Authors: Mark C. King
“And the necklace?”
“Sitting securely in its wooden case in the hotel safe. A fortune with an owner that cannot be found.”
“You cannot locate him? You have you tried to find the man?”
“You insult me! Of course I have. I have sent no less than five messages and telegrams. Assuming he received them, he hasn’t responded. Short of travelling to Paris and hand delivering the necklace, I feel that it will never find its owner.”
“How much time has passed?” asked the younger man.
“Four months. Four months of that fortune just sitting there. If I was a less honest man, it would have been sold ages ago.”
“Surely enough time has passed. You have been more than honorable.”
“Ah, my young friend. I think a little more time, say… six months, yes, the half-anniversary of the whole event and it will be mine. Mine without remorse.”
“You have the self-control of a saint, Mr. Barrymore.”
Sigmund had heard more than enough. A valuable necklace, a missing owner, and the exact location. It could hardly be better. Maybe Jamison was right – providence.
At nine o’clock in the evening, a natural quietness fell over London. Dinner finished, children in bed, adults started to prepare for bed themselves. Frederick sat in a wooden chair – not very comfortably – and absently wondered why the hotel management didn’t provide a more serviceable place for the hotel clerk to sit for the long night hours. Would a cushion be too much to ask for? He pushed the thought aside, adjusted his position, and continued reading the evening edition of the
. When a sharp
rudely interrupted the silence of the hotel lobby, Frederick nearly fell out of his uncomfortable chair in alarm.
Standing up in surprise Frederick put his newspaper down and looked around the lobby of the Golden Lion Hotel in concern as he had not noticed anyone entering or approaching the front desk. His eyes darted over the luxurious interior, looking for the cause of the disturbance. They moved from the red brick fireplace, presently unlit due to the summer warmth, to the Corinthian leather chairs, across the fine Persian rug, and halted on the one out of place item – a small, filthy figure, a young boy with threadbare clothes, a cap with several holes in it, and a pair of goggles on his forehead with one of the lenses missing – a street urchin. He watched in shock as this little rascal ran for the door, the front desk bell in hand, and a sound of glee escaping from his mouth.
“Oi!” Frederick yelled, “Come back you! I need to report you to the constable!” He wondered if threatening police action was a good tactic at getting this boy to stop. A reward maybe? Rewarded for stealing? Frederick shook away these nonsense thoughts and went to action.
Rushing around the lobby desk, newspaper flying, he ran towards the front door in quick pursuit of the scofflaw. Frederick hoped that no guest would be entering the lobby as it would prove to be an embarrassing sight to see an employee of the prestigious Golden Lion Hotel running through its premise. But more than that, he didn’t want the possibility of running into – literally – a guest and face the inevitable termination of his post that such a collision would cause.
As the little creature slipped outside, Frederick cried out again, “Oi! Stop!” This cry was no more effective than his first one. He passed through the door and stood on the front step looking up and down the street. He thought -
Should I be leaving my post to stop this little thief? How much trouble would a simple bell cause me?
While thinking these things, he continued to look down the dark street and saw the little figure stop at the corner, just under a street lamp, and return his gaze. Their eyes met. Frederick gave his most menacing glare – probably not too menacing, but enough to scare a little kid he figured. The child returned the stare with his large excited eyes, smiled, held out his hand with the bell on it and then with two quick slaps, rang it twice – a taunt!
“Oh that’s it then!” Frederick said to himself, his outrage exploding at the cheek of this urchin. “You will be fortunate for me to turn you over to a constable if I get my hands on you!” he yelled as he leapt from the doorway and pursued in earnest this little thief.
He didn’t notice the man across the street in the shadows observing.
* * *
Sigmund Shaw watched the whole episode without a small amount of humor. Timothy, the young street child, performed his task with something Sigmund would have to call ‘panache’. The ringing of the bell was simply a piece of brilliance, guaranteeing that the front desk man would pursue - the exact goal that Sigmund had paid Timothy to accomplish.
