Jane unlimited, p.24
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.24

           Kristin Cashore

  “Are you going to tell me that Grace found the notes on the weaponized smallpox and now she could make up a batch from memory?”

  Mrs. Vanders looks practically pleased. “Very good, Kiran,” she says. “Though she couldn’t, in fact, create it herself. The notes are ciphered and contain formulas and instructions she couldn’t understand. But it’s possible she could tell key parts to someone, and maybe that person could figure out how to make sense of it.”

  “And somehow, people know she got into the notes,” Kiran says, “and now they want the information in Grace’s head.”

  “Yes. She might not understand the information she’s memorized, but she’s plenty smart enough to sense when her parents are worried and lying to her, which makes her angry, so she snoops and disobeys as a kind of leverage. When her parents forbade her to talk about it, she wouldn’t stop screaming about it, even when there were ominous-looking strangers in her house. And by this point, the research director was infected and Victoria and Giuseppe were terrified. They began withholding the details of their discovery from everyone, even the CIA people who began showing up at their front door. They destroyed their digital notes, with Ivy’s help. They burned their paper notes and destroyed the living strain. They told the CIA they had no intention of sharing the details of the discovery with anyone, ever, because it was no longer possible to know whom to trust.”

  “And now they’re blacklisted by the CIA?” says Kiran. “Considered non-compliant? Rogue assets?”

  Mrs. Vanders is pleased again. Jane is kind of starting to hate her. Where is the pleasure in all of this awfulness? “Essentially,” says Mrs. Vanders, “yes. The CIA is furious. They’ve decided to force Victoria and Giuseppe to hand over their research, and treat them as threats if they don’t comply. And in the meantime, other states have also taken an interest.”

  “In Victoria and Giuseppe, and in Grace,” Kiran says.

  “At this point,” says Mrs. Vanders, “it’s impossible to know how many people or states they need to be hidden from. Only that they need to be hidden, and that Grace, being a child, is in particular danger.”

  “I think the lesson here is that when someone offers you a job creating new and exciting strains of smallpox, say no,” says Kiran.

  “Very funny,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  “Was I joking?” says Kiran. “Why’d they try to rob a bank?”

  “So we could plant the Mafia story,” says Mrs. Vanders. “If you take someone with an Italian name, have them break the law, then make them disappear, then add the words Sicilian Mafia, everyone loves to talk about it, but no one digs very deep into where they went or why. It’s not fair to Italians, but it’s effective.”

  “That’s ridiculous. The police must dig deeper than that.”

  “We have a couple friends in the police,” says Mrs. Vanders, “and a couple friends in the press. Most importantly, we have a couple friends in the Sicilian Mafia.”

  “That’s so nice,” Kiran says. “How I wish Ravi could hear all this. He’d get such a warm, fuzzy feeling about his Vanny.”

  “Ravi couldn’t handle this,” Mrs. Vanders says, “as I think you know.”

  “He really has no idea?” says Kiran. “Nor does Octavian? Truly nothing?”

  “Not Octavian, not Ravi, not your mother,” says Mrs. Vanders. “You’re the only Thrash who’s ever had the slightest inkling, Kiran. This is all yours.”

  “That’s an interesting choice of words.”

  “Have you ever had anything that’s all yours, Kiran?”

  Kiran considers Mrs. Vanders. Then she flicks her eyes nastily to Patrick. He makes his mouth hard and insolent.

  “Good thing I caught Patrick in the act,” Kiran says.

  “That forced our hand,” says Mrs. Vanders, “but we monitor the dumbwaiter with cameras. We know if the path is clear. I wouldn’t have let it happen if I hadn’t been willing to risk the consequences. Have you worked out why?”

  Another of those silences sits in the space between Kiran and Mrs. Vanders. Finally, Kiran crosses her arms. “What else do you do?”

  “A lot of things,” says Mrs. Vanders crisply. “This house is a neutral meeting place, during galas usually, for opposing sides. We give representation referrals to agents and operatives under prosecution. Also, Mr. Vanders is a psychologist. The man you saw in the dumbwaiter had just completed a session.”

  “Spy therapy?” says Kiran incredulously.

