The final cut, p.1
The Final Cut, p.1Part #1 of A Brit in the FBI series by Catherine Coulter
ALSO BY CATHERINE COULTER
THE FBI THRILLERS
Split Second (2011)
Twice Dead: Riptide and Hemlock Bay (2011)
Double Jeopardy: The Target and The Edge (2008)
Double Take (2007)
The Beginning: The Cove and The Maze (2005)
Point Blank (2005)
Eleventh Hour (2002)
Hemlock Bay (2001)
The Edge (1999)
The Target (1998)
The Maze (1997)
The Cove (1996)
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Copyright © Catherine Coulter 2013
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Final Cut / Catherine Coulter ; and J. T. Ellison.
1. Great Britain. Metropolitan Police Office. Criminal Investigation Department—Fiction.
2. United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation—Fiction. 3. British—New York (State)—
New York—Fiction 4. Mystery fiction. I. Ellison, J. T. II. Title.
PS3553.O843F46 2013 2013024511
BOOK DESIGN BY NICOLE LAROCHE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Also By Catherine Coulter
History of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond
To J. T. Ellison for accompanying me on this wonderful new journey. You’re one of the very best decisions I ever made. I’m sure Nicholas Drummond will take us on another super adventure.
To Karen Evans, my right hand and left hand and half my brain, whose oar is always rowing the boat smartly forward.
Thank you both for your great dedication to this special project and your enthusiasm and constant good humor.
To Angela Bell, FBI, thank you for your continued assistance. You’re such a treasure. Imagine, Nicholas Drummond is indeed the very first Brit in the FBI (verified by the FBI).
15 Place Vendôme
The Bar Vendôme
Two years ago
Saleem drummed his long fingers on the table, giving only a cursory glance out the window to the clear Parisian night, and wondered yet again—Where is he? Ten minutes late. No one kept him waiting, no one. The Fox had set this meeting at the Ritz. The least he could do was be on time.
He caught his reflection in the glass and was pleased with what he saw. His dinner jacket fit like a dream, and he looked important, a man to be respected and feared, the way his father had always taught him.
Yet the Fox, this common thief, was keeping him waiting.
He sensed heads turning, and looked up. An incredible woman was strolling across the bar in a skintight black dress and tall, sharp stilettos, her sleek black hair pulled back in a twist, showing the fine bones of her face. She was lithe and moved like a dancer. She looked expensive and mysterious, and maybe there was a hint of danger in that arrogant tilt of her head? Like every other breathing man in the bar, he felt a kick of lust. He enjoyed the show for a moment, then dismissed her. He had bigger fish to fry tonight.
He looked at his watch again. Annoyed, he shot his cuffs and sat back, staring out into the star-studded Parisian sky. Five more minutes, then he would leave. They could set another meeting, on his terms this time, and the Fox would be clear as to who was in control.
He glanced back at the woman and saw she was staring at him as she walked slowly t
She stopped at his table and said, “You are Saleem. I am here to do business with you.”
A waiter hovered behind her, a bottle of Dom Pérignon in his hands. She nodded. He pulled out her chair and she sat down.
Saleem stared, his mind scrambling. What was going on here? Had the Fox sent this exotic creature to do his business for him? Was she his mistress? What?
As if she could read his mind, she said with a small smile, “I am who you seek, Saleem.”
He’d searched for three months before he’d finally found the Fox. He would have never guessed the master thief was this woman who looked more like a rich man’s mistress than the most successful thief in the world. She was stunning, true, but it was her eyes that knocked a man on his heels—they were a clear, icy blue, the irises rimmed in black, imperceptibly slanted at the corners. And she was looking at him straight on, amused at his surprise, waiting for him to speak. He realized in that moment the fact that she was a woman served his purposes very well indeed. Yes, this was perfect.
The skill set the Fox provided was unparalleled. Legendary, even. The best—he’d heard it from his father and several trusted men of his acquaintance.
He wondered dispassionately if in addition to stealing she was any good in bed. After they finished their business, would she want to go upstairs to his suite? He supposed he wouldn’t mind, but first things first.
He watched the waiter fill her flute with champagne. She raised the flute, tipped it toward him for a moment. No smile, only a rather bored assessment in her clear blue eyes. It shocked him. She found him boring? He watched her drink the champagne straight down, never taking her eyes off him, fully aware he was watching her every move. She slowly licked her lips. A signal?
He still said nothing, merely signaled to the waiter to pour her another. She drank again, still silent. He knew all the men in the bar were looking at them, wondering what she was to him. How their expressions would change if he announced to the bar who and what she was.
He sipped his Macallan, felt the smooth fire of the sixty-four-year-old whiskey slide down his throat.
When he’d finally found the Fox, they’d corresponded through a coded email account utilizing a simple and elegant system of protection—they both had passwords to the account. Saleem would write an email and save it as a draft, and the Fox would log in, read the mail in the drafts folder, delete it, then write a response and save it to drafts. They’d been writing for weeks now, the messages short, direct. They’d scheduled this, their first and only meeting, last week, and the account had been dormant since. He’d believed he knew women, knew how they thought, knew how they negotiated to get what they wanted, but never had he gotten the slightest hint the Fox was a woman. Amazing.
He set his glass on the table. “Are you really the person I seek?”
She only nodded again, that slight smile playing around her mouth. She never looked away from him.
Saleem said slowly, “Very well. Let us begin.”
She slid a piece of paper across the table. Her hands were slim and elegant, nails short and polished the palest pink. Her forearm slid briefly from the edge of her sleeve with a graceful whisper of fabric, and her delicate wrist turned slightly. He saw generations of her ancestors in the sleek, unconscious movement. Like a geisha serving him tea before she robbed him blind and slipped a knife between his ribs.
He opened the slip of paper and kept his face still, not reacting to the number she’d written. Never in their emails had they discussed her price.
He looked up to see her watching him, her eyes so blue he would swear that if he looked long enough, he would see the azure skies of his homeland, except he realized in that moment her eyes were blank and empty and devoid of anything but shrewd amusement. A chill moved down his spine. He’d never felt this sort of fear before in his life, of anyone, particularly a woman. He hated it, yet it was there deep inside him, this knowledge of her, and with it was a corrosive fear.
Her voice was deep and soft, and he leaned forward automatically when she spoke, though he could hear her clearly above the conversations in the bar.
“You are surprised.”
“That is nothing for something so priceless.” She snapped her fingers and looked away, but not before he saw the indifference in her eyes, and it enraged him. She knew he would pay the amount she’d written on the paper, doubtless guessed he’d pay double her price, triple if necessary, his need was so great. He realized there was no real negotiating here. And they both knew it.
He sat back in his chair and watched her finish her champagne, her every move elegant, studied. He’d take the deal she offered because he couldn’t trust this job to anyone else. He needed the very best. So much money, but he knew she’d earn every penny.
She looked calm, sure of herself, and he wanted to hurt her.
Before his father had died, he’d told Saleem of this thief called the Fox, and there had been admiration in his voice. But his father had never told him the Fox was a woman. Had he known? Of course he’d known. His father had also told him the Fox was Saleem’s age, no older, and when he’d seen her strolling toward him, he’d believed her younger. The Fox is the very best, my son, the very best. I only knew of one failure, and it was an impossible task. But his father wouldn’t tell him about the failure, merely looked through him, beyond him, when he’d asked.
Looking at her now, Saleem wondered if this job was to be her final curtain. Well, why not? With the amount of money he was paying her, she could retire, take no more chances of getting caught and hung. She could disappear permanently, settle down. No more looking over her shoulder. The world would be her oyster and he would give her the pearl.
The waiter arrived with more champagne. When her glass was full, she lifted it, hovering over the midpoint of the table. “Half now. Do we have an agreement?”
Saleem met her eyes and raised his whiskey.
“We do. Yes, I believe we do.”
For the first time, she clinked her glass to his, took a small sip to seal the bargain, and placed the flute on the table. She stood.
So she didn’t want to go upstairs with him. Too bad. The words spilled from his mouth anyway, even though he didn’t mean it, a stupid knee-jerk man’s reaction to a beautiful woman.
“You should stay tonight. With me.”
She didn’t laugh, but he thought she wanted to. She said in a low, smooth voice, a brow arched, “I already know where you sleep, Saleem Singh Lanighan. I don’t believe I care to join you.”
Surprise hit him like a fist. He’d taken all possible measures to be anonymous, to hide himself thoroughly. But she’d found his true identity. But how?
“You know my full name?”
A predator’s contempt flashed in her cool blue eyes. “Of course I know your name. I know everything about you.”
Everything? She knew he was his father’s son?
In his business dealings he’d always held the upper hand, always wielded the final power over his opponents. He knew it was whispered he was the Devil, and he liked that. All recognized he was cunning, confident of his own worth, the one to be placated, the one who was feared. No longer.
He’d met the real Devil tonight, and she drank champagne. Was his father watching him? And laughing?
The Fox said, “I will email the information, then you will close the account. When half the money—a full twenty-five million—is wired to my account, I will begin. Not a moment before. You will not hear from me again. I will come to you when the job is finished. It is a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Wait.” He stood as well. He cleared his throat, spoke quietly because he knew well the effect of his voice, knew the arrogance of h
“I know your reputation, so I am not surprised you managed to discover who I am. However, I only know you as the Fox. Give me your real name. For fifty million dollars, I am owed at least that.”
The Devil smiled from the Fox’s beautiful face, and that cold, cold smile froze his blood.
“You are owed nothing but your prize, lion cub. Or should I call you the Lion now? Your father’s untimely death places you in control. Will you be as interesting as your father, lion cub? Will you show yourself cunning and ripe, ready for plunder?”
She fell silent for a moment, assessing him yet again, then dismissed him with a nod, and he knew to his gut she didn’t fear him, not at all. But if she failed in this, she would regret her mistake. He would kill her himself.
His voice rose. “If you’re going to work for me, you’ll do as I say. Now tell me your name.”
He would swear she looked into his very soul then and found him wanting. Quiet and calm, she said, “Be patient and you will be rewarded.”
He wouldn’t allow this, not from a criminal who believed herself above him, above the Lion. She would heed this demand. He caught her arm and drew her near.
Her voice was perfectly pleasant. “Let go of me this instant.”
He squeezed her arm, hard. He wasn’t going to let her believe he was of little or no account except for his huge riches. She needed to understand who he was, what he was, what he could do to her. He was the Lion now, and what he wanted he got.
“Your real name,” he said. “I insist.”
The patrons were beginning to notice their standoff. Saleem knew the last thing she’d want was to be remembered, so he was pleased when she smiled and leaned in close as if she were kissing him good-bye. She whispered in his ear as she stroked her palm across his neck, and he dropped her arm with a gasp.
With an ice-cold smile, she said, “Do not look for me, Saleem Singh Lanighan. I will find you.”
She walked away. He felt the other men’s eyes follow her every step through the lounge. Then she was gone, disappeared out to the street into the Paris night.
Saleem sat back down and pressed his napkin to the side of his neck against the sting. He didn’t know where she’d had the knife hidden, but she’d managed to bring it to his throat without anyone noticing. He felt the thin gash throb, and with it, he tasted fear, fear of the Devil.
The Final Cut by Catherine Coulter / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes