The morning sun rose grudgingly over
Radabob Key, a dull orange bruise against a chilly, gray
I sat in the bow of my 18-foot
Dauntless as it slid through the twisting passageway through
stands of spiky mangroves leading from my house on Largo Sound to
the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. The hull slapped rhythmically
against the choppy water, misting me with an icy spray that
numbed my face and hands. In my lap was a small wooden box that
held the last 10 years of my life-the ashes of my wife, Carolyn,
dead only days from the cancer she'd battled for the past three
years. It was a rare form of blood cancer-horrible, awful,
terrifying-but manageable if treated properly.
Carolyn's insurance company had had
some "financial challenges," I knew from reading reports in the
newspaper I used to work for. So as part of an effort to crack
down on "fraud," they scoured the applications of clients with
the temerity to get sick, looking for an "i" not dotted, a "t"
not crossed, any minor error or omission, any reason at all to
avoid paying up. They call it "recission."
I call it murder.
Of course, the company found what it
was looking for, a couple months of acne medication taken as a
teenager that had long ago slipped from my wife's memory. That
was all it took. A legal-sounding letter informed us that
Carolyn's policy had been cancelled, her treatment denied. We
were on our own.
Just thinking about it made a red
cloud boil up in my eyes. I tightened my grip on the box as
Robert called out from the boat's cockpit, "You alright over
As alright as I was going to
"I'm okay, Robert."
"We'll be at the reef in about
fifteen minutes. We can drop anchorany place you
I nodded back, not trusting myself
to speak. This would be the last time I touched my wife,
scattering her ashes over the water we'd grown to love; it would
be like watching a piece of me fall from my fingers and dissolve
We cleared the channel buoy at the
mouth of the passageway and the 225-horsepower Mercury whined
louder and more insistently, tilting the bow up as we quickly
gained speed. The icy mist was a pinprick spray now but I barely
felt its chill.
We had never given up,
After the denial we burned through
our savings, maxed out our credit cards and, when that was gone,
borrowed from friends and relatives, cajoling, pleading, bullying
doctors and hospitals for the drugs and care she needed. Carolyn
fought with a ferocious courage that shamed my own resolve. I
fought back my own way, filing a lawsuit-Henson v. United
Medical-drawing on my contacts and knowledge of how to play the
media game gained from 20 years as a magazine and newspaper
reporter. It was almost enough, but after a year and $150,000, we
were out of money. Too broke to afford treatment, too "rich" for
Medicaid, we had precious few options.
Finally, after six months of
watching my wife slowly give back all the ground she'd gained on
her adversary, I succeeded in my PR gambit, making "recission"
and Carolyn's case the focus of a slew of stories in print, on
television and the Net, culminating in a brief mention on one of
those network morning shows I'd spent years
That did it. The bad publicity, the
threat of legal action by the Attorneys General of several
states, the fear of having to explain their decision to the jury
of a dying woman's peers caused the company to cave. They
reinstituted Carolyn's coverage, reimbursed us for her expenses
and threw in a few more dollars to make us go away.
It was too late but we did anyway,
moving to the Florida Keys and buying a house on the water in Key
Largo. Carolyn was sick and getting sicker but was adamant we
spend whatever time she had left in the kind of tropical paradise
we'd both dreamed of. There wasn't much. In six months she was
bedridden. In a week, she was gone.
An abrupt drop in the boat's speed
and the outboard's return to a low-pitched growl brought me back
to the present.
"Anywhere you like, Josh," Robert
called from the cockpit.
The vast, unknowable expanse of
gray-blue water seemed to want to reach up and swallow me whole.
For a moment I thought of following Carolyn in, swimming into its
depths, letting the cold and current take me. But the moment
"This is fine, Robert," I said.
"Just let her drift."
I sensed rather than saw my friend
leave the cockpit and disappear into the small galley below. I
looked down at the box in my lap and raised it to my
"Goodbye, Linnie," I whispered,
carefully removing the box's top and tilting the silver powder
into the water. It floated on the surface for a fraction of a
second, glistening like crystal gossamer, then the rough waves
carried it away. I sat there for I don't know how long, imagining
I could see the tiny particles carried outwards, infusing new
life to the ocean from what had been taken from mine. After a
time I felt Robert's hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you," I said, looking up at
him, fighting to get out the words.
