Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar—and against the clock—to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad.
A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.
A Fox and O’Hare Novel
by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
It was 10 a.m. on a warm Sunday morning when the bomb exploded at the First Sunland Bank in downtown Los Angeles, setting off alarms in every parked car and building within a square mile.
The bank occupied the ground floor of an office tower on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard, midblock between Flower Street to the east and Figueroa to the west, in the heart of the financial district.
LAPD headquarters was just a few blocks away, so the dust, shards of glass, and chunks of mortar had barely settled on the ground when the bomb squad, a SWAT team, and scores of uniformed officers swarmed onto the scene.
FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare got the call ten minutes later from agent Seth Ryerson. Kate was pulling away from the drive-through window of a McDonald’s in West Los Angeles.
“A bomb just exploded at a bank downtown,” Ryerson said. “We’re up at bat.”
“Was anyone hurt?” Kate asked, setting her Coke between her legs and the bag with her two hot Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuits on the seat beside her.
“Nope. The bank was closed, and the financial district is a ghost town on Sundays.”
“I’ll meet you out front in two minutes.”
Kate sped east on Wilshire Boulevard. The Federal Building was in Westwood, only a few blocks away, just past the San Diego Freeway overpass.
Ryerson was waiting for her on the sidewalk when she got there. He wore a blue dress shirt and red-striped tie under a blue FBI windbreaker. He was in his early thirties, tall and pale with a rapidly receding hairline. She’d noticed that the faster he lost his hair, the more he lifted weights. Soon he’d be a bald man with grossly inflated biceps.
Kate was about the same age as Ryerson but a lot less concerned with her hair, partly because she had a lot of it, and partly because she could care less. At the moment, her shoulder-length chestnut brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her slim, athletic body was appropriately clothed in a dress-for-success dove gray pantsuit, the jacket left unbuttoned to allow her easy access to her Glock 9mm. Kate was ex–Special Forces, she believed in law and order, God, and her country, and she suspected that through no fault of her own she’d lost control of her career and her life.
Ryerson opened the passenger door, picked up the McDonald’s bag, and wiped the seat to check for grease before he sat down.
Kate made an illegal U-turn across Wilshire Boulevard and minutes later made a sharp turn onto the southbound San Diego Freeway. She steered onto the transition to the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway and could see that traffic was backed up behind an overloaded, rusted-out truck that had spilled wooden crates across three lanes.
“There’s no rush,” Ryerson said, nervously tightening his shoulder harness, sensing that there was a maniac behind the wheel. “We’re just along for the ride. The police will already have everything locked down.”
“Blowing up a bank is a federal offense.”
“True, but we’re a formality. We’re only answering this because we’re on call this weekend. Someone else will pick this up tomorrow morning, and you’ll be back chasing Nick Fox.”
Kate mentally rolled her big blue eyes. If only Ryerson knew! She’d be chasing Nick a lot sooner than tomorrow morning. This whole bank event was a fake. A sham. A gigantic waste of taxpayer money, and God knows how many police officers’ time. And she was involved! The very thought made her cringe. All her life she’d tried to do the right thing and uphold the law. And now it was a confusing mess. And it was all Nick Fox’s fault.
“I hate him,” Kate said.
“Nick Fox. I wish I’d never laid eyes on him. I wish I’d never heard of him.”
Now it was Ryerson’s chance to roll his eyes. “He’s your obsession. You’ve chased him for five years. You even caught him once. You’re practically married to him.”
She veered onto the shoulder, speeding along the narrow strip between the concrete divider to her left and the stalled traffic on her right. A large wooden crate was on the shoulder directly in front of them. She tightened her grip on the wheel and sped up. Ryerson put one hand on the dash and turned his head away, as if that would make any difference if the windshield shattered.
Kate yanked the wheel just before impact, clipping the box and sending it skidding into the divider. She cleared the pickup truck and the crates and swerved into the fast lane, cutting off a bus on Ryerson’s side by mere inches. He let out an involuntary yelp of fear, which she found sort of satisfying.
Ordinarily, a trip from Westwood to downtown Los Angeles took an hour. But Kate drove with the pedal to the floor, weaving
wildly through traffic. She got there in twenty minutes and even managed to eat one of her Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuits on the way.
The windows of the bank were blown out and there was rubble on the street. There wasn’t any fire or smoke, only swirls of dust kicked up by the wind. SWAT officers were positioned around the building, waiting for something to happen.
Kate parked beside the cluster of police vehicles that formed the LAPD command center. She got out of her car and approached a barrel-chested, square-jawed officer who looked to be in his fifties. He was leaning over a map he’d spread out on the hood of the black-and-white. He wore a Kevlar vest over a starched white shirt and a red-white-and-blue-striped tie. The patch on his vest read: Captain Maibaum.
“I’m FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare and this is Special Agent Seth Ryerson,” Kate said to Maibaum. “What have we got here?”
“I don’t know yet. The bomb squad sent a robot inside with a camera. There’s debris everywhere, but the front counter is reasonably intact and the vault is secure. If it was money they were after, they screwed up.”
“How smart could they be if they hit a bank that’s three blocks from police headquarters?” Ryerson asked.
Maibaum shrugged. “Could be a disgruntled employee, or maybe a frustrated customer lobbed a grenade in there to make a statement. Maybe some sicko is waiting for me to send men into a booby-trapped building so he can blow them up.”
Kate nodded. She knew it was none of the above, but she wasn’t sharing that information just yet.
“I’m not letting anybody near the building until the bomb squad gives me the all-clear,” Maibaum said.
“Okay, we’ll get out of your way until then,” Kate said, turning and walking into the middle of the street.
She looked to her left and then to her right. There were cop cars blocking both ends of the street. In between were several office buildings with banks, restaurants, and other storefront businesses, all closed for the day.
“Captain Maibaum,” Kate called over her shoulder. “Did the blast set off alarms in any of the other buildings in the area?”
“Yeah,” he yelled back. “There were alarms going off all up and down the street.”
“Did anyone respond to those alarms?”
“I saw a couple private security guards checking things out, but we weren’t asked for aid.”
Kate turned back to Ryerson. “How many banks do you figure there are on this block and the next one over?”
Ryerson’s eyes widened as the meaning of what she was saying dawned on him. “Too many.”
There was a narrow alley in front of her that ran down to Seventh Street alongside a branch of Westgate Bank. There was a black-and-white parked in front of the bank. The black-and-white looked empty. A uniformed police officer ambled out of the bank carrying a bulging gym bag.
Kate started toward him. “Excuse me, Officer,” Kate yelled, holding her badge up in front of her. “FBI. Could we have a word with you?”
The officer ignored her, opened the driver’s side door of his black-and-white, and casually tossed his bag inside.
Kate drew her Glock. “Don’t move!”
Ryerson grabbed her wrist and tipped his head up at the choppers in the sky. “Have you lost your mind? We’re on live TV. You can’t pull a gun on a cop.”
The officer got into the car and, with one foot still on the street, looked back at Kate. He lowered his Ray-Bans and smiled at her like she was Little Red Riding Hood standing at the foot of her grandma’s bed and he was the Big Bad Wolf.
Kate grimaced. “That’s not a cop. That’s Nick Fox.”
Nick blew Kate a kiss and sped off in the black-and-white.
Good lord, Kate thought, he’s such a grandstander . . . and a flirt. She was caught between wanting to wring his neck and wanting to nibble on it. She spun around and ran flat out for her car with Ryerson close on her heels. He was barely in his seat when she floored the gas pedal and took off, making a hard right turn into the alley. She cut the corner so close, she sheared off her passenger side mirror on the edge of a building.
“Are you sure it’s him?” Ryerson asked as he buckled up.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m sure it’s him.”
Especially since she’d spoken to him two days ago when he’d come up with this scheme. And now she could add aiding and abetting a bank robber to her laundry list of hideous crimes! She’d go to church and ask God’s forgiveness, but that ship had sailed long ago.
“You only caught a glimpse of him,” Ryerson said.
“I’d recognize him in the dark, a mile away, underwater.”
How could she not recognize him? Six feet tall with soft brown hair and a boyish grin that brought out the laugh lines around his eyes. He had the agile body of a tennis pro. Lean and firm. The kind of body she’d like to curl up next to if only he wasn’t such a jerk. The man was a felon, for crying out loud. He was a con man. And he loved it!
She sped down the alley, made a tire-screeching left onto Seventh, and, when she didn’t see Nick’s black-and-white anywhere on the long stretch of road ahead, made a fast right onto Flower, a one-way street heading south. And there he was, a block ahead of them, siren and lights on, the few cars that were on Flower quickly moving out of his way.
Ryerson leaned forward and looked up at the sky. “The LAPD chopper is on top of him and so is every TV station in town. There’s no place for him to hide. You can ease up.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think so.”
Nick made a right onto Eighth Street and then a left onto Figueroa, a one-way northbound street. He sped south, weaving through four lanes of oncoming traffic. Kate stayed on his tail.
Ryerson swore and placed his hands on the dashboard to brace
himself as Kate narrowly avoided one head-on collision after another.
The Los Angeles Convention Center loomed ahead of them. A banner across the intersection depicted the starship Enterprise and welcomed attendees to WorldStarCon 43, the Ultimate Trekker Experience.
Nick turned right, crashed through the wooden gate arm at the entrance to the parking lot, and skidded to a stop in front of the Convention Center. He bolted out of his police car and
into the building.
Kate stopped behind Nick’s black-and-white. She and Ryerson jumped out of their car and ran inside after him but came to an abrupt stop as soon as they stepped through the doors. They faced 720,000 square feet of exhibition space packed with thousands of Starfleet officers, Klingon warriors, Romulan centurions, Andorian ambassadors, and Ferengi traders.
“How can we possibly secure this building before he slips out?” Ryerson asked.
“We can’t,” Kate said.
It was a hard truth Ryerson didn’t want to swallow. Kate marched into the crowd to look for Nick while Ryerson stayed where he was. A Vulcan Starfleet science officer in a blue velour shirt walked toward Ryerson. The pointy-eared alien raised his right hand in the traditional Vulcan greeting as he passed.
“Live long and prosper,” the Vulcan said.
Ryerson rolled his eyes as Nick Fox, the tenth man on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, walked casually out the door.
Kate left Ryerson at the Convention Center to coordinate the search for Nick with the LAPD. She confiscated Nick’s gym bag from the black-and-white as evidence and took it back to the Federal Building for processing, completing the necessary paperwork in ten minutes. Twenty minutes later she was on her way up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu when her father
“That was a hell of a chase,” Jake O’Hare said. “I wish you could have put it off until the U.S. Open was over, though. The stations cut in with their live coverage just as Tiger was trying to swing his way out of a sand trap.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“I recognized your car. But you could have been driving a tank and I would’ve known it was you. You drive like a maniac. You corner too hard.”
When Kate was sixteen, she and her younger sister, Megan, lived with their dad on an army base in Germany. Every weekend, Jake would take Kate to a defensive driving course to teach her how to drive in all kinds of conditions. After she’d learned how to maneuver on an oil-slicked road, he’d shot out her tires so she could master that, too. By comparison, her driver’s license test was a snooze.
“Who were you chasing?” Jake asked.
That had Jake smiling. “I thought it was him. Did you catch him?”
“I’m closing in,” Kate said. “I’ll call you later.”
She drove into the cobblestone motor court of a sprawling estate off Kanan Dume Road and parked her nondescript, slightly dented car that was missing a mirror beside a pristine black Aston Martin Vanquish. A for sale sign was staked into the manicured lawn.
She knew there’d been a time when a real estate investor could dump fifteen million dollars into building a spec home in the hills above Malibu, dress it up with an infinity pool, a screening room, a bowling alley, and a kitchen Gordon Ramsay would love, and count on selling it at a five-million-dollar profit. Those days were over years ago and they weren’t coming back. That’s why this place sat vacant while three banks fought over ownership.
