On the evening of her thirteenth birthday, Charlie Thorne committed a crime.
As crimes went, it was a minor one, merely illegal entry. Charlie had no intention to steal anything or hurt anyone―although she knew from experience that even the most carefully thought-out plans often went wrong.
Which was exactly what happened that night.
The location was the penthouse condominium of Ahmet Shah, the oldest son of an extremely wealthy Egyptian shipping magnate. Charlie had been plotting the crime for two weeks, surveying the building, doing research, learning everything she could about Ahmet and his home.
Charlie was exceptionally smart. She had an extremely high IQ and a gift for languages; since arriving in the country, she had taught herself Egyptian Arabic. She could have hacked Ahmet’s computer to get the information she wanted―although that hadn’t been necessary. Ahmet loved the spotlight and was extremely active on social media, and so he had unwittingly posted everything Charlie needed to know online.
Ahmet was a vice president at his father’s company, but he didn’t appear to work very much―if at all. Instead, his main profession seemed to be spending money. He had vacation homes in Aspen and Malibu and an eight-bedroom yacht that was currently anchored off Ibiza. He belonged to seventeen different country clubs around the world, three of which he had never even visited. He had just returned to Giza after spending two weeks in a $10,000-a-night hotel room in Bali.
And now he was throwing a massive party to celebrate being home again.
Charlie had briefly considered breaking into Ahmet’s condo while he was in Bali, but the security system was elaborate and state-of-the-art, and the building was patrolled by armed guards. Charlie had many talents, but breaking and entering wasn’t one of them. Besides, there were far easier ways to get into someone’s home, no matter how well protected it was.
Under the right circumstances, you could just walk through the door.
Ahmet Shah loved entertaining. It hadn’t taken Charlie long to learn that about him; her first Google image search for the young man turned up hundreds of party photos taken at his penthouse. Large, crowded, glamorous parties, the kind that certain types of people were desperate to score invitations to.
The condo had also been featured in several architectural and design magazines, which allowed Charlie to easily memorize the layout of the rooms and catalog most of the artifacts on display.
Including one artifact in particular. The one Charlie had been trying to locate for the past two months. In a magazine photo, it was in the background behind Ahmet as he showed off another piece of art that wasn’t anywhere nearly as important.
An artifact so powerful and significant should never have been in a private collection. Ahmet Shah would have been wise to keep its location a secret. But then, Ahmet did not appear to be a very wise person. From ...Charlie’s research, he was a wealthy brat who wanted to be famous―and he didn’t even know what he possessed.
Charlie took it as a good sign that the party happened to be on her birthday. She felt like celebrating, but unfortunately, she was no longer in touch with any of her friends. Four months earlier, circumstances beyond her control had forced her to cut ties with all of them and vanish from their lives. None of them had heard from her since then. None had the slightest idea what had happened to her.
And as for celebrating with family, well… Charlie had some very unusual family issues. Her half brother Dante was a CIA agent who had blackmailed her into working for the US government. He was the reason she was now on the run, pursued by intelligence agencies and criminals around the globe.
Although, Charlie had to admit, thanks to Dante, her life had become quite exciting. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t have even known about the artifact in Ahmet Shah’s penthouse.
To access the party, all Charlie had to do was pretend to be a member of the catering staff, which was easy. The party was going to be a big one, with more than sixty servers. And caterers all over the world wore virtually the same uniform: white shirt and black pants. The clothes were cheap and readily available―not that Charlie had to worry about money.
Charlie was tall for her age and behaved with a maturity that made her come across as someone who was several years older. In addition, she was extremely multiracial―partially Latina, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian―and multilingual; with her caterer’s uniform and her newfound mastery of Egyptian Arabic, she easily blended in with the other hired help.
The building where the party was taking place was imposing and opulent in the front but basic and industrial in the back. There was a rear entrance for nights like this, so that the catering supplies and staff wouldn’t have to come through the main lobby and tie up the elevators. As Charlie had expected, the scene at the rear entrance in the hour before the party was chaotic; the catering staff was scrambling to unload truckloads of food, glassware, serving dishes, utensils, and linens and get them up to the penthouse. Charlie simply grabbed a tray of canapes and fell in line. The single security guard stationed there was distracted, trying to get the phone number of an attractive young caterer; Charlie walked right past him and into the service elevator without any trouble at all.
The penthouse was even more spectacular than she had expected. The magazine photos hadn’t done it justice. It was extremely modern in design, which served as a stark juxtaposition to the ancient treasures in Ahmet Shah’s art collection: papyrus scrolls and sandstone sculptures that were thousands of years old. But for most visitors, the most amazing feature was the view of the pyramids.
The western walls of the penthouse were floor-to-ceiling glass, fronting an outdoor deck with an infinity pool. All of it faced the famous Giza pyramid complex. Although the ancient tombs were still surrounded by the sands of the northern Sahara, the modern city came surprisingly close to them, creating a jarring clash of the old and the new. The edge of the pyramid complex was lined with other luxury condominium towers, high-end housing developments, ghettos, shopping centers, school campuses, and even a golf course, whose irrigated green fairways looked bizarrely out of place beside the desert sands. At night, the great pyramids were lit with floodlights, so they practically gleamed against the dark sky.
However, as impressive as the view of the pyramids was, Charlie was far more interested in something inside the penthouse.
And yet she couldn’t go see it right away. There were security cameras in every room and plenty of guards patrolling the condo. So Charlie bided her time, waiting for the right moment. For a few hours, she worked dutifully as a caterer, first by helping set up for the party, arranging banquet tables and prepping food, and then, once the guests began to arrive, by carrying around trays of hors d’oeuvres and collecting empty glasses. When the party finally reached its peak, and the rooms were jammed with guests, Charlie decided it was time to make her move.
She ducked into a bathroom and took off her catering clothes, revealing the party dress she’d been wearing underneath them all along. Ahmet Shah’s guests were rich, and so, to blend in, Charlie had splurged on a designer outfit. It was sleek and stylish―although not so stylish that it would grab attention. Attention was the last thing Charlie wanted. She quickly put up her hair, did her makeup, and crammed the caterer’s uniform into a cabinet under the sink. Then she stepped out and joined the party.
Charlie had little concern about the other caterers recognizing her; the lights were dim and the condo was packed. She even managed to pluck a few sliders and a soda off the trays of passi
Gibbs, Stuart [저]
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