A roar of engines sounded across the azure waters as Bridget rammed the throttles to the stops, her borrowed boat surging ahead to take the lead of her little flotilla, with Sanchez’s island base – a small cay – now dead ahead.
Bridget had timed her arrival, and thus her call to Sanchez, with care; her boats approached the dock while Sanchez’s float plane was still seventy miles away. Her palms began to sweat as she approached the island. She had a backup option to overcome her lack of large volumes of cash, though she knew it was a somewhat chancier play. Her task was complex and challenging; merely killing Sanchez would not suffice. She had to take over his entire operation, intact.
Bridget held her boat just off the dock while the other three boats tied up. A force of armed men – Sanchez’s chief of security, along with eight of his men – met them. Sanchez’s men had been expecting one boat, not four, and the appearance of Bridget’s armed escort came as a surprise. Bridget raised a hand and gave them a friendly wave, greeting the bodyguards. “Hello, gentlemen. Has Sanchez called you yet? I am under his strict instructions to deliver something to him – and only to him. Per his orders, I shall not bring it ashore without an assurance that I can deliver it to him myself. I was told to guard it closely.” With a grand gesture, Bridget swept her arm towards the ice chest, which she had placed in plain view on the stern. “If that is an issue, please call Sanchez.”
The chief of security, a tall, heavily-built brute of a man who had met Bridget on several previous occasions, shook his head. “He called me already, and told me to make sure it gets to the main room of the house okay.”
With a smile and a wave, Bridget gunned the engines, pirouetting the boat at high throttle before bringing it skillfully to the dock, where several of Sanchez’s bodyguards took her lines.
The chief of security watched as five of the arriving men, all of whom he knew, moved swiftly from their boats towards the large ice chest, and hoisted it between them. They had been part of Sanchez’s operation for years. “Follow me,” the chief of security said. It was, on the face of it, a sensible decision; he knew most of the arriving men on sight. As a practical matter, his force on the dock was outnumbered, though he had over twenty armed men on the island.
“Not yet!” Bridget snapped, holding up her hand, and then stepping gracefully onto the dock. “Walk with me, alone,” she told the chief of security. Puzzled, he walked Bridget to the shore. As soon as they were out of earshot of the others, Bridget said quietly, “I have a situation you need to be aware of. A DEA agent was the cause of my change of plans.”
The chief of security, whose name was Xavier, grimaced, his hand unconsciously coming to rest on his sidearm. “I have heard that there is something going on. You were fortunate to evade them.”
Bridget nodded, and in a somber tone, said, “They are zeroing in on Sanchez. I have heard rumors that they plan a major raid – perhaps even here. However, I have many sources, and ought to be able to provide you with a warning of a day or two. Nothing is certain though; a small raid could be mounted without much preparation or warning, so you may wish to keep some of your men deployed so as to repel a small force.”
Xavier suppressed a shudder. His job as chief of security mainly entailed protecting Sanchez from others in the drug trade – and lately, within his own operation – not fighting the authorities, who would invariably be able to follow up any temporary setback with overwhelming force. “I shall attend to it. Thank you, Ma’am.”
Bridget smiled, and then glanced at the boat she’d come in on. “There is another matter, of a personal nature. I have just returned from Australia, and have a large store of valuables on that boat. I would be greatly appreciative if you could have it guarded for me.”
Bridget glanced at the boat, and then deftly moved Xavier further away from his men, though they were already out of earshot. “Thank you. This is a most delicate matter. You of all people should know what Sanchez is expecting me to deliver tonight, am I correct?”
Xavier glanced at the ice chest. “Yes, he told me, and that no one is to open the box or know what it contains. It’s what he has called everyone here to see.”
Bridget rolled her eyes. “He ought to have told you the rest. Are you aware that I was sent to Australia to enact the contract that I myself took out?”
Xavier nodded, and then shook his head. “I was told you went there to supervise.”
With a disgusted snort, Bridget replied, “Hardly. Sanchez needed the contract fulfilled and the head as proof – I am sure he told you why – so I was sent to make certain of success. The Australian Sanchez contracted with was a disaster, so it all fell to me in the end.”
Sanchez hadn’t told Xavier why he needed the head, though he had guessed – he was well aware that Sanchez’s grip on the operation was becoming tenuous. “Do you have it? The head, I mean?”
“Of course,” Bridget assured him, with a confident smile. “However, I was alone, so I had to improvise drastically when things went awry. The DEA agent I mentioned was a further complication; he looked in the box. I had to act quickly, so seeing no other option, I killed him. I removed his body, along with the valuables belonging to myself and others at that now-compromised location. I promised an associate in Nassau a hundred thousand dollars in American cash for aiding me in this matter, and I explained that I shall need to pay him from the duffel bag I left with Sanchez. I would appreciate it if you could retrieve it for me.”
The security chief’s eyes opened wide at the mention of the sum. Sanchez, who kept the lion’s share of the profits for himself, paid Xavier forty thousand a year. “I know where it is, and that it is yours, but I cannot get to it – I no longer have the combination. Ah, such an enormous sum for one man… surely there is a more… cost-effective way of dealing with the issue,” he offered, his hand settling on his sidearm, and hoping that Bridget would give him at least a few thousand for saving her so much.
Bridget had a rough idea how much Xavier earned – she was well aware of Sanchez’s tightfistedness with his hirelings – and had been paying careful attention to his reaction, which had pleased her. She smiled, and with a dismissive wave of her hand, replied, “Thank you, but I could not. I always endeavor to keep my promises, and only a fool does not pay well in return for a job well done.”
Xavier knew Bridget fairly well, and knew that she often paid well indeed. “Is there any way I may… be of help?” he offered.
Bridget smiled. “The ice chest must reach Sanchez with its contents still secret, so that it appears that he fulfilled my contract.” Bridget paused to let that sink in, and then added quietly, “Sanchez needs that head in order to deter his fractious underlings. As you know, I have always taken generous care of those who help me, and I am in need of help now. As I mentioned, this is a delicate matter; were the little fracas with the DEA agent to become known, it could detract from the spectacle Sanchez will make with that head, so I find myself in need of discretion, and thus your help. Sanchez must have his little moment, after all. I shall need to be there when he presents it, yet I do not wish to leave my boat unattended. What it contains – other than the DEA agent’s body – I… I dare not say, but it is not all mine; some of it belongs to our friends from Cali,” Bridget said, referring to the cartel they served, a reference Xavier understood at once, causing him to blink. “Therefore, I am in dire need of help in protecting it. I would be very appreciative, and absolutely delighted to give you the same as I promised the associate who helped me earlier today, as soon as I have access to my duffel.”
Xavier’s eyes opened very wide. “Yes, yes Ma’am! I will do this, at once,” he gushed.
Bridget motioned for him to stop. “Three or four trusted men would suffice, though I would prefer six. I would also like to give any of your men that aid me this evening a token of my appreciation. You know of my operation in Florida; I have always done all I can to help those who have helped me. It is, after all, only money.”
Xavier had long known of Bridget; her ostentatious wealth was often mentioned within the upper levels of Sanchez’s operation, as was her habit of paying generously those who performed well. “Yes, of course, my men are at your disposal, Ma’am – though I will need to attend Sanchez when he lands.”
“Excellent,” Bridget replied, before turning to walk back onto the dock. She waited while Xavier huddled with his force, and then, her firm gaze sweeping across his gathered men, she said, “I realize this is not pleasant work for all of you, and such effort must be rewarded; I will be receiving my duffel bag from Sanchez this evening, and I wish to give each of you ten thousand for helping me with this situation.”
Xavier turned to his suddenly-delighted men, and said, “All of you are to remain here. Guard that boat with your lives! Stay off it, but guard it!” He was already mentally counting his massive windfall.
Bridget had another calculation in mind; she’d just reduced Sanchez’s guard force by eight of his most trusted men. She turned towards the house, and then paused by Xavier’s side. In the manner of an aside, she told him quietly – though loud enough for several others to hear, “If you will be burying the body, perhaps it might be easier to wait on the digging, and do it all at once.”
Xavier looked at Bridget with puzzlement, and then whispered, “You mean for the head, later? I believe that Sanchez wishes to display it for a few days.”
Bridget blinked in feigned surprise, and replied in a normal volume, “No, for the others.” Bridget paused, a look of puzzlement on her face. In a louder voice, she added, “You know, the others Sanchez plans to make examples of tonight?”
“Who?” Xavier asked, with a mix of confusion and concern on his face.
Bridget shrugged. “I have no idea, just that there are several… but you are his chief of security, surely you would have to know?”
Xavier slowly shook his head as he realized one reason why Sanchez might keep him in the dark: if he was one of the intended victims. He swallowed, unaware that he was beginning to tremble. “No, except for the head, he has said nothing; I thought the gathering tonight was just for that.”
Bridget smiled and shrugged. “No matter, Sanchez does love his little surprises. Please forget I said that. I sometimes forget how different his management style is from mine.” Bridget resumed her walk to the house, delighted by the growing din of anxious whispers behind her.
“Mom,” Trevor blurted, edging into her hospital room, with Shane right behind him.
“Trev, you’re in very hot water for coming here – and you as well, Shane – though I’m glad you did,” Rachel replied, raising her arm so that she could lean forward in her bed and hug her son, and then she hugged Shane.
Trevor and Shane sat down next to Martin at Rachel’s bedside, and Trevor was delighted that his mother looked better than he’d expected. “When do they let you out, Mom?” he asked. He already knew that she was expected to make a full recovery, though she’d lost her spleen.
“Just a few more days, if all’s well and the doctor gives the okay. I’ll have to take it easy for a while, but I’m getting better every day.”
Trevor smiled, and after a glance at Shane, said, “Shane and I were talking on the way up; if you want, we could come stay with you and help out while you get better.”
