Over lunch, Kate found herself silently exclaiming wow at the fine china, the heavy, ornate silver, the superb food that looked like a picture in a magazine, the unobtrusive service, the choice of wines. Was she in a dream or what?
She had repeated that question exactly to her grandmother on the phone after she’d locked herself in her bedroom.
‘Nana, you should see my bedroom here,’ Kate said with breathless wonder. ‘It looks like something out of that Marie Antoinette film I love.’
‘Now, sweetheart, you’ve worked hard to get where you are,’ her grandmother unflappably said. ‘Enjoy it.’
Nothing ever fazed Nana. ‘OK, I will. But you’re going to get daily reports on this little bit of heaven I’ve fallen into.’ She’d already texted her grandmother from San Francisco, apprising her of her departure for Amsterdam.
‘Send me pictures. I’ll show them at my bridge club.’
‘And piss off Jan Vogel who’s always bragging about her grandson the doctor.’
‘Don’t you know it,’ Nana said with a smile in her voice. ‘Now tell me about this new job of yours.’
Kate explained the task before her, careful not to divulge anything that might blow back on Knight Enterprises. If PR was an issue, the less said the better. But when her grandmother asked about her new employer, she offered an even more edited version. It seemed everyone in the world, including those in the bush of Northern Minnesota, knew of Dominic Knight.
‘He seems nice.’ The Minnesota term encompassed a wide range of possibilities, not all positive depending on the tone – hers at the moment scrupulously neutral for her grandmother. ‘Smart, of course, articulate … you know I didn’t really see him for very long. If I see him again, I’ll let you know. How’s Leon?’ Leon was the Great Dane Nana had rescued from the pound. ‘Is your new fence working out better than the old one?’ Leon had leaped that one in less than five seconds.
‘You bet. Jerry from Lampert’s says it’ll still be standing when only the cockroaches are left. Leon checked it out and decided it wasn’t worth jumping. Make sure you eat well, now. I know how hard you work. Such long hours, dear. I don’t know what the world’s coming to.’
‘You should talk. After school you were always coaching something.’ Her grandmother was the grade-school principal in their small town and also coached girls’ basketball and softball.
‘That was different. I was out and about, moving around. You’re hunched over a computer hours at a time. Really, dear, promise me you’ll get some exercise.’
‘Yes, Nana.’ Right after I put a nail through my forehead. ‘You know, I might go out for a walk now. See the town.’ Might was a polite word.
‘Remember, take pictures on your cell. The Ann Frank house, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, all the canals, of course. What have I forgotten?’
‘I’ll send you a book, Nana. The pictures will be better.’ And it would save her a lot of walking.
‘No, I need them on my cell phone. Jan will have a fit when I show them to her.’
Kate silently groaned. There was no way out of it. The bridge club had been in existence for fifty years and every week Nana and Jan Vogel had been at it in that small town, passive/aggressive butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-your-mouth smiley way. ‘OK, Nana, but in a day or so. I’ve got jet lag.’ A white lie wasn’t really a lie; for strangers, yes, but not family. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow.’
The next morning, Kate was introduced to everyone at Knight Enterprises’ Amsterdam branch. The office was housed in another chic town house, this one with a view of the sea. Her office on the top floor had an even more glorious view of the water, not that she’d be gazing out the windows much. She was itching to get started.
Werner, the office manager, explained what they’d tried, where they’d failed, what they were hoping she could accomplish. He was a tall, young man, very blond and Dutch-looking, nerdy, bright and clearly frustrated by their lack of progress. ‘If you need anything,’ he said, standing in the doorway on his way out, ‘let me know. Anything at all.’
She smiled, pointed at her espresso and water bottle. ‘I’m good for now, thanks.’ Then she booted up her top-of-the-line Alienware laptop, feeling like she always did at the beginning of a search. Exhilarated. Focused. A predator on the make.
She took two breaks the first day, one for lunch, one for supper, then worked till midnight. On her way home, she thought she might have seen her bodyguard, but wasn’t sure. Max was right.
