The Devil’s Triangle
One Week Ago
Kitsune stood on the Rialto Bridge and watched the sun flash against the waves of the lagoon. She enjoyed the early mornings in Venice, before the summer crowds flooded into the city. She watched pigeons peck the ground for yesterday’s crumbs, watched a row of tethered gondolas bob in the heavy sea swell. There would be a storm soon—she tasted it in the air. She looked at her watch. It was time to go. Her client had instructed her to take a water taxi to the San Zaccaria dock, then walk to the house.
She should have been on her way before now, but she’d
waited there on the bridge to see who was following her. Even though she hadn’t seen anyone yet, she’d felt eyes on her, felt them since her plane had landed an hour earlier. At the airport’s dock she’d caught a glimpse of one of them: a man—dark sunglasses, a slouchy work jacket. There were probably others, but where were they? She hated being in the open like this—a target—and the large tube in her hand a target as well. She still didn’t see anyone.
She bent down to adjust the strap of her sandal. From the corner of her eye she saw him. She was sure it was the same man she’d seen at the Marco Polo airport, still wearing sunglasses and a jacket. He wasn’t very good at his job, since she’d spotted him, standing in the alley to the left of the Hotel Danieli, chewing on a toothpick like he didn’t have a care in the world. But where were the others? She knew she hadn’t been followed to Venice, she was sure of that, so why now? For some reason, her client didn’t trust her. She felt a lick of anger. It was an insult to her reputation. Or perhaps someone knew what was inside the large tube and wanted it?
Ah, there he was, the second man, hovering near the dock, a cap pulled low on his head, wearing wrinkled jeans and scuffed boots. Both men were in their thirties, muscled, garbed in everyday working clothes. Thugs. One was tall, the other short. Mutt and Jeff. She saw no one else. Only two of them? Another insult. She took note of the small sign above Mr. Short’s head—Calle de la Rasse.
Kitsune had learned the complicated layout of the Venetian streets, an integral part of her preparation, since she could run much faster than she could swim.
She checked the men out again. Both cocky, sure of themselves, but she could take them. Easily.
Not yet, though. The time wasn’t right.
Their presence bothered her. Why the sudden distrust from her client? Her reputation was built on absolute discretion, always delivering what was commissioned and never asking questions. She had no false modesty. She could steal anything, anywhere—even the Koh-i-Noor diamond, that magnificent bloody stone that had nearly gotten her killed. A pity she’d had to give it up.
This client was paying her a small fortune, and half of it, five million euros, was already deposited in four different accounts in four different banks, as was her custom. She would receive the other five million upon delivery. All of it was straightforward, so why the two thugs following her?
Kitsune had been a thief for too long to ignore the prickle of unease that went down her neck. The tube was heavy, and she hugged it closer.
The breeze picked up between the Venetian buildings, blowing gently down the narrow canal. She continued forward, over the small bridge, up the walkway, past the arriving gondoliers, who watched her and wondered. Grant told her she moved differently, with singular grace and arrogance, and she looked like what she was—strong and dangerous—and then he’d held her close, stroked her long hair, and whispered against her temple that only the very stupid, or the very desperate, would mess with her. She felt a warm punch to her heart thinking of her husband of ten months, how the green of his eyes turned nearly black when he was kissing her. Soon, she would
be with him again. She would give the prize to the client, and be gone.
She’d fulfilled the first part of the job three days earlier, when she’d pulled off one of the most fun heists of her career. She’d dyed her hair the deepest black, worn brown contacts, and used a semipermanent stain to make her skin appear two shades deeper, a process she didn’t relish, but it helped her blend in beautifully with the population of Istanbul. With her forged credentials, which included a signature from Turkish military leader Hulusi Akar, the palace authorities had followed orders and assigned her to work security at the Topkapi Palace. It had taken her more than three months to work her way out of the harem complex and into special security in the Holy Relics exhibit, where Moses’s staff was displayed.
Her arms had gotten tired carrying the H&K MP5 machine gun all day. Even with the strap around her neck and shoulder, the carbine got heavy, and being on alert for twelve hours at a time was exhausting. Despite the heat and grit and the hordes of tourists trooping in and out of the treasure-filled rooms in the palace, her assigned areas gave her a lovely view of the Bosphorus. The sun shined on the water, sprinkling diamonds, the sea breezes cooled her, and the tourists gathered nearby to take photos. She was careful, very careful, never to get in the shots. It wouldn’t do to have someone post a photo of her on Facebook accidentally, have some government drone monitoring the Internet run the photos through facial recognition, and blow her cover.
She wondered again: did her unknown client really believe
that what she carried in her hands was the very embodiment of power? That what she carried wasn’t simply an ancient knob of wood but the actual staff of Moses? Or, as some called it, Aaron’s rod? No matter what it was called, this staff was one of the most sought-after and priceless artifacts in the world, and she’d managed to break into the Holy Relics exhibit after hours and take the staff out of its lighted case after cutting the wires to the security alarm, and disappeared. And that brought a smile of satisfaction.
No more inky-black hair, no more dark brown eyes, the stain washed away. She was back to her blue eyes, her white skin, and her own dark hair.
Yes, it had been a clean, perfectly executed job. One of her best, and she, the Fox, had a string of risky, daring jobs behind her.
The international news channels were still leading with the theft. No way was she going to take a chance of being caught in the crosshairs. She’d make the delivery, get her other five million, go home to Capri, and talk Grant into visiting Australia or America, anywhere away from Europe. He was due for a vacation, having spent the last three months in Afghanistan guarding a high-ranking British officer.
The house she was going to was only a drop site. She’d used this protocol many times—empty house, the owners probably on vacation. Clients rarely wanted the Fox to know where they lived. She wondered who would be there to receive the stolen staff.
A winding alleyway took her deeper into the neighbor
hoods, along the canals. And there it was, a simple, classic Venetian home—red brick, the second and third floors balconied, set between a narrow street and a small canal.
She went up the steps, knocked on the dark green door. Waited a moment before the thick, old wood swung open. An older man in a dark suit and silver tie told her to come in.
Inside, all was silent. She followed him through a small courtyard, a marble fountain at its center. He showed her into a parlor, to the right of the fountain. The door closed behind her.
The room was empty, the silence heavy. She heard voices, a man and a woman, somewhere nearby—above her, probably—speaking rapid Italian. The clients? Although she understood exactly what they were saying, it still made no sense to her.
The woman said clearly, excitement in her voice, “I wish I could see it, the Gobi sands—a tsunami sweeping over Beijing.”
“We will see it on video,” came a man’s matter-of-fact voice. “All the sand, do you think? Could Grandfather be that good?”
“You know he is. And we will see the aftermath for ourselves. We will leave in three days, after things have calmed down.”
The man said, marveling, “Can you imagine, we are the ones to drain the Gobi?”
Kitsune stood silently, listening. She shook her head. Drain the Gobi Desert dry? All that sand covering Beijing? By their grandfather? What she’d heard, it was nuts, made no sense. An image of Moses raising his staff, parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the Egyptian army flashed through her mind. It was a famous image, given all the paintings and mov
ies, and there were many who believed that was exactly what happened. But not her.
Kitsune held by her side a gnarly old piece of wood the Turks had stolen when they’d plundered Egypt in 1517, audacious enough or credulous enough to proclaim it to be Moses’s staff. She didn’t care if it was real or not, it didn’t matter. Ten million euros would keep her in bikinis for a long time. She pictured Moses again, only this time she saw him waving his staff to send the sands flying out of the Gobi Desert. Such a strange image.
The voices faded away.
Moments later, the door to the parlor opened and a man came in. He was short, with dark hair and flat black eyes. This one, in spite of his well-cut dark suit, his perfectly polished boots, couldn’t be the client. He looked coarse, crude, a lieutenant playing dress-up. Another thug, only this one with a bit of power, probably running the other who’d followed her. So the man and woman she’d heard talking wanted him to handle the transaction, then bring them the staff. Fine by her. All she wanted was her money.
He crossed the room to the small desk, picked up a silver lighter, and touched it to the end of a cigarette. He blew out a stream of gray smoke and said, in passable English, “I am Antonio Pazzi, and you are the Fox. You have the package?”
“Of course.” Kitsune set the tube on the desk and stepped back. Pazzi pulled a stiletto from his coat pocket, slit open the top of the cylinder, and upended it. The well-wrapped staff slid out into his waiting hand. He reverently laid it atop the desk and peeled off the packing. He looked at the staff, motionless,
staring, but not touching it. Finally, he looked up at her, smiled widely, showing yellow tobacco-stained teeth. “I did not believe you would be able to steal this precious rod from the Topkapi. Your reputation is deserved. My masters will be pleased.”
She saw him press a small button on the desk, and in the next instant she heard a door close, a boat’s engine fire to life. So he’d signaled the client that she’d brought the staff? And they’d left. Pazzi handed her a long white envelope. “Five million euros. You will leave now.”
