Excerpt from Shell Game by Carol O'Connell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shell Game

By Carol O'Connell

Shell Game
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  • Hardcover: Jun 1999,
    374 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2000,
    416 pages.

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And now he understood his own place in her schemes. She had only wanted him along today as a show of force. She was planning to turn Charles's holiday dinner party into an interrogation of elderly magicians-all witnesses to a damn accident.

"I still say it ain't right, kid. You can't go drumming up new business. Not when NYPD has a backlog of dead bodies."

Mallory had tuned him out like an off chord in the nearby marching band, which was playing loudly but not together. She was intent on the faces along the barricades.

Riker threw up his hands. "Okay, let's say it was a real homicide. How do you make the stretch to an assassination during the parade?" She could not, and he knew that. She was making up this story as she went along.

"My perp loves spectacle." Mallory faced him now, suddenly warming to the conversation. "He killed a man on local television. This parade is televised all over the country. If he's gonna do another one, today's the day."

Her perp? So she was already racing ahead to the moment when she claimed the case file and the evidence. "Mallory, before we assume the killing is an ongoing thing with a pattern, most of us wait till we got at least two homicides in the bag."

"Suppose the next homicide is Charles?"

A good point, though stretching credibility beyond all reason. She had been wise to con him into doing this baby-sitting detail on his own time. Lieutenant Coffey would never have bought into this fairy story nor given her one dime from the Special Crimes budget. And she would never have forgiven the lieutenant for laughing. Mallory could not deal with ridicule in any form.

But this is such a crackpot idea. And, for a gifted liar, it was pretty lame. But he decided she was only having an off day.

Yet Mallory's instincts were usually good. It might not be a total crock. He had to wonder why Oliver Tree had taken such chances. The daredevil stunt was a young man's trade. Maybe Mallory was right. The apparatus could have been foiled. Though the trick was very old, only one long-dead magician had known how it was supposed to work. According to Charles Butler, that was why they called it Max Candle's Lost Illusion.

A balloon in the shape of a giant ice cream cone smashed into a sharp tree branch and deflated to the cheers of jaded New York children.

And now Riker realized why Mallory hadn't asked for the case file on the fatal accident. She did not plan to challenge the work of another detective until she had something solid. So she was finally learning to play nicely with the troops. Well, this was progress, a breakthrough, and it deserved encouragement. He vowed not to bait her anymore.

"I still say it was an accident," he said, baiting her only a little.

Oh, shit.

Mallory had targeted a civilian. Her eyes were tracking him in the manner of a cat that had not been fed in days and days.

But why?

Reprinted from Shell Game by Carol O'Connell by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Carol O'Connell.

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