Uncommon Criminals (Page 14)

Well, at least that was the way it seemed until the fire trucks appeared with their swirling lights and screaming sirens. The police, too, were quick to the scene—almost too quick, some might say—to throw up the barricades and block off the traffic.

But it wasn’t until they saw the big bus from the bomb squad that the people huddled on the sidewalks began to wonder if things might be more severe than some elaborate prank.

“Step aside!” the tallest of the masked figures in the heavy protective suits yelled. He barked orders at a man with a walkietalkie. “Your people are out of there?”

“Yes,” the man said. He looked vaguely confused and more than a little annoyed. “But it was just the toilets.…Can’t we go back inside and—”

“Now, you listen to me,” the masked man yelled. He had a deep voice, and when he spoke, the whole crowd seemed to stop and listen. “This facility has the best biohazard detectors that money can buy, and in the past twenty minutes, nine of them have gone off. We take that sort of thing seriously in my department. What about you?”

The man with the walkie-talkie stayed quiet, weighing the image of rogue espresso machines and malfunctioning toilets against the words of the masked man. “Do what you have to do,” he said, leaving the four masked figures to walk through Interpol’s gleaming, polished doors.

Katarina Bishop was not claustrophobic, or so she told herself with every breath she took inside the heavy mask. She’d once flown from Cairo to Istanbul locked inside a solid-gold sarcophagus, after all, so it wasn’t the tiny space that was causing Kat’s heart to pound or her face to sweat as she followed Hale up the big sweeping staircase, rushing to the mainframe that was housed on the second floor.

Hale stopped at the top of the landing, looked in both directions, and pulled the mask from his head.

“Simon, you’re down there.” He pointed to the long empty hall. “Gabrielle, you can—”

But then Hale couldn’t finish. Kat couldn’t move. None of them could do anything but watch when Gabrielle’s foot caught on the top step, and her ankle turned, and Gabrielle went falling, tumbling down the stairs, onto the landing below.

Kat and Simon looked at each other as if to verify that they had seen the same thing—that Gabrielle…had fallen.

Only Hale managed to rush toward her. “Are you okay?”

But even Gabrielle herself couldn’t seem to process what had happened. She looked up and found her cousin’s eyes. “Kat, did I just…fall?”

“Yeah,” Kat said. “I think you did.”

“But I never fall,” Gabrielle countered, as if there had to be some kind of mistake.

“Can you stand on it?” Hale asked, reaching for her, but Gabrielle just laughed.

“Of course I can—Ow!” The pain that flashed across her face was quick and intense, but it was a different kind of panic that bled through her voice when she said, “Kat, I can’t stand.”

“I know, Gabs. It’ll be okay. Just sit here on the steps and wait for us. Simon and Hale can take the mainframe. I’ll check the hard files in the archives and—”

“I’m cursed,” Gabrielle said, as if she hadn’t heard a word. “I sent the Cleopatra Emerald skidding across the floor and now I’m…cursed.”

“Don’t be silly,” Kat said, reaching for her cousin.

“Don’t touch me!” Gabrielle said. “It might be contagious.”

“Kat…” There was a tenor of impatience and fear in Hale’s voice. “We gotta move,” he said, and he was right.

“Go,” Gabrielle snapped. “I can keep an eye on the doors from here.”

“But…” Simon started.

“Go!” Gabrielle yelled, and Kat knew what had to be done.

“How long until the real bomb squad shows up?” Hale asked, risking a glance out the massive windows.

“Best-case scenario?” Kat asked. Hale nodded. “Hurry.”

So Kat was alone as she made her way into the depths of the building, past the division of counterterrorism intelligence, through an entire corridor marked with the portraits of past secretaries-general. It should have been the ultimate in trespassing—walking through those particular halls. But it felt like just another office building, and she ran faster, relying on the blueprints in her mind to lead her to the small door with the even smaller sign that read archives.

She pushed her way inside, hurtling down the stairs, deeper and deeper into the belly of the building.

“Simon, what’s your status?” she heard Gabrielle ask from three floors away.

“Well, their encryption is really good, but I’ve managed to launch a worm into their—”

“English, buddy,” Hale reminded him.

“Almost there.”

“Kat?” Hale asked just as Kat reached the bottom of the staircase and pushed open another door. She stepped onto a small landing. “Kat?” He asked again. “What’s your—”

“Uh…guys…” Kat gripped the cold pipe rail. “You know how Interpol’s sort of a clearinghouse for information?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I think I just found…the house.”

From her place on the landing at the top of the stairs, Kat could easily see the room that stretched out before her, as vast and endless as a maze. Shelves and filing cabinets—thousands of filing cabinets—filled the space that seemed as long as the building itself. Dim industrial lights hung overhead, and the whole place smelled of dust and disuse. Looking down, Kat couldn’t shake the feeling that what she’d really found was the graveyard—the place where old jobs go after they die.

“Twenty-five percent downloaded,” Simon said from above.

Kat bounded down the stairs, following the faded signs through dusty aisles that felt light-years away from the sleek offices and modern fixtures that dominated the floors above. She ran until she finally reached the deepest, darkest part of the room and the cabinets dedicated to art and cultural crimes.

“Hey…guys…” Kat heard Gabrielle say. “What will the real bomb squad look like?”

“Us,” Kat heard herself say at the same time as Simon and Hale.

“Then it might be time to start heading for the exits,” Gabrielle warned, and Kat felt her heart beat faster.

“Okay, I got it. I’m good,” Simon exclaimed.

“Gabrielle, I’m coming to get you,” Hale said.

Kat could practically feel her crew working, acting, moving toward the exits in an orderly fashion, but she felt lost among the dozens of filing cabinets standing before her. It was like staring at a slightly less organized, highly abbreviated version of Uncle Eddie’s mind.

“Kat.” Hale’s voice was steady and even in her ear. “No crazy chances,” he warned.

“No crazy chances,” Kat said, and started throwing open drawers. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she moved like lightning, scouring files for any mention of jewel heists, con artists, or particularly conniving older women who might know enough to call upon the name Romani.

“Okay,” Gabrielle said, “it looks like the security head is fighting with the bomb guys. We’ve got to go.”

“Already on my way,” Hale said, and Kat slammed another drawer.

She turned, her gaze sweeping along the filing cabinets to her right, then sliding across the tall metal shelves on her left. She stood there, knowing she could never search it all, fearing the truth might be there, rotting away with the rest of the dead files.

And that was when she saw it—a file box on a dusty shelf just above her head. There was an old photo taped to the label. The picture itself was black-and-white—no color of any kind—but Kat knew the stone in the picture was a vivid, vibrant green. She knew because just a week before she’d held it in her hand.

“Kat!” Hale’s voice echoed through her ear.

“Coming!” Kat yelled, and pulled the box from the shelf. She was already racing back through the stacks and rows when her phone began to ring, the sound as loud as a siren in the massive echoing space.

She dropped the heavy box onto a small wooden table and began rifling through the pockets of her bomb squad suit, looking for the phone. But it had stopped ringing, and suddenly Kat found herself looking down at a mountain of old logbooks and dusty folders. On top of it all lay a yellow legal pad, hasty scribbles covering the page. Arrows pointed from every corner, linking every thought to a single name.

Romani.

“Kat, we’re almost to the rendezvous point. I don’t see you.” Hale’s voice echoed in her ear, but the pile of folders kept pulling her closer.

“Kat!” Hale snapped, but the files were right there, full of secrets that only a handful of people in the world had ever known.

They were right there.

She could wait. She could look. She could—

“Kat,” Hale said again, “are you coming?”

“Just one minute.”

“I don’t think we have a minute,” Hale said just as, three floors away, the sirens began to wail. The basement lights flickered. And Kat knew she had no choice but to turn away from the table and say, “I’ll be there soon.”

She’d just picked up the box and started to run when something made her stop dead in her tracks.

“I know, sir,” a voice said behind Kat, hidden deep within the maze of shelves. “Well, the alarms don’t sound in the subbasement, do they? I’m sorry, I must have missed them.” There was a long pause with nothing but the sound of high heels on the concrete floor.

That voice, Kat thought. Those heels. She looked at the worktable once again, the careful circles and pile of files all bearing the name Romani, and Kat knew exactly who was heading her way.

“Yes,” Amelia said. “Of course I’m going to the emergency exit right now,” she lied. Kat heard the woman turn the corner through the stacks, so she shoved the box under a nearby desk and followed it, realizing too late that someone else was already under the table.

“Kat?” an all-too familiar voice said. “Is that you?”

Kat felt her phone vibrate, and she jerked it from her pocket before it could ring again, cursing her own carelessness and…well…curses.

“Kat, are you there?” her father echoed over the phone.

But Kat…Kat sat staring into the eyes she hadn’t seen in months and said, “Dad, I better call you back.”

In the thief’s lexicon, there are many different words for busted. Made. Blown. They all applied right then, of course, but those were not the words that came to Kat’s mind.

“Nick?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. “What are you doing—”

“Shh.” He pulled her tightly to him, and in the silence, Kat heard the woman walking closer.

“So…” Kat whispered when the woman had turned down another aisle, “your mom got transferred. I guess finding four priceless paintings and getting an international criminal off the streets does wonders for a woman’s career.”