Uncommon Criminals (Page 4)

Behind her, Kat heard Hale throwing open cabinet doors. “Where’s the microwave?”

“Uncle Eddie doesn’t have a microwave!” the cousins snapped in unison, but neither of them smiled. Neither girl joked. They kept staring at each other across the scarred wooden table that had seen the rise and fall of almost every major heist their family had ever done.

It seemed as fitting a place as any for Gabrielle to say, “You don’t want to do this, Kat. You do not want to forget that the Cleopatra Emerald is the most heavily guarded gem on the planet. It hasn’t even seen the light of day in thirty years.”

“I know,” Kat told her.

“Anybody with any sense would know that Constance Miller is an old recluse who’s almost out of money.” Gabrielle looked her shorter, paler cousin up and down. “And she must be especially desperate if she’s coming to you.”

“Thanks,” Kat said.

“And, most of all,” Gabrielle went on, “we real thieves know that the Cleopatra Emerald has been cursed ever since Cleopatra took the biggest emerald in the world and, in all her wisdom, decided to split it down the middle and give half to Marc Antony. Then he went off to battle the Romans—”

“And died,” Hale chimed in from behind them.

“Cleopatra kept the other half,” Gabrielle went on.

“And died,” Hale said again.

“And until the two stones are together again, they will bring nothing but death and destruction to whoever holds either one,” Gabrielle finished. She stood and stepped closer to her cousin. “So any good thief would know it’s cursed, Kat.”

“There’s no such thing as curses,” Kat tried to retort, but the taller girl was already crossing her arms and looking down in a way that made Kat feel especially small.

“Then how do you explain what happened when Uncle Nester went after it in ’79?”

“Lasers burn things, Gabrielle. It’s not the emerald’s fault Uncle Nester was sloppy with his fingers.”

“And what about the Garner Brothers in 1981?”

“Hey, anyone who thinks a non-military–grade rappelling cable can support the weight of two grown men and a miniature donkey deserves to fall off a cliff.”

“And that Japanese team in 2000?”

“You should always take a backup defibrillator if you’re gonna try the Sleeping Beauty. Everybody knows that. Besides, Uncle Eddie didn’t care when he went after it in ’67,” Kat tried.

Gabrielle’s glare turned icy. “He cares now.”

“What happened in ’67?” Hale asked, but neither girl seemed to hear nor care.

Gabrielle eased forward, silent and deadly as a snake. “The most important thing I know, Kitty Kat, is that Uncle Eddie—arguably the world’s greatest living thief—says that the Cleopatra Emerald is not to be stolen. I know that whatever happened in ’67 was enough to scare Uncle Eddie, so I believe him when he says that Cleopatra jobs end badly. Kat, they always end badly.” She dropped into her chair and crossed her long legs. “I don’t know what sob story Constance Miller gave you, or how a woman who supposedly hasn’t left her house in years managed to find you, or why—”

“Visily Romani,” Kat heard herself whisper, and she watched Gabrielle’s eyes go wide. “They knew the name Romani. They said Visily Romani sent them.”

It was easy to forget that there were some things with more history than Uncle Eddie’s kitchen table, but at the sound of the ancient name, Gabrielle’s hands went to the scarred wood, and two words filled Kat’s mind: Chelovek Pseudonima.

Alias Man, Uncle Eddie had translated for her once, and so Kat sat there thinking about the old names, the sacred names. Names used for hundreds of years, but only by the best thieves, and for only the most worthy causes. Kat trembled, knowing those causes now included the Cleopatra Emerald.

“He’s still out there,” Kat said. “This man who calls himself Romani—whoever he is—he’s still out there, and he sent me these people because I can help them. He thinks I can do this. I can—”

“Not you, Kat. We.” Hale dropped into a seat at the head of the table. He didn’t look at her. “If you do this, then we do this.”

“Of course. Yeah. We. But it’s not like it matters anyway,” Kat told them with a shake of her head. “The Cleopatra is supposed to be locked up somewhere in Switzerland. And even if we could find it…What? What are you staring at?”

Gabrielle looked at Hale, who shook his head, leaving Gabrielle to shuffle through the stack of mail that sat unopened on the end of the table.

“You’ve been gone, Kitty Kat.” Gabrielle slid the newspaper across the table, the headline blaring out for all to see that the Kelly Corporation was finally going to bring its most prized possession home.

Home.

New York.

Kat felt her heart beat faster as she looked first at Gabrielle and then at Hale.

“So…what?” Hale asked slowly. “I guess now we steal an emerald?”

There was a room at the top of the stairs that had white eyelet curtains and two twin beds with matching quilts. There was a small dresser, a wicker hamper, and a bookshelf full of dusty, fraying Nancy Drews. That room had never belonged with the rest of the house, Kat had always thought. Stepping inside was like walking into another world—one with a pink rotary telephone and a music box. A tiny alcove in a man’s world, a place made entirely for girls.

Someone, sometime had embroidered the name Nadia on a pillow, and Kat held it in her arms as she lay, staring up at the ceiling but not sleeping. She felt too small, lying on her mother’s bed, still trying to fit inside her footsteps.

“So, Hale…”

Kat turned and saw Gabrielle silhouetted in the door, watched her walk to the other bed and lie down atop a pillow with the willowy script that spelled the name Irina.

“What about him?”

“What’s going on with you two?”

“Nothing,” Kat said, a little too quickly.

“Yeah, and why is that exactly? I thought you two were getting all relationshipy. But now you’re gone half of the time and he’s…angry.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Yes, he is.” Gabrielle gave a short laugh. “He doesn’t like you going off, doing these jobs on your own.” Kat drew a breath to protest, but not before her cousin lowered her voice and added, “And he’s not the only one.”

Kat honestly didn’t know what to say, so she turned onto her side and closed her eyes. She didn’t even know that Gabrielle had crossed the room until she felt her cousin’s weight plop down on the mattress beside her. “So why are you doing it?”

“I…” Kat stumbled, looking for the words in the dark. “They’re easy jobs, Gabrielle.”

“Maybe in the beginning, but Rio wasn’t easy.”

“How do you know about Rio?”

“Everyone knows about Rio. Everyone would have helped.”

Kat’s throat was suddenly too dry. “I didn’t need any help.”

“And what about Moscow?” her cousin went on. “Maybe you didn’t need help, but whenever you start going up against the KGB, you should probably get some—just in case. So the question is…why didn’t you?” Gabrielle rested her elbows on her knees and tapped her chin, thinking.

“Gabrielle, I’m—”

“Drunk!” Gabrielle exclaimed, bolting upright with the realization.

“I’ve never been drunk in my life,” Kat shot back, but her cousin only laughed.

“Oh, you’re heist-drunk, Kitty Kat. And you have been since the Henley.”

Kat tried to push herself up and out of the bed, but Gabrielle was perched atop the covers, pinning her in.

“Tell me you didn’t feel a rush when we carried those paintings out of the museum’s front door.…Tell me there wasn’t a high when you swiped a Cézanne under the noses of half the KGB.…No wonder you aren’t taking Hale with you.” She shook her head. “Sometimes boys are far easier to deal with when they’re on the other side of the world.”

“Hale and I aren’t…” But Kat trailed off, completely unsure how that sentence was supposed to end. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Gabrielle,” she started again, but her cousin shook her head.

“Yeah. I do,” Gabrielle said, insulted. “Our world is built on adrenaline and getting away with it. Different cities, different names. It’s a far simpler life to lead when there’s no one around to tell you when you’re being stupid. Believe me, dear cousin”—Gabrielle stood and stretched—“I know better than anyone.”

Kat had often wondered what really went on inside Gabrielle’s totally beautiful head. More than met the eye, she was certain.

“Look, Gabrielle. These are my jobs—my call. There’s nothing in it for anyone—no paycheck—so there’s no sense asking anyone else to take the risk. I’m not on some kind of bender here.”

“Sure,” Gabrielle said, nodding slowly. “And six months ago, you went off to the Colgan School and swore you were never going to steal again.” She crossed the room in two long strides. “You’re off the wagon, Kitty Kat. And the least you can do is admit it.”

Kat rolled over and stared at the ceiling again. It seemed to take forever to say, “Hale…how mad is he?”

Gabrielle crawled into bed and looked at her cousin across the shadowy space. “For a genius thief, you really are a stupid girl, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.” Kat closed her eyes. “I am.”

CHAPTER 6

“My name is Ezra Jones.”

Kat took her time studying the face that stared back at her from the other side of the dusty sitting room that she could never remember anyone actually sitting in. The man had white bushy eyebrows and dark brown eyes, and the smile that peeked out from behind the perfectly trimmed goatee was devious at best.

“I’m going to need to see some ID,” she told him.

“Of course,” he said with a laugh. He stepped forward and handed her a business card that read Chamberlain & King Insurance and Underwriters, London, England. When he added, “Here you go, my dear,” and flashed a British passport, the picture was off, Kat thought. The accent, however, was spot on.

“So how do I look?” the man asked.

“Old,” Gabrielle said, leaning closer as she applied theatrical makeup to the corners of his mouth. “But not old enough. And blotchy.”

“But you sound good to me,” Kat told him.

Only then did Hale smile. “I’m going to remember you said that.”

“Sure thing, Ezra. Just tell me this: the real Mr. Jones is…”

“Ecstatic.” He looked again at the man’s wallet. “It seems someone from Hale Industries met him at the airport this morning and offered him his dream job in the Cayman Islands. In fact, he called London from the Hale Industries jet and quit his old job just a half hour ago.”