In the laidback Florida Keys, former spies Nick Seven and Felicia Hagens found a paradise far removed from the covert world of the CIA.
Nick, content to run a bar on the Gulf and maintain a low profile, breaks his self-imposed exile when a friend asks for help in getting a local mob boss off his back.
Popular singer Jimmie Rae wants to get free from the notorious Turk Morgan, a crooked music mogul who controls the Miami entertainment scene. Jimmie reveals that his girlfriend has gotten caught in Turk’s web, and he wants to get her out before it’s too late.
As Nick and Felicia explore the neon jungle of South Beach, they encounter the dark underside of the music business. Drugs, prostitution, street thugs, and political payoffs are Turk’s stock in trade, and he isn’t one to relinquish control over his empire.
Nick goes undercover as an international criminal to challenge him, but will he succeed in breaking Turk’s hold over Jimmie and his girl? Can Nick use the sting operation to solve a cold case murder he discovers by accident? What other secrets will he uncover?
October in Key Largo is called the slow season. Right after the dog days of summer and right before the cold northern climes bring the annual influx of snowbirds and timeshare dwellers. Many of the bars and restaurants on the island close and give their staff a two-week vacation. Nick Seven had never followed that pattern since he assumed ownership of Cricket’s Bayside. It wasn’t that he was greedy, just savvy enough to realize the locals still needed someplace to party, and it might as well be his club.
He sat at his private table on the outdoor deck, gazing at the multi-hued sunset over the Gulf. The palette slowly changed from bright blue to azure to yellow with a strong orange tint. Wisps of clouds leftover from an early afternoon rain added a dark contrast, silhouetting the boats in the distance. Along the fishing dock that extended over the inlet next to the club, a few seagulls and herons had staked out their favorite pilings, their keen eyes scanning the shallows near the sandbar for any stray fish careless enough to venture too close to shore.
A gentle evening breeze mussed his thick brown hair. Nick sipped his scotch on the rocks. Glancing over at Felicia Hagens, he took in her bronzed Barbadian complexion, long brown hair, and high cheekbones. His gaze traveled over her torso, lingering on her full bosom pressing against her light blue polo shirt.
Luckiest thing that happened to me after we both got out of the spy business was when Felicia came to live with me. She knew I’d never forgotten my late wife and the guilt I felt when she was killed in a terrorist attack meant for me, but that didn’t stop her from carving out her own place in my soul. I should thank her for that.
In the last few years, he’d spent a helluva lot of time watching her, day after day, doing a thousand mundane little things to change his hermit-like existence. He had learned to appreciate the in-your-face honesty, the erotic ease they shared in bed, the quiet conversations under the stars with a glass of wine, a lingering touch on the cheek, and the gentle teasing accompanied by a sexy wink and smile. All of that in one beautiful, sensual package reminded him of the life he had shut himself off from.
She looked at him, and her face blossomed into a smile. “What’re you starin’ at?” she teased in her West Indies accent.
“I was just noticing how the sunset brings out the luster in your hair. In fact, in this light, you look like a sexier version of Halle Berry.”
“In what picture?”
“Die Another Day but you definitely fill out a bikini better than she does.”
Felicia raised her glass. “Can’t argue with that.” She sipped her Cuba Libra, looking at the setting sun. “It’s so pretty and peaceful this time of day. Reminds me of home.”
“Pretty sunsets on Barbados?”
“Mm-hmm.” She looked into his eyes. “But not quite as nice ’cause I didn’t have someone special to share them with.”
Nick brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “Great minds think alike.”
He scanned the crowded deck and outdoor bar. The interior restaurant was busy as well, and the wait staff hustled trays with appetizers and entrees to those who were dining al fresco. People were engaged in conversations while listening to a local musician named Jimmie Rae as he played a variety of songs on his guitar and sang favorites and requests. Jimmie, trim, black, with short-cropped hair and a mustache, was one of those musicians who had the rare ability to play anything the customers wanted to hear, in every genre.
“He really packs ’em in, doesn’t he?” Felicia asked.
“Uh-huh. We’re lucky we can get him once a week. He’s a big draw down here.”
Jimmie finished his song to strong applause and addressed the crowd. “Gonna take a short break, but before I do, I got to play somethin’ for someone important.” He lowered his voice. “Actually, it’s for the boss man sittin’ over there in the corner. If I didn’t do this one, he’d fire me.”
The crowd chuckled as Jimmie tuned his guitar, started his background accompaniment, then launched into On Broadway, perfectly channeling George Benson. The crowd clapped in rhythm as he effortlessly glided through the opening guitar licks.
Nick smiled as he listened. “Whatever I’m paying him, it’s not enough.”
Jimmie finished his set to a loud ovation and placed his guitar on the stand. He stepped off the small stage and was instantly greeted by a few patrons, shaking his hand and posing for selfies. He got a drink from the bar before making his way to Nick’s table.
“You sound good tonight, man,” Nick commented.
Jimmie sat. “Thanks. This crowd’s always easy to please.”
Nick looked aghast. “Not my clientele. They’re very picky.”
Jimmie laughed. “Right. Get enough beer and tequila into people down here and they’ll applaud Chopsticks.” He sipped his drink. “Can I talk to you ’bout somethin’?”
Nick nodded. “I knew it. You want a raise.”
“Nah, it ain’t that.” He hesitated. “I got trouble, and I need your help.”
“What kind of trouble?” Nick asked.
“You heard about that gig my agent lined up for me next month in South Beach, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Two weeks at Coconuts during the annual Latin culture festival. Sounds like a great opportunity. What about it?”
“You might’ve heard that when I was a kid, I got jammed up in some serious shit. Drugs, petty theft, you name it. I wasn’t doin’ right.”
“Yeah, I heard about that, but you cleaned up your act. Lots of kids make mistakes, and you’ve made a good career for yourself with your music.”
Jimmie took a deep breath. “One of the mistakes you didn’t hear about was who made that career possible.”