Read an Excerpt


by Leslie Silbert


New York City—4:08 p.m., the following day

Wrapped in a towel, Kate Morgan was standing in her bedroom eyeing the contents of her closet with a furrowed brow. She had a problem—a 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.

Ah-ha! 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.

The hot barrel of the freshly emptied pistol that had been slammed into her neck the night before had left an ugly welt—part bruise, part burn. Kate knew she was lucky. The guy had been aiming to crush her trachea. She’d 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.

Bra, 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, Guerlain’s Brun Angora—reddish brown flecked with gold. The color worked well with her dark hair, green eyes and olive skin tone.

Now, 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; you’re officially presentable. She glanced at her clock. You’re also late. Time to move.

Kate slipped into her shoes and reached for her shoulder bag. That’s when she noticed the back of her right hand. Shit. Forgot about that. Oh well, not much I can do.

As 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 view—a green wave lapping at the granite shore of the metropolis.

She 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 she’d been running in the hour before, she shrugged out of her suit jacket.

“Is that all?” a leering bicycle courier called out, cruising toward her.

“For now, but later tonight…”

Blowing a kiss at his bewildered expression, she moved forward with the flow of the crowd and dialed her boss.

“Slade,” he said.

“It’s Kate. I cleaned up and I’m on my way to the Pierre. Who am I meeting?”

“Cidro Medina. Oxford dropout turned finance wizard. Thirty-something playboy with a Midas touch. He’s one of our regular clients in Europe—uses 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 Medina’s 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. That’s where you come in. Those are hardly questions for the cops. Not that they’re even interested, what with the perp already in their hands.”

“Why didn’t he just show it to an expert at a local museum? Or auction house?”

“He 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 won’t have the investigative background to coordinate the historical effort with the police work. You’re the perfect person to put all the pieces together. He had some other business in New York, so he flew over this morning.”

“Got it. Well, I’m here. I’ll check in soon.”

The Pierre Hotel’s intimate circular tearoom brimmed with quiet conversation. Kate admired its tasteful opulence—frescoes 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.

She 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.

Kate gave her name to the host, then followed his eyes to her client’s 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.

Crossing 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 there’s a chick who’d be cool with her first hot client…even if he could put a Versace model to shame.

Turning 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 she’s attractive, and then the mouth purses slightly as they mull over her unexpectedly young age.

Rising, he extended his hand. “Cidro Medina. A pleasure to meet you.” His accent was public school English, seasoned with a sprinkle of Spanish.

“I’d like to shake your hand,” Kate said, “but…I had a little accident yesterday.”

Medina looked at her questioningly.

No 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.

“Looks to me like your accident involved somebody’s face,” he observed with surprise. “I may look like a choir boy…”

Yeah, right.

“…but I do know what happens when you throw a bare-knuckle punch.”

“Oh? Tell me more.”

He laughed. “Impressive. Appeal to my ego and draw the attention away from yourself. Well, I won’t press. But I’m still curious. I didn’t realize you white-collar PIs were in the habit of scuffling like football fans.”

“We’re not,” Kate said, which was true. The private investigation company she worked for—one of the world’s top firms—was 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 unit’s 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 company’s dual nature—those 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 she’d quickly learned, the idea that P.I.s are always getting into scrapes is a myth of popular culture.

But Kate couldn’t 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, really pushy…”

Medina grinned. “The London office faxed me your bio last night, but they didn’t tell me you’d be such good company.”

With a shrug, Kate slid into her chair.

Sitting down himself, Medina continued, “I’m impressed—two Harvard degrees. You know, I couldn’t even manage one.”

“I heard. It’s a shame. Your career does seem to be suffering.”

Flattered, he grinned again. “You were in the middle of a doctorate program in English Renaissance studies when you left university, right?”

Kate nodded.

“What exactly were you studying?”

“Curiosity…the pursuit of secrets and forbidden knowledge.”


