Uncommon Criminals (Page 27)

That was the question, really, and the whole crew sat waiting while the older man turned and stared into the distance. He looked like he was wondering what was out there and how much of a head start he might have.

“Charlie?” Gabrielle asked, and his head snapped back. “How does it sound?”

“Fine.” He rubbed his hands on the tops of his thighs, warming them. “Fine. Fine. It’s been a while, that’s all.”

“You’ll do great,” Hale said in the easy confident way that all great inside men are born with.

Charlie must have heard it too, because he raised his eyebrows and said, “Don’t con a conner.”

Hale laughed. “Point taken.” His voice was kind and soft and patient. “You’re not going to have much time to do your job. But that’s not a problem for you. You can do it. And when you do your job…”

“We can do our job and still get out of there alive,” Gabrielle finished.

“You look just like…”

“Hamish!” Kat warned, stopping him just before he poked the old man in the side as if to see if he were real. “Perhaps we should give Uncle Charlie some space,” she warned, watching the way her uncle leaned closer to the rail, preferring the company of the sea and a hundred miles of empty water.

The Bagshaws nodded slowly. “Sorry. It’s just…it’s an honor to finally meet you,” Angus said.

“Yeah,” Simon agreed.

Kat knew why they were staring. It was hard not to, to tell the truth. Charlie was part legend, part ghost, and sitting there in the warm sunshine with his hair trimmed and his face freshly shaved, he seemed a long, long way from his cold mountain.

No, Kat thought. He seemed like Uncle Eddie.

“You got the varnish off,” Kat said.

“What?” he asked, jerking his head as if, for a second, he’d mentally escaped back to the safety of his cabin.

“Your hands—you got them clean.” Kat reached to hold one, but Charlie pulled back, placed the hand in his pocket, and hissed, “I hope you kids know what you’re doing.”

“Don’t worry, Charlie my boy.” Hamish gave an uncomfortable pat on the old man’s back. “Perhaps you haven’t heard, but a few months back ol’ Kitty here put together a crew that—”

“This is no painting!” the man snapped, and pointed to the distant shore. “And that is no museum!” The eyes were so dark and the words so sharp, that for a second, Kat could have sworn she was looking at Uncle Eddie. Then the hands began to shake. The voice cracked. “And she is no mark.”

“I know,” Kat said, but her uncle talked on.

“The Cleopatra Emerald is—”

“Cursed—we know,” Gabrielle said, touching the bruise on her shin.

“No.” Her uncle shook his head. “It’s not cursed. It just makes people stupid.”

That was it, Kat realized. All the guilt and the shame boiled down to that. She’d been stupid. And that was something someone in her line of business could never afford to be.

“Forgive me, Katarina.” Charlie rubbed a hand over his face, as if feeling for the beard—the man—he’d left behind in the snow. “It’s just harder than I thought to watch history repeat itself.”

“It won’t be like last time, Charlie,” Hale told him. “Maggie or Margaret or whatever her name is…we’re out ahead of her this time.”

“No one’s ever been ahead of her,” he said to the sea.

“I know,” Kat told him. “But with your help, we will be. Now that we have you, we can—”

Charlie rose, cutting her off. “Don’t let two men fall in love with you, girls. It’s not the sort of thing that ends well.”

He walked toward Marcus and the small boat and the shore. And all Kat could do was sit there, her faith and hopes riding on his shoulders, and let him go.

Even after Charlie was gone, the ghost of the man still walked among them. A shadow on the floor. The wind across the deck. Night came and carried with it the promise of a new day, but no one slept. Kat walked through the halls but stopped short when she saw the play of light across the threshold of a partially cracked door. She crept toward it, peered inside at Nick, who sat straddling a cane chair, holding a deck of cards.

She knew the routine, had done it herself a million times, and still she stayed quiet, watching as he pulled the queen of spades from the deck with his right hand, held it tenderly on his palm, and tapped it once with his left. The card was there, the gesture said. His hands flashed, a blur. The card was gone.

“You ready?”

To his credit, Nick didn’t jump at the sound of her voice. “I will be.” He looked up at her, then, as if from nowhere, he flashed the card again. “You?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Kat still didn’t like the water, but the solitude of the sea was something she could get used to. She stepped onto the deck, felt it when Nick followed, and savored the sound of nothingness that surrounded them. The yacht drifted, motor silent. The crew was sound asleep. Even the waves seemed to be taking the night off, resting. Saving up their strength for the long day that lay ahead.

“So are you going to tell me how it happened?” Nick asked. “Exactly how did Katarina Bishop get conned into stealing the Cleopatra Emerald?”

