He stuck out his arm.
“Taj Mahal Palace, please. Jaldi karna!”
THE MAN HAD SAT AT THE bars of some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the San Pietro in Positano, the Peninsula in Hong Kong. But for sheer opulence, nothing could beat the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai. A sumptuous mishmash of Moorish, Oriental and Florentine design, it was as majestic a home away from home as any maharajah could wish for. The main bar was accessed from the lobby, a vast space with marble floors and vaulted alabaster ceilings. An intricately carved arch supported by two onyx columns led into the darker, candlelit bar. The vibe there was more intimate, but just as luxurious, with wine-red velvet couches so soft you felt you were sitting on clouds and antique Persian rugs woven in every imaginable color. All around, richly dressed couples were laughing, their cut-crystal glasses glinting like diamonds as they sipped caipirinhas or Long Island iced teas. Royalty for a day.
He took his usual seat in the darkest, most recessed alcove and ordered a Diet Coke and some of the grilled cumin chicken they served as a bar snack. He wasn’t hungry, but he had to eat. He had a long night of waiting and watching ahead of him.
SARAH JANE HUGHES DIDN’T NOTICE THE American man taking his seat in the corner. She was too agitated to think about anything other than David. It wasn’t like him to be late.
Maybe he’s had a change of heart after all the shit I’ve put him through?
She couldn’t work out if the idea of him bailing on their prospective wedding made her frightened or relieved. The pressure was unbearable at times.
“I’m worth the better part of a billion dollars, Sarah Jane, okay? Whether you like it or not, that sort of money brings complications.”
Complications. Talk about an understatement.
Pulling a small black mirror out of her purse, Sarah Jane touched up her makeup and arranged her hair the way she knew David liked it. Smoothing down her knee-length skirt, she unbuttoned the top of her blouse just enough to hint at the glorious figure beneath. Like most men, David Ishag liked the demure look. It made him feel secure. That the delights of Sarah Jane’s body were for his eyes only. Which, of course, they were.
Till death do us part.
And there he was, walking toward her, lighting up the room the way that only he could, a human fireball of charisma. So handsome. So charming.
I can’t go through with it.
She forced herself to take deep, calming breaths.
“Darling. Sorry I’m late.”
“Very late.” She kissed him on the lips, running her hands through his glossy dark hair only faintly tinged with gray at the temples. “I was starting to worry.”
Envious female eyes bored into her. Sarah Jane blinded them with a dazzling flash of her sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring.
David Ishag kissed her back.
“Silly girl. You never need to worry. Not now, not ever again. Not with me to take care of you.”
THE MAN IN THE CORNER HAD the shakes. He couldn’t bear to watch them, Sarah Jane and David. It was too painful. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to look away.
A waitress approached him. “Are you all right, sir? Can I get you something?”
My sanity, please. If you’re out of that, I’ll have Prozac on the rocks with a twist of chlorpromazine.
“I’ll take a bourbon. Straight up.”
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE bar, a different man was watching.
This man noticed everything: the pallor of the foreigner’s skin, the cruel tremor in his hand as he sipped his drink. He’d been following the white man for days now and had come to think of him almost as an old friend.
Poor devil. His heart cannot accept the truths that his eyes see. Is there any madness in this world greater than the madness of love?
The man’s heart swelled with compassion, with pity for a fellow lost soul.
It really was too bad he was going to have to kill him.
WE CANNOT WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE wedding. It’s out of the question. We have to strike now.”
Rajit Kapiri, a senior officer in India’s elite IB (intelligence bureau) division, folded his arms across his chest, as if to indicate that the subject was closed. He was sitting in Interpol’s Mumbai field office across the table from Danny McGuire, whose body language was equally stubborn and uncompromising.
“We can’t,” Danny repeated. “We must catch Azrael red-handed. It’s the only way to be sure of a conviction.”
“But at what cost?” Kapiri spluttered. “Mr. Ishag’s life? I’m sorry, McGuire. I’m not going to sit by while you play Russian roulette with the life of one of Mumbai’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens.”
Danny McGuire bit back his frustration. He couldn’t afford to alienate the IB officer. If Kapiri complained to Danny’s bosses at Interpol that the Azrael team was taking matters into its own hands and riding roughshod over local decision makers, Henri Frémeaux would disband the task force faster than you could say “spineless bureaucrat.” But Danny needed Rajit Kapiri’s cooperation for other reasons too. The IB had manpower, not to mention priceless local expertise when it came to intelligence gathering. It was they who’d provided the Azrael team with a shortlist of likely local targets—very wealthy, older, unmarried men based in Mumbai with no known family ties. Ironically David Ishag had only just made the cut, being so much younger than the other victims. But when it emerged that the electronics magnate had recently made sudden, unexpected wedding plans, and that his bride-to-be was a relative newcomer in town, McGuire’s surveillance team moved in. It wasn’t long before they’d tracked down Ishag’s fiancée, a woman calling herself Sarah Jane Hughes. Despite the lighter hair extensions and dowdy clothes, and the new identity as an Irish schoolteacher, the surveillance pictures showed that Sarah Jane bore an uncanny resemblance to Lisa Baring.
“What if she kills him during the honeymoon?” Kapiri asked.
“None of the attacks have happened during the honeymoon. They’ve all taken place in the victims’ own homes. She knows the territory there. Plus, let’s not forget that she’s not doing this alone. She needs her accomplice, and he doesn’t go on the honeymoons.”
Rajit Kapiri still looked uncomfortable. A wedding and a honeymoon meant allowing the suspect out of his sight and jurisdiction, out of his control. Four prior police forces had made that mistake.
Danny McGuire said, “I understand your anxiety. I share it, believe me. You think I’m not tempted to pick her up now?”
“Then why don’t you?”
“I’ve told you why. Because this is our best chance, our only chance, to catch her red-handed, and to catch her accomplice too. If we move now, we’ll have her, but he’ll run.”
The thing that bothered Danny most about the surveillance operation on Sarah Jane Hughes was that so far they had yet to make any sightings of a third man. If Frankie Mancini/Lyle Renalto was in Mumbai, he was lying very low.
“We’ll track them on their honeymoon every step of the way. Remember we have a global network of agents. This is what we do.”
“Humph.” Rajit Kapiri did not sound reassured.
“As soon as they’re back in India, we’ll go to Mr. Ishag together and put him in the picture. Nothing will be done without his consent. If he declines to help us, you can arrest Sarah Jane then. Of course,” Danny added slyly, “she won’t actually have committed any crime on Indian soil at that point. Nothing you can prove anyway. You’d have to extradite her, probably to Hong Kong, so the Chinese authorities would get all the glory. But that would be your call.”
Rajit Kapiri’s eyes narrowed. He knew he was being manipulated and he didn’t like it. On the other hand, if anything did go wrong during Mr. Ishag’s honeymoon, he had a formal record of today’s meeting and could lay the blame squarely at Interpol’s door.
“Fine,” he said. “But I want to be kept informed of their movements the entire time they’re away.”
“You will be. You have my word.” Danny extended his hand across the table. Grudgingly the Indian shook it. “I do have one other request. Our boy may well come out of the woodwork while the couple themselves are gone. I don’t have enough men to watch Ishag’s house and office as well as Sarah Jane’s school and apartment twenty-four/seven. Do you think you could help us out with that?”
The American had the cheek of the devil. But even Rajit Kapiri had to admire his chutzpah.
“I’ll see what I can do, Assistant Director McGuire. You just focus on keeping David Ishag in one piece.”
LESS THAN FIVE MILES FROM THE building where the Azrael team was meeting, a woman stared at her naked image in the mirror.