Chapter 1
Buck Island Reef. U.S. Virgin Islands

The sailboat Perdition bobbed in the gentle swells of the Caribbean as Robert Frazier adjusted his
facemask and snorkel and fell backward into the warm, turquoise sea. Blinking with amazement, he became enveloped in a jewel-hued world of soft coral reefs surrounded by curious four-eyed butterfly fish and nervous butter hamlet, marine life of every imaginable color, darting this way and that in a moving palate of magenta, teal and saffron. Beside him swam his leggy companion, Maria Mendoza, a twenty-six-year-old stripper he had met at Atlanta’s Garden of Allah Gentleman’s Club. Robert smiled to see the frustration behind her facemask as a bucktooth parrotfish blew kisses and eluded her grasp. She kicked her legs and glided above the sea grass beds, then stopped and pulled her legs into a fetal position and waved at Robert, who returned the gesture as this living mermaid resumed her search of the live coral bed. After twenty minutes of snorkeling, the couple broke through the surface, removed their masks and snorkels, drew close and licked the drops of seawater off each other’s salty-tasting lips.

“That was so incredible, Bobby,” Maria gasped, shaking her long, black hair and flinging salt water in all directions.

Robert gently rubbed his forehead against hers and kissed the narrow bridge of her nose. “Tonight, we watch the sunset on the beach,” he said tenderly as they bobbed in the swells. “I want this to be a special night.”

She curled her chestnut-colored arms around his neck and nibbled at the diamond stud in his right earlobe.

“It will be,” she said. “It will be.”

When they had climbed back on board the sailboat, Maria toweled off as Robert lifted anchor and took the helm. His gaze was drawn to her perfect body, barely hidden behind a lime-green thong bikini as she sunned herself. She glanced back and caught him staring at her and shook a finger at the naughty boy. Then she laughed and spread her arms as wide as they could possibly stretch, welcoming the sun’s penetrating rays.

By late afternoon, the weather was breezing up. Robert guided the sailboat into a horseshoe-shaped inlet ringed with white, powdery sand. Maria stood behind him, peering down at his bare shoulders through amber-tinted sunglasses. She flicked her tongue along the spongy crannies of his ear, humming as she explored its soft terrain.

“It drives me crazy,” she whispered. “I just want to bite it.”

“Bite what?” he grinned.

“Your earlobe, silly. It’s so sexy.”

“You’ve had experience with earlobes?”

As she massaged his shoulders, he beamed. Pretending to slap him, she feigned anger. “You do not talk like this, Bobby. You make me feel very upset when you say this thing.”

“It’s Robert. Haven’t I told you that’s the name I prefer? Bobby sounds, well, it sounds like a second baseman.”

“But I like Bobby. Can’t I call you Bobby?” At this, her face fell and she pouted, pleading until he sighed and slipped his right arm around her tiny waist.

He looked down at the thin, gold bracelet on her left ankle. “Who gave that to you? A boyfriend?”

“Don’t ask questions,” she said with a laugh. “This is another thing that makes me very upset with you. Questions.”

“I got some handcuffs back at the condo and we can have a little fun after dinner.”

She purred. “That sounds more like Bobby.”

“Tomorrow, I want to take you somewhere and show you something,” he said.

“You have shown me so much already.”

“We’ll have to set sail early.”

The dock was now only a few hundred yards off. Robert squinted at the cathedrals of gray clouds looming on the horizon. When they reached the dock, he secured the boat as she slipped on a green, transparent net blouse. They walked hand-in-hand along the aging wooden dock, Maria’s head tenderly dipped on his shoulder. Normally attentive to everything around him, he had not noticed the two men disembark from a cigarette boat moored nearby. As the lovers sauntered toward the hotel, the men quickly approached from behind with guns drawn.

“Freeze!” one of them shouted.

Robert jerked to a stop and tensed his muscles. A dozen figures clad in black windbreakers emerged from three other boats at the harborside end of the dock. His first instinct was to stand and fight, but then the muzzle of a pistol gouged his spine and his heart began to gallop. In seconds, he and Maria were encircled with guns, all cocked and ready to fire if he made one aggressive move.

“What is this?” Robert asked them. He turned to see if Maria was all right, but she had quickly backed away and turned her head. A red-haired man in dark sunglasses with a hint of freckles and a disjointed nose stepped forward.

“Jon?” Robert said. “What is this?”

“Good work, Agent Martinez,” Jon Moses said to Maria. “We have everything.”

Robert was confused.

“Agent Robert Frazier, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law—”

“—Wait a minute, Jon!” Robert pleaded. “What have I done?”

As he spoke, a blonde, female agent attached handcuffs to Robert’s thick wrists and told him to get down on his stomach and spread his legs wide for a pat down.

“I’m sorry, Robert,” Moses said. “I’m sorry to have to place you under arrest.”

“But, Jon—”

“Be careful,” Moses told the female agent conducting the pat down.

Robert craned his neck to look over at Maria, or whoever the hell she really was, but the statuesque beauty was slipping her arms into a black nylon windbreaker with the words FBI SPECIAL AGENT stenciled in canary yellow across the back. Her expression was grim and she refused to look Robert in the eye.

Robert’s cheekbone scraped against the splintering wooden planks as the blonde agent finished patting him down, then ordered him to stand. “Suspect ready for transport, sir.”

“Very well, good work everyone.” Moses looked again at Robert. “You should have stayed with Sunny and the kids, Robert. This life,” Moses said, looking out at the sparkling sapphire waters off St. Croix, “it was never meant to be our kind of life, was it?”