|Publisher:||Lyrical Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)|
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A Brilliant Deception
An AB&T Novel
By Kim Foster
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Kim Foster
All rights reserved.
A famous bank robber was once asked why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is," he said.
It was for much the same reason that I stepped from a convertible Mercedes on a glittering sunny day, tossed the keys to a valet, and strolled up the plush red carpet into the Beverly Hills Hotel. The iconic green-and-white-striped awning arched overhead as I carried my Rodeo Drive shopping bags into the legendary Hollywood landmark, wearing a printed wrap dress, enormous Chanel sunglasses, and a golden blond wig.
The sunglasses weren't to hide my face from the paparazzi. They were to cover my line of sight. My gaze was not searching for a waiter from whom I might order a champagne cocktail and crab plate, but counting security staff, exits, and scanning for my mark. Yes, I was casing the Pink Palace.
I deposited my shopping bags with a helpful bellboy and swanned into the Polo Lounge.
This was where directors and A-list celebrities made deals over spinach salad, where Marlene Dietrich had been banned for wearing slacks, where Charlie Chaplin had maintained a standing reservation at Booth Number 1.
It was also where I was searching for a very specific target.
This particular disguise, in any other part of the world, would have garnered me an excessive amount of attention. But here, dressed and behaving like a diva starlet merely meant I blended into the scenery, much like the potted ferns in the lobby. I had considered disguising myself as hotel staff, but promptly dismissed the idea. Too much risk of being called upon to carry bags or fetch a drink or sweep a floor at some critical juncture of the job. This way I was free to move as I pleased, and since I was doing this job alone, complete freedom was a must.
Alone. My heart squeezed a little at that thought. Only two months ago I'd been in Paris, working closely with—and torn between—two of the most incredible men I'd ever known, and now ... well, my solo status wasn't limited to professional activities, these days. My personal life was as dried up as half the Hollywood careers in this room. I straightened my shoulders. There was no time for self-pity today. Besides, it had been my choice.
I walked up to the bartender in the Polo Lounge. "Have you seen my agent? Miles Shapiro? I'm supposed to be meeting him here," I said irritably, tapping my glossy nails on the bar top.
Miles Shapiro, I knew full well, was ensconced in a high-end rehab facility in Malibu—a fact not yet publicly known, but one that had been helpfully provided by my trusty hacker, Gladys.
"Sorry, haven't seen him today, miss," the bartender said. He watched me with that look, the one that suggested he thought he might recognize me—had he seen me in a small movie role recently? But he couldn't quite place me, so he treated me like a celebrity anyway, just in case.
Exactly what I'd counted on.
I continued scanning the Polo Lounge—looking not for Miles Shapiro, but for my mark, Gretchen Plattman.
She was a horrendous woman, by all reports. The badly behaved trophy wife of a notorious LA gangster. She'd had a brief—and spectacularly mediocre—career in a few horrible films and then turned her attention to finding the richest son of a bitch she could. The fact that her husband continued to make his fortune on the broken backs of baby-faced inner city kids forced to do his dirty work made no difference to her. Not when it meant she could shop at Christian Dior and lunch at Spago.
It had been with no small amount of pleasure that I had accepted this assignment from my Agency. It always heightened my satisfaction quotient when I knew my efforts had an element of poetic justice to them.
I wasn't just looking to rob Mrs. Plattman of whatever she happened to have in her Birkin bag, however. I had a specific target: The Briolette of Kashmir. Somewhere out there, someone was very keen to possess this stone. But certain things in this world aren't for sale, no matter how great your means.
That's where my Agency usually comes in. They commission professional thieves on their roster to obtain the unobtainable.
For a fee, of course.
Not all Agency thieves have a code, but I had mine: I did not steal pieces that were uninsured, and I did not steal from people who couldn't afford it.
Happily, both those conditions were met in this instance at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The Briolette was a spectacular diamond—worn as a pendant—that Gretchen Plattman reportedly never removed. According to all accounts, and confirmed by my surveillance, she slept, showered, and even had sex wearing it. The latter typically with younger, tanned, buff men paid for from her husband's offshore Bermuda account.
There was, however, one occasion during which Gretchen would remove the Briolette: her weekly Dead Sea mud wrap treatment at the spa in the Beverly Hills Hotel. During that treatment, which lasted ninety minutes, the diamond was locked away in a small safe behind the check-in counter at the spa, and was retrieved by Gretchen the moment her treatment was complete, to be returned to its place around her perfumed neck.
That small window, when the Briolette was to be nestled inside the safe—that would be my moment. Ninety minutes should be plenty of time, if everything went smoothly.
But first I needed to find her, because she was never on time for her appointment. She went up to the spa when she pleased—early, if she was bored (a sporadic occurrence); late, if she paused to woo a has-been producer (a frequent occurrence); or not at all, if she was drunk (a very frequent occurrence).
