Kate O’Hare’s favorite outfit was her blue windbreaker with the letters FBI written in yellow on the back, worn over a basic black T-shirt and matching black Kevlar vest. The ensemble went well with everything, particularly when paired with jeans and accessorized with a Glock. Thirty-three-year-old Special Agent O’Hare didn’t like feeling exposed and unarmed, especially on the job. That all but ruled her out for undercover work. Fine by her. She preferred a hard-charging style of law enforcement, which was exactly what she was practicing on that 96 degree winter afternoon in Las Vegas when she marched into the St. Cosmas Medical Center in her favorite outfit with a dozen similarly dressed agents behind her.
While the other agents fanned out to seal every exit in the building, Kate pushed past the security guards in the lobby and made her way like a guided missile to the first-floor office of Rufus Stott, the chief administrator of the hospital. She blew past Stott’s stunned assistant without even acknowledging her existence and burst into Stott’s office. The startled Stott yelped and nearly toppled out of his chrome-and-mesh ergonomic chair. He was a chubby, bottom-heavy little guy who looked like a turnip that some bored wizard had tapped with a magic wand and turned into a fifty-five-year-old bureaucrat. He had a spray tan, tortoiseshell glasses, and crotch wrinkles in his tan slacks. His hand was over his heart, and he was gasping for air.
“Don’t shoot,” he finally managed.
“I’m not going to shoot,” Kate said. “I don’t even have my gun drawn. Do you need water, or something? Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay,” Stott said. “You just scared the bejeezus out of me. Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m Special Agent Kate O’Hare, FBI.” She slapped a piece of paper down on his desk. “This is a warrant giving us full access to your concierge wing.”
“We don’t have a concierge wing,” Stott said.
Kate leaned in close, locking her intense blue eyes on him. “Six obscenely wealthy and desperate patients flew in today from all over the country. They were picked up from McCarran airport by limos and brought here. Upon arrival at your private concierge wing, they each wired one million dollars to St. Cosmas’s offshore bank account and immediately jumped to the top of an organ waiting list.”
“You can’t be serious,” Stott said. “We don’t have any offshore bank accounts and we certainly can’t afford to rent limos. We’re teetering on bankruptcy.”
“That’s why you’re conducting off-the-books transplant surgeries using illegally acquired organs that you bought on the black market. We know those patients are here and being prepped for surgery right now. We will lock this building down and search every single room and broom closet if we have to.”
“Be my guest,” Stott said, and handed the warrant back to her. “We aren’t doing any transplant surgeries, and we don’t have a concierge wing. We don’t even have a gift shop.”
Stott no longer looked scared, and he didn’t look like he was lying. Not good signs, Kate thought. He should be in a cold sweat by now. He should be phoning his lawyer.
Eighteen hours earlier, Kate had been at her desk in L.A., tracking scattered intel on known associates of a wanted felon, when she’d stumbled on chatter about a certain financially strapped Las Vegas hospital offering organ transplants to the highest bidder. She dug deeper and discovered that the patients were already en route to Vegas for their surgeries, so she dropped everything and organized a rush operation.
“Take a look at this,” she said, showing Stott a photo on her iPhone.
It was a medium close-up of a man about her age wearing a loose-fitting polo shirt, soft and faded from years of use. His brown hair was windblown. His face was alight with a boyish grin that brought out the laugh lines at the corners of his brown eyes.
“Do you know this man?” she asked.
“Sure I do,” Stott replied. “That’s Cliff Clavin, the engineer handling the asbestos removal from our old building.”
Kate felt a dull ache in her stomach, and it wasn’t from the Jack in the Box sausage-and-egg sandwich she’d had for breakfast. Her gut, flat and toned despite her terrible eating habits, was where her anxieties and her instincts resided and liked to communicate with her in a language of cramps, pains, queasiness, and general malaise.
“Cliff Clavin is a character on the television show Cheers,” she said.
“Yeah, crazy coincidence, right?”
“What old building?” she asked him.
He turned to the window and pointed at a five-story building on the other side of the parking lot. “That one.”
The building was an architectural artifact from the swinging ’60s with its lava rock accents, big tinted windows, and a lobby portico topped with white gravel.
“That was the original hospital,” Stott said. “We moved out of there a year ago. We built this new one to handle the demand for beds that we wrongly anticipated would come from . . .”
