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Murder in Miami
By Noel Hynd
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Noel Hynd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShortly after 2:00 a.m., erupting in a flurry of noise and flashing lights on an otherwise quiet autumn night in Rome, six armored SUVs from the Italian National Police skidded to a stop in front of the Excelsior Hotel, a magnificent white palace on the Via Veneto. The hotel glimmered in the September moonlight and the soft glow of the streetlights. The majestic old hotel hardly looked like a target, but a target it was this early morning.
From the lead SUV, an austere, lantern-jawed plainclothes commander named Benito Cabrini, a captain in an elite unit of the carabinieri, bolted onto the sidewalk, his feet hitting the ground even before his vehicle had come to a complete stop. Cabrini quickly wrapped a bulletproof vest around his midsection, jammed a riot helmet on his head, visor up, and drew a nine-millimeter Beretta automatic from under his suit jacket. He turned and gave sharp hand signals to the two dozen men leaping out of the vehicles behind him, sprinkling his paramilitary command style with his own creative profanities.
The hotel's concierge staff, in gold-braided uniforms and dark suits, fell away quickly. They recognized one of Italy's crack anti-terror teams.
Cabrini barked into a mobile phone and shouted urgent orders at four teams of men, all brandishing either automatic weapons or battering rams. They fell into their assigned positions. "Andiamo!" Cabrini yelled, motioning the men under his command to move into the hotel.
They made their way through a gaggle of leggy English models and their escorts, who nursed champagne directly from the bottles. They gave way quickly from the entrance area. An American couple — he in a suit and tie, she in a green silk dress — recoiled sharply as the police brigade surged toward the hotel's grand entrance. A group of German lawyers and American film producers disbanded quickly and moved down the sidewalk.
Twenty heavily armored squad members poured out of a second armada of cars. Behind them, local police set a perimeter on the Via Veneto, complete with red and blue flashing lights and aggressively brandished weapons. On all sides of the hotel, exits were secured by paramilitary cops in riot gear. Tourists and frisky late-night revelers froze in their tracks, at gunpoint if necessary, keeping their hands visible, of course.
Two months of intelligence gathering — by satellite, internet, and old-fashioned shoe leather — and another three weeks of observation had led to this night.
Lights flashed; walkie-talkies crackled. A squad of ten armed men in black protective gear rushed through the front entrance, securing that passageway and pushing late-arriving guests out of the way.
The Excelsior was a monument to turn-of-the-twentieth-century style and anchored Rome's most celebrated avenue, famous for its boutiques and named after Italy's sole victory in World War I. Long a magnet for wealthy tourists, statesmen, retired generals, artists, and actors, the Excelsior was as distinctive as the Coliseum and the Pantheon down the slope of the Via Veneto.
But tonight, to Captain Cabrini, it was just another big building that needed some doors bashed in.
Cabrini led a dozen of his men past the plush sofas and small statues to the main elevator. The other two elevators had been secured on the ground floor, and a detachment of local police were already positioned in the three staircases, a grand one and two emergency ones in the back. The elevator, as plush, gilded, and comfortable as the lobby, rose to the sixth floor, where Captain Cabrini led his men into the hallway. Local police had taken up positions on the floor. The commander of the local carabinieri gave Cabrini a pair of hand signals, first to indicate the correct suite — numero 612 — and a second to indicate no one had come or gone from the floor since their arrival fifteen minutes earlier.
"Benissimo!" Cabrini snorted softly. "Let's take them!"
Cabrini arrived at door 612. He was not a man given to gentle entrances; nor, when so much diligent effort had gone into locating these suspects, was he given to giving his prey any warning.
With a gentle hand, he tried the doorknob, stepped back, drew his pistol, and signaled to two men who carried a five-foot steel battering ram.
Cabrini gave another sharp nod. "Go!" The two men smashed their ram into the door. The first hit set off a loud crack that could be heard for several floors in all directions. It lifted the door from its frame but it stayed connected to its lock. The second thrust ram followed in less than three seconds and was harder than the first, smashing the door loose and sending it flying into the dark living area of the suite.
Darkness quickly turned to brightness. Cabrini, weapon in hand, was the first in the room. He turned the lights on — a luxury suite with deep carpets, a splendid sofa, a wall television, several sitting areas, and antique oak writing desk. There was no movement.
To the side was a double doorway, leading to the bedroom.
Cabrini didn't have to tell his men. Two with Uzis rushed through the doors into the bedroom, weapons aloft, where they found two beds turned down for the evening, complete with complimentary chocolates, a rose, and a breakfast menu.
The closet doors were open. Bathrooms, window ledges, under the beds. They patted down the walls for hidden exits or places of concealment.
They found no one. Nothing.
For two full minutes, no one spoke.
Finally, "Nessuno," said Luigi Ridelletti, Cabrini's second-in-command. No one.
