It was miserably hot, which only served to sour the already black mood of Nathan Ford, IYS insurance cop. He cursed his boss, Ian Blackpoole, for all he was worth. How could Ian send him on a retrieval at a time like this? Not for the first time that day, Nathan sought out a payphone and called his home.
"Hello?" Maggie sounded tired.
"Is he feeling any better?" Nate asked anxiously, skipping the preliminaries altogether. When he had called Maggie yesterday, she had informed him that their year-old son, Sam, was running a fever of 100.2, a very unhealthy number for a baby. He had been annoying Maggie by calling her all day to ask how Sam was feeling, and if the fever had gone down, ever the picture of a doting father.
"Nate, what time is it in Damascus?"
"About six in the afternoon." Nathan replied, trying to figure out what the relevance was.
"Which makes it about three here. In the morning, Nate." Maggie told him. "Sam isn't going to feel better if Daddy doesn't let him sleep it off."
"Sorry." Nate replied, suitably chastised.
"Don't apologize. Just don't call for at least another six hours." Nate heard Maggie yawn, and when next she spoke, her voice was softer, more understanding. "If anything at all happens Nate, I promise that you'll be the first to know, but right now you have to focus on getting your mark and coming home."
"I know." Nate sighed. She was right. The sooner he found the missing Monet, the sooner he could go home and see his family. "I love you Maggie. Goodnight."
"Love you too Nate." Maggie hung up, and Nathan forced himself to focus. He had to find his thief and the stolen Degas. So far, his contacts had been useless, but he had a few good informants left. He called another number. The phone rang twice, and then someone picked up.
"Talk to me, Weasel." Nathan said quietly.
"You know me better than that by now. I specialize in listening." Weasel replied, just as quietly.
"I need a name."
There was a snicker on the other end. "And who is unfortunate enough to attract the Predator's eye?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be on the phone with you Weasel. My mark stole a Degas in Prague three days ago. Apparently, she's been here for a few days, and she claimed to be and art professor named Elizabeth Downy."
"Got a description for me so I can match a picture to it?"
"She's about five-foot six, has a high-heel fetish, has brown hair and brown eyes, and is supposedly very pretty and charming. I think I'm going for a grifter here."
"You are, and I can give you a location, but not a name." Weasel said. "She's meeting in the town center with a possible buyer. She wants to unload the Degas painting."
"Excellent. Who's the potential buyer? I can get him too." Nate said, a grim smile on his face.
"Actually, you can't get him. By the rules of our arrangement…"
"You help me find my mark when I call, and I don't hunt you down." Nate recited. "Weasel?"
"I'd miss your meeting with the thief if I were you."
"I plan to, She'll be waiting at an outside café at seven. Be on time, because she won't wait long."
"She won't have to. Goodbye Weasel."
"Enjoy your hunt, Predator." The line went dead. Nathan hung up the payphone and hailed a taxi. He climbed in and told the driver where to go.
As the taxi carted him to the town center, Nathan gazed out the window, never quite dropping his guard, while he thought. Weasel's information was good. Nathan knew that he could rely on what this informant told him. The man's nickname, Ferret, came from his uncanny ability to ferret out exactly what information his client needed. Nathan call him Weasel because of the first time the agent had been sent to find the man. His apartment had been completely empty, except for a note left on the floor with a phone number written on it. When Nate had called the number, they struck their deal, and the man had weaseled his way out of being arrested by Nate, thus earning his name.
Likewise, Weasel called Nate 'Predator' because of his unwillingness to give up on a hunt and his tendency to track down his mark every time. Annoyingly, very few of Nathan's numerous informants called him by name. One called his Nathan, one called him Ford, and two called him Agent. To the others, he was Hound, Raptor, Hawk, Hunter, Badger, Brain, Sarge, and Dragon. He hadn't yet decided if all informants were fond of nicknaming their clients, or if he just had the crazies. Either way, it didn't really matter.
The taxi dropped him off at the town center, and he threw some money over the seat and got out. It was almost seven. He could see the little café across the commons area, and he studied the outdoor seating area. From a safe distance, he surveyed the tables. There was a couple in their mid-twenties, oblivious to the world around them. There was a woman and her two sons, and there! There was his mark, sitting comfortably and looking for all the world as though she owned the café.
From his safe distance, Nathan drooled, eyeing the smooth, tanned skin of her crossed legs, the way she regarded the world like it was there only because she let it be. His eyes feasted on her hair, curled expertly and falling around her face, accenting her prominent cheekbones and full, red lips. He found himself admiring the way her fingers curved gracefully around her glass of wine, and how she absently twirled the liquid in the glass. She looked around, and their eyes met. She looked slightly surprised, and he was still dazzled. A group of students walked past Nate, cutting off his view, and when his line of sight was clear again, he saw an empty table with an abandoned glass of wine sitting on it. He swore and started across the commons. He saw the grifter duck into an alley, and broke into a smooth jog, following her trail.
She was good. Within five blocks, he had lost her. He cursed again and went to a payphone, calling Weasel.
"Where's her safe house Weasel?! Where is the Degas hidden?!" Nate barked into the phone, his patience gone.
"I don't know." Weasel said, too quickly.
"Figure it out, fast, or our arrangement is over and I'll come after you next."
"Oh, I think I just found the address!"
"Smart rodent." Nathan growled. Weasel gave him the address, and Nate hung up in the middle of Weasel's goodbye. He went to the safe house and broke in efficiently. The apartment room was devoid of the thief, but it did have the Degas. Nathan decided to take what he could get. He could come back for the art thief. He took the painting and left the apartment carefully, then returned it to the museum. The rest of his day was spent giving the museum director tips on how to protect against thieves and grifters, until it was late enough that he could beat a retreat to his hotel room. When it was one am, and therefore ten where Maggie was, he called her.
"Hi Maggie. How's Sam?"
"His fever is gone, and he slept all night. He seems to be doing fine." Nate experienced a moment of extreme relief. "Did you catch your thief?"
"She got away, but the Degas didn't. It's back at the museum and I told the director what he could do to improve security." Nate said. "I'm coming home tomorrow."
"Are you sure the thief won't just steal it again tonight?"
"I found her hidey hole. She'll go to ground… lay low for six months or so before she starts stealing again. She recognized me. We're getting a reputation, Maggie."
"Criminals, beware." Maggie laughed. "I'll see you when you get home Nate. I love you."
"I love you too Maggie. I'll see you tomorrow." He hung up the phone and went to bed. That night, he dreamt he chased a beautiful brunette around the streets of Prague, following her tirelessly, though it wasn't because she was a criminal.