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Alex closed her eyes, thinking of the day she had withdrawn from MIT. It had been fall, the leaves just beginning to change color, and the Charles River twisted like silver wire through downtown Boston. It had felt like the beginning of something, like her whole life was unspooling. She had never described the feeling to Will, but she thought maybe he would recognize it.
Portrait of a Thief PDF Book by Grace D. Li
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|No of Pages||344|
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This evening, the Sackler’s stolen art—what was this if not change? A moment later, Alex had pulled up the footage from the night before. She shared her screen with him as she did, and together they watched the theft. Alex knew Will was watching the thieves, the elegance of their movements, the art that disappeared beneath their gloved hands, but she was watching Will.
Will as he got up from his desk at the Sackler, as he ran into the other room. Will standing against the wall, his eyes wide behind his glasses and his dark hair tousled, looking for all the world like any other overwhelmed college kid save for the slight movement of his hand, the momentary glint of jade in his palm.
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Will cast a glance outside. The sun would rise in a few hours, turning the world harsh and brilliant and new. If it had been any other weekend, he would’ve been at a finals club party, searching for something, someone, to make him feel, but instead there was a rental car and the long drive ahead of him, Will packing his things as the rest of Harvard slept. He thought back to his sister, asking him for certainty.
I’m sure, he had said. It might have been a lie. Ahead of him loomed job applications, the threat of graduation on the horizon, all that he’d thought he would become by now. And yet—when the Sackler had been robbed today, when the museum’s alarms had kept pace with the pounding of his heart, Will hadn’t felt fear.
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Instead there had been a heavy sort of inevitability to it, as if his whole life had brought him here, to a museum of Chinese art and the thieves who took it back. What was real, if not this? The fall air felt like a beginning, and Will slung his backpack over his shoulder, slipped his phone in his pocket. His mind went once more to his sister, the sharp, pleased edge to her smile.
Then there’s a driver at Duke I think you should meet. The penthouse had high ceilings and a 360-degree view of the Beijing skyline, glittering and foreign in the early evening. Inside the foyer, cool light fell on bronze, on jade, on carefully carved stone. Each piece of art rested on its own marble pedestal, close enough to touch.
The kind of indulgence that was only possible in a private collection—a very secure private collection. Daniel bent his head, examining a scene in glazed, glistening porcelain. The piece showed a boat on restless water, and as he leaned closer, he saw waves that reached grasping into the air, figures about to tumble into the tide. He was not one for metaphors, but there seemed to be an obvious one here. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book
“Dehua porcelain, Ming dynasty,” a voice said. “Thought to be lost during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace.” Daniel looked up. At UCLA, he would have mistaken her for a Chinese international student, fashionable in a not-quite-American way, another child of the mainland’s nouveau riche, but here, high above Beijing, in an apartment full of Chinese art—he wasn’t sure.
The world felt like it had shifted ever so slightly since Irene had called. “I know,” Daniel said. “Wasn’t this stolen from a UK museum last spring?” She looked at him the way she had looked at the stolen artwork, her gaze keen and calculating. “Wang Yuling,” she said, holding out a hand. Her voice was crisp, with the trace of a British accent. “You know your art.”
Lily didn’t know if she would ever feel Chinese enough to call China hers. But if they could pull this off, if they could bring China back its art— she didn’t know. It meant something, that Will had asked her for this, that in these heists she might be enough. Irene’s breathing was so even, so steady, she might have been asleep. Tomorrow they had more to do, the first of these five thefts to plan. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book
Lily closed her eyes, tried to slow her breathing too. “Lily?” Irene asked. “Are you still there?” “Yeah,” Lily said. Irene did not often hesitate. She did now, just for a moment. “What did you think about my brother?” Her voice was so casual, so deliberately light, that Lily could almost believe it didn’t matter.
But they had lived together these three years, and for all that Lily knew Irene loved her brother, admired him, she did not mention Will unless someone else brought him up. The oldest son, the one to carry their family’s legacy. Lily thought she might understand what it felt like to live with that weight. He had taken notes as they watched Ocean’s Eleven, his gaze never leaving the screen.
“Every bit as pretentious as I knew he would be,” Lily said to the dark, and it was true. Daniel Liang badged into lab. He could have gone to his dorm or the library, all the different ways to fill his hours, but he spent so many weekends away, interviewing for med schools, and he had missed this—the familiar sterility of his bench, the quiet hum of the PCR machine in the background. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Download
He pulled on a lab coat, gloves, began to section mouse brains for staining. Like this, it was easy to let his mind drift, to let the past ten years fold in on themselves. Two weeks ago, he had been in Beijing. It had felt like something out of a distant dream, walking those streets with Irene, remembering everything as it once was. Museums with his father, a life that he had taken for granted.
