London, England, 10:00 a.m., Local Time
Carmen Sandiego paused. Half a block ahead, Tigress was strolling along the busy city street, stopping occasionally to glance into shop windows. With her razor-sharp claws tucked into the pockets of her stylish short trench coat, she looked like just another chic young Londoner. But Carmen knew better . . .
“Hey, Red, is our feline friend still window-shopping?” a voice spoke in Carmen’s ear.
“That’s what she wants everyone to think, Player,” Carmen replied in a low voice. Her comm-link earrings could pick up even the quietest whisper—very handy, especially while tailing someone. “But I’m sure Tigress didn’t come all this way to go on a five-fingered spree through London’s blingiest boutiques.”
Up ahead, Tigress stopped again and glanced around. Carmen ducked into a doorway. She held her breath. Had Tigress spotted her distinctive red fedora and trench coat? For a second, Carmen wondered if she should have gone incognito in a hoodie or something. Then again, it wouldn’t have made much difference. Tigress wouldn’t be fooled for a second—she knew Carmen’s face as well as her own.
“All clear,” Carmen murmured when Tigress moved on. Then Carmen hurried forward, not wanting to lose sight of her target. She’d been following Tigress through London, England, for half an hour. All the way from Victoria station to where they were now—the Knightsbridge neighborhood, according to Player. Very posh and exclusive. A shopper’s mecca of high-end stores, from the world-famous Harrods department store to all sorts of designer boutiques—and some of the most expensive luxury apartments in the world.
Player loved finding out that kind of detail about the places Carmen visited. And he was good at it, too. No wonder—he was a high-tech whiz kid who spent most of his time exploring every bit and byte of the web. Carmen had never met Player in person, but he was a trusted part of her crew. Without his help, it would be a lot harder for her to carry out her self-appointed mission—traveling the world, righting wrongs, and stealing from criminals. In particular, the super-secret crime empire known as VILE.
Up ahead, Tigress suddenly dodged out of sight down an alley between a fancy restaurant—still closed at this early hour—and a large, stately old Victorian house. Carmen crept forward. Was this a trap? Tigress was clever—possibly the wiliest operative VILE had ever trained. Well, aside from Carmen herself, of course . . .
She caught up just in time to see Tigress slip into one of the buildings through a window. “She went into a house,” she told Player.
“The one you’re standing in front of right now? Hang on—I’ll find out more.” Player didn’t leave her hanging for long. “Found it on GPS,” he said. “That house belongs to a rich guy named Percival Weston-Blather. Fifty-four years old. No occupation listed.”
“You had me at ‘rich guy,’” Carmen said. “Mr. Weston-Blather must have something valuable in there.”
“That would explain the chatter.”
Carmen nodded, even though she knew Player couldn’t see her. The “chatter,” as he called it, was the reason she was here. Player was always nosing around the dark web, the regular web, and every cyber place in between for any secret signs or messages about VILE—Villains’ International League of Evil. The worst bunch of rogues and criminals that nobody ever heard of. Carmen’s sworn nemesis. And her former family . . . well, sort of . . .
She shook those thoughts out of her head. “VILE is greedy,” she whispered to Player. “But they wouldn’t waste time and resources stealing some ordinary rich guy’s gold watch and cuff links.”
“Right. They’ve got to be after something big—something worth their effort,” Player said.
Carmen nodded again. So what had they sent Tigress to steal this time?
“One way to find out,” Carmen murmured, sidling closer to the open window and peeking in past the thick velvet floor-to-ceiling curtains. The curtains blocked most of the bright morning sunlight, but Carmen could see well enough once her eyes adjusted to the dimness within. “Whoa! Talk about a treasure trove!”
“What is it, Red?” Player whispered in her ear. “What kind of treasure are we talking about? Gold bars? High-tech equipment? Antique snuffboxes? What?”
Carmen’s eyes swept the large room. It was set up like a museum exhibit, with glass-topped display cases instead of regular furniture. Framed documents and other stuff covered the walls.
“Pirate booty,” she whispered. “Swords, axes, muskets, and a couple of full-size cannons. Chests full of gold doubloon coins and jewels. Even a big old tattered Jolly Roger!”
“The pirate flag,” Player said.
Carmen nodded. “Looks like our rich guy is a collector.”
Inside, Tigress had shed her trench coat, revealing the catsuit underneath. She’d swapped out her designer sunglasses for night-vision goggles that would make it easier to see in the dim room. Now she was moving toward one of the display cases at the far end. Carmen leaned forward, trying to see what the VILE operative was after.
“Doubloons, huh?” Player said. “Maybe VILE is trying to make up for those doubloons you stopped them from stealing in Ecuador recently. How much d’you think all that pirate booty is worth?”
“Plenty,” Carmen replied softly. “But Tigress came on foot. How’s she planning to get it all out of here?”
“Maybe VILE is sending some kind of transport.”
Carmen leaned forward as Tigress flexed the razor-sharp claws on the ends of her gloves and used one index finger to slice a hole in the glass case. Then the VILE operative pulled something out—a piece of ancient-looking parchment, yellowed, stained, and torn.
Tigress held it up to catch the light coming in through the windows, studying it. Carmen’s eyes widened as she, too, got a better look. It appeared to be a map. Could it be a treasure map?
She pulled a compact mirror out of her pocket. Only it wasn’t really a compact—it was a high-tech optical scanner. Even from this distance, she should be able