Billy Moto was still numb from his encounter with Joellen Becker. She had rattled him. Japanese women were not like that. At no point during the dinner did Moto ever have control of the conversation. He felt steamrolled. Bludgeoned. She was out there somewhere shaking Pensacola by the lapels in search of a small rectangle of cardboard that probably still smelled faintly of stale bubble gum.

At least he'd had the presence of mind to insist on a copy of the file. He refused to leave the investigation in this woman's hands and fully intended to pursue the matter independently. Moto went back to his room at the Airport Hilton and pored over the information. The VHS tape was of Folger showing the card to some expert on a public television show. Moto watched the tape. He studied Folger's facial expressions as the expert appraised the card for insurance purposes. Moto watched Folger's body language as the expert described the best way to maintain the card and prevent corrosion.

Based on Folger's brief television appearance, Moto decided he did not like the man. Folger was impatient and selfish and a little weak it seemed. He'd expected the card to be worth more and felt slighted by the expert's low appraisal. At heart, Folger was a spoiled child and a bit of a sissy. Five minutes was a very short amount of time to sum up a man's heart and soul, and Moto realized he could be way off in his estimate. But Moto was seldom wrong in such matters.

Moto's cell phone played Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars.

He flipped open the little phone. "I'm here, Mr. Kurisaka."

"Billy, I sent you a package by FedEx. It should have been delivered to your room."

Moto looked around, saw the box in the middle of the desk. "It's here."

"Open it."

Moto opened it. A heavy-duty metal attach¨¦ case.

"Use it to transport the card," Kurisaka said. "I had it specially made. It can survive one hundred fathoms or a fall from twenty thousand feet. Fireproof. Also a small homing beacon built into the lining."

"Mr. Kurisaka, I'm just not sure all of this is necessary."

"I want the card well protected."

Moto hesitated a moment, then said, "Mr. Kurisaka, things are going a bit more slowly than anticipated. I'm having trouble locating Folger. He's seems to have gone missing and has taken the card with him."

A long pause. "You don't think he's selling the card to... someone else?"

"I couldn't say," Moto admitted. "I just wanted to make you aware this may take a few days. But as soon as I find him, I will make your offer. A million dollars is much more than the appraised value of the card. I'm sure he won't refuse."

Moto had no trouble interpreting Kurisaka's silence. He was displeased.

Kurisaka said, "Billy, do what you must. Find him. And if a million dollars isn't good enough, then convince Folger it is in his best interest to part with the card. Do you understand what I mean?"

"I understand."

"Good-bye, Billy." He hung up.

Moto considered Kurisaka's words. Moto knew when he started working for the billionaire that he would be asked to do difficult things. A man like Kurisaka did not need another administrative assistant. He needed a right-hand man, and he expected results from Billy Moto. Yes, Kurisaka was willing to pay a million dollars, but he wouldn't hesitate to get what he wanted by less scrupulous means.

Moto searched himself and wondered how far he'd go to get Kurisaka what he wanted.

The conversation with Billy Moto lingered in Kurisaka's mind, distracted him. He flipped on his hundred-inch, flat-screen television and put in the DVD of Pillow Talk, which always calmed him down and let him think. Doris Day's voice was like creamy butter.

But he barely watched the film, was hardly aware of Doris Day at all. His mind raced. It should have been so simple. Kurisaka had sent Moto to America to expedite the purchase of the DiMaggio card. Why should there be complications? Unless... Unless... Something was going on behind his back. His old Yakuza instincts bubbled to the surface. Hito Hyatta had agents everywhere, men who labored to make Hyatta aware of rare and valuable collectibles that came on the market. And Kurisaka knew Hyatta's passion for their shared hobby. He knew Hyatta would spare no expense if he wanted the DiMaggio card for himself. Hyatta had practically admitted it at lunch. He was after a highly collectible card in Florida. What else could it be but the DiMaggio card?

Kurisaka would not be thwarted again by Hyatta! He was tired of playing second fiddle to his rival. This time he would get the card and rub it in Hyatta's face. Let Hyatta sit and seethe with envy. This time Kurisaka would be the one to gloat over his new prize.

But Billy Moto was usually very competent. Moto's lack of progress was most troubling. Could it be... no... was it possible that Moto would betray him? Had Hyatta gotten to Moto, made him a better offer for retrieving the card? Yes, of course it was possible. Anyone could be bribed or threatened. A lesson from Kurisaka's Yakuza days he'd almost forgotten. Kurisaka had become complacent. He felt ashamed and lost. As a Yakuza boss he'd been feared and respected. As a legitimate businessman he was mocked and ridiculed. Men like Hyatta laughed behind his back. Damn them! Damn them all. He would show them. He would not be toyed with. He would-

A red flashing beacon in the corner of the TV screen and a harsh beep made Kurisaka jump. Kurisaka thumbed the remote, paused the film, and the face of one of his employees filled the screen.