Grudgingly, Cabrini put away his weapon. He stalked slowly around the bedroom, examining everything, working his eyes over the details, large and small, seething. No clothes in the drawers, no toiletries in the bathroom, no papers sitting around. A few dresser drawers were ajar, and some hangers were on the floor of the closet.
"Our friends left early," Cabrini finally said. "Quickly and efficiently," he added. "But early nonetheless." He paused. "Must have had another engagement." None of his troops saw fit to interrupt him.
"Coincidence?" Ridelletti asked.
"They were probably warned," Cabrini said. "Someone was obviously here. Who else other than fugitives behaves like this? Got a tip and ran fast. Have the airports notified. Check all flights, though I doubt it will do any good."
Ridelletti reached for a cell phone and followed the command.
Cabrini sauntered back to the living room. He eyed the surroundings. Original paintings hung on the wall. The sofa was deep and new. The windows were open slightly and looked over the Via Veneto, the sleeping city, and seven hills of Rome.
Then, turning, the captain spotted something, one small thing that was out of place. Something silver and cylindrical lay on the writing table. He walked over, bent down, and examined it without touching it. A silver fountain pen, engraved with a name. He recognized the logo of Tiffany & Company.
He eyed it with sharp suspicion. He had seen little objects like this rigged to trigger explosives so powerful that they could bring down buildings. But he was also an impetuous man as well as one who understood his suspects.
They wouldn't bomb him, the couple who had been in this fine suite. They had nothing against him. His job was to apprehend them; theirs was to evade him.
Ridelletti appeared at Cabrini's side.
"Should we call the bomb squad?" Ridelletti asked.
"I don't think so," Cabrini said. "Stay where you are."
Cabrini reached into his pocket for a pair of latex gloves. He pulled them on and picked up the pen. He read the name engraved on it and raised an eyebrow. "Nice instrument," he said. He flipped off the cap. As it clicked, he turned to his associate. "Boom!" he said in a low whisper.
Ridelletti flinched. Cabrini snorted a low laugh.
He wrapped the pen in a handkerchief and dropped it in his pocket.
"Va bene. They're gone. They beat us," he said. "Should we ask about the cost of the door?" Ridelletti asked.
"Dust for fingerprints, do the photographs, and then we go," Cabrini said. "The door fell off its hinges by itself. Italy is broke. We have nothing to do with the door."
"Yes, sir," said Ridelletti.
"All this for nothing," Cabrini said with an inventive burst of obscenities. "Let's wrap up and go home."
Chapter TwoIn New York City, on West 21st Street in the Chelsea district, the third-floor resident, known to her neighbors as Susanna Ferrara, a smart, nicely attired quiet brunette in her early thirties, had an important morning ritual, which was not known to her neighbors. The last thing she did before stepping out into the hallway in front of her small apartment was to check the Glock 12 she wore on the right side beneath her suit jacket. The weapon was loaded, locked, and ready. If the Glock was ready to start the day, so was she. She had just returned from a week's vacation in California, where she had attended the wedding of two friends, Paul and Teresa. She felt refreshed and, as she phrased it, ready to return to the financial battlefields.
These were no ordinary battlefields, however.
Alex LaDuca, employee of Fin Cen, the financial frauds division of the United States Treasury Department, found the hallway gloriously quiet and empty, just the way she liked it. She bypassed the elevator and walked down two flights of stairs. The building was a pleasant one, a solid five-story prewar brick structure. It had been renovated in the 1980s into smart co-ops, two bedrooms in most cases, four units per floor, except for the penthouse, which occupied the entire fifth floor and led to a private roof garden.
Alex, living under the name of Susanna Ferrara, had moved out of her high-rise on the West Side where a series of bullets had come through the plateglass window one evening, thanks to an assassin sent by Señora Yardena Dosi. Alex had sold that co-op and purchased this one, a smaller and more modest self-contained third-floor unit. Alex had a master bedroom, a comfortable living room, kitchen and dining area, plus a smaller extra bedroom, which Alex used as a study, an entertainment room, and a library. It also had a big convertible sofa in case any old friends wished to crash.
The building was within walking distance of the quirky smart shops of Greenwich Village and Chelsea on Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and it was located on a quiet tree-lined street. No coincidence there. The large maples provided a perfect shield for her front windows, obliterating any possibility of more potshots. Just for good measure, however, special panes of bulletproof glass were placed in all her windows, and the apartment was equipped with a sophisticated security system. The blinds were permanently pulled.
No one in the seventeen-unit building knew her real name or what she actually did for a living. Her cover story was that she was in the financial industry — true, sort of — as a bond trader — false, sort of. Since many of her adversaries were in the habit of posting bond following their indictments, this part of the cover had a certain linguistic irony.
