Two men in suits had come by asking about him this afternoon while he was out. The concierge at the Crown Inn had called his cell phone number to cue him in after they’d left.
Frankie Devine grinned. Stuffing a few extra bucks into the concierge’s greedy fist now and then had finally served its purpose.
The suits had introduced themselves as insurance salesmen but Frankie knew better. He had made a career out of keeping his guard up, his profile low, his senses sharp. Question was: How did the cops find him?
No matter. His past was catching up with him and he had to disappear. Lucky for Frankie, flagging down a cab at four in the morning in downtown Toronto was easy. Like him, this city rarely slept. “Pearson Airport,” he told the driver, then sat back in the shadows of the wintry night.
He’d miss the excitement of his old way of life, though, like the thrill of that last grab—a late model Porsche Boxster. His lips curled upwards. Snatching it from the underground parking lot of the Stock Exchange Tower had been a cinch. Too bad the owner had returned so soon. He’d had no choice but to silence the poor sucker for good.
Overnight baggage in hand, Frankie blended easily into the flow of early morning commuters that filtered into the airport. He purchased a plane ticket from an electronic machine, then strolled toward the check-in counter for international departures.
On his way, he passed an open-air coffee shop and glanced at the overhead television inside. The last thing he expected to see was his face on the local news and a banner at the bottom of the screen that read, “Police search for murder suspect.” He yanked out a pair of black-framed eyeglasses, slipped them on, then fell into pace with the other travelers. All the while, he kept a discreet eye on the security guards patrolling the premises, knowing it was just a matter of time before the police would extend their search to the airport.
At the baggage check-in counter, a weary attendant flitted through Frankie’s passport and asked the usual questions regarding such “business” trips.
Frankie stayed cool, kept his answers brief. Ten minutes later, he was boarding his flight.
As the plane lifted off, he fantasized about his luxurious new lifestyle in Puerto Plata. Equipped with a maid and cook, the upscale villa on the Amber Coast boasted a private outdoor pool, air conditioning throughout the spacious rooms, and a panoramic view of the ocean.
And it was all courtesy of Mario, his boss in New York. Even so, it would have been enough for Mario to devise a great getaway plan for Frankie, but when he offered to set him up with the finest cosmetic surgeon that money could buy, pick out a tropical villa and establish a foolproof alias for him … well, how could Frankie refuse?
Yeah, Mario had been one hell of a good sport—considering how Frankie had dumped his ugly sister after only two dates last summer. Who could blame him? A single woman in her thirties, she had suffered the ravages of old age years before her time. The hooked nose and lazy eye didn’t help either. A Picasso reject, Frankie thought when he had first seen her but was careful not to voice his opinion in front of Mario.
And with good reason. Anyone who had ever worked for Mario knew that he regarded the slightest insult against his sister as a personal affront. He showed no mercy to offenders and banished them beyond his protective circle of influence over the police.
Worried that he might suffer dire repercussions for brushing off Mario’s sister, Frankie had called him the next day to explain. “Sorry, Mario. I think your sister would make a great wife but I’m just not the marrying type,” he had confided, man-to-man.
“Hey, don’t sweat it. I’ll match her up with someone else,” Mario had replied, much to Frankie’s relief.
But that was all in the past.
Yet, despite his recent good fortune, Frankie’s appointment with the cosmetic surgeon in Puerto Plata hung like a millstone around his neck. Sure, he had endured more terrifying ordeals in the back streets of major cities, but it was one thing to fend off tangible threats, quite another to be put under and left in the hands of a plastic surgeon.
Come to think of it, he didn’t even know who his surgeon was. “No exchange of names,” Mario had warned Frankie. “It’s for your own protection.”
The sun reflected off the pale shores of Puerto Plata as Frankie rode in a cab from La Union airport straight to the private clinic as Mario had instructed him. But far from enjoying the view, he couldn’t think of anything but the ordeal that awaited him. No matter, he consoled himself, the sooner the surgery would be over, the sooner he’d have a new identity. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about his past’s catching up with him.
As the cab approached the white two-story building at 4 Via Condor, Frankie caught sight of a pretty young nurse standing at the entrance. She smiled, as if she had been expecting him, and escorted him inside.
But when he asked her about the surgeon, she replied in a heavy Spanish accent, “No speak English.” She ushered him past the receptionist’s desk, down a short corridor, and into the doctor’s office, then left and shut the door behind her.
Second thoughts plagued Frankie as he sat waiting. Although he trusted Mario like a brother, he couldn’t shrug off the edginess creeping under his skin—let alone the pungent medicinal scent that maintained his queasiness at a precarious level.
