Inspector Marie St. Claire shaded her eyes against the early-morning glare as she scanned the horizon for boats, the dark skin around them crinkling into well-worn patterns. She’d have wrinkles before thirty, all of them well earned. Antigua Bay saw plenty of traffic during the tourist season, and she needed to make sure it stayed that way for the sake of all the islanders who depended on foreign dollars to survive during the off-season.
Ironically, her concern today was keeping people away from the water. With the tropical storm blowing in and plenty of people already spooked about the reports of lost vessels, she’d decided that tourists on rough water might not be the safe bet, and playing it close to the vest would be the right call.
Not that St. Claire was wearing her vest. That had been last week, when they’d raided a boat they suspected of trafficking in their waters. Bulletproof gear was heavy, and she’d sweated through all her layers by the time it came off. Still, it had been a good day.
“What brought on that smile?” Sergeant Fayard asked as he joined her on the deck.
“Ten kilos of coke.”
“Fall off the wagon again?”
“Shut it,” St. Claire said, but her smile only widened.
Their bust last week had earned her a commendation from her captain, and a string of very unflattering invectives from the drug runners. She’d enjoyed both equally.
“Shit,” St. Claire said under her breath, the smile wiped away at the sight of a US Coast Guard cutter heading out to deeper waters.
“Not your problem,” Fayard reminded her. “Coast Guard’s going to do what they want.”
“That’s the truth,” she agreed. “But if this storm rolls them, that’s more bad press for island waters. That is my problem.”
And her brother’s problem. And her sister’s problem. And their children’s problem. Tourists don’t want to spend time where people keep disappearing and are presumed drowned.
Especially US citizens.
Frown deepening, St. Claire raised her binoculars to see another vessel farther out than the Coast Guard cutter.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said to herself.
“Sorry.” Fayard glanced up quickly from her cleavage.
She smacked him before handing off the binoculars. “Those are for long distances,” she reminded him.
“Sorry,” he said again, a true blush rising as he cleared his throat and looked into the distance. “You know I respect—”
“Yeah, I know. Why do you think you’re not in the water right now?”
They were quiet for a second, bodies unconsciously moving with the rise and fall of their boat, accustomed to a life at sea. Behind them, one of the corporals rested in the sun, phone tilted against the glare.
St. Claire turned and glanced at his screen, her good mood dissolving completely when she saw what he was watching. A reporter stood on the beach, her arm sweeping out to sea. Underneath her scrolled arresting white letters, made more impactful on a red background: MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES AT SEA RAISE SAFETY CONCERNS.
From the live feed, St. Claire could just make out her own patrol boat.
“That’s another MLB,” Fayard said, dropping the binoculars.
“What?” Marie took them back, all her attention focused on the horizon now.
“A motor life boat,” Fayard added.
“Uh, no shit,” St. Claire said, elbowing him. “I’m just wondering what the hell the Coast Guard’s up to?”
Fayard shrugged. “Coast Guard business, I guess.”
“On island waters,” Marie said, mouth tight. “Which makes it our business too.”
Her crew knew what was coming, but waited for the order. They pulled anchor and gunned the motor, their patrol boat shrinking in the news feed as it headed out to sea, bearing down on the Coast Guard with all the might of Marie St. Claire at the helm.
“Christ, what now?” David Segarra asked, wiping sweat from his brow.
The first Coast Guard vessel had been easy enough to get rid of. All he’d had to do was pull rank and mention top secret clearance to send the acne-scarred Coast Guard captain running his vessel back to shore, tail between his legs. But by the look on the face of the woman hailing them from the island patrol, he was guessing it’d take more than his stars to put her off the scent.
Johnson was at his side as the two boats neared each other. “They radioed, sir. An Inspector St. Claire is asking to board.”
“Board?” Segarra’s usual calm was whisked away at the single word. “She can’t ask some polite questions first?”
“It appears not, sir.”
Segarra sighed, crossing his arms. “She’s asking to board . . .” he repeated in...