White Cat

Hardcover | May 4, 2010

byHolly Black

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The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas— and a plan to con the conmen.

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From the Publisher

The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago. But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around h...

Holly Black was born in New Jersey in 1971. She graduated with a B.A. in English from The College of New Jersey in 1994. Holly's first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (Simon & Schuster) was published in 2002 and was included in the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults. She has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant (2005), and the sequel to Tithe, Ironside (2007). Valiant ...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.1 inPublished:May 4, 2010Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1416963960

ISBN - 13:9781416963967

Appropriate for ages: 14

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Brilliant, amazing, and well done. The story is a little complex from the start, and it was a little hard to get into without figuring out the facts first. After getting the story straight though, it’s a very interesting concept and idea and thought this was definitely a different and unique read. Several characters are thrown at you, so keeping them in line is also a bit of a challenge but it’s nothing to throw you off of your reading. The plot was really good and Cassel is the guy to cheer for. He’s not your typical angsty teenager with a huge chip on his shoulder. Which is something I really did like. He’s calm, cool, and collected, but also determined to figure out what’s going on with his life and why he’s been sleepwalking and having strange dreams. Another thing I loved about this book. No love triangles! it’s about time! I’ve read countless of YA and it just seems standard to have a love triangle. You won’t find one in this book. (Thankfully.) I really did like the idea of the curse workers being something akin to mafia crime families. That was certainly different and an idea I have not come across before. It did fit in nicely with the overall plot. Plus the scheming, plotting, and conning made it even better. Following Cassel through the hurdles provided a really good read, and towards the end you’d think everything would go well. Until there’s a giant twist and the ends in a cliffhanger ending. However that seems to be the constant theme throughout the novel as Cassel starts to put the pieces together and as the twists get bigger, the plot takes several shocking spins. It made reading the book really exciting and made the pace go fast. If you love scheming, shocking twists, and con artistry at its finest, pick this book up. It’s a perfect blend of magic, and mafia crime families in one nice package. Combine this with fabulous writing and it’s an excellent book to read through. Can’t wait to read the second book of this series!
Date published: 2011-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant concept! This was the first novel I have ever read by Holly Black and I loved it! Amazing concept, story, great characters and suspense thrown in. Revolving around mob families, con men and curse workers the story was very hard to put down. Overall an amazing YA read.
Date published: 2010-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantasic This book was extremely good. The sad thing is, that it took me SEVERAL sittings to read it in, since there were other things to do, and other books to read at the same time. Though I loved it, I can't help but wonder if I would've liked it even more If I was able to read it all at once in one or 2 sittings. Anyways, getting on with it: Mrs. Black definitly did not dissapoint with this amazingly fresh, and crispt start to a trilogy called: The Curse Workers, I was gripped by this book from it's very ominous begining, to it's unexpected ending. If this book was a rollar coaster, it would consist of several sudden twists and turns, slow approaches to a high hill, then drop you several times, even turning you upside down on numerous occasions. I can't wait for the follow up book. In conclusion I found it very different from the way that her previous YA books have been written in. Unlike the modern faerie tale series, there is little to no sexual content. The swearing is kept at a mininum from what i remember, and I have no recollection what so ever of any f bombs being dropped. It's much cleaner, and doesn't take itself too seriously, Though I loved Tithe, I like the new direction that she seems to be taking with her literature.
Date published: 2010-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW! I'm not going to give a summary because other readers have already done so. However, I am going to say that this book is BRILLIANT. I began reading it this evening about half an hour before I planned to sleep. I literally could not put it down from the first page. It is now 4:30 in the morning. I haven't read a book this good in quite a while. It was clever, well written, tight, and thrilling, blending fantasy with reality with a bit of underhandedness and gang story. I LOVED it, so much that I'm going to have to force myself to sleep so that I can wake up in the morning in order to tell all of my friends about this book. I definitely recommend this book to you, too.
Date published: 2010-07-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Different and surprising Cassel's whole family are curse workers; people who have the ability to change your luck, shift your memories, cause death and change your emotions just by having contact with your skin. Curse working is illegal, which makes them all mobsters and con artists. Cassel is the only one in the family that isn't a curse worker. He grew up looking up to his two older brothers, Philip and Barron, who never gave their little brother much attention. But Cassel always stood behind them and waited patiently for their minimal acts of brotherly love. Cassel tries to lead a normal life, ignoring the fact that his mother is in jail for curse working and how his whole family is considered criminals for working people. He goes to school like any normal person and does his best to keep up with his homework. The only other thing that torments him each day is the fact that he killed his best friend, Lila, when he