Female readers will identify with Steve's wife, Beth, who launches her own campaign to find her husband after she and her family are deceived by the federal government. The strong, female protagonist is familiar to readers of David Baldacci's books and there is a strong identification with her. The action builds quickly from the day of Steve's arrival on the island until the climatic last scene when the two protagonists must extricate themselves from the conspiracy of organized crime and British governmental operatives. While the book is not a psychological thriller, it uses psychology to shape the characters in subtle ways to engender strong character identification by both male and female readers.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Steve Kerns looked out his window seat as the DC-10 circled the small, elongated island of Bermuda on final approach to the old McKinley Air Force Base. Located five hundred miles due east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and a ninety-minute flight from Atlanta, Bermuda had no income tax, sales tax, slums, unemployment, or major crime problems. Precisely the reason Kerns was here. Wanting to forget his past, Steve planned to start a new life as part of the federal government’s Witness Protection Program. He had been responsible for the successful arrest and deportation of a South American drug cartel king, which would slow the infusion of heroin and cocaine for a little while. The boys in Washington would bask in the limelight for the next few months, while congressmen busied themselves, patting each other on the back. Organized crime would be dealt a blow, at least temporarily. Parents would be convinced that their precious children would no longer fall prey to the scumbag dealer on the street corner.
But the drug war came at a cost to Steve Kerns. His widow was to begin a new life with three small children. She was told that her husband had died in an explosion of a methamphetamine lab in Nicaragua. He read newspaper accounts of the Congressional Medal of Freedom being awarded posthumously to him and his family’s gracious acceptance. His ten-year old son would not play ball with him. His twin seven year-old daughters would not be presented by their father at debutante balls or weddings. There would be no grandchildren for Steve Kerns. His life as a narcotics agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) ended on July 11, 1998, in a mesquito-infested jungle twenty miles south of Managua.
As the landing gear lowered on the DC-10, Steve checked his passport. His face had been altered to make him look ten years younger than his previous fifty years. His new identity included degrees from Harvard in clinical psychology and a law degree from Georgetown with a specialization in forensic law. He had accepted an adjunct teaching position with the Bermudian Bureau of Prisons in Sandy’s Parish on the West End of the island. The name on his passport read Kevin Garrett. He was single with both parents deceased. He was an only child to conceal any next of kin including a younger brother who was a well-known cardiologist in Boston and a sister who had won many artisan awards for her Southwestern oils in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His wallet contained no photos, but Beth and the three children remained firmly etched in his mind. He missed them, yet knew they were safer without him. His plastic surgery removed the familiar crow’s feet that are the sine qua non of aging. Liposuction removed the love handles on his seventy-four inch frame and two months of rigorous conditioning left his fifty year-old body looking like forty.
As the taxi made its fifty minute trip from the airport at twenty miles an hour, Kevin marveled at the multi-colored limestone houses in pretty pastels of pink, blue, green, and orange stucco supporting white sunlit roofs for collecting rain water for drinking. The average rainfall in Bermuda was only twenty inches a year, and the precious liquid was stored beneath the pastel-colored homes for drinking, cooking, and washing. The island had no freshwater streams or lakes. House numbers were an oddity because most of the homes were known by quaint names such as Threepenny Place, Tranquility Bay, House of Bath. The islanders greeted each other with their unique sounding car horns. Only the native Bermudians were allowed one four-cylinder vehicle per family no larger than a mid-size sedan. The islanders drove on the left-hand side of the small two lane roads. The taxi driver took the Middle Road past Harrington Sound and Flatt’s Village next to the Bermudian aquarium and zoo. Hamilton harbor was visible from the right window with the majestic Princess Hotel in her pink splendor glistening in the sunlight and a cruise ship docked with tourists eager for golf, tennis, swimming and shopping.
As the taxi made its way from Warwick Parish into Southampton Parish, Steve recounted his boyhood days spent at the Naval Air Station Annex on George’s Bay Road. His father had been a young supply officer in the mid 1950s when the US Navy and Air Force conducted anti-submarine reconnaissance for the military. His memories in those days included trips to Horseshoe Bay and Church Bay. Church Bay was renowned for the most exciting marine reef life only fifty feet from shore. Underwater views were possible up to one hundred and fifty feet on a sunny day, exposing the gorgeous marine life nesting between the reefs rich in tradition. Over three hundred shipwrecks laid submerged on those same reefs where the young Steve frolicked as a boy with his younger brother and sister. His two years in Bermuda had been spellbound for the young man coming of age as a twelve-year old. He had attended the prestigious Port Royal Academy as a boy, and had won honors in the classroom and on the soccer and cricket fields. Passing the naval base, Steve felt tears well up in his eyes, because of the cherished, childhood memories that his own children would not experience. He was consumed with grief and remained oblivious to the whistle-blowing taxi driver who was working hard for a large tip from the taciturn passenger.