Rachel’s eyes lit up and she smiled, though her delighted expression soon clouded. “I’d like that, though we’ll need to check with your uncle first; I suspect he’s quite rightly concerned about the risks. We really don’t know what’s going on yet, or where Bridget has got off to. If that bitch is still about, I’d prefer that the two of you stay someplace safe – such as at the navy base. Let’s talk it over in a couple of days – hopefully they’ll have her by then.”
“Okay,” Trevor reluctantly replied, mentally adding yet another item to the list of problems Bridget had caused him.
Martin smiled, and clapped Trevor on the shoulder. “Any news from Florida?” he asked, referring to the immigration problems Trevor had recently mentioned.
“Jim and my dad are still working on it, but it looks we are going to be living some of the time in the Bahamas for a couple of years. It solves a lot of problems, and that’s where I take most charters to anyway. We can still pick ‘em up and drop ‘em off in Florida, and we can spend time there too, we’ll just have the Bahamas as our official home and business address. We’re already working on some ads to run to get some business.” Trevor noticed a touch of sadness in his mother’s expression, and quickly added, “We’re planning on coming back here for a while, a couple of months after Lisa and Joel’s wedding.”
Rachel ruffled her son’s hair. “I’m very glad to hear that.”
Bridget led her entourage – several of whom carried the large ice chest – towards Sanchez’s sprawling home. There, in the company of half a dozen of Sanchez’s security, they set the ice chest down on a table, near the main door.
Sanchez had summoned all of his nearby people for the event that evening. Some were his lieutenants, others were lower ranking. Bridget knew about half of them, having met them over the years, though some she knew better than others. She made a point of circulating, introducing herself to those she had yet to meet, and reacquainting herself with others. With each, she was gracious and charming. To those she knew, she quietly mentioned her duffel bag full of cash, promising them various sums to be received that evening, for whatever past help she could think of in each case. In every instance, she reminded the person that she always took care of those who had helped her.
Soon, Bridget was receiving whispered questions as to who else Sanchez was planning to execute. She hid a smile, pleased that the rumor had spread so quickly. To each, she professed no knowledge, but added a remark that Sanchez had become rather capricious and wanton in his examples lately.
Paranoia is a powerful tool. Many of the people at the gathering were already wondering if they had been selected for death, due to some real or imagined slight.
Bridget then, with a gracious air, loudly asked one of Sanchez’s lieutenants, “Would you have some cocaine handy? There is much to celebrate – this is, amongst other things, a party – and I think we all need to enjoy ourselves. I will pay you in cash for whatever is used as soon as Sanchez arrives to give me access to my funds in his vault, though for now, please take this,” she said, removing a two-carat diamond from her finger. “And please, if you would be so kind, serve the cocaine to everyone.”
The lieutenant blinked. The cocaine belonged to Sanchez, though selling it was hardly an unusual occurrence. “I’ll see to it, Ma’am,” he said, taking her ring and hurrying off. A delighted murmur spread around the room; Sanchez was notoriously stingy with product as well as pay, so for many, this would be a somewhat rare treat: usually, they had to pay for their own.
Acting as the gracious hostess, Bridget took part in setting out the silver platters, bedecked with long, neat lines of coarse white powder. The assembled guests eagerly took turns snorting lines through rolled hundred-dollar bills, as Bridget stood to the side, nodding and smiling at each in turn.
Sanchez’s guards stood by, watching with envy; they were rarely allowed to partake in such party favors. Bridget, judging the timing to be right, said, “Gentlemen, this is my party, and all are to enjoy themselves. Please join us.”
By the time the engine of Sanchez’s plane was heard, most of those in attendance were both flying high, and expecting cash from Bridget. Many were also in fear of their lives. However, all of the men who had accompanied Bridget from Nassau were amongst those still sober. Five of them stood guard on the ice chest, becoming ever more aware that their lives were surely forfeit if Bridget did not succeed. All were well aware that Sanchez had been ever more paranoid in recent weeks, as rumors of his weakness had been circulating with ever greater frequency – rumors spread, in part, by Bridget herself. Nothing overt, just confidential phone calls of concern to trusted associates.
Bridget, who never partook in drug use herself, poured herself a brandy from Sanchez’s bar, and smiled as her party favors had their desired effect. She strode to the center of the room and clapped for attention. “Gentlemen,” she said, and then nodded at one of the women present, “and ladies, I have an announcement to make. As some of you may be aware, I was recently in Australia, where things did not go well; I had quite a travail getting out of the country, though it was easier than my departure from Florida.” Only a few knew of the news from Australia, though almost all were fully aware of Bridget’s daring run through the Coast Guard. “On my way back, I stopped in Cali to visit the capos. I made sure they know what a fine job all of you are doing, and they send their regards, along with a message of thanks. Our party tonight is in part at their behest. I will have another announcement a little later. I would prefer Sanchez to be here for it, and I think you will all find it very welcome indeed.”
