Authors: Lynn Barnes
“Tess, has anyone ever told you that you’re an absolute vision when you’re plotting something?” Asher Rhodes shot a lazy grin in my direction.
I ignored Asher and kept my gaze fixed on the street in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. A man named Charles Bancroft had a reservation at the Roosevelt’s five-star restaurant for lunch—pricey, considering Mr. Bancroft had recently convinced a
judge that his child support and alimony payments should be kept to a minimum.
“Asking for a friend,” Asher clarified. Then he nudged his best friend. “Henry, my good man, tell Tess she’s pretty as a picture when she’s preparing to unleash her wrath on the delightfully unsuspecting father of one of our classmates.”
“Kendrick?” Henry Marquette said.
“Yes?” I replied without taking my eyes away
from the street.
“You are utterly
when you are plotting something.”
A dark car pulled up to the curb. I smiled. “Thank you,” I told Henry. Then I turned to Asher. “Get Vivvie on the phone,” I instructed. “Tell her we’re a go.”
Vivvie and her aunt had lived at the Roosevelt Hotel for almost a month until they’d found a DC apartment. That was plenty of time for friendly-to-a-fault
Vivvie Bharani to have endeared herself to the staff.
, I thought as I watched Charles Bancroft climb out of the backseat of his luxury sedan. Asher relayed my message to Vivvie, then put the phone on speaker.
“The eagle has landed,” Vivvie said from the other end. “The bird is in the bush.”
Few things in life gave Vivvie and Asher as much joy as talking in code. I didn’t bother
translating. One of the bellhops wheeled a cart of luggage out in front of Bancroft’s car. Bancroft disappeared into the restaurant, but his driver wasn’t going anywhere.
That was my cue.
I took a step forward. Henry caught my elbow. “No bloodshed,” he said. “No blackmail. No obstruction of justice.”
“You drive a hard bargain,” I told him, stepping away from his grasp. “What are your thoughts
on extortion?” Without waiting for an answer, I headed for Bancroft’s car.
Henry and Asher followed on my heels.
“The cat is dancing in the catnip,” Asher reported back to Vivvie. “Grumpy lion is grumpy.”
“Did you just refer to me as a grumpy lion?” Henry asked Asher.
“Absolutely not,” Asher promised. Then he took the phone off speaker and lowered his voice. “
Suspicious lion is suspicious
,” he stage-whispered to Vivvie.
With one last glance back at Henry and Asher, I approached Bancroft’s car and knocked on the window. The driver rolled it down.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m a friend of Jeremy’s,” I said. “I’d like to talk.”
Jeremy Bancroft was a senior at the Hardwicke School, due to graduate in the spring. Or at least he had been due to graduate from Hardwicke in the spring
until his father stopped payment on his tuition. From what I’d gathered, Mr. Bancroft’s sole focus was making his ex-wife suffer for daring to divorce him, and he had no qualms whatsoever about using his own children to do it.
I had no qualms about lying in wait in the man’s car. An hour later, I was rewarded.
“I’m telling you right now,” Bancroft said, shifting his phone from one ear to the
other as he situated himself in the backseat of the car, “they’ll be signed on with the firm by the end of business day tomorrow. Guaranteed.”
The car pulled away from the curb. I sat silently in the front passenger seat until we’d merged into traffic. Then I turned around.
“What the . . .” Bancroft hung up the phone and started barking out orders to his driver. “Mick, pull over.”
to step out,” I told Jeremy’s father. “Right about now, he’s probably wondering where you and your car are.”
In reality, Bancroft’s driver had agreed to take a very conveniently timed bathroom break. He was, as it turned out, fonder of his boss’s son than of his boss.
“I don’t know who you are,” Bancroft gritted out, “or what you want—”
“I’d like for you to stop using your children as pawns
in whatever sick game you have going on with your ex-wife,” I said. “But I’ll settle for a rather large transfer of funds.”
Bancroft stared at me in disbelief. “Who put you up to this?”
“A better question might be what I’m going to do if you don’t transfer those funds.”
“Do?” Bancroft sputtered. “You can’t
anything. You’re a kid.”
“I’m Tess Kendrick,” I said. “Keyes.” The second last name
was an afterthought. The combination of the two had the man in the backseat paling. “I go to Hardwicke with your son. Jeremy seems fairly convinced that you’re hiding money in an offshore account to keep your child support payments to a minimum.”
Bancroft showed not even a trace of emotion at the mention of his son. “Prove it,” he spat out.
“I don’t have to.” I took my time explaining those
words. “Either you
been hiding assets,” I said, “which makes you a felon, or you’re actually as broke as you claim to be, which makes you the very last person in the world whom anyone in DC should trust to invest their money.” I paused. “I wonder how long it would take for news of your financial difficulties to spread.”
Bancroft snorted, but his eyes gave him away. He was looking nervous.
. “You think my ex-wife wants DC society to realize how broke
is?” the man countered. “If she was going to go public with this, she would have already.”
“I’m not your ex-wife.” I picked up my phone and brought up the contact information for the
. “And as it turns out,
don’t have a vested interest in whether people think she’s broke or not.” I turned the phone toward
Bancroft just long
enough for him to see who I was calling, then hit the
button, setting the phone to speaker.
It rang once.
“Stop,” Bancroft said.
I hit the button to end the call just as someone picked up. I held out the paperwork Henry had asked his family attorney to draw up. “In an ideal world,” I said, “you’d amend the divorce settlement you made with your ex-wife.”
in Bancroft’s jaw ticked. He’d take his chances weathering damaging rumors before he’d give his ex anything she wanted.
“However,” I continued, “I thought you might prefer making an anonymous donation to your children’s school.”
I held out the papers again. Bancroft took them. Reading them, he frowned. “A scholarship fund?”
“Donors can put whatever stipulations they would like on a donation.
Your stipulations are very specific.”
Jeremy and his little sister would be the recipients of scholarships that would pay their Hardwicke tuition through graduation.
“I only have two children.” Bancroft looked up from the pages and glowered at me. “Why am I funding three scholarships?”
I offered him a tight-lipped smile. “Price of doing business.”
A vein in Bancroft’s forehead throbbed. “And
if I tear up these papers, call the police, and have you arrested for stealing my car?”
I shrugged. “Technically,” I said, “
didn’t steal your car.”
The car slowed to a stop at the curb of the Roosevelt, having circled the block. In the driver’s seat, Henry turned around. “Technically,” he said, “I did.”
“Henry Marquette,” I clarified for the man in the backseat. “His mother is Pamela Abellard.”
My smile took on a cat-eating-canary glint. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Abellards your firm’s biggest client?”
Bancroft’s grip tightened over his phone, his knuckles turning white.
“We both know you’re not making that call,” I said. I nodded toward the paperwork in his hands.
The man’s eyes went back to Henry’s.
“Normally,” Henry told him conversationally, “when someone asks me
to commit grand theft auto, my answer is a firm no. But I have a sister.” Henry’s expression was perfectly polite, but his mint-green eyes flashed, striking against his dark brown skin. “My little sister,” Henry continued, “is your daughter’s age. Nine years old.”
Bancroft signed the papers. He made a call and authorized the transfer of funds.
As I exited the car, I glanced over at Henry. “Should
I call Asher and tell him we won’t be needing that getaway distraction?”
Before Henry could reply, pop music reverberated off the building. Asher jogged into the middle of a large crowd and struck a dramatic pose.
“You say ‘distraction,’” Henry deadpanned, “Asher hears ‘flash mob.’”
Five seconds later, Vivvie danced wildly past and gave me a questioning look. I nodded.