Things are not always what they seem.

Kylie and Lauren had not seen each other in more than a decade. They had been roommates and Chi Omegas at the University of Mississippi for four years. Afterward, however, marriage, jobs, kids and life had forever confounded their plans for a reunion. Regardless, the two had nonetheless remained close.

That was the true miracle of social media. In eras past, physical separation meant isolation. Friends on opposite sides of the country or soldiers deployed to an austere theater might hope for an infrequent phone call, if that. Nowadays, thanks to Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime and email, Kylie and Lauren had stayed tight throughout. Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and babies — the two friends had shared it all.

Lauren married Dave, an accounting major from Ruleville, Mississippi. He landed his dream job at a Big Four firm and dragged his family off to the city. Lauren taught school, made friends and changed the world one third grader at a time. Along the way, they had two kids of their own.

Kylie married Matt. They met at a Greek swap at Ole Miss, but Matt was a transplant from Florida. Once school had wrapped up and the weddings were out of the way, Kylie and Matt had moved to St. James City on Pine Island in the Sunshine State. There, Matt joined the family business selling boats, and Kylie did publishing work from home. They also made time for a couple of children.

The trip had been months in the making. All four kids got farmed off to their respective grandparents, and Dave and Lauren booked a flight into Tampa. The enthusiastic reunion at the airport bordered upon unseemly. Matt and Dave exchanged pleasantries. Lauren and Kylie were like long-lost sisters reunited after the Holocaust.

Matt and Dave packed the luggage into the back of Kylie’s Range Rover for the short trip south. By the time they arrived, the two friends were caught up on everything important. As expected, everyone was perfect. The kids were brilliant, and everybody’s teeth were straight. Dinner in Cape Coral was magnificent.

Apparently, there was money to be made selling boats. Kylie’s home was positively palatial. They had purchased the place from a former real estate developer, and Kylie subsequently had it gutted and redone to her specifications. The estate occupied 12 acres and enjoyed its own private beach with an all-weather pier. The four friends whiled away the first evening around the fire pit between the beach and the pool. By early morning, all involved were spent. It was as though Lauren and Kylie had never been apart.

Matt had taken three days off from work, and Kylie was a planner. The first day involved tearing about in Matt’s oceangoing power boat. The weather was sublime, and fresh-caught cobia made for dinner without peer. At the end of their first full day, everyone was worn out, so they disciplined themselves to turn in early. Additionally, it seemed Lauren was coming down with something.

The following morning, the sickness had evolved. It was likely just a head cold. There was no telling what sort of exposure to which she had been subjected in the airport, and the dry, rarefied air on the airplane had not helped. After a hard day of shopping and exploring the quaint nooks in and around Pine Island, Lauren had a pretty serious sore throat.

Kylie produced Nyquil and Chloraseptic along with a promise to find Lauren an urgent care the next morning if things didn’t improve. The Nyquil got her to sleep easily enough, but her throat woke her up around midnight. By 1 a.m., Lauren needed to move around. Taking care to be quiet, she slipped out of bed and made her way to the kitchen.

Lauren poured herself a glass of orange juice from the fridge, but that didn’t help much. What she really craved was a popsicle. Using the flashlight on her phone, she awkwardly made her way into the walk-in pantry to the massive institutional freezer.

Inwardly, Lauren simply suppressed her jealousy. Kylie and Matt had obviously done lyrically well. Theirs was the nicest home she had ever seen. She swung the door to the big stainless-steel freezer wide and began poking around. There was ice cream, frozen meat, and vegetables of a dozen different varieties. However, she came up short on popsicles. Pushing deeper into space, she caught sight of something incongruous.

Tucked behind the Blue Bell and lean ground chuck, she saw a neatly arranged row of cubes encased in plastic. Her curiosity aroused, Lauren teased the food aside so she could get a better look. The cubes were cash, hundreds by the looks of them. All were neatly stacked, bound, and sealed. She could not even imagine how much money was stashed back there. Her mind raced as she struggled to make sense of the discovery.

When Matt spoke behind her, the visceral shock very nearly threatened her bladder control. Turning to face the big man, she could just make out the shape of an automatic pistol with a silencer in the dim light. His face was expressionless.

Matt angled his head slightly, the gun held effortlessly at his side. His voice devoid of emotion he said flatly, “Lauren, who do you really work for?”

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