5210 words (20 minute read)

Thieves’ Tango

Samba gave a turn in front of the mirror, admiring her new dress. It resembled a teal lily, simple in aesthetic and flowing freely. More importantly, it had plenty of legroom, allowing access to her complete range of motion.

It suited her perfectly. Truly a dress made for a thief, to open doors and then make quick exits. After allowing herself a moment of vanity, she observed her surroundings.

She crossed the room, observing her surroundings. Noah’s study was the only room with a wrap-around mirror. Despite it’s ornate architecture, the room was strangely impersonal. Nothing but wall-to-wall books, and a reading chair next to an empty fireplace.

No mementos or trophies hung from the walls. There seemed to be nothing cherished, except for the immaculately ordered books and a few personal affects laid atop the fireplace mantle.

She observed three pictures laid out in chronological order. The first was a black and white photo of a young boy, standing with a weathered old man and an American soldier. The three of them posed in front of a garage, wrenches draped across their shoulders, accumulated dirt and grease displayed as a badge of honor.

The second photo had the washed out color scheme of an old camera. In it a young couple celebrated their wedding. They dressed in baggy clothes and wore flowers in their hair. An iconic red bridge featured prominently in the background. The caption read San Francisco.

Samba guessed the young man was Noah. He had a sleek frame and no facial hair. Long black hair ran down to his back. His bride wore glasses, her short hair tied up in a bun.

Samba couldn’t help but crack a smile. Buttoned-up Noah was once a hippie.

The final photo was the simplest of the three. It showed Noah, hair cut and graying. A child rode on his shoulders. The kid waved his hands in the air, laughing without a care in the world.


A raspy voice came from the door. Samba looked over to see Noah standing in the door with his back turned to her.

“May I come in?”

Noah turned. He took a long look at her. A soft smile appeared upon his face.

“That dress becomes you.”

Noah wore a simple black suit with white shirt, nothing more. Even on special occasions, it appeared he eschewed opulence.

“I have a gift for you.”

He presented her with a corsage. Taking her hand, he gently wrapped it around her wrist. A green lily.

Samba remembered her train of thought. She pointed to the pictures.

“Who are these people?

Noah moved his hand from left to right.

“My grandfather, my wife.”

He hesitated.

“My daughter.”

Noah looked into the fireplace. Looking at him, Samba realized why these photos felt so out of place. In each picture, Noah beamed.

“They must have meant a lot to you.”

He nodded.

“Where are they now?”

He grasped each picture, lowering them face down onto the mantle. He lingered on the last photo, but placed it down just the same.

“It’s easy in life to take things for granted. But things can be replaced. People can’t.”

He held out his arm.

“Shall we?”

On the dresser across from her sat a matching teal mask. She took it in hand, and then wrapped her arm in his.


.                                   .                       .                       .


The limo cruised down to Via de Atlantica, riding adjacent to Copacabana beach. Large crowds now wandered the streets, more travelers arriving in anticipation of the coming holiday.

For the second time in the same day, Samba sat across from Noah and Tiny.

“How did you put this together so fast?” she asked.

“It would normally be impossible to even get a cab right now.”

The limo turned off the main road, pulling into the courtyard of the grandest hotel in Rio.

“But not for us.”

Vibrant white lights lit the hotel, accenting its appearance as a pearl on the edge of the beach. Art Deco architecture gave it an aura of high luxury frozen in time.

At their arrival, valets sprung into action. Noah stepped out of the car, helping Samba out onto the red carpet.

“This place is beautiful,” she said.

“A palace fit for a princess,” said Noah.

They rode the elevator to the top floor. Emerging from the cab, Tiny led them down the dark, empty hallway. Moonlight flooded in from the giant windows lining the walls, coloring the marble columns a deep blue.  At the end, they stopped in front of two large ballroom doors.

Noah reached into his pocket. Pulling out a black domino mask, he placed it over his eyes. The mask barely hid any of his features. Samba’s own mask did a better job, covering her eyes and forehead while leaving the mouth uncovered.

“Ready?” he said.

