Uncommon Criminals (Page 31)
“She used the name Romani. Did you know that?” Kat would have given anything for her voice not to crack, her eyes not to water. But it was too late. There was no turning back the con.
She looked into her uncle’s eyes, watched him watching Maggie. And Kat saw it all in that look. Hurt. Pride. Love. Once upon a time, Uncle Eddie had been in love. Once upon a time, Uncle Eddie had been human. Of all the jobs he’d done and things he’d stolen, Maggie was the one that got away.
“Of course you knew,” Kat whispered. She couldn’t look at her uncle when she finished, “You know everything.”
She reached for the button, started to summon the elevator and simply walk away, but Maggie moved to block her path. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, gee, thanks for the hospitality, Mags, but I have places to be.” Kat looked at Uncle Eddie. “People to check on.”
“Your crew is fine,” Maggie said. “Pierre never even missed his keys. Foolish man. So do not fear, my dear, you will be perfectly safe here tonight.”
Kat laughed. “I’m not staying.” She looked at the windows, the locked doors, and found her small hands balling into fists. “Move.”
But Maggie simply laughed. It was a terrible, taunting, Isn’t she adorable sound.
“You’re right about her,” Maggie said with a glance at Uncle Eddie. “She is a strong one.” And then her gaze was back on Kat. “But I can’t allow you to leave.” She walked to the window, pulled back the curtains, and stared at the lights of the palace that shone on the distant hill.
“Tomorrow morning my emerald will be publicly authenticated and then sold to the highest bidder.” Maggie turned slowly. “Until then, Kat, my dear, please consider yourself my guest.”
* * *
Maybe they thought it was more appropriate—or kind—that Uncle Eddie was the one who walked her to the tiny bedroom and locked the door. Kat didn’t mention Charlie. She didn’t talk about betrayal. Neither of them said they were sorry. It was just the kind of thing that wouldn’t do any good to say, so instead, Eddie stopped in the doorway and looked at her.
“So you’re finished?” There was a knowing look in Uncle Eddie’s eye, a finality to the words, but also a question. A challenge. A dare.
Kat felt the blood rush to her pale cheeks as she said, “It’s done.”
As the sun rose over the small city-state of Monaco that Friday morning, it seemed to bring the gaze of the whole world with it. The streets and beaches were strewn with news trucks and foreign correspondents, reporters looking for a story. The headlines spoke of the ballroom and emeralds, of curses being broken and a beautiful young woman holding on to a cable for dear life.
But for all the stories being beamed around the world on that clear morning, not one mentioned a helicopter hovering near the windows of the presidential suite at Monaco’s ritziest hotel. There was no talk of teens rappelling down the side of the building. No holes had been blasted through its side or rescue missions mounted involving stolen maid uniforms, room service carts, and acetylene torches.
No, no one had tried to steal Kat Bishop. And when the sun came up, there was nothing more than a room service tray and clean change of clothes to show that anyone had remembered she was there at all.
It was just as well, Kat realized; she’d never considered herself the kind of girl who wanted to be rescued.
Or so she thought until the door to her small room opened and Maggie said, “Let’s go.”
For all the hours that Kat had spent trying to find a way inside the Prince’s Palace, there was one she’d never considered: be a hostage. She made a mental note not to rule that out in the future as she sat beside Maggie in the backseat of a Bentley, waiting for the guards to wave them through the gates that, three days before, the Bagshaws had been debating about the best way to blow up.
It had never occurred to her what else she might have to destroy to find a way inside.
“Where’s Uncle Eddie?”
“His work here is finished, Katarina. He has other obligations.”
Kat nodded and turned back to the window. “Paraguay,” she said with a sigh.
“I thought it was Uruguay,” Maggie said, then nodded as if it didn’t matter, because, in fact, it didn’t. “Before he left, your uncle gave me his word that this matter is over.”
“It is.” There was no lie in Kat’s voice when she said it. No angle. No con. “So how’s it feel to be so close to pulling it off? You’ve been chasing this for almost fifty years, Maggie. You’ve broken a lot of codes to get this far.” Kat looked at her squarely. “And hearts.”
“Oh, to be so young. So naive. If you haven’t noticed, darling, your uncle himself chose to help me. It was his idea to bring the Cleopatra, in fact—double the security, the notoriety. The risk.”
“Yeah. That was smart,” Kat agreed. “I think that’s exactly what I would have done.”
Maggie smiled. “Of course you would have, Katarina. You’re very good.”
“I am good,” Kat let herself agree. “But I’m not heartless.”
“Of course you are. Or you will be. Don’t worry about Charles and Edward, my dear. Your uncles and I know the truth”—she pulled on her gloves and stared through the window—“that love is the biggest con of all.”
Kat studied her across the backseat, sun streaming through the windows. Her skin was effervescent, glowing.
“I’m not you.”
Had Kat thought the words or had she said them? She wasn’t really sure, and didn’t really care. She would have been just as happy to shout it from the rooftops. “I won’t ever be like you.”
“Oh, really?” Maggie said.
“Yeah,” Kat said slowly, then turned to look out at the people who surrounded the walls. Some tourists. Some protestors carrying signs about artifacts and raiders and returning to Egypt the emeralds it had borne.
“I will never be heartless or greedy or…I’m not you,” Kat said again, the realization shining on her like the sun.
“Oh.” Maggie almost laughed. “And how are we so different?”
A thousand reasons flooded Kat’s mind, but there was only one that really mattered.
“Because I’m not in this alone.”
When the car eased forward, the crowd seemed to part, and Kat’s eyes found their focus on a single boy in a perfectly tailored suit, a long dark overcoat, and a felt hat she’d once seen in Uncle Eddie’s closet.
The gates swung smoothly open, royal guards waving them through, so Kat climbed onto her knees and watched Hale disappear through the back glass. She saw him smile, watched him tip his hat.
But the wink…it was the wink that said, We’re on.
Katarina Bishop was not the first thief to ever see behind the walls at the Prince’s Palace. She looked at Maggie and reminded herself that she wasn’t the only thief behind them then.
The sounds of their footsteps echoed on the marble floor in the empty corridor. Maggie’s high heels sounded like gunfire, and Kat knew Maggie was done hiding, was finished lurking in dark shadows. This was the big job, the last job. Her face would be too well known for a long time after this. The story too infamous. If all went according to plan, Maggie would be leaving the Riviera in a few hours with a cashier’s check and the title of Greatest Living Con.
But she would never be Visily Romani.
So Kat focused on the footsteps. She could feel herself counting from the door.
Twenty-seven paces. Air shaft.
Thirteen steps, double doors.
Pass another corridor.
Through another door.
Windows to the cliffs.
The blueprints were taking shape in her mind. She remembered everything until she heard the whirling sound of the elevator and Maggie snapping, “Katarina!” The woman grabbed her arm and pulled her through an open door. “Come,” was the order.
Kat had spent days wondering where the nerve center of palace security must be, and when she finally stepped into the room, she found it. Monitors covered three walls. There were live shots from all over the buildings and grounds. One screen flashed with crowd scenes, and Kat found herself looking for Hale’s dark coat and the telltale hat, but he was gone without a trace to show he’d been there at all.
“Madame Maggie, welcome,” LaFont said, rushing forward. “It is a fine day indeed, and—”
“Is this all of it?” Maggie snapped, looking around the room as if she had expected more.
Kat laughed; Maggie glared.
“That’s a Remington 760 security nerve center with the artificial intelligence chip and backup encryption. It’s what they use at Buckingham Palace,” Kat explained, then remembered where she was and who she was supposed to be, so she giggled. “Or so I heard.”
“This has facial recognition software?” Maggie asked.
“Of course!” Kat and the security head said at the same time, both sounding more than a little indignant.
Maggie slipped an arm around Kat’s shoulders and gripped tightly. Kat mouthed the words I bruise, but the pressure didn’t subside until Maggie handed the security head a small drive and he inserted it into the machine. Six familiar faces began to flash across the screen.
“They’re…kids,” the security head said, but Maggie seemed immune to that particular objection.
“Distribute hard copies to your men,” she ordered. “If you see any of these people, bring them immediately to me.”
The security head looked at Pierre LaFont as if he must be missing something, and he was. Kat knew it as soon as the monitors flickered. She thought of the whirling sound of the elevator, the size and scope of the ventilation shafts. And finally, the look on Hale’s face and the wink.
“Madame,” LaFont said. “Madame, Monsieur Kelly is here.”
“Thank you, gentlemen,” Maggie told the officers who filled the room. She turned back to the door and the auction and her future. She gripped Kat’s arm a little tighter. “Thank you very much indeed.”
There is a sensation that comes in the midst of any job. Walking down the halls between Maggie and LaFont, Kat felt it—a pulse, a charge. Goose bumps covered her arms as if a storm were blowing in, like she’d dragged her feet, touched a doorknob, felt a spark.
“What is it?” Maggie asked, spinning on her. “Why are you smiling?”
“You don’t feel it?” Kat asked. She kept her pace beside Maggie. “You will.”
“What do you mean?”
But Maggie did not seem worried—not with Kat beside her and the guards at their backs.
Soon she was yelling, “Mr. Kelly!” her big booming voice breaking through the reverent silence of the hall.
Kat had seen the crowded foyer on the monitors, but the palace was large and like a maze, and she knew they were far away from the auction and the emerald—no one from Kat’s crew was going to hear the scream.