Barrie Mayer, a beautiful Washington literary agent, arrives at London’s Heathrow Airport with plenty of time to make her flight to Budapest, where she’s planning to meet an author. The airport is crowded, but it’s not a scheduling problem that keeps Barrie from getting off the ground.
The doctors call her death a heart attack, but her best friend, Collette Cahill, has her doubts. A CIA agent herself, Collette knows that Barrie was carrying more than just contracts to Hungary. Then Collette gets the order from above: Find out what happened to Barrie. And, more important, what happened to her briefcase.
So Collette sets off on a search that will take her from London to Washington to the Caribbean, from restaurants to psychiatrists’ offices to bedrooms. After all—even CIA agents lose their hearts every now and then. But Collette may lose her life. . . .
“Her most far-ranging and, arguably, her best.”—New Woman
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, NOVEMBER 1985
Her name was Bernadette, eighteen, tall, a classic island “smooth skin,” as they say there—very dark and with a velvety texture—hair the color of ink and falling to her shoulder blades, a full, rounded body defined beneath a clinging maroon jersey dress, a true mantwana, the island word for voluptuous woman.
They’d been teasing her since the launch left Anguilla Point on Virgin Gorda for its morning run to Drake’s Anchorage on Mosquito Island. She’d started seeing a popular young man from Virgin Gorda, which prompted the gentle ribbing. Although she protested, she enjoyed it. She was proud of her new boyfriend and knew the other girls were jealous. “Gwan tease me, marrow deh,” she said, a defiant smile on her lips. Tease all you want; tomorrow will be my day.
There were fifteen of them on board; waiters and waitresses, the bartender, kitchen help, chambermaids, and gardeners. Most of the help lived on Virgin Gorda and were brought in by launch. Drake’s Anchorage was the only resort on Mosquito Island (named for a Colombian Indian tribe, not the dipterous insect), and there was only one house for staff, which was occupied by two engineers.
Bernadette was the assistant manager. Her English was excellent; so were her number skills. Her father, a bone fisherman, waded out into the shallow flats of Murdering Hole at dawn each morning in search of the indigenous fish, the so-called ladyfish. Her parents had a hard life, one they hoped she wouldn’t inherit. She was their only child.
She turned her face into the wind and thought of last night with her new love. Spray from the intensely blue water stung her face. Life was good now. Last week she’d been depressed, wondered whether she would have to spend the rest of her life in this one place, as beautiful as it might be. Now, he was there and the glass was half full again.
The resort had been booked exclusively for two days by a Canadian businessman who’d done the same thing three months earlier, to hold seminars for key people, his assistant had said. The top echelon stayed in two magnificent villas overlooking Lime Tree Beach. Lesser managers occupied ten white-clapboard oceanfront cottages built on stilts and facing Gorda Sound. They all ate together in the thatch-roofed, open-air restaurant where the chef served up vol-au-vent stuffed with escargots, dolphin baked with bananas, West Indian grouper done with spices, herbs, and white wine, and deeply serious chocolate mousse from a guarded recipe.
Bernadette remembered the rules that had been laid down by the Canadian the last time he’d been there. The two villas were to be off-limits to everyone except his people, and resort workers were to come to them only when specifically invited. The villas were to be cleaned while their occupants were breakfasting. Always, the younger men who occupied the smaller cottages would be present in the villas when the chambermaids cleaned, or when busboys delivered food and whiskey.
Although secrecy had been the byword during the Canadians’ first visit on Mosquito Island, there were those inevitable, human moments when the shroud was lifted, like the day on the beach when Bernadette saw one of the younger men sitting in a brightly striped canvas chair while cleaning a handgun. When he realized she was watching, he returned the weapon to its holster and quickly entered his cottage.
After that, Bernadette’s friends noticed that others in the party carried revolvers in armpit holsters, although they took pains to conceal them. “Businessmen,” the chef had said to her. “Serious business, I would say.”
While the Canadian and his three senior colleagues had met in the villas, the younger men, always dressed in suits, sat on terraces surrounding the villas, saying nothing, their eyes taking in everything. They seemed pleasant enough men but kept to themselves. One had been a little more open and Bernadette had had a few friendly conversations with him. He was handsome and had a nice smile. Bernadette assumed he was in charge of communications because he frequently talked into a small portable radio to two yachts anchored offshore. Three of the four older men had arrived on those yachts. A float plane had delivered the fourth.
The radioman seemed to enjoy talking to Bernadette and she’d openly flirted with him. Once, she’d asked why there was so much secrecy surrounding a business meeting. She’d asked it lightly, giggled actually, and touched his arm. He’d smiled and said quietly, matter-of-factly, “We’re about to launch a new product that our competitors would love to learn more about. That’s all. Just taking precautions.”
Bernadette didn’t ask about the guns because it was none of her business, but she and other staff gossiped about them, speculated, eventually came to the conclusion that big mucky-mucks from up north attached more importance to themselves and to what they did than was necessary. “Silly boys,” they said. One thing was certain: The silly boys tipped big. Everyone from Drake’s Anchorage was happy to see them return.
On this day, a single yacht carrying three of the group’s leaders arrived a few minutes past two. The float plane touched down a half hour later and slowly taxied toward the long, thin dock.
Bernadette had greeted those who’d disembarked from the yacht, and had been disappointed when the handsome young radioman wasn’t among them.
Now, as she waited for the float plane’s three passengers to step onto the dock, she saw his face through a window. He was the last one out of the aircraft, and she gave him her biggest welcome. He simply nodded and got into a motorized cart with the two older men. The native driver pulled away from the dock and proceeded along a narrow path that followed the contour of the sea. Bernadette watched it disappear around the curve of a hill and wondered why he’d been so curt. “Strange people,” she told herself, happy that she had her new boyfriend back on the bigger island.
The arrival of the yacht and plane had been witnessed, and generally ignored, by people on yachts in the surrounding waters. Yachts in the British Virgins are as common as yellow cabs on New York City streets. One man, however, watched the comings and goings through a telescope from his 46-foot Morgan. He’d been anchored a mile offshore since early morning and had cooked breakfast on board. He had sandwiches for lunch accompanied by a Thermos of rum punch, and had just put on a pot of coffee. A pad of paper at his side was filled with notes. He wore cut-off jeans, brown deck shoes, a T-shirt that said EDWARDS YACHT CHARTERS, and a white canvas hat with a large, floppy brim on which was sewn a blue, red, and yellow patch—BRITISH NAVY: PUSSER’S RUM
He looked up and checked wind conditions. It’d be slow going back to base on Tortola. No sense raising the sails. It’d be engine all the way. He debated staying longer, decided there was nothing to be gained, hauled in the anchor, took a last look toward Mosquito Island, and headed home on a course that took him past a tiny island on which a single structure stood, an imposing, three-story concrete house surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. Two Doberman pinschers ran on the beach. A float plane and a pair of large, fast powerboats bobbed in a gentle swell against a private dock.
The man on the Morgan with his name on his T-shirt smiled as his boat slowly slid by the island. He poured rum into his coffee, lifted the cup toward the island, and said, “Za vashe zdarov’ye!” He laughed, put his cup down, and extended the middle finger of his right hand to the island.