by Leslie Silbert
York City4:08 p.m., the following day
in a towel, Kate Morgan was standing in her bedroom
eyeing the contents of her closet with a furrowed brow.
She had a problema business meeting to get to
in twenty minutes where she was supposed to look presentable,
but it was a warm spring afternoon and there was an
eye-grabbing mark on her neck that she needed to hide.
Can you get away with wearing a scarf tied around your
neck on a day like this without looking like a teenager
covering up a hickey? she wondered. Probably not.
This should do the trick. She pulled a black sleeveless
turtleneck from one of her shelves, laid it on her bed
and began to towel-dry her hair.
hot barrel of the freshly emptied pistol that had been
slammed into her neck the night before had left an ugly
weltpart bruise, part burn. Kate knew she was
lucky. The guy had been aiming to crush her trachea.
Shed twisted at the right moment and he missed
by a couple of inches, giving her a window to throw
a well-placed punch to the face. A painful but effective
finishing touch on that assignment. Her boss had insisted
she take the following day off, but an urgent matter
had come up
with a client who might be unsettled
at the sight of seared purple flesh.
underwear, and slim-fitting top in place, Kate zipped
up the skirt of her pinstripe suit. Pulling a comb through
her long tangle-prone hair, she searched for the right
pair of earrings. Pearls. Nice and demure. Make-up?
Maybe a dab of lipstick. She picked up a tube, turned
to her mirror, and applied a layer of her favorite shade,
Guerlains Brun Angorareddish brown flecked
with gold. The color worked well with her dark hair,
green eyes and olive skin tone.
the jacket. She pushed the middle button through and
took a step back to assess her image. After flicking
her twisting curls back over her shoulders, she tilted
her head to the left and looked at the right side of
her neck. The turtleneck did its job well. Good, she
thought; youre officially presentable. She glanced
at her clock. Youre also late. Time to move.
slipped into her shoes and reached for her shoulder
bag. Thats when she noticed the back of her right
hand. Shit. Forgot about that. Oh well, not much I can
usual on a perfect spring day in New York, tourists
with cameras and ice cream cones filled the Fifth Avenue
sidewalks. Kate was slicing her way through the throngs
in the direction of Central Park. The canopy of oak
and sycamore leaves hanging over the park walls had
just come into viewa green wave lapping at the
granite shore of the metropolis.
paused with a cluster of other pedestrians before a
red light at 58th Street. The clattering of hooves from
the horse-drawn carriage depot on her left mingled with
the buzz of nearby conversations and the incessant blaring
of taxi horns. Thinking wistfully of the T-shirt, spandex
shorts and sneakers shed been running in the hour
before, she shrugged out of her suit jacket.
that all? a leering bicycle courier called out,
cruising toward her.
now, but later tonight
a kiss at his bewildered expression, she moved forward
with the flow of the crowd and dialed her boss.
Kate. I cleaned up and Im on my way to the Pierre.
Who am I meeting?
Medina. Oxford dropout turned finance wizard. Thirty-something
playboy with a Midas touch. Hes one of our regular
clients in Europeuses the London office mostly,
for forensic accounting work. At any rate, the guy returned
home from dinner last night to find a dead body in his
study and the place crawling with cops. The would-be
thief was after a sixteenth-century manuscript written
in a strange language, something Medinas workmen
stumbled across during renovations a week or so ago.
Medina wants to know exactly what was found and why
someone wanted to steal it. Thats where you come
in. Those are hardly questions for the cops. Not that
theyre even interested, what with the perp already
in their hands.
didnt he just show it to an expert at a local
museum? Or auction house?
was planning to. But one of the guys in our London office
mentioned your background to him. He decided that you
make more sense. Another Renaissance scholar might be
more experienced, but wont have the investigative
background to coordinate the historical effort with
the police work. Youre the perfect person to put
all the pieces together. He had some other business
in New York, so he flew over this morning.
it. Well, Im here. Ill check in soon.
