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In this third installment of a series lauded for its "nonstop action," an international spy must face a ring of ruthless masterminds and foil a plot with global implications as he becomes the world's most wanted man (Booklist).Life is good for Rafael de Bourbon. The forty-year-old Spaniard recently married to a wealthy English beauty, and is days away from opening a luxury boutique hotel off the southern coast of Thailand. But when the Royal Thai Police storm the hotel and arrest him for blackmail and extortion, "Rafa" is thrown into Bangkok's most notorious jail. In desperation, he reaches out to the one man who can prove his innocence.
Simon Riske, ex-con and now "private spy," owes Rafa his life. Once he and De Bourbon were the closest of friends, until a woman came between them. Riske rushes to Bangkok to secure his friend's release and overnight, finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue larger and more dangerous than he could imagine. In hours, it is Riske who finds himself the wanted man.
On the run in a foreign country, pursued by powerful unseen forces who will stop at nothing until he is killed, Riske must stay alive long enough to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy that threatens to wreak carnage across the glittering capitals of Europe. From Bangkok to Singapore and ultimately to Cannes, Riske enlists the help of a daring investigative reporter, a rogue Mossad agent, and his own band of home-grown specialists, to thwart the cabal behind the plot, only to learn its very origins are frighteningly close to his past.
Frighteningly timely, diabolically clever, and ever so stylish, The Palace is Christopher Reich's sharpest and most exciting book yet.
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Côte d'Azur, France
Set the timer," said Simon Riske.
"How long?" asked Lucy Brown.
"Four minutes." Simon moved across the spacious bedroom, eyes fixed on the painting.
"The security system monitors activate all locks every two minutes. I figure we have another two on top of that in case they decide to send someone to check. I don't want to be here to find out if I'm right."
"In case? I thought you stole the key. Why would they check?"
Simon looked at Lucy. Enough questions. "Set it. Now. And make it three minutes thirty seconds."
Simon took the phone from his pocket and approached the painting. Activating the camera, he stepped back to ensure the entire canvas was in the frame and snapped a photograph. He examined the result. Satisfied that it was in focus and that the artist's signature was visible, he sent it to an office on the eleventh floor of a modern steel-and-glass skyscraper in the heart of the City, the one-square-mile section of London that was home to many of the world's financial juggernauts. The reply came back like a bullet.
Simon lifted the painting off the wall and set it on an onyx coffee table in the center of the bedroom. The canvas measured forty-two inches by thirty. It showed the façade of Rouen Cathedral at sunset and had been painted by Claude Monet in 1894. Estimates of its value ranged from thirty to fifty million dollars. Twenty-five years ago, it had been stolen from the famed Rijksmuseum of art in Amsterdam.
Simon Riske had come to steal it back.
"May I?" He extended his hand. Lucy placed a tube of lipstick in his palm. Simon removed the cover and spun the bottom, releasing a razor-sharp blade. "Time?"
"Three minutes." Lucy bounced up and down on her toes, not an easy feat given her four-inch heels. She was dressed in a black designer cocktail dress with a plunging neckline and high heels with fire-engine-red soles. Simon didn't care much about fashion. Prior to this assignment he'd thought "mules" were animals, not shoes. He'd accompanied Lucy to Harvey Nichols to buy her outfit and was still in shock at the price of feminine couture. He'd been sure to keep the receipt for his expense report.
During daylight hours, Lucy worked as an apprentice mechanic in his automotive repair shop in southwest London, a stone's throw from Wimbledon, better known as the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. Instead of a three-thousand-dollar dress and fancy high heels, she wore a gray coverall and work boots, and kept her blond hair tucked beneath a baseball cap. Simon's relationship with her was strictly platonic, somewhere between friend and father. In a sense, she was his own restoration project. But that was another story.
As for Simon, he was dressed befitting the occasion, a black-tie dinner dance and auction to benefit an international charity held on the first night of the Cannes Film Festival. He was a compact man, markedly fit in a peaked-lapel dinner jacket, his bow tie hardly perfect, but his own doing. His hair was dark and thick, receding violently at the temples and cut to a nub with a number two razor. He had his father's dark complexion and brooding good looks and his mother's beryl-green eyes. People mistook him for a European—Italian, Slavic, something Mediterranean. His nose was too bold, too chiseled. His chin, too strong. Take off the tux, add a day's stubble, and he'd fit in hooking bales of Egyptian cotton across a dock in Naples.
Simon had a second profession besides restoring old cars. It involved remedying thorny, often unorthodox problems for an array of clientele: corporations, governments, wealthy individuals. Or, in this case, an insurance company—Lloyd's of London—and, by extension, the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam.
Back to work.
With care, he punctured the canvas at the uppermost corner and drew the blade firmly and steadily along its perimeter—down, across, up, across—wincing at the rip of tearing linen twill. Removing the canvas from the frame in this manner would reduce its size by only an inch on its borders, or so he'd been told. Still, it was hard not to feel as if he were desecrating something sacred.
From the floor below came the sound of applause and laughter, followed by a burst of music. The auction was over.
"Stop asking," said Lucy. "You're making me nervous."
"Don't be," said Simon, giving her a smile to calm her down. "We're almost out of here."
A sharp knock on the door erased the smile.
"Mr. Sun? It's Pierrot from security." English with a strong French accent.
Lucy shot Simon an angry glance. "I thought you said four minutes."
"You locked it, right?"
"I know how to follow instructions."
"Talk to him."
"And say what?"
"You're a woman in a billionaire's bedroom. Think of something."
The billionaire in question was named Samson Sun, the nephew of the Indonesian minister of finance and brother-in-law of a Malaysian king. To the world, he was known as a businessman and philanthropist, and, more recently, a movie producer.
Simon had met him a month earlier at an automobile auction held at the Villa d'Este on Lake Como. It was a setup to begin with, the Monet having been spotted in a photograph in a piece on Sun appearing in the French edition of Architectural Digest. When Sun purchased a Ferrari at auction the final day (a 1966 275 GTB Berlinetta for fifteen million euros), Simon introduced himself as the man who'd overseen its restoration and offered his services should Sun have any other automobiles so in need. A conversation ensued, then later a lunch and a dinner, after which Sun insisted that Simon attend his fundraiser the following month in Cannes.
"I'm sorry," called Lucy, cheek pressed to the door. "Mr. Sun is in the bathroom."
"Please open up, madame. It is necessary."
"I can't," she said. "I don't have any clothes on."
"Is Mr. Sun with you?"
Lucy looked to Simon, who nodded. The security system would show it was Sun's key that had opened the door. "Of course he is. Who else do you think I'm with?"
"Please ask him to come to the door."
"Oh, all right," said Lucy, aggravated. "Don't get in a tizzy. I'll tell him."
Simon returned his attention to the job at hand. One by one, he sliced the last stubborn threads and freed the canvas from the frame. "Give it to me," he said. "Quick."
Lucy reached into her purse and took out a plastic packet the size of a neatly folded handkerchief. Simon tore open the packet and shook loose a black polyurethane cylindrical tube. Handing it to Lucy, he rolled up the painting as tightly as possible and, with her help, slipped it inside. A drawstring drew the cylinder snug, hardly more than an inch round. Lucy removed another item from her purse—a red bow—and affixed it to the carrier.
"A present from our host," said Simon.
The knocking recommenced, louder this time.
"Madame, please. Open the door."
Simon heard the guard trying the lock, finding it secured from the inside. He imagined Pierrot had just learned that Samson Sun was not, in fact, in his bedroom about to enjoy intimate relations with one of his guests, but downstairs presiding over his auction.
The pounding increased in intensity.
Simon placed a call. Somewhere circling above them in the sky there was a helicopter waiting to pick them up. "We're ready to skip town. How far out are you?"
"No go. Mechanical issues. We're still on the ground."
"What do you mean? We need to get out of here yesterday."
"Nothing I can do. I'm grounded until a mechanic gets here. Good luck."
Simon muttered an appropriate expletive and hung up. "We're on our own."
"I guess it's too late to put it back," said Lucy.
"Just a little."
"Your move, boss."
"Open the door," said Simon. "Let him in."
"I tell him a bedtime story and give him a kiss good night. Ready?"
Lucy nodded, but he could read the fear in her eyes. It was not the first time he'd brought her along on a job, but it was the first time he'd enlisted her active participation.
He extinguished the lights and took up position beside the door, back against the wall.
Lucy swallowed hard, then opened the door. "Yes? Can I help you?"
Pierrot the security guard looked at Lucy, then shouldered his way past her into the bedroom. Simon stepped forward and punched him in the kidney, as painful a spot as there was, then placed him in a headlock, arm drawn savagely across the neck to impede the carotid artery and cut off the flow of blood to the brain. Pierrot struggled but was no match for surprise and superior strength. His body went limp. Simon lowered him to the floor, removing his earpiece and lapel microphone.
"Pierrot, ça va?" asked a rough voice. "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?"
"Tout va bien," answered Simon, his French that of a native.
"C'est toi, Pierrot?"
Simon frowned, dropping the microphone and earpiece onto the floor. That was a fail. "Time to move."
Carrier in hand, he guided Lucy into the corridor, turning left and advancing down the narrow hall before descending a flight of stairs. The music grew louder. The din of excited voices reached them as the dance floor came into view. A man in a dark suit identical to Pierrot's pushed his way toward the stairwell. Simon stopped. Options for escape were dwindling rapidly. Turning, he told Lucy to retrace her steps, placing a hand in the lee of her back. "Faster."
Lucy ran up the stairs, pausing at the top to remove her shoes.
"To your right," said Simon, praying that his memory of the location's layout held up.
A glance over his shoulder proved the security guard was following. Ten feet away a door blocked their progress. Lucy struggled to open the latch.
"Let me." Simon threw the lock, sliding the door open. A stiff breeze rushed over them. A spray of water. The sharp scent of salt, brine, and rain. "After you."
Lucy stepped onto the fourth deck of the ship, seventy feet above the Mediterranean Sea. Two miles distant, across an expanse of sea, the lights of Juan-les-Pins and Cannes glimmered like diamonds. "Which way?"
"Aft." Simon noted Lucy's puzzled gaze and pointed to the rear of the vessel. "That way."
The vessel was the Yasmina, a 503-foot mega-yacht built by Blohm+Voss shipyards of Hamburg, Germany, with a crew of seventy, including two full-time skippers and room for thirty guests, powered by a triple-screw diesel engine with a maximum speed of thirty knots and a range of three thousand miles.
Lucy jogged across the deck, stopping alongside the elevated helipad. Simon stared into the night sky, hope over reason. A gust knocked him back a step. He saw no flashing lights, only a bank of clouds approaching from the Maritime Alps. There would be no miracles tonight.
Behind them, the security guard emerged onto the deck, pistol drawn and held to his thigh. "Excuse me, monsieur. Would you mind stopping for a moment?"
Simon deftly handed Lucy the carrier. "Oh, hello. Is there something the matter?"
The guard spoke a few words into his lapel mike, then holstered his weapon inside his jacket. "Can you both accompany me?"
"We were just enjoying the night air," said Simon, as a drop of rain struck him in the eye.
"Of course you were. I'm sure it won't take more than a minute."
Simon looked toward Lucy. "Honey, can you come here? This gentleman would like to have a word with us."
"Really? What for?" A look of confusion for Simon. A smile for the security guard. She took Simon's hand and leaned her head against his shoulder.
Not bad, thought Simon. Not quite ready for the BBC production of Romeo and Juliet, but well done, all the same.
"Happy to," he said to the guard. "We just left the auction. I never knew dinner and a boat ride could cost so much."
"I'm sure Mr. Sun will be grateful."
"I certainly hope so." As Simon spoke, he stepped toward the guard, placing one foot inside his stance, then attacking—as nimble as a cat, as fast as a cobra—taking hold of the man's lapels, pivoting sharply, launching him over his hip and shoulder, and out over the railing of the boat. The guard's cry and subsequent splash was drowned out by the pounding music emanating from the open-air dance floor. The Yasmina was underway, making 10 knots. In moments, the man had disappeared in the roiling sea.
"Will he be all right?" asked Lucy.
"A mile to shore," said Simon. "Give or take. He'll be fine." But he wasn't sure. A mile at night was an eternity. With the storm…
"We need to get off the boat. Pronto."
He directed her to the far side of the helipad and down a flight of exterior stairs, calculating the time until the painting was discovered missing, if it had not already been. At the bottom of the stairs, guests spilled onto the main deck. Most were dressed similarly to him and Lucy. Men in dinner jackets, women in cocktail dresses. Inside, the grand salon had been transformed into a mock-up of Studio 54, the fabled New York discotheque. A raised dance floor lit from below, DJ booth, mirror ball, go-go dancers on pedestals. Earth, Wind, and Fire blasted from the speakers. The only thing missing was Bianca Jagger riding a white stallion and Andy Warhol huddled in a booth with Halston and Elizabeth Taylor.
Simon led the way across the salon, happy for the anonymity afforded him by the throng of revelers. He stole a flute of champagne from a passing waiter and downed it. There was no reason to believe anyone would be looking for them. One guard had seen the two of them in Samson Sun's bedroom, and that had been but briefly and in the dark. He'd been left unconscious, but for how much longer? The only other person to suspect them was currently swimming to shore.
A British actor famous for his blue eyes, tousled hair, and beguiling stutter placed a hand on Lucy's arm, nuzzling her with far too much familiarity. Simon couldn't hear what he said to her. It didn't matter. The actor was older than her by three decades. Simon whispered a few words of his own into the actor's ear and the man dropped his hand as if he'd been shocked.
"But that was—" Lucy said.
"Yes, it was."
"And he wanted to—"
"I'm sure he did."
"Mr. Riske! There you are!"
Simon turned and found himself face-to-face with a short, pudgy, bald Asian man of indeterminate age. Thirty? Fifty? It was impossible to tell. "Samson, hello. And please, call me Simon."
"I missed you at the auction." Indonesian accent by way of Oxford. At least, that's what he'd told Simon.
"Too rich for my blood, I'm afraid."
"You? I doubt that." Samson Sun was dressed entirely in white—suit, shirt, tie, even his shoes—his one contrasting feature the round, black-framed eyeglasses that were his trademark. Sun turned to Lucy, the top of his head reaching her chin. "And who's this lovely creature?"
"My friend, Lucy Brown. Lucy, say hello to Samson."
"A pleasure, I'm sure."
Behind the pebble lenses, Sun's eyes stayed on Lucy a beat too long. "What's this, then, Miss Brown? A present for your host?"
Lucy's mouth worked, but no words came out.
"Actually, you gave it to her," said Simon.
"A door prize."
Sun returned his attention to Lucy. "Please join me," he said, gesturing to a table at the back of the room. "You may find some new clients."
"Thank you, but we wouldn't want to interrupt." Simon placed a hand on Lucy's elbow as his eyes scanned the room for trouble.
"Not at all. Perhaps Miss Brown would like to meet the cast of my movie." He took Lucy's hand. "Are you an actress by any chance?"
"An actress? Me? Course not."
Sun had come to Cannes as the producer of a movie called The Raft of the Medusa. The film was based on a true story of a group of African refugees whose boat had sunk as they made the crossing from Libya to Italy and had spent three hellish weeks adrift on a makeshift raft, nearly all of them perishing. Several of the survivors played themselves in the movie. Simon spotted them seated at Sun's table.
"Next time," said Simon. Then: "You'll be in Cannes the entire festival?"
"Naturally," said Sun. "Our film is to be shown closing night. A prestigious honor."
"Congratulations. We'll see you on the Croisette. And thank you for the invitation. Great party."
"Good night, Mr. Riske. And good night, Miss Brown. I hope to see you again."
Simon guided Lucy across the floor, past a vodka bar carved entirely from ice and tended by pretty blondes clad in string bikinis and faux-fur shapki. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Sun had returned to his table, taking his place at the center of his entourage. A moment later, a commotion as two security guards arrived at his table. One was Pierrot, no longer unconscious nor on the floor of Sun's bedroom.
Simon ducked out a side door, Lucy in tow, and onto the fantail. He glanced over the rear safety railing. Two RIB tenders—twenty feet long, rigid inflatable hull, dual Mercury outboards—sat moored to the floating dock, crew in white tunics and navy-blue shorts at the ready. Somewhere belowdecks there was a miniature submarine as well (for pleasure? escape?), but Simon was no Captain Nemo. He was, however, a good Marseille boy who'd spent enough hours making trouble on the docks of the Vieux-Port to know the difference between a half hitch and a reef knot, and how to drive anything with a motor, on land or sea.
"This way," he said, setting off to the crew's ladder, which descended to the floating deck. "If anyone asks, you're sick. You need to get to a hospital straightaway."
"I am?" said Lucy. "I mean, yes, I am."
Simon reached the bottom of the ladder, offering Lucy a hand. "The lady needs to get to shore," he said to the mate. "She's ill."
"The boat will dock in forty minutes. We're returning to port due to the weather."
"Too long," said Simon, palming the mate a wad of one hundred euro bills—he didn't know how many.
The mate glanced at the money. The film festival. Movie people. Rogues. Rule breakers. He answered without hesitation. "Come aboard."
Simon helped Lucy onto the nearer tender. A high-pitched whistle sounded as he placed his foot onto the gunnel. Pierrot was leaning over the railing above their heads, hand pointed at them. "Keep them here," he shouted as he made his way to the ladder.
Simon jumped into the cockpit, tearing off his bow tie and throwing it into the sea. The engine was idling. The mate stood onboard, mooring rope in hand, looking confusedly between Pierrot and Simon. The tender's skipper—eighteen, crew cut, yet to have his first shave—confronted Simon. "Sir, I can't—"
"Get off," said Simon.
"Yes, sir." The skipper and the mate both stepped around him and boarded the Yasmina.
Simon put the tender into reverse, spinning the wheel to port, then sliding the throttle forward. The nose rose. Wake spread behind the boat. Pierrot and another guard clambered aboard the second tender. Simon increased his speed. The sea was rising, wind from the Maritime Alps scudding across the surface, stirring up whitecaps, sending spirals of spume into the air.
Simon killed the running lights. The speedometer read 25 knots, and he was astonished to see the markings went to 80. "Hold on," he called over his shoulder. "This is going to get bumpy."
He shoved the throttle forward. The twin outboards roared. The hull slapped the water with force. Instead of heading toward shore and safety, however, he steered in a straight line, retracing the Yasmina's path.
"Where are you going?" shouted Lucy.
Simon ignored her. He looked over his shoulder. A quarter of a mile separated them from their pursuers. He searched the water to either side of the boat, looking for a head, an arm, any sign of the man he'd thrown overboard. There. He spotted him, the man no longer wearing a jacket, his white shirt visible. He was on his back, struggling.
Simon cut the engines and made a tight circle. "Give me a hand."
Leaning over the gunnel, he grabbed the guard's collar and, with Lucy's help, hauled him aboard.
The guard lay at Lucy's feet, coughing seawater, exhausted. "Merci," he managed, weakly.
Simon freed the man's pistol from his shoulder holster and threw it into the water. "Stay," he said to his face. Then to Lucy: "Watch him. If he moves a muscle, shout."
Simon removed his own jacket and tossed it to the guard, telling him in French to cover up.
He retook the wheel. A hundred yards separated him from his pursuers. Rain began to fall in earnest, wind freshening by the minute. He turned the boat toward shore and hit the throttle for all it was worth. The nose jumped precipitously, knocking him to his knees. It wasn't a tender, it was a Cigarette in drag.
Across the bay, boats were making for port. On shore, dock lights blinked red. Danger. Storm conditions.
Simon scanned the coastline. He couldn't go to Cannes or Antibes. Sun's security team would have radioed ahead to arrange a welcoming committee. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone. Under M he dialed a number he'd sworn never to call again. A familiar voice answered.
"Ledoux. What now?"
"Where are you, Jojo?"
"It's nine o'clock on a Wednesday night. Where do you think I am? In the middle of ten plates of moules-frites."
Jojo Matta was a lousy hood and a gifted cook. Once, a very long time ago, they'd worked together committing all manner of illegal acts. Last year Jojo had helped Simon with a small problem in Monaco. As payment, Simon had helped Jojo open a restaurant in Juan-les-Pins, a leafy hamlet adjacent to Antibes.
A spit of land extended into the bay to his right, the peninsula that separated the Bay of Cannes and the Bay of Nice. At its very tip, barely visible, two lights burned red. Maybe, he thought.
"Jojo, how long to get to Eden-Roc?"
"People like me don't go to the Du Cap unless we're lifting something."
"Du Cap" for the Hôtel du Cap, built in 1870, long home to wealthy Europeans, cosmopolites, and their hangers-on.
"Tonight you do."
"I'm in the middle of a shift."
"You own the place. Your sous-chef can fill in. Be there in twelve minutes."
"Get lost. I'm not your errand boy."
"Who paid for your restaurant? I'll yank it. Watch me." There was only one way to talk to a gangster.
"That's not fair."
"Twelve minutes, Jojo."
Without warning, the windscreen shattered. Something struck one of his engines. The men were firing at him.
"Lie down," he called over his shoulder. Lucy didn't need telling. She was already flat on her belly.
The other tender had shortened the distance between them. Visibility was deteriorating. Rain fell in sheets, the wind a pernicious force, howling like a banshee. Lightning flashed nearby, a bolt running from heaven to sea. For a moment, the bay was illuminated, vessels of all kinds frozen in place by the burst of white light.
Simon saw his path.
Directly ahead, another mega-yacht, the Eclipse—five hundred feet, shark's snout, a radar globe like a Christmas ornament—Abramovich's before he sold it to an Emirati prince. A small armada had grouped off its port side, five motor yachts, give or take. He steered toward the immense vessel, speed 40 knots despite the wild bucking. He hugged the giant boat, starboard side, aware of its crew gesturing madly at him…then he was past it, spinning the wheel to port, cutting across its bow, perilously close, a 180-degree turn. He straightened out the tender, coming back along the Eclipse's port side, darting in and among the smaller vessels. He cut his speed. The only sound, rain pummeling the vessel, as loud as a corps of drummers. They were a shadow bobbing on the waves, black on black.
He caught the other tender's lights rounding the Eclipse's bow, turning toward them, slowing, confused, its prey lost.
Suddenly, the rescued guard was on his feet, arms waving. "Pierrot! Over here! Pierrot!"
- "Simon Riske novels feature nonstop action in vividly rendered international locales, and this third in the series (following Crown Jewel, 2019) delivers on both counts. Stylish escapism."—Booklist
- Praise for CROWN JEWEL
- "A stylish international thriller . . . Reich's solid tradecraft and nonstop action are humanized by the hint of a relationship of the heart."—Booklist
- "[An] entertaining sequel . . . Reich infuses his narrative with numerous plot threads that seem separate but end up satisfyingly intersecting for a suspenseful ending. Readers will want to see a lot more of Riske."—Publishers Weekly
- Praise for Christopher Reich
"An out-of-control joyride for those who like their heroes flawed, scarred, and on the edge. Reich has created an irresistible character that will leave readers both wincing and cheering with every page."
—--- Kyle Mills, #1 bestselling author of Fade and Rising Phoenix
"Likable, rascally, and suave, Riske is as distinctive as Reich's other series lead, Jonathan Ransom."
—--- Publishers Weekly
—--- Jeff Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Blame
- On Sale
- Aug 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Mulholland Books