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He opened the jewelry box with one gloved hand, holding steady a slim flashlight with the other. He cursed under his breath. Empty. Again.

Matt Sanders wasn’t used to bad luck. He had become one of the best in his profession because he refused to rely on luck, good or bad. He made his own breaks through meticulous planning and flawless execution. Until this cruise, that philosophy had provided him a handsome livelihood.

He ducked out of the cabin and made his way to the Deep Blue Lounge. He needed to think and to drink. Both of his marks had been perfect: elderly, female, single and rich. He knew their routines better than they did. And yet not even a charm bracelet when he arrived.

No, it wasn’t bad luck he was up against. But it was something equally unfamiliar and disturbing.

It was competition.

* * *

“Bourbon. On the rocks,” Matt ordered, seating himself at the bar. He tugged at the Roman collar around his neck in a useless attempt to loosen it. Under normal conditions he’d be mingling right now, nodding his head in feigned understanding at the befuddlements and bedevilments of those made confident enough with booze to approach a priest. The experience was as awful as Dante’s inferno, but it provided a great cover. Tonight, though, he just wanted to be left alone.

“Here you go, Father. Maker’s Mark.” The bartender winked at Matt. “Dave left me a note after his shift yesterday. ‘The good stuff for the priest,’ it said.

Matt smiled weakly and lifted the amber-hued drink in a toast. “To Dave.”

At least someone was on his side, he thought bitterly.

“You still have good taste, I see.”

 

Manteufel / Two Heads / 2

He knew before he looked who the low, sultry voice belonged to. His breath caught in his throat as he gazed upon the stunning brunette at his side. The last time he had seen her, she had been wearing handcuffs. The burgundy cocktail dress now gracing her slim form was a much-welcomed improvement.

“I’d ask if this was a business or pleasure trip, but I think I know,” she said as she took a lingering look over his black-clad form. “Unless you’ve had a radical conversion along the lines of Saul getting knocked off his horse.” She seated herself gracefully on the stool beside him.

“It’s good to see you, Sabrina. How did –?”

“I got out eight months ago. Good behavior.” She smiled coyly at him. “I was always the good girl, wasn’t I, Matt?”

“Look, Sabrina, I’m sorry about –”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I would have run, too.”

Matt tensed. He was afraid she might still be holding a grudge against him for bailing out that night five years ago on the Red Haired Maiden. Could he have helped it that the widow O’Leary had forgotten her upper bridge and returned to the cabin early? With her burly nephew? Besides, they had agreed early in their relationship that if things got hot, they’d split up, keep their mouths shut, and ride out the heat.

Unfortunately, one of them had gotten burned. Matt had felt some remorse at first, but it quickly faded as other business demanded his attention. He was a professional, after all. As was Sabrina.

It suddenly hit him like a two-ton pickup. Of course! It had been Sabrina all along. The woman to whom he had once entrusted his secrets and his heart. The woman who was the only thief as good as he was.

“It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the one!” He was grinning like a drunken Cheshire cat. “Eight months out and you’re right back in the business. Too bad I didn’t know you were coming. Could’ve gotten you a nun’s habit.” He winked at her before draining his drink.

She regarded him for a few moments with steady green eyes. Matt loved that sense of mystery about her, never quite knowing what she was thinking behind that cool, confident façade. Excitement, coupled with the bourbon, eased his tension as an idea took hold of him.

“Listen, there’s only one night left on the ship. What do you say we do one together? For old time’s sake.” He reached over and stroked her chin. “We did have some good times, remember? And didn’t I always say two heads are better than one?”

Sabrina smiled playfully. “You better watch it, Father Sanders. One of these nice rich ladies might see you flirting and report you to the bishop.”

* * *

Relishing the familiar feeling of working again with Sabrina, Matt strode confidently down the corridor to cabin 302. The occupant, a New York publishing house matron, was presently at dinner and, if she kept to her established pattern, would soon be tottering off to the Deep Blue to spend several hours with Jim Beam.

Matt fought the urge to look down the hall to his partner’s lookout position. She seemed like the old Sabrina when she agreed to his scheme, asking the right questions, offering fresh

Manteufel / Two Heads / 3

insights. Still, he couldn’t be sure she was being honest about harboring no resentment toward him. He wondered if he had moved too quickly.

Reaching the cabin, he focused on the task at hand and flipped open his hollowed-out breviary. Experience guided his fingers to the right pick. Within seconds he heard the satisfying click of a compromised lock. He ducked inside . . . and blinked. The glare from the flashlight was blinding. The only problem was, it wasn’t his.

“What the —?” Instinctively, Matt raised his own flashlight. His heart jumped as his circle of light framed the face of Dave, the day-shift bartender, like a ludicrous 1940s film cartoon.

“What are you doing here?” Matt demanded.

“Psst, keep it down. Seems to me you should know what I’m doing, since you’re trying to do it, too, Father.

“But if you’re the other—” A cavalry of bright lights and loud voices interrupted Matt’s struggle to reason.

“Everyone freeze!”

Within seconds, Matt’s arms were pulled forcefully behind his body and cold steel was slammed around first his right wrist, then his left. Two uniformed men rushed over to Dave and similarly greeted him.

Sabrina appeared in the doorway. A ship security I. D. badge hung loosely around her neck from a silver chain.

“You lied to me,” Matt said, defiance in his eyes.

“Now, Matt,” Sabrina cooed, “don’t give me that holier-than-thou attitude. You assumed all on your own that I was still in the business. And technically I am. Just the other side of it. Did I leave that little detail out earlier?”

She walked behind him and tugged on the cuffs. Matt grimaced and then felt her breath close to his ear. “See, while I was sitting in the joint and you were out doing, well, whatever it was you were doing, I had a conversion of sorts. But you know all about those, don’t you, Father?”

Sabrina’s twinkling green eyes drove Matt to whine, “C’mon, babe, it’s him you want,” as he tossed a scornful look at Dave. “I didn’t lift a cent off this ship. Why bother bringing us both in?”

She smiled at him as she twirled her ID around her finger. “Oh, Matt, you of all people should know that two heads are always better than one.”

 

~ End ~

BIO:

 

M.B. Manteufel is a freelance writer with published credits in a variety of print and online magazines. A former federal law enforcement agent, she has always been drawn to things dangerous, deviant, and disturbing. In her current incarnation as a writer, she now enjoys indulging those interests worry-free of being shot, stabbed, maimed, or sued. She makes her home on the dry side of Washington State.

 

 

 

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