The Last Game? (Conclusion)
(Continued from Part 5)
|Image from WikiMedia Commons|
A tone in his ear brings Felix out of his trance. A guard is on the move. Best he get on with business.
Once the pieces that were to travel in the exhibit had been announced, Abraham Leewes told Felix which he should steal. He has no intention of taking everything. In fact, he is only going to steal two pieces, but what pieces they are. And thanks to Leewes, Felix fervently hopes that no one will realize they are gone until he is well out of it.
He hurries over to the first of the cases he plans to open. It is a glass model of Buckingham Palace and inside, resting on a drape of deep blue velvet, is the unbelievable Imperial State Crown. As a bit of millinery, it’s almost comical. But as a carrier for the more than 3,000 gems adorning it, the crown is incredible. Most of the jewels are diamonds, with a scattering of emeralds, rubies and sapphires to set the diamonds off. Around the bottom is a ring of ermine. Most astonishing are the two gems on the front of the crown. One is the enormous Cullinan II diamond, which Felix knows weighs in at over 300 carats. Above it, the Black Prince’s Ruby almost pales by comparison, despite being about the size of a chicken egg itself.
Felix opens his bag and pulls out a steel contraption he’s designed for this job. Comprised of several eighteen-inch tubes, it fits fit together like something made of big Lincoln Logs. Once assembled, they create a brace. The glass palace is heavy, and not fastened down in any way. Lowered over the crown, it’s held in place on the base by its own weight. Around the display, a red velvet rope keeps onlookers from getting too close. As Felix pushes the rope aside, he hears another tone from the ear bud.
Leaning the brace against the stand for a moment, he lifts one edge of the case, praying that the pressure plate alarm beneath it is deactivated. Silence reassures him that Leewes is a good as his word. When the glass palace is high enough to slip the crown out from beneath it, Felix positions the brace securely to support the tipped case.
He lifts the crown out, nearly blinded by the flash of light coming from the big diamond in the front. He’s surprised by the crown’s weight. As he wraps the crown in a jeweler's cloth from his bag, he muses that, at thirty-nine ounces, it must be a bear to wear. He read somewhere that the queen wears the crown around her apartment off and on for several days before an official state event, just to re-accustom herself to its weight.
He sets the crown on the floor for a moment while he takes a large hat-box-like container from the bag and opens it. Inside lies the twin to the crown, delivered to his office last week by Leewes. Amazing work, he thinks. They look identical. Leewes even made it to the exact weight of the real crown so the pressure plate wouldn’t sense a change. The cost of its construction was more than the price tag on many pieces in the Tiffany showroom. But Felix knows the replica is worth very little by comparison to the real deal.
The imposter takes its place on the velvet platform and Felix removes the brace and lowers the palace back into place. A quick polish with another jeweler’s cloth, and he stands back to admire his work. Perfect.
After putting the real crown in the case vacated by its twin and returning the box to his bag, Felix gathers everything up and hurries to the second case. He’s about to follow the same procedure on a glass replica of Windsor Castle when he’s startled by a voice in his ear.
“Hey, Mark, where are you?”
“I’m just clocking in at the Impressionist gallery.” As the voice speaks, the words are accompanied by another tone. “Why?”
“Williams is back from his dinner break. I’m making take a quick run up to the Tower of London. A visitor called this afternoon and said she’d lost a tