Uncommon Criminals (Page 30)
“Get this one too, Pierre. I’ve been in enough bar brawls in my life to know one’s a quick way to ruin a party.”
She picked up her skirts and turned, but not before Hale could call, “It’s good to see you too…Margaret.”
Hale leaned against a poker table and studied LaFont, who shouted, “What are you talking about?” He sounded like a man on the verge of a very hard fall. “Monsieur Knightsbury, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Maggie stopped and turned. The bravado was gone, replaced by icy steel when Maggie said, “Pierre, show him the door. Now.”
Luck is a strange thing in the life of any thief and halfway decent con man. What is it that keeps the mark from counting the till or the guards from looking up at precisely the wrong moment? Kat had learned at a very young age that luck is for the amateur, the lazy—those who are unprepared and unskilled. And yet she also knew that luck, like most things, cannot be truly missed until it is also truly gone.
Or so it certainly seemed as Kat watched Nick walk toward her, a guard two steps behind. His clothes were a mess and his face was bleeding. Cursed didn’t even begin to describe his appearance when he leaned close to Kat’s ear, held her hand in his for one brief second, and whispered, “We’re done.”
And then Kat was alone in the center of the ballroom, watching Nick disappear. When she turned, she saw Hale at LaFont’s side, bloody and shamed. The Bagshaws had disappeared in the crowd like smoke. Simon’s voice was all that remained.
“What’s happening?” she heard him say. “There’s chatter on the security channels saying they’re looking for someone. They’re looking for—”
“Monsieur Kelly!” one of the guards called. Kat saw them point toward the Cleopatra’s owner and the elegant young woman standing at his side. “Monsieur Kelly!” the man called again.
Kat watched Gabrielle twirl, spinning on the stairs, and—in a flash—it happened. Her high heel seemed to catch in the hem of her long gown, and she faltered, tumbling toward the railing, while Oliver Kelly the Third, stood helpless, watching the most beautiful girl in the room fall over the edge.
Gabrielle yelled, and the crowd gasped, watching her grab for one of the spotlights that was trained on the cases below. The light swirled around the room as she tried to steady herself, but it was too late, and gravity was too strong, and the spotlight broke free beneath her grasp.
The cry that followed was deeper and sharper than the one that had filled the room only seconds before. The girl dropped at least a foot and then reached for a cable that ran between the lights. It was too loose, someone later noted. A workman must have been slacking on the job, but it seemed like the most fortunate mistake in the world as the girl clung to it. But just then the cable snapped at one end, and suddenly the girl was swinging across the floor, like Tarzan’s Jane clinging to a vine.
Her gown was long and pink, and it swayed like a ribbon as she yelled and clung to the cable for dear life.
“Help her!” Oliver Kelly screamed.
The people nearest the rail were in the best position to see the Bagshaws rush toward her. One tried reaching for her, knocking the green bunting free of the rail, sending it trailing over the bank of surveillance cameras below, but it was too late.
“Ah!” she screamed again. The cable jerked, unsteady under her weight. The lights flickered. Once. Twice. Sparks flew, and then the entire ballroom was shrouded in black.
“You there!” someone called to the pair of guards stationed by the stones. “Help us!” the man yelled as, up above, the young woman’s hands slipped and she kicked as if trying to gain her footing in midair. One of her high heels slipped from her delicate foot. It tumbled end over end and then landed on the pressure-sensitive rotating platform behind the velvet ropes, causing the sirens to scream, piercing the air.
The girl’s grip slackened once again, and it seemed as if the entire room was holding its breath. Or maybe, Kat thought, it was just her when she heard Simon’s voice say, “Kat, the cameras are blocked. You’re clear. You’re clear now.”
At some point along the way, Kat must have lost the feeling in her fingers. She unclenched her hands and looked down at the key that Nick had passed her in that split second before the chaos began. The impression was still on her palm, and she knew it was now or never.
She didn’t dare look up. She didn’t run, and she didn’t walk. She just moved as only a thief can move. It was as if the wind had blown her to the other side of the ropes, and she stood shrouded in the darkness, listening to the sirens and the shouts of two hundred people who stood watching, waiting for a girl to fall.
Kat willed her hand not to tremble. She called upon every ounce of cool in her veins as she knelt beside the case and gripped the key.
“She’s slipping! Catch her!” someone yelled.
But Kat didn’t dare glance away from the cases. She looked from the Antony to the Cleopatra and back again, studying the signs that were, to the nak*d eye, the only indication that the stones were not simply mirror images of each other. Then, with the key in her hand and the platform still spinning, Kat took a deep breath and reached for them.
“I don’t think so!” a voice cried a moment later, and Kat felt someone catch her wrist, jerk her from the platform and onto the hardwood floor.
Her knees ached, and her head spun with the sound of the pulsing sirens; but nothing compared to the rage she felt when Maggie leaned down and whispered, “I invented the Cinderella, little girl.”
Maggie sounded like a young woman. She seemed impossibly strong as she pulled Kat to her feet and wrenched the key from her hand. She appeared almost insulted when she snapped, “Did you honestly think this would work? Did you honestly think you could take my emerald and carry it out the front door?”
It was an excellent question, Kat couldn’t help but think, as she stood, almost trembling, staring at the figure in the shadows behind Maggie. She studied the posture, felt the presence; and even before the deep voice said, “Hello, Katarina,” she knew Charlie, the forger—her Uncle Charlie, the exit strategy—was a long, long way from Monte Carlo.
“Hello, Uncle Eddie.” There was no panic in her voice. The sadness, unfortunately, was a far harder thing to hide. “What brings you to town?”
Her uncle stepped closer, and she watched him smile, his eyes filled with shame and disappointment, and Kat knew she hadn’t just been caught. She’d been conned. Again.
“My brother, Charles, was kind enough to tell me that you came to see him. He’s sorry he could not come to Monaco himself, but he doesn’t get out as much as he once did. It seemed only fitting that I should…fill in.”
Kat wasn’t sure what she should feel in that moment. Shock or anger, exhaustion or betrayal? So instead she just looked at Uncle Eddie.
“It was you. There was a moment on the boat when I thought…” She trailed off, realizing that the curse had finally caught up to her, but it was just as well. She was far too tired of running. Her voice was soft, defeated, as she whispered, “It was always you.”
In hindsight, Kat realized, she should have felt a degree of panic, maybe a surge of anger or shame. And perhaps she would have if the emergency floodlights hadn’t flickered to life.
“The emeralds!” someone yelled, and Kat felt the room’s attention shift. She knew what it must look like—the sight of a shorter-than-average girl and the infamous Maggie standing so close to the cases, sirens sounding all around them.
A catastrophe was one thing, the hushed room seemed to say. A scandal quite another.
“Madame Maggie!” LaFont yelled, running through the room, right past where Hamish and Angus were helping a very pale Gabrielle down a ladder.
“Madame, are you all right?” LaFont looked from Maggie then to the Antony. “What is the meaning of this?” he snapped at Kat. “No one is supposed to be so close to the emeralds!” He yelled something in French to the guards, who reclaimed their positions.
“Mademoiselle, what do you have to say for yourself?” LaFont hissed at Kat, the words carrying through the crowd of people, all of whom seemed to be wondering the same thing.
“Yes, Aunt Maggie…” Kat looked up at the older woman. Her smile was a challenge, a dare. “What do I have to say?”
Kat could feel the crowd staring, their collective hearts pounding. Someone turned the sirens off, and a single spotlight came to life. Kat stood in its glare, feeling something that no thief is ever supposed to feel.
But fortunately, she wasn’t standing there alone.
“My niece was…” Maggie started slowly. “She was…”
Kat picked up the satin pump that lay on the platform, held it close to her chest, and told LaFont, “That girl is going to be needing her shoe.”
It did not happen often that Katarina Bishop felt small. Petite she could not deny. Short was a scientific fact. But there were no mirrors in Uncle Eddie’s kitchen, no gauge, no scale, no way to see all the ways that she, the shortest, lightest, youngest member of the family, had never really fit the physical mold.
But standing beside Maggie in the private elevator twenty minutes later, zooming to the presidential suite, Kat felt tiny, minuscule. As insignificant as dust.
When the doors slid open and she heard Uncle Eddie say, “Welcome back, Katarina,” it felt like the wind, blowing what was left of her away.
Kat didn’t want to step inside, but she had to. She would have traded anything—stolen anything—to have found a way out, but they were forty stories high and the elevator was closing, and even curseless, Kat knew that was a long, long way to climb.
“What?” Kat looked around. “No tower to lock me up in?”
Maggie laughed. “I think this will do.”
Two large men in dark suits flanked the elevator doors. Another stood on the opposite side of the room. But there was only one man in the suite who really mattered.
There, in the well-lit room, Kat looked at him closely. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for a while,” she told him.
He smiled in a way that was completely different from his brother. There was nothing of Charlie in his eyes when he said, “I know.”
“You know what she did, don’t you?” Kat asked.
Eddie didn’t answer, but the quick glance he gave Maggie spoke volumes.
Kat gave a joyless laugh. “I mean, here I thought that the Chelovek Pseudonimas were only supposed to be used in special circumstances—I thought they were sacred. She used a Pseudonima for fun and profit, Uncle Eddie,” Kat shouted. “But maybe you don’t care about that.…Maybe there are exceptions for old girlfriends.”
“Katarina.” The word was a hiss—a warning.
Maggie turned to the guards and commanded, “Outside.” Together, the goons made their way toward the doors. “But don’t go far,” Maggie added, as if Kat were dangerous. And in that moment, Kat had to laugh. Because in that moment, she was.