Uncommon Criminals (Page 2)

Kat stared down the long line of taxis picking up fares, travelers hugging and saying hello. She waited. She watched. But none of those three people came into view.

“Katarina?”

There was a woman walking toward her. She had white hair and kind eyes and wore a long tweed coat and a hand-knit scarf wrapped around her neck. The young man at her side kept his arm around the woman’s shoulders, and the two of them moved slowly—as if Kat were made out of smoke and she might float away on the breeze.

“Are you the Katarina Bishop?” the woman asked, eyes wide. “Are you the girl who robbed the Henley?”

CHAPTER 3

If a person wanted to be technical about it, Katarina Bishop did not rob the Henley—nor did any member of her crew. She was simply one of a group of teenagers who had walked into the most secure museum in the world a few months before and removed from its walls four paintings that were not the Henley’s property. The paintings appeared on no insurance statements. They were never listed in any catalogs. The Henley had never paid a dime for any of those works, so even as Kat herself carried one (a Rembrandt) out the museum’s doors, she was not breaking a single law. (A technicality verified by Uncle Marco—a member of the family who had once spent eighteen months impersonating a federal judge somewhere in Minnesota.) So it was with absolutely no hesitation that Kat looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry. You’ve been misinformed.”

“You’re Katarina Bishop?” the woman’s companion asked, and although Kat had never met him before, it was a question and a tone she had heard a lot since last December.

The girl who’d planned the job at the Henley should have been taller, the question seemed to say. She should have been older, wiser, stronger, faster, and just in general more than the short girl who stood before them.

“The Katarina Bishop…” The man paused, searching for words, then whispered, “The thief ?”

That, as it turned out, was not an easy question to answer. After all, stealing—even for noble and worthy causes—was illegal. Furthermore, if their accents were to be believed, they were English strangers, and England was home to the Henley, the Henley’s trustees, and, perhaps most important, the Henley’s insurance company.

But the primary reason Kat couldn’t—or didn’t—answer was that she no longer considered herself a thief. Kat was more of a return artist, a repossession specialist. A highly uncommon criminal. After all, the statue she’d swiped in Rio rightfully belonged to a woman whose grandparents had died in Auschwitz. The painting from Moscow would soon be winging its way toward a ninety-year-old man in Tel Aviv.

So no, Katarina Bishop was not a thief, and that was why she said, “I’m afraid you have the wrong person,” and turned back to Hale and the long black limousine.

“We need your help.” The woman moved toward her.

“I’m sorry,” Kat said.

“We were led to believe that you were quite talented.”

“Talent is overrated,” was Kat’s reply.

She stepped closer to the car, but the woman reached for her arm. “We can pay!”

At this, Kat had to stop.

“I’m afraid you really have the wrong person.”

With one look from Kat, Hale reached for the limo door. Kat was halfway inside when the woman called, “He said you…help people.” Her voice cracked, and the young man tightened his grip around her shoulders.

“Grandmother, let’s go. We shouldn’t have believed him.”

“Who?” The word was sharper than she’d intended, but Kat couldn’t help herself. She climbed from the car. “Who told you my name? Someone said where you could find me, who was it?”

“A man…” the woman muttered, fumbling for words. “He was very convincing. He said—”

“What was his name?” Hale stepped closer to the young man, who had maybe eight years and two inches on him.

“He came to our flat…” the man started, but the woman’s whisper was all that Kat could hear.

“Romani.” She drew a deep breath. “He said his name was Visily Romani.”

CHAPTER 4

Perhaps you have never heard the name Visily Romani. Until two separate cards bearing that name appeared at the Henley four months before, very few people ever had. Kat had never heard those words until that time, but Kat was still a very young person in a very old world. Since then, Kat herself would say, she’d gotten much, much older.

At least that was how she felt an hour later as she sat beside Hale in a small quiet diner not far from Uncle Eddie’s brownstone on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The old woman and her companion sat on the other side of the booth. Wordless and worn, both looking as if they’d traveled a long, long way to get there.

The place was nearly empty, and yet the young man kept looking over his shoulder at the waitress wiping down tables and the college girl who sat by the window wearing headphones and studying a book on constitutional law. He took the room in with sharp brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses.

When he asked, “Are you sure we shouldn’t go someplace more private?” he actually sounded afraid.

“This is private enough,” Hale answered.

“But—” the guy started, but then Kat placed her elbows on the table.

“Who are you and why are you looking for me?”

