Flawless Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
“I’M OKAY. REALLY. But I have to tell you what I did. Well, he deserved it, of course,” Julie Benton said over the phone.
“What did you do?” Kieran Finnegan asked. So far, she’d only been half listening; Julie’s tale of woe had been going on for quite a while now.

Kieran wiped the bar, one eye on her task, the other on the patrons in the pub.

Thankfully, at the moment she could easily work and listen, despite the fact that the object of Julie’s venom—her almost ex, Gary Benton—was one of the few other people at Finnegan’s on Broadway, the family downtown pub, one of the oldest in the city.

Julie giggled. “He deserved it,” she repeated.

Kieran didn’t doubt that. She just wished she couldn’t see Gary as she was talking to Julie.

She never minded cleaning Finnegan’s since it was practically her family home. It was a beautiful old place with finely carved wood, a range of tables and booths, and this classic bar with its array of beer taps and collection of Irish whiskeys. Photographs of the pub through the years hung behind the bar. Beyond was a comfortable dining room, equally rich in wood decor and handsome carving.

They weren’t particularly busy at this off-hour of the day, between lunch and happy hour.

Bobby O’Leary was at one end of the bar; although he was an alcoholic long in recovery, Finnegan’s was the center of his social life. He was still one of their favorite customers.

She’d given Bobby his standard soda with lime, and he was reading the Times.

Two groups of business executives on extended lunch hours remained. Three were at one table, and four—including Gary—were at another. Finnegan’s wasn’t even officially open. They closed between 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., according to the sign on the front door, but their clientele consisted mainly of friends and regulars who knew they could come in and receive service with a smile. Both tables had paid their bills and were lingering over coffee. Kieran had served them all their final refills—managing not to spill any scalding coffee on Gary—before she’d started cleaning.

And before Julie had called. She refrained from mentioning to Julie that Gary was at the pub; frankly, she was stunned he’d come in at all. He wasn’t wanted here. But he was with Jimmy McManus—a longtime customer and entrepreneur who’d made a fortune in everything from magic mops to designer dog food and Wall Street trading. Jimmy was a great guy with a headful of white hair and a quick smile, taut and fit despite his fondness for a good Irish stout. They were joined by two men who seemed to be friends of Jimmy’s. Kieran hadn’t allowed herself to run over, grab Gary by the lapels and throw him out on the street. But until the coffee refill, she hadn’t gone near the table. Mary Kathleen, a recent recruit from the old country and the love of Kieran’s brother Declan’s life, had been working the floor. She’d waited on the table, but she’d left at three. Which meant Kieran had no choice except to take over.

The other two at Jimmy’s table were men Kieran had seen in the pub before but didn’t really know. One was dark and one was pale. They were friendly, polite and dressed in handsome business suits, like many of the pub’s clientele, who walked down from the Wall Street banks and firms where they worked.

They all looked richer than Gary Benton, that was for sure. Maybe he was trying to learn how to join their ranks.

Making a point of not looking toward the table, Kieran finished the last of her cleaning and the setup for happy hour while listening to Julie. Now that part wasn’t easy, and not only because Julie and Gary were in the middle of the sad dissolution of their marriage.

Gary had wanted the divorce. Kieran knew things sometimes just fell apart. It was always difficult and distressing, but in this case, Gary’s treatment of Julie had seemed deliberately cruel.

Julie needed her friends, and Kieran felt she had to be there for her.

Don’t look over at Gary. Just listen to Julie, she told herself. Yes, listen to Julie and be a good friend.

And clean up the pub without pouring something over Gary’s head. She might not care if Gary ever came back, but she didn’t want to drive Jimmy and the others away. Finnegan’s wasn’t her full-time job, but it was her family’s business and important to them all, herself and her three brothers.

Finnegan’s was a true Irish-American pub. Her grandfather had bought it from a cousin when he’d come to the United States after the Second World War. It had actually been owned and operated by a Finnegan since shortly after the Civil War. Not only did they have a wonderful bar selection, with excellent beers on tap and high-end call brands, they also offered good pub-style food. People came to eat and drink, but they also came to socialize, to meet up with friends. Sometimes, during off-hours like this, that meant waiting around until the current Finnegan in charge of the place—her oldest brother, Declan, these days—or another family member or server came by.

