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Authors: Elizabeth Lowell

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BOOK: The Color of Death
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“Like you can believe mutts on the street to tell the truth,” Kennedy cut in sarcastically. “Stop wasting the taxpayer’s time. I need more evidence than gossip and an agent with a wild hair.”

“If we’re not looking, we’ll never find more evidence,” Sam said. “Sir.”

“We’re not looking,” Sizemore said, “because there’s sweet fuck all to find except South Americans.”

Doug caught Sam’s eye.

Sam thought about the career opportunities in Fargo, ND.

Kennedy went back to his agenda. “Doug will give you your assignments. For the next week, most of you will be checking hotels for gang members known to the strike force, with special attention to the Royale. Mario and Mendoza will interview the hotel’s workers from the floor managers on down.”

“Don’t mention immigration status,” the LAPD cop said. “If the illegals run, there won’t be a maid or gardener left in Scottsdale.”

“And all of you,” Kennedy said over the laughter, “take a good look at the information Ted brought with him. The more you know
the big gem dealers and their staff, the faster you’ll be able to catch somebody who doesn’t belong, somebody who’s
wrong
.”

“Like the woman Sam collared just before the meeting?” Bill Colton asked.

Sam looked at the SA from his own Phoenix office and wished he liked the man. Hell, he’d settle for not despising the bastard. Colton used ass-kissing rather than good fieldwork to get ahead.

Problem was, it worked.

“False alarm,” Sam said.

“What’s this?” Kennedy asked.

Colton grinned and grabbed the opportunity to undermine Sam. “Our fearless special agent must have been bored holding up the wall in the gem room. He found himself a classy piece of ass and dragged her out into the lobby for some face-to-face. Nice clothes, nice body, black hair, and dark eyes that could bore holes in even his thick hide. Whatever he was selling, she wasn’t buying.”

“South American?” Kennedy asked.

“Why wasn’t I told?” Sizemore demanded.

Sam looked at a point between the two men and said, “About half an hour ago I noticed a Caucasian female, probably early thirties, well dressed, walk into the conference room that some of the second-tier dealers have rented just off the lobby. Despite her clothes and confidence, something was wrong about her. I took up a position close to the Purcell booth, where she had engaged Mr. Purcell in a business conversation that could also have been a flirtation.”

“Nobody would flirt with that slimeball unless money was on the table,” Sizemore said.

“My impression was the same, which was why I watched her,” Sam said neutrally. “She flashed some skin, Purcell lost focus, and she switched gems on him.”

“Big deal,” Sizemore said. “Gem shows draw con artists the way fresh shit draws flies. You get her name?”

“Natalie Harrison Cutter. No ID to back it up and I didn’t have the authority to push it. Last time I checked, a shell game isn’t a federal crime.”

“You turn her over to the locals?” Kennedy asked.

“The gem I caught her with was a lab job,” Sam said. “I haven’t had time to verify if the blue sapphire she left with Purcell is real or not.”

“You nailed her too soon,” Colton said, shaking his head in false sympathy at Sam’s mistake. “She hadn’t pulled the switch yet. Patience, boy. How many times do I have to tell you?”

Sam bit back his first answer, looked at Kennedy, and said, “She pulled the switch. I’d swear to it in court.”

Kennedy shut up. However much SA Sam Groves chapped Kennedy’s Boston ass, he knew that Groves was one of the best sheer investigators in the Bureau. Great eyes. Great instincts.

And too damn smart for his own good.

Sizemore tapped one index finger on his chin and stared into the middle distance. Then he looked at Kennedy. “Anything that weird should be investigated. All my men are tied up in security for this convention.”

“Jesus,” Kennedy muttered. “Another joker. I have more of them than real cards.” He pointed at Sam. “Run her and tell Sizemore what you find. If it still doesn’t fit, keep after her.”

What Sam thought of the assignment didn’t show. It didn’t have to.

Everyone in the room knew that he’d just been given more of a slap than an assignment.

Los Angeles

Noon Tuesday

Eduardo Pedro Selva de los Santos
walked up and down the narrow aisles of Hall Import and Specialty Gem Cutting, which for all its fine name was in the basement of Hall Jewelry International along with the heating, cooling, and plumbing systems. Eduardo didn’t particularly notice the piercing clamor of cutting machines and the bent backs of the cutters from Ecuador who tended their geriatric equipment the way they had once tended crops.

The air tasted of powdered stone and petroleum-based lubricants.

He no more noticed the gritty air than the immigrants at bus stops noticed smog or bodies that ached before their time.
Ni modo.
It didn’t matter. What counted was the cash money to be earned, the kind of wealth that was impossible to find in the jungles and mountains of Ecuador.

Even after forty years in America, Eduardo mailed half his money to his family back home, to his mother and wife and sisters and daughters. While their men worked in the golden north, the women raised children who were the result of the men’s seasonal Christmas visits. A lonely way to raise a family, but better than being poorer than dirt, generation after generation, world without end.
With the miraculous American dollars that flowed from the north, the women bought chickens and wool yarn, calves and seed and even the most precious thing of all: land.

“Hola, Manolito,”
Eduardo said.
“¿Cómo estas?”

A teenager young enough to be Eduardo’s grandson looked up from the machine that noisily, relentlessly ground away to reshape the gem from an older, less beautiful, or more recognizable stone into a new, anonymous one. The young man smiled and nodded eagerly but didn’t speak. Eduardo was el Patron, el Jefe, the man who made or broke an immigrant’s chances with a single gesture. Manolito’s extended family had pinched and saved for three years to pay the smuggler who brought him to the U.S. To be sent home would be a catastrophe for his whole family.

With an expert eye Eduardo squinted at the settings on the machine, measured the angle of the rough being cut, and patted the boy approvingly on the shoulder.
“Bueno, chico. Bueno.”

Leaving the grinning, relieved boy behind, Eduardo went to the man who oversaw a series of faceting machines. A few quick words, a friendly whack on the arm, and el Patron moved on.

The cell phone in his pocket vibrated. He retreated to a fairly quiet corner of the barnlike building and answered the phone mostly in English, which even if overheard by the workers wouldn’t make any sense to them. “
Bueno,
Eduardo speaks.”

“There’s a shipment leaving Long Beach Harbor. Be ready to mix it with the lot that came in last week.”

“Of course,
señor,
” he said, recognizing the voice of Peyton Hall, the COO of Hall Jewelry International.

“Don’t get greedy,
chico
.”

“Never,
señor
.”

Silently, Eduardo hoped that one of the lots would have a nice stone or three that wouldn’t be missed. That was where his real profit came from—skimming goods that weren’t well documented. Who was to know whether a ten-carat stone was reworked into one or three stones, or perhaps ruined entirely and worth nothing at all? Only Eduardo knew, and he wasn’t talking.

Then there were the gems that came to him from his countrymen by means he never questioned. Profitable, very profitable. It was good to have family that others feared, family that would never betray him, not even for a sapphire bigger than his thumb.

Without realizing it, Eduardo smiled.

He’d sweated for two weeks before deciding that he simply couldn’t risk destroying the beautiful stone by reworking it. He’d taken it to a gem trader he knew by reputation only. The man had looked and looked again. And again. Then he gave Eduardo ten thousand American dollars, no questions asked.

Eduardo had been so grateful he’d paid to have a new altar made for the village church.

Humming softly, he dreamed of the next shipment coming in. Three more, that was all. Then he would take his cache of stones and retire to Ecuador to sit and smoke cigars and dream in the hot sun.

Scottsdale

Tuesday

1:00
P.M
.

Warily, Kate Chandler stood
just outside the bank of elevators and checked the lobby. A lot of men milled about, some of them in jeans and sports coats, but none of them was Special Agent Sam Groves. She was certain of it. She had a vivid memory of him burned into her mind—short, dark brown hair with a flash of silver at the temples. Eyes as hard and blue as the missing sapphires. Way too intelligent. Way too male.

He was an armed chameleon who could be easygoing one instant and rough as a brick the next. She would be a long time forgetting the hand that came out of nowhere, the eyes that saw too much, the contempt in his voice. No, she wouldn’t have any trouble picking him out of a crowd.

What she had trouble doing was getting him out of her mind.

Kate rubbed her arms briskly. Even after going home for a shower and a change of clothes, she could still feel his grip and the clammy panic that had swept through her, followed by a flood of adrenaline that even hours later made her skin prickle in memory. It had been so quick, so easy for him to grab her. No warning. No
sound. Nothing but a hand out of nowhere clamping around her fingers and the certainty that she was doomed.

It was somehow worse than the phone message that had threatened death in eerie mechanical tones. That had scared her, but not like Sam Groves. With him, between one instant and the next, the world had changed. For the worse.

Is that what Lee felt? Everything fine and then SLAM and it all goes to hell?

A shiver went through her. She ignored it.
Thinking about what happened or might have happened or will happen won’t do any good. FBI agent Sam Groves is smart and quick. So what? I’m smarter and quicker. I got away from him.

Didn’t I?

All right. So he let me go. So what?

So I’ll look around very carefully before I try any other switches.

No problem with that. She hadn’t found another of the Seven Sins, and those were the only stones that were worth the risk involved in switching. Those were the only stones that could lead her to the truth about her missing brother.

Don’t think about Lee either. Not now. Crying or being afraid will tank your act. Suck it up.