She continued. “I found it interesting that England’s first official state-funded espionage organization was formed around the same time that Englishmen were searching in new ways for the answers to cosmic mysteries—you know, God’s secrets—exploring the furthest reaches of the globe and turning the first telescopes on the heavens. And that all the while, curiosity wasn’t exactly the virtue it is today. I—”

“What do you mean?” Medina interrupted.

“Mmm, theologians in the Middle Ages tended to condemn excessive curiosity as a vice—if 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 pursue—state secrets or God’s secrets.”

“Brilliant. Why the move to the Slade Group?” he asked. “Seems an unusual choice for a budding scholar.”

Kate looked away for a moment. It had been an unusual choice, but two years into her graduate program, she’d 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 about.

“It’s pretty simple,” she answered. “I decided I wanted to have an impact in the real world—help people get answers to important questions, get them out of trouble, recover something they’d lost. Slade’s does do a fair amount of corporate work, as you know, but it’s not my area. I mostly handle personal matters for people, crimes the police never solved, that type of thing.”

She smiled. “Now, I know I should make more idle chitchat, but what happened in your home last night—the dead body, the mysterious manuscript—I’m impatient to hear more.”

“I’m having a new property restored. In the City, near Leadenhall Market,” Medina began, referring to London’s financial district.

“New office space?”

Nodding as he clicked open his briefcase, Medina leafed through some materials. “During structural reinforcement work, the men came across a hidden compartment beneath the building’s foundation.”

He handed Kate a rectangular object encased in a thick velvet sack. “This was found sealed in an airtight metal box. Presumably that’s why it’s so remarkably well preserved.” He snapped the briefcase shut and moved it to the floor.

Easing 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 leather’s 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.

“I 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 couldn’t make sense of that writing—consulted a specialist in ancient alphabets, but apparently those symbols are nothing of the kind.”

“Could be nullities,” Kate said softly, lifting the page.


“Come closer.”

He 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.

“Closer to the book,” she admonished. “What do you smell?”

He assumed a crestfallen expression, then asked, “Do I want to smell anything? It’s hundreds of years old.”

“Have a little faith in that airtight seal you mentioned. You’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Leather and, ah, some type of old paper.”

“Right. What else?” Kate asked, gently waving the page back and forth.

“Ink, I suppose?”


“And…something else,” he murmured, inhaling again. “Lemon.”

Kate reached down and pulled a slender but powerful flashlight from her bag. Turning the manuscript sideways, she trained the light onto the page they’d been examining. Translucent letters appeared between the lines of inked symbols.

“Bloody hell,” Medina whispered. Reading the translucent letters aloud, he said, “The Anatomy of Secrets by Thomas…what does that say? Philip…Phel…”

“Phelippes,” Kate said, stunned. “The two letters at the end—that backward e, and the backward s with a closed loop at the bottom? This is an Elizabethan style of handwriting.”

Eyes wide with amazement, she lowered the page. “Do you know who Phelippes was?”

Medina shook his head.

“You might have heard of Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s legendary spymaster? He’s considered the founder of England’s first official secret service, and Phelippes was his right-hand man, his covert op director…was 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.”

“His name looks French.”

“Yeah. He was born with Philips. Changed it, probably to add some panache,” Kate said quickly.

She then pointed to the hieroglyphic-like symbols. “These characters written in ink were known in the Renaissance as nullities. They’re decoys—meaningless 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 Phelippes’s papers might look at a sheet like this and give up, perplexed. But if he held it to a candle…”

Kate 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 person’s handwriting. Focusing on the characters themselves, she saw that they were simpler than the nullities—the decoy symbols—inked 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 pig’s curling tail on top.

“I wonder if…” Kate’s 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 text.

Scanning the fifth page, she nodded. “Yeah. I’m 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, “I’ve 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.”

Looking 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 intelligence reports.”

“Odd that my tutor didn’t…”

“Espionage isn’t a common or particularly prestigious academic specialty.”

