Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

Watching him now took Tracy straight back to the old days. Before all this madness. Before Nicholas. Before everything. With an effort she forced the memories out of her mind. She must stay in the present if she was to survive.

Today’s flight was a point of no return. Tracy and Jeff were officially on their own now. They had boarded the Air France jet as Mr. and Mrs. Brian Crick, en route to their vacation in the pretty ski town of Megève. Annie Crick was a keen skier. Brian liked the mountains too. But he was there for the poker.

It was Jeff who came up with the theory. But with every day, Tracy liked it more.

Bursting into her hotel room in Paris, less than a day after their meeting at Les Invalides, he suddenly blurted out, “What if it isn’t about the money?”

Tracy looked up wearily from her computer. For the last six hours she’d been painstakingly cross-referencing every Kate, Catherine or Kathleen who’d ever worked or slept with Hunter Drexel against databases from the CIA, MI6 and Interpol. Her eyes were crossing.

“What if what isn’t about the money?”

“Poker. What if it’s a cover for something else? What if the poker games are where he’s meeting his conspirators? Where he’s planning the next attacks?”

It was such an obvious question, Tracy couldn’t quite believe she hadn’t thought of it herself. That none of them had.

“All this time we’ve been assuming he’s playing to win. So he could live off the cash, stay under the radar. But what if money has nothing to do with it?”

Tracy agreed to take a break from her fruitless hunt for Kate/Althea and to look into the other known players at Hunter Drexel’s various games, in Romania, Latvia, France and Belgium.

There were some common threads. Most of the games were arranged by super-rich hosts like Pascal Cauchin or Luc Charles. Men who were absolutely on Group 99s target list. The energy sector, and in particular fracking, was well represented. So was fine art. Antoine de la Court, the dealer, had introduced Hunter to Cauchin as Lex Brightman. Luc Charles was a legend in the fine-art world.

“Drexel could be using paintings to channel funds to or from Group 99,” Jeff suggested. “We both know half the top dealers in Europe act as fences or money launderers.”

“Look at this!” Tracy said excitedly.

A quick delve into Johnny Cray’s background, the young American trustafarian who’d brought Hunter into the Bruges game, revealed a lengthy flirtation with radical leftwing causes. “Arrested at two antiglobalization rallies in the States. Charged over an alleged attempted bombing at Davos last year, at the economic forum!”

“What happened?” Jeff asked.

Tracy tapped away. “His parents got him off of that one. They donated like, thirty million dollars to some Swiss International Development slush fund.”

She showed Jeff the numbers. Minimal further searching linked Johnny Cray’s name to a slew of known Group 99 members and/or donors.

When Jeff learned a few days later that Cray was currently in Megève; and that he would be attending a high stakes poker game there at the chalet of Gustav Arendt, a local multimillionaire who’d made his fortune investing in African fracking ventures, he and Tracy booked their tickets.

“Wake up.” Tracy tapped Jeff on the shoulder. “We’re landing.”

Jeff sat bolt upright, rubbed his eyes and smiled broadly.

“You look as lovely as ever, Mrs. Crick. Ready to hit the slopes?”

Tracy rolled her eyes. Jeff could make a game out of anything. But this was serious. The CIA or MI6 might catch up with them at any time. They’d risked everything on a hunch that Hunter Drexel would be at tomorrow night’s game in Megève; and that somehow, between them, they could extract him from Arendt’s chalet without bloodshed; and that when they did, Hunter would tell them the truth.

That was three very big ifs.

And it wasn’t only Tracy’s relationship with her CIA handlers that was on the line. She’d run out on Cameron Crewe too, checking out of the Georges V without leaving any message for him and destroying her old phone before she left Paris. She couldn’t explain why, even to herself. Cameron had tried hard to take care of her. He’d even convinced her to take off with him to Hawaii, which was hugely out of character for Tracy. She’d wanted that at the time. Needed it, even. The idea of leaning on somebody else had been intoxicating. But that time had passed. Tracy was stronger now, and in any case she couldn’t talk to Cameron while she was with Jeff. She just couldn’t. Perhaps, once this was all over, there might be a way? A future for the two of them? But until then . . .

The plane’s wheels hit the tarmac with a gentle bump.

“Welcome to Geneva.”

WITH JEFF’S INSANELY FAST driving, it took them less than an hour on the Albertville-Chamonix motorway to cross the border back into France and arrive at Megève, an idyllic town in the French Alps, in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

Megève really comes to life in winter, when reliable snowfalls and a smattering of über luxurious boutique hotels make it the ski resort du choix for Parisians in the know. But it’s breathtakingly beautiful in the spring too. Thanks to the glacier, late skiing is possible right into May.

Tracy was instantly charmed.

“Look at this place,” she said to Jeff. “It’s like a fairy tale.”

Adorable, rustic wooden chalets and old stone buildings clustered around cobbled squares, their window boxes bursting with flowers. Surrounding the town, the green slopes of the Alps basked beneath blue skies, their tips still white and sparkling with a permanent cap of snow. Cafés spilled out onto pavements where diners—almost all of them French—ate warm, freshly baked bread and langoustines and sipped ice-cold Chablis in the sunshine.

The Cricks—Brian and Annie—were staying at Les Fermes de Mairie, a gorgeous, log-built mountain paradise and easily the smartest hotel in town.

“Look honey. They have an awesome spa. You want me to book us in for some treatments?”

Jeff was enjoying himself immensely as Brian Crick, the sort of loud, brash, vulgar American that set every French person’s teeth on edge.

“That’s OK.” Tracy’s Annie Crick was considerably more low-key. Her job was to be forgettable, a pale shadow of her larger-than-life, flamboyant husband. “I’m here to ski.”

“Sure you are, sweetheart. Sure you are. And I’m here to make money! Ha ha ha!” Brian Crick laughed loudly enough for the entire lobby to hear him. “I’m in town to play poker up at Gustav Arendt’s place,” he told the receptionist. “I’ll bet you know Gustav. Must be the richest guy in town, right?”

While the mortified receptionist checked them in, Tracy took a seat at the lobby bar. It was an old-fashioned affair, all brass and polished wood, behind which a vast picture window offered patrons a breathtaking view of the Alpine scenery. The mountains made Tracy think of Colorado, and of Nick, and Blake Carter. She realized with a pang of guilt that she almost never thought about Blake. Nick’s death had used up every ounce of sorrow she had in her. But Blake had been a dear friend. Family really. Very few people had filled that role in Tracy’s life.

Gunther Hartog.

Ernestine Littlechap, back at the penitentiary.

“You’re friends of Monsieur Arendt?”

An Englishman had sat down beside Tracy and started talking. It took her a moment to remember where—and who—she was: Annie Crick, loyally devoted wife of Brian Crick. A rich housewife from Ohio.

“Not friends exactly. My husband knows him,” she answered shyly. “He’s come for the cards.”

“Well, he’s come to the wrong place if he wants to make money,” the Englishman said, eyeing Tracy’s enviable figure appreciatively. Even dressed down as Annie in a pair of wide-leg trousers and a taupe, high-necked blouse, she was easily the most attractive woman in the room. “Gustav Arendt’s the richest man in Megève for a reason. He never loses.”

Annie Crick laughed. “Everyone loses sometimes, Mr. . . . ?”

“Davies. Peter Davies.”

They shook hands.

“Arendt doesn’t. If your husband’s smart he’ll stay well away from that chalet tomorrow night.”

THE NEXT DAY DAWNED bright and clear. Tracy spent the morning hiring skis and poles and organizing her lift pass. Jeff flitted around town as Brian Crick, buying watches and overpriced jewelry, flashing his money around, and generally having as many loud and obnoxious conversations as he could about poker, Gustav Arendt and his plans for the evening.

He met Tracy for lunch at a fondue restaurant up the mountain. It was deserted enough for Jeff to lower his voice and slip out of character for a moment.

“I’m exhausted,” he grumbled.

“Shopped till you dropped, eh?” Tracy teased.

“I’m serious. Making yourself a target for Group 99’s not as much fun as it sounds. I’ve spent half the morning shouting and the other half spending a fortune on crap I don’t want.”

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon