There are some secrets the government would kill to protect....
No door is locked....
Gregory Picaro lives in the shadows and works in the dark, finding his way into the most exclusive homes in the world and methodically taking away their treasures one precious item at a time. A man who has made safecracking an art form, who has never met a lock he couldn't pick, Picaro is at the top of his field. But he has just opened the wrong safe.
No treasure is secure....
Suddenly Picaro, in the company of a beautiful woman reporter, is on a harrowing cross-country odyssey in pursuit of a truth too extraordinary to guess, dodging enemies who want him dead--and want their evidence back. For over fifty years a mysterious organization has been guarding a secret that will change everything you have believed about our government. And the only person who can tell the truth is a master safecracker--holding the key to a mind-boggling revelation....
Picking locks is second nature to the steel-nerved protagonist of Steinberg's tough-talking?and pulp to the core?thriller. Greg Picaro, a thief who prides himself on his fine taste and self-restraint (he doesn't take unnecessary risks and can distinguish Paul Revere silver from the dross) is robbing Jack Kerry's apartment when three men enter and kill Kerry and his hired date. Mr. Kilbourne, the leader of the group, offs Kerry on the hunch that Kerry leaked information about two people named Joe and Max to tabloid TV reporter Megan Turner. Picaro is the next on Kilbourne's list. Steinberg (The Gemini Man) calls on his personal expertise in high-risk security and counterterrorism to impart realism to the courtroom scenes and chilling detail to the maneuvers of the thieves and thugs. Readers who may be initially put off because the opening sequence is reminiscent of Absolute Power will soon be seduced by a compulsively readable story that crackles with narrative energy and demands a sequel.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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January 03, 2000
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Excerpt from Nobody's Safe by Richard Steinberg
Getting onto the roof was the easy part.
It was just past three that afternoon when Greg casually walked into the high-rise's lobby. An elevator to the forty-third floor, neither looking anyone in the eye nor looking away. Just another faceless visitor to the newly built high-rise on a crowded Friday afternoon.
As expected, he was the only one to get off on the still-unfinished floor; the last before the two private penthouse floors. And ten minutes after he'd entered the building, he stood in front of the secured fire door that led to the rooftop access stairway.
It was locked.
He stood there, very still, carefully listening for any footsteps on the stairs below him. Finally satisfied (the closed-circuit cameras wouldn't be installed on this floor until next week), he set his briefcase on the ground and began to work.
The door was alarmed.
Two small pieces of well-chewed bubble gum and four nine-inch-long, pale blue, pure silk threads and the alarm ceased to be a concern.
Attention on the lock.
"Oh, Linus, Linus," he barely whispered, "this is a most piddling little thing." He studied the lock as he reached into the case. "Quality control just isn't what it used to be." He sighed as he came up with what his fingers had been reaching for. "But then, what is?" A quick spray from a can of graphite, a slight push from an Allen wrench and . . .
On the roof, there was no hesitation.
A quick, casual-seeming look around to ensure that he was alone, then straight for the spot he'd been observing from a rented office across the street for the past week: an equipment shed for elevator servicing and light storage.
It was beige, as was most of the building's exterior. Three sides on the roof like some misplaced pigeon coop, the fourth wall just inches from the roof edge. With the bottom thirty inches of it in constant shadow from the roof's restraining wall.
He quickly reversed his jacket to expose its flat-black lining; pulled on a black hood and gloves from the case; took a last lookaround, a last listen, then slid into the narrow, deeply shadowed space.
And lay there, unmoving, for the next nine hours.
Normally he would've willed sleep to come. Forced rest and relaxation through his adrenalized body to prepare for the night's work ahead.
But ever since he'd decided on this job, sleep had become his enemy. A thing to be avoided at all costs.
Well, not sleep exactly, but the things that sleep brought with it. Phantom pains and fanged shadows that reached out for him from a place he'd thought no longer existed within him.
A place that had been mostly silent for so many years.
He never should've even considered this score. He knew that now. With the clarity of a man who has the time to think Oh? I took that curve a little too fast, moments before crashing over the side of a cliff.
But to walk away, even now, would be conceding a power over him to the dusty, moldy demons.
And this man conceded nothing to no one.
It was a little past midnight when he slowly, carefully crawled from his hiding place. His ears strained to hear everything, anything. Any noise that might give a second's warning of trouble or, worse still, that might give him away.
Once he was fully out of the crawl space, he rolled onto his back, staring up into the starry night, slowly counting to 300.