She was back at the office by seven, hot on the trail of a bank in Latvia where the money was being sent. Today she was hoping to find the final destination of the money and the names on the accounts. Probably the Ukraine, she guessed, where there was no extradition treaty with the US. But she was sidetracked into the Israeli email service Safemail, where any sender’s IP address was blocked, and after six relentless hours of knocking on server doors and bumping into impenetrable security systems, she finally found an entry point. She was on her way after that, the familiar feeling of invincibility infusing her senses, adrenalin rushing to her brain, her keystrokes speeding up until her fingers were flying over the keys, independent of coherent thought. This was the magic, the guilty thrill that motivated every hacker and every person who took risks; the vibe, the passion, the rapture that science had documented as the so-called happiness hormone.
As she worked, time and place evaporated, the world narrowed to a keyboard and monitor screen, to colours and numbers, her pulse rate running high like an athlete in a marathon. She had the key, her target was in her sights, she was closing in.
And then finally.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes! There it was!
Singapore. A bank name. A bank account number. A customer name.
She fell back in her chair and shut her eyes, exhausted, drained, chilled to the bone. Noticing her surroundings for the first time in hours, she glanced at the clock. Three o’clock. She glanced out the window. Dark.
She ran a printout of the information, cautious about emailing it to Werner when the criminal enterprise in Bucharest, including the plant manager, had access to the company servers. She left a cryptic text message on Werner’s phone, describing the location of the printout – inside the Italian dictionary on her office shelf. Then she found her coat, walked the few blocks home without remembering having done so and found the door to the town house opening as she climbed up the small flight of stairs.
‘A late night, Miss Hart,’ a man she didn’t know politely said. ‘Would you like some refreshments sent up?’
She shook her head, tried to smile, found herself unequal to the task and managed to whisper, ‘No thank you.’
Three minutes later, fully clothed, she crashed on the puffed-white-satin-covered Marie Antoinette bed and slept through the entire next day.
A musky scent insinuated itself into her consciousness first. Moments later a deep familiar voice breached the remote margins of her brain – an echo of the voice in her passion-filled dream – and she softly moaned.
Dominic recognized the sound and smiled. His new employee, lying face down on the bed in her grey nylon quilted coat, wasn’t all about double-entry accounting. A pleasant thought, perhaps even the reason he’d taken the long way to Hong Kong. But a dangerous one as well. And at the moment, he hadn’t decided what to do about her yet.
He’d have to decide by morning. The Gulfstream was scheduled for take-off at ten. Which was just as well. In his experience, deadlines were a spur to action.
He was here to rouse Miss Hart. Unable to wake her, Mrs Van Kessel had asked for his help. Bending down, he repeated, ‘Wake up, Miss Hart. Wake up.’
A petulant groan.
He lightly touched her flushed cheek with the pad of his index finger. ‘People are waiting for you, Miss Hart.’
Touch, smell, sound sluggishly converged, brewed and blended, intensifying her lush dream that had her lying naked on Dominic Knight’s desk top in Palo Alto. Her legs were wrapped around his waist, his soft voice urging her towards orgasm, her whispered response a feverish, racing litany of yeses. His blue-eyed gaze was heated, close, hers half shut to absorb the spectacular, high-pressure sensations as his hips moved in a slow thrust and withdrawal, touching her deeply there and there and oh, oh, oh …
She whimpered as her orgasm began peaking – the irrepressibly feverish sound suddenly shocking her awake with a jolt. Ohmygod! With a startled squeal, she wrenched herself up from the torrid depths of her dream. Someone was here! Where was she? Scrambling to roll over, she became ensnared in the folds of her coat and frantically thrashed about until strong arms lifted her and gently deposited her on her back. ‘There, that’s better,’ said the voice from her dream.
She flushed with embarrassment, keeping her eyes tightly closed in the hope that this cringe-inducing moment would pass. That Dominic Knight wouldn’t notice her hair and everything else was a mess, that she’d probably drooled all over the pillow. Mostly, she just prayed that he’d leave.