Don Prichard 3224 Corey Drive Indianapolis, IN 46227 firstname.lastname@example.org ISLAND PROLOGUE The heavens, in anticipation of dawn, had changed from black to a dusky blue, arching like an inverted bowl over the inky waters of the ocean below. No gulls yet rode the breeze to rudely crack open the serenity with their raucous cries, nor did any sea creatures but momentarily invade the borderline between sea and air. The vast uniformity of the seascape was spoiled only by a barely discernable dot. It was a speck that lolled with the swaying of the deep waters. It gave no resistance; it sought no direction. The dot was alien to the sea—a man in a life jacket. He straddled a fragment of what had once been some type of small sea craft. His eyes were closed, and only an occasional movement signaled he was alive. He was focused on the gentle shifts of the ocean. He wanted them to mesmerize him, to rock him into mindless sleep. For three days he had thought of nothing but the disaster. He had reviewed it over and over, until his grief had swallowed and all but digested him. Now he wanted only to push everything back into the far recesses of his mind. There the dark thoughts would no longer have power over his consciousness. He ignored the arrival of daybreak, the gulls, the sea turtle that surfaced to peer at him. He dozed fitfully. When he was awake, he made himself think of his family. He prayed to God. He reviewed his life. There was no hurry; he wasn’t going anywhere. God could do with him whatever He wanted. His lethargy delayed awareness that a change had occurred. At first he thought it was going to rain again. But it was the motion of the water, he realized—not the atmosphere—that was different. The water surged forward, then relaxed, surged forward, then relaxed. The movement was somehow familiar. When the next swell raised him to where he could view the horizon, he was surprised. He had given up expecting it. Land! Suddenly he had the key to thrust away the darkness: A purpose, an assignment to lock onto. The transformation was instantaneous. He was Lt. Colonel Jacob A. Chalmers, United States Marine Corps Reserves, veteran of innumerable experiences of hardship, familiar with the pain of having his body taken to its limit. A cautious excitement began to stir in him. The goal was clearly defined: reach land. Already the surges were moving him towards his objective. Holding on to the edge of the boat fragment, he slipped his legs into the water. He paddled forward. The crest of the next swell came. He reoriented himself. The water dipped; he relaxed. He repeated the procedure. Then again. His energy was low. His body hurt; he was famished and he was weak. The struggle was going to take at least an hour. Maybe two. But that was okay. He wasn’t in a hurry. But now he had somewhere to go. CHAPTER 1 Two weeks earlier Jake glanced over at his wife as they drove away from West Point. As he had expected, her face was turned away from him. She was pretending to look out the window, but he knew she was trying not to cry. She always tried to be tough; she always failed. She was mush, pure tenderness. But she always tried. He loved her for it. “Come here, Hon,” he said, patting the seat beside him. Jewel slid over to him and immediately began sobbing. All she had needed was his invitation. He put his arm around her. There was no use saying anything until she was through. Besides, his own throat was tight. She went through several Kleenexes, dabbing her eyes and blowing her nose. When she was done, her face blotchy and her mascara gone, she glanced up at him. The rims of his eyes were red; his jaw, clenched. She knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t cry. But they had shared the emotion, and she was content with that. She turned her face to rest it against his hand on her shoulder. Jake relaxed at the touch. He hadn’t realized he had been holding her so tightly. “Feeling better?” he asked. She nodded, but she wasn’t ready to talk yet. For years they had looked forward to this day, the proud moment when their two children, Jill and James, would enter the United States Military Academy in New York. Their daughter would be one of many women since 1976 to attend the academy, but she and her brother would be the first male-female fraternal twins to enter it in the five years since. Jewel was grateful the two would be there for each other. Already she missed them. They rode in silence for a while, then began to share the memories. For eighteen years family had been a significant focus of their lives. It was bittersweet now to turn the corner and be back to just the two of them. Jake knew the transition would be harder on her than on him. As the Director of Operations for the Indianapolis based H & F Construction Company, he was kept busier than he liked. Jewel, on the other hand, had stayed home full time to raise the twins. She had become as immersed in their school activities as they were. Room mother, PTA president, band mom—name it, and she’d been there, done that. Now it was all over. The change was a major one for her. They were still young. They were both forty-two, and Jewel was as pretty and slim as when they’d married the weekend after their college graduations. For his part, seven years in the Marine Corps followed by thirteen more in the Reserves had kept him lean and mean. He had been on the All-Marine Team as a wrestler and had turned down a spot in the Olympics in order to serve in Nam. Being awarded the Navy Cross for his part in the battle at Khe Sanh had more than compensated for any medal he might have won at the Olympics. That he would soon be up for promotion to full Colonel in the Reserves was an immense satisfaction to him. He and Jewel had met in high school. Already standing at six feet, one inch tall as a freshman, Jake’s deep auburn hair and ruggedly attractive face had immediately won the attention of the girls. His achievement as the school’s all state wrestling champion year after year had pushed him further into the limelight. Young and cocky, riding the crest of popularity and success, he couldn’t understand why Jewel wouldn’t date him. On top of that, she had won away the honor of valedictorian from him. Jewel McKay, so sweet, tender, and lovely, was the only person who had ever awed Jacob A. Chalmers. When she had consented eight years later to become his bride, he had considered it not an achievement, but a gift straight from the hand of God. The only regret in Jake’s life was that his parents were deceased. From them had come two important qualities that were a contradiction to the otherwise driven Jake: humility in the midst of achievement, and the same consideration for children that had been lavished on him as he had grown up. It grieved Jake that his own children had never gotten to know their grandparents. Outside, the evening sky was dimming to a soft gray. He tenderly kissed the top of Jewel’s head when they stopped at a red light. “You’ve been a wonderful mother, devoting so much time and care to our kids. Because of us—or in spite of us—they’ve turned out well!” He gave her a squeeze. “You know they’ll do a great job at the academy.” Jewel sighed. For Jake, the issue was a job well done; for her, it was a job done. There was no longer a wind in her sail. “The house will be so empty without them.” “But we’re not going back to an empty house, remember? You’re going to get some time for yourself—and me!” Jake turned Jewel’s face to make sure she was looking at him as he waggled his eyebrows at her. She smiled at his antics. “For starters,” he said, as the light turned green and he eased the rental car left into the traffic, “it’s off to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and then on to Australia.” He waxed eloquent, waving one arm in exaggerated arcs. “All for the pleasure of my lady, and to show the world there’s none to be found in all those lands as fair as my Jewel. And,” Jake emphasized, “to celebrate twenty years of wedded bliss with my bride.” He was rewarded with another smile. Jake was not a wordy man, and Jewel knew he was extending himself to try to cheer her up. They had taken a year to plan this vacation. That was because Jake’s boss considered him indispensable. If Jake hadn’t put in his request that early, the boss would have refused that much time off. A year of preparation, however, had set it up. Jake was now replaceable. At least for the month he planned to be gone. The idea behind the trip was that it would help ease the transition to their new lifestyle. His direction in construction management was well settled, of course. As for Jewel, at her age all she needed were a few college classes to update a career path in nursing. Or she might choose to stay home and do volunteer work. Either way, Jake’s hope was that the trip would help define her direction. Get her eyes off the empty nest and onto a personal sense of purpose. “Do you realize this will be our first vacation alone since we had the children?” Jewel said, beginning to perk up as they approached the airport. He did, and he was looking forward to it. Everyone noticed Evedene Eriksson. For one, when Eve had something to say, she seldom failed to say it. She could say it eloquently when she wanted to, which helped explain why she never had lost a case in her eight year career as a federal prosecutor. She could also say it with jagged edges that sawed your arm off—or, more likely, your head. Either way, it hurt, if that were her intention. Eloquent or jagged, Eve’s communication caught your attention. For another, Eve was your classic Nordic beauty—maybe even better. She was tall—as tall as most men, which she liked; blonde, with a mane of hair that complemented the strength of character and beauty of her face; brown-eyed, with ridiculously long, tawny lashes; and athletically trim, sculpted by years of exercise into flawless proportions. Surprisingly, women adored Eve. After the first painful stab of envy dissipated, they basked in the discovery that she was, of all things, concerned for their welfare. It quickly followed that she was charming, friendly, and had a wonderful sense of humor—especially when it came to putting down men. Most men, on the other hand, once they had pulled their tongues back into their mouths, found her more beast than beauty. Her mindset was simply antagonistic. Unless she had a reason to be nice to them, she wasn’t. Men, she had discovered early on, were egotistical fools when it came to beautiful women. Cutting them off at the pass saved her the trouble of having to deal with unwanted attentions later. A few men had found their way into her life, but only to serve her purposes. It was a given that first they must be attractive and witty. Wealth and prestige helped immensely. There had been marriage proposals, but none that interested her. At age thirty-three, she simply accepted that love had eluded her, and her integrity prevented her from accepting a relationship that was a sham. She understood that men used women, and she made it reciprocal and used men. It was a sensible balance, as long as she was the one in control. Now was the first time Eve had ever lacked a beau. This exception existed because her latest, Clayton Scott, had died just three weeks ago. She had not been prepared to have him yanked from her life. Though she hadn’t loved him, his sudden absence was a loss that hurt. Already a hard worker, Eve had thrown herself even more into her job. She was to be the lead prosecutor for the upcoming United States vs. Romero case. It was an unbelievable career opportunity, and she was glad for the diversion. Now, as she entered the Justice Department office in the Everett Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, everyone looked up. The women eyed her bulging shopping bags with great interest. No one would mention the excessively long lunch hour she had just taken. Her co-workers knew she put in at least sixty hours a week. They also knew her brain stored every infraction of time usage any employee of the past eight years had committed. No one was going to challenge her with that base of knowledge aimed deadeye at them. “Looks like someone’s going on vacation!” beamed Stella, the matronly private secretary for Brad Henshaw, Eve’s boss. Eve’s smile was the signal for all the women to eagerly crowd around her. They crooned over each garment as it was lifted out of its bag. “Are you planning to wear every one of these?” asked an astounded Stella. “Of course not,” replied Eve. “I buy everything I want and then take them home to decide which will be returned. That’s the whole fun of shopping!” The women glanced at each other, their eyes round, their eyebrows arched. The amount of Eve’s credit card bills would be that afternoon’s topic of conversation. The salaries of attorneys working for the government didn’t begin to match those of attorneys in private practice. Brad appeared in the doorway of his office, and the women melted back to their desks. He was tall enough to give the impression he had to protect his head when going through most entryways, and his perpetually stern expression gave him an imposing presence. He signaled Eve to join him. She complied, leaving Stella to quietly restore the purchases to their bags. “I see you’re still determined to go to Guam,” he said. He phrased it as a statement, for the answer was obvious. “I am; always have,” she replied. “Wouldn’t it be wise to at least forego the cruise? Without Clayton, you’ll be the oddball and draw attention.” “If I feel I need a partner, I’ll get one.” Eve grinned maliciously at him, for she knew he had wanted to replace Clayton on the trip. She highly suspected her boss had an interest in her, although he had made no moves to prove it. Her answer irritated him. After Clayton’s death, Brad had indeed planned on joining her. To protect her, he had told the higher-ups. “No fraternizing with the employees” had come down the reply. To Eve’s great discomfort, Brad had told her he thought Clayton’s death was not accidental. In fact, he suspected Clayton was an informant for the Romeros, planted to obtain information about the upcoming trial. Brad theorized that Clayton had made the mistake of falling in love with Eve and had become uncooperative, so the Romeros had taken him out. Clayton hadn’t stumbled onto the track with the El bearing down on him— he had been pushed. Eve was insulted at the idea that she had been duped. She would have known if Clayton were a spy. And certainly she had not shared anything about the Romero trial with him. Nevertheless, Brad’s theory spooked her. A good attorney never let a possibility be ignored. “I’m aware there’s some degree of danger involved,” she said now to Brad. “But it will be greater here than it would be in Guam. Here, I’m always looking over my shoulder; there, no one will know me.” In Brad’s mind, both places held the potential for danger. The problem was that Eve was insistent on going, and Brad’s superiors were supportive of her. The Romero trial was coming up in two months, and if a crucial piece of evidence were still missing, then, in their minds, someone needed to get it. The Justice Department wanted badly to win the trial. Unless Romero’s connection with the cruise ship used to smuggle drugs out of Guam could be proven, the government didn’t have an airtight case against him. That meant that once again the premier drug lord of Chicago would escape conviction. Eve rolled her eyes as Brad said to her for the third time in as many weeks, “Now, if this is going to work, you cannot reveal to anyone who you are.” “I’ll be a regular Mata Hari, Brad.” Her boss caught her irritation. “Sorry; I’m just uneasy about your safety!” Stella entered the office at that moment with the tickets and documents needed for the trip. She handed them to Eve with a thin smile. Eve interpreted it to mean that she too was concerned about Eve’s potentially risky mission. “We’ve acquired the necessary documents and made arrangements for you to travel under the assumed name of Eva Gray,” Brad continued. “You have to do your part with the name change and blend in as a tourist if this is going to be effective.” Eve was careful to be tactful around her superiors, but Brad’s apprehension was grating. She didn’t like having her competence questioned. It was one more reason for stepping into his job when the opportunity arose. Or, even better, beyond his job to the office of judge. Those aspirations, of course, were her private business. She hadn’t even told Clayton about them. “I’ll go over the documents in my office to see if I have any questions.” She kept her voice neutral, but she let her body language speak for her. She strode out of the office, grabbed her shopping bags off Stella’s desk, and clicked her heels firmly against the terrazzo floor so that they echoed throughout the Department all the way down the hall to her office. Brad wouldn’t miss the point that she was peeved. In spite of her annoyance, it wasn’t lost on her that Brad was clearly concerned about the trip. He was a brilliant man who knew his business, and it made her uneasy to disregard his warning. The truth was, she couldn’t bear to stick around Chicago. Though she had made herself appear stalwart around her peers, the mental picture of Clayton’s fall had been haunting her since his death. She had been only a few steps ahead of him when he had plummeted to his death. The horror of the scene was unspeakable. Simply put, she was afraid. What if she were next? Or had she been the intended target in the first place? No, Romero had to be put away. And that meant departing for Guam next week, anxious or not. Apra Harbor soaked up the sun’s morning rays but released them to the lively breezes sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean before the heat could build up to any degree of discomfort. Ships of every size attended the port, but the majority of the vessels were medium to small. The harbor was a transshipment point for trade between the United States and the Far East. The international airport several miles to the north, however, claimed most of the travelers. Businessmen and tourists were in too much of a hurry to waste time visiting the sites of Guam. A few visitors, however, chose to make the island a vacation site. They found themselves amply rewarded with the tropical beauty and rich history of the land and its people. Cruises of the Mariana Islands were popular. Some hardy souls chose to extend the exploration by crossing several thousand miles of ocean to reach the Philippine Islands by ship instead of flying. The Gateway was one of the smallest ships to offer this adventure. The cruise never failed to carry a full load of passengers, for what the ship lacked in luxury was more than made up for by the cheap fare. Captain Chet was the commander of the Gateway. He had seen to it that the ship gleamed from being freshly painted and polished for this trip. He himself was handsomely dressed in crisp white cottons and a flashy blue jacket complete with gold braid and brass buttons. A captain’s cap sat at a jaunty angle on his head, revealing black, curly hair that had been recently cut and styled. Adding a final touch of romance was a pale, jagged scar across his left cheek. Tall, slender, in his mid-thirties, Captain Chet cut quite a figure. Not a female boarded the ship who wasn’t thrilled at the sight of him. Standing at the gangplank, Captain Chet personally greeted every passenger who boarded. Almost all of them were couples—lovers on holiday, newlyweds on honeymoons, or retirees hoping for a second honeymoon. There were only three exceptions on the roster. The first two were an older lady accompanied by a preadolescent girl, most likely her granddaughter. The third was a single woman, unaccompanied. Eva Gray. This single woman was a problem. Although the ship wasn’t due to leave until 9:00 a.m., everyone had boarded early—except her. It was a rare occasion when the Gateway didn’t leave at least a half hour ahead of schedule. Now, only ten minutes were left before the departure deadline. The question was whether the lady was coming. Or had she changed her mind and the ship was waiting for no reason? The other passengers were unaware of any delay. They were content with the buffet of native fruits and pastries provided on the upper deck, where they could look out over the harbor. Already they had begun the process of introducing themselves to each other and becoming acquainted. Captain Chet, however, was seething. He did not like having his plans crossed. He knew who this Eva Gray was. He knew she had arrived two days ago in Guam. He knew she had spent yesterday in Guam’s capital, Agana, eight miles north of the harbor. And he knew she had been granted access to property records in the Administrative Building there. What he didn’t know was where the hell she was now. He forced himself not to pace. That would reveal his tension. Normally he would have joined the passengers and enjoyed charming them. There was no charisma in him now. There was only anger. Too much was at stake. He hated it when he had to depend on something outside his control. Then he saw her. It had to be her. She had been described as muy bella. This woman was fantastica! She must have spent her morning in shopping, for she was wearing a native garb that wonderfully emphasized her femininity. The strapless dress was the color of a brilliant sunset. It revealed the curves of her body without being shamelessly skin tight. The skirt fell to midcalf, with a slit on the left that opened almost to her thigh. A scarf of the same vivid color held back her hair. The attire was casual, but she made it classy. The captain couldn’t help but think how good she would look standing next to him. They would make a handsome pair. He did not effuse over her, however, as she boarded the ship. “Ms. Eva Gray, I presume,” he said to her. He kept his voice just a tad cool, as a mild rebuke. When she looked startled that he knew her name, he hastened to inform her, “All the other passengers have arrived. Perhaps you would like to join them on the upper deck.” He had seen her eyes appraising him as she embarked. Maybe he had been a bit too chilly towards her, for she simply replied, “No, I want my luggage taken to my room.” He saw now that two native boys accompanied her. Each had possession of a large suitcase and a smaller one. In spite of the harbor breezes, the boys were sweating from the effort. He calculated the suitcases contained at least two to three changes of clothes per day. “Certainly,” he responded. He signaled two of his Filipino crewmen to take the luggage from the boys. The men’s eyes grew wide as they saw the beautiful lady. They couldn’t smile big enough. Especially once they saw how generously the beautiful lady tipped the boys. Chet made a pretension of looking for her room number on the roster before giving the men instructions on where to take her. As they left, he noticed several passengers leaning on the rail of the upper deck, watching the events below. Captain Chet barked out commands to his crew and strode to the bridge. This trip was going to be a big time success. He could feel it in his bones. Crystal Oakleigh sat at the end of her great-aunt’s deck chair and watched the other passengers for the second day in a row. She was a good observer, for she was being brought up by her grandparents, whose philosophy was that children were to be seen and not heard. She compensated by constantly fabricating stories in her mind about the people around her. This ship was a gold mine. It was filled with couples, young and romantic, old and romantic. Crystal loved romance. Every couple meant a relationship in the making, and Crystal got to define it and develop it inside her head. The girl was a precocious eleven-year-old with a pretty face, blue eyes, ash blond hair, and a gangly body. She was an only child living in a world of adults who largely ignored her. To override her grandparents’ golden silence rule, she had worked on developing the ability to articulate herself in unusual ways. She desperately wanted adults to take notice of her. The result was that some people found her mode of speech amusing, while others thought her a show- off. She assumed her Aunt Betty was dozing, but the older woman was awake and watching the child from behind blue-tinted sunglasses. Small-boned and slight of build, Betty Parker wasn’t much taller than her niece. She had aged gracefully, and at sixty-seven her face was still smooth and wrinkle-free, with only laughter lines, as she liked to call them, at the outer corners of her eyes. Only when one got closer did the telltale white hairs dispersed among her natural blonde ones become detectable. The dead giveaway was the sagging skin under her upper arms and the thinning of her skin evidenced by fine, blue veins on her hands and legs. She was not vain enough to hide them, though, and had chosen to dress comfortably in a sleeveless blouse and shorts. Right now she was annoyed with herself. Her husband had died six months ago, and she had waited until summer to go on a trip so that she could take Crystal with her. She had made a mistake, however, in choosing this cruise. She hadn’t thought to find out if other children would be aboard. Now she wished she had listened to Crystal’s plea to let her little friend Janie accompany them. The amusements on the boat were clearly intended for adults. Nor would there be any diversion by sightseeing. They would be sailing straight across the Pacific for five days with nothing to see but water. Today was only the second day out, and already several of the passengers had let it be known, in ways that were not always subtle, that the child’s presence was not appreciated. Betty felt sorry for Crystal’s living situation and tried as often as she could to give the child some relief. While Betty had never had children herself, she felt certain that her sister and brother-in-law were not doing a good job in raising their granddaughter. Crystal’s physical needs were attended to, but emotionally and socially the child was neglected. “Is this your chair, Dear?” Crystal snapped out of her reverie and turned to the speaker. She had seen Jewel and her handsome husband across the dining room last night. Crystal thought red hair was the most romantic color a woman could have, so Jewel’s strawberry blonde hair had immediately caught Crystal’s eye. She couldn’t believe her luck that this lovely lady was now addressing her and might even sit next to her. “It is available for your acquisition,” Crystal replied. She held her breath, waiting to see what response her answer might evoke. She felt Aunt Betty stir beside her, but her aunt said nothing. “Hi,” Jewel greeted the youngster as she sat down. “What’s your name?” Crystal grinned broadly because an adult had noticed her and wanted to engage her in a conversation that carried no hint of malevolence. “Crystal. And might I add, I find it quite philanthropic of you to ask.” Jewel’s mothering instinct immediately connected to Crystal. It was apparent that this was a very bright little girl who was starved for attention. In a short time, with Betty’s permission, Jewel and Crystal were walking along the deck, holding hands and chatting away. Crystal told Jewel all the things she had been thinking about, which were many. The child appeared to have mastered the art of drawing air in through her nose while speaking so that it was never necessary for her to stop talking for mundane things like breathing. Eventually Crystal realized she had been doing all the talking, and Jewel, all the listening. She looked up at Jewel and said, “I like you. You are a winsome person filled with vast pleasantness. You are what I imagine my mother was like.” Jewel felt the pain in Crystal’s heart. “What happened to your mother?” “Mom overdosed when I was in infancy. But you know what’s cool? Mom ceased her drug habit while she was in gestation with me. My family all wanted me aborted, but my mom had the fortitude to resist them and said she was going to carry me to term. My mother believed I would be a special person. Aunt Betty informed me of that. I’m going to live up to that vision and become a great person.” Crystal hesitated in her discourse, puzzling an issue not yet resolved in her mind. “I’m still trying to understand what it means to be great in the land.” Jewel patted Crystal’s hand. “You are wise to discern this is not an easy question.” She smothered a chuckle. After an hour of listening to Crystal, Jewel was beginning to talk like her. Crystal beamed because an adult had found a reason to compliment her. Jake had explored the ship and found the gym advertised in the brochure that Jewel had brought home when they were first making their travel plans. “See,” she had told him in making a case for taking the cruise, “it’s set up for you too!” As soon as he had seen the actual size of the ship, however, he had known the gym would be small. And inadequately equipped. He was right on both counts. Nevertheless, Jake entered the room and began his warm up stretches. At least there was a treadmill, he noted. It would have been impossible to jog around the ship, certainly not for five miles. Several other men were in the room, too. Half of them were young, working on maintaining muscle bulges to impress their wives and sweethearts. The other half was older, working simply to increase their chances of staying alive longer. Jake had to grin over the circumstances of this cruise. His idea of a worthwhile holiday was good food and the ability to exercise it off; interesting locations to visit, or at least reading material if sites weren’t available; and an occasional conversation with someone who had new information that Jake didn’t know. Jewel, on the other hand, enjoyed people. That was all she really required to have a good time. It had taken only one family vacation for Jewel to discover that Jake was God’s reward to the diligent museum workers who painfully inscribed every bit of information possible onto bronze plaques stationed next to hundreds of exhibits. Jake read every bit of every display. After Jewel had pushed their toddlers’ stroller four times around the museum, fed them snacks twice, changed their diapers as many times, and finally cajoled the twins into an early morning nap, she and Jake had discussed the situation. From now on, museums would be a special Jake thing. This cruise was a special Jewel thing. Why anyone would want to endure five days of water travel was beyond Jake. That was why planes had been invented—efficiency in travel. He knew, of course, that Jewel loved being with other people and that the cruise guaranteed this. She had a gift for engaging others in conversation, no matter who they were or what they did. After the second day out on the cruise, she already had met most of the people on board, knew their names, where they were from, their occupations, and the status of their children, grandchildren, or pets. It was the best twentieth wedding anniversary gift he could have given her, and he was glad for it. Jake’s attention reverted to the gym when there was a sudden pause in the noise level of men and machines. A woman had entered. “Good morning, Gentlemen,” she said, taking control of the situation by her address. She had at once attracted their attention and assigned them their roles at the same time. She was clearly dressed for a workout. Unlike the bikini she had worn to tan in earlier that afternoon, her workout attire covered everything. Its tightness, however, left little to the imagination. She was stunning. She began her workout with stretches. It was apparent she was not a novice. She knew the proper warm up exercises, and her muscles responded easily to them. The men returned to their own training, but they kept her at least in the periphery of their vision. If she was aware of their eyes upon her, she didn’t show it. She appeared oblivious to their presence. Eventually one of the younger men who had been taking up space on an ab cruncher spoke to her. “Hey! I like what you’ve done with that body of yours!” He had meant to keep his voice low, but he obviously wasn’t managing himself well. His breath reeked of early afternoon cocktails. Her response came like a whiplash. “Excuse me, I’m here for a workout! The classroom for aspiring Lotharios is the next hall down!” Her words bounced sharply off the walls for everyone to hear. Most of the men snickered at the guy’s humiliation. The young pup had mistaken her for a bimbo. However, she had given no such signals in body language or speech— clothing, of course, didn’t count in the female mind—that she was looking for any male- female interaction. He deserved the rebuke. Nonetheless, Jake felt for him. Public humiliation was a painful sentence for anyone. Jake made himself a mental note to be sure to give the woman a wide berth. When he told Jewel about the incident later, she was not sympathetic towards the young man. “That was Eva Gray,” she reported. “I noticed she was all alone, so I invited her to join us for dinner tomorrow night. Unfortunately, she already had plans for tonight.” Jake sighed. So much for the wide berth. Eve was a master in the courtroom. Her ability to store, retrieve, and correlate data was exceptional. Her ability to convince a jury with it was even better. In her eight years with the Justice Department, Eve had never lost a case. She had come close once, early in her career, when she had prosecuted a woman with significant abuse in her background. Eve’s empathy for the battered woman had almost caused Eve to dismiss presenting some incriminating evidence against her. After that, Eve had requested that she prosecute only men. Her case record had continued impeccable from then on. But a sleuth Eve was not. She knew her skill at linking bits of information was what had won her the permission to go to Guam. Her search of the property records in Agana had yielded little of worth, however. She had sent a few leads back to the office, but, in reality, she had discovered nothing concrete to associate the Romero family with the cruise ship. The failure was hard for her to bear. Of further annoyance was that Brad was aware of her relative ineptitude as an investigator. She knew that was why he had given her the simple alias of Eva Gray. She was such a stickler for facts that if someone called her Gertrude or Mary, for instance, she would have corrected them before she remembered she was supposed to be Gertrude or Mary. Her malaise had driven her to go on the cruise. Unexpectedly, that had turned out to be a boon! Maybe. What had come into play was another of Eve’s strengths in the courtroom. Long ago, she had discovered that a key to winning the jury was not just the presentation of an airtight case. Information, she had realized, did not exist in a vacuum but was received with values attached to it. That was why jury selection was so important. To win her cases, she had to take into account how to best stage the information for each juror’s values. Thus she had purposed to become an expert in ethnicity. Over the years, the payoff had been great. Now the payoff was that in boarding the ship, Eve had instantly recognized that Captain Chet was Italian. That alone, of course, did not tie the Gateway to the Romeros. But it was an interesting coincidence that an Italian commanded a ship, way out in the Pacific Ocean, that ran drugs from Guam to the Philippines that ended up in Chicago, home and turf of the Italian Romero family. If Eve could tie Captain Chet to the Romeros, or even just to Chicago, she surely would have found the missing link that could secure the case as a win for the Justice Department. She had decided her best bet was to interview the Gateway’s crew. For two days now she had sought them out. She had ordered room service. She had toured the kitchen. She had visited the engine room. She had even managed to get an escort into the crew’s quarters. The crew loved the attention of the beautiful lady. They were willing to tell her anything. But all she had turned up were two surprises. The first was that the ship was operating with a skeleton crew. In order to properly serve the passengers, the crew was having to share almost all its duties, from room service to meal preparation to the mechanics of running the ship itself. Secondly, aside from the captain, all of the crew but one were sailing the Gateway for the first time. They knew nothing about Captain Chet’s personal background. Only Gilbert, the first mate, was an old timer, and he had been clearly unfriendly and closed mouthed. Frustrated, Eve had decided to make her next move. She had arranged to meet Captain Chet for a tour of the bridge. There was no need to press hard; she had three days until the end of the cruise. She would simply set up a friendly relationship. She chose her attire carefully. She needed to be attractive with no invitation for a come-on. Color would be her focus—the same royal blue as the captain’s jacket, since he obviously liked that. She selected a v-neck blouse high at the collar, and shorts low at the knees. Sassy high heeled sandals to show off her calves. A touch of glamour with large, gold hoops at her ears, complemented by a simple yet obviously expensive necklace and matching bracelet. Just a whiff of perfume. She was ready. One of the crew had been stationed to meet her. Eve greeted him with a smile; he was still a puppet to be manipulated for possible further information. His wide grin and beaming eyes expressed his appreciation for her beauty. He bowed to her as if she were royalty and escorted her to the bridge. The captain was dressed in immaculate whites. There was no jacket. It was impractical in this heat, and he wore it only to impress the passengers as they boarded. His hair was flawlessly groomed in masculine curls, his expensive after-shave freshly applied. He welcomed Eve cordially and immediately offered her refreshments that had been set up for her arrival. They busied themselves with the food and drink, making small talk, seeking a comfort zone. “This is an impressive view,” Eve said, nodding at the barren blue vastness of the ocean and sky. There was no horizon visible, for twilight had wedded the heavens and sea into one. “It gives you a taste of eternity.” She shivered at the thought. Suddenly she felt vulnerable, dwarfed by the immensity of the seascape. “It’s a sight that reminds us of our human frailty, doesn’t it,” replied the captain. He moved next to her, as if to comfort her and put his arm around her shoulders. Eve stepped away. She didn’t want herself in the position of having to verbally rebuff him before she got the information she sought. “So, Captain,” she said lightly, “how about a tour of the bridge?” The captain appeared amused, and