Kate O’Hare’s favorite outfit was her blue windbreaker with the letters FBI written in yellow on the back, worn over a black T-shirt and matching black Kevlar vest. Kate had reluctantly relegated the outfit to the back of her tiny closet, which now overflowed with an assortment of designer clothes and resort casual beach wear. The designer clothes and beach wear were all acquired during her recent stint of undercover work. Tools of the trade, she told herself. Unfortunately, it was Nicholas Fox’s trade. He was a brilliant con man and a world class thief. She’d arrested him two years ago, and he’d charmed his way out of a lifetime in prison by offering up his unique talents to help the FBI take down the worst of the worst criminals.
Now she had the impossible job of acting as his handler. When conventional police work couldn’t get the job done, the FBI set Fox loose to run questionably legal cons and undercover operations on out of reach bad guys.
Some days Kate wondered whether she was managing Nicholas Fox or he was managing her. Today was one of those days. It was noon and she was standing in the middle of the Beverly Hills’ Saks Fifth Avenue dressed in black slacks, a black and white striped shirt, red suspenders, white gloves and a black beret. Her face was painted completely white, except for her bright red lipstick. She was surrounded by a sea of similarly dressed men and women, possibly hundreds of them. It was a flash mob of mimes, and they were all doing classic mime stunts, trying to get out of invisible boxes, trying to climb invisible ladders, struggling not to get blown away by non-existent wind.
“This is ridiculous,” Kate said to the mime standing next to her. “In fact, this has got to be the most ridiculous, humiliating plan you’ve ever devised. And that’s saying a lot.”
The mime next to her was Nick Fox. He silently threw an imaginary lasso at Kate and pretended to pull her in to him.
“Get a grip,” Kate said. “Not gonna happen.”
“You have a short memory,” Nick said. “Dressing as mimes can’t compare to some of the humiliating situations we’ve experienced together. And besides, this is all your boss’s fault. He gave us this case. I merely came up with the brilliant plan to solve it.”
A growing crowd of shoppers and sales clerks had gathered around the flash mob. Kate scanned the room. The entire store was entranced by the spectacle, including two security guards.
“Think about it,” Nick said. “In the last five years, three high end jewelry stores have been robbed in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas while on-lookers were distracted by flash mobs. It’s actually pretty brilliant. Anonymously organize a flash mob over the internet and you’ve got a crew of a hundred people unwittingly helping you commit the perfect crime, all without having to split the money a hundred ways. And, it’s designed to be a surprise piece of performance art so participants are encouraged to keep the time and place private.”
Kate narrowed her eyes and stared at Nick. “I get that. What I don’t get is how you happened to be on the guest list of the best kept secret in Los Angeles. And why you think this mob is going to cover for another robbery. I’d better not find out you’re somehow involved in this.”
“I’m hurt. It’s as if you don’t trust me. We’re supposed to be partners on this assignment.”
“You’re a world class con man. Of course, I don’t trust you.”
“Yeah, but you like me, right?”
Kate blew out a sigh. “Yes. Mostly.”
Nick flashed a crooked grin at Kate. Even with the white-face make-up, Kate had to reluctantly admit it was a great smile, and Nick Fox was outrageously sexy in his tight-fitting black mime pants and black and white striped shirt.
“It’s noon,” Nick said, “and the flash mob is supposed to dissipate in three minutes. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be soon.”
Kate looked over at the Graff Jewelry counter. A pair of Manolo Blahnik clad feet poked out from the behind the counter, toes up.
“Crap,” Kate said. “Man-down at Graff.”
Nick and Kate pushed their way through the traffic jam of mimes and stared at the woman stretched out behind the counter. She was lying on the floor, breathing but not moving. She had on a red bandage dress, a nametag identifying her as Beth the Fine Jewelry Manager and a tranquilizer dart stuck into her thigh. The counter was open with the key still in the lock.
Kate pulled the dart out of Beth’s leg and felt for her pulse. “She seems okay,” Kate said, “but she should get checked out. Why isn’t there better security here?”
“The security guards are watching the flash mob.”
“Call for medical assistance and then call security.”
Nick placed the call and gestured across the room at a young female mime wearing a black mini dress, and striped knee socks. “Well, that’s something you don’t see every day.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “The mini dress? Seriously.”
“No.” Nick pointed to the 110 carats of pink, yellow, green and blue diamonds on the woman’s wrist. “A mime wearing a $55 million Graff watch.”
“How do you know it’s a $55 million watch,” Kate asked.