He felt the blood come racing back into previously cramped limbs. Forced pinioned muscles to stretch, then relax. Rolled his neck to loosen his shoulders.
Felt himself come alive again.
Only then did he try to stand.
After testing his legs and arms, convinced that they'd fully recovered from the odd positions they'd been forced into all day, he moved silently across the gravel roof to the Gravesend Avenue side.
Avoiding any look down at the dark street, he spent more than a minute spotting the rented office across the street that he'd used for his reconnaissance. Then he checked his watch.
Nine minutes after twelve.
Counting down the seconds in his head, he kept his eyes locked on that distant office window. Where a steady light meant Go. The target is dark and has remained dark for at least the last two hours. Where a flashing light meant Something is different. Beware! Take precautions! And no light would mean . . .
Greg wiped his sweaty face beneath the nylon hood.
No light could mean Abort! Something has been compromised! Return to hiding, then leave with the lunch crowd later in the day.
Or it might mean that Foss just wasn't there.
Maybe he'd forgotten. Or was there and so stoned that he couldn't tell time or see across the room, let alone the street. Or maybe he'd been picked up on some bullshit buy-bust or reverse sting. Maybe he'd given Greg up to the cops already. Maybe they were waiting below, in the dark, to grab him.
All because he had a stone dope fiend for a partner.
For a friend.
"Be there," he whispered as he counted down the last seconds.
A light flicked on.
It shone brightly, steadily, for thirty seconds, then flicked out as suddenly as it had appeared.
The rest now depended on faith.
He glanced down at the street below. Gravesend Avenue. An empty, dirty street with only back doors, back walls, and no hope.
A street Greg used to know as intimately as any in the world.
But would rather die than return to.
It was a bad sign, Foss would say. A dark omen, Deo might laugh.
And Greg would agree.
But the building's address wasn't on Gravesend, but Beecher. A difference that Greg told them made all the difference in the world.
So long as he was awake.
After listening at the door to the stairway for long minutes, he put his hiding place behind him, silently descending toward the four luxury penthouses on 44 and 45.
Across the street, Bobby Fosselis sat shivering on the floor of the rented office.
He had no way of knowing if Greg had seen his signal. Or if Greg was even on the roof. But he gave it anyway. As he would three more times in the next hour.
He wiped the heavy sweat from his eyes and peeked out the window.
The targeted penthouses were still dark, had been since just before nine that evening. If everything was going according to plan, Greg should be walking around in the first one right now. It should all be over in the next forty-five minutes.
But to an addict who hadn't fixed in six hours, forty-five minutes was a lifetime.
The late-fiftyish man (who looked twenty years older) glanced back at the desk where his works and a rock of black tar heroin sat waiting.
It would be easy, so easy for him to shoot up now. To feel the warmth course through his collapsing veins. It would steady him, he tried to convince himself, sharpen him for the vigil he must keep. It would make him more alert to any changes in the status of the penthouses. Changes that Greg must instantly be made aware of.
Greg would understand, he continued in his silent argument. He always did. Right? He would sigh and say, "Hey, it happens." Then shake his head and walk away, a look of disappointment and pity on his face.
But Foss had given his word to the younger man. And, for the moment at least, that was a stronger, more visceral demand on him than the drugs.
For the moment.
He checked the penthouses again, then glanced down at the street below. Wondering if there'd be any dealers around when he left.
* * *
The two apartments on 44 had yielded gems and jewelry worth at least $100,000. And the beauty was that he would have the pieces broken up and fenced days before anyone ever realized they were missing.
In the old days, the heyday of the top safe men, Greg would have been called a yegg, or a yeggman. His was the most specialized of the thieving professions. One that he thought he might well be the last practitioner of.
There was no safe, no lock, no security system that could keep him out. And his crimes were seldom discovered right away, because Greg was selective.
Three times selective.
First, there would be no obvious damage to the homes he burgled. No broken windows, kicked-in doors. No sign that anything was any different than when the owners had left or gone to bed. He left graffiti and vandalism to hypes and druggies who didn't know a Paul Revere silver tray from the carton of a TV dinner.
Second, there would be no sign that the safe had been touched (and Greg was primarily interested in the things that were kept in safes). He would never tear, chop, or punch a safe. Explosives were number one on his shit list; although in the dark old days, he had been made an expert in them. But all those techniques were too loud, too messy, too likely to alert the authorities or damage the contents.
He preferred to Jimmy Valentine each box. Combine touch with technology, insight with improvisation--and the world was just one, big, open door.
Third, and most important, he never, ever emptied a safe. True, he usually took the most expensive items of only the finest quality. But only very few of them at that.
When people open safes in their home, they almost never take an inventory. They glance in, see what looks like the right jumble of effects, take out or put in whatever they want, and close the door.
When, sometime after one of Greg's late night visits, they went to the safe for "Grandmother's earrings" or the "good diamonds," they would be mystified by their absence. Sometimes not calling the police right away until they checked with their spouses, jewelers, whatever.
And by that time . . .
The penthouses on 44 had been easy pickings. Routine dead bolts and amateur time alarm systems. The safes, they'd given up their treasures with the reluctance of a bored hooker on a Wednesday night.
Now, as he stood on the forty-fifth-floor landing, he flipped through Foss's hacked printouts of the insurance companies' inventories.
Units 45A and B were owned by one man. A media guy named Kerry. They shared one common wall, but their power was drawn from two separate circuits. No connecting doors, the balconies on different sides of the building, north and east. Each, however, blessedly insured by the same company.
There were things in 45B--listed as a corporate guest condo--that interested Greg. Knickknacks and doodads worth seventy or eighty thousand. A signed Melville first edition; a Mondrian oil; a relatively rare Brock table sculpture.
But it was penthouse A that really caught his attention.
Two safes, a floor job in the living room and one in the master suite; first-rate entry lockout system and an alarm that rated well above the value of any of the listed items; as well as something listed only as "special security measures--confidential."
Even though the listed insured items ranged from $10,000 to close to $100,000 each in appraisals, it seemed, to Greg's practiced mind, overkill.
And overkill meant only one thing.
There was something in the apartment so valuable that the owner couldn't (or more likely wouldn't) pay the exorbitant premiums to insure it. But he would damn well protect it.
He shoved the printout back into his case, checked a meter clipped to his belt that indicated the floor cameras were still off-line (playing the dummy tape he'd made before starting on 44); then he approached 45A.
Problem one, the door.
Slowly, carefully, he passed a handheld ion sensor over the perimeter of the fine mahogany, hand-carved door.
All things electrical, from the highest powered tool to a nine-volt transistor radio, "cooked" the ions that passed around the current, each singed ion giving off a telltale signal to the sophisticated machine in Greg's hand. It only remained to interpret the readings.
The sensor indicated three distinct power signatures.
Contacts--probably on a delayed system, near the door's threshold.
Something that looked very much like the signature of a series of pressure pads on the hinge side of the door frame itself, probably also delayed.
Finally a third, different kind of electronic signature. Seemingly phased, maybe timed, it came and went every twenty seconds.
"Special security measures--confidential," he mumbled as he fine-tuned in on the third power signature. Carefully studying its frequency, surges, and oscillations on his tiny glowing orange screen, picturing the charges and discharges of the ions in his mind, he began to frown.
"Mantrap," he whispered in an annoyed tone. "What kind of flaming paranoid puts a state-of-the-art microwave sweeper/motion detector in the middle of his goddamned living room?"
He put away the sensors, crouched by the foot of the door, rubbing his mouth with both hands.
"Gonna kill his plants," he said in a distracted tone.
He stared at the door, through the door, picturing the invisible microwaves covering an arc across the entire entryway every twenty seconds. Then waiting, like a tiger in the bushes, for a careless tap or touch to the door to pounce. Probably calling every cop in the western United States when it did.
Without taking his eyes off the door, Greg reached down and pulled a proximity voltmeter from his specially organized briefcase.
Carefully, with a rock-steady hand, he held the probe within a quarter of an inch of the door lock. He flipped the readout to wide frequency scan and waited.
Although his sensor hadn't shown it, he suspected there was an impedance alarm on the door handle and lock itself--at such a low power level as to go virtually unrecorded. But any touch by any conductive surface, such as a human hand, would probably trigger the microwave sweeper to go "full active"--flooding the living room and entry area with an impenetrable web of alarm triggers.
Then, oddly, he smiled.
Because it would probably also be hardwired into the microwave generator. And if that operated at the right frequency . . . It would be difficult but not impossible to convince the simple circuitry toturn on the more elaborate system, shutting down both systems completely.
He shook his head and the smile disappeared as the needles moved, barely.
There was an alarm on the lock, but its signature suggested it was hooked into some kind of a slave, probably infrared, preventing Greg from using one to beat the other.
"Someone does not want me going through that door, Linus, old pal," Greg said in a louder voice than he'd intended. "And who am I to argue?"
Shaking his head, he pulled out the floor plans for the apartment.
One minute later, he easily let himself into 45B.