“That depends,” Kat answered. “Are you going to tell me why you really followed me here?”

He smiled. “You first.”

Kat took a deep breath and looked up at the moon. It seemed bigger than it should have, closer. It was the kind of night where anything was almost possible, so she drew a deep breath and said, “Maggie or Constance or Margaret—whatever her name is—she said Romani sent her. She said it was rightfully hers and—”

“You believed her,” Nick said, filling in the rest. He gave a long sigh. “You don’t have to right all the wrongs of the world yourself, you know. I can put you in touch with people who do that for a living.…”

“Somehow I don’t think Interpol would be fooled by my fake ID.” Kat thought about her trip to the Paris field office last fall, then added, “Again.”

“You don’t have to do this, Kat.”

“I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”

“He’s right.”

“I didn’t say who had said it,” she countered.

“You didn’t exactly have to.” He looked out at the water. “You two are good together.”

“We’re not together,” Kat said automatically.

“Sure you are. You just don’t know it yet.” He leaned against the rail. “And I’m just the guy who could really use a friend. So you can tell me—Why did you do it?”

She looked at him, his face lit only by the moon, and Kat realized she couldn’t lie, couldn’t con. It felt good somehow to finally say, “Because I could.”

When Nick eased away, his hands moved again with a steady, even purpose, flipping through the cards, his fingers like the lightning that flickered in the distance, striking at some foreign shore.

“Your turn,” she told him. “I thought you wanted to be one of the good guys.”

His fingers stopped; the cards stayed still. “Yeah, well, being an accessory to the art heist of the century has a tendency to change that—even if your mom can keep you from being formally charged with anything.”

“So the move to headquarters…” Kat started.

“Not exactly a promotion,” he told her. “Now she’s stuck there until she can get a big catch and jump-start her career again. And I’m stuck being Disappointing Child of the Year until…well…who knows how long.” He tapped the deck, splayed the cards out and back again. “So I came here. I figured that if I’m going to get the blame, I might as well get to have some of the fun.”

“It’s not fun,” Kat told him.

He looked around at the yacht and the stars. “Yeah. Obviously, this is torture.”

“No, Nick. It’s dangerous and crazy and people get hurt. I get people hurt.”

“You’ve changed, Kat,” Nick told her, and Kat started to protest, but knew, somehow, to save her breath. Nick eased onto one of the lounge chairs, his eyes still staring at the cards. “I knew it the second I saw you in Lyon, running through the basement like—”

“You saw him in Lyon?”

Kat wanted to think the lightning had come—that the storm was closer—but it wasn’t the rumble of thunder. She knew that even before she turned and saw Hale framed in the light of the door.

“Answer me, Kat. Did you see him in Lyon?”

“Yes. For just a second. It was—”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Hale moved toward her, and she was glad for the dark.

“Everything was happening so fast and…it was just for a second!”

There was an anger in Hale’s eyes, but something more than that. A hurt that went deeper than Kat had ever seen. “You should have told me.”

Nick laughed. “I don’t think she reports to you.”

“You really don’t get it, new guy.” Hale shook his head and stepped away. “She doesn’t report to anyone.”

When Hale turned and started for the opposite side of the deck, Kat was the only one who followed.

“I kissed you!”

Kat hadn’t meant to yell it, but she wasn’t exactly sorry she did. The words had been there, throbbing like a pulse for weeks. She felt lighter without them—one more thing she didn’t have to carry.

“In New York—in the limo—I kissed you.”

Hale stopped. “I remember.”

“I kissed you, and you left. So either I am not someone you want to be kissing…”

“No.” He shook his head slowly. “That’s not it.”

“Or I am a really bad kisser.” Kat couldn’t stop herself from going through the reasons—through the options—like it was just another con and she could master it if only her mind would stop spinning.

“Kat—” He reached for her, but her reflexes were too strong.

She pulled away and looked at him. “I kissed you and you left.”

When Kat heard the pounding, she thought it was the beating of her heart. It was too loud, she thought. Hale was going to hear it; he was going to see it; and he was going to know how much power he had to hurt her.

“Hale,” she started, but the noise was louder then, echoing from inside. “Hale, I—”

“They’re coming.” Simon held to the door frame and virtually swung himself out onto the deck. “Kelly!” His breath came in short ragged spurts. “I was listening to LaFont’s calls tonight. He talked to New York—to Kelly.” He took a deep breath. “And now the Cleopatra…it’s coming to the ball!”

CHAPTER 33

There are many things a halfway decent thief must be able to do. The picking of locks is essential. The ability to stay cool in any situation is a must. But sometimes, the most important thing a thief can do…is watch. And wait.