“It’s the Graff Hallucination watch. It was unveiled at Baselworld in 2014 and is the most expensive watch ever created. It was on loan to the Beverly Hill’s Graff this month. Let’s get a closer look.”
Kate placed the dart next to the unconscious woman and tagged after Nick. “Weren’t you on vacation in Switzerland during Baselworld in 2014.”
“You know, I think I might have been. Strange coincidence, no?”
“No,” Kate said.
“You aren’t going to ask me if I was contemplating snatching the watch, are you?”
“No again,” Kate said. “I already know the answer.”
The woman in the black minidress turned, stared directly into Kate and Nick’s faces, and took off running towards the exit. Kate pushed aside several mimes and plowed through a crowd of onlookers. Nick was right behind her as they burst out of the store, onto Wilshire Boulevard. They pulled up short when the female mime jumped into a white Econoline van parked on the street, and the van took off down Wilshire.
“This is a role reversal for me,” Nick said, hands on hips, catching his breath. “Usually the beautiful woman is chasing me.”
Kate thought he might be referring to her as the beautiful woman, but she wasn’t willing to put money on it. She yanked the valet out of a red Ferrari idling in front of the store. “FBI. I’m commandeering this vehicle.”
Nick jumped into the passenger seat, gave the valet ten dollars and mimed a thank you. “Mimes aren’t supposed to talk,” he said to Kate. “It’s all about story telling using your body language.”
Kate held her white gloved middle finger up to Nick, pressed her foot down on the accelerator, chirped her tires and went from zero to 70mph in three seconds.
The van took a hard left onto North Camden Drive, bounced off a parked car and swerved wildly before regaining control. Kate rounded the corner and caught up to the van just as it turned right onto Santa Monica Boulevard.
“Well, you caught up to them. What’s next?” Nick asked.
The back doors to the van burst open and two mimes armed with semi-automatic AR-15 rifles took aim at the Ferrari. Kate veered to the right and a stream of bullets struck the left side of the car. The mimes took aim again and Kate swerved left, leaving a bunch of fresh bullet holes in the right side of the car.
Nick looked at the holes. “I’m pretty sure these weren’t here when you borrowed this car. I hope your insurance covers commandeering.”
The van swung a right onto Rodeo Drive and accelerated past the Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang storefronts. It was cutting around cars, blowing through traffic lights, and barely missing people attempting to cross the street. Kate was less than a car length behind it. She had one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn.
She turned to Nick. “Are you wearing your seatbelt?”
Nick tightened his seatbelt. “I’m not sure I like where this is going.”
Kate pressed the accelerator to the floor and the Ferrari lurched forward, ramming the back of the Econoline, knocking down the two gunmen, sending them tumbling around the back of the van, and setting off the Ferrari’s airbags.
Nick beat down the airbags and looked out over the bullet hole riddled hood of the Ferrari at the crushed in front end. It was locked onto the rear of the van, which careened wildly down Rodeo Drive, towing the Ferrari behind it.
Pedestrians were screaming and scrambling to get out of the way.
“It’s like they’ve never seen two mimes driving a Ferrari in a high-speed chase with international jewel thieves,” Nick said.
“Let’s try to slow this freight train down,” Kate said, slamming her foot on the brake.
Nick looked out at the wheels of the car. The brake pads were smoking and burnt rubber from the tires lined the street behind them. The Econoline was slowly losing speed but it’s momentum still carried it forward.
“In zero point two miles, you will have reached your destination,” the Ferrari’s computer announced.
Nick looked down at the map on the touchscreen. “It looks like this car was programed to find the Beverly Wilshire hotel before you commandeered it. By and by, you know that Rodeo Drive dead ends at Wilshire Boulevard, right?”
Kate still had her hand on the horn. “Holy shit pickles. Hang on.” The van and convertible, still locked together, sped through the intersection of Rodeo and Wilshire, pinballing off cars. They jumped the curb and plowed through the Beverly Wilshire Hotel’s outdoor dining area, demolishing a dessert cart but miraculously avoiding hitting any guests.
The two vehicles crashed through the plate glass windows into the hotel lobby and finally came to a screeching halt just in front of the concierge desk.
“You have reached your destination,” the Ferrari announced and burst into flames.
Kate and Nick jumped from the Ferrari, rushed to the van and pulled the three dazed mimes to safety before handcuffing them. Hotel staff rushed in with fire extinguishers and worked at getting the blaze under control. Police cruisers and firetrucks screamed in the distance.
