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The Grift of the Magi

Ally Carter


  A Heist Society Novella

  By Ally Carter


  Two Weeks Before Christmas

  Eleven Days Before the Auction

  Ten Days Before the Auction

  Eight Days Before the Auction

  Six Days Before the Auction

  Four Days Before the Auction

  Three Days Before the Auction

  Two Days Before the Auction

  Day of the Auction

  Twenty Minutes Until Christmas

  About this Series

  About the Author

  Also by Ally Carter

  An Excerpt from Heist Society

  Note from the Author

  The Grift of the Magi is a Heist Society novella and is approximately half the length of the other novels in the series. It stands alone, but if you want read more about Kat and her crew check out Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals, and Perfect Scoundrels.

  Two Weeks Before Christmas

  Brooklyn, New York

  When one is trying to break into the home of perhaps the world’s greatest thief, it’s always a good idea for one to be careful.

  Katarina Bishop knew this. Just as she knew that her Uncle Eddie often grew tired of New York in December and had decided to relocate to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Snow is for suckers, Uncle Eddie always said.

  Of course, this was about the time that a long-lost Italian count was sighted near the town of Maiori and a priceless Cartier tiara was stolen from a yacht moored not far from Maiori’s rocky shore.

  That was all that Kat needed to hear to know that her uncle was probably having too much fun to bother coming home for Christmas.

  Back in Brooklyn, the wind was sharp and the streets were slick and Kat just really wished her Uncle Eddie believed in leaving a key under the mat instead of maintaining his strict stance that anyone who could not break into his Brooklyn brownstone had absolutely no business staying there without him.

  “Is there a problem, Kitty Kat?” a voice said from over Kat’s shoulder. Kat’s fingers were frozen and her breath fogged, and she’d had a far too upbeat rendition of “White Christmas” stuck in her head on a perpetual loop for the past eight hours. So, yes, there was a problem. But Kat would never, ever admit it.

  “I’m fine, Gabrielle,” she told her cousin.

  “Really?” Gab asked. “Because if you can’t handle Uncle Eddie’s lock then someone is going to get a lump of coal in her stocking again this Christmas.”

  “It wasn’t coal,” Kat shot back. “It was a very rare mineral from a condemned mine in South Africa, and it was a very thoughtful gift.”

  Gabrielle made a sound best described as an audible shrug just as Kat heard a click and said, “We’re in.”

  The lights were off and a chill filled the air. It was the closest thing to a home that the two girls had ever known, but as they crept inside, they felt like strangers. There was no fire in the fireplace, no smell of boiling cabbage coming from the kitchen, almost as if Uncle Eddie’s brownstone, like the man himself, had flown south for the winter.

  Wordlessly, they moved down the long hall that ran from the front room to the beating heart of their world. But Uncle Eddie’s kitchen was dim. His oven was cold and…

  Someone was sitting at the kitchen table.

  “Hello, girls,” the woman said. “I’m glad you’re back.” At their shocked expressions, the woman cocked an eyebrow. “What’s the matter? Never come home to an Interpol agent in Uncle Eddie’s kitchen before?”

  Gabrielle looked at Kat, a quick glance that seemed to say should we kill her? We could always kill her, but Kat was almost too dumbfounded to speak.

  Because of all the things she had witnessed in that kitchen, from the sight of six Welsh Corgi puppies that Uncle Felix was ransoming to the queen to the time the Bagshaw brothers decided they could melt down the Crown Jewels of Austria in one of her uncle’s sturdier pots, the most unexpected sight was that of Amelia Bennett rising from Uncle Eddie’s kitchen table and walking to her uncle’s stove.

  One of Uncle Eddie’s favorite Dutch ovens was simmering with a thick red sauce. Agent Bennett raised a wooden spoon to her lips and sipped.

  “Needs salt,” she said and reached for a dish and a tiny spoon that Uncle Eddie kept on the counter.

  “What are you doing here?” Gabrielle asked, flipping on the overhead lights.

  “Cooking,” the woman said with a wry, don’t be silly kind of smile. She uncovered another pot, this one full of boiling water.


  Under normal circumstances, Kat might have relished the sight of her cousin speechless. These circumstances, however, were anything but normal.

  So Kat had to ask, “Why are you cooking here?”

  “Well, I considered waiting in total darkness, maybe with a harsh light behind me so that I would have been a mysterious silhouette when you came in, but I was hungry. And I thought you might be too.”

  Her British accent was soft and cultured, and she might have easily been the host of a well-loved cooking show, making its US debut. But Kat knew better. She knew that Amelia Bennett was smart and hard working and had the fighting instincts of a pit bull. Once Interpol’s Agent Bennett got a hold of a case she would never, ever let it go.

  The timer chose that moment to ding, and Kat realized that the stove had not been cold after all when Agent Bennett pulled a loaf of crusty French bread from Eddie’s ancient oven.

  “I know at least twenty different people who might kill you and make it look like an accident for using Uncle Eddie’s stove without permission. That stove is pretty much sacred to three-quarters of the world’s best bad guys,” Gabrielle warned.

  Agent Bennett smiled, but something about it gave Kat a very uneasy feeling.

  “Get the dishes, Gabrielle,” Agent Bennett said, and in that moment Kat couldn’t help but remember that Amelia Bennett wasn’t just the smartest, hardest-working, and decidedly-most-female agent in the upper ranks of Interpol’s European sector. She was also a mother.

  Suddenly, a new kind of worry filled Kat’s gut.

  “Is Nick okay?” she blurted.

  But Agent Bennett simply gestured to the table, and said, “Have a seat, girls. We should eat it while it’s hot.”

  Kat watched the woman move around Uncle Eddie’s kitchen with an eerie, comfortable ease.

  “It’s okay, Katarina. Nick is fine. He sends his love. Or he would”—Agent Bennett gave another shrug—“if he knew that I was here.”

  Gabrielle and Kat shared a look and then moved to the table. Possibly because they had been raised to keep Interpol agents on their good side. But more likely because they were hungry and the food smelled wonderful and looked hot and Kat still hadn’t gained back the feeling in her frozen fingers.

  So the three of them sat. So the three of them ate.

  None of them mentioned the suitcase.

  Gabrielle had slid it wordlessly under the well-worn kitchen table when they walked in, but Agent Bennett glanced at it, as if to make sure the girls knew that she knew they hadn’t been Christmas shopping in the middle of the night, but she wasn’t going to ask about whatever the two of them might have been doing earlier this evening.

  Agent Bennett passed the bread. “I’m not going to ask where your uncle is, though the reappearance of that Italian count after a thirty-one year absence from the Riviera is puzzling to some. And I’m not even going to ask you about that—” she glanced at the case beneath the table. Gabrielle nervously toed it farther out of view.

  “Okay,” Kat said, reaching for a fork. “So what are you going to do?”

  “I’m going to eat,” Nick’s mom told her. �
��And you’re going to join me. And then I’m going to tell you a story.”

  The bread was flaky, and the pasta was good and for a moment, Kat just let the food warm her from the inside out. Agent Bennett might have broken into Eddie’s house and taken over his oven, but there was no SWAT team assembling in the alley; to the best of Kat’s knowledge, there were no Interpol agents searching the upper floors.

  But Kat knew that nothing good could have brought Amelia Bennett to New York City two weeks before Christmas, no matter how tasty the pasta.

  “Is Nick okay?” Kat asked again when the room became too silent.

  “Nick is fine,” Amelia said. “No doubt he’ll be angry when he hears I came to see you without him, but he’s my son, and he’ll get over it. Time was of the essence.”

  “Well, if it’s so essential…”

  “Gab,” Kat tried to warn, but Agent Bennett shooed the word aside.

  “No. She’s right. I suppose I should tell you. It’s time.”

  For a moment, there was only the sweet smell of the pasta sauce and the butter melting on the bread. Everything was quiet and warm in Uncle Eddie’s kitchen. A safe place for thieves and secrets. Just like a million other nights except in one incredibly obvious way.

  It seemed to take Amelia Bennett a moment to realize that and say, “I know who you are, Kat Bishop. And I know what you do. But, most importantly, I know why you do it. That’s one reason why, professionally speaking, you and I have been able to…agree to disagree. On occasion, as you know, we have even been on the same team. I like those times.”

  Agent Bennett smiled, and Kat felt a pang of regret deep in her heart. It was a pang she often felt this time of year. The deep and aching hurt that comes from knowing you will never again see your mother on Christmas morning.

  “Me too,” Kat said, meaning it.

  Amelia Bennett was on the other side of the law but on the same side of justice as Kat and Gabrielle, who said, “Am I right in assuming that this is one of those times?”

  For a woman who had flown across an ocean and broken into a brownstone to have this conversation, Agent Bennett seemed, momentarily, uncertain of her answer. She put down her fork and dabbed at her lips with a napkin. It was like watching her take off a mask, so smoothly did she slip from Mother to Agent as she said, “I suppose that depends.”

  “Depends upon what?” Kat asked, skeptical at best.

  “Depends upon whether or not I’m wrong,” Agent Bennett said.

  Kat couldn’t help herself; she laughed. “You don’t strike me as the kind of woman who is wrong very often.”

  “Oh, I want to be,” Agent Bennett hurried to say. “This time, I want to be wrong very badly.”

  Gabrielle was many things. A natural grease man, a fabulous honeypot, and the best Jack the Jack and Jill long con had ever seen. What she wasn’t, was patient.

  So Kat wasn’t surprised to hear her say, “Tell us.”

  Amelia took a drink, then a deep breath. “I’m stationed in London again. I don’t know if you girls knew that…”

  “No,” Kat said, then admitted, “I haven’t talked to Nick in a while.”

  “Well, I am,” Amelia said. “I’m Deputy Director of UK Operations, something of a promotion, they tell me. Even though it feels a lot more like a punishment. Sitting behind a desk is an acquired taste, but…I digress. Last week I got a call from an old friend who manages a London-based charity.”

  Kat and Gabrielle sat in silence for a moment, knowing that this mattered. That the new Deputy Director of UK Operations for Interpol would not have flown all the way to New York if this were a problem that could be fixed over the phone.

  Agent Bennett drew a weary breath. “Are you girls familiar with the Magi Miracle Network?”

  The answer was supposed to be yes, Kat could tell from the look in Amelia Bennett’s eyes, but neither she nor her cousin had any kind of reaction, so Gabrielle had to say, “Are we supposed to be familiar with it?”

  “Perhaps…” Agent Bennett began but trailed off again.

  “Agent Bennett, maybe if you—”

  “It was robbed, girls,” Amelia said.

  “They didn’t do it!” Kat and Gabrielle blurted in perfect unison, the response so ingrained in them that it was instinct now, a habit they had been taught in the cradle.

  “Who didn’t do it?” Agent Bennett asked.

  “Whichever relative of ours you think did it. They didn’t.”

  Agent Bennett looked as if she almost wanted to laugh. “You sound sure.”

  And, amazingly enough, they were.

  “If you knew Uncle Eddie, you’d be sure, too,” Gabrielle said. “Charities are a no-go. Trust me. Anyone who steals from orphans, or widows, or…nuns—especially nuns—gets a one-way ticket to Siberia. Sometimes literally. Sometimes metaphorically. But it doesn’t matter. It’s just as cold either way. Trust me. If someone knocked over a London charity, it wasn’t one of us. I promise,” Gabrielle said with a definitive nod.

  Kat glanced at Agent Bennett who smiled and said, “I know.”

  “But you just said…” Gabrielle started.

  “I know it wasn’t someone born to your family,” Agent Bennett clarified.

  “But…” This time, it was Kat who was confused.

  It seemed almost hard for Agent Bennett to ask again, “Are you sure you’ve never heard of the Magi Miracle Network?”

  Kat knew she expected a different answer. She just didn’t know why.

  “It’s not a huge charity,” Agent Bennett went on. “It isn’t especially famous. Yet. I’m here because I’d very much like to keep it that way. A charity is only as good as its reputation, after all.”

  “How much did they get?” Kat asked.

  “The question isn’t how much, I’m afraid. The question is what.” Agent Bennett turned to the two girls, studying them anew. Kat knew what she was seeing: two teenage girls, too tired and too weary and way too far from normal. Which was exactly why Amelia Bennett was sitting with them and not across the table from her colleagues at Interpol.

  “A few months ago, my friend was approached by a prominent British figure—the Earl of Greymore. The title goes back to Henry the Eighth. It’s five hundred years old, and the current earl is aging as well. Some even say he’s dying. Others believe he is simply going insane. But, no matter his reasons, the earl’s attorney contacted my friend early this fall and offered to donate an item which, once auctioned, would probably fund their work for years. Decades maybe. The item was to be auctioned two days before Christmas—Christmas Eve eve, if you will.”

  “So twelve days from today?” Kat asked.

  Amelia nodded. “Exactly.”

  “What kind of item?” Gabrielle asked, and Kat knew exactly how much the answer to that question mattered. Jewels were one thing. Art was another. Value was a spectrum along which a whole host of possibilities and difficulties were strung. Kat needed to know exactly what kind of tightrope they were walking.

  “An egg,” Agent Bennett said. “A Fabergé egg, made for the Romanovs themselves.”

  Kat and Gabrielle nodded, impressed. As loot went, it was enviable but not unheard of. Small. Portable. Common enough to be enticing to collectors, rare enough to be valuable as well. Doable, would be Kat’s father’s assessment of such a job. So she wasn’t surprised at all that someone had done it.

  “Okay. A Fabergé egg. Great. I guess—”

  “No,” Agent Bennett said before Kat could finish. “I’m sorry. I should be clear that this is not a regular Fabergé egg. Unlike most eggs of the Romanov era, this one wasn’t made for Easter. No. This particular item was one of three nearly identical eggs, part of a set made for Christmas, thus the timing of the auction.”

  Agent Bennett could have talked for five more minutes. For five more hours. It wouldn’t have mattered because all Kat heard after that was the word Christmas.

  She felt her cousin turn to her. Kat’s heart began to pound. The wors
e kind of dread is the kind you can feel but can’t quite pinpoint, and Kat was full of it then, knowing her life was getting ready to turn in a very unsatisfactory direction.

  “So it was one of the Eggs of the Magi?” Kat asked, her voice cold.

  “Yes.” Agent Bennett gave a slow nod, as if she’d been expecting this moment since long before she left London. “A most fitting gift for the Magi Miracle Network, don’t you agree? Elizabeth was thrilled. The press. The money. It would have been a massive coup, except…”

  “Someone stole it,” Kat filled in.

  “It wasn’t us!” Gabrielle exclaimed again, but Amelia turned to her, every inch the Interpol agent.

  “It was an inside job, girls. Almost certainly.”

  “How can you be so sure?” Kat asked.

  “For starters, word of the donation hadn’t been made public yet. That was going to happen this week. No one aside from my friend, a few loyal staff members and the charity’s board of directors even knew they were getting the egg. It’s hard to steal something if you don’t know who has it.”

  “Okay,” Gabrielle said. “So I guess that brings us back to why are you here? Aren’t you the head of UK Operations for Interpol?”

  “Deputy Director,” Agent Bennett corrected, but Gabrielle went on.

  “I seem to remember you people being pretty good at this kind of thing?”

  And that was the problem, Kat could tell. Amelia Bennett wasn’t going through official channels. If anything, she was taking the most unofficial channel available, and something in Kat’s gut didn’t trust it. She’d learned at a very young age not to trust anyone. Anything. It was perhaps the one thing that was going to allow her to live to a very old age.

  But it wasn’t going to let her have a merry Christmas, Kat could tell already.

  “I have many reasons for coming here, one of which is the Director,” Agent Bennett said. “Technically, he’s my superior, though I loathe to use the word. Director Hoyt does not approve of me and my rapid advancement. There have been…comments. If this were in his hands, and if he knew I had a personal connection to the case, well, I cannot predict what would happen. And I don’t like taking chances.”