DAVEY BUCCOLA PACED HIS HOTEL ROOM like a caged tiger. His suite at the Paramount on Times Square was luxurious. Frette bed linen, sleek modern furniture, $500 cashmere blankets draped casually over the back of the armchair. Davey thought, This'd be an impressive place to bring a woman.
Unfortunately, he wasn't with a woman. He was with a bunch of cops. And they were starting to make him nervous.
"Stand still, please, Mr. Buccola. We need to check your wire."
Davey lit a cigarette, his third in as many minutes.
"Yes. Again." Mitch Connors was in a pissy mood. "You want to see that two hundred grand, Mr. Buccola, I suggest you cooperate."
Davey thought, He's probably nervous, too. Doesn't want anything to go wrong.
Davey felt bad, doing the dirty on Grace Brookstein. He'd always liked her. What's more, he was convinced she was innocent of the crimes she'd been convicted of. But $200,000...two hundred thousand... He tried to rationalize the decision to himself. He was protecting Grace. This way she would be captured unharmed. He hadn't told Connors or any of the cops about the information he'd uncovered, either. Later, once Grace was safe, he'd use it to launch an appeal against her conviction and reopen the inquest into Lenny's death. Either that or sell it. What would Vanity Fair pay for a scoop like this? If he was lucky, he might double his reward money!
Of course, deep down, Davey Buccola knew the truth. He was betraying an innocent woman for money, the same way everybody else had betrayed her. It wasn't $200,000. It was thirty pieces of silver.
"Mr. Buccola. Are you with us?"
Davey looked up, startled. Mitch Connors was shouting at him again.
"We only have an hour. Let's run through the plan one more time."
GRACE DIPPED HER DOUGHNUT INTO THE hot black coffee and took a big, satisfying bite.
She and Lenny used to have the finest chefs on staff at all their homes, ready to prepare lobster Thermidor or whip up a Gruyere souffle at any hour of the day or night. But not until this week had Grace tasted a Dunkin' Donut. She couldn't imagine how she'd ever lived without them.
The week had been full of new experiences. The familiarity she felt when she first came back to New York had been replaced by a sort of delighted wonder. It was the same city she'd lived in, on and off, for her entire life. And yet it was completely different. This New York, the New York of the ordinary people, of the poor, was like another planet to Grace, with its subway trains, its dirty buses, its doughnut shops, its walk-ups and shared bathrooms and television sets with wire coat hangers jammed into the top. Lenny had always told Grace it was terrible to be poor. "Poverty is the most degrading, most soul-destroying state into which the human soul can sink." Grace disagreed. True, she had never been poor before, but then Lenny had never been to prison. Grace had. She knew what "soul-destroying" meant. She knew what it was to be degraded, to be robbed of one's humanity. Poverty didn't come close.
By all objective standards, the hotel in Queens where Grace had been staying was a dump - dirty, cramped, with depressing mustard-colored walls and linoleum floors. But Grace had come to enjoy the smells of fried onions wafting up from the hot-dog stand outside her window, and the ridiculous arguments between the couple across the hall. It made her feel less alone. As if she were part of something.
Getting dressed this morning, preparing for her meeting with Davey, she actually thought, I'll be sorry to leave here. But she knew she couldn't stay. For one thing, it wasn't safe. She had to keep moving. More important, the time had come to begin her mission. Armed with Davey's information, she could at last begin her journey. Today, her vengeance would take flight.
She had dressed simply for their rendezvous. Jeans, sneakers, a black polo-neck sweater and a down jacket, her beanie hat pulled low over her newly darkened hair. The jeans already felt a little tighter on the waist than they had in Richardsville. Grace was gaining weight, a side effect of her newfound doughnut addiction. Swallowing the dregs of her coffee, she looked at her watch. Eleven o'clock.
She headed for the subway.
MITCH CONNORS HADN'T SLEPT. THE PLAN was simple. Davey had arranged to meet Grace at noon exactly, in front of Toys "R" Us on Times Square. At that time of day the New York landmark should be crawling with shoppers looking for a bargain in the winter sales, as well as the usual backpack-laden hordes of tourists. Mitch had positioned two men behind Davey, inside the store, another two at the entrance to the subway and six more scattered throughout the crowd. All ten would be in plainclothes, wired and armed. Mitch wasn't expecting any trouble, but after the way Grace had dealt with that scumbag Tommy Burns, he wasn't taking any chances. As soon as Davey saw Grace in the crowd, he would use his hidden mike to alert the cops, who would close in around her. Once she reached Davey and shook his hand, that was the signal to move in and grab her. Easy.
Mitch himself would be watching the proceedings from the Paramount Hotel. His face had been all over the news for weeks. If Grace saw him, she'd know something was up.
Davey Buccola lit another cigarette. Eleven forty-five. Time to go downstairs. Davey looked on in alarm as one of the cops checked his gun before slipping it back into the holster under his jacket.
"What's that for? You aren't going to hurt her, are you?"
The cop looked at Davey like something he'd just scraped off of his shoe. He'd given them good information but he was a snitch. Nobody liked a snitch. "I'm sure Mrs. Brookstein would be touched by your concern. Are you ready?"
