Home > The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(3)

The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(3)
Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg

He clicked his stopwatch. The Jefferson Boulevard ramp onto the 405 freeway was a quarter mile away, which was about sixteen seconds. The timing was very important. It was the first of three consecutive on-ramps feeding into the northbound 405 from the Marina Freeway interchange.

Nick drove underneath the overpass and, as he emerged into the sunlight again, he glanced to his right where a blue Toyota Camry raced down the Jefferson on-ramp. The car was driven by an Asian woman in her thirties, wearing a straw porkpie hat and big sunglasses. She yawned at Nick and merged into the traffic behind him. He glanced at the stopwatch. Sixteen seconds. Perfect. He clicked the stopwatch again.

“Right on time,” Nick said.

“This is so boring,” the Asian woman said.

Her name was Wendy Rhee, and she was the best getaway driver in Seoul, maybe in all of Asia. Now she was ready to conquer America.

“It’s no fun driving if someone isn’t chasing you,” Wendy said. “Cars need gasoline, and I need adrenaline. I’m tempted to rear-end someone and speed away just to stay awake.”

“You have eight seconds, Artie,” Nick said as he approached the on-ramp where traffic from the westbound Marina Freeway funneled cars onto the northbound 405.

“Out of my way!” Artie Sondel yelled in his thick Bronx accent, not at Nick but at the car in front of him. “You’re driving a car, not sitting on the can.”

Artie leaned on his horn. Nick looked to his right and saw the silver Ford Explorer Artie was driving. It was stuck on the on-ramp behind two slow-moving cars.

Artie swore, veered onto the weedy embankment, and sped past the two cars with his Explorer tipped at a precarious angle. It was typical Artie. He’d spent twenty years driving a taxi in Manhattan, so he was an expert at urban guerilla driving.

Nick looked ahead. The on-ramp channeling the eastbound Marina Freeway traffic to the northbound 405 was coming up almost immediately. Evaristo Suarez’s black Lincoln Town Car was in sight, and Nick didn’t have to use the stopwatch to know Evaristo was going to hit his mark to the split second. Evaristo had learned to drive in the U.S. Army, transporting arms and supplies through Iraq on roads mined with improvised explosive devices. Precision timing and hair-trigger reflexes had kept him alive. The problem was, when he came back stateside, nothing else gave him the same thrill as driving those land-mined roads … except crime.

As Nick passed the on-ramp, the Lincoln merged into place behind him and in front of Wendy’s Camry. Artie’s SUV was two cars behind her. Nick led them off the 405 at the Wilshire Boulevard exit, turned right onto Wilshire, and then into the parking lot of the Federal Building. They parked side by side, got out of their cars, and gathered around Nick’s Mustang to talk.

Evaristo had a buzz cut and wore GI-issue desert cammies. Muscular and fit, he was a sharp contrast to the pudgy Artie, who wore an untucked aloha shirt for comfort and because he thought it hid his bulging belly. Wendy was small and dressed in a pink miniskirt, reminding Nick of a Hello Kitty doll come to life.

“Not bad for the first go-round,” Nick said, “but I want you all to keep practicing. We don’t have much time to get it right.”

“Two of us got it perfect,” Wendy said and hooked a thumb at Artie. “He’s the one who didn’t.”

“It could just as easily have been you who got stuck behind those two altacockers,” Artie said.

“Don’t nobody get a big head, because that’s what’ll get you killed,” Evaristo said. “Boom. You’re meat and applesauce.”

Wendy grimaced. “That’s gross.”

“That’s life,” Evaristo said. “People die.”

“Nobody is going to die on this job,” Nick said. “I have a strict no-bloodshed policy. We aren’t going to be carrying any loaded weapons.”

“The other guys will be,” Artie said.

“We aren’t going to give them any reason to use their guns. That’s why it’s important you keep practicing.” Nick nodded toward the Federal Building, which looked like an enormous tombstone with windows. “I’ve got to go. I have an important meeting.”

“You’re walking into the lion’s den,” Wendy said.

Nick shrugged into his suit jacket. “It’s the best way to know what all the lions are thinking. Klepper panicked the Getty, and the Getty asked for the FBI’s assistance. I need to know their plans, so I’m going to be a helpful team member.

Kate was working at erasing her shirt stain with a Tide to Go stick when her phone rang. It was Jessup, summoning her to his corner office.

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