by Leslie Silbert
p.m., the present day
silver Daimler pulled to a stop at Eaton Square in Belgravia,
an exclusive residential enclave in central London.
A young baron stepped out, buttoned his dinner jacket,
and reached for the long-stemmed roses resting on the
seat. Nodding to his chauffeur, he began strolling past
the pillared white homes, alongside the fragrant park.
was a cool evening for spring, and his hat, thin scarf
and gloves appeared entirely appropriate. No one would
guess that he wasnt wearing them for warmth. The
accessories were intended to prevent anyone in the vicinity
from being able to describe him later on, should they
even remember seeing him, which was unlikely. An expensively
dressed man in this neighborhood, with the right level
of self-assurance in his stride, blended in better than
camouflaged soldiers moving through a jungle.
few minutes later, he stood at the door of a five-story
townhouse on Wilton Crescent, a street shaped like its
name. The lantern-lit façade was curved as well,
and ivy hung from the terrace. Pretending to rap on
the front door with his left hand, he surreptitiously
operated a small handmade pick gun with his rightthe
delicate maneuvering hidden by the bouquet balanced
in the crook of his right arm.
inserted the steel needle jutting from the guns
muzzle into the lock, he used his index and middle fingers
to adjust the long trigger and manipulate the locks
cylinder pins. Made of walnut and steel with mother-of-pearl
inlay, it was a device hed fashioned himself.
It had not been easy to leave his favorite set of antique
picks at home, but out in the open like this, there
simply wasnt time to manually pick a lock he knew
would have at least five internal levers. Pick guns
turned a fifteen-minute operation into a matter of seconds.
And while he tended to disdain anything considered de
rigueur among rookie thieves, for this situation, there
was little choice.
locks tumblers turned, and once inside the foyer,
he set down his flowers, slipped his pick gun into the
holster strapped to his left forearm, then stepped around
lightly with his arms in the air. Graceful movements,
but the whimsical dance was not what it seemed. A soft
chirp sounded, and his right wrist came to an abrupt
halt as the electronic device in his platinum cuff link
homed in on the hidden security panel. With a short-range
electromagnetic pulse, it promptly jammed the system.
a master thief, breaking into an ordinary home was childs
play, particularly when the owner had moved in so recently
that sophisticated security measures had yet to be installed.
It was like using a top SAS marksman to shoot a seated
fat man from point blank range.
baron had agreed to do it as a favor for a friend, his
only friend who knew the truth, that he was something
of a modern day Robin Hood. Not out of altruism, he
simply had an intense dislike for the idle rich. His
set. The very people whose company he kept at exclusive
social clubs in London, casinos in Monaco, and posh
Portofino hotels. He was a silent traitor in the ranksfilching
their priceless treasures, quietly selling the items
on the black market, then donating the proceeds to exactly
those charitable causes that would most gall the involuntary
donors. Courtesy of his most recent coup, a conservative
Member of Parliamenta known xenophobewas
unwittingly funding a health clinic for destitute immigrants.
The black-clad baron had snatched a Degas statuette
while the MP and his wife were in the next room playing
cards in their dressing gowns.
before had he robbed a home without having been invited
in on a previous occasion. Going in blind was always
a bad idea, but his friend knew the owner well, and
had gathered enough information to guarantee that tonights
theft would be a sure thing. There were as yet no pressure
pads installed in the floors. No cameras, no wiring
in the windows, and the safe was somewhere in the study,
located on the third floor.
climbing the stairs, he examined the studys outer
wallthe one between himself and the streetthe
only wall thick enough to contain a safe. Two good-sized
windows, nothing behind the single painting. He turned
his attention to the floor. With some strategic tapping
and a practiced ear, he quickly detected a hollow beneath
a corner of the intricately patterned Shiraz rug. Using
a letter opener from the homeowners desk, he pried
up a two-foot-square panel of hardwood slats and saw
the safe. Around a decade old, it was a steel contraption
with a Sargent & Greenleaf combination lock.
Sargent? Mr. Greenleaf? Gentlemen, lets see what
youve got for me this time. Lowering himself
to the floor, the baron settled onto his side and slipped
off his gloves, then placed an ear over the safe and
a hand on the lock. While rotating the dial, he lightly
caressed the safe door with his free hand, attempting
to feel and possibly hear when the locks tumblers
came into contact with each other, in order to calculate
where the notches for the locking mechanism had been
placed on each wheel.
frowned. There was chaos beneath his fingertips. Far
too many pulses. The lock was definitely a manipulation-resistant
model. One with dummy notches added to the wheel edgesshallow
enough to avoid interfering with the locking process,
but deep enough to feel similar to legitimate contact
points when an expert like himself turned the dial.
With a tilt of his head, he dislodged his hat. It slipped
to the floor. Hats off, my demure darlings. You
took round one. But round two, Im afraid, is mine.
up, he lifted his right trouser leg, opened a Velcro
pouch strapped to the inside of his calf and withdrew
several objects: a fine length of plastique with a V-shaped
metal linera shaped charge fresh from an underground
lab in Bratislavaa digital detonator, two coils
of wire, and a small lithium battery-operated power
supply. He gently arranged the plastique along the right
edge of the safe door, placing it directly over each
spot where the doors steel bolts entered the frame.
Courtesy of his practiced method, the explosive would
slice through the bolts without affecting the safes
interior. Toasting these contents would not do at allthe
item he was after was highly flammable.
the detonator, he connected it to the power source and
flipped the switch. A fifteen-second count began. Pulling
his gloves back on, he used his handkerchief to wipe
down the safe, threw his dinner jacket across the square
hole in the floor, then moved a rolling file cabinet
over it to secure the fabric. Three, two
was barely audible, muffled as it was by his jackets
thin Kevlar lining. Wisps of smoke snaked upward as
he rolled the cabinet back to its original position.
Kneeling, he peered into the hole, grasped the safes
handle, and gingerly, pulled it upward.
there, not even singed, was an old leather-bound manuscript.
Hed been told it had been buried for centuries
with a secret his friends family seemed desperate
to keep. Titillating stuff, to be sure. He would demand
the full story before turning over his takings.
lifted the plain black volume from the safe. It was
fairly heavy, about an inch and a half thick, with leather
remarkably smooth for something so old. It had no title
on the outside, he noticed, nor much in the way of decorationjust
thin, single gold leaf stripes glimmering along the
edges of the front and back covers, and across the five
raised bands on the spine. He started to open it, then
caught himself. There would be ample time for that later.
the manuscript salted away in his black rucksack, the
baron spun for a quick survey of the room. The sparkle
of crystal caught his eyea dozen decanters on
tiered shelving across the room, perched in rows with
the formality and precision of a boys choir. After
sniffing the contents of each and replacing the bottles
with care, he poured himself a glass. Nothingnot
even a getawayshould come between a man and an
old cognac. The evenings sport might have been
a bore, but the refreshments were exceptional. Lifting
the velvety liquid to his lips, he enjoyed what was
more of a soft kiss than a sip.
romantic interlude between connoisseur and cocktail
was cut short. Harsh pulses of red light filled his
glass. With a quick glance, he saw a whirling light
outside the windows. Heard the sound of car doors shutting,
footsteps coming closer, hushed tones.
wrinkled his brow. Security men on the scene already?
Impossible. Hed disabled the simple system effectively,
without a doubt. They must be approaching one of the
adjacent homes. Maybe the neighbors were having a domestic
dispute, or a child had accidentally tripped an alarm.
a door creaked. With a jolt, the baron realized it was
the rear entrance of the house he was in. The place
was being surrounded. This place. But hed find
a way out. Always had.
calm, his mind raced over the possibilities. Perhaps
the inevitable had finally occurred. Perhaps the police
had caught up with him after all these years. Followed
him from his home, then called in for backup. He had
known it would happen at some point, had meticulously
planned his escape and new identity long before.
the roof his best option, he was moving across the room
toward the stairwell when footfalls sounded within the
house. From the floor above, from down the hall. Drawing
closer. Damn, he thought; he would have to duck out
one of these windows, climb to the roof from here. Peering
down at the street, he saw two armed men keeping vigil
one of them was looking up. He was trapped.
a moment, the baron stood stock-still, mesmerized by
the sound of his unexpected fate, slowly closing in.
With a shake of his head, he realized how greatly hed
underestimated the opposition.
a seat in a leather armchair by the windows, he placed
his glass on the table before him. He then removed his
left glove, revealing a large, square-cut ruby ring.
With his right thumb and forefinger, he flipped back
the gemstone and gazed at the well of powder hidden
beneath, highly potent crystals distilled from the saliva
of Australias blue-ringed octopus. The small,
sand-colored creature, which flashed to yellow with
bright blue rings when disturbed, possessed venom five
hundred times more toxic than cyanide. Having decided
long ago that he would sooner die than face prison,
he lifted his tongue, positioned the ring just beneath,
and tilted back his head. The crystals melted, and almost
instantaneously, penetrated the rich vascular network
on the underside of his tongue. Seconds laterfaster
than if hed injected it into his armthe
poison was entering his heart.
at the bitter taste in his mouth, he took another sip
of cognac. How perfectly appropriate, he mused. Bittersweet.
The flavor of his ironic demiseEuropes most
infamous gentleman thief caught during an ordinary household
robbery. In spite of the tremors in his hand, he raised
final toast. Punctuated by gunshots.
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