Pierre Hotels intimate circular tearoom brimmed
with quiet conversation. Kate admired its tasteful opulencefrescoes
that combined classical scenes with images of New York
society figures from the sixties, ornate golden sconces,
two sweeping curved staircases, and an oversized vase
with a bouquet that towered over her. Just nine tables
were arranged around the room along the wall, with armchairs
and loveseats upholstered in tapestry.
realized that the elegant setting was a perfect place
to begin her bookish mystery, a welcome change of pace
after her last assignment. Not that she shied away from
danger, but sometimes she missed her old life: a quiet
nook in a well-stocked library, the comfort of immersion
in another place and time, the excitement of peeling
back the layers obscuring a subject that fascinated
her with every turn of a page. At least to Kate it had
been exciting; her college roommate had threatened to
sic the nerd patrol on her with shocking regularity,
and would blast Norwegian thrash music if she tried
to stay in and work on a weekend night.
gave her name to the host, then followed his eyes to
her clients table. Oh, my. Not that Medina was
conventionally handsome, by any means. His nose was
too prominent, hawkish in fact, and his jaw and cheekbones
were sharp enough to hurt someone. Lips, a touch too
full. But, it was an arresting face. Framed in unkempt
short blond hair, it was a face that made you stop,
stare, and wonder what was going on behind it.
the room, Kate glanced at the fresco painted on the
wall behind him. A nude Venus stood on a scallop shell,
with a half-man, half-serpent curled around her feet.
Now theres a chick whod be cool with her
first hot client
even if he could put a Versace
model to shame.
back to him, Kate recognized a familiar expression,
one she encountered just about every time she met a
new male client. First the eyebrows raise with pleased
surprise that shes attractive, and then the mouth
purses slightly as they mull over her unexpectedly young
he extended his hand. Cidro Medina. A pleasure
to meet you. His accent was public school English,
seasoned with a sprinkle of Spanish.
like to shake your hand, Kate said, but
had a little accident yesterday.
looked at her questioningly.
way to avoid this. She showed him the back of her right
hand. A big purple lump, the size of a large grape,
covered her last two knuckles.
to me like your accident involved somebodys face,
he observed with surprise. I may look like a choir
I do know what happens when you throw a bare-knuckle
Tell me more.
laughed. Impressive. Appeal to my ego and draw
the attention away from yourself. Well, I wont
press. But Im still curious. I didnt realize
you white-collar PIs were in the habit of scuffling
like football fans.
not, Kate said, which was true. The private investigation
company she worked forone of the worlds
top firmswas actually founded as a cover for an
off-the-record U.S. intelligence unit. Her boss, Jeremy
Slade, a former director for operations at the CIA,
had chosen the closest private sector equivalent to
be the units front company, because he knew that
the best lies are cloaked in as much truth as possible.
Only a handful of his investigators were aware of the
companys dual naturethose who participated
in the covert government operations, in addition to
conducting their regular work. Kate was one of them.
And it was the government assignments that tended to
be dangerous, that sometimes got physical. As shed
quickly learned, the idea that P.I.s are always getting
into scrapes is a myth of popular culture.
Kate couldnt explain all of that to Medina, so
instead, she said, The fact is, we rarely scuffle.
Almost never. But once in a while, if a client is really,
grinned. The London office faxed me your bio last
night, but they didnt tell me youd be such
a shrug, Kate slid into her chair.
down himself, Medina continued, Im impressedtwo
Harvard degrees. You know, I couldnt even manage
heard. Its a shame. Your career does seem to be
he grinned again. You were in the middle of a
doctorate program in English Renaissance studies when
you left university, right?
exactly were you studying?
pursuit of secrets and forbidden knowledge.
continued. I found it interesting that Englands
first official state-funded espionage organization was
formed around the same time that Englishmen were searching
in new ways for the answers to cosmic mysteriesyou
know, Gods secretsexploring the furthest
reaches of the globe and turning the first telescopes
on the heavens. And that all the while, curiosity wasnt
exactly the virtue it is today. I
do you mean? Medina interrupted.
theologians in the Middle Ages tended to condemn excessive
curiosity as a viceif you probed heavenly mysteries,
it was heresy. Black magic. That attitude lingered among
hardcore churchmen in Elizabethan times, so certain
lines of inquiry could get you in trouble with her government,
like wondering if hell existed, or whether the earth
was really the center of the universe. Anyway, I wanted
to compare the two. Think about which type of knowledge
was most dangerous to pursuestate secrets or Gods
Why the move to the Slade Group? he asked. Seems
an unusual choice for a budding scholar.
looked away for a moment. It had been an unusual choice,
but two years into her graduate program, shed
been faced with an unusual personal circumstance. An
event that had broken her heart and turned her life
upside down. But it was nothing Medina needed to know
pretty simple, she answered. I decided I
wanted to have an impact in the real worldhelp
people get answers to important questions, get them
out of trouble, recover something theyd lost.
Slades does do a fair amount of corporate work,
as you know, but its not my area. I mostly handle
personal matters for people, crimes the police never
solved, that type of thing.
smiled. Now, I know I should make more idle chitchat,
but what happened in your home last nightthe dead
body, the mysterious manuscriptIm impatient
to hear more.
having a new property restored. In the City, near Leadenhall
Market, Medina began, referring to Londons
as he clicked open his briefcase, Medina leafed through
some materials. During structural reinforcement
work, the men came across a hidden compartment beneath
the buildings foundation.
handed Kate a rectangular object encased in a thick
velvet sack. This was found sealed in an airtight
metal box. Presumably thats why its so remarkably
well preserved. He snapped the briefcase shut
and moved it to the floor.
the manuscript from the sack, Kate stared at the plain,
gilt-edged black cover, then turned to the ridged spine,
checking for a title. Seeing none, she lowered the manuscript
to the table and gently, as if caressing the cheek of
a newborn, ran a fingertip across the cover. The
leathers barely cracked, she marveled. Hard
to believe this is from the sixteenth century.
She lifted the cover, turned past the blank first page,
and for a moment was transfixed as odd arcane symbols
resembling hieroglyphics glared back up at her.
looked up a tutor I knew well at Oxford, Medina
said. An historian called Andrew Rutherford. Showed
it to him last week. Though he was able to roughly date
some of the paper, he couldnt make sense of that
writingconsulted a specialist in ancient alphabets,
but apparently those symbols are nothing of the kind.
be nullities, Kate said softly, lifting the page.
leaned toward her across the small table, and after
a split-second, the right corner of his mouth curled
up a bit. Not quite a smile, just the hint of one.
to the book, she admonished. What do you
assumed a crestfallen expression, then asked, Do
I want to smell anything? Its hundreds of years
a little faith in that airtight seal you mentioned.
Youll be fine.
Leather and, ah, some type of old paper.
What else? Kate asked, gently waving the page
back and forth.
else, he murmured, inhaling again. Lemon.
reached down and pulled a slender but powerful flashlight
from her bag. Turning the manuscript sideways, she trained
the light onto the page theyd been examining.
Translucent letters appeared between the lines of inked
hell, Medina whispered. Reading the translucent
letters aloud, he said, The Anatomy of Secrets
what does that say? Philip
Kate said, stunned. The two letters at the endthat
backward e, and the backward s with a closed loop at
the bottom? This is an Elizabethan style of handwriting.
wide with amazement, she lowered the page. Do
you know who Phelippes was?
shook his head.
might have heard of Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeths
legendary spymaster? Hes considered the founder
of Englands first official secret service, and
Phelippes was his right-hand man, his covert op director
called the Decipherer for his expertise
in code-breaking. Today, Phelippes is mostly remembered
for helping Walsingham with the entrapment of Mary Stuart,
Queen of Scots.
name looks French.
He was born with Philips. Changed it, probably to add
some panache, Kate said quickly.
then pointed to the hieroglyphic-like symbols. These
characters written in ink were known in the Renaissance
as nullities. Theyre decoysmeaningless symbols
intended to throw you off. Codes and ciphers were a
crucial part of covert communications at the time, but
so was penning information in lemon juice, milk, onion...anything
organic. Someone shuffling through Phelippess
papers might look at a sheet like this and give up,
perplexed. But if he held it to a candle
turned to the second page and shined her flashlight
toward it. This time, however, no translucent letters
appeared. She looked at the page more closely. It was
slightly smaller than the title page, a darker shade
of yellow at the edges, creased as if once folded several
times, and appeared to be in a different persons
handwriting. Focusing on the characters themselves,
she saw that they were simpler than the nullitiesthe
decoy symbolsinked on the title page. There was
one that resembled a tadpole, another that looked like
the planet Saturn encircled by its ring, a number three
with an extra loop, and another that resembled an eight
with a pigs curling tail on top.
Kates voice trailed off
as she examined the next few pages. They, too, were
more battered than the first page, with simpler characters,
varying styles of handwriting, and no hidden lemon-juice
the fifth page, she nodded. Yeah. Im pretty
sure these are real Elizabethan ciphers. Some of the
characters are familiar to me. This one, she said,
pointing to an o with a cross jutting out of it, Ive
seen used to represent France. And this one, Spain,
she continued, pointing to what looked like a number
four standing on a short line. And this upward
pointing arrow, England.
up, Kate noticed two teenagers across the room peering
at her over their teacups, and an older woman at the
next table glancing over in between bites of scone.
Reluctantly, she closed the manuscript and said softly,
This looks like a collection of sixteenth century
that my tutor didnt
isnt a common or particularly prestigious academic
Even so, I still dont see why someone would try
to steal this when so many things in my home have got
to be worth far more. My car keys were out on the hall
next to some diamond cufflinks. The thief
didnt touch them. Seems a bit daft.
Intent on maintaining her composure, Kate took a deep
breath. These might not be just any old intel
reports. After Walsingham died in 1590, his secret files
disappeared, and both Elizabethans and modern day scholars
consider Phelippes a possible suspect. The files were
certainly valuable. Walsinghams network of snoops
would have put J. Edgar Hoovers henchmen to shame.
Secrets, scandals, anything suspiciousyou name
it, they sniffed it out. For decades. And the thing
is, those files have never been found. Maybe
on, can you back up a second? Why so much spying back
your English history?
poor, Medina admitted. I am half English,
but grew up in Spain
and was never really one for
Elizabeth Is Protestant government was threatened
by scheming Catholics from all sides, not to mention
from within. Catholic conspiracies were constantly in
the works, usually involving both domestic and foreign
players. The Spanish, in particular. Also the popehe
issued a bull commanding his flock to do whatever it
took to get rid Elizabeth.
a lot of people were trying to kill her.
And by the 1580s, Walsingham finally convinced her to
spend money on espionage. So for the first time in English
history, the Royal Treasury footed a big chunk of the
intelligence bill, and Walsingham was able to really
expand his operation. With Phelippes at his side, he
built a vast network of informants and spies, or intelligencers,
as they were known at the time. Sometimes his people
used threats and intimidation for their recruitment,
but mostly just the promise of money. And as a result,
Walsingham was able to ferret out traitors so thoroughly
it would have made Joe McCarthys head spin. His
people had so much dirt on people, they could threaten
to bury almost anyone at anytime.
like a charming place to be, Medina said dryly.
know. When it comes to Elizabethan England, most people
think of Shakespeare and royal pageantry. But beneath
the glitter, it was an ugly police state. No concept
of innocent until proven guilty. If the queens
security was at stake, suspicion was what mattered.
And so the words of spiesthe brokers of secrets
and sinscould send you to the torture chamber
like...that, Kate finished, snapping her fingers.
said Walsinghams files have been missing since
nodded. More than four centuries.
think this manuscript may prove that Phelippes is the
one who took them. That he sifted through decades of
voluminous paperwork, selected the juiciest spy reports,
had them bound, and presto. The Anatomy of Secrets.
A collection of information as threatening to the Elizabethan
aristocracy as the Hoover files were to U.S. politicos.
As an historical artifact, it might notve been
the most valuable thing in your home, but Id guess
the thief wasnt concerned with its sale price.
do you mean?
any Renaissance scholar would love to get their hands
on this. Publish an explosive paper and get famous,
though most academics are pretty mild-mannered, and
not exactly known for breaking and entering, or hiring
looked off into space for a moment. Maybe something
in here would still be threatening to someone today.