“Hmm. Even so, I still don’t 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 table…next to some diamond cufflinks. The thief didn’t touch them. Seems a bit daft.”

Unless… 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. Walsingham’s network of snoops would have put J. Edgar Hoover’s henchmen to shame. Secrets, scandals, anything suspicious—you name it, they sniffed it out. For decades. And the thing is, those files have never been found. Maybe—”

“Hold on, can you back up a second? Why so much spying back then?”

“How’s your English history?”

“Piss poor,” Medina admitted. “I am half English, but grew up in Spain…and was never really one for books.”

“Well, Elizabeth I’s 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 pope—he issued a bull commanding his flock to do whatever it took to get rid Elizabeth.”

“So a lot of people were trying to kill her.”

“Exactly. 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 McCarthy’s head spin. His people had so much dirt on people, they could threaten to bury almost anyone at anytime.”

“Sounds like a charming place to be,” Medina said dryly.

“I 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 queen’s security was at stake, suspicion was what mattered. And so the words of spies—the brokers of secrets and sins—could send you to the torture chamber like...that,” Kate finished, snapping her fingers.

“You said Walsingham’s files have been missing since his death?”

Kate nodded. “More than four centuries.”

“And you think...”

“I 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 not’ve been the most valuable thing in your home, but I’d guess the thief wasn’t concerned with its sale price.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, 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 a pro…”

Kate looked off into space for a moment. “Maybe something in here would still be threatening to someone today. Like, say, evidence that some duke’s ancestor was really a bastard, and he’d lose his family seat if that information came to light.”

“That’d be something.”

“You’re telling me. And since hardly anyone knows you even found this, it shouldn’t be too hard to—”

At 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.

Kate thanked him, then turned back to Medina. “Can you tell me more about last night’s break-in?”

“It was early evening,” he said, reaching for a cream-filled pastry swan. “Police think he came in through a rear window. I’d left a few open…at my new house in Belgravia.”

Kate knew his neighborhood well—had once spent a week there on surveillance. A stone’s 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.

“You moved in recently?” she asked, pouring herself some tea.

Chewing, Medina nodded. “Until a proper security system is installed, I’ve had a guard on the premises when I leave. He rang the police soon as he heard the noise. It didn’t matter that they took their time—after cracking my safe, the thief made himself comfortable. Poured a glass of cognac, if you can believe it.”

“How did he end up dead?”

“He was armed. When my guard opened the door and saw a pistol trained on him, he fired. Aiming to disable the fellow’s gun arm, of course, but with the angle…”

“Have the police identified him?”

“Not yet.”

“They’ve run his prints?”

“This morning. No match.” Medina turned to his briefcase and retrieved a sheaf of Polaroids. “Crime scene photos, if you…”

Kate 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 him.”

“Good idea.”

Continuing to leaf through the photographs, Kate marveled, “Your safe…wow, this guy was good. He did this in a couple of minutes?”

“If that.”

Seeing that the hardwood slats to the right of Medina’s safe were barely charred, she added, “He must’ve used a shaped charge. Not easy to get your hands on one of those.”

“One of what?”

“A 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 device—the bombs’s timer—some Swiss expert only made twelve of them. Yeah, identifying him shouldn’t be too hard.”

“How about motive? The detective didn’t seem too fussed. Got a little grumpy with me, as a matter of fact.”

“I 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 manuscript—sixteenth-century, one-of-a-kind—it 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. I’m not sure how you want to…”

“While I’m loathe to offend the scholar in you,” Medina cut in, “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind letting the bureaucrats wait a few days. I’ve got the airtight box upstairs in my room, and as it’s been preserved in there for four hundred years…”

“Sold!” 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…”


“Yeah. From what you’ve said about your interests…”

“This is the most exciting thing that’s 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?”

To Medina’s delight, Kate shrugged, palms in the air. Mentally, however, she rolled her eyes. Gorgeous was not a word she’d ever use to describe herself. In Kate’s 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 be, easily.

Getting 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 o’clock. “First thing in the morning, I guess. I’d like to find out who he showed the manuscript to—start 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.

“Yes, 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. It’s clear to me you’re very capable. But I have a concern, and it’s a grave one.”


“I can’t help but wonder if I should trust you. Let’s face it. Wily female spy-types can be dangerous. I mean, if I think about some of your more illustrious predecessors—Delilah, Mata Hari…”

Picking 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.”

Medina raised his teacup with a twinkle in his eye. “Here’s hoping your fate is not quite so grim.”

Delilah, Kate knew, had been crushed alive in a collapsing temple, but Mata Hari? Oh, that’s right. Firing squad.

Leaning back in her chair, Kate folded her arms across her chest. “And this from a man who claims his command of history is slim.”

“Oh, I know my trollops.”

“Cidro, I’m sure you do.”

Heading 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 she’d said goodbye to Medina, it seemed to have taken on a life of its own.

If her theory was correct, Thomas Phelippes—a man she felt she almost knew—had actually created a bound version of Walsingham’s 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 Medina’s 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 couldn’t 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.

Kate clutched her bag closer. She felt like a conspiracy buff who’d just stumbled across Lee Harvey Oswald’s diary. The keys to dozens of mysteries could be concealed in the ciphered pages: Did Queen Elizabeth’s 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 Elizabeth’s assassination? What about proof that Shakespeare did, in fact, write the plays attributed to him?

As a grad student, Kate had never dreamed of being the one to decipher something like Phelippes’s Anatomy of Secrets, or that such a thing would ever be discovered. And she’d 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?

A 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 woman’s rapid strides were reduced to an impatient shuffle—she was trapped behind a pair of stooped old ladies meandering along arm in arm. Kate listened to the blonde’s 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.

But Kate’s heart was still racing, and it wasn’t 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.

“See anyone I should worry about?”

He let his eyes wander for a moment, looking over her shoulder, then answered, “Mmm, middle-aged, salt and pepper hair—at least what’s left of it—hovering 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 don’t think that means much. Coupla folks just ducked into stores.”

Kate had not seen anyone herself, but sensed that someone was following her. She’d been trained to spot watchers, but if they were good, more often than not she just felt them.

Pretending to peruse the Winston display case, she listened as Blake finished, “My money’s on Salt n’ Pepper. You want to walk through?” There was a hidden exit off one of Harry Winston’s 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 employee’s 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.

“Thanks, but not today. I’d like to know what he wants.”

“You’ve got a little glow about you. Meet someone new?”

“Nah, just a client. Really easy on the eyes, but he’s so not my type—bored rich guy with that I-know-everyone-wants-me look in his eye.”

“That look gets me every time,” Blake sighed. “He plays for your team, huh?”

“I think I saw our jersey in his locker, but I’ll keep you posted.”

Continuing 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, there’s 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.

So 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.

In 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 skirt—a far cry from the conservative knee-length pinstripe she’d been wearing earlier.

After replacing her dark lipstick with a shade of frosty pink, Kate went up to a customer at the cashier’s desk and told him she’d 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 the cash.

The 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. Patrick’s Cathedral. If that girl’s anything like my wife, she’ll 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 move—the most densely crowded spot around.

With 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. He’d spent twenty-five years in New York, fifteen in the PD, ten as a gumshoe. Caught hundreds of thieves, but hadn’t ever been robbed himself. Damn.

Someone tapped his shoulder. “Excuse me, Sir,” a timid voice said. “Could you tell me where is the…the…?”

What’s that accent, Italian? He turned around. Ah, some hot tourist lost in the city—map in hand, an imploring look on her face. Oh, he could show her a thing or two. But he was working. “Sorry, Miss. Can’t help you right now.”

“Actually, I think you can.”

He 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.