Although it wasn’t her real job anymore, she was always happy to help out at the pub. She had a career as a criminal psychologist now. But she hadn’t been working with Doctors Fuller and Miro long enough to conduct an extended phone therapy session with Julie, even if she considered this crisis in her friend’s life as something that could lead to a serious mental health issue. Luckily, she had the day off—Dr. Miro was at a conference, and Dr. Fuller had taken a vacation day and ordered the staff—Kieran and the handsome young receptionist and assistant, Jake Johnston—to do the same thing.

“I was calm, Kieran, I swear,” Julie said. “You need to understand that. Calm—and clever.”

That was good, Kieran thought. Calm. Since Gary had first started his hell-bent attempt to ruin their marriage, Julie had veered from wild rages to copious tears. Kieran couldn’t blame her. Gary had gone out of his way to be hurtful. He’d brought his new girlfriend to their home, made love with her in his and Julie’s bed, and somehow the girlfriend had “accidentally” left her panties there. He’d emptied their joint bank accounts and, possibly cruelest of all, told Julie she no longer attracted him sexually. More—he claimed he found her repulsive.

“What did you do?” Kieran pressed warily.

“Well—” Julie giggled again “—you’ll be glad to hear I didn’t somehow get hold of a gun and shoot him.”

“I am glad to hear that. So what did you do?”

“What he did was worse. I went to stay with my parents and left the house to him,” Julie continued. “He says he can’t stand living with me, but apparently I’m not supposed to leave, either. He called to tell me I’d better get back to feed my damned dogs. He kept them in their crates, hadn’t let them out at all! They were starving, Kieran, and covered in their own waste.”

Kieran glanced over at the table where Gary was seated. He’d risen with the others now; they were on their way out, which was a relief. She wouldn’t feel tempted to inflict bodily harm.

She watched him leave. He was a good-looking man, but Kieran had never been particularly fond of him. There was something…slimy about him, in her opinion. His quick, oh-so-charming smile usually meant he was planning something devious. He sold precious stones and jewelry at a high-end store in the Diamond District, and he’d often told Julie he had to take some woman out for dinner or drinks because a big sale was in the offing.
Slime.

She and her brothers had tolerated him for one reason and one reason only. Because they loved Julie, their friend since childhood.

But he’d left the dogs locked in their crates?

“That’s horrible. You should call the police on him. Either that or move out. I’ve told you to come and stay with—”

“The dogs and I won’t fit in your apartment,” Julie said.

That was probably true; Kieran’s apartment on St. Marks Place was the size of a postage stamp. But she didn’t care if she, Julie and the two dogs were all crammed in there. Animal abuse was never acceptable.

“We’d make it work,” Kieran told her. “And if he’s actually being that horrible, you need to get out of there. I really think you should call the police. There are laws against that kind of thing.”

“Oh, I don’t want the police involved.”

Kieran winced at that. She wasn’t fond of police intervention herself, even though her new position would soon have her working with them often enough. While her oldest brother, Declan, had become a completely respectable citizen, her other brothers—her twin, Kevin, and their baby brother, Daniel, who was a whole year younger—still had “friends” involved with various street gangs. They were trying to go straight, but it was easy to fall back into their old ways. She’d had some bad times herself during her teenage years. Like Declan, however, she’d known that things could spiral downward, so she’d gone to college, majoring in criminology and specializing in criminal psychology. In a sense she was paying for her past—and making her past pay.

They’d never done anything too terrible. Declan had made some “deliveries” for the McNamara clan, an Irish family that had challenged the Garcia gang. But after their father’s death, he’d decided he was going to be the head of a family that would live and thrive and succeed in NYC. Kevin had hung out with the O’Malley family, really just a loose connection of thugs. High-school stuff. Danny had actually joined the Wolves, another loose-knit group proudly based on the TV show Dexter, but without the murders. They stole from those who stole from others, sweeping up their cell phones and hacking their computers in turn. He’d come the closest to being in real trouble when a rival group had caught him and some hackers at the school library and started a massive brawl.

