Uncommon Criminals (Page 33)

“Of course you are. Don’t be ashamed that you’ve lost this one,” she said. “As I was telling your uncle before he left last night, he’s done well with you. You are an excellent thief. But of course there are some holes in your education.”

“Are there?” Hale asked.

Maggie ignored him.

“When this is over, you can come with me, Katarina. There’s so much I can teach you.”

“You sound confident, Maggie,” Kat said.

There was no gloating in Maggie’s smile when she said, “I am.”

Another door swung open, and another guard appeared, this time with Gabrielle, who wore a black catsuit and rappel-ling harness.

That should have been the end, of course. Kat looked around the room at her beaten and battered crew, and it seemed the curse had won. In a few minutes, the bidding would begin, the check would be written, and the emerald would disappear into another country, behind another set of walls—perhaps not to be seen again for another thousand years.

It was almost over.

Kat felt Hale’s hand in her own.

It was only just beginning.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” The gemologist from India had finally moved to the microphone. She gave an involuntary glance at the colleagues gathered behind her, then took a deep breath and finished, “it is the opinion of the experts assembled here that the gem known as the Antony Emerald is a magnificent specimen.”

Maggie sighed, the softest sound—as if she had been holding her breath for fifty years and only then felt free to let it go.

The expert finished, “In fact, it is the most spectacular fake that any of us have ever seen.”

CHAPTER 41

Chaos would not have been the word that Kat would have used. Chaos implies movement and action and fear. What followed was the quietest kind of panic that Kat had ever seen.

“There must be some…But it’s been authenticated by…There must be some mistake!” LaFont cried, but the words were lost in the din of chatter that was growing inside the room, which, seconds before, had been as quiet and reverent as a church.

The crowd was talking. Heads were turning. But if anyone thought that Margaret Covington Godfrey Brooks had been part of the plot, all they needed to do was look at her to see that she was the most surprised of all.

In a moment, the shock seemed to fade, and Maggie was up and rushing to the emerald.

“Madame!” LaFont called. “Please, take your seat. Rest…”

But Maggie was not going to pass out. She wasn’t at risk of suffering a stroke, and her heart, Kat knew, was far too fake to fail. The real threat, Kat knew, lay not in what might happen to Maggie, but in what Maggie might do.

“Madame, are you well?” LaFont had to know, but the woman merely pushed him aside as if he too were an elaborate fraud and had no worth whatsoever for her anymore.

“But you’re all here.…” Maggie stopped and spun, her gaze passing from Gabrielle to Simon to the Bagshaws then back to Kat and Hale. “You’re all here!”

“No, Maggie.” Kat shook her head. “You missed one of us.”

Through the chaos, it must have been easy not to notice that one final teen had appeared in the back of the room, surrounded by men in uniform and a woman who was very chic, incredibly beautiful, and completely immune to the madness.

Nick gave a small wave in Kat’s direction, then turned to the woman by his side. His mother whispered something in his ear, then turned and called, “Mr. Kelly!”

At first it seemed as if no one beyond Kat had heard her. The journalists were on their cell phones. Experts huddled close, trying to explain how the Antony had been so real just days before. Egos were bruised. Fortunes were dashed. The Cleopatra and her curse were the last things on anyone’s mind until the woman with the British accent yelled, “Mr. Oliver Kelly!”

“No comment,” Kelly said, with a quick turn and dismissing wave.

“That’s a shame.” Amelia crossed one arm over the other. “I was hoping you might be able to explain this.”

She pushed a button on a small device, and a moment later, a booming voice came through the speakers of the room. A grainy video began to play on the screens behind the podium.

“The Cleopatra Emerald is not cursed!”

“He took it, didn’t he? 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.”

“Of course he wasn’t. If you ask me, he was a genius. That much treasure? It might have been the heist of the century.”

“Oliver Kelly was no common criminal!”

“Who said anything about common? Just tell me this, thief’s kid to thief’s kid: he did it, didn’t he?”

“Don’t be absurd.”

“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. He was a thief, wasn’t he?”

The angle of the camera was strange, as if someone had spent the morning riding around on the top of the elevator, filming through the vents. It showed no more than black hair on a short girl, but there was no mistaking that Kelly was the man who stood shaking, loosening his tie as he admitted, “Of course he was.”

A hushed silence washed over the room, and in that brief second even the Antony was forgotten.

“As I was saying, Mr. Kelly, my name is Amelia Bennett, and I work for Interpol. If you don’t mind, sir, we’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Kat didn’t stay to hear the stories and excuses, the denials and the lies. Hale had freed himself from his restraints, and as one arm fell gently around her shoulders, Kat felt the tension she’d been carrying there dissolve. At the back of the room, Hamish and Angus had slipped their guards as well. Simon too. Only Gabrielle remained.

Kat watched Nick walk to the guards that stood beside her cousin and tell them, “She’s with us,” and just that quickly they were free—all of them. No one stopped them at the doors. Outside the gates, not a single tourist seemed to care about the seven thieves who were walking away after stealing the most famous emerald in the world. Again.

For the first time since she’d arrived on the Riviera, Kat really saw the water. She really felt the sun. The Mediterranean was beautiful, she had to think, as they walked toward the cliffs.

“Katarina!” The voice called to her again, carried on the wind, and despite the sun and sea air, Kat’s mind flashed back to New York. She could almost feel the freezing wind and rain, and she wondered what might have happened if she hadn’t turned around. But then Kat stopped and shook her head. She looked at Hale, and that was when Kat Bishop finally managed to stop thinking.

“Katarina.” Maggie was not running. The officers of Interpol had no interest in the woman who had been humiliated in such a public way. Her fifteen minutes in the spotlight were over, so the Antony would stay gone, buried, while the Cleopatra was left alone on center stage.

And Maggie, Maggie was left to walk alone, out into the sun.

“How?” The word seemed to pain her, but there was no anger, no threat. Just professional curiosity as she stepped forward, defeat in her eyes. “You’re a child, Katarina. A talented, intelligent girl, but…a child.”

“I’m a thief, Maggie.”

“Yes, of course. But…how?”

Kat felt her crew around her: Hamish’s arm hung around Simon’s shoulders; Gabrielle’s delicate hands draped through the arms of Angus and Nick. Kat’s own hand found Hale’s, then, fingers interlacing, palms pressing together so tightly that Kat knew nothing could come between them. Nothing. She looked at him. No one.

“It’s easy,” Kat said, “when you don’t have to do it alone.”

“But your uncle—”

“Played his part to perfection, don’t you think?” Gabrielle said. “I guess maybe he hasn’t forgiven you after all.” Kat watched the shock seep into Maggie’s eyes while her cousin talked. “I mean, without him, you probably never would have brought the Cleopatra to town, and without that…well…”

Kat pushed her hair out of her eyes and studied the woman who might have been her future. Maybe. But then Kat felt Hale squeeze her hand, root her, ground her to that time and place, and Kat knew that as long as she never let go, then she and Maggie would never share the same footsteps.

“But…” Maggie started, stumbling for words.

“You still don’t get it, do you, Margaret?” Kat smiled almost sadly. “We never had to steal the Antony. All we had to do was get it next to the Cleopatra and switch the signs.”

CHAPTER 42

Though the story of the emerald called the Antony had run in all the papers, it was not the sort of news that mattered long in a place like Valle Dorado. The summer had been too hot, the rainy season too long, and there was too much work to do to worry about a green stone that was two thousand years old and half a world away.

Or so the people said. But the whispers, Kat had noticed, the whispers were always the last to die.

Sitting between Hale and Gabrielle at a café on the sunny side of the square, Kat tried not to think about the papers that lay untouched on the ground at Hale’s feet. She knew too well what they would say.…

That the Antony was a hoax. A beautiful fake. A delicate con. That many of the experts who had initially sworn the emerald was authentic were now attributing their mistake to faulty instruments and jet lag.

If anyone went looking for the woman known as Margaret Covington Godfrey Brooks, they did not find her. She was gone almost as quickly as the Antony, dissolved into the tourists and the crowds, washed away like the surf and the sand, but Kat knew she was still out there. Kat knew someday she, like the Antony, might be seen again.

Across the square, there was a fountain with a statue of Saint Christopher, a church opening its doors after morning Mass. She saw school children and merchants, heard the bells chiming, telling the world that it was time to get on with life.

“How long?” Hale asked.

“Three minutes,” both girls said at the same time.

The people on the square that day had noticed the three young people who sat at a table, ordering lemonade. The girls wore white dresses, and the boy a straw hat, and they looked almost like a painting, sitting there, soaking up the sun.

When the drinks came, Gabrielle crossed one long leg over the other, and Kat had to ask, “How’s the ankle?”

Gabrielle smiled. “Good as new.”

Maybe the curse was broken and over, or maybe it had never been real at all. All Kat knew for certain was that there are some things even the best artists can’t fake. There are some events that even the best thieves can never plan. And real love…real love can never be split in two.

She wondered for a second about the Antony, and something told her that the stories were true—that it was out there somewhere, lost and waiting—but Kat also knew she wouldn’t look for it.