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Hunt Her Down


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There were only three units up there and he strode right to 28C, remembering the address. He rang the bell, knocked, and rang again. Nothing.

The lock pick took a minute longer than when he worked on Viejo’s house. But Lola—or the universe—had assisted by not bolting her door.

“Ms. James?” he called as he opened the door.

The only sound was the ticking of a grandfather clock. He took a step in. This place was definitely a notch up from her office. Hardwood floors with expensive Oriental carpets, designer furniture, original art.

“Lola?” he called again, Maggie following him.

The living area had a corner balcony, the sheer curtains offering a hazy view of the bay and Miami Beach across the water. The room was spacious, and led to a dining area and kitchen, and two bedrooms beyond that. Every single item was placed just so, not even a throw pillow out of alignment.

Except for the silk robe that lay on the floor.

Dan glanced at it, and at Maggie. Why would a woman who lived in such pristine perfection leave her robe in the middle of the floor?

He moved deeper into the condo, giving the kitchen a cursory check, then stepping into the hall that led to a bedroom, guest bath, and an office.

Maggie stayed in the living room while he searched the bedroom and found nothing, including a quick look in drawers, jewelry boxes, and the porcelain cups of an Oriental tea set displayed on her dresser. Everything was so tidy, it was pretty easy. The bathroom, closet, and dressing area were way past orderly and into nutcase neat.

He paused in the hallway and motioned to Maggie. “I’m going to check out the office.”

The office was more of the same. A lot of white, a lot of clean, a lot of perfection. None of the drawers were locked, and he searched in every possible place.

The computer was off, a printer and scanner next to it, words flashing in green on a tiny panel on the top.

Fax successfully sent.

Dan lifted the lid, where a paper lay facedown on the glass. Slipping a nail into the corner so as not to compromise any DNA or fingerprints, he inched it up and over.

His gaze landed on three words: Quinn Varcek Smith.

Behind him, Maggie gasped. “It’s his birth certificate.”

At the bottom of the document, Dan stared at the line that said Father: Michael Scott.

He pressed the redial button to get a number. The first five digits told him exactly who it had gone to.

“Fifty-eight is the country code for Venezuela,” Maggie said. “She must have sent it to her father.”

“And she must have hired that Greek thug to steal it from you.”

“I’m not a thug.”

Dan spun at the sound of the male voice, drawing his weapon faster than his next breath.

Constantine Xenakis stood in the hallway, empty hands away from his body, silvery gaze slicing Dan. Even with the nonthreatening posture, Dan automatically stepped in front of Maggie and lifted his weapon to the intruder’s face.

“She hired me to get a Chinese cookie fortune and I failed.” He tilted his head in a nod of respect, or disgust. Hard to discern.

Dan refused to respond, waiting and watching.

“Then she asked me to use a kid to get what she wanted.”

“And you failed at that, too,” Dan said.

“Not failed. Refused. But she doesn’t know that, and I’m here to tell her.”

Dan narrowed his eyes, not trusting anything about this. “She’s not home.”

Xenakis glanced behind him as though he didn’t believe that, then beyond to the office, and the desk. “You looking for the fortune?”

Dan didn’t answer.

“Is it your kid, the one she wants to use?” he asked Maggie. “I thought so. What you want is in her office, downtown. I know exactly where the fortune is and I assure you that you will never find it. I can get it for you.”

Dan took a half step forward. “I won’t pay for it.”

Xenakis gave him a curious look. “You might. You haven’t heard my asking price. Do you want the fortune or not?”

Behind him, Dan felt Maggie step a little to the side, exposing herself. He moved instantly to cover her.

“Yes,” she said. “We want it.”

“Never bargain with a terrorist, sweetheart,” Dan said.

“Or a thief,” Xenakis added with a slow smile.

“Get it and we’ll talk,” Dan said. “How long will it take?”

“Assuming Ms. James is still out of the office, I can have it shortly after her assistant locks up for the night.” He reached into his pocket and Dan tightened his finger on the trigger. “Here’s my card.” He handed it over, then tilted his head over Dan’s shoulder. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Smith.”

He turned, walked through the living room, and left through the same door he must have broken in through. The bastard was good.

“Let’s go,” Dan said, lowering his weapon and glancing at the card, which had only a name and cell phone number.

“You don’t want to search the living room and kitchen?”

“I doubt we’ll find it, but yes.”

“Maybe he will get it for us,” she said, gesturing toward the door. “He seemed credible.”

“He’s playing both sides against the middle.” Dan picked up the birth certificate and rolled it. In the living room, they both paused at the robe. “This is really out of place for our OCD resident.”

He crouched down and lifted the silk, and stared at the four dark droplets dried into the floor.

“Is that what I think it is?” Maggie asked.

He looked up at her. “If you think it’s blood, then yes.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CONSTANTINE XENAKIS WAITED until Enriquietta, Kiki to her friends and lovers, stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. Since it was five thirty, that meant the CEO of Omnibus Transport was not in. Otherwise Kiki would have stayed until at least eight o’clock, doing her boss’s bidding, and after Kiki left, Lola would put in another few hours. Then she’d cruise South Beach looking for a man to fawn over her.

If Kiki was leaving, then all of the half dozen employees were gone, and Lola mustn’t have returned. It hadn’t been difficult learning all that, since Kiki liked to chatter after sex.

Just to be sure, Con called the main number of Omnibus, knowing that there was one woman in accounting who sometimes did a little overtime and always answered the phone when Kiki was out, but he got the recorded message.

Still, he gave it ten more minutes. While he waited, he reviewed the videotape his phone had captured when he was in Lola’s office. She hadn’t even noticed that he’d left his phone on her desk when she sent him out to the hall. Stupid, stupid Lola. She’d given him plenty of business over the past year or so, when she needed information on a competitor or a potential customer. Nothing terribly complex, but definitely illegal and she’d never dirty her hands with that. But since her brother had come out of prison and she’d launched this fortune campaign, she’d gone crazy, and gotten stupid.

As he crossed the street, he straightened his tie, his suit jacket open. He looked like any Miami businessman going back to the office to grab his briefcase and pick up his messages after a day out with clients. In the building, he took the elevator to the fourth floor.

He pulled out his key ring and slipped it into the dead bolt on the office doors, peering through the glass at the desk where Kiki usually sat. It had been so easy to make a copy of her office key the first night he’d slept with her. He didn’t need it, but the key made it all so simple.

Inside the lobby he rebolted the door, stood perfectly still for thirty seconds to determine if there was any sign of life, then went straight back to Lola’s office. He’d copied that key, too, of course.

Just to be absolutely sure, he knocked. Then he entered, scanning the neat office to see if anything had changed. The video showed him where the keypad access was, but not what it opened. He’d

have to use his auditory skills, which, in his not-so-humble opinion, were unparalleled.

He locked the door behind him and went to the bar, opening the door beneath to an empty cabinet. He flattened his hand on the side, feeling nothing at first. The second pass revealed a crack in the wood, and he bent down and stuck his head in to open it.

The keypad behind it was flat and simple.

He took out his phone and played the video again, this time with his eyes closed. He listened to the tones that would be inaudible to most people, and the notes that even those who could hear the noise wouldn’t be able to discern as “music.” But Con could.

There were five altogether. Two that could pass for C, one B flat, a D, and . . . he didn’t get the last one. He played it again, forcing everything out of his brain but sound. The last note was flat. Too flat for him to identify.

The pad had ten numbers, laid out the opposite of a phone. He started at ten, pressed each one once, and heard the notes. The four was the C, the six a B flat, and nine was a D. Two of the keys, number one and number two, were flat. He’d have to guess what they were. If he guessed wrong, he might have a chance to try again. Or he might trip an alarm.

He’d have to be ready to bolt, and hope the alarm wasn’t silent. So before he pressed, he had to be sure his hunch was right about the safe. It couldn’t be anywhere on this side of the room, because the camera would have picked it up. That left the desk and the area behind it. The sound from the video was a click, then her footsteps, then a slide. A drawer. His guess, the desk.

He stood to check it out, running his hands under the front. The seam was almost invisible, but not completely. And, sadly, the whole thing was kind of obvious. A better woman would have been more creative.

In the distance, he heard the elevator ding. Soft enough that no one else in this office would ever have heard it, but Con did. There were other offices on this floor. Still, he kicked into action.

Clearing the keypad, he pressed the buttons in order. He took a chance on the two, held his breath for a millisecond, then heard the soft click at her desk. Yes.

The drawer under her desk slid right out, sounding exactly as it had on the video. There were a few more pictures, which didn’t interest him. A gold cross on a chain, which was of no value to anyone but its owner who, judging by the size of it, was a child. And there, under the cross, a rectangular paper from a fortune cookie.

“Sorrow is never the child of too much joy.”

He slipped the fortune in his pocket, closed the drawer, returned to the bar to shut the cabinet . . . and froze when he heard a footfall in the hallway.

Then the sound of a key—or maybe a pick—on the door to Lola’s office. He glanced around. Two choices. The window, which could open wide enough for him to climb out and balance on the ledge, or the bathroom, which left him trapped.

The lock clicked; someone had a key and would enter in less than two seconds. He silently opened the bathroom door and flattened against the wall. If someone came in, he’d take him or her right down.

Whoever it was knew exactly where to go. The sound of footsteps told Con the visitor, definitely a man, was at the bar, and the cabinet door instantly made its minuscule squeak. The pattern of beeps was almost immediate. The soft snap of the secret drawer. Two footsteps to the desk. The rolling sound.

A pause, a curse, and then a loud crash. Wood splintered, glass shattered, then another few seconds of furious breathing.

“That motherfucking bitch lied!”

Another crash of glass and metal, footsteps, the door, then silence.

Con waited until he heard the quiet bell of the elevator, then inched the door open. Everything on the desk had been smashed, the chair was broken, and shards of a crystal lamp sparkled all over the floor. The rest of the drawer’s contents were strewn on the floor. Con scooped up the chain, dropped it into his pocket, and surveyed the mess.

Whoever that was, he’d ruined a perfectly neat job.

And he’d made life far more difficult for Con Xenakis because now he’d have to convince Dan Gallagher it wasn’t him.