Like, say, evidence that some dukes ancestor was
really a bastard, and hed lose his family seat
if that information came to light.
telling me. And since hardly anyone knows you even found
this, it shouldnt be too hard to
that moment, their waiter set down a three-tiered silver
tray laden with pastries and triangular sandwiches,
along with small pots of tea and china cups.
thanked him, then turned back to Medina. Can you
tell me more about last nights break-in?
was early evening, he said, reaching for a cream-filled
pastry swan. Police think he came in through a
rear window. Id left a few open
at my new
house in Belgravia.
knew his neighborhood wellhad once spent a week
there on surveillance. A stones throw from Buckingham
Palace, the area was developed by the rich, for the
rich, in the early nineteenth century. It remained an
ultra-chic locale where old and new money intermingled.
moved in recently? she asked, pouring herself
Medina nodded. Until a proper security system
is installed, Ive had a guard on the premises
when I leave. He rang the police soon as he heard the
noise. It didnt matter that they took their timeafter
cracking my safe, the thief made himself comfortable.
Poured a glass of cognac, if you can believe it.
did he end up dead?
was armed. When my guard opened the door and saw a pistol
trained on him, he fired. Aiming to disable the fellows
gun arm, of course, but with the angle
the police identified him?
run his prints?
morning. No match. Medina turned to his briefcase
and retrieved a sheaf of Polaroids. Crime scene
photos, if you
took a look. In the first shot, the thief was slumped
in an armchair, his head resting on his shoulder, his
face obscured by blood and shadows. Nice suit.
Hand-tailored. Looks English. Could be a way to trace
to leaf through the photographs, Kate marveled, Your
wow, this guy was good. He did this in a couple
that the hardwood slats to the right of Medinas
safe were barely charred, she added, He mustve
used a shaped charge. Not easy to get your hands on
one of those.
piece of metal-lined plastique. Allows for a controlled,
directed explosion. Looks like he used one to melt through
the steel bolts holding the door in place. Remember
Pan Am flight 103? The CIA was able to trace the Libyans
who blew it up from a similarly rare, high-end devicethe
bombss timersome Swiss expert only made
twelve of them. Yeah, identifying him shouldnt
be too hard.
about motive? The detective didnt seem too fussed.
Got a little grumpy with me, as a matter of fact.
imagine I can find that in here, Kate said, gesturing
to The Anatomy of Secrets. The thing is, as much
as it pains me to say it, this kind of manuscriptsixteenth-century,
one-of-a-kindit really belongs in a museum with
proper climate control, lighting
there might also
be a law in the U.K. about turning something like this
over to a particular cultural institution. Im
not sure how you want to
Im loathe to offend the scholar in you,
Medina cut in, I was hoping you wouldnt
mind letting the bureaucrats wait a few days. Ive
got the airtight box upstairs in my room, and as its
been preserved in there for four hundred years
Kate said, laughing. If I scan all the pages tonight,
then seal it away, my conscience will survive. Tell
me though, why do you, ah
From what youve said about your interests
is the most exciting thing thats happened to me
in quite a while. Not that it takes much to beat playing
around with numbers. He paused for a moment, then
continued with his crooked smile, Besides, who
could resist the chance to play amateur sleuth with
a gorgeous girl like you?
Medinas delight, Kate shrugged, palms in the air.
Mentally, however, she rolled her eyes. Gorgeous was
not a word shed ever use to describe herself.
In Kates opinion, her looks were good enough to
be useful now and then, but not so good that they were
ever a liability; she could blend into a crowd if need
back to business, she pulled a notepad from her bag.
Your professor, Dr. Andrew Rutherford, I need
to call him. She checked her watch. In England,
it was after ten oclock. First thing in
the morning, I guess. Id like to find out who
he showed the manuscript tostart to generate a
list of everyone who knows about your discovery. Can
you give me his number? And can I hold on to these?
she asked, holding up the photographs.
and yes. Copying the number from his cell phone,
he added, You know, I was impressed with you before
we met. And now, well, even more so. Its clear
to me youre very capable. But I have a concern,
and its a grave one.
cant help but wonder if I should trust you. Lets
face it. Wily female spy-types can be dangerous. I mean,
if I think about some of your more illustrious predecessorsDelilah,
up her spoon, Kate pretended it was a microphone. Memo
to self: client is well versed in history of double-dealing
trollops. Has promptly mistaken me for same.
raised his teacup with a twinkle in his eye. Heres
hoping your fate is not quite so grim.
Kate knew, had been crushed alive in a collapsing temple,
but Mata Hari? Oh, thats right. Firing squad.
back in her chair, Kate folded her arms across her chest.
And this from a man who claims his command of
history is slim.
I know my trollops.