The reaction varied, ranging from surprise to fear. In the past, the attention of the capos was something best avoided – failure to do so was a sure way to earn Sanchez’s ire. Sanchez kept his membership at the cartel’s table secret from most, in part for security, though mainly so that he could use the excuse of having to send most of the operation’s profit to the cartel, when in fact he kept most – several million dollars a month – for himself. The mention of the cartel leaders made many in the room apprehensive, though Bridget’s claim of having met with them and put in a good word made many thankful and relieved.
One thing Bridget did not have to worry about was that one of those present might call Sanchez. As a security measure, he had long forbidden satellite phones and radios on his island, except for himself and a select few. Cell phones were allowed, though they were useless on the island; it was far from a cellular coverage area.
One man who had access to communications was Sanchez’s chief of security, Xavier. Bridget strolled up to him, and motioned for him to speak with her in private. “I must speak with Sanchez alone as soon as he lands; I have an urgent message, for his ears only. It could not be transmitted.”
Xavier, seeing no conflict in that request and still savoring the money Bridget had promised him earlier, nodded, and then hesitated. “I will see to it. Come with me to the beach. He will be landing within minutes.”
As they walked, Bridget said, in an offhand way, “I trust that you know Sanchez’s position in the cartel? If so, you may have seen the room itself; quite austere, isn’t it?”
Xavier blanched slightly. Sanchez had indeed entrusted him with knowledge of his position, and had taken him to Cali many times. He also knew that Bridget had run her Florida operation for decades, and as such was likely very well connected within the cartel. “I have been in the building, but never in the room; they do not allow-”
Bridget cut him off with a wave of her hand. “You have missed little; what takes place there is mainly arguing. I find the chairs quite uncomfortable: bare wood. I suspect that is so that our meetings will be briefer.”
Xavier caught the implication. His head snapped around, his eyes opening wide.
Bridget chuckled. “Sanchez really should be more forthcoming with you, though I suppose he and I both prefer to keep our seats at that table secret from most, though for differing reasons. My seat is a recent development. As for Sanchez, he has been absent a great deal as of late.”
Xavier stuttered, “I, uh, I have not heard, but they would not…” he let his voice trail off, unwilling to voice his objections, in case what Bridget had said was true.
With a laugh and a dismissive wave, Bridget replied, “An American and a woman. Yes, yes, I know. I heard that often enough. However, times are changing – there are many changes coming, which I believe you will all find both welcome and profitable.”
Xavier began to sweat, his blood running cold. “I have to ask, what is going on?”
With a voice of command, Bridget replied, “You will leave that to me and the other capos of the cartel. If you object, feel free to call Cali. I assume you know Jose? He makes an excellent cup of coffee, and serves it often – to the head of the table. Ask him to put you through. If he does not, tell him Bridget Bellevue said to do so. They will connect you at once.”
Xavier did know Jose; he had met him several times, while waiting downstairs for Sanchez. He knew whose man Jose was; Jose made sure they all knew it. The thought of calling Cali terrified Xavier, though Sanchez’s anger was a far closer peril. His indecision lasted only a moment, for the droning of Sanchez’s plane was growing louder; he had no time. “What are you asking of me?” he asked, his face blanching.
Bridget smiled, though her eyes were deadly; she knew she had Xavier now, even if he didn’t know it yet. “Just leave things to me, and you shall be both wealthy and safe by the time this night is over.”
When Sanchez arrived on the beach, he walked with purpose, his guards at his side, towards Bridget. With a nod of his head, he dismissed his escort, sending them ahead to the house. “Walk with me,” he said, greeting Bridget with a rare smile.
“My dear Sanchez, you are a sight for sore eyes,” Bridget said, and then made pleasant chit-chat as they strolled to the house. When they arrived, Bridget hung back to let Sanchez enter first.
Stalking in through the main doors, he heard the din of conversation die, replaced by utter silence. He took that as a good sign; one of fear, an effect he carefully cultivated. With an arrogant smirk appearing on his face, he glanced around the room, his eyes falling on the ice chest, and he altered course towards it, the sound of his footsteps on the tile floor echoing in the dread, anxious quiet.
He passed a silver platter, which still held a few lines of cocaine. He glanced at it in mild surprise, availing himself of one before continuing to the ice chest, as the men guarding it stood aside, parting before him.
Sanchez, with a disdainful smirk, glanced around the room as he said, “I always fulfill a contract, no matter what it takes. You’re about to see proof of what happens to anyone who crosses me,” he said, stooping to snap open the ice chest’s latches.
With an exaggerated gesture, he flung it open and gazed inside. In it was another, smaller ice chest which, with a display of mild irritation, he opened. His eyes fell on his plastic-wrapped prize, and he smiled. “Contract fulfilled, as mine always are,” he announced, and in a display of machismo, rolled up his sleeves and tore open the plastic. He plunged his hands into the thick icy liquid, seizing the head with both hands.
