Chapter One (draft)
"Woohoo! Aruba!" Dottie Penn exclaimed as she and her three companions walked down the gangway of the cruise ship "Galaxy of the Seas."


Rebecca DeGrass turned and gave Dottie a big hug along with "We did it!" -- referencing the promise they made to each other years ago in college.


"Okay, ladies. You're holding up traffic," a sarcastic nudge from Dottie's husband, Paul.


"Yeah, we're only on the island 18 hours," Jack, Rebecca's husband, chimed in. "And there's beer and beach awaitin'."


The couples zigzagged their way down the gangway, approaching a throng of taxis jostling for position -- all eager to take the hundreds of shoregoers to various destinations on the island.


Xavier Malbo, driving a well-traveled minivan with the letters "Sunshine Aruba Taxi" on the side and a "One Happy Island" bumper sticker barely covering a hefty scratch on the sliding door, eyed the moving queue. Spotting an appropriate fare, with professional deft he squeezed the minivan between two other taxes, intersecting the path of Dottie and her friends.


"Bon Bini!" Malbo greeted the four through the open passenger window. "May I be of service?"


Rebecca replied, "Bon Bini!" -- as she recalled from her Fodor's guide that the phrase meant a combination of "hello" and "welcome" in Papiamento, the local language.


"Me and my friends would like to go to "Baby Beach" for some sun and snorkeling. Could you take us there?"


"Sure!"


Malbo bounded out of driver's seat and met the four at the sliding door -- opened it and helped the foursome get into the seats. Each passenger clutched small day bags that they placed on their laps.


Malbo slid the minivan door closed and sprung back into driver's seat. "Baby Beach it is," he reaffirmed while darting his vehicle into the flow of traffic.


The four were almost giddy at the adventure they knew awaited them. Dottie and Rebecca hatched the Aruba idea as almost a joke while they were both studying for finals in their senior year of college. "If we can ever get though this friggin' exam," Rebecca said then, "let's blow off steam and go to...Aruba." They both chuckled at the notion, but it stuck.


Dottie and Rebecca aced the exam. And they both graduated. The two received a BS in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota. But life interceded in their fledgling Aruba plans.


Rebecca met Jack at her first job. They dated. And a year-and-a-half later got married.


Dottie was already seeing Paul at the university. They were together since sophomore year. And they got married less than a year after graduation.


The four regularly went on long-weekend trips together. But the years went by. Now over eight. Business for these young professionals was demanding on their time, and they could never seem to wangle a ten-day vacation stretch that would synchronize with their careers. Until now.


"How far to Baby Beach?' Paul asked the cabbie.
"Only a few kilometers," Malbo responded. "We'll be there in about 15 minutes." He continued, "Fortunately, I know a shortcut that will get around some of the traffic. It might be a little bumpy. Not all of Aruba's roads are paved." With a smile, he concluded, "But you'll be in the water in no time."


Rebecca unconsciously crinkled her brow, as she thought she read in Fodor's that Baby Beach was a bit further from the cruise-ship dock than that. But then she smiled to herself as the local was shaving off distance and time with his shortcut.


The four looked out the windows, absorbing their surroundings. Cars, shops, palm trees. They were taking it all on with glee.


As promised, Malbo turned onto a dirt road, which indeed got a bit jarring.


"Sorry for the bumps!" Malbo apologetically said. "Almost there. Just another five minutes."


The landscape became scruffy short plants and some cacti. The passengers could sense, though, that they were still following the coastline somewhere off to the right. Instinctively, they craned their necks in that direction.


"Baby Beach is just up ahead. But that last pothole is making the front-end of my ol' Nellie a bit swervy. Nothing to be concerned about. But I do want to check it for one second."


At that, Malbo quickly slowed down and pulled to the side. He shut off the engine.


The cabbie popped out of the minivan, got on his knees and looked under the front end. A moment later, Jack slid the minivan door open, stepped out of the vehicle and said, "Glad to take a look with you, too. I like working on cars with my father. He's a mechanic."


Malbo didn't respond, seemingly engrossed with his analysis.


The other three looked at each other, a bit puzzled. This is not how they expected their beach trek to start.


With the minivan's door open, and the Aruba sun beating down, it only took a few minutes before the vehicle started to get uncomfortably hot.


"Let's see what Jack's up to," Rebecca said. "He's a wiz with cars."


"He might have to use a coconut for a wheel to get us going," Dottie said with a bit of fun as the three put their day bags on the seats and got out of the vehicle. They made their way to the front next to Jack.


Still with his head under the front end of the vehicle, Malbo said to himself, "I love it when a plan comes together." Counting four pairs of feet, he came out from under the minivan and stood in front of the two couples.


"What do you think, sir?" Paul politely asked. "Do you think we can still make it to the water?"


"Oh, most definitely, my friends."


At that moment, Malbo reached his right hand into the deep lower pocket of his cargo shorts. With lightning blur he pulled out a silencer-equipped Sig Sauer 29, and -- before the four had even a millisecond to react -- placed one bullet...pifft...pifft...pifft...pifft...into the foreheads of each of the travelers.