Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries


The Perfect Scam

Chapter One          Chapter Two

Chapter One: Eliot

When you fake your own death to escape a life of crime—and its consequences—you should take a few things into consideration. They’re sort of self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many people ignore the basic safety measures that will keep the law and—most importantly—the mafia boss you double-crossed from finding you.

Rule number one: you must cut all connections with your past, no matter how important to you.

It’s painful, I know. I watched footage of my mother at my funeral that a relative had posted on Facebook, and it was heartbreaking. If I hadn’t been hiding in the Canadian wilderness at the time with no transportation, I would have returned home right then.

I would have begged for her forgiveness. I still wanted to. She would’ve boxed my ears and then made me my favorite pasta.

The Feds would’ve arrested me before I finished the meal. For wasting their time with my death if for nothing else, although if my former boss were ever arrested, he’d take me down with him if I were around.

Fortunately, the forced delay had made me come to my senses and I was still a free man, if not entirely happy for hurting Mom. I was her only son.

Rule number two is more flexible, but you can’t ignore it either: you must have enough identities to burn, with top quality documentation and believable backstories to go with them. It takes money, connections, and time to arrange those, but I had all three.

I’d begun to plan my exit two years before I finally went through with it. Even then, I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I’d wanted to be.

Since my teens, I’d been a proud member of a New Jersey crime organization that imported and distributed drugs and ran a casino in Atlantic City to launder the gains of the drug business. I’d risen steadily from an enforcer to my boss’s right-hand man, helping him to spread our business to Brooklyn, and eventually ending up running a casino hotel for him there.

But when he wanted to expand our businesses to human trafficking, I’d openly disagreed with him. That’s a death sentence in a crime organization, no matter how trusted you are. He’d asked me to fall in line or put my affairs in order, and so I’d had to leave sooner than I’d anticipated.

I’d been ready.

Parents choosing the name of their firstborn couldn’t have spent more time on baby name sites than I did when I selected names that felt like me. I spent hours creating backstories for them with high school and college diplomas—neither of which I had—and credible CVs consisting mostly of white-collar desk jobs. I painstakingly built social media presences for each identity—and then a tech nerd I’d befriended did the same with an algorithm that made it appear like those people had been posting for years.

He also created genuine paper trails for each assumed CV and acquired the best IDs I’d ever seen, genuine government-issued documentation, for fake identities. I don’t know how he hacked into the various systems to create them, but there were government databases in many countries stating I was a natural or naturalized resident of that country. I even paid taxes in some of them.

Taxes are important. Many a mafia boss has been brought down by the taxman when no other charges have stuck.

If you don’t have a hacker genius among your friends—and hacker geniuses are difficult to come by—choose large schools and companies for your backstories. You can always claim they’ve lost your files if anyone goes to check, but in small towns everyone knows each other. It’ll be more suspicious when they don’t know you.

During the first seven months after my death, I went through three lesser identities—those without fake backstories—as I made my way to where I was today and settled on the current one: Eliot Reed. He was by far my favorite. I hoped I could be him for the rest of my life, but I was ready to leave him and my present life in the blink of an eye.

That’s rule number three: never get attached to what you have and who you’re with, because you never know when you might need to make a hasty exit. Just because I’d been lucky so far was no reason to get complacent and settle down too comfortably.

Which leads to rule number four: have several escape plans and contingency locations ready. I have safety deposit boxes around the world with hard currency and new identities, as well as perfectly legal bank accounts in some major countries, with automated regular activity that keep the authorities from flagging them. A shell company I own pays them “salary,” and then the accounts pay “bills” to other accounts of mine.

It had taken me years to establish those, some of them highly illegally, but since the crime boss I’d worked for had an efficient money laundering system in place, of which I’d been in charge towards the end, it hadn’t been too difficult to stash away clean money of my own on the side.

Some of it had been my boss’s money, one of the reasons I’d needed to leave.

If I lived a peaceful, inconspicuous life, that money would see me into my old age with ease, and I was only thirty-four. Well, Eliot Reed was thirty-two, as there was no need to stick with my biological age. And since the laundered money was now perfectly legal, if you weren’t too fussy about the origin, I could invest it and even live in luxury. Provided I didn’t draw attention to myself.

That’s rule number five: lay low.

