and chocolate eyes. The other was a miserable twerp that Eduard had known in Amsterdam whom he had usually tried to avoid. The man was a tall, awkward Norwegian with spiky blond hair and a silly little goatee. But worse, when he got excited, which was all too often, his voice rose into a shrieking falsetto. A fag for sure, thought Eduard. How disgusting!

Eduard almost called out ‘Sigi’, the taunting nickname the Amsterdam hustlers used to call Bjorn Sigurdson every time he sounded especially effete. But Bjorn was holding the hand of the lovely young woman he was sitting with and Eduard really wanted an introduction.

“Bjorn, old buddy, how did you turn up in Paris?”

The man jumped in recognition, nearly knocking over the small table and causing the girl to grab her coffee.

“Eddieee” he shrieked.

Oh god, thought Eduard, he sounds like he’s rehearsing for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Please don’t call me ‘Eddie’, Bjorn. I hate that name.” He turned to smile at the lovely lady and introduce himself.

Natalia. From Segovia. Going to school in Paris. Yes, she had known Bjorn for some time. She was pleasant but not warm. Eduard chatted with Bjorn. He was in Paris learning French pastry techniques. He was an accomplished cook. He wanted a real job, wanted to make something of himself. Eduard’s only reaction was derision. Sucker! Going to work your ass off in a steamy kitchen while I steal your girlfriend, he thought. Still, the girl remained diffident and Eduard made an obsequious retreat.

But Eduard was not easily put off. He found every opportunity to return to Paris. He worked himself into her life and slowly drew her away from the unlucky Bjorn. He was totally smitten and he was very persuasive.

***

And then, as often happens, life took a sharp turn and everything changed. It started with an offer for some fine Limoges porcelain that had turned up in Frankfurt. A good cover. Chinaware was not the usual trade of his clients. It would throw people off. Make him look legit. “Come with me, Natalia. We can drive down to Heidelberg and get married. It’s lovely there.” Natalia certainly did not want to marry anyone, not even Eduard, in spite of his charm and his money. But she knew something he didn’t know. She was pregnant. And if she ever wanted to darken her father’s door again, she would need a husband to go along with this baby.

But the porcelain had been a ruse to get Eduard into Germany and he was cornered by Interpol as he came out of the little chapel in Heidelberg with his bride on his arm. The offer they made was his only choice. In less than seven hours they had been whisked back to Frankfurt and were on a non-stop to Buenos Aires. Some little part of Eduard was happy about the baby, in a self-satisfied way. Natalia threw up the whole way over.

***

Ah, Natalia, Eduard sighed, what a shame you had to die. We could have gone on like that for a long time, you and I. It might not have been perfect, but you knew the part you had to play. I do have to give you full credit for maintaining, like a perfect theater piece, your role in this drama. Never a prima donna, always a class act. Perfect chatelaine. Perfect mother. Even, when I demanded it, perfect wife and perfect slut, eyes so demure, demeanor so submissive, never crying out against my little cruelties. Eh, Liebchen?

Natalia’s coolness had turned Eduard increasingly suspicious and paranoid. “Who’s the real father, Natalia?” he had asked over and over throughout the pregnancy. “Is it Bjorn? Is it?” He would never believe her answer and would remain sullenly silent for days afterwards. He was delighted when she unwittingly agreed to name the child Sigwald. “Little Sigi” he would whisper to the baby and then chuckle out loud. A twisted revenge against a woman with whom he was obsessed.

***

Don Walker remained half-hidden against the pillar as he watched the passengers at Sea-Tac getting off the Alaska Air flight. There she was. Pretty woman. Confident. Long, purposeful strides as she pulled her little carry-on behind her, straight to the United Airlines desk. “Thanks for the tip, Klovic.” he thought. “You are proving to be the perfect pawn.”

Walker needed to be last on and first off this flight, even though he was pretty sure that Belinda wouldn’t recognize him in his fisherman’s wool cap pulled tightly down.

He could not afford to sleep either. He had to remain alert. There were too many things that could go wrong now. As they landed he switched his phone off ‘airplane mode’ and it buzzed almost immediately. A text. “Bring the motor launch. Everything we need is here.”

***

Herve Gaulatin was nothing, if not precise. He had the body of a well-toned athlete and was as light on his feet as a boxer. Winter and summer, he wore the same uniform, perfectly tailored gray Italian wool suiting and fine black Egyptian cotton shirts, hand tailored for his tall muscular frame. And tonight he sported soft, gray suede driving mocs with deck soles. His night-vision goggles were certainly not chic, but they got him up to El Rápido without running lights.

Scott had never questioned the role Herve played in the family. Soft-spoken and unfailingly kind to the child, yet never warm or demonstrative. And suddenly Scott understood, that silky, even voice dripped menace.

With one quick move, Herve leaned over and picked up the revolver from where Scott had laid it down and, for the first time, both Scott and Miranda realized that he was wearing latex surgical gloves. Miranda screamed:

“You can’t do this. You can’t hold me against my will. I’m an American citizen”

Herve favored Miranda with a patient smile. “You’re in Argentina now, Miranda. Things are different here”.

Miranda thought of all those police cruisers lined up in the parking lot at Java the Hut every morning at 9:00. Where were those cops now? Where the hell was that know-it-all sergeant, Belinda Swanson? Why had no one come to rescue her?

“I demand to be taken to the US Embassy. Or the Consulate. Or whatever it is. Right now” she yelled.

Herve simply turned his attention to Scott and said, “please make her be quiet, Sigi. Any son of Eduard should know how to make a woman be quiet.”

And Scott thought of his mother, silenced forever.

Chapter 18

Jennifer Wilke (1382 words)

Herve Gaulatin picked up Scott’s own gun in the close quarters of El Rápido’s fo’c’sle, and pointed it toward Miranda. When he compared Scott to Eduard, his duplicitous father, all hell broke loose.

“No!” Scott pushed Miranda onto the floor, screaming “Get down!” and lunged for the gun in Herve’s hand.

From the floor, she watched as Scott’s momentum pushed the larger, muscled Herve off balance against the wall. His head hit something with a solid crack and he groaned. She tried to make herself smaller, expecting to feel the bite of a bullet any second. When Scott brought his fist down hard on the stunned Herve’s hand, the gun fell onto the table, slid off and landed on the carpet in front of her. Scott swung his other fist into Herve’s jaw, but lost the advantage when the pain sent him reeling backwards, holding his injured hand. Herve was trying to get to his feet.

Miranda grabbed the gun and was the first to get back on her feet. With both hands, she aimed the gun at Herve’s chest. In the seconds it had taken for her life and Scott’s life to be in danger, she had acted from her heart to save him, whatever it took.

“Sit still,” she ordered Herve.

“Whoa.” Herve slid back to the floor, holding his head.

“You were going to shoot me,” Miranda reminded him, no nonsense.

“No, I wasn’t—“

“Be quiet,” she ordered. He complied.

“You’re wonderful.” Scott moved to Miranda’s side to take the handgun.

“Don’t,” Miranda warned, swinging the gun in Scott’s direction. Yes, she loved him, but she had to force him to tell the truth. Through everything that had happened since the Viscount’s dead body was discovered on the Godiva, Miranda had been emotional, shocked, demanding, hysterical—and only been plunged deeper into this nightmare. Now she would try steel. She kept the gun on Scott.

“Miranda.” He stopped, raising his hands in trusting surrender. “I’m the good guy.”

“Are you?” She didn’t flinch. “What did you agree to do to help Eduard that you dragged me into without telling me?”

“Honey, the less you know, the safer you are.”

“Really, Scott? I’ve witnessed the sight of a homicide, been lied to repeatedly, kidnapped once, ignored by the police, marooned in a villa in Argentina, then on somebody else’s sailboat with you, God knows where, and now this childhood ‘uncle’ of yours spouts on about Nazis and points your gun at me.”

Scott took a step closer, “Sweetie, it’s not—“

“If you don’t tell me the truth I’ll shoot a hole in something. I swear I will.”

“Miranda—“

Furious at his dismissal, she aimed low and squeezed the trigger. The sound was earsplitting and the gun’s kick painfully wrenched her arm.

“Jeez Almighty!” Scott yelled as Herve cursed in Spanish.

The bullet made a small hole in the rug, steaming slightly from the heat, and presumably went through the hull below. She was impressed.

“How fast does a bullet hole make a sailboat sink?” she asked in all innocence.

“I’d say she’s serious,” Herve said. “Tell her.”

“Thank you.” Miranda nodded to acknowledge Herve’s faith in her.

Scott sighed. “I agreed to help my father smuggle some paintings out of Argentina that no one knows still exist, but I did it in order to help the FBI get evidence against him.”

“Nazi plunder, you mean?”

“Probably. Art fraud and forgery are his real profession. I want him stopped before anyone else dies.”

“The Viscount?” Miranda asked.

“I’m afraid he’s found you out, Sigi,” Herve said. “He’s sending Max and Dietrich to find you.”

Miranda tried to catch her breath. “You mean, to kill his own son?”

Herve shook his head and met her eyes. “No. You, Miranda.

She went cold. Scott pulled her closer, cursing.

“What did you expect, Dummkopf” Herve demanded of Scott, “when you bring an intelligent and curious girl who knows art history to meet Eduard Burgstaller?”

Miranda wanted to scream. Maybe the best way to trust anybody is to flip a coin.

“You could be tricking us,” Miranda said to Herve from the safety of Scott’s embrace.

“I’m not,” Herve said. “I came to ask a favor, and to do you a favor in return.”

“I’m going to regret asking,” Scott said.

“Sell my Dancers in Pink. Anonymously.”

“Degas, you mean?” Miranda gaped.

“Did you steal it from Eduard?” Scott asked.

“I’m not a thief,” Herve told him, aggrieved. “Eduard has his copy. I painted a second for myself.”

“You copied a Degas painting that’s good enough to pass for the real thing?” Miranda asked. “I thought you were Eduard’s pilot.” And thug, she didn’t add.

“Herve paints all of Eduard’s best forgeries.” Scott sounded almost proud.

“Paint-ed. I’m quitting the game. Shall we all disappear to live happily ever after, or not?”

“These are all crimes,” Miranda reminded them.

“A given,” Herve said, unblinking.

“You’re not really involved in a Nazi conspiracy?” Miranda asked.

“There is no secret cache of paintings in Argentina,” Herve said.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because if there were,” Scott told her, “Eduard would have discovered and sold it by now. Why did you pick up my gun after you came in?”

“I wanted you to hear me out.”

“At gunpoint?” Scott scoffed.

“You attacked me,” Herve said in his own defense. “After all we’ve meant to each other for so long, would you think I don’t care about your future, plomzi?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Stop it,” she ordered them both, pointing to the bullet hole where seawater was bubbling up into the boat. “If we’re going to disappear, I suggest we start now.”

***

Herve proved to be a master of detail. He’d worn latex gloves when he came to see them, for example, in order to leave no fingerprints on anything, should future forensic investigation be made of a suspected crime.

Scott and Miranda raised the sails in the dark, and steered toward the mouth of the bay. They wanted to be in relatively shallow water, Herve said, so that the sunken hull might be investigated and the bullet holes found. The water was up to their ankles when the compass told them they’d reached their destination. They took turns shooting the rest of the bullets into the hull. As the water surged to their knees, they climbed into Herve’s motor boat and headed for the nearby shore. They had no running lights, and saw none. Fortunately, the moon was nearly full.

They beached near a cliff, hidden from the houses on the hillside above. Herve said they should walk north, to their left, and watch for a pathway to the top of the hill. They should lay low until daylight, then cross the fields to the road that had buses several times a day. Herve told Scott and Miranda to combine their Spanish skills and get themselves back to Buenos Aires. They were to find a flower shop at the address he wrote for them. Most importantly, they should speak to the elderly shop owner, her name was Estafania, and buy a bouquet of white daisies from her. If she asked them if they were enjoying their visit to Argentina, one of them must reply they were in love with the poetry and recite, “Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river.” He made them rehearse it in Spanish, phonetically.

When they asked who the woman was and how she could help them, Herve answered simply, “She will aid you.”

“How do we know we can trust her?” Miranda asked again. “Who is she?”

“Eduard Burgstaller has many enemies.” Herve refused to say anything more.

He left them on shore, heading his motorboat along the shore toward the open ocean. They stood arm in arm until they didn’t hear his engine anymore. In the light of the moon, they could see El Rápido’s bow listing high in the water, its stern too low. In Scott’s pocket were enough pesos, delivered by Herve, to replace his friend’s sinking sailboat.

“Did we do the right thing?” Miranda asked Scott in the dark.

She felt him shiver as he led her down the beach. “Let’s go find out.”

Chapter 19

Diane Birsner (1965 words)

Belinda awoke to the sun’s shadow cooling her face while the backs of her knees burned like someone had drizzled lighter fluid on them and set them aflame. How long was I asleep, she wondered. She fished her phone out of her pocket. 3:15 it told her. Shit, I’ve got work to do before Klovic arrives tomorrow. She stood up, brushed the grass off her black and white Hawaiian print flowered skirt, picked bits of green and brown blades off her black tank top, and weaved her way back to her room, tripping at least once on her espadrilles. That’s what she hated about jet lag. It made her wobble like a drunken sailor even when she was stone cold sober.

She exited the elevator at the 14th floor, made two right turns to her room, inserted the key card into the lock and opened the door when the green light winked at her. It was a pleasant little room with a stunning view of the Montevideo skyline across the Río de la Plata. Belinda made a beeline for the mini bar, then stopped short and instead went for the coffeemaker on the counter. Not yet, not for you sweetheart, she chided herself, time to put on your big girl panties and try to sort out this mess of a case. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. This last thought made her laugh out loud, a laugh tinged with cynicism. Even with her pay upgrade from Detective III to Sergeant, her salary still sucked. But she had to admit the occasional trip to Argentina was not a bad perk at all. Belinda sat down at the cherry wood veneered desk, and took her first sip of Argentina’s Finest Breakfast Blend. Which she immediately spat back into the cup. It tasted like brown crayon-tinged treated waste water, she concluded with derision. Even a McCafe is better than this, I just hope that Starbuck’s down the street wasn’t a hallucination after all. She opened the drawer and extracted a piece of Hotel Avenida de la Plata stationery, then reached into her black Baggalini briefcase and dug around for her mechanic’s pencil. She then proceeded to make notes in the form of concentric circles, squares and triangles that resembled a mashup of a mind map and an old-fashioned flow chart, the kind her mother used to draw for her. Oops, she remembered, and fired off a quick text to the woman who bore and raised her:

“Made it to ba (palm tree emoticon inserted) fab weather great views wish you were here luv u! (pink smoochy lips inserted).”

After about an hour of staring at her handiwork, Belinda stood, stretched her arms up, and strode over to the picture window. The sailboats drifting along the Plata looked like little miniature Sunfishes, and the cars and buses furiously zooming up and down the eight lanes below resembled Matchbox cars. Returning to her flow chart-mind map she narrowed her eyes and forcefully willed loose threads to coil themselves up and spring off the page.