The previous few years had taken their toll, as everyone had said they would. There had been the catastrophe in Kiev, which left her fiancé dead; then the long endgame with a Ukrainian-Russian mobster named Yuri Federov — which still maintained a ripple effect to this day; followed by a dicey episode in Spain and an even dicier one in Cuba. All this was piled on top of the fact that "Mata Hari Dosi," as Alex had nicknamed Yardena Dosi at the office, was still lurking somewhere in North Africa, presumably plotting her next move and a return to business.
Alex had her people out on the Dosi watch, looking for and interpreting shreds of information. But Alex had a few tricks up her sleeve too. She had been in the business long enough to establish her own alliances in Europe and the Americas. She could pull a few strings and make life hot for the Dosi lady too. And she saw no reason not to.
This morning, as Alex left for work, she wore a navy skirt just above the knee and a blue blazer and good walking shoes. At 7:50 a.m., she stepped out onto New York's West 21st Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, and into a bright new September day in Manhattan. Alex found the hint of autumn in the air invigorating. It was her favorite season, especially now, living in Manhattan.
As was her habit, she did a quick scan of the street, the passersby, the parked cars. She quickly processed which were familiar and which were not. Even in a city with such built-in anonymity, she had to decide which tinted window, odd antenna, or suspicious license plate might pose a threat.
She saw nothing that suggested a problem.
So, this being an ordinary morning, a ten-minute walk would take her to the downtown IRT for a ten-minute subway ride, which would take her on a final ten-minute walk to her office building on West Street and eventually to her desk on the fifty-seventh floor. From there, she would oversee various ongoing assaults against the financially corrupt, dishonest, or plain old-fashioned crooked.
Sometimes it was loathsome work, often tedious, normally thankless, continually frustrating, and sometimes dangerous. It was the type of work that caused a sane normal woman to burn out within a matter of years, destroyed one's nerves, precluded romance or family life, and made cynicism a daily participatory sport. When it took her out into the field, it made blouses stick to her ribs and intensified the usual paranoia.
She wondered how long she could do this.
She had money in the bank — nearly two million dollars — from a recent, highly unlikely inheritance. So she didn't have to live this way. But she was drawn to her work and continued — for now, anyway. It wasn't that she loved it so much as she was bitten by it. There was something about the danger and the excitement, past, present, and future. There was, as Winston Churchill once said, nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed. This had happened more than once.
She emerged from the subway in lower Manhattan — a sudden rain cloud had come out of nowhere, darkening the skies and shrouding the tops of the tall buildings along Duane and Wall Streets. Alex moved quickly among the other workers seeking the lobbies of office buildings as the morning shower fell in thick drops.
Sometimes, timing was everything. Later she remembered thinking that thought quite a bit: Timing was everything. This was one of those days when the past and the future would start to mesh together.
Chapter ThreeArriving on her floor at 8:33 a.m., Alex walked through the metal detector and into Fin Cen's suite.
"Good morning," she said to Stacey, her assistant.
"Morning," Stacey answered. She handed Alex a batch of message slips, passing them over an array of framed photos of her current amazing boyfriend, who was even more amazing than the one she had just dumped. Alex could tell that there were at least a dozen slips. Normal. The world didn't stop spinning while she slept, so why would the incoming messages?
Yet she was anxious to read her email this morning. Things had been heating up in Europe. A solid trail had apparently been established for the heads of the Dosis' international money-laundering operation.
During the spring, before going to Cuba, Alex and those under her command in New York and around Central and South America had delivered a punishing blow to the international money-laundering operation headed by Yardena Dosi and her husband, Misha. Alex's operation, known at Fin Cen as Operation Párajo, had left the Dosis' Panama-based operation in disarray, but the principals had escaped, traveling a zigzag path around Central and South America as well as Europe, evading arrest at every juncture, before settling down in an estate in Morocco.
There, it was said, Señora Dosi sat on her porch, stared at the ocean, hurled epithets at the sky, swore revenge, and even worse, plotted it.
One attempt to assassinate Alex had failed. It failed by a few inches, but it failed nonetheless. The attempt had driven Alex first to a Cuban operation so she could lay low and then to the Susanna Ferrara identity in New York — just in case.
"Protective cover" was the euphemism. Prosecutions were continuing, but the scurrilous Dosis were still out there, ready to bounce off the ropes and come back into the ring swinging with everything they had. So Alex would continue to live under her nom de guerre. The Dosis were a big battle in a major war.
It was also known that Señora Dosi and her husband slipped away to Europe from time to time, making generous use of their collection of fraudulent passports.
Alex was awaiting word: had the Italians made the capture?
"You need to go to De Salvo's office," Stacey said as Alex tried to blow past her. Andrew De Salvo was Alex's boss at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
"Why?" Alex asked. "What's up?"
Stacey shrugged. "He wants to see you. Right now."
Excerpted from Murder in Miami by Noel Hynd Copyright © 2012 by Noel Hynd. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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