He diverted his attention to the office décor: a wooden writing desk and matching armchair, a four-tier wicker bookcase stacked with textbooks along the wall to the left, a heavy-duty paper shredder in the corner.
His stomach churned. He had just about made the decision to leave when a portly man in a white lab coat entered the office.
“Good day. I am the doctor who will be performing your cosmetic surgery.” The fifty-something man extended a hand.
Frankie noticed his heavy accent, felt his beefy grip.
The doctor sat down and opened the folder on his desk. “Our mutual associate, Mario, has informed me that you will be taking on the identity of Carlos Molina.” He held up a picture of a handsome, dark-haired man for him to see.
Frankie nodded, thankful for his boss’s discerning taste. Although he was curious, he refrained from inquiring about Carlos. He knew better than to cast doubt on his boss’s judgment in such matters. “So how do you know Mario?” he asked instead.
“My nephew did some work for him in New York, dated his sister once.” The doctor shook his head, broke into a wide smile. “He told me she was the ugliest woman he had ever seen. Good thing Mario does not hold grudges,” he chuckled.
Frankie grinned but didn’t say anything. That was all in the past.
“Your new passport and personal documents will be ready the day you are discharged from here,” the doctor continued. “Do you have any questions about the surgery?”
In spite of his apprehension, Frankie put up a brave front. “What are the risks?”
“My team has performed similar surgeries many times before. You have nothing to worry about,” the doctor said with confidence. He studied Frankie. “Your olive skin tone, dark eyes, and medium build will make the transition to Carlos Molina even more successful.” He glanced at Frankie’s hands. “We will also change your fingerprints to those of your new alias. As an extra precaution, you will be hypnotized to forget your old identity. Of course, you must destroy your current passport and personal ID.” He pointed to the shredder.
Frankie dug out his passport and plastic cards, and slipped each item into the shredder.
Weeks later, he was lounging by his villa pool, a wide-brimmed straw hat on his head, a glass of rum in one hand, and a mirror in the other. The skin around his fingertips was healing well. The swelling around his eyes hadn’t completely subsided yet, but he already liked what he saw. Why, he even looked better than the original Carlos, he thought.
Soon Frankie began to throw lavish dinner parties to introduce himself as Carlos Molina to the elite society of Puerto Plata. His invented background—marketing consultant—served him well, given his earlier success in capturing intended “target markets.” Now that he could relax and enjoy life without qualms about his past, his personality lightened up too. His newfound charm earned him invitations throughout the neighborhood.
On two such occasions, he drew the attention of a retired Spanish detective who, with his wife, had chosen a nearby villa for their retirement abode.
“It’s strange, but you still look familiar to me, Carlos,” Pedro declared at their third encounter at a neighbor’s pool party. “You’re certain you’ve never lived in Spain?”
“Same answer as the last time, Pedro. I was born and raised in America,” Frankie smiled, though Pedro’s insistent probing had begun to grate on his nerves.
As before, Pedro shrugged and moved on to another topic.
But this time, Frankie’s instincts had raised an alarm. He decided to visit the surgeon to find out more about Carlos Molina.
The next morning, the cab driver drove down Via Condor but couldn’t find the clinic. Frankie had him circle the block three times as he scanned both sides of the street for number 4, but the two-story building was no longer there—only an empty lot.
Frankie panicked. He put in a call to Mario in New York but the receptionist said he was away on business and couldn’t be reached.
Later that day, a knock at Frankie’s door announced the arrival of two burly men in lightweight suits.
“Senor Carlos Molina?” The one with a scar under his right eye flashed his police badge.
“I am Detective Garcia and this is my partner, Detective Alonso. We would like to speak with you. May we come in?”
“Of course.” Frankie led them into the guest room. “What’s this about?”
Detective Alonso’s eyes squinted from under bushy eyebrows. “An international warrant has been issued for your arrest.”
“On what grounds?” Frankie remained calm, confident that his past could no longer harm him.
“For the murder of Maria Fuentes in Spain.”
“But I didn’t kill her—I don’t even know her!” Frankie retorted, the impact of his predicament hitting home. “You see—I’m not really Carlos Molina. I had cosmetic surgery so I could look like Carlos Molina, but my real name is—I’m—”
“It is done. The police took him away moments ago.”
“Have you booked the flight for your nephew?”
“Yes. Carlos will be leaving Spain today by private jet. Thank you again for helping him to escape to Toronto and for arranging his cosmetic surgery there. By the way, what will his new name be?”
There was a slight pause.