By: Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Grant blinked a few times. “I-I don’t understand. Is this some joke? My daughter’s life is on the line, and the clock is ticking.”

The problem was, I’d met Grant before. It was right after Cici died. I’d tracked him down to personally deliver the news, though I lied about the circumstances. It was then I offered Grant help. “Anything you need,” I had said, handing him a card with a number that routed to me here on the island. “Assistance with the funeral, money, anything at all. Just ask.” He’d seemed distant and unaware at the time. I never heard from him again.

Nevertheless, the man he now looked at lying in this bed was not the same man he’d met about four months ago.

I coughed and moved to sit up. “I am Mr. Rook. This is no joke.”

Grant frowned. “That’s impossible.”

“Not impossible. But do not worry, my illness isn’t contagious. Now,” I pushed myself up against the wrought-iron headboard, and Luke assisted with a pillow, “if you don’t mind, tell us what happened. What did this man Warner say?”

“He claims that Stephanie borrowed money and never paid him back. He gave me a few days to come up with five million dollars. I told him I needed proof he had her. This morning he sent a video with today’s paper in it.”

Something wasn’t making sense.

I looked at Luke. “What did you find out about this Warner Price?”

“He’s your standard thug with mob ties. He operates several shitty restaurants, a pawnshop, and a bunch of other cash-only businesses. According to our friends, he deals mostly in women and drugs.”

Our “friends” were the sort of government officials who kept tabs on the Warners of the world.

“So what’s this man really want?” I asked, suspecting that someone like Warner wasn’t likely after cash. Men like him usually had a different kind of problem—laundering money, staying out of jail, etc.

“Five million dollars!” barked Grant. “Can you help me or not? Because I came all this way to beg if I have to.”

“Something’s not right,” I muttered. “Tell me again what Warner said.”

“I told you already,” Grant replied.

“Let me see the video he sent.”

Grant slid his cell from his pocket, tapped the screen, and handed it over. With my shaking hand, I hit play.

Dear God. Stephanie was dirty and scratched up. She still wore the exact same black dress I had last seen her in on the night of the farewell party when she took off. In the background were some tin panels, the kind used for roofs on a shed or chicken coop. I listened carefully to Stephanie’s words. There. That’s it. I replayed the video once more and then looked up at Grant. “They took her to get to me.”

“What?” Grant said.

“She says it right there after mentioning Cici, ‘hopefully you can find someone to help you, someone who understands what you’ve lost.’”

“I don’t see how this implies they took her to get to you,” said Luke.

“Do you know anyone else who can pay five million dollars?” I asked Grant. “Anyone who’s offered you money recently?” I’d told Stephanie about my conversation with her father and offered her the same. Anything to help her after the loss of Cici.

Grant shook his head. “No. But how would Warner possibly know about you?”

I could only come up with one answer: Stephanie told him. And once again, I found myself realizing that I hadn’t put enough attention on the right questions. Where had Stephanie originally obtained the money to come here posing as a guest? We now knew. What I’d failed to ask was what she’d offered in return to this man, given she owned nothing of value and would never be able to pay Warner Price back. What did she promise him in return?

Sex? Not likely. Stephanie would never sell herself like that, and men like Warner had all the women they wanted, albeit most of them were treated like product. What she offered him had to be something big, something worth taking a risk for.

She offered him me. Me and this place. The fact was, Warner Price wasn’t the first criminal interested in my island. No government, no police, off the grid. The geographical position was ideal for drug traffickers bringing product to the US from South America. The cash running through the island was also significant and all handled in the Caymans. A money launderer’s wet dream. Once a year, a prior guest would talk to the wrong person and we ended up with a Warner on our doorstep, thinking they could waltz in and take over.

“Stephanie is bait,” I concluded. “Warner wants to take this place over.” Just like all the others who came before him.

“I’ve spent the last twenty years in every war zone possible, dealing with warlords, terrorists, gun traffickers, and dictators. Warner Price does not strike me as someone who likes to play games. He’s after the money.”

I gave him a look. “As you just pointed out, you’ve spent years working as a journalist, reporting on some very unpleasant people. Since when have you ever seen any of them demand five million dollars from a man with your salary and ask for it to be delivered in a few days while not alerting the authorities?”

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