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“I haven’t talked to you unless it was on a burner in more than a year. I haven’t got a clue what’s been going on in your life, and I was okay with that because I knew that you were protecting me. And that you’d get out of the grift soon, and when you did, you’d show up on my doorstep with your arms open wide and tell me everything’s going to be okay.” He cleared his throat and took a bite of cookie, but he didn’t say anything. And he didn’t look me in the eye.
“And now here you are,” I continued, “and your arms were wide, but what’s wrong with the rest of the picture?” I didn’t mention that I knew something was wrong just by looking at him. He was putting up a good front, being all smiley and jolly. But underneath the facade, he looked tired and worried and just a little off his game.
“This is the one, Kitty Cat.
I swear to you, I’ve got it all set this time. Nothing’s gonna knock your old man back now. Nothing at all. At least not once I get just one tiny detail sorted out.” I stood, feeling a little numb, and moved to the sink.
I didn’t want my dad to see my face, so I busied myself with rinsing out and refilling the coffee carafe. One little detail didn’t sound good. One little detail sounded like code for I’m a walking dead man.
“What detail is that, Daddy?” “Nothing you need to worry about.” I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Did the man not remember who trained me? Was he really trying to set me up like a mark? Plant all the pieces so that I’d offer my help just like he wanted, and all the while I’d think it was my idea? Just how gullible did my dad think I was?
More important, how scared was he that he’d put his own daughter at risk?
Because no matter how far off true north my dad’s moral compass might be, I knew one thing for certain: There was nothing in this world he valued more than me, with one simple exception—his own neck.
He had me in a pretty crappy position at the moment. I didn’t know if whoever he’d screwed was days or hours behind him. I didn’t know if we were dealing with an organization or a single pissed-off man.
On the cheap or well funded?
Was this the kind of deal my dad could fix, or did they want him to go down on principle?
And, for the love of all that is holy, I needed to know if there was even the slightest chance they knew about me.
Forget prancing around the mulberry bush. If someone was playing Pop!
Goes the Weasel in my house, I was damn well going to be in on the game.
The carafe was full to overflowing now, so I poured water into the machine’s reservoir, added the grounds, and started a pot brewing.
Then I went back to my seat across from my dad, put another cookie in front of him, and said one simple word: “Tell.” “Kitty, sweetheart, I—” “Stop it, Daddy. I have a life here. I have a roommate, who you may have put in danger. I have a house here, too. Or I will next week. I’ve got a real job and I’m getting settled. Putting down roots, you know?” And there’s a guy, and maybe it’ll go somewhere. I wanted to add that, but I hardly saw the point.
“Good for you,” he said, and I could tell that he meant it. “My little girl. Who would have thought it?” “Daddy,” I said sternly, “did danger follow you here?” He shook his head. “No.
Swear to god,” he added, drawing an X over his chest with his forefinger. “I won’t deny I may have gotten in over my head, but I still know how to watch my step and my back.” I believed him. For now, anyway. “So tell me the rest,” I said. “Why don’t you start with exactly how you got in over your head.” He took another bite of cookie, and this time even the confection didn’t make him look happy. “Have you heard of Ilya Muratti?” “Sure,” I said. “Some big mafia type, right? Owns casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City, and I’m sure he has his fingers in dozens of other pies, too.” I exhaled. “Daddy, no. Tell me you’re not involved with him.” He waved my words away as if they were gnats. “Just a little thing. One little thing in the grand scheme of his world, but it’s gonna make your daddy a rich man.” My stomach twisted unpleasantly, and I regretted the cookies. “Just spit it out.
Tell me.” And, god help me, he did.
He told me all about how he’d wheedled himself in tight with some of the men in Muratti’s organization. He started out playing the role of a fine art broker, then dropped enough hints so that the guys could “discover” that he didn’t worry about all those pesky laws any more than they did.
Eventually a job came up, and when they contacted him to see if he wanted a piece of the action, he jumped at the chance.
“Daddy, you didn’t.” I had my elbows on the table and my fingers twined through my hair. “You did exactly what you taught me never to do. You got mixed up in organized crime.” “Just on the periphery, sweetie. Just around the edges.” Except that was bullshit, because the more he talked, the more I realized how deep he was.
“They just needed a document. One tiny little document.” “What kind?” “A will. A holographic will, they call it. Handwritten, that means.” “I know what it means, Daddy,” I snapped. “Keep going.” He did, and it kept getting worse and worse and worse.
Apparently one Frederick Charles intended to leave three hundred acres of prime Atlantic City property to his niece, Marjorie Calloway.
And that would do Muratti no good.
The living Frederick wouldn’t negotiate with Muratti, believing him to be a no-good mafia prick. But a dead Frederick couldn’t argue if his will showed that he’d changed his mind about dear Marjorie and decided to leave the property to a distant cousin who just so happened to be neck deep in gambling debts to Muratti. And who would, in settlement thereof, sign over the land.
Muratti, of course, would seed the land with casinos that would grow into thriving money trees.
“They’re going to kill the old man,” I said after he’d told me all of that. “As soon as the will is forged, they’ll take him out.” I met my father’s eyes. “You got mixed up in a deal where someone is going to end up dead.” He’d gone completely pale. “I didn’t know, Kitty Cat. I swear I didn’t know.” I believed him. My dad had the stomach for a lot of things, but killing people wasn’t one of them.
“You couldn’t forge your way out of a paper bag,” I told my father. “Who are you working with?” “That’s the thing,” he said. “I lined up Wesley. You remember him?” “Sure. How is he?” Wesley had mad skills—and what cemented him in my childhood memory was a seemingly endless supply of Tootsie Pops. I’d adored him.
“Passed away,” Daddy said. “The big C.” “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “Yeah, it was a pisser.” “But if he’s dead, he can’t do the job. So what’s the problem?” I asked, then turned right around and answered my own question.
“Jesus, Dad. You were going to screw Wesley?” “Not screw him,” my dad said indignantly. “His share was going to be perfectly reasonable. But I’d found the deal and I’d brought him in. I was taking all the risk. Gotta be some compensation for doing the legwork.” “You’re taking all the risk, all right. Now that Wesley’s dead and you can’t make the deal happen, Muratti’s going to want his pound of flesh.
Christ, Daddy,” I said, as I stood and started to pace. “Do you know what the mafia does to men who can’t deliver what they promised?” “Why do you think I came here? They didn’t follow me,” he rushed to say. “I’m sure of it. And no one knows who you are. We buried that connection long ago. They won’t find me. How the hell could they find me?” I hugged myself, numb with fear. “They’ll find you because they’ll never stop looking.” “But Charles will eventually die, and the property will go to his niece, and then that will be that.
Muratti will move on and I can come out of hiding.” “Hiding,” I repeated.
“That’s what you’re doing here?” He didn’t answer.
“No,” I said sadly.
“You’re not hiding. You came here looking for me to find someone to take Wesley’s place. You know as well as I do that a man like Muratti has a long memory.” “Just one document, Catalina. Surely you know someone who can do just one document.” “I’m out of the game, Daddy. Mostly, anyway,” I amended. “And I haven’t pulled an art con since Florida. I don’t have the connections,” I lied, because the truth was that I knew one person who could pull this off. But if I asked him, I’d have to tell him the truth about everything. And I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that.
I ran my fingers through my hair again.
“Let me think about it.
Maybe I’ll come up with somebody.” “Yes. Yes, you think.” He stood up and yawned. “I know it’s barely past five, but I’m wiped out. You got a place for your old man to crash?” “Nope,” I said. “But come on. I’ll get you settled in a motel.” His mouth curved down into what could have been a pout.
“Forget it, Daddy Dearest.
It’s too risky for you to stay here. You have a mafia boss sniffing around you. Do you really think I’m going to let Flynn get caught in the cross fire?” He made a noise that sounded like agreement.
Reluctant, maybe, but agreement nonetheless.
I shook my head, exasperated. “It’s a motel, Dad. From the story you told me, you should be glad it isn’t a prison cell.” “If it doesn’t have room service,” he said with a sigh, “it might as well be.” nine Evan Black lived on a boat before he moved into the high-rise condo he now shared with Angie. Tyler Sharp rented a suite in The Drake hotel that had once served as the residence for royalty.
But as far as I was concerned, Cole’s house put both Evan’s and Tyler’s addresses to shame.
He lived in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago and, yes, near the famous gang-riddled South Side that the old song about Bad, Bad Leroy Brown had made famous. I knew Cole had grown up in that part of the city, but he didn’t live in the dicey area now. Instead, Hyde Park was funky and eclectic. A place where pretty much anything goes.
And Cole’s house stood like the topping on a very delicious and exotic dessert.
It had been designed in the late 1800s by Frank Lloyd Wright, and with the straight lines, sharp angles, and overall geometric design, there was no mistaking the architect’s work. The place had come on the market about five months ago, and Cole had immediately snatched it up. I had no idea what he’d had to pay in order to acquire it, but I had a feeling that no amount would have deterred him.
At the housewarming he’d told me that Frank Lloyd Wright was as much a master as Michelangelo or Da Vinci, and that there was no way he could have passed up the chance to live in something created by genius.
Now, standing just outside the huge wooden door surrounded by intricate stonework, I once again thought how much the house suited Cole. Not only was it artistic but it was impenetrable without being off-putting.
And wasn’t that the same as the man? Because unless he let you past his walls, there was no getting inside Cole August.
I hadn’t called first because I didn’t want him to make an excuse not to see me. Liz had assured me that he planned to spend the evening at home catching up on some paperwork, but that didn’t necessarily mean he’d told her his actual plans.
For all I knew, he was at the Firehouse. And as intrigued as I might now be by that place, I wasn’t quite ready to go search for him there.
I hesitated another moment before knocking, feeling a bit like a fool. I wanted to see him—hell, I wanted to hear his voice. That smooth, sexy voice that had pushed me over the edge just the other day.
At the same time, though, I feared his reaction. He couldn’t have been more clear about his intent to stay away from me if he’d taken out an ad in the Chicago Tribune, so finding me at his front door might not brighten his evening.
Then again, this wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about him and it damn sure wasn’t about sex.
This was about my dad, and Cole was the only person in my life right now who might actually be able to help him.
And that meant that whatever issue Cole had with me at the moment was going to have to be shoved aside. I needed help. And Cole would just have to deal with it.
I rang the bell.
At first, there was no answer. Then I heard his voice crackle through the intercom. “Be right there.” I waited, and a moment later the door opened to reveal the man himself wearing nothing but a towel slung around his hips. “Kat,” he said, and for a moment, I saw heat flare in his eyes.
Then his expression turned carefully blank.
My mouth went completely dry, while my more southernly parts had the completely opposite reaction.