was fourteen. But then one night he has a very strange dream. He sees a white cat that tells him something he doesn't understand. And when he wakes up, he's on top of the roof of his school, about to jump to his death. He has no idea how he got there, and no reason as to why he would do that. But then he remembers his dream of the cat, and how his brothers are starting to act weird around him. He doesn't remember things, and when he asks his brothers, they give him looks and tell him that nothing's wrong. Cassel begins to suspect that he is part of a huge con game, and something deadly is about to take place with him right in the middle. This was an interesting story with lots of secrets in the beginning that left you questioning what was going on. But as you read on, the story started to unfold itself and you got a taste of what kind of life Cassel lived in. The story wasn't bad, and I liked how everything fit together in the book, but I just felt that there wasn't really enough to the story and some parts weren't very well written, which was why I gave this book a 3/5. The ending was very well planned out though; the way Cassel thought was very interesting to read about, like you were seeing through the mind of a genius and a liar. Overall, not too bad, but not super great either.
Date published: 2010-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dark, Dangerous & Delicious Reason for Reading: I'm a fan of the author. Set in an alternate reality almost identical to the Earth we live in with one small difference, some people are born with a special ability which is called a "curse". One must touch another's skin for the effects to take place. These "curse workers" are a minority of the population and their curses range from luck to changing emotions to causing death. In this world everyone wears gloves to keep everyone safe from "curses". No one knows who may be a "worker" but working itself has been deemed illegal. In this world Cassell finds himself the only non-worker in a family of workers. His family, along with others who have a strong heritage of workers, are what we would call organized crime families, mobsters and con artists. Since Cassell can't "work" he at least has honed his skills as a con artist. But his life starts to unravel when he finds himself sleepwalking, having dreams sent from a white cat and beginning to notice some unaccounted for events in his life. His brothers act strangely when he asks them about it and Cassell begins to feel that perhaps he is the subject of a huge con himself. I loved every word of this book! I was hooked from the first sentence and couldn't continue with my regular life until I had finished the book. The world Black creates here is very dark and dangerous. One wonders if any character can truly be trusted and the main character himself is not exactly an honest citizen. The direction the story takes is surprising and makes compelling reading. The unexpected actions of characters, including Cassell himself, are shocking and yet as one gets to know them not out of character at all. In this world of dark magic and crime the back stabbing characters are always at each other and it's as matter of magic against magic and wits against wits. The ending is absolutely brilliant and so appropriate! Don't expect any happy, happy, joy, joy ending here! I can't wait for book two!
Date published: 2010-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Come be worked by Holly Black Holly Black is fast becoming one of my favourite female authors. I now rank her with Terry Tempest Williams, Madeleine L'Engle and Kathy Shaidle. Her works are dark, witty and sublime. Her world creation is believable and compelling, and something about every one of her books I have read has touched something deep and sometimes dark inside myself. Black has a way of drawing the reader into her world that makes you become a part of it. While reading this book I dreamed about it, and found myself reflecting upon it and the alternate reality it presents again and again. I cannot get the story out of my head, and to be honest I do not want to. Not since reading Madeleine L'Engle's books about a decade ago has an author's words and worlds impacted me so completely from a fictional novel. The story is set in an alternate reality to our own timeline. Except instead of just booze being banned during prohibition, so is magic, or working as it becomes known. Though the ban on booze was lifted, the ban on magic was not. So in a time very close to our own, most people wear gloves for fear of being touched and worked by one with the gift. And people either fear that they have the ability or that they don't and are just 'normal'. Our hero Cassel comes from a family of workers. Not one of the controlling crime families, much like a magic mafia, but a family with certain skills and powers. He is the only one without them, and as such he always feels on the outside. Outside his own family because he does not have the gift and is not fully part of their plan, and on the outside at school because he comes from a family of workers. Cassel, just wants to be a normal boy in high school. The problem is, he killed his best friend four years ago, and even though he doesn't remember doing it, he remembers her body and his family cleaning up the mess for him. Cassel's problems start when he sleep walks and nearly falls off the roof of his school dorm. Then he realizes all the pieces of his life, his memories, do not fit together right. He begins to wonder if he has been worked. He has a lot to figure out and not a lot of time to do it, and even fewer people he can trust. Cassel is a strong character, troubled, and in a tight spot, but someone who is working to resolve his issues and trying to do the right thing. He is someone you grow to respect and appreciate, someone you would want as your friend. The story is well written and the world Black has created is enthralling. Black leads us down a path where magic, the fey and the country witch developed into mainstays in our culture, not just something trifling at the sides. Though their practice and arts are against the law, many still use them, for both good and bad. Where charms and protection are needed, but cannot always to be trusted. As Black writes about the curse workers, you will fall under her charm and be captivated by her writings, and maybe be a little worked to love her and her books.
Date published: 2010-05-07

Extra Content

Read from the Book

CHAPTER ONE I WAKE UP BAREFOOT, standing on cold slate tiles. Looking dizzily down. I suck in a breath of icy air. Above me are stars. Below me, the bronze statue of Colonel Wallingford makes me realize I’m seeing the quad from the peak of Smythe Hall, my dorm. I have no memory of climbing the stairs up to the roof. I don’t even know how to get where I am, which is a problem since I’m going to have to get down, ideally in a way that doesn’t involve dying. Teetering, I will myself to be as still as possible. Not to inhale too sharply. To grip the slate with my toes. The night is quiet, the kind of hushed middle-of-the-night quiet that makes every shuffle or nervous panting breath echo. When the black outlines of trees overhead rustle, I jerk in surprise. My foot slides on something slick. Moss. I try to steady myself, but my legs go out from under me. I scrabble for something to hold on to as my bare chest slams down on the slate. My palm comes down hard on a sharp bit of copper flashing, but I hardly feel the pain. Kicking out, my foot finds a snow guard, and I press my toes against it, steadying myself. I laugh with relief, even though I am shaking so badly that climbing is out of the question. Cold makes my fingers numb. The adrenaline rush makes my brain sing. “Help,” I say softly, and feel crazy nervous laughter bubble up my throat. I bite the inside of my cheek to tamp it down. I can’t ask for help. I can’t call anyone. If I do, then my carefully maintained pretense that I’m just a regular guy is going to fade forever. Sleepwalking is kid’s stuff, weird and embarrassing. Looking across the roof in the dim light, I try to make out the pattern of snow guards, tiny triangular pieces of clear plastic that keep ice from falling in a sheet, tiny triangular pieces that were never meant to hold my weight. If I can get closer to a window, maybe I can climb down. I edge my foot out, shifting as slowly as I can and worming toward the nearest snow guard. My stomach scrapes against the slate, some of the tiles chipped and uneven beneath me. I step onto the first guard, then down to another and across to one at the edge of the roof. There, panting, with the windows too far beneath me and with nowhere left to go, I decide I am not willing to die from embarrassment. I suck in three deep breaths of cold air and yell. “Hey! Hey! Help!” The night absorbs my voice. I hear the distant swell of engines along the highway, but nothing from the windows below me. “HEY!” I scream it this time, guttural, as loudly as I can, loud enough that the words scrape my throat raw. “Help!” A light flickers on in one of the rooms and I see the press of palms against a glass pane. A moment later the window slides open. “Hello?” someone calls sleepily from below. For a moment her voice reminds me of another girl. A dead girl. I hang my head off the side and try to give my most chagrined smile. Like she shouldn’t freak out. “Up here,” I say. “On the roof.” “Oh, my God,” Justine Moore gasps. Willow Davis comes to the window. “I’m getting the hall master.” I press my cheek against the cold tile and try to convince myself that everything’s okay, that it’s not a curse, that if I just hang on a little longer, things are going to be fine. A crowd gathers below me, spilling out of the dorms. “Jump,” some jerk shouts. “Do it!” “Mr. Sharpe?” Dean Wharton calls. “Come down from there at once, Mr. Sharpe!” His silver hair sticks up like he’s been electrocuted, and his robe is inside out and badly tied. The whole school can see his tighty-whities. I realize abruptly that I’m wearing only boxers. If he looks ridiculous, I look worse. “Cassel!” Ms. Noyes yells. “Cassel, don’t jump! I know things have been hard . . .” She stops there, like she isn’t quite sure what to say next. She’s probably trying to remember what’s so hard. I have good grades. Play well with others. I look down again. Camera phones flash. Freshmen hang out of windows next door in Strong House, and juniors and seniors stand around on the grass in their pajamas and nightgowns, even though teachers are desperately trying to herd them back inside. I give my best grin. “Cheese,” I say softly. “Get down, Mr. Sharpe,” yells Dean Wharton. “I’m warning you!” “I’m okay, Ms. Noyes,” I call. “I don’t know how I got up here. I think I was sleepwalking.” I’d dreamed of a white cat. It leaned over me, inhaling sharply, as if it was going to suck the breath from my lungs, but then it bit out my tongue instead. There was no pain, only a sense of overwhelming, suffocating panic. In the dream my tongue was a wriggling red thing, mouse-size and wet, that the cat carried in her mouth. I wanted it back. I sprang up out of the bed and grabbed for her, but she was too lean and too quick. I chased her. The next thing I knew, I was teetering on a slate roof. A siren wails in the distance, drawing closer. My cheeks hurt from smiling. Eventually a fireman climbs a ladder to get me down. They put a blanket around me, but by then my teeth are chattering so hard that I can’t answer any of their questions. It’s like the cat bit out my tongue after all. The last time I was in the headmistress’s office, my grandfather was there with me to enroll me at the school. I remember watching him empty a crystal dish of peppermints into the pocket of his coat while Dean Wharton talked about what a fine young man I would be turned into. The crystal dish went into the opposite pocket. Wrapped in a blanket, I sit in the same green leather chair and pick at the gauze covering my palm. A fine young man indeed. “Sleepwalking?” Dean Wharton says. He’s dressed in a brown tweed suit, but his hair is still wild. He stands near a shelf of outdated encyclopedias and strokes a gloved finger over their crumbling leather spines. I notice there’s a new cheap glass dish of mints on the desk. My head is pounding. I wish the mints were aspirin. “I used to sleepwalk,” I say. “I haven’t done it in a long time.” Somnambulism isn’t all that uncommon in kids, boys especially. I looked it up online after waking in the driveway when I was thirteen, my lips blue with cold, unable to shake the eerie feeling that I’d just returned from somewhere I couldn’t quite recall. Outside the leaded glass windows the rising sun limns the trees with gold. The headmistress, Ms. Northcutt, looks puffy and red-eyed. She’s drinking coffee out of a mug with the Wallingford logo on it and gripping it so tightly the leather of her gloves over her knuckles is pulled taut. “I heard you’ve been having some problems with your girlfriend,” Headmistress Northcutt says. “No,” I say. “Not at all.” Audrey broke up with me after the winter holiday, exhausted by my moodiness. It’s impossible to have problems with a girlfriend who’s no longer mine. The headmistress clears her throat. “Some students think you are running a betting pool. Are you in some kind of trouble? Owe someone money?” I look down and try not to smile at the mention of my tiny criminal empire. It’s just a little forgery and some bookmaking. I’m not running a single con; I haven’t even taken up my brother Philip’s suggestion that we could be the school’s main supplier for underage booze. I’m pretty sure the headmistress doesn’t care about betting, but I’m glad she doesn’t know that the most popular odds are on which teachers are hooking up. Northcutt and Wharton are a long shot, but that doesn’t stop people laying cash on them. I shake my head. “Have you experienced mood swings lately?” Dean Wharton asks. “No,” I say. “What about changes in appetite or sleep patterns?” He sounds like he’s reciting the words from a book. “The problem is my sleep patterns,” I say. “What do you mean?” asks Headmistress Northcutt, suddenly intent. “Nothing! Just that I was sleepwalking, not trying to kill myself. And if I wanted to kill myself, I wouldn’t throw myself off a roof. And if I was going to throw myself off a roof, I would put on some pants before I did it.” The headmistress takes a sip from her cup. She’s relaxed her grip. “Our lawyer advised me that until a doctor can assure us that nothing like this will happen again, we can’t allow you to stay in the dorms. You’re too much of an insurance liability.” I thought that people would give me a lot of crap, but I never thought there would be any real consequences. I thought I was going to get a scolding. Maybe even a couple of demerits. I’m too stunned to say anything for a long moment. “But I didn’t do anything wrong.” Which is stupid, of course. Things don’t happen to people because they deserve them. Besides, I’ve done plenty wrong. “Your brother Philip is coming to pick you up,” Dean Wharton says. He and the headmistress exchange looks, and Wharton’s hand goes unconsciously to his neck, where I see the colored cord and the outline of the amulet under his white shirt. I get it. They’re wondering if I’ve been worked. Cursed. It’s not that big a secret that my grandfather was a death worker for the Zacharov family. He’s got the blackened stubs where his fingers used to be to prove it. And if they read the paper, they know about my mother. It’s not a big leap for Wharton and Northcutt to blame any and all strangeness concerning me on curse work. “You can’t kick me out for sleepwalking,” I say, getting to my feet. “That can’t be legal. Some kind of discrimination against—” I stop speaking as cold dread settles in my stomach, because for a moment I wonder if I could have been cursed. I try to think back to whether someone brushed me with a hand, but I can’t recall anyone touching me who wasn’t clearly gloved. “We haven’t come to any determination about your future here at Wallingford yet.” The headmistress leafs through some of the papers on her desk. The dean pours himself a coffee. “I can still be a day student.” I don’t want to sleep in an empty house or crash with either of my brothers, but I will. I’ll do whatever lets me keep my life the way it is. “Go to your dorm and pack some things. Consider yourself on medical leave.” “Just until I get a doctor’s note,” I say. Neither of them replies, and after a few moments of standing awkwardly, I head for the door. Don’t be too sympathetic. Here’s the essential truth about me: I killed a girl when I was fourteen. Her name was Lila, she was my best friend, and I loved her. I killed her anyway. There’s a lot of the murder that seems like a blur, but my brothers found me standing over her body with blood on my hands and a weird smile tugging at my mouth. What I remember most is the feeling I had looking down at Lila—the giddy glee of having gotten away with something. No one knows I’m a murderer except my family. And me, of course. I don’t want to be that person, so I spend most of my time at school faking and lying. It takes a lot of effort to pretend you’re something you’re not. I don’t think about what music I like; I think about what music I should like. When I had a girlfriend, I tried to convince her I was the guy she wanted me to be. When I’m in a crowd, I hang back until I can figure out how to make them laugh. Luckily, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s faking and lying. I told you I’d done plenty wrong. I pad, still barefoot, still wrapped in the scratchy fireman’s blanket, across the sunlit quad and up to my dorm room. Sam Yu, my roommate, is looping a skinny tie around the collar of a wrinkled dress shirt when I walk through the door. He looks up, startled. “I’m fine,” I say wearily. “In case you were going to ask.” Sam’s a horror film enthusiast and hard-core science geek who has covered our dorm room with bug-eyed alien masks and gore-spattered posters. His parents want him to go to MIT and from there to some profitable pharmaceuticals gig. He wants to do special effects for movies. Despite the facts that he’s built like a bear and is obsessed with fake blood, he has so far failed to stand up to them to the degree that they don’t even know there’s a disagreement. I like to think we’re sort of friends. We don’t hang out with many of the same people, which makes being sort of friends easier. “I wasn’t doing . . . whatever you think I was doing,” I tell him. “I don’t want to die or anything.” Sam smiles and pulls on his Wallingford gloves. “I was just going to say that it’s a good thing you don’t sleep commando.” I snort and drop onto my cot. The frame squeaks in protest. On the pillow next to my head rests a new envelope, marked with a code telling me a freshman wants to put fifty dollars on Victoria Quaroni to win the talent show. The odds are astronomical, but the money reminds me that someone’s going to have to keep the books and pay out while I’m away. Sam kicks the base of the footboard lightly. “You sure you’re okay?” I nod. I know I should tell him that I’m going home, that he’s about to become one of those lucky guys with a single, but I don’t want to disturb my own fragile sense of normalcy. “Just tired.” Sam picks up his backpack. “See you in class, crazy-man.” I raise my bandaged hand in farewell, then stop myself. “Hey, wait a sec.” Hand on the doorknob, he turns. “I was just thinking . . . if I’m gone. Do you think you could let people keep dropping off the money here?” It bothers me to ask, simultaneously putting me in his debt and making the whole kicked-out thing real, but I’m not ready to give up the one thing I’ve got going for me at Wallingford. He hesitates. “Forget it,” I say. “Pretend I never—” He interrupts me. “Do I get a percentage?” “Twenty-five,” I say. “Twenty-five percent. But you’re going to have to do more than just collect the money for that.” He nods slowly. “Yeah, okay.” I grin. “You’re the most trustworthy guy I know.” “Flattery will get you everywhere,” Sam says. “Except, apparently, off a roof.” “Nice,” I say with a groan. I push myself off the bed and take a clean pair of itchy black uniform pants out of the dresser. “So why would you be gone? They’re not kicking you out, right?” Pulling on the pants, I turn my face away, but I can’t keep the unease out of my voice. “No. I don’t know. Let me set you up.” He nods. “Okay. What do I do?” “I’ll give you my notebook on point spreads, tallies, everything, and you just fill in whatever bets you get.” I stand, pulling my desk chair over to the closet and hopping up on the seat. “Here.” My fingers close on the notebook I taped above the door. I rip it down. Another one from sophomore year is still up there, from when business got big enough I could no longer rely on my pretty-good-but-not-photographic memory. Sam half-smiles. I can tell he’s amazed that he never noticed my hiding