Viscount Briene. First and foremost, who killed him and why? What brought him to the Godiva, what was he looking for? What did his note mean? If it was his note at all, the handwriting analysis wasn’t back yet. And “The Norm” Klovic, that control freak, he was no help whatsoever. Yet.

DaVinci painting. Discovered under the fake Raphael Portrait of a Young Man, why in heaven’s name would Claudia and Christopher have left it on the Godiva, unguarded? Unless they didn’t know the DaVinci existed. At least Belinda had the good sense to commission armed Brinks guards to transport the DaVinci to the Lightcatcher Art Museum’s vault for safe keeping.

And then there was the whole Halcyon/Claudia Mocenigo/Ed Banton-Burgstaller thing. A tangled web if there ever was one.

So many questions made Belinda’s head spin. She tapped her phone to awaken it. 5:03pm. Cocktail hour, she announced to herself as she fairly sprinted to the mini bar.

* * *

Hieronymus Briene was the last viscount in a lineage of lesser nobles dating from William the Conqueror. The de Briene family was well-heeled and genteel who, like most everyone else, fell on bad times during the Occupation. Hieronymus, a post-war baby, grew up on the family estate in the Lorraine region of France and attended the Sorbonne majoring in histoire de l’art. Upon graduation at the urging of his papa, “Hier” as he was called, sought out a classmate of his father’s, an elderly Herr Wolfgang Burgstaller of Munich. Briene thought he was to be hired as Wolfgang’s apprentice in the honorable business of art and antique appraisal, but he soon discovered Herr Burgstaller’s true vocation as master forger. Briene quickly found a lucrative trade in the fencing of fake works of art, and gained Herr Burgstaller’s trust and respect over the next decade.

One day during a lull in customers, old Wolfgang tottered with purpose across the shop, locked the storefront door, flipped the window sign to Geschlossen, Closed, and motioned Hier to follow him to the dark bowels of his tiny office in the back. He shut the door behind them.

“You know, Hier, that my son, Eduard, is in Argentina with his family.”

Briene nodded, wondering where this conversation would take him.

“What you don’t know is that Eduard has a touch of, well, shall we say, jähzorn. Violent temper. And in this business das ist nicht so gut.”

Wolfgang shook his full gray mane, stared off in space, then continued.

“I fear for my son’s life, but more so for his wife and son, and the niece they adopted. I fear that Eduard will do careless things to put his life in danger, make many enemies and get himself getötet, snuffed out. Or at least arrested. And then he won’t be able to take proper care of his family.”

Briene watched in silence as Herr Burgstaller took a labored breath.

“I have a painting, actually my best forgery, that I want to give to my son’s family. Not to my son, I do not trust that he’d have it for long. This one I want to stay in the family, in hopes that one day it might pay for little Sigi’s education or get him started in an honorable business.”

Briene raised an eyebrow while Wolfgang smiled at the irony.

“Ja, I know, such a dishonorable start. But I don’t want my grandson to be left out in the cold. I want you to take my painting to my daughter-in-law, Natalia. I trust that she will find a safe place for it, away from my son’s greedy claws. Will you grant an old man this one favor?”

“Of course, Herr Burgstaller, I will deliver your painting to the Frau Burgstaller,” Hier assured his employer.

Relief flooded his face as Wolfgang shuffled to his floor safe that squatted unobtrusively the corner. His hips creaked as he bent over, and with his back to Briene, he rotated the tumbler, opened the safe with a groan, and extracted his masterpiece. Hieronymus Briene gasped when he first laid eyes on the Portrait of a Young Man’s doppelgänger

“Mon dieu, Herr Burgstaller, c’est magnifique!”

“Danke,” old Wolfgang replied with a touch of modesty. “It is priceless. To me,” he quickly added. “Please, I have a plane ticket for you, can you leave on Friday, two days from now?”

“Bien sur, mein Herr. Of course.”

* * *

The Viscount Briene didn’t intend to fall in love with Natalia when he delivered Wolfgang’s painting to her, but he couldn’t stop himself. She was lovely beyond words, competent and strong in many ways while also vulnerable and terribly, terribly afraid. It awakened his desire to gather her in his arms and protect her from that monster husband of hers. Instead he made the decision to trade in the elder Burgstaller for the son in order to be near his lovely Natalia. So with Wolfgang’s blessing, Briene convinced Eduard to take him on as his colleague. Wolfgang now had an eye on his son, and Eduard acquired a superb and highly knowledgeable fence. The Viscount kept his passion for Natalia well hidden from Eduard—and even from Natalia at first—so the incendiary Burgstaller didn’t suspect a thing for years.

Just as Briene didn’t suspect a Da Vinci slumbered under the Raphael. He never gazed beyond the exquisite work of a master forger.

* * *

“I know you’re young and may not understand this now, Claudia, but if anything happens to me please take my Raphael—this one, not the disgusting spawn-of-a-fake in my room. Keep this one safe, for little Sigi. It was his grandfather’s wish. You can have all my jewelry but the painting belongs to him. Will you do this for me? Promise me, meine liebschen?”

“Nothing will happen to you, auntie, I won’t let anything happen to you!”

At 18, Claudia was taller than Natalia with a regal, womanly air about her. Except for this moment. As Claudia fiercely shook her blond curls, she was once again Natalia’s little girl.

“I know, sweetheart, but who knows?” Natalia smiled wanly as she encircled her sister’s child. They’d loved each other deeply as any real mother and daughter. “The earth could swallow me up tomorrow and it is not in your power, nor mine, to stop it.”

In a manner of speaking Natalia was recently feeling Eduard’s hot breath on the nape of her neck, he was that close to discovering her growing passion for the kind and dependable Viscount. If Eduard found them out . . . Natalia never knew what had become of her beloved Sigurdson after she ran off with Eduard, if he’d stayed in Amsterdam or went into hiding. Because her son had the same Aryan-looking blond hair and blue eyes, she was sure Eduard never suspected little Sigi’s Norwegian heritage. At least he never treated the boy any worse than the rest of them.

Just days before her accident Natalia confided to the Viscount that she gave Claudia the Raphael for safe keeping. The good one. After Natalia died and Claudia ran off with the old man, Christoph Fuchs (he was 50 if he was a day!), Briene felt it his duty to find the Raphael and return it to its rightful owner, Young Sigi. Over the next dozen years he patiently waited until it surfaced on the Godiva, when Claudia and Christoph let slip that they installed it in the master cabin of their new yacht.

Briene was still heartsick over his beloved Natalia’s death, and knew it was no accident but he couldn’t build a case against Eduard. And as much as Claudia had loved her adopted mother and hated Eduard, Briene wasn’t sure how reconciled Claudia and Eduard had become. They certainly had incestuous business ties. Briene might not avenge Natalia’s death but he could keep Wolfgang’s masterpiece out of Eduard’s hands.

That fateful night the Viscount Hieronymus Briene crept on board the Godiva. Claudia and Christoph were (conveniently) away, enjoying the Pacific Northwest Ballet production of Balanchine’s “Jewels” in Seattle. Briene stepped down into the master cabin and spun his flashlight around the room until he found the painting. Setting down the note he intended for Claudia, he moved toward the painting and shined his torch on it. He paused a second too long, mesmerized at how masterfully Wolfgang had captured the light glints of the young man’s hair. Klovic crept downstairs and surprised the older man with a flick of the cabin lights. Eduard had instructed him—ordered him, really, the arrogant bastard—to arrest Briene and rough him up a bit, but Klovic had a different directive . . .

Chapter 20

by Dawn Quyle Landau (1745 words)

The moonlit beach was cold, as their wet clothes clung to them. Scott and Miranda, walked until they saw the narrow path that HervÉ had told them about, their legs tired and aching. A small parking lot and a deserted and locked food truck were all that they saw near the beach. Far in the distance, there were lights, but below the cliffs and neighborhood above– standing in the dark, there was little to indicate that anyone ever came to this beach.

“What are we going to do, Scott?”

Miranda was exhausted and as her wet pants chilled her legs, the evening breeze caused her to shiver. She leaned against Scott’s chest and felt tears spring to her eyes.

“What are we going to do?… I mean, do you think we can we really trust this woman, Estefania? Can we even trust Herve? He sure looked like he would shoot us, when he had the gun!”

Her voice rose in panic and she began to shake, as Scott put his arms around her.

“What else can we do? We don’t have many options at this point.”

He stroked her hair and felt warmer as she clung to him.

“My father is a cruel man, and I can’t believe Herve would risk the chance of helping us, unless he was convinced it would work. I don’t know who this Estefania is, or why she’s an enemy of my father’s, but I think we have to trust that maybe she can help.”

Scott took Miranda’s hand and kissed her fingers.

“I’m just so glad we’re ok– that you are safe here with me, and we know we can count on each other.”

Miranda looked up at him, her eyes moist, still trembling– as much from exhaustion and fear, as from being cold and wet.

“I was so scared on the boat­– you looked crazy for a few minutes there, and I just didn’t know who to trust. I’m sorry I pointed that gun at you; I was just so confused, so overwhelmed.”

Scott reached down and kissed her, slowly, but firmly.

“I love you. When we get out of here– and we will get out of this safely, I promise you that– when we’re back home on the Placebo again, I’m never going to take you for granted again. I’m going to buy you those silly Valentine cards, and chocolates, roses–“

“Please! I’m not sure I ever want to see roses again!” Miranda laughed, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand and pushing closer to Scott.

“I just want to get out of this alive! I can’t believe that a week ago I was doing laundry and dreaming of something…something else. I’d give anything to just go back and be folding that laundry, getting a coffee and coming home to you and your latest baked surprise.”

She reached up and kissed him. “That’s the only kind of surprise I’ll ever dream of again– cream puffs, your molten brownies…anything simple and free of all this craziness!”

Scott held her hand, running his finger along hers. It took him a moment to get the courage to ask what he needed most to know.

“Babe, do you think you’ll ever trust me again? I can’t believe I let my father talk me into all of these lies; I can’t believe I risked everything! I never should have gotten involved in all this– and now, look where we are! We’re wet and cold; we’re in Argentina, on a beach that we have no idea about…we’re as far from that simple life we had, as we could be, and it’s all my fault. Will you ever be able to move past this?”

Miranda’s head was swimming. All of this was true; if Scott hadn’t lied to her, if he hadn’t lied for all of this time, they’d be safe at home. It was dizzying– all of it. Scott wasn’t even Scott; he was Sigi just as much as he was the man she had come to love and know. There was an entire life that he’d hidden from her and continued to cover up, even as they built a life– a life built on a false and twisted foundation. In the crazy days since the murder and their kidnapping, Miranda had learned that nearly everything she knew about this man she had built a life with, was surreal fantasy: Nazis, forged paintings, murder, and so many name changes she could barely keep it all straight! The truth was that she wasn’t sure what the truth was; she wasn’t sure if she could ever trust Scott again.

If she’d learned nothing over the past week, Miranda had learned that nothing was as it appeared. Paintings weren’t real, people weren’t real and she wasn’t sure if love was real. She still loved Scott somehow. She couldn’t just shake five years that easily, no matter how many lies he’d told or how unsure she was about the future and what to trust. But believing anything was a risk she couldn’t afford now. In coming to see that nothing was as it appeared, she’d also come to understand that she had to take care of herself. She couldn’t let herself be fooled again. When she was home safely, then she’d sort all of this out and figure out what she and Scott would do, but standing on this dark, isolated beach, she was keeping her head on straight.

“Miranda? Babe, please; I need to know. Can you trust me…do you still love me?”

Miranda buried her face in Scott’s salty shirt, avoiding his eyes.

“Of course I love you, and yes, we can put this behind us…I trust you.”

Scott held her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

Miranda had learned a thing or two, and she was going to find a way out of this nightmare.

* * *

Estefania awoke with a start, half dreams floating just beyond her grasp, as if through sheer curtains. Angels and white wings, a sense of love and hope…it drifted away as the bright sun came through her window, but left her feeling better. She rolled over, stretching herself up and to the edge of her bed. The anxious feelings and dread she’d felt the day before was gone. She woke hungry and ready to put it behind her.

“Hay Dios–“ she exclaimed as Fernando, her gray shadow of a cat rubbed against her legs. “You startled me!”

She ran her fingers through his soft fur and reached for her slippers with her bare foot.

“Tienes hambre tambien, mi amor?” She murmured. “I’ll make us both a big breakfast! Some eggs and good cheese, a strong cafÉ con leche– or perhaps just milk for you sweetheart.”

The large gray cat watched her as she ambled to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet. She had shooed him away, enough times in the morning, that he knew to stay clear of this daily ritual. She would flick water on him, laughing, if he came to close. He would wait by her warm bed, rubbing against the metal of its frame.

Estafania brushed her teeth and stared at her hair, a mop of wild curls and a few wiry silvers. She grabbed her soft blue robe and headed to the kitchen, her persistent housemate in pursuit. The eggs she’d gotten fresh from her neighbors hens, the day before, sat in a bowl on the counter, and the strong scent of coffee wafted up as she pushed down on her French press. She placed a small dish of dry food and saucer of warm milk, on the floor beside the back door, and Fernando raced in. She hummed an old tune as she stirred the soft eggs in a frying pan, and sipped her coffee, as she watched the sun dance across her tiny garden.

When she was done with breakfast and had cleaned up, she put on her favorite turquoise skirt, a light orange t-shirt, and pulled her hair into a loose chignon, at her neck. When she’d checked her mascara and her pale lipstick, she headed to the flower shop– trying not to think too much about the strange request she’d gotten by text message.

Herve was not exactly a friend, but Estefania had known him long enough to know that when he said something required discretion, he meant there was trouble, and that Eduard Berstaller was probably involved. The very fact that Herve had been so closely tied to Eduard for so many years, was reason enough to not trust Herve– to hate him too, but they had known each other all of their lives, and Herve knew how much Estefania hated Eduard; he certainly knew not to ask anything of her that would benefit her enemy. He had simply asked her to order some white daisies and suggest a simple phrase, which a customer might use. That was easy; she chose her favorite poem. When the customer recited a single line from the poem, she would hand them a sealed envelope, and her work would be done. In exchange for this, Herve had handed her five hundred U.S. dollars– worth far more than the sinking Argentine peso. Given Herve’s nervous glances, as he handed her the money, Estefania felt confident that Eduard Berstaller, was not aware of this deal. All the better, she thought.

When she arrived at the flower shop, she put the sign that listed available blooms, outside on the sidewalk; she pulled up the shades on the front windows and unlocked the register. She glanced at the morning paper, as she carried it inside and noticed a brief front-page story about a sunken boat, believed to be involved in a drug deal gone bad. She also noticed that RubÉn Juarez, one of the premier Tango bandoneonists would be doing a show at a local club. She hadn’t been out dancing in ages, but this would be worth the effort of going out! The Tango was in every Argentinian’s blood, and Estefania was no exception. While her friends thought she’d given up on fun, RubÉn Juarez was just the musician to bring her out.

As she read the details, the small bell over the door rang and she looked up lazily, ready to suggest that the peonies were especially beautiful right now. She realized right away that she would need to get the daisies.

Chapter 21

by Stephanie Cosky Hopkinson (1265 words)

“Is this the place?” Scott asked. “I thought he said it was a dress shop. Not a flower shop.”

“This is the address,” Miranda said. And she knew she was right, she’d been reciting the address quietly over and over since they’d left the boat. Miranda turned and scanned the street. “Do you really trust him?”

Scott pulled open the door and stepped into the shop. He held the door open for Miranda. “No harm in checking it out.”

“I suppose,” Miranda said. “Do you remember the poem?”

“What poem?”

Miranda’s felt her heart drop. “You forgot?”

“Just kidding,” Scott said. “I’ve been reciting it. ‘Time is a river’ and all that.”

He grinned at her. She didn’t grin back.

“Senora?” Scott called out. “Senora Estefania?”

No answer.

“Senora?”

“Scott.” Miranda said quietly. She pointed at the floor where a long-stemmed red rose lay wilted on the graying linoleum. Another rose lay just beyond. And another.

Miranda followed the roses across the shop and through a narrow doorway. The shop’s back room was cool and dark. But not dark enough. In the shadows Miranda saw an elderly woman lying on her side, her stiff arms and legs forced into a tango pose. A single rose carved of ebony rested in her mouth, its sharp black thorns piercing her gums.

Miranda whirled away from the sight and found herself in Scott’s arms.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” he said. “Now.”

“That poor woman is dead. We’ve got to call the police.”

“No, we’ve got to turn around and walk out of here like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

“That’s cold, Scott.”

“If we get tangled up with the police we’ll never get out of Argentina.”

As they crossed the shop, Scott reached out, grabbed a bouquet of daisies and thrust them into Miranda’s hands. “Look happy,” he said as they exited to the street. “Look like you still love me.”

* * *

Claudia Mocenigo stood at the window, watching the cold Seattle rain. The clouds hung so low in the sky that it seemed she could see the entire life of a raindrop, from birth to splattered death. Sometimes she felt as cold as that rain. Sometimes she wondered what it would feel like to splatter on the asphalt far below.

She flexed her fingers and stretched her arms high. Enough of that.Halcyon needed her full attention. She sat back down at her desk just as her secure phone rang.

“Christoph, tell me some good news.”

Christoph sighed heavily. “I know where it is, Schatz. But you’re not going to like it.”

“Just tell me.” Claudia’s eyes turned back to the raindrops outside.

“Before she took off to Buenos Aires, Detective Belinda Swanson took the Raphael off the Godiva and stored it in the Lightcatcher Art Museum’s vault. We can get it out of there, but it’s not going to be easy or cheap.”

“It doesn’t matter what it costs. We have got to get that painting to our labs as soon as we can. They’re ready to scrape off the Raphael forgery and start sampling the DaVinci. And once they find the DNA they can start sequencing. It won’t be long, Schatzchen. It won’t be long before we have a viable clone.”

“Are you ready to be a mother?” Christoph asked teasingly.

“Oh yes, for this I’ll be the best mother in the world. And you’ll be the best father.” Claudia laughed. “And don’t forget Wolfang Burgstaller. He deserves some recognition for finding a way to keep the DNA safe all these years. On a painting, no less. How fitting.

Christoph asked, “Does the scientific team still believe they’re resurrecting DaVinci?”

“They’re absolutely thrilled to be bringing DaVinci to life.”

“Such a pity they won’t live long enough to know the truth.”

Heil Hitler,” Claudia said. “Forever.”

* * *

Belinda wasn’t thinking about the Raphael in the museum’s vault. She was thinking about the single ebony rose found in an old woman’s mouth.

She and Klovic looked down at the flower seller’s body, careful not to disturb evidence. The local policia let them on scene once a call had been made to headquarters, but had been very clear that Belinda and Klovic were to keep their hands to themselves.

“Whoever carves these roses is very good,” Belinda said. “We need to have someone compare the two carvings, see if they were done by the same hand.”

Klovic said, “Probably just a tourist thing, some workshop knocking off thousands for the cruise ships.”

“It’s gotta have a message, or why bother?”

“We’ve got to find Miranda and Scott. That’s our number one priority.”

“Says you, Mr. FBI-man.”

Klovic gave her the wide grin that almost convinced her to leave the police academy and follow him to Quantico.

“That’s not going to work,” Belinda said.

“Okay, how about this. You follow the rose for a while, see what you come up with. I’ll head over to Eduard Burgstaller’s estate and see what I can scare up about his son. Maybe if the kid’s in trouble he’ll call out to dear old dad for help.”

Belinda nodded. “Fine. Meet back at the hotel at, say, nine?”

Klovic pulled Belinda close for a quick kiss.

“Hey, some respect for the dead,” Belinda said.

Klovic grinned again and strode out of the flower shop, leaving Belinda to wonder why that kiss had felt so odd. Then she shook her head and turned back to the crime scene. She’d think about Klovic later.

* * *

Klovic didn’t give Belinda another thought as he hailed a cab and gave the driver Eduard’s address. Instead he silently raged at Eduard. That ebony rose is MY kill sign, not some short-hand way of saying ‘come here boy, come talk to daddy’. Klovic knew that Eduard always had more than one reason for a kill and that the old lady had died for more than just sending a message, but the use of the rose rankled.

The cab pulled up to the spacious estate and Klovic got out of the car. He paid the fare and then, remembering what Eduard had taught him years ago, lavishly tipped the cabbie. He saw Eduard step carefully down the entrance stairs.

“Good man,” Eduard said as the cab departed. “Like I always said, money can’t buy friends…”

“…but it sure can buy allies.” Klovic finished the sentence.

The two men shook hands. “Come in,” Eduard said. “We have much to discuss.”

After they had settled into soft patio chairs and accepted iced drinks from the servant, Eduard said, “I called you in to give you a new assignment. Our project is almost ready to bear fruit and is very vulnerable.”

Klovic took a sip of his fruit drink and grimaced. “Sometime’s a little sugar is okay, you know.”

Eduard ignored the complaint. “I gave Sigi the damn boat so he’d stay focused on his sailing and away from me. It was working, too. He would have been safely out of the way except for Miranda. He’s told her everything he knows. The two of them are on the run, but I can’t risk that they’ll come blundering back here having put two and two together. And that Belinda Swanson woman. She is not going to let this ebony rose thing go. She’s already looking into carvers both here and in the States. She’ll find out about you, eventually.”

“What would you like me to do?” Klovic asked quietly, although he already knew the answer.

“Just kill them. Kill them all. Nothing can endanger the project.”

Chapter 22

by Matt Morgan (1828 words)

The Norm realized he was staring at Eduard a bit too long. Don’t think, just act; that would be Eduard’s expectation. Any hesitation would betray Norm’s ambivalence. He raised his right hand a few discreet inches, mouthed a phrase, then stood and stepped onto the beach to think.

Kill Belinda? He was looking forward to some down time with her, even if she came across enough details to undermine the project. Surely he could kill her then, before she could share what she knew. But Eduard wanted her dead now, and the Norm had to choose between dying of pleasure and dying of a bullet to the brain.

One potential bright spot emerged. When he found Sigi and Miranda, he could mask his murder of Sigi enough that Miranda would see him as a rescuer. Then, the damsel would show him her gratitude. He could kill her after that. Somewhat cheered, he walked around the villa, so he wouldn’t track sand indoors. He opened the door to his rental SUV, removed his sandals and wiped his feet, and hopped in.

* * *

Eduard leaned against the door frame, hands in the pockets of his shorts, his shirt collar fluttering in the wisp of a breeze. He wondered if Klovic would come through. Eduard knew he was staying at the same hotel as Belinda Swanson, and he probably had plans for his time with her. When Klovic chose the garden path over the straight shot through the villa and past Eduard, the doubt increased. Klovic was afraid to make eye contact with him.

He turned and sat at the table. Javier appeared at his side. Eduard didn’t acknowledge his presence. Should he have Klovic removed? He was certainly capable of it. He had ordered the brake lines in his wife’s car cut, an act that set the gold standard for what Eduard could do. It might have been less painful to eliminate the Viscount, but watching Natalia’s surreptitious grief would have been worse than mourning her.

And then, when Natalia was dead and Claudia was stunned into seeking emotional comfort from the man she had hated, Eduard had directed Fuchs to seduce her and take her away, rather than keep her for himself. That was the best way to keep his thumb on Fuchs, a key to the project.

So, if Eduard could deny himself two delights in life for the sake of bringing back the greatest leader the world had ever known, he could eliminate his son and an arrogant double agent who was going to betray the project for a romp in the sack.

“Javier.”

“Sí, señor.”

“Mate.”

“Sí, señor.” Javier started to turn, but Eduard held up a hand.

“A Klovic. When I say so.”

He looked up. Unlike Klovic, Javier assented instantly. A small grin showed that he had enjoyed Eduard’s pun.

* * *

Belinda spent the day wandering the Art District in La Boca. Here she didn’t have to curse her lack of Spanish; the accommodation of English-speaking tourists was astounding. On any other day, she would have loved to stop at a number of restaurants and galleries. Right now, she sought just one artist.

It was nearly three o’clock when she spied the stall she had hoped to find. On tables and walls hung exquisitely carved ebony pieces, from drummer statues to horn players to topless tribal girls. Next to a lifelike black elephant, she saw a carving of a tree. She approached a tall, thin African man with short hair and a thick black mustache. He looked up from the mate he was sipping.

“Karibu!”

“English?”

“Of course. You are American? I am from Tanzania.” He held out a hand. “My name is Julius, like our president when I was born.”

Belinda suppressed a smile. She gave his hand a firm shake. “I am Belinda.” She pointed at the tree. “You carve plants?”

“I carve anything you want. You want a carving of the Casa Rosada, I carve it for you. But it will be black, not pink.” He laughed at his joke. “What plant do you want?”

“Do you carve roses?”

Julius blinked. “Lately, yes. I started a week ago when a man asked for roses. He was very happy with them, so I think I can do that for you.”

“Oh! I wonder if it was my boyfriend who bought the rose. Was he German, with white hair?”

“No, no. Such a man is too old for you, my lady. But the man was from Argentina. Not young, not old. He paid a lot of cash for five roses. I will not charge you so much for this beautiful elephant.”

He handed her the stunning carving she had admired before. Five minutes later, she left after buying it for 800 pesos.

She strode in the direction of her hotel. A man from Argentina. Certainly not Eduard. Of course, he was too smart to do traceable dirty work. But if the rose used to stab the Viscount was from Buenos Aires, she could probably tie Eduard to the Bellingham murder. She yawned; the five-hour time difference from Bellingham was taking its toll. It was time to try the mate. She turned on her heels to go to a cafÉ she had seen a block or two back.

Before her, she saw a man in a wool cap, an odd sight for this time of year, and certainly a strange thing for an American tourist to wear pulled over his eyes. His mouth opened in surprise, and he ducked into a hallway. Something tugged at her mind, and quickly it came to her: she had seen that stupid hat on the flight down. She ran to the niche where he had disappeared. There was nothing but a dark flight of stairs. If she had her gun, she would have run up after him, but she wasn’t about to be waylaid without a weapon. She paused; something else nagged at her. She closed her eyes and visualized the face she had just seen. On it she saw a dark mole near the nose. It wasn’t as big as the raisin on Aaron Neville’s forehead, but she knew this mole.

What the hell was Don Walker doing in Buenos Aires?

Her phone rang, and she almost screamed.

* * *

Miranda may have radiated happiness when she left the shop, but now, sitting in a cafÉ and arguing through clenched teeth and a grin that was more of a grimace, she resembled Eduard more than Scott would ever admit. The daisies lay on the table, their stalks crushed by her hand until the flowers keeled over in submission.

“We can’t go back to your father. What are you thinking? If he gets homicidal when you blink your eyes, how will he deal with our escape?”

“We can’t sit in Buenos Aires, Miranda. He’ll find us here anyway, so we may as well throw ourselves upon his mercy.”

“And I say Herve is our best shot. He could have killed me, but he didn’t. I trust him far more than your father right now.”

“And if we out him, he’ll die along with us.”

Miranda sighed with exasperation. “You’d rather protect him than keep us safe? Look, if he can’t figure out a way to get us out of this mess, he’ll surely say so. He has a far better idea of what’s going on than we do.”

She reached for his hand, but he leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms.

“What if Herve killed the woman?

“Oh, come on!. Scott, that makes no sense. Why send us to her? He spared us, then found us help, and someone else, probably your father, did her in.” She pulled her phone from her purse. “How about this? I’ll call Herve and go with him. You call your father and go to him. If you survive your stupidity, we can meet up again. And if one of us dies, so be it. Right now, I’m so done with you anyway.”

Scott gasped, and he reached over and grabbed her hand. “Miranda, baby, I’m sorry. If you’re that scared, we’ll do it your way. I have Herve’s number.”

“Good, because I don’t.” She smiled, despite trying to look stern. Scott scrolled through his contacts and tapped the screen. He nodded when the phone rang.

“Herve, do you know what happened when we got to the shop?”

“So what do we do now? Can you get us to somewhere safe?”

“What do you think of my first idea, to go back to my dad?” Scott winced, and Miranda heard gruff shouting through the phone. “Okay, okay, we’ll stay away. But now what?”

Scott listened, then he hung up. “Herve is going to reserve a room for us. Hotel Avenida de la Plata. It’s a mile from here, so let’s walk.” He took a final sip from his mate, and they slipped into the street. Miranda pulled out her phone again.

“Don’t call my dad,” Scott said.

“I won’t. I’m calling my mom.” Scott raised his eyebrows.

“Are you sure you want to get her into this mess after all?”

“Do you have a much better idea?”

“Well, you wanted to trust Herve. Have you changed your mind again?”

Miranda stopped walking, and Scott had to turn back to face her.

“What do you mean, again?

“I—nothing. You didn’t change your mind. You persuaded me. Sorry.”

Miranda took a deep breath and called her mother. They started walking again.

“Mom! Listen up. We’re in Buenos Aires now, not at the villa, and we’re on the run. Forget about us being safe. Can you come for us?” After a minute, she smiled. “Right. Don’t trust anyone. Except Sergeant Swanson. I think everyone else we know is part of this art ring. We’ll be at the Hotel Avenida de la Plata. If that changes, I’ll call. We won’t use our real names. I’ll be Mrs. . . . Borges.” She hung up.

“I hope this doesn’t get your mom into trouble.”

“Mom will be fine.”

* * *

Belinda answered her phone when she saw that the number was from the 206 area code. “Hello?”

“Sergeant Swanson?”

“Uh.”

“This is Christine Evans, Miranda’s mother. Miranda just called me and said she and Scott are in trouble again.”

“Oh, no. Did the police pick them up?”

“The police? Why?”

“Never mind. I just didn’t know what you meant by trouble. They haven’t done anything wrong. Here. I can help them out, but I can’t really go to the villa.”

“They aren’t there. I’m not going to say where they are, in case we’re bugged. But I’m flying down. Let’s meet up tomorrow.”

“Call when you arrive.” Belinda slipped her phone back in her pocket.

Not at the villa? How did they get away? She needed to find out—but this time, rather than call Eduard, she decided to call Claudia to see how things were going at the villa.

Chapter 23

by Andrea Gabriel (1645 words)

The week’s events had shocked Miranda into a paranoid state that scraped at her nerves like a cheese grater and that she hoped would not be permanent. Two murders, a drugging, a kidnapping, and having a gun pointed at her were all so far from her daily experience that any sense of reality had begun to phase in and out like the heat waves on the pavement. On the walk to the hotel, she felt her eyes sliding suspiciously sideways at other people on the street. Had that man been following them the last two blocks, or was he only wearing a similar blue suit to someone else? Was it her imagination, or did the woman in the straw hat in the sidewalk cafe just snap their photo with her phone? Don’t be stupid. She was just using the camera to check her makeup. Or was she? These questions were tightening her stomach into a spring, and she repressed a desire to grab Scott’s hand and run the rest of the way to the hotel. She needed a quiet dark room where no one was threatening them, and where everyone spoke English. Since they’d arrived, her brain’s flopping attempts to understand the constant hum of Spanish background chatter was causing a deep mental fatigue that only darkness and silence might cure.

“Ah yes. Mr. and Mrs…Borges.” The desk attendant raised an eyebrow and let his glance flicker at Scott and herself before a crisp professionalism regained control. “All has been prepared, just as ordered.”

What was that about? Were they walking into a trap? Miranda wanted desperately to be back home rather than carrying the weight and confusion of these critical decisions inside her head. She wanted to trust Scott’s judgment as she had always done in the past, but he seemed not to have noticed the clerk’s expression, and this nonchalance increased her worry. She needed his best game right now, and he wasn’t bringing it.

Glancing at the well-dressed patrons in the lobby, she felt how out-of-place they would seem in their crumpled and brine-encrusted clothes, still damp in some places. She smelled of algae and old crab shells. To his credit, after the one slip of the eyebrow, the desk attendant kept any further opinions about his American guests hidden behind a mask of tight efficiency.

It was a relief when they made it to their 4th floor suite and locked the door behind them.

“Babe, what are you doing?” Scott watched her scurrying through the rooms like a squirrel with a lost walnut.

She would be unable to relax, even a little bit, until she had opened each of the closets and checked behind the shower curtain and under the bed.

“We’re gonna be fine, Miranda.” He flopped backwards onto the king-sized bed and kicked off his shoes, using the toe of each foot on the heel of the other.

“Wonder if they’ve got cable.” He rolled over and picked up the remote from the bedside table.

“Yes. Yes…” She said, though it was far from the truth. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Absently, Miranda gave his shoulder a squeeze as she passed him on her way to the bathroom, where she turned on the taps to the tub and poured the contents of various illegible floral-scented bottles into the water. For the hundredth time in two days, she wished she’d taken Spanish in school.

She needed to think, and she needed privacy. A bath was the perfect solution.

Stripping off the nasty damp clothes and sinking into the hot water was a relief, but–she had to admit–so had been the act of leaving Scott watching the “futbol” while she retreated to the bathroom and–despite her mental protestations that is wasn’t necessary–locked the door between them.

“Fathers and sons.” Miranda rolled her eyes in exasperation at the thought before sinking beneath the bubbles of her bath. This wasn’t the first time she’d pondered that particular dynamic.

Miranda now understood why it was that her beloved had gone to such lengths to avoid meetings with Eduard. How disturbing to watch her confident, dependable, endearingly self-absorbed Scott dissolve into this indecisive, needy “Sigi” who seemed to spend half his time on the edge of tears, the other half lurching towards any action, no matter how illogical, that would somehow resolve his tortured relationship with his father, whether in violence or reconciliation. Sigi’s whole m.o. seemed to be action at any cost, regardless of outcome. Clearly, Eduard’s influence on his son was that of an insanity-inducing catalyst.

One thing had become transparent to Miranda: while she mostly believed she could trust Scott’s intentions, she could no longer trust his judgment. Go back to the Villa? What could he be thinking? With his beard gone, Miranda could now easily see the little boy whose desire to please his father warred with a desire to be done with him for good.

She let the tap run, just a trickle, so that the sound of it covered over the screams of the crowd on the TV. For full effect, she let her head sink beneath the water, letting the tumbling water scour away the worry and hopefully replace it with something resembling a plan.

It was time to take decisive action, not just react in spasmodic fashion to whatever was thrown their way.

Truth: she had done nothing wrong.

Truth: Scott may have done something wrong.

Though she didn’t believe he was capable of murdering Viscount Briene, he had obviously boarded the Godiva in secrecy in order to carry out some sub-legal directive of his father’s. He had lied to her from the beginning about his identity, and now had lied several times about recent events. Currently, he could not be trusted. She did not believe he would ever hurt her deliberately, but his lack of judgment around his father could nevertheless endanger them both.

How much of Scott/Sigi’s family baggage was she willing to take on in the name of love?

She sat up in the tub and wrung out her hair, taking a deep breath. Not much more, it turned out.

It was time to think about herself and, in doing that, hopefully help Scott in the process.

Sergeant Swanson was somewhere in the city. Though she had only met the Sergeant twice, and under terrible circumstances, her calm and authoritative manner convinced Melinda that she could trust her to help come up with a plan that made sense. And her own mother, also a formidable woman, would be arriving the very next day. Surely, with the help of these two, Miranda would be able to think more clearly and find a way forward, Scott or no. For now, provided they kept to their rooms, and provided that Herve was to be trusted, they should be safe from whatever mayhem Eduard seemed so determined to involve them in. They would get tickets home then take off in the Placebo, maybe to Thailand, as Scott had always said they might.

Of course, that didn’t change the fact that Scott was still a murder suspect back in the states…

Miranda pulled herself from the tub, frowning at that realization.

“Gooooaaaaaaaaaal!” Yelled the futbol announcer from the front room.

Miranda paused in her toweling.

That was odd. No commentary from Scott.

Though she didn’t follow the game herself, she had learned over the years that any score would be followed by either cursing or shouts of excitement from her boyfriend.

“Scott?” she queried.

No answer.

“Scott?” she tried again, louder, and could hear a tremor of worry in her own voice.

Hastily, she jammed a leg back into the damp and dirty jeans, cursing herself for not taking better advantage of the wardrobe back at the villa. She wrapped the towel tightly around her chest, then hesitated before unlocking the door and opening it as softly as possible.

“Scott?” she whispered.

He was gone.

The TV blared, loudly as ever, and his shoes remained where he had dropped them, but Scott was not in any of the rooms.

In a panic, Miranda threw open the main door to the corridor, and was surprised to find Sergeant Swanson and Agent Klovic standing outside, the sergeant’s hand raised as if to knock.

Miranda startled backwards, then demanded, “Where’s Scott? Where have you taken him?”

Belinda looked confused, while Klovic frowned.

“You mean he’s not with you?” he asked, shoving past Miranda to examine the rooms himself.

Miranda did not like his tone. “Please, make yourself at home,” she said sarcastically, pulling the towel tighter with one hand and waving them in with the other.

Sergeant Swanson tossed her an apologetic glance and said, “I’m sorry if we seem abrupt, Miranda. It’s just…” She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. “It’s just that we got a tip that you were here, and thought if we could keep you both in the room we might be able to keep you safe, as well as draw Eduard out of the woodwork, so to speak.”

“What tip? Who told you we were here?”

“Your pal Herve,” the Sergeant replied. “He seemed very concerned with Scott’s mental state…”

“Yeah, he’s flown the coop.” Klovic grunted in displeasure, and Miranda felt a stab of distrust towards the FBI agent.

She opened her mouth, prepared to ask if they might go search for Scott, seeing that he couldn’t have been gone for long, and that she herself was wearing only a towel and couldn’t join the search, but was interrupted with the door swung open unexpectedly, the knob jabbing Sergeant Swanson in the backside.

“Hey Babe, it’s just me…”

Scott stopped in the doorway, and behind him Miranda could just make out Claudia’s haughty expression and cool features, recognizable even without the dark wig.

“Oh please,” said Klovic. “Do come in.”

Chapter 24

by Tiffany Pitts (1827 words)

The security guard at the front desk of the Lightcatcher museum was a big man, more shirt than pants. Claudia guessed his name was probably something base like Jimmy or Bob. The heels of her shoes made efficient clip-clipping noises as she strode up to his counter.

“Well, hello there, Miss. Welcome to the Lightcatcher museum. How can I help you today?”

Claudia pushed the hood back from her overcoat. It had not the courage to muss her hair and instead dripped lightly on the floor. Her briefcase, a slim black number with gold latches, hung importantly at her side.

“Hello…Gerry,” she said reading off his name tag. She should have guessed Gerry. “I am Claudia Fuchs. I am expected.”

“I’m sorry I don’t—wait, yes I do. Sorry I thought you said Fox.”

Claudia gave him a flat smile. “Yes, that does happen a lot.”

Gerry returned her smile with his own, wavering and unsure. “Well, Miss Fuchs, I can take you up to the director’s office if you like. Please follow me.”

“That won’t be necessary. I know where I am going. I built this wing.”

The expression on Gerry’s face went from confusion to Oh-crap-what-have-I-done and his mouth dropped open.

“Please excuse me Madam, I didn’t realize the C stood for Claudia. Yes of course, please make yourself at home in…uh…your building.”

“Calm down Gerry. I’m not going to bite you.”

Gerry relaxed as he sat back in his chair. He picked up the phone to call up to director Polsen. From the open elevator, Claudia waved at him. He waved back.

“Not you at least,” she said as the doors closed but it was quiet and Gerry didn’t hear.

Light music played in the elevator. Claudia hated light music in elevators. She hated everything about elevators actually. She also hated rain and wind and waking up every day next to a wrinkled old goat who thought he could take over the word. But right now it was elevators.

Still, it was worth it. Once she had her painting back, it would all be worth it. Correction, Sigi’s painting. Stupid buffoon that he was. How he could he act like such a coward and still look himself in the mirror daily? She blanched inwardly at the thought of Natalia seeing what her son had come to. But she would not complain. Natalia had loved him deeply, she would not diminish that love because Sigi wanted to act like a love-sick hippy. He could have the damn painting when she was done with it. She would make all of this right in the end. She would not let Natalia’s death be in vain.

Thoughts of Natalia made her melancholy. She had been the one dear thing Claudia had in this horrible world. When they took Natalia, they took everything. She was forced to choose between Christopher or Uncle Eduard which was no choice at all.

Christopher had not been the perfect solution but at least the randy bastard had a wandering eye. Claudia saw to it that it wandered far and wide. In her strict but subtle way, she even encouraged it. He didn’t know, of course, that would ruin her fun. But he was easy enough to keep tabs on. Whenever the daft old spoon had a romp, she got a gift. Always it was something rare and expensive. One time it had been a Spyder. One time, an apartment in the Garden District. This last time, he’d promised her a baby. The deluded fool. Why would she bring a child into this?

The memory of that conversation put a spring in her step as she walked off the elevator. Director Polson’s office was up ahead. Before she opened his office door she paused briefly, wondering if he felt the storm coming. Probably not. Polson was an idiot who couldn’t tell a Matisse from a barnyard ass. She did not knock.

Polson was on the phone, most likely with Gerry, for he stood up and greeted her with little surprise.

“Fraulein Fuchs! It is so good to see you again. We are always honored to have you here.” He spoke with a funny lilt on his words, a strange accent cobbled from a mix of fake Italian, wannabe French and art world snobbery.

“I bet you are. I see you still have that horrible Keane in the entryway.”

“People do love it. And with the story coming out, well, it has attracted the crowds.”

“Too bad no one has stolen it. You might get some money out of it.”

“We do not advocate art theft Fraulein Fuchs.”

“Really? I am surprised at that. Seeing as how you’ve already stolen from me.”

Polson sighed. “Yes, I thought that is what you came for. We are doing everything we can for you Fraulein. But in this instance my hands are tied! We have been instructed by the FBI to hold it until further notice.”

“Are we talking about the same FBI that illegally searched my residence? The same entity that unlawfully seized my private property? Unlawfully seizing private property is theft Polson.”

“Madam, surely they are just looking out for your best interest. The FBI has been here several times looking at the painting. They say it is quite remarkable, for a forgery of course.”

“It is quite remarkable. It is also mine. And I want it back.”

Polson looked stricken. The Feds must have something on him.

“Madam, please be reasonable. Your painting is very safe here. I personally guarantee no harm will come to it. The FBI can look all they like but it cannot be taken from my custody without charges being brought upon you. Which, I am sure, they have no cause to do. Right now, the Lightcatcher is the safest place for it.”

As he spoke, he rubbed his chin with his left hand—an unconscious move that Claudia knew well. It was a tick, a tell, a liar’s action. She knew liars. This whole world was full of liars. She’d learned that particular tell from Herve. Watching this man lie to her made the flame in her belly roar to life.

“Is that how you see it? I am not surprised.” She stood up and placed her briefcase on his desk.

“Fraulein, please. I mean no offense. We will certainly return the painting just as soon as we get the green light.”

This man, this snotty little self-important rat, actually thought she would buy his excuse. But Uncle Eduard had taught her more than the importance of locking your bedroom door at night. He taught her the value of life and how little it mattered when it stood in the way of important things.

“Alas, you will not get a green light Director. You will not get anything. Your position has been terminated, effective immediately.” Her hand fell on the gold clasps and popped them open. Director Polson had to catch himself from flinching.

“I’m sorry madam, but please can you repeat this?”

She pulled a sheaf of papers from the briefcase and threw them on the desk in front of the man. “I have purchased the Lightcatcher, Mister Polson. It is my museum now. And you are no longer necessary.” She walked out of the office leaving the stunned director standing at his desk, his mouth gasping for air like a dying fish.

Down in the front entrance to the museum, Gerry the Security Guard held a small group of tourists in rapture as he told the scandalous story of Walter Keane and his captive wife. Claudia approached the group. Gerry’s story-telling faltered for a brief moment. He looked down but when his head came back up he smiled and caught his thread again. After his spiel, the group of tourists bustled over to see the scandalous Keane painting for themselves.

“How long have you worked here Gerry?”

“Five and a half years Ma’am. I used to be a beat cop but had to change my tune when I had the heart attack.”

“Yes, I can see how that may have been a problem for you.”

Gerry didn’t know how to respond to that so he smiled awkwardly. “Is there something else I can do for you ma’am?”

“I’d like for you to call me Miss Fuchs, and yes, there is something you can do.” Claudia, still irritated at Polson’s arrogance, lashed out. “Ex-Director Polson is planning on stealing a very valuable piece of artwork that I have stored in the basement vault Gerry. It has been set up to look like a professional job. His position has been terminated.”

“It has?”

“Yes. I am your new interim director. You will report directly to me, Gerry. No one else, is that clear?”

Gerry, a man who knew the value of keeping his yap shut, kept his yap shut and nodded. Claudia continued.

“I expect you will find Mister Polson is unhappy about this arrangement but that is not your concern.” As if on cue, Gerry’s desk phone began to ring.

“That will be the Ex-Director,” she said. “You do not have to answer that. Please go up to his office, remove his security card and keys, then escort him out of the building. If he threatens you in any way, I would like to know of it.”

“Yes Miss Fuchs,” said Gerry.

* * *

Ex- Director Mike Polson had no idea what to do. This is not how it was supposed to go. Claudia was supposed to meet with him to try and get the painting back. Agent Klovic said she would probably even threaten legal action but he said that was okay. He said to roll with it. He said they only needed to show that she knew where the painting was. That she wanted it back. No one ever said anything about losing his fucking job. He picked up his desk lamp, turned it over, and shouted into the tiny button mic that had been attached to the base.

“What am I supposed to do now Agent Klovic?”

He pulled the button mic from the ceramic lamp base to better scream into it. “I did everything you told me to Klovic. The painting is in the vault, right where you told me to put it.

It wasn’t until that moment that Ex-Director Polson actually looked at the button mic that had been snooping his office for the past week. It didn’t really look like much. It looked more like one of those rubber feet that stick onto the bottom of a keyboard. He pushed his thumbnail into it. It gave slightly.

A knock at the door announced Gerry the security guard.

“What do you want Gerry?”

“I’m supposed to escort you out of the building sir.”

“You do and I will have you fired.”

“You know sir,” said Gerry. “I’m not sure you have the power to do that anymore. Now if you’ll just come along with me.”

Chapter 25

by Janet Oakley (1767 words)

Per Sigurdson looked at the report one last time, then closed it. Outside his office window, the

park center of the ritzy Place de Vosges filled with students gathering after school, the tourists taking advantage of winter cut rates to visit Paris, belied the turmoil going on in the halls of Justice pour des Innocents. For sixty-eight years, the organization secretly worked alongside other organizations out of this third floor office. It was housed in a nondescript building of ancient stone. It’s purpose? To bring justice to those Nazis who had wreaked so much havoc on the world. Across the Place, Per could see the windows of Victor Hugo’s apartment where he wrote Les Miserables.

I feel miserable, Per thought. Estafania was a good woman and for all her suffering,all our suffering– she didn’t deserve to die like that. She had been brave working as a liaison between Herve And– me, he thought. Something Per was sure that Herve didn’t know. She lost almost her entire family during the Dirty War.

Per stepped away from the desk, pressing a call button on the phone as he passed.

“Inspector?” A middle aged woman came in with notebook in hand.

“Alert the unit. I’m going to Buenos Aires.”

Immediatement.”

After Helene left, Per organized his material into a briefcase. It was old fashioned, but it was also a ruse. All the real information he needed was in the rivet in the front pocket of his jeans. As he worked, he kept eying the photos in the bookcase. I’m doing it for you, he thought. Finally, he stopped and took the brass-framed photograph of his parents off the shelf. It was taken three years ago. His father, Bjorn Sigurdson, was alive then. How he missed the old man. Not only for his wit and humanity, but for his investigative craft.

Bjorn Sigurdson was one of the top agents for Justice. Trained by SOE Norway as an intelligence agent during the war, Bjorn continued to work afterward to help run down Nazis who had slipped back into the general public or disappeared. One of them was the German SS officer Jurgen Kopfler, notorious for the slaughter of innocents at several concentration camps and the exposure of Allied agents in France and Spain. And one other incident — the razzia at the little fishing village of Havn on the west coast of Norway.

Per took the other photo off the shelf. It was Havn after the razzia. Taken by a German soldier, the place was a ruin: smoldering homes and boats in the little harbor, dead cows piled up in the village center. 60 for each of the two German agents shot and killed during an earlier confrontation between the resistance and the Wehrmacht. His mother’s village. He heard the stories so many times that he could hear the cries of the women as their men and boys were taken away, the crackle of the flames. In the last days of his father’s life, Per heard the story of Natalia Burgstaller.

Near the end of the war, his father, Bjorn, was sent into Amsterdam. The western part of the country had been liberated, but the Germans still held the city in an iron grip. Bjorn slipped in as an artist trying to make his way in a world of hunger and desperation. But his target was Jurgen Kopfler. While in the city, he met Eduard Burgstaller, who somehow managed to stay above the devastation. It was a strained tango of a friendship if you could call it that. Bjorn played his role to the hilt as effeminate artist. When Eduard whispered “Sigi” under his breath, Bjorn knew he had succeeded. When he lost track of Kopfler, he slipped back to Sweden.

After the war, he was recruited to join Justice pour des Innocents and went to Paris after receiving a tip about Jurgen Kopfler. Instead he met Natalia, a lonely Spanish emigre. They struck up a friendship right away and he enjoyed taking her around the city. Soon they became confidants as much as his cover would allow. He continued his persona from Amsterdam, once again posing as an artist now pursing the culinary arts. Natalia tolerated it all and said she loved him for it. When Eduard came into the picture, Bjorn was already suspicious of him but he could do nothing about the criminal taking Natalia away from him. That was not his mission. When they took off for Argentina, it was all over.

Except for one night.

Before Natalia went out steadily with Eduard, Natalia had received distressing news about family members who had disappeared during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Their bodies had been identified in a mass grave. Distraught, Natalia sought out Bjorn. One thing led to another and to her surprise she found him a very good lover. For Bjorn, the affair was a one-time thing, though he felt badly about the influence Burgstaller had over her.

It wasn’t until years later, while aiding Justice‘s surveillance of Nazis who had fled to Argentina after the war that he took interest in her again. Justice was already investigating Burgstaller who had gone far beyond art fraud along with his partner, Christoph Fuchs. By a lucky chance, Bjorn was able to pick up Jurgen’s lost thread to a villa outside of the Buenos Aries. Bjorn went down to observe. At a distance he watched Burgstaller, Natalia and a boy as they attended a polo match at one of the exclusive clubs near the city. Natalia still was a beautiful woman. Burgstaller, vain at a distance. But it was the boy that took his breath away. He was the spitting image of Bjorn’s brother, Victor. Onkel Petter even more. Could it be possible that boy was his son? He had slept with Natalia only one time, but that biologically was enough. Though Bjorn could not continue his affair with her, he was surprised Natalia married so hastily. When he discovered the name the boy was called, the cruel name raised a red flag. It had to be true.

“I’ve had a good life,” Bjorn told Per was he was dying in their home in Oslo. “I have a wonderful woman, children who have followed their dreams as well as common sense, and a cause that I have devoted my life to.” Per and his father were talking in the family study where his hospital bed was set up. He nodded that he wanted the hospice nurse to leave the room. Once she was gone, he continued. “And I am especially proud, Per, that you have continued this work. Just because Nazis are dying off, some of their children continue on. There is strong evidence of their role in the Dirty War in Argentina. Jurgen Kopfler is still alive there and pulling strings. I want justice for all of those he murdered. I want justice for your mother’s village.” Bjorn lay back on his pillows. “There is one other thing. I married late and have been faithful to your mother all our married life, but long before I knew her, there was a woman. Her name was Natalia. She was killed nine years ago. She had a son. His name is Scott Banton and he is your brother. Please help him. The file will tell you everything and what to do. Start with Halcyon Services.”

Three years later, Per was rushing to Charles de Gaulle to take a private plane to Buenos Aries. By now, he knew all about Scott, had fleshed out his place in Burgstaller’s corrupt enterprise, found praise in his girlfriend, Miranda, and some hope for his future. If he knew who is true father was.

***

For a brief moment, all Miranda could do was to stare first at Scott and then Claudia with her crooked wig as they came into the doorway of the hotel room. What the hell was going on? She turned back to Scott and gave him the stink eye. “Where did you go?”

Scott sighed. “Sorry, I went looking for ice. Ran into Claudia. She’s brought something all the way from Bellingham. My painting.”

Miranda expected a framed picture to appear out of nowhere. Instead, Claudia unslung a long tube used by sport fisherman off her shoulder.

“That’s it?” Miranda felt hours of jet lag heavy on her shoulders. She glanced at Klovic who seemed to signaling something to Claudia. Belinda Swanson, the woman detective, just stayed still, like she was assessing a problem here and not liking it one bit.

“It’s the only way to travel with it.” Claudia kept it close to her.

“I thought it was in the vault,” Belinda said. “It’s evidence in the murder of Briene.”

“Oh, that.” Claudia shrugged. “It was released.”

Miranda, looked at Scott for some response. She suddenly realized how tense he was.

“So Scott can have it now?” Miranda asked. “We’ll take it with us, right Scott?”

“When we heave-to.”

Miranda stayed very calm. That was a warning phrase they used when things were not right on the boat. Over the years of sailing and boating together, they had developed their own body language and phrases when taking care of difficult situations. Just as she felt fear, she was so glad that the Scott she loved had shown up again.

“I think I’ll take it,” Klovic said. He used a Walther PPK to emphasize his intent. “Get over there, the three of you.” He waved the gun for emphasis.

“Norm…” Belinda said. “What are you doing?”

“Carrying out orders.” He turned to Scott and Miranda. “So fortuitous that you are here.”

Miranda watched Scott’s face blanch. She felt her knees go shaky. It was dawning on Miranda that Klovic was going to kill them both. Swanson too.

“Is this my father again?” Scott had regained control. He sneered, but he kept his eyes on Miranda. She was the closest to Klovic.

“Heh. Sorry kid.” He motioned for Claudia to put the tube on the entry table.

“Prepare to come about, then,” Scott said. Another signal.

“What did you say?” Klovic was watching Claudia set the tube down when Scott suddenly leaped at the FBI detective. Miranda “came about,” slamming into Klovic’s side. He tried to bring the gun up, but he was off balance. The first shot went into the floor. Someone screamed out below. The second shot winged Scott has he wrestled the gun out of his hand. Belinda was on Klovic by now. Claudia turned tail and ran out of the room.

Chapter 26

by Kate Miller  (2030 words)

Emerging from the airport in Buenos Aires into the humid heat, Christine Evans brushed her damp curls out of her hair and flagged down a cab. She was just climbing into the back seat when another middle-aged American woman, dressed in a conservative skirt and light flowered blouse, came rushing up.

“Do you mind if we share the cab?” the woman asked, already pushing a small bag into the back seat between them, “I’m Linda Swanson.” She had short brown hair just beginning to grey and seemed about Christine’s age.

“No, of course not,” said Christine, and to the cab driver she said “To the Hotel Avenida de la Plata, por favor.”

“Why that’s where I’m staying, what a coincidence,” said Linda, “I’m from Bellingham, by the way. I think I saw you on the Airporter on the way down to Seattle. What are you down here for? Vacation?”

In the long and sweaty ride through heavy stop and go traffic on the way to the hotel, Linda and Christine talked. Having shared all they knew of the situation their respective offspring were embroiled in, Linda and Christine did what all good moms do, they began to plot a course of action to protect their children, capable as they both knew their daughters were. Between Linda’s tech expertise (which even included a fair amount of hacking though this was a secret-especially from her law-abiding daughter) and Christine’s vast knowledge of art history, surely they could be some help to their kids.

* * *

Scott swore and stumbled backwards, grasping his already bloody right shoulder, in the process dropping Klovic’s gun, which skidded across the floor. Miranda reached down and, for a second time in just a few hours, found herself pointing a loaded weapon at a man intent on killing her. Belinda had Klovic flat on the carpet, though he was thrashing about mightily. While attempting to hold his arms down, Belinda bent forward and slammed her forehead into the Norm’s face. They both cried out in pain and he rolled to the right, flipping Belinda off.

Without hesitation Miranda stepped forward, swinging the gun level with Klovic’s forehead as he struggled to rise. “Stop right there,” she said, in a surprisingly menacing voice. Klovic swore and spat out a bloodied tooth, but remained where he was.

Scott moved behind Klovic and pulled his arms behind his back. Belinda, a bit red in the face with a large lump already swelling on her forehead, came around next to Scott and cuffed Norm, pulling him to his feet and forcing him down in a sturdy hard backed chair by the small entry table, where the tubed painting rested, maddeningly close but still too far away from him.

“You know this only prolongs your deaths,” Klovic groaned, “You can’t escape a man like Eduard Burgstaller. None of us can, it appears.”

“Shut up,” Miranda said, as she moved to check on Scott and Belinda. Blood was seeping through Scott’s shirt above his right elbow. “Oh Scott,” she whispered, touching his good arm.

“I’m alright, I think,” he said, “Just a bit shaky, but the bullet only grazed me. It hurts like hell though!” He smiled weakly at Miranda.

Belinda was leaning against the wall, cradling her head in her hands. Without looking up she said, “We’ve got to get out of here; the local police will be here any minute.”

All three of them turned to stare at Klovic, slumped in the chair. Just then the door swung open and two more people crowded into the room. “Mom!” shouted Belinda and Miranda in unison.

* * *

Linda and Christine hugged Belinda and Miranda quickly, and then proceeded to survey the room, which of course was a mess, having just been the scene of an attempted murder, struggle and shooting.

“We have to hurry,” Linda said, “the lobby is absolute chaos and I heard sirens as we came up the elevator.”

“There’s a taxi waiting downstairs, ready to take us to the apartment of my old friend, Rosario Lira.” Christine said as she stripped the sheets off the bed and began ripping them into long strips, handing them to Linda as she worked. “Rosario was my Art history professor at the University of Washington before she retired. I’ve always wanted to visit her, though maybe not in circumstances like this! Anyway, Linda and I decided you and Scott would not be safe in this hotel any longer, Miranda. Now I’m not sure you are safe here either, Belinda.”

Linda washed the blood off her daughter’s forehead as Christine used strips of sheeting to bandage Scott’s upper arm, after inspecting the wound and declaring it bullet-free and superficial, though Scott winced several times as she wrapped it tightly to staunch the flow of blood. Miranda was glad she didn’t have to do the bandaging; instead she grasped Scott’s hands in her own and consoled him. She sure didn’t feel like fainting again.

“We’ll have to leave Mr. Klovic here. We have no way to move him discretely out of the hotel. He better hope the local cops find him before any other pawns of Eduard, since it appears he failed to fulfil his orders,” Miranda said.

Per Belinda’s instructions, Miranda used sheet strips to gag the Norm and together the three women tied the handcuffed man more tightly to the chair, securing his feet as well as his arms by winding the remaining sheets around his upper body and down past his knees. “He looks almost cute this way,” Miranda said, “in a mummified kind of way.” Klovic’s nose looked broken, though it appeared he could still breathe through it, and his mouth was still bleeding, but that hadn’t stopped him from moaning so the women felt they had no other choice but to gag him.

Christine handed Belinda her hat, a summery straw one with a flowered headband, and Belinda put it on without question, canting it forward to obscure her angry-looking forehead. She looked like she might say something, but instead shrugged and tossed Scott’s jacket to Miranda. “You’d better help him put it on; we don’t want anyone to see he’s wounded when we go out through the lobby.” Miranda had finished dressing and was as ready as she’d ever be to “split this pop stand” as Scott would say.

Together, their crisis response had been so fast and so efficient that within minutes the five of them were ready to run. Miranda was the last one out the door. She paused, took one quick look around the room, letting her eyes slide over Klovic to avoid the rage and desperation in his eyes. She spotted Claudia’s long tube still on the table and snatched it up. The picture was at the center of all this, she mused, and she was sure Scott would be happy that someone remembered his painting in all this mess.

They took the elevator down to the ground floor, trying their best to look like casual tourists as they strolled past the crowd milling in the lobby and pushed out the revolving doors just as the police arrived and rushed into the building. There at the curb the taxi awaited. Linda and her daughter crammed into the front seat. Christine gingerly took Scott’s good arm and helped him into the back. Sliding in beside him she whispered, “I know you’re in pain but please try and slide down as far as you can, dear, I don’t think it is safe for you to be seen.”

Miranda got in next to her mother and the cabbie shut the door. As she slid down in her seat she thought she glimpsed the lithe form of Javier slip through the lobby doors but when she looked again he was gone, as ephemeral as he had seemed at the Villa.

* * *

Damn, damn, damn, Norm thought as he watched his prey exit the room, closing the door behind them. How had he screwed up so royally? Was it because Belinda had been there? Because he had begun to doubt whether Eduard would actually come through with his side of the bargain? And what now? He was a sitting duck, trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey to a chair in this hotel. News would get back to the villa quickly if the police found him like this. Norm cocked his head, straining to hear over the pounding of his blood, was that the faint sound of furtive footsteps outside the door? It seemed that the old clichÉ about your life passing before your eyes when you were about to die was true. He saw himself as if from a distance, a scrawny young boy bullied by the older boys at every turn, dodging his father’s fists every weekend, slinking out of the house to avoid his mother’s blank gaze. He thought about how hard he worked to get out of his home town, late shifts at the gas station and later nights bartending, raising money to get through the academy. How he had pushed himself hard all the way up the ladder of the F.B.I., but in the end it wasn’t enough, was it. They still treated him like he wasn’t good enough for them.

The door creaked open and Javier stepped into the room, as quiet and graceful as ever, but his eyes, observed Norm, his eyes were ice cold and empty as a room with no-one home.

* * *

The taxi pulled up in front of a shiny new condo tower, all steel and glass, in the upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood. Rosario Lira lived on the 39th floor of the River Tower, which overlooked the waterways below. The stark modernity of the building and the neighborhood surrounding it was a jarring contrast to the old world elegance of the villa, but all everyone was interested in at this moment was dinner, a safe place to re-group, and then, possibly, some much needed sleep. All of which seemed within reach here in Rosario’s spacious condo.

After dinner around a long white table, where they filled Rosario in on the many strands of their story, they all moved to the living room where Linda and Rosario both brought out their laptops and the others collapsed in various chairs and couches around the room.

Belinda sat on the couch next to her mother, leaning back and putting the ice bag Rosario had given her on her forehead with a sigh of relief. She felt guilty that she had shirked her duty as an officer of the law by leaving Klovic to his fate, but she had to admit to herself that Klovic’s betrayal frightened her.

“So,” she said to the waiting group, “who can we trust?”

“I think the question might better be, who are we sure we cannot trust,” said Scott, from the corner loveseat which he shared with Miranda, snuggled into his left side where she wouldn’t jiggle his newly bandaged arm.

“Certainly not Norm Klovic, since he seemed to be a double-agent himself, following Eduard’s orders” mused Belinda, “and for that matter probably Norm’s boss, Don Walker, who I saw skulking around the hotel earlier today when I thought he was back in Bellingham.”

“And Herve, I guess we can’t trust him either” said Miranda, “since he apparently ratted us out to you, Belinda.”

“Of course, we can’t trust my father, that’s a given,” Scott sighed. “And I still don’t understand Claudia’s stake in this. If the painting was a forgery, why would she go to such lengths to recover it from the Lightcatcher’s vault and bring it back to me? Or was she bringing it to Norm? Or my father?”

“Do you have this painting with you?” asked Rosario, with interest. Miranda fetched the tube from the hallway and gently slid the contents out onto the glass coffee table, spreading the painting as flat as she could. Rosario reached into her dress pocket, extracting a pair of glasses that she carefully put on. She leaned forward, her head moving closer and closer to the table until her nose almost touched the paint. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath. Then Rosario gasped.

Chapter 27

by Joy Mouledoux (2149 words)

“Hijo de puta!”

 exclaimed Rosario rising up from her inspection of the painting.

‘What is it?” Scott asked, leaving the comfort of Miranda and the corner love seat.

“I should NOT do this, but here — give me a minute . . .” Rosario walked to the kitchen and rumbled through a drawer of this and that, ultimately bringing forth a small pen knife.

“There is something under the top layers of oil-based,” she said, opening the pen knife and once more putting her glasses up on her nose. She sat down on the pile carpet under the coffee table and pulled the canvas closer, taking one corner and turning it towards her.

“I will never admit to doing this, as it’s a curatorial Cardinal Sin, but I dare say it matters little now . . . .” and she took the pen knife and made a tiny chip in the corner of the top layers of paint.

The ensuing tension in the room was palatable. Finally Scott said “What is it — what do you see?”

Rosario pulled up from the canvas and looked at Scott. “I have a Curator friend over at the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes . . . I advise we get this over to her and have them put it under their high-tech x-ray scanners — I’m rather dim on the specific technology — but she can tell us exactly what is under here.”

Scott blinked and looked for advice at Miranda, then Christine, then back at Miranda. It was all so confusing and overwhelming! He was told all his life he was heir to a great treasure — this supposed Raphael . . . . then it’s a forgery. Throw in murder, kidnapping, a drugging, and a whole lot of Nazi intrigue and that was his life. His head was spinning. He stood, paralyzed it seemed.

“I advise you to listen to Rosario, Scott,” Miranda told him, taking his arm and stroking it, thereby pulling him in from his manic reverie. He focused and said “Yes, yes, you are right.”

*

 *

 *

Outside the hotel room where Norm Klovic remained, trussed up like a holiday pig, and indeed making the same sort of guttural noises as a stuck pig, lurked Javier. . . his TemPurPedic air foam sneakers putting new meaning to the term ‘gum shoe.’ In his hand, were one to notice, glistened the silver flash of a newly-polished switch-blade knife.

Javier took a deep breath. Really! When it gets to the point where one must carry out the SIMPLEST of tasks, when even your top men cannot seem to perform the simplest things . . . then one found oneself wearing very quiet, noise-free sneakers lurking in corridors of hotels. After all the schemes and sub-plots, subterfuge, and plunder, here he was, the one doing the dirty work, afterall.

He had about ten seconds. He had already evaded the confused and babbling mayhem of the policia in the lobby by making a bee-line up a side staircase. Silently he turned the unlocked door of the room and entered.

There on the floor, writhing, was the double agent Norm Klovic. Javier sveltely moved towards him, simultaneously bringing his switch blade forward. Norm made one last pig-like noise and Javier slit his throat, stepping back to avoid the geyser of jugular blood.

He sighed again, this time deeper. Really! he thought again . . . no one could be trusted at this point! And to think — all these blundering fools believed some obscure painting was the ultimate goal! Little did they know, oh how little did they know!

He turned and made one quick, experienced sweep around the hotel room with his well-trained, jaundiced eye, ultimately choosing the open window, its billowing curtain announcing the most convenient mode of exit. . . .

*

 *

 *

Back at the Villa, Eduard felt like he’d paced the blue flagstone patio for days, ages, chapters even! He’d never felt in such dire peril. Everything had gone wrong. Everything he’d worked for since before he could remember. But what was worse, Die Junger, his boss,

would be very displeased.The boss he’d never met, in all these years of plotting and scheming.

If his phone did not ring soon with news, an update, anything–well, he’d simply lose what was left of his mind. He paced back over to the patio table and checked his phone again, the 15th time in a minute probably. Even the normally soothing sound of the ocean below seemed an annoying old ticking clock out of beat. He grabbed his dwindling box of little brown cigarillos and fumbled around for his lighter.

 Finding it he lit his cigarette and inhaled as if it were a lifeline itself.

‘Schlampe!” Eduard suddenly exclaimed, the cigarette falling from his hand.

‘Back at you!” exclaimed Claudia who appeared from an overgrown hedge of garishly blooming Bougainvillea . . . her wig now at an alarming angle, the heel of one Christian Louboutin in an equally curious state. Dirt and maybe blood smeared the ripped shoulder of her silk blouse.

“What the hell—?” Eduard managed to get out before Claudia swung and socked him once with her handbag. Then plopping down in a wrought-iron chair,

 she tore off her wig and tossed it in to the hedge from which she’d come.

“Holy Mother of God!” Eduard muttered when he saw her au naturel.

“Well, you’ll simply love this!’ she began, grabbing at Eduard’s box of cigarettes and ignoring his shocked look. Her voice, like her state, out of control.

‘I went to all the trouble of buying a freaking ART MUSEUM, retrieved that hideous painting, got it all the way back here, managed to locate your bastard son & his First Mate, the idiots you let run off, only to be blind-sided by that over-sexed cop woman and Klovic! I had to run! I couldn’t get the painting! She got the gun! There wasn’t time! Did you send Klovic after me?” She’d become more hysterical with every statement. She took a long drag off her cigarette that made a sucking noise then looked down at the torn sleeve of her blouse. This suddenly becoming the most important issue at hand.

Eduard made a face and watched her for a moment. “Stop fretting over your damn blouse!” he said, brushing her shaking hand away from her obcessing.

‘I didn’t send Klovic!’ he finally said. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about! You’re an idiot like the rest of them! No one can be counted on, no one!” With this he grabbed the edge of the glass-top patio table and hurled it, towards the ocean in one powerful, extraordinary swoop–the cigarettes, the lighter, the drinking glasses and carafes all joining in to make a giant cacophony of violent clashing destruction.

Before all the crashing and breaking stopped, suddenly Javier crept out from the same ominous hedge.

‘Jesus!” Eduard exclaimed jumping back in his surprise.

“What the hell else is in the hedge?” he asked taking a step towards it. But Javier stopped him. “Euuurrrghh” Eduard gurgled out–Javier’s thumb so strongly pressing on his throat, it made screaming hard. Claudia, no longer caring about the state of her blouse or hair, fell back out of her chair nearby, gasping.

“You’re all idiots!” Javier yelled, squeezing Eduard’s jugular for emphasis. “None of you can be trusted with anything!” And with this,

 he turned and put his free hand on Eduard’s neck, and in what seemed a flash, squeezed out what life was left of the deluded, Nazi wannabe.

Javier straightened up from his task, Eduard’s body falling in a thudding clump at his air-foam padded sneakers. Claudia was now making an incoherent gurgling sound .

“Shut up, Claudia!” Javier demanded. “You are hardly worth the effort.” He brushed his hands off on his pants and gave Eduard’s body a push away from his feet.”You are such a puta! Say I did let you run off–scurry off like the rat you are! Who would believe a word out of your mouth?” he made a threatening movement towards her. Then continued: “for instance would anyone believe you, you poor orphan child, deluded whore that you are, if you told them that it is I, Javier, the lowly butler to Eduard Bergstaller, who is in charge? That it is I, Jurgen Kopfler, die Junger, that is the mastermind? The only son and heir, Kopfler Junior!”

With this Javiar kicked the lifeless slumped body of Eduard again. Claudia made a move for the cliff behind her. Javier picked up a giant shard of the glass table Eduard had broken and hurled it at her head, missing, but sending Claudia, none the less,

 headlong to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. She let out an hysterical scream and seemed to pause, mid-cartwheel, her wild eyes looking back at Javier– Jurgen, Jr. — then, her airborne dance complete, she went headlong into oblivion, one lonely red-bottomed Christian Louboutin falling last, pirouetting once, adding a hilarious footnote to the absurd life of Claudia Moncinego.

Javier stood for a moment thinking. For after all, he said to himself, sailboats and women, fast cars and fine art, were all placebos for the real thing — a simple thing! He thought of the ‘60’s musical ‘Give me head with hair, long beautiful hair.’ And boy what people would do for it!

*

 *

 *

The three days that had passed since Rosario had taken Scott’s painting to be examined professionally seemed endless. Not that Scott and Miranda did not appreciate a sofa-bed to sleep in, a shower, clean clothes, and the comforting knowledge that Eduard and his minions were clueless as to their whereabouts. They hoped the double agent Klovic had no idea where they had taken off to and could not squeal like a pig when the cops got to him.

If they got to him in time. Scott could have sworn he’d spied Javier, his father’s butler and the kind soul who’d helped them escape his father’s villa, slinking in to the hotel as they’d fled. Miranda had seen him too! They both wondered if Javier, under Eduard’s orders, had somehow saved the tied-up Norm from his bonds? Or not? They wondered if maybe after all, Javier was the only one they could trust?

It was on the third day of waiting and wondering that Rosario got the long-awaited phone call from her curator connection at the Museo. After saying a few brief and unrevealing Spanish phrases in to her phone, Rosario hung up, shaking her head.

“What! What is it!” Scott, Miranda, Christine and the Lindas all seemed to say at once.

“He’s faxing over a print of the under-image. It’ll come through any minute . . . he says it resembles a chalkboard in an MIT classroom,” with this she walked in the direction of a small office off to one side of her sitting room.

“Do what?’ the others all yelled.

“I have to pull up a German dictionary, “Rosario began, “but if I am not mistaken it means baldness.” She sat at her keyboard and began typing wildly.

“Baldness!” Scott exclaimed.

“Whoa! Someone start at the top here,’ one of the Lindas interjected, stepping forward out of the kitchen.

Rosario looked up and away from her computer screen.

‘Santa Madra de Dios!” Rosario’s hand fell down on the desktop to punctuate her surprise.

She stood up and faced the gaping, impatient faces of her audience. ‘You simply won’t believe this . . . it’s no painting

 — what was believed — Nazi genetic experiments — but . . . this is very valuable –

 it’s not a painting at all!’

 She paused, as if at a loss, then blurted out:

‘It’s Der Medicine fur der Kalheit der Mannlich Schema — the cure for male pattern baldness!”

Again, Miranda, the Lindas, everyone spoke at once. “Excuse me?” Miranda asked; “What the,‘ Scott exclaimed. “I’m sorry, but someone here is going to have to explain!” Belinda interjected with natural cop authority.

As if in answer to them all, there was a rather forceful knock on the door. Rosario pulled herself away from medical miracles and their millions and back to the present.

“Oh — that would be the concierge service downstairs with the laundry,’ she said–the mundane everydayness of laundry juxtaposed against Nazi plunder and much-sought-after cures made Rosario slow getting up. The implications of such a cure! The money someone would make!

She made her way past a still-stunned Scott and Miranda to the door of her condo.

 She opened it to a tall, handsome blond man, dressed in full chef’s regalia and holding the most beautiful tray of Madeleines she’d ever seen. It was Per “Chef” Sigurdson.

Chapter 28

by Pilar Uribe (1480 words)

Belinda was stunned. Male. Pattern. Baldness. Was this a joke? Multiple killings, kidnapping, arson, treason, flying half way across the world to drink that disgusting mate had all started because of some Nazi schmuck’s insecurity over losing his hair? She couldn’t believe it. This takes the cake. Or the Madeleines, whatever. Luckily she still had her backup weapon. Without thinking, she fell to the ground, somersaulted over, bumping into Miranda and knocking a table over while managing to retrieve her M&P compact from the holster above her ankle in the process. She jumped up, a foot from the doorway, and yelled freeze, surprising the other occupants in the room. Wow, she was impressed after all these years that her body still responded so quickly in a potentially precarious situation. The stranger threw the tray up and lunged into the room but Miranda, who was still struggling to rise, grabbed his leg and Madeleines went flying as the intruder was thrown off balance, falling face down on the tray. Belinda pointed the gun at his head and shouted, “don’t move!” No stirring from the floor. Crap, she thought, we can’t have another dead body in this investigation, which was turning more surreal by the minute. She gently nudged his leg and a groan was heard. Thank goodness.

“Mom, do you have hair tie, or a ribbon on you?” Linda looked at her daughter blankly.

“What do you mean?”

Belinda stomped her foot. “I just need something to tie him up with. Does anyone have a belt or a piece of string”? Scott and Miranda looked at their tattered clothes and shook their heads. Rosario, paralyzed in the corner, was unable to move.

“Mom, quick, give me your bra”.

“What are you talking about???” Linda shrieked. “I most certainly will not!”

“For God’s sake, Mother, we don’t have time.” He’s gonna wake up any minute now and we need to be able to keep him under control. Come on, Mom, give me your bra, I need something to tie him up with.” Linda continued to stare at her daughter, speechless.

“Here, take mine”. Christine struggled with her blouse while extricated the straps, undid the hooks from the back and handed it over to Belinda. Finally, someone had reacted. Belinda knelt down, put her gun on the floor and started to tie the stranger’s hands when he suddenly turned around, grabbed the gun and took hold of Belinda. Everyone started screaming. Miranda and Scott jumped on the bed as if they’d seen a mouse. Rosario threw her hands up in the air and ran to the bathroom. Linda swooped down on top of the stranger’s back, while Christine managed to wrest the gun from his fingers and punch him simultaneously. Then Linda threw him down on the floor, put her shoe on his back and quickly tied the bra around his hands as tightly as she could.

“Oh, so now all of a sudden you’re capable of wrestling a stranger to the ground but you can’t hand over your bra? “ Belinda muttered as she retrieved the gun and aimed at the prone man’s head.

“I’m wearing my only La Perla,” Linda sniffed. If you think I’m going to hand it over to be destroyed, you’ve got another thing coming, Missy. I have my limits”.

“Alright, alright”. Belinda glared at her mother and called out, “Do you have anything stronger to tie his hands with?” Rosario came out of the bathroom shame faced with a terrycloth belt from the robe behind the door and silently gave it to Belinda. Belinda swiftly tied his arms tightly with the belt, released the bra and put it around his head while the man kept gasping for breath. “Wait a minute, let me speak” he managed to spit out before Belinda covered his mouth with one of the cups.

“Sweetheart,” Linda said, “he’s choking. Don’t you think it’s enough that you’ve tied his hands? Do you need to smother him with a bra as well? And it’s a very nice bra, by the way. Where did you get it, Christine?”

“Nordstrom’s”, replied Christine.

“Really?” Linda looked surprised.

“Yeah, and I bet you it was a quarter of the price of that fancy schmancy one you’re wearing. Nordstrom’s has a great twice yearly sale in the lingerie department…”

“Holy shit balls, can you all just shut up for a minute and stop talking bras?” yelled Miranda. “We’re trying to figure out what’s going on. When did you two get so friendly anyway?”

“On the plane”, they chimed in at the same time and giggled.

“Shut up and let the man speak”, Miranda cut in. “He’s been trying to say something for the last five minutes but between your yammering and wrangling him like a horse, he hasn’t been able to get a word in edgewise.”

“Wait a minute” Scott interrupted. “Everyone stop talking.”

Scott got down off the bed and peered at the comical figure on the floor, hands tied behind his back as he squirmed, trying to wriggle out of the unfortunate position he found himself in. He looked maddeningly familiar but from where? The stranger lifted his chest up and looked at Scott imploringly with one cup of the bra obscuring half his face.

“Oh my God, Chef Sigurdson. Is that you?” Scott exclaimed. Somebody please take that stupid bra off his head. I know this man.”

Belinda stepped in between them. “Wait just a minute. How do we know he didn’t come here to kill us? It’s possible he could have been sent by your father.”

“Yes” Linda agreed, planting her heel on his back again. “Your miserable excuse for a parent is capable of anything at this point. I remember long ago when he came on to me…”

“Mom, that’s ancient history. Let it go.” Belinda interrupted. “Let me handle this, please.” She turned to Scott. “Are you sure he’s not dangerous?”

“Yes, he was my pastry chef teacher at the Technical College.”

Belinda reluctantly took the bra off Chef Sigurdson’s head but kept the terrycloth belt around his arms as she helped him to sit up.

“What’s your first name?”

“Per. Per Sigurdson, and please take this ridiculous belt off me so I can explain” he spat out.

“No, we’re going to do it my way,” Belinda warned. “You can tell us what you’re doing here and I’ll think about untying you”.

“Please, I come to help, not harm. You are mistaken. If you let me reach into the pocket of my jeans, all the information you need is right there.”

“Yeah, right” Belinda sneered.

“Just hear him out” interjected Scott. “You can tie him back up again later.”

“Ok, but no sudden movements, you hear me?”

Per nodded and Belinda took off the belt with one hand and leveled the gun at his face with the other. Slowly Per removed the tiny piece of paper and started to open it up, until it looked like an origami design of triangles with endless writing on them. He turned and handed it to Scott.

“Here Scott, read it and you will understand why I am here. I came to protect you, my brother.”

Scott stared at Per for a minute before taking the piece of paper and starting to read. The silence was endless as everyone waited. Belinda was watching Scott’s face as he handed the missive to Miranda and sank to his knees, reaching out to Per’s hands. Miranda hurriedly skimmed it and her eyes grew wider and wider as she read what Scott was saying “He’s not my father, I’m not related to that bastard, thank God.”

Miranda read through the rest as it explained how the fake painting revealed a supposedly real painting by Da Vinci underneath but was in fact, another forgery hiding the real secret, a revolutionary formula. Her head was spinning. Why? Why go to all this trouble? She suddenly remembered the conversation she’d had with Christopher Fox or Fuchs, whatever his name was, that fateful first night that started this whole chain of events. It seemed an eternity ago. She was explaining to him what the name of the boat, the Placebo meant. “It’s like something fake you put in place of something real. But the person getting the fake doesn’t know it, doesn’t realize it. See? They think it’s real.”

Belinda motioned for Miranda to hand over the letter and she looked it, then waited for a few minutes before speaking. “ If the contents of this letter are accurate, it’s even possible that Scott’s father—well, technically not Scott’s father anymore—that Eduard may have been duped as well in this whole scheme. We need to find him right away and get to the bottom of this. “

I’m afraid that’s going to be a little difficult”, said Javier as he appeared in the doorway.”

CHAPTER 29

by Gloria Bailey (609 words)

Scott had always felt that Chef was harder on him than the other students in his class. He had dismissed the thought on several occasions. Per, his brother, huh? That would explain a lot.

Things are starting to make sense. They had so much in common. He had never seen the resemblance until now. They both have their mother’s eyes. It also made sense that Scott was never close to his father. Scott wondered if Eduard knew.

Javier explained that Eduard had hired him to be the butler, but with extra duties, at least that is what Eduard thought. Javier was the mastermind of the whole operation. He had been sent by Justice to make sure that Eduard stayed out of trouble. It was a job that didn’t pay well. Eduard was not as sharp as he used to be so it became a full time job for Javier. Javier made sure not to mention that he had killed Eduard.

Miranda wondered about the ebony rose. What was it’s significance? Javier explained it was his calling card. Before he came to the United States he studied the craft of ebony carving. It was a skill that took countless hours to perfect. First was the stem, it had to be just right. Then incorporating the leaves. He had numerous stems out of beautiful ebony with broken leaves. They were so delicate to craft and a touch too strong made it break as if it were a real leaf that had been starved of water. He went on to tell how he had to carve each petal just so as it needed to be mistaken for real. The rose then had to be painted with several coats of just the right color of red to match the other roses it would be placed with not to draw attention to the weapon in disguise.

It was late and Scott could tell the rest of the story could take hours. He suggested they have dinner and retired for the night. He could tell by Miranda’s face she couldn’t take any more this evening. Scott took Miranda’s hand and helped her up so they could shower and dress for dinner.

In their room, he tried to hold Miranda but she pushed him away. “Babe,” he said. But he realized he shouldn’t push her right now. After a shower and a glass of wine she may be more receptive. Scott went first, he felt the hot water relax the tension away from the stressful conversation that took place with Javier.

He opened the bathroom door to find Miranda napping and decided to let her sleep as he was used to the stress of his life. He slipped on his shorts and went outside for a walk. He saw a shadow of a man in the gazebo as he approached. He wondered if it was Eduard. As he got closer, he realized it was his brother, Per. Per started out with an apology, that he wasn’t able to tell Scott his true identity. Also for being so tough on him at culinary school. They spoke for a few minutes and then Scott excused himself stating the he and Miranda would be having dinner in their room.

Miranda was dressed and looking refreshed after her nap. Scott pushed the cart in with their dinner. He had set the table with candles and flowers. He knew roses were not the flower of choice. It was like a night on the Placebo. The conversation was light and the mood was calm.

There was a knock at the door. It was late. Who could it be?

CHAPTER 30

by Mary Ellen Courtney (4041 words)

Miranda grabbed Scott’s arm, put a finger to her lips and shook her head, no. They sat frozen at the table. They knocked again. They could see the shadow of feet under the door. It felt like the person on the other side was listening too. Miranda’s cell phone rang. They had lost their phones in the chaos of the last few days, but Miranda’s mother, ever the IT person, had found their burners. Miranda’s fingers twitched to answer, to scream for help to break the tension, but she let it ring.

The shadow moved away silently. They stared at the crack under the door until Miranda thought she might be imagining the shadow returning; it didn’t, she was just getting black spots from the tension.

“Who. . .” started Scott.

“Shh!” said Miranda.

She led Scott, Sigi, whatever his name was, to the bathroom, locked the door and stuffed a towel under the crack. At least Scott knew enough to whisper.

“Why are you acting like Jamie Bond?” he asked.

“I only trust two people at this point,” said Miranda. “My mom and Belinda’s.”

“You trust Belinda’s mom more than me? She wrapped my brother’s head in a bra.”

“Half brother and it was a good bra. Anyway, I don’t trust you at all. The only reason I’m in here with you is that I can’t trust you not to open the door and let in half the murderers in Argentina.”

“It was probably just Javier making sure we’re all right,” he said.

“Or coming to kill us,” she said. “Don’t you think there’s something fishy about his story? Sent here by Justice? According to Per’s papers, he works for Justice; he looked totally shocked when Javier said that.”

“They’re very secretive,” he said. “They just don’t know each other.”

“Per wouldn’t come here without knowing about Javier. I looked them up; Justice doesn’t send babysitters; they search for Nazis, notify interested parties, and the next thing you know the Nazi is being hung.”

“I don’t think anyone has been hung for a while,” he said.

“Too bad. Might be too nice anyway,” she said. “Are you defending Nazis?”

“No!”

“Keep your voice down!” she hissed.

“Well I’m not defending Nazis. Jeez, come on, Miranda, give me a break. I’m not even German.”

“What difference does that make? You were born in Argentina because of that Nazi lover, Perón. You were raised by a crazy Nazi, forgery freak, murderer, who knows what else.”

“I was raised by my mother; she was very gentle, she was Spanish and hated Nazis.”

“But married one. What is your name?”

“My name?” he asked.

“Yeah, what’s your real name? The one on your birth certificate.”

“Bald.”

Miranda almost choked. She’d been living with a Bald this whole time? Worse, sleeping with a Bald. Hi, this is my boyfriend, Bald. Not in her wildest dreams, the edges of which had greatly expanded in the last week, could she have imagined that. She’d never even heard the name before.

“Bald S. Burgstaller,” he said.

She pulled a hand towel off the bar, sat down on the toilet and buried her face.

“It was my father’s idea; he insisted on it. It means, brave. Which I guess I’m not.”

Miranda’s shoulders started shaking; her face still buried.

“I think that’s why everyone called me Sigi. It’s why I picked Scott. You know? B. Scott Banton. Same initials as my tattoo: BSB.”

Bald Scott, had his initials tattooed under his left armpit. It was another thing his father had insisted on, like signing a painting. Miranda thought it was more like tattooing a dog’s ear. But she’d heard that people had started micro-chipping their kids, so maybe his crazy father was ahead of the curve on that one. Miranda’s muffled voice came from the towel.

“I assumed it was Bernard or Bardolph or Bobo. What does the S stand for?”

“Segovia. It’s where my mother was born. She wanted the whole word, but my father would only agree to the S.”

“Your father was quite the Nazi,” she said. “It’s a good thing he didn’t name you Siegfried. You’d be SSB.”

“I know,” he said. “Would you have gone out with me if I’d told you my real name?”

“I might have sailed the Indian Ocean with someone named Bald. Pretty sure, not the sex part.”

“That’s what I thought. When this is all over, I’m changing my name to Björn Segovia Sigurdson.”

“Why didn’t you change it years ago?”

“I couldn’t. My father…”

“Not your father,” said Miranda.

“True. That man bought the Placebo and was paying for my pastry training. Anyway, after all this, now I have something real to change it to.”

Miranda groaned. He made a cushion out of a bath towel and slid to the tile floor to wait. He knew Miranda took flights of fancy when she couldn’t take an actual flight. Or in their case, get off their dinky boat in 30-foot swells. He understood her side investigation into his name; he was dealing with his own shocking revelations, as they say on Yahoo news. But it was time to get organized. He waited a while. The phone in their room rang. Then his cell phone rang, he pulled it out of his pocket, Sergeant Belinda Swanson.

“Don’t answer that,” said Miranda from the towel.

“I won’t,” he said. “Are you through crying? Because I think, we should chart a course and get underway.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“But I’m brave,” he said.

She started laughing and threw the towel at him. She splashed her face with cold water and ran a brush through her hair while she watched Bald Scott in the mirror. He didn’t act like he was going to strangle her or stab her jugular vein with a nail file.

“You better hope we survive this,” she said. “Or your headstone will read: Here Lies Bald S. Burgstaller. Brave, but Not Laid.”

“That’s mean, Miranda. I don’t need you to survive to change my name.”

