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       Sunset Key, p.1

           Blake Crouch
 
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Sunset Key


  SUNSET

  KEY

  BLAKE CROUCH

  Copyright © 2013 Blake Crouch

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Crouch, Blake

  Sunset key [electronic resource] / Blake Crouch.

  (Rapid Reads)

  Electronic Monograph

  Issued also in print format.

  ISBN 9781459802544(pdf) -- ISBN 9781459802551 (epub)

  I. Title. II. Series: Rapid reads (Online)

  PS3603.R68S86 2013 813’.6 C2012-907308-3

  First published in the United States, 2013

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2012952477

  Summary: When Letty Dobesh sets out to steal an expensive painting from a wealthy convicted felon on one of his last nights of freedom, she gets a good deal more than she bargained for.

  Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

  Design by Teresa Bubela

  Cover photography by Getty Images

  In Canada:

  Orca Book Publishers

  PO Box 5626, Station B

  Victoria, BC Canada

  V8R 6S4

  In the United States:

  Orca Book Publishers

  PO Box 468

  Custer, WA USA

  98240-0468

  www.orcabook.com

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  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  About the Author

  CHAPTER ONE

  Letty Dobesh came in from the cold to the smell of cooking eggs, bacon and stale coffee. The Waffle House was in College Park, a bad neighborhood in south Atlanta near the airport. She wore a thrift-store trench coat that still smelled of mothballs. Her stomach rumbled. She scanned the restaurant, dizzy with hunger. Her head throbbed. She didn’t want to meet with Javier. The man scared her. He scared a lot of people. But she had $12.23 in her checking account, and she hadn’t eaten in two days. The allure of a free meal was too much to pass up.

  She had come twenty minutes early, but he was already there. He sat in a corner booth with a view of the street and the entrance. Watching her. She forced a smile and walked unsteadily down the aisle beside the counter. The points of her heels clicked on the nicotine-stained linoleum.

  Sliding into the booth across from Javier, she nodded hello. He was Hispanic with short black hair and flawless brown skin. Every time they met, Letty thought of that saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Because Javier’s weren’t. They didn’t reveal anything—so clear and blue they seemed fake. Like a pair of rhinestones, with nothing human behind them.

  An ancient waitress sidled up to their table with a notepad and a bad perm.

  “Get ya’ll something?”

  Letty looked at Javier and raised an eyebrow.

  He said, “On me.”

  “The farmer’s breakfast. Extra side of sausages. Egg whites. Can you make a red eye? And a side of yogurt.”

  The waitress turned to Javier.

  “And for you, sweetie?”

  “Sweetie?”

  “What would you like to order, sir?”

  “I’ll just eat her fumes. And a water.”

  “Ice?” The way she said it, it sounded like ass.

  “Surprise me.”

  When the waitress had left, Javier studied Letty.

  He said finally, “Your cheekbones look like they could cut glass. I thought you’d come into some money.”

  “I did.”

  “And what? You smoked it all?”

  Letty looked at the table. She held her hands in her lap so he wouldn’t see the tremors.

  “Let me see your teeth,” he said.

  “What?”

  “Your teeth. Show me.”

  She showed him.

  “I’m clean now,” she whispered.

  “For how long?”

  “A month.”

  “Don’t lie to me.”

  “Four days.”

  “Because you ran out of money?”

  She looked toward the open grill. She was so hungry she could barely stand it.

  “Where are you staying?” Javier asked.

  “Motel a few blocks away. It’s only paid for through tomorrow.”

  “Then what? The streets?”

  “You said you had something for me.”

  “You’re in no condition.”

  “For what, a beauty pageant? I will be.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Jav.” She reached across the table and grabbed his hand. He looked down at it and then up at her. Letty let go like she’d touched a burning stovetop. “I need this,” she whispered.

  “I don’t.”

  The waitress returned with Javier’s water and Letty’s coffee, said, “Food’ll be right up.”

  “It’s only day four,” Letty said. “Another week, I’ll be as good as new. When’s the job?”

  “It’s too big to risk on a strung-out puta.”

  Anyone else, Letty would have fired back with some acid of her own.

  Instead, she just repeated her question. “When is it?”

  “Eight days.”

  “I’ll be fine. Better than.”

  He watched her through those unreadable eyes. Said finally, “Would you risk your life for a million-dollar payday? I’m not talking about getting caught. Or going to prison. I mean the real chance of being killed.”

  Letty didn’t even hesitate. “Yes. Javier, have I ever let you down?”

  “Would you be sitting here breathing if you had?”

  Javier looked out the window. Across the street stood a row of storefronts. A pawnshop. A hair salon. A liquor store. Bars down all the windows. There was no one out under the gray winter sky. The roads had already been salted in advance of a rare southern ice storm.

  “I like you, Letty. I’m not sure why.”

  “You’re not going to ask me why I do this to myself—”

  “I don’t care.” He looked back at her. She could see he’d made a decision. “Letty, if you fail me—”

  “Trust me, I know.”

  “May I finish?” He reached into his water and plucked out a cube of ice. Pushed it around on the table as it slowly melted. “I won’t even bother with you. I’ll go to Jacob first. And when you see me again, I’ll have a part of him to show you.”

  She drew in a sudden breath. “How do you know about him?”

  “Does it matter?”

  The last two months of this crys
tal bender, she hadn’t allowed herself to think about her son. He’d been taken from her just prior to her last incarceration. He lived in Oregon with his father’s mother. Six years old. She pushed the thought of him into that heavy steel cage inside her chest where she carried more than a little hurt.

  The food came. She wiped her eyes.

  She tried not to eat too fast, but she had never been hungrier in her life. It was the first time she’d had real food in her stomach in days. Waves of nausea swept over her. Javier reached across the table and stole a strip of bacon.

  “Bacon tax.” He smiled and bit it in half. “Have you heard of a man named John Fitch?”

  She didn’t look up from the scrambled eggs she was shoveling into her mouth. “No.”

  “He was the ceo of PowerTech.”

  “What’s that?”

  “A global energy and commodities company based in Houston.”

  “Wait, maybe I did see something about it on the news. There was a scandal, right?”

  “They cooked the books, defrauded investors. Thousands of PowerTech employees lost their pensions. Fitch and his inner circle were behind it all. A month ago, he was convicted for securities fraud. Sentenced to twenty-six years in prison.”

  “What he deserves.”

  “Says the thief. He’s out on a seventy-five-million-dollar bail. Scheduled to report to a federal prison in North Carolina in nine days.”

  Letty set her fork down and took a sip of black coffee. She hadn’t had caffeine in weeks, and already she was feeling jittery. “Where’s this going, Jav?”

  “Fitch’s family has abandoned him. He has no one. He’s sixty-six and will very likely die in prison. I happen to know that he’s looking for some female companionship for his last night of freedom. Not a call girl from some—” Letty was already shaking her head “—high-end escort service. Someone very, very special.”

  “I’m not a prostitute,” Letty said. “I’ve never done that, never will. I don’t care how much money you wave in my face.”

  “Do you think I couldn’t find a woman who is younger, more beautiful and more…experienced…than you if all I wanted was a hooker?”

  “Charming.”

  “Letty, this could be the score of a lifetime for you.”

  “I’m not following.”

  Javier smiled, a terrifying spectacle.

  The entire restaurant shook as a jet thundered overhead.

  “It’s not a trick,” he said. “It’s a heist.”

  CHAPTER TWO

  The last work Letty had done with Javier had involved stealing from high rollers in Vegas. He’d hooked her up with universal keycards and supplied surveillance to let her know when marks had left their rooms. That job had presented a degree of risk for sure, but nothing beyond her comfort level. Nothing like this.

  She cut into a waffle, said, “Gotta be honest—I’m not over the moon about the word heist.”

  “No? It’s one of my favorites.”

  “It sounds like something you need a gun for. And a getaway car. The type of job where people get killed.”

  She swabbed the piece of waffle through a pool of syrup and took a bite.

  “See, that’s the beautiful thing about this job, Letty. It’s high return on a low-risk venture.”

  “You just asked me if I’d be willing to risk my life for a million-dollar payday.”

  “I didn’t say there was no risk. Just that it’s low considering the potential payout.”

  “Do you have any idea how many times I’ve heard that and then the opposite proved to be—”

  “Are you accusing me of glossing over risk in our prior dealings?”

  Letty realized with a jolt of panic that she’d insulted him. Not a wise course. Javier didn’t get angry. He just killed people. The stories she’d heard were the stuff of legend.

  “I guess not.” She backtracked. “It’s just that I’ve been burned in the past. But not by you. You’ve always been on the level with me.”

  “I’m glad you see that. So would you like to hear me out, or should I leave?”

  “Please continue.”

  “Fitch is spending his last days on his private island fifteen miles south of Key West. Most of his property has been lost to forfeiture to pay back the victims. However, I have a man in Fitch’s security detail. He tells me there’s something of great value at Fitch’s residence in the Keys.”

