Home > The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(8)

The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(8)
Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg

Nick called the other drivers.

“Give me smoke,” he said.

Wendy, Artie, Evaristo, and Nick flipped the switches that had been installed the night before, and thick billows of gray smoke poured out from beneath the four armored trucks.

Blinded by the smoke, Kate reflexively hit her brakes for fear of rear-ending the armored truck in front of her. She could hear cars all around her coming to screeching halts and the metallic crunch of multiple fender benders.

She lifted her foot off the brake and moved forward cautiously. There were flows to the smoke, which briefly cleared in spots and gave her fleeting, hazy glimpses of the armored trucks and the road ahead. The armored trucks were weaving, switching lanes with one another.

The shell game had begun.

An armored truck broke from behind the cloud and took the Culver Boulevard exit, but Kate ignored it. It wasn’t the armored truck marked by her bullets. Drake’s armored truck was still on the freeway. The three remaining armored trucks continued weaving and putting out smoke, but Kate continued to dog the truck driven by Drake. Even with the smoke hanging over the road, she could pick out the truck with the broken taillight.

Nick had a fix on Kate in his side mirror. He suspected he’d underestimated the junior agent. He’d know for sure in thirty seconds if she followed him off the freeway at the Washington Boulevard exit. If that happened, he had a backup plan. He always did.

He called Artie. “Are you in position?”

“Almost,” Artie said. “Are you gonna need me?”

“I think so,” Nick said. “But be gentle.”

Kate watched as two of the armored trucks abruptly peeled off the 405 freeway at the Washington Boulevard exit. One of them was Drake’s. She followed him, letting the third armored truck go because she knew it was a decoy.

When the two armored trucks hit Sepulveda, they split up. One armored truck went north toward Venice Boulevard and Drake’s went south, toward Washington Boulevard.

Kate stayed on Drake’s tail and called in her new location to dispatch, all the time listening for sirens or a chopper. She should have backup soon, but she’d take Drake or Fox or whoever down without assistance if it was necessary. She didn’t want to fail on her very first assignment.

The armored truck carrying the antiquities sped south to Washington Boulevard, made a sharp right, and continued west underneath the freeway overpass. Kate followed it, closing in, feeling confident she could catch it. Her Crown Vic was a piece of junk, but it could still outrun an armored truck.

Her attention was so focused on the armored truck that she didn’t see the other armored truck that burst out of a cross street. She caught movement in her peripheral vision seconds before she was T-boned on her passenger side. The force of the impact rolled her car over, shattered the windows, and exploded the airbags.

Nick pulled over in front of a panel van that he’d parked on the street the day before. He swung out of the armored truck and ran back to Kate’s overturned Crown Vic. He’d needed Artie to disable the car, not kill the driver. The thought that Kate might be hurt gave him a pain in his heart.

“That’s what I call perfect timing,” Artie said, climbing out of his armored truck.

“I told you to be gentle,” Nick said.

“That’s gentle in New York,” Artie said.

Nick rushed to the driver’s side of Kate’s car, and looked inside. Kate was hanging upside down, strapped in place by her seat belt. Her nose was bleeding from the impact of the airbag and she was dazed, but otherwise she appeared to be fine.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Peachy,” she said, blinking hard in an attempt to clear her vision. “You’re under arrest.”

Nick glanced back at his armored truck. His crew was just about done unloading the collection into the paneled van. “I don’t think so, Kate. Not today.”

“I just wanted you to hear your future, whoever the heck you are. I guarantee you I’ll be the one who takes you down.”

He grinned. “I’m Nick Fox, and if I ever get taken down by someone … I hope it’s you.”

Three hours later Kate was in Jessup’s office. She had a Band-Aid across her nose and an ice pack in her hand. She’d just given Jessup her full report on the robbery, and she was wishing she’d taken the painkiller the EMS guy had offered her. She had a massive headache, not from the crash, but because she’d just totally screwed up her first real assignment. Her career was in the toilet. She’d be stuck in her cubicle, doing clearance reports, for the rest of her life. She thought the best she could hope for was to eventually graduate to doing Starbucks runs for the other special agents.

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