Uncommon Criminals (Page 26)

“But you just said…” Nick started.

“I’m sorry, Nick. But you’re the inside boy.” Gabrielle’s smile softened the blow. “I think what Kat’s saying is we need the inside man.” She turned back to her cousin. “Or at least I think that’s what she’s saying, since she hasn’t even told us her plan.”

“It’s not my plan, Gabrielle,” Kat said. “Or it isn’t anymore, since it won’t work with who we’ve got.”

Gabrielle crossed her arms. “Let us be the judge of that.”

Kat felt everyone looking at her, staring, really. She felt her options dwindling down to one: tell them everything.

“Simon,” she said, rolling up her sleeves, “we’re gonna need those casino blueprints.…”

CHAPTER 31

Kat didn’t mean to oversleep—she really didn’t. But neither did she set an alarm or give Marcus a time to wake her. She didn’t bother to open the shades so that the sun would streak across her bed, and even when Gabrielle left the next morning, Kat didn’t stir. When she heard the Bagshaws hitting golf balls into the sea, she didn’t shush them. All she managed to do was toss and turn, one thought lapping against her subconscious over and over like a wave.

You cannot con an honest man.

So how did Maggie con me?

“Get up!”

“Hale,” Kat said and rolled away. She heard him throw the curtains aside, saw bright light flooding the room. “I’m sleeping!” she yelled, and pulled the covers over her head.

“Get dressed.” He jerked the blankets off the bed. Kat felt her short hair stand on end from the static, but Hale made no jokes, no quips. He just scavenged the floor for clothes.

“Here,” he said, tossing an old sock and dirty T-shirt in her direction.

“Hale, I’m not—Ow!” she said, and rubbed the spot where a shoe ricocheted off her shoulder and hit her in the side of the head. But Hale hardly noticed because in the next second a leather miniskirt was flying toward her. “That’s Gabrielle’s,” she told him.

“I don’t care,” he said, and started for the door. “You’ve got ten minutes.”

“No, Hale. I can’t…think…anymore.” Without realizing it, Kat had risen to her knees. Beyond the windows, the Mediterranean stretched as far as the eye could see, but Kat felt trapped there. “I used to be able to see things. But now…I don’t know how to do this, Hale. I don’t. I can’t get anyone caught or hurt or…

“I don’t know how to do this,” she repeated slowly.

“You said we need an exit strategy, right?”

“Right,” she told him.

“So we’re gonna go find an exit strategy.” He stopped in the door. “Now you’ve got nine minutes.”

Katarina Bishop was not a girl who liked to gamble. So, walking into the casino that afternoon, Kat didn’t watch the tables. She didn’t turn to the slots. And yet Kat couldn’t shake the feeling that the odds were very long and the stakes were very high and that her luck almost certainly needed to hold.

She stood by the rail, looking out over the room that seemed entirely different in the light of day. Tourists had descended from cruise ships and now crowded around the tables in their flip-flops and floral shirts. Workmen scurried about with ladders and tool belts, setting the stage for the upcoming ball, all of them intent on turning the casino into a fortress.

Well, almost all of them.

“How’s it going, Simon?” Kat asked, looking across the casino floor to the one workman who wore fake glasses and an equally fake beard and seemed to care more about blackjack than the task at hand.

“This guy is splitting tens,” he said, and Kat wondered if he was really speaking to her at all. She doubted it.

“Simon!” Hale snapped, joining Kat at the rail. “I thought you didn’t count cards.”

“Counting isn’t playing,” he corrected, and went on about his business, leaving Kat to turn to the boy beside her.

“Hey,” she told him.

“Hey, yourself,” Hale said, gazing out over the massive room. “So, is the gang all here?”

“Hamish?” Kat spoke through her comms. “Angus? You ready?”

“Just waiting on the green light from Nicky, love,” came Angus’s reply.

“Nick?” Kat asked, but didn’t glance around the room.

“I’m at the hair salon,” Nick said. “Maggie just went in, so you’re clear, Kat. Oh, and Angus, don’t call me love. Or Nicky.”

“Gabrielle?” Kat asked, and turned her gaze across the room. She couldn’t see her cousin, but she heard her “Ready when you are” as clear as day. That left only one question.

“Are you sure we want to do this, Hale?”

He turned toward her slowly and winked. “Just try to stop us.”

“Okay.” Kat took a deep breath and looked out over the railing. The most famous and luxurious casino in the world lay before her, preparing for the party of the century, but all Kat could do was shrug. And laugh. And tell Hamish, “Let ’em fly.”

No one was certain how it happened. Later, people heard the rumor that five hundred white doves had gone missing from a wedding on the beach, but no one ever knew how the birds had made it out of their cages on the rocky shore and into one of the most exclusive casinos in the world.

