A suspense/thriller with a dose of humor set in and around Miami Beach, Florida. Mistaken identities, spies, smugglers, and adventure.
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For Tracy Wiley, life is smooth sailing. Armed with a sharp wit and sharper mind, she has everything under control, taking things as they come. At least until her boyfriend breaks up with her and she takes a singles' cruise to Jamaica to get over him. On the ship, she meets a charismatic rogue who seems to seek only platonic companionship. Back home in Miami Beach, however, her vacation friendship sweeps her into a dangerous world of international intrigue where everyone has two faces, including Tracy. Except her other face is on someone else's body and might just get her killed.
"Two Faces, Two Faced" is available as an ebook from the publisher's website, www.writewordsinc.com, as well as on Amazon.com with more vendors to follow. Check out Kathryn Flatt's Author Page to see more sources as they become available.
The afternoon storm blew inland on a stiff breeze that lingered over Miami Beach to make the palm trees sway and send raindrops pattering against the balcony doors. Alex read his law book while I scanned the entertainment pages of the local paper, a typical kind of weeknight winding down at his place. Other than the occasional swish of a page turning, silence prevailed, so until Alex spoke, I had no idea another sort of storm was brewing right there in the bedroom.
“Tracy, I think we ought to cool things off for a while.”
Stunned for a moment, my defenses went on high alert, and I stared at a movie review without seeing it. “Was it something I said?”
Exasperated sigh. “I just think we need some space so we can figure out the future.”
I took a turn at sighing, thinking Oh Alex, when did you learn cliché-speak? I somehow found the wherewithal to look at him. After three years as a couple, I thought I knew how to read him, but his handsome face, drawn with tension, revealed nothing specific. In my mind, though, “cool things off” could only mean he wanted to play the field. I fought against the startling surge of pain the notion brought on.
I looked at my paper again. “The future simply happens. You don’t get to figure it out until after.”
Angry slap of book closing. “That’s the real problem right there!”
“Excuse me?” His sudden testiness caught me by surprise because he usually epitomized patience and calm.
“You don’t plan, Tracy,” he accused. “To you, the future is, at most, tomorrow or next week.” He switched to a more conciliatory tone. “Don’t you want to make something of yourself? Get out of that dead end job?”
“It’s not a dead end exactly. More of a merry-go-round with no brass ring, and it plays ‘What Kind of Fool Am I.’ Besides, where else could I have so much fun for so little money?”
“Everything’s a big joke to you!” he shot back. “Can’t we for once have a serious discussion minus the quips and sarcasm?”
“I always say a little levity lightens the load.” I started to get angry too. We had agreed from the start to take things as they came, no strings, no commitments. If he wanted to be free, I could not bind him. “But hey, if you’re looking to add a few more notches on your gun, far be it from me to stand in your way.”
“What?” His expression morphed into confusion.
I stood beside the bed and took off his pajama shirt. “You heard me. I can take a hint.”
“Tracy…” He scrambled to his feet and started following me around as I dressed. “Honey, you’re thirty-two—”
“Don’t remind me.”
“—and you’ve got no ambition at all. You’re a smart woman, and you could take your pick of professions. Do you plan to do what you’re doing when you’re forty? Or fifty?”
“Forty or fifty what?”
“There you go again!”
I fought back tears. After hinting he wanted his freedom, he was trying to make it my fault. He told me when we met he enjoyed my tendency to joke and be smart-alecky as well as my spontaneous approach to life. Now those were suddenly negatives.
“Let’s not belabor the point,” I said stiffly as I slipped into my shoes. “You’re looking for someone more like you and less like me, and you won’t find her if I’m sharing your bed every other night.”
“But I didn’t mean… you can’t leave now.” He went from conciliatory to humble. “It’s still early.”
“You shouldn’t pick a fight before nookie if you expect to get any.” Finished dressing, I gathered my collection of newspapers and stalked out of the bedroom with him on my heels. “You can throw away my toothbrush if you want. I have one at home. If you find any of my clothes around, I hereby grant first pickings to your next lover. Buh-bye.” I slammed the front door before he could say another word.
I cried a bit in the elevator, choked it back on the cab ride home as I played back memories of our exchange. One thought kept nudging them all away: Alex and I were over. I hated it, but when people leave you, it’s never your decision. Once I reached home, I flopped onto my bed and really cut loose.
