Authors Note: This story is for the April Fool's day contest, 2017. I hope you enjoy. Thank you to Paul, who volunteered to proofread for me. This will be the first of a series along this theme so I hope you enjoy and follow the story line in the future. ~ellie
The Fool : Prologue: April 25th, 2011.
Sinclair Mansvelt straightened his tie and walked toward the private dining room of the large plantation-style resort. The two large men at its entrance glanced down at his tie and stood back to allow him entry. He took in the other men in the room, some he knew well, others he knew as much as he needed to. Old enmities ran deep within this group of men and he tended to avoid gatherings like this with his associates.
He accepted the drink he was offered and a seat at the large round table. Neither one of the first, nor last to arrive, he could see three vacant chairs around the table as he studied the men who had also answered the summons from one of their elder members.
"Hey, you've been busy lately," Freddy slid into the chair beside him.
"I have?" Sinclair's lip quirked up in a smile, neither confirming nor denying his involvement in some highly publicised thefts.
"Honour Among Thieves," William Roberts, the host of this dinner, raised his glass and toasted the men around the table known from that simple toast as the Hats. The men echoed his words and raised their glasses in return. He waited for a second longer before throwing, what looked like, a large playing card on the table, face up for them all to see.
"What's this for?" John asked, leaning forward to pick up the card. "The fool?" he asked, identifying the card as part of the tarot deck.
"I wondered who she got this year," Edward chuckled.
"This year?" John still held the card looking at Edward.
"It was me last year, Henry the year before," Edward explained.
"Someone is targeting us and leaving a calling card each year on the first of April," William explained. "The card is never left at any other heists at any other time. They seem to have good knowledge of us, who to target and taking a family heirloom that identifies our ancestry and membership of this association."
They each had their secrets. Items trafficked on the black market by less than reputable dealers, and even less reputable thieves, who often didn't know what they had at the time had contributed to the individual wealth of the nine men in this room. They didn't do what they did because they needed to, as their forefathers had, they did it for the thrill; the fact that their customers would pay extravagantly to complete their collections was an added benefit to outweigh the risks of their chosen profession.
The older men were largely inactive, letting their chosen son begin to take over the family business. Most had legitimate businesses and money tied up in low-risk stock market deals that kept them from the eyes of those who would seek to accuse them of theft. Less than half were truly active as operatives, willing to steal, for a price, other people's family heirlooms that the owners refused to part with.
"I guess that gives us a year to find the April Fool before they find another one of us," John said. "What do we know so far?"
"Fuck all," Henry said. "It took me a few days to realise the Blackbeard's cutlass was missing. We were away visiting family."
"Whoever it is knows us well enough to avoid our security measures and disable any camera's we might have, no prints, no signature, aside of the card, no clues," Edward added. "The fool took the eighteenth-century engraving of Charles Vane."
"What about you, William?" John asked.
"The diamond cross!" William spat. "The cards make it obvious that we are being deliberately targeted by someone who knows what it is we value most. Individually we have enemies, amongst ourselves, we have some enmity, but I don't believe any of you would break the code. Still, this is a serious matter, and we all need to bend our will to it, because anyone of you could be next."
Chapter 1 -- An introduction, please.
April 1st, 2016.
Carrie pulled up outside the mansion and smiled at the young valet who politely took her keys. Her car was not new enough to warrant enthusiasm from the young man, but was not so old it would stand out amongst the expensive cars lining the driveway behind her. She'd put a lot of preparation into tonight, ten months' worth, to be exact, and she had timed her arrival perfectly to allow her to blend with the crowd that were attending this event.
She knew all of the Hats would be in attendance and on alert, and she spotted the first of them as she walked into the grand reception room. Each year this got a little harder as the successful heists on the Hats mounted. If she pulled this one off, it would be the eighth of the nine she had promised her mother.
"Show them," Robyn had whispered. "Show them that their boy's club can be bested by a woman and I will fight this disease to see you win their respect." Carrie took a drink from the tray offered to her and turned toward the large French doors leading out onto the patio as memories of her mother washed over her. She had been true to her word and fought bravely, going into remission three times before finally succumbing to the cancer that seemed to eat away her flesh from the inside out. Each birthday that her mother had lived to see; Carrie had brought her a gift, stolen from one of the Hats.
"Head in the game there, Ward," the voice of her partner in crime said softly into her ear, and she immediately resumed scanning the crowd rather than looking off into the exquisite grounds of this mansion.
Carrie found the man she was looking for and considered him. He had a reputation, two, actually, and she guessed they were both well deserved. She'd started with the less gifted of his associates and left facing the daunting task of taking a prize from him until last.
More guests arrived, and, finally, the vast library of Miles Rackham was opened to his guests. She'd paused and gone back to retrace her steps three times before she was sure she was in Sinclair's line of sight before slipping through the door artfully hidden behind an antique pennant tapestry. Miles was a big believer in servants being neither seen nor heard and had specially built corridors and pathways in his home for them to travel on during their duties.
She had used these corridors several times before today when delivering artworks with her boss, Mr. Chen, who was the curator of Miles Rackham's vast collection of antiquities. At any time she could have taken any number of things from the large collection loaned to the museum and overseen by Chen, but she needed a very particular prize. It had been chosen almost a decade ago by her mother, and nothing else would satisfy her.
Miles Rackham had the curious belief that if he hid the things he treasured most in plain sight they would be overlooked by would-be thieves. Possibly, if he wasn't such a bore, that would work, and she guessed it did, for the most part, but when asked about an object he would ramble on about its detail and importance in his collection.
She hurried through the corridor to a junction, and then turned and went up the stairs. Near the top step, she purposefully put her foot down heavily and hissed, "Shit!" If her next target had followed her, as she hoped, he would hear the curse and follow in the right direction to find her. She moved quickly from that point, snaking through the hallway to Miles Rackham's private study. Pulling the ornate clip from her hair so that it cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, she went to the balcony and opened the door, using her forearms on the lever handles. The quiet voice in her ear began to count, "Five, four, three, two, one."
She looked up as the disembodied voice counted and reached for the descending black bag, unhooking it; she took the gloves and put them on. She attached a grappling hook to the balustrade, letting the rope curl down over the ledge before taking out the weighted water pistol and exchanged it with the Queen Anne Flintlock Pistol, leaving her calling card, and went back to the balcony, hooking the bag back onto the line. She removed the gloves and ear piece, then placed them in the bag before turning back into the study.
"Ninety seconds, time to move, good luck," the voice held a happy tone as the drone lifted back into the cloudy black sky. Carrie moved quickly, leaving the balcony doors open and slipped through the door to the master suite and, listening carefully for footfalls that never came, she moved cautiously through to yet another corridor to the upstairs guest bathroom.
Counting to five, Carrie flushed the cistern, redid her hair and washed her hands before opening the door into the main hallway and coming face to face with Sinclair Mansvelt.
It was a flash of golden honey coloured skin and midnight blue silk that caught his eye as Sinclair stood enduring yet another dull conversation. He excused himself as soon as there was a break in the conversation and followed the flash of silk through the hidden door, finding himself in the servant's corridors.
When he'd reached the juncture where the corridor split, he heard a soft hiss from above him and moved cautiously to the stairs leading up to the private rooms. 'Could the April Fool be a woman?' He asked himself. Over the last five years since realising they were targeted, speculation had been rife, and two of the men had consistently claimed they had been robbed by a beautiful woman.
Sinclair didn't doubt that it was possible, but there were so few women in their business, at least few who had the skill and knowledge to pull off such daring heists each year. The hiss that he'd heard made him think otherwise, but, intrigued, he followed the sound, listening carefully for any noise that might give away the woman's whereabouts.
There was running water, and he cocked his head, frowning as he moved slowly into the corridor. The door to his left opened, and there stood a beautiful woman in a midnight blue silk dress. Her eyes widened with her sharp intake of breath at seeing him standing there. The curse word on her lips came out as an elongated hiss, just as he has heard in the corridor.
