Uncommon Criminals (Page 12)

“What are you saying, Kat?”

She laughed at the joke that wasn’t funny at all. And then Katarina Bishop, teen wonder thief and criminal It Girl finally told them, “I got conned.”

The world didn’t end when she said it. Kat had been expecting the brownstone’s walls to crumble, the old kitchen table to crack in two beneath her palms. But what followed was nothing but an eerie, empty quiet, and Kat knew the girl she’d been two hours before was dead.

“So what?” Hale said after what felt like an eternity. “So we messed up. We learned. And it’s over.”

“No.” Kat stood and put Romani’s card on the table. She saw the three of them stare down at it, felt something in the room shift, the kitchen come alive as she whispered, “It’s only just beginning.”

CHAPTER 14

It took almost an hour for Hale and Gabrielle to tell Simon the full story, and when they were finished, Kat didn’t allow herself to think of all the things she did not know. She kept her mind centered, focused, trained on the thing that mattered most.

“How many people know the name Romani?”

“You mean besides everyone who heard about the random mystery man who broke into the Henley last fall and left his calling card? Twice?” Simon asked.

“Yeah. How many people know Romani is a Chelovek Pseudonima—one of the sacred names?”

Hale backed away from the table, knowing he was out of his range, his depth, leaving the kids who had been born into Uncle Eddie’s kitchen to ponder.

“Twenty?” Gabrielle guessed. “Fifty?”

But Simon was shaking his head. “There’s no way to know.”

“Uncle Eddie would know,” Kat murmured.

“No,” Hale snapped. “Don’t even think about telling Uncle Eddie about this. Not yet. No.” He shook his head as if changing his mind. “Not ever.”

“This is Uncle Eddie’s world, Hale. We’ve got to tell him. He’s the only person who can help us,” Kat said.

“There’s got to be some other way. Look at me.” Hale’s eyes were warm and soft and comforting. He couldn’t have been farther from the boy in the limo when he told her, “We will find some other way.”

“Are you sure you guys have never seen this woman before?” Simon asked, trying to process all the facts.

“I don’t know…” Kat started slowly. “There was something about her that was…familiar. Did you feel it?”

Hale shook his head. “No.”

“I thought that maybe I’d just seen her on the news—the real woman. But now…” Kat trailed off, totally unsure how anything was supposed to end.

“Simon, are you making a spreadsheet?” Gabrielle asked, spinning the laptop around on the table.

“Spreadsheets can be very beneficial,” he said, spinning the laptop back.

“We need to ask Uncle Eddie,” Kat said. “We’ve got to tell him—plead for forgiveness and beg for help.”

She was standing, reaching for the old rotary-dial phone that hung on the kitchen wall, its long spiral cord dangling all the way to the floor. But Hale was flying across the room, his hands covering hers as, together, they gripped the receiver.

“Need to make a call?” she asked.

“I’m not going to let you do this, Kat,” Hale said slowly. “I’m not going to let you fall on some sword because you made a mistake. If you call down there—”

“What? I hear South America is lovely this time of year.”

“Except for the mosquitoes,” Simon added.

Kat nodded. “Except for the mosquitoes. It’s as good a place as any to die.”

Hale shook his head. “He’ll never forgive you. Or you’ll never forgive yourself. Either way, you’ll lose him. Trust me. I know a little something about being the family disappointment.” He gently pulled the receiver from Kat’s hands. “Besides, everyone knows I blister when I burn.”

“I don’t recommend that either,” Simon said while Gabrielle applied another dab of lotion.

Hale’s voice was lower, the words meant only for Kat as he leaned closer, whispering, “Do you really think Uncle Eddie is going to forget that we stole the one thing he’s ever forbidden anyone from stealing? How do you think he’ll react when he finds out we used Charlie to help us? Trust me, Kat. I realize I haven’t known him as long as you have, but if you tell Uncle Eddie about this—”

“What? He’ll write me out of his will?”

“And you’re gonna need a will.” It might have been easy to forget Gabrielle was there, she was so quiet as she treated Simon, seemingly oblivious to it all. But when she stood and looked her cousin in the eye, there was no forgetting that Kat wasn’t Uncle Eddie’s only blood relative in the room. “Hale is right.”

“But—” Kat started.

“But nothing. You wanna confess your sins to Uncle Eddie, fine. But you don’t get to confess ours. And believe me, he won’t just be angry, Kat.” Gabrielle drew a breath. Her voice cracked. “He’ll be heartbroken.”

Hale leaned forward, pressing Kat against the wall, his arm reaching over her to slowly place the receiver back into its cradle.

“Romani is running this one, Kat,” Hale said, his voice low and soft. “He wasn’t at first, but he put that card in your pocket, so he’s running things now. And now…” Kat actually felt the rise and fall of his chest when he took a deep breath. “And now we get the Cleopatra back.”