He hadn’t thought of it in a long time, but now, beneath the lab’s steady fluorescent lights, surrounded by the steady hum of the industrial-size freezer, he did. He did not think of his mother, the loss like a wound still open. Instead his mind went to Beijing and his father talking about art, the wonder in his voice, all the afternoons they had spent pulling apart the intricacies of art theft.
Not breaking in—that part was easy, graceless—but everything after. Museums were meant for this, after all, the opening up. The difference between thieves who were caught and thieves who were not always came later. “The usual,” Alex said, lifting her hand in a wave. And in truth, every Friday went the same way. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Download
Maybe this was the postgrad life for everyone, these aimless afternoons, the weight of the workweek pressing down on you, these long stretches of all-consuming loneliness. Maybe she would get used to it, after another year or two. And yet Alex was so tired. Of this, of everything. In the corner of her screen, a notification popped up.
She moved to dismiss it—another task for tonight, she suspected—before realizing it was a message from Daniel Liang. Just got out of my interview, he said. We still on for boba after work? Alex rubbed her eyes, reread the message. She remembered, vaguely, Daniel mentioning that he would be in the area, her saying something noncommittal about doing something together.
There were plenty of excuses she could have made—they had never really talked about anything besides art theft, they might not have anything else to talk about, she had so much to do—but even as Alex thought them through, she was sweeping her things into her backpack, pulling out her phone to respond. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Download
Alex was quiet, the silence stretching between them. Irene could almost see her in an empty apartment, saturated with California light, all cheekbones and sharp angles and anger. Not art, like Will had seen in her, but something else. She thought of Stockholm, the fierceness in Alex’s gaze. Somehow Alex had broken into Drottningholm’s security system.
She had broken into the FBI. It did not seem possible. “Not too bad,” Alex said at last. “I can call Will next time. I know—this isn’t what either of us want.” It was true enough. Still, Irene lingered on the chapel steps. The bus stop, the quad, the buildings with their familiar Gothic architecture—all of Duke was spread out before her.
It was easier now that she and Will were both in college, their edges no longer scraping against each other the way they did in childhood, in high school, in all the ways the world weighed them against each other. He was her older brother, her best friend, and yet sometimes she looked at him and saw everything that she could never be. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Free
Irene pushed herself off the steps, strode toward the setting sun, the promises found in the rising dark. The FBI, the thefts to come. Between her and Will, they had never failed before. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she said, and she almost believed it. And then they were inside. There was one Asian sales rep, and he rose to greet them, said something in Chinese.
Irene responded in French, and so it went—Irene could charm anyone she ever met. They looked at cars, and Lily browsed through auto shops on Google Maps—it must be nice, she thought wistfully, to know another language—and then an hour later he was handing them some paperwork and Irene was handing him their fake IDs.
That had been Lily’s doing, of course, because it seemed that the people who liked to bet on those Durham street races were the same people who knew where to get a perfectly made fake. She was afraid they wouldn’t hold up, that there would be more paperwork required of them, but at some point the sales rep said something and Irene gestured and said, in English, “It’s four hundred euros, does it matter?” Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Free
and he laughed at that too. And so they walked out with a car. Next was the auto repair shop. Lily dropped Irene off at the hotel, picked Daniel up. She could have done this part alone, but Daniel—with the harsh line of his mouth, the shifting ink of his tattoo—looked like a street racer.
And it was easier, too, to have him next to her as she walked inside the shop, felt the lingering gazes of the other customers here. The entire place felt like a well-kept secret—despite its nondescript exterior, inside the garage there were cars that gleamed in the afternoon light, the steady pulse of French Algerian rap as racers leaned against the hoods of their cars, compared engines and exhaust systems.
The rest—if this had been another time, Alex would have cared that Irene was here, that she was listening to her spill all her hurt. But Alex traced the veins of her grandma’s hands, told her all the things she hadn’t been able to while her grandma was awake. Her fears, her grief, how it felt like she might collapse beneath the weight of everything she could not be. Portrait of a Thief PDF Book Free
“I’m afraid,” she said. “Afraid of how this will go wrong, of all the ways I might fail our family. But it’s not just that.” She closed her eyes, took a long, shuddering breath. It had been so long since she had been happy. With her job, with her life, with the choices she’d made. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m afraid that even if this succeeds, it won’t be enough. I don’t remember how to live anymore.”
The interview went like any other. He talked about working at the Sackler Museum, research in Harvard’s East Asian art program, the graduate-level coursework he had completed. He talked about his admiration of the Met’s collections, the Chinese brushwork he had seen for the first time when he visited the Met. It was all true. There was so much that was lovely about this place, this art.