F.B.I. Special Agent Kate O’Hare took a firm grip on her Hazelnut Macchiato Grande and wedged herself into the back seat of the black Suburban. She had her shoulder length brown hair pulled up into a ponytail, and she was wearing a navy polyester suit that could survive a nuclear blast and not wrinkle. She was sharing the seat with two Sasquatch sized agents from the local Seattle office, and she was debating the wisdom of the Starbuck’s stop. Okay, so agent Kruger had been up all night with his two-year old daughter and had desperately needed coffee, but jeez Louise, Kate thought, this was freaking frightening. She was sitting, thigh to thigh, with two men holding scalding hot liquid in paper containers, and a driver who thought he was trying out for NASCAR.
“Hey, we’ve got coffee here,” Kate yelled to the agent behind the wheel. “If it spills on the guy sitting next to me, he isn’t going to be able to have a family.”
The driver glanced in the rear-view mirror. “We’re not too sure if he should reproduce anyway.”
Kate had spent the night hastily assembling a Seattle based task force, and this morning she’d flown from her home base of L.A. to Sea-Tac, where she’d been picked up by the A-team. A guy named Levine was at the wheel, and Kruger was riding shotgun. Mo Smitt and Andy Gunder were flanking her. She was following a lead that Nicholas Fox, the slick international conman and thief she’d been chasing for three years was in Seattle, running a scam. The lead was more than speculation. She had confirmed visuals, and she had a handle on the scam, thanks to her cousin Cindy. Cindy lived in Seattle and two days ago she’d spotted Kate’s picture on a city bench.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Cindy had said, “but there’s a real estate agent here who’s a dead ringer for you. And she’s in business with a smoking hot guy. I’m standing here looking at an ad on a bench in front of a bus stop. I’m sending you a picture now.”
Moments later Kate had pulled the ad up on her email. The headline read: Our Listings Don’t Sit on the Market, They Sell! Call us NOW! Under the headline was a full color picture of the realtors, Eustace and Irma Haney. Eustace was Nick Fox, looking like sex in a suit, wearing a tux, his bow tie unfurled carelessly at his open collar, his mischievous smile making his brown eyes sparkle. Irma was next to him, sporting a face lifted from Kate’s driver’s license picture and Photoshopped onto the body of an outrageously big breasted-woman in a black dress with a plunging neckline.
After round-the-clock computer work and several phone calls, Kate put it together. The CFO at a big health insurance company had been quietly released from his work obligations while federal officials poured over the company books. The CFO had disappeared from sight, off on a six-month cruise. And like the brilliant opportunistic thief that he was, Nick had swooped in, posed as a Realtor and sold the CFO’s $3.5 mil house out from under him. Closing was scheduled for three o’clock this afternoon.
Kate checked her watch. It was almost noon. “Are we sure Nick is in the real estate office?”
“There’s a guy with a scope on the roof across the street,” Mo said. “He’s watching Fox. Positive ID.”
Levine stopped at an intersection and gestured to an ad on a bench backboard. “That’s him, right?”
Kate gaped at the ad. It was the first time she’d actually seen it in person.
“Holy crap,” Levine said. “That looks like you next to him.”
The four men leaned forward, looking from the ad to Kate and back to the ad. All four men gave a simultaneous bark of laughter.
“Nice picture of you,” Mo said, smiling wide.
“It’s been Photoshopped off my driver’s license,” Kate said. “Nick Fox humor. The man is evil.”
“Sort of a shame,” Levine said. “I kind of had a thing for Irma.”
“Are those ads all over the city?” Kate asked.
“Pretty much,” Levine said. “Out in Bellevue too.”
“The names are familiar,” Kruger said. “I know them from somewhere.”
“Nick thinks it’s fun to use names from old TV shows,” Kate said. “According to my dog-eared copy of The Complete Encyclopedia of Episodic Television Series, Haney was the conman in Green Acres who sold Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor a dilapidated farm.”
A driver leaned on his horn behind the Suburban, and Levine moved through the intersection.
“Are agents in position on the scene?” Kate asked.
Mo nodded. “We’ve surrounded the building and can secure the block in thirty seconds.”
“Tell them to stay out of sight. Nobody moves until I give the order. I don’t want to spook him.”
The Suburban sped south on 1st Street through Pioneer Square, which was the original heart of the city and only a block east of the Puget Sound. It was a skid row neighborhood of 19th Century Romanesque brick and stone buildings that was slowly being gentrified with art galleries and coffee houses.
Levine parked in the red zone at 1st Street and South Washington, positioning the Suburban in such a way that it was kitty-corner from the ground floor offices of Jet City Realty. Mo Took Kate’s Macchiato and handed her a pair of binoculars. She trained the binoculars on the first floor reception area where Nick was talking on his cell phone. He slipped his phone into his pocket and moved out of view.
“Yep, that’s him,” she said. “And he looks clueless.”
Kate gave the binoculars back to Mo, and slipped a Bluetooth ear bud in her ear.
“I’m going in,” she said.
“Alone?” Mo asked.
“I’m not alone. I have a whole task force behind me.”
“What if he’s armed?”
“He doesn’t use guns,” Kate said.
“He might if he’s cornered.”
“Then I’ll have to shoot him before he shoots me.”
Kate climbed over Munder and exited the Suburban. She crossed the street, tuning in to Mo communicating with the other agents, telling them to hold tight. There was another black Suburban in the alley half a block down, and a few agents posing as civilians on the sidewalk. They acknowledged Kate with a glance, she glanced back, and walked into the real estate office.
The walls were stripped to show off the weathered old bricks. The reception desk was a tall counter in front of a glass partition with Jet City Realty etched into it. Behind the glass were cubicles where the realtors worked.
