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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
"Abra la puerta!" she screamed.
Secret Service agent Cain Lemaire shot up in bed. He left behind the recurring nightmare loop he had already experienced too many times, awakening to the high-pitched shouts of a woman.
"Open the damn door!" she repeated in a thick accent. These were not cries for help but the sounds of an angry woman demanding attention, pounding on a door down the corridor from his room.
Cain blinked his eyes several times, struggling to read his watch in the darkness. The curtains were half open, but the sun was not yet out. He flipped on the bedside lamp and saw it was barely five thirty.
Who is she? he wondered. And why is she banging on a door at this hour?
She continued making a commotion in the hallway. He rolled out of bed and threw on a hotel robe he took from the closet. He grabbed his cell phone and government-issue SIG Sauer .357 off the nightstand, concealing the pistol in the outside pocket. The fully loaded gun was heavy, like a brick. It pulled noticeably on the robe.
He cracked open the door but didn't see anyone. He opened the door wider, making sure to scan the hallway. He peeked to his left and right. A strong perfume permeated the air. The source was surely the scantily dressed brunette a few doors down. She had a large purse slung over her shoulder. When she turned to look his way, her gaudy oversize hoop earrings swung wildly. Cain recognized her. She was striking enough to have caught his attention the previous night. She had been sipping a cocktail by herself in the hotel bar when he'd passed by on his way to his room.
"Your friend kicked me out without paying me!" she cried out. She marched toward Cain in her shiny leather high heels.
"Tranquila," he said as he raised his palms to her, in an effort to slow her momentum. "Tranquila. No es un problema." He knew her theatrics would draw unwanted attention. "Relax. I will fix this. Trust me."
"I don't trust you! I don't trust any of you! That maricón agreed to pay me. He owes me six hundred dollars!" She pointed down the hall without taking her eyes off Cain. She had deep brown eyes that matched her hair, which cascaded all the way to her lower back.
Cain assumed she was pointing to Special Agent Tom "Tomcat" Jackson's room. Tomcat was married with two daughters but known within the Secret Service as a playboy. His ego was as large and developed as his physique, and this was just the kind of woman he'd pick to experience a different side of the country.
"Six hundred dollars?" Cain asked incredulously.
"Yes!" She nodded. "Six hundred. This was not a date; it was a business deal."
Drawn to the disturbance, a uniformed security guard approached carefully. His wrinkled face projected alarm. Cain got the feeling the sleepy security guard rarely encountered problems at the five-star resort.
"Señor," the guard said. "Is there a problem?" He spoke in English, but it seemed limited.
"No hay problema. Todo está bien. Voy a arreglar esta situación," Cain rattled off, perfectly trilling the r's, the way his Spanish teacher had taught him. Señora Lana would be proud, he thought. She always told me my Spanish would come in handy someday, but she probably never imagined it would be to calm an angry prostitute.
Cain's conversational Spanish had also come in handy as a naval officer flying P-3 airplanes for counter-drug operations after 9/11. That was a time when the American government was waging war on narco-terrorism throughout Central and South America. He'd grown up speaking Cajun French with his parents, but Spanish was a lot more useful these days.
The woman continued arguing with Cain, switching back to Spanish for the security guard's benefit. "No! No está bien. Ese cabrón me debe dinero."
Watching them interact, Cain sensed that the security guard knew the señorita. Cain overheard her mentioning the president, and that's when he interjected. He had to.
"I already told you: I will take care of this." He walked toward Tom's room and knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked louder.
"He's a liar! Mentiroso! I know he's in there," she yelled.
Cain reached into his pocket. Wrong pocket, he thought as he felt the steel of the SIG Sauer pistol. He fished for his BlackBerry in the other pocket. When he found it, he thumbed his password and telephoned his partner. He even placed his ear to the door, and could hear the faint tune of Tom's "Smooth Latin" ringtone. Tom had changed it during their flight down. Tom didn't pick up, and eventually the call went to voicemail. Cain tried to turn the door handle, but it was locked.
He looked at the upset woman and the security guard. He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sorry, but nobody answered."
The prostitute became more enraged. "Voy a llamar la policía. La policía! Police!" she threatened. "I want to file a police report. Now!"
The guard was sympathetic to the señorita's threats to involve the police—he was muttering something about how the American officials invaded the hotel like locusts and acted as if they owned the place. They were speaking Spanish faster than Cain could follow, but he picked up key words and understood their body language. The guard unclipped his radio from his belt and keyed the mic. "Necesito el gerente. Ahora por favor." The security guard had urgently requested the hotel manager.
It wasn't the first time this manager had been called because of an agent's actions. How's he gonna respond this time? Cain wondered.
The hotel manager, with every strand of his jet-black hair perfectly in place, rounded the corner and approached in his charcoal suit. Two additional security guards flanked him. Tomcat ain't skating out of this one. Cain returned to Tom's door. He knocked much louder this time. No response from inside the room. He redialed his colleague, but still no answer. I've gotta do something before this blows up and the police are called. This situation is escalating quickly and is about to get way out of hand.
Cain knew he would have to deal with Tom later. It wasn't the first time he had covered for his partner during an overseas trip. Tomcat's antics were an annoyance and distraction from the real reason they were here: to provide maximum protection for the American president.
The manager extended his hand, which Cain shook. "This lady is very distraught. She claims your friend owes her six hundred dollars."
"Sir, I have no idea what happened between her and my colleague."
"She would like to file a police report," he added.
Cain grimaced. Prostitution was legal and regulated here, but this was still poor PR. "I know this much: it won't look good for the hotel or the Secret Service if we involve the police."
The manager signaled his agreement with a slow nod.
"I don't have six hundred dollars," Cain said, "but I will pay the lady what I have." He looked past the manager and directly at her. "No es un problema. Yo te pago."
He walked into his room and toward a pair of slacks strewn over the chair in the corner. He picked them up and caught the sweet scent of a Rocky Patel cigar—a reminder of his time the previous night at a chill jazz club near the hotel. Rummaging through the front pocket, he retrieved his leather money clip—a wedding gift from his father. It was engraved with the initials CML, and below that was the inscription Micah 6:8. In his money clip were a Virginia driver's license, a government-issue travel card, a personal Visa card, and roughly three hundred bucks in a mixture of American dollars and pesos.
He walked back into the hallway, where they were eagerly waiting. He stripped the money from his clip and showed her his limited funds.
She pointed to his wrist. "El reloj," she requested.
"Absolutely not," he replied.
"Give me your watch," she demanded. "Or all six hundred dollars."
"This watch was a gift from my wife. De mi esposa!" he said in forceful Spanish, now losing his patience with the prostitute. There's no way in hell she's getting the Omega Seamaster Claire gave me!
"Este o nada." He raised the cash again in a nonverbal take-it-or-leave-it. "A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. Algo es mejor que nada."
She snatched the money out of his hand.
The manager had witnessed him pay the woman, and then instructed the guards to escort her from the hotel in a discreet manner. He turned to Cain. "Mr. Lemaire, this is a five-star hotel—"
"Yes, it is," Cain interjected before the manager could finish his sentence. "You run a beautiful hotel."
The manager smiled at the compliment. "And we have many VIPs staying here. Everyone's safety and comfort are my primary concerns."
"Mine as well. Second to the president, of course."
"No more problems, please." The manager's words were more like a demand than a request.
"You have my word," Cain replied. "But tell your security guards to keep her far away from us this week. She's a bomb ready to explode, and we don't wanna be anywhere near her when she does."
Cain went back into his room, closed the door, and glanced at his watch. It was almost six. Early sunrays poured into the room. He was still tired from staying up late to finish all his paperwork for this presidential visit. The security assessment had to be sent to the intelligence unit in DC for final approval. Had it not been for Tom Jackson, I might've gotten another hour or two of much-needed sleep.
He stood at the window and looked out at the ocean. Palm trees were lightly blowing in the wind, and in the greater distance, fishermen were casting traditional rope nets. With the exception of that señorita, this port city seems like a peaceful place, he thought. He closed the curtains and grabbed his encrypted Dell laptop. He fired up the computer and reviewed the president's classified schedule. The Summit of the Americas was a high-profile international conference, and protecting the president took its toll on the agents. A medical researcher commissioned by Congress had concluded that for every year an agent was on presidential protection duty, he aged two years. Cain's sandy hair had no signs of gray, but he was still always struck by how much older he looked than others in their late thirties. It was genetics, he reasoned—the crow's feet surrounding his light-green eyes—coupled with a career as a naval officer and a Secret Service lifestyle that required endless travel, too little rest, and the stress associated with the dread that you could miss the one attack that would throw the free world into chaos. An assassin had to be lucky only once, but agents had to be prepared all the time. They were willing to trade their lives for the president's.
Cain had thought the navy was bureaucratic, but the Secret Service was even worse. It was a draconian agency with strict rules and unwritten guidelines. Cain didn't like the administrative BS or the office politics, but he didn't mind the rigorous schedule. He enjoyed seeing new places and found comfort in belonging to a warrior family, even if it was at times described as "dysfunctional."
As Cain read the notes emailed back to him from the intelligence unit, he heard a knock at his door. He suspected it was the señorita again. He slammed the laptop shut and tossed it under a sheet on his bed. He opened the door, but it wasn't the señorita. It was a face he recognized all too well.
"Thanks, Cain. I owe you one." The brawny agent invited himself in. Tomcat was wearing swim trunks and a T-shirt that advertised the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State was his alma mater.
