Alicia Myles perched on the very edge of her economy plane seat, probably freaking out all those around her as the plane twitched in turbulence, but not really noticing or caring.
Her thoughts were far away, the light buffeting barely registering with her.
How quickly and randomly life spun. How fleeting its best moments. How quickly a bright future could turn into a vision from hell. It wasn’t as though — this time at least — she’d made any mistakes. All her decisions had been made fairly, for good reasons. But still, she never seemed to be able to come out of any situation with a sense of peace.
But dwelling now wasn’t going to help her. She was a soldier, part of an elite team, but had taken a few days away to help out a friend. That friend — her old boss.
Michael Crouch had called at an incredibly poignant time. She remembered his words and her feelings like the sound of her own breath.
“I heard about Beau. I know what you guys are going through. I’m shattered that he betrayed the team and my trust. If you come to Jamaica now you can be part of our new venture, and I’ll explain all I know.”
“Jamaica?” she had answered, mostly to give herself a little more thinking time.
“It’s in the Caribbean.”
Crouch had been her old boss when Alicia worked for a clandestine division of the British Special Forces.
“Nice climate. Great people. Rum. Scenery.”
Alicia had shaken her head, still thinking. “Scenery? Really?”
“I’d really like you to come.”
Alicia continued to run through her current situation. In a nutshell her old boyfriend had just betrayed everything she held dear, then died, and her new boyfriend was having trouble shrugging off the attentions of a certain irritating lifelong flame. A break, a brief getaway, was a very good idea.
“All right, boss. I’ll come and brighten your days up. Tell Russo not to get too frisky and ask Healey how the quest for facial hair is going. Is Caitlyn still with you?”
“Yes. Hanging in there.”
“Good. Then I’ll see you in Jamaica.”
“Kingston,” Crouch said. “I’ll text you the hotel details.”
Alicia had been about to end the call, but a sliver of curiosity moved through her thoughts. “Why Jamaica?”
“Yeah, I was thinking of that for the plane ride. But why Jamaica?”
“Cool,” Alicia said. “I’d rather look around for Jack Sparrow’s alter ego if we’re being honest.”
“They named the rum after him.”
“Raider. Admiral. Privateer. Buccaneer. The star of many stories from a James Bond tale to
“Never found? I guess that’s not unusual.”
“We’ll talk it through when you get here. Things might get a little nasty due to recent developments with Morgan, and some unsavory types are involved. You’ll see.”
“Mmmm. Nasty is what I do. What happened?”
“They found five of his ships.”
“And that’s just the start of it. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Alicia had dropped the cellphone into her pocket, made quick goodbyes and tried to ignore the hurt on her boyfriend’s — Matt Drake’s — eyes. She knew he’d imagined the worst, knowing her so well, but she’d made a heartfelt plea that this was essential and would help, and then skipped on out.
Well, not literally. Alicia didn’t skip. She couldn’t remember skipping or a stable home life. Only fighting. Her thoughts came around to the present day and she pictured herself sat rigid on the edge of the seat as the noisy plane zipped through the skies.
She glanced around. Men and women, kids and babies were either being excessively noisy or silently entertained, but that was all okay. She barely saw them. Just the soldier’s quick assessment and then disinterest. A deeper problem haunted her. Something she hadn’t mentioned even to Drake.
Beauregard Alain — Alicia’s old boyfriend — had betrayed them all in the most terrible manner. He’d even tried to kill them before being taken down. If that wasn’t bad enough, before he died he’d told Alicia to ask Crouch about why he’d betrayed them.
The man she respected above all others. The man she’d always been proud to call “boss”. And Alicia Myles didn’t take any fond nicknaming lightly. Quite the opposite in fact. The ones that usually made the grade were somewhat derogatory.
Of course, it could be nothing. Just a way for a bad man to get further under her skin. She was certainly in the best position to challenge Crouch in her own inimitable way, but even she understood it needed to be done with tact.
The captain announced that they would soon be starting to descend, and the seatbelt sign was illuminated. Alicia stared over a woman’s slight shoulder at the vista below and felt nothing of the excitement she knew she should. This job might end up being tinged with sadness.
She tried to concentrate on the facts Crouch had explained around Captain Morgan. If five of the guy’s ships had been found then the security presence alone would be robust to say the least. All discoveries brought all kinds out of the woodwork — and she was thinking criminals. From the lowest, sniveling jackals hoping for a buck or two to the most complex conglomerate, searching for the money angle. But this…
This was one of the greatest pirates of the Spanish Main, the looter of looters that made the glistening Caribbean his own, personal world of dreams. Not only had he stolen, pillaged and destroyed but he’d had England’s backing. Alicia imagined some might think it an odd state of affairs and steeped in the olden days, but had anything really changed? When you got right down to it weren’t certain nations still out there pirating and helping themselves to the riches that belonged to others?
Days of the pirate long gone?
The plane fell sharply; the people around her grew further excited. And Alicia spent a few pleasant moments trying to pick a face from those she knew that might most fit the visage of a clever, successful buccaneer.
Trouble was — the best she could come up with was herself.
Jamaica lay at the heart of the Caribbean, a dazzling, vibrant, multi-faceted jewel, its people a credit to its flamboyant reputation, its reputation earned throughout history. Alicia coped with the customs procedures as best she could and then walked out into the terminal, surrounded by what she thought of as a “safe turbulence”, the grounded version of what they’d experienced in the air. People came from every side, wave after wave, buffeting and apologizing and continuing on their way. Alicia picked her way through and toward the bright light near the entrance, digging her sunglasses out of her hand luggage. At the same time, she fished out her cellphone and switched it on.
Immediately, it let out a tuneful chime.
The voice message was from Crouch.
“Hey, not sure when you will land but we’re based in Kingston at the Ocean Suites. Something’s come up. We’re heading out right now, but will contact when finished.”
Crouch hung up. Alicia half-expected him to end with the word “over”, as if talking through a radio, but that was the way with Crouch. Still associated with and happy to be living in his old SAS world. He was a sentimentalist at heart, and held the past dear. She sighed.
Instead of jumping right in, which was what she wanted to do, it looked like she was going to have to kick her heels for a while. Crouch hadn’t said where the team were headed or when they’d be back. Alicia decided to head over to the Ocean View and see if anything developed from there. She exited the terminal and jumped into a cab, took the ride into town and then around the outskirts. Kingston itself appeared to be an odd mix of everything she’d expected.
As she climbed out of the cab and paid the driver, her cellphone rang.
It wasn’t Crouch. It was Healey, the youngest member of their team. Alicia immediately brushed off a trickle of ice water that started to seep down her spine. Healey never rang her. Why would…
“Yeah? What’s up?” she answered quick ...