Author’s note: This excerpt introduces Palmer, a young female DEA undercover agent in Odesa, Ukraine, attempting to infiltrate a Russian drug cartel. Her job is to disrupt the new formation of the largest drug cartel in the world combining the Italian/Russian and Colombian/Venezuelan cartels. She eventually finds herself planted by the DEA on the 300-foot mega-yacht owned by the head of the Italian mafia. The ship sails from Odesa to Aruba to meet the first shipment of drugs, guided by the other main character, Gunner, the captain of the yacht.
Palmer jumped at the sound of a loud crash from the kitchen close to her table in an open-air café. In the night air, she took a sip of wine to calm her nerves and watched Viktor Petrov, her contact, walk away from their meeting. She was tired, hated Ukraine and couldn’t wait to finish this mission.
After two years undercover, she had gained twenty pounds, picked up smoking and begun drinking more than was good for her. It’s not like in the movies, she often thought. They don’t tell you about the stress when you’re in training at the Academy. Although she and Viktor had met secretly on a regular basis over the last year, Palmer sensed something was wrong. Viktor had seemed nervous and kept looking at his watch. He was the best informant she had cultivated in Ukraine but was paranoid, insisting on a different location each time they met. Palmer was unfamiliar with this café in an old Russian neighborhood near the seaport where Viktor worked.
Palmer took out a small notebook and wrote down the information he had provided about a large drug shipment from Odesa to Aruba sometime in the next couple of months. Finally, she thought. This is the big break I’ve been waiting for. Although Viktor didn’t know the exact schedule for the shipment, his information meshed with the DEA’s recent intelligence regarding an expansion of the main port in Aruba to accommodate large container ships.
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She paid and walked to the bathroom located in the rear of the café. Out of habit, she chose the last of four stalls. A minute later, the lights went out. She froze and waited while her eyes adjusted to the moonlight illuminating the room through small windows. She quietly pulled up her pants as someone opened a stall door, then closed it and moved to the next one.
Trapped, she knew the puny lock on her stall door wouldn’t protect her for long. Knowing she only had a few seconds, Palmer searched her purse for a special pen made of carbon steel with a very sharp point. She swore at all the unessential things cluttering her bag. When she graduated from the Academy, the Agency had given her the inconspicuous pen/weapon because, in many circumstances, it was too risky to carry a gun or knife. As the door opened to the stall next to her, two years of training flashed through her mind.
Out of good options, she carefully lifted the latch to her stall door and braced her feet against the toilet. As the door opened, she launched against it, using the door as a weapon. The door slammed against her attacker, knocking him off balance. Palmer dropped him with a powerful leg kick to the chest. She attempted to run past him, but he grabbed her right ankle. She twisted and stomped his wrist, breaking his grip. Their eyes met in the dim light for a fraction of a second, but then she caught a silver glint in his left hand. She watched the knife plunge into her left leg but oddly felt no pain. At the same time, Palmer saw his exposed neck. The sharp pen entered just under his left ear, and the man gasped. Before he could react, she jammed the pen into his neck two more times. The man slumped to the floor, blood spurting from his neck.
Palmer slid to the floor against the bathroom stall, fighting the urge to cry out, worried there might be others outside. Blood oozed from beneath the knife grip stuck into her thigh. She took a deep breath, pulled out the knife and tied her scarf above the wound as a tourniquet. Gritting her teeth as the pain surged up her leg, she reached for her cell and punched in a number. A man answered.
Palmer gasped, “Bird down.”
“Deep Waters of Destiny”
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She knew they’d locate her using the GPS on her phone. She dragged herself behind the entrance door to the bathroom, the best place to defend herself if another attacker came. She was grateful for all the time she’d spent in defense training. Even though she was of average height, she was strong and athletic. Resting her head against the wall, she hoped she wouldn’t bleed out before rescue came.
Fucking Viktor, she cursed while gripping the bloody phone. I’m not dying here, not now.
Palmer passed out before the DEA team recovered her and transferred her to a safe house. She opened her eyes as the doctor was finishing the last stitches.
“You were lucky,” Boris said. He was her team leader in Ukraine.
“Missed a major artery by a miracle. You should have a full recovery.”
“Where am I?”
“A safe house. We have a jet waiting to fly you to New York within an hour.”
Palmer shook her head. “No, I want to stay and finish this. We’re so close.”
“Not going to happen. You’re still on the Russian mafia’s Most Wanted list. We found out a few minutes ago they killed your informant after he left the café.”
Boris leaned close to Palmer’s ear and whispered, “We have a mole. This operation is compromised, and we’re shutting it down. I talked with Bob Davis at headquarters, and they’ve already reassigned you to Miami. The Italian mafia is making a big push into Florida.”
