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New Houdini 8

Chuck gave her a look of grand superiority. "Better up your enthusiasm. That's not the same thing as your ugly adder stone. That's a piece of blue amber you've got –"

"It's a photo," Max attempted.

"—that's a collector's item and a rarity. They're only found in one place in the whole world, in the Dominican Republic. We've got a few as heirlooms, speaking of which, that better not be one of ours again."

Max glanced at the accompanying profile. "It's owned by some New York art and jewelry dealer."

Max spoke with some trepidation; her last attempt at theft had ended disastrously. A New York art dealer? She tried to recall if she'd ever encountered this sort of person and drew a blank.

Chuck gave a bouyant laugh, theatrical and overwrought. Max cringed and shielded her ears; he sounded like a baritone hyena: "This is the easiest job ever." His eyes lost the troubled look they had been harboring for weeks, replaced by the sparkle of enthusiasm – or mania, thought Max gloomily – that had shone in him when they had first met, that handful of months ago. It seemed like such a very long time ago that they had met, when she knew enough to be able to tell when that spark had gone and come back.

She glanced down at the photo. It was a pretty rock, to be sure: a perfectly round stone that shared zero characteristics with the adder stone. While the adder stone was rough and unpolished, this was carefully carved and lovingly shined. It was delicate and gossamer, a cool pale blue that was almost white. In the bright flash of the camera the edges of the stone took on the reddish-orange color Max usually associated with amber, the reddish tint a faint glimmer within the blue. The stone reminded Max of sparkling Caribbean waters, the sun glinting off the cerulean waves. Her finger moved along the photograph, tracing the line of a wide eye carved in the middle of the rock.

"Gorgeous, right?" Chuck asked, as proudly as if he'd carved and polished it himself. "Depending on the way light touches it, it'll shine either blue or orange. It puts on a nice show."

"It's worse than the museum," Max said. "In the museum those pieces had been in their cases for years, none of the guards had any particular reason to care or suspect if one of those went missing. But an art dealer? And something like this?" She pictured a gargantuan, mafia-type boss, loaded with rings, carrying rolls of hundred dollar bills and, for some reason, eating a chicken wing. "He'd probably care."

Chuck seated himself on the overstuffed blue chair like a king on a throne. He looked regal and overconfident, the look and stature of a person of who used his privileges like a well-worn toy. It was incredibly irritating. "You leave that guy to me."

The sun was only beginning to set when the two of them parted ways from the Lighthouse, Chuck brimming with plans about the amber and Max carefully keeping her doubts to herself. She didn't mention how blue amber wasn't mentioned in any of the books the Lighthouse carried, nor how the stone was only a few years old if the profile was to be believed – modern Artifacts tended to be fakes in her experience. They would check it out and that would be it. She didn't want to make any more promises. Max was having a hard enough time fulfilling the ones she'd already made.

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