I knew even before I left that I would have difficulties with this one. I’m a social creature. I like people. I like parties. I like luxury items. And I love women and good food.

I didn’t even consider living in some remote village in a South American jungle or a fishing community in Thailand. I’d go stir-crazy in a month. The two months I’d spent in Canadian forests as part of a logging crew while I waited for things to cool down after my explosive death were the longest of my life. The only way I was able to get through it without crying uncle was by taking it as a chance to finalize the changes in my appearance and counting the days to when I could leave.

I’d chosen large cities for my hideouts. You’d be surprised how alone and anonymous you can be in them. Transactions are handled through lawyers—always different, obviously—and in no time at all you’ll have a nice condo, or the equivalent in that country, in a good neighborhood. If you pretend to live a regular nine-to-five life and don’t bother your neighbors, you might as well not exist as far as they’re concerned.

I wasn’t a recluse. I’d established a couple of businesses to justify my lifestyle without inventing rich parents that I’d have to find a way to prove. They took off, to my surprise, which had led to business meetings and lunches. I dated a few times—a man can go only so long without the company of a woman—and I went to sport events and clubs where I could be a nameless face in the crowd. But I have no friends, coworkers, or permanent lovers. I don’t know my neighbors and they don’t know me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself invited to a rooftop party organized by the man who owned the penthouse of the building where I lived.

I was even more surprised to find myself attending.


The penthouse in question was in Lyon, in South-Eastern France, where I’d settled sort of accidentally on purpose. I didn’t even know it existed before I came to Europe, but it suited me perfectly.

I tried to avoid capitals and major tourist hubs, but I needed a large city with a thriving business scene to explain why I was there. Lyon, with a population of about half a million within its city limits and two million in its metropolitan area, was the third largest city in France and a major center for banking and specialized tech industries like pharmaceutics, and a thriving hub for video game industries and tech startups, the latter of which I’d begun to dabble in.

It was also the location of Interpol headquarters, but I figured they would never think I’d moved right under their noses. And it kept me on my toes, so that I wouldn’t get too comfortable.

I’d first heard of the city from Elizabeth Harris, a woman I’d dated when I lived in Frankfurt, another banking hub, in Germany, to have a believable alibi. Or a backstory, if you prefer that word; someone I could refer to with ease to make it look like I had a normal past before coming to Lyon.

She was a Brit in her late thirties who worked for a huge international banking firm and was relocated every year or so. I’d chosen her especially knowing she would leave soon—I’d been hanging around in bars where bankers spent their evenings and eavesdropped on her conversation with her friends—and then chatted her up. She was a nice woman and I’d had a pleasant time with her, but when the time for her transfer came, neither of us was heartbroken when I didn’t follow.

She’d hoped to be transferred to Lyon, but instead she’d been moved to Singapore. I wouldn’t have minded living in Singapore—you could definitely disappear there—but instead I’d looked into Lyon and liked what I saw.

I arrived in early March and spent two weeks scouting locations. The old town was on a narrow strip of land between two major rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, which combined at the southern tip to form a peninsula—like Manhattan, but a fraction of its size. And like Manhattan, most of the city was spread beyond the rivers.

Unlike Manhattan, it had a thriving countryside with famous vineyards and other agriculture right outside the metropolitan area on the surrounding hills.

The city oozed history from the Roman era onwards, with ruins to prove it, but what spoke to me most was an area called Confluence at the southern end of the old town. It was an erstwhile industrial area that had been razed and was being transformed into a modern hub of small tech startups, with new, sought-after apartment buildings in the mix that didn’t have to conform to the architectural rules of the historical neighborhoods.

It reminded me of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the old harbor and industrial area by the East River where I’d run a hotel and casino converted from an old warehouse. Confluence had similar conversions, like the railway station slash mall, and it was constantly buzzing too, with new buildings rising everywhere, but on a smaller scale.

Everything was smaller here.

I’d lucked out and managed to rent a fully furnished third-floor apartment in an eight-story building that had probably represented the peak of architectural whimsy a decade ago with its green metal walls and irregular balcony placements, but it already managed to look old-fashioned. Inside, it was nice and modern.

It was located at a cul-de-sac by the Saône, the western of the rivers, and I had a view toward the hills of the fifth arrondissement across it from my balcony. Not that I’d spent much time on it so far, but it was early May, spring had sprung, and the sun was warming the south-facing balcony nicely. I might start having my morning coffee there.

I had rented an office in a new building full of similar small businesses by the Confluence railway station less than a ten-minute walk from my home. I didn’t really need it, I had an office at home, but it gave purpose and structure to my days.

And it kept my neighbors from getting suspicious.

I left for work every morning, had breakfast at one of the cafés by the quay outside the railway station, and spent the day handling my businesses. On my way home, I ate at one of the restaurants in the mall or ventured to the old town for the excellent cuisine Lyon was famous for, and then returned home to watch TV like a normal person.

I’d become a businessman sort of accidentally. But I liked it, I was good at it, and it gave me something to do. However, I hadn’t kept as low a profile as I thought.

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Chapter Two: Eliot

I didn’t know anyone at the party, not even the host. But it had been a while since I’d done anything sociable and I needed human company. I was excited to attend, even.

I was wearing a new suit I hadn’t been able to use yet. It was off the rack—I had the figure for it now—but it was Armani, and it made me feel like my old self for the first time in a year.

In my previous life, I’d loved managing a hotel and casino for my crime boss, ambling among the guests and attending to the high rollers. It was hands down the best job I’d had in my lifelong career in crime. If I could return to it without drawing attention to myself, I would in a heartbeat.

In lieu of it, an event with nameless wealthy people who were solely concerned about themselves was a safe way to be among people. That didn’t mean I hadn’t run a thorough check of my host, Dominique Fabre.

He was in his late forties and had made his fortune with a series of technology startups which he had sold one after another with ever increasing sums. Currently he was busy helping other startups to the next level. The party tonight was for such companies and their potential investors, and select people living in the building. I’d been invited as the latter.

Or so I thought.

“I took the liberty of checking you out,” Fabre said affably as he shook my hand, the words guaranteed to make me break out in a cold sweat.

“Oh?” I managed to say, hopefully indicating mild interest instead of an acute onslaught of panic, but I was locating the exits for a hasty retreat.

The penthouse was a two-tier cube on top of our long, rectangular building. There were three similar penthouses sticking out of the roof like studs on a Lego brick, and his was the closest to the river.

The upper story of the cube was smaller, and the garden where the party was being held spread outside it on the roof of the lower tier. A small foyer with an elevator and a stairwell from the lobby gave access to the garden and to Fabre’s apartment. Only one door led to the foyer, and Fabre was standing between me and it.

Before I managed to act on my first impulse and jump over the brick railing lining the roof garden, Fabre continued with his fairly good English. Everyone spoke English to me the moment they realized I wasn’t local. I could speak French, I’d learned for my job as hotel manager, but what had delighted hotel guests in America made the locals here roll their eyes.

“Yes, I noticed you’ve been investing in technology companies recently. I have just the ticket that might interest you.”

Not waiting for my answer, he took me by my arm—not something the old me had ever had to endure—and led me across the garden to a group of three men who were trying to hide their nervousness behind champagne glasses. The moment Fabre introduced me, they launched into a well-practiced elevator pitch about their company—the first of many that night.

I’d intended to keep a low profile, have a drink or two, and then slip away unnoticed once I’d filled my need to socialize, maybe with a willing woman if I was lucky. But people were flocking to me to pitch their business ideas, and it would’ve gained me the wrong kind of attention if I’d fled. So I stayed, mingled, and listened to the pitches. I even found myself warming up to a couple of them.

When you’ve spent years looking for twisted business opportunities for laundering money, you became surprisingly good at spotting the real deals.

But not for a moment did I forget to keep an eye on new arrivals for faces I might recognize—and who might recognize me in return.

That’s rule number six: keep away from anyone you’ve met before. There isn’t a disguise so good that you couldn’t be made by a random, friendly acquaintance.

Obviously, I’d made myself look as different as possible without extensive plastic surgery. I’d only had my nose fixed, as it had been very recognizable. It had been broken several times during my years as an enforcer when my crime boss had still needed me for physical intimidation. I’d been good at it.

Now the nose was an elegant Greek, straight and narrow—heh—which, considering that it had started as a very Italian nozzle, was a testament to my plastic surgeon’s skills.

As a side-effect, I could breathe more easily, I didn’t snore as much, and my voice had lost the nasal pitch of Jersey Italians.

The other changes had been slower to make, and took self-discipline I hadn’t known I possessed until it became a matter of life and death.

Jonathan “Jonny” Moreira—the old me—had been three hundred pounds of bulging muscle and hulking frame. When he walked into a room, people noticed—and feared.

The look was deliberate and had taken years to build. In my adolescence, I’d been a short and scrawny runt of the litter with curly red hair and the inability to keep my mouth shut. I got beaten up a lot.

I began to pump iron until I was strong enough to fight back—and then I kept pumping. To appear taller, I wore platform shoes or hidden heels that I kept using even after I grew six inches during the summer that I turned nineteen, adding an inch to my sudden six two to make me a six three. Or, since I was in France now, the home of metric system, transforming my one meter eighty-eight centimeters to one ninety-one.

At the peak of my enforcer career, I was a barrel-chested behemoth, with a neck that began widening from my ears and a heavy jaw to match, and biceps that made my tailor weep when he tried to fit sleeves around them. With my broken nose and permanently glowering thick brows, I only had to enter a room and people cowered.

I won’t bore you with details of my transformation, which began two years before I faked my death, but it required leaving the weights alone, regulating my intake of protein, and starting jogging and yoga.

It went as well as you can imagine at first. You try lugging around three hundred pounds of muscle—or a hundred and forty kilos in local—but as my muscle mass started to diminish, running became easier.

Incidentally, it’s much easier to lose muscle than fat, so the change was faster than I’d feared. The difficulty was to hide it from people and involved wearing football padding under my suit, among other things.

Now, three years after I began the transformation, Eliot Reed—the current me—who didn’t wear heels, was one meter eighty-eight with the lean, long-muscled, and tight body of a soccer player. I had a normal neck between nice, wide shoulders, and my jaw didn’t look like I could chew nails anymore. The structure of my face had become more sculptured too as I lost weight. Who knew I had cheekbones?

Tired of being bullied for the red hair, I’d dyed it black since I was fifteen, and had kept it tightly combed back with pomade to prevent it from curling. I shaved it off the day before I died. As it grew back, I’d been surprised to discover that it wasn’t red anymore. It was dark chestnut brown with a hint of gray creeping in that aggravated me to no end. I was only thirty-four—sorry, thirty-two.

A hairstylist took care of those. He added strategically placed highlights too, which made the hair look a lighter shade of chestnut that suited me well.

My current hairstyle was longer than I was comfortable with. The front hair fell softly from a side partition over my forehead, which the stylist assured me became me before asking me out. It was layered to slightly shorter at the back and it had begun to curl lightly again, now that I didn’t try to beat it into submission with pomade.

I declined the date invitation, by the way. I wasn’t as opposed to the idea of dating men as a stereotypical Jersey mafia enforcer should be, but I’d never tried it and I wasn’t about to start experimenting now. But I took it as a proof that my transformation was working.

My eyes were no longer the dark brown of my adult years either. No magic involved there. I had a girlfriend when I was about twenty who didn’t like my green-gray eyes and convinced me to wear brown contacts instead. I’d gotten used to the look by the time we broke up and I’d kept using them.

With the straight nose, trimmed brows, and strategically grown facial hair—tightly-trimmed sideburns that narrowed my face further—I didn’t look like a Jersey goon of Italian origin anymore. I looked like any stylish Frenchman of my age. My face startled me every time I spotted my reflection, but I blended in. I doubt even my mother would’ve recognized me.

Well, she probably would, but AI facial recognition systems on borders wouldn’t. Six two was a marked difference from six three for algorithms, and a three-hundred-pound guy didn’t walk like a wiry one-eighty. I’d had to practice walking anew after losing weight.

But it wasn’t the software I was trying to fool here.


Other guests weren’t the only people on my radar. I kept an eye on the wait staff too, in case they’d worked at my hotel before. There was a small army of them serving the eighty or so guests that had gathered on the roof, offering finger foods and excellent Beaujolais the area was famous for.

I found myself keeping an eye on them like I were still a hotel manager. I noticed their efficiency and politeness with approval, as well as the speed with which they whisked the empty glasses away. I even found myself frowning at one waitress when the empty glasses began to accumulate on the low wall around the garden, sending her hastily to collect them.

