Excerpt: THIEF by Mark Sullivan (Minotaur/Quercus)

SullivanM-RM2-ThiefUSCo-author of Private Berlin and Private L.A. with James Patterson, Mark Sullivan‘s next novel is THIEF. Due to be published on December 16th, 2014 (next week), by Minotaur. It is the third novel featuring Robin Monarch — following Rogue and Outlaw. The series is published in the UK by Quercus Books, and will publish Thief on December 31st in eBook, and January 1st in print. For more details on the series, scroll down to the end of the post.

Here is the synopsis for Thief:

Robin Monarch is a man with a complicated past and dangerous present.  He’s been a soldier, a CIA agent, a freelance operative but first and foremost, Robin Monarch is a thief of the highest order. Orphaned at twelve, Monarch originally stole for survival, then he stole for his friends and cohorts, now he steals to order, and to give back to the to the woman who saved his life many years ago.

With the help of his team, Monarch breaks into the legendary Christmas party of Beau Arsenault, a shady investor and behind-the-scenes player at the very highest levels of power politics. Arsenault is not above bending or breaking the rules if there’s illicit profit to be made. Monarch has decided that those illicit profits will be better used to take care of orphans and street kids. Using the party as cover to break into Arsenault’s secret vaults, Monarch comes away with two unexpected things. One is a bullet — he gets shot when he’s caught trying to escape with tens of millions of negotiable instruments. The second is a lead on what might be his most audacious exploit ever. A previously undiscovered tribe in South America may well have the secret to the most sought after knowledge in history — that of eternal life. And Robin Monarch must use all his skills — as an operative, as a thief — to keep this secret from falling into the worst possible hands.

And now, a (lengthy) excerpt…

***

Buenos Aires

The thunderstorms began late that afternoon and continued on into the night, lashing the Argentine capital with six inches of rain that backed up the drains in the rich neighborhoods, and turned the streets to oozing mud in the slums.

 Around nine-thirty that evening, the fourth wave swept over Villa Miserie, the worst slum in the city, and drummed down on the steel roof of a small medical clinic. Inside, a missionary and physician named Sister Rachel Diego del Mar worked feverishly to save the life of a woman bleeding out after childbirth.

“Maria,” she called to the woman, who was moaning. “You need to stay with me now. Your beautiful baby boy needs you.”

The second Maria Vasquez walked into the clinic, the 62-year-old physician had noticed the swelling around the pregnant woman’s eyes, cheeks, wrists and ankles, and suspected she’d developed a life-threatening clotting disorder. The doctor’s suspicions were well founded. Tests revealed Maria suffered from HELPP syndrome. Mom and baby were in mortal danger.

Sister Rachel had done a spinal block and performed a Caesarian Section almost immediately, saving the baby. But ever since the baby’s birth, Maria had been hemorrhaging. It took all of Sister Rachel’s skills to stem the tide, and at a quarter to eleven, Sister Rachel finally finished stitching up an unconscious Maria. She’d lost a lot of blood, but her vital signs had stabilized, and God willing the young mother would live to care for her baby boy.

The missionary hung her head, and thanked God for guiding her. She’d been up for nearly nineteen hours, and she felt woozy. Inez, the night nurse sat in a rocker by Maria’s bed, the baby in her arms. Sister Rachel told the nurse that she was going to clean up and get some sleep, but to wake her if Maria’s condition changed for the worse.

“Yes, Sister,” Inez said. “You sleep all night. I’ll be right here.”

The idea of an entire night’s sleep was almost too much to hope for, the missionary thought. When she worked at the slum clinic, she rarely had more than four hours straight rest before some poor soul would turn up on her doorstep, sick or broken, and desperately needing her skills.

She was in no way bitter or self-pitying about her lot in life. Even after nearly thirty-two years as a member of the Sisters of Hope, the doctor believed she was doing her Lord’s work. She prayed she would do that work until the day she died.

After showering and changing into a fresh set of scrubs, she let down her long silver hair and tied it in a loose ponytail. Then she headed to her office at the rear of the clinic, wondering how life was at the orphanage she ran outside the city.

The burden of the clinic and the orphanage sometimes felt too much. She was looking forward to setting the weight of both aside for the night, or a few hours at least. Shutting the office door behind her, she turned on the light switch and pivoted to see her cot was made up already, which made her smile.

What would she do without Inez?

Then Sister Rachel heard a floorboard creak, and twisted left.  A big man with a goatee was already upon her. He wore a black stocking wool cap pulled down over his ears.  There was a small camera mounted on a harness strapped to the cap. Before she could scream, he clamped a hand across her mouth and jabbed her in the neck with a syringe.

In seconds the room swam toward darkness.

But before she passed out, she heard him say, “Let’s see if you can save Robin Monarch this time around, Sister.”

*

Greenwich, Connecticut

This was the kind of job Robin Monarch loved. The stakes were high, but if he succeeded, the tycoon would be in no position to complain to anyone official.

The thief felt confident as he pulled the Rover up to the valet. He’d done his research. He knew his target, its location, and his method of entry. But he reminded himself that in this sort of setting, with several hundred people mingling inside a grand home, things would be fluid. He was going to have to adapt.

Monarch removed the Chesterfield coat and put it on a hanger in the back. He didn’t want to stop at any coat check leaving the party. Tossing the valet the keys with his gloved hands, he strode easily up the heated walkway, heading toward massive carved oak doors that depicted a bull goring a fleeing bear.

The air was spiced and he spotted a pot of it brewing on a burner set discretely in some bushes to the left of the doors. From beyond the doors came Christmas music, a beautiful woman’s voice singing a soft jazzy rendition of “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In.”

Before he could knock, the door opened and caught him in a blaze of yuletide light and good cheer. The doorman stood aside, and Monarch stepped inside a foyer that looked like a movie set, including an elevator with a burled walnut door, and a grand spiral staircase with a rail wrapped in fresh cedar ropes, flowing red bows, and pinpoint white lights that glinted like ice crystals falling on a bitter cold morning.

There were fifteen or so people in the foyer, all in evening wear and fine jewels, most of them moving toward a hallway and the ballroom, as Monarch remembered from the blueprints.

“Can I get your name tag?” asked a woman in a light Irish accent.

Two young, pretty women, the Irish redhead and the other an Asian with frosted hair tips, both were throwing him winning smiles, sat behind a table covered in badges adorned with sprigs of mistletoe.

Monarch tapped the hearing aide, gave her a quick glance at the forged invitation, and said, “Asa Johanson.”

That surprised her and she extended her hand, studying him. “We wondered. I’m Grace Lawlor, Mrs. Arsenault’s P.A. You’re the late add then?”

“Is that a bad thing?”  Monarch said, affecting chagrin. “The late add?”

“Not at all,” Grace Lawlor said, playing with a string of pearls at her neck and smiling. “You are most welcome, Mr. Johanson. By the way, how do you know Mr. Arsenault? I didn’t have time to ask.”

“Oh,” he said, taking the badge from her. “Beau and I go way back. We used to ski together at Stowe. We ran into each other at a gallery I run in Soho and he insisted on having me out.”

 “Brilliant,” she said. “He’ll be thrilled to see you.”

“Not as thrilled as I’ll be to see him,” Monarch replied, winked, and then moved aside as a new batch of the uber-rich arrived wearing enough mink, sable, and chinchilla to cause an emotional meltdown at PETA.

The ballroom ceiling was at least twenty-five feet high and made of embossed copper that picked up the soft light of several hundred electric candles and gas lamps that made the vast space glow as warmly as if the Ghost of Christmas Present was right there. Indeed, there was a strong Dickensian theme to the party. The ballroom had been decorated to resemble a snowy London Street, complete with trompe l’oeil paintings of storefronts including Old Fezziwig’s and Scrooge & Marley’s counting house. And the servers moving food and drink among the guests were dressed for the nineteenth century with top hats and hook skirts.