He squeezed gently and returned to
the cockpit, turning the boat around and taking me back to the
rest of my life.
"Godammit, Moosh! Where's the
Moises Ben Levi hid a thin smile and
ignored the question. The former Israeli paratrooper was used to
swallowing his employer's digs and minor slights, like the
deliberate mispronouncing of his given name, but a seven-figure
salary and the chance to retire before he hit fifty made them go
down easier. Besides, this was a vacation compared to what he'd
seen on the West Bank and Gaza. It was just part of the job of
dealing with Ed Bane, being poked and prodded and reminded a
dozen times a day exactly who was the boss.
And when it came to the kind of
political punditry that intimidated politicians, terrified
bureaucrats and could generate millions of angry emails on
whatever subject engaged his mouth, Edwin MacArthur Bane, Jr. was
indeed the boss. A former vacuum cleaner salesman and talk jock
on a one-lung Illinois radio station, Ed Bane worked his way up
through the media minor leagues, honing his act and biding his
time until his show exploded and grabbed the throne once held by
the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Combining the weepy
apocalypticism of the former with the carefully calibrated
bombast of the latter, Bane developed a pair of nationwide
broadcasts that didn't so much dominate the airwaves as strangle
them. Every day more than 30 million viewers and listeners tuned
in to hear him announce, "Liberals, Democraps, socialists,
losers, I am Ed Bane. The bane of your existence."
Standing in the foyer of his
sprawling, Addison Mizner-designed Palm Beach mansion, Bane
tapped his foot impatiently until twin black SUVs emerged from
the garage at the back of the estate and parked beneath a portico
only slightly smaller than New Orleans' Superdome.
Ben Levi held open the massive
Macassar Ebony front door and nodded for Bane and his live-in
girlfriend, Olivia de Silva, to go through. De Silva was a
stunner, no question-athlete's lithe body, model's high
cheekbones, plastic surgeon's enormous breasts. She was dressed
in a hand-tailored pantsuit of iridescent silk that rippled in
the balmy breeze of a South Florida evening.
Bane himself was rather more doughy,
thanks mainly to a diet rich in Kobe beef and fine Bordeaux. In
fact, everything about him, from his neatly manicured nails to
his impeccably cut and styled dark hair to cheeks so smoothly
shaven they appeared to have been waxed, spoke of the soothing
balm of enormous amounts of money. He capped off the look by
dressing in full Palm Beach regalia-white slacks, red-and-white
striped Brooks Brothers shirt, royal blue Berluti loafers, pastel
Ralph Lauren sweater draped over his shoulders.
Moises Ben Levi hid another smile.
They looked ridiculous, and the cost of their outfits could have
fed a family of four for a month.
Two beefy but athletic men dressed
in identical black suits jumped out of the second SUV and moved
to escort the couple to the vehicle. Bane stopped in the doorway
and looked exasperated.
"Who are these two, Moosh?" he
asked, looking through the men as if they were made of glass.
"You put two more goons on the payroll?" When's it going to
"I told you last week," Ben Levi
said patiently, maintaining his even tone by imagining grabbing
Bane by his fruity-looking sweater and slapping the living shit
out of him. "I'm not comfortable with some of the things I've
been hearing. People have been targeted, gotten to. By
professionals. Nothing definite, but the threat is real. And
greater than ever. If I'm to keep you and Ms. de Silva safe, I
need more men. And these men are not goons; they're ex-Army
Rangers who can kill a man more ways than you can split an
infinitive. We have a deal, remember? I'm your head of security.
If you don't like the job I'm doing. . ."
Ed Bane grinned and waved his hand
dismissively. This was all part of their daily
"You do your job well, Moosh. I know
that. Now can we get the fuck out of here? I'm
Moises Ben Levi hadn't bothered to
explain the reasons why even a five-minute ride to a local
restaurant on a quiet Saturday evening required two vehicles, two
two-man teams and himself. But those things he'd heard through
the former intelligence ops' grapevine made him reach
subconsciously for the stubby little Glock 18 he kept in a
shoulder holster under his off-the-rack department store suit
The U.S. Senator who was the biggest
booster of another bloated, over-budget Pentagon weapons project
hadn't been quarantined with a virulently contagious infection
but in fact had been missing, incommunicado, for more than a
week. When he was found by police not far from Capitol Hill, he
shrank from the patrolman's touch and refused to talk to
authorities, even his wife. Instead, he resigned his Senate seat,
flew back to California and checked himself into a hospital,
reportedly for "exhaustion." The weapons project was ultimately
The Connecticut mansion of the CEO
of the country's largest and most influential banks had recently
been broken into in a daring midnight raid. In less than 15
minutes multiple physical barriers were surmounted, a crack
security team disarmed and rendered unconscious, an array of
sophisticated electronic security measures expertly disabled. The
only evidence of the invaders' intentions was a plain white
business card, imprinted with a single word in big black letters,
tacked to the inside of the front door. Ben Levi knew the man who
ran the CEO's security detail. He was very professional, very
good. Whoever made him look like an incompetent amateur was
The two black-suited newbies led
Bane and de Silva to the back seat of the second SUV; Ben Levi
climbed in the front, spoke into the wireless microphone clipped
to his lapel and the entourage moved out. Even though the route
was less than two miles through one of the richest and most
exclusive communities in the country, Ben Levi had checked it out
as if it were in downtown Baghdad. He knew that Bane had bought
out the restaurant-a mediocre "Tuscan" joint that would have been
laughed out of Italy-for the evening, paying the entire staff to
stay home except for the chef, a favored waiter and the oily,
obsequious owner. If the evening went to Bane's satisfaction,
each would go home with a $5,000 tip. Since Ed Bane had recently
inked a lifetime deal estimated to be worth close to $1 billion,
five grand was pin money.
Ben Levi turned in his seat and
"This is how we do it, now and every
time after. Two cars, always; the two of you will change
positions, front car and back, at random. When we get to the
restaurant, we will park directly in front of the entrance.
Michael here"-he indicated the driver-"and I will escort you and
Ms. de Silva in. Antwan will park the other car across the street
and watch the building, John will take the restaurant's rear
door, Edward the front. I'll be at the bar; you won't see me but
I'll be there. When you're finished dinner, we do the whole thing
in reverse. But we take a different route home. Anything happens,
even smells like it might happen, I give the word and you get
down on the floor. You don't get up until I say. Got
Olivia de Silva opened her mouth to
commence one of her trademark whines but something in Ben Levi's
eyes made her reconsider; instead, she fluffed her hair and
flopped back in the seat. Men. Ed Bane grinned. "Got it, Moosh,"
he said. He looked like he was enjoying the fuss being made over
him. Moises Ben Levi thought of the hacienda and 30 acres of land
he owned in Costa Rica.
Eldrick Brown padded out of the
studio and back to his desk in the "cube farm" of KKLI "Talk-Back
Radio." It was a few minutes after five in the morning and he was
tired and ready to go home; he'd been on the air since one, the
slot he'd held for the past twenty years. Back then it was just a
sop thrown by station management to the black community of the
San Francisco Bay Area, but Eldrick Brown made news and got
ratings with his defiantly left-wing views, uncanny feel for his
audience and mouth that could cut like a scalpel or hack like a
Brown took the elevator down to the
station lobby and had the relentlessly cheerful security guard at
the desk buzz him through to the underground parking garage. Even
though four hours of live radio left him drained and weary, he
was looking forward to the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to
his Marin County home in his new Jaguar XKE.
As he approached the gleaming silver
sports car he heard steps behind him, then a rough voice hissed
loudly, "Hey, nigger!"
Eldrick Brown hadn't heard that word
spoken with bad intent in more than a decade. He stopped and
shook his head as if he couldn't quite believe it. He couldn't
believe it was happening here either; the KKLI garage was only
for the station's radio and television employees, none of whom
would presumably be racist or insane enough to publicly slur
someone of his clout and stature. He balled his fists and turned
to face the hissing voice; Eldrick Brown never backed down from a
fight, either on the air or in the street.
A fist as hard and heavy as a lead
weight landed on the side of his face. He could hear the tiny
bones crack and feel his mouth fill with blood. Other fists, just
as hard and ferocious, connected with his jaw, his kidneys, his
solar plexus. But he was already falling to the pavement, falling
into unconsciousness. He never felt the boot that broke off a
piece of a rib and drove it straight through his