Authors: Janet Evanovich
“Were your instincts right?”
“No. It was a major screwup that got my boss transferred to Sitka, Alaska.” Jessup paused for effect. “I hate the cold, Kate.”
Kate traipsed back to her cubby and called Gunter.
“I think Nicolas Fox is posing as the wedding planner for the Royce wedding,” she told Gunter. “I need you to go to the Windsong Building and get an ID from the concierge. If you don’t have a photo on file I can send one to you.”
“I don’t see Nicolas Fox as a wedding planner,” Gunter said. “What’s in it for him? He’s a scammer.”
“He’s also a thief. What does Milton Royce have?”
“Lots of money. And a collection of golden idols.”
“Then that’s what he’s after.”
“Do you want me to approach Royce or his fiancée?”
“Negative,” Kate said. “I don’t want to take a chance on spooking Fox.”
“It’s going to be a zoo in that building,” Gunter said. “The wedding is tomorrow night. We got an alert on it. It’s going to be a media circus.”
Kate paced for an hour and a half while she waited for Gunter to call back.
“You need to relax,” Cosmo said, looking in on her. “You’re leaking nervous energy, and it’s giving me eczema. You want to know what I do to relax?”
The phone rang, and Kate snatched it up.
“I couldn’t get a positive ID,” Gunter said. “The concierge wasn’t sure. He said the wedding planner is flamboyant and has spiked-up blond hair, and the guy in the photo looks normal. Personally, though, I think you might be on to something. I couldn’t find anything to verify Merrill Stubing or his business. I’ll check around some more tomorrow.”
Kate dragged herself out of bed, got dressed in the clothes she’d worn the day before, and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. She’d thrashed around all night, unable to get Fox out of her head.
“I hate him,” she said to her Mr. Coffee machine. “He’s totally corrupt. He has no regard for the law. He’s arrogant. And he’s
Deep inside, Kate knew that Nick’s cuteness was the single attribute
that annoyed her the most. Criminals were not supposed to be attractive. At least, not as attractive as Fox. Fox was the physical embodiment of her dream man. How crapola was that? When she had time, she was going to have to reconstruct her dream man. Change his hair from brown to red. Give him a less than perfect body. And no more dreamy brown eyes. No more smiling, kissable mouth. Her dream man would have to have a mouth like a frog’s, thanks to Nicolas Fox.
“Ugh,” Kate said, grabbing the last yogurt out of the fridge. “Nicolas Fox is scum.”
She took her coffee and yogurt to her laptop and pulled up Chicago news. She bypassed the night’s killings and found a gossipy feature on the front page of the Style section.
People will be lining up along Lake Shore Drive tonight for a fireworks show courtesy of Milton Royce, the so-called “King of Hostile Takeovers.” The fireworks, launched from a barge on Lake Michigan, are part of Royce’s extravagant wedding ceremony, which is being held tonight at his twentieth-floor penthouse atop the famed Windsong Building. Controversy still surrounds the city’s unprecedented decision to allow the fireworks over the strenuous objections of residents concerned about the increased noise and traffic.
The article went on to talk about accusations that city officials were too beholden to Royce, a big contributor to local political campaigns, and how the wedding, with its exclusive guest list, was considered
social event of the season.
“This has Nicolas Fox written all over it,” Kate said to herself. “He’s planning something big when the wedding is in full swing. I’m at least seventy percent sure.”
She closed the Chicago news site and went to a travel site. Ten minutes later she was booked on a midmorning flight to Chicago and had a discounted room at the DoubleTree. It was Saturday, and she hadn’t heard back from Jessup about funding an op, so she was on her own. She was going to Chicago on her own time and with her own money. She wasn’t following protocol and it was probably a dumb thing to do, but she was doing it anyway. At the very least, she’d get to see some fireworks.
It was close to six o’clock when Kate checked in to her hotel. There’d been a delay at LAX that stretched the four-hour flight to five hours, there was a two-hour time difference between L.A. and Chicago, and the taxi ride into the city had been interminable.
She tossed her carry-on suitcase onto the bed and unpacked her Kevlar vest and FBI windbreaker. Not that she was planning on raiding Chicago’s wedding of the year, but you never knew when a Kevlar vest would come in handy. And okay, there was a remote possibility that she might raid the wedding.
She realized she hadn’t taken her phone off plane mode, changed her settings, and immediately got a message with photo from Gunter. The photo showed the wedding planner in tight jeans and a fitted silk shirt. His hair was blond and spiked.
Caught him helping with a flower delivery
, the message read.
What do you think?
Kate called Gunter. “It’s him,” she said. She was almost 85 percent sure. “How quickly can you assemble a strike team and get them on scene?”
“Forty-five minutes to an hour. Assembling the team isn’t the problem. The problem is disrupting a wedding on private property without cause and without appropriate authorization.”
“Understood. I’m in Chicago. I just arrived. I’ll go in alone, and I’ll be discreet. All your men have to do is seal the building from the outside. How far is the DoubleTree from the Windsong?”
