Mackey’s gaze traveled to Layla’s tote bag, which she instinctively clutched to her body. It contained all three of her phones. On one phone were the incriminating photos of Bennett’s double- accounting ledger and the thank-you note from Noor. Unlike her close call in Geneva, though, Layla had no time to hit the delete button. If Mackey demanded to see the contents of her bag— which as a security official he had every right to do—she’d have to comply. Game over.
But she wasn’t Layla el-Deeb. She was Layla Nawar. And if she’d learned one thing about the super-rich, it was the profound sense of entitlement they conveyed. They walked like they owned every inch of the land, like they owned the very air. Her mind flashed to the elegant Turkish couple for whom she’d first translated at the gallery, and the respect they had commanded the moment they came through the door. She thought of Noor Ghaffar. Layla squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, affixed a serene smile to her face, and glided down the corridor toward Mackey.
Mackey rushed forward to meet her halfway. “Why were you in there?” he demanded—though in a harsh whisper so the man in the gallery would not hear.
“One of the proof pages was missing,” Layla whispered back. When the lie came out automatically, a current of pleasure ran through her. She always said if you could think and dream in a language, you were truly fluent. Now, along similar lines, she knew if she could lie without planning, she could be Layla Nawar, not just act like her. “I thought it might have been left in there,” she went on, when Mackey’s eyes narrowed at her. “It wasn’t. I’ll call the printer. Anyway, sounds like we have a customer out in the gallery! Shall we go see who it is?” She strode past him down the corridor, using her smile to deflect the heat of his glare.
She reached the doorway to the gallery before Mackey caught up with her. He blocked her and gripped her arm. “No,” he said in a low voice. “Your translation is not needed for this customer. You may return to your office.”
“Really? Why? I thought I detected an accent.” Layla stood on her toes to try to see over Mackey’s shoulder and into the gallery. She was just able to glimpse a stocky man with a mustache and slicked-back hair, looking at a display case, tapping his foot impatiently. He wore a white linen suit and a dark expression. An angry red scar traversed his neck. He looked like a gangster right out of central casting, so much so that it was almost comical. Until she saw the holster of a pistol sticking out of his trouser pocket. Nothing funny about that. Layla was now alone in a building with two men packing heat. She ached for the Glock in her nightstand.
“Go. Go now,” Mackey said, his jaw jutting toward her office door. “You are only in the way here.”
“All right, all right.” Layla slunk into her office, the feeling of owning the room now gone. But she left the door ajar as Mackey went out to the gallery to greet the customer. She tried to hear what the two men were talking about, but they were speaking too softly, or maybe her heart was pounding too loudly. Was this a buyer or a seller? He didn’t look Egyptian, and his accent was German, but no matter; relic runners came in all stripes.
She crept down the hallway again and flattened herself against the wall just before the gallery door. Catching sight of her shadow on the opposite wall, potentially visible to the men in the gallery, she inched backward about two feet until it was gone. Now she couldn’t see the men at all, but she caught the end of their conversation in English.
“Then it will be next Friday,” said the man in the white suit. “Tell Mr. Rothkopf that is the very latest I can extend. You tell him. I expect full payment. No partial installments. No trinkets or curios this time. Cash only.”
“Mr. Rothkopf is aware of your terms. We will meet with you a week from Friday. He will have the full payment ready,” said Mackey.
Because he’s going to Dubai to gamble? Because he’s selling some more illegal items? Layla’s mind reeled with possibilities. One thing she was sure of now was that the man in the suit was not peddling relics. He had the air of someone who had come to collect. Perhaps a loan shark. Whoever he was, Bennett was clearly up to his eyeballs in money problems.
The gallery door slammed shut, and Layla ran back to her office. She quickly emailed Pierce all the photos she’d taken in Bennett’s office and deleted them from her phone. Remembering the lie she’d told Mackey about looking for a missing page, she took the last page from the brochure proofs, ripped it into little pieces, ran to the bathroom across the hall, and flushed them down the toilet.