Kate walked into the house without knocking, strode across the vast entry hall and into the gourmet kitchen. Nick Fox stood at the cooktop in the center island, sautéing some fish in a pan. He wore a polo shirt and faded jeans, and had a chef’s apron tied around his waist.
“That was fun,” Nick said. “There’s nothing like ending the week with a restful Sunday drive.”
“Did you have to go the wrong direction on a one-way street?”
“I was worried you weren’t feeling challenged.”
“That was very considerate of you.” She took a seat on a stool at the counter. To her left, a farmhouse table nestled beside a large picture window with a commanding view of Santa Monica Bay. The table was set for three. A bottle of wine in a cooler and a pitcher of iced tea had been placed on the table.
“What’s for lunch?” Kate asked.
“I was pressed for time, so all I was able to whip up was deviled eggs with a dollop of Tsar Nicoulai caviar on top, a selection of fruit and artisanal cheeses, and sautéed Dover sole with lemon and capers.”
Kate’s idea of preparing a quick meal was eating Cap’n Crunch out of the box, so this was Christmas dinner by comparison.
The house alarm pinged when the front door was opened and closed. A moment later, Kate’s boss, Carl Jessup, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, ambled into the kitchen. He was carrying a folder under his arm.
Jessup was in his fifties, a native Kentuckian with the tanned, deeply lined face and sinewy body of a man who worked outdoors with his hands. It was a country look that had served him well during the many years he’d spent undercover before he got kicked up to a desk.
“Nice place,” Jessup said, taking in the décor. “How did you get furniture in here and the utilities turned on?”
“I’m the broker,” Nick replied with a smooth, absolutely perfect British accent. “John Steed, Sotheby’s International Realty, London office, at your service. I have some very motivated clients overseas who are eager to purchase vacation homes in Malibu. So I obviously needed to turn the lights on and dress the house.”
Jessup eyed Nick suspiciously. “You haven’t sold it, have you?”
“Not ever,” Jessup said.
“You’re no fun,” Nick said, dropping the accent.
“I just let you rob a bank and go on a high-speed chase through downtown Los Angeles in a police car, which reminds me—” Jessup held his hand out to Nick, palm up. “Have you got something for me?”
Nick reached into his pocket and dropped a thumb drive into Jessup’s hand. “Here are all the dirty photos and videos that Fred Bose was using to blackmail regulators to get his company’s flawed but wildly profitable medications approved. I don’t think Fred will be declaring this thumb drive among the items missing from his safety deposit box.”
Jessup put the drive into his coat pocket. “What happened to everything else you stole from the bank vault?”
Nick placed the servings of sole onto plates and spooned on lemon caper sauce. “I left them in the squad car. Even the uncut conflict diamonds.”
“What was Bose doing with those?” Jessup asked.
“Not him,” Nick said. “You might want to check out whoever kept safety deposit box number 7210. They have been very naughty.”
“Those diamonds are untraceable,” Kate said. “I’m surprised you didn’t keep them.”
Nick smiled at her. “I’m on the side of the angels now.”
“And thanks to your effort in downtown L.A. today, nobody will ever suspect it,” Jessup said. “Or question that Kate is
absolutely committed to catching you. It was a win-win all around. I just wish you hadn’t caused so much property and vehicle
“We had to make it exciting for the viewers at home,” Nick said. “Or they might have switched to Judge Judy instead.”
“TV ratings weren’t one of my concerns,” Jessup said.
His biggest concern was that Nick would get caught, and it would be revealed that the FBI had sprung him from jail and was using him to help nail major crooks, even as he’d become one of the Bureau’s Ten Most Wanted criminals. Kate’s job was to be Nick’s handler and protector while, at the same time, leading the FBI’s manhunt for him. Only Jessup and Deputy Director Fletcher Bolton, who picked their targets and ran the secret slush fund that financed Nick’s swindles, knew the truth. And if any of it ever became public, they’d all end up in prison.
They took their plates of Dover sole and went to the table. Nick brought the fruit, cheese, and deviled eggs, and Kate took the white wine from the stoneware cooler.
Jessup helped himself to iced tea, selected an egg with caviar, and slid a file across the table to Kate. “This is for you. It’s the details on your next assignment.”
Kate poured a glass of wine for herself and one for Nick. “Who are we going after this time?”
“No one,” Jessup said. He glanced at Nick. “We want you to break into the Smithsonian.”
“Always a pleasure,” Nick said.
Kate raised an eyebrow at Nick. “You’ve done it before?”
Nick shrugged. “Nobody goes to D.C. without visiting the Smithsonian.”
“Most people go when it’s open.”
“I don’t like crowds.”
Jessup took a sip of his iced tea. “In 1860, British and French forces sacked the Old Summer Palace outside of Beijing and pillaged the twelve bronze animal heads from a century-old Zodiac fountain in the Imperial Gardens. Each of those Qing Dynasty heads is worth about twenty million dollars. The Chinese are determined to retrieve all of them.”
“We have the rooster in this country,” Nick said. “It’s been on display in the Smithsonian for over a hundred years.”
“I’m surprised you know about it,” Jessup said.
“Of course he does,” Kate said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind piece worth twenty million dollars. I’m more surprised it’s still in the Smithsonian and not a doorstop in Nick’s house.”
“During the financial meltdown, China became our government’s biggest lender,” Jessup said. “So now they are demanding the immediate return of the bronze rooster as a sign of good faith.”
“Give it to them,” Kate said.
“There’s a complication,” Jessup said. “Actually, that’s not accurate. It’s more like a ticking bomb.”
“The Smithsonian won’t give it up,” Nick said. “And now you want us to steal it from them and give it to the Chinese.”
Jessup shook his head. “The Smithsonian has already agreed to return it, at the president’s personal request. The problem is that neither the president nor the current director of the Smithsonian knows that the bronze rooster on display is actually a fake. The real one was stolen from the Smithsonian ten years ago, something the museum and the FBI never disclosed and have diligently covered up ever since.”
“Why would the Bureau and the museum do that?” Kate asked.
“Pride,” Nick said. “They can’t admit that the nation’s most prestigious and secure museum, standing in the shadow of the White House and the U.S. Capitol, was broken into and that the FBI, the nation’s top law enforcement agency, doesn’t have a single lead in the case. Can you imagine how humiliating that would be?” Nick smiled and shook his head. “It’s one of the most successful
art thefts in criminal history. The bragging rights alone make it the score of a lifetime.”
Jessup and Kate stared at Nick.
“Is the rooster a doorstop in your house?” Kate asked.
“I don’t have any doorstops. I’m not a doorstop kind of guy,” he said.
Kate and Jessup stared at him.
“C’mon, really? You think I stole the rooster?”
“You said that you’ve broken into the Smithsonian before,” Jessup said. “In fact, you implied that you’d done it many times.”
“I was thinking about stealing the T. rex,” Nick said.
“How could you possibly steal a T. rex?” Kate asked.
“I have no idea,” he said. “That’s what makes the idea of actually doing it so intriguing to me. I still haven’t figured it out. But I didn’t steal the rooster. Somebody beat me to it.”
Jessup sighed and dabbed at his lips with his napkin. “That’s a shame, because that’s going to make things a lot harder. We need you to find the real rooster and switch it with the fake one before we have to give it to the Chinese.”
“How much time do we have?” Kate asked.
“Two weeks. That’s when billionaire businessman Stanley Fu is coming to D.C. in his own Airbus 380 to personally transport the artifact to Shanghai. Once his plane lands, the Chinese government’s antiquities expert will inspect the rooster and discover it’s a fraud, which will spark a major diplomatic crisis, infuriate the Chinese, and humiliate the United States.”
“You need to buy us more time,” Kate told Jessup.
Nick stabbed a small wedge of New Zealand cheddar and dropped it onto his plate next to a slice of melon. “Two weeks is plenty.”
“The FBI has been trying to find the rooster for a decade,” Kate said. “What makes you think we can do it in two weeks?”
“Because I know who stole it.”
ON SALE FEBRUARY 25
The Chase Copyright © 2014 by The Gus Group, LLC.
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