Sunday, December 7, 2014
First 5 Pages December Workshop - Chou Rev 1
Name: Jenny Chou
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Jewel Thieves
At a café in downtown Rome, my brother Raj and I sat drinking cappuccino on an unusually warm November morning. An ivy-covered trellis hid us from the security cameras posted outside the bank next door. While Raj appeared to be scrolling through the news on his iPhone, I turned the pages of my worn copy of Sense and Sensibility. I’d read it enough times that if anyone felt like striking up a conversation on Jane Austen I’d be covered.
“The limo’s here,” Raj whispered in French, which we usually spoke to each other, though it wasn’t the first language for either of us.
I lifted my eyes. A black limousine had pulled to a stop in the no-parking zone in front of the bank. A chauffeur marched around to the sidewalk, nodded to the security guard and opened the rear door. Placing her cane on the pavement, Signora Isabella D’Agnelli emerged slowly and took the chauffeur’s arm. The diamond choker around her neck caught the sunlight and sparkled.
A group of university students at the table next to us stopped their conversation and when they spoke again it was in hushed whispers. An aura of old-fashioned glamour surrounded Signora. We could all see the radiant girl she’d been at eighteen when she’d married an Italian movie star in a fairy-tale wedding.
The security guard tipped his hat and held open one of the bank’s carved iron doors.
“She’s still so lovely,” I said. If I’d had a grandmother she might have been around Signora’s age.
“Sasha.” Raj fixed his dark eyes on me.
“What?” I put my sunglasses on. “I’m completely detached.” Of course I hadn’t told Raj about the copy of Life Magazinewith 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.
A sudden gust of wind carried the scent of brewing coffee and ruffled my shoulder length hair. 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 my cornflower-blue eyes. In my silk blouse and pencil skirt I hoped to be mistaken for an executive assistant.
Certainly I wouldn’t strike anyone as a seventeen-year-old veteran jewel thief.
Continuing to ignore the playful looks one of the girls at the next table had been throwing at him for the past half hour, Raj clicked onto his favorite financial site. 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 his stocks but I barely heard him. My stomach fluttered as I thought about Signora opening her safety deposit box inside the bank. Before I closed my book I’d read the same sentence about the dashing Mr. Willoughby at least twelve times.
Two of the university students got to their feet, arguing in a mixture of English and Italian about a lacrosse game. One of the boys lifted a backpack so crammed with books he couldn’t get the zipper to close. Swoon-worthy golden red hair fell into his eyes. Even better, he spoke with a delicious Scottish accent. I allowed myself a little daydream about a backpack of my own and a class on Nineteenth Century 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 art and history as we’d trailed behind him across Europe, Asia and America in search of the next big heist. Along the way I’d learned a little Greek and Mandarin and could switch from French to Italian to English, no problem. Besides cracking open safes, accents became my specialty.
But everything I knew about high school I’d learned from reading American novels. To be honest, the trials of high school sounded a lot scarier than the thought of breaking into an Italian villa and stealing millions of euros worth of diamonds. But college could be different. A chance to start over. To reinvent myself as anyone I wanted to be.
As he headed towards the sidewalk, the Scottish guy caught my eye and winked. Feeling my cheeks turn all kinds of red, I 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 boys, the security guard had stepped outside again, accompanied by a second guard. The chauffeur brushed past them and opened the door to the limousine. Wearing a tie very similar to Raj’s, the bank manager 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. Inside the box rested a necklace made from two hundred glittering carats of oval, pear, and round brilliant white diamonds. A tingle raced up and down my spine. I pictured Signora standing in a spacious walk-in closet and turning the dial on her safe. The door would spring open, and the box would be there but the diamonds would have vanished. In my imagination Signora’s maid caught her before she fainted.
Raj’s eyes flashed with excitement. “I’d say this is a done deal.”
Without warning my own eyes teared up. “I wish—”
My brother put his hand over mine and squeezed. “I wish Dad were here too. But we can pull this off on our own, Sasha. I know it.” Grabbing the check, Raj stood up. “Be right back.”
I took a deep breath and twisted the gold watch on my wrist. Dad had given it to my mother on their first anniversary.
The students from the next table gathered their backpacks and took off in the direction of the university, leaving one girl behind. She followed Raj with her eyes as he went inside the café. Then she turned to me.
“Excuse me,” she said in Italian. She looked like an older version of the girls I’d read about in novels set at New York prep schools. Pretty, with stylish clothes and manicured nails. “Do you speak Italian?”
“Sure. I’m from Milan originally.” Maybe someday when a stranger reached out I could just simply tell the truth. But not today.
“You have every right to throw coffee in my face for even thinking of asking this question but is that gorgeous man your boyfriend?”
“He’s my cousin.” Raj and I concocted a different story every time.
Her forehead wrinkled as she contrasted my pale skin and cinnamon freckles with Raj’s dark and beguiling good looks.
“Hello.” Raj put a to-go cup of coffee down on our table. “Making a friend?” he asked me in French.
“She just thinks you’re cute.”
“Smart girl.” Raj grinned at her as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie. “I’m Jean-Luc.”