“My heart bleeds.”
“Plus I slept badly,” Jeff added pointedly. Annie Crick had spent a very comfortable night in the couple’s king-size bed. Brian had fared less well on the sofa. Not that it wasn’t comfortable—Jeff had slept soundly on far worse—but lying so close to Tracy, unable to touch her or put his arms around her, was pure torture. He’d barely closed his eyes all night.
“Did you find out anything more?” Tracy asked.
Jeff nodded, taking a long sip of the cold beer he’d ordered.
“Firstly, your friend Peter was right. Gustav Arendt wins big, and often. So much so he rarely gets the same players up at the chalet twice. It’s a case of once bitten twice shy. Rumor has it he has cameras hidden up there someplace, to spy on his opponents’ hands.”
Jeff shrugged. “Who knows? That’s what they say. Secondly, I’m not sure if Drexel’s gonna show tonight.”
Tracy’s face fell. “Why not?”
“I didn’t say he isn’t. I said I’m not sure. From what I hear, none of tonight’s victims sound like our man. The players are supposed to be me; another rich energy guy, from Rome; our friend Johnny; and three others.”
Jeff took another sip of beer. “One’s a fine-art dealer from Geneva. Lars Berensen. Do you know him?”
Tracy shook her head. But it was interesting. Another art dealer couldn’t be coincidence. Unless . . .
“Couldn’t that be Drexel?”
“I don’t think so,” Jeff said. “Berensen’s in his sixties, apparently. That’s a stretch.”
Tracy agreed. “What about the other two players?”
“A businessman named Ali Lassferly’s expected. He’s a possible—he doesn’t exist on Google—although the guy I spoke to said he was French-Arabic.”
“Drexel could pull that off,” said Tracy.
“Maybe,” Jeff conceded. “We’ll know tonight I guess. I’m more interested in the last player.”
“She. It’s a woman. Apparently she’s a widow living in St. Tropez. But she’s American. And rich. You want to guess her name?”
The hairs on Tracy’s arms stood on end. “Kate?”
Jeff leaned forward. “Close enough. Mrs. Catherine Clarke.”
“Do you really think it could be her?”
“I don’t know. But something’s going down tonight. I’m sure of it.”
“I should come with you,” Tracy blurted.
“It could be dangerous, Jeff.”
Tracy opened her mouth to protest but Jeff cut her off. “We have a plan. A good one. There’s no reason to change it.” Reaching into his jacket pocket he handed Tracy a new disposable phone. Just to be safe they were both changing handsets every few days.
“Keep it on. I’ll call if I need you.”
GUSTAV ARENDT WAS IN a foul mood. For three very good reasons.
Gustav’s wife, Alisse, had found out last night about his mistress, Camille. Alisse was being tiresomely bourgeois about it, ranting and yelling, making unseemly comments about Camille’s fake breasts and threatening divorce. Gustav couldn’t understand it.
What do women expect when they marry a wealthy man? Monogamy?
Alisse’s meltdown could not have come at a worse time. Gustav had already had a bad week, losing millions on a failed investment in the Ukraine. Land that he’d believed to be bursting at the seams with shale gas had actually produced pathetically meager returns. Gustav had fired his chief engineer, but that did little to stem his foul temper.
The hemorrhoids spoke for themselves.
The one bright spot in Gustav Arendt’s otherwise black sky was the prospect of fleecing his guests at the poker game tonight. Looking out of the window at Chalet Mirabelle, he watched as the first of the players drove up.
There was Luca Androni, his fat, spaghetti-filled belly emerging first from his chauffeur-driven Range Rover.
Pig. Gustav Arendt disliked all his competitors in business, but he reserved a special loathing for Androni. It didn’t help that, despite his obvious stupidity, the Italian had made out like a bandit in Ukraine. Luca Androni’s shale gas fields directly abutted Gustav’s, yet Androni had managed to extract millions of dollars from his land while Arendt’s frenzied fracking had produced nothing more than a weak fart.