Fuck. Maybe he should stick to what he did best. Steal.

No, he had a bigger, better plan. And regardless of the mess in this office, he had the ticket in his pocket.

“She drives a mean-ass boat.” Dan checked the ammo clip in his Glock, then slammed it into the weapon with the heel of his hand. “Having her get us there and wait while we search the shed is a no-brainer.”

From his perch on the armrest of the sofa, Max’s look said he was not convinced.

“Trust me, Maggie’s a natural, and she knows the Coral Gables waterways better than either of us.” Dan said. “Whatever was in that shed took two men to handle, and getting in and out is faster and easier by boat. Especially if someone’s home.”

Max just picked up a hooded black sweatshirt and stuffed it into a duffel bag they would take on the boat, as silent as always.

After dinner they’d worked out several variable plans, and agreed on the objective for the night: find out what was being shipped and stored in that shed. From there, they’d decide whether they’d bring in the DEA, the FBI, or more Bullet Catchers. Dan wanted enough to seal a case against El Viejo, Ramon, or whoever was involved. If they all went back to jail for another fourteen years, that would be just fine. Especially if they didn’t find the fourth fortune.

They hadn’t heard a word from Xenakis all day. Big surprise.

“You don’t put your principal in harm’s way,” Max said. “That’s a guiding tenet of our job, brother.”

“So is ‘use the best man on the team for the job.’ Maggie happens to be the best person on this team for the boat-driving job. Plus, she’s not just under my protection, she’s more deeply involved in this than I am, and she’s working with me, not under me.”

Max chuckled. “If she’s not under you, that explains your shitty mood.”

Dan ignored him.

Max unholstered his Ruger. “You know, that’s your problem.”

Dan did not like the direction of this conversation. “What is?”

“Sex.”

He snorted. “Not much of a problem for me.”

“Exactly. Sex has always been your sport of choice, and you’re the best player on the field.”

“Please take your stupid analogies and shove them up your former linebacker’s ass. Like you didn’t get laid at every possible chance before Cori.”

“Still do. But only with the woman I married.”

“Would you please go back to your normal state of grunting only when spoken to?”

“I’m serious.”

“You always are.” Dan grabbed his own black sweatshirt and pulled it on.

“He always is what?” Maggie stood in the doorway dressed in jeans, a dark long-sleeved top, and black sneakers. All she was missing was some face grease and she’d be in night camo.

The idea made him smile. As did the sight of her. “He’s always a great big pain in the ass. But he’s my pain in the ass, so let’s take him for the ride.”

“Brandy called,” she said, coming into the room. “A man named Donovan Rush just showed up to be her personal bodyguard, and two more Bullet Catchers are protecting the bar. She said they flew into the Marathon airport in a corporate jet like the cavalry on steroids.”

Dan chuckled at the image.

“Thank you.” Maggie put her hand on his arm. “I appreciate you doing this. All of this.”

He held her gaze, ready to kiss her just for being that close and that pretty. “No problem. It’s what we do.”

She tightened her grip slightly. “You do it really well.”

He didn’t give a shit if Max was two feet away. “Damn right.” He brushed her lower lip with his finger, wishing it was his tongue.

With a long, sweet look, she backed up. “I’m going to grab a bottle of water, and then I’m ready to rumble.”

When she left, Dan was still smiling.
<b

r /> “Like her, do ya?” Max asked.

“What’s not to like?”

“The fact that she has a son.”

Dan choked softly. “He’s my son.”

“My point precisely.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s see if I have this quote right. It was ‘Do I wish it was me up there, perusing a baby name book? Hell no . . . I like the status quo.’ “

“And here I didn’t think you ever listened to me.”

Max laughed. “I listen, I just don’t take you seriously. File this under ‘Be careful what you think you don’t want, then you get it.’ “

“I hate when you get deep.”

“Just practical. What are you doing with her?”

Dan gave him a puzzled look. “Nothing, as you just noted with the comment about my shitty mood.”

“What do you want from her?” Max asked. “Because the signals are loud, but they’re not clear. Can’t you tell she’s confused?”

Confused? Signals? “Max, I’m trying to find a missing load of cash. I’m trying to nail a drug ring while I’m at it. If, in the meantime, I get a little close with a woman who I already know is a good match in the sack, then so be it.”

Max looked disgusted. “Don’t screw with that kid’s head. Or hers. Understand? She’s not like all those women you mess around with. This is a different playing field.”

“How’s that?”

“She’s the mother of your child. And you’ve messed her up once before. Though obviously she’s forgiven you.”

Had she?

Before he could answer, Cori came in. “Peyton’s asleep. Quinn’s watching a movie. You.” She pointed at her husband. “Be safe.”

Max took one step toward her and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her on the mouth, then on the forehead, then murmured something in her ear that made her laugh.

Since when was Max funny?

Dan turned and left them alone, running smack into Maggie in the hall.

“All set?” she asked.

“Except for this.” He pulled her into him and kissed her hard on the lips, just so his signals were clear.

She broke the kiss slowly, looking more interested than confused. He should know better than to trust Max’s interpretation of what a woman was thinking.




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