Uncommon Criminals (Page 32)

“We have ten minutes, Madame,” LaFont said.

“Thank you, Pierre.” Maggie’s gaze was steely as she stood staring at the pristine man from New York. “So tell me, Mr. Kelly, what can I do for you?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I was under the impression that it was you who had asked to see me.”

“Not me, darlin’,” Maggie said, patting his arm. Despite everything, Kat had to admire the woman before her. The accent was spot-on, the word choice simply perfect.

Kelly, on the other hand, looked significantly less impressed. “I was told to meet you here ten minutes before the start of the auction.”

“I don’t know what to say, sweetie,” Maggie told him. “You must have me mistaken for some other about-to-be-filthierrich woman.” She gave a throaty laugh, but Kelly didn’t join in.

“Very well,” he said. “I suppose I will wish you luck.”

He was turning to leave when LaFont called, “Madame, His Royal Highness has asked for a moment of your time.”

Maggie started after LaFont, but then stopped suddenly and turned back to Kelly.

“You say someone told you to meet me here?” she asked the man who was reaching for the elevator call button.

“Yes,” Kelly said.

Maggie seemed to consider this just as the doors were sliding open. “Who?” she asked.

“That insurance man. I believe Knightsbury is his name.”

It only took a second for Maggie to recognize it—for the pieces to fall into place. But Kat had been right, it seemed. The Long Con never was truly long—just a few million moments strung together, and that moment was just long enough for Kat to jump into the elevator beside Oliver Kelly.

Long enough for her to call, “I’ll meet you at the auction, Aunt Maggie!”

Long enough for Maggie to curse and watch Kat disappear behind the sliding doors.

Oliver Kelly was not in the business of antiques. He didn’t pay his bills with old family paintings and Grandmother’s pearls. True, that was how it seemed to the world, but Kelly himself knew better. He was in the business of details. A name remembered. A card sent. A forgery noticed and weeded out before it could tarnish anything else that it might touch.

Still, standing in the small elevator, floating through the walls of the Prince’s Palace, it was easy to ignore the young girl who stood beside him. She was no doubt too poor to buy and she seemed too worthless to sell, so he kept his eyes on his own reflection in the mirrored doors.

When the elevator hesitated and rattled, Kelly punched frantically at the buttons. When the elevator froze, he pushed the buttons harder. Only the soft voice saying, “It won’t do any good,” reminded him—the king of details—that he was not in that small space alone.

There was a slight rattling overhead, and Kelly’s gaze flew upward. “It sounds like someone’s up there,” he said.

The girl laughed. “Maybe a ghost.” But Oliver Kelly saw nothing at all funny about the situation.

“What’s wrong?” the girl asked. “Don’t you believe in ghosts, Mr. Kelly?”

“That’s absurd.” He banged at the doors, “Hello! Hello, out there!”

But the girl didn’t seem the least bit panicked as she inched closer in the small space. “What about curses—do you believe in them?”

He punched the buttons again—all of them. The girl must have thought that was hilarious, because she laughed and leaned against the wall. There was a slight tilt to her head when she told him, “I thought you’d be more like your grandfather. He didn’t scare easily, did he?”

Only then did Kelly whirl on the girl beside him. “My grandfather was a brave man—a visionary.”

“A thief ?”

She said it so easily, with such little shame or disdain that he could have sworn he’d misheard her. She looked innocent enough, after all, leaning there with her hands resting against the rail at the small of her back.

“Pardon me?” Kelly asked.

“I don’t think I could do it—rob a tomb in the middle of the desert.…I mean, I know he didn’t go alone, but he would have kept the crew small. And it would have been hard…for an amateur…cleaning out the entire chamber in just a couple of days.”

“Young lady, you have no idea of what you speak.”

But the girl just laughed. She looked and sounded far older than she should have when she smiled and said, “Actually, I do.” The man turned back to the controls. “There should be a…” He let his voice trail off, still searching among the buttons and lights.

“They didn’t start putting telephones in elevators until 1972,” she told him flatly. “This is an Otis 420.” He stared at her. “Manufactured primarily in Europe in the forties.” She shook her head. “No phones.”

It was then that Oliver Kelly felt himself begin to panic. “Breathe, Mr. Kelly. It’s okay. I’m sure we’re fine. After all, it’s not like one of us is cursed.”

“The Cleopatra Emerald is not cursed !”

But the girl just smiled, as if she knew better. The look in her blue eyes said that she knew everything.

“He took it, didn’t he?” the girl asked while Kelly pulled at his tie. “What I can’t decide is if he joined the Millers’ expedition for the purpose of double-crossing them or if it was just dumb luck.”

“My grandfather was not dumb,” Kelly snarled.

“Of course he wasn’t.” The girl sounded so forthright, so sincere, it was almost easy to forget what she was saying. “If you ask me,” she added, “he was a genius.” The elevator rumbled but didn’t move. “That much treasure? It might have been the heist of the century.”

“Oliver Kelly was no common criminal!”

The girl smiled. “Who said anything about common?” She moved closer, taking more than half the space and air. “Just tell me this, thief’s kid to thief’s kid: he did it, didn’t he?”

“Don’t be absurd,” Kelly snarled, but the petite girl only moved closer.

“Oliver Kelly took that stone and built an empire from it.”

“My grandfather was—”

“A visionary. A pioneer. The man who went into that chamber while the Miller family slept, and claimed the Cleopatra Emerald.…” The girl pressed even closer, looked up into his eyes. “He was a thief, wasn’t he?”

Kelly seemed trapped inside the small space, a thousand thoughts crashing inside his mind as he looked at the girl who was nothing, and hissed, “Of course he was.”

The elevator rumbled to life. The doors opened.

“Katarina?” The expression on Maggie’s face was part panic, part relief. She looked at Kat as if wondering what, if any, strings were attached. “You’re—”

“Here?” Kat finished for her. “Don’t worry, Maggie.” She turned and started for the doors. “There is no place that I would rather be.”

As one of the world’s best thieves, it was in Kat Bishop’s blood—not just her nature—to stay away from spotlights. But there was something fitting, she thought, about being at Maggie’s right hand while the woman moved down the center aisle to take her place in the small section of empty seats at the front of the crowded room.

No, Kat realized a second later. Not empty. Not quite.

A single boy sat alone, a guard standing nearby.

“Madame, your orders…” the guard started, but Maggie silenced him with a wave and took her seat in the front row, leaving Kat to slide in beside Hale.

“Are you here to rescue me?” she asked.

“Maybe.” He smiled.

She looked down at the plastic restraints that bound his wrists. “How’s that going?”

He nodded slowly. “I’m working through a few things.”

“Good.” Kat nodded and turned her gaze to the front of the room. “So long as there’s a plan.”

“Oh”—he gave a slow, easy grin—“there is one.”

Kat saw it all from her place at the front of the room—the way LaFont moved to the microphone, the nervous pacing of the auctioneer, who was standing by. The room was full of three hundred barely breathing people when the doors at the back squeaked open. Every head turned to see two more security guards appear, each holding a Bagshaw by the back of the neck (which might have been significantly less conspicuous had the Bagshaws not been dressed as chimney sweeps).

Kat turned back to Hale. “The Mary Poppins?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Oh. Yeah. Obviously. Just so we’re clear, this master plan of yours…”

“Might have a couple of kinks to work through,” Hale admitted, then reached for her hand. As soon as he touched her, Kat knew there was no such thing as curses. People make and break their own fortunes—they are the masters of their own fate. And right then Kat wouldn’t have changed a thing.

She kissed him, quick and feather soft.

“What was that for?” he asked.

Kat placed her fingers on his face and brought his forehead close to hers, touching as she whispered, “For luck.”

LaFont was already at the podium by the time Kat turned around. “Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs.” He took the room in slowly. It was the greatest moment in his life, Kat knew. The crowning glory. The find of a lifetime.

It brought her no small amount of sadness to have to ruin it.

Just then, the side doors swung open. Two more guards appeared, one holding a laptop, the other with a firm grip on a very blushing Simon.

Maggie turned to Kat, smiling, but at the front of the room, LaFont talked on.

“Before we begin, due to the magnitude of this offering, we have conceded to hold one final authentication—here, before these witnesses—to verify that this is the famed and once-lost Antony Emerald.”

This was not news to any of the people in the room. In fact, the collectors and investors gathered were already quite familiar with the man from the Cairo Museum and the woman from India who was the most respected gemologist in the world. One by one, a half dozen experts were called and named, their credentials read, until the case with the green stone was finally opened.

Even though the stone had been officially authenticated before, the room still watched in rapt silence while the experts gathered around it for the purely ceremonial show.

But not Maggie; Maggie was looking directly at Kat.

“It’s over, darling,” she said, with a pat of Kat’s hands. “I appreciate your enthusiasm.” She let her gaze slide to Hale. “The dedication you children have shown. I do see a great deal of promise in you.”

“Is that so?” Kat asked.

“Yes.” Maggie laughed softly. Her eyes were almost kind. “It’s almost like seeing myself.”

“I’m not like you,” Kat said again, the conversation in the car coming back to her, but Maggie was still unconvinced.