"Of course." Scipio surreptitiously rubbed his aching knees. "I have never been caught. And I have seen nearly every noble house from the inside. And without ever being invited."
"Is that so?" Strong fingers covered with liver spots adjusted the glasses. "Sounds like we're in business. The house you shall visit for me is on the Campo Santa Margherita -- number eleven. It belongs to a Signora Ida Spavento. It is not a particularly magnificent house but it does have a small garden, which, as you well know, is a treasure itself in this city. I will leave behind in this confessional an envelope containing all the information you need to carry out this job. You will find a floor plan of the Casa Spavento, and a few notes on the item you are supposed to steal, as well as a photograph of it."
"Very well." Scipio nodded. "That will save my assistants and me a lot of work. But let's talk about the payment."
And again Prosper could hear the old man laugh. "I can see that you are a businessman. Your reward will be five million lire, payable on delivery."
Mosca squeezed Prosper's arm so hard that it hurt. Scipio said nothing for a while and when he spoke again his voice sounded quite shaky. "Five million," he repeated slowly, "sounds like a fair price."
"I couldn't pay more even if I wanted to," the Conte answered. "You will see that what you are supposed to steal is of value only to me, since it is made of neither gold nor silver, but of wood. So, do we have a deal?"
Scipio inhaled sharply. "Yes," he said, "we have a deal. When should we deliver the item?"
"Oh, as quickly as your skills permit. I am an old man and I would like to achieve the goal of my lifelong quest. I have no wish left in this life, except to hold in my hands what you are to steal for me."
Longing rang through his voice. What could "the item" be? Prosper thought. What could be so wonderful as to cause such a mad desire? It was still only an object. It wasn't alive. What could be worth such a fortune?
From The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke English language translation. Copyright 2001. Used by permission of Scholastic Inc. New York
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