It was an effort to shake myself out of the habit and start enjoying the party as a guest. The pitches didn’t completely hold my attention though. I was looking for company for the night too.

Unfortunately for me, there were more men than women present, and the few women were older than the men and most of them were married. And while all women are attractive and French women doubly so, none of them were interesting enough to bother with.

I was ready to give up and head home when a woman crossed my line of sight with unhurried steps. Judging by the empty tray she carried under her arm, she belonged to the wait staff. Her light gait gave natural sway to her hips and made the ponytail of her long blond hair bounce.

She was taller than most women here, and some of the men too, even though she was wearing sneakers—which probably helped with the easy walk. But she wasn’t slouching to appear smaller; she was holding her head high.

Her long legs were sheathed in black leggings, and she wore a wraparound tunic that hid everything, unlike the other waitresses who wore LBDs with plunging necklines and makeup that was guaranteed to draw male attention—if the man managed to pull his eyes off the cleavage first.

I watched her cross the roof to the staging area, my head tilting in appreciation. She disappeared behind the screens that separated it from the party and a sudden urge to ask her name quickened me unlike any woman had since my death.

I excused myself, to knowing chuckles of the men with me, put down my glass and went after her. But I was only halfway cross the roof when I saw her enter the foyer. Was she leaving already?

I lengthened my steps to catch her, but I wasn’t fast enough. The foyer was empty, and the digital display above the elevator door was counting down. Driven by a need, I almost ran down the stairs, only to halt before I pushed open the door to the stairwell. She’d be long gone before I reached the lobby.

Disproportionally disappointed for my bad luck, I turned to head back to the party, only to halt with a puzzled frown. The door to Fabre’s apartment opposite to the elevator was slightly open. Had one of the guests wandered where they shouldn’t?

It was none of my business. I didn’t want to walk in on the guests having sex on the host’s bed, or witness someone making off with Fabre’s valuables. The last thing I wanted was to get involved in criminal endeavors.

That was rule number seven, one you should never break if you are on the run. Keep away from a life of crime. You’ve made it out. Don’t go back, even vicariously.

And yet, I found myself glancing around and looking for cameras. There weren’t any, which was foolish of Fabre. Satisfied that no one would see me, I pushed the door open with my elbow and entered the apartment.


It was dark and quiet inside, and I hoped that whoever had forgotten to close the door had already left. I stood still, straining my ears while my eyes adjusted to the dim light that the full moon and the garden lights shone through the large windows.

The upper floor was one open space that doubled as a library and a family room. It was empty. Stairs led down on my right, but it looked dark there too.

I should leave before Fabre popped in and found me here.

But a noise downstairs made me tense. Before I had considered the action through, I was heading down the stairs as quietly as I could. I’d been surprisingly good at it when I was twice the size. Now I barely made a sound.

At the bottom, a hallway led to left and right with rooms on both sides. It was dark, but a door was open at the far end on the right, letting in ambient light from outside that helped me to walk there without tripping.

I paused outside the open door and peeked in. The sight made adrenaline surge through my body.

A form in black stood in front of a wall-safe, silhouetted against the window where one curtain had been pulled aside to give them just enough light to work by. They’d managed to open the safe and were moving the contents to a bag hanging over their shoulder with efficient movements.

My hand went inside my suit jacket where I’d been accustomed to carrying a piece on a shoulder holster, but it met with emptiness. Weapon laws were strict around here, and I was a legitimate businessman who had no need for a gun. I didn’t even own one anymore.

But I had the element of surprise on my side. As the burglar made to close the safe door, I rushed across the floor. A soft Persian rug silenced my approach, but I must’ve made a sound anyway, because as I reached for the thief they stepped aside, twirled around, and kicked me in the gut with enough force that it robbed me off my breath.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been at the receiving end of such a kick, even if I didn’t have the armor of muscle anymore. It didn’t floor me. I lunged after the thief, who was trying to escape, and executed a perfect tackle. I landed on them with my full weight, which even in my diminished size was enough to pin them against the floor.

The body under me felt less substantial than I’d anticipated, which gave me pause. Pushing up, I made to turn them around, and my hand met what was unmistakably a breast.

The thief was a woman.

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