Gustav was going to enjoy relieving Luca of some of those millions tonight. Unlike Europe’s increasingly indolent, lazy and grasping poor, he didn’t need Group 99 to do his dirty work for him. Although, come to think of it, it surprised Gustav Arendt that a man like Luca Androni had not yet been targeted by Group 99. On paper, at least, he seemed like a perfect candidate for their loathsome brand of self-righteous communism. That was the problem with violent extremists. They were never there when you needed them.
The next player to arrive was Lars Berensen, swiftly followed by the ridiculous American fool Brian Crick. With his stooped shoulders, shuffling gait and bald crown, Berensen looked like an escapee from the local nursing home. But the art dealer was a lot sharper than his little-old-man shtick suggested. He had a painting under his arm tonight, to present to his client, Mrs. Clarke. No doubt the bitch had paid well over the odds for it. But that was Berensen’s business. Gustav was not averse to his guests doing a little business up at Chalet Mirabelle, especially if they brought other rich stooges along to his poker table. Lars Berensen was responsible for inviting both the rich Widow Clarke and the Arab. Tonight, Lassferly. He’d earned his keep.
Brian Crick strode up to the chalet, talking loudly and clapping a hand across Luca Androni’s meaty shoulders on the doorstep in a faux display of bonhomie.
“Good to meet you.” Gustav could hear the American’s booming voice from the window. “I heard a lot about you. Name’s Brian. Brian Crick.”
Gustav smiled. Mr. Crick would be a good deal quieter by the time he left tonight. And a good deal poorer.
Tapping the implant in his ear twice, Gustav waited for the familiar voice. Two floors above them, a technician sat in the eaves of the house, watching six separate camera feeds on a state-of-the-art screen.
Arendt nodded imperceptibly towards camera four.
Clear as a bell.
TRACY TOOK A SEAT at the bar. The barman was arranging crystal glasses on a shelf.
She looked around for Peter Davies, but the Englishman wasn’t here tonight. In fact the entire hotel was eerily quiet.
The barman turned around.
“What can I get you, Mrs. Crick?”
“I’ll have a gin and tonic please. Gordon’s if you have it, ice but no lemon.”
“Coming right up.”
Tracy glanced anxiously at her phone, then at the clock on the wall. It was still only seven o’clock. She thought about Jeff arriving at the game, waiting for Hunter Drexel, or Althea, to show up. She knew exactly how he’d be feeling right now, adrenaline pumping, nerves taut as a wire. Just like the old days.
For a moment she felt a flicker of guilt for what she was about to do.
But only for a moment.
This isn’t a game, she reminded herself. And these aren’t the old days. However much Jeff wants them to be.
I have a job to do.
JEFF SAT AT THE card table twitching like a rabbit.
“I believe that’s mine.”
Gustav Arendt smiled smugly, spreading his second straight flush of the night across the soft green baize and reaching towards the pile of chips like a kid grabbing at candy. Jeff had seen some cheats in his time. But this guy was utterly shameless.
Not that Jeff cared about the cards.
Something had gone wrong. Very wrong.
Neither Catherine Clarke nor Ali Lassferly had shown up to the game. Nor, for that matter, had Johnny Cray. One down might have been coincidence, but three? Something was up.
Jeff wasn’t the only one disappointed by the players’ absences. Gustav Arendt was clearly pissed not to have three more fat wallets to plunder. But Berensen, the art dealer, looked close to tears. He kept glancing at the door, as if hoping against hope they would walk in, then back to the painting he’d brought with him, a carefully wrapped rectangle propped forlornly against the chalet wall.
Someone tipped the others off. But nobody told Berensen.
The situation was bad for multiple reasons. The first was that tonight’s plan would have to be scrapped. Once again, their quarry had slipped through the net.
The second reason was far worse.
Drexel and his Group 99 friends know we’re here.
They know who we are.
Do they know where we’re staying?
Jeff’s thoughts flew to Tracy, back at Les Fermes de Mairie. Was she safe? He longed to call her, but he couldn’t leave the game until Arendt called a break, not without rousing suspicions.
At last, after what felt like an eternity to all of them, Luca Androni tossed his cards on the table in disgust and announced he was leaving.
“Me too.” Jeff yawned loudly, still playing the part of bumbling Brian. “There’s only so much beating a man can take in one night. Thanks for the hospitality, Gustav.”