After failing to find her in the Polo Lounge, I went outside. The sun sparkled down like a spotlight on the Beverly Hills Hotel pool—the selfsame spot where Katharine Hepburn had once jumped in, fully clothed. Where Faye Dunaway had learned to swim freestyle for her role in Mommie Dearest. Green-and-white-striped lounge chairs fringed the water's edge, and behind those, a border of pink-walled cabanas, where stars and directors took full advantage of the single best place in Hollywood to see and be seen.
And there, tanning her leathery hide, was Gretchen. Lounging on a chaise, inside the second cabana from the bar, preening herself and ordering a waiter to fetch some ice.
Perfect. I had her.
But there was a problem: the large bodyguard standing near her. My mouth twisted with bitter annoyance. He would be armed, which meant this job was going to be a little trickier than I'd hoped.
My skin baked in the sweltering sun. I pulled a giant floppy hat from my oversized Tory Burch bag and glided over to the poolside bar. Sliding onto a stool, I focused on a new plan. A white-jacketed bartender crushed endless daiquiris and poured fizzy flutes of Dom Perignon as I watched Gretchen surreptitiously. To conceal my surveillance I pretended to gaze with admiration at the strapping young actor taking to the diving board. I felt my shoulders relax; there were perks to this assignment.
My gaze slid back to Gretchen and I spotted the Briolette. It was a truly huge diamond—a ridiculous thing to wear in the middle of the day.
Avert your eyes, Cat, I told myself. It would not be good to be seen paying too much attention to the stone.
The young woman seated next to me at the bar rudely snapped her fingers at the bartender. I glanced sideways at her. She was knocking back her margarita at an impressive rate. Her laughter pealed out and threatened to shatter the barware. She boasted to the bartender of her recent movie offer, and all the opportunities that were imminently, and assuredly, coming her way. My skin bristled with annoyance.
"But I wonder if I should change my hair. You know, something more dramatic, perhaps? People are always telling me I could pull it off ..."
I imagined people's eyes were turning in our direction, and not in a positive way. I was in the perfect surveillance position at this point, but as for remaining subtle and under the radar, this loud starlet was impairing my ability to do so. I scoped out a different spot as she continued speaking to the bartender—who was also clearly wishing he, too, could be somewhere else.
"People like us, you know, we feel things so much more deeply than regular people. That's what draws us to this profession, you know."
I rolled my eyes, hidden behind my sunglasses. Then a couple dressed like tourists, wearing walking shorts and Eddie Bauer buttoned shirts and sandals, walked out to the pool. They looked starstruck, and also completely uncomfortable. The starlet glanced their way, and then snorted. "Oh my," she said loudly, pausing to sip her margarita. "Somebody took a wrong turn."
There were plenty of perfectly pleasant people here—why was I a magnet for all the ridiculous types?
At that moment Gretchen rose from her chaise, flapping her hand for her bodyguard to carry her things. She was on the move. But not quickly—she stumbled a little, tripping on her kitten-heeled deck sandals. I waited two beats, then slipped off the barstool and away from the pool. I made my way up to the promenade level, striding purposefully like I had somewhere to be.
I knew I would get there faster than she would. She was not walking steadily, and would be stopping multiple times to fawn over someone or other.
The spa reception area was an oasis of calm, with its bubbling fountain, soothing Spanish guitar music, and clouds of lavender essence. I strolled to the desk and asked the girl in a white lab coat to see a list of services. I kept my sunglasses on, as so many self-aware young starlets did. Just as I sat down in a plush chair in the waiting room to peruse the menu, Gretchen walked in.
Right on cue.
Unfortunately she arrived with her bodyguard in tow. He leaned down to pick up a magazine and I saw his firearm. A 9mm Glock.
I frowned and watched Gretchen remove her Briolette. The desk girl took it to the back room to presumably put it in the safe.
I was not going to get a better opportunity; I would have to take it. As an aesthetician led Gretchen to her treatment room, I slipped out of the reception area, back into the corridor. Around the corner, I ducked inside a linen closet where I had stashed a disguise—a spa uniform. I covered my wrap dress with a starched white lab coat, swapping my espadrilles for flats. I whipped off my blond wig and replaced it with a funkier look—a bright pink wig in a swingy bob.
I checked my reflection in my compact mirror. I looked completely different.
Back in the spa, I was annoyed to see the bodyguard still there—sitting on the sofa with a magazine on his lap. He was clearly not going anywhere. Even more unfortunate was the sight of a hotel security guard, chatting with the bodyguard.
Damn, what was he doing here?
This was a poor development, but the fact was I was there now, inside the spa, and dressed like I worked there. All three were looking at me. I had to continue.
I walked up to the front desk and talked to the girl there. "Hi, Olivia," I said, reading the name on her name tag. "I'm Macy. I started last week. Supervisor wants me to finish this shift—guess you're off the hook early."
The girl's eyes opened wide. "Really?" And then she hesitated. "Actually, I think I'll stay for the next half hour—I want to be here when Reese Witherspoon comes out—she always gives the best tips," she whispered.
"Ah. Okay," I said, brain churning to determine how I was going to get her out of there. I just needed a little alone time with the safe in the back room.
At that second, the security guard strolled up to the desk. Handsome, young, and eyes only for Olivia. My gaze slid back to Olivia, who looked like she could power a small condo she was burning so bright.
Okay, this could work to my advantage.
I would have preferred to be completely alone, but with them distracting each other at the front desk, that could leave me with the safe in the back room. I hoped the fully armed bodyguard remained engrossed in his magazine.
I cleared my throat. "So I'm just going to do some straightening up in the back room, okay? You've got the front desk, right, Olivia?" I asked.
She nodded absently and continued her conversation with the cute security guard. I went into the quiet back room, located the safe, and immediately got to business.
The safe was not particularly sophisticated, and it was the work of a few minutes to get into it. The door swung open. I spotted the Briolette, slid my hand toward it, and ...
"What are you doing?" Olivia asked.
I froze and turned around. "Oh, I was putting something in here that belonged to a client ..."
I looked at her, wondering if she'd buy it. I held my breath and watched the suspicion and doubt cloud over her eyes as she processed the scene.
Nope, she wasn't buying it.
Plan B. Without hesitation, I grabbed Olivia's arm, pulled her into the room, and executed a Krav Maga maneuver to knock her out cold with one go. I left her in the room lying on the floor, slipped out, and locked the door behind me. I slowed down and walked casually back to the front reception area.
Unfortunately, I walked straight into the questioning gaze of the security guard Olivia had been flirting with. He looked behind me, wondering where she was. I smiled. "She had to use the restroom for a sec. She'll be right back." He said nothing, watching me closely.
"Actually, I have to go get some more towels from downstairs—you don't mind watching the front desk for a minute, do you?" I said.
I flashed him my warmest smile and glided out the door. "Thanks a mil. Back in a jiffy."
The armed bodyguard hadn't moved, continuing to flip through his magazine. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the security guard's head turn back to the room behind the desk, where Olivia was unconscious. It would only be a matter of time before he went to check it out. I had to be fast.
I raced to the linen closet, pulling out my cell phone as I went. Inside the closet, I put the phone on speaker while quickly changing back to my previous disguise, keeping the Briolette tucked in my bra.
"Yes, hello, I need vehicle 356A right away," I said when the valet answered the phone, reading the number off my ticket.
I poked my head out of the closet and, seeing a clear path, flew down the corridor. Before turning the corner I glanced over my shoulder and saw both men come flying out of the spa, the security guard talking urgently into his walkie-talkie.
Damn. They hadn't spotted me yet, but they'd either discovered Olivia, or the breached safe, or both.
There would be more armed guards in the lobby, guards with walkie-talkies who would now be alert to the crime in progress. So the lobby was out; I needed an alternate escape route.
Attempting to reach the nearby stairwell would mean revealing myself to the guards. But I knew there was another stairwell, down the far end of this corridor. I set off for it at a sprint, and made it without being seen. The instant I lunged into the stairwell I heard thundering bootsteps coming up.
Nope, not that way.
I spun and reentered the corridor. There was nowhere to go.
Just then, the elevator bonged, halfway down the corridor. I raced for it, dashing inside before the doors slid closed. "Whew! Just in time," I said. I eyed the one other passenger inside—who had not made any effort to hold the door open for me, I noted. It was the bitchy starlet from the poolside bar, texting furiously on her cell phone.
As the elevator went down, I caught my reflection in the mirrored interior and realized something unfortunate: I still wore the pink wig.
I squeezed my eyes shut. I had no way to hide a wig—no bag or purse or anything, as I'd abandoned everything in the linen closet. I searched the elevator for somewhere I could stash the wig, and in doing so took another look at my elevator companion.
She smelled even more strongly of margaritas now. She flicked a glance at me without any sign of recognition in her face; I was not important to her in the least. Which gave me a glimmer of an idea.
I cleared my throat and said, "You know—your coloring is perfect for pink hair. Have you ever considered it?"
She shrugged, looking unimpressed and pouty. The elevator descended another floor and I kept talking. "My stylist sent me this wig and it looks terrible on me, washes me right out—but it would be perfect on you. You've got the right cheekbones and full lips to pull it off. Do you want to try?"
Excerpted from A Brilliant Deception by Kim Foster. Copyright © 2015 Kim Foster. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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