Authors: Janet Evanovich
Caroline giggled and clapped her hands. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Nick smiled. The human race never ceased to amaze him. Particularly, he was intrigued by the way people found each other. In an odd way, Caroline and Milton were a perfect match. They were both totally self-absorbed and ruthless and, by their own standards, very successful. Milton would tolerate Caroline until something new caught his eye, and Caroline would peck away at Milton until he was carrion.
And Nick knew that Milton wasn’t the only male on the roof deck at risk of becoming roadkill. Nick was playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Kate O’Hare, taunting her with clues designed to annoy. Truth is, he was inexplicably attracted to her. She was a tantalizing mix of girl next door and junkyard dog.
“This is going to be so majestic,” Caroline said. “When do I start walking down the aisle?”
“When you hear the band playing Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love,’ that will be your cue to slowly glide down the aisle,” Nick told her. “You will be a vision in white, and you will walk very slowly so you don’t slip on the rose petals and break your back. Also if you walk too fast your breasts will bounce out of your bodice.”
The slow walk down the aisle was important to Nick because he needed
four minutes and eleven seconds of distraction to steal all of Milton’s treasures, including his priceless collection of golden Chachapoyan tribal artifacts.
Caroline looked across the terrace to Milton. “Will Burt be here?”
“No, he will not,” Milton said. “Burt was unavailable.”
Not that Milton had bothered to check. The wedding was already going to be too expensive without flying in celebrities.
Caroline frowned. “It won’t be the same without him.”
Nick patted her shoulder. “I’ll make sure you have the highest quality digital sound system money can buy.”
Caroline continued to pout.
“What about Dionne Warwick?” Nick said. “Maybe Dionne is available. Wow, what a voice.”
“Yes, Dionne!” Caroline said.
“She’s not available either,” Milton said, staring daggers at Nick, who pretended not to notice.
“What about her sister Celine?” Caroline asked.
Milton looked incredulously at his fiancée, and for a moment Nick feared he might cancel the wedding on the spot.
“Dionne Warwick doesn’t have a sister Celine,” Nick told Caroline. “You’re thinking of Celine Dion.”
“Yes,” she said. “How about her?”
Milton looked like he was still contemplating jumping, and Nick saw his whole scheme slipping away.
“Not a good idea,” Nick said. “If we had Burt or Dionne or Celine here, no one would notice them. Once you step out in your gown it will be all about you. You’ll be the star of the show. Burt would get kicked to the curb. And you know how fragile some of those celebrity egos can be. We wouldn’t want
to be responsible for Burt’s mental breakdown.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Caroline said. “I’d never want to do anything to harm Burt.”
“And you’re the luckiest man in Chicago,” Nick said to Milton. “All the other guys out there—well, at least the straight guys—are taking Viagra to get a good stiffy going. We’re going to have to tranq you so you don’t go animal on us and ravish Caroline on the spot when you see her in her wedding gown.”
This got another giggle out of Caroline, and Milton finally smiled. He liked the idea that he might be able to go animal without pharmaceutical assistance.
“Every man on this rooftop is going to be wishing he was in your shoes,” Nick said to Milton, “but she’s all yours. Caroline will be your greatest, most enviable treasure.”
Actually, Caroline and the four-carat diamond she had on her finger would be the
treasure left in Milton’s penthouse.
The wedding would take place on the lake-facing end of the rooftop garden. The reception would be held in the living room, which had been cleared of its usual furniture and filled with tables and chairs. For the most part, the golden idols were displayed in Milton’s study, bedroom, and dining room, areas that were on the city-facing side of the penthouse and would be off limits to the guests, allowing Nick and his crew almost unfettered access to the collection. Nick had already cataloged every item and assigned them to crew members by location.
Nick led Caroline across the garden to Milton. “When the song ends, you’ll stand here together, under an obscenely expensive arch of flowers, and you’ll speak your vows in the flattering glow of moonbeams and candlelight.”
“I could cry just thinking about it,” Caroline said.
“Me too,” Milton said, contemplating the price of the flowers and candlelight, relieved that at least the moonbeams might be free.
Nick put his hand to his heart, showing that he was also overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of it all. “And here’s the big finale, are you ready? I just love this part. When the minister declares you man and wife, the instant you kiss, the band will play a triumphant version of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ and the sky will erupt in fireworks from a barge on the lake.”
“Will it be Neil?” Caroline asked.
“No, it will not,” Milton said. “He doesn’t do weddings.”
“But he sang at the wedding in
,” Caroline said.
“That was a movie,” Milton said. “He doesn’t do weddings in real life.”
“He didn’t in the movie either. They kidnapped him,” Nick said.
Milton held his ground. “I am not kidnapping Neil Diamond.”
“You would if you loved me,” Caroline said.
“The band might drown Neil out, anyway,” Nick said.
“You’re right as always,” Caroline said. “I’ll settle for the band.”
The way she put it, it seemed like Milton was getting off easy only having to pay for a band. So everyone was happy, especially Nick. Between the fireworks and the music, nobody would hear the bang when he blew open Milton’s safe.
Kate set a large coffee with cream and a small white bakery bag on her desk and booted up her computer.
Cosmo popped up and looked over the cubicle wall at her. “It’s Friday,
so you must have a cheese Danish in that bag.”
“I don’t get a cheese Danish every Friday.”
“Yes, you do. Onion bagel on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And a cheese Danish on Friday. Am I right, or am I right?”
“You’re right. Don’t you have work to do? Don’t you have any pending files?”
“I was involved in the Ramos Green investigation, but Green died yesterday. He accidentally walked into a bullet. You live by the sword, and you die by the sword. What goes around comes around. Am I right, or am I right?”
Kate blew out a sigh. She tried hard to be a team player. And she wanted to like Cosmo. She really did. But jeez Louise, he was annoying. “You’re right.”