Im sure you do.
back down Fifth Avenue, on her way to catch the E train
to visit the shop of a rare book dealer she knew, Kate
tried to stifle the smile that stubbornly refused to
leave her face. As soon as shed said goodbye to
Medina, it seemed to have taken on a life of its own.
her theory was correct, Thomas Phelippesa man
she felt she almost knewhad actually created a
bound version of Walsinghams most delicious secrets.
And it could have been buried since the Renaissance,
she thought with excitement. Phelippes had lived near
Leadenhall Market, the area in the City where Medinas
new office was being restored. Secret compartments were
more than commonplace back then. Some, known as priests
holes, were constructed to hide the illicit black-garbed
men wealthy Catholics couldnt bear to do without.
When most of London burned to the ground in the Great
Fire of 1666, the compartment could have been lost in
the rubble and ash. Until now.
clutched her bag closer. She felt like a conspiracy
buff whod just stumbled across Lee Harvey Oswalds
diary. The keys to dozens of mysteries could be concealed
in the ciphered pages: Did Queen Elizabeths first
love really toss his wife down the stairs? Did she take
as many lovers as everyone thought? Was Mary, Queen
of Scots behind the murder of her first husband and
the plotting of Elizabeths assassination? What
about proof that Shakespeare did, in fact, write the
plays attributed to him?
a grad student, Kate had never dreamed of being the
one to decipher something like Phelippess Anatomy
of Secrets, or that such a thing would ever be discovered.
And shed certainly never expected her love for
Renaissance history and literature to play a role in
her career. She could not have been more thrilled. So
why had a vague nervousness just killed her mood?
sharp knock threw her right shoulder forward. Holding
her bag with both hands, she stared at the person who
was shoving past, then relaxed. It was a typical midtown
blonde in a hurry, with an immaculate pedicure, a self-important
expression no actress could fake, and irritated thoughts
as predictable as the color of her roots. A moment later,
the womans rapid strides were reduced to an impatient
shuffleshe was trapped behind a pair of stooped
old ladies meandering along arm in arm. Kate listened
to the blondes muffled curses with amusement;
no doubt she was one of the many New Yorkers who considered
slow walking at rush hour to be a cardinal sin.
Kates heart was still racing, and it wasnt
from thoughts of the manuscript. She paused to talk
to Blake, the dashing young security guard standing
outside of Harry Winston. Though usually surrounded
by fawning female tourists, he was alone.
anyone I should worry about?
let his eyes wander for a moment, looking over her shoulder,
then answered, Mmm, middle-aged, salt and pepper
hairat least whats left of ithovering
over a newspaper bin across the street. He just glanced
up. And, well, a guy who walked by looked you up and
down, as did his girlfriend, but I dont think
that means much. Coupla folks just ducked into stores.
had not seen anyone herself, but sensed that someone
was following her. Shed been trained to spot watchers,
but if they were good, more often than not she just
to peruse the Winston display case, she listened as
Blake finished, My moneys on Salt n
Pepper. You want to walk through? There was a
hidden exit off one of Harry Winstons storage
rooms that led to an abandoned network of construction
tunnels. On a prior case, Kate and one of her colleagues
had exposed a Winston employees string of embezzlements,
and the grateful store manager had given her carte blanche
to pass through at any time. It was a kind of a midtown
trap door for her.
but not today. Id like to know what he wants.
got a little glow about you. Meet someone new?
just a client. Really easy on the eyes, but hes
so not my typebored rich guy with that I-know-everyone-wants-me
look in his eye.
look gets me every time, Blake sighed. He
plays for your team, huh?
think I saw our jersey in his locker, but Ill
keep you posted.
to walk south, Kate paused here and there, allowing
her pursuer to keep her in sight. Looking up at the
lighted trees on the sloping tiers of the Trump Tower,
she wondered if she was merely being paranoid. Well,
theres an easy way to find that out. A blue and
white Manhattan bus had just come to a stop beside her,
and Kate took a step toward it, as if she was about
to board, then threw a quick glance behind her. The
man Blake had described was trying to hail a cab.
he was following her. Hmm. Kate checked her watch as
she began walking again, pretending to have changed
plans. A few blocks down, she turned into the Banana
Republic in Rockefeller Center. Eyeing the reflective
storefront for a moment confirmed that her shadower
was right where she wanted him.
