The folded paper extended no more than two millimeters from beneath the ornate cup and saucer, just enough that Lev noted it as he passed through the main dining room at Bellini’s. The table for two was not occupied, nor would it be for the rest of the evening. He’d made sure of that. Lev paused briefly on his way back from taking the Nelsons’ order to remove the paper, slipping it into a pants pocket.
In the supply closet, he shut the door and turned his back to it. Keeping the paper out of the shadow his head cast from the overhead light, he quickly unfolded the slip. Lev had only moments before someone barged in for fresh linens.
The penciled note was underlined twice: 2xM=cube.
Crumpling the paper tightly in his fist, Lev put it in his mouth and swallowed it. Eluding the feds was crucial for this to work. No evidence, he’d been told. Leave nothing behind.
Back in the dining room, he delivered the plates to the Nelson party and took several more orders. At the table in the corner, the two lanky men in business suits stood to leave. When Lev swept by three minutes later to pick up the payment book, a square wooden top lay on it. Small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. He turned the top to look at each of the four sides: q 7 n 3.
“Waiter!” Judge Samuel Nelson called out. When a Nelson summoned, you responded on the run.
“Sir,” Lev said, standing at the judge’s elbow.
“Another martini.” The older man raised an eyebrow at the top that Lev still held. “A teetotum,” he pronounced.
The chatter around the table hushed. The five other Nelsons waited for the judge to continue.
“A top for those who don’t know,” the judge said, his tone implying that very few aside from him would know. “And why are you carrying a top, Lev?”
No evidence. Lev swallowed, sweat popping out beneath his slicked-back hair. He felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. “Someone left their child’s toy behind,” he lied. He inched away from the table, eager to be gone.
The judge held out his hand. “My grandson Palmer will love it.”
Lev froze. His job was on the line if he didn’t relinquish the top to this patron. His life was on the line if he did.
Toy gave him the answer. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’ll need to place this in our lost and found,” he said, hoping his voice carried enough authority to override the entitled old man’s intention. “You know how children are; they can be very attached to a favorite plaything. Once the parents realize they’ve left it behind—”
The judge folded away his outstretched hand, nodding. “Astute argument, Lev. Well said.”
The other Nelsons nodded in agreement and turned back to their dinner conversations.
Lev exhaled in relief. “I’ll be back with your cocktail in just a moment.”
At the bar, he placed the drink order. Every stool was taken, the din almost deafening. Lev remained at the bar—the judge was too important a patron to keep his drink waiting once it was ready—and carefully studied the crowd. At the far end of the polished wooden expanse sat a woman in a simple burgundy dress, hair in an elegant twist.
He made his way purposefully through the throng, and when he was near her, bent to pick up a black silk scarf from the floor.
“So sorry to disturb you, miss.” He stood next to her. “You must have dropped this.”
She smiled. “Thank you so much.” With both hands, she took the scarf—and the small, four-sided top now wrapped within it, and turned back to the bar.
Done. Lev’s shoulders relaxed and his brow smoothed. Despite a close call, another message delivered. He maneuvered back through the thicket of bar guests and retrieved the judge’s martini.
The folded paper extended no more than two millimeters from beneath the ornate cup and saucer, just enough that Lev noted it as he passed through the main dining room at Bellini’s.
It’s about noon, my eleventh day on the trail. My feet hurt, and the blisters have begot more blisters. So much for the overpriced, cushioned socks I thought I had to have.
Darci waved the embossed certificate under her sister’s nose. “Don’t you realize it’s a red-letter day? I’m not letting you mess this up.”
Malcolm Treadwell stood on the steps outside Saint Dominic’s Church—or rather, what had been Saint Dominic’s—hands in his pockets, rehearsing the words he needed to say.
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