Davey nodded. Two hundred grand. My own place.
"I'm ready. Let's go."
TEN TO TWELVE.
"Do you see her?"
Davey Buccola stamped his feet against the cold. Resisting the urge to put his hand to his ear - he hated wires - he murmured, "Negative. Not yet."
Times Square was even more crowded than he'd expected. Toys "R" Us was jammed. Half of New York was out of work, but people would rather starve than see their kids go without the latest Hannah Montana doll or Special Agent Oso flashlight. Sad, really, Davey reflected.
THE WOMAN OPPOSITE GRACE WAS STARING. Grace felt her stomach flip over.
The train was crowded, but no one was talking. The woman's voice rang out like a foghorn.
"Hey! I'm talking to you."
Grace looked up. She felt the blood rush to her face. She recognizes me. Oh God. She's going to say something. They'll turn on me. The whole train will turn on me, they'll rip me to shreds!
"You done with your paper?"
Paper? Grace looked down. There was a New York Post in her lap. She had no idea how it had gotten there. Wordlessly, she handed it over.
Suddenly the train jerked to a halt. The lights flickered, then went out. Everybody groaned. The lights came on again. Grace looked at her watch. Five to twelve.
"Forget it," the man next to her said genially. "Wherever you're going, you're going to be late."
A voice came over the address system. "We apologize for the inconvenience. Due to some electrical problems, we expect a short delay."
No! Not today. Why today?
Grace took a deep breath. She couldn't draw attention to herself by appearing jittery. Besides, it was okay. They said a short delay. Davey would wait.
AS HE STARED OUT OF THE window Mitch's heart sank.
She's not coming.
He'd been so sure this was it. So certain. The clock on the wall taunted him. Ten after twelve. What could have gone wrong? Had Buccola had a change of heart and tipped her off? Had Grace realized she couldn't trust him? Or maybe it was worse than that. Maybe something had happened to her. An accident. Someone had recognized her and taken the law into his own hands.
"I think I see her."
Buccola's voice sounded crackly in Mitch's earpiece.
"You think? Don't you know?"
Buccola didn't answer.
"Well, where?" Mitch couldn't hide his excitement.
"She just came out of the subway. I didn't get a good look at her face. It might not be her."
"Danny, Luca. Did you guys see anything?"
Two of Mitch's men were right outside the subway, checking out every woman who emerged.
Jesus. "What was she wearing, Davey?"
"Jeans. Dark coat. A hat...I think. Shit."
"I lost her."
"You lost her? Well, was she heading toward you? Did she see you?"
"Forget it. It wasn't her."
GRACE DARTED OUT OF THE SUBWAY onto the street. She was late. Very late. Would Davey have waited this long? God, she hoped so. He was taking a big risk agreeing to meet her at all.
She pushed forward into the crowds, head down. The multicolored lettering of the Toys "R" Us store called to her from across the square. Grace headed toward it, scanning the throng for her friend's familiar face.
OFFICER LUCA BONNETTI WAS DISAPPOINTED. SO much for being part of the big show. Grace Brookstein had obviously made other plans.
Still, getting paid to eye up women wasn't the worst way to spend a morning. A cute brunette in a hurry brushed past him.
"Hey, babe. How you doin'?"
He tapped her on the ass, but she hurried on.
"What is your problem, Bonnetti?" His partner was mad. "We're supposed to be looking for America's most wanted, not harassing members of the public."
"Aw, lighten up, Danny. She was cute. And in case you haven't figured it out, Lady Brookstein ain't coming."
GRACE'S HEART WAS POUNDING. ASSHOLE.
After what that bastard van driver had done to her, the thought of a man touching her or even looking at her sexually made her want to scream at the top of her lungs. But she couldn't scream. She couldn't stop and yell at the guy to get his stinking hands off of her. She had to be invisible, to melt into the crowd.
Where the hell is Davey?
Just as she thought the words, she saw him. He was standing a few feet in front of the store. She walked toward him, smiling. Sensing her smile, Davey looked up. That's when Grace noticed.
"IT'S HER! I SEE HER. SHE'S heading over. Jeans, dark jacket. Beanie."
Mitch asked the cops in the square, "Have you got her?"
"Yes, sir. We see her. Closing in."
GRACE'S MIND RACED.
He said he'd have the file with him. The evidence. Why didn't he bring it?
Something was wrong. It wasn't just the file. It was Davey's face. It had guilt written all over it. Just then, two men brushed past Grace, heading toward Toys "R" Us. Some sixth sense made her slow her pace.
Cops. It's a setup.
There was no time to think. Acting on instinct, she whipped off her hat and stuffed it into her coat pocket. A group of foreign schoolchildren was heading in the opposite direction, back toward the subway. Grace slipped in among them, another small dark fish entering the safety of the shoal.
THE MEN CLUTCHED AT THEIR EARPIECES. Up in the hotel room, Mitch Connors was yelling bloody murder.
"Where is she? WHERE IS SHE?"
"I don't know." Davey Buccola was confused. "She was coming right for me and then she...she disappeared."
Mitch could have wept.
"Spread out, all of you. Keep looking. She's in that crowd."
He couldn't take it any longer. He ran out of the hotel room and headed for the stairs.
FROM THE SIXTH FLOOR OF THE Paramount, Mitch had had a bird's-eye view of the square below. Now, running outside at street level, he could barely see three feet in front of his nose. There were people everywhere, jostling their bulky shopping bags, pushing their kids' strollers across his path.
Jeans, dark jacket, beanie hat. She's here. She must be.
He pushed into the heaving mass of bodies.
GRACE WAS ALMOST AT THE SUBWAY. The stone steps beckoned her, promising safety, escape. Just a few more seconds. A few more steps!
She glanced to her right. A man in a Yankees cap was looking around him frantically, muttering to himself. One of the cops. How many are there? The man was heading straight for Grace's group. Now he was stopping their tour guide, asking him something. I have to break away.
Suddenly Grace saw the sleazeball who had pawed her earlier. He was still hanging around the entrance to the subway. On closer inspection she could see he was a young Italian, attractive, if you liked assholes. Not that Grace would have cared if he looked like Quasimodo. She walked in his direction.
MITCH HELD HIS BREATH. There she is! The crowd moved almost imperceptibly and he saw her, not fifteen feet away from where he was standing. She was tiny, maybe five feet tall, in jeans and a dark coat and she had almost reached the subway. Mitch broke into a run.
"Hey, buddy! Look where you're going."
"Slow down, jerk."
Mitch ran on blindly, knocking pedestrians off their feet. As Grace reached the steps Mitch made a lunge for her, rugby-tackling her to the ground, facedown. She screamed but it was too late. Blood gushed from her nose. Mitch snapped a pair of handcuffs on her wrists. It was over.
"Grace Brookstein, you're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney." Turning her over, he pulled the beanie hat up to get a better look at her face. "Oh Jesus."
A terrified blonde stared back at him.
Mitch had never seen her before in his life.
LUCA BONNETTI COULDN'T BELIEVE HIS LUCK.
"Hey, sexy. You're back."
"I'm back." The gorgeous brunette stood up on tiptoes, wrapped her arms around his neck and started kissing him passionately. Luca returned the favor. This time he got both hands on her ass.
Out of the corner of her eye, Grace saw the cop with the Yankee hat, still talking to the tour guide. He's probably describing me. If she looked like she were part of a couple, it would throw them off the scent. This bozo could be her cover till she got safely on a train. Then she'd jump off at the next station and lose him.
She broke off the kiss and smiled at him. "Wanna take a ride with me?"
Luca grinned. "Do I ever!"
"He's busy." Another man, older, with a thick, salt-and-pepper mustache, had appeared out of nowhere and looked daggers at Grace. "He's busy."
Luca Bonnetti protested. "No, I'm not. Give me a break, Danny, would you?"
"Give you a break?" The man turned to Grace. "Look, lady, we're NYPD and we're on a job. So get the hell out of here before I book you for soliciting."
Grace felt the bile rise up in her throat. He's one of them. Her legs started to shake. She ran.
IT TOOK MITCH A FEW MOMENTS to react.
He was apologizing to the young woman whose nose he'd just broken when the girl tore past him, two steps at a time. Turning back to the woman, Mitch started removing her handcuffs when he saw it: a gray woolen beanie hat sticking out of the girl's coat pocket.
"Stop!" he yelled. "Police!"
GRACE WAS ON THE PLATFORM. BEHIND her, she could hear the shouting.
"Police! Let me through!"
The train was packed. Grace tried to force her way into a car but a man pushed her back. "Use your eyes, lady. There's no room here. Move down."
The shouts were getting louder. Grace looked back over her shoulder. It was him. Detective Connors. She recognized his face from the TV reports.
The next car was also full. People had started moving back, waiting for the next train. There was no space on this one. The electric doors whooshed shut. It was too late. The train started to move away.
"Grace Brookstein! Stay where you are. You're under arrest!"
Grace heard her name. So did everybody else. Suddenly hundreds of pairs of eyes were swiveling around, scanning the platform. Grace Brookstein? Where? Is she here?
Mitch Connors was sprinting along the platform, faster than the train. He ran past the first car. Then the second. As he reached the third the crowds parted. Mitch and Grace were face-to-face.
Grace looked into Mitch's eyes and Mitch looked into hers. The hunter and the prey. For a moment something passed between them. Mutual respect. Affection, even. But only for a moment.
The train was gaining speed. Safe in the warmth of the carriage, Grace turned away from the window.
Mitch Connors stood on the platform and watched her disappear into the dark oblivion of the tunnel.
BACK AT THE STATION, LIEUTENANT DUBRAY lost it.
"What the fuck? How could you lose her like that? How?"
"I don't know, sir." Mitch sighed.
He tried to look on the bright side. They knew more than they did forty-eight hours ago. They knew Grace was still in New York. They knew she was a brunette now and that she'd gained weight. Tomorrow they'd issue a new Photofit picture to the media.
Thanks to Luca Bonnetti, the NYPD's crack surveillance team had managed to gather one other new piece of information.
America's most wanted woman was a terrific kisser.