spot. “I think I can manage that.” The pages he’s flipping through are records of all the bets made since the beginning of our junior year at Wallingford, and the odds on each. Bets on whether the mouse loose in Stanton Hall will be killed by Kevin Brown with his mallet, or by Dr. Milton with his bacon-baited traps, or be caught by Chaiyawat Terweil with his lettuce-filled and totally humane trap. (The odds favor the mallet.) On whether Amanda, Sharone, or Courtney would be cast as the female lead in Pippin and whether the lead would be taken down by her understudy. (Courtney got it; they’re still in rehearsals.) On how many times a week “nut brownies with no nuts” will be served in the cafeteria. Real bookies take a percentage, relying on a balanced book to guarantee a profit. Like, if someone puts down five bucks on a fight, they’re really putting down four fifty, and the other fifty cents is going to the bookie. The bookie doesn’t care who wins; he only cares that the odds work so he can use the money from the losers to pay the winners. I’m not a real bookie. Kids at Wallingford want to bet on silly stuff, stuff that might never come true. They have money to burn. So some of the time I calculate the odds the right way—the real bookie way—and some of the time I calculate the odds my way and just hope I get to pocket everything instead of paying out what I can’t afford. You could say that I’m gambling too. You’d be right. “Remember,” I say, “cash only. No credit cards; no watches.” He rolls his eyes. “Are you seriously telling me someone thinks you have a credit card machine up in here?” “No,” I say. “They want you to take their card and buy something that costs what they owe. Don’t do it; it looks like you stole their card, and believe me, that’s what they’ll tell their parents.” Sam hesitates. “Yeah,” he says finally. “Okay,” I say. “There’s a new envelope on the desk. Don’t forget to mark down everything.” I know I’m nagging, but I can’t tell him that I need the money I make. It’s not easy to go to a school like this without money. I’m the only seventeen-year-old at Wallingford without a car. I motion to him to hand me the book. Just as I’m taping it into place, someone raps loudly on the door, causing me to nearly topple over. Before I can say anything, it opens, and our hall master walks in. He looks at me like he’s half-expecting to find me threading a noose. I hop down from the chair. “I was just—” “Thanks for getting down my bag,” Sam says. “Samuel Yu,” says Mr. Valerio. “I’m fairly sure that breakfast is over and classes have started.” “I bet you’re right,” Sam says, with a smirk in my direction. I could con Sam if I wanted to. I’d do it just this way, asking for his help, offering him a little profit at the same time. Take him for a chunk of his parents’ cash. I could con Sam, but I won’t. Really, I won’t. As the door clicks shut behind Sam, Valerio turns to me. “Your brother can’t come until tomorrow morning, so you’re going to have to attend classes with the rest of the students. We’re still discussing where you’ll be spending the night.” “You can always tie me to the bedposts,” I say, but Valerio doesn’t find that very funny. My mother explained the basics of the con around the same time she explained about curse work. For her the curse was how she got what she wanted and the con was how she got away with it. I can’t make people love or hate instantly, like she can, turn their bodies against them like Philip can, or take their luck away like my other brother, Barron, but you don’t need to be a worker to be a con artist. For me the curse is a crutch, but the con is everything. It was my mother who taught me that if you’re going to screw someone over—with magic and wit, or wit alone—you have to know the mark better than he knows himself. The first thing you have to do is gain his confidence. Charm him. Just be sure he thinks he’s smarter than you are. Then you—or, ideally, your partner—suggest the score. Let your mark get something right up front the first time. In the business that’s called the “convincer.” When he knows he’s already got money in his pocket and can walk away, that’s when he relaxes his guard. The second go is when you introduce bigger stakes. The big score. This is the part my mother never has to worry about. As an emotion worker, she can make anyone trust her. But she still needs to go through the steps, so that later, when they think back on it, they don’t figure out she worked them. After that there’s only the blow-off and the getaway. Being a con artist means thinking that you’re smarter than everyone else and that you’ve thought of everything. That you can get away with anything. That you can con anyone. I wish I could say that I don’t think about the con when I deal with people, but the difference between me and my mother is that I don’t con myself. © 2010 Katy Grant