The vista before us flickers, the shimmering light interrupted by something else on the ocean. Backlit by the sun bouncing off the gentle waves, it is hard to see what is blocking the perfect view.
Little by little, the object gains on us, slowly revealing itself. We watch as the tiny boat approaches, not knowing why it is here. Behind me, I feel the captain move. Unsure what he is doing, I flick my head around to see. When his form slowly arises from behind the wheel, I spot something in his hand. Though he tries to hide it, I can see him clutching a gun. Thick and short barrelled, it looks like the emergency flare guns we have stashed all through the luxurious twelve metre yacht.
I catch his glance and shake my head slightly. I don’t want him shooting someone unnecessarily. That won’t bode well for any of us. Warily, I walk to the bow and wait, arms crossed, for the tinny to reach us. Fanning out behind me are my friends, all on guard, all wary and wondering what is going on.
When it finally pulls up alongside us, there are only two people on board: one steering the craft—a weathered seaman from the looks of him—and a young bloke in a suit, looking rather uncomfortable in his ensemble. I barely hold back a snicker at the sight before me. The man, so obviously used to offices, out here on the ocean with a life jacket ruining the look of his tailored suit, and staring in the face of law breakers.
He stands up before we’ve thrown down an anchor line, making the small craft wobble and dip beside us.
“Idiot!” the old man at the helm curses. “Sit down you fool!”
Losing his balance, the suited man tips, windmilling his arms around wildly. Before he can fall overboard, I have the hook pole around his waist, holding him upright. He steadies and glances up, following the pole until he has to shield his eyes from the sunlight to see me.
When his gaze meets mine, he gulps, the action making his Adam’s apple bob. The right side of my mouth kicks up in a leer at his reaction. Instead of saying anything to allay his fear, I use my toe to nudge the rope ladder over the side of the yacht and watch as it unfurls. The moment it’s fully extended, the man reaches for it, but is stopped by my hook.
“Can you release me, please?”
“Tell us why you’re here first.”
“I-I have correspondence for… for a Miss Violetta Noregard.”
I cross my arms again, yanking the pole with the motion. “Who’s asking?”
“I’m from the office of Smythe and Campbell lawyers, acting on behalf of the Mendosian Government.”
This halts all movement on deck.
The Mendosian Government? Why?
“Get him up here. Now!” I hand off the pole to Randolph who gives it a yank. The man falls forward, steadying himself on the rope ladder before starting his climb. Begrudgingly, I admire the fact that he’s climbing the side of my yacht with a giant metal hook around his waist. I tell no one though.
When he’s steady on the deck, with Randolph still holding onto him, he lifts his hands to show us they’re empty, then motions to the lapel of his jacket. The one under the bright orange floaty he’s wearing.
“May I? The paperwork is in the pocket.”
“Arms out, and stand still.”
I approach slowly, then kneel, patting him down from ankle to neck. I hear his swift intake of air when I reach the seat of his pants, smirking as I ignore him and keep searching all the intimate parts of him. When I’m done, I step back and nod to him. He slowly reaches inside the jacket and retrieves an envelope.
The paper is crisp and embossed and feels so smooth beneath my fingertips. I trace the logo on the flap, the coat of arms raised off the paper.
“How did you find us?” I ask, unable to quell my curiosity. We’re meant to be untraceable out here and having someone find us isn’t good news.
“Mendosia has its ways.” The vagueness doesn’t sit well with me. In seconds, my hand is around this throat and I’m squeezing tight.
“I’ll ask you again. How did they find me?”
“Tracker,” he squeaks. My fingers reflexively tighten at his answer and it’s only when he eeps at me that I remember to let go. He slumps, bent forward and clutching at this throat. With my index finger under his chin, I lift his face to me.
“Where’s the tracker?” Whatever colour was left in his face drains from his cheeks.
“Spit it out!” Randolph barks. The messenger gulps.
“I don’t know! They didn’t tell me!” The words come out in a rush as he practically trips over them.
“Uh huh. Really?”
A nod. Another gulp. And direct eye contact.
I’m still staring at him as I lift my left arm and command, “Julio! Check the yacht for tracking devices. Gio, check everyone.”
A murmur floats behind me but they do what they’re told. One by one, Gio checks the crew and us, scanning from head to toe for anything abnormal. It takes an hour for both men to search everything and everyone, but they come up with nothing.
Confused doesn’t begin to explain how I’m feeling. I’m smart enough though to hide it. “That’s impossible. Check again!”
Gio glances sideways at Julio and down at the deck. “Vee, there’s one person I didn’t check.”
The way his eyes skate across me without lingering tells me all I need to know.
It’s me. I’m the only one he didn’t scan.
With a sigh, I spread my arms wide and adjust my stance. It’s not long before the device beeps loudly, signalling that it’s found what we’re after. Ignoring the troubled expressions on my friends’ faces, I stalk back over to the Mendosian messenger. Until I know what he’s brought for me, I refuse to worry about the tech hidden in my left ankle.
The envelope he handed me earlier lays at his feet. Calling to me.
I bend down to pick it up, not bothering to look at him. This is my way of showing him that I know he poses no danger to me or anyone else on board this yacht. Smoothing my shorts as I stand, I pop one hip out, bringing his attention to my long, tanned legs as I open the envelope.
The Mendosian coat of arms adorns the top of the thick cream-coloured parchment, the royal emblem creating uncharacteristic nervousness within me. As surreptitiously as possible, I hold my breath as I unfold the bottom flap. There can’t be anything good in an official letter from the government we swindled five years ago. And if someone managed to get a tracker into me back then, it means they’ve been keeping tabs on our every move since.
My heart lodges in my throat as I focus on the perfectly formed calligraphy.
For a moment, the words swim on the page and disbelief crowds my brain. They’ve done what?
“What is it, Vee?” Julio asks hesitantly.
“Yeah,” adds Gio, “what’s wrong?”
I glance around at them all as they move closer, meeting their eyes one person at a time. In them I see a mixture of hope and hesitation—everything I’ve felt for the past few years. Everything I’ve had to shove aside in order to keep us all afloat and under the radar. A radar I now discover I was never under to begin with.
My silence has dragged on too long and my group of misfits moves closer. I look at them all again, my collection of experts in their fields, and smile.
“They’ve given us a full pardon for crimes against king and country.” It’s their turn to be silent as they take in what I’ve revealed.
“The government of Mendosia has given us a full pardon?”
I nod, confirming that we’re not all dreaming.
“No prosecution, no more running?”
“Yup, looks like it.”
As smiles spread across the faces before me, a weight lifts from my chest. For five years we’ve been running from the law. Five years of laying low, unable to truly live our lives. The perceived glamour of being an internationally renowned criminal element isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The lifestyle I once lapped up became stale and annoying after the first year. The sheer joy on the faces of my cohorts confirms they feel the same.
As each of them comes to terms with being a free agent again, I concentrate on the bob and sway of the yacht on the ocean: its gentle motion soothes now instead of being a necessary evil.
“So, what do we do now?” Gabriella queries.
“Whatever you want to.”
With one long sweeping gaze at the clear water surrounding us, I turn to the captain and instruct, “Take us back to port, please.”
His stare unnerves me.
“Take us back to shore.”
“I’m afraid he can’t do that, Violetta,” comes a voice from below deck. One all too familiar. “You see, you won’t be going back to dry land, not alive anyway.” The man who once held my affections stands on the set of steps leading down to the sleeping quarters and galley kitchen. The man I’d imagined would be my fiancé has a gun trained on me.
Calmly, I refold the letter and slide it back in the envelope before tucking it in the back pocket of my shorts. Then I pull on my metaphorical big-girl panties and stare at him like nothing in the world fazes me.
“How’d you get on my yacht, James?” I ask, nonchalance in my tone. While my hands are still tucked behind me, I give my friends the hand signals we’d used on heists when silence was imperative. While I keep James talking, they’ll fan out to surround him. He may notice, or his ego could be so big he’ll think he’s won already and ignore the fact people are moving super slowly.
The hold his attention, I keep him talking. “What’s your intention here, James?”
“My plan, dear Violetta, is to take you and your crew down. You got away once, I’m not letting that happen again.”
“I got away?” My hands find their place on my hips.
“You did. But you won’t this time. None of you will. You’re all coming back with me to Mendosia. Violetta Noregard, you’re under arrest for the theft of the Mendosian crown jewels, and so many others priceless items it would take me all day to list them.”
Pride swells within me at his thoroughly disgruntled expression. He’s not a happy camper, and that makes me ecstatic.
“You’re going to have fun arresting us all, aren’t you?” I can’t help but needle him, and his scowl confirms that I have.
“It will be the highlight of my career.” He backs up his statement with a satisfied gleam in his eyes. So sad that I’m going to burst his bubble.
I hold out my hands, touching my wrists to each other, knowing that if this doesn’t go the way I think it will, I have a backup plan in the people still slowly surrounding James.
“Okay then, have your career highlight,” I tell him as he yanks my arms behind my back, twisting them harder than necessary. As soon as I feel the cool metal of the cuffs touch the skin of my arm, I cough—one of those attention-getting coughs. I feel his pause in what he’s doing.
“What now, Violetta? Don’t try any of your stall tactics on me, woman. They won’t work.”
“Not a stall tactic. Just a request. Can you get the envelope from my back pocket please?”
James grunts and I feel the metal hang loose on my wrists before his hand palms my butt cheek. I roll my eyes at the blatant grope.
“Just getting one last squeeze in, Vee. Yours always was the best butt I’ve felt.”
“I was the best at everything, James. Still am.”
“But not at getting out of tight spaces. Those days are gone.” He gloats as I feel the envelope slide from my backside.
“Oh well. Guess all good things have to come to an end, don’t they? Care to read what you’re holding, please?”
My arms stay behind me as I hear the weighty paper unfold. Then I hear his murmur as he reads under his breath. The swift intake of air through his teeth has me grinning, and the string of expletives stretches that smile from ear to ear.
I wriggle my arms a little. “Care to take these off now?”
He roars, and though I’m facing away from him, I know James is about to rip that letter up or toss it overboard.
And I can’t allow either of those options to happen.
While he’s distracted by rage, I swing around and drop into a crouch, sweeping my leg out in a graceful kick. My foot connects with his ankle, sending him flying. He hits the deck, hard. Popping up from my crouch, I wriggle and shake off the loosened cuffs and lunge forward to grab our pardon. That thing is like all the gold in the world to us.
As I’m securing it in my pocket once more, my team close in on James and secure him with the cuffs he’d tried to bind me with. They’re so efficient, I just stand and watch. When he’s trussed up better than a Christmas turkey, I tap my bottom lip, pondering what to do with him. An emasculated squeak from my left catches my attention, so I turn.
There, still standing in the same spot near the edge where I’d left him, is the messenger from Smythe and Campbell Lawyers in Mendosia. A quick glance over the edge shows his tinny and driver are still there. I take the few steps to get to the side and peer over.
“Are you particularly attached to this vessel?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “Not really. I only took what they told me to.”
I nod, then smile wide as my fledgling plan blooms before my eyes. Spinning, I point to the yacht crew, ordering, “Get him into the tinny.” To the old seaman, I say, “Hop aboard. We’ll get you back to shore.”
It takes him a second of thought, but then he’s scrambling up the ladder and practically throwing himself onto the deck. When the tiny craft is empty, James is tossed overboard into it and the lines are untied and thrown in on top of him.
“Set a course for land!” I holler to the captain. “Get those men back to Mendosia.”
“You won’t get away with this, Violetta!” James screams from the tinny slowly floating away from us. “I’ll see you locked up for a very long time!”
“That’s only if you ever see me again, James dearest. At this rate, you’ll end up in Africa or Australia before you ever get another chance of seeing me.”
His nonsensical holler of anger bounces over the waves between us and I think I hear him spouting something about kidnapping. I can’t help but answer his accusation.
“It’s only kidnapping if I actually take you somewhere, James! There’s nowhere on this planet I’d ever take you now, ergo, it’s not kidnapping.”
Facing into the breeze that pushes past us as the captain turns the yacht, I allow the first genuine smile I’ve had in years to dance its way across my lips.
With the wind at our backs and my loyal friends on board, we can do anything and go anywhere. And now, we can do that knowing we’re not wanted criminals.
Not in Mendosia at least….