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Darkness covers my movements as I scale the stone facade of the museum. The jagged ridges threaten to cut into my skin, but I press on. I don't have time to worry about a few scratches. The guard will be back around in forty-three minutes, and I need to be ready to make my descent as soon as he passes by. Otherwise, I will have missed my window and will need to wait an extra hour. That's sixty minutes during which I could be discovered. The knowledge is a dark shadow threatening the edges of my concentration. My mother won't be happy if I botch the timing of my first point job. It might even be enough for her to send me back to my usual position of lookout in the car while she takes point here. My stomach clenches.
I reach up and grab hold of the next protruding block, using my toehold on a lower block to heave myself up. I'm mid-move when the stone cracks and a large chunk breaks off in my hand.
Time slows to an inching crawl as the night tunnels in around me, the entire universe narrowing to the point where my center of balance is shifting away from the wall. The momentum from that one wrong move forces my opposite foot to slip off its own secure place. The threat of plummeting to the ground is a lump stuck in my throat.
I'm balanced precariously on the toes of one foot, against little more than an inch of what's turning out to be very fragile stone.
I drop the fragment and scramble for a new handhold, any sliver of protruding wall that I might be able to cling to. Finally, my frantic fingers find purchase, and I grip the wall for dear life as I return the foot that slipped to its former place. I press my cheek to the wall while I catch my breath and calm my frazzled nerves, taking comfort in the feel of the cold rock against my skin.
But I don't stay that way for long. I don't have the luxury of time. Luckily, I'm close to the window I need to enter through, the one my mother deactivated from the security system during her visit earlier in the day.
Two more well-placed moves later, I'm perched on the sill with my pick in hand, ready to let myself into the upper floor of the building. I make short work of unlocking the window and push the side-by-side glass panels inward to open it. Then I slide through smoothly. Slipping my pick back into the special pocket sewn onto my pants leg, I take stock of my surroundings. There's nothing of importance up here. Sure, the paintings and sculptures and other odds and ends are culturally and historically significant, but none will fetch the price that my real prize will.
"I'm in." I speak quietly. Now that I've scaled three stories in the dark of night and the dead of French winter, wearing nothing but a thin layer of clothes and glorified ballet slippers made for flexibility and ease of movement, not warmth, I can descend four floors into the basement where the duchy exhibit is. And the jewels.
"Bueno, Mari. Now the real fun can begin." My mother's heavily accented encouragement floats through my earpiece.
"Yeah, because climbing up the outside of a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old building without safety equipment is child's play," I return.
She laughs. Then her tone turns serious. "All right, I've already disarmed the motion detectors, so you're good to go. When you exit the room you're in, the stairs will be to the left. Descend to —"
"The basement," I interrupt. "I know, Mother." We've only gone over this a thousand times. I've memorized the layout. I've choreographed my moves, and I'm timing myself perfectly.
"What do you think I am? A novice?"
Her sigh is a rush of frustrated air in my earpiece. "Very well. I'm just not used to being the one waiting in the van. I have faith in you, but I'm still worried."
It's a pain to have her trying to micromanage this job, but I'm touched by her concern for me. "I love you, too."
She doesn't say it back, but I know she loves me.
Back to business.
I check my watch. Twenty more seconds before I can leave the blind alcove of the window, the only place in the entire building that is hidden from the security cameras.
When the second hand hits the nine on my watch face, I make my move. If we've planned correctly, the camera feed just switched from the northwest corner of the room to the northeast. And in forty-five seconds, it will have looped fully around and returned. I only need five seconds to get to the outer hall, but the camera outside the room will be aimed at the doorway for another ten. So I wait, and I count.
I move as soon as it's safe, jogging from the room on silent feet, and head for the stairs. A short wait there, and then I practically dance down them.
I grow more confident with every step I take that does not result in alarms sounding, and after several minutes of this stop-and-go progress, I prance into the duchy exhibit, straight into the room with the duchy jewels.
This room is darker than the hall outside, with what little light there is being used to cast visual interest and draw the eye toward the display cases lining the center of the large room.
My eyes adjust quickly, and I head for the case with the most duchy rings, necklaces, crowns. All the sparkly things I've been taught to covet my entire life. Part of me did ache to hold all the shiny pretties in my hands when my mother and I cased the museum, but that's a side of me I don't like to let out to play. Even now, a miniature war rages between my thieving nature and my moral side.
"I've landed," I tell my mother.
"Good, now you only have sixteen minutes, thirty-two seconds to disarm the case, retrieve the take, and place the decoys. And don't forget to re-arm the case before you leave ..." She can't help herself.