"Mr. Kurisaka, there's been another attempt on your life."

Kurisaka raised an eyebrow. "Tell me."

"A man outside your offices. A routine security screening found he had a bomb. We think he was going to try to sneak in disguised as a custodial worker. Probably plant the bomb in your office. Shall we turn him over to Tokyo Police?"

"No. Question him. Find out who hired him."

"It shall be done. But if he proves as resistant to interrogation as the others..."

"Make sure no remains are found." He had not completely forgotten the Yakuza ways.

"Hai." The man's face disappeared from the screen.

Enemies. All around him there were enemies. Enemies and traitors. Kurisaka needed someone he could trust. No one in his current organization would suffice. He needed somebody from the old days. He picked up his phone, dialed a number he knew by heart.


"Cousin Toshi," Kurisaka said. "It has been too long. How would you like to go to America?"

Joellen Becker had opened her mouth and puked lies until she'd convinced Billy Moto she practically had Teddy Folger in her back pocket.

Moto's call to her office had intrigued her. She'd done a very specific Internet search. You can find some surprising information on the Web if you know where to look and how to read between the lines. An hour on Mercenary.com and a visit to Bountyhunterand-rewards.com confirmed her suspicions. She also made several calls to some folks she knew from her old NSA days.

Her investigation had turned up a few interesting things about the billionaire Ahira Kurisaka. Things she could exploit although she would need to first confirm a few details. Later.

After dinner, she went home and opened the gun chest in the bedroom closet, took out the Smith & Wesson.380 auto and two extra clips, snapped them into the lightweight nylon shoulder holster. She did not delve into the metal chests containing her array of special equipment. Keepsakes from her government days.

Becker had names and addresses and some other good information from Folger's file, including where the man's ex-wife lived. She'd go to the man's places, follow the trail, sniff him out. She was an investigator. This was her specialty.

She shrugged into the holster rig, snapped it tight. She strapped the.25 automatic to her ankle. A million bucks for a baseball card? Yes, that was a lot of money. But to Joellen Becker, the card was merely bait for a much bigger fish.


When early man had formed the notion of real estate, it had been decided by all involved that land near water would be more expensive. A lot more expensive.

Still, oceanfront property wasn't always a good idea. Every few years a grumpy hurricane shuffled through Pensacola and kicked over all the beachfront houses. People rebuilt. Insurance rates soared, but snowbirds and carpetbaggers flocked to the sunny coast, bought up the beachfront property, then the beach-access property, plunked down big wads of cash into cookie-cutter time-shares. Or they bought houses on canals that in turn led to the sea.

Anything to be on or near or in view of the ocean.

Conner figured Teddy Folger had caught on late. Folger's sad plot of land was on a narrow canal which connected to a small river that emptied into a bay which opened into the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't much, but it was there, the distant connection to wide-open seas. Maybe Teddy could even feel it, standing on his back porch with a beer in his fist. Maybe he looked at the muddy dribble of a canal but felt and heard the salty roar of the ocean. Conner could only guess.

Jenny Folger and Conner Samson watched the house and the sailboat from a rented canoe two hundred yards away. He looked through his new binoculars. No signs of life. The boat was squeezed into the canal pretty tight, less than two feet to spare on each side. There was a spacious, green backyard and then the bungalow. They'd passed half a dozen houses after turning off the river. Then they'd passed two construction sites. Then about a mile of empty lots, and they thought they had the wrong canal, but they rounded a bend and there it was. Teddy Folger's house was the very last one at the end of the canal, the sailboat backed in, stern away from them.

Conner handed the binoculars to Jenny.

"That's it all right," she said. "You can't see where it says Electric Jenny from here, but that's it."

Jenny had changed into an American-flag bikini top and denim shorts. She was tan just short of leathery, breasts nearly overflowing the stars and stripes. Conner worried she'd catch him sneaking peeks.

He dipped the paddle into the water and began turning the canoe around.

"What are you doing?" Jenny asked.


"The boat's right there, for Christ's sake. Let's just get it."

"It'll be dark in a few hours. Does Teddy have a gun or anything? Is he violent?"

She bit her lower lip, looked back at the boat and the bungalow. "Probably not."

"I don't think I'll risk it," Conner said. "We'll come back when he's asleep, scull the boat out with a paddle or push it out with the boat hook. Then crank the engine and take off when we're a safe distance away."

"What if he leaves in the meantime?"

Good point. "Okay. The bait place where we rented the canoe has a little motel. We'll get a room facing the water and keep watch. We'll get some sandwiches."