Kieran remembered a time when life had seemed good and normal, even though they’d lost their mother when they were young. Then their father had died almost ten years ago. Declan had been in college at the time, and he’d felt the weight of responsibility for his siblings and to family tradition. He’d gone straighter than an arrow. Kieran, who’d only gotten occasionally involved with computer hacking and a few minor thefts, quickly followed suit, graduating from high school with stellar grades. Declan had made clear to his younger brothers that he had zero tolerance for bad behavior, so they’d realized they had no one to bail them out of serious trouble and struggled to keep their noses clean. They’d been doing that, as far as she knew. The problem with Kevin and Danny was that they both believed in justice—their version of it—even when the law didn’t.

“Kieran, are you there?”

“Yes, yes, and I want to hear the end of the story.”

Julie laughed softly. “It’s good. I promise you, it’s good.”

A sense of unease began to stir in Kieran. “Julie, just tell me, what did you do?”

“Did I mention that whoever he’s fooling around with left her thong in the bed? My bed?

“Yes, I know, and that’s deplorable. But what did you do?”

“I got over the crying. I don’t want you to think I did anything crazy because I was crying hysterically or out of my mind with grief or anything.”

At that, Kieran’s reaction went from unease to real concern. She looked up, forced herself to flash a smile to Bobby, refilled his glass and asked Julie to hang on for a minute.

She stopped trying to do anything useful; she had to concentrate on this conversation. She headed to the end of the bar, out of earshot of everyone else, and leaned against it. “Julie, what did you do?” she asked again.

“I was very nice, actually. His boss called the house, asking if I knew where he was. I said I didn’t. Then I went and bought doughnuts and take-out coffee, and brought them down to the store.”

That sounded nice so far. In Gary’s business, client and coworker relationships were important, because the amounts of money clients spent and the employees’ commissions were so high that cooperation literally paid. After all, better that the proceeds were shared than never earned at all. Julie was well liked by Gary’s friends and coworkers. She was quick to assist when asked and enjoyed role-playing—pretending keen interest in a piece of jewelry when a possible buyer was studying it. In the process, she’d learned a fair bit about how to judge the quality of diamonds.

But Julie hadn’t gone down to the store to be nice; Kieran was certain of that. “Julie, what exactly did you do after that?” she asked.

“I handed out doughnuts. I apologized to his friends and coworkers for the fact that he hadn’t been showing up when he was supposed to, and I explained that they’d have to find whatever woman he was sleeping with to know where he was. I saw his boss last. I asked him to save one glazed doughnut with a hole in it so Gary would have a place to put his dick in case one of his new girlfriends got wise to him.”

“That was it?” Kieran asked.

Julie giggled. “Oh, no. I want him to really hurt.”

“So then?”

“Well, then they acted all awkward and said how sorry they were. I just said, well, it was over, and how much I liked all of them, but I wouldn’t be able to come in and pose as a potential customer anymore.”

“And that was it? Right?”

“Well…almost,” Julie said. “You have to understand, Kieran. I wasn’t stupid about this. I was calm and charming. I’m so ready for all of this to be over.”

“And that’s good. Close the door. Start fresh.”

“You remember, don’t you, how I didn’t even want to get married right away?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I wanted to go to California and earn my master’s. Take some time. He talked me into getting married.”

“We all make mistakes, Julie. But back to what you did…” Kieran hesitated. “So you left the shop and that was it,” she said hopefully.

“Well…”

“Oh, Lord. Julie, if you wanted to hurt him, you should’ve just called animal control or the police. I’m sure they would have taken action for what he did to the dogs. You might have gotten him fired just for that. In any case, he would’ve been in trouble somewhere with someone.”

“Trust me, he’s already going to be in enough trouble,” Julie said.

“And why is that?”

“They’re going to find out that the Capelleti Diamond is gone. And Gary was the last one to handle it.”

Kieran’s heart slammed against her chest. “No! You didn’t—did you? Did you steal the diamond, Julie? Tell me you didn’t. That’s grand larceny! Did you steal that diamond?

“No, don’t be ridiculous,” Julie said.

“Thank God,” Kieran murmured.

“I’m no good at stuff like that! I’d never try to steal anything. I was just setting Gary up. Making sure his boss and everyone there knew he had a reason to steal it, what with a new girlfriend and an expensive divorce.

“Get to the point!”

“Well, the point is… I had your brother take the diamond for me. I admit I don’t know that many, but Daniel’s the best thief I’ve ever met—besides you, of course

 

***

Craig Frasier headed down the hall to the office of assistant director Richard Eagan and ran into Mike Dalton, who was approaching their boss’s office from the opposite direction.