Samba nodded. Noah knocked twice upon the door. It opened instantly. Samba stepped through the doorway into an magnificent ballroom.

The sound of applause emerged from inside. Everywhere Samba looked, masked men and women filled the room. All were turned towards them, clapping for her arrival.

With the lights off, Samba could not even begin to guess the amount of patrons gathered. Noah waded into the crowd, exchanging greetings with his gathered guests. After a few pleasantries, he raised his hand. The room went silent.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, friends all. In this time of crisis, it heartens me to see so many of you here. Just as it saddens me the absence of others who choose to stand against us. But that is not why we are here tonight.”

He held out his hand towards Samba. The crowd parted around him. Samba felt anxious as the attention turned back to her.

“I present to you my candidate for guild membership. She calls herself Samba. But we know her as the daughter of the King of Thieves.”

A slight murmur moved through the room. Noah raised his hands above his head.

“But she has not come on name alone. She trained under Jack O’Altriedes, learning in the bowels of the coliseum, and suffering through the course.”

At its mention, Samba could see a shudder go through several members of the crowd. She had to keep herself from cracking up.

“She successfully entered the Old Thieves’ Bank through the members-only entrance. Most impressively, she was in the Gentleman’s sights…and made him miss.”

Small pockets of the crowd began to discuss amongst themselves. Samba noticed heads beginning to nod.

“She shows great promise. If you will have her.”

A masked woman came forward holding an unlit candelabrum. At first, no one moved.

Then members of the guild approached the woman. They lit the candles one by one until the entire set was aflame.

Noah approached the candleholder, removing one lit candle from its rest. He removed an unlit candle from his suit jacket.

“According to tradition, Prometheus was the first of our order. He stole fire from the gods to give to man.”

Noah presented the unlit candle to her. She took it in her hands.

“May she carry our fire to those in need of illumination.”

He used his candle to light hers. From the wick emerged a tiny flame. Placing her hand over it to protect it, it began to grow.

“May her fire burn brightly,” they all replied in unison.

With those words, the lights turned on. Samba could now see the room was decorated wall-to-wall with gold paneling, crowned with a skylight dome that peered up to the stars.

From somewhere inside, a band began to play. All the attendees turned to mingle. Noah pressed his hand to Samba’s shoulder.

“Congratulations,” he said. “Welcome to the guild.”

It took a second for her to register.

“That’s it?” she said.

Noah nodded.

“I told you. We’re not much for ceremony.”

He offered his hand.

“May I have the first dance?”

Taking his hand, he led her out to the center of the dance floor. He spun her around. They began to dance slowly, like a father would dance with his daughter.

The jazz quartet played soothing Bossa Nova song. Samba recognized it. The Girl from Ipanema. Before she knew it, the song ended. Noah took a step back and gave Samba a bow.

“Thank you. Now I have to go back to playing the dutiful host. Enjoy yourself. This night is yours.”

Noah disappeared into the crowd. Left alone, Samba found herself thirsty. The main room, known as the Golden Room, was populated solely by those choosing to dance. She decided to explore her surroundings.

Samba wandered through the dancing couples into the attached Salon. Reception tables set out for the guests boasted long stations of food and drink stretching between every column. Above her, a glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, twinkling gently.

Marveling at the grand chandelier, Samba accidently bumped into one of the waitresses.

“Watch it!” said the girl.

Samba thought she recognized the voice.

The waitress turned and got a good look at her. Realizing she had bumped into the guest of honor, she immediately regretted it.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it!” she said.

Samba couldn’t believe who it was..


Rosa looked dumbfounded at Samba.

“How do you know my name?”

Samba removed her mask.

“It’s me, it’s Sa-Melody. What are you doing here?”

Rosa’s eyes bugged out. She pointed.

“You’re the one this party is for?”

Remembering how they parted, Samba thought Rosa would flip out at her. Instead, her formal rival shrugged.

“I guess it’s karma. I went looking for you after that night. I wanted to say I was sorry.”

Now it was Samba’s turn to be surprised.

“Oh. No problem.”

“You were really good. I was just scared.”

“And I’m sorry for knocking you into a tuba.”

