Sunday, November 30, 2014
First 5 Pages December Workshop - Chou
Name: Jenny Chou
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Jewel Thieves
At a café in downtown Rome I sat beneath an ivy-covered trellis pretending to read while my eyes drifted back and forth from the worn pages of Sense and Sensibility to the no-parking zone in front of the bank next door. My brother Raj lounged in his chair across from me and appeared to be doing nothing more than scrolling through the news on his iPhone.
“Signora’s limo just pulled up,” I said softly in French, which we usually spoke to each other even though it was not the first language for either of us.
Very subtly, Raj lifted his eyes from his phone. “Not a minute late,” he whispered.
Signora D’Agnelli visited the bank every Wednesday at precisely 8:45 am, fifteen minutes before it opened.
From beneath my eyelashes I tracked her burly chauffeur as he marched around to the sidewalk, nodded to the security guard and opened the back door of the limousine. Placing her cane on the pavement, Signora emerged slowly and took the chauffeur’s arm. Her long silver-grey hair had been pulled into an elegant chignon and her maid had added a spray of small white flowers. The diamond choker around Signora’s neck caught the sunlight and sparkled.
The two American girls at the table next to us paused in their conversation and when they spoke again it was in hushed whispers. We could all see the radiant girl Signora D’Agnelli had been at eighteen when she’d married an Italian movie star in a fairy-tale wedding. I’d watched the video on YouTube a million times. Signora’s father had been a Spanish prince and an aura of old-fashioned glamour surrounded her. Together she and her husband had travelled the world, partying with Hollywood royalty and dining with presidents. Signora had known all the most fashionable designers and had dressed in clothes considered very risqué for her time. Also a famous collector of jewelry and art, her two Monet’s and an early Andy Warhol were worth a fortune.
“She’s still so lovely,” I said with a sigh. The bank’s security guard tipped his hat as he held open one of the intricately carved iron doors. Signora disappeared inside the building. “So heartbreaking about her husband.” Signor D’Agnelli had died two years earlier.
“Sasha,” Raj said very evenly, fixing his dark eyes on me.
“What?” I put my sunglasses on. “I’m completely detached.”
Of course I hadn’t told Raj about the YouTube video. Or the copy of Life Magazine with Signora’s wedding photograph on the cover I’d bought at a used bookshop in Paris.
“Sure you are.” He snorted and stole my chocolate biscotti.
The wind picked up, carrying the scent of brewing coffee through the unusually warm November air and blowing my shoulder length hair around my face. Yesterday I’d dyed it from a blond the color of buttermilk to brown. Not a striking copper or a deep chestnut, but a brown that could only be described as brown. Grey contact lenses toned down the cornflower-blue eyes I’d inherited from my father. In my silk blouse and pencil skirt I hoped to be mistaken for an executive assistant or the receptionist at a law firm.
Certainly I wouldn’t strike anyone as a seventeen-year-old veteran jewel thief.
Continuing to ignore the playful looks the Americans had been throwing at him for the past half hour, Raj clicked onto his favorite financial site on his phone. I’d managed to tame his unruly black curls into a straight ponytail. His oxford shirt masked the tattoo between his shoulder blades of the Chinese characters for genius and he’d removed all his earrings. Grudgingly, he wore the conservative tie I’d chosen but he’d also put on his battered old running shoes. So much for blending seamlessly into the business district. Maybe he’d pass for a quirky advertising copywriter.
Raj updated me on a couple of his favorite stocks but I barely heard him. My stomach fluttered as I thought about Signora opening her safety deposit box inside the bank. Before I finally closed my book I’d read the same sentence about the dashing Mr. Willoughby at least twelve times.
Glancing around for a distraction, I caught sight of a two college-age boys walking past the café carrying lacrosse sticks. They stopped on the corner to wait for the light to change, arguing in a mixture of English and Italian about a game. One guy had artfully tousled hair and dark, slim jeans. Recklessly handsome just like my brother and just as destined to break hearts all over Europe.
My gaze wandered over to his friend. Tall and thin, his button-down shirt half untucked from his wrinkled khakis, he also lugged a backpack so crammed with books he couldn’t get the zipper to close. He wore glasses with vintage metal frames and swoon-worthy golden red hair fell into his eyes. Even better, he spoke with a delicious Scottish accent. For a moment I allowed myself a daydream about a backpack of my own and a class on Nineteenth Century British fiction in an ivy-covered lecture hall. And an adorable Scottish boyfriend to meet for coffee.
Though we’d taken a lot of classes online, neither Raj nor I had ever gone to any kind of formal school. Dad had taught us about language and art and history as we’d trailed behind him, crisscrossing Europe and Asia and sometimes the Atlantic in search of the next big heist. Everything I knew about high school I’d learned from reading American novels. And to be honest, the ins and outs of high school sounded far more terrifying than the thought of breaking into a villa owned by Spanish royalty and stealing millions of euros worth of diamonds. But college would be different. A chance to start over. To reinvent myself as anyone I wanted to be.
The Scottish guy noticed me checking him out. He took off his glasses and winked before turning to cross the street. Feeling my cheeks turn all kinds of red, I quickly picked up my cappuccino.
With a nod, Raj drew my attention towards the bank. “Remind me why we’re in Italy?” He shot me an evil grin.
I kicked his ankle with the pointed toe of my high-heeled shoe.
While I’d been scoping out hot college guys, the bank’s security guard had stepped outside again, accompanied by a second guard. The chauffeur brushed past them and opened the door to the limousine. Dressed in a navy-blue suit and a tie very similar to Raj’s, the bank manager himself appeared next holding Signora D’Agnelli’s arm.
All traces of humor vanished from Raj’s face.
In her right hand Signora carried a red leather box the size of a hardcover book. I felt a tingle race up and down my spine.
A necklace made from two hundred glittering carats of oval, pear, marquise and round brilliant white diamonds rested inside that box. Long ago Signora D’Agnelli had worn the diamonds to the Oscars, outshining all the American actresses. According to the flurry of emails Raj had been monitoring between Signora, her younger sister in Barcelona and her niece Giana in Milan, the necklace would be presented as a gift to Giana at the rehearsal dinner on the eve of her wedding, to be worn at the ceremony the next day.
I sighed. Hopefully Giana had a back-up plan.
“I’d say this is a done deal,” Raj said, his eyes flashing with excitement as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie.