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Ray Devlin is retired, living a simple life off the grid in Florida, when a visit from an old colleague stirs some bad memories — and ends with a gunshot. Soon Devlin is forced to again face a past he’d hoped to leave behind, as a member of a mercenary force that helped put a brutal South American dictator into power.
Tracy Quinn is an investigative reporter at a struggling Philadelphia newspaper decimated by layoffs and cutbacks. Then one day what appears to be a straightforward homicide — a body left in an abandoned rowhouse — draws her and Devlin together, and ultimately enmeshes both in a conspiracy that stretches over twenty years and reaches to the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Before long, they’re both the targets of a ruthless assassin haunted by his own wartime experiences. For Devlin, it could all mean a last shot at redemption. For Tracy, the biggest story of her career just might cost her life.
Well is thy war begun;
Endure, be strong and strive;
But think not, O my son,
To save thy soul alive.
—A. E. Housman
The storm caught Devlin out on the Intracoastal just before dark. The rain was light at first, only pebbling the surface, then lashing down in staggered sheets that moved like ghosts across the water.
He steered the Pacemaker through growing swells toward the marina. Rain beat on the wheelhouse roof, coursed down the windscreen faster than the wipers could bat it away. It stopped as the boat passed beneath the Blue Heron Bridge, then picked up again harder on the other side. To the south, over the power station smokestacks of the Port of Palm Beach, lightning pulsed in the black sky.
As he neared the marina, he saw the lone figure waiting there on the dock, knew it was Bell. Devlin raised a hand to let him know he’d seen him, then eased back on the throttles. The starboard engine was running rough, out of synch with its mate. It had been fine at speed out on the salt, but now, as the rpms dropped, he could hear it starting to miss again. It would need another overhaul before long. But the Pacemaker was more than forty years old, and it was getting harder to find both spare parts and a mechanic who knew his way around the ancient Crusader engines.
He swung the boat around, reversed the engines, and began to back slowly toward his slip, looking over his shoulder as he steered.
Bell watched him come in. He wore an olive-drab field jacket, had pulled up the hood against the rain. Behind him, the pole lights on the dock were flickering into life.
Devlin’s slip was at the far end of the dock. He lined up the stern, slowed the engines again, exhaust gurgling. He’d already hung the fenders off the gunwales, and now they bumped and scraped against the bulkhead on both sides as he entered the slip. He judged the distance and shut down the engines. The boat’s momentum carried it in the rest of the way.
Bell got the nylon stern lines from the dock. Devlin went to the transom, caught them as they were tossed, looped them through the rear cleats, and pulled them tight.
“You’re early,” Devlin said. “I should have guessed.”
“Permission to come aboard? Get out of this shit?”
Bell went out onto the short side dock. Devlin took an aluminum boat hook from the gunwale rack, used it to snag the line from the port bulkhead. He pulled on it to bring the boat closer to the dock.
A swell rocked the boat just as Bell stepped over the side. He leaped down easily, landed with knees slightly bent on the wet deck, no stumble. Still quick on his feet.
“Go on in, get below,” Devlin said. “I need to secure the rest of these lines.”
Bell ducked his head, went through the door and down into the low cabin. Devlin climbed out on the side of the boat with the hook, made his way forward in the rain, stepping carefully. He hooked the bowlines, made them fast to the cleats, then went back the way he’d come. Rain washed the deck, ran out through the scuppers.
He replaced the hook, went down the three steps into the cabin. Bell had already taken off his jacket, hung it from a peg on the wall below the pantry shelf, the boxes and cans there held in place with a bungee cord.
Devlin went forward into the bow, got two thick towels from the drawer below one of the bunks. He came back, tossed one to Bell, then dried his own face and hair. Bell did the same.
“You’re a hard man to get ahold of, Sarge.”
“Long time,” Devlin said.
“It has been.”
“You’re looking good.”
The last time he’d seen Bell had been at a private airstrip in Arizona, almost twenty years before. There were patches of gray in his hair now, but the arms and chest beneath the tight black T-shirt were still ridged with muscle. Devlin felt a pang of envy. They were the same age.
“I thought I had the right place,” Bell said. “But I wasn’t sure. I was expecting yachts. This is more like a floating trailer park.”
“Surprised you found me.”
“So am I. Seems like you didn’t want to be.”
Devlin took the damp towels back into the bow, hung them up. It was close and humid in the cabin. He’d worn a long-sleeved T-shirt against the sun. Now he was sweating under it.
He came back out, nodded at the dining nook with the hinged table. “Have a seat.” He switched on the overhead light, then knelt by the low refrigerator, took out a bottle of Dos Equis, held it up.
“Hell, yeah,” Bell said. “Come all this way.”
Devlin took out a second bottle, closed the refrigerator door with his knee. He popped the caps with the aluminum opener that hung from a string on the pantry shelf. He set a bottle on the table, leaned back against the counter with his own. Rain drummed on the cabin roof.
Bell looked around. “Very retro, I dig it. This thing looks older than me.”
“How much it run you?”
“Paid five thousand in cash for it a couple years ago. A fisherman from Rhode Island was planning to scrap it. Spent another ten grand getting dry rot repaired, engines overhauled, scraping, painting. A hundred other things.”
Bell rapped knuckles on the tabletop. “It’s all wood?”
“All twenty-eight majestic feet of her.”
“You live here? Like, all the time?”
“On the boat? Yeah. I move around a little. I’ll probably take it up north again this summer. It’s home, for now.”
“You don’t get claustrophobia? It was me, I could barely move in this bitch.”
“It focuses you,” Devlin said. “A place for everything, everything in its place.”
“You must not have many things.”
“I don’t. Not anymore. But everything I need is here.”
“What about them?”
“You been doing some work.”
Devlin looked at his palm, the calluses on the fingers, the scar where he’d cut himself on a rough piece of rebar.
“Construction,” he said. “Here and there. Unskilled. I take what comes along.”
“All cash, and under the table, I bet. You’re staying off the grid. I admire that.”
“Not well enough, apparently. You found me.”
Devlin opened a counter drawer, took out the Bicycle playing card, an ace of hearts with Bell’s cell number written in black ink at the bottom. He’d come home from a work site the day before, found it tucked into the hinge of the locked cabin door.
He tossed it on the table. “Good one.”
“Knew you’d remember it. Figured if that didn’t get you to call, nothing would.”
“How’d you find me?”
“Still using your real name, so that was a start.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Lots of reasons I could think of. Anyway, I did a simple web search, Googled your ass. Found an address and phone number in New Jersey. Number’s disconnected.
“I go there anyway, though, talk to your former neighbors in some sad-ass garden apartment complex. No one knows much about you, what you do, who you are, et cetera. But the manager tells me he thinks you keep a boat nearby. He sends me up the road to a marina, but you’re not there either. Now what do I do?”
“Nah. I keep pushing. But none of those white folks at that marina want to talk to me, even after I show them a badge, which, if you don’t look too close, may imply I’m a licensed investigator. Still, doesn’t get a brother anywhere. Jersey, man. It’s full of angry white people.”
A swell rolled the deck under their feet. Bell’s bottle slid off the table. He caught it by the neck in midair.
“Finally I find an old man there with an eye patch, has a houseboat, used to know you.”
“Yeah, Reuben. Gives me a description of your boat, the name—the Higher Tide, whatever that means—and says he thinks you might be down in Florida, trying to beat the winter. At least that’s what he heard. And all it cost me was twenty bucks.”
“Florida’s a big state.”
“It is. But Reuben—who’s my buddy now—says he’s pretty sure you mentioned the East Coast, that you’d at least stop there before moving on. So I get a list of marinas in south Florida—I mean, it’s gotta be south, right? No use going all that distance unless you’re sure it’s gonna be warm. That means south of Daytona, at least. More likely farther down.”
“I get the numbers for those marinas—there’s a lot of them—and I start cold-calling. After all, I have the name of the boat, the description. Can’t be too many of those around, right? What’s that name mean, anyway?”
“Nothing to me. That’s what it was when I bought it. Bad luck to change a boat’s name. What story did you use?”