“Bill Mazur,” Kate said, having glanced at his driver’s license minutes before. “Thrown off the force because you got a little too friendly with the local dealers.” Before confronting him, she’d phoned his name into her office for a few quick background details. “Who hired you?”

He turned to hail a cab, but Kate stepped forward, grabbed his arm and twisted it, and him, back around. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Mazur scowled, struggling to shake free of her grip.

“Oh, 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.”

Embarrassment flickered across his face as the blade fell to the ground. Kate was pinching a nerve in his wrist and his fingers were useless.

“Answer my question, and your friends on the force will never know you got made by a girl half your age.”

With a jerk, Mazur wrenched his arm away and stepped back angrily. “Bitch, I don’t know who the hell you are, or what you’re talking about…”

But Kate had a final trick up her sleeve—another detail her colleague had relayed moments before via cell phone. “How’s your son doing at home on Carroll Street? I could send someone to check on him if you like.”

Having no idea she would never harm a child, Mazur capitulated. “I don’t know who it was. Guy didn’t 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 cash—when I left my office, there was an unmarked envelope outside my door.”

“Did he say what he wanted, specifically?”

“Something about a book.”

“His email address?” Kate asked, handing Mazur her notepad and a pen.

He complied, then turned once more to find a taxi.

“I’ll just let you know if I have any more questions,” Kate said to the back of his head.

Then, reading what he’d written, she murmured to herself, “Guy calls himself Jade Dragon?”

Opening 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.

Kate still considered her new case to be a low-risk mystery. Sure, there had been a couple of attempted thefts, but there couldn’t be any real danger involved. Not on account of some antique gossip and double-dealing.

Two days would pass before she’d learn that her assumption was wrong.

Oxford, England—11:02 p.m.

Rucksack 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 evening’s warm breeze.

Then she gasped in alarm.

Two 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!”

“Good Lord, what is it this time?” she mumbled.

Emerging 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…what are those? Vera put her glasses on. Plastic flamingoes?

With that, Vera realized she was watching a reenactment of a scene from Alice in Wonderland. The queen’s 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. Where’s 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.

Remembering that Lewis Carroll had been a math tutor at Christ Church, Vera figured it was some kind of tribute. Well, that’s what they’d call it, anyway.

It was Vera’s first year at Oxford, but she’d 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.

At that moment, the king—a tall skinny boy named Will wearing a paper crown—approached her.

Vera’s stomach fluttered. She’d been mad about him all term.

“Wanna 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 Rabbit.”

Vera nodded to a lit window atop a stone arch on the far side of the quad. “Actually, since he’s in, I was going to go see—”

“Dr. Rutherford. I should have guessed.” Will rolled his eyes. “You know, all work and no play…”

“Well, I still haven’t come up with the right hook for my essay,” Vera explained, “but this weekend, maybe…” she paused, hoping he’d ask her to do something.

“Hi 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?”

Vera 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.

Ignoring Isabel’s question, Will turned back to Vera. “ ‘I don’t like the look of it at all. However, it may kiss my hand if it likes.’ ”

Vera 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 king’s invitation, but this one grabbed his hand, yanked him to the ground, and—to his delight—climbed on top of him.

Sighing, Vera continued walking toward her tutor’s office. She was anxious to write an essay that would impress him this week. Maybe even intrigue him…at least a little bit. He had taught her so much. Her sense of gratitude was sometimes overwhelming. Hopefully he’d invite her in, and maybe, like last time, they’d chat over port, sipping late into the night from his two chipped black goblets.

Climbing 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, forward, march!”

The croquet players’ shouts and laughter faded quickly as she neared her tutor’s door. She knocked softly. No answer. Must be on the telephone.

She turned, but then her nose twitched. There was a funny smell. “Dr. Rutherford?” she called out timidly. “Dr. Rutherford?”

Still no answer. He wouldn’t 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…but he never forgets to shut off his light when he leaves.

The door was unlocked. Cautiously, she entered the room. Then, turning toward his desk, Vera screamed.



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