Uncommon Criminals (Page 9)
“Yes.” There was something sad in the word. “You’re here. When it suits you.”
“Do you not like how I’m stealing? Or do you not like why?”
“Listen to me, Katarina—”
“What kind of thief do you want me to be, Uncle Eddie? What should I steal—whatever it is in Uruguay?”
“Paraguay,” her uncle corrected.
The newspaper lay on the table, staring at Kat—calling to her like a dare. “Oh, hey.” She reached for it. “I see the Cleopatra Emerald is coming to town. Maybe I’ll make a play for that.”
Kat had no idea why she’d said it, but the words were already out there—too late to take them back. Maybe she wanted her uncle to forbid it. Maybe she expected him to laugh—as if the idea were far too absurd. But instead he reached for the paper and tossed it among the eggshells and coffee grounds with the rest of the trash.
“We do not joke of such a thing.”
“I know,” Kat said, but Uncle Eddie was already turning.
“The Cleopatra Emerald is no plaything!”
“I know,” she said, trying to make him understand, but it was too late.
“You’re a smart girl, Katarina—too smart to take stupid chances. Better thieves than you have gone after that blasted stone, and they have paid.” He stopped, and Kat could have sworn she saw his hand shake. His lips were a thin hard line when he whispered, “Great thieves have paid dearly.”
Kat’s voice was different when she said, “I know.”
“We do not steal the Cleopatra, Katarina. It is…” Eddie trailed off, struggling for words.
“Cursed,” Kat offered.
Eddie turned to her. He shook his head. “Forbidden.”
On the stove, grease was popping, and smoke was rising from the skillet, filling the room. It was the first time in Kat’s life that she had ever seen her uncle burn the bacon, so she stayed quiet, thinking of all the things she could not say.
“If you don’t want to be like the rest of us, Katarina, then you should go back to school. You should leave this world—really leave us all behind. Don’t let this old man stand in your way.”
Kat wasn’t going to cry. Her voice wasn’t going to crack. “I came back, Uncle Eddie. Last year, after the Henley, I could have gone to any school in the world—I could have done anything, but I came back.”
“You ran away, Katarina.”
“And now I’m back.”
It should have been an easy thing to prove, a fact to verify. She wanted him to say, Good work, nice job—to tell her that he was proud to have her at his kitchen table—but instead he turned back to the bacon and the stove.
“You’re still running.”
The kitchen was too hot—the big house suddenly too small. Her uncle’s words were too loud, ringing in her ears, and Kat knew she couldn’t stay there. Outside, the early morning air would be cool and fresh, so she didn’t even stop for her jacket; she didn’t look for her purse. She just moved down the long hall to the door without another thought or worry or fear. Outside. She’d be able to think outside.
“He’s right, you know.”
Kat stopped at the sound of the voice. Her hand was on the doorknob, freedom just inches away, but it was like she’d forgotten how to unlock a door when she turned and saw Hale sitting alone at the top of the stairs.
“I thought—after the Henley—you were back with us.” He looked down at his hands. “With me. But now—”
“I don’t need another lecture, Hale.” Kat’s hands were shaking. Her lips were trembling. It was as if her own body were against her. “I don’t need someone else telling me what to do.”
“Oh, no one tells you what to do, Kat. You’re the girl who robbed the Henley.”
“Yeah,” Kat told him. “And I—”
“But you didn’t do it alone.” He stood and started slowly down the stairs.
“I know that.”
“Do you?” Hale laughed. “Do you really? Because it seems to me like you’ve forgotten a lot of things.”
It was the eve of the biggest job of her life, and Kat didn’t have time to doubt or room to think. Gabrielle was right, Kat realized: boys are a lot less trouble when they’re on the other side of the world.
“I’m sorry, Hale. I’m sorry I didn’t take you to Moscow. Or Rio. I’m sorry I don’t have time to hold your hand and stroke your ego. But I don’t. And if you don’t like it, here’s the door.”
“You’re right. Maybe I should leave.” He stepped toward her, backing her slowly into the shadows of the corner. “But maybe you should leave too—just walk away. Forget the Cleopatra and disappear.”
It felt to Kat as if, all at once, the world was moving way too fast. Her mind raced, and Hale eased closer.
“We don’t have to do this,” he told her. “Just say the word and I can have a jet here in an hour. We can go anywhere.” His warm hands wrapped around her fingers, so that they melted like ice. “We can do anything. We don’t have to do this.”
Charlie’s stone felt heavy in Kat’s pocket, pressing into her skin. She thought of Romani and Mr. Stein, of sand and sun and the thieves like Oliver Kelly the First—the worst kinds of criminals, the ones who steal fortunes and respectability, both, somewhere along the way.
“Just say the word, Kat. Say any word.”
Kat took a deep breath and pushed away. She didn’t let herself look back as she opened the door and said the word “Romani.”
It stands to reason that, through the years, the people in the New York office of the Oliver Kelly Corporation for Auctions and Antiquities had become more or less immune to pretty things.
The back room held a scepter that had been part of the crown jewels of Austria. Every day at four p.m., the director of antiquities sipped tea from a service that had once belonged to Queen Victoria herself. So to presume that incredible beauty was incredibly rare would be incorrect indeed. But on that Friday morning, no one would have known it.
The women wore their highest heels, the men their most expensive ties. As Oliver Kelly the Third walked down the gleaming, polished halls, the entire building pulsed as if Cleopatra herself were about to pay a visit.
“Well, there’s the man of the hour.”
Kelly turned at the voice. “Oh. Hello, Mr.…”
“Knightsbury,” Hale said, gripping Kelly’s hand. “It’s nice to see you again. Big day. Big day.”
“Indeed,” Kelly said with an impatient look at his watch. “I presume Mr. Jones is here to…oversee the transfer?”
“Oh, no, sir,” Hale said. “Mr. Jones was so impressed with your security that he sent me along with one of our junior associates. This is Ms. Melanie McDonald. Ms. McDonald has just joined the team. Since company policy dictates that two employees must witness—”
“Hello.” That’s when it became utterly obvious that even though Oliver Kelly the Third was accustomed to great beauty, tea sets and scepters were no match for Gabrielle. “It’s so nice to meet you, Ms. McDonald,” he said.
“Call me Melanie.” Gabrielle extended one delicate hand. “It’s so very nice to meet you, too.”
There were at least a dozen people crowded in the halls. Gemologists and Egyptologists in white coats and tweed jackets; lawyers and very large men with very large guns strapped into shoulder holsters beneath the blazers of subpar suits.
Hale looked at the crowd, but not Kelly. Kelly simply looked at Gabrielle.
“Well, shall we go?”
Of all the pristine places inside the Kelly Corporation that day, Hale couldn’t help but think that the room they saw next would make most hospitals jealous.
A stainless-steel table sat beneath bright lights. Assorted tools lay across cotton towels. There were microscopes and lasers, goggles and gloves. Every single person in the very crowded room stood in total silence as the doors opened and four uniformed guards entered, surrounding a man with a red bow tie and the thickest glasses Hale had ever seen. The wooden box he carried was small, and yet when he placed it in the center of the steel table, he sighed as if it held the weight of the world itself.
“Have you met my cousin Pandora?” Gabrielle whispered to Hale. She gestured to the center of the room. “That is her box.”
People should have noticed, but no one heard anything beyond the squeak of the rusty hinges. And not a soul—not the appraisers or the guards—not even Oliver Kelly the Third himself could do anything but watch as the director of antiquities, in his crisp bow tie and white cotton gloves, reached into the box.…
And retrieved the most valuable green stone that the world had ever known.
Hale had seen pictures, of course. He was a well-traveled young man, an educated child of means. A thief. Everyone who was at least one of those three things had seen pictures. But pictures did not capture the essence that comes with ninety-seven karats of pure, flawless green the color of Ireland in springtime.
Curse or no curse, the man was right to hold the stone gently as he moved it to the table. The experts rotated around the emerald like planets circling the sun, scanning, measuring, and weighing—working wordlessly. It was almost like a dance, Hale thought. Like a con.
Beyond the hushed questions and answers of the experts, no one spoke until ninety minutes later, when a short woman—the leading gemologist in the world, flown in from India for the occasion—stepped away from the stone and wiped her brow, and Oliver Kelly said, “Well?”
The whole room waited, watched as the woman cleaned her glasses and said, “Congratulations, Mr. Kelly, this is the new home of the Cleopatra Emerald.”
She held the stone toward its owner and motioned to the velvet-covered pillow on which it was supposed to sit. “Would you like to do the honors?”
If anyone expected Kelly to rush to take it, they were disappointed. Instead, he stood staring at the massive piece of green as if he had been secretly hoping it was a forgery.
A fake Cleopatra Emerald, after all, had never hurt anyone.
“Mr. Kelly?” the woman asked again.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Gabrielle spoke at Kelly’s side. “I can’t imagine holding such a thing.”
Kelly laughed. “Well, now’s your chance…” He motioned for her to go ahead and take the emerald—to take history, quite literally, in the palm of her hand.
It wasn’t an act, Hale knew, when Gabrielle reached carefully for the stone and looked as if she’d been waiting for that moment her entire life.
It almost broke his heart to have to say, “Again, Mr. Kelly, I must remind you that the Cleopatra Emerald is a high-profile target.”
“I know that,” Kelly snapped.
“And we at Chamberlain and King would hate to see you take unnecessary chances with a stone of such…unique…cultural significance. Its propensity for…shall we say…coinciding with unfortunate events and—”