Uncommon Criminals (Page 17)

“Yeah.” Kat looked up at him, eyes wide. “It is! And…” The words were gone, her mind suddenly blank, and Kat realized that she could no longer think, much less plan or theorize, plot or scheme. “And I’m not leading you guys into almost certain chaos.” She shook her head. “Not again.”

Hale shrugged. “I for one like chaos. Chaos looks good on me.”

“You should get away from me. You should save yourselves before I make you pass out or catch the measles or spontaneously combust or something.” She looked at Hale for a long time, then shook her head. “I can’t make you do this. Any of you. I can’t—”

“Hey!” Hale crossed the small space between them in a flash. “No one makes me do anything. Not my family. Not your family…not even you.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“If I wanted to go, I’d go. But if I’m here, then I’m here. All of me.” Kat felt his free hand brush her hair away from her face. “So what’s it gonna be, Kat?”

It’s a great curse of the con that you can look at anything and see a dozen angles. There are always loopholes, wormholes, cracks that you can slip through if only you know how to see them. And Kat was the kind of girl who had to see them. But right then, with Hale so close and the moon so bright, her mind was filled with nothing but fog.

“I think better when I’m alone, Hale. I’m better alone.”

“No.” Hale shook his head. “You really aren’t.”

“No one else is going to get hurt because of me!” Kat gave an involuntary glance at Gabrielle, who hobbled forward.

“You think sending me away is going to keep me from getting hurt?” her cousin asked. “Ha! I’m cursed, Kitty Kat. And the way I see it, my best bet at getting uncursed is to put that rock back where it belongs. So, sorry. You’re stuck with me.”

Kat looked at Simon, who took his place beside Gabrielle. “I’m not going back to those mosquitoes.”

She turned to Hale, who didn’t say a thing. He just pulled her phone from her pocket and handed it to Gabrielle. “Make the call.”

Kat watched her cousin dial, heard her say, “Hey, Mom. Yeah, I don’t think I can make it to Paraguay. See, I met this duke…”

A few moments later, the phone was passed to Simon, who left a message for his father about a lecture he just had to hear at MIT.

Kat knew the argument was over. The job, however, was only just beginning, so she turned to Hale and asked, “Where’s the hotel?”

“Well, see, I thought hotel was really more of a suggestion and…” He turned and pointed to a long pier, a bobbing motorboat, and Marcus, who stood at attention, waiting.

“What’s that?” Kat asked.

“That’s our ride.”

CHAPTER 20

Katarina Bishop did not always land on her feet. She’d had a lot of identities, it was true, but she didn’t have nine lives. So it was with great amusement the next morning that Simon and Hale sat on the beautifully appointed deck furniture, staring at the clear blue water of the Mediterranean, and Simon said, “What do you mean, Kat’s afraid of water?”

“Terrified.” Hale sounded like someone who desperately wanted to be serious. But couldn’t.

Kat tried to protest, but that would have required stepping out onto the deck. And the deck had the rail. And if the rail failed, the deck also had a long drop to water and a longer swim to shore; so Kat was quite happy listening from inside, thank you very much.

Simon turned and yelled through the open sliding doors to where Kat stood, regretting that she’d ever gotten onto that boat or out of bed.

“Are you really that afraid of water?”

“I’m not afraid of water, Simon,” Kat yelled. “I’m afraid of drowning. There’s a difference.”

“I thought you knew how to swim,” Gabrielle said, stretching out on one of the chaise longues, handing Simon a bottle of suntan lotion, and rolling onto her stomach in the universal signal for Do my back.

“Of course I can swim. I can also remember a very unfortunate incident involving Uncle Louie, the Bagshaws, and a cruise ship off the coast of Belize.”

“You’re fine, Kitty Kat.” Gabrielle slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses and the largest, floppiest hat that Kat had ever seen, and it occurred to her for one brief second how spoiled she really was. After all, there are worse things than spending the end of February on a private yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean with friends and family (especially, let’s face it, with friends who look like Hale).

She stole a glance at him. I kissed Hale. Then the boat listed gently, and Kat’s empty stomach swayed. She honestly thought she might be sick.

“If anything happens, Marcus will save you. Won’t you, Marcus?” Hale asked, looking up at the man, who nodded.

“It would be an honor, miss.”

“Let’s try not to let it come to that,” Kat said, bravely making her way across the deck and gently lowering herself into one of the chairs at the table. She gripped the arms of the chair a little too tightly as Marcus poured her a cup of tea and placed a chocolate croissant on the plate before her.

The motion was so smooth, so effortless, that Kat had to think—not for the first time—that Marcus would have made a most excellent thief. But Marcus was the one person Kat knew who had the skills but not the heart. It was only one of many reasons she liked him.

“I trust the lady slept well?” Marcus asked.

“Yeah,” Hale asked, grinning. “How did the lady sleep?”

