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A Lot Like Love (FBI.US Attorney #2)

By´╝ÜJulie James

ation is connected to the Martino cases. Why don't you pick up from there?" Davis suggested.

Huxley had his laptop out, prepared to do just that. He picked up a remote control, and with the push of a button, a screen dropped down from the ceiling in the front of the room. The lights in the conference room dimmed, and Huxley began his presentation. "Subsequent to the arrests of Roberto Martino and other members of his criminal organization, we've begun to realize that the scope of Martino's illegal activity is far wider than we'd suspected. Like his connections to this man here."

On the screen before him, Nick found himself looking at a photograph of a man in his midthirties who had medium-length brown hair stylishly swept back from his forehead. He wore a suit that appeared even more expensive than Huxley's and had a tall, willowy brunette in her early twenties on his arm.

"That's Xander Eckhart," Huxley said. "The girl's inconsequential, the flavor of the month. Based on evidence we've acquired over the last few months, we believe that Eckhart has been laundering large sums of drug money for Roberto Martino. Martino combines his money with the profits of Eckhart's restaurants and bars-the nightclubs in particular deal heavily in cash, providing the perfect cover. Eckhart then reports the dirty money as part of his revenue, and voilà, it's clean. We've been working with the IRS to find proof in the tax records that Eckhart has filed for his businesses over the last couple years, but in the meantime the U.S. attorney has asked us to come up with additional evidence."

"Something a jury would actually pay attention to," Davis explained to Nick.

Nick understood the U.S. attorney's thinking behind this. He'd worked with enough prosecutors to know that they disliked cases where the evidence was primarily document-driven. Putting a boring IRS investigator on the witness stand to walk through pages and pages of indecipherable tax filings was the surest way to put a jury to sleep-and lose a conviction.

"So what other evidence do we have?" he asked.

"I've been watching Eckhart for the last few weeks and observed him meeting with this man." Huxley pulled up another image, a photograph of a man with jet black hair who appeared to be in his mid to late forties. He wore a dark overcoat with the collar turned up as he hurried into a building Nick didn't recognize.

"That's Carlo Trilani, being photographed outside Bordeaux," Huxley said. "He's been there on several occasions to meet with Eckhart, always when the restaurant is closed. We suspect that Trilani is one of Martino's men, although we don't have enough evidence yet to make an arrest. Hopefully, we'll nail both him and Eckhart as part of this investigation."

Nick was quickly catching on. "I'm guessing the tangible evidence we want lies in those meetings."

Huxley nodded. "What we need is a way to listen in on Eckhart and Trilani's conversations."

Nick saw where Huxley was going with this: electronic surveillance. More commonly used by the FBI than he suspected the average person realized, it was an investigative technique that often provided them the hard evidence they needed. The trick, however, was setting up the recording devices without tipping off the suspects. But the FBI had its ways.

"You said they meet at Bordeaux?" Nick asked.

"I should have been more clear. They don't actually meet in the restaurant. Eckhart, or more likely Trilani, is smarter than that." Huxley pulled up computer-generated blueprints of a building with two levels. "This is the layout of the building where Bordeaux is located." A progression of images flashed across the screen, with different areas on the blueprints highlighted in yellow as Huxley continued. "There's a restaurant on the main level, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the river. The VIP wine bar is located next to that, in this space right here. Below the restaurant and the wine bar is this lower level, where Eckhart keeps a private office. That's where he and Trilani meet."

"Can you get into the lower level through the bar?" Nick asked.

"Yes and no." Huxley zoomed in on the blueprints for the main level. "There's an interior door in the wine bar that leads to a staircase to the lower level. There's also this separate exterior entrance here, right next to the back door for the main bar. The problem is that both doors to the lower level-as well as all the windows-are protected by an alarm system."

"Eckhart has a separate security system for his office?" Nick asked.

"I think he's more concerned with this space here." Huxley brought up the blueprints for the lower level and highlighted a large space located down the hall from Eckhart's office. "This is the wine cellar for the VIP bar and the restaurant. That's the reason for the security system-Eckhart's got over six thousand bottles of wine down there. Really top stuff. I did some research; apparently Eckhart's a huge collector. Last year, Wine Spectator did a whole cover story on him and the cellar at Bordeaux. And a few weeks ago, he made a big splash in the wine community by paying two hundred and fifty-eight thousand dollars for a case of rare wine."

"A quarter of a million dollars for wine?" Nick shook his head in disbelief. The things rich people did with their money.

"And that's just one case out of six thousand bottles," Huxley continued. "By all accounts, between wine and champagne, Eckhart's got over three million dollars in drinkable, easily transportable goods sitting underneath his restaurant."

Davis whistled. "Explains the security system."

Nick scoffed at this, not so easily impressed. Sure, maybe Eckhart's collection was worth a ton of money, but it was still just wine. Call him unrefined, but he wasn't about to get all hot and bothered over a bunch of fermented grape juice. A man's drink should be strong, and burn a lit