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Covert spy Michael Westen has found himself in forced seclusion in Miami?and a little paranoid. Watched by the FBI, cut off from intelligence contacts, and with his assets frozen, Weston is on ice with a warning: stay there or get ?disappeared.? Driven to find out who burned him and why, he?s biding his time helping people with nowhere else to turn. People like socialite Cricket O?Connor whose own husband has vanished, along with her fortune...
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Tod Goldberg is the author of the novels Living Dead Girl, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Fake Liar Cheat, as well as the short story collection Simplify, a 2006 finalist for the SCBA Award for Fiction and winner of the Other Voices Short Story Collection Prize. He teaches creative writing at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When you’re a spy, certain things come easy. You never have to pay your parking tickets. The IRS leaves you pretty much alone provided you don’t try to deduct TEC-9s from your 1040EZ. It’s okay if you have sex with someone you don’t actually like. In fact it’s often encouraged, and if on the off chance you fall in love with the wrong person and have to kill them, or they try to kill you, your boss rarely asks for you to fill out a purchase order for a body bag or extra bullets.
But not even being a spy gets you out of having lunch with your mother.
It was a Tuesday, and because she lied and told me I was taking her to the orthopedist, I was sitting poolside at the Hotel Oro having lunch with my mother, Madeline. The Hotel Oro is one of those hotels on South Beach that no one actually stays at, but everyone seems to visit. It has an Olympic-sized infinity pool, which seems odd when you consider the ocean is only five yards away, but then the ocean doesn’t have full bar service and cocktail girls dressed in gold bikinis serving you finger foods. At night, DJs spin Eurotrash for Paris Hilton and the entire hotel throbs onto the street, like it’s an actual living creature that feeds on celebrities. My mother kept lifting her sunglasses up to stare at the people being seated at the tables around us.
"You expecting someone?" I asked.
"Fiona said she might join us," my mother said. Fiona was my girlfriend for a while. Then she was not my girlfriend for a while. Then it was just confusing, and a little violent, in a good way, and now she’s more like a business partner, but might be my girlfriend again sometime soon. It’s complicated. "I don’t like you calling her," I said.
"She told me the cutest thing yesterday," she said.
The problem with having your business partner being your former and maybe future girlfriend is that it’s hard to make any essential mandates about behavior. You risk pissing off someone who may or may not call your mother either way. It’s only slightly worse when the same person happens to be a former IRA gunrunner who still has something of an opaque moral center and who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.
"Do tell," I said.
"Just girl stuff, Michael."
Girl stuff. Ten years of interrogating hostile enemy targets, you’d think I’d be able to break through that code, but give me twenty Enigma machines and fifty men sitting in a locked room at Quantico, and there’d be no way of figuring out what the hell girl stuff means.
I’d have been more upset with this whole line of conversation had I not been distracted, which is actually how I generally like to feel during conversations with my mother. That way I don’t get too emotionally involved, or, in a pinch, can plead ignorance if important dates or activities are mentioned.
Across the pool, three white guys in Cuban shirts, tan chinos and ankle holsters were trying their best to look natural, which would have been easier if they weren’t all wearing the same shirt, which is what happens when you try to look natural by letting some intern buy your resort wear. That they weren’t trying to look natural while monitoring me was of some concern.
"We should do this more often, Michael," my mother said.
"What’s this, exactly?"
"Family time. You know it wouldn’t kill you to take me out to lunch every week. I read where the president calls his mother every day. She even vacations with him sometimes."
The three white guys in Cubans were a little on the chunky side and their skin was almost translucent, which meant they weren’t normally field agents. Field agents tend to have a few fast twitch muscles and maybe a decent farmer’s tan from sitting with their arms out car windows, waiting for something to happen, or snapping photos, or shooting at moving targets. Doughy is no way to go through life. Everything works less effectively when you’ve got plaque in your arteries, but doughy also says: Happy. Content. Secure.
Miami-Dad’s finest: The Strategic Investigations Bureau.
SIB agents are paper hounds and numbers guys. Loophole chasers. Get them outside and maybe they know how to handle a gun, but you take them out of their comfort zone, you put a knife to their throat or you show them a little of their own blood, and they turn into hand puppets.
"That’s great," I said. "Next time I see the president, I’ll let him know you’re free."
"I’m serious, Michael," she said. "Since you’ve been back, you haven’t taken me to a single movie. Would it kill you take me to see a movie?"
It might. But at the moment, I was more concerned by the SIB agents. If they were anchoring the back door, that meant someone was in the front and that there was probably a gun or two aimed in this direction from one of the adjoining buildings. Most likely, the ATF was near, too.
"Ma," I said, "how did you hear about this place?"
"Fiona said we should meet here."
"This morning. Why, Michael?"
"Did you call her?"
"Michael, I know you want your privacy, but it’s not wrong for a mother to call her son’s girlfriend. Do you know when I was dating your father that your grandmother used to call me every morning?"
If you’re a tourist, one of the best things about coming to South Beach is the ease with which you can pool hop from one hotel to the next. Why, you could rappel down from the Hotel Victor’s rooftop pool directly into the Hotel Oro’s if you happened to have that skill set, which, judging by the two slightly more athletic-looking agents poised to do just that very thing across the way, they’re now teaching younger and more agile government recruits. Though I suspected the ones at the Victor were actually ATF.
"I didn’t know that," I said. I stood up as casually as possible, so as not to arouse any suspicion in the SIB or ATF agents. Mistakes get made when you haven’t been out of the office for a few years and now have a license to shoot someone; it’s doubly bad if you’ve been gorging on fatty foods in the interim and are now a little nervous, are thinking, Yeah, maybe if I put a bullet into someone, like a former IRA gunrunner wanted by an alphabet soup of organizations alive or dead. Thinking, Maybe I’ll get a bump. Thinking, Maybe I’ll get a corner office. "Why don’t we talk about it in the car?"
"But our food hasn’t even arrived," Mom said. I clenched my teeth into a polite smile, just in case I was on a camera somewhere. "We need to go," I said. "Now."
"What about Fiona?"
"Fiona won’t be showing up," I said.***
For the last ten years, I’ve lived wherever the government has told me to live. There were also times when I didn’t live anywhere at all. Times when a helicopter would drop me in front of a target, I’d do my job, and the helicopter would pick me back up five minutes, or five hours, or five days later, depending upon the circumstances of the job and whatever collateral damage might have ensued.
You don’t ask a lot of questions. You’re given your assignment and you do it or you risk the consequences. My last official job as a covert operative was in the lovely city of Warri, Nigeria, vacation hotspot for large arms dealers, exhausted genocidal maniacs and anyone who loves to fall asleep to the peaceful drumming of AKs being fired into the sky.
I was sent there to dispose of a problem: A gangster was causing problems along a lucrative oil field—as in, he periodically had his people blow up the refinery, sabotage the pipeline, kill the security detail, that sort of thing—and I was there with a very simple offer of $750,000 to find some other way to entertain himself.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to pay off the bad guys. Fewer bodies. Less psychic turmoil. But mostly, fewer bodies.
Everything was going swimmingly. We had a charming room in the lovely Warri Grand Hotel, where every low-level thug is treated like a higherlevel thug. I didn’t trust the gangster. He didn’t trust me. But there was money from the American govern ment in between us, and we both trusted that. The problem was that at some point between me stepping off a plane in Nigeria with the authorization to wire money into the Russian’s account, and the exact moment I made the call to start the transfer, I lost my job.
If I worked at Kinko’s, that wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d just strip off my name tag and walk out the door, because even on your worst day, it’s unlikely a gangster will kill you if you lose your job at Kinko’s. But when your job is to deliver $750,000 to a gangster and you have to try to explain to him that, unfortunately, you’ve just been informed that there’s a burn notice on your file and therefore all pending deals you’re a part of are now canceled, well, there’re going to be hard feelings.
Thing is, you can’t just tell a gangster that you’ve lost all of your security clearances, that your cover is gone, that your bank accounts have been frozen and that, for all intents and purposes, Michael Westen is pretty much just a regular guy now and he’ll have to find someone else to deal with if he hopes to get his money. Even if it’s the truth. Which it was. But when you get a burn notice it’s not just your job you lose, it’s all the fringe benefits, too.
Like assault teams.
Someone who might claim your desecrated corpse. Thus, if you happen to get your burn notice in a place where you’re likely to catch fire, too, you’re obliged to figure out a more serviceable truth if continuing to breathe is a priority in your life.
Or, failing that, you fight your way out and hope to survive.
I did a combination of both, the result being that I got out of the hotel alive, barely, boarded a plane with half a rack of broken ribs, a concussion, a few chips, a few dings, passed out and woke up in Miami.
My childhood home.
The very place I ran from when I joined the military out of high school.
The place I’ve avoided returning to every year since.
The place where my mother, Madeline, lives in a periodic state of hypochondrial distress; where my brother, Nate, gambles and grifts; where my father is buried, but where his ghost still wanders around.
The place where I now live in a vacant loft above a nightclub. From the two windows in my loft I can see a sign store and the Little River, which winds from the coast back into the heart of the Everglades. There are exactly nine palm trees on my street. At night, after the nightclub closes, it’s always exciting to watch drunks alternately piss on the palm trees or attempt to have sex against them. No one ever comes to clean them up, either way. A drug dealer named Sugar used to live beneath me until I shot him. It’s the kind of neighborhood where anyone with a gun would feel right at home, but it’s not anyplace I want to live.
Since finding myself in Miami, I’ve tried to unravel the truth behind my burn notice. What I know: If the government truly wanted me dead, I’d be dead. They might be willing to let someone else kill me if it should happen during the daily course of life, but they aren’t sending assassins to my house. That my dossier is filled with flagrant inaccuracies is of no matter, apparently. The message they’ve sent through various means is clear: If I want to live, I am to stay in Miami, which is why I knew the SIB and ATF agents weren’t looking for me at the Hotel Oro.
Fiona, on the other hand . . .
"I had a meeting planned with a lovely new client," Fiona said. We were standing in my kitchen, and since I’d missed lunch entirely, I was trying to eat enough yogurt to raise my blood sugar to a level where I could hold a conversation with Fi without having the veins in my neck break through the skin. Plus, Fiona was wearing a yellow sundress, and when she moved, different parts of her body seemed to glow beneath the fabric, and she smelled vaguely of vanilla and strawberries. Difficult circumstances, all. "I thought I’d drop off my small package for her and then join you two poolside."
"What did you have in that package?"
"Three QBZ87s," she said.
"Well, more like ten," she said.
"Ten Chinese assault rifles," I said. "You just had those in your closet?"
"I stumbled on a few," she said.
When I first met Fiona, she was mostly robbing banks and dealing arms for the IRA, but then other organizations heard about her particular abilities, and so she opted to hang a freelance shingle out in the world. When I woke up in Miami, she was sitting beside me in a hotel room, which is what happens when you forget to change your emergency contact information. I hadn’t seen her since a rather hasty departure from Dublin. Interpersonal relationships have never been my strong suit.
"That’s hardly enough to bring out the cavalry," I said.
"I also had a few Spear hollow points that I was providing as a service."
And this is where it always gets interesting with Fiona. "A few?"
"A case. A very small case."
"It was an excellent deal, Michael," she said.
"So ten Chinese assault rifles and a very small case of hollow points. That was it."
"Closer to a gross of hollow point clips, if you’re going to split hairs about things."
It’s never as simple as black-and-white with Fiona. While I’m virtually imprisoned in Miami, Fiona is here by choice, the only thing holding her to this place being whatever it is we have, which at the moment is strictly business . . . though, not always platonic. Like I said before: It get’s complicated. That she was sitting in my loft flipping through a magazine when I returned from our aborted lunch didn’t surprise me in the least. I was frankly surprised she wasn’t in the backseat of my Charger when we stepped out of the hotel.
"You didn’t think to maybe pick up the phone and warn me when you realized the deal was off?"
"And let you grow complacent in your job?"
In order to make money, in order to survive long enough to find out who had burned me and why, I’ve been forced to take a few odd jobs helping people, and Fi has been kind enough to provide tactical support. On her off days, she’s got her own business interests, the less that possibly involve me and my mother in the firing line of crooked fingered agents the better.
"I was there with my mother."
"Who you should call more often," she said.
"You’re changing the subject," I said.
Fiona stepped around me and opened up my refrigerator and stared inside. "Do you have anything with protein?"
"The point here is that you were set up, Fiona," I said.
"There’s no devaluing your ability to notice the obvious," she said absently. She was pulling out old food from my refrigerator and systematically smelling items and then immediately throwing them away.
"What do you intend to do?"
Fiona finally found an apple that met her approval, bit into it and then chewed thoughtfully. "Well," she said, swallowing, "I could blow up the hotel."
"Do you even know who the buyer was?" I asked.
Fiona waved me off. "No one who’ll be missed," she said. "And the hotel has terrible parking, anyway."
"Did you get a name, Fiona? A room number?"
"Michael, I can ...
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Book Description Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Mass Market Paperback. thrilling new fiction series. Based on the acclaimed USA Network series. Burned covert spy Michael Westen finds himself in forced seclusion in Miami. Westen has been warned to .Shipping may be from multiple locations in the US or from the UK, depending on stock availability. 274 pages. 0.217. Seller Inventory # 9780451225542
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