Miami – Wednesday, Feb. 19, 8:58 p.m. EST
Two minutes early, Lin drove his German luxury sedan up to the twelve-foot wrought-iron fence surrounding Torenmaas’ main property. On a little peninsula on the bay side of Key Biscayne, the villa lay at a dead end off Harbor Drive—as secluded as one could get. An armed guard left the security booth and approached the car. Lin pressed the button to lower the window and announced himself. Two additional guards observed him from the booth.
“He is expecting you,” the first guard proclaimed, glancing at Lin’s license. The gate retracted, and Lin drove toward the house.
When Torenmaas bought the property, he had razed the previous home and hired a world-renowned architect to design a stormproof eco-friendly masterpiece, along the lines of the new art museum downtown. Tree-hugging eco-fascists, Lin had thought. But as he gazed upon Torenmaas’ lair, he conceded the results weren’t bad.
Lin took inventory of Torenmaas’ security measures: iron perimeter fence, cameras, motion detectors, Doberman Pinschers. He also knew that, though unseen to him at the moment, a patrol boat cruised the mangroves and a cybersecurity team kept vigil. Beyond that, Torenmaas housed a small arsenal in a safe room, also filled with booze and cigars. Torenmaas had bragged about it once. He had said it was like the closet-style bomb shelters in the luxury apartments in Tel Aviv, only better. Torenmaas’ security team even prepared scenarios to head off drone assaults. At his own home, Lin had a security system like everybody else, and he had enough semiautomatic weapons to defend his team, but Torenmaas’ obsession with seclusion was over the edge, even for Lin. “Chacun sa merde,” he muttered out loud.
Lin parked in front of one of the closed bays of Torenmaas’ six-car garage, then walked across the permeable pavers, and past rows of prickly pears, scrub palms and statuary. An eight-foot replica of the Louvre’s Winged Nike caught his eye. I’ll never understand why they make the replicas without the heads, he thought. They should just restore the head.
Torenmaas’ butler Hendrik, wearing a black three-piece suit, opened the front door before Lin had the chance to ring a bell or knock.
Lin gazed behind the butler, where a modernist light fixture illuminated a vase brimming with birds of paradise on an antique Javanese table. He nodded at the loyal servant.
“Good evening, sir,” said Hendrik, a towering Dutch man with cloudy blue eyes and a high forehead that blended into his hairless scalp and crown. Grey stubble horseshoed around his freckled head. “Your electronics, please?”
Lin handed over his phone with a grunt.
Hendrik pointed to his left. “Mr. Torenmaas will see you by the pool.”
Lin walked through the main entrance hall, past the library and out the side door, where Torenmaas was nursing a brandy.
“Evening, Theo,” he said, taking a chair next to Torenmaas. “What’s all this about?”
“We’ve got a problem,” said Torenmaas, still in his tennis shorts.
“I gathered. Tell me what the hell is going on.”
Torenmaas poured Lin a brandy and passed it to him across the side table. “That guy Channarong from the World Bank.”
“What about him?”
“Maybe you missed the headlines, Jimmy, but yesterday Channarong was found hanging in his office.”
“Today, a mere one day later, I have a Daily Journal reporter chasing me at my own office building, asking me about him!” Torenmaas yelled.
“What does that have to do with us?”
“This woman claims to have a video of me dining with Channarong on South Beach last year,” Torenmaas said, regaining his composure.
“Is this a joke?”
“I am afraid not.”
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“Right now, I have no fucking idea. He was in Miami promoting philanthropic projects in Thailand and Indonesia. At the time, I took a page from your rule book, Jimmy, and agreed to meet in public.”
“Don’t blame me for your lapse in judgement. Incriminating videos are not in my rule book.”
Brooding, Torenmaas stared at the pool. “Who the hell took that video? And why?”
“Did Channarong have it taken?” Lin asked. “And how did the bitch reporter get it?”
“Now, I can’t answer those questions,” Torenmaas said. “But I might be able to later. She’s coming over here later—with her colleague.”
“Why not? I have complete control in this environment. I can size her up, see what she’s got.”
“In an hour.”
“Help me come up with a plan.”
Lin shook his head quickly, as if a mosquito was buzzing his ear. “This isn’t my fault.”
“I don’t care whose fault it is! We should agree on what to do. If the Daily Journal investigates Channarong, they’ll be thorough, and it will branch out. Who knows what they might uncover. And if I go down, you do too.”
“Well, you want my advice?”
“If you think this snooping is so detrimental, get them out of the way. It’s simple.”
“Jimmy, that’s like using a sledgehammer to kill an insect. And besides—the colleague is my niece.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, Theo?”
“The second one, she’s my niece, technically my step-niece. Her name is Raven Garcia.”
“You’re shitting me!”
“You are fucked,” Lin added, taking a couple of cigars and a book of matches out of his jacket pocket. He offered one to Torenmaas, who accepted. Lin lit a match and puffed—the cigar glowed orange. He flicked the match into an ashtray on the table, as Torenmaas twirled his cigar and scowled. “Fine. Then just scare the shit out of them. Fucking hacks! Assign one of your teams to take care of it—ASAP,” Lin said, blowing smoke. “Be clear. Black eye, bloody nose, broken ribs. Like that,” he said, taking a sip of his brandy with his left hand, still holding the cigar in his right. “For now, spin the story. You can always kill them later.”
Torenmaas stared past the foliage beside the pool at the twinkling lights along the mainland.
“That’s my advice,” Lin repeated, fidgeting.
Torenmaas signaled Lin to pass him the matches and joined him in smoking.
“For fuck’s sake, Theo,” Lin continued. “I will take care of it, if you don’t. We can’t have these people digging around.”
“Something is wrong,” Torenmaas said, exhaling cigar smoke.
“No fucking kidding. Channarong, that imbecile! Wife probably found out he was keeping a mistress and hired a P.I., or he had financial problems, or both. Standard shit. And I hear his son is running drugs,” Lin said. “Any number of people could have been following him, filming him. There was a lot wrong.”
Torenmaas took a deep breath.
“Snap out of it, man,” Lin replied. “If you’re not going to eliminate the reporters, throw them off. And get something out of them.”
“They’re going to refuse ‘to reveal their sources’,” Torenmaas said, using air quotes. “But you’re right. They might slip up, or I might convince Raven to do a trade,” he said, dragging on the cigar and holding the smoke in his mouth, then releasing it in one puff.
"If you don’t deal with them, I will,” Lin said, standing to go. “This isn’t my fucking mess, but I won’t hesitate to clean it up. We don’t need any glitches.”
“No. I’ll deal with it.”
Lin downed the last of his drink and stood. “Call me later,” he said, leaving the cigar burning in the tray. “Hendrik! I need my phone!”
Copyright © by Wolf Bahren. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with “permission requests” in the subject line at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.