Albert Stroller walked into Eddie’s. He got a quick drink from Eddie behind the bar and joined a silver haired man at a table against the wall. He grinned and held a hand out. “You’re looking good, Al.”
Alexander Munday inclined his head and shook the offered hand. His charming smile was still dazzling enough to put any young stud to shame. His teeth were as white and straight as ever. “Thanks, you too. I see that you still have taste for expensive suits.”
Albert struck a brief pose and pointed to his clothes. “One must always look the part. You can’t get along in this business if you look like a bum.” He nodded to Al’s polo shirt and slacks. “What about you?”
“Simple, yet elegant, like me.”
Albert took the chair across from Al. “Simple. That’s never a word I’d use to describe you.”
Al chuckled. “My dear Albert, I’m the salt of the Earth.”
Albert arched an eyebrow. “Right,” he drawled. “How long has it been?”
“Sixteen years since we last saw each other.”
Albert snickered. “That’s right. Those Contessa’s jewels.”
Al laughed. “Yeah, I wanted to steal them and you wanted to con her out of them.”
“And neither of us succeeded.”
Al shook his head ruefully. “That Noah. That’s not the first time he’s spoiled my fun.”
Albert made a point of looking away. “Sure, Al,” he teased. He noticed a cane propped up next to Al’s seat. “What happened to you?”
Al shrugged. “I fell off a roof a few years ago and it never quite healed right. I can walk but it’s a bit awkward.”
“I thought you gave up catting around on roofs a long time ago.”
Al took a sip of his beer. “I did, but I…”
Albert saw Al shift uncomfortably in his seat. He smirked. “But you,” he prompted.
Al stared into the glass. “Well, Noah said…” he mumbled.
Albert clapped his hands in evil delight. “You were showing off for Noah.”
Al flushed. “I was not.”
Albert sat forward eagerly. “After all these years, you still feel the need to do that. Dare I say it?”
Al glared at Albert but it stopped just short of his eyes. “Don’t.”
Albert arched both eyebrows. “That’s sweet,” he cooed in a high pitch voice.
Al grunted but again there was on real anger. “Thanks a lot, Albert. Just totally ruin my reputation.”
Albert grinned unrepentantly. “I had to. Is Noah here with you?”
This time, Al’s smile was soft. “Yeah, he is. He’s in a meeting right now with his London publisher.”
“Is he writing another one?”
“Oh, yeah. He can’t stop. When the mood’s on him, he’s like a man possessed.”
Albert tilted his head to the side and eyed Al. “I’m sure he still has plenty of material to work with. I look forward to it.”
Al offered a wide-eyed, innocent look. “I have no idea what you mean.”
Albert covered his mouth and snorted a laugh. “Well, we’ll have to all have dinner together before you guys head back to the states.”
Al nodded. “We’d like that.”
Albert noticed Mickey, Stacie, Danny, and Ash walk in. Danny and Ash brought up the rear as usual. Danny had his hands on Ash’s shoulders and was whispering in his ear.
Albert waved them over. He stood. “Al, I want you to meet the crew. This is Mickey Bricks, Stacie Monroe, Ash Morgan, and Danny Blue. Guys, this is an old friend Alexander Munday.”
Al pushed himself up. He nodded to the men. He cradled Stacie’s hand and placed a lingering kiss on her knuckles. “It’s a pleasure.”
They settled in around the table. Al was at the head with his chair tilted slightly towards the door, while Albert and Stacie sat on one side and Mickey, Ash, and Danny on the other. Ash and Danny were close enough to constantly be touching.
“So, Mr. Munday, where do you know Albert from?” Mickey asked conversationally.
Al relaxed in his seat. “Call me Al. And let’s see…It was Las Vegas, wasn’t it, Albert?”
Albert winced. “That’s right. Las Vegas thirty years ago.”
Al winked at Albert. “It was more like forty, but who’s counting? He and his partner Joey were doing the shoe scam.”
“It worked,” Albert retorted.
“Not for long.” Al rolled his eyes and scoffed, “Amateurs.”
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Albert said easily without any traces of offense.
“What were you doing there, Al?” Stacie asked.
“Conducting my business,” Al answered readily.
“Which was?” Danny chimed in.