Kate wasn’t listening. She was already running out the door. The instant she saw the other building, she knew exactly how she and those six wealthy patients had been duped. The man in the photo on her iPhone wasn’t Cliff Clavin, and he wasn’t an engineer. He was Nicolas Fox, the man she’d been pursuing when she’d stumbled on the organ transplant scheme.
Fox was an international con man and thief, known for the sheer audacity of his high-risk swindles and heists and for the obvious joy he took in pulling them off. No matter how big his scores were, and he’d had some huge ones, he kept going back for more.
Kate had made it her mission at the FBI to nail him. She’d come close two years ago, when she’d discovered Nick’s plot to plunder a venture capitalist’s twentieth-story Chicago penthouse of all his cash and jewels at the same time that the self-proclaimed “King of Hostile Takeovers” was getting married in the living room.
It was a ballsy move, and pure Nick Fox. To pull it off, he somehow got himself hired as the wedding planner and brought in a motley crew of thieves as the caterers. When Kate crashed the wedding with a strike team, Nick’s crew scattered like cockroaches when the light goes on, and Nick parasailed off the top of the building.
Choppers were called in, streets were closed, roadblocks were set up, and buildings were searched, but Nick slipped away. When Kate finally straggled into her hotel room at dawn, there was a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of roses waiting for her. All from Nick. And charged to her room, of course. The whole time she’d been hunting for Nick, he’d been relaxing in her room, watching pay-per-view movies, ordering room service, and helping himself to the Toblerones in her minibar. He’d even stolen the towels on his way out.
The bastard is having way too much fun at my expense, Kate thought as she bolted through the hospital lobby, out the door past two surprised agents, and charged across the parking lot.
When she reached the cyclone fence around the old hospital building, she was sweating and her heart was pounding so hard she could almost hear it. She drew her gun and slowly approached the entrance to the lobby. As she got closer, she saw a red carpet and a sign that had been obscured in the shadows of the alcove under the portico. The sign read:
Welcome to the St. Cosmas Concierge Medical Center. Please excuse our dust as we remodel to give you more privacy, luxury, and state-of-the art care.
Hugging the lava rock walls she made her way to the door, yanked it open, and spun into the open space in a firing stance. But there was no one to aim at. Kate faced an elegantly furnished lobby decked out with contemporary leather furniture, travertine floors, and lush plants. On the wall behind the empty reception desk were photos of the surgical staff. She looked at the photos and immediately recognized two of the faces. One of them belonged to Nick Fox, a stethoscope around his neck, exuding doctorly strength and confidence. The other one was her, with a dopey, drunken smile on her face. Her picture had been lifted, cropped, and photoshopped from the bridal party pictures taken years ago that were now on her sister Megan’s Facebook page. “Dr. William Scholl” was written in bronze letters under Nick’s photo, “Dr. Eunice Huffnagle” under hers.
Okay, so where was the “surgical staff” now? she asked herself. And what about the six rich patients who’d come from far and wide for organ transplants?
Kate headed for the double doors that were located to one side of the reception desk. She pushed them open and stepped into a foyer, ready to fire. But once again, there was no one there. Directly in front of her were three more sets of double doors. One was marked “Operating Room #1,” the second “Post-Op #1,” and the third “Pre-Op.” An elevator was to her left. A stairwell door was to her right.
She eased open the door to the operating room and found a fully decked out surgical suite that took its design cues from an Apple Store. Everything was sleek and white. All the equipment gleamed like new cars on a showroom floor.
She closed the door and peeked into the post-op room. There was the standard hospital bed, the IV stand, and the usual monitoring devices, but the similarities to any other hospital room ended there. The room was luxuriously appointed with fancy French furniture, ornate shelves filled with leather-bound books, a flat-screen TV, and a wet bar stocked with assorted spirits.
He’s smart, she thought. Posing as an asbestos removal company was the perfect cover for Nick’s scam. It ensured that everyone at the hospital kept their distance from the old building while Nick and his crew were actually creating an elaborate set and staging their con.
Finally, she went to the pre-op room. The door opened onto a long ward with an abandoned nurses station and several curtained-off areas behind it. She stepped inside and cautiously slid open the first curtain. An unconscious middle-aged man in a hospital gown was stretched out on a gurney and hooked up to an IV drip. Kate checked his pulse. It was strong.