After a time, I thought I had the waterworks under control. Then the phone rang.
“Hi there. You’ve reached Tracy Wiley’s answering machine. She might be here or she might not. Say something interesting and you’ll find out.”
“Tracy, I know you’re there by now. Pick it up.”
I glared at the phone as if it could transmit my anger at Alex’s domineering-parent voice, trying to order me around when he should have been gushing apologies.
“I can sit here all night, Tracy.”
“Go ahead and sit then,” I muttered.
After a beat, he sighed. “Look, we need to talk. When you’re done pouting, call me.”
Pouting indeed! He started it, so he should be the one to apologize. I reached across the bed and erased his message. Maybe in a day or two, I would call him, but of course, by then, he would probably be shacked up with some paralegal in his firm or a cute girl at the coffee shop.
I regretted the unfair thought even as it formed. Alexander Laughlin was honest, hard working, contemplative, a gentleman and a gentle man. Incredibly giving, he had earned enough Karma points to last two lifetimes. Never once had I caught him ogling other women, and I prided myself on being observant. Our sex, while gentle and predictable, still never failed to satisfy. So maybe exciting and adventurous were not part of his character, but I would miss his quiet affections and the way he would mail me sweetly sentimental greeting cards for no reason. Knowing Alex wanted his freedom hurt more than I ever would have thought, as if a cannonball had ripped a big hole through my soul. Before I could start blubbering again, I called Pappy.
My father, Thomas Wiley, worked his whole life as a script writer in television and sometimes the Broadway theaters, the man everyone called on when they needed to punch up the dialog with some laughs. Of course, my sense of humor and willingness to use it came from him. Not one for making close female friends, I always turned to him in times of heartbreak.
“What’s the matter, kitten?” he asked after my tearful greeting.
“Alex gave me the boot.” I swallowed against a lump in my throat. Saying it aloud made the loss real and more poignant.
“Awww, no. Want to talk about it?”
I turned onto my back to stare at a small water stain in the ceiling. “What’s the point? He won’t be back.”
“Now don’t say that. Give him a few days to see he’s wrong and—”
“He won’t.” Fresh tears welled up, and I hated myself for letting it affect me.
Pappy sighed. “Nothing’s over till it’s over.”
“It’s over. He’s looking for greener pastures.”
“Well, if he said that, I’d say it really isn’t over. He’ll come around.”
“Oh yeah? Well, maybe I shouldn’t be around when he comes looking.” I repeated the entire conversation for Pappy. “It’s just a shitty way to do it.”
“Language, kitten, but I take your point.” Silence while he pondered. “You know what you should do? Take a vacation.”
Not the sort of suggestion I would have expected. “What?”
“Take a vacation. Get away for a while. Go somewhere you can step outside yourself and get some perspective.”
Simple sound advice, exactly what Pappy usually gave. It seemed the ideal solution. I would get over Alex much faster if I proved I could still navigate the singles’ world after being sidelined for three years.
Immediately after hanging up, I searched for vacation ideas via the Internet and found one in a hurry on EBay, a last-minute cancellation. A singles-only cruise to Jamaica, six days and five nights, shore stops in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, two nightclubs and a casino on board. Private cabin although deep in the ship with no windows, but who stayed in a cabin on a tropical cruise? Sun, fun, Reggae music, unattached men looking for women. Relax and maybe flirt a little, find a bit of adventure.
My boss grumbled when I asked for time off on short notice, but I had not taken any significant stretch in two years so he could not really argue. Jenny Desmond, the septuagenarian who lived in the apartment below mine, agreed to collect my mail in exchange for the perishables in my fridge. I packed light and bought traveler’s checks at the bank while retrieving my passport from the safety deposit box. The whole thing came together with almost no planning.
“So you think I can’t plan, Alex,” I whispered to no one as the ship floated to sea. “I just work better under the gun.”
Well, maybe not that much better. Two hours out, as I unpacked in my cabin, seasickness flattened me. I had never been on a boat before, and every time I stood up, I threw up. The infirmary provided the necessary drugs although they took a day to kick in. Being stuck in a broom-closet cabin trying not to think about Alex while my vacation floated by without a single flirtation had me primed for action once I felt human again.
I plunged into fun seeking with a vengeance. One of the first ten to arrive at a breakfast fashion show, I won a trip to the ship’s salon for a free make-over. The stylist cut four inches off my medium brown hair, created wispy bangs, and accented it all with some rather daring highlights. She showed me how to do a French braid and to minimize my freckles with a fantastic makeup the salon was pushing.
I had lost a few pounds “hugging the head” and rewarded myself with a visit to the over-priced boutique. Feeling wildly confident with my new look, I decided to broaden my fashion horizons for the remaining cocktail evenings and shore-side outings. I pretty much blew my spending budget, but then, what are credit cards for?
On deck, I met Robert. He asked if anyone had dibs on the next lounge chair, and when I said no, he sat down and started talking to me. Late end of his thirties, lean and sinewy, close-cropped blond hair, blue eyes which could probably cut through metal, and a charmingly craggy smile. Not a knockout, but he had scads of charisma, and he told exciting stories of his world travels. He did not flirt.
My second active day, a geeky-type in line for brunch stuttered how he had seen the same food on the table for the midnight buffet. Totally a non-starter: hair combed down in bangs on his forehead, black-framed glasses, plaid polyester shirt, socks under sandals. He asked if he could sit at my table, but I used Robert as an excuse to fend off Mr. Nerd.
In short, I had a great time, seasickness notwithstanding. As the ship came into port in Miami, I thought I might be over Alex and ready to face the world of men again. Pity Robert had disappeared somewhere between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Even if I could not call it a romance, I regretted not exchanging keep-in-touch info with such an exciting, intriguing man. At least the cruise ended better than it began.
Until I got to Customs.
I never expected trouble. I had receipts for everything, my passport was valid, and I would never dream of smuggling dope or contraband. When I handed my passport to a man who could have been the Grim Reaper working his day job, he looked back and forth between my picture and me a few times.
“Purpose of your visit to Jamaica?”
“Vacation,” I said although something snappier trembled on the tip of my tongue.
“Anything to declare?”
Another man—suit instead of uniform—came and whispered in my civil servant’s ear. He glanced at me and then handed my passport to the suit who came alongside and put his hand on my arm. “Could you come with me, Ms. Wiley?”
My heart started chugging harder than a locomotive under full load. “Is there a problem?”
He did not answer but led me deeper into the building, away from the noise of the other returnees, and into a conference room. To my complete shock, my luggage lay open on a long table, and two uniformed Customs people searched through the open cases. Another suit type and a woman in tailored navy linen off in the corner watched me intently.
“Take a seat,” my escort ordered.
“Please state your name,” said Suit Number Two. He now held my passport.
“Don’t have one,” I responded. “See, my folks were too poor when I was born. Middle names were for rich people.”
He gave me a withering look; not even a ghost of a smile.
One of the uniforms held up a blue plastic bag sealed with tape. “What’s in this bag?”
“Dirty underwear. You can open it if you want to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Another scowl. Apparently, U.S. Customs did not require its workers to possess a sense of humor. She used a pair of scissors to cut it open.
“May I ask why we’re going through this exercise?” I asked, trying not to let my irritation show.
Suit One took a chair at the near end of the table. “You look different from your photo.”
“I should have guessed,” I sighed with relief. “For one thing, the picture is seven years old. I also got a make-over on the cruise, so my hair’s shorter and lighter.”
“How old are you?” Suit Two.
“Where do you live?” Suit One.
“Miami Beach.” I gave my address on Collins Avenue.
“Marital status?” Suit Two.
I laughed because I figured they were merely using my slightly different appearance as a sort of drill. “It was a singles-only cruise.”
“Your occupation?” Back to Suit One.
“I’m Assistant Manager of Customer Relations at the Metro Centro Convention Center. Could you guys either sit closer together or only one of you ask the questions? I’m getting a sore neck.”
The uniforms had emptied my suitcases and were feeling around the insides as if they thought I might have hidden something behind the lining.
Suit Two picked up a file folder from a credenza and handed it to me. I pulled out an eight-by-ten photo of Robert and me by the pool, followed by another of Robert and me at the deck railing looking at the ocean. Then another of Robert and me at a restaurant in Ocho Rios. I felt a twinge of concern.