“True. But if you survive and I don’t, my mother will hunt you down like a dog. Justice has nothing on my mother; she’s tougher than Mossad.”

Miranda kicked the towel away from the door and opened it a crack. The room was empty; their cold dinner sat unmolested; her stomach growled.

They stuffed the few things they had in a plastic bag meant for sending out dirty laundry, and divided the $1,000 that Belinda’s mother, Linda, had given them, between them. It was so many pesos; they could have used a second laundry bag to carry it all.

Miranda threw the butter in with the dinner rolls, wrapped them in their napkin and threw that in her bag with the dinner knives. She threw in the quince and Cremoso cheese from the Bienvenida a Buenos Aires basket, what a welcome, she thought. And then raided the mini-bar for water, power bars, and nuts. Her bag was getting heavy. She turned around to Bald Scott holding out a glass of wine.

“We need clear heads,” she said.

“A toast to launch our new adventure,” he said.

They raised their glasses.

“To a new start,” he said.

“God, I hope you really are Björn,” she said.

They clinked glasses, took a sip, and then dove out the window and ran down the fire escape just as someone started pounding on their door.

***

They released the sliding ladder at the bottom of the fire escape and landed in the alley behind the hotel, and then crouched behind a dumpster while their eyes adjusted to the dark.

Nothing about an Argentinean alley smelled more exotic than the one behind Java the Hutt. A job that Miranda realized would be just too tame after this week. She decided if she lived, obviously, to go back to school and become a marine mammal researcher. They used to wake surf the Placebo. She promised herself that, if she lived.

The entrance to the alley teemed with animated late night street life. A couple came around the corner into the alley. He leaned her up against the wall as she wrapped one leg around his thighs. It looked like a very limber tango move until it became clear they weren’t dancing. Bald Scott looked at Miranda, his beautiful white-toothed smile and blonde hair shone in the pale light.

“Björn like do that with Miranda, ja,” he whispered.

“In Björn’s dreams,” whispered Miranda.

But that smile melted her heart.

They figured they’d have to wait, not to wall dance, but to run, until the lovers were done. Then headlights whipped around the corner and down the alley, and the service entrance door opened on the other side of their dumpster. She grabbed Bald Björn’s hand.

A dark van with Morgue painted on the side stopped outside the door. Attendants opened the back door and wheeled out a gurney. It rolled back a few minutes later with a body bag, which was transferred to the van. It was all done with low voices.

Miranda and Bald Björn peeked around the edge of the dumpster. Rosario the art dealer and a man they didn’t know were under the light over the door, talking to a man from the morgue, who was taking notes.

The man with Rosario said, “Norman Klovic, U.S. citizen. His throat was slit. We’d like to take his body back to the States for an autopsy.”

The man from the morgue protested. His English was halting, but he said the murder had taken place in Argentina so the Argentinean government would be contacting the U.S. government through the proper channels.

As he was talking, another car rolled slowly down the alley, no headlights. The couple at the end of the alley broke their embrace, or what have you, and followed the car. The alley was getting crowded.

Rosario took the man from the morgue inside as she spoke to him in a low, husky voice. Her companion immediately jammed a wedge under the door, which would make it very difficult to open. He lit a cigarette; the light cast a weird shadow across his cheek; he had a huge mole on the side of his nose. Stalagmite came to mind.

Miranda looked at Bald Björn; he shrugged and shook his head. They went back to their peek slot; the man was looking their way. Two rats dropped off the ladder, ran between their legs, through the crack, and then disappeared. Miranda gagged down a scream. The man took a drag off his cigarette and looked away.

In the meantime, the second car stopped next to the Morgue van, and the copulating couple climbed in the meat wagon. There were a few grunting sounds; Miranda had visions of them experimenting with a macabre change of venue, but they hauled out The Dead Norm and threw him in the backseat of the second car. The man with the mole smashed his cigarette underfoot, climbed in shotgun and the car rolled away. The couple strolled back out to the street and disappeared.

Miranda and Bald Björn stopped holding their breath and pressed their backs to the dumpster. Someone started pounding on the door inside. They went back to looking. After a pause, it sounded like it was being hit by a battering ram. It flew open, and three guys in kitchen help uniforms fell into the alley on top of each other. The man from the morgue climbed over them, ran to the van, and cried, “Dios Mío!” Javier stepped delicately around the pile of dishwashers and looked in the van. Then he strolled off in the direction of the couple.

That was all Miranda and Björn needed. They ran down the alley in the opposite direction, after Stalagmite Man and The Dead Norm, as dinner knives clanked in the plastic bag.

***

“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Bjorn.

Miranda and Björn ran what felt like ten miles, but was only four blocks, to Centenario Park. It was closed, so they climbed the fence and made their way deep into the park where they found a shelter by the lake. Famished, they laid out a picnic. Björn had even thrown the candles and matches from their dinner table into his bag. It was quite romantic if you blocked out everything else that had happened that night. They worked their way through half their food while they considered their options.

“I should call my mom,” said Miranda.

“I should call my brother,” said Björn.

“You don’t even know Per. What if he came here to kill you? What if he doesn’t like you taking his father’s name?”

“I’m the first born son,” he said.

“Where’s Claudia, anyway? As snotty as she is, she seems to genuinely care about you.”

“She can’t help us; she’s dying.”

“What? I thought the secrets were over!”

“I didn’t think about it. I mean, with everything else that’s been going on. She didn’t want people to know she was going through chemo, but I don’t think they caught it soon enough. Didn’t you notice that she wears a wig?”

“No. I thought that PenÉlope Cruz hair was natural. When is the last time you saw her?”

“I can’t even remember anymore. At my fath. . . that man’s house.”

“Me too,” said Miranda. “Maybe she went back to the U.S.”

Björn put his arm around Miranda’s shoulder and hugged her close.

“How are you ever going to get free of Eduard Burgstaller?” she asked. “He may not be your biological father, but he is your legal father.”

“I’m an adult,” said Björn. “The boat is mine. We can take off, go somewhere he can’t find us.”

“He and his thugs can find us anywhere,” she said. “I want to stop for awhile. I want to go to school and study marine mammals. You want to study pastries. We need to be able to stop if we’re going to have a life.”

“Are we going to have a life?”

“Maybe. If we survive this. I’m going to call my mother.”

Christine Evans answered on the first ring. She sounded hyper-anxious.

“Miranda?”

“Hi, Mom. We’re okay. We’re having a picnic in the park.”

“I know where you are, I’ve been tracking you with the GPS on that phone. Who’s there?” asked Christine.

“Björn and I,” said Miranda.

“Björn? Where’s Scott, Sigi, whatever his name is?”

“He’s Björn now.”

“Okay, well, we’ll talk about that later. I’m not sure you should see that boy.”

“It’s a little late for that talk, Mom.”

“There’s a Hawk Brigade headed your way,” said Christine. “You’re in extreme danger. Do not. And I mean, do not, move from that spot until they get there. Why haven’t you answered any of our calls?”

“We’ve been on the run. Did you know Norman Klovic was murdered? Someone slit his throat.”

“Yes.”

“You did? We saw Linda’s art dealer friend Rosario, and some guy with a baseball-sized mole, steal his body right out of a morgue van. And then Javier showed up.”

“Hold on,” said Christine.

Sgt. Belinda Swanson got on.

“Where did you see Javier?” she asked.

“At the hotel. In the alley, right after they stole Norm’s body,” said Miranda. “He walked away.”

Belinda said to hold on for a second. She talked to someone in the background. Miranda could hear what sounded like a police radio. Belinda got back on.

“Where are you?” asked Miranda.

“At the Interpol Regional Bureau,” said Belinda.

Miranda passed this information on to Björn. He was shaking his head.

“Why was Rosario there?”

“Rosario is an Interpol agent who specializes in art theft; especially art hauled down here by the Nazis. My mother has known her for years, had no idea. It was a total fluke that you took the painting to her. The man is Don Walker; he was Norm’s boss at the FBI. She was liaising, unofficially.”

“He unofficially stole a body,” said Miranda. “With the help of a couple of tango dancers who got in a quickie up against the wall.”

“It’s a foreign country, what can you say? The FBI likes to cover their tracks,” said Belinda. “Norm was working for Burgstaller, they want to bury him in more ways than one. It’s Javier we’re concerned with now. He’s in the wind and looking for you two.”

“He helped us escape the villa,” said Miranda.

“So he could get you some place to kill you,” said Belinda. “We’re pretty sure he’s responsible for killing Burgstaller and Claudia.”

“They’re dead?” asked Miranda.

“His throat was crushed while he was sitting on his patio. They found Claudia wedged in the rocks at the base of the cliff behind the house.”

“Poor Claudia.”

“I’m going to hang up now and head your way,” said Belinda. “Stay small out there. The Hawks should be there any minute.”

Miranda hung up and told Björn the story as she knew it.

“I can’t believe Javier killed all those people,” said Björn. “We did the same thing; we just walked away from that poor dead woman in the flower shop. He probably didn’t want to get involved.”

“You mean the dead lady with the rose stuck in her gums?” asked Miranda. “You heard Javier; that’s his calling card.”

The second she said it; a rose dropped at her feet out of the darkness. They were paralyzed as another, then another dropped. It would have been romantic with the candlelight, and all, but then Javier’s smooth voice started singing, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” He broke off after the words:

They are illusions

They’re not the solutions

They promise to be. . .

He started laughing crazily.

“So, bro. Isn’t that what you all call each other?” he said. “How’s it hanging?”

Miranda looked at Björn; he had a strange look on his face.

“Who are you?” he asked.

Javier started laughing again.

“Ah yes. That is the question, is it not? Who am I? Who is anyone? A science project perhaps? Who are you, Herr Sigurdson? Well, then, we know who you are. You are not science; you are the son of that pig half-man Björn and that dark Spanish woman. Sigi, the Amsterdam hustlers called your father. Sigi, more woman than man. It was your father’s little joke. You know? To taunt your mother for her deceitfulness. Hitler would have taken care of Sigi and that Spanish whore, but he was taken from us too soon. He will be back. Unfortunately you and the fräulein, you won’t be here to meet him. But here, let me show you.”

Javier set down a bag full of roses, took off his shirt and stepped into the candlelight. He was carrying a gun in his right hand that he used as a pointer. He had a tattoo just like Björn’s under his left arm. GJK.

“Garen Jurgen Kopfler,” he said. “My brother was Garon Jurgen Kopfler.”

“You have the same name?” asked Miranda. “Like Garen 1 and Garen 2?”

She had decided to keep talking. That’s what they say. If they were ever boarded by pirates, keep them talking. Javier’s face darkened; Miranda braced herself for a blow. Then his voice got singsong like he was talking to someone very slow.

“Such a stupid girl. We were twins. The guardians. It means the guardian.”

“What were you guarding?”

“The formula, of course. The procedure.”

“For male pattern baldness?” asked Björn. “You’ve been murdering people over baldness?”

“Always such a fool,” said Javier.

“Where is your brother?” asked Miranda.

“Dead.”

“Murdered?” asked Miranda.

She was beginning to think murder was pretty commonplace in Javier’s life.

“No. Stupid girl. Drowned. Drowned just like Doktor Mengele.”

Miranda heard Björn suck in air.

“Were you part of the Brazil twin experiments?” asked Björn.

“Experiments?” said Javier. “No. There was no experiment. I am the science.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Miranda.

Björn looked at Javier, who nodded to continue.

“Josef Mengele was called the Angel of Death at Auschwitz.”

“An extermination camp,” said Javier. “Like rats.”

“When he wasn’t deciding who would live or be gassed,” said Björn, “he did human experiments. He was interested in how twins happened. He wanted to double each perfect Aryan birth to repopulate the world.”

“After we got rid of the rats,” said Javier. “We were just getting started.”

Miranda looked at Javier.

“You weren’t even born yet,” said Miranda. “How can you hate like that.”

He looked up at the sky like he was hoping for help from Hitler himself to explain the basics to this stupid girl.

“Many of the Nazi children went to schools here that promoted the same ideas,” said Björn.

“They wouldn’t allow Herr Sigurdson,” said Javier. “He was impure. Mixed blood. Faggot and whore.”

“Okay, okay, we get it,” said Miranda.

“Mengele fled to Argentina, but when Mossad caught Adolf Eichmann, Mengele moved around to avoid capture,” said Björn. “He started doing experiments in a German farming village in Brazil. All of a sudden, everyone was having twins. It’s like their town motto.”

“Candido Godoi,” said Javier. “He fixed our cows too.”

“What does any of this have to do with Björn?” asked Miranda. “I mean, Sigi.”

“His father was entrusted with the painting that hid the formula. He was an outcast with his half-breed son and Spanish whore wife,” said Javier. “He got it into the country because he was off the radar for the hunters.”

“That’s why?” asked Björn. “He knew?”

“He didn’t know what the formula was. He thought it was for baldness. He named you Bald. Another one of his jokes.”

Javier looked away into the past.

“He was a bad choice,” he said. “Always running the edge, taking risks, thinking he could outfox the foxes. The fool. He thought he’d get rich selling hair pills because men would rather be impotent than bald. He tried to get rid of anyone who knew anything. He started with your mother.”

“He killed my mother?”

“But not before she outfoxed him. She gave the painting to Claudia, who hid it away. It wasn’t until last month that our people discovered that it had resurfaced.”

“What do you plan to do with it?”

“Begin again,” said Javier. “I am the Guardian.”

He picked up his shirt and put it back on, careful to button it just so, which wasn’t easy while holding a gun. Then he stepped back casually and raised it at Miranda and Björn.

“What about the rose?” asked Miranda. “Do you have a carved rose for us?”

He lowered the gun and looked around for his bag with the roses.

“Heave ho,” said Björn, softly.

He blew out the candle. They threw themselves on the ground and started scrambling away in the darkness. But Javier was ready for all contingencies. He quickly snapped on a flashlight and started searching for them. Miranda crawled behind a concrete planter and tried not to make a sound. Her heart was slamming.

Small red lights started dancing across the ground. It took her a second to realize they were red dot laser sights from guns. The Hawks! Suddenly the area was flooded with white light from all sides. Javier started screaming, “Nein! Nein! Nein!” and firing at the lights. The Hawks returned fire. Javier spun around twice and fell to the ground, dead.

***

It was a fine day in the Pacific Northwest. Björn finished the last coat of varnish on the deck railings. He was still babying his left side a little after the tattoo removal. The timer went off in the galley. The Placebo had been renamed The Cure. She had never looked better. Per came up top with a plate of popovers filled with custard and drizzled with chocolate, followed by Miranda with a pot of coffee and mugs.

The three of them sank into deck chairs and started on their second pastry of the day.

“Was your father really gay?” asked Miranda.

“That was his cover,” said Per. “It was hard on a young man. Natalia must have felt it wasn’t right.”

Miranda poured coffee.

“What have you decided to do with the painting?” asked Per.

“We’re going to burn it, and give it a burial at sea,” said Björn. “The world is crowded enough.”

THE END

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