A Gangster, A Baker,

A Forgery Caper

“He wants…in in?” Morrow frowned. “What are we gonna do with a bloody baker on the crew?”

 Biggs limped over. “10 Gs wasn’t enough for him? All he’s gotta do is bake a cake.”

“And risk his business—and maybe jailtime,” Sadler said.

“Nah, he just pleads duress, like we planned,” Biggs said.

Sadler raised his hands. “Look, I don’t like it either, but it’s our only option.”

“We could make that ‘duress’ claim true.” Franco rarely spoke, and his voice scraped like a shovel digging rock.

A cheery voice came from a silhouette in the doorway. “Gonna make me an offer I can’t refuse?”

Everybody tensed.

“You brought him here?” Morrow was on his feet and marching toward the door.

Sadler slid in front of him. “Everybody, just relax.”

“Never in the history of relaxing did saying that ever make anybody relax,” Biggs said.

“Good one, Biggs. But hear the kid out. If you’re not convinced, the job’s off.”

“Fine by me,” Morrow said. “These ‘anonymous client’ gigs make me nervous.”

“Don’t be a chicken.” Biggs threw a crumpled piece of paper at him. “They pay good.”

Morrow sat back down, jaw clenched.

Sadler turned to the baker. “All right, Bellini. You got the floor.”

The kid grinned. He looked like a fanboy backstage at a rock concert. “Thanks for…um…letting….”

Karina strolled in behind him with her usual stealth and that cat-like half-smile. She leaned in, mere inches from Bellini’s ear. “Started the entertainment without me, boys?”

The kid jumped about three feet, and everybody laughed.

“We wouldn’t start without you if you weren’t always late,” Sadler said.

“Just giving you time to flush the testosterone out of the room.”

Sadler raised an eyebrow.

“Am I wrong?” Karina said.

Biggs and Morrow managed to look chastised…Franco, not so much.

“That’s what I thought.” Karina smiled and waved a hand in the kid’s direction. “All right, baker boy—carry on.”

Bellini cleared his throat. “Well, I know you got a job, and Melbourne’s the target. I can get you in….”

“We know that already, chief,” Morrow interrupted. “We came to you with that much.”

“But you don’t know,” Bellini continued, “that Melbourne’s ‘security tax’ shut down my dad’s bakery when I was a kid. He had to go back to working at the mill. Wasn’t ever the same—died a few years later.”

Biggs leaned forward. “I can sympathize, kid, but a grudge don’t make you a good thief.”

Bellini smiled and reached for his back pocket. “Does being a thief make me a good thief?” He held up Karina’s silver money case—the one she always had double-clipped to her beltloops.

Her mouth fell open, and her hand went to her side. “Where’d you learn to do that?”

“I, uh, might’ve found a way to give myself an allowance when I was a kid.” Bellini grinned. “Look, I just wanna take Melbourne down a notch. I won’t hold you back, but if you don’t let me in, I’ll quit the job altogether…tell Melbourne I can’t do the cake for his little soiree. Every other vendor’s in his pocket. If his trophy wife hadn’t thrown a fit about wanting an original Bellini cake, I wouldn’t be in either. I guess Cake Kings is her favorite show.”

Biggs stood and held out a hand. “Well, I’m sold.” He yanked the kid forward once he had him in a handshake. “But don’t get in the way. We might look like guys from your local tennis club, but Franco there…he’s no joke.”

Bellini was rubbing his hand when Biggs let go, but he looked pleased. “So, what are we stealing?”

Sadler flipped a rolling cork board around to reveal a picture of a Gustav Klimt painting. “Wasserschlangen II,” Sadler announced, “…or if you prefer the English, Water Serpents II.”

“But…that’s the whole reason for Melbourne’s party. He’ll know it’s gone immediately.”

“Not if we swap it for a fake, lad.” Morrow clapped him on the back, harder than necessary.

“A forgery?” Bellini shook his head. “Melbourne’s a collector; he’ll know.”

“No, he won’t,” Sadler said. “We have our own artist-in-residence, and I assure you, Melbourne’s expertise is outmatched.”

Bellini scanned the crew, eyes landing on Karina.

“Yeah, she’s the obvious choice,” Sadler said. “But aside from being a masterpiece herself, art isn’t her department. For slight-of-hand, however, nobody can beat her. That stunt you pulled is the first time I’ve ever seen her on the receiving end.”

Karina pursed her lips, fingers trailing the money case, now safely reattached to her belt.

“So, who’s the artist?” Bellini asked.

Biggs cocked his head to the back of the room.

As if playing a stereotype, Franco sat tilted back in his chair, boots propped up on a table, cleaning his fingernails with a knife.

Sadler walked over and casually pushed Franco’s feet off the table.

“Come on, cowboy, stop scaring the new kid.”

Franco scowled.