“I asked for a hotel, Hale. Not a penthouse. Not even a suite. Just one little hotel room on dry land.”

“Call me crazy, Kat.” Hale held his arms out wide. “But I thought this was better.”

Beyond him, Kat saw the white yachts that bobbed up and down in Hercules Harbor, and the tall stone cliffs that formed the rocky barricade between Monaco and France. To her right, she could see all the way to Italy. To her left was Saint-Tropez. The W. W. Hale was two hundred and twenty feet of highly polished luxury, and Kat sat surrounded by blue waters and clear sky and the infinite possibility that comes with almost limitless wealth.

But Kat had far more pressing matters on her mind when she turned to Simon. “What do we know?”

“I think you should apologize to my ship first,” Hale said before Simon could answer.

“Hale…”

“She’s a very nice yacht, you know. I won her from a Colombian coffee baron in a game of high-stakes poker.”

“Your grandfather gave it to your father for his birthday.”

Hale shrugged. “Same difference. You still need to apologize.”

“Hale!” Kat cried, but the boy only stared at her. “Fine,” she conceded. “I love your boat.”

“Ship.”

“Ship…Your ship is beautiful.”

He smiled as if to say he approved, then reached for the pastries, broke off a corner of a pain au chocolat, and plopped it into his mouth.

“So what do we know?” Kat asked again.

“What do you think?” Hale smirked and picked up a nearby newspaper. The pages crackled as he turned them.

“I think first they’re going to have to get it authenticated,” Kat said.

“Give the lady a prize.” Hale took a long sip of orange juice. “Right, Simon?”

The smaller boy nodded and settled as far under an umbrella as he could get. “The best I can tell, they’ve got a bunch of experts flying in—a lot of the same people Kelly just used in New York. Two antiquities experts from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The gemologist from India, and a handful of others.”

“Is that a party we can crash?” Kat asked.

Simon shrugged. “Maybe. They’re being really…careful.”

“I’m sure they are,” Kat and Gabrielle said at the same time.

“There’s just one problem.” Hale stood and strolled to the serving area and poured himself a cup of steaming coffee. “These experts that Simon’s talking about, don’t you think that one of them will notice that this long-lost, world-famous emerald is exactly like the other world-famous emerald they just examined?”

Gabrielle lowered her sunglasses and studied Kat, the two cousins sharing an Oh, isn’t he adorable look.

Hale dropped back into his chair, blew on his coffee, and said, “What?”

“The Cleopatra is locked away on the other side of the ocean, behind heat-sensitive security cameras and several inches of bulletproof glass,” Simon reminded them, but Hale just looked at Kat.

“Ninety percent of the con is the story,” she told him. “And the Antony Emerald…” She couldn’t help herself, she sighed. “That’s a story they want to believe.”

Kat looked down at the newspapers and magazines that covered the table, all with the same pictures—the same story—that the Antony Emerald had been found.

“She’s really good,” Kat whispered almost to herself.

“So are we,” Hale said.

Kat felt the blood go to her cheeks and told herself it was the heat, the sun. But when Hale leaned close to her, staring, searching her eyes, Kat knew it was really the kiss.

She looked down at the pictures of Maggie and the emerald. And then her gaze locked upon the shorter-than-average man in a nicer-than-average suit who appeared in the background of almost every single frame.

“Him. The guy from the press conference…” Kat pointed to the man with the bifocals and the accent. “From what I can tell, he hasn’t left her side since she got here. So exactly what does Monsieur LaFont know about our emerald?”

Gabrielle sat upright. Simon looked up from the laptop’s screen. Hale raised one eyebrow and whispered, “There’s one way to find out.”

CHAPTER 21

Pierre LaFont was not unknown to the men and women who worked at L’Hôtel Royal de Monaco. He had singlehandedly selected the chandelier that hung in the recently renovated Royal Suite. He frequently dined in the hotel’s restaurant with visiting dignitaries and the occasional heiress who was in the market to either buy or sell. But as the valet held his car door open that Sunday morning, there was something different about the Monsieur LaFont who stepped into the bright sun, a copy of the morning paper tucked beneath his arm, photo out.

“Bonjour,” he said, tipping his hat to a wealthy woman waiting for the valet. “Bonjour,” he told the bellman who stood beside the revolving doors.

“Now, that is a beautiful automobile.”

It was a by-product of the business that LaFont’s first instinct was to size and frame. As he turned at the voice, he expected to see the custom-made suit and expensive watch. The young man who had spoken had the wide smile and confident ease that often comes with wealth and privilege. But studying him in the morning light, there was something about the young man, LaFont thought, that was quite uncommon indeed.

“Is it a ’58?” the young man asked. His hands were deep in his pockets as he stepped out of the shadows and onto the cobblestone street, examining the old Porsche Speedster with a discerning eye.