Chapter 1


My hair was long and annoying. And if it hadn't been for the constant reassuring compliments from Bess Marvin and Hannah, I would have simply chopped it off by now. Their words pounded down any notion of scissors and a bathroom mirror that stuck up in my mind like a rebel nail. I couldn't cut my hair, because apparently it was "gorgeous exactly as it was." I didn't agree, but I thanked them anyway. In a dry, irritated sort of way.

My hair had never been such a nuisance as it had in Venice on this case. It took an extra ten minutes to tie it up and pin it in such a way that no locks of titian would escape from under my blonde wig. It was an extra step and an ounce of wasted time whenever I had to quickly transform into Samantha Quick.

But maybe I wouldn't have to bother with it anymore. Because I'd finally found the crime ring's 'safe and secure store.' So many things pointed to this place as the final piece of the puzzle—I could feel it. All of the thefts lined up, all the stolen artifacts and art, there was no better place I could think of to hide them than in these wells. Whoever was behind all this—I still couldn't pin the mastermind on one particular individual—they were brilliant.

43556. I held my breath, waiting for that sound—the one I loved so much. The suctioning sort of click of the lock as it pulled out of its passionate kiss with the door frame. But instead I heard nothing.

What? How can this be happening?

I tried the code again. And when my damp fingertips sunk into the last of the abused buttons—number six who looked quite pale and disappointed—I was met with silence again. Dead freaking silence. I tried the handle, wondering if this primitive system could really be strangely digitally developed on the inside. But no, my wild guess was crushed. Locked tight.

I pinched my eyes shut and listened to the walls quietly weep for a moment. Forcing my burning hot mind to cool down, calm down and just think for a moment. Just. Think.

I knew this password. I hadn't intercepted the notes, discovered the gang's plans to change the code for the storage unit and picked my way through it all painstakingly, just to be defeated by the mocking stare of a locked door. This was not going to end like this.

I just needed…

I let my eyes ease themselves open, taking a deep breath. Pulling myself away from the door. I needed some fresh air. And I needed to call Sophia. Maybe she would have another lead for me concerning this password deal.

I exited the wells via the rope ladder hanging limply against the wall, feeling like I could relax a little more now that I was out in the fresh, clean Venetian sunlight amongst the begging pigeons of Campo San Polo. In reality though, there were far less enemies underground than there were above. Not like this fact disturbed me at all. I was a rebel to danger and the sunlight still comforted me.

Pager, Sophia, come on, pick up… She always answered my calls before the second ring. By the third or fourth, I'd wandered over to the entrance to Club Micio, trying to act casual and like I actually belonged there.

"Posso aiutarti?" a man's voice came over the phone.

"Uh," I cleared my throat softly, not sure how exactly to reply. "Is Detective Leporace there?"

"Ah, Signora Nancy Drew? I recognize your voice." He had a rich Italian accent, but spoke English fluently. I recognized his voice too, and it only took a few seconds to place as one of the GdiF agents I communicated with during the stakeout at the Palazzo Orpello.

"I remember you as well, um…?"

"This is Officer Capello," he stated flatly. "If you're looking for Sophia, she is not here. She has gone to settle arraignments for tonight's uh…assemblage."


"I'm afraid I cannot disclose any information to you at this time, signora." he replied immediately, sounding sort of irritated with me.

"Sophia didn't mention anything about this to me—"

"I'm sure you understand, signora." he cut me off, "As a detective, if nothing else."

I felt my eyebrows climb halfway up my forehead. Taking a breath. Leaning against the warm wrought iron fence which incarcerated the bright flowerbeds behind me.

"No offense intended, of course. You must understand." Officer Capello took a breath, still sounding annoyed but trying his level best not to show it. "I have to do my duty."

"I understand completely." I came back coolly, peeling my free hand away from the fence and pacing across the sun-bleached courtyard. "Please excuse me for prying. I also have to do my duty."

He cleared his throat. "I will tell Detective Leporace that you called."

"Thank you." I rolled my eyes and sat down on the edge of the fountain.

"But of course."

"And if you could make note that I would like to be informed in detail of this 'assemblage' as soon as possible, it would be appreciated."

There was a short pause. "I will let her know," came Officer Capello's curt reply, "Ciao, Nancy." And then a click.

I nodded slowly, pulling the pager away from my ear. "Something tells me he didn't right any of that down."

For a few minutes I just sat there on the edge of the fountain, running my hands—which were still a bit covered in slime—through the cool, gurgling water, then wiping them dry on my jeans.

Assemblage. I kept tossing that word around in my mind. This sounded like another stakeout. I mean, it had to be. That's something that even another GdiF agent would swear not to speak of. I could tell by the way the word wound strings of tension inside my chest—assemblage.

There was going to be another stakeout. Which meant that there was going to be another break-in. Tonight.