“That is a great plan, guys. Really, it is,” Kat said. “Except we can’t steal what we can’t find, and Uncle Eddie is the only person on earth who might know who these people are.”

“The only person?” Gabrielle crossed her long legs and examined her nails. It sounded like the most innocent suggestion in the world when she said, “You’re the genius, Kat. Surely you can think of someone.”

CHAPTER 15

It took approximately eighteen hours for Kat to form a plan and Hale to summon the jet, and for the four teens to find themselves standing on the streets of Lyon, France.

When the sun began to set in the distance, Kat stifled a yawn, but she knew she wasn’t really sleepy. Tired people manage to sleep on private jets with very little difficulty or discomfort. Had it been mere exhaustion, Kat was certain she could have dozed in the chauffeured car that met them at the private airstrip just outside of town.

But as she walked among the vendors at the booming street markets, the colors seemed a little too bright, the noises a bit too loud. And when Hale held a warm croissant in her direction and said, “I’m buying,” her reflexes were entirely too slow.

“Thanks,” Gabrielle said, snatching the pastry from his hand and peeling away one long buttery strip.

So no, Kat realized, it wasn’t just fatigue that plagued her reflexes and intuition. She had to entertain the notion that she was simply losing her touch.

Or maybe, Kat had to admit, she was just cursed.

Walking down the street that day, Lyon didn’t seem like the second largest city in France. Farmers lined produce into stalls in the market. Shopkeepers swept their stoops, and two policemen walked quietly past four of the top thieves in the world, not even a little bit the wiser.

Gabrielle must not have shared Kat’s newfound insomnia, because she yawned and stretched in the manner of someone who could get used to traveling in the style of W. W. Hale the Fifth.

Simon, on the other hand, didn’t look like he would ever be comfortable again. “What time is your contact meeting us?”

“Oh, well, it’s not really a meeting, strictly speaking,” Kat told him.

Hale crossed his arms and leaned against the low stone wall that ran along the Rhône. “Strictly speaking, what is it?”

“It’s more of a drop-by,” Kat said.

“This contact doesn’t know we’re coming, does he?” Hale asked, but Kat turned away from his stare.

She was trying to decide how to answer when Gabrielle threw her hands into the air. “Great,” she said. “He knows Uncle Eddie, doesn’t he? He’s going to talk to Uncle Eddie. You know, my mom expects me in Paraguay any day. And when I don’t show—”

“No one’s talking to Uncle Eddie, Gabs. Trust me.”

“Just tell me this, Kat,” Hale said, inching closer. “Is this mystery guy gonna know who our fake Constance was, or did we fly all the way to France for nothing?”

Kat could feel his impatience and his worry. The bored billionaire was gone, she knew. So was the hurt and worried boy who’d warned her about going too far. Constance—whoever she was—had taken more than just the Cleopatra when she’d told her lies and gone away.

“Look, guys,” Kat said, taking the three of them in. “As far as I know, the world’s best criminal database is inside of Uncle Eddie’s head. Barring that, the second-best thing is here.”

“Is this thing close?” Hale asked.

“Oh”—Kat took a deep breath—“you could say that.”

There was a building on the other side of the river. Kat felt herself point, watched her friends turn and stare into the distance at the sun that reflected off the steel and the glass and the large sign that read Interpol.

“That’s funny, Kat,” Simon said, then realized that no one else was laughing. “No,” he gasped, and Hale reached for Kat’s arm.

“Let’s chat.”

Hale was taller, broader, stronger, but Kat could have stopped him if she’d wanted. Or at least that’s what she told herself as he pulled her ten feet away from Simon and Gabrielle and spoke beneath his breath. “When you said you knew a source, I was thinking maybe…your dad,” Hale confided.

“Constance, or whoever she is, is old school, Hale. If Dad knew someone like that, trust me, I would have heard about her.”

“Or if not your dad…then Charlie.”

“I thought you didn’t like Charlie.”

“Charlie was weird. But weird is okay.”

“I thought you were never driving up that mountain again if your life depended on it.”

“There are helicopters. I’m good with helicopters.”

“I thought you liked France.”

Hale pointed across the river to the home of the world’s police. “Some parts I like better than others!”

He pulled Kat gently toward him. “Someone else has got the information we need.…There’s got to be some other way.”

“The other way is Uncle Eddie,” Kat countered. “So, you tell me: which one is scarier?”

And with that, the four of them turned in perfect unison and stared at the gleaming building on the other side of the riverbank.

Gabrielle was the one who said what everyone else was thinking. “So when do we start?”

Even though Kat was sure the hotel suite was the biggest in Lyon (Marcus didn’t know how to book any other kind), it still felt impossibly small seventy-two hours later as Hale paced and Gabrielle lounged and Simon’s computers (if possible) multiplied.