Uncommon Criminals (Page 23)

But Kat couldn’t finish because the door flew open, and she jumped.

“Jeez, Simon,” she said to the boy who stood panting in the hall outside. “You scared me half to…What’s wrong?”

He looked from Kat to Gabrielle, then back again. His shirt was wrinkled and untucked. He looked like anything but a genius when he said, “Uh…I think you’re both going to want to see this.”

There was a room on the ship that Kat had never seen before. Situated on the top level near the bridge, it had plush couches and a grand piano. There were windows on three sides, and in the distance, she saw the sun setting over the sea. Despite the computers and trays covered with empty Coke cans and half-eaten sandwiches, it felt like a room made for champagne and caviar—maybe because of the view, Kat surmised. Or maybe because Hale was already there, and he was wearing a tuxedo.

“Hubba-hubba,” Gabrielle told him, straightening his tie. But Kat couldn’t take her gaze away from Simon.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Well.” Simon’s voice was scratchy and breaking. He seemed almost afraid to say, “I was going through the files like you asked.…”

“And you found Maggie, did you?” Angus said, when he and Hamish appeared in the door.

“Oh, no.” Simon shook his head. His eyes were wide. “She doesn’t have a file. I mean, there’s nothing about Maggie in the database. As far as I can tell, she’s not even on Interpol’s radar. She might as well not even exist. She’s—”

“Simon,” Hale said, bringing him back.

“Right,” Simon said with a quick point in Hale’s direction. Then he turned back to Kat. “Like I said, I couldn’t find her in the files. So I stopped looking for her.”

“Okay,” Kat said, knowing this was important—that this mattered—she just couldn’t yet imagine why.

“So instead I started looking…for it.” Simon moved to the dusty file box Kat herself had carried out of Interpol’s basement. “According to our friends in Lyon, there have been at least ten attempts to steal the Cleopatra since it was discovered. Paris in ’49,” he said, pulling a file from the box and dropping it onto the table. “Mexico City in ’52. London in ’63.”

Simon seemed tired as he spoke, like the files and the secrets were wearing on him and taking their toll. Then he reached for the last one.

“And, of course, once at the World’s Fair in Montreal.”

“When?” Hale asked, but Kat’s mind was going back to another room and another night, and she thought about the keys she’d found during her crazy search of Uncle Eddie’s office.

Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “Nineteen-sixty-seven.”

Simon nodded slowly. “It was the first time the stone had ever been displayed for the general public and…well…it was a really big deal. This was taken opening night.”

When he pushed a button on his computer, the whole crew watched as the screen filled with a black-and-white photograph of men in tuxedoes and ladies in gowns. The women wore their hair piled into elaborate updos. Thick liner trailed away from the corners of their eyes as if they were all channeling Cleopatra herself, but there was only one woman in the crowd who really mattered.

Simon pointed to a woman who was young and smiling and beautiful, and even decades and half a world away, there was no mistaking the woman they knew as Maggie. “That’s her. Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Hale said. “That’s her,”

Kat felt suddenly as if she were snooping, prying, looking in on something she wasn’t supposed to see—somewhere she didn’t belong. But she couldn’t turn away. Not then. They’d traveled too far and the stakes were too high. And she was in far too deep to do anything but stare at the corner of the photograph and the two identical faces that stared back.

Simon pointed at the brothers. “And she wasn’t alone.”

CHAPTER 27

Kat vaguely remembered getting dressed. She was sure there was a conversation involving Gabrielle, the curse, and a wayward curling iron. (There also was a brief appearance by Marcus and a first-aid kit.) But the whole process of preparing for their scouting trip was really more of a blur to Kat, and even as she sat beside Hale in the small motorboat shuttling them from yacht to shore, she really could do nothing but stare out at the dark waves and whisper, “They looked so young. Didn’t they look young?”

“Yeah,” Hale said. “They did.”

She wasn’t a fool. She knew that her uncles had been young men once, tall and handsome. She’d heard the stories. She knew the legends. But looking at them in the prime of the con and the prime of their lives—seeing them together—was one of the strangest feelings that Kat had ever known.

She thought about Uncle Eddie and wanted to know what his plan had been, how the greatest thief she’d ever known had tried to steal the stone she’d chased halfway around the world. But more important, Kat wanted to know where it had all gone wrong.

She wondered what Uncle Eddie would tell the young men in that photo if he could go back in time and send them a message. Then she realized that maybe it was the same warning he’d been trying to give her.

“Maybe it was a coincidence—Maggie’s being in that picture,” Hale said. Kat looked at him. “Okay. So maybe coincidence isn’t the right word. But it was a big party—there were lots of people there.”

“No.” Kat shook her head and watched the boat pull into the dock. “She was part of it.”