The irony of a guy like Arsenault using A Christmas Carol, the story of a skinflint redeemed, was not lost on Monarch. Worth northward of fourteen billion dollars, Arsenault was utterly ruthless, a polished, and yet callous man who had never sported a callous in his entire life. Though his wealthy parents had regularly engaged in philanthropy, the mogul rarely gave money to charity, braying often and publicly that fortitude and an enterprising spirit was all that anyone required to better their lot in life. No one, in Arsenault’s opinion, required a hand out or a hand up. The theme of the party suggested that the tycoon was spitting at the idea that someone like him could find his way to charity.

So much the better, Monarch thought when he spotted Arsenault across the room. Wearing a green and red cummerbund and a long-tail tux, the fifty-nine-year-old was a six-foot-six, robustly built, and boyish-faced man with an egoist’s posture and bearing. The mogul was sipping bourbon neat from a cut glass tumbler and standing with a group of his cronies watching a stunning African American woman in an equally stunning evening dress sing a bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby” next to a black Steinway grand.

Monarch knew her.

Cassie Knox was the hottest female singer on the charts at the moment, a soul and blues singer with six Grammy nominations, and two top-ten singles in the past year. It had to have cost Arsenault a small fortune to get her to appear. Then again, everything about the party suggested that he’d spent several small fortunes on the evening.

Looking as if her face had recently been stretched, nipped and tucked, Louisa Arsenault, the tycoon’s wife took the end of the song to rush up and embrace Knox. Then Louisa took the microphone and purred at the audience in a sweet southern drawl, “Isn’t she fantastic? Isn’t she the best money can buy?”

Despite the singer’s awkward reaction to that there were cheers all around.

“Beau?” Louisa said. “Would you like to come up and greet our guests?”

A hush fell over the room as her husband set down his bourbon glass on the lip of a marble planter and made his way up onto the raised platform, grabbing a flute of champagne from a passing waiter along the way. The mogul bowed to Cassie Knox, who looked embarrassed, and then kissed his wife and turned to the crowd, raising his glass and shouting, “A Merry Christmas and a profitable New Year to one and all!”

Monarch, who was already making a beeline for that empty bourbon glass, knew the tycoon was going to say that, word for word. As a matter of fact, he knew a whole lot about Beau Arsenault and his legendary Christmas party.

The mogul had come up on the thief’s radar eleven months before, in the aftermath of the kidnapping of U.S. Secretary of State Agnes Lawton by the Sons of Prophecy terrorists. It turned out that the Niamey, the oil tanker the terrorists seized, had belonged to one of Arsenault’s many far-flung companies.

Arsenault had also been a college classmate and client of Secretary Lawton’s late husband, Bill, who was implicated in the kidnapping, and who took his own life before he could be arrested. According to reports Monarch had seen, the FBI looked at Arsenault, but they’d found no connection to the Sons of Prophecy.

And to his credit, the mogul had supported Secretary Lawton in the wake of it all, even speaking at her husband’s funeral when the rest of Washington had treated Bill Lawton as a pariah. Other than owning the tanker and knowing Bill Lawton, Arsenault looked like a stand-up guy.

Still, there had been something about the billionaire that bothered the thief. He’d gotten an old friend and colleague, Gloria Barnett, to look into the his background.

Barnett was brilliant at what she did—a hybridization of high-speed research, technical support, and crisis ops—and she was soon funneling Monarch everything that she could find on the mogul and his wife.

Arsenault was one of those guys who was born on third base. His father had been a successful oil wildcatter from Louisiana, and his mother came from an old money Connecticut family. Their combined wealth had topped thirty million dollars, which meant their son had spent his childhood moving between a plantation outside New Orleans, the estate in Greenwich, and beachfront cottages on Galveston Island and Nantucket. Beau had been educated at Phillips Exeter, Yale, and Tulane Law School.

When Arsenault was twenty-four, his parents died in a plane his father, an expert aviator, was flying. The FAA believed he’d had a heart attack despite the fact he’d had an electrocardiogram the week before and passed with ease.

Arsenault had left Tulane Law to take control of the family fortune, and in twenty-five-years had expanded it exponentially to include companies and investments in everything from oil exploration and shipping to steel, pharmaceuticals, and government contracting. Along the way, he’d become a behind-the-scenes player in politics, spending lavishly in support of candidates who supported his causes in Washington.