“Hey, the ship’s photographer didn’t offer me prints of these. Where’d you get them?”
“You obviously know this man.” Suit Two took over the interrogation.
“Robert? Not really.”
“He never said. These are good. Think I could get copies?”
“What was the nature of your relationship?”
“We hung around together. You know, drinks, dinner, social stuff.”
“Did this man give you anything?”
“Besides a night’s worth of really great sex? No.” While totally untrue, I only said it because they had pushed me to the limit of my ability to endure idiots. “I insisted on proper attire at all times, if you get my drift, but I can get back to you in a couple of months and see if anything develops.”
“Did you give him anything?”
“Really, sir, I’m not that kind of a girl.”
“What are you saying?”
“Is being dense a job requirement for you guys?” At his severe look, I backed down. “Okay, look. I met Robert on the ship by the pool. We had a few laughs. We didn’t have sex. He didn’t even kiss me. End of story.”
Time for the old tag-team ploy. Suit One jumped in. “Where did you go with this man in Ocho Rios?”
Irritation headed up the scale toward anger. “We went horseback riding and then to some stores and later to a restaurant.”
“You were with him the whole time?”
“Well, not the whole time. He wasn’t interested in shopping for women’s clothes, and we both occasionally needed to use the facilities.”
“What did you talk about?” Back to Suit Two.
“Travel mostly. Places we’d been to, sights we’d seen, movies, music, food. The usual stuff.”
“Luggage is clean,” one of the uniforms reported. Those two left with all my stuff littering the table and floor.
Suit One reached for the wall phone by the door, punched in a few digits, and waited. He turned away and spoke in a low voice, then hung up and faced me.
“Your passport has been validated. You are free to go, but we must insist you not leave Miami for a few days.”
“Huh?” I asked, too astonished to think of anything better. “Why would I leave Miami? I just got home.”
Suits One and Two left. I stared after them for a moment, trying to figure out what had happened as I started to repack my suitcases. As I stowed makeup in its pouch, I wondered vaguely if they meant the Miami area rather than the city itself.
“Did this man Robert tell you what he did for a living?”
I jumped at the soft French-accented voice of the woman in the navy suit, whom I had totally forgotten about. I looked her over: young Audrey Hepburn, short dark hair, long slender neck, and big brown eyes. She gave me a slight, shy smile.
I resumed packing. “No, he didn’t.”
“My name is Josette LeBeau,” she announced. “Inspector LeBeau of Interpol.”
She sounded more like a high school French teacher. “I’m guessing you’re looking for Robert.”
She did not respond directly. “Does he know your full name? Where you live?”
“I never told him.” Something in the way she asked it got me a trifle worried. “First names and cabin numbers.”
“After the stop in Ocho Rios, did you see him again?”
“Once at dinner. He seemed preoccupied, and I got the feeling he lost interest because the relationship wasn’t going anywhere.” I thought of my fight with Alex and felt a pang. “Maybe he wanted a different sort of female companionship.”
Her demeanor changed subtly. “You did not like him that much?”
Did she think I jumped into bed with any man I met? “I liked him fine, but we were just keeping each other company. It never struck me he was coming on, and frankly, I’m on the rebound from a relationship and not ready to take on another.” I immediately wondered why I let that admission tumble out.
Ms. LeBeau pondered me for a few moments. “Your Robert is a dangerous man, Ms. Wiley.”
She slipped a hand into her pocket and withdrew a business card, which she slid across the table. “Here is my card. If you see Robert again, please call me at the cell phone number or at the hotel on the back.” Her light, chirpy tone contrasted sharply with the seriousness of the warning.
I stuck the card in my purse without looking at it. “I doubt I’ll ever see him again.”
She stood and gathered up handbag and briefcase. “There is a security guard outside. He will show you back to the public spaces.” Then she too left.
I finished packing in a muddled state, unable to think. The guard rolled in a cart for the luggage, and he escorted me to the taxi stand outside.
Ordinarily on a late Friday afternoon, I would have been anticipating an evening with Alex, and the thought of him being gone from my life sent my spirits into a nosedive. I decided it might be better not to be alone under the circumstances.