"I got this." I grit my teeth against the urge to go on.
"I'm just saying, if the guard notices it's disarmed when he does his rounds, he'll put the museum on lockdown before you can get out of there."
"I know, Mom." I roll my eyes at the reminder. Like I need it. But her point is valid enough to send a wave of nervous energy over me, waking subtle butterflies in the pit of my stomach.
"All right, do you remember how to disarm the case? You have to start at the sensor, and —" My mother's voice cuts to muffled noises and is replaced by static. The static is replaced by silence.
"Mom?" She doesn't answer.
"Mom!" I call as loudly as I dare and tap my earpiece with my index finger.
I flounder for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. In theory, I know what to do, but everything looks good on paper. Now, I'm not sure our contingency plan — for me to continue on as if communications haven't been lost — is the right move. Something could be seriously wrong; she could have gotten caught. I consider leaving the jewels behind and making a run for it. But she's far enough away that the guards shouldn't have been able to find her, and no alarms or sirens are breaking the silence in the distance. Maybe we just lost contact; maybe some of the equipment malfunctioned or a battery died or something.
I'm a professional.
I will finish the job, then get the heck out of here.
I slip my tools from my pocket and visually inspect the glass case for the tiny sensor. I'm just about to get to work disarming the case when a shadow blocks the light stretching in from the hall. Has the guard returned early? I spin so quickly I almost lose my balance, preparing as I turn to make a run for it, mentally running through my escape route.
The silhouette filling the doorway is small and feminine, barely larger than my small frame, and her stance is familiar. "Mom?"
"Shh, Marisol, we have to get out of here, now. Petrov's men are here, and they know what we're doing." There's only one name in the world that turns my blood cold. Petrov Rosinsky. The man who killed my father. We were supposed to be well out of his reach in France, but his syndicate has been expanding fast these days. And now we're working in territory that is no longer ours to work in. "They've blocked our frequency and are entering the building right now. They're preparing to intercept us." Mom's at my side and grabbing my tools from my hand before she even finishes speaking. She makes short work of disarming and opening the display case, then grabs as much as she can carry. She shoves it into the cargo pockets of her pants, then fills my own pockets while I stand there dumbly. Clearly, I'm cool as a cucumber under pressure. When the case is empty and our pockets full, she all but drags me back the way I came in.
"How did he know?" It's a dumb question. He's head of the most powerful artifact smuggling syndicate east of the Atlantic; of course he knew. He might have figured out we were trying to get this prize before him, but what he can't know is why. Petrov probably thinks we're trying to encroach on his territory, but we're not stupid enough to go head-to-head with someone so powerful — and rumored to be ruthless. We're here because I begged my mom to leave France, to leave Petrov's expanded reach, to start over somewhere new with me. Somewhere safe. And this job is supposed to be our meal ticket.
We step up onto the landing of the third floor just as the security alarm goes off. Over the deafening wail, my mother might have called my name, might have directed me to the room with the disarmed window, but it's hard to tell with my hands over my ears and my vision blurred by red lights flashing at us from multiple directions. I do my best to shut out the light and the noise and follow her.
Between the rounds of flashing lights, I catch movement behind us as we round the doorway at the end of the landing. Two men, dressed head-to-toe in thief black, have just crested the stairs and are quickly gaining ground on us. They shout, but I can't hear them over the din. My mother sees them, too, and slows just enough to push me in front of her, to place herself between them and me as we race across the room I entered through.
At the window, my mother attaches a grappling hook to the sill and trails a nylon rope out and down the side of the building.
"Vámonos!" Mom pushes me toward it. I don't bother arguing. Grabbing the rope, I climb out the window, and in seconds, I'm rappelling toward the ground. My mother watches until I'm halfway down before climbing out and rappelling herself.
I barely notice the cold seeping through my thin shoes from the frozen ground when I touch down. I barely notice the frosty air nipping at my exposed skin and chilling even the parts of me that are covered. I'm focused intently on playing lookout, watching the front of the building to be sure no one is coming for us while she's in such a vulnerable position.
Shouting draws my attention to the open window above. A man, partially obscured by shadow, leans out the window, shaking his fist and yelling obscenities at my mother in French.
A second man eggs him on from the shadowy space behind him. If we weren't at risk of being caught by guards, the scene would almost be comical.
Until the man in front produces a hunting knife from somewhere out of view and grabs hold of the rope. The knife must be the size of my forearm, and if it's as sharp as it looks, it will cut through that rope in no time flat. Panic rises like bile in the back of my throat; my mother is still too far from the ground.