They both burst out laughing.

“So how’d you end up working here?” said Samba.

“Raolo got me a job doing catering for this party.”

Samba’s face scrunched up

“You’re still working for him?”

Rosa shook her head.

“He’s changed. Somewhat. Marriage can do that to a man.”

Samba couldn’t help but let out a laugh.

“Who’s the poor soul who had to  marry him?”

Rosa reluctantly raised up her hand. A gaudy diamond ring sat on her finger.

Samba’s face flushed.

“Well,” she stammered, “congratulations. Good for you. So where is he?”

Rosa pointed towards a corner. Raolo stood with is arm against a column, chatting up another waitress.

“If you’ll excuse me,” said Rosa. Balling her hands into fists, she marched towards her husband.

“Huh,” said Samba. “Guess there’s someone for everyone.”


A voice spoke from behind Samba.

She turned around. Jazz stood behind her.

“You’re under arrest,” he said playfully. She felt a butterfly take flight in her stomach.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

“Your Uncle Jack told me I could find you here.”

A realization popped into her head.

“Jack! Is he okay?”

Jazz nodded.

“He’s fine.”

Samba breathed a sigh of relief.

“He told me everything. About your family, and the key. Including where I could find you.”

‘Where’s the key?” said Samba.

“Jack took it back. He said he’d keep it safe.”

Samba felt a weight lifted off of her. From the second she’d been kidnapped, she’d worried about the aftermath of the bank heist.

“Jack’s okay. He’s got the key,” she reassured herself.

 “I’ve also got something else for you.”

Jazz lifted his coat. A familiar furry head appeared.

“Lupin!” said Samba.

 He turned his head away from her

“I’m not talking to you,” said the cat.

Samba swooped down and picked him up. She gave him a tight hug.

“I’m sorry, Lupin. I really did miss you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Lupin, rolling his eyes. “I kind of missed you too.”

Samba was elated. She looked up at Jazz. One thought filled her mind.

“There’s only one way to celebrate,” she said.

Taking Jazz’s hand, she pulled him towards the dance floor.

“Would you like to dance?”

 “Got to warn you, I’m more fleet of foot chasing down bad guys than strutting my stuff.”

“I’d watch the cop remarks in this crowd,” she said.

Jazz noticed several of the masked attendees leering at him.

“Jack told me this wasn’t exactly the most law-abiding bunch.”

“Don’t wait up for me,” said Lupin in a grumpy voice.

Above him, a waiter placed a platter of fish on the table. Lupin’s mood improved quickly. He unfurled a claw

“There’s a reason why it’s called a cat burglar.”

In the Golden room, the jazz quartet was finishing up a slow tune. The couples on the dance floor lackadaisically swayed back and forth in time to the music.

Samba pulled Jazz out into the center. Holding his hand, she leaned backwards, then spun into his arms. She looked up at him.

“Would you be opposed to something a bit more energetic?”

“Not at all,” he said.

Separating, Jazz removed his coat and placed it on a nearby chair. Samba waved to the bandleader.

“How about something with a little more pep?”

Rendezvousing under the ceiling dome, Jazz placed his arm on Samba’s shoulder.

“You think you can keep up with me?” she said.

“I’ll be your huckleberry,” he said.

The band kicked up with a fast beat. Samba spun away from him. She began to shake her hips to the beat. Stopping, she extended her arms out to her sides. She allowed herself to fall backwards.

Moving to keep you with her, Jazz caught her before she could hit the ground, and then lifted her back to her feet.

Both of them hopped in the air, twisting completely around. Leaning backward, they stomped towards each other.

Flipping his hat up into the air, Jazz spun in a circle on his heels. He stopped just in time for the hat to land back on his head. Dropping to the ground, he spun one leg under the other.

Kneeling, he rolled his hat down his arm towards Samba. When it reached his hand, he flipped it backwards. Bouncing one leg over the other, he moved into a sitting position, hand under his chin. The hat landed perfectly on his head.

Standing up, he moved towards Samba, who did the same. Coming face to face, they spun in a circle under the dome as the song reached its climax.

