Authors: Mark C. King
Leaving the cab behind him with no instructions for the cabbie to stay, Sigmund checked his watch, put it back in his pocket, then crossed the street and approached the front door. To his right and left were many patrons still enjoying the outside tables with their tea and coffees. Before entering, Sigmund casually spied through the windows towards the front desk and saw, to his relief, that there was a different clerk on duty. He entered the front door with a purpose, as if he belonged there, and made his way up the stairs to the second floor. He quickly located room twenty-one, the room for Steinhauser, and after looking up and down the carpeted hallway to make sure it was clear of people, leaned his ear to the door to listen. There was a conversation going on inside but it wasn’t spoken very loudly. Still, Sigmund was fairly sure it was in German, which he did not understand a word. However, it confirmed two things, Germans and at least two people. The dark stranger had mentioned ‘scientists’, plural – this gave Sigmund a little more confidence.
Knock knock KNOCK!
The door opened a crack and a voice said quietly but sternly, “What do you want?”
“German? I love Germans!” slurred Sigmund in his best drunk impersonation. “You have something that will change the world” Sigmund paused, “if you brought it with you.”
The eyes of the occupant of room twenty-one took on a very surprised, even worried look. “What do you mean?”
“Why, beer of course! I love German beer! Did you bring some with you?”
“No!” the German responded loudly but not without a little relief in his voice. “Now please leave.”
“But, hic, you haven’t sent Monty out yet,” Sigmund continued, weaving in his stance and over gesticulating. “He told me to meet him here.”
“I do not know anyone by that name, you have the wrong room.”
“No, sir! Room twelve is what he told me,” and pointing at the numbers on the door said, “see… a one and a two – twelve.”
“You have your numbers confused. This is room twenty one, room twelve is on the first floor. Now good night!” The door closed quickly and Sigmund heard the lock turn as well. The conversation was over but it had accomplished all the Sigmund wanted. Stumbling down the hall he called out, “I’m coming Monty!” for good measure. Once he reached the lobby, the charade was over, he straightened his step and left the hotel stone sober.
Standing across the street from the hotel Sigmund counted the windows and figured out which one belonged to room twenty one – the second one over from the left of the building. Not too bad of a spot, although the first window would have been a little better as he would have better coverage in the alley, still it could have been much worse – it could have been an interior room with no windows. With one last long look, taking in light sources, line of sights, ledges, shadows, and all the little intangible things that made Sigmund good at his second profession, he walked down the sidewalk looking for another cab to make his way home, a plan already forming in his mind.
By the time he was in bed, Sigmund knew his course for the following night. It still called for some improvisation but many of his jobs did and he was good at that. Sleep was hard to come by and even when it did, it was accompanied by dark and restless dreams of Alexis being harmed.
The evening of the meeting brought a slight chill to the air, at least for a summer night. The fog was typical but the dampness of it felt colder across London as it was being accompanied by a southerly breeze. From Sigmund’s location in the shadow of a doorway across from the Charlotte Street Hotel, he watched a man and woman walk quickly by – the woman with her arms crossed and rubbing her arms, the man with his hands firmly in his pocket. They, like many about, were not dressed for the unexpectedly cold night.
Dressed in basic black pants, black jacket, white shirt and black tie, Sigmund looked like he was just returning from dinner. Out of place, for people that knew him, was the cane he held in his hand, made of a dark stained wood and topped with a silver globe. From the shadows, Sigmund twisted the silver cap of the cane which gave off clicks and pings as it pulled tight the spring mechanism hidden inside. Once tight, he pulled a small metal ball bearing out of his pocket, opened a little hole in the side of the cane and placed the ball inside. After first making sure no one was paying him attention, Sigmund lifted the cane towards his eye, much like a sea captain would lift a spyglass to search the horizon, and pointed it at one of the lamps outside of the hotel. When a steam car passed by Sigmund took a final quick look around to make sure no one was near and then pushed a hidden button on the cane and a sharp
sounded out, followed quickly by the tinkling of glass. The electric streetlamp, closer to the right side of the building and a little farther from the window of room twenty-one, was now broken, the light extinguished. People at the nearby sidewalk tables, not too many at this time and weather, gave a small start and looked around in confusion. Within a minute or so they returned to their coffees and disregarded the event. The light that was closer to room twenty-one was similarly disabled by Sigmund earlier that day. Placing the cane in the doorway, he carefully hid it in the shadows – it had done its job. Another one of his inventions, this cane had a hidden spring that when pulled tight could produce a good amount of power. With the press of the button the spring was released and the ball bearing was launched through the bottom of the cane at a good velocity. It wasn’t nearly powerful enough to kill a person but it certainly could take out a light bulb and its surrounding glass.
With the two street lamps extinguished it was now time for the difficult part of the plan – getting to the ledge outside of room twenty-one. Besides the possibility of being seen, what concerned Sigmund the most was getting to the ledge itself. He would need to use the cover of the alley to get to the first floor but there was no ledge on the side of the building, only on the face. Somehow he would need to climb up the side of the building and then navigate himself around the corner to the front and to the small ledge. His ultimate destination was the far side of the window to room twenty-one, to an outcropping where he could sit and watch the proceedings inside. Many things could go wrong before reaching that destination.
The cane now inconspicuous, Sigmund picked up his leather courier bag, placed it on his shoulder, and then picked up a suitcase. Crossing the road to the Charlotte Street Hotel, he looked like a normal patron on his way to stay the night. Except, he didn’t go in the entrance, he turned aside, walked past the outside tables and, when no one was looking, ducked into the alley that ran between the hotel and the neighboring building.
The alley way was significantly darker than the street. It was only five feet or so from wall to wall and didn’t let in much light – especially since the nearest streetlamps were now out of order. A few pieces of trash lined the alley and a couple of weeds could be seen that grew along the base of the walls, but it was vacant other than that. Sigmund peered around the corner of his new hiding spot to see if he had gathered the attention of anyone but the few that were out in the cold evening air took no notice of the alley, far too concentrated on getting to their destinations and undoubtedly to some warmth. Turning back into the alley, Sigmund flipped up the collar of his jacket, and crossed the lapels so that the jacket now covered his shirt and tie completely. The all black clothing would let him blend in with the shadows better while he performed his task. His pulse started to race as he was getting farther into the enterprise. There was an undeniable thrill that accompanied his illegal practices – a thrill that he sometimes missed when he didn’t have to resort to this type of income. Tonight, though, felt different. It wasn’t just about stealing an object from an empty room, it was much more. His sister’s life may be at risk, his niece’s ability to walk was at stake, and then, if the dark stranger could be believed, the entire Empire could be heading for war. How on earth did he get into this situation? Sigmund took several breaths to calm himself and clear his mind. He needed to focus on the task at hand, the big picture only distracted him.
Setting the large leather suitcase down, he bent over, opened it, and pulled out a rifle looking device. It had a bulbous metal container along the shoulder stock and a barrel that protruded menacingly. Reaching back into the suitcase he pulled out a grappling hook and slid it into the barrel. Lastly, pulling the end of a rope from the same case, he attached it to the hook. The grappling launcher was ready. Unlike the cane that was spring powered, this gun used compressed air as its launching force. The fact that air could be so powerful was always surprising to Sigmund, but then again, he thought, it was air that allowed giant dirigibles to defy gravity. With a full charge of air in the pressurized tank Sigmund has been able to launch the grappling hook nearly one hundred feet into the air – more than enough for the present building.
With the launcher held up to his shoulder, he leaned out of the alley and took one last look up and down the sidewalk – it was clear. He waited another minute for a vehicle to pass by and then aimed the launcher up and just a degree off of the ledge of the hotel roof and pulled the trigger. A quick
sounded, followed by the light rasp of the rope being pulled out of the suitcase as the grappling hook made its way into the sky. The hook went out of sight in the fog so Sigmund had to listen for the impact of it hitting the roof. After a couple of seconds there was the clink and thud sound of the hook landing somewhere above him. He slowly pulled on the rope and he could feel the hook scraping along the roof. If it didn’t find purchase, not only could it fall on him but it could end his plan for the night practically before they were started – the launcher could only fire once before it needed to be filled with compressed air again, something he could only do with a device in his home. Hand over hand, slowly pulling the rope down, it suddenly became taut – he let out his held breath. He started to put a little tension on the rope, then a little more, until finally he could trust his full weight to it.
Another look out of the alley revealed a clear sidewalk, so Sigmund began climbing the rope. His shoes – soft leather – made light scraping noises on the bricks that made up the side of the building but not loud enough to travel to anyone’s ears. Within a minute, he had reached the height of the first floor – an easy climb. His problem now was that the ledge that ran across the front of the building didn’t continue down the side where Sigmund was. Reaching his foot out to his right along the wall and towards the front of the building, Sigmund placed it on the small ledge that lined the front windows. With his left hand still holding firmly on the rope, he reached out with his right hand and placed it on the front of the hotel. Now with his right foot and hand on the front of the building, he needed to bring his left foot – currently hanging in mid-air – and his left hand – currently holding onto the rope – around the corner to finish his maneuver. His muscles started to shake from the awkward position, he would need to act soon or else drop, relax, and start all over. Bending his right leg like a spring, he then pushed up with all his might, simultaneously letting go of the rope, and brought his hands up to the ledge of bricks that bordered the top of the first window of the second story – thankfully dark and unoccupied at this time. Unsteady for a moment as his mind readjusted his bearings, he quickly recovered and found himself with both feet on the eight inch ledge and his hands holding on to the brick border above the window. The cold breeze whipped about his clothing but was not strong enough to be of serious concern. He stayed in that position for a few seconds as he allowed his body to relax. When the rush of the maneuver had passed, he inched his way to the right. Needing to get to the second window over, Sigmund positioned himself at the extreme right of the first window, still holding tightly the protruding brick border. Then, simultaneously with a small leap to the right, he let go of the brick border of the first window and grabbed onto the window border of the second window. Sigmund was careful to not move in front of the actual window as the light inside the room was on. With his body flat against the building, his arms holding tightly to the brick border, he turned his head to the side to examine the street below him, looking for anyone who might be watching his acrobatics. Thankfully, he saw no one. So far so good.
Bottom to top, room twenty-one’s window went from the ledge that Sigmund was on and reached up to his shoulders, with a brick border on top of that. Sigmund wanted to get to the other side of the window in order to place himself on the part of ledge that jutted out from the building – this being a decorative piece. This protruding woodwork made for the only spot that was wide enough for a person to sit on while being close to the target window. The alternative was to crouch and hang on for the duration of the meeting, which would probably not be possible – certainly not pleasurable, as his body was already tired from the efforts thus far. The problem was how to get to the other side of the window without being seen. Passing in front of it would be quite a sight for anyone in the room, but it somehow had to be done – both because he couldn’t see or listen well from this spot and more importantly, his arms were getting tired of holding on. Letting go with his right hand he bent down carefully, slowly, and stole a glance into the room. He saw two couches facing each other with a table in between them, a dresser with a suitcase on top of it, a steamer trunk on the bed, but no people. Sigmund’s heart leapt and sunk in an instant. Without people in the room there would be no problem of being discovered when he crossed the window, but now he had to wonder if the meeting was being held in this room. Sigmund thought back to the conversation with the dark stranger and definitely recalled that they had talked about the meeting happening in the hotel room.
What if it was a different room?
Too late now to change plans, he would have to hope that he was in the right spot. He side stepped his way along the ledge, in front of the window, and once on the other side, sat on the decorative outcropping which made his arms and legs feel euphoric at not being taxed. This new spot gave him a position next to the window but out of sight from anyone inside. A perfect position
the meeting was happening in this room.
Looking below, Sigmund found himself above the outdoor tables and just two windows away from being above the entrance to the hotel. Examining up and down the street from his new vantage point, Sigmund was reassured of his position – he would be hard to spot, especially since there were not many eyes about at this time and weather. Looking at his watch, it was 8:45, fifteen minutes until the meeting was supposed to begin.
Reaching into the courier bag that hung around this shoulder and neck, he pulled out a small spyglass that had a right angle at its end – a periscope. Putting the right angle up to the window he looked through the eye piece and again saw the empty hotel room. Taking another item out of his bag, he attached a small horn-like piece to the end of the periscope followed by some India rubber tubing from the horn to an ear pierce. With the periscope and horn pressed up against the window he would be able to see and hear everything that went on in the room with a low chance of discovery. Of course, there was no chance of discovery if the room remained empty.
Please be the right room!
Looking at his watch again, it was 8:50, ten minutes left. A sense of disappointment started to crawl into his chest and he kept the watch in his hand, rubbing its cover with his thumb. He couldn’t keep his mind from thinking about all the ways things could go wrong, starting with this empty room. Stopping his thoughts was the sound of a door opening from inside. Putting his device back up against the window Sigmund saw two men enter, one of them was the man that answered the door for Sigmund’s drunken performance. They were speaking to each other but although Sigmund could hear it clearly, he couldn’t understand a word as it was in German. The cold sense of failure that was growing started to dissipate and a hint of warmth was taking its place. This may work after all.
A couple more minutes passed before a carriage could be heard approaching. Sigmund watched as it pulled in front of the hotel and Sigmund saw clearly the three men that exited – all dressed well and one of them looked a bit familiar. Could this be the other participants of the meeting? If so, things looked to be coming together well. The three men, one carrying a briefcase, disappeared from view as they entered the hotel and after another minute there was a knock on the hotel room door. Sigmund turned his attention back to his device and back to the interior of the room.