  The waitress stopped at the booth and freshened up Letty’s coffee.

  When she was gone, Letty stared across the table at Javier.

  “Well, do I have to guess?” she asked.

  He glanced around the restaurant as he reached into his leather jacket. The sheet of paper he pulled out had been folded. Javier slid it across the table. Letty pushed her plate aside and opened it.

  She stared down at a painting printed in full color from a Wikipedia page—a skull with a burning cigarette in its mouth.

  “What’s this?” Letty asked.

  “Skull with Burning Cigarette. You familiar with your post-Impressionists?”

  “Not so much.”

  “You don’t recognize the style?”

  “I’m a thief, not an art collector.”

  “But you have heard of Vincent Van Gogh…”

  “Of course.”

  “He painted this one in the mid-eighteen-eighties.”

  “Good for him.”

  “The original is hanging in Fitch’s office in the Keys.”

  “Get to the good part.”

  Letty managed to smile through her driving headache.

  “When we discuss the value,” Javier said, “we’re talking about two numbers. First, what could we sell it for at auction? In nineteen-ninety, Van Gogh’s Portrait of Doctor Gachet sold for eighty million. In adjusted dollars, that’s a hundred and forty.”

  Letty felt something catch inside her chest. It was a strange sensation, like being dealt four aces. She fought to maintain her poker face.

  “You said there were two numbers?” she asked.

  “Obviously, we can’t just steal this painting and put it up for a public auction through Sotheby’s.”

  “Black market?”

  “I already have a buyer.”

  “How much?”

  “Fifteen million.”

  “What did Fitch pay for it?”

  “Doesn’t matter. We’re selling it for fifteen. You’re rolling your eyes over fifteen mil? Really?”

  “I just think we can—”

  “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Look at me.” She looked at him. “You don’t know me well. But from what you do know, do you honestly believe I would broker a deal for anything less than the most favorable payout to me? To my crew?”

  When she didn’t respond right away, he continued, “The answer you’re looking for is ‘no.’ That should leave you with one question.”

  “What’s my cut?”

  “Two.”

  It was more money than Letty had ever imagined acquiring in a lifetime of theft, but she forced herself to shake her head. Strictly on principle of not accepting a first offer, if nothing else.

  “No?” Javier seemed amused. “Two isn’t a fair cut for a tweaker?”

  “That’s not even fifteen percent of the take, Jav.”

  “You think it’s just you and me on this deal? That there aren’t some other people I have to pay off? You wouldn’t even have this opportunity without me. Sounds like you’d be living in a box somewhere.”

  “Why do you need me? Why not have your guy on the inside handle this?”

  “That was the initial plan, but he was let go last week.”

  “Why?”

  “Nothing related
to this.”

  “So you had a man on the inside.”

  “This can still work, Letty. I can get you on that island with all the tools, all the intel you’ll need.”

  She sighed.

  “What?” he asked. “What are you thinking?”

  “I’m thinking you might have put this together, but I’ll be taking on most of the risk.”

  Javier cocked his head as if he might disagree.

  Instead, he held up four fingers and then waved her off before she could respond. “I know it’s hard for you, but just accept graciously, Letty. It’ll buy you enough crystal to kill yourself a thousand times over.”

  “Go to hell.”

  Javier reached into his jacket again and tossed a blank white envelope on the table.

  Letty opened the flap, peered inside.

  A bunch of fifties and an airline ticket.

  “You fly down to Miami a week from today,” Javier said. “I’ll be there to pick you up. There’s a thousand in there. I assume that’ll cover you until then?”

  “Yeah.”

  She didn’t even see his arm move. Suddenly, Javier had a grip on the envelope. She instinctively pulled back, but he wouldn’t let go.

  “Just so we’re clear,” he said, “this is for your room and board. And to get yourself a world-class makeover. Keep receipts for every purchase. If you use this money to buy meth…If you look anything like the car crash that’s sitting across the table from me when you get off the plane in Miami…You know how this will end.”

  CHAPTER THREE

  Letty walked back to her motel through the falling sleet. It made a dry, steady hiss drumming against the sidewalk. It was bitter cold. The streets were empty.

  The thousand in her pocket kept whispering to her. Take a detour down Parker Street. Score a teener. You’ll still have time to get straight before Florida. You’ve got to celebrate. This could be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. To Jacob.

  As she crossed Parker, she glanced down the street. Caught a glimpse of Big Tim standing on his corner, unmistakable in a giant down parka, designer jeans, fresh kicks.

  She ached to score, but instead focused her gaze back on the road ahead.

 
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