"You coward!" Cain exclaimed. "You were hiding in your room."
"Nah, man. I swear. I was taking a shower."
"Bullshit! I didn't hear the shower. Besides, if you weren't in there, you wouldn't know that you owe me one. And it's not just one, Jackson. It's three hundred."
"Tell me you didn't pay that whore three hundred!"
"Do me a favor. As long as I'm footing the bill, don't call her a whore."
Tom rolled his eyes. "Always the gentleman."
"Quite frankly," Cain continued, "I'm surprised she'd sleep with you for so little."
Tom laughed defensively while lifting his shirt. "Have you seen my abs? Women pay me."
"Pull your shirt down. The entire service has seen your six-pack. Plus, your pasty skin's blinding me without my sunglasses." Cain wasn't ready to let him off the hook so easily. "Why the hell weren't you answering your phone? What if I had needed you for real?"
"I told you, man. I was in the shower. I couldn't go to breakfast smelling like sex, especially in this nice hotel."
"The manager came up here with two security guards. They escorted your date out of here. I swear, I'm done covering for you. This was worse than Itaewon—"
Tom smiled. "Korea was a blast."
"How would you even know? You were so wasted I had to carry you all the way back to the hotel."
Tom laughed. "You remember too much shit!"
"It's a blessing and a curse. With you, it seems to be more of the latter."
"Come join me," his partner suggested. "They serve great Bloody Marys at the poolside bar, and I've got two complimentary vouchers."
"POTUS is wheels down in less than twenty-four hours. You can't drink."
"Twenty-four hours? That's plenty of time to sober up. Get dressed. Come on. They might even have some grits and those French doughnuts you like."
"I'm skipping breakfast, and certainly the pool. The local police are coming, and I've gotta address some security concerns before POTUS arrives. You're free to join me and do your job."
"Nah, I'm good. You've got this covered," Tom said. He turned around and left Cain's room.
Cain reopened the curtains and lifted the window. The hot, humid air poured into the room, reminding him of home in Louisiana—except for the saltwater smell. Seagulls squawked as they floated over the beach. It was still early—no beachgoers, just a few dedicated joggers. He wished he were out there running, but his normal schedule had been altered unexpectedly. Just the thought of Tom having a Bloody Mary at the pool angered him. Thousands of people apply each month for the Secret Service, and this ungrateful asshole is taking up a spot—making over a hundred thousand dollars per year and traveling the world on the government's dime!
Cain placed his pistol on the vanity table and sat down. He focused on his government-issue weapon. He was proficient with all firearms, but he preferred the Italian-made Beretta 92FS. That's what the navy had issued him as an aviator. That said, if he were ever shot down, he'd be better off with a comfortable pair of running shoes instead of a pistol. Better to flee from captors than battle them with a lone pistol. But now, as the president's bodyguard, his duty required running toward the sound of gunfire—the opposite of the body's natural instincts. It had required months of intense training at the Secret Service academy in Beltsville, Maryland.
He unsheathed his duty pistol from its tan-colored Prince Gun Leather holster. He released the magazine and racked the slide, ejecting a bullet from the chamber. He caught the hollow-point bullet midair and neatly placed it on the table. He double-checked to ensure that his SIG was empty. He fieldstripped the weapon and laid out each part carefully, inspecting every piece as if his life depended on its reliability—because it did. And so did POTUS's. Cain and his fellow team members trusted one another to shoot straight when the time called for it.
He cleaned and lubricated as necessary before reassembly. He function-checked the SIG Sauer .357, and pulled the trigger and dry-fired it several times. He hoped that squeezing the trigger repeatedly would slip into his subconscious and help with one of his recurring nightmares.
Other agents had described nightmares of being chased, or their teeth falling out, but not Cain. He had two recurring nightmares: one was personal, and the other always involved an assassin attacking the president. Cain would always draw his weapon and try to put two bullets into the attacker's center mass, but his trigger would not budge. He hoped that dry-firing his service pistol several times a day would transfer into his dreams and end that hellish loop.
He slapped a loaded magazine into the SIG and racked the slide. He released the magazine and inserted one extra hollow-point, bringing the total number of bullets to fourteen. He was always prepared for battle, and he wanted to make sure he had every round possible.
He wiped off the excess oil and holstered his SIG. It fit snugly, a testament to the craftsmanship of the artist who had molded the sheath from a single piece of high-quality cowhide. He looked upon the tools of his trade—gold-plated five-star badge, pistol, two extra magazines, pair of stainless-steel handcuffs, handheld radio and custom-molded earpiece, expandable steel baton, colored lapel pin—and inhaled the strong odor of gun oil. If I can figure out how to turn this smell into men's cologne, I would make my millions and retire, he thought. But where would I go? I'm dedicated to the Service. Working in the Presidential Protection Division is exactly where I want to be. He was an actor on the stage the Secret Service informally referred to as "the show," and it consumed his life. The Service had taken him in. They were his adopted family, and they were a tight-knit group.