With a grunt, his chest puffed out, Sanchez raised the severed head high above his own, the liquid it had been bathed in now covering his hands, forearms, and some dripping onto his head. “This is what I do to enemies. You’ve seen what I’ve done to those amongst you who conspired against me. Now look at this; I’m going to leave it on display, in case anyone needs a fucking reminder!” Sanchez roared. He held the head triumphantly for a few moments, before stalking to a table and dropping the head on the silver platter. He turned to look at Bridget, and added loudly, “I have kept my promise to you, as I always keep my promises.”
Bridget smiled, and stared into the head’s lifeless eyes for a moment. She returned her attention to Sanchez, and walked up to him, paying careful attention to his eyes. “My dear Sanchez, I too keep my promises, and this is indeed a night to remember.” She returned her attention to the head, its blond hair darkened by the liquid. She raised her hand, pointing at the bullet hole in the temple – a bullet that, via hydrostatic shock, had somewhat distorted the features of the face. “It appears that you got him with one shot. Superb marksmanship. I am certain that we would all love to hear your recount of the event?”
Sanchez’s eyes flared. “It is no matter; the deed is done.”
“Indeed, and this calls for a drink. My dear Sanchez, it was you who introduced me, long ago, to the wonders of Aguardiente, of which I have grown quite fond.”
Aguardiente, a Colombian liqueur, was Sanchez’s favorite. He had no objection to having a drink, but Bridget’s lack of subservience and persistent sharing of what he felt was his moment was irking him. However, it was her contract that he was seen as having fulfilled, so he felt he could not be too harsh with her – yet. Sanchez glanced at the man closest to the bar. “Aguardiente, now,” he barked. He turned to another of his lieutenants. “Get me a towel.”
Bridget returned her attention to Sanchez’s eyes, and saw that his pupils had begun to dilate. This, she felt, was the time. “My dear Sanchez, the deed is indeed done. Now, if you would be so kind; may I have the bag I left in your care? I have debts that cannot wait.”
“Later,” Sanchez growled. He was used to Bridget’s formal ways, but she had never before pushed him in front of others. He took an unsteady step forward, coming nose to nose with Bridget. “Now is not the time,” he said quietly, his tone a clear warning.
“Soon, then,” Bridget pleasantly replied.
Two men descended on the bar, and rapidly began pouring shot glasses of Aguardiente. They served Bridget and Sanchez first, two glasses on a silver platter. Sanchez, growing ever more paranoid, and slightly rattled from Bridget’s behavior, struggled to focus on his task; wiping the liquid which the head had been packed in from his hands. He remembered that the drink had been Bridget’s idea, and said, “Ladies first.”
“Why thank you, my dear Sanchez,” Bridget replied, taking one of the shot glasses. She held it up to the light, and then gracefully put it to her lips, smoothly downing it. She returned the glass to the tray, and blinked. “My, it does have quite a kick to it,” she said, with a smile, while savoring the anise taste. “Another, if you please,” she asked the man still pouring the drinks.
Sanchez squinted at the tray, and with an unsteady hand took his glass. “To a completed contract,” he said, raising his glass to his lips and then downing its contents. He was glad of it, for he had begun to notice a slightly unpleasant taste in his mouth.
Bridget’s drink arrived, and though right-handed, she picked it up in her left hand. She gazed into Sanchez’s eyes, and stepped close. “A toast is in order,” she said, raising her glass to the severed head. “To the severed head, which I took myself, though you now claim credit for. Were I you, I would hide my head in shame.”
Sanchez, squinting to try to focus his blurring vision, gaped for a moment. “What?” he roared.
Bridget glared at him. “Sanchez, I came here tonight after going to Australia to fulfill my own contract, which you could not – though you managed to fail spectacularly several times. You have not a clue what transpired, yet you strut like a peacock, as if you’d done this yourself. I can no longer tolerate this perfidy!” Bridget shouted, moving to face Sanchez. The room became deathly quiet, as all conversation stopped. The people who had been standing nearby sidled away, leaving Sanchez and Bridget alone in the center of the room.
Swaying on his feet, Sanchez stared numbly for a moment, his clouded mind recognizing the open challenge. “You will not defy me,” he growled, the words slurring slightly, as he fumbled at his belt, seeking his gun.
Bridget had positioned herself with care; her hand darted out, deftly snatching Sanchez’s gun from his belt. “Some man you are, if you need a gun to stand against an unarmed woman,” she said, as she took half a step backwards, gun in hand.
Three of Sanchez’s guards rushed forward, drawing their own guns. Bridget turned, extending the gun towards them, grip first. “Here, take this. He’s in no condition to have it,” she primly announced, handing Sanchez’s gun to one of the befuddled guards. She then glared at Sanchez. “You have betrayed me, as you have betrayed many here – or soon would. Your promises mean less than nothing, and you have called us here for a gruesome display of lies, soon to be followed by more killings. You are a fool who seems to spend most of his time plotting to kill his own people. What you are surely not is a man,” she said, and then slapped him hard across the face.
Sanchez weaved, his mouth opening, the room nothing but a blur to him now. He struggled, trying to form words, oddly puzzled as to why his mouth would no longer obey his wishes.
