Uncommon Criminals (Page 10)

“It’s not cursed!” the man insisted one final time with entirely too much force. He swung his right arm, gesturing wildly, completely unaware of Gabrielle, who was walking past, hands outstretched, with the Cleopatra Emerald resting gently on her palms.

When Kelly’s arm crashed into her, she stumbled onto the polished floor and watched the emerald tumble out of her hands. Shame and terror filled her face as she lunged after the stone, sliding, calling, “I’ll get it! I’ll—”

But her hand struck the stone again, sending it skidding toward a small vent that no one in the history of the Kelly Corporation had probably ever seen. But by then it was too late, and Oliver Kelly the Third, the director of antiquities, and the authentication department—not to mention the greatest experts in the world—had no choice but to watch as the most precious emerald in history disappeared.

Only Hale and Gabrielle seemed to be capable of moving. Together they rushed to the small vent that opened into a larger shaft that ran to the roof.

Hale leaned down. “I think I can reach it,” he said, rolling up his sleeve, but Gabrielle was already on the floor beside him, her long thin arm reaching easily into the tiny space and grappling in the darkness for what felt like an eternity.

The lights still shone brightly in the pristine room, but it was as if a shadow covered them all as they thought about how emeralds can be easily scratched or chipped.

As they thought about curses.

But then the girl moved, and smiled, and pulled her hand from the grate—a gorgeous green stone clutched tightly in her grasp. It was covered with dust and cobwebs, but it was uncracked and unharmed.

And, of course, completely fake.

* * *

There was a lot that the people of the Kelly Corporation would never know about the Cleopatra Emerald. Like how it had truly come to Oliver Kelly so many years ago. Most likely, very few could comprehend the humiliation and pain that it had brought to the thieves of the world ever since.

And on the day of the Cleopatra’s grand public return, no one would ever know about its very private exit through a dirty air vent, via a very thin cable and a dark-haired girl who kept the stone clutched tightly in her small hand, as she rose steadily toward the roof and the light.

CHAPTER 12

There are several lessons every thief learns early on. Or dies.

Never turn your back on an angry guard dog (no matter how nice he seemed on your scouting trip). Don’t leave home without a spare set of batteries (regardless of the guarantee you got from the guy at the store). And never, ever get attached to anything more valuable than you are.

Katarina Bishop was an excellent thief, and she had learned these lessons well, but riding through Midtown Manhattan in the back of a long black limousine, she couldn’t stop thinking that the people who had made that last rule had never touched the Cleopatra Emerald.

“Do you want to hold it?” she asked, dangling the padded envelope in front of Hale with two fingers.

“No.”

“Do you want to touch it and kiss it and wear it around your neck?”

“Don’t be silly,” he told her. “Everyone knows green isn’t my color.”

Gabrielle had been right, Kat realized. There is a rush—a thrill—that comes after a hard job, and Kat couldn’t help herself. She’d held that green stone with her bare hands, and now she was drunk on adrenaline, high on life.

“You”—she scooted close—“were fabulous.” She placed her head on Hale’s chest and stared into the distance. “I see great potential in you…Wyatt?” He should have laughed; he should have teased, and when he didn’t, she bolted upright. “Is that it? Is your name Wyatt?”

He gripped her arms and held her there, staring into her eyes as he said, “No.”

Then Kat laughed and tossed back her head. “We did it, Hale.”

Suddenly, she couldn’t stay still. She wanted to stick her head out of the sunroof and scream, roll down the center divider and tell Marcus to drive and drive and drive—she didn’t care where. They could go anywhere—do anything—and for the first time in a long time, Katarina Bishop stopped thinking. And maybe that was why she found herself climbing onto her knees.

“We. Did. It!” she screamed, and when the car jolted to a stop, Kat didn’t care that she was falling, landing across Hale’s lap. She didn’t think twice about the way her arms fell around his neck. When her lips found his, she didn’t pull back, she just pressed against him, sinking into the kiss and the moment until…

The high was over. Kat jerked back, two thoughts pounding in her mind, screaming, I kissed Hale.

But it was the second thought that made her panic: Hale didn’t kiss me back.

“Sorry. I…” She sat up straight, and when she moved, she kicked something on the floorboard, looked down, and saw the bag that sat at his feet.

“What’s that?”

“Paraguay.”

She felt her heart sink. It was harder than it should have been to say, “It’s smaller than I thought it would be.”

She waited for Hale to laugh and tell her that it wasn’t a very good joke. She wanted him to do anything but reach for the bag and pull it easily onto the seat beside him.

“Eddie says they need all the help they can get. I’m gonna head down there now that we’re finished.” He stopped. He didn’t look at her when he asked, “Are we finished?”

Kat knew there was more to the question—that there was something else she was supposed to say. But Kat had always been good at telling lies. The truth, she realized, was a much harder thing to part with.

“You were right, Kat.” There was a weight to Hale’s voice. A gravity. “I should go.”

Don’t go.

“I know you still have to deliver the package, but…it’s not like you need me.”

But maybe I want you.

His hand was resting on the door handle. He took a deep breath and moved.

“Hale—”

“You could come,” he said, spinning toward her.

The rush she’d felt before turned to panic, and Kat was frozen, no clue what to do or say.

“Your dad’s already there. Gabrielle says Irina is coming. I mean, I know it’s no Cleopatra job, but you could come. You could come if you wanted to.”

“I want to, but I don’t…steal…anymore, Hale.”

His voice was part whisper, part sigh, as he turned to the window and said, “You could have fooled me.”

Before Kat could protest, Hale was reaching for a button on the limo door and saying, “Marcus.” The car slowed and the center partition slid down. “Take her wherever she wants to go.”

“Hale, wait!” She reached for him, but the car stopped, and he was already opening the door, stepping out onto the busy sidewalk.

“You be careful out there.” He pulled the large duffel onto his shoulder as if it weighed nothing at all. “I mean it, Kat. Take care.”

Her hand was in his, resting gently. “Hale…”

“Good-bye, Kat.” His voice was almost lost against the sound of honking cars and distant sirens. And just that quickly, he was gone. Out onto the street, coat collar turned up, disappearing into the traffic and the crowds.

It did not look like a clandestine rendezvous, not with the old woman and young man on the park bench and the teenage girl walking toward them, looking as if she’d just lost her very best friend.

“Is it true?” the woman asked.

The first time Kat had seen her, she’d guessed her age at somewhere over eighty, but that day Constance Miller looked younger by at least ten years. Maybe twenty. Her face was full of something. Kat breathed out, watched her breath fog in the chilly air, and knew that something was hope.

“Do you have it?” Constance Miller asked. “Is that why you called?”

“No, Grandmother. A theft like that would have been on the television.” The man reached awkwardly for the old woman’s hand.

“TV is overrated,” Kat said, pulling the envelope from her pocket and tossing it onto the man’s lap.

He stared down as if it were a tiny bomb and might explode. Only the woman dared to reach for it—carefully, tentatively.

“Is it really…”

“You can look,” Kat said, glancing at the two uniformed police officers who stood twenty feet away, sipping coffee. “But I wouldn’t touch.”

“Oh, I believe you,” the woman said, grabbing up the package and holding it tightly against her chest. “It’s in here. I know it. I can feel it,” she said, and Kat knew she wasn’t talking about the weight or shape of the heavy stone in the padded envelope. She hadn’t felt it with her fingers—she could feel it in her soul. Kat knew that sensation. She’d found it once on a school bus in London with four priceless paintings. She had seen it in Mr. Stein’s eyes every time she returned one of the missing Holocaust pieces to him so he could take it on the final leg of its journey home.

“Oh, thank you, Katarina. Thank you. If it hadn’t been for you and Mr. Hale—” The woman stopped and looked around. “Where’s your friend?”

Kat couldn’t help herself; she looked too.

“I’m afraid he had another obligation.”

“Oh,” Constance Miller said. “Do thank him for me, please. I just can’t tell you how much…” But the words got caught.

“Grandmother, are you all right?” The young man’s hand was on the woman’s shoulder as it shook and she cried, clutching the precious package to her heart.

“I’m fine,” the woman choked out. “I’m perfect.”

The job was over. Her work was done. So Kat turned and started through the park.

“Katarina,” the woman called one last time, and Kat stopped and turned back to the priceless gem she’d just stolen and given away without a second thought. “Thank you, Katarina. Thank you,” the woman said, and Kat couldn’t help but notice that the tears were gone. It was a different sort of smile. “We never could have done this without you.”

Kat had often heard it said that asking a good thief to stop thinking would be like asking a shark to stop swimming, so she couldn’t help herself as she walked away from the park that day, through the coming dusk of the city streets.

But that didn’t mean she didn’t try.

She didn’t want to remember the feeling of the stone in her hand or the air rushing past her, zooming toward the light at the end of the shaft. She had absolutely no desire to think about Hale and her father and Paraguay. Or Uruguay. But more than anything, Kat, a girl who had been good at most things she’d ever tried, did not wish to entertain the notion that she might simply be a truly heinous kisser.

No. Kat shook her head. She wasn’t going to think about that.

Not when there was a Klimt in Cairo and a Manet somewhere in Spain. Not when Mr. Stein had left her a message regarding a long-lost Matisse that might be surfacing any day somewhere on the Mexican Riviera.