His room phone rang.
"Sí." He recognized the slow, heavily accented voice. It was Carlos, a retired midlevel police supervisor, now the hotel's chief of security. They had been working together for this presidential visit.
"I know you are busy, but it's very important that—"
Noise in the hallway prevented Cain from hearing Carlos.
"I'm sorry," Cain replied. "Please say that again."
The chatter in the hallway grew louder.
"Un momento, por favor," he said before placing the phone down and opening the door.
Several agents, wearing shorts and with beach towels draped around their necks, were discussing their exploits from the previous night, bits of profanity mixed into their conversations.
"Guys! Tone it down. I'm on the phone. It's important."
"It's not even eight o'clock yet," one of the agents said.
"Quit screwing off," Cain replied. "We've got work to do."
"Plenty of time for that. We're all heading to the pool."
Cain shook his head in annoyance and returned to the phone.
"I apologize for the interruption," Cain offered, and inhaled deeply to calm himself.
"That's why I'm calling, Señor Lemaire. We need to talk. I'll be waiting for you in the lobby."
"Can we discuss it over the phone?"
"No," he said. "This is best discussed in person."
"I need a minute to get dressed."
"Of course, but please hurry."
The dial tone echoed in Cain's ear.
The luxury hotel bustled with guests, but not tourists. Most were American government officials. Secret Service agents occupied an entire floor, including the rooms above and below the president's suite. Other rooms were used by military advisors, a communications team, political aides, and other straphangers who always accompanied every VIP entourage. If the American taxpayer only knew how much money was spent for such presidential visits…Cain thought.
Angel was the Secret Service code word for Air Force One, and it was landing in less than twenty-four hours. Because there was still a great deal of advance security preparation to be done, Cain anxiously stood in the lobby, waiting to meet with Carlos. The hotel's head of security seemed to always be running late. Cain had learned from his travels, which had taken him to more than one hundred countries on six continents, that only a few cultures had an obsession with punctuality. Americans and Germans certainly fit the stereotype, and from what he had heard from his twin sister, Bonnie, the Japanese were also mindful of being on time. By comparison, South America as a whole seemed much more laissez-faire.
While impatiently waiting in the lobby, Cain marveled at the building's architecture. It was nothing like the cookie-cutter hotels back home. This hotel had a colonial feel to it, with magnificent wooden columns and high ceilings that supported elaborate glass chandeliers.
His focus was interrupted by the immaculately dressed Carlos, whose tailored suit fit snugly on his large frame and was accented by a Rolex watch and gold rings. Cain wondered if the man had amassed his fortune as a captain with the police force or as head of the hotel's security department.
"Señor Lemaire. Let us sit down over here"—Carlos gestured with an open palm—"where it's more private." He looked around the lobby as one might at an ATM in a sketchy neighborhood. "I heard about what happened this morning. We're used to these things here. And quite frankly, we think it's only human nature. Man has been chasing woman since the beginning of time. But we may have a problem. I received a phone call from our national newspaper. They were asking questions. I think the woman has talked to the press."
"It appears so, señor."
"Well, there's no story here. I'm sure the press will realize that, and it'll be old news by the time Air Force One arrives. That beautiful Boeing 747 has a way of stealing the limelight when it lands."
"Señor. You don't know Latin women like I do. I've been married to four of them, divorced from three. This puta is not going away."
Cain's BlackBerry vibrated on his hip, opposite side from where he carried his concealed pistol. He never wanted to accidentally grab his phone when he intended to draw his gun. While on duty, he also always made sure his ringer was switched to Vibrate, especially after a colleague forgot to do so during a speech by former president Carter. Deacon (the Secret Service code name for the thirty-ninth president) had been in the middle of delivering a speech when the agent's phone rang, and President Carter fixed the agent with a look. The agent was so mortified he'd offered to resign the following day.
Cain grabbed his phone from its holster on his belt and rested it on his thigh while Carlos continued talking. He flipped it over and glanced at the screen. There was a high-priority notification. Next to the message was a red exclamation mark. The email was from Supervisory Special Agent LeRoy Hayes.
"Please pardon me for one second, señor. This is my boss trying to reach me from Washington. He's usually hands-off, so it's unusual."
"Claro." Carlos waved his hand in the air as if swatting a fly.
Cain read the short email. "Reports of excessive drinking and good-time girls. Embassy is aware. Return to DC tomorrow, 0855 hours United flight. Your relief is already en route. EOD."
Cain was stunned. He knew that EOD meant "end of discussion," but it was a forceful way to state it. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach.
"Are you okay?" Carlos asked. "You look ill."
- On Sale
- Jul 14, 2020
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing