It was supposed to be almost spring. It didn’t feel like it. Not if you were standing outdoors on the brand‑new Nesselrode Plaza. A hard and bitter wind with a cold edge to it blew across the wide‑open space of the plaza. Nobody was surprised. This was Chicago, the Windy City. It was tough to be shocked when it lived up to its name.
But this wind was cold. The plaza itself was only half a block from the lake, so the wind was straight from Canada, and it’d had plenty of time to lose warmth and gather strength as it blew down from the Arctic Circle and across Lake Michigan.
Most people would have put their heads down and hurried across the large open space to find some shelter from the wind. The small crowd gathered here in the arctic morning air didn’t have that option. So they clustered together around the podium that stood in the center of the plaza, in the shadow of a huge statue. It was brand‑new, too, so new it was still draped with a cover, pending the dramatic unveiling. And the people who stood waiting, stamping their feet and trying to hunch away from the wind, devoutly wished it would be unveiled quickly so they could go someplace warm.
But of course, few of them were here by choice. They were mostly reporters and civic leaders, here because they had to be. The new Nesselrode Plaza was supposed to be important, the keystone to revitalizing this area of the lakefront. A US congresswoman was in attendance, a handsome woman in her fifties. Next to her stood a gray‑haired African‑American man, a state senator, and an elderly man so bundled up against the cold you could barely tell his species, let alone that he was a prominent federal judge. There was even a tall, rugged‑looking man, with a neat beard that didn’t hide the large scar running down his cheek, in the full dress uniform of a Coast Guard admiral.
And of course Arthur Nesselrode himself was here, the billionaire who had donated the statue and given the plaza its name. That meant the mayor had to be here, too. And the mayor had to give a speech that fit the occasion, made Arthur Nesselrode feel truly important and therefore happy to write more big checks in the future—and that meant a long speech.
Circling the perimeter of the small and shivering crowd were a couple of armed guards, hired because this was an expensive statue, made by a famous modern artist. There had been rumors that a cartel drug lord wanted the statue, rumors the mayor took seriously.
The guards did not. “Nobody’s gonna steal this fucker,” Denny Kirkaldi said to his partner, Bill Greer. He pointed at the base of the statue. “Lookit—twelve bolts, thick as my wrist, holding it down, and the fucking thing has to weigh ten tons.”
“Twelve and a half,” Greer said. Kirkaldi looked at him with surprise, and Greer shrugged. “It was in the paper.”
“Well, so twelve and a half tons. Tons, right? So who’s gonna steal something that weighs twelve and a half tons? That’s fucking stupid!”
Greer shook his head. “We get paid, even if it’s stupid.”
“We should get paid extra for stupid,” Kirkaldi said, “when it’s this fucking cold.”
Greer just shrugged. “It’s not that cold,” he said.
But it was cold, and the wet wind off the lake made it feel even colder. As the mayor’s speech went on—and on—it seemed even colder to the people who had to stand and listen to the praise being heaped on Arthur Nesselrode. Those who knew Nesselrode, or knew about him, were well aware that there was not very much praiseworthy about him. He had made his billions as owner and CEO of Nesselrode Pharmaceuticals. His company owned patents on a number of important drugs—the most significant being Zanagen, the most effective of the new genebased treatments for a number of difficult, and formerly fatal, cancers. Zanagen was truly a miracle drug, and the mayor mentioned it prominently in his speech. But as a politician, he very wisely didn’t mention that Arthur Nesselrode had set the price for his wonderful remedy at half a million dollars per dose. No amount of criticism in the press, pleas from doctors, or even censure from the US Congress could shake him from this grotesquely inflated price.
Nesselrode did not become a billionaire by acts of kindness and charity. Anyone who’d had the misfortune of crossing him would readily testify that he was not a nice man. Some even suggested he was a sociopath, and therefore immune from any feelings of guilt or shame. But Nesselrode was aware that public opinion could affect stock prices. And so he was here today to bolster his image by donating a huge $50 million steel statue to the city of Chicago and paying millions more to build this plaza that carried his name.
The money was insignificant to Nesselrode. He could give away this much every day for a month and still have a few billion left over. And like most men with this kind of wealth, Arthur Nesselrode felt himself insulated against the normal slings and arrows of life. But wealth was not sufficient to insulate him from the temperature. He was cold, and he didn’t like it. But the mayor was praising him, after all. It takes a better man than Arthur Nesselrode to cut that short.
“Jesus, lookit that,” Kirkaldi said, pointing out over the lake, where an enormous helicopter was circling. “Thing is huge!”
Greer glanced up. “Chinook,” he said. His partner stared at him. “I serviced them in the Corps,” Greer explained. “They can lift seventeen tons. Plus crew.”
“Well, I hope the fucker stays away, we got enough wind,” Kirkaldi said, and the two resumed their circuit of the statue.
And the mayor went on with his speech. He was well over ten minutes now and didn’t seem to be slowing down. Arthur Nesselrode glanced at his watch for the seventh time. Even hearing how wonderful he was had started to get tedious. He had been told the ceremony would be brief—a quick speech, and then the mayor would hand him an electronic box with a toggle switch.
Nesselrode would then say a few words himself and flip the switch, which would cause the veil to slip off the statue, and then the fountain would start up at the base, and they could all go back to work. Nesselrode wanted to be back at work. He was working on a hostile takeover of a French company that had had some promising results with a new synthetic insulin.
And damn it, it was really cold. Nesselrode wasn’t dressed for it, and he didn’t like it. He was not accustomed to being inconvenienced, even by the weather. And so, as the mayor passed the fifteen‑minute mark in his speech of praise that even the billionaire himself knew was a load of crap, he acted.
When the mayor paused to take a breath, Nesselrode stepped forward. With the confidence only billionaires can feel, he placed an arm on the mayor’s shoulder and pushed him to one side. He grabbed the microphone and, with a large and incredibly false smile, said, “Thank you, Mr. Mayor, you’re much too kind. And on behalf of Nesselrode Pharmaceuticals, the true House of Miracles, I would just like to say, to you and to the people of Chicago, it is a great honor and privilege to be able to give you this wonderful work of art. And so,” he said, lifting the large electronic box resting on the podium, “I hereby dedicate . . . Nesselrode Plaza!” He raised the box high over his head and flipped the toggle switch.
Several impressive things happened at the same time.
There was a brilliant flash of blue light from the electronic box, accompanied by a sharp and crackling BANG!, and Arthur Nesselrode pitched over and lay motionless behind the podium, smoke rising from his blackened hands. This was followed immediately by twelve sharp and rapid explosions, one after another, from around the base of the statue. And while the crowd was still stunned and blinking, the Coast Guard admiral stepped forward and began shouting orders.
“Clear a space here! Give him some room!” he said as he knelt beside Arthur Nesselrode.
The mayor knelt beside him as well. “Jesus, what happened?” he said.
“Electric shock. Came from that box,” the admiral said as he felt for a pulse. “This man needs immediate medical attention!” He pulled a radio from his pocket and spoke urgently into it. Then he turned his attention back to Nesselrode and began to give him CPR. “All right, that’s my chopper offshore,” he told the mayor. “We’ll airlift him to the hospital.”
“Uh,” the mayor said. “Don’t you think we could—”
“Stow it!” the admiral snapped, pressing hard on Nesselrode’s chest. “I need you to time me here! Start the count!”
And the mayor, who had seen CPR performed on TV, looked at his watch and began counting out loud.
“What the hell happened?” Kirkaldi demanded. “What were those explosions?”
Greer shook his head. “Around the base of the statue,” he said. The two of them hurried over, and Greer knelt to examine one spot still smoking from the series of blasts. “It’s sheared the bolt,” he said. “All the bolts!”
“Shit,” Kirkaldi said. “This thing could fall over, crush somebody!” He frowned at his partner. “Why would somebody—”
Greer stood up. “Terrorists,” he said. “We better tell the mayor.” Kirkaldi nodded. “You tell him, I’ll move the crowd back.”
On the podium, the Coast Guard admiral continued CPR compressions on Nesselrode’s chest while the mayor counted for him. “I’ve got a pulse,” the admiral said. He glanced up. “And here’s my chopper.” He stood up and waved at the helicopter.
With a huge swirl of wind, the Chinook descended toward the platform, lowering a medevac basket. “Clear away!” the admiral yelled. “Mr. Mayor, you need to get all these folks out of the way.”
The mayor nodded and began to urge the crowd away, off the platform. He was the last person down, and as he stepped onto the top stair, he turned just in time to see Nesselrode, in the medevac basket, rising up into the air—
—and a second thick steel cable with a large metal hook on the end unspooling downward, to the admiral’s waiting hand. Frowning, the mayor paused on the top stair. What the hell . . . ?
His puzzlement grew as the admiral grabbed this second cable, stepped to the front of the platform, and swung out toward the statue. But the mayor’s confusion turned to alarm as the admiral, perched on the statue, whipped the cable around it several times, stuck the hook into the wrapped cable, and then climbed upward, hand over hand, and disappeared into the side door of the helicopter.
“Jesus Christ,” the mayor said. He couldn’t think of anything else. He just stood mute as the powerful Chinook climbed upward, taking the statue with it. One of the security guards appeared beside him, lifting his pistol to fire at the chopper. The mayor slapped his hand down. “Mr. Nesselrode is in there!” he said, and the guard kept his pistol lowered.
The two stood side by side and watched as the helicopter flew away, far out over the lake, the brand‑new $50 million statue dangling be‑ neath it.
And with Arthur Nesselrode, billionaire big‑pharma CEO, inside.
Arthur Nesselrode came slowly back to consciousness with no idea where he was or what was happening. His entire body ached—but especially his chest. It felt like he’d been beaten. Beneath him he felt a hard and cold surface, and it was thrumming with vibrations from
some kind of powerful machine.
It took several minutes of concentration and hard work, but he finally managed to open his eyes. Hovering above him was a face he didn’t know. He frowned, tried to focus. The man was wearing a uniform—the admiral who had been standing on the platform behind the mayor? But that made no sense—
“You’re in a helicopter,” the admiral said. He reached behind him and slid open the chopper’s door. Immediately, the freezing wind whipped in at them. “See?”
It was terribly uncomfortable, but it revived Nesselrode a little bit. He blinked and licked his lips.
“Medevac . . . ?” he managed to say. His voice was an unfamiliar rasp.
The admiral smiled. It was not a reassuring smile. “Not quite,” he said.
Nesselrode shook his head. It hurt. “Then . . . why?”
“Insurance,” the admiral said. “To keep them from shooting at me.” Nesselrode closed his eyes again. Nothing was making sense.
He opened his eyes again. “Tell me again how much you charge for one dose of Zanagen?” the admiral said.
“That’s . . . ,” Nesselrode croaked. He frowned. “You—you’re not . . .”
“You guessed it!” the man said. “I’m not really an admiral!”
Nesselrode tried to sit up and discovered that his hands and feet were duct‑taped. With that, the last piece clicked into place. Of course; he was being kidnapped. “I can pay,” he rasped. The man in the admiral’s uniform didn’t answer. “I . . . have money. Lots of it,” Nesselrode said.
“Enough to buy anything you want?”
“Yes,” Nesselrode said.
“Wow,” the admiral said. He grabbed Nesselrode roughly and sat him up in the chopper’s doorway. Lake Michigan gleamed far below. “Could you buy a big fancy yacht?”
“Yes,” Nesselrode said.
“Well,” the admiral said, “now would be a really good time.” And he pushed Arthur Nesselrode out the door, leaning out and watching until he saw a tiny splash far below in the freezing water of Lake Michigan.
“Bastard,” the admiral said. Then he closed the door.
I watched my buyer’s guys secure the statue onto the bed of a huge semi rig. They looked like what they were—thugs. But they did it right, so I just stood and waited.
When they were done, the older of the two guys took out a cell phone, made a call, nodded, and came over to me. “He sent it,” the guy said. “Wire transfer. Just now.”
I took out my own phone, checked my bank account. It showed that the deposit really had been made. All of it, which is never a sure thing. I mean, if somebody is as rich as this guy was, they have to have big holes in their morals. Look at me.
