Chapter One Too Many Thieves Kate Fujimori was a lustrous shadow in cat-burglar black. She crouched low on her haunches and scanned the medieval alleyway several stories beneath her. It was early morning in Venice's Dorsoduro district, just before daybreak. A light drizzle had begun to fall. Kate glided with relative ease among the thickets of chimney pots and satellite television dishes that cluttered the terra-cotta rooftops of the old quarter of San Sebastian. Leaping, she moved through the air in her sleek skin suit like a whisper. When she alighted on the peaked roof of a neighboring palazzo, it was with the self-assurance of a gymnast. Poised there with the city sleeping below her, Kate was a lithe silhouette against the chalk-white dome of Santa Maria della Salute, the baroque church that stood at the mouth of Venice's Canalazzo. The dome rose over the rooftops and canals of San Sebastian, a ghostly moon drifting up out of the waters of the San Marco Basin. Kate steadied herself on the narrow ridge of tiling. Her breathing was even and controlled as she prepared to traverse the narrow path before her. She extended a single foot, placed the sole of her Boreal climbing shoe gingerly on the back of an earthen tile, and nearly toppled. The terra-cotta dislodged beneath her step. It clattered away down the sheer slope of the roof and crashed noisily into a gutter. Kate's breathing caught in her throat. Steady, she reminded herself, her pulse racing. Nearly lost it there. Somewhere below, a neighborhood dog barked and barked. "Kate? Kate?" The familiar voice crackled in her ear-mounted Motorola headset. Kate sighed. "I'm fine, Freddy," she said. "Lost my footing, that's all." She paused to chalk her fingers in the climber's pouch that hung at her hip. She would be making her descent shortly. "Heck of a view from up here," she said. "Freddy, do you remember the last time you and I stole a fabulously expensive art treasure from romantic Venice? You wore black, I believe." She stretched out her arm, which was slender and visibly toned under the black sheen of her skin suit. "Come to think of it," she said, grinning, "I wore black, tooand Bellini's Madonna was dressed in stars." "Wasn't me." "No?" "You're thinking of Antwerp. The painter was Flemish, not Venetian. And the lady wasn't a virgin, she was a still life. A plate of cheese and dried fruit, to be precise." "Ah," Kate said, feigning nostalgia. "Romantic Antwerp. You did wear black, though, yes? Just like always?" Freddy's static reply made her wince. "Stick to the protocol, Kate. Our window is closing fast. As it stands, you're a minute and twenty-three seconds behind schedule. A minute twenty-four. Twenty-five. Twenty-six" "Okay, okay. Geez." Kate smiled into the microboom of her cellular headset. She said, "Where are you now? Quickly. I have to know." "You know I can't tell you that." Kate pouted. "Why not? Just this once, why can't you?" She finished Freddy's terse reply even before it came crackling into her ear bud. "Oh, I forgot," she said. "The protocol." In the rarified society of Western Europe's criminal elite, Freddy Doloreux was famous for hisCampbell, David M. is the author of 'Venetian Holiday', published 2006 under ISBN 9780312349905 and ISBN 0312349904.