“You’re the artist?” Bellini said.

“You think we’re all rays of sunshine painting happy little trees?” Franco said.

Biggs laughed.

“All right,” Sadler said, “gather ‘round. We’ve got planning to do.”

Two weeks later, Bellini hovered over Franco and Morrow as they loaded the last—and largest—layer of the cake. It was nearly five feet in diameter. The cake itself would be over six feet tall once assembled. It took both the Bellini’s Bakery refrigerated vans to transport all the layers—not to mention the six people in the crew, two of whom were hidden in the back. Biggs was scrunched up inside a box used for bracing the tiers, and Karina was curled up like a cat beneath several giant tablecloths.

As they approached the Melbourne Manor gates, the armed guards stood but seemed more bored than anything else.

One of the guards took the purchase order from Bellini and stood back to glance at the van behind. “Takes four of you to deliver a cake?”

“You ever put a six-foot-tall cake together?” Bellini replied, an easy smile spreading across his face.

The guard shrugged and told him to unlock the back. Based on his cursory examination, he thought he had better things to do.

He waved them through, and they wound around to the loading dock near the kitchens.

“Wonder how many not-so-legal shipments have been unloaded here,” Sadler said.

“Bit of a double standard, no?” Bellini asked.

“My not-so-legal doesn’t get people killed.”

“Fair enough.”

The electric lifts at the back of the dock made unloading easier than loading had been. They pulled the massive cake tiers off the lifts and onto a couple of platform trucks, then Morrow and Franco left to park the vans. Sadler and Bellini wheeled the carts into the massive ballroom. Guests wouldn’t arrive for nearly two hours. Plenty of time to make the swap.

“I still don’t get why you’d want cake duty,” Bellini said. “Don’t you wanta be in the action?”

“You’d be surprised how often the action finds you, Bellini.” Sadler answered. “Someone needs to be on the outside—someone who can improvise.”

“And that’s you?”

Sadler grinned. “That’s the fun part.”

Biggs’ voice crackled in the earpiece. “All right, boss, we’re all set up. Everybody’s headed in.”

“Great,” Sadler answered. “You got the frequency for the security guards’ coms?”

“I got ‘em. I’ll let you know if they get twitchy.”

“And you’re ready to jam it if we need to?”

“Who do you think you’re talkin’ to?” Biggs sounded offended.

“You know I gotta check.”

Karina headed in first, dressed in a catering uniform and carrying two black tablecloths—one draped over the tools needed to reframe the forgery. The painting itself was wrapped around Franco’s leg. He was the only one tall enough not to bend it.

Karina kept a lookout in the hallway around the corner from Morrow and Franco, walking purposefully in one direction, then the other. No one would question a caterer who seemed like they had someplace to be.

Morrow just needed enough time to pick the lock—which, for him, wasn’t long.

She heard footsteps and coughed loudly. A man rounded the corner, gave her a cursory glance, then walked past her. Thankfully, he didn’t turn—or even look—down the hall toward Morrow and Franco. Karina peeked around the corner and saw it wouldn’t have mattered. They were already in.

Sadler’s earpiece came to life again. “Boss,” Morrow said, “it’s not here. They musta moved it for pre-party security. What do you wanna do?”

Sadler didn’t hesitate. “Lock that room back up. Get in here and help us stack the cake.”

“And me?” Karina asked.

“Bring us the tablecloths. We’ll stash everything under the table. Then blend in with the catering staff and see if you hear anything about the painting.”

“Biggs, you heard any chatter?” Sadler asked.

“Nothing helpful, boss.”

Sadler turned to Bellini, but before he could speak, a bottle-blond appeared out of nowhere, clapping and screeching—Melbourne’s wife.

“Oh, my gaaaawwdd! Look at this cake!”

Bellini looked around at the tiers. “Yeah,” he grinned, “if you like it now, just wait till we get it all the way up.”

“That’s what she said,” Biggs said over the earpiece.

Sadler snort-stifled a laugh.

The wife giggled. “I’m Melanie Melbourne.”

Bellini took her hand and proceeded to kiss it. “And I’m…”

“Oh, I know who you are,” the woman giggled again. “I watched all your Cake Kings episodes, and I just had to have an original Bellini.”

“Well,” the baker smiled, “the original Bellini at your service,”—he proceeded to bow—“and I’m honored to be here for such a momentous event.”

“Mr. Bellini, are you an art aficionado?”

“Well, Mrs. Melbourne….”

“Oh, just Melanie, please.”

“Melanie, then…I’m no expert, but I…know what I like when I see it.”

“Would you like to see our Klimt before the party starts? I’m afraid you’ll be so busy after.”

“I’d absolutely love to, Melanie.” He took the woman’s hand and glanced back. “I’m sure you can…improvise…here and get this cake together?”

Sadler nodded. “Aye, aye, cap’n.”