“My name is Constance Miller, Miss Bishop,” the white-haired woman said. “Or, may I call you by your given name? I feel as if I know you—you and Mr. Hale.” She smiled at Hale. “Such a lovely young couple.” Kat shifted on her seat, but the old woman went on. “I’ve become something of a fan.” She sounded almost giddy, as if her whole life had been comprised of bake sales and Agatha Christie novels, and now she found herself inside the latter.

“I mean to say,” the woman went on, “that there’s something I would like for you to steal.”

“Grandmother, please.”

“Oh, Marshall,” the woman said, patting her grandson’s hands, “they’re professionals.”

Hale raised his eyebrows and smirked at Kat. Kat kicked him and gestured for the woman to go on.

“But, Grandmother, they’re…” He glanced across the table and dropped his voice. “Kids.”

“You’re twenty-five,” she told him.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

She shrugged. “To me, you’re all children.”

Kat didn’t want to like this woman. Affection makes people get sloppy, take risks. Do favors. So Kat didn’t allow herself to smile. She just focused on the single thing she really had to know.

“How did you meet Visily Romani?”

“He came to see me in London two weeks ago. He was familiar with our situation and said that you—”

“What did he look like?” Kat found herself leaning across the table, pushing closer to the only person she’d ever met who’d looked Romani in the eye. “What did he say? Did he give you anything or—”

“Have you ever been to Egypt, Katarina?” the old woman asked, but didn’t wait for a reply. “I was born there.” She smiled then. “Oh, it was a beautiful place to be a child. The cities were alive and the deserts were so big and vast—like the ocean, you see. We slept under big white nets and played in the sun. My father, he was a brilliant man. Strong and brave and gutsy,” the woman said with a shake of a fist. “He was an archaeologist—he and my mother—and in that day…well…in that day, Egypt was the only place to be.”

“That’s nice, ma’am, but I believe you said something about—” Hale started, but the woman kept on going.

“Some looked at the sand and the sun and said it was a barren, uncivilized land. But my father and mother, they knew that it is not the surface of a place that matters. Civilization is not made out of sand—it’s out of blood. My parents searched for years. Wars raged, and they searched. Children were born, and they searched. The past, it called to them.” Her gaze shifted into space. “As I guess now it calls to me.”

Kat nodded and thought of the treasures stolen more than a half century before, paintings she had never seen that she longed to touch and hold.

“Grandmother,” Marshall said softly, laying a hand on the woman’s shoulder, “perhaps we should get you some tea.”

“I don’t want tea! I want justice!” Her frail fist banged the table. “I want that man to lose his stone just like my parents lost everything they had!”

“Stone?” Hale said, sitting straighter. “What stone?”

But the guy didn’t even acknowledge the question. “Come, Grandmother, if the best lawyers in England can’t help us, what are two kids—”

“Kids who robbed the Henley,” Hale added. Kat kicked him under the table again.

“—supposed to do about it?” Marshall finished.

“My parents found it, Katarina.” Suddenly, the woman’s hands were reaching out to hold Kat’s thin fingers in her own. “They found it—a hundred kilometers from Alexandria, just a stone’s throw from the sea. They found it—one of the treasure chambers of the last pharaoh in Egypt.”

“The last pharaoh…” Kat started.

The woman sighed and whispered, “I suppose you might know her better as Cleopatra.”

When Kat’s fingers began to tingle, she didn’t know if it was the woman’s words or her grasp that numbed her.

“Oh, it was a glorious sight. Cleopatra had known her empire’s days were numbered, and she’d taken great care to hide her finest treasures from the Romans. The chamber was the largest my parents had ever seen. Urns and statues and gold…so much gold. I remember playing hide-and-seek with the diggers in mountains of gold so high, they might as well have been made of sand.”

She unclasped the purse that sat on her lap and drew a faded black-and-white photograph from the inner lining. Her hands seemed especially frail as she held it, staring down at a memory.

“That was the happiest I’d ever been,” the woman said, holding the photo out to Kat and Hale like an offering. Kat leaned across the cheap diner table and studied the image of a young girl in a white dress standing among the treasures of a queen.

“What happened?” Hale said again.

“Kelly…happened,” the grandson spoke, and the sound of that name was all it took to wipe the smile from the woman’s face.

“I never liked him, and you should always trust the instincts of children,” she said, then laughed softly. “But I suppose you already know that.”

Kat nodded and said, “Go on.”

“Well, my parents found the chamber, and three days into the documentation process, my mother went into premature labor with my brother. It was terrible. We almost lost both of them. But my parents had discovered the find of their careers, so they were happy. My father had a young assistant whom he left to oversee the work while my mother recovered. Two weeks, my parents were gone. Two weeks.” The last words she said no louder than a whisper. “Do you know how much your life can change in two weeks?”