Pros and ConsBy: Janet Evanovich
FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare sat in her cramped cubicle at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles and stared at her computer screen. She had an empty Domino’s pizza box shoved into her wastebasket and six empty Coke cans lined up on her desk. A half-empty bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos was filed under “N” in her file cabinet, and her keyboard was gummed up with chocolate crumbs from the pack of Oreos she was currently working her way through. Her brown hair was clipped back in a snarly mess, her white shirt had a small pizza sauce smudge on it, and her blue eyes were narrowed in concentration.
Cosmo Uno looked over the five-foot-high partition that separated his cubicle from Kate’s. Cosmo was two years older than Kate, and two inches shorter. This meant he was thirty-three, 5′ 4″ tall, and had to stand on a box to snoop on her.
“Hey, Katie,” Cosmo said, “What’s shaking? What’s doing? What’s brewing?”
“I’m working,” Kate said, her eyes glued to her screen, not indulging Cosmo by looking at him.
“You shouldn’t be eating all those Oreos. They’re going to make you fat. Maybe I should help you eat them.”
Kate didn’t move her head, but she cut her eyes in his direction. “You make a move on my Oreos and I’ll shoot you.”
“What are you working on? Are you still trying to find Nicolas Fox? Remember when you almost got him in St. Louis, but he disguised himself as a Hall of Fame guy and was doing color commentary in the announcer’s booth at Busch Stadium the whole time you were looking for him? That was a good one. And then there was the time you were sure he was trying to steal a giant panda from the National Zoo, but Fox escaped through the Reptile Discovery Center. Ryerson was with you on that raid, right? I hear he ran out of the snake exhibit screaming like a little girl. I wouldn’t have screamed. I like snakes. You should take me next time.”
“Okay, I get it. You’re a loner. You’re the Lone Agent. Get it? The Lone Agent.” Cosmo gave a snort of laughter. “That’s hilarious.”
Kate slumped in her seat.
“I tell everyone I hit the cubicle jackpot on account of I’m next to you,” Cosmo said. “Most of the agents on this floor are boring, but you always have something good going on with Fox. You know what I think? I think you’re obsessed with him. I bet you even think about him in the shower. I bet you think about him when you go to bed at night. I think you’re hot for him.”
Kate opened her top drawer, removed her Glock, and laid it on her desktop alongside her computer. Cosmo considered the gun for a beat, stepped off his box, and returned to his desk.
“Idiot,” Kate murmured, stuffing another Oreo into her mouth.
For weeks Kate had been surfing newspaper websites and skimming crime reports from various law enforcement agencies. She was looking for big-money thefts and swindles that were audacious, creative, cocky, and self-indulgent, all trademarks of a Nicolas Fox scheme. It was tedious, laborious, utterly unglamorous work, but she hoped if she could get to the scene of Fox’s next crime fast enough, while the tracks were still fresh, she’d have another shot at finally nailing him. She’d been chasing him for three years, and the chase had turned into a game for him, and Cosmo was right, it was an obsession for her. And okay, she thought the guy was kind of cute, and criminally brilliant, but that didn’t mean she was hot for him, did it?
Nicolas Fox, currently posing as Merrill Stubing, wedding planner to the stars, held Caroline Boyett’s hand as he led her out of her fiancé’s Chicago penthouse living room and onto the rooftop garden. The wedding was set to take place on Saturday, only five days away, and Nick was thinking about the placement of guests and principals. Placement was important because Nick’s crew would begin moving through the penthouse relieving Caroline’s fiancé, Milton Royce, of every valuable not bolted into the Carrara marble floors just as Milton’s exhibitionist bride started her slow journey to the altar. Guests would be seated in the garden, positioned in such a way that they would be facing Lake Michigan, their backs to the interior of the penthouse. Only the officiating minister would be staring into the condo, and he was part of Nick’s crew. Milton would also be facing the living room for a short amount of time, but thanks to his bride’s kinky choice of wedding gown, Nick felt certain that Milton’s eyes would be glued to her chest.
“This is so exciting,” Caroline said. “In five days I’ll be Mrs. Royce. Of course it won’t be all fun and games. There’ll be some work involved. I’ll have to change over all my credit cards.”
“So tedious,” Nick said.
“Yes, and I’ll have to be vigilant to make sure they’re nothing less than platinum.”
Caroline Boyett was going to be fifty-eight-year-old Milton’s third and most expensive wife. He acquired her the same way he did his wealth—through a hostile takeover. When Milton met Caroline, she was the young trophy wife of the CEO of a Cleveland dog food company. Royce grabbed the dog food company on the cheap and sold it off for its underlying real estate value. Milton then seduced Caroline away from her husband with the promise of her being squired off to luncheons in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Phantom and waking up every day in his ten-thousand-square-foot $12.5 million penthouse. The penthouse was atop the Windsong Building, a twenty-story Beaux-Arts masterpiece on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
The problem for Milton was now that he’d wowed Caroline with his money, he couldn’t put the brakes on her spending. Their wedding was going to cost more than Milton’s first two combined, thanks to the grandiose notions of Merrill Stubing, the wedding planner Caroline called her “godsend.” Stubing had earned the nickname three months ago when Caroline was standing in front of Neiman Marcus and he’d tackled her out of the way of a speeding Smart car. And as if that dramatic first meeting wasn’t fateful enough, it had happened at the exact moment she was beginning to plan the wedding of her dreams. Caroline was envisioning herself on Milton’s arm just as Stubing appeared out of nowhere and threw her to the sidewalk.
Truth is, the meeting between Caroline and Stubing wasn’t attributable so much to fate as to meticulous planning. Nick and his crew had executed the Smart car stunt with practiced precision. And now Nick was taking the time to ensure that the wedding would unfold with practiced precision too, because the success of his heist depended on it. If Caroline rushed down the aisle, his carefully orchestrated plan would go out the window.
Nick paused in front of the open French doors, and he and Caroline faced Milton, who was standing on the far side of the garden on an X chalked onto the weathered granite tile floor imported from a pillaged Italian villa. Caroline was wearing skinny white jeans, gold strappy five-inch heels, and a magenta see-through blouse. Nick was wearing a form-fitting sheer black silk Armani sweater, tight designer jeans, and Hermès orange suede loafers. Milton was wearing the same thing he’d worn for the past thirty years: black slacks, black dress shoes, and a white shirt. He had a few strands of hair left on his head, a soft roll of fat around his middle, and a stent in one of his coronary arteries.
“In five days this rooftop will be a safety hazard,” Nick said to Caroline and Milton. “The inferior steel girders that were used to cut costs will groan under the combined weight of your fat friends and relatives. I calculate there will be in the vicinity of twenty tons on the hoof, but do we care? No, we do not. We will be swept away by the beauty of the occasion. Lucky for you that you hired me. No other wedding planner would have the ability to take your mind off possible imminent death by the use of flowers and twinkle lights.” He turned to Caroline. “And you, my dear, will be the ultimate distraction in your one-of-a-kind, shockingly flimsy wedding gown.”
Caroline shivered in excited anticipation. “I’ll be the talk of the town.”
“Dumplink, you’ll be the talk of the entire country,” Nick said.
Caroline gave him an earnest look. “I want everything to be perfect.”
“Perfection is my middle name,” Nick told her. “If one of your guests choked on a meatball and died, if one of the millions of candles we’ll be using set your living room on fire and everything went to cinders, I’d still make sure your wedding ended in perfection.”
“I knew I could count on you,” Caroline said.
Milton wistfully looked over the edge of the rooftop at the traffic below.
“If you jump it’ll make a mess,” Nick told him. “Your head will crack open like a cantaloupe, and they’ll have to scrape your brains up with a spatula. And that would be such a shame, because you’re a very attractive man when your head is intact.”
Nick winked at Milton, and Milton grimaced.
“On the big day I’m going to escort Caroline out of the master suite to the French doors leading to the garden,” Nick said. “She’s going to stand there and let everyone ogle her. There’s going to be a lot of oohhh and ahhh. And we might need to have some paramedics on hand in case any of the really old geezers has a heart attack when he sees her.”
Caroline giggled and clapped her hands. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Nick smiled. The human race never ceased to amaze him. Particularly, he was intrigued by the way people found each other. In an odd way, Caroline and Milton were a perfect match. They were both totally self-absorbed and ruthless and, by their own standards, very successful. Milton would tolerate Caroline until something new caught his eye, and Caroline would peck away at Milton until he was carrion.
And Nick knew that Milton wasn’t the only male on the roof deck at risk of becoming roadkill. Nick was playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Kate O’Hare, taunting her with clues designed to annoy. Truth is, he was inexplicably attracted to her. She was a tantalizing mix of girl next door and junkyard dog.
“This is going to be so majestic,” Caroline said. “When do I start walking down the aisle?”
“When you hear the band playing Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love,’ that will be your cue to slowly glide down the aisle,” Nick told her. “You will be a vision in white, and you will walk very slowly so you don’t slip on the rose petals and break your back. Also if you walk too fast your breasts will bounce out of your bodice.”
The slow walk down the aisle was important to Nick because he needed four minutes and eleven seconds of distraction to steal all of Milton’s treasures, including his priceless collection of golden Chachapoyan tribal artifacts.
Caroline looked across the terrace to Milton. “Will Burt be here?”
“No, he will not,” Milton said. “Burt was unavailable.”
Not that Milton had bothered to check. The wedding was already going to be too expensive without flying in celebrities.
Caroline frowned. “It won’t be the same without him.”
Nick patted her shoulder. “I’ll make sure you have the highest quality digital sound system money can buy.”
Caroline continued to pout.
“What about Dionne Warwick?” Nick said. “Maybe Dionne is available. Wow, what a voice.”
“Yes, Dionne!” Caroline said.
“She’s not available either,” Milton said, staring daggers at Nick, who pretended not to notice.
“What about her sister Celine?” Caroline asked.
Milton looked incredulously at his fiancée, and for a moment Nick feared he might cancel the wedding on the spot.
“Dionne Warwick doesn’t have a sister Celine,” Nick told Caroline. “You’re thinking of Celine Dion.”
“Yes,” she said. “How about her?”
Milton looked like he was still contemplating jumping, and Nick saw his whole scheme slipping away.
“Not a good idea,” Nick said. “If we had Burt or Dionne or Celine here, no one would notice them. Once you step out in your gown it will be all about you. You’ll be the star of the show. Burt would get kicked to the curb. And you know how fragile some of those celebrity egos can be. We wouldn’t want to be responsible for Burt’s mental breakdown.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Caroline said. “I’d never want to do anything to harm Burt.”
“And you’re the luckiest man in Chicago,” Nick said to Milton. “All the other guys out there—well, at least the straight guys—are taking Viagra to get a good stiffy going. We’re going to have to tranq you so you don’t go animal on us and ravish Caroline on the spot when you see her in her wedding gown.”
This got another giggle out of Caroline, and Milton finally smiled. He liked the idea that he might be able to go animal without pharmaceutical assistance.
“Every man on this rooftop is going to be wishing he was in your shoes,” Nick said to Milton, “but she’s all yours. Caroline will be your greatest, most enviable treasure.”
Actually, Caroline and the four-carat diamond she had on her finger would be the only treasure left in Milton’s penthouse.
The wedding would take place on the lake-facing end of the rooftop garden. The reception would be held in the living room, which had been cleared of its usual furniture and filled with tables and chairs. For the most part, the golden idols were displayed in Milton’s study, bedroom, and dining room, areas that were on the city-facing side of the penthouse and would be off limits to the guests, allowing Nick and his crew almost unfettered access to the collection. Nick had already cataloged every item and assigned them to crew members by location.
Nick led Caroline across the garden to Milton. “When the song ends, you’ll stand here together, under an obscenely expensive arch of flowers, and you’ll speak your vows in the flattering glow of moonbeams and candlelight.”
“I could cry just thinking about it,” Caroline said.
“Me too,” Milton said, contemplating the price of the flowers and candlelight, relieved that at least the moonbeams might be free.
Nick put his hand to his heart, showing that he was also overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of it all. “And here’s the big finale, are you ready? I just love this part. When the minister declares you man and wife, the instant you kiss, the band will play a triumphant version of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ and the sky will erupt in fireworks from a barge on the lake.”
“Will it be Neil?” Caroline asked.
“No, it will not,” Milton said. “He doesn’t do weddings.”
“But he sang at the wedding in Saving Silverman,” Caroline said.
“That was a movie,” Milton said. “He doesn’t do weddings in real life.”
“He didn’t in the movie either. They kidnapped him,” Nick said.
Milton held his ground. “I am not kidnapping Neil Diamond.”
“You would if you loved me,” Caroline said.
“The band might drown Neil out, anyway,” Nick said.
“You’re right as always,” Caroline said. “I’ll settle for the band.”
The way she put it, it seemed like Milton was getting off easy only having to pay for a band. So everyone was happy, especially Nick. Between the fireworks and the music, nobody would hear the bang when he blew open Milton’s safe.