“Karina?” Sadler called over the com.

“Already trailing them.”

“Good girl.”

“But there’s a problem,” she said. “Someone else is trailing them, too. I can’t get close.”

“You hear that, Bellini?” Sadler asked.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” the kid answered, probably disguised as a response to Mrs. Melbourne.

Morrow and Franco appeared just as Bellini walked off. Sadler looked at them and shrugged. “One problem at a time, boys. Let’s build a cake.”

Melbourne’s wife led Bellini down a maze of hallways, then unlocked a room barely bigger than a closet. Melanie pulled him in, closed the door behind him, then took his arm and gazed at the painting.

She sighed. “Can you believe this is worth nearly $200 million dollars, Mr. Bellini?”

“It’s incredible,” he said.

She turned to face him. “I’ve always found it…quite sensual.” She traced a finger down his chest. “What about you?”

“Um…”

Karina’s voice came over the earpiece. “You got company, Bellini.”

The door slammed open, and Melbourne appeared, glowering at his wife.

“Melanie, we’ve moved the painting three times because of your…exploits.” He waved a hand at Bellini, not even looking at him. “Think about security, for god’s sake.”

“He’s just the baker, Mellie,” she squeaked.

“I don’t care if he’s the milkman. Both of you, get out of here.”

The security guard muttered something, and Melbourne responded, “No, don’t bother moving it again. Just lock the door. And don’t lose sight of my wife.”

Bellini passed Karina in the hall, handing off the keys he’d lifted from Mrs. Melbourne.

He made his excuses to her, and wound his way back to the ballroom where Sadler stood alone beside a fully assembled cake.

“Nice job stacking my cake,” Bellini said.

“Nice job improvising my theft,” Sadler replied.

“That’s the fun part, right?” Bellini said.

Sadler clapped him on the back. “So it is.”

Biggs came online. “Melbourne’s got somebody en route to get the painting up on stage, guys. It’s now or never.”

“Where are you, boys?” Karina asked. “I already got the painting out of the frame.”

“With what?” Morrow asked. “We got the tools.”

“Hairpin.”

Sadler smiled. “Girl’s a wonder.”

Karina’s voice again. “There you are. Finally. I’ll go play interference.”

A couple of minutes passed in silence.

“How’s it comin’?” Sadler asked.

“Karina’s flirtin’ with some muscle she found in the next hallway,” Morrow said. “Franco’s almost done.” A pause. “OK, we got it. Taking cover in the next room.”

Karina’s voice came over the coms, “Well, that was close. Melbourne’s guards aren’t very distractible. I’m almost offended. Gonna get these keys back to Melbourne’s wife.”

A shrieky voice practically wailed from across the ballroom. “But I just haaad them….”

“Too late,” Bellini said.

Karina pranced in and darted over. “Mrs. Melbourne? I found these on the floor in the hall back there. I figured you could get ‘em back to whoever they belong to.”

Melbourne’s wife quieted. “Oh, yeah. I guess I dropped ‘em. I was sorta distracted.”

Sadler grinned.

Bellini let out a breath and turned to the cake. “Hand me my bag, would ya? I need to do the piping on these seams.”

Six hours later, both vans trundled out the manor gates. No one had questioned the forged Klimt.

They got back to the warehouse, and Sadler popped the champagne. Water Serpents II lay on a table far from the celebratory drinks. Bellini stood over it, and Sadler joined him.

“I wanted to get a look now that no one’s trying to seduce me,” Bellini said.

“It is something.” Sadler put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “I’m not sure we could’ve pulled this off without you, kid. You’re a natural.”

“Thanks. I, uh…guess it’s in the blood.”

“Thought your dad was a baker?”

“Yeah…” Bellini said, “…turns out he was actually my step-dad. Adopted me when I was born. Good man—the best.”

“You’re lucky,” Sadler said. “Not all step-dads turn out that way.”

“I know. But, uh…”—he glanced at Sadler—“my mom was Annie Farrelli.”

Sadler froze. “Annie…Farrelli?” He set his champagne flute down precariously close to the Klimt.

He took the kid by the shoulders and looked him square in the eyes.

Bellini grinned.

“Well, whaddaya know?” Sadler grinned back and clapped him on the cheek. “I knew there was something about you, kid. What are the odds….” Sadler trailed off as that sunk in. He cocked an eyebrow at the kid. “What are the odds you’d end up on a job with your old man?”

Bellini’s grin widened. “Pretty good…if you’re the one who hired him.”

Sadler looked impressed—maybe even proud. “You planned the whole thing.”

“Wanted to see if I had a knack for both family businesses,” Bellini said.

Sadler laughed and hooked his arm around the kid’s neck. “You do, kid. You definitely do.” They walked over to the others. “More champagne, everybody—and cigars, too. I just became a father!”