As if she wanted to stay, maybe have a drink with this oily cretin with his yellow teeth. She wanted to open the envelope, but he kept smiling, herding her toward the door, and she felt that familiar shiver down her neck and went on red alert, her body flexed and ready to spring. Were the two men outside the door, waiting for her? Pazzi gave her a small salute, and at the last moment, he slipped past her and slammed the door behind him. She heard the key turn in the lock. In the next moment, another door opened, this time behind her. Mutt and Jeff stepped through, and both held guns in their hands.
“What a lovely surprise,” she said in Italian, and, quick as a cobra, she dove at Mutt’s feet. He had been expecting her to run, and he hesitated a moment. She rolled into him and knocked him backward, his arms flailing for purchase, and he fell against a chair. She popped back to her feet—Mutt on her left, struggling to get back up, and Jeff on her right, his Beretta aimed at her chest.
Kitsune fell to her knees, whipped out her two Walther PPKs cross-armed, and pulled the triggers almost before she’d squared the sights. Jeff fired at the same time. If she’d stayed
standing, she’d be dead. Now he was the one who was dead, sprawled on his back on the floor, blood blooming from his chest. She’d missed Mutt, but his gun had clattered to the floor and slid under a red velvet sofa. He sprang to his feet and came at her, fast and hard, fists up and flying, trying to knock the gun away and kill her with his bare hands. He was fast, she’d give him that, but she was faster. A heartbeat later he was on the floor with a hole in his forehead.
Kitsune had never used guns, but in the past few months, Grant had trained her in them, and trained her well. And when he was satisfied, he’d given her the two Walthers. Almost as if Grant had known she would need them. She sent him a silent thank-you as she pointed the gun in her right hand over her shoulder, toward the locked door, just in case, and walked to the opposite side of the room. She listened but didn’t hear anything. The house had gone silent. Too silent. As if someone was listening. She had to get out of there, now.
She heard voices shouting. She yanked open the door and ran down a long hallway ending in a staircase. The house itself was narrow and old, the walls cool gray stone. She had no choice but to run up the stairs.
She heard feet pounding after her, shouts growing closer. Kitsune burst through onto a rooftop terrace. Up this high, she saw that terraces littered the rooftops, and the Venetian houses were crammed cheek by jowl, separated by the small canals that crisscrossed Venice.
She didn’t look down at the murky canal below, paid no attention to the shouts from the staircase, as men ran up to the terrace. She leaped across to the neighboring terrace. She felt a
bullet whiz by her ear, and she dropped and rolled, was on her feet in a second, running to the next terrace. She heard the man leap after her, moving fast, gaining on her. She raced to the end of the rooftop and leaped again, barely missed a window box overflowing with pink and red geraniums, and skidded along the pebbled roof.
He followed her, shouting, shooting. People screamed through open windows, gondoliers looked at the sight and shouted, tourists stared up in awe as light-footed Kitsune soared over them like a bird in flight. Laundry lines tumbled into the water below. She was careful to avoid the electric lines; she’d be dead and gone before she hit the water if she grabbed one of those by accident.
She looked back, saw that it was Pazzi chasing her. She hadn’t expected him to be so fast, but he was reaching his limits, and dropping back. With a yell of frustration, he took another shot. The bullet skimmed her arm, cutting the fabric of her shirt, stinging like mad. Blood began running down, turning her hand red. Not good.
She made a last desperate leap, grabbed a laundry line, swung down and smashed against the wall of a redbrick house, knocking the air out of her lungs, and dropped, hard, onto the deck of a water taxi.
The captain, gap-mouthed, stumbled back, and she pushed him overboard, roared the engine to life and took off. She heard shouts, curses behind her, but didn’t look back. She pressed her right hand against the wound in her upper arm.
The boat shot out by the San Zaccaria vaporetto station. She was free now, in the lagoon, and she gunned it.
She was breathing hard, and bleeding, but for the moment, she was upright and safe, cool water splashing her, the wind tearing through her hair. She heard sirens. The police would be after her any minute now. She had to ditch the boat. It was a thirty-minute run to the airport, but that would be suicide; she could never fly out.
South, she’d go south, to Rimini, dock there, and start her way home.
She checked the gas, excellent, the tank was nearly full. She left the channel and headed into the open seas, leaving behind the wails of the sirens. She remembered she’d stuffed the white envelope Pazzi had given her inside her shirt. At least she’d been paid for the job. Or had she? She ripped the envelope open and inside she saw a folded sheet of paper. She opened it and saw a rough drawing of a dead fox. She felt the tearing pain in her arm as she wadded up the paper and tossed it overboard. Five million euros was that critical to them? But why had they wanted her dead? It didn’t matter, she didn’t care. There would be hell to pay.