“That I was an insurance adjuster settling a claim, trying to track you down. Had some money for you, but no fixed address or way to contact you.”
“They really fall for that?”
“You’d be surprised. Hit it on the ninth call. Riviera Beach. Twenty-four hours later, here we are, drinking beer.”
“And what exactly is your trade these days?”
“Little of this, little of that. Personal security details, whatever comes along. Just like you.”
“Not like me.”
Devlin looked at Bell’s hands. His wrists were thick, and the first two knuckles of his right hand were swollen and rounded, like stones beneath the skin.
“You getting enough work to make a living?”
“Trying,” Bell said. “But it’s not like the old days.”
The rain had slowed. They heard the chug of a diesel engine going by on the Intracoastal. The boat moved in its wake.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Devlin said. “But if you came here to play Remember When, I’m not sure I’m up for that.”
“Say what you like about those days, we were pros. Doing a job and getting paid.”
“You ever hear from anybody from back then? How about Roarke?”
Devlin shook his head. “Not in a long time.”
“He and I did a little work together after you retired,” Bell said. “A PSD in Qatar, a gig in Honduras, some other things. But I hear he’s out of the game now too. You remember Villiers?”
“I think so.”
“He went back to the Legion, did another five years. Don’t know where he is now. Torbert caught a hot one in Sierra Leone. Diamond mine detail. He’s buried over there.”
“I heard. Aren’t you getting a little old for this yourself?”
“Age and cunning, attitude and experience. They always win out. You interested in a proposition?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“If that’s the reason you came here, you wasted your trip.”
“What’s wrong?” Bell said. “You lose your mojo?”
“Not sure I ever had it.”
“Yeah, you did. Maybe you can get it back.”
“I don’t think so. Not at this point.”
Bell turned the bottle in his hands. “You don’t even want to hear it?”
“You sure you want to tell it? Even knowing what my answer’s going to be?”
“You and I, we have skills most people don’t. There’s not a lot of us around. Don’t underestimate that, man. Celebrate it.”
“I got all the celebrating out of my system years ago. Market’s full of young guys, back from overseas, looking for work. I’m fifty-four. I’m done.”
“Get back into it, you might feel different. We do what we’re good at. You try to deny that, and what are you?”
Devlin smiled. So this was it, what it was all about, what he had suspected. And never a question what his answer would be.
“I appreciate the philosophy. And I’m flattered you came all the way down here to ask. But like I said, there’s lots of young bucks looking for private gigs. And they’re all quicker, smarter, and tougher than me.”
“Finding a trigger puller is easy,” Bell said. “Finding someone who knows when to pull it and when not, that’s the difference.”
“I wouldn’t trust myself either way anymore. I wouldn’t trust myself on much of anything. You still work for Kemper?”
Bell drank beer. “Sometimes. If the pay’s right. Our arrangement isn’t exclusive, though. You could say I’m more of a freelancer.”
“He still in the same racket? After all this time?”
“Man, you’re not up on current events, are you? You don’t have a TV, radio? Read a newspaper?”
“You know about this thing called the internet?”
“I heard. I had a laptop once, but I sold it. Used to get online a little, but it didn’t seem worth the time. Too much static, lots of people bitching at each other.”
“You should hear yourself, Grandpa.”
“I’ll tell you what, though, just so you didn’t make the trip for nothing. There’s a decent seafood place up on U.S. One. I’ll buy you dinner, a couple drinks. If you want, you can crash here tonight. Sleeps four in a pinch.”
“You really going to leave it like that?” Bell said. He wasn’t smiling. “Don’t even want to hear what I have to say?”
“No, man, I don’t.”
“You might change your mind.”
Bell raised his shoulders, let them fall. “What can I say?”
“Nothing.” Devlin set his beer on the counter. “I have to hit the head, then we can go. You got a car here?”
“Rental. Up in the lot.”
“Good. You can drive.”
He pushed on the toilet stall door. It was hinged down the middle, opened inward. Inside, he shut the door, pulled the string for the light. He unzipped, urinated, and flushed, caught a glimpse of himself in the circular mirror he’d hung on the wall.
There was more gray in his hair now, no hiding it. Shadows under his eyes that never went away. And the weight he’d gained in the last year showed in his face. He touched the trail of small scars across his left temple, the bare patch in the brow there, thought again how lucky he’d been not to lose that eye.
He could hear Bell moving around out in the cabin.
“Hey,” Devlin called. “How was Roarke last time you saw him?”
He pulled open the door, and a gun came through, the muzzle inches from his face.
He twisted away, slammed his shoulder into the door. The gun went off near his ear. The edge of the door caught Bell’s wrist, pinned it against the frame. The gun—a small black automatic—jumped again, and the mirror exploded. A shell casing bounced off the wall and onto the floor.
Bell tried to pull his hand back. Devlin leaned his weight into the door, trapped it. He punched at the inside of the exposed wrist. Once, twice, driving it into the wall, aiming for the fragile carpal bones in the base of the hand.
Bell fired blindly. The round splintered trim from the wall, ricocheted past Devlin’s head. He punched again, and this time Bell’s hand opened. The gun fell to the floor. Devlin foot-swept it behind him, yanked open the door. Bell pulled away, his arm free, and Devlin stepped out, kicked him hard in the stomach.
Bell fell back, hit a vertical storage locker behind him, didn’t go down. He bounced off it, used the momentum to bull forward, his hands already a blur. Devlin got his arms up to protect his face, took a shot to the lower ribs that stole his breath.
Bell crowded in with a flurry of movement, punching and kicking. Devlin tried to push him away, cover up, felt the first surge of panic. He took another blow to the ribs, swung and hit air, lost his balance. Bell roundhoused a knee into him, and Devlin went down hard onto the cabin floor, lights sparking at the edge of his vision.
He curled up to guard against another kick, but Bell stepped over him, pushed the stall door wider, looking for the gun. He bent to retrieve it, and Devlin saw his chance. He twisted on the floor, caught Bell’s ankles from behind and pulled.
Bell’s chin hit the rim of the toilet as he went down. He grunted, swiveled onto his back, pulled a leg free, and kicked. His heel hit Devlin’s shoulder, knocked him back. Then they were grappling, the gun forgotten, Bell trying to pin him to the deck, straddle him, and finish it. Devlin slipped a punch, twisted his hips out from under Bell’s weight, swung behind him, and locked an arm across his throat.
He had control now, knees on the floor, his center of gravity low, Bell in a sitting position in front of him. Bell drove an elbow back into his stomach, but it was too late; Devlin had the choke hold in place. He pulled tighter, forearm across Bell’s throat, left palm behind his head, pushing it forward, cutting off the flow of blood and oxygen.
Bell reached back, clawed for his eyes. Devlin tucked his head in, tightened his grip, felt the struggles slow. Bell’s hands pulled at Devlin’s forearm weakly, then dropped away. Devlin held him another three seconds to make sure, then let go. Bell slumped to the floor.
Devlin tried to stand. He pushed Bell aside, stepped over him. There was a ringing in his right ear, and his face felt numb and swollen. At his feet, Bell began to gasp.
Devlin went into the stall. The gun was against the wall, behind the toilet. He picked it up. It was a Colt .25 with checkered plastic grips. Not much stopping power, but an easy kill at that range. He lowered the hammer.
Bell coughed. Devlin moved around him, a sour taste rising fast inside him. He lurched to the counter, vomited into the steel sink. He set the gun down, ran water, palmed some into his mouth, spit it out.
Bell was leaning back against the locker, watching him, chest rising and falling. Devlin showed him the gun, then sat on the top step. His ribs ached. Numbness before, pain now.
He ejected the magazine. Four rounds left, one in the chamber. He pushed it home again, rested the gun butt on his knee.
“I think this is the point,” he said, “where we have a conversation.”
The rain had stopped. Low thunder sounded, but farther away now.
Bell rubbed the back of his neck. “You’ve still got some moves. Give you that.” His voice was hoarse.
Devlin stood, pain in his sides, said, “Stay down.” He went around behind Bell, put the muzzle of the gun against the base of his skull, patted him down with his free hand, looking for other weapons. He pulled a wallet from his back pocket, tossed it on the table. The rest of his pockets were empty. He backed away, went through Bell’s jacket, came up with a pair of car keys on an electronic fob, a cellphone. He put them with the wallet.