The receptionist was a sleek blond woman in her thirties whose eyes went wide when she saw Kate. “Mrs. Haney!” she said. “What a wonderful surprise. I thought you were still in Florida recuperating from your goiter reduction. Goodness, the doctors did an amazing job. Your neck looks terrific. And I see you had the wart removed from your nose as well.”
Kate could hear the other agents laughing in her earpiece. It would take all her self-control not to shoot Nick on sight.
“And you learned all this from my husband?”
“He’s been terribly worried about you.”
“I’ll bet,” Kate said. “Where is my little love bug? He doesn’t know I’m back and I want to surprise him.”
“He’s in his office. It’s the third one on the left, past all the cubbies.”
Kate walked the short corridor and whispered an order into her Bluetooth to seal the building. She pulled her Glock out of her shoulder bag, and tried the doorknob to Nick’s office. Locked. She stepped back, and put everything she had into a well-placed kick to the left of the doorknob. The door splintered at the jam and flew open into the room. There was a desk, desk chair, and file cabinet in the room. No Nick. She could see the single window to the street was locked from the inside.
People were spilling out of their cubicles, into the corridor.
“What was that crash?” someone asked.
“Mr. Haney’s door,” someone else said.
And then someone took a good look at Kate and screamed, “Gun!”
People dove under desks, ran for the front door, and shrieked in panic.
Kate took her badge out of her back pocket and held it above her head for everyone to see. “F.B.I.,” she said. “Relax. I’m looking for Haney. Where is he?”
“He never said anything about you being in the F.B.I.,” the receptionist said to Kate. “Are you sure you aren’t one of those crazy jealous wives. You don’t want to kill him, do you?”
“It’s a tempting thought, but no,” Kate said. “I don’t want to kill him.”
“I saw him go into his office,” a woman said. “He went in and closed his door, and I didn’t see him come out.”
Kate looked behind the desk and around the file cabinet. She cautiously opened the closet door. The closet was empty, and the floorboards had been removed, and a ladder led down into the basement.
“He must be in the basement,” Kate said to agents listening in on Bluetooth. “I’m going after him.”
“That’s not a basement,” Mo told her. “It’s the first floor. In the 1890s, to stop the constant flooding, the city built a retaining wall along the shore and raised the streets downtown. The second floor of every building became the new street level and everything below was covered up.”
“So what the heck is down there now?”
“It’s a maze,” Mo said. “Most of it was sealed and condemned over a hundred years ago. A lot of it was buried. But the part right under Pioneer Square is open for tours and the homeless use the rest of it for shelter in the winter.”
Kate rummaged through Nick’s desk drawers, grabbed a mini flashlight keychain with the Jet City Realty logo on it, and climbed down the ladder. Walls were visible in the dusty darkness. Windows had been bricked over. Doorways were open. Thick wood beams supported the street above and were braced against the buildings.
Kate heard the sound of footsteps muffled by over a century of fine dirt that had sifted onto the original street, and a flash of light turned a corner about thirty yards in front of her. Kate ran toward the light, gun in hand, trying not to stumble over the bricks and fast-food packaging, beer bottles, soiled mattresses, and remnants of campfires that littered the passageway. Every so often, glass cubes embedded in the sidewalk above cast sunlight into her underground world.
“He’s down here,” Kate said to Mo. “Cover all exits.”
“We don’t have the manpower. There are dozens of ways out of there. Every building and manhole cover for blocks is a potential exit.”
Kate swore and came to a fork in the underground road. Which way did he go?
She pulled the Bluetooth out of her ear and switched it off. She didn’t want Mo and everybody else listening in.
“Nick,” she yelled.
“Hey Kate,” Nick yelled back, somewhere in front of her, lost in the darkness.
“How did you know I was coming for you?”
“If you want to be inconspicuous, drive a Ferrari, not a black Suburban with tinted windows.” His reply was relaxed and amiable, as if they were two old friends catching up on the phone.
Kate listened carefully, hoping she could place him. “Only you would think a Ferrari is subtle.”
“Sometimes being intentionally conspicuous is as good as being invisible. If you’d arrived in a Ferrari, you’d probably have me in handcuffs right now.”
“It’s not too late.”
All of his talking had helped her pinpoint him. She took the path to her right and moved as quickly as she dared towards his voice without turning on her flashlight and revealing her position.
“You’d look good in a Ferrari,” he said.
“You’d look good in handcuffs,” she said.
“Do you imagine that often?”
“Not as often as I picture you in a jail cell.”
Kate saw a shaft of daylight illuminating Nick on a ladder at the far end of the underground street. He blew her a kiss and climbed out. The daylight shut off like a candle being blown out. She switched her Bluetooth back on and worked it into her ear as she ran towards the ladder. “He’s up above.”
“Which street?” Mo asked.
“I don’t know. There are no signs down here.”
She came to a ladder leading to a manhole cover. She eased the cover up slowly and peeked out. No cars came rushing at her. She was under a park. She pushed the manhole cover aside and climbed out into the sunlight. There were homeless people lazing around and some skateboarders surfing the railings and flying over steps. No sign of Nick.
She jogged to the nearest street and saw Nick staring at her. Not in the flesh, unfortunately, but from a bus bench advertisement. Nick looked as handsome as ever, but someone had drawn a mustache under his realtor wife’s nose with a magic marker.
“O’Hare, are you there?” Mo asked in her ear. “What’s your 10-20?”
Kate sat on the bench and sighed. It would a while before she lived this one down. She glanced at the street sign.
“South Main Street,” she said.
Right at the corner of Humiliation Boulevard.