The first thing anyone noticed was the noise, a rhythmic beating that might have gotten lost beneath the whirling of the roulette wheels and the yells of the tourists had it not grown—louder and louder, closer and closer. And when the first of the birds broke into the casino’s main floor, it was like the rushing of a flood.

There were cries and screams in a dozen languages. Women crawled under blackjack tables. Men lunged to protect their chips. Workmen appeared with brooms and mops as if to shoo the animals toward the doors, but birds—as any thief knows—always prefer to find their own way out.

The doves kept coming, filling the casino, landing among the cards and the chips and—above all—circling through the air, spiraling like smoke looking for the nearest exit.

Exits.

Chaos spread through the crowd, but Kat stood perfectly still, the scene in sharp focus like blueprints in her mind.

She saw the guards and the cameras, the skylights and heating ducts, service entrances and small crevices in the casino’s defenses, almost invisible to the nak*d eye—all while five hundred birds filled the air, looking for a way out, and Kat let them.

“Um…guys…” Nick sounded worried, but Kat wasn’t really in a position to reply.

“We’re kind of busy right now,” Gabrielle told him. At the center of the room, the banner announcing the Antony Ball was being dive-bombed by doves, and dangled, literally, by a thread.

“Well, you’re about to get busier because Maggie’s heading your way,” Nick shouted. “And she’s not alone. Looks like she’s added a new guy to her posse.”

Kat heard all this, of course, but the utilization of five hundred doves to pinpoint the cracks (literally and otherwise) in a casino’s defenses is not something that can be redone, so Kat kept her eyes on the room, unwavering. Unyielding. It was her focus that made her lethal—like a laser, Uncle Felix had often teased. It was that focus that made her stupid, Uncle Eddie had one time warned.

And, as with most things, Kat would eventually come to realize, Uncle Eddie was exactly right.

She heard Hale shout, “Who?”

“I don’t know,” Nick told him. “I’ve never seen him before. Well dressed. Walking stick. Kinda regal and…old.”

“Ha!” Despite the chaos, Kat heard Hamish laugh. “If I didn’t know any better, Nicky my boy, I’d swear you were describing—”

“Uncle Eddie,” Kat whispered. She stood stock-still at the top of the stairs, looking down at the small group of people that stood at the bottom, the only quiet in the chaos, looking up at her. “He’s here.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Pierre LaFont shouted at a casino employee, then turned to Maggie. “Madame, I give you my most sincere word that this will not impose upon the Antony Ball in any way.”

“Oh,” Maggie said slowly, still staring at the girl at the top of the stairs. “I hope not.”

Kat knew even without looking that Simon was shrouded in the shadows of a massive potted plant. Hale was somewhere deep inside the room. Gabrielle was gone. The Bagshaws were with her. And Nick had no reason to darken the casino’s doors, but none of that really mattered.

Maggie looked from the birds and the destruction and then back to Kat, and Kat knew that they were made—there was no place left to run. She started down the stairs, stepping over droppings and feathers. She didn’t look at her uncle, but instead kept her eyes trained on the woman by his side.

“Hello, Maggie.”

There was really nothing else for Maggie to do but turn to the man beside her and say, “Monsieur LaFont, surely you remember my niece?”

The art dealer nodded. “Of course.” He reached out to kiss her hand. “Mademoiselle, I am so sorry for this terrible…fiasco.”

“Freak accident, I guess,” Kat told him.

Maggie smiled. “Indeed.”

“And, darling…” Maggie turned to Kat as if there were another introduction to be made, but before she could say another word, Kat’s uncle placed his arm around Kat’s shoulders.

“Hello again, Katarina.” He squeezed tightly and turned her from the group. “We have so much to catch up on. Allow me to escort you home.”

* * *

Kat didn’t know how good the fresh air would feel until she breathed it. Outside, a cool wind was blowing off the Mediterranean. Doves perched in trees and left messes on the windshields of quarter-million-dollar cars, but none of that really mattered to Kat Bishop. She was too focused on the hand that gripped her waist, the stern voice that spoke low and in Russian, cussing timing and curses and fate.

“Eddie!”

When she heard the scream, she stopped and turned to see Simon and the Bagshaws bursting through the doors.

“It’s not her fault!” Angus cried.

“If you’re gonna blame her, blame us,” Hamish added.

But Kat…Kat kept looking at the man in front of her, seeing past his dark overcoat and trimmed goatee to his eyes and mouth and hands.

“You have to—”

“Boys,” Kat said, cutting Simon off. “I think it’s time you met our uncle Charlie.”

CHAPTER 32

That afternoon as the W. W. Hale floated somewhere off the coast of Monaco, there was a feeling on the deck, something that mingled with the sun and the sea air. Kat breathed deeply and looked out across the water. She scarcely dared to call it hope.

“And that’s the plan,” she heard Hale tell the man who sat across from her, silent and still. “So what do you think, Charlie? Does that sound like something you can do?”