Still chuckling with delight at the scene that just played out in front of him, Sigmund moved out from his position in the shadowed doorway, the thick London fog and the gloom of night making him not much more than an anonymous shape. Readjusting his courier bag securely on his shoulder, he then checked his watch – a few minutes past nine. He stepped out of the doorway and onto the sidewalk, the lateness of the evening making it so few vehicles, and fewer people, were about. The earthy smell of damp cobblestones mixed with the burning gas of the street lamps hung thick in the air, making breathing almost feel like a chore. A lone steamer car turned onto the street, momentarily illuminating Sigmund, and continued on towards its destination – evidently not the Golden Lion Hotel. The sound of the car faded as it passed onto another street giving way to the hum of a dirigible passing somewhere nearby overhead – probably the late Paris to London line, thought Sigmund. With one last look up and down the grey street, Sigmund verified that no one was about that was paying him any attention and crossed the cobblestones to the front of the hotel.
But there was someone Sigmund missed, someone who was paying him very much attention.
As Sigmund neared the door he heard from the distance a faint shout, “If I get my hands on you…” he smiled again.
Stepping into the lobby of the Golden Lion Hotel, careful that his light overcoat not get caught in the front door, Sigmund surveyed his surroundings. His brown eyes searching first for people, then for anything out of place. Having visited this room previously that day, under pretense of examining the hotel for an unnamed employer, Sigmund could see that nothing had changed – not that he expected it to but in this line of work, details were everything. Moving quickly around the front desk, he tried the handle to the door marked, ‘Employees Only’ – it was locked. Before deciding on using his lock picks, he first looked over the front desk and saw several individual keys. The second one worked.
Just before entering the room, a man, hair messed, dressed in slippers and an overcoat – no doubt covering his sleep garments – strode to the front desk and said sharply, “I need to lodge a complaint.”
Sigmund, not expecting this situation, did the only thing he could think of and said, “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. What is the nature of your complaint?”
“How is one supposed to rest with bells ringing and people shouting in the streets? It is most unacceptable!” The man’s face was turning a shade of red.
“I fully understand, sir,” replied Sigmund, barely suppressing a smile. “I have already contacted Scotland Yard and they have promised to look into the matter quickly and fully.”
Sigmund immediately feared he may have overplayed his hand a bit as the guest considered this information. But to his great relief the disgruntled hotel guest said, “Right, right. Good man. The Yard shall have the proper resources to deal with this atrocity.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”
“Please let the maid know that I would like to be undisturbed until after eleven.” And with that, the guest turned and stomped back upstairs.
Sigmund, pleased with himself for the bit of acting, opened the ‘Employee Only’ door and closed it behind him – hiding him from view. Any other upset guests will just have to wait for the real desk clerk. The room Sigmund now found himself in was a small office, with only the one door and no windows. Equipped with an electric light, Sigmund activated it and looked over the furnishings, a desk and chair, a small wooden filing cabinet, a painting of the hotel, and nothing else.
Where was the safe?
Sigmund looked closer at the furnishings but a room this small with only a few items made it hard to miss anything. He put his bag down and gave thought to the possibility that that safe was perhaps hidden behind the painting. He lifted it off of its hook but there was nothing there except a solid wall. Maybe ‘safe’ was used loosely, perhaps the manager simply put items in a drawer. Rifling through the desk drawers turned up nothing but various papers. Next, Sigmund moved over to the filing cabinet next to the desk and pulled on the top drawer and was surprised when the whole cabinet, not just the drawer, moved a little. It was as if the drawer was locked but there was no locking mechanism. He tried the bottom drawer and it also did not open – this one too without a locking mechanism, almost as if the drawer was glued shut. Whatever part of the mind that recognized oddities and motivated further research was yelling at Sigmund to investigate further – something was there. He stood up and considered the small cabinet for a moment.
What use is a cabinet that had drawers that didn’t open? Just a show piece? – but why have a show piece hidden away in an office?
Sigmund decided to test the weight of it – a showpiece would weigh very little – and put a hand on either side and lifted. To his little surprise, it didn’t weigh much. To his great surprise, hidden under the cabinet was a safe – the cabinet was nothing more than a clever shell.
Placing the shell to the side and applauding the disguise, he turned his attention to his leather bag. Undoing the buckles, he lifted the main flap and pulled out two rectangle metal boxes – each about the size of a book – four metal rods and a horn shaped object. Carefully aligning the two rectangle boxes, he snapped them together forming a single larger box. On the bottom of this Sigmund placed the metal rods into each of its corners – like legs to a table. On the top of the box, he firmly placed the tapered end of the horn-like object (similar to the large flower-shaped speaker of a Victrola). On one side of the box it had what looked like a three finger metal hand. Adjusting the leg height so that the hand was lined up directly with the numbered dial on the safe door, Sigmund moved the contraption forward until the horn was directly against the door to the safe. With everything in place, Sigmund produced a winding key out of his pocket, inserted it into a hole on the side of the box, and gave it 5 complete turns. With a quiet whirring noise, the box came to life. Its hand opened and extended forward until it was on the dial, and then with a click, it closed. Now, with a steady movement, it turned the dial slowly.
With his device running, Sigmund checked the door to the office. Peering out, he saw no one, but expected that the front desk clerk would be back soon – for he really had no chance of catching little Timothy, who knew the streets, alleys, and hideaways like back of his dirty little hand. Sigmund hoped to be gone by that time. Returning to his device he knew it should be close to being finished. He thought back to the design of his clock-work safe cracker, simple – as the best designs usually were – but extremely effective. Getting the device to respond to the click of the correct tumbler was his hardest problem. But once overcome, the device was straightforward – once ‘hearing’ the tell-tale sound of one of the correct tumblers with its horn, it would drop a gear to ‘remember’ that location and then proceed until it had all the correct numbers. Once finished, it would then engage the metal claw to clear the dial and do a final combination of turns to the ‘remembered’ positions until the safe was unlocked. Sigmund could have done this by ear, with a stethoscope, but it was a much longer exercise – as he had learned by past experience – and didn’t allow him the freedom to watch his back and move around if necessary.
At last, the device stopped. With a little nervousness – Sigmund always feared that it wouldn’t work, that it was too easy – he turned the handle to the safe and it opened. With a self-satisfied smile, he looked in the safe and surveyed its contents. There was a little cash, some loose jewelry, papers, the typical things found in a hotel safe but those were not the goal of Sigmund’s tonight. Looking under some papers, he found the item he was looking for – a wooden box identical to the one described by his passenger. The box was about the size of a book but its hinge was at the top, not the side. On the front, where the lid met flushly with the bottom, was a locking mechanism. There would be time later to open it and collect the spoils, so Sigmund placed the box into his bag, disassembled his safe cracking machine, placed its components in his bag, closed the safe, and finally put the ‘shell’ back in its place.
Careful to turn off the light and lock the door to the room, he put the key back in its proper spot. Walking around the desk and into the lobby proper, he let out a long breath and headed for the door. But before he went very far, a red faced, perspiration covered person – the front desk clerk – entered the lobby. He looked but there was no way that Sigmund could avoid him. The front desk man – ‘Frederick’ Sigmund read on his name plate – tried to arrange his clothes and compose himself and said, “My apologies, sir, for not being at my desk. I had… I had just chased a would-be thief trying to get at the hotel guests.”
“My word.” Sigmund said, doing his best to play along with a straight face, “Was he dangerous?”
“I believe so, at least his gun was surely dangerous. More of a rifle really.”
“Well, you have my thanks. However…” As much as Sigmund was enjoying the tale, he needed to leave. With a tone that implied that the conversation was over, he said, “All the noises I’ve been hearing have been most disturbing. I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. I have packed my bag,” he patted his leather case, “and have decided to lodge elsewhere for the night. There is no changing my mind, I am determined.” And with a firm step, he passed the hotel employee. He could hear Frederick trying to think of something to say but not accomplishing anything more than some unintelligible sounds.