“When you think you’re going to die, it really puts things in perspective,” Nick said, wiping away a stray bit of cheesecake from Kate’s cheek …the last remains of the now deceased dessert cart. “Money doesn’t mean too much if you don’t have love in your life.”
Kate drew in close to Nick, reached into his jacket and pulled out the Hallucination Watch. “That explains why you pocketed this $55 million watch?”
Nick grinned at Kate and ate the cheesecake from his finger. “What can I say. It’s my nature. I see things of great beauty and I must have them.”
Nick and Kate paced outside the corner office of Carl Jessup, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. They’d been kept waiting for twenty minutes. The wait wasn’t a good sign. When they finally were allowed entrance, they sat across the desk from Jessup for a good thirty seconds, staring into the fifty- something Kentuckian’s craggy face, before he broke the silence.
“So, what do you two knuckleheads have to say for yourselves?” Jessup said, more a condemnation than a question.
Kate leaned forward. “Long story short. We captured the mega- successful criminals you wanted taken down, and we saved the world’s most expensive watch from being stolen.”
Jessup held up his hands and looked over at Nick. “And your take on the morning’s events?”
“I’d prefer to skip right to the good stuff,” Nick said.
“The ‘good stuff’?”
Nick nodded. “You know. The part where you tell us how the mayor took a giant bite out of your ass and how you told him we’re a couple of loose cannons and how if we screw up just one more time it will be our badges. But, secretly, you think we’re the best damn cops on the force and wish you had a hundred others just like us.”
“You’re not a cop, and you don’t have a badge,” Jessup said. “You’re an asset we recruited to help us in situations that require finesse and discretion. You’re lucky you’re not in jail.”
“Yessir,” Nick said. He looked over at Kate and silently mouthed, “Best damn cops on the force.”
Jessup shook his head in disgust and turned to Kate. “You demolished a million-dollar Ferrari, shot up Rodeo Drive, and set a five-star hotel on fire.”
“Chasing down dangerous felons,” Kate said.
Jessup wasn’t buying it. “In the past year alone of undercover work, you’ve destroyed three sports cars, a helicopter, and a ten- million- dollar yacht.”
“Don’t forget about the city bus,” Nick said while Kate kicked at him under cover of Jessup’s desk. “The one she totaled trying to arrest me.”
“And a bus,” Jessup said. “The point is you two are like a herd of bulls in a china shop. That’s why I’ve added a new team member. He follows the rules. He fills out his paperwork on time. He doesn’t destroy buses or Ferraris or hotels.”
Kate worked at keeping her composure. “With all respect, sir, I don’t think we need a third team member.”
“With all respect, O’Hare, you deserve this team member.”
“He’s going to drive me crazy, isn’t he?” Kate said.
Jessup smiled for the first time. “Yeah. And that’s not the best part. I have a real humdinger of an assignment for you and Nick and your new partner. You’re going to love it.”
Nick turned to Kate. “I think he’s being sarcastic.”
“Maybe a little,” Jessup said. “Mostly I’m being cautious while I’m reevaluating your worth to us. I’m giving you a job that should require a minimum amount of your special talents. And, hopefully, it will not lead to explosions, grand theft auto, scaring the daylights out of half the population of Beverly Hills, and screwing up my year’s budget.” Jessup handed Kate a thin manila folder. “It’s a missing persons case. Richard Wylde. He’s the owner of a Silicon Valley software artificial intelligence start‑up, and he disappeared last week. Worth over a billion dollars, so you can imagine a lot of people, including his wife, are looking for him.”
Jessup shook his head. “No sign of foul play. He had his pilot’s license and was last seen taking off in his private plane from John Wayne Airport.”
“Crashed?” Kate asked.
“No evidence to support that either.”
Kate silently groaned. The only thing worse than a Silicon Valley billionaire was the wife of a Silicon Valley billionaire.
“In other words, he’s probably holed up with some bikini model in a Mexican luxury resort. And you want us to hold his wife’s hand for the next two weeks until he runs out of bodily fluids and decides to come home.”
Jessup smiled again. “Like I said. It’s a real humdinger.”
Kate sat in the driver’s seat of her blue Buick LaCrosse sedan, reading the Richard Wylde case file while she waited for the new partner to show up. Jessup had refused to divulge his identity. Said he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Nick was in the passenger seat, texting and checking emails.
Kate finished reading and put away the manila folder. “What’s with the texting? I’ve never seen you so tethered to your cellphone.”