the dressing room, Kate took off her suit, rolled it
up and put it in her bag, then took out a wig and a
short Lycra skirt. She rarely left home without the
makings of a simple disguise. The chin-length wig was
straight and blonde. Her own father had once failed
to recognize her in it. She tucked her hair beneath
it then slid into the skimpy skirta far cry from
the conservative knee-length pinstripe shed been
replacing her dark lipstick with a shade of frosty pink,
Kate went up to a customer at the cashiers desk
and told him shed give him a twenty if he escorted
her out. With his arm around her shoulders, they left
the store and melted into the rush hour crowd. He refused
man with the salt and pepper hair and the beginnings
of a beer gut stood watching the entrance to Banana
Republic from across the street, partially concealed
by the tourists hovering outside St. Patricks
Cathedral. If that girls anything like my wife,
shell be in there for hours. He looked at his
watch. Only twenty minutes had gone by. All the same,
he should get ready for her exit. This was the perfect
place to make his movethe most densely crowded
his eyes still trained on the clothing store, he reached
into his jacket pocket to get a hold of his razorblade,
then panicked. The blade was gone. And so was his wallet.
Hed spent twenty-five years in New York, fifteen
in the PD, ten as a gumshoe. Caught hundreds of thieves,
but hadnt ever been robbed himself. Damn.
tapped his shoulder. Excuse me, Sir, a timid
voice said. Could you tell me where is the
that accent, Italian? He turned around. Ah, some hot
tourist lost in the citymap in hand, an imploring
look on her face. Oh, he could show her a thing or two.
But he was working. Sorry, Miss. Cant help
you right now.
I think you can.
took a step back, confused. Her features were suddenly
hard, words commanding and smooth, accent gone. She
handed him his missing wallet. Then he bit his lip in
alarm. In spite of the new hair, clothes and make-up,
he recognized her: his target.
Mazur, Kate said, having glanced at his drivers
license minutes before. Thrown off the force because
you got a little too friendly with the local dealers.
Before confronting him, shed phoned his name into
her office for a few quick background details. Who
turned to hail a cab, but Kate stepped forward, grabbed
his arm and twisted it, and him, back around. You
didnt answer my question.
scowled, struggling to shake free of her grip.
I almost forgot, Kate said with feigned sincerity,
slipping his razorblade into the limp hand she was still
holding hostage. Men like you need things like
this to get the job done.
flickered across his face as the blade fell to the ground.
Kate was pinching a nerve in his wrist and his fingers
my question, and your friends on the force will never
know you got made by a girl half your age.
a jerk, Mazur wrenched his arm away and stepped back
angrily. Bitch, I dont know who the hell
you are, or what youre talking about
Kate had a final trick up her sleeveanother detail
her colleague had relayed moments before via cell phone.
Hows your son doing at home on Carroll Street?
I could send someone to check on him if you like.
no idea she would never harm a child, Mazur capitulated.
I dont know who it was. Guy didnt
give me his name, just emailed the assignment a couple
of hours ago. Named a drop for your bag, which I was
supposed to take. He paid up front in cashwhen
I left my office, there was an unmarked envelope outside
he say what he wanted, specifically?
about a book.
email address? Kate asked, handing Mazur her notepad
and a pen.
complied, then turned once more to find a taxi.
just let you know if I have any more questions,
Kate said to the back of his head.
reading what hed written, she murmured to herself,
Guy calls himself Jade Dragon?
her cell phone, Kate dialed Medina to let him know that
someone was still after his manuscript, that the dead
thief was, in all likelihood, a hired hand. She also
warned him to be careful and offered him a bodyguard;
it was probably an unnecessary precaution, but a good
idea all the same.
still considered her new case to be a low-risk mystery.
Sure, there had been a couple of attempted thefts, but
there couldnt be any real danger involved. Not
on account of some antique gossip and double-dealing.
days would pass before shed learn that her assumption
slung over her shoulder, Vera Carstairs stepped out
of the near empty Christ Church library. It was closing
time and as usual, she was among the last students to
leave. Leaning against one of the massive Corinthian
columns, she paused for a moment to press her sore eyes
shut and enjoy the evenings warm breeze.
she gasped in alarm.
boys carrying unidentifiable pink objects burst past
her, kicking up dust as they raced across Peckwater
Quad. Watching them weave and stumble, Vera decided
it was safe to assume they were not coming from a long,
frustrating night of studying. They disappeared into
Killcanon passage, and Vera, heading in the same direction,
heard drunken shouts echoing along the stone corridor.