Bell shifted on the floor. Devlin kept the gun on him.
“I guess I fucked that up,” Bell said. “What happens now?”
“You tell me.”
The cabin rocked as a boat went by. Bell’s Dos Equis bottle had been knocked over in the struggle. It rolled across the floor, leaking foam. Devlin stopped it with his foot, picked it up, and set it in the sink. He sat back on the top step. “This isn’t much gun.”
“Figured it would do.”
“Yeah, it probably would have. Five rounds left.”
Bell grinned. “Even without the gun, I had you.”
“You want to put it down, try me again?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You gonna use it?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“I do. You’re not. That’s not how you roll.”
“You sure of that?” Devlin said. “You think you know me?”
“Knew you well enough back in the day. And you know me well enough to know I ain’t got shit to say to you.”
“Maybe I should put a bullet in your leg, get the conversation started.”
“Do what you feel. But there isn’t gonna be a conversation.”
Devlin stood. His cellphone was on the chart shelf to his left. Without looking away from Bell, he took it down, flipped it open.
“Sit there,” he said. “Don’t try to get up.”
He backed up the steps and onto the deck. The slip on the port side was still empty. The boat that usually moored there had been gone all day. Beyond that, a cabin cruiser was buttoned up tight, no lights inside. TV noise came from a Chris-Craft four slips down. At the far end of the dock, the marina office was dark. Vapor lights illuminated the dozen or so cars and pickups in the parking lot.
The shots hadn’t drawn anyone. In the confines of the cabin, they would have been little more than muffled cracks to anyone outside. It was why Bell had used a small caliber.
He went back below. If he called 911 now, the police would be there soon. He’d lose his chance to talk to Bell, try to find out why he’d come. He closed the phone, slipped it in his back pocket. Wind rocked the boat, sent a bolt of pain through his ribs.
“I didn’t hear you make a call,” Bell said.
“What are you waiting for?”
Devlin pointed the gun at him.
“Not your style,” Bell said.
“Shoot an unarmed man.”
“We did worse,” Devlin said.
“That was then. This is a whole other situation.”
“Is it? Why’d you come here?”
“Maybe I wanted to take you off. Steal your boat.”
“If that were the case, all you had to do was ask. I’d have said, ‘Take it.’”
He got the wallet from the table, opened it with his left hand. Inside were four fifty-dollar bills and a Georgia driver’s license in Bell’s name, with an Atlanta address.
“You’re not gonna steal a brother’s money, are you?”
He put the wallet back, picked up the phone. It was a cheap disposable. No contacts, and the only number in the call history was his. He tossed it back on the table.
“That proposition you mentioned. You were just trying to sound me out, right? See where my head was at?”
“I screwed up. I got nothing else to say. You gonna make that call?”
Devlin sat back on the step. “One thing’s bothering me. We never had a beef between us. Any of us, even with all that happened. And if we did, it was a long time ago. So if you’re not here for yourself, you’re here for someone else. Who?”
Bell rotated his neck, winced. “Man, I think you cracked something.”
“It’s funny,” Devlin said. “All the shit we went through together, the bad memories, I was still happy to hear from you, see you.”
Bell was silent.
- "Stroby, already a crime fiction luminary, is channeling his inner Elmore Leonard more and more these days, and this time he's headed to Leonard's old stomping grounds, a Florida populated by rogues, hustlers, reporters, and mercenaries. Expect some quality thrills and madcap action."—LitHub
- "Stroby, who is frequently compared to Elmore Leonard, remains at the top of his game. His sketches of today's newspapers and their financial woes are vividly rendered, as is his take on the sordid business of companies attempting to exploit the idea of 'Democracy for Profit.' Best of all, Stroby's prose is as lean, clean, and mean as ever."—Booklist (starred review)
- "Wallace Stroby's Some Die Nameless manages that rare feat: it thrusts the reader headlong into a story so muscular and breakneck we can barely catch our breath,
- On Sale
- Jul 10, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Mulholland Books