The morning sun rose grudgingly over Radabob Key, a dull orange bruise against a chilly, gray sky.
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 there, Josh?”
As alright as I was going to be.
“I’m okay, Robert.”
“We’ll be at the reef in about fifteen minutes. We can drop anchorany place you like.”
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 into nothingness.
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, though.
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
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
An abrupt drop in the boat’s speed and the outboard’s return to a low-pitched growl brought me back to the
“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 passed.
“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 lips.
“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
“Godammit, Moosh! Where’s the fucking car?”
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
Moises Ben Levi hid another smile. They looked ridiculous, and the cost of their outfits could have fed a family of four for a
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 fucking stop?”
“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 dance.
“You do your job well, Moosh. I know that. Now can we get the fuck out of here? I’m starving.”
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 jacket.
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 terminated.
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 better.
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 addressed Bane.
“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 that?”
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 meat cleaver.
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,
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
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 heart.
© Copyright 2016 Tom Paine . All rights reserved.