Come on then, Idiots! Get to your places!
Lord, what is it this time? she mumbled.
from the passage, Vera entered Tom Quad and stopped
short, squinting at the bizarre antics unfolding before
her. Students stood facing each other with hands clasped
above their heads, forming arches, through which other
students, dressed in brown, were somersaulting, after
having been swatted on the backside by
those? Vera put her glasses on. Plastic flamingoes?
that, Vera realized she was watching a reenactment of
a scene from Alice in Wonderland. The queens croquet
match. Though in the book, the balls were hedgehogs,
the mallets live flamingoes, and the players the Queen
of Hearts and her entourage. So where is she? Vera wondered.
Wheres the queen? The answer was quickly apparent.
A fat blond boy with a giant red heart lipsticked on
his bare chest started jumping up and down, shouting,
Off with his head! Off with his head! and
the offender, in turn, dutifully tipped back his head,
allowing another player to pour something from a plastic
cup down his throat.
that Lewis Carroll had been a math tutor at Christ Church,
Vera figured it was some kind of tribute. Well, thats
what theyd call it, anyway.
was Veras first year at Oxford, but shed
figured out straightaway that her fellow students were
particularly adept at inventing seemingly noble reasons
to drink themselves silly and cavort like jackasses.
Two hedgehogs, she noticed, were snogging in the far
corner, and another had just crashed into one of the
wickets, which teetered back and forth before collapsing
in a heap of flailing limbs.
that moment, the kinga tall skinny boy named Will
wearing a paper crownapproached her.
stomach fluttered. Shed been mad about him all
play? he asked. I need a ball. Gesturing
toward a boy in brown chasing a girl in a white swimsuit,
he added, My hedgehog is trying to shag the White
nodded to a lit window atop a stone arch on the far
side of the quad. Actually, since hes in,
I was going to go see
Rutherford. I should have guessed. Will rolled
his eyes. You know, all work and no play
I still havent come up with the right hook for
my essay, Vera explained, but this weekend,
she paused, hoping hed ask her
to do something.
Will, another girl interrupted. She was wearing
a black leotard and had whiskers painted on her face
and velvet ears on her headband. Feel like cheating
on the queen tonight?
tried not to scowl. Isabel Conrad was gorgeous, with
breasts out to tomorrow, and whoever you liked, inevitably
Isabel would steal him away, or rather, distract him
just enough that he lost interest in you. For some reason,
Isabel needed to have every last boy in Christ Church
panting after her.
Isabels question, Will turned back to Vera.
I dont like the look of it at all. However,
it may kiss my hand if it likes.
burst out laughing. The line was one of her favorites
from Alice in Wonderland. Then her smile faded. In the
book, the Cheshire Cat declined the kings invitation,
but this one grabbed his hand, yanked him to the ground,
andto his delightclimbed on top of him.
Vera continued walking toward her tutors office.
She was anxious to write an essay that would impress
him this week. Maybe even intrigue him
a little bit. He had taught her so much. Her sense of
gratitude was sometimes overwhelming. Hopefully hed
invite her in, and maybe, like last time, theyd
chat over port, sipping late into the night from his
two chipped black goblets.
the spiral staircase to the third floor, Vera heard
from the courtyard, Out o vino? Bollocks!
Leigh, Conrad, form a rear guard. To the pub! Troops,
croquet players shouts and laughter faded quickly
as she neared her tutors door. She knocked softly.
No answer. Must be on the telephone.
turned, but then her nose twitched. There was a funny
smell. Dr. Rutherford? she called out timidly.
no answer. He wouldnt ignore her like this, Vera
knew, not even if he was concentrating deeply on his
new book. He was too kind. So had he gone home? Perhaps
he never forgets to shut off his light when he leaves.
door was unlocked. Cautiously, she entered the room.
Then, turning toward his desk, Vera screamed.
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