The Last Game? (Part 3)
(Continued from Part 2)
|Image from WikiMedia Commons|
Sitting at the desk in his office working his way through a plan to hit the Athenaeum, Felix remembers a course he had at NYU on project planning. Nearly everyone in the class hated it, but he enjoyed it. Schedules, time lines, critical paths and contingencies: what others saw as tedious, he saw as more puzzles to be solved.
A stack of sheets torn from a yellow legal pad grows on the corner of the desk beneath a framed photo of a pretty brunette. Each page is covered with lists, written in Felix’ precise hand. Despite the amount of detail he has captured, he knows that in the coming months, he’ll add to it.
He’s run through the job step by step, from the moment the Tower of London exhibit arrives in New York until the jewels have been liberated from antiquity and set securely in modern times, and he is safely back in the life of a law-abiding citizen. As he knew from the get-go, the gaps in his knowledge are enormous. He doesn’t know more than he knows.
Time to call in the reserves.
A huge antique, multi-compartmented apothecary cabinet stretches along the wall opposite Felix’s desk. Its 57 small drawers are labeled with ingredients used by a pharmacist back in the late 1800s. Felix pulls out the drawer labeled “elder flower” and lifts the false bottom. Secreted beneath is the disposable phone he purchased that morning.
With the cell phone, a list of people he hopes to recruit for the job and his lists in hand, Felix heads for the large Cooper Hotel in Times Square. He knows he can find an enclosed phone booth off the lobby there, one of few remaining in Manhattan. It’s the perfect place to make his calls.
The big heart-shaped box of chocolates sits right in the middle of my desk blotter when I walk in. Even though the “crime desk,” a small cluster of desks around the scanner, is on the other side of the newsroom, the spot of red floating in a grey sea of office furniture is impossible to miss. It’s the first thing I see as I push through the glass doors from the hallway. Huh.
Hat and gloves shoved into the pockets, I park my coat on an empty hook of the coat tree, and head over.
“Hey, Charlie, seems you have an admirer.” Lois, our take on Dear Abby, is grinning from ear to ear.
“I see that. Where’d it come from?”
“It was delivered about 15 minutes ago. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Cellophane wrapping stripped off, the lid lifts off easily. I pick up the small white card resting on top of the white quilted heart covering the candy.
“Live with me. - F.”
Oh.My.God. I can feel my face flush to a red matching the box lid I’ve just set aside.
Felix has boiled the Athenaeum job down to its components: getting in, stealing the jewels, getting away, keeping the authorities of his trail, and eventually selling the take. When he pulled together his team, he focused on those elements, and brought together what he considered to be the best in each area.
He’d expected the hardest part would be getting agreement from them to wait longer than is typical for a jewelry heist to fence to spoils. That’s another of his personal rules of survival. Haste is often a ticket on the express train to prison.
While it’s not quite as bad as selling easily identifiable artwork, really high-end jewelry is often custom. To those in the business, such a piece is as unique as a fingerprint of its owner, and therefore traceable. Felix has no doubt that the police have experts on board as consultants quite capable of taking a look at a piece of jewelry and knowing who made it and who bought it. And we’re talking the British crown jewels here. One need only go to the local Barnes and Noble and grab a magazine marketed to royalty watchers like Majesty World or Queen, and pictures of pieces from the collection abound. The catalog for the Tower of London would be enough, but for even better shots, Google is at your command.
Fortunately, the three “experts” who joined him in this little adventure are almost as cautious as Felix. While the last guy who tried to steal the crown jewels was pardoned in return for a pledge of allegiance to the king, they all were quite sure they would enjoy no such consideration. Besides, it was the challenge that enticed them, not the ultimate payback, though they all agree that will be pretty damn gratifying. It’s their plan to break down the pieces into their saleable components, and then tuck them way for several years. While not worth as much as it would be as a crown or scepter, each stone in one of those pieces is a glorious representative of its kind, and will bring a pretty nice price, even after the fence gets his cut.
The four team members set aside their thoughts of what they would do with the money, and focus on planning and research.
Security is the bailiwick of Malcolm Dobbs. After years in the business of computers and high-tech security systems, there is little Dobbs doesn’t know about them. Even better, he has never before applied that knowledge to crime, so he’s not in the system. But he’s been retired for a few years, and basically, he’s bored.
Over the years, Dobbs watched thieves bumble their way into so-called secure sites, and was convinced he could do a better job of it. He was happy to share his thoughts on it with Felix during an interview about the successful hit on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum back in the nineties. Felix never published the article, but Dobbs’ name became part of the rolodex.
The movies love to show thieves descending from ceilings and dodging invisible beams to lift an item from its pressure-sensitive pedestal. Bunk. The only way to remove a piece from a museum display is to make sure security systems are disabled before you ever go in.
Dobbs told Felix that during the day, museum security is by necessity a little lax compared to what’s in place after hours.
“The whole idea is to let visitors see the stuff up close, right? Not that I’m suggesting going in during the day, you understand. But that’s the time to make sure that when I was ready to go in, I could create an open window, if you will, and then close it on my way out. They’d never know what hit ‘em.”
Getting away successfully is a function of transportation. Felix recruited Mike “Wheels” Greene to handle that part. After serving as the driver for several major hits on the West Coast, Greene spent some time advancing his education in San Quentin. After probation ended five years ago, he moved to Philly, and has kept his nose clean, as far as Felix knows.
Getting away in a car driven by the likes of him is what got Greene caught, and he knows it. In “the Arena,” as the prison was known to its inmates, he learned a lot about the finer points of escape. The driver is the least of it. A complicated system of vehicle exchange is far more likely to transport both the doers and their take to obscurity, which is another word for safety, in Greene’s mind.
Greene is the team member that makes Felix the most nervous. For one thing, the moniker is worrisome. That and the fact that, though it sounds good, the transportation plan he has in mind is based on what he learned from "experts" behind bars. Felix plans to give Greene a very short leash.
The last member of the team is one Felix considers to be the most important and the most qualified. Abraham Leewes is a master cutter. Though there is nothing about diamond cutting he doesn’t know, his real value is his knowledge about gems in general. He has enjoyed a legitimate career in Amsterdam. He relishes the opportunity to handle really world-class stones, something that doesn’t happen all that often. And like Felix, he enjoys the occasional challenge. He’s moonlighted as a resource for some of the most famous jewel thieves in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Felix first heard about Leewes when he interviewed Jack Murphy, known in the press as Murph the Surf. He added Leewes to his rolodex even though he’d never met the man and, at the time, couldn’t imagine ever needing his services. But, hey, you never know.
When Felix visited Leewes at his home above a small shop on Wagenstraat in Amsterdam, he discovered that Leewes knew of him too, though not by name, of course. Many of Felix’s heists had made the press simply by virtue of the fact that the mark was newsworthy.
“I always wondered about the thieves skilled enough to rob them and get away with it,” he told Felix. “And it was just you, one man?”
It didn’t take much convincing to bring Leewes into the fold.
All in all, a good team, Felix thinks, and as the date of the job draws closer, he’s pleased with the way it’s all coming together. He plans to do the actual deed himself. Even though he has broken a cardinal rule by involving others in the job, years of working alone make it impossible for him to rely on anyone but himself when it comes to stealing the jewels.
The one person that Felix never expected to be involved was Charlie, but it just couldn’t be helped. He’d finally taken the leap and asked her to move in with him. She and Sinbad, her Tonkinese cat, moved into his townhouse off Gramercy Square four months ago, just after Valentine’s Day. It was a risk, given that he was right in the middle of planning the biggest job of his career. Oh yeah, that and the fact that she’s a crime reporter for the Observer. But, damn, he loves her. She’s gorgeous, funny and smart enough to keep him on his toes. He’d decided it was a risk worth taking
And of course, it only took her a few weeks to be onto the fact that he has a little something going on the side.
Continued in Part 4