Mike grinned at Craig. “I’m baa-ack!” he said happily.

“Glad to see it.” Craig grinned in return and couldn’t help asking, “So, how’s the ass?”

Mike gave a nonchalant shrug. “Every part of me is doing fine. As for you, you’re just a wiseass kid,” he said.

They’d been partners for five years, and at thirty-four, Craig hardly considered himself a kid. But he and Mike were more than partners; they were friends, as well. Although they could joke about it now, they’d been chasing a suspect in the murder of an up-and-coming politician in the Poconos when Mike was injured. He’d dodged behind cover to avoid a bullet from the Beretta the supposedly unarmed suspect had suddenly stopped to fire and caught the bullet in the left buttock as he took his dive. Craig had taken down their suspect, winging him in his right shoulder. The Beretta had gone flying, and the suspect had been arrested—in pain but alive. He’d provided information on his coconspirators in the murder, and the crime had been solved. It had been a good day for their unit, but Mike had spent several days in the hospital after that, and then a month at home on forced medical leave.

Mike had informed Craig that it was his fine solid ass that had saved the day. An embarrassing injury, Craig had pointed out, one that had resulted in all the inevitable remarks.

Naturally, even as they teased him, his coworkers were grateful that his injury wasn’t worse and that he would easily recover.

“Good to have you back,” Craig said, and he meant it.

In Mike’s absence, he’d been paired with Marty Salinger, the new nerd on the block, a by-the-book-until-the-pages-ripped kind of nerd. Craig had just about crawled out of his skin every time Marty insisted on backup when the clock was ticking or refused to make a move without direct permission.

Craig had made it through some hard situations, situations in which going by the book was no help. He’d worked undercover in narcotics, and more than once, fast thinking had saved his life—and the lives of others.

Marty would learn. Sometimes the book was important and gave them what they needed; sometimes, a good agent was better off making split-second decisions without it.

But hell, Craig himself had learned from Mike. Mike had been with the agency twelve years; he had experience and resolve. At five-eleven, he was shorter than Craig by four-plus inches, but he was lean and fit and determined to stay that way. He and Craig spent hours training. They both ran, and participated in the various sports events the agency sponsored.

They both spent long hours at the gun range, too; shooting skills had to be kept sharp when you worked in the field.

Mike had been offered desk jobs over the years. He didn’t want them. It would happen soon enough, he’d told Craig, but he still had work to do making sure he had Craig trained properly. It wasn’t entirely meant as a joke.

Now that memory made Craig think about Marty. One day he would probably be a good field agent; Craig just didn’t want to be the one stuck teaching him. He liked knowing that Mike had his back. He was always afraid Marty would be checking some manual to see if it was all right before he entered the fray.

Luckily, everything had been straightforward during the weeks Mike was out recuperating. Craig and the new kid had been assigned to a gang shakedown. Intelligence had been good, and they’d made a number of arrests without a drop of blood being spilled.

Craig had recently come off that detail, and with Mike newly returned that day from medical leave, they were being called in to see the assistant director.

“You know what this is about?” Craig asked.

“Not a clue. Hey, this is New York,” Mike said. “Could be anything.”

The New York State office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the largest in the country, and since New York City had such a massive population, most of the agents were assigned to the city and its environs. The New York office had agents assisting with cases across the country. However, since 9/11, the delegation of duties had changed somewhat. There were now special divisions in the New York office that handled practically everything, from fraud and income-tax evasion to organized crime, gangs, kidnapping, murder, terrorism and more. The units worked together to assess a situation and strategize the best approach. After all, as people often said, Al Capone had been brought down not by a hail of gunfire but by the brilliance of an accountant.

Within the different divisions, there was a small group of agents who’d earned a place in one of Eagan’s special task forces. Craig and Mike fell into that category, so a trip to Eagan’s office was always intriguing. They never had any idea what the assignment might be, except that it was usually in conjunction with another law enforcement agency.

The director’s assistant indicated that they should go on in. “He’s waiting for you,” she told them.

Craig opened the door for Mike. “After you, my friend. I’ve got to watch out for the elderly and the injured.”

“Don’t you mean you should step aside for maturity and experience?” Mike said. “But never mind. You go first.”

“Ah, but I don’t want the door catching you in the ass—the back, I mean—if you go in last,” Craig said.

“Low blow!” Mike protested.

Craig inclined his head. “Okay, we’ll call it maturity and experience.” He held the door and followed Mike in.

Richard Eagan was looking out his window when they entered. “Take a seat,” he said, turning toward them. “File folders are in front of you.”

Eagan was a ramrod of a man. Fifty-plus, he was as fit as a teenager—something he worked at with the same discipline he observed in the office. He was a decent man, but he hadn’t kept one of his six wives for more than a year; none of them had truly grasped his overpowering dedication to his work.

Craig knew that because the last two had cried on his shoulder. Marleen, wife number six, had warned him, “Don’t let this happen to you, Craig. When you find the right woman, find a balance between work and life. I was all for Richard saving the world. What I didn’t realize was that he never meant to save himself.”

He knew that Marleen had been genuinely worried about him. Too many casual relationships had lasted only until he was working around the clock again. Truth was, he had his own reasons for not pursuing a serious relationship. He’d actually begun to explain, but then he’d stopped.

They just don’t make them like the one I lost anymore.

He sat quickly and Mike did the same, and they picked up their folders, scanning the material.

“Jewelry store robberies?” Mike said. “I’ve been following this on the news, but—”

“There’s been a change,” Eagan said. “Two thefts in the past two days. And now, two dead.”

Craig glanced at him in surprise. The NYPD had been dealing with the rash of jewelry store robberies. Every one of the five thefts that had taken place during the previous weeks had been within the five boroughs of NYC and fallen under the jurisdiction of the city police. Even with the two deaths, it still seemed to be a situation the NYPD should be handling.

“They’re killing people now?” Mike asked. “I hadn’t seen that on the news.”

“It hasn’t been on TV yet. I’m having a press conference with the chiefs of police and the mayor in an hour. We’ve been holding off, pending notification of next of kin. And, of course, to coordinate efforts between agencies.”

“We’re in?” Mike asked.

“Yeah. State lines and all, since now New Jersey’s been hit, too. Twice. Anyway, it’s all hands on deck. You two will be lead, but you won’t be the only special agents involved. Hell, every law enforcement officer in New York and the tri-state area will be alerted and working on it. The last two robberies took place right over the bridge in Jersey City. The elderly gentleman who owned one of the stores was staying late, doing his books, when he was shot and killed.”

“You said there were two murders?” Craig asked, flipping through the folder he’d been given.

Eagan nodded gravely. “There was a murder at the next store that was hit, too. A night manager was there, and a cleaning woman was working in the showroom. She was abducted, then murdered in the alley behind the store.”

“What about the manager? Any idea why he was left alive? Did he see anything?” Craig asked.

“He was in a back office. When he came out, they grabbed the woman as a human shield and dragged her away. They shot at him and missed, and apparently were in too much of a hurry to care,” Eagan said.

“Video surveillance?” Mike asked.

“Yes, but the thieves wore hoodies and ski masks,” Eagan said.

“Are we sure that these thieves and the ones who hit the Diamond District are the same?” Craig asked.

“Same MO. Breaking in after closing time, they wear gloves, so no prints. And all the security footage shows the thieves wearing the same disguises,” Eagan said.

“But it’s not the same MO anymore,” Craig muttered.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s changed,” Craig said. “Escalated. Five robberies with no one hurt. And now we have two dead. Seems odd to me that they’ve suddenly become violent.”

“Maybe they got desperate for some reason,” Mike suggested. “The pressure of time or whatever.”

Craig shrugged. “Maybe these are copycats. Copycats who kill.”

“Could be,” Eagan said. “Get up to speed, see what you can find. And let’s hope to hell we’re not looking for two different sets of thieves. Jewel heists are one thing, but murder…”

 

    Gina Shin

    Gina is a Marketing Assistant at MIRA. A west coaster with intense love for beautiful mountains and beaches, few things make her happier than escaping into some natural scenery to unwind. Gina studied both English and Criminology in university, so it should come as no surprise that some of her favorite reads are mysteries and crime fiction. If not with her books, she is most likely playing instruments (usually guitar) and singing obnoxiously or lost in the world of Pinterest with a cup of strong black coffee.

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