Bridget, in a voice of command, turned to tell two of Sanchez’s most trusted lieutenants, “Aid him, before he falls over.”
The two armed men dashed to Sanchez’s sides, each supporting him by his shoulders. “What is this?” Sanchez mumbled, his head weaving drunkenly as he tried to look at the man on his right.
“It is well past time for a change,” Bridget said, “I shall stand for no more, and neither will the other leaders of the cartel. I am now one of them, and they are displeased with you, as am I. You have treated your people reprehensibly, sometimes murderously. I shall not stand idly by; your greed and reign of terror are hereby over.” Bridget swept her eyes around the room, and announced. “You need fear no more. As of now, we are under new management. Competent management.”
Two of Sanchez’s guards, who had been watching uneasily, reacted by drawing their guns and pointing them at Bridget. She stared at them, while half a dozen other men drew their own pistols, aiming them at the two guards. As the guards became aware of the guns pointed at them, Bridget said, “Gentlemen, no need to die in a lost cause. I suggest that you consider your situation; you are outnumbered here.”
The guards were swayed more by the guns pointed at them than by Bridget’s words. First one, then the other, moved to hand their pistols to the men covering them.
“Wait, no need for that,” Bridget said, gesturing at the guard’s guns. “Keep them. You were only doing your duty. There will be no recriminations for past loyalties; we are under new management, and that means a clean start for us all. However, there will be one immediate change.” Bridget smiled, and turned to address the rest of the room. “To all of you, I say this: it is time for a clean start, and a much more profitable future.”
Bridget glanced around the room, meeting many eyes, briefly studying each pair. In many, she saw confusion and fear, though in most, relief and delight. It was a natural reaction; many had feared for their lives – in part due to the rumors Bridget had spread – and now, instead of possible death, they were looking at a windfall, and the end of the fear they’d been living under. It was not a hard choice to make, especially when Bridget, to all appearances, already had the upper hand.
Bridget returned her gaze to Sanchez, who was no longer able to stand unassisted. Before Bridget could say a word, Sanchez doubled up, vomiting bile onto the tile floor. The two men who had been holding him up released him, and he toppled forward, still retching, into the former contents of his stomach.
The poisons coursing through Sanchez’s veins were attacking his nervous system, as well as his organs. The strange taste in his mouth, though mostly obscured by the aguardiente and cocaine, had been due to the dimethyl sulfoxide – also called DMSO – an industrial solvent, though one with pharmaceutical uses due to its capacity for transporting itself, along with anything mixed with it, through the skin and into the bloodstream. Mixing a few drops of lemon juice with dimethyl sulfoxide and applying it to the skin will cause a taste of lemons in the mouth within seconds. On its own, the taste is similar to that of garlic.
Bridget had prepared a veritable witch’s brew that day. She had ground up the oleander leaves and stems she’d collected in Nassau, and then placed them in the lasagna dishes with the dimethyl sulfoxide, to extract their highly toxic sap. Bridget had no idea how long such a poison would take to incapacitate, so she had made requests to a couple of her contacts at the Nassau meeting for drugs, arsenic, and cyanide. The cyanide had proven unavailable at such short notice, as had the arsenic, but drugs were far easier for drug runners to acquire, and they had provided Bridget with two vials of ketamine and one of phencyclidine – more commonly known as PCP, or by its street name, angel dust.
Bridget had mixed these with the oleander-dimethyl sulfoxide brew, and used them to pack Billy’s severed head – she had beheaded him after shooting him, soon after they had left the dock in Nassau. She had known that Sanchez would insist on displaying the head himself, or at least unpacking it himself. In so doing, he had absorbed a mix of poison and powerful hallucinogens, impacting his central nervous system first. Bridget had been watching his eyes; when they had dilated, she had known that the concoction was having its effect, and that Sanchez would soon be incapacitated.
With a sigh of pity, Bridget regarded the suffering Sanchez. Though he had been surly with her on occasion, he had also helped to save her from the coast guard, and had, to a degree, been a friend. “I shall not let you suffer, for that is not my way,” she announced, reaching into her bag and withdrawing her pistol.
As a last favor to her old friend, Bridget took careful aim before shooting him right between the eyes.
In Australia, Trevor and Shane had reclaimed their rented car and were heading south, via Fowler’s inland detour. Their destination was Fleet Base West, where they would spend the next few days waiting for news of Bridget’s capture or escape. The news was carrying many reports of sightings of her throughout Australia, and these false leads, as they so often do, bedeviled the authorities hunting her. Every false lead had to be evaluated; a very time-consuming process.
With graceful care, Bridget returned her gun to her purse. “Please treat his body with honor and dignity. I am well aware of his behavior in recent weeks, but let us honor the man he used to be in better days.” She turned her gaze towards Billy’s head, and added, “Billy, my sometimes associate sent to me by Sanchez, was working for both us and the DEA.” Bridget told the lie with practiced ease, secure in the fact that none present would know otherwise. “That threat too had to end, so I did the deed myself. Some of you are surely wondering if I tricked Sanchez. My answer is yes, of course I did. He was so eager to make an example of my contract – due to his repeated failures – that he leapt at the chance I offered. I provided Billy’s head, bathed in poison – so do not handle it or the ice chest without proper gloves. Now, as some of you know, Sanchez was planning other killings today, of some of you in this room. That is why I decided that the time had come to replace him. I had little to work with due to the short notice, so I improvised and made use of what was at hand,” Bridget said, raising her glass in salute to Billy’s head. “In spite of what Billy was part of, let us now forget the past, as we are with Sanchez. Please treat their bodies with dignity, for the days of barbarity are over. You will find my management style a refreshing change; you need not fear my temper. If you have concerns or ideas, my door is always open to you. We are, after all, in this together. Many of you know me from my days in Florida, and can verify that I do indeed take good care of those who work for me.”
Xavier looked at Sanchez’s dead body, and ordered three of his men, “Get gloves from the workshop, and plastic sheeting… and a bucket and mop.”
Bridget gave Sanchez’s former, and her new, chief of security a nod of approval. “Thank you, my dear Xavier.”
She then gazed around the main room of her new home, and smiled. “We have many things to attend. The first is breaking open Sanchez’s vault, so that I may retrieve my bag and pay you all. Xavier, where is the vault?”
Xavier glanced at the floor. “Below us. It used to be a wine cellar. The door is from a large safe; I don’t know how we can open it. It’s this way.” Xavier led Bridget through two rooms, to a small bookcase. It was hinged, and he swung it aside, revealing the vault door.
“What of the walls and ceiling? Were any changes made?” Bridget asked.
Xavier shrugged. “I don’t think so. It’s brick. The stairs are just inside.”
Bridget smiled. “So like Sanchez to ignore the obvious. The brick encasing the stairs will be just a single layer, if this wine cellar is like most. If you have any sledgehammers handy, we can make quick work of this. I’m sure everyone would like their pay as soon as possible – yourself included, of course.”
Xavier nodded. “I think one is in the workshop. I’ll get a man on it right away.”
Bridget returned to the main room, and began making the rounds, talking briefly to everyone in the room, even the guards, who were used to being ignored. It was a classic meet-and-greet, allowing Bridget to begin forging relationships with her new organization.
As Bridget circulated, she was soon serenaded by the sound of a sledgehammer. It took a quarter of an hour, but then Xavier dashed in, and whispered, “We have a hole large enough to enter.”
“Then, if you would be so kind, please do so, and take my bag to the study,” Bridget said. Xavier blinked in surprise, so she added with a warm chuckle, “I trust you. As I have said, things will be different around here.”
Soon, Bridget was reunited with her large bag of cash, gold, securities, and jewels. With over twenty million at her immediate disposal, Bridget put it to use. First, she called Xavier in, and counted out two hundred thousand dollars. When she was done, she said, “Please send our people in, one person at a time. I wish to see everyone.”
It took several hours for Bridget to meet with everyone, make them feel comfortable, and then pay them. Some, she had already promised cash. To others, she called it an advance on their new higher pay, and doled out the money. In the end, she dispensed over nine million in total, not counting the millions she’d left behind in Florida which she would help her associates acquire.
At dawn, Bridget noticed the drone of aircraft engines, and paused as Xavier reached for his radio to call his men at the dock. A few moments later, he reported, “Ma’am, three float planes have landed, near the dock. They may be there by now.”
The dock was several hundred yards from the house, so Bridget knew that they could not get there first. “Have them report as soon as they know what is going on,” she ordered, hurrying towards the door.
At the dock area, the three planes had already motored up, beaching themselves in a line on the sand. The guards could see that each plane held six men, but it was the sight of one getting out, alone, from the first plane that made several of the guards freeze in their tracks; they recognized him from prior visits. “Jefe!” the senior of the guards called out, holstering his gun and jogging to the waterline.
“Take me to Sanchez!” the first amongst equals thundered, as his men, each armed with an AK-47, began joining him on the beach.
The guard swallowed, his blood running cold. “Jefe, I… cannot. We are…” the guard struggled to find the words, his fear of the man before him apparent. “We are under new management,” he blurted, using the words Bridget had used many times.
The first amongst equals blinked in surprise. “Are you? So, where is Sanchez, exactly?”
“Jefe, he is no longer with us,” the guard mumbled, while bowing his head in deference.
The first amongst equals chuckled, and then turned to tell his men, “It appears that our job has been done.” Returning his gaze to the guard, he said, “Then take us to your new boss. A very dignified woman, I presume?”
“Yes, Jefe, she is. I think she will be coming soon, I will radio-” his words died in his throat, as Bridget, alone, strolled onto the beach.
“Jefe, this is an unexpected pleasure,” she said, with a smile and a gracious nod of deference.
The first amongst equals gave Bridget a wry smile. “The pleasure is mine. Walk with me,” he said, nodding up the beach. As soon as they were alone, he asked, “Do you know why I am here?”
“No, Jefe, your arrival was a surprise to me, though a welcome one,” Bridget replied.
“You impressed me, but I did not believe that you would be able to overthrow Sanchez. My intent was to get here first and do the job myself; few of his men would dare stand against me. I also came here to save your life if I could, though I see my help was not needed.”
“You would have been outnumbered. A very brave and daring gamble, and I shall never forget it. I am in your debt,” Bridget replied.
“Save the flattery,” the first amongst equals said, with an amused smile. “Sanchez had to be removed; it had to be done, though I did also wish to save you from him if I could. So, what do I find when I land? You, strolling out to meet me, queen of her domain. Now, to business; what is the situation, and the extent of your control?”
“I hold this island and the loyalty of those on it. I also have the support of most of the operation in the western Bahamas, due to knowing many of them personally. I only took over last night, so I have yet to assert my command to the rest of the operation, though many of the top people are here and already support me. I will attend to that today. I shall also begin reactivating my Florida operation, and expect to have that running smoothly within a few days.”
The first amongst equals smiled. “Excellent. So tell me, how on earth did you accomplish this with such speed?”
Bridget chuckled. “I have been in this business for decades and know a great many people. I know how to run an operation, and I also knew Sanchez’s weaknesses.” Bridget went on to explain what she’d done.
“Very creative and brave. I look forward to telling that tale at our table; some of the others were certain that you could never do what you claimed, yet you have done it just as you said. What are your immediate plans?”
“The hard part is over. Now, I shall restore the operation to full working order and then expand it, to better serve all our needs. Sanchez was greedy; he paid poorly, ruling by fear. That engenders no loyalty. I could have retired in luxury long ago; the reason I remain in the business is I enjoy it. I see money as a means to an end; I am not one to make Sanchez’s mistakes. I will direct the lion’s share of the profits back into the operation, to build it up. One of my first steps will be to put feelers out to the Bahamian authorities, and buy those that I can. I will keep a low profile, and think long-term. I shall secure these islands as a safe base for us, but one thing in addition to bribes that I will offer the local authorities is that we shall not bother them nor cause them or the local residents trouble, nor will we distribute drugs in this country.”
The first amongst equals arched an eyebrow. “That is very similar to how I took control of my area of operations. I paid well on one hand, and on the other, I did not cause the authorities undue discomfort. It was a deal they were more than willing to accept, given time.”
“It is your example I am following, Jefe. I call it my good neighbor policy. It is most effective, as you have proven.”
The first amongst equals smiled in acknowledgement of the compliment. “You will do well. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves; there is the matter of that tape. Its destruction, along with that of any who know of it who do not sit at our table, must be accomplished – though I know that will take time.”
Bridget nodded in agreement. “I have already begun. I dare not act yet; the target is now surely well defended by the authorities, and any action against it might tell them that there is something aboard the boat. Therefore, I am taking measures to assure them that the threat is over. Sanchez will be working for us in that regard.”
The first amongst equals blinked. “Sanchez? But you said he’s dead.”
“He is, I killed him myself,” Bridget replied with a charming smile, and then explained what she had in mind. “When I was in college, I learned about a fascinating intelligence gambit, enacted by one man – who was dead all along….” Bridget went on to detail her plan.
The first amongst equals smiled. “Brilliant. That serves our ends whether they fall for it or not, so within a few months at most, we should be well-positioned to destroy the boat and all aboard. When I return home, I’ll select an emissary to send to the Australian embassy.”
“I have a few things in mind that might terminate the problem sooner: possible windows of opportunity, though the chances of each are somewhat low. However, I shall take great care not to spook them or the authorities, nor alert them to our real objective.”
When their business had concluded, Bridget, always the gracious host, invited the first amongst equals and his men to breakfast at her new home. They both understood that it would serve another purpose as well; his presence would give the cartel’s blessing to her takeover in the eyes of her men.
When it was time to go, the first amongst equals told Bridget, loud enough for all those gathered around to hear, “Your chair at our table is always there for you. Please come see us soon.” That statement announced to everyone, very clearly, that Bridget was one of the cartel’s heads.
“I shall, it will be my honor; expect me in two weeks’ time,” a beaming Bridget replied.
That evening, Bridget walked to the water’s edge with a brandy snifter in hand. She felt a surge of pride; she now had Sanchez’s operation, the remains of her own, and Sanchez’s seat at the cartel’s table.
Alone on the palm-fringed tropical beach, she kicked off her shoes. Feeling the coarse coral sand between her toes, she took a few steps forward, her feet touching the warm, placid waters. The gentle breeze and the soft murmur of wavelets hitting the sand, coupled with the scent of the sea, made the moment one of relaxed grandeur. In solitary dignity, Bridget raised her glass to the setting sun, the amber liquid and cut crystal catching the last amber rays, toasting her own success. She was now one of the twelve capos, with all the power that entailed – vastly more than she had ever held before.
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