They paddled back. (Actually, Conner noticed he did most of the paddling. Jenny rubbed suntan oil over her body.) He paid the rental guy to keep the canoe until the next morning. The motel rooms were not fancy. They'd been designed for boaters and fishermen, and the motel's main feature was that it was right on the water. Conner paid the forty-eight bucks and went to the room while Jenny hit the bait shop.

The room was clean but dismal, cheap wood paneling, two shabby chairs. Conner flipped on the air-conditioning, a small window unit, and it rattled and coughed out something akin to cool air. He pulled back the drapes so he could see the river. They were into the long days of summer, so even though it was past dinnertime, they still had a good two hours to kill until dark.

Jenny knocked once, then walked in with a paper bag under her arm. She looked the room over. "Not exactly the Plaza, is it?"

Yeah, but I'm the one who paid for it. Conner sat on the bed and flipped on the TV, looking for a ball game. No cable. He switched it off. The money Derrick James had given him was running low. He was glad they'd found the sailboat. Conner reluctantly admitted he owed Jenny some gratitude. He didn't admit it out loud.

She pulled a six-pack of Bud and two sandwiches out of the bag. "Not much of a selection. Egg salad or tuna salad."

"I'll take the tuna."

She frowned. "There's also egg salad."

"Fine." Conner could take a hint.

They chewed sandwiches, sipped beer, watched the window.

The sun faded to dirty orange, and the boats made their way down the river-speedboats, party barges, and the occasional sailboat. Some pulled into the bait shop for gas or a last-minute six-pack. College kids, families, old men buying bait for night fishing.

Some boats were coming up the river, back to waterfront homes after a long day of fishing. There weren't many sailboats. They all had to get in before the County Road 25 bridge-

"Aw, crap," Conner said.

Jenny looked up from her beer. "What?"

"The bridge," he said. "The operator knocks off at seven. We won't be able to get past it until morning. The Jenny's mast is too tall." It was one of those old, swing-to-the-side bridges that hadn't quite fallen apart yet. Sooner or later the county would probably hand it over to the state, then the state would tear it down and build a higher bridge so the boats could fit underneath. Conner cursed himself for forgetting about the damn bridge.

Jenny said, "I told you we should have done it while we were there."

"Shut up a second and let me think."

She pouted, lit a cigarette.

"Here's what we do," Conner announced. "We'll grab the Jenny tonight as planned, sail her downriver. There are a dozen places I can pull in, little branches and hidey-holes. We'll stash the boat, come back in a day or maybe two and get her then."

"Fine." She smoked, propped her feet up on the bed next to Conner. Her legs were tan and firm. She'd unbuttoned the top of her denim shorts, the zipper halfway down.

She might've caught Conner looking again, so he decided to start some conversation.

"So..." That was about all he had.

"You look in shape," she said. "You work out?"

"I used to play a little ball."

"I go to the gym almost every day," she said. "That's one of the reasons I'm so pissed. I kept in good shape, you know? He didn't need another girl."

"It doesn't work that way," Conner said. "That's not how men decide things about women."

"How do men decide?"

"I don't know, but not like that."

She lifted one of her legs. "Feel that calf. It's as good as a twenty-year-old's."

He took her ankle in one hand, felt her calf with the other. Taut. Good tone. "Nice."

"Damn right." She swigged beer, stood up, and shimmied out of her shorts. She wore the bottom half of the American-flag bikini underneath, cut high on the hips. "The good thing about the bridge being closed is we don't have to keep watch." She turned to close the curtains, showed Conner the backside of her bikini, a thong. Firm and tan all over.

Conner began feeling a little twitchy.

She came back to him on the bed, straddled him. She rubbed his places. He rubbed her places in return. Then their places started bumping against one another. She peeled Conner out of his clothes. He untied her bikini top. Tan lines, stark white triangles around pink nipples.

Conner thought of Tyranny, how she kept working him into a frenzy until he was crazy, then pulling away, leaving him hot and bothered. So he swung Jenny underneath him, entered her hard, pounded, fucking her angry, her grunts and moans working into a steady rhythm, her nails digging into his back, ankles locked behind his knees. Conner clenched his teeth as he thrust. Like it was some kind of punishment.

She squealed, and Conner was right behind her. They collapsed into a pile of sweat and beer breath and coconut oil.

After, they lay there under the sheets in the dark, both awake but not talking.

Finally, she asked, "Was that... did you like it?"

"Of course." He might not have liked it the way she wanted him to, maybe it wasn't so much to do with her, but he'd needed it.

"Then why-" Her voice caught. "I thought I hated Teddy so much. I thought... what did I do wrong? Why did this happen?"

Conner thought she might be crying, but in the dark, he wasn't sure. He tried to think of something to say, but nothing seemed helpful, so he moved in close, draped an arm over her. Soon her breathing was easy and regular like she was asleep. Then he drifted off too.

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