With a brisk tug Kate straightened her lightweight brown leather jacket over her pink shirt and faded blue jeans. A casual dark plastic clip kept her hair out of her face but let the waves of black tumble freely down her back to her shoulder blades. Simple sneakers replaced the expensive leather shoes she’d worn earlier.

Sam will never recognize me.

Yeah, and I can leap over tall buildings.

But none of that mattered. She wouldn’t find any clues to Lee’s disappearance hiding in her home.

“Katie? What are you doing here?”

Her stomach clenched in the instant before she recognized Gavin Greenfield, Lee’s godfather and lifelong friend of her father. In the months after Lee’s disappearance, Gavin and his wife, Mary,
had been a blessing to the Mandels. Gavin’s younger brother had been a deputy sheriff before he retired, so Gavin had handled a lot of the official details, sparing the Mandels.

“Hello, Uncle Gavin,” she said, smiling and opening her arms to her honorary uncle. “What brings you to Scottsdale? Why didn’t you call and tell me you’d be here?”

“Because it’s all business from early breakfast to midnight drinks. Not a second to myself. Summit meeting of furniture manufacturers. A few days and then I’m right back to Florida to help Mary. Her bad ankle is giving her fits.” He gave Kate a big hug. “How about you? Last time we talked, you were up to your eyebrows in new things to cut.”

“Oh, I decided that it was time to pull my nose away from the grindstone and see if there was anything new in the gem trade.”

Gavin’s eyes didn’t miss the lines of sadness and tension that hadn’t been on Kate’s face before Lee disappeared. “Good idea. You need to get out more. Fine young woman like you, I’ll never understand why you haven’t married and given your parents grandchildren.”

Two men yapping into cell phones stepped out of the elevator and nearly ran over Gavin, which saved Kate from having to make her usual reply—
They just don’t make them like you anymore
.

Gavin stepped out of the way of the men and said, “Damn things should be banned.”

“Cell phones?” Kate asked, hiding a smile.

“Curse of the twenty-first century.”

“You still don’t have one, do you?”

“No, and I never will.”

Kate didn’t doubt it. “What’s the summit meeting about?”

“Furniture-making is going overseas, like so much else.” Gavin shook his bald head. “It’s my sad job to inform my colleagues that the Chinese make pretty damn good furniture for a third what it costs if it’s made here.”

“Better wear armor.”

He sighed and changed the subject. “How’s your gem-cutting business going? You being driven out by machines or foreigners yet?”

“So far, so good.”

“You ever finish that job Lee mentioned you were so excited about?”

Kate tried to ignore the wave of sadness that tightened her throat and made her eyes burn. “Yes, I finished it. Have the police—” Like Gavin earlier, she broke off in midsentence.

“Nothing new,” Gavin said. He hesitated, breathed deeply, and told Katie what her parents should have told her months ago. “And there won’t be. Lee was a grown man with his own way of looking at the world. For whatever reasons, he disappeared with a packet of goods valuable enough to require a courier.” Gavin put his well-manicured hand under her chin. “You’ve got to let go of it, Katie,” he said sadly.

“Has anyone?”

“Your parents are getting better at it every day that goes by without a call or a card or an e-mail from Lee. It’s time for all of us to pull our lives together again.”

Damn it, Uncle Gavin. Can’t you see that Lee wouldn’t ever do this to the people who love him?
But all Kate said was, “You’ve been talking to my mother.”

“Your dad’s worried about you too.”

“I’ve been living on my own since I was twenty. I’m thirty-three now. While I appreciate everyone’s concern…” She shrugged.

“We all should butt out, is that it?”

Instead of answering, she hugged him hard. “I never should have encouraged Lee to become a courier.”

“Aw, honey, that’s just pure, double-dyed crap. Lee was happy to find work that paid decent, sent him all over, and didn’t bore him.”

Kate just burrowed closer and smelled the familiar scents of tobacco and aftershave. Then she stepped back. “Does Aunt Mary know you haven’t stopped smoking?”

“I don’t smoke unless I’m on the road.”

“Better wash everything before you go back.”

“That bad?”

“She loves you anyway.”

Gavin grinned. “And that’s a fact. You have time for some pie and coffee? I can be a little late to the meeting.”

Kate was just starting to say yes when she saw someone she didn’t want to see get out of an elevator not six feet away. Quickly she moved around Gavin until he was between her and Sam, the FBI man.

“I’d love to, but I’ve got an appointment I’m late for,” she said, watching the nearby bank of elevators rather desperately.

One of the doors opened. Kate didn’t look to see if the elevator was going up, down, or sideways. She just took it and hit the button that closed the door. Then she leaned against the steel wall and practiced breathing.

It was something she’d done a lot of since she’d met Special Agent Sam Groves.

BOOK: The Color of Death
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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