Heist Society, Page 2Ally Carter
"Hey," Hale snapped. "We all agreed that that monkey seemed perfectly well trained at the time."
Kat simply shook her head. "You got me kicked out, Hale." He grinned and gave a slow bow. "You're welcome."
"You trashed the headmaster's car."
"W. W. Hale the Fourth bought that car for Headmaster Franklin, or didn't they mention that? Granted, it was to make up for a fire that W. W. Hale the Fifth allegedly started in the eighth grade--before they suggested that all current and future W. W. Hales continue their educations elsewhere--which worked out just as well since I'm at the Knightsbury Institute now."
"I've never heard of it."
"My father got a letter just last week telling him that I have become a model student."
"Congratulations," Kat said, doubting it.
"Yeah, well, I'm the only student." He grinned a very Hale-like grin. "Of course, the downside of attending a fictional school is that our lacrosse team sucks. Anyway, if the Colgan School wanted to be technical about it, I trashed my car."
She studied W. W. Hale the Fifth. He looked older than sixteen, with messy light brown hair and golden skin, and a first name that, despite two years of effort, Kat had never learned.
"I doubt they'd see it that way, Wesley?" she guessed.
Hale smiled. "Not. Even. Close."
So far Kat had been through all the Wa's she could think of, but Hale hadn't admitted to being Walter or Ward or Washington. He'd firmly denied both Warren and Waverly. Watson had prompted him to do a very bad Sherlock Holmes impersonation throughout a good portion of a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland. And Wayne seemed so wrong that she hadn't even tried.
Hale was Hale. And not knowing what the W's stood for had become a constant reminder to Kat that, in life, there are some things that can be given but never stolen.
Of course, that didn't stop her from trying.
"So, how long before you broke into the student records office?" Hale asked. "A week?" Kat felt her cheeks go red. "But you didn't find anything on me, did you?" He raised an eyebrow. "Kat," he sighed her name. "That is so sweet. And innocent. Naive looks good on you."
"Don't get used to it."
He shook his head. "Oh, I won't."
The whisperlike purr of the engine filled the car as it snaked through the countryside. "Why'd you do it, Hale?" "You don't belong in that place."
"Why'd you do it?" she asked again, her patience wearing thin. "I'm not joking, Hale." "Neither am I, Kat." "You've got--"
"A job for you," Hale said. "And only you," he added before she could protest.
The hills were growing steeper. Leaves scattered in the wind, and in the distance, the sun glistened off a lake. But Kat didn't take her eyes off Hale as she said, "I don't want a job."
"You'll want this one."
"I'm out of the family business. Or haven't you heard?"
"Fine." Hale crossed his arms and sank deeper into the seat. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Kat could have sworn he was already half asleep when he asked, "But are you out of the family?"
Of all the houses the Hale family owned, W. W. Hale the Fifth's favorite wasn't the penthouse on Park Avenue (too pretentious), or the flat in Hong Kong (too noisy), or even the mansion on Martha's Vineyard (entirely too much sand). No, the youngest Hale was only truly fond of the old, six-hundred-acre estate in rural New York. At least, that was the only place where Kat had ever heard him say . . . "We're home."
The foyer was two stories tall and stretched in front of them for at least thirty feet. Hale walked ahead of her, hurrying past the Monet in the hall as if that would keep her from noticing it--or stealing it. He gestured toward the stairs. "Marcus put you in the blue room. You can go upstairs if you want. Or we can go out to the veranda and have Marcus bring you
something to eat. Are you hungry? I didn't even ask. Do you want--"
"I want you to tell me what's going on."
After hours of watching the New England countryside roll by, and listening to Hale snore, Kat was finished with plotting and strategizing how to get her boarding school life back. She was out of options, so she called upon every thief's oldest and most trusted method for getting what she wants: Ask nicely.
But he didn't answer. He was too busy walking down the main hall, guiding Kat into a dim room that she had never seen before. Moonlight cascaded through the windows that lined one wall. There were bookshelves and leather sofas, brandy decanters and the stale smell of old cigars and even older money. There was no doubt in Kat's mind that it was an important room. For important men. And yet Kat brushed past Hale without a second thought. . . until she saw the painting.
Stepping toward it was like approaching a window into another country, another century. She studied the rich colors and strong brushstrokes. "It's beautiful," she whispered, staring at the work of an Old Master in the moonlight.
Kat turned to the boy who lingered in the doorway. "It's stolen."
"What can I say?" Hale eased behind her and studied the painting over her shoulder. "I met a very nice man who bet me that he had the best security system in Istanbul." His breath was warm on the back of her neck. "He was mistaken."
Kat stayed perfectly still as Hale walked to the desk in the far corner of the massive room, picked up a telephone and said, "Marcus, we're home. Could you get some-- Yeah. The
library." He held his hand over the receiver. "Do you like corned beef?" Kat glared at him, but he only smiled. "She loves it!" he exclaimed. He hung up and collapsed onto one of the leather sofas as if he owned the place, which, Kat had to remind herself, he did.
"So," Hale said with a slow, easy grin, "did you miss me?"
A good thief is always a great liar. It's part of the skill set, the tools, the craft. And at that moment, Kat thought it was probably a very good thing she'd walked away from the life, because when she said, "No," Hale just smiled wider.
"It really is good to see you, Kat."
"You might want to remember who I am before you try to con me."
"No." Hale shook his head. "You might want to remember who you are. You want to go back to Colgan, is that it? After I saved you from that place?"
"Colgan wasn't so bad. I could have been normal at Colgan."
Hale laughed. "Trust me: you would never have been normal at Colgan."
"I could have been happy at Colgan."
"They kicked you out, Kat."
"Because you framed me!"
Hale shrugged. "Fair enough." He stretched his arms over the back of the couch. "I sprung you because I've got a message for you."
"Doesn't your family own a cell phone company?"
"Only a little one." He held his fingers an inch apart to illustrate his point. "Besides, it's more of a face-to-face kind of message."
"I thought my dad wasn't speaking to . . ." She trailed off. Hale shook his head. And suddenly Kat understood everything
a little better. She dropped onto the couch opposite him and asked, "So how is Uncle Eddie?"
"He's good." Hale nodded. "He sends his love. He says the Colgan School will rob you of your soul." She started to protest, but Hale stopped her. "But that's not the message."
"Hale," Kat exhaled, growing weary.
"Kat," Hale mimicked. "Do you want to hear Uncle Eddie's message or not?"
"He says he's got to give them back."
"What?" Kat was sure she hadn't heard correctly. "Uncle Eddie's got to give what--"
"No. That is the message. And I quote. 'He's got to give them back.'"
Kat shook her head. "I don't understand."
"There was a job, Kat. A week ago. In Italy."
"I haven't heard about any jobs," Kat insisted before remembering that she'd been out of the world. The loop. The life. She knew what the Colga
n cafeteria was serving every day this month, but this . . .
"Private collection," Hale continued. "Very high-end paintings. Very high security. Very high risk. Two--maybe three--crews in the world could have done it, and--"
"My dad's at the top of the list?"
Hale shook his head. "There is no list. There's just--"
"Dad." Kat sat for a moment, thinking, then sighed. "So?" she asked. Suddenly it all seemed preposterous. "So what? This is what he does, Hale. This is what we all do. What makes this time any different?"
She stood and started for the door, but in a flash, Hale was standing; his hand was around her wrist.
"It's different because it's different, Kat. This guy--this guy with the paintings--he's a bad guy."
"I'm Bobby Bishop's daughter, Hale. I know a lot of bad guys."
She tried to pull away, but Hale's chest was pressed against hers. His hands were warm against her skin. There was a new urgency in his voice as he whispered, "Listen to me, Kat. He's not a bad guy like your dad and Uncle Eddie are bad guys." He took a deep breath. "Like I'm a bad guy. This guy? His name's Arturo Taccone, and he's a whole different kind of bad."
In the two years since she'd met him, Kat had seen Hale wear a lot of expressions: playful, intrigued, bored. But she had never seen him scared before, and that, more than anything, made her shiver.
"He wants his paintings back." Hale's voice was softer now. The hard edge had left him, and something else had settled in its place. "If he doesn't have them in two weeks, then ..." Hale obviously didn't want to say what came next, which was just as well. Kat didn't want to hear it.
As she dropped back onto the sofa, Kat couldn't remember the last time she'd been speechless. Then again, she also couldn't remember the last time she'd been framed for a crime she didn't commit, kicked out of a boarding school that it had taken her three whole months to con her way into, and then, technically, kidnapped by a guy who could buy a Monet and yet couldn't resist stealing a Vermeer. Speechless seemed okay under the circumstances.
"My dad used to be more careful than this," she said softly.
"Your dad used to have you."
Kat ate her corned beef sandwich. She drank some lemonade.
She was aware, faintly, of Hale watching her, but that was only because he was Hale, and the part of Kat that made her a girl wouldn't let her forget that he was in the room. Otherwise, she was as quiet as a church mouse. She would have made her family proud.
An hour later Marcus was leading Kat up the sweeping staircase, and Kat was staring, trying to guess whether the silver-haired man was closer in age to fifty or eighty. She was listening, trying to determine whether his accent was more Scottish than Welsh. But most of all, Kat was wondering why Marcus was the only servant she had ever seen orbiting around Planet Hale.
"I've taken the liberty of putting you in Mrs. Hale's room, miss."
Marcus opened a wide set of double doors, and Kat started to protest--the mansion had fourteen bedrooms, after all. But then Marcus switched on the lights, and Kat breathed in the stale air of a room that was clean but neglected. It had a king-size bed, a chaise lounge, and at least twenty silk-covered pillows, all in varying shades of blue. It was beautiful but sad, Kat thought. It needed to feel a beating heart.
"If there is anything you need, miss," Marcus told her from the door, "I'm number seven on the house phone."
"No," Kat mumbled. "I mean, yes. I mean ... I don't need anything. Thank you."
"Very well, miss," he said, reaching for the doors.
"Marcus?" She stopped him. "Have Hale's parents ... I mean Mr. and Mrs. Hale . . . How long will they be away?" Kat asked, wondering which was sadder: having parents who've died or ones who've simply floated away.
"The lady of the house will not be needing the room, miss."
"Are you ever going to call me Kat, Marcus?"
"Not today, miss." He repeated softly, "Not today."
He closed the door, and Kat listened to his footsteps receding down the long hallway. She lay down on Hale's mother's empty bed, the duvet cover cold against her skin. She felt very much alone in that big room, thinking about her dad and Uncle Eddie, about Porsche Speedsters and Monet.
Hours passed. Her thoughts blended together until they were like an Impressionist painting, and Kat knew she was too close to see anything plainly. She thought about crime, as she so often had in her fifteen years--ever since the day her father had told her he'd buy her ice cream if she would scream, and keep screaming until one of the guards outside the Tower of London left his post to see what was wrong.
She heard Hale's words: He used to have you.
Kat jumped from the bed and rifled through her bags until she found her passport. She flipped it open and saw the name Melanie O'Hara beside a picture of herself in a red wig. She dug again, flipped open another cover: Erica Sampson, a slender blonde. Three more tries yielded three more memories, until Kat found . . . herself.
She tucked those other girls away. For now. Then she picked up the phone and dialed. "Marcus?"
"Yes, miss," he replied, seeming too alert for four a.m.
"I think I may need to leave."
"Of course, miss. If you'll look by the phone, you'll see I've already taken the liberty. ..."
Then Kat saw it--an envelope. A plane ticket. Eight a.m. first class to Paris.
K at used to love Paris. She remembered being there with her parents--eating croissants, visiting a pyramid, and carrying six red balloons. It wasn't until years later that she realized it hadn't been a fun family outing--that actually they'd been casing the Louvre at the time. Still, the memories made her smile as she bought a pastry from her father's favorite cafe and carried it outside into the chilly wind. She shivered a little and wished she'd brought a warmer coat. Across the busy square, she saw the shop where her mother had bought her a pair of bright red patent leather shoes for Christmas. She wished a lot of things.
"I know Uncle Eddie says he's in Paris, but it might take a day or two to find him," she'd told Marcus as he dropped her off at the airport.
"Of course, miss," Marcus had said in a way that implied that he knew better; and somehow, as always, Marcus was right.
Bobby Bishop's name and address and phone number might be constantly changing, but Kat knew her father, and that, it turned out, was enough to track him down.
He was half a block away when she spotted him. The faintest hint of gray was settling into his dark hair, but it was still thick and slightly curly. He took long strides and kept the collar of his dark cashmere coat turned up against the wind as he walked--not too slow, not too fast--among the crowd.
Kat hurried back inside, bought a black coffee, and took the steaming cup outside, expecting to see him--to watch him stop in surprise at the sight of her. But when she returned to the street and scanned the crowd for his face and that familiar gait, he was gone. Had he passed her by? For a second she worried that she might not find him again. Or worse, that she might find him too late.
She set off in the direction he'd been going, and was about to call his name, when, on instinct, she stopped and turned around. There, in the center of the square, she saw him standing amid a large group of tourists, listening to a guide who was lecturing at the fountain's edge.
Her father didn't seem to notice her weaving through the hordes of tourists and scavenging pigeons. There were no hugs or cries of hello when she stepped up beside him.
"I hope that's for me," her father said, but his gaze never left the man who was speaking to the group in rapid Russian.
Kat didn't know whether to feel annoyed or impressed by his casual tone--as if this were a standing date, and he'd been expecting her all along.
She handed him his coffee, watched him wrap cold hands around the warm cup. "No gloves?" she asked.
He smiled and sippe
d. "Not on my day off."
Thieves aren't supposed to want too much--which is ironic, but true. Never live anyplace you can't walk away from. Never own anything you can't leave behind. These were the laws of Kat's life--of Kat's world. As she watched her father sip hot coffee and sneak smiles at her over the top of the cup, she knew that, strictly speaking, no thief is ever supposed to love anything as much as she loved him.
Nearby, church bells started to ring. Pigeons scattered. And her father glanced at her from the corner of his eye and said, "I know the Colgan School is good, honey, but Paris seems an awfully long way to come for a field trip."
"Yeah, I know, but it's fall break." Kat didn't want to know why lying to her father was far easier than telling her headmaster the truth. "I wanted to see how you were doing."
Another sip. Another smile. But this time he didn't meet her eyes. "You wanted to see if the rumors were true," he said, and Kat felt her face burn in the cold wind. "So, who told?" her father asked. "Uncle Eddie? Hale?" He shook his head and spoke through gritted teeth. "I'm gonna kill that kid."
"It wasn't his fault."
"Like Barcelona wasn't his fault?"
"Yeah, well . . ." Kat heard herself repeating Hale's words: "We all agreed that that monkey seemed perfectly well trained at the time."
Her father scoffed.
"Sweetheart, would you believe me if I said I didn't pull
any jobs in Italy last week?" The bells stopped, and the guide resumed his lecture. Kat's father glanced around the square and lowered his voice. "If I said I had an airtight alibi?"
"You have an alibi?" Kat asked. "You swear?"
Her father's eyes glowed. "On a Gutenberg Bible."
"You can prove it?"
"Well," he hesitated. "It's a little more complicated than ..." But then he trailed off and the crowd shifted, revealing a newsstand--headlines calling out in black and white: Nouveaux Pistes Dans le Vol de Galerie: La Police Dit Que les Arrestations Sont en Vue.