In his daily life, the tycoon seemed to go out of his way to avoid the spotlight. His wife, however, was a different story. A former debutant from Shreveport, Louisa was a publicity hound. Barnett found articles in Architectural Digest that described Louisa’s rebuilding of the plantation house, which was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, and her renovation of the massive Georgian mansion in Greenwich her husband inherited. There was also a recent article in Vanity Fair that used the Arsenault’s annual Christmas Party to illustrate Louisa’s ever expanding social presence among the top one percent of the top one percent.

This was all stuff anyone with a bit of curiosity could have gleaned from the public record and the Internet, and hardly reason for someone like Monarch to target the Arsenaults. But Barnett had dug deeper than the public record and the Internet. She’d hired a guy Monarch knew only as “Zullo”, a computer security genius, to hack the mogul. Zullo got into several of Arsenault’s computers, put a tap on his mobile phone, and made similar inroads into Louisa’s electronics. Zullo soon discovered that the mogul had made a ridiculous amount of money—roughly seven billion dollars—in and around the time the secretary of state was kidnapped.

Arsenault had divested and shorted the markets in the months before the incident, and then bought back into the markets shortly after Agnes Lawton’s rescue. At the time, there had been speculation at high levels of the intelligence community that the kidnapping might have been less about religious extremism and more about political influence and profit.

But there was nothing Zullo found that said Arsenault’s bold moves in the stock market had been anything more than the shrewd acts of a savvy investor. To the contrary, there was documentation—letters, e-mails, and the like—to prove that the mogul had been fearful of a stock market crash going back two years or more, and that he had been gradually reducing his exposure before going short. Arsenault’s reasons for buying back into the market after the steep slide caused by the attacks had also been amply documented.

The Securities & Exchange Commission looked into Arsenault’s big gains, but came up with nothing to connect the mogul to illegal activities. At least in that case.

But Zullo and Barnett did find ample evidence that Arsenault regularly engaged in questionable and illegal activities like kickbacks, money laundering and tax evasion. Despite his stupefying wealth, the mogul liked to hoard physical cash in various currencies, as well as gold coins, jewelry, and bearer bonds as a way of keeping significant sums of undeclared income close at hand.

That had gotten the thief thinking that the mogul’s illicit stash might help Sister Rachel Diego Del Mar, a physician and missionary who rescued orphans from the slums of Buenos Aires. Sister Rachel saved Monarch from that wretched life when he was a teenage gangbanger; and he’d spent these last few years stealing money from crooks, rescuing people for cash, and giving it all to the missionary’s cause.

So where did a mogul like Arsenault hide his loot?

Using construction plans as well as detailed digital blueprints, the thief was able to study the renovated mansion’s layout, including an unlabeled space inside heavily reinforced concrete walls in the basement next to the wine cellar. Monarch believed that space held a vault, a likely storage place for Arsenault’s stash. This is what had brought him to the Christmas Party with a forged invitation, a place on the guest list courtesy of the MIT hacker, and a need to grab that empty bourbon glass the mogul had been using.

“Merry Christmas Beau and Louisa!” the party crowd roared around the thief, raising their champagne. “And a profitable New Year!”

Monarch snagged the cut glass tumbler just as a waiter was about to bus it. Cassie Knox and her band broke into “Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas.”

Arsenault took Louisa in his arms and they began to dance. Monarch glanced at his watch. It was seven-thirty on the dot, exactly when the Vanity Fair article had said they would dance. You had to hand it to them: they had the Christmas Party thing down to a science.

Monarch stood a moment watching the mogul and his wife work the floor as if they were trying out for Dancing with the Stars. He hated to admit it, but they were pretty good.

Then with all eyes on the host and hostess, the thief got down to work.

***

Reaching up behind his left ear, Monarch turned on the hearing aide. Fitting his fingernail beneath the stem of the Patek-Phillip, he tugged it out about a sixteenth of an inch until he felt a click. Then he got hold of the pin that held the sprig of holly to his tux lapel and twisted it counter clockwise.

“Test,” Monarch murmured, glancing over at the Arsenaults waltzing.

“Loud and clear,” said Gloria Barnett. A tall, bookish, stoop-shouldered woman with wire-rimmed glasses and a shock of flame red hair, she was staying about ten miles away at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor, a discreet five-star hotel.

The week before, Barnett had managed to pilfer a glass Arsenault had been using at a swank restaurant near his offices. But they’d found four different sets of fingerprints on the glass, which meant they had to be checked against the prints on the bourbon glass Monarch had just grabbed.

Monarch said, “Ready?

 “Ready and waiting.”

The room burst into applause as the mogul and his wife finished their dance and Monarch eased over by one of the Christmas trees set against the ballroom walls, pulled out the bourbon glass, checked it for prints other than his own, and found four sharp ones. Getting out the iPhone, he glanced around. His attention was still focused toward the band, which had broken into “Jingle Bell Rock.” Monarch used the macro lens to snap several close-up photos of the prints before setting the glass aside.

 Monarch sent pictures, and said, “You should have them.”

“Just in,” she said. “Give me a few seconds.”

“That’s all we’ve got,” he replied.

As more guests took to the dance floor and others lined up to dig into the sumptuous buffet, Monarch waited, wondering if the macro lens had picked up the finger prints, wondered if his night was done, finished, right there, and right – –

“We have a match,” Barnett said. “It’s number two. Repeat. Numeral 2. Index, right hand.”

“Got it. Make your call.”

“Here we go then,” she replied. “Watch him.”

Monarch slid out from beside that Christmas tree, and located the Arsenaults still on the dance floor. The song came to a crescendo and then to an end. Arsenault had his hands overhead, cheering and clapping wildly along with his delighted guests before Monarch saw the posture of his head change by several sharp degrees. The mogul began to reach into his tux pocket, but his wife’s bejeweled hand shot out and stopped him.

Monarch could almost hear her as Louisa scolded her husband for trying to take a business call during the party. The tycoon nodded, acted chastened, and then kissed his wife before heading off, looking as if he were going to mingle with his non-dancing guests.

But Monarch knew better. Arsenault would check the caller ID on the phone once he was out of his wife’s sight. It was his private phone, a number known only to a select few, and used rarely and for the most delicate of situations. How Zullo had tracked down that number was beyond Monarch’s pay grade.

After wading through the crowd like a savvy politician, greeting and glad-handing every guest in his way, the mogul exited the ballroom into a broad hallway that ran back toward the foyer. He got out the cell phone. Monarch, watching from afar, saw Arsenault listen to the phone, and then jerk to a stop.

Knew that would get your attention, Monarch thought, suppressing a grin as he pivoted and looked back toward the stage where Knox was crooning “Santa Baby” and looking very sexy. Arsenault rushed past the thief, heading on a diagonal across the ballroom.

Who you going to for help, Big Beau? Monarch thought, scanning the crowd in front of the mogul, and then spotting his likely target.

With a rectangular build, military posture, and a short, tight haircut, the man had a bull’s neck that looked garroted by his tux collar and tie. His name was Billy Saunders. A former Boston cop, FBI agent, and counter-terror specialist, Saunders was among the best security experts that money could buy.

Arsenault gestured Saunders aside and murmured something in his ear. Saunders went on high alert and asked several sharp questions that the mogul answered with equal sharpness. Saunders hesitated, but then nodded and moved off quickly.

Monarch could tell Arsenault wanted to either chase Saunders or flee the ballroom entirely. But before the mogul could do either, a gaggle of fifty something women with stretched skin surrounded him and began congratulating him on his wife’s latest high-society victory.

Saunders was soon back, however, with a woman in tow. Late forties, ash blonde, handsome rather than beautiful, and wearing a navy blue business suit, Meg Pratt exuded an air of Harvard Business School competence. Pratt was Arsenault’s personal attorney, a woman who had to know the closets where the mogul kept his skeletons. She and Saunders nodded at Arsenault as they hurried past him, heading for the only other way out of the ballroom.

“Fish on the hook,” Monarch murmured into the small microphone in the boutonniere pin. “Saunders and Pratt too.”

“I can be very convincing,” Barnett said.

“Well done,” Monarch replied, taking a glass of champagne off the tray of a waitress who was happening by.

Arsenault, meanwhile, watched his retreating attorney and security chief, and then pleasantly excused himself from the gaggle of stretched skin women.

Monarch glanced at hiss watch. It was 7:55 p.m.

Trailing the tycoon and his aides out into a hallway lined with maple wainscoting and forest green and gold wallpaper, he saw the trio pause near the far end of the passage before disappearing through a doorway on the left.

“Looks like our instincts were spot on,” Monarch murmured, heading for the nearest toilet, two doors down on the right. “They’re going downstairs.”

“Still the three?” Barnett asked as he entered the powder room, shut the door, and locked it.

“Unless there are guards down there,” he said, turning and taking in the room at a glance, registering the fact that every inch of floor, wall, and ceiling was covered in beautiful Italian black and white glass tiles save a bank of mirrors, a tile vanity, and a black toilet.

Fishing in his left pocket, Monarch came up with and put on ultra-sheer latex gloves. Then he got that pack of Rothman cigarettes from his breast pocket, tore off the cellophane wrapper and stuffed it in his pants pocket.

 Carefully, he opened the box, revealing six cigarettes spaced neatly inside, two on each end, and two in the middle.  Gaps between the cigarettes held four tiny darts with slender shafts as sharp as acupuncture needles. Three were fitted with miniscule blue fins. The fins of the other were tan. A tube cut and painted to mimic a cigarette was nestled beside them.

Monarch slid one blue dart into that stubby tube taped to his right wrist. The lone tan dart went into the tube on his left wrist. A second blue dart dropped snuggly into the fake cigarette.  Setting it down, he pushed aside a small loaded syringe in the cigarette pack to remove a small container of breath strips.

Opening it, he spilled the contents on the counter. Four rectangular plastic strips came out, each carrying a numeral on its paper backing. Finding number 2, which matched Arsenault’s right index finger, he peeled back that paper layer, revealing a mild adhesive. As careful as a jeweler, Monarch laid the print replica across the latex covered pad of his index finger.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Be right out,” he called in a slight slur.

Looking in the mirror, Monarch sagged the muscles of his face, and slid the glasses slightly down his nose while opening his eyes wide as if he were having trouble understanding his predicament. Then he pocketed the Rothman pack, turned his bow tie slightly askew and snatched up the fake cigarette and the flute of champagne.

A bosomy blonde woman spilling out of a tight, shimmering dress looked at Monarch with a New Yorker’s sense of disgusted superiority, and said, “Thought you’d died in there.”

“Sorry,” Monarch slurred and staggered slightly moving past her.

“Hope you’re not driving,” she called after him.

Without turning back to her, he waved his right hand, still palming the fake cigarette and proceeded not toward the ballroom, but to that door Arsenault and his handlers had gone through. He weaved down the hallway, acting like a man toying with the limits of alcohol consumption.

Abreast of the door, Monarch spotted the optical reading device set at handle height, slowed to a wobbly stop, and pivoted as if he’d realized he was heading in the wrong direction. The hallway behind him was empty except for two women waiting to use the powder room, and chatting up which sixty-grand-a-year kindergarten was necessary if their grandkids were to have any hope in life.

Taking a shaky step, Monarch reached out as if to catch his balance, and stabbed his index finger into the reader. Even though Barnett had made an exact copy of Pelham’s print, he had a moment’s worry before hearing a click.

The door sagged.

“In,” Monarch said, pushing it open.

“Godspeed John Glenn,” she whispered.

***

Thief is published on December 16th, 2014. Mark Sullivan has also written a handful of short stories featuring Robin Monarch: Brotherhood, The Escape Artist and The Art of Rendition. Here are the US covers:

SullivanM-RobinMonarthThrillersUS

The Robin Monarch series is published in the UK by Quercus Books — RogueOutlaw and Thief. Quercus have also published the three prequel novellas, as Incursion, Rendition and The Escape Artist. (The first two are free at the moment on Kindle through Amazon UK – so, it’s a great time to give the series and author a try.)

SullivanM-RobinMonarthThrillersUK

Advertisements

One thought on “Excerpt: THIEF by Mark Sullivan (Minotaur/Quercus)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s