“How do you know?”

Because theirs wasn’t a world of coincidence.…Because Maggie had been chasing that stone for years.…“Because I know her,” Kat said finally. She couldn’t look at him. “I know her, Hale. I think…I think I am her.”

“No.” Hale climbed from the boat and reached down, picked her up and onto the dock in one easy motion, held her tight. “You aren’t.”

CHAPTER 28

To say Monaco is small would be something of an understatement. With just over thirty thousand people, it is roughly the size of New York’s Central Park. Its resources are few and the opportunities for self-survival are limited, and yet somehow that rocky coast has become one of the wealthiest pieces of land on earth. So Kat walked along the cobblestone streets, Hale at her side, telling herself that anything was possible.

Well…almost anything.

“So here we are.…” he said, pointing across the meticulously maintained gardens and fountains to the building that stood at the very heart of Monte Carlo.

“The Casino de Monte-Carlo,” Kat said flatly. “You expect us to rob a casino.”

“Rob at a casino,” Hale hastened to add. “There’s a difference. Besides”—he pointed to a banner in the distance, telling all the world that the Antony was on its way—“this is the last stop on the emerald’s itinerary before Maggie auctions it off at the palace Friday morning.” He offered his arm. “So what do you say? You ready to case a casino?”

Kat looked at Hale, and at last her stomach didn’t sway. She finally felt steady on her feet when she took his arm. “I’m ready to get the Cleopatra back.”

Even though Kat had only known Hale for a little more than two years, she had seen him in a lot of situations. There was a long weekend in Brazil during Carnival. She had a very vivid recollection of a job involving ducks, helium, and a steamship on its way to Singapore. It had occurred to her somewhere along the way that she had never—not once—seen him look out of place, but as they strolled onto the main casino floor, there in the heart of Monte Carlo, Kat couldn’t help but think that she’d never seen him truly at home, either.

Then she watched the way he pulled a leather wallet from the inside pocket of his perfectly tailored tuxedo jacket and told the elderly gentleman working behind the bars at the window, “Change five hundred, please.”

The gesture was so easy, the voice so confident, that the man in the booth never even asked to see an ID, and Kat knew that this was as close to home as W. W. Hale the Fifth might ever come.

“What?” he asked, right before Kat realized she was staring. He gave her a wide-mouthed grin. “Do I have something in my teeth?”

“Yes.” She smirked. “I think the canary left some feathers in there after you ate it.”

The attendant slid a golden ticket through the slot in the cage, and Hale placed it into his coat pocket, patting the place over his heart for extra measure.

“Come on.” Hale took her hand. “I feel lucky.”

That might have been a good time to remind him about the curse. It might have been an equally appropriate time to point out that blackjack was a game of probability, and roulette belonged to fools—all the little things that she had learned at her father’s knee and Uncle Eddie’s kitchen table.

So, no, luck had nothing to do with anything, as far as Kat was concerned, but right then did not seem like the proper time to say so, because Hale put her right hand in his own and placed his left gently at her waist, guiding her through the tall doors and the crowd. Kat couldn’t help but think that it was almost like a homecoming dance. Or maybe a prom. For one brief moment, she allowed herself to feel like a normal girl, all dressed up and on the town with the boy of her dreams. But then they stopped at an ornate railing and looked across the casino floor. It stretched out beneath them, roulette wheels spinning. Cards flipping. Tuxedoed men and elegant women almost as far as the eye could see. And Kat knew that nothing about her life was ever going to be normal.

“So this is where the ball will be.…” Kat said.

“Our last shot before the auction,” Hale went on. He leaned onto the rail and turned to look at her. “So how’s it look?”

Kat wanted to say beautiful. Most would have said glamorous. It was easy to imagine the room full of big bidders and music and food and, of course, the most valuable emerald that the world had ever known, so Kat just shook her head and said, “Hard.”

Hale looked at her. “You know, I’ve always loved a good party.”

Kat let her gaze drift across the room and knew that a sane person would have experienced a small bit of panic when she counted the guards (28 on the main floor, 56 in total). Uncle Eddie, by all rights, could have disinherited her for not walking away as soon as she counted the steps from the emerald’s likely position to the nearest exit (212).

There were too many thoughts inside her head in that moment—too many theories and strategies and plans. Kat closed her eyes and cleared her mind. What would Visily Romani do? she wondered for a split second, then shook her head and asked the question that had been plaguing her for hours: What did Uncle Eddie do? And Charlie? And Maggie?

Maggie…

“Well, of course they’re giving me a line of credit!” a big brassy voice yelled from down below. “A great big green one!” Maggie finished, and the crowd that surrounded her erupted into laughter. But, to Kat, nothing was funny anymore.