14th Deadly Sin Page 1



IT WAS A blindingly sunny morning in May, and Joe Molinari was out for a walk in the park with Martha, his smart and funny dog, and Julie, his adorable nine-month-old baby girl.

Julie was in a sling, her belly against her great big daddy’s chest, looking over his shoulder and waving her fingers toward the lake with every confidence that she was making real words and that her dad would be happy to take direction.

“Do you have a license to point those things?” Joe said to the child.

“Damn right,” Joe replied in his best imitation of how Julie would speak if she could. “We all know who’s in charge here, Daddy. I only need to point and babble. Heh-heh. Race you to the bench. By the ducks.”

Joe ruffled Julie’s hair and got a better grip on Martha’s leash as he took in the scene again. He ran his eyes across the path to the bench, checking out the people with dogs and strollers, the shadows between the trees, and the traffic beyond the glare of the water; then he paused to double-check a middle-aged guy smoking a cigarette, staring deep into his phone.

These were the habits of a former federal agent and until recently the deputy director of Homeland Security. He was now a consultant specializing in risk management assessment for big corporations, government agencies, and other authorities.

Currently, Joe was six months into a job he’d been working eighteen hours a day, mainly from his office in the spare bedroom. It was a complex project, an obstacle course of practical and political complications. He felt fine about how it was coming along. And he also felt good about the lay of the land as he settled onto an empty bench with a fine ducky view of the lake.

Julie laughed and beat the air with her hands as he unstrapped her from the sling and sat her on his lap. Martha came over and tried to wash Julie’s face before Joe interceded and pulled the border collie to his side. Julie loved Martha and giggled a long peal of baby talk just as Joe’s cell phone rang.

It wasn’t Lindsay’s ring. Pawing his shirt pocket, he saw that the caller was Brooks Findlay, the exec who’d commissioned his assignment with the Port of Los Angeles. Joe pictured the man: a former college football player, fit, thinning blond hair, dimples.

It was odd to get a call from Findlay first thing in the morning, but Joe answered the phone.

Findlay said, “Joe. It’s Brooks Findlay. Is this a good time to talk?”

Findlay’s voice was shaded by a dull metallic tone that put Joe on alert.

What the hell is wrong with Findlay?


“I’M FREE TO talk,” Joe said to Findlay. “But I’m not at my computer.”

“Not a problem,” said Findlay. “Look, Joe. I’ve got to terminate our arrangement. It’s just not working out. You know how it is.”

“Actually, I don’t know,” Joe said. “What’s the problem? I don’t understand.”

A crowd of young boys entered Joe’s field of vision, shouting to one another, kicking a soccer ball along the asphalt path. At the same time, the baby was giving Joe a new set of directions. He kept his hand on her tummy and hoped she didn’t start screaming. Julie could scream.

“Brooks, can you hear me OK? I’ve put a lot of time into this project. I deserve an explanation and a chance to correct—”

“Thanks, Joe, but it’s outta my hands. We’ll take it from here, OK? Your confidentiality contract is in effect, of course, and, uh, your check’s in the mail. Listen, I’ve got incoming. Gotta sign off. Take care.”

The line went dead.

Joe held the phone for a few long moments before he returned it to his pocket. Wow. No apologies. Not even a face-saving explanation. Just a needlessly brutal chop.

Joe reviewed his last conversations with Findlay, looking for clues to something he might have missed, some hint of a complaint—but nothing lit up the board. Actually, Findlay had seemed happy with his work. And Joe was sure his preliminary analysis of the container security protocols at the Port of Los Angeles was solid.


really hadn’t seen this coming.

After pushing through the initial shock and confusion, Joe glimpsed his new reality. First there would be the loss of income, then the humiliation of having to explain this sinkhole to the next guy interviewing him for a job.

That thought was just about intolerable.

He wanted to call Lindsay, but on the other hand, why ruin her day, too?

“Hey, Julie,” Joe said to his now fussing daughter. “Can you believe it? Daddy got fired. Over the phone. Bang.”

Joe buckled the baby back into her sling, and she reached up and touched his cheek.

“I’m OK, Julie Anne. I’m thinking we should all go home now. I’m in the mood for a banana smoothie. Sound good to you?”

Julie looked like she was going to cry.

His little girl was mirroring his feelings.

Joe said, “OK, OK, sweetie. Don’t cry. We can come back and see the ducks later. We can come back every day into the foreseeable future. I can put peaches in that smoothie, all right? You like peaches.”

“I sure do, Daddy,” Joe said in his baby voice. He swept his gaze around the park and then stood up with Julie.