Thursday, May 7, 2015

Marked Masters (Bodies of Art Mysteries Book 2) by Ritter Ames Excerpt


Barnes and Noble

From USA TODAY bestselling author Ritter Ames...

Laurel Beacham made working solo a habit and a personal success story. The world's leading art recovery expert, she is known for her nerve, instincts, and the ability to do whatever it takes to bring each masterpiece back safely. Museums applaud her while thieves admire the cunning way she operates. No matter the odds against her, she listens to her instinct when challenges mount.

Right now, those instincts are screaming a warning.

Laurel's last job landed her the head position over the London branch of the Beacham Foundation. All well and good, except bringing one case to a close only opened another even bigger one. And more importantly, the new case inextricably connects to Jack Hawkes, a man smart enough to be her equal, but one who keeps her trust meter hovering in the red zone. The pair leap headlong into a plot that gets more dangerous and illusive by the minute. As the bodies and forgeries add up and the clock counts down, will Laurel's skills help her make it out of this job alive?

Bodies of Art Mysteries:
Counterfeit Conspiracies
Marked Masters


Two black-and-whites screamed to the curb, paralleling each other and blocking off any possibility of retreat. Brakes screeched. Sirens blared. My blood pressure ratcheted up a notch. The flashing lights alone set my heart pounding so hard I could swear the beats showed through my black Lycra.
One step and I bled back into the shadows of the house's side wall.
A simple pickup on a limited time frame. That's what the job had been. My objective was a medium-sized nude, which had reclined over the headboard of a blackmailer's bed for decades. A painting and headboard currently residing inside the townhouse that was the focal point of this Orlando PD team.
"He's been extorting money from my mother since before I was born," Kat Gleeson had explained earlier in the afternoon. "The blackmailer picked up the portrait at a sale after the artist died, playing a hunch it would be worth bigger bucks later. Mother received the first demand as soon as my father started in political life. Laurel, you have to help us."
A longtime friend from my Cornell years, and daughter to Senator Gleeson, R-FL, Kat called me, frantic, to meet for lunch after hearing I was in the city. When I'd said my Miami flight was first thing in the morning, she'd turned from frantic to panicked, and I promised to be at her favorite cocktail bar in ten minutes time. I'd met her there.
Now, twelve hours later, this new dilemma forced me to contemplate an alternate route inside the house for the nude painted when Kat's mother was an ingénue and the artist undiscovered. In his later years, before his final drug overdose, the once up-and-coming artist became best known for his erotic subjects and a penchant for the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the 1970s. Now, a single moment captured in brushstrokes kept Kat's mother chronically worried and perpetually broke.
As political pundit-buzz hummed about Senator Gleeson's prospective run for the presidency, the hush-money stakes had risen sharply. The next installment had hit a price Mrs. Gleeson couldn't deliver without her husband's knowledge and cooperation.
"She's devastated," Kat had said as she'd toyed with her second mojito. I'd decided if my friend's ragged expression in any way resembled her mother's, devastated was probably putting it mildly.
In the past few years I’d gained the reputation as the best person to call when a legitimate piece of art went missing. I’d climbed the ranks of the Beacham Foundation, from internship at the New York office during college, to field work and troubleshooting the last five-plus years since graduation, rising in the eyes of the art world as my skills sharpened and the wins mounted on my record. However, people who knew me well—or like Kat, had known me in my wilder college days—were also aware of my “special” talents, and that I always stayed ready to jump into a non-work venue when a wrong needed to be righted. I dubbed these pro bono efforts my “reclamation projects.” Given my more visible status since a promotion a few weeks ago to head of the London office of Beacham Ltd., I knew such forays may have to be reduced in the future, but there was no way I could turn my back when someone like Kat appealed to me for help.
My prep time on this particular reclamation was understandably limited, but the facts that came back were solid—the owner was a Luddite who didn't know a silent alarm from a silent movie. An absolute anachronism today, but the attribute served him well as a blackmailer since the practice left little risk of his digital fingerprint getting lifted anywhere.
What had alerted the cops?
The head-to-toe unrelieved black I wore dovetailed into the shadows and afforded me a bit of invisibility. I contemplated the peripheral shrubbery but waited to see the officers' game plan. A peek at my watch, hidden by the hood of my sleeve, showed less than a half hour to either accomplish what I came to do or cut and run.
Car doors slammed and voices rose as authoritative tones ordered a blue scramble to search for whatever tipped them off to the location.
Another scan of the back wall showed the basement window I'd initially dismissed as too small for a final escape. But it could get me into the house as long as I sucked in my gut and visualized being very, very small. I also had to maneuver without being seen or heard across the white ribbon obligatory to so many Sunshine State homes; the oyster-shell path that ringed the grounds around the house walls like fluorescence in the moonglow.
They drew their guns and headed for the porch. I made my move, using long-latent childhood gymnastic muscles to clear the wide, crushed path and stick a quiet landing on the tiny strip of grass along the foundation.
I pulled the penlight I'd stashed in my bra and scoped out the basement in two-point-six seconds—or thereabouts. Any longer carried too much risk, but the quickly lighted view told me I'd be dropping about six feet onto bare cement. That was doable.
The extended beam of a Maglite flashed from around the corner as I started feet first down the rabbit hole. When my soles hit concrete, I reached up to softly set the window back into a closed position. Then I crouched into a dark ball and held my breath. Even with the locked window, I heard the cop's feet pass by, then stop. He flashed his light through the glass, across the cellar, floor to ceiling. I hugged the wall tighter and hoped he wouldn't try to look straight down.
"Nah." I heard him talking into his radio. "There's a tiny window back here, but it's locked, and I can't imagine anyone getting through it anyway. Over."
Still, it wasn't time to sigh in relief. The mark was due home from a NASA event soon. No need to look at my watch again to know the minutes were flying. I continued to hold my breath until I heard the oyster shells crunch when the cop resumed his recon.
A cursory scan for infrared, trip wires, or motion detectors came up zero. The house was as technology-free as I'd been told. No doubt I was taking a chance going in before the cops left, but if I'd stayed outside I was pretty much guaranteed to get caught. And a ride in the back of a squad car to explain why I was dressed in black in a dark yard near midnight was not on my agenda for the evening.
The open floor plan in the living space made it relatively easy to navigate without lights. Moonlight streamed through huge windows dressed in nothing but sheers. I kept to the beige and taupe walls and the larger pieces of furniture as much as possible, using the moving shadows of the cops outside to know where and when to scoot to the next spot. So far, the boys in blue only appeared to be doing reconnaissance, leaving me to hope for a rapid departure when they found the house secured. At least I hoped it was completely secure. I hadn't had time to do a whole house perimeter before they showed up.
I crept up the stairs, and the landing opened to a full-wall window that overlooked the front yard. Staying back as far as possible, I watched the blue crew huddle again at the curb.
Please, please, please leave. I don't have much time left.
Just as my limbs started to cramp from standing so still, I saw one give the "move 'em out" swing of the arm, and both teams returned to their respective cars. I didn't start breathing again until I saw the revolving lights stop and the headlights turn back down the boulevard.
The master suite was exactly where I expected, and I was probably feeling a bit too cocky as I closed the door behind me and pulled from my pocket the sharp little tool used to extract canvasses from frames. I spun around and approached the bed—and got my next shock of the night. A gorgeous baroque frame hung on the wall over the headboard…but it was empty.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...