Uncommon Criminals (Page 28)

Kat stood by Hale’s side, staring down at the two-lane highway that curved like a snake, winding through the cliffs and tunnels into the heart of the city with its ancient buildings and flashy cars. Boutiques, hotels, and of course, a casino.

And more security than even Katarina Bishop had ever seen.

“So the Cleopatra is really coming,” she said.

“The Cleopatra is really coming,” he agreed.

That the real Cleopatra was already there, locked safely away in a vault beneath the most secure bank on the Riviera was a detail that none of them had to mention.

All that really mattered was that Marc Antony was dead and Cleopatra was gone, and the world’s elite were on their way to Monaco to spend one night dancing and drinking in the presence of the stones that, if the legends were to be believed, had doomed them both.

In an unprecedented move, the Casino de Monte-Carlo was closed to the public on that day. Kat watched it all through her favorite binoculars as she stood at the top of the ridge. The florists arrived with their flowers. The deliveries of fruit and pastries and meat began promptly at ten. The harbor, always busy in winter, was at full capacity—white dots bobbing on the waves, stretching far out into the deep blue sea. The world’s eyes, it seemed, were turned to Monte Carlo. Kat’s gaze, however, stayed locked on the casino’s doors.

“What changes do they have in store, Simon?”

Marcus had spread a blanket on the grass beneath a tree and served a cold lunch of bread and cheese.

Hale eyed the curvy road. “Maybe I’ll come race in the Grand Prix next year.…You know I’m an excellent driver.”

“By ‘you,’ you mean Marcus, right?” Gabrielle asked.

Hale smirked. “Of course.”

“Simon!” Kat yelled this time, and the boy sat upright on the blanket and pulled the headphones off his ears.

“What?” he said, his mouth full of baguette and brie.

“What have they changed?” Hale asked for her.

“Oh.” Simon chewed and swallowed. “Kelly is bringing his own guards for his emerald, so…double what we had down for that.”

Kat nodded. “Okay.”

“And he’s asked for thermal-imaging cameras to be trained on the cases.”

Hale cut his eyes at Kat, who waved the worry away.

“What about the platform?” she asked.

“You mean the platform with the pressure-sensitive floor sensors that will surround the bulletproof and heavily guarded cases for five feet in any direction?” Hamish asked.

Kat looked at him. “Yes, that floor. Does it still rotate?”

“Yes.” Simon shrugged. “I guess that was good enough for Kelly. From what LaFont’s been saying all day, there’s no change to the floor or the platform itself, just…”

“Doubling everything,” Hale finished for him.

“Uh-huh.” Simon swallowed hard again, this time for an entirely different reason. “Cases, cameras, guards…this thing just got…bigger.”

Kat raised the binoculars to her eyes. When security officers began to roll two massive cases toward the service entrance, Kat knew exactly what she was seeing: four inches of shatterproof, bulletproof, drill-proof glass with a lock made from pure titanium by the best master craftsmen in Switzerland (and everyone knows that when it comes to locks, nobody beats the Swiss).

Kat had known those facts for days, of course, but seeing and knowing can be two very different things, so that’s why she stared down at the scene below as if the reality might be in some way different, as if the picture in 3-D and moving color might show some hole, some contrast, some gap that might go unnoticed on blueprints made of paper in black-andwhite.

“Kelly is bringing the emerald personally?” Kat asked, with a worried look at Hale.

“Oh yeah,” Simon answered. “And LaFont doesn’t sound too happy about that.”

“I bet he doesn’t,” Gabrielle said. “I hate that Kelly guy. I’d love to see him get his.”

“One job at a time, Gabs,” Hale told her. “One job at a time.” When they turned to walk away, Hale reached out for Kat and caught her arm. “You sure about this?” he asked.

“If it works, it works,” Kat told him.

“And if it doesn’t?” he asked.

She looked at him. “If it doesn’t, then I’ve heard Monaco has the nicest prisons in all of Europe.”

“It does,” both Hamish and Angus said in unison.

And with that, it was decided.

CHAPTER 34

For having such an impractical profession, Pierre LaFont had always been a very practical man. Protocols were meant to be followed, he always said. Rules were meant to be adhered to, and guidelines were not suggestions. So that was why the guards at the doors had such strict orders that no one was to enter without an invitation. It was why he was so incredibly annoyed when the young woman in charge of entertainment told him that the spotlights would be at sixty-degree angles instead of seventy, that the violinist had called in sick and her role would be filled by a viola player instead.

As he examined the casino floor twenty minutes before the ball was to begin, everything looked perfect. But the devil was in the details, LaFont had always said. And on that night—that night, the devil…was Maggie.

“The ropes should be at least two feet farther from the platform,” she said, surveying the scene.

“I want that flag taken down,” she’d told one guard, for no apparent reason. “Yes, that flag! The one there by that camera.”

But her most unusual demand was reserved for Monsieur LaFont himself. “Promise me, Pierre,” she’d told him. “Promise me, no kids.”

“I can assure you, madam, that this is not an event for children.”

“I mean it, Pierre. You or your people see a kid—any kid—they also see the door.” Her voice stayed loud and brash, but there was something else about her right then, and it occurred to him that her big Texas bravado might be a bit of a fake. But fakes are part of the territory, LaFont told himself. All he needed to remember was that the Antony—and its commission—were very, very real.

So he moved the flag and reset the ropes and took his place at the top of the stairs, looking down at the party of the century, certain Maggie was right about one thing: this was not the place for children.

Of all the parties that had taken place in Monte Carlo in the last century, that particular ball was destined from the beginning to become a thing of legend. Never before had the casino been closed for such an event. Even for Monaco, the guest list was elite and grand and famous.

But the most impressive thing about that very impressive building was actually in the center of the floor. A small platform sat, rotating. There were glass cases on pedestals, and as the platform spun, the cases caught the light, sending it spinning slowly around the room.

Red velvet ropes surrounded it, keeping the people at bay, and yet they flocked toward the little stage and the empty cases. For two thousand years, people had looked for the Antony Emerald. And on that night, the world’s elite were willing to pay a small fortune just to see the air where it might sit.

Well, almost all of the elite.

“I’m sorry, young lady, but your name is not on the list.”

“He knows me!” Kat yelled, and pointed through the crowd, toward LaFont, who had tried (and failed) to turn away in time. “Pierre!” she yelled. “Oh, Monsieur LaFont!”

“What is the problem here?” LaFont looked and sounded like a man who had far more important things to do, and the young attendant knew it.

“She has no credentials,” the attendant snapped, as if it were all Kat’s fault.

“Pierre,” Kat pleaded. “It’s me !” Her whisper echoed through the crowd.

“Yes, yes,” Pierre hissed, quieting her.

“Pierre, I need to see my aunt Maggie.” Kat grasped the shopping bag in her hands. “She sent me out to get her stuff, and she needs it.”

“Yes, I hear you,” the man said. “But your aunt has very strict guidelines about who shall be admitted this evening.”

“Oh, Pierre!” Kat laughed and slapped his arm. “You’re a hoot. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“No, miss. You are, quite honestly, the first.”

His gaze swept around the entry hall.

“Pierre!” Kat hissed again. She tried to wriggle free, but the guards blocked her path again. “Have you ever seen Maggie without her eyeliner? No, you haven’t.” She waved a small cosmetics case in his direction. “And I’m here to make sure you never will.”

“Sir,” the guard said, struggling to hold on to Kat’s wriggling arm. “Sir, I—”

“Let her in,” Pierre said, jerking his head toward the very short, very annoying American. “Go,” he snapped at Kat.

When LaFont turned back to the party, it truly seemed to be the perfect night. Well…he forced a smile, raised his hand and shouted through the crowd, “Mr. Kelly, so good to see you.”

Almost perfect.

When Oliver Kelly the Third took his rival’s hand, it was almost as an afterthought. He looked over the room, the food, and finally, the empty cases. “I supposed everything is in order?”

“Oh, certainly. The only thing we need is for you to add your stone to the auction block tomorrow.” LaFont gave a nervous laugh.

“No,” Kelly said coolly. “That will not be happening.”

“Of course,” LaFont said with a smile. “We’re so happy that you and the Cleopatra could join us for the evening. I know Madame Maggie was most enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing the stones united at last.”

Kelly eyed him as if he were an inferior businessman who had gotten lucky. Once. “Indeed.”

“Excuse me, Monsieur LaFont,” a deep voice said, and only then did he notice that Oliver Kelly had not come to the party alone. “We meet again,” said the young man he’d met in the hotel lobby—the one who had complimented his car. “My name is Colin Knightsbury.” He gestured to the gorgeous young woman beside him. “This is Ms. Melanie McDonald. We insure the Cleopatra.”

“Bonjour,” LaFont said, reaching for Hale’s hand. “We are so pleased that you and the mademoiselle can—”

“Sorry, LaFont,” Oliver Kelly said, cutting in. “I’ll see you later.”

He was already turning, walking away, when the young woman called, “Wait!” She draped her arm through Oliver Kelly’s. “If you don’t mind, I’ll walk with you.”

Kelly smiled. “I don’t mind at all.”

Kat saw it all from her place in the center of the casino floor—the way Gabrielle stayed close to Kelly’s side, the ease with which Hale spoke to LaFont. So far, so good, she had to think. She reminded herself it was a simple plan—basic and plain, but not foolproof. Nothing, after all, was ever guaranteed.

And yet, walking through the crowds, Kat expected to feel the rush her cousin had spoken of—the high—but she didn’t, and that in itself was a source of some concern. She looked at her fingers, but they didn’t shake. She placed a hand on her stomach, but there was no telltale flutter of nerves. All in all, she felt…normal. Across the room she saw Hale break away from LaFont and make a beeline in her direction.