The wind picked up as the taxi made its way onto Somerset Island known as Sandy’s Parish on the West End of the island. Steve remembered his first Boy Scout camping trip at Daniel’s Head Park with its colorful history of pirates and gold. The taxi made its final turn onto Lagoon Road to Lodge Point, the sullen passenger’s final destination just minutes south of the Royal Naval Dockyard and Maritime Museum. For on Lodge Point would be the Bureau of Prisons where a much younger Kevin Garrett would spend the next two years of his life studying the psychological profiles of convicted killers who represented an anomaly to the usually non-violent local Bermudians.
His retrospective study had been financed by the Bermudian government, and his research would hopefully guide the local government in reducing homicides, and aggravated sexual assaults for fifty-eight thousand local Bermudians, seventy percent of whom were Black and the remaining thirty percent Anglo. The dialect was definitely British and formal. Young professionals were dressed impeccably in Bermuda shorts, knee socks, short-sleeve white shirt and madras print ties. The tourists were easy to spot with their white helmets and fifty-cc motor scooters attempting to negotiate the precarious limestone brick walls jutting out from the undulating rocky terrain on both sides of the two-lane winding roads.
Since the very beginning the fate of this small British colony had been linked to the United States. The crew of the Sea Venture had wrecked on the island during a hurricane in 1609 on its way to Jamestown, Virginia. The British Trading Company was to send its precious cargo of clothing, spices, rum, and fruit to the newly established colonies in the Americas. After Steve paid the taxi driver, he retrieved his two bags, and saw his life unfold before him. Now, he was an American educator on loan to the Bermudian government. His last two years had been exceedingly harrowing and stressful, and he looked forward to a more laid-back lifestyle that the locals refer to as "Quo Fata Ferunt" or Whither the Fates Carry Us.
The warden of the local prison was a man, small in stature with big hands that nearly broke Steve’s wrist.
"Welcome to Bermuda, Doctor Garrett. We’ve been expecting you. My name is John McMurry, and I am the warden of Lodge Point Prison. I hope your flight was uneventful and that you are rested for our welcoming party in your honor tonight."
"Well, thank you. You are most kind. You shouldn’t go to the trouble, Mister McMurry."
"Please call me John. And it is no trouble. Let’s get your bags over to your quarters, Kevin. We have provided you with a quaint little two-bedroom cottage on the prison grounds. I think you will be pleased with your accommodations."
As Steve made his way into the teal colored cottage with the white roof, he noted that despite a July temperature of eight-five degrees, the air was really quite dry and pleasant with a stiff breeze from out of the east blowing through the shear white curtains. A patio overlooked the Great Sound and the capital of Hamilton across from the Dundonald Channel. Semiweekly cruise ships would dock either at the Hamilton or Royal Naval Dockyard ports of call. It was picturesque. The bright sunlight bounced off the whitecaps in the sound and gave a hint of a looming thunderstorm. Rainfalls were sparse during the summer and any rainfall was welcomed by the islanders. The walls were white stucco. The floors were hardwood with print tapestry runners and floor rugs to add color to the otherwise minimal accommodations. A refrigerator and stovetop made up the kitchen. There was no oven, but there was a microwave and a portable gas grill on the patio.
Steve drifted back to his home in Cary, North Carolina. Cary was a small bedroom community between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Beth was his second wife. His first wife had died of breast cancer. There were no children from his first marriage, and he immersed himself in his work as a venture capitalist for small businesses. With an MBA from Stanford, he had consumed himself in the task of turning around failing businesses and merging them with compatible companies that could afford a short-term paper loss. Once the merger was completed, a bank and accounting firm finessed an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to take small private firms public with a quick infusion of cash to pay off creditors and reduce debt. His life as a venture capitalist seemed remote now as he looked out over the white-capped waters. The pace had slowed to a level that made him uneasy and nervous. His attention-deficit disorder required multi-tasking to keep his mind fluid and agile. He slept no more than five hours a day. His thoughts were in constant motion as he contemplated life without his family for the next two years. Another identity change was planned that would reunite him with his family under an alias. His heart ached for his kids. He would miss Matthew’s baseball games and the twins’ piano recitals and soccer matches. But most of all he would miss his wife’s warm, undulating body above him as her breasts fell gently around his face. Her warm smile and engaging personality were forever etched in his thoughts, and his whole body ached without her.
