Page 27 of Forced Alliance

Josie nibbled on her own chicken-salad sandwich and gave him a skeptical glance. “Are you sure? What if Armond wanted you to believe that he had someone else ordering him around? I’m sure he has shell corporations all over the world.”

They were alone on the back porch of the restaurant with churning brown water below them and a rusty, wobbling ceiling fan over their heads. Connor had been on watch most of the day, just waiting for some stranger to walk into the Crooked Nail and mow them down. But Mama Joe had posted her own brand of protection all through the swamp. Big men with big dogs and shotguns and powerful rifles they used to kill alligators and wild hogs.

Josie had been on alert, too. She did the visual thing several times over. She still didn’t trust him, Connor realized. It was midafternoon and she’d heard nothing from Sherwood. Of course, they didn’t have the best phone service out here. They’d have to leave soon enough, but this was the safest resting place he could find.

He answered her question. “He does have hidden assets, bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, but this is different. This person, whoever he or she is, is so hidden it’s like looking for gold on the side of a mountain. Hard to see.”

“And he wants it that way,” Josie countered, her cat eyes giving him that slant of disbelief. “We need to remember Louis Armond is a criminal.”

“I keep that in mind every day,” Connor retorted. “And I need to remember you’re FBI.”

“I’ll remind you of that every day,” she countered.

“You’re antsy,” he noted, giving her the once-over. She looked cute in the flowing skirt and T-shirt but she also looked different. Not so uptight and buttoned-up. Even her precise, longish bob had gone all curly from the humidity. She didn’t seem so on the job and let’s get the bad guys right now. The gun in her room proved that more than enough without her showing it.

“Mama Joe says word of Armond’s dead mistress is all the buzz in New Orleans. Everyone’s wondering if a hostile takeover is about to ensue. But no one’s talking about why or who or what. So we’ve got nothing. Except that we’re on someone’s radar. One of my informants told me this was bigger than Armond and the FBI put together, but he refused to say who, what, when and where. A lot of talk and most of it not so good.”

“I just love keeping company with you,” she said on a tease. “But we’ve got work to do.”

“So what’s the plan?” he asked her, figuring she already had a plan.

“The way I see it, we have to find out who’s trying to kill Louis Armond so we can save us, too. We also need to find out who this silent partner is, and if he or she is real, once and for all. It only makes sense that the partner has heard about Armond’s possible turn and of course they are not happy,” she said, all business now. Even if she was barefoot.

“Agreed,” he said.

“Now tell me about anyone else you might suspect.”

“His wife,” Connor said. “Vanessa Armond likes the lifestyle Louis provides, so she’s turned her head too many times after seeing him photographed with models and showgirls.”

“Such as Lewanna?”

“Yes, the now-very-dead Lewanna.”

“You think his own wife ordered a hit on the girlfriend and then him? But why, if she’s used to his philandering nature?”

“A woman scorned,” he said on a shrug. “Maybe she’s just had enough. It happens. And she’d stand to inherit millions.” He leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “Especially if she has decided to run off with the silent partner, or at least make a play for the other man. Or she could actually be the silent partner, the one who really calls the shots. She’d stand to inherit if Armond is dead. And...she’d also want me dead because she thinks I know too much.”

A splash in the water made both of them glance up. “If she’s found out you’re FBI, she’d want you dead, too.”

Josie’s eyes turned a rich gold-green. “Yes, it certainly does make sense when you put it that way. Money talks. Dirty money really talks. People will kill for that reason alone.”

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