It was day two of Caleb, Jet and Isla’s three day visit to Shang Simla in China.
They started out early to do some sight seeing.
“Quickly finish up that game and let’s head back to the base camp,” he said, checking his watch, “We need to talk.”
“You two know that I’m here to do a job right?”
Jet and Isla nodded. They hadn’t been told anything about it, but given that Caleb was training under Esmerelda in the thief branch of the family business they’d guessed is was a robbery of some kind.
“Have you heard of Chen Zuoyi?” Caleb asked. When the teens shook their heads he went on, “Well he’s dead now, but Chen Zuoyi was a famous relic collector. His collection of rare artifacts was famous and rumored to be worth millions. But when Chen Zuoyi died they only found a few items in his house, but the vast majority of his collection was nowhere to be found.”
“Let me guess,” said Jet, “We know where this famed collection is?”
“We do,” Caleb confirmed, “Or we think we do anyway. It’s taken us a long time and a lot of resources to get to this point. Through threats, bribes and blackmail over several years, we finally got the tip off we’ve been waiting for last month. We had already pieced together all the information we’d received and we knew the collection was kept underground and knew it was in Shang Simla, but only now do we know where the entrance is and how to open it. Have you kids heard of The Dragons Maw?”
“Seriously? Dragons Maw?” Jet asked in surprise. They had of course heard of it. It was one of the biggest tourist attractions in Shang Simla. A huge dragons head carved from stone set high up on a hilltop. They had a great view of it from their balcony. “Isn’t that a bit conspicuous for a secret entrance?”
Caleb shrugged, “I guess that was the point. To have it in plain view – well no one would ever suspect. Not to mention you have to know how to open it. Since there’s always so many tourists, we’re going to go there tomorrow morning early, before anyone is out and about.”
“We?” said Jet, “Do you mean us?”
After dinner, Jet and Isla went straight to bed to get as much sleep as possible as Caleb had suggested.
“Are you awake,” she whispered.
“Yes,” Jet replied, sitting up and turning on his lamp, “I can’t sleep.”
“Me neither,” she said, walking over to relax on his bed, “I’m too nervous.”
“It’s a big test, isn’t it?” she said, “I mean if we screw this up they won’t trust us with anything again.”
“I know,” he said, “How do you think I feel? I supposed to run the whole operation one day. What if I’m no good at the whole criminal thing?”
“I feel the same,” she replied, “It’s a lot of pressure. I know Caleb is going to report back to Dad about how I do tomorrow and I really don’t want to disappoint him.”
Jet smiled wryly at her, “There’s no way you’re going to screw anything up. I mean you’re a genius and you’re pretty much a natural at everything you do. Remember when you worked out how to get into the secret room in the study?”
“When you worked it out you mean, ” Jet said, “I had no idea what was going on. And don’t worry about tomorrow, you’ll be perfect, you always are.”
Isla sat up.
“Thanks Jet. I knew you’d make me feel better about tomorrow. I better go back to bed, we really need to get some sleep.”
She leaned forward to give him a hug – just a friendly hug to say thank you and goodnight as they’d hugged a hundred times before growing up together. But this time it was different. As she leaned towards him, Jet was suddenly aware of her closeness and their skin touching. She abruptly froze, halfway towards hugging him, with a sharp intake of breath, as though she too suddenly noticed the intimacy between them. Without even knowing what he was doing, Jet put his hand under her chin to raise her face to his and kissed her.
The feeling of her lips against his was like a jolt of electricity that brought the reality of the situation screaming back and he jerked away from her. His heart was thudding painfully fast in his chest as he jumped off the bed. He pressed his hand and his forehead against the cool wall, trying to catch his breath and steady himself. What the hell just happened?
“We… I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, “It was wrong.”
“It didn’t feel wrong,” Isla said tentatively, “And… you know it’s not against the law or anything, and we’re cousins once removed so…”
He voice faltered off as though waiting for an answer, but Jet’s mind was in turmoil and he couldn’t get his thoughts straight enough to say anything at all.
“I’ve loved you forever Jet,” Isla said so quietly he almost didn’t hear her.
Two short steps brought her to where he stood and she gently laced her fingers through his. Their eyes locked and he found himself leaning in to her as she moved closer. Their lips met just briefly in a kiss before she pulled away and whispered, “Goodnight.”
Caleb woke the two teenagers up in the early hours of the morning. There was no chance to talk about the night before as they hurriedly got dressed and ate a quick snack.
They crossed the river by boat to avoid being seen on the roads, and headed up the long winding path to The Dragon’s Maw.
Jet and Isla watched him closely as he ran his fingers along the stone feeling for the trigger that would release the hidden door.
The old, unused mechanism creaked loudly and the stone wall began to lower into the ground. The three robbers were coated in dust as the opening grew larger.
“Let’s go,” said Caleb. After they had walked through, he activated the mechanism from the other side and the wall closed behind them.
“I think we’ll try behind these,” he said.
“There’s something different about this part of the wall,” Isla murmured.
“Well done,” Caleb said as Isla carefully ran her hands over the wall.
Jet stared hard at the wall, but it looked just like any other part to him.
The next room appeared to have nothing but a pile of rubble.
Caleb stood back to reveal a small hole in the floor.
“Your Ma told you something about these kinds of switches Jet?” Caleb asked his nephew.
Jet nodded as he knelt by the hole and gingerly reached his hand in. If he did this wrong some kind of alarm or booby trap would be triggered – if he did it right, the next doorway would be revealed.
“This is it,” said Caleb, “This is what we came for! Have a look around carefully, we can’t take everything. Let’s work out what’s going to have the highest market value.”
It wasn’t long before he felt it, just a slight bump in the wallpaper along the edge of the wooden panel. With a sense of triumph, he pressed the button and activated the mechanism causing the wall to swing open.
At the center of the room below was an impressive bronze statue and Caleb, Jet and Isla stopped to admire it.
“If only we could take this with us,” Isla said with a sigh, “It must be worth a fortune.”
“A bit heavy I think,” Caleb said, “Come on, let’s see what else we can find.”
The trio set to work clearing away the stones and getting the safes open.
“Help me with these statues Jet,” Caleb said.
“Lucky I work out,” Jet muttered and he strained to drag the heavy stone statue.
“Spoken like a true thief,” he replied, “Pack them up, we’ll take them.”
“I think there’s another door here,” Jet said.
“Careful, it’s booby trapped,” Caleb called over, “Isla, help me disable these and we’ll get that door open.”
Caleb opened the chest in the next room to reveal a collection of the most valuable artifacts they had come across so far.
“Well kids, we’ve done it,” Caleb said, with a satisfied smile, “Let’s get all of this packed up and go home.”
With the robbery a success, they spent the rest of the day sorting through the relics they had acquired from Chen Zuoyi’s collection. It was their last day in China before their flight home late that night.
Caleb went to visit his Shang Simla contact to arrange to get their stash of stolen artifacts smuggled out of the country and back to the Maldini headquarters in Twinbrook. He took Jet and Isla along to introduce them, but then gave them the rest of the evening off.
They were silent until they reached the springs.
“Yeah we did,” he replied. “Look, Isla about last night…”
“We can just forget about – we’ll pretend it never happened,” she said quickly, “If that’s what you want.”
Jet stared at her for a long moment.
“Did you mean it?” he asked, “What you said last night about… about how you’d always loved me?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Jet reached out and took her hand.
Isla took a deep breath, “How are we ever going to break this to our family?”