They spun around and around, locked in each other’s arms. The world around them became a blur. There was only the two of them, with the stars above their audience.

The song ended. Jazz dipped her backwards and held her there, their faces in close proximity. They breathed heavily, exhausted from their spirited performance. The circle of onlookers burst into applause.

Samba smiled up at him.

“Like I said before, you’re pretty good at this.”

“Can I book you up as my dance partner?” said Jazz.

“I don’t know, I’m pretty hard to hold down,” she said.

“Well,” Jazz smiled, “I do have handcuffs.”

Jazz leaned in closer. Samba felt his breath, still puffing from the dance. He stopped his approach.

“What is it?” she asked.

Jazz looked out into the crowd.

“Somebody doesn’t look too happy.”

Samba saw Noah standing with some of his colleagues. A stern look covered his face. He held her gaze for a second then turned away.

“Maybe we should get some air.”

The Golden room exited onto a balcony that overlooked the beach. The reflection of the moon rippled in the waves. A few stragglers splashed in the water, using the moonlight as a second sun.

Leaning on the railing, they stood next to each other, quietly enjoying the night. Samba broke the silence.

“Where’d you learn to dance?”

Jazz looked embarrassed.

“You know those classes where the women in tight clothes dance to contemporary music?”

Samba nodded.

“I… used to be an instructor.”

She stared at him for a second, fighting back a goofy smile from appearing on her face.

“Oh. I’d like to see that.”

A gust of wind caught Jazz’s hat. Samba reached out and caught it. She examined the hat. Up close, it showed a great deal of wear.

“Why do you always wear this hat?” she asked.

“It’s very special to me. You could say it’s the reason I became a cop.”

Jazz took the hat in his hands, holding it gingerly.

“When I was a kid, I lived in France with my dad. He was the stern, stone-faced type. He and I had a hard time relating.”

“But he loved to watch old movies, especially tough guy films. Steve McQueen and Popeye Doyle, hard-nosed detectives who always got their man.”

Samba noticed excitement underlining his voice. He began to talk faster.

“I liked them so much my Dad used his connections at the embassy to introduce me to the legendary detective Jean Jacques Gousseau.”

Jazz smiled, but to Samba there appeared to be a more melancholy smile than a happy one.

“Then my dad passed away. Since I didn’t know my family, Gousseau decided to take me under his wing as his sidekick. Cut to years later, we’d solved hundreds of mysteries. When I made detective, he gave me his hat.”

Jazz returned the hat to its proper place. He began to laugh.

“He couldn’t pronounce my name. With that outrageous accent, I couldn’t understand half of what he said..”

Jazz tried to put on the most ridiculous French accent he could muster.

“Julies! Julies, eet was the lighthouse keeper. He vould cross ze lake on his butt.”

“Your name is Julie?” said Samba.

She couldn’t control it anymore. She began to crack up. Jazz narrowed his eyes.

“No, it’s Julius. You’re one to talk, Ms. Melody.”

They both laughed.

“He sounds like a great man.”

Samba noticed Jazz’s melancholy returning.

“He was. Until that terrible night.”

Rummaging inside his pockets, he removed a well-worn newspaper clipping.

“I was there that night, you know. I thought you’d like to see this.”

Samba opened the neatly folded article. The faded headline was written in a different language. A splash picture of her father took up the entire page.

“What’s it say?”

“Murderer still at large in brazen Vatican robbery.”

Samba felt confused. She remembered her father coming home that night, but she couldn’t remember exactly what he and Noah discussed.

“Jack didn’t tell me about that.”

Jazz nodded.

“That’s because they didn’t do it.”

He took the newspaper clipping back from her. Folding it gingerly, he returned it to its resting place.

“How do you know?” said Samba.

“Gousseau. He steadfastly refused to believe your father could do such a thing. He told me your father was one of his best friends. How do you figure that?”

Jazz half-smiled. After letting loose a chuckle, his seriousness returned.

“It was his last case. The one he could never close. What happened to your parents weighed heavily on him. After that, he just didn’t have the fire in him anymore.”

Jazz turned from the railing. Excitement returned to his voice.

“Which is why I’m going to salvage his legacy by bringing these people to justice.”

Samba snapped out of her dreamy state.

“Wait, you’re going to arrest them all?”

He gestured back at the gathering.

“Yes. That’s why I need your help. Someone in here knows what happened to your parents. You’ve got inner knowledge on all the players.”

Samba was taken aback. Only one thought came to her.

“This whole time you were just working me for your case?”

Jazz blinked. He realized he may have stepped too far.

“No, that’s not the only reason,” he started.

Samba cut him off.

“Is that why you told me all that? Just trying to get my sympathy so I’d turn in these people I just became a part of?”

“You’re not one of them,” said Jazz.

Samba glared at him. Jazz immediately knew he hit a sore subject. He tried to backpedal.

“What I meant is that you’re not a criminal.”

She pointed towards the party.

“These people are not criminals.”

“They’re thieves,” said Jazz.

Samba’s tone changed to defiant.

“Depends on whose opinion.”

Samba looked off onto the horizon. A large oval cloud seemed to hover in front of the moon. The picturesque scene faded along with the moonlight.

“Samba,” said Jazz. He tried to come up with the right thing to say.

“Melody. It’s my duty,” is all he could come up with.

Samba couldn’t explain why, but she felt deeply hurt.

“I know,” she said. “Just…maybe you should get us some drinks.”

Heading inside, they separated. Leaving her, Jazz went towards the salon. Samba went inside the dance hall alone.

She stumbled through the partygoers. All she could feel was numbness in her stomach.

“It’s just his job,” she tried to reassure herself. “It’s not personal.”

But she couldn’t divorce herself from her feelings. Was she just a means to his ends? Or was there something more?

Trying to calm herself, Samba noticed the golden room had filled up with people, more people then there seemed to be when she arrived. The crowd appeared to converge around her.

A hand grabbed hers. It pulled her out towards the dance floor. In the crowd, she couldn’t see her guide.

Ensured the throng of people enveloped them, the masked man turned towards her. The face of a smiling harlequin mask stared back at her. A muffled voice came out.

“May I have this dance?”

The voice sounded familiar to Samba, though she could not place it. Wrapping his arm around her, he rested his hand on the crook of her back.

“Bit of trouble with the boy toy? You know the fire only burns when I’m around.”

That sickly arrogance told Samba exactly who was behind the mask. She tried to pull away, but his arm was a vice grip. He reached up, removing his mask. A lightning bolt shot down her spine.

She stared into the smiling face of the Gentleman.

“Did you miss me, little girl?”

“Like a boil,” she said.

He puffed out his lips, pretending to pout.

“That’s not fair. I’m the only one you can truly trust. Because I’m the only one here not wearing a mask.”

“It’s a masquerade,” said Samba.

“Oh, you poor, naïve little girl.”

The Gentleman released his grip on her back. She pushed him away, keeping him at arm’s length.

“You’ve lost.”

They began to circle each other, like fighters sizing the other up.

“That’s because we’re not playing the same game,” he said. “The game I’m in has much higher stakes.”

He offered his hand. She swatted it away.

“Jack’s got the key. One cry from me and Noah will have you.”

Samba scanned the room, searching for her warden. He was nowhere to be seen.

“How well do you know your uncle? Or Noah?”

At no point did the Gentleman take his eyes off her.

“They both have agendas. Agendas that require you.”

Samba turned her attention back to him.


He held out his arms.

“Look around you. And this time, really use those powers of observation.”

For the first time since she had arrived, she noticed that the walls were lined with men in suits and masks.

 “Awful lot of security for a party. Almost as if they know something’s going to happen.”

Doubts began to float through her head.

“Would you like me to let you know in on it?” he said.

Clamping her mind down, she went on the offensive, getting into the Gentleman’s face. Grabbing his arm, she placed it on her back, giving one final jerk to show her displeasure.

“I like where this is going,” he said.

The two of them entered into the scrum of dancers. Their movements were rough and forced, choreographing their obvious mutual dislike. Unfortunately for Samba, their movements matched the tone of the sultry tango now played by the band.

Samba felt disgusted being this close to the man. She knew he had to be playing at the long con. If this was the only way to get the information out of him, then so be it.

“What’s your game, Gentleman?”

“No game, just business.”

They pressed opposite palms together, spinning clockwise. Changing directions, Samba made it a point to stomp on his foot. He flinched, showing a small amount of pain. Instead of anger, he appeared to enjoy it.

“Harming innocents. Destroying property. Terrorizing little girls,” said Samba.

Closing the distance between them, the Gentleman dipped her. He leaned forward, his face close to her chest.

“I take pleasure in my business.”

She pushed his head away.

“What business?” she said. “Without the key, you have nothing.”

She turned away from him. He approached behind her, slithering forward in a smooth procession. He held his hands just off her waist, questioning whether to touch. He pulled them away. His face appeared over her shoulder.

“I was just going to take the treasure and that be it. But that’s so unlike me.”

Taking her hand, he twirled her away.

“I have you to thank for showing me the way.”

At the full extension, he let her sit for a moment.

“And as a reward, I’m going to tell you the truth.”

He pulled her back towards him.

As the band reached the finale of the tango, Samba rolled into his arms. Playing the role to perfection, she reached up and grasped the back of his head. He reached down, lifted her leg up, and held it.

The spotlights moved off of them as the song concluded, a low purplish glow silhouetting the two. A round of applause came from the crowd.

The Gentleman whispered in her ear.

“I’m going to destroy this entire accursed guild, and everyone in it.”

“You can try,” said Samba, faking bravado.

“Oh, I already have,” he said. “Look over my shoulder.”

Samba looked into the crowd. At the outskirts of the dance floor, Jazz stood holding two drinks. He looked straight at her. Placing them down, he picked up his coat and headed for the exit.

 “I could destroy you at any time,” he said, “but I’d rather watch you suffer.”

Samba tried to pull away. The Gentleman held on tight.

“You think Noah’s just going to turn over his empire to some street rat he just met? I’ve known him a lot longer than you. He is cold. I’m ambitious, but he is power-hungry.”

He leaned close, whispering in her ear.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret. He killed his daughter.”

Samba’s mind spun. As if on cue, the Gentleman took them both into a circle. They twirled around and around, circling the center of the dance party, surrounded by other twirling couples.

“Not directly, mind you. She was collateral damage. Just like everyone who gets in his way.”

Samba looked around her. The masks seemed to stare at her, closing in, laughing. The room seemed to darken around her.

“You are bait. To draw out the final player in this grand game.”

A low rumble began to reverberate through the ballroom. At first, glassware shook lightly. Then the furniture began to vibrate. Food and drink began to crash, spilling their contents onto the wooden floors.

“And now,” shouted the Gentleman, looking upward, “the final act can begin!”

Several small explosions came from above, moving counter-clockwise around the dome. The skylight seemed to fold in, then disappeared upward.

Samba looked up to see the area around the dome crack, then pop off as easily as a bottlecap. For a second, the night sky shone clear above. Then, smoke poured in, falling to the ground and spreading throughout the room.

The dance floor emptied, it’s occupants moving chaotically towards safety. Looking around the smoke-filled room, Samba could not tell where the Gentleman had disappeared. She found herself alone at the center of the ballroom.

Ropes dropped through the hole. Down each rope swung women dressed in outlandish costumes. Each wore bright, loud clothes draped with accessories. They could have walked straight off the set of a seventies pulp film.

Rappelling to the floor, they positioned themselves in a perimeter around Samba. Drawing weapons from inside their dresses, they stood their ground

Their entrance secured and the audiences’ attention captured, one last rope dropped into their circle. Down slid a lone figure.

He dropped in quickly, striking the ground hard. Kneeling momentarily on one knee, he paused for dramatic effect, then stood slowly. His white suit contrasted to his tan skin.

His most striking feature was his silver mask, red tears carved under the eyes. Shaggy hair obscured what features weren’t already blocked the mask.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he spoke, his voice muffled.

“I am Carlos Montenegro.”

Next Chapter: A Prelude