She didn’t like it, but this made sense. Before she’d been assigned to Odesa, she had operated undercover to track the Italian and Russian mafia as they expanded their heroin trade from Russia and Ukraine to New York. The majority of the heroin coming out of eastern Europe was controlled by two men, Rizzo, an Italian, and Bykov, the Russian leader of an equally large and dangerous criminal organization.
The DEA had recruited an informant that supplied updates on a new club in Miami the mafia used as a front for their criminal operations. The club, Tiger Eye, had quickly become a favorite of celebrities as well as the small and big players involved with a variety of criminal activities. Once her leg had healed, Palmer was inserted as a waitress at the Tiger Eye club. Everything about the club was over the top, from the Cuban décor to free champagne in the women’s lounge. Tuxedos and long dresses were common.
Over the next three months, she noticed more known members of the Italian mafia from New York City and new faces from Russia coming to the club. She observed several meetings between the Italians and Russians. Palmer didn’t know what these meetings were about until one evening when a table of drunk Russians bragged too loudly about a new business deal and made vague references to a large shipment.
As Palmer served their table throughout the evening, she overheard them talking about the ports of Santo Domingo and Rio Haina in the Dominican Republic and about expanding the port of Aruba. Palmer quickly recognized the significance of this information and requested a trip to Santo Domingo to follow the lead.
Four days later, Palmer stepped out into the bright sunlight from a jet parked on the tarmac of the Las Americas airport in the Dominican Republic. The summer heat and humidity hit her like a blast furnace as she walked down the steep stairs and followed the other passengers to the terminal. After clearing customs, she took a taxi to a small hotel in the heart of Santo Domingo. She marveled at the paradox between the Dominican Republic, one of the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean, and Haiti, the other country that shared the island, which was by far the poorest. She had orders to gather any information about a new club, Wahoo, which was run by the same mafia group that owned the Tiger Eye in Miami.
Once settled in her hotel, Palmer called her boss, Bob Davis, to confirm her arrival. “I’m staying at the Blue Ocean Hotel,” she told him. “Any update from our informant in Sicily?”
“We think Rizzo and Bykov are cutting some kind of deal with the Colombian cartel.”
“This situation gets worse every day. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yes.” Bob paused. “If our intelligence is correct, we’re looking at the creation of the largest criminal drug cartel in history.”
“How sure are you about the Colombian involvement?”
“We need to confirm, but so far, the info looks legit. This would produce a disastrous expansion of drug traffic in the US and we already have a drug crisis. Can you find out how active the Colombians are in Santo Domingo and the rest of the island?”
“Yes. I’m going to the Wahoo Club tonight. I doubt the timing and strategic location of this new club was just a coincidence.”
“Be careful,” Bob cautioned. “Remember what happened in Odesa.”
“Thanks, but I can take care of myself.” Although she sounded confident to Bob, she worried about the risk that someone she knew from the Tiger Eye in Miami would recognize her at the Wahoo. The odds were low, but she knew the possibility was real.
An hour later, Palmer took a walk to find an outdoor café for a late lunch. Along the way, she wandered through an outdoor market filled with dozens of small vendors. The air was filled with the smells of various meats and seafood sizzling on metal grills. She watched couples holding hands as they browsed from table to table but then looked away, regretting that her choice of career made such every day, intimate moments almost impossible. Since the DEA moved her location frequently, she never made real friends. Fortunately, she had a gift for languages, a useful talent during previous assignments in Russia, Ukraine, Italy and France.
When operating deep undercover, her sole lifeline was Bob, her boss. Unfortunately, Bob was an arrogant, insecure man who had almost no experience in the field. Even worse, he was intimidated by Palmer, having quickly realized she was much smarter than he was.
Having an exceptional memory and high intelligence was both a blessing and a curse, particularly for a woman. She was confused when some students ostracized her for being so smart. She never got over the pain of classmates calling her a freak, nerd, smarty-pants and worse. Eventually, she resorted to underperforming at school to avoid resentment and bullying, especially from boys. Unfortunately, college wasn’t much better. If she challenged her professors too much, grades declined.
When she was approached about working for the DEA, she immediately agreed but became easily frustrated when her peers, mostly insecure men, couldn’t see or understand what was so obvious to her. Her managers, however, quickly realized how smart she was. Instead of mentoring Palmer, they used her intelligence to promote their careers. Facing regular discrimination as a woman working in a male-dominated organization, she was furious about how they would take the credit for her ideas and excellent work while rarely recommending her for the promotions she had earned.
When she had the opportunity to pivot from a staff job to working undercover, she jumped at the chance. She’d have more control of not only what she did but how she did things.
Pete Carlson lives in Denver and has written three novels: “Ukrainian Nights,” “Tearza” and “Deep Waters of Destiny” published by Calumet Editions. Pete and Marsha enjoy their family and four grandchildren, cooking, golf, and travel.