“So what about you?” Cosmo asked. “Are you making any progress with Fox? Are you closing in on him? Are you ready to pounce? You’re going to pounce on him and nail him, right?
Kate looked at Cosmo and wondered if he’d shut up if she punched him really hard in the face. Probably not. She would feel good, but it would be wasted effort. And then she’d feel guilty, and she’d have to buy him a bagel or something.
“So what are your plans for the weekend?” he asked.
Kate opened her coffee and took the cheese Danish out of its bag. “Nothing special.”
“How did I know that? You’re going to work, right? Not me. All work and no play makes Cosmo an unhappy boy. I have a smokin’ date with a sizzling chick. Runner-up for Miss Lompoc. If they gave extra points for the biggest gazongas she would have won, if you know what I mean.”
“Gee, I’d like to chat some more but I have stuff to do,” Kate said.
“I bet you’re wondering how a little guy like me can always get these hot dates.”
“It’s the size of my gun. Right off the bat, I show them my gun.”
“I tried that once,” Kate said, “but the guy I was talking to went to the men’s room and didn’t come back.”
Three cups of coffee and a long morning of dead ends later, Kate stumbled onto a lead. “Holy Love Boat! Set a course for adventure!” she sang out. She did a happy dance while she waited for the article to print, ripped it out of the machine, and ran down the hall to her boss, Agent in Charge Carl Jessup.
Jessup had positioned his desk so that he faced the window and had his back to the door, a furniture arrangement he’d been told was horrible
and was probably responsible for his chronic constipation, mild gingivitis, and the unusually high number of birds that flew into the bulletproof glass. But he didn’t care. He liked to watch the traffic inching to and from the San Fernando Valley on the 405 freeway. He said it helped him think.
“I found Nick,” Kate declared, waving the paper.
Jessup swiveled in his seat to look at her. He was in his fifties and had a face like a photograph that someone had crumpled up and tried to smooth out again.
“Congratulations. Where is he?”
“How do you know?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I like long stories, particularly ones that end with big arrests.”
“Four months ago Jerry Bodie, a guy who made his fortune selling timeshares to people who couldn’t afford them, hired a high-end moving company to transport his classic car collection from Miami to his new home in Las Vegas. The cars never got there. The transport company was a fraud. It caught my attention because Bodie is just the kind of person Nick likes to swindle.”
“And crooked, ruthless, and greedy. The man Bodie hired to move his cars was Tod Stiles. That’s the name of a character from the old TV series
“I loved that show. I don’t remember the names of the heroes, but I’ll never forget their car, a ’61 Corvette. I wanted one just like it. Hell, I still do.”
Kate tried out a mental image of Jessup in a ’61 Corvette and came up short. She could better see him in a ’54 Buick that was dragging a muffler and belching black exhaust.
“Yeah, well, anyway, I sent Bodie a photo of Nick and got a positive ID,” she told Jessup. “Nick was Stiles. He probably had the cars sold before Bodie gave him the keys.”
“How does a swindle that happened four months ago in Miami put Fox in Chicago today?”
“I checked out the passenger lists of every flight, train, boat, and bus out of Miami that left within twenty-four hours of Bodie giving Nick his cars. I ran those lists against the index of characters in
The Complete Directory of Episodic Television Shows
. It’s Fox’s MO. He picks his aliases from old TV series.”
“I knew that,” Jessup said.
“Anyway I got one hit. Lewis Erskine flew to Chicago.”
Jessup nodded. “Erskine was the hero of
. Used to drive a new Ford around D.C. landmarks at the end of each episode.”
“Are cars the only thing you watch TV shows for?”
“I like cars,” Jessup said. “What else do you have?”
“Erskine never left Chicago. Mickey Mouse, Archie Bunker, Darrin Stephens never left. No television character left Chicago in that time frame.”
“So in your mind this means Fox is in Chicago?”
Kate presented him with the computer printout. “This means he’s in Chicago! For weeks I’ve sifted through Chicago papers for potential crimes, and I came up with zip, bupkis, nada, nothing. And then today while I was doing my usual fast scan I accidentally logged on to the Style section of one of the papers and this popped up on the first page.”
“ ‘Caroline Boyett to Wed Milton Royce’?”
“Look at the photo!”
“Lucky Milton,” Jessup said.
Kate did an eye roll. “Look at the man with Boyett. It’s Nick Fox.”
Jessup squinted at the printout. “Are you sure? It says the guy is Merrill Stubing.”
“Merrill Stubing was the captain on
The Love Boat
. The article goes on to say how Merrill Stubing rescued Caroline from being hit by a car in front of Neiman’s, and now he’s her wedding planner.”
“The guy looks poofie.”
“It’s Fox! He’s a master of disguise.”
“So I’ve been told.”
Okay, so the picture was a little grainy, like it had been taken with a cell phone and not intended for newsprint, but Kate was still almost 50 percent sure it was Fox.
“Can you fact-check this a little before I fund a trip to Chicago?” Jessup asked.
Kate rushed back to her cubicle and researched Milton Royce. The man had lots of money, two ex-wives, an extensive art collection, and what looked like the skimpiest combover in the history of hair. She could find no further information on the wedding planner. She returned to Jessup and asked him for a contact in the Chicago office.
Jessup scrawled a name and number on a scrap of paper. “Reginald Gunter,” he said. “He’s a good man. Don’t drive him nuts.”
“Fox is in Chicago,” Kate said. “I feel it in my gut. I know he’s there.”
“Back in the day, when I was a special agent, I was convinced that a bank robber I was chasing was hiding out in Pittsburgh. I led a full-scale raid on a downtown hotel based on a pizza delivery order that I was sure he’d made. Meatballs, anchovies, and pineapple.”