“Paid in full,” the thug said. He looked offended. “He said so!”
“Of course it is,” I said. He turned to go. “Just a second,” I said. I got my little black electronic control box and flipped a switch.
“What’s that?” he asked, frowning at me.
“The bomb,” I said. “I just disarmed it.”
He shook his head. “What bomb?”
“The one inside the statue,” I said, giving him a really big and cheery smile.
He goggled at me. “There’s a bomb in the statue?” he said, kind of stupid.
“Trust—but verify,” I said. “Have a nice day!” Before he could tell me what he thought about that, I was into my waiting car and away, $50 million richer.
And no happier. In fact, I was feeling dirty, mean, edgy, and antsy. Fifty million reasons to feel good, and I didn’t. I mean, the money was nice. And the whole thing had come off without a hitch, just like I had planned it. No reason to do anything but smile and sing happy songs as I drove away. But I just kept looking in the rearview mirror and hissing. Why?
Because. It had all been too easy, and I hate that.
I don’t know why that is. It just is. If it’s too easy, I always feel like it’s got to be a trap, or I made some stupid mistake, or—hell, I don’t know. I just don’t like things to be too easy. And in spite of the cold, this had been a stroll through the fucking park on a summer day. It was done, and I had the money to prove it, and now all my nerves were standing up and vibrating like somebody was whacking at them with a dull machete. Mom had an expression for this feeling. She’d say, “Somebody’s walking on my grave.” And right now, I had the Boston Marathon stomping all over mine.
Usually I get over that feeling pretty quick. This time, it stayed with me. I drove for half an hour, thinking about why that was.
Nothing came to me. I put on the radio, spun the dial, and found Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime.” I like that song a lot. That made me feel even meaner, like somebody was bribing me to cheer up.
I pulled off at a transfer point I’d set up. It was a deserted spot on a country road, well hidden by a screen of trees. That’s why I’d picked the place, because it was totally isolated. I’d left another car there, along with a change of costume. I peeled off the false scar on my face, and then my admiral’s costume. I dropped it all into the back seat of the car I’d arrived in. Beard, hat, shoes with four‑inch lifts. It all went in. From my bag in the trunk of the other car I pulled out a jar of thermite. I took it to the first car and poured the whole thing onto my costume.
I changed into a charcoal‑gray suit and brown oxfords. Hand‑tailored shirt, silk tie, gold cuff links, and a Movado Museum watch on my wrist. I tossed a little box on top of the thermite, got into the new car, and pulled back onto the road. I was half a mile away when I heard a muffled WHOOMP behind me. In the rearview mirror I watched a cheery glow climb up above the trees, and for a few minutes I was at least satisfied, if not really happy. The fire was the real end to the job. It wiped away the last link to the admiral, and to the guy who gave the statue to the thugs. It’s one way I stay successful. On every job, I make sure nobody—nobody—knows what I look like.
Starting with the identities I wear to work. So, thermite and the first rental car exploding, all that. There would be no trace left by the time I hit I‑94. Not a scrap that anybody could connect to the guy who stole the statue. More important, not even a microscopic trace of my DNA. I didn’t have to check. I’d done this enough times. That identity was totally destroyed, nothing but ashes—and goddamn it, that had been easy, too. And now I was right back into feeling mean and antsy.
I drove back toward Chicago. I found a radio station playing really old oldies. Lovin’ Spoonful, Paul Revere, even the Nightcrawlers. Really good background music. It helped me think. By the time I got to Windsor Long‑Term Care Nursing Home, I’d figured out why I felt shitty. The thing was, everything had been too easy lately. Everything I tried worked perfectly, the first time. I was just too damn good. Does that sound conceited? It’s not. It’s the plain damn truth. I am the best there is—maybe the best there ever was—and I hadn’t missed since I was sixteen and tried to steal a cop car.
The last couple of years, almost everything I did had gone like clockwork. No matter how stupid‑hard something looked, it never was. It wasn’t that I wasn’t giving myself any serious challenges. I was pulling off stuff that looked impossible—like stealing a twelve‑and‑a‑half‑ton statue—and making it look routine. But I just wasn’t finding anything that tested me, and there’s always a tremendous danger that comes from that: a danger of getting stale, smug, so that sooner or later I really would make a mistake. In my line of work, mistakes have very big consequences. Like, life in prison is actually the best one. So the answer was obvious, even if it looked kind of stupid.
I needed to find something I couldn’t do.
Find a heist that was beyond impossible, something ridiculous, unthinkable, stupid, totally out of the question. And then I needed to do it. Sure, absolutely, why not. I parked the car a few rows back from the nursing home’s front door and sat there for a minute thinking about that. And then I thought, what the fuck, that was a stupid idea anyway.
I put it out of my mind and went into Windsor Long‑Term Care.
It took me a little less than an hour to make the arrangements to have Mom moved. The nurses were all sad to see her go. After all, most of their patients sit and complain all day, shit in their pants, and wander off. Mom always behaved beautifully, the perfect patient. She was no trouble at all. Mom had been in a coma for years, what they call a persistent vegetative state. No wonder the nurses loved her.
I did, too. For different reasons. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and told her that. Maybe she could hear me. Probably not.
When Mom was loaded into the ambulance and on her way, I drove on to the airport, O’Hare. Seeing Mom hadn’t made me feel any better. I used to think she could get better if I just found the right doctor and threw enough money at him. I don’t believe that anymore. But I still throw a lot of money at keeping Mom alive. And at keeping her near me, wherever I have a job.
I turned in my rental car and took their shuttle to the terminal. I breezed through security, no problem, and to the gate for my flight out. I fly commercial right after a job. I mean, even before this particular payday I could afford a private jet. But that attracts the kind of attention I like to avoid until things settle down a bit.
So I drank a cup of coffee until it was time to board. I settled into my seat, pulled the in‑flight magazine out of the pocket in front of me, and opened it at random. I glanced at a full‑page picture. Then I looked harder.
Time stopped. I just kept looking.
The article was nothing. Just a simple, dumb‑ass puff piece, like all the stuff in those mags. Stuff to do in far‑off cities, other stuff to take your mind off the fact that you’re rocketing through the sky at four hundred miles per hour, and if one little piece of the plane stops working, you’re going to drop like a rock.
But this article was titled “Coming to America!” I didn’t even need to read it. All I had to see was the picture, and I knew. This was it.
I had found something impossible.
I read the article, and I was sure. It absolutely could not be done, not ever, and I had to do it. I studied the picture some more. I’d never seen anything like it. It was so beautiful it made my teeth hurt. I had to see it for real. And then I was going to steal it.
When the plane landed in New York, I bought a seat on the next flight to Tehran. And I was smiling as I boarded.
Denny Kirkaldi was nervous. He’d done his job and hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d protected the crowd instead of the statue, sure— but who could figure somebody would just take the fucking thing like that? And those were important people, too. He knew he’d done the right thing. But the FBI guy had a way of just looking at you that made you feel guilty even if you weren’t. It made you want to tell him stuff, whatever he wanted. So Kirkaldi tried. “Like I said,” he told the Fed, “I was moving the crowd back. I never even saw the guy ’til he went up the rope into the chopper.”
“Cable,” Greer said. “He went up a steel cable.”
“Whatever. Thing is, I didn’t see him. So . . .” He trailed off. The FBI guy was looking away, over at the hole in the ground where the statue had been.
“The uniform was authentic,” Greer said. “Coast Guard admiral.” The Fed went down on one knee beside the hole to look at a sheared bolt, but he still didn’t say anything. That made Kirkaldi even more nervous. “
Lookit, Mr.— Uh, hey, what do we call you, anyways?”
The Fed stood up and looked at them. “Special Agent Frank Delgado,” he said.
“Yeah, well, lookit, Mr. Delgado. Special Agent, whatever,” Kirkaldi said. “The guy’s in Rio or something by now. You’re never gonna catch him now.”
Special Agent Delgado looked at Kirkaldi without a word, holding his gaze a little too long. Then he turned away and looked out over the lake.
“I already know who he is,” Delgado said. He turned back around to face the two guards, and there was something new in his eyes. “His name is Riley Wolfe.”