  “Stop saying ‘spy,’” says Mrs. Vanders. “Surely you can see that there might be a need. Our clients have very high-pressure jobs.”

  “Since when does Mr. Vanders speak Arabic?”

  “He speaks Arabic, Farsi, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, and Korean,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  “I don’t believe you,” says Kiran.

  “Why shouldn’t he?” says Mrs. Vanders with an affronted air. “He’s a very popular therapist.”

  Kiran begins to giggle.

  “I’m rather offended that you find that funny,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  Now Kiran is shrieking with laughter. Tears are streaming down her face. “I don’t,” she says. “I can totally see it. He’s always talking psychobabble and looking at me like he’s diagnosed me with something. It’s just—” She pauses for another gale of laughter. “It’s funny!” she cries. “I’m dying here! Mr. Vanders is a secret spy therapist! Oh, lordy, maybe I’m having a shock reaction.” Taking a deep breath, Kiran wipes her face. “So,” she says, “are you going to explain why Ivy has been packing up the house Rembrandt and the famous missing Brancusi?”

  Mrs. Vanders sighs. “You’re not going to like this part.”

  “And the rest has been so delightful.”

  “It’s about leverage, power, and payment for services rendered,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  Kiran’s eyebrows rise to her hairline. Jane knows this part. She doesn’t need to listen. Over at Ivy’s end of the table, Patrick is now engaged in the alarming activity of helping Ivy strap a gun holster over her black dress. Then he helps her into a long black coat. Where is Ivy going?

  “You steal the family art!” Kiran says. “Over and over again! Oh, if Ravi only knew!”

  “We borrow the family art,” says Mrs. Vanders, but she’s doesn’t sound as if she expects anyone to believe her.

  “You’ve lied about your degrees!” Kiran says. “About the cleaning you do and the restoration! I know you told Ravi you needed that Rembrandt so you could clean it. He told me so!”

  “I haven’t lied!” Mrs. Vanders says. “I do care about the art, deeply! I do clean it, I do study it. I have never failed to recover a piece! I take its well-being and its authenticity very seriously and I’m committed to cultural restitution!”

  “Oh, spare me,” says Kiran. “If you care so much, why did you break the Brancusi in half?”

  “Grace did that,” says Patrick proudly.

  “Yes,” says Mrs. Vanders. “That child has fought us at every turn. We’ve been moving the family piecemeal, you see, and with the help of different parties. First Victoria, then Giuseppe, then Leo the other night with his doctor. Grace, being a natural snoop, figured out that we needed the Brancusi in order to pay for her transportation. And she’s smart as a whip, and she’s eight, and all she wants in the world is to go home. So she slipped past Cook one night—Cook has been our child-minder, in addition to arranging all four exchanges. The poor dear is exhausted. Grace stole the sculpture, then hid it. Then, when we reacted with a calm, systematic search rather than the panic she was looking for, she popped the fish off the base, buried the fish in the backyard, waited until poor Cook nodded off again, and stuck the base back in the receiving hall. Which certainly accomplished her purpose. I felt like the top of my head was coming off when Ravi showed me that empty base. I dread to think what she would’ve done next if Ravi weren
t such a drama queen.”

  “Oh, she would’ve taken a mallet to it,” says Patrick, “and thrown it into the fountain.”

  “I’m not so sure,” says Mrs. Vanders, studying him keenly. “I think she has a well-honed sense of where the line is, and, ultimately, she wants to be with her family. She’s just registering her protest.”

  “What about the Vermeer?” Jane asks.

  “Yes, what are you doing with the priceless family Vermeer?” Kiran says.

  “The Vermeer has actually been stolen,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  Kiran lets out a short laugh. “You’re kidding.”

  “I wish it with all my heart,” says Mrs. Vanders, “but no, someone in this house has stolen that dear picture and replaced it with an excellent forgery.”

  “Wow,” says Kiran, still laughing. “And Ravi’s filled the house with FBI agents, Interpol, and police, on the very night you’re trying to get Grace, Christopher, a Rembrandt, and a Brancusi away.”

  “Yes,” says Mrs. Vanders, not sounding particularly troubled. “Even Christopher’s given Cook the slip a couple of times, which is quite frightening in a house with a swimming pool. He’s two years old!”

  “People were starting to notice the crying fits too,” says Patrick. “‘Is there something wrong with the plumbing in this house? Or the air vents?’”

  Kiran is watching them intently. “Is this normal, then?” she asks. “This level of drama?”

  Mrs. Vanders purses her mouth and shrugs. “I guess,” she says. “Everyone we deal with is a person of great conviction.”

  Patrick has strapped a cord around the Rembrandt crate and is carrying it to the freight elevator. He props the doors open, then returns for the Brancusi crate. Without meaning to, Jane has locked eyes with Ivy.

  “I speak Bengali and a little Hindi,” says Kiran. “Also French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and some Hebrew. And I can pass as several ethnicities.”

  “Yes,” says Mrs. Vanders. “We’re well aware of that.”

  “This job must give you a stunning comprehensive view of the workings of nations,” says Kiran.

  “It does,” says Mrs. Vanders. “And now it’s time for you to return to the gala, Kiran. People will be wondering what’s happened to the lady of the house.”

  Patrick is standing at the freight elevator, sending the two crates down somewhere by themselves. Then he walks to the dumbwaiter and turns to Ivy, who’s put on a large backpack. Ivy takes a balaclava out of her coat pocket and pulls it over her head and glasses. It’s like she’s faceless suddenly.

  Jane walks to her. “Where are you going?”

  “There’s a hidden trapdoor in the cellar,” Ivy says. “It opens to a tunnel that leads to a hidden bay in the ramble at the other end of the island. That’s where the pickup is happening, of the kids and the art. Cook and the kids are waiting for me downstairs. I’m joining them.”

  “How far are you going with them?”

  “All the way to their parents. Then I’m going to Geneva.”

  “Will you be okay?”

  She considers the question, then nods. “Will you?”

  Jane considers the question too, then shrugs.

  Ivy grasps her hands tightly, then lets them go and climbs into the dumbwaiter. Jane forces herself back to Kiran. Her arms and legs are made of wet cement. Mrs. Vanders is staring at her.

  “When you were very young,” Mrs. Vanders says to Jane, “your aunt was just exactly what you thought. She took pictures of animals underwater and studied marine ecology. That was all.”

  “Her aunt?” says Kiran. “Magnolia? What are you talking about now? Magnolia wasn’t—oh,” Kiran says. “She was, wasn’t she. Jesus.”

  “Then, one day, she came upon the wreckage of a sunken submarine,” says Mrs. Vanders, “hidden in a cavern on the floor of the Pacific.”

  In Jane’s peripheral vision, Patrick closes the dumbwaiter door and starts pulling on the cables.

  Kiran touches Jane’s arm gently, the place where, under her skin, the jellyfish tentacles reach for her elbow.

  “It was a North Korean submarine,” says Mrs. Vanders. “The Pentagon, North Korea, and a few other states had their own divers searching for the wreck in various places elsewhere, but they were looking in the wrong area, and in the meantime, Magnolia found it by accident.”

  Kiran’s hand on Jane’s tattoo is a comfort.

  “She was diving from a Venezuelan vessel with an international crew of divers,” says Mrs. Vanders, “and she understood what she’d found. She had a hunch that one of her university colleagues would be able to advise her on what to do about it. So she came back aboard, told no one else in her group what she’d found, and called him. A few days later, she told her diving party she’d been hired for another job, then crossed over onto a highly equipped salvage vessel, American, passing as a mining ship, that came along to pick her up. Magnolia brought them to the wreck and, when they asked her to, helped them salvage it. A nuclear missile. Cryptological information. It was a jackpot.”

  “Why would she do that?” Jane whispers. “Why would she keep it secret? Why not just tell everyone on the Venezuelan ship what she’d found?”

  “She didn’t know what to do,” says Mrs. Vanders. “She had enough imagination to know it was a political discovery, and relations between the USA and Venezuela were suffering at the time. She did what she thought best.”

