The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25) by Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg

Garson Klepper liked going to black-tie events. Wearing a tuxedo made him feel suave and debonair. It made no difference that he looked like Homer Simpson, and made his living manufacturing fish meal for cattle. He always walked in as if he was the most important person in the ballroom, which he usually was. His sizable donation, made possible by his fish meal fortune, often made whatever charity event he was attending possible. Like the night’s soiree at the Cleveland Ritz-Carlton.

Klepper wasn’t sure what calamity he was raising money for tonight. War, famine, homelessness, illiteracy. It didn’t matter to Klepper. He wrote the checks for the tax deductions and attended the events because he could always count on leaving with a smoking-hot twenty-something gold digger on his arm.

He was walking away from the bar with a lemon drop martini in each hand, one for him and one for the lucky gold digger at his table, when a man crossed his path, cutting him off.

The man was in his early thirties, with impeccably cut, casually styled brown hair and a warm smile. He wore his custom-tailored tuxedo with a devil-may-care savoir faire that Klepper wished he could manage for himself.

“Excuse me, Mr. Klepper,” the man said. “I just have to tell you how impressed I am by your generous donation.”

“It’s a horrible tragedy when a kid steps on a land mine,” Klepper said. When he saw the confusion on the man’s face, he quickly added, “Especially if he has a cleft palate.”

“Or suffers from malnutrition,” the man said, “like the children we’re raising money for tonight.”

“Exactly. I’m just doing my small part to make the world a better place.” And if it got him laid, even better. That wouldn’t happen if he didn’t get back to the gold digger, a platinum blonde in a gold lamé halter-top evening dress that left nothing to the imagination. Klepper tried to edge past the guy, who cut him off again.

“I’m sure that’s also why you share your amazing collection of Peruvian antiquities with the public at the Cleveland Museum of Art.”

Klepper did his philanthropic work to gain prestige. The kind of prestige he couldn’t get from making food for cows that were destined to become Big Macs. But he wasn’t stupid. He knew this guy was sucking up to him for a reason.

“Let’s skip the ass-kissing, shall we?” Klepper said. “Who are you and what do you want?”

He was Nicolas Fox, international con man and thief, and what he wanted was to clean Klepper out.

Fox smiled at Klepper and gave him a small nod of approval for his bluntness. “My name is John Drake. I’m with Intertect Security. We understand you’re lending your entire collection of Peruvian artifacts to the Getty in Los Angeles. We’d like to make sure your collection gets there safely.”

“I’ve already got people for that.”

“They aren’t up to the task. The artifacts were looted from sacred tombs. The Peruvian government would love to get their treasures back. This move from Cleveland to L.A. is the perfect opportunity. You’re going to need world-class security.”

“I’m covered. The company I’m using hires ex-soldiers, ex-cops, and ex-spies who know every trick,” Klepper said. “They put the same cutting-edge alarm system in my house that’s in the Louvre. Nothing gets past these guys. I think they can handle a simple delivery.”

“You’re probably right. But if you change your mind, I gave your friend my card.”

Nick gestured to Klepper’s table, where the gold digger was sitting.

Klepper looked over at the woman and had a moment of confusion before he fully realized what he was seeing. She’d had long, straight unadorned blond hair when he left the table, and she was now wearing a crescent-shaped headdress of elaborately hammered gold. Klepper recognized the headdress. It was a one-of-a-kind treasure worth millions of dollars, and it had been looted from a royal crypt inside a pyramid in Peru. Until this very instant, Klepper thought the headdress was safely locked in a vault in his mansion, protected by an impassable alarm system, constant video surveillance, and armed guards on patrol. But this guy had managed to steal it without even wrinkling his tux. It was frightening. And damn impressive.

Klepper took a big slurp from one of his lemon drop martinis and turned to Nick.

“You’re hired.”

FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare was slumped in her chair in her cubicle on the fifteenth floor of the Wilshire Federal Building in West Los Angeles. She had thick auburn hair pulled back into a ponytail, and blue eyes that were glazed over in stupefied boredom. She wore a sensible navy Ann Taylor blazer over skinny tan slacks and a stretchy white T-shirt. The blazer nicely covered the Glock on her hip. A pile of bulging files sat on one side of her computer monitor, and a dozen Oreos were stacked like poker chips on the other.