"Shit!" Carrie hissed, looking guilty, and stood immobile as his eyes travelled over her.
"What are you doing up here?" Sinclair asked.
"I would have thought that was pretty obvious," she glanced behind her. "I trust you don't want details."
"Why come upstairs?" he rephrased his question. "Surely the downstairs amenities are located easily enough."
"I thought the door in the library led to a powder room, so I slipped in and found myself in the passageway for servants. I assumed there was another way out, so I followed it and decided to use the upstairs facilities before getting totally lost and humiliating myself in front of all these people."
"I see," he said thoughtfully. There was no way she could have stolen anything and hidden it beneath that dress; it hid nothing from the imagination, every single curve of her gorgeous body was on display to the voyeur. "Let me show you the way back to the party," he offered, taking a step back from the doorway and sweeping his arm in the direction he had come down the corridor. "I'm Sinclair Mansvelt, and you are?"
"Carrie. Carrie Ward," she smiled and stepped out of the doorway. She had studied this man for years, more so in the last year as she prepared for this moment, but she was still thrown by his proximity and the way his eyes seemed to glide over her in a hungry way. His reputation as a ladies man was well deserved, she admitted, as they walked slowly together back down the wide staircase past the large security guards stationed at the bottom, who shot them a look of surprise which was waved off by Sinclair.
Carrie breathed a sigh of relief; she moved a little faster, eager to blend into the crowd again now that she had made her way back to the party with an escort of one of the Hats who would vouch for her whereabouts and her reason for being upstairs. She felt his eyes on her and smiled, knowing her choice of dress had been perfect to entice the man she needed to get close to finish what she and her mother had begun together.
Allowing her to take a few steps ahead of him, Sinclair watched the sway of her hips carefully. If she was a thief, there was no way she could have hidden anything beneath that dress. The material clung to her thighs as she walked, even if something small had been taped between them it would have been noticed by anyone with the reason to look at her legs, and he guessed that was every red-blooded man in the room. She wore no bra, and the fall of the material over her breasts was such that, once again, he knew nothing could be hidden there. As if sensing him studying her intently, she turned her head, looking over her shoulder at him and gave a coy smile. A stray curl rested against the side of her neck, and his fingers itched to reach out and brush it away.
Sinclair had known more than his share of women in his life, but this one held an aura he couldn't quite put his finger on, and it both disturbed him and excited him. He stayed with her as she walked toward the newest acquisition to Miles's library. An extremely rare copy of the children's magazine Young Folks from the year 1881 was displayed under glass, open at an illustrated story called The Sea Cook.
Carrie knew all about the acquisition, her boss, Jun Chen, was a bibliophile, and had almost lost his mind when he found out Miles had acquired such a rare piece. Feeling Sinclair's eyes following her every move, she posed provocatively for a few minutes as she read the plate attached to the glass case, feeling his eyes continue to study her.
"The Sea Cook was originally serialised in the children's magazine Young Folks over a period of several months from 1881-82. It was taken from this serialisation and turned into the adventure novel: The story of Treasure Island is by Robert Louis Stevenson, later that year.
Treasure Island is the classic pirate tale known for its superb atmosphere, character and action. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perception of pirates is vast, including treasure maps with an "X", schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders."
Sinclair continued to watch Carrie carefully and stay close to her as she moved away from the case and chatted amongst the guests. Each time she moved on, he wasn't far behind, and they found themselves pulled into the same conversations. She wore no perfume; he assumed so she would leave no lingering scent in the first-floor rooms she had been in, it was too easy to have a scent assigned to one person in particular. Once again, he considered how she had managed to steal something and conceal it beneath that dress.
"Carrington!" Jun Chen said, catching sight of her. "Excuse us, please," he turned to the small group of people she had been with and took her by the arm, leading her away. "I've spotted a few pieces Miles forgot to send for the exhibit!"
"I'm sure he has a good reason for not loaning them to the collection. This is his home, not a museum, Mr. Chen. Perhaps he finds these things too precious to leave in the hands of strangers," Carrie said softly, despite her boss's overly loud tone.
"We are not strangers, we are the members of the State Museum and work for him directly, such is the size of his collection," Jun looked crestfallen at her words. He believed all antiquities of value should be in the hands of museums and not held privately, and it irked him to see so many beautiful pieces on display in this home.
"Why don't we talk to him tomorrow at the museum and ask him if we can take inventory here before rushing ahead and possibly offending him. I would hate to have him remove his collection or us from the museum because of our faux pas. You know how boorish he can be," Carrie said reasonably. "You can't want to risk that because of a few beautiful pieces," she said, her voice calm and unemotional. She knew very well that if Miles had wanted them displayed he would have sent them to the museum already and replaced them in his home with any number of other equally beautiful artefacts.
Jun's excitement over his discoveries waned as he nodded, admitting that she right. Miles Rackham was a difficult man, at the best of times. This was not the time or place to demand he give more of his personal belongings to the museum. "I think I will go home, it's getting late, I can talk to Miles tomorrow," he finally said, as if it was his idea.
"Me too," Carrie smiled. "You're right, it's getting late, and I was just here to be courteous." There were a number of other very real reasons she was here, but she had accomplished what she needed and was keen to put some distance between herself and the walking testosterone of Sinclair Mansvelt before she did something she would regret. Timing was everything in this plan, and she had to remember that the final goal was in sight.
Sinclair had watched the exchange between Chen and Carrie carefully. The animated little man had become subdued as she talked briefly with him. He felt a twinge of disappointment as they turned to leave together. He recognised Jun from the museum Miles used as a personal storage locker, and wondered what Carrie's role was there.
He followed from a distance, noting the make and model of the car she drove, as well as the flash of golden honey coloured skin when her dress rode up as she got into the car exposing her legs. He was pleased that she and Chen had left in separate cars and went back into the party to take up his task of additional security tonight.
Carrie sped through the streets as a light rain began to fall. She always felt so energised after a successful heist. The phone came to life, interrupting the heavy music pumping through the speakers, and she tapped the button on the steering wheel to answer it.
"Hey, everything get back there safely?" She answered, knowing only one person would be calling her at that moment.
"Yeah," The voice of her adoptive brother, Jordan, hummed through the speakers. "You on your way home?"
"Not just yet, I thought I might take midnight blue for a spin through Diego's and let it work its magic," she said grinning and feeling exhilarated by the success of the evening. She'd stolen her prize and managed to intrigue Sinclair Mansvelt, her two objectives accomplished. Now she had to convince him that, while she had the skill and knowledge, she wasn't The April Fool.
"Be careful, it took me two days to find you last time you went to Diego's after a heist," Jordan warned her. "You can't afford to disappear just now, not when the ball has started rolling on the final phase of this vendetta."
"Ah, but what a fun two days!" she laughed loudly. "Fine, point taken. I'll go see if Jerome is at Fat Louie's, better?" She swung the car changing direction and angering the drivers around her as she weaved in and out of the slower moving traffic.
"It would be better if you slowed down," Jordan admonished watching her tracker on the screen before him. "Just keep your phone with you, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," she smiled. "Why don't you call that well-endowed boyfriend of yours and blow off some steam yourself?"
"Way ahead of you. See you in the morning. Be careful," Jordan warned for a last time before hanging up.
Carrie sped through the wet streets. She knew Jerome would be at the gym, several of his clients were corporate high flyers who worked late and worked out even later to destress from the pressures of the cut throat careers they had chosen. She looked at the time on the dash and smiled. The gym junkies would mostly be gone at this time of night, but there would be a few there to distract with her entrance. Of course, walking into Diablo's bar would have been a bigger and better high, but Jordan was right, she had little control when it came to that man, Jerome was a much safer, if more punishing choice.