she wondered for a brief moment if she had misinterpreted his intentions. He was clearly a vain man. That meant either his ego should have been irritated at her reaction to his move, or that he wouldn’t have made a move without the reassurance of her interest. And, certainly, she had given him no such indication. She took control by asking a question, making him have to respond to her. “For instance, what is this piece of equipment?” She pointed to what she knew was some kind of communication apparatus. “That’s a single side band radio,” the captain replied. With more detail than she cared for, he proceeded to explain every piece of equipment. At long last he reached the final item. “This is the radio locator beacon—the distress signal. You press that button and it acts like a homing beacon. It alerts other ships or aircraft that you’re in trouble and need help.” By now Eve felt in distress herself at his extensive explanations. Feigning protracted interest had worn her down. It also seemed as if the captain had somehow gained the upper hand with his lengthy spiel, and that now he was in control. She decided to move the conversation away from equipment to the captain’s personal life. “How long have you been captain of the Gateway?” she asked. Again he rattled on. Apparently she had picked his favorite subject. Her interest perked up, however, when she noticed his autobiography was moving backwards through time. Vanity makes one vulnerable, she remembered Brad saying. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Captain Chet of his own volition revealed the very information she needed? Suddenly the captain stopped and looked her keenly in the eyes. “Where are you from, Eva?” The question caught her off guard. If she lied or avoided the question, he would know it, for his eyes were fixed on hers. She refused to squirm. “Chicago,” she answered. “Small world,” he said. “So am I.” Ten minutes later, Captain Chet watched Eve, alias Eva Gray, leave the bridge. He had caught her eyes dancing after he had shared the information she had so badly wanted to hear. He held back his own laughter. It had been a delightful game of cat and mouse. The best part was that she had thought she was the cat. He knew, of course, about her interrogation of the crew. He had wondered how long it would be until she got around to him. It was too bad, he mused, that she hadn’t been willing to offer herself as the price for getting the information out of him. He would have enjoyed that. On the other hand, it was just as well. He was nervous about his mission tomorrow. He had never attempted anything of this magnitude before. Much was at stake, and he didn’t need to be distracted. “First Mate to the bridge,” he announced over the public address system. When Gil appeared, the captain asked, “Everybody occupied?” He didn’t want to take a chance on being overheard. “Yessir,” answered Gil. He was the complete antithesis of the captain: short, bald, and with a bulging belly. He had been with the captain for five years and knew he was now in for a drawn out checklist. It wasn’t hard to detect the captain’s edginess. “Do you have the radio locator beacon off the ship and onto one of the lighters?” A lighter was a small craft used to transport passengers. It rode high in the water and was used when the landing point was too shallow or undeveloped for a ship to dock. The Gateway used its lighters for brief sojourns of sightseeing in the shallow waters surrounding the outer Philippine islands. “Yessir.” “Do you have the explosive charges set on both lighters?” “Yessir.” The captain continued to press. “The charges are concealed so the passengers won’t find them?” Gil checked his impatience. Perhaps a brief report would shorten the list. “Yessir. The locator beacon is locked in the front compartment of the second lighter and secured to a weight so it will sink. I have a smaller charge set to make sure that happens. The rest of the charges are locked in the rear compartments of both lighters. When we detonate the charges, the boats will break up into pieces. The people and the locator beacon will go down to the bottom.” Gil’s voice cracked. “Anyone tracking the Gateway will think the ship has sunk.” Chet noted Gil’s uneasiness. “Don’t go getting soft on me now that we’ve come this far!” he growled. The first mate held his chin high and grimly returned the captain’s stare. “Yessir.” Chet persisted with his checklist. “Did you prime the explosives so our radio detonator will set them off?” “Yessir. The explosives are primed.” “One last question. Did you remove the keys so the motors can’t be operated by the passengers?” Gil reached into his pocket and produced the ignition keys as proof that he had completely followed instructions. “Well done, Mate.” The captain clapped Gil on the shoulder. “You’re going to be a rich man!” He let that sink in, then continued. “Get your rest and relieve me at 0100 hours. We’ll review the plan with the crew at 0600 hours.” The captain dismissed Gil and began pacing. Everything was set. The hard part now would be the waiting. Colonel Don E. Prichard is a 32-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserves and a licensed architect and principal in a large design firm. He is also an elder in the Reformed Presbyterian Church and a major leader in two successful church plants. The novel Island is strongly evangelical and targets a nominal/non-Christian audience. Two sequels are already underway. Island could be Book I of a trilogy.
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