“I’m amusing myself while you do official government business. This case isn’t exactly an intellectual challenge for me.”
“This is true,” Kate said. “I don’t need you to help me babysit some billionaire’s wife. You’re attached to this hideous job because Jessup doesn’t trust you to be left unattended.”
“Completely unfair,” Nick said. “You were the one who stole the Ferrari.”
“I commandeered it. Big difference. BIG.”
“Fortunately, as luck would have it, the wife might be a prospective client.”
Kate narrowed her eyes. “You have clients?”
Nick read an incoming text and typed a reply. “What’s wrong with having clients?”
“You do realize it’s considered illegal in most circles to steal from your clients.”
Nick put down the cellphone. “You’re going to love this.”
“I highly doubt that. But go ahead anyway.”
“I found a way to use my entrepreneurial talents without breaking any laws,” Nick said.
“Oh boy. This should be good.”
“It took a while to come up with it. At first, I thought I’d form a foundation. You know, the kind that raises money for worthy causes by having me fly around in private jets all over the world and throw kick- ss parties. I was going to call it the Don’t Not Stop Not Helping People Fund.”
“Catchy. The scariest part is that this was the idea you rejected.”
“Turns out there isn’t so much money in not stopping not helping people.” Nick leaned in toward Kate. “If you want to be a visionary business magnate you need to follow the money.”
“And the place you followed it to is . . .”
Nick smiled. “I’m a social media influencer influencer.”
“I influence social media influencers. Turns out there’s a lot of Instagram models and social media personalities who need some help getting top dollar for their YouTube videos and from their corporate sponsors. That’s where I come in.”
Kate started to talk, stopped, then started again. “So, you’re basically an agent for other con men.”
“Exactly. And the best part is that it’s completely legal-ish.”
“Good grief,” Kate said. “Could this day get any worse?”
Nick grinned and pointed at the driver’s side window. Kate looked over and jumped when she saw the smiling baby face of Cosmo Uno.
“Crap on a cracker,” Kate said, hand on her heart. She rolled down the window. “What the heck, Cosmo?”
“Hello,” Cosmo said through the window. He opened the rear door, slid into the backseat, and adjusted the headrest. Cosmo was five foot four inches tall on a good day, and he practically disappeared into the backseat of the Buick.
Kate and Cosmo shared a cubicle wall in the FBI headquarters on Wilshire. Kate spent very little time there. Cosmo spent all of his time there. He ran background checks and did research for other agents. And he lived vicariously through Kate as she chased down bad guys. He had a recurring dream that he morphed into Kate, and Kate had a recurring dream that she was lost in a maze of people- ized hamster tubes, trying to escape from Cosmo Uno.
“No,” Kate said. “Don’t tell me.”
“Yep,” Cosmo said. “I’m your new partner. Are you surprised? Special Agent Jessup said you’d be surprised. You’re surprised, aren’t you? I can tell just by looking at you.” Cosmo paused, waiting for a response. He held up his hands and shook them, jazz hands style. “Surprise!”
Kate barely squelched a grimace. “If my head suddenly exploded, I couldn’t be more surprised.”
Cosmo looked at Nick. “Holy criminy, what’s he doing here?”
“He’s part of the team.”
“For real? Wow. Nick Fox. I’d know him anywhere. He’s famous. I heard a rumor he got a deal, but I never thought it would be like this. Like, he’s one of us now, right? Right? Oh man. You chased him forever. He was a total obsession for you for years. You had pictures of him all over your cubicle.”
Nick grinned. “All over her cubicle? Pictures of me?”
“Wall to wall,” Cosmo said. “Some of them had holes, like she stuck pins in them. I thought that was a little sick, but what do I know? I mean who am I to judge, right? Am I right?”
Kate pulled out of the underground garage into traffic. “He’s on loan as my snitch. Let’s not make a big deal about it. And Jessup wouldn’t be happy if this got out and became common knowledge.”
“Okay. My lips are sealed. I’m zipping my lips. ZIP! Did you see that? Did you see me zip my lips?”
“Snitch is such an ugly word,” Nick said. “I prefer to think of myself as a consultant.”
“Sure, I get that,” Cosmo said. “It’s your cover. Your cons always involved a cover. Kate always said your covers were genius.”
Kate stopped short for a light, throwing everyone against their seatbelts. “I absolutely did not say anything about Nick Fox being a genius. And you’re grossly exaggerating about the pictures in my cubicle.”