Today is the day! The San Marco Heist is available digitally on Amazon and in LOTS of places where paperbacks are sold.
If you didn’t read Chapter One last week, you can read it here first.
Chapter Two – Malcolm
I stared at the front doors, where Emmett and his fake wife had exited. “We have company.”
“What do you mean?” came the low voice in my ear.
Before they’d vanished, my eyes had locked with hers in the reflection in the glass. No way that was his wife. I’d noticed the golden dress earlier that evening as she drifted from guest to guest.
Who wouldn’t choose a statuesque stunner like her?
From what I’d seen, he preferred women without a fraction as much intelligence as flashed behind those big brown eyes. I wasn’t a man given to poetry, but I might see fit to change for eyes like those. Let alone that body.
I’d smirked at her, which she’d answered by hurrying out the front door.
“Call it a hunch, but I think the other team we were worried about is going to beat us to the Codex—or already did.”
“I’m heading upstairs. Get me authorization.” I placed my champagne on a nearby table and strolled through the crowd, smiling at people who smiled back. This was the worst thing about working with a team—all the waiting and discussions and approvals.
The voice huffed. “You can’t go up the main staircase now.”
A redhead with skin stretched tight over enhanced cheekbones gave me a once-over.
I paused and kissed the air by her cheek, flowery perfume invading my nostrils. “It’s been too long.”
Events like this were full of people who either knew you or—if you’d secured an invite to the event—were sure they should. Very few questioned whether you belonged, if you pretended to be old friends.
“It has,” she murmured, eyes glassy enough to betray she’d had more than one too many drinks. I pulled a flute from a passing server and handed it to her.
“Take the back staircase from the kitchen,” came the voice in my ear. “The cake will keep the serving staff distracted.”
I looked past the woman and gave a quick wave and nod to no one in particular. “Gene! How’s the wife?” I looked down at the woman and excused myself with another kiss to her thin skin.
She smiled politely, and I scooted past her, past the groups mingling in the dining room where the hors d’oeuvres were situated, slowing in the short hallway to the kitchen. Three servers whipped by in rapid succession, held the doors wide, and the seven-tiered salute to Phillip Maguire’s dick size wheeled out slowly.
The decorator had adorned it with the same giant ‘M’ as the entryway floor. Just to be sure no one forgot who was paying. I ducked around a corner to not impede its progress, waited for the servers to pass, and made my way into the near-empty kitchen.
Not surprisingly, a house this size had a kitchen which looked like it belonged in a small restaurant. I knew the floor plan and could walk through it blindfolded, but it was hard not to slow down and appreciate that much gleaming stainless steel. I gave a confident smile to the three men sagged against the counter and was through the kitchen without difficulty.
The narrow staff stairway up to the second floor was at the very back, covered in worn, rust-colored carpet, a far cry from all the marble and crystal in the public areas. The first steps were casual, as if I belonged, changing to two and three at a time when I was halfway up.
I nodded to a woman in staff dress as I passed her, the chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ carrying from the front of the house. Down the hallway, past a sitting room, a guest room, and I rounded a corner.
“Authorization to proceed to the library received,” came the voice.
Little late for that. “I’m almost there.”
The hallway was empty, and my hands landed on the door handles. I twisted down but met resistance. Locked.
Applause roared up the main staircase. The gallery above the lobby was only twenty feet away. I pressed an ear to the door but heard nothing inside. Once the clapping ended, they’d be cutting the birthday cake, still distracted downstairs.
I scanned the length of the hallway in both directions, listening. The woman I’d passed on the back stairs must have been the only one in this area during the party. I pulled lockpicks from an inner pocket and made quick work of the door.
A quiet click, and I eased it open. The library was lit by moonlight from the large windows on the opposite wall, reflecting off glass-enclosed shelves. I peered around the room, focusing on the dark corners as I entered. If another team was working this house, I couldn’t move too fast. But no one was in the room. Nothing looked disturbed. Maybe I was in first. Maybe Emmett was actually a guest, and that really was his wife.
If so, he’d turned things around since we’d met.
“I’m in,” I whispered.
Something slammed into my head. Something heavy. Hard. I stumbled into the door, closing it more loudly than I should have.
Hopefully, the continued applause and laughter would drown it out.
The first thing I spotted when the room returned to focus was an elephant statuette on the floor next to me. I’d no doubt be sporting a trunk-shaped bruise by morning.
But it was the growl of a motorcycle engine outside that snapped me to attention. One window was cracked open. Whoever had gotten the jump on me was already down there.
I raced across the room, shoving the window open. Each movement sent a stab of pain through my head. One very tall story below me sat the motorcycle, a small woman leaping onto it behind a broad-shouldered figure. The smaller one glanced up at me as they sped away, a Codex-sized bag strapped to her back.
My stomach dropped. I’d lost. I hurried to the drawer where the manuscript was supposed to be, punched in the passcode, and found the drawer empty.
“Fuck.” I rushed to the door.
“What?” came the voice.
“Hold.” I listened at the door and was met by silence. The oval tube secured inside the lining of my jacket felt like an insult. I opened the door, watching, checking for the sound of anyone in the hallway, and slipped out. Two doors down, I ducked into a bathroom.
Prodding at the tender spot on the crown of my head, my fingers came away with sticky blood. That would have to be cleaned. The goose egg was already rising.
I couldn’t leave this house empty-handed. What else was there? Jewelry in the bedrooms? A painting in the studio? Hell, take one of the vintage cars from the garage? That wasn’t my style. I’d taken a job and fucked it up. The contract was for the manuscript, and the manuscript only.
But I was too late. “Either the other team got to it before us, or Maguire moved it.”
Silence in my ear. That was never a good sign. They were consulting, deciding what to do. There were contingencies to be determined, which could include cutting me off.
Had Emmett traded counting cards in Vegas for bigger jobs? And who was the mystery woman with him?
“Malcolm.” The voice had changed to a distorted one with a different accent. “Switch to the abort plan. Dispose of your comms and the container. We won’t be needing your services anymore.”
“Roger that.” I ripped the receiver out of my ear before they could hear the stutter in my breath. Not needing my services could mean no more jobs from that team or being eliminated. I was good at what I did, so I’d find another job if I wanted one. That would have been the plan if we’d succeeded tonight, anyway.
I retrieved some tissues and wiped away the blood, sure to dispose of them down the toilet. Sure to take a few deep breaths before sneaking out of the bathroom and making my way through the celebratory crowd. This night could have gone worse; I could have been caught.
But I was leaving empty-handed, and that was almost as bad.
Maybe I’d track Emmett down and convince him to split the prize money for snatching the Codex. He owed me.
Unfortunately, I still owed him more.