Steve had met Beth at Stanford. She was from a prominent family in Boston. Her father was a renowned defense attorney who made his fortune in reducing life sentences to ten years or fewer for the rich and famous. Beth’s mother was a philanthropist in her own right and gave away millions to worthy charities from her oil and gas inheritance. Unlike Steve, Beth was an only child and Steve’s family provided the comfort and security she had missed with her own family. Beth had been a first-year graduate school in International Banking at Stanford when they met. Steve had majored in International Relations and Management Theory and shared a monetary policy course with her before their first date. Beth exuded confidence. She eventually graduated summa cum laude while Steve barely managed to graduate with honors. It was not love at first sight. Steve remembered being intimidated by her discussions of Keynesian statistical analyses of European monetary policy. In fact, he knew her as a tutor before they started dating. Steve had become disillusioned with making too much money and walked away from his last IPO at the age of thirty-five. He spent the next two years training as a DEA agent in Quantico, Virginia. Matthew was born five years later. Beth was alone during this time, because her husband was always out of the country on assignment. She knew not to ask questions because she didn’t want to know if she would next see her husband in a flag-draped coffin.
"Kevin, your mind is miles away. You haven’t heard a word the past few minutes."
"I’m sorry, John. I guess I could use jet lag as an excuse but the ninety-minute flight from Atlanta hardly qualifies. I am tired and could use some time alone before the party tonight. I hope you don’t mind."
"Mind? Hell no. Just relax a little. I’ll be back in three hours. Say seven o’clock?"
"Sure. I’ll be ready."
"Remember, dinners on the island are formal. Jacket and tie."
"I’ll be ready, John. Thanks again."
The screen door shut behind the warden. His home was on Bethel’s Island across from Heydon’s Bay on the West Side of Sandy’s Parish. Members of the dinner party would begin with cocktails at the McMurray residence and then take ten taxis to Once Upon a Table restaurant, hailed by Bermudians as the finest eatery on the island. This eighteenth century island house was known for its roast duckling and fresh, yellowfin tuna. Located on the north edge of Hamilton on Serpentine Road the four-star restaurant was distinctly international in its menu selection and wine list.
Steve unpacked his bag. He traveled light and brought only two jackets and a dozen dress shirts. His other clothes were informal and included Dockers and various print shirts. His books were to arrive by airfreight later in the week. His research protocol and prospectus were in a black notebook. He grabbed a glass of ice tea from the refrigerator and took a seat in the recliner with the west sun glaring through the white shear curtains gently blowing in the warm breeze. An attic fan ran in the hallway to circulate air throughout the cottage. There was no air conditioning or heating because the winter temperatures never got below fifty-five degrees at night. The climate was truly delightful and a welcome relief from the humid summers in North Carolina.
Steve set the alarm next to the bed and drifted in and out of a restless repose. His thoughts became fragmented and segmented. One minute he was at Stanford cramming for a final in International Banking; the next minute he was in the hospital delivery room at the birth of his twin girls, Samantha--Sam for short, and Susan. Another fleeting thought took him to DEA School in Quantico, Virginia; and finally a horrific nightmare awakened him from an explosion outside of Managua when the meth lab blew up. The charges had been set by DEA agents operating covertly in the humid rain forest at temperatures exceeding one hundred and ten degrees. Water was contaminated, and boils and fevers were common from the dysentery. He saw his most respected and trusted friend and fellow agent blown apart by a M67 fragmentation grenade.
The smell of burning flesh and disemboweled body parts lingered in his thoughts as the body tremors jolted him off the bed onto the hardwood floor. His heart was racing one hundred and fifty beats a minute as he went into hyperventilated muscle contractions. He grabbed for his bottle of Xanax and took two tablets. He knew that in twenty minutes he would be calm. He went into his deep, abdominal breathing while he looked out over the Great Sound towards the city of Hamilton. His heart began to slow to a more normal pace. His sweat left little beads on his forearms and neck. He gradually brought his body and thoughts back to the present. His visual images were sharply focused on the water while he fixated on the kinesthetic warmth of the sun on his cold flesh. Another post-traumatic stress dream would soon pass, and he would be normal again.