  Mrs. Vanders swipes a small black object—a walkie-talkie—from a nearby table and tosses it to Patrick, who’s strapping on his own gun. “Send that down to Ivy-bean,” she says, nodding at the dumbwaiter. “Then I think you should take the long way down, Patrick, to give us an extra eye on the party. You’ll have to take the aboveground route across the lawn anyway, with the art.”

  “She wouldn’t,” Jane says. “My aunt wouldn’t have lied to me like that.”

  “You were seven,” Mrs. Vanders says. “She couldn’t just come back and tell you all about it, no matter how much she wanted to. It’s exciting work, once you’ve started. It’s important work, and those who do it are paid according to the risks they take. Your aunt had bank accounts in the Caymans and in Switzerland that we can help you access, now that you know the truth. This is why I’ve been wanting to talk to you ever since you came to Tu Reviens. Your aunt made me promise that if anything ever happened to her, I’d help you access her bank accounts.”

  Jane doesn’t care about bank accounts. All she can think of is seven, seven. She pushes toward the stairs.

  “Magnolia also asked me to pass on a message,” Mrs. Vanders says to Jane’s back. “‘Tell my niece to reach for the umbrella,’ she said. She thought of you always, and she wanted to get out. Magnolia was never suited to the work. She came to hate it. She hated to lie; none of us likes to lie. She was going to retire, and we were going to help her.”

  Kiran has taken Jane into the warm fold of her arm and is helping her to the stairs. Jane is shivering. “Leave her alone, Vanny,” Kiran says. “You’d think, the way all of you talk, that no one who’s been lied to has any right to feel betrayed.”

  * * *

  It’s surreal to be spat back into the party. Jane sticks to Kiran, who’s in a strange, elated state. It’s easy to be her shadow. I’m not entirely certain I’m awake, thinks Jane.

  Kiran takes Jane’s arm as they move around the ballroom, whispering bright, cutting remarks in her ear. “Look at all these people,” she says. “I wonder how many of our family friends became our family friends so they could get invitations to the galas and come visit their real friends. The servants! Is anyone ever who they seem?”

  Yes, Jane thinks. We are. You and I, Kiran.

  “Think of our guests,” Kiran goes on. “Can you believe it about the Okadas?”

  “No,” Jane says, not really paying attention.

n is too much of a dildo to be a political operative,” Kiran says, “but Lucy St. George could have hidden depths, given the whole private investigator thing. Don’t you think?”


  “Charlotte,” Kiran says, stopping to consider.

  “Charlotte?” Jane repeats obediently.

  “My stepmother. She was redesigning the house.”

  “Was she?” says Jane, suddenly remembering she never wished Ivy a proper good-bye. Wasn’t this the kind of trip that killed Ivy’s parents?

  “But has anyone told you the details of how Charlotte mysteriously disappeared?” asks Kiran, scanning the dancers in the ballroom as if Charlotte might suddenly appear among them. The music is suffocating. Jane rubs her ears. “Could she have been a spy?” Kiran says. “She vanished into thin air, just like the Panzavecchias seemed to, and just like your aunt.”

  “My aunt didn’t vanish into thin air,” says Jane. “She froze to death in a blizzard. Someone called me from the Antarctic Peninsula. And Ivy told me it was real.” Reach for the umbrella. What the hell does that mean, Aunt Magnolia? I’ve reached for all the stupid, pointless umbrellas. Why?

  “I wonder where they send people,” Kiran says. “Where on earth could two infamous adults and three infamous children live and never be found? It would have to be someplace either depressingly isolated or depressingly crowded.”

  Jasper appears through the shifting crowd then, comes to her, and leans against her feet. Jane wonders if it means Ivy and the kids have departed through the tunnel in the cellar.

  “They’re right, you know,” Kiran goes on, her eyes following her brother, who’s managing a sort of half dance, half conversation with both the male and the female FBI agent at the edge of the dance floor. “Ravi isn’t suited for the kind of work Espions Sans Frontières does. He’d be livid about the secrets they’ve been keeping from him. Like the secret trapdoor in the cellar, and the underground tunnel to the ramble. We played hide-and-seek in that cellar. They were always so hard to find. I wonder how young they were when they were initiated into the secret of the hidden passage.”


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