Check out this beach-y Violet Darger short featuring Darger, Loshak, Owen, and Spinks.
When 17-year-old Micaela Tolliver goes missing during her beach vacation, FBI profiler Violet Darger heads to Curacao to investigate. The case vexes local law enforcement, with plenty of suspicious characters around and comparisons to Natalee Holloway aplenty.
Red herrings. False starts. People who will go great lengths to protect the island's long held secrets.
Further complications emerge due to someone else entangled in the case -- Darger's old friend and former lover, private investigator Owen Baxter. They're working together for the first time after a bad breakup. The tension is palpable, and Darger begins to question the knot of conflicts in her own heart.
Corruption. Death. Sand. Romance.
Once again, Violet Darger shines her light into the shadows. And what she finds there in the darkness will change her.
The Violet Darger novels can be read in any order. Here is the full list of Darger books in chronological order:
Dead End Girl (Violet Darger Book 1)
Image in a Cracked Mirror (Violet Darger Book 1.5)
Killing Season (Violet Darger Book 2)
The Last Victim (Violet Darger Book 2.5)
The Girl in the Sand (Violet Darger Book 3)
Bad Blood (Violet Darger Book 4)
Five Days Post Mortem (Violet Darger Book 5)
Into the Abyss (Violet Darger Book 5.5)
Night on Fire (Violet Darger 6)
Dark Passage (Violet Darger 7)
Trouble in Paradise (Violet Darger 7.5)
Countdown to Midnight (Violet Darger 8)
Release date: September 17, 2021
Publisher: Smarmy Press
Print pages: 152
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Trouble in Paradise: A Violet Darger Novella
The nonstop stream of travelers bustled through the north terminal of Miami International Airport. A chorus of voices congealing into one continuous sound. It ebbed and flowed along with the rhythm of the departures and arrivals.
There were other noises, too. Heels clip-clopping against the terrazzo. A suitcase with a screeching wheel. The hollow gurgle of someone sucking the last of a beverage from a takeout cup.
Violet Darger crossed and uncrossed her legs, trying to find a comfortable position.
They were two-and-a-half hours into a three-hour layover, and she was antsy for the next step of their journey.
Beside her, Victor Loshak took a sip of what had to be lukewarm coffee by now. They’d snagged breakfast at one of the little airport restaurants as soon as they’d disembarked their red-eye flight from DC, which meant the coffee was at least two hours old at this point. Perhaps realizing this himself, he stood and tossed the cup in a waste bin a few yards away.
When Loshak returned to his seat, the vinyl squeaked faintly as he settled into it.
“Wanna hear a joke?” he asked.
“Yeah, you know. Funny. Ha ha.”
She blinked at him, neither encouraging or discouraging.
He sat up a little straighter, eyelids fluttering as he gathered himself for the delivery.
“What’s the worst part about eating a clock?”
Darger glanced over at their gate, wondering how much longer they’d have to wait before their flight would start boarding.
“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Some kind of lame pun about time, probably?”
He shook his head, and she wasn’t sure if he was trying to indicate that her answer was wrong or if he was admonishing her. She had to admit that it was bad form to ruin a joke that way.
“OK,” she said. “What’s the worst part about eating a clock?”
Loshak furrowed his brow and shrugged, as if the answer should have been obvious.
“Shitting a clock.”
The stupid simplicity of the punchline caught her off-guard, and she actually let out a laugh.
Loshak seemed pleased at the reaction. He leaned back into his chair and folded his hands over his belly.
Darger refocused her attention on the potted palm in the corner of the seating area. The fronds swayed in the artificial breeze from a nearby air conditioning vent. She tried not to think about where they were headed and why. They were just sitting in an airport the same way they would for any case. Killing some time. Nothing to feel tense about.
Loshak fiddled with the collar of his short-sleeve linen shirt and then aimed a finger at Darger’s pants.
“You do realize we’re going to be in the Caribbean in July? The high in Willemstad was 88 degrees yesterday.”
“What, you want me in tourist gear? Should I have on a Hawaiian print sarong and halter top?” Darger crossed her arms. “This may not be an official Bureau assignment, but we’re still going in a professional capacity.”
“Yeah, well… Could have worn shorts, at least,” Loshak said.
“I hate shorts.” Darger shook her head. “They’re either too short, and I feel like I’m trying to be a teenager, or they’re too long, and I feel like my mother. There’s no happy medium. No one makes shorts for the thirty-something non-soccer mom.”
She pointed to her feet and wiggled her exposed toes.
“I’m wearing sandals, aren’t I?”
He gestured at a man in a loud Hawaiian shirt making his way through the concourse. The shirt had a pink, green, and turquoise palm tree motif. Very retro. To complete the ensemble the man wore a Havana hat and a pair of linen shorts.
“Now this…” Loshak said. “This is a man who knows how to dress for the locale.”
Darger realized the man was heading straight for them. She wondered briefly if he’d seen Loshak pointing him out and wanted to start something, but he didn’t look angry. If anything, there was a twinkle of amusement in his eye.
“Didn’t mean to cut it so close,” the man said. “There was a bit of a kerfuffle at the TSA checkpoint. Old lady in front of me had a taxidermied cat in her carry-on. Caused a ruckus when it went through the X-ray machine. Still, nothing compared to O’Hare.”
“Violet Darger, meet Jevon Spinks,” Loshak said with a tic of his head.
“Oh,” Darger said, understanding dawning on her. “Hello.”
Spinks clasped her hand in his and gave a vigorous shake.
“The infamous Special Agent Violet Darger. It is an absolute pleasure.”
Spinks threw himself into the seat next to her.
“I hope you don’t mind my tagging along,” he said. “It’s just that after your partner dragged me through Chicago last winter, it seemed only fair that I should be allowed to cleanse my palate of that frigid experience with a trip to the tropics.”
“Not at all. But… don’t you live here, in Miami?” she asked.
“I do,” Spinks said with a nod.
Darger’s eyes strayed to the potted palm again.
“That’s not tropical enough for you?”
“I take it you’ve never spent much time in either place.”
“Florida, yes. The islands, no. I’ve never been.”
“Now that is just a sin. Life is too short to not spend as much time as possible on sandy beaches. Is everyone at the FBI a workaholic like the pair of you?”
“Hey, I actually take vacations now and then,” Loshak said.
Darger narrowed her eyes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Now, now, children. Let’s not spoil the trip with petty squabbles. To answer your question, Agent Darger, Florida is a dank armpit compared to the Caribbean — an armpit rife with gang violence. There is simply no comparing the two.” Spinks rubbed his hands together. “So, what’s the background on this case? All Loshak could tell me is that there’s a missing girl. A Natalee Holloway type of deal?”
“Sort of, but not exactly. The girl’s name is Micaela Tolliver. Seventeen. Missing six days as of today. Her father lives on the island. Retired there a few years ago and opened a boat repair shop. He and Micaela’s mother divorced when she was twelve. Now she spends the school year with her mother in New Jersey and then stays most of the summer with her dad in Curaçao.”
“Can you imagine? Mom and dad get divorced and suddenly you’re forced to spend part of the year in a tropical paradise? That is rough.” He chuckled. “And it’s your boyfriend that put you on the case?”
“Uh no,” she said, flicking a crumb from her pant leg. “Ex-boyfriend.”
“Oops.” Spinks sucked in a breath through his teeth. “My bad.”
“He’s got a sailboat. Spent the last year or so island-hopping. He’s docking in Willemstad for repairs.”
Spinks held up a finger.
“And he happens to be docking at the boat shop owned by Micaela’s father?”
Spinks pushed out his lips in an exaggerated pout.
“I’m surprised this isn’t making the news here. What with the similarities to the Holloway case, I’d think the press would be all over it. They just can’t help themselves.”
“Apparently the locals are hesitant to even acknowledge her as missing,” Darger explained, then turned to Loshak “Speaking of which, did you manage to get in touch with anyone in Willemstad?”
“Nope,” Loshak said. “I left two messages but got zilch back. My guess is the entire Dutch Caribbean Police Force is scared shitless. Trying to do damage control. Tourism is always such a massive part of the economy for these places, so I’ll bet they’re under enormous pressure from the powers-that-be to not let this turn into anything even vaguely resembling the Holloway thing.”
Spinks crossed one leg over the other.
“So is that why they won’t declare the girl missing?”
“That’s part of it, I’m sure,” Darger said. “But there’s more. Micaela has a boyfriend on the island. Also missing.”
“Ah… and they think the two just ran off together?”
Loshak folded his arms behind his head and tipped his head back.
“If you ask me, we should all be thankful the press hasn’t gotten wind of this yet. I know the agents who flew down to Aruba to investigate the Holloway case. Total nightmare. The media followed them everywhere. One of the guys said a photographer actually tailed him into a public restroom and took photos of him taking a whiz.” Loshak huffed out a breath. “Case like that was going to be a shit show from the start, but with the bloodthirsty media vultures circling around, picking at every detail…”
Spinks ran a hand down the front of his shirt, smoothing the fabric.
“I’m going to assume that I am exempt from your characterization of the media as carrion-eating buzzards.”
Loshak ignored him.
“The media circus is the reason they never solved that one, in my opinion. They muddied the waters so badly, no one could tell up from down.”
“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here,” Darger said with a sigh. “Kind of ironic, though.”
“That the local police force being uncooperative ends up being in our favor for once.”
Loshak’s phone blipped. A text notification from the sound of it. He pulled his phone from his pocket and swiped at the screen, smirking slightly at whatever he read there.
Spinks jabbed Darger lightly with his elbow.
“You ever meet her in person?”
“The elusive ex-wife-slash-girlfriend,” Spinks said. “Jan.”
“No.” Darger glanced at Loshak, who was tapping out a response with his thumbs. Her gaze slid back over to Spinks. “Have you?”
Spinks shook his head.
“Frankly, I’m starting to wonder whether or not she actually exists.”
“Unlike some people, I prefer to keep my private life separate from my work life,” Loshak muttered without looking up from the phone.
“I know you’re not talking about me,” Spinks said, blinking innocently. “I have exceptional boundaries.”
“I think that one was aimed my way.” Darger pursed her lips. “Which seems uncalled for considering I wasn’t the one doubting Jan’s existence.”
“You didn’t shut him down, either.”
“To be fair, I haven’t ever met her,” Darger said.
Spinks nudged her again.
“So does that mean you got caught dipping your pen in the company ink?”
“Having a steamy affair with a coworker.”
“He wasn’t a coworker.”
“He wasn’t,” Darger said. “And I broke it off, anyway. You’re one to talk, you know. What about Karla Dawson?”
Spinks put a hand to his chest and let out a dramatic gasp.
“Hold on a minute. Are you telling me that the unimpeachable Victor Loshak had a workplace affair?”
“I absolutely did not. We had drinks.” He extended his index finger. “Once. After the case was over.”
Darger raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah well, Margaret Prescott told me that all the women at the Academy had crushes on you back in the day. Doodling your name in hearts in the margins of their notes.”
“Now hold on,” Spinks said, giggling. “I have to hear more about this.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I do.”
Darger opened her mouth to taunt Loshak a little more, but she was interrupted by the voice on the intercom announcing that boarding for their flight was beginning.
“Thank God,” Loshak muttered.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Spinks said, rubbing his hands together. He leaned closer to Darger and lowered his voice. “You can give me details on Agent Love-shak once we’re in the air.”
They tromped up the narrow aisle spanning the length of the plane, a row of ducklings with Spinks in the mother duck position. He swung his head one way and then the other, reading the seat numbers. He paused about three-quarters of the way back.
“Row 22. Double deuce. This is us.” Spinks took another step and spun around. “After you, m’lady.”
Darger frowned, double-checking the seat assignment on her boarding pass.
“You’ve got the window seat,” she said, holding it up so he could read the number himself. “I’m in the middle.”
Spinks held up a finger.
“Yes, but since this is your first time to the Caribbean, you should take the window. It adds to the experience.”
“That’s not necessary,” Darger said.
“Oh, but I insist.” Spinks’ mouth spread into a grin. “There’s something about flying over the ocean that puts everything into perspective. Makes you feel like an insignificant speck. But in a good way.”
He gestured at the seat like a Price is Right model unveiling a fabulous prize.
Darger thanked him and took the window seat, forcing a smile to her face to cover her unease.
She shoved her bag under the seat and turned on the overhead air nozzle. The faint fragrance of an in-flight meal lingered in the confined space, and it was making Darger feeling slightly ill. Plane food always had a slightly acrid odor to her nostrils.
Twenty minutes later they were ready for take-off. The whole plane went quiet as they took to the air. Even Spinks, who’d been chattering nonstop since he met up with them.
Darger avoided looking out the window as they soared above the Florida Straits. She kept her eyes closed and chomped away on the stick of cinnamon gum Spinks had offered her just before take-off.
There’d been another thorn in the side of her relationship with Owen, and that was his desire for Darger to sail the Caribbean with him. But Darger was slightly terrified at the idea of being out to sea. The fact that they were zooming over it now instead of sailing on it was a distinction that offered her little comfort.
She usually considered herself an ambivalent flier, subject to the jitters every now and then when they hit a patch of turbulence, but rational enough to know how unlikely it would be that they’d encounter any true peril. But just now, aware of the vastness of the ocean spreading out beneath them, she couldn’t help but envision the plane crash-landing in the middle of the blue drink. The hundreds of millions of gallons of sea water that would swallow them up in an instant.
Darger had the odd sensation of valve clamping tight in her gut, and she gripped the hand rests on either side of her a little harder. Minutes passed, and then she heard the ding of the Fasten Seatbelts sign turning off. Somewhere behind her, a beverage cart rattled.
“I can make a mean mile-high daiquiri. What do you say?” From his position in the middle seat, Spinks was able to nudge both agents at once. “Eh? Eh? Come on. Treat yourself. It’s customary to celebrate your first trip to the islands with a festive beverage.”
“If you insist,” Loshak said. “Mostly, I’m curious to see you make a daiquiri on an airplane.”
“To be clear, this is a traditional daiquiri. None of that pink goo that looks like it came out of a slushy machine at the 7-Eleven.” Spinks licked his lips. “To really do it right, you need fresh-squeezed lime juice and demerara simple syrup. But we have to make do with what we’ve got, so the mile-high version is just rum and 7UP with a few lime wedges and a dash of club soda to temper the sweetness.”
When the flight attendant reached their row of seats, Spinks ordered three mini bottles of Bacardi, two cans of 7UP, and a can of club soda.
“And could I get some extra ice and a handful of lime wedges?” he asked, handing over his credit card.
With the ingredients for the cocktails arranged on his tray table, Spinks rubbed his palms together and began mixing the drinks. Each plastic cup got the juice of two lime wedges, a healthy serving of ice, and the contents of one of the mini bottles. He added a splash of the club soda to each drink and then filled the cups the rest of the way with the 7UP.
Ice shifted in the cup as Spinks passed it to her. She brought it to her lips and felt the tiny bubbles of carbonation bursting against her skin as she took a sip. Spinks watched her in anticipation.
“Very much,” Darger said, smacking her lips a little at the tang of the fresh lime. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. I like to consider myself an ambassador to the finer things in life.”
The booze went to work on the knots in Darger’s stomach, loosening them bit by bit as it took hold.
Spinks lifted his fizzing cup and tipped it toward the window.
“Look at that. Have you ever seen a blue like that?”
Darger couldn’t actually bring herself to look at the water. Instead, she moved her eyes to the window but kept her focus on the wing of the plane.
“Nope,” she said.
The sea below was an unfocused blur that she pretended was the usual plains and farmland and mountains she flew over all the time when she and Loshak consulted on various cases across the country.
Nothing to see here, she told herself. Nothing at all.
She took another drink of her mile-high daiquiri, hoping the alcohol would subdue her nerves once and for all. It wasn’t really any different than flying anywhere else. She knew that. Then again, flying over the ocean wasn’t the only thing making her nervous, was it?
If she was honest with herself, she was almost as uneasy about seeing Owen again as she was about the yawning expanse of the open sea.
She’d been avoiding this line of thought, but something about the steady white noise of the plane made it impossible to ignore.
She’d first met Owen when she and Loshak consulted on a domestic terror case in Georgia. Two brothers — Levi and Luke Foley — wreaking havoc across the Atlanta metro area. It began with a sniper rifle attack on a busy freeway, then a shooting at a crowded grocery story. The final act of Levi and Luke had been planting bombs all over their former high school.
Owen’s twin brother, Special Agent Ethan Baxter, had been shot in one of the attacks and died a few days later. Owen himself had been wounded in another.
Darger swirled the liquid in her cup and drank.
She’d never really analyzed the impetus of their relationship from afar before. Only now did it occur to her that they’d probably had some sort of survivor’s trauma bond. She wondered if that was all they’d ever had. That might explain why it had fallen apart so easily.
But no. Whatever glue had initially held them together, the relationship had crumbled because Darger chose work over Owen one too many times. It was tempting to let herself off the hook, though. To suggest what they’d had was only a by-product of surviving a life-threatening event together. But it had been more than that, and she knew it. And she’d fucked it up all by herself.
She had enough distance from it to see how she’d used her work as a shield to avoid intimacy. She might have told herself she was simplifying her life, but the reality was that there was a part of Darger that worried no one would ever love her enough to put up with her for longer than a few months. It was easier to sabotage the relationship. To pretend she’d taken some sort of high road to avoid the potentially inevitable feelings of abandonment that would come if it didn’t work out.
A question bobbed to the surface of her mind. The same question she’d pondered a hundred times since she got Owen’s call.
Did he have someone else now?
She pushed the query aside, knowing the obvious answer. Of course he did. Owen wasn’t the type to sit around pining after a woman. Certainly not Violet Darger.
She imagined him and some six-foot-tall Brazilian bikini model with honeyed skin, island-hopping for the last however many months. Actually, more likely it had been a slew of six-foot bikini models.
Darger looked down at her khaki pants and sensible sandals.
If she was nursing some hope of rekindling something with Owen in the back of her subconscious, she needed to nip that in the bud right now. It was a fantasy, pure and simple. Born of too much time alone. Even if there had been a true connection between them at one point in time, it was long gone now. Owen had spent too many months bumming around the tropics. A new girl on every island, knowing him. And Darger couldn’t compete with that.
She finished her drink. Fortified by the fresh dose of liquid courage, she steeled herself and let her gaze wander over to the window. The sea glittered and wavered in the sunlight, seeming to be blue and black and silver all at once. Clouds hovered above the surface, looking like bits of cotton fluff torn to shreds and scattered over an expanse of dark glass.
This was business, Darger told herself. A favor for an old friend. Nothing more.
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