“Not far. It’s a short walk.”
“I’ll meet you at the Windsong.”
Kate jammed her vest and her windbreaker into a tote bag, shoved a couple extra ammo clips in, and grabbed a bag of chips from the minibar. She ducked into the bathroom and checked herself out. No mustard on her shirt from the ham and cheese sandwich she’d had for lunch. No sandwich bits stuck between her teeth. Her hair was no messier than usual. She swiped on some lip gloss and decided this was as good as she was going to get under the circumstances. Heck, it was pretty much as good as she got under
She reached the Windsong ahead of the team and hung in the lobby, watching guests arrive. The concierge gave her the fish eye, so she moved outside. While she waited, she called Jessup.
“I’m in Chicago,” she said. “I’m visiting an old college friend, and I happened to run into Gunter, who happened to get a photo of the wedding planner. And I’m almost eighty-seven percent sure it’s Fox.”
“Maybe it could go as high as ninety-two percent.”
There was a vague noise on the other end of the line.
“Was that a groan, sir?” she asked. “Are you okay?”
“You’re killing me.”
“Just doing my job.”
“And you’re calling me
“I was sort of thinking of inviting myself to the wedding. It’s tonight, and I’ve got a strike team assembled.”
“O’Hare, you can’t just barge in on Milton Royce’s wedding. Do you have cause?”
“He has a large collection of golden idols.”
“I don’t care if he has a large
collection. You need a good reason to enter. For that matter you have at least eight percent doubt that it’s Fox.”
“My plan is to sneak in and see for myself before I call the team in. I’ll be discreet.”
“You’re lots of things,” Jessup said. “Discreet isn’t one of them. I need permission for this. Hang tight while I make a phone call.”
Kate disconnected and looked at her watch. She saw a van parking in a red zone at the end of the block and walked toward it. Gunter got out of the van and met her halfway.
“We’re in a slowdown while we get permission,” Kate said.
Caroline was wearing a tiny white lace thong, diamond drop earrings, and white satin kitten heels. The kitten heels were a concession to Milton so she wouldn’t tower over him on their special day. She was in her dressing room with Nick, her arms outstretched, waiting for him to help her wriggle into her gown. Wedding guests were congregating on the other side of the oversize
mahogany double doors that opened onto the master suite. Music and conversation drifted through the doors. Nick looked at Caroline and wondered how he was going to get her into the gown. He was very good at getting women
of their clothes but had little to no practice getting the clothes back on them.
“Be careful not to mess my hair,” Caroline said. “It took
for Maurice to get it to look like this.”
Nick thought Maurice should have taken less time. Caroline looked like she was wearing the wedding cake on her head. Maurice had piled up the huge mass of platinum blond hair and decorated it with pink flowers and sparkle dust.
“We’ll go up from the bottom,” Nick said, hoping it was a good idea. “I’ll hold the gown and you step into it.”
He went down to one knee, and Caroline carefully stepped into the circle of silk, bringing her hoo-ha two inches from the tip of Nick’s nose. Nick worked the material up to her ass, took a deep breath, and tugged. He was wearing a white tuxedo with a black tie and a pink handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket, and he’d sweated through his shirt from the exertion of remembering he was supposed to be gay. He slipped the gossamer-thin spaghetti straps over Caroline’s shoulders, she arranged her double D’s, and Nick zipped her up, thinking it would be a miracle if the straps held.
Caroline looked at herself in the ornate gold-framed full-length mirror. “Do you think I look fat in this gown?”
“Fat” wasn’t the first adjective that came to Nick’s mind. The first adjective was
And that was followed by
“You’re not fat,” Nick said. “You’re stunning. No one will be able to take their eyes off you.” And this was true because she was close to naked,
with a scandalous amount of boobage showing. The gown was cut so low it was practically frontless and backless. The white satin material clung to her like plastic wrap, and the slit in the skirt was so high Nick was afraid the little man in the boat might jump out at any moment.
“This will be a night to remember,” Nick said. “You stay here and think beautiful thoughts. I’ll come get you when everything is in place.”
He left Caroline in her suite, closing the doors behind him, and walked down the short hall to the living room. Guests were still hanging out, guzzling drinks and scarfing down hors d’oeuvres while his crew of a dozen uniformed caterers mingled among them with serving trays. He caught the eye of one of the servers, a pickpocket named Hoppy Hayward, and gave him a slight nod. It was the signal that it was time for the caterers to drift off to the kitchen and begin stuffing plastic trash bags with the Styrofoam packing pellets they’d stashed in the crates of linens and dishes.
Nick continued out to the rooftop garden, where Milton was knocking back his third martini of the hour. Milton was standing under a white gazebo that was sagging under a massive amount of floral color and twinkle lights. A band was blasting out Barbra Streisand songs, which were being sung by a Dean Martin impersonator. Paper lanterns swayed overhead, in imminent danger of catching fire from the hundreds of flaming candles set out on hightop tables and nestled in elaborate flower arrangements.