How does the body of a lowlife found in the Santa Monica beach condo of a playboy movie exec link up with Chechens that Detective Dave Mason of the SMPD keeps hearing about?
Investigation leads him into the dark world of embezzlement, to an explosion that almost kills him, and a bungled FBI take down.
Mason must redeem himself and the department, and keep the woman he loves, but the odds are against him and he knows it.
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High-tech burglary and murder are bad for business in the upscale, tourist-destination beach city of Santa Monica with its leftist politics, rich homeowners, and huge homeless population. Bad for Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.
A deadbeat burglar has been found in the upscale Santa Monica beach condo of a playboy studio exec. The dead body must link up with a string of high-tech burglaries, and the Chechens Mason keeps meeting must link up with each other somehow, but how?
The investigation leads him down mean streets into the dark world of embezzlement and an explosion that almost kills him. The stakes rise as the investigation send Mason to the Hollywood Russian community where he is warned off by the FBI and Homeland Security. A bungled take down results in two murders of key informants. Fingers are pointed. Mason is outranked and the Department blamed.
While Mason brings an international whodunit to an end, restoring his own and the Department’s reputation, he finds his relationship with his community activist girlfriend teetering on the edge.
Irina Napier’s cell phone rang next to the Vogue in the treadmill reading rack. Irina eyed it, then picked it up. It was only her husband Jeffrey. She let it ring six times before answering.
“Bring the new Hummer to the party. Make sure they see you parking it.”
“How do I do that, Jeffrey?”
“You’ll figure it out. I’ll be late. Meetings.”
“Meetings? Sure.” Irina flipped the cell phone shut, took a sip of the single malt scotch in a cut crystal glass and lowered the incline on the machine. Meetings. It must be his day to fuck his slut bookkeeper.
Another ten minutes at a slow walk. Irina would rather starve herself than sweat. She admired herself in the mirror, then gazed around her exercise room in the two-story, three-bedroom condo complex in the high-end real estate area of Santa Monica. Irina thought with satisfaction that the whole world would like to live where she was living. Let them do what she’d done to get here.
She heard a noise downstairs.
“Jeffrey?” It wasn’t beneath him to sneak up on her and think it was funny to scare her. Nothing was beneath him.
The noise wasn’t repeated and she lost herself in an article on diamonds. No more diamond chips for Irina.
The machine chuntered away while the fan at her feet blew up a scented breeze. She liked to look at herself in the mirrored walls that surrounded the treadmill. Another small sound alerted the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. It was dark now, the windows black, only the city noises. She turned off the treadmill and listened.
A stair creaked outside in the darkened hallway. Irina’s heart hit hyper-drive. She picked up a five-pound weight to use as a club and peeked out the door. A woman who’d survived two months in a Turkish brothel didn’t scare easily. Coming up the carpeted stairwell on her right she saw black hair, combed straight back from a wide, unlined forehead, narrow cheeks, a luxuriant black moustache and full, rich lips on which there was a knowing expression. His skin was olive, lit from inside with the glow of perfect health, skin to kill for. As he breasted the newel post at the top of the stairs she saw a white ribbed T-shirt stretched across a broad chest, a carpenter’s tool belt around a trim waist, sturdy legs, and work boots.
He saw her and did a double-take, then a cocky grin slid up his face as if he knew he was hot. He looked relaxed, displaying a confidence that came from practice and experience.
An older man came up the stairs behind him wearing a tool belt and work boots, a Yankees ball cap, white T-shirt and khaki shorts. Just a couple of guys on a maintenance job. See them everywhere.
The young, dark, good-looking one smiled at Irina. “Great place—the view, the location. You hear the ocean at night?” His English had a Latin ring to it and he carried Jeffrey’s laptop in its case over his shoulder.
Irina stared at them, frozen for a moment. A brief, crackling silence, then she laughed. “You here to steal? We got insurance. Who cares?”
She gave up being scared. She knew men. She knew killers.
Irina Napier welcomed the first adrenaline charge she’d had since moving to Santa Monica two years ago.
* * *
Antonio was surprised at the smokin’-hot blonde’s reaction. People usually freaked when they found an intruder in the house. There was a lot of screaming and yelling and running around. Not like this one, all chatty and flirty. Here was something that could break the deadly routine of burglary. But Antonio could read Harvey’s mind. She’d seen them.
What did it matter? Couple more jobs in the next week and he and his partner were on to some new city. They’d be long gone. Antonio exchanged a look with Harvey who shrugged, which told him they should just play it out.
Neither of them was a killer and that was that. It was just an accident what happened in that place down the hall.
Harvey had his religion thing. And neither of them was the disgusting kind of burglar who needed to shit on people’s beds just to feel good about themselves.
They all paraded down to the kitchen. The woman introduced herself as Irina and made coffee while Antonio watched her, at the same time as he went through drawers and cupboards looking for cash. She had an accent and turned out to be from Chechnya. She and Antonio chatted about Russia, the war, the chaos, the opportunity, while Harvey looked around for the rest of the things on the list. Antonio didn’t know squat about Russia, much less Chechnya, but who cared? They laughed a lot and found reasons to touch each other.
Harvey returned with a couple of fur coats over his arm.
“Take it all. I don’t care.” She gave a nervous laugh and toyed with her thick blond hair.
Harvey’s gaze turned to Antonio. “We got business here. Remember?”
Antonio ignored the erection that tented his pants. “We won’t hurt you.”
She looked back and forth between them. The smile left her face.
She brought them the cash, her wallet and the credit cards; smiling, giving everything to Harvey.
“And the safe?” Harvey asked. “We know there’s a safe upstairs.”
“What safe? I don’t know what safe,” she said with a grin.
Seeing Harvey’s look, she turned and led them upstairs to the master bedroom chatting the whole way about what she paid for everything in her condo. Climbing up on the bed she clicked open the safe located on the wall over the bed beneath an Andy Warhol print.
The real jewelry and bearer bonds. She handed most of it to Harvey who checked over her shoulder to make sure, getting close behind her.
“You lied. I don’t like liars,” Harvey said grimly, reaching for the flash drive and a package of white powder wrapped in a plastic Vons grocery bag.
“What about this?”
* * *
After the robbery, Irina called Jeffrey with shaking fingers, “Come home.”
“You were supposed to be at the party by now,” her husband shouted.
“Get home, Jeffrey. Burglars. I had to give them what is in safe.”
“Shit,” he screamed. “Not the stuff I’m keeping for Rick?”
“What could I do? What?”
“And Olga’s flash drive.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“I do and she will, for sure.”
She could hear him pound the steering wheel. Even though the cute burglar had looked at her as though she’d stepped out of a movie poster, he and his partner still cleaned out the place. She wouldn’t admit to Jeffrey that she’d put up no resistance and told them to take anything they wanted. Irina had been bored, bored rigid waiting for something to happen. Something finally did.
She was afraid to tell her sister Olga that they’d taken her flash drive. Irina didn’t know exactly what was on the memory stick but she had a good guess. It meant everything to Olga, who was playing some kind of dangerous game with it. Irina hoped she knew what she was doing.
Jeffrey kept calling hysterically every five minutes to scream while he was stalled in traffic on the freeway on the I-10, asking again and again if the China White was gone. Really gone?
Irina met him at the mailboxes in the lobby of the Astoria, unable to wait until he got upstairs. She ignored all the old biddies twittering to each other how scared they were. Something big was going on in the building and Irina didn’t care enough to find out—police cars out in the valet parking area. It was Jeffrey’s job as manager to be nice to the biddies. Not hers. They hated her for looking good in a thong bikini and for having a conversation with her sister, for godsake, on her cell phone by the pool.
Had they caught her burglar? If the police got hold of Olga’s flash drive… Irina was scared to think about that. She’d been over and over what she could’ve done to prevent the two burglars taking it. Nothing. Jeffrey didn’t understand. Americans knew nothing.
She whispered to him in the elevator up to the third floor. “Is what I’m telling you. Your ten kilos of China White. Gone. Is gone. Gone.”
“It can’t be. It’s Rick’s stuff. What am I going to do?” Jeffrey wiped away a sheen of sweat from his receding forehead and charged out of the elevator to unlock the door of their three-bedroom condo, letting the door slam in her face.
“Drugs should not be here. I tell you,” Irina said, coming in behind him and throwing her keys in the crystal dish. “I am through hell.”
Jeffrey walked to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. Belted it straight back. “All we had to do was keep it for a couple of days. It was just a favor for Rick.”
“You ask me? Never. Razman give you for free some freebies? Nothing is free with that guy. I tell you. Him I know. You and your nose.”
“You think he’ll believe it was stolen?”
“What you think?” She took him in; tall, pot-bellied, and shapeless. Eyes wild, nose pink. Jittery. “We have to call police. They will think should be right away. But I wait because you were at meetings.”
“Call the police? What for? To report my China White’s been stolen?”
“No, you fool. Because we have robbery here.”
* * *