I can almost reach out and touch her when suddenly the rope slackens and gravity pulls her down with a thud. I rush to her side, but by the time I get there, she's already pushing to her feet. As soon as she has boots flat on terra firma, she grabs my wrist again, and we take off for the van, for safety. It feels a million miles away instead of just a few hundred yards.
Somewhere behind us, a man yells in French, and I wish for a brief moment I had listened to my mother when she advised me to learn more than just the basics of the language before we came to the country. I didn't see the need before, but now? Now I do. I hope it's just a security guard chasing us, but I'm too scared to look. I sprint behind my mother and pray it's not the police or anyone who might be able to shoot us in the back.
When I don't take a bullet, it's probably safe to assume the guy is unarmed security and not armed-to-the-teeth criminal.
We veer away from each other in unison, parting to round the van on our respective sides. My mother is in her seat and starting the ignition before I even have my door closed, and we're speeding away from the museum before I'm even belted in.
Now that we're putting distance between them and us, I breathe deeply, attempt to catch my ragged breath, then turn to look behind us for any sign someone might still be in pursuit. The lot behind us is dark and empty; we seem to be in the clear. Until a gunmetal-gray sports car fishtails into view from behind the building, kicking up gravel and a cloud of dirt as it speeds toward us.
At the exit, one lone guard is standing in front of the levered bar that serves as a gate. His grip is tight on a radio clipped to his shoulder, and he's talking into it. But he's not calling for backup. Luc is with us, a plant. Whatever he's saying through his radio is a diversion at best.
My mother's face is a mask of fierce determination, and I silently will Luc to get out of the way. Sure, he has to put on a good show for the cameras outside the gatehouse, but my stomach is a knot of worry that we'll end up driving right over him. At the last moment, he jerks back inside the guardhouse. I've had eyes locked on him since I spotted him, and I can't tear them away as we pass. I've never noticed how young he is, barely into his twenties. I spin in my seat to watch him through the back window. The car behind us pulls up next to him. He bends to speak to the driver, but a heartbeat later, gore and blood spray into the air around him.
He stumbles back, grabbing at his chest, then falls to his knees. The driver reaches one arm out his window to press a gun to Luc's face. I know what's coming, but I still jump when the kill shot comes. I turn straight in my seat and cover my eyes, as if that can erase what I've just seen. Nothing can erase it. Helping us just cost Luc his life.
"Hold on," my mother says before the van veers left onto a side road. The vehicle rocks as she pulls the wheel sharply and throws it into reverse. The back corner scrapes a wall, and the sharp sound of metal on stone stings my eardrums, but it doesn't faze Mom. Her concentration is static and immutable while she backs us into an alley, effectively tucking us into the shadows. She puts the van in park, shuts off the lights, and waits.
Barely a moment later, the same gray sports car speeds by the entrance of the alley. My mother is over her seat and into the back of the van in record time. Meanwhile, I hold my armrest in a white-knuckled death grip, every muscle in my body mirroring the tension in my hands, the tension in the pit of my stomach. If I relax, I will collapse into a quivering puddle of fear in my seat.
She places a hand over mine, and I drudge up the nerve to take my gaze off the road in front of us and look her in the eyes. "I know you're scared, Mari. I do, truly." Her Spanish accent is thicker than usual, the only outward sign that she's as frazzled by this as I am. "But it's time to go now. I have other transportation not far away." Tires screech, and an engine revs. They're coming back for us.
I shake my head vigorously.
What happens if they find us on the road like they did Luc? We won't stand a chance out in the open. There's still time for her to get back into the driver's seat and get us the heck out of here.
My mother grips my chin to stop the movement. "Marisol, you cannot break down right now. The only way we're going to get out of this is by being strong and remaining calm." She's right. I know she is, but it still takes me a moment to compose myself. I'm still not quite solid when the sports car appears again, this time stopping in front of the alley, not more than thirty feet in front of our car.
They've found us.
My stomach takes up residence in my throat, even as I vault into the back with her. She's already at the back door with one palm on the handle. The other holds a solid black bag stuffed to the stitching with supplies. The matching pack, equally stuffed, is already on her back.
I watch the passenger door of the sports car open at the same time my mom throws the back door of our van wide and jumps down. I don't get a look at whoever is climbing out of the car before climbing down after my mom, and I don't care to. With the van taking up the whole width of the alley, we might just be able to make our escape.
"Where will we go?" I ask.
"New York City."
Excerpted from "Diary of a Teenage Jewel Thief"
Copyright © 2017 Rosie Somers.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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