The Last Game? (Part 4)
(Continued from Part 3)
|Image from WikiMedia Commons|
“You’re what? You’re going to do what???”
I can’t believe my ears. And here I’d thought he might have another girlfriend, or maybe a gambling problem. This is the absolutely last thing I ever expected him to say.
Felix’s trips out at night to “get some ice cream” or “visit a sick friend” had become too frequent to ignore. When he called just as I was starting dinner to tell me he’d be late – again -- because of a last minute interview, I decided to confront him. I’ve kept my apartment, and if this isn’t going to work out, best I find out now, and get out before I get in too deep. Even as I told myself that, I knew it was too late. I’m already in too deep. Not only was he good looking in an irresistibly boyish way, not to mention charming and successful, when I took him home at Easter to meet Ma, they’d taken to each other like bread and butter. We’ve actually been tiptoeing around the idea of marriage.
Ohhh, I think to myself, this is what I get for trusting enough to set aside my deep-seated fear of commitment and move in with someone.
But how could I resist? That box of chocolates on my desk back in February was the most romantic gesture anyone has ever made to me. And it wasn’t as though we didn’t know each other. We’d been dating for months. Ha, fine judge of character I am. I know him all right, all except for the fact that he’s a freaking jewel thief. A criminal, for heaven’s sake. Charlie Martin, intrepid crime reporter, cohabitating with a criminal. That’s rich.
“OK, I knew I was probably going to have to tell you eventually, Charlie. I love you, and I don’t want to keep secrets from you. Sit down. I’ll be right back. I think we’re both going to need a drink.”
I sat on the couch, where Sinbad took advantage of the available lap. Felix returned from the kitchen carrying two glasses and a bottle of chardonnay. He twisted off the cap, poured two generous glasses and handed one to me.
“See, it’s like this,” he began as he sat next to me. “I love a challenge…”
He’s been trying to work up the nerve to tell Charlie about the Athenaeum job for quite a while. As it turned out, she stepped in and made it impossible for him to keep the secret any longer. He really wants to be honest with her. He plans to ask her to marry him after the job is finished, presuming he’s not in jail, and he’s not about to let that happen.
To say she is shocked is the understatement of the year. But once she calmed down and he told her the whole story, she’s taking it surprisingly well. Felix knows she’s terrified he’ll get caught or worse.
“What if you get shot?” she cried, clutching the cat in her lap, who now wears the same wild-eyed look as his mistress.
“I’m not going to get shot, Charlie. I promise. For one thing, I never carry a weapon. The last thing I want is for anyone to get hurt, and that includes me above all. That’s why I’m so careful.”
Felix hadn’t intended to reveal anything but his plans for the crown jewels – as if that weren’t enough – but he decides that telling her everything about his past might allay some of her fears about his safety.
“Remember that robbery you covered last year? Marguerite Morgan’s jewelry?”
Impossibly, Charlie’s eyes go even wider “That was you? They said it was gang of professional thieves. That’s what I wrote. You told me it was a good story.”
“It was a good story.” Felix flexes his fingers in front of his face, forming quotations marks in the air as he says the word story. “And it was partially true. The job was pulled off by a professional. But just one. No gang.”
“Felix, the cops said the only way the thieves… thief could have gotten in was coming around the ledge from the pool deck. The Morgan apartment is on the 12th floor. You didn’t…”
Sinbad gives a little yowl and leaps down, heading for safer ground.
“No ledge, Charlie. The apartment directly above Morgan’s is one of those corporate places, empty as often as it’s occupied. Getting in was easy. Then I just dropped a line from the balcony down to the Morgan balcony. The slider was unlocked. When I was done, I walked out the front door.”
“But what about the alarm? And the safe? Are you a safecracker, too? Oh, my God, Felix, what if they’d been home?”
“They weren’t home. I knew exactly where they were. That was the night of the Christmas charity ball for the Museum of Natural History. Marguerite was the chair, so she was sure to be there. The Morgans were dancing the night away in the Grand Hall at the museum while I was dancing away with the family jewels.” Felix pauses to pour them both more wine.
“As for the rest, people on a high floor feel safe. They think nothing of leaving the alarm off, with valuables out and slider doors unlocked. Yes, it was a calculated risk that she’d lock the jewelry up after she picked out the pieces she planned to wear to the ball, but not much of one. And even if she had, I’d have left empty-handed and chalked it up to bad luck. I’m not always successful, Charlie.”
“Geez, Felix, you’re like a character out of some mystery novel.”
Felix hears a tinge of admiration in Charlie’s voice, and breathes a sigh of relief. He’s glad he came clean. Maybe he can get some sleep tonight.
I’m going out of my mind. I begged Felix to let me go along tonight, promising I’d stay out of the way, but I knew he’d say no. The last thing he needs is someone tagging along, especially when that someone is a reporter. I even said I’d wait in the car, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“I’m not putting you at risk, Charlie.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t any risk.” I hated the touch of whine in my voice, but I couldn’t help it.
Yes, he’d said there wasn’t any risk, but how could there not be? He was going to steal the most important jewels in the world.
“Charlie.” His tone and expression said there would be no arguing. I kissed him goodbye, and watched him walk out the door. He looked just like he always did, a handsome guy headed out to go to the 24-hour store up on the corner or something. I knew he kept some clothes and his “tools of the trade” somewhere else.
That was hours ago. I’m beside myself with worry, and have paced a groove into the Berber carpet in the living room. What if…
He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but leaving the house and Charlie was harder than Felix had anticipated. In the end, she’d kissed him goodbye and wished him luck, and he knew he couldn’t ask for much more than that. Still, he can’t help but feel guilty.
No time for that tonight, he decides, and puts it out of his mind.
Washington Square Park is a little more than a mile from his town house, and Felix covers it in twenty minutes. As he crosses Waverly Place, a small non-descript brown panel van slides to the curb. Felix yanks open the passenger door and climb in, the van barely pausing.
“Your bag is in the back. Everything else all set?” Greene asks as he pulls away from the curb. Traffic is relatively light, but not so light that they’ll stand out as they head uptown.
“Yes. The cars in place?”
“Yep. You ready for this, man?”
As they talk, Felix moves into the back of the van and opens the gym bag. He’d met Greene at Grand Central earlier in the week, and given him the key to a locker on the lower concourse. His tools and clothes for the job were stashed in the locker inside a bag Felix has used to carry his gear for many years.
He tosses the stocking cap he’ll use to cover his light hair onto the passenger seat, and then pulls on the black pants he packed for the occasion. With the black turtleneck he wore when he left home, he’ll be all but invisible if he stays in the shadows outside into the Athenaeum.
After rolling his khakis and dropping them into the bag, Felix makes a quick check of his tools and then climbs back into the front seat.
“I am now. After you drop me, Wheels, take off. Keep your phone on and I’ll call you when I’m done.” Felix, Greene and Dobbs all carry throwaway phones that will be crushed and gone by morning.
Felix pulls on his stocking cap as the van pulls over two blocks from the Athenaeum. The he grabs his bag and gets out.
“Good luck, man.”
Felix has a thought that luck is not what it takes to pull off something like this, but he knows he’s fooling himself. He does need luck, and a shitload of it. Anything can happen.
“Thanks. If you don’t hear from me in two hours, get the hell out of town.”
He slips the strap of his bag over his shoulder and walks down the street at an easy pace, looking like he might have just left the all-night gym a few blocks away. The Athenaeum is on the edge of a residential neighborhood, and at close to midnight, the streets are empty and relatively dark.
Turning a corner, Felix sees the dark mass of the Athenaeum on a corner two blocks ahead. He turns left one block before, and then right again, entering the alley that he knows leads around behind the buildings and to the Athenaeum’s delivery entrance. It’s black as pitch. Everything on the alley has a blank wall, with no windows overlooking the area below. Dobbs stands in the shadows waiting for him.
Continued in Part 5