Al made a show of looking at his watch. He grabbed his cane and rose to his feet. “I’m afraid that I can’t stay and chat. Noah should be done soon.” He nodded to the crew. “It was nice meeting you all.”
Albert pointed up at him. “Tell Noah I want a signed copy of the next book.”
“All right. Will do.” Al waved. “And Albert, I’ll call you about dinner.”
Albert counted silently to five after Al was gone and grinned in triumph when Mickey spoke up. “I recognize that name from somewhere.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Alexander Munday. Who is he, Albert?”
“I told you,” Albert answered dryly. “An old friend.”
Danny waved to Eddie to bring over their drinks. “And what about this Noah you guys were talking about? He write books or something?”
Albert folded his hands together in front of him. He smirked at each of them in turn but didn’t answer.
Stacie leaned in close and squeezed Albert’s arm. “Come on, Albie.”
Albert rubbed his hands together. “All right. You like spy novels, don’t you, Danny?”
Danny smiled. “Yeah, especially the It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief series.” He rubbed his chin in thought and looked at Ash. He rested his chin on Ash’s shoulder. “You know the ones, where the government springs a master thief from jail so he can steal for them.”
“Yeah, I know the ones you mean. The stories are all about the thief and his secret agent boss,” Ash answered. He ruffled Danny’s hair. “And the thief makes Captain Kirk look like a priest.”
“Their names are Arthur Tuesday and Nathan Beckett.” Danny playfully ducked away. “Between Nan and I, we have all the books. She told me there’s supposed to be another one coming out soon.” His brow furrowed. “What’s that author’s name?”
Stacie snapped her fingers. “It’s T. Malachi. He’s written over twenty of them. My mum loved him.”
Eddie appeared with a tray. He started setting the drinks on the table. “A friend of mine has a theory that Tuesday and Beckett are shagging each other.”
“Oh, come on Eddie,” Mickey said in disbelief.
Eddie put Stacie’s cocktail in front of her. He straightened up. “No, it’s true. She showed me a website devoted to them. Amateur writers write about them. It’s called slash fiction. She says they’re like Holmes and Watson. They only really care about each other.”
Danny shook his head. “Not old Arty boy. He has at least one new woman in each book.”
Stacie wrinkled her nose. “The babe of the book. I don’t know why they even have names.”
Ash grinned at her. “And yet you’ve read them all, haven’t you?”
“They’re interchangeable, like a watch or cufflinks.” Stacie stirred her cocktail and admitted, “Yes, I have and he still deserves to have his face slapped. He’s a pig.”
Danny waggled his eyebrows at her. “But a very charming pig. It’s all in fun, isn’t it?”
“But Danny, Eddie’s right,” Albert said quietly. He bit back a laugh when everyone around the table went quiet.
Mickey bowed his head. “Please, Albert, just tell us what this has to do with Alexander Munday and Noah.”
“It’s really quite simple,” Albert said patiently. “T. Malachi is Noah’s writing name. He based the characters off himself and Al. When I first met him, I had no idea he could be so creative.”
“You’re having us on.”
Albert held is hand over his heart. “I give you my word as a grifter.”
“Really?” Mickey pressed. “Those novels are based in reality.”
“There’s a germ of truth in each one.” Albert paused, enjoying the fact that everyone was staring at him in rapt attention. “But he never goes far enough to violate his oath to keep state secrets, even if they are Cold War secrets.”
“You’re enjoying this too much, Albert,” Ash put in.
“Why not?” Albert shrugged. “I’ve known those two for a long time and a couple things Noah put in the novels I was involved in.”
“Like what?” Danny asked eagerly.
Albert’s eyes sparked mischievously. “Oh, no. That’s a secret.”
“But are they are shagging each other?” Eddie asked.
Albert waved his arm dismissively as if this was old news. “Oh yes for the past forty odd years.”
Mickey’s eyes got wide. “Alexander Munday. He was the one that stole the Boticelli from the Louvre forty years ago. No one’s ever found it. And the crown jewels from Monaco. He’s a legend.”
“A legend who was caught, but that’s not why he eventually gave it up.”
Stacie squeezed his arm again. “Why did he give it up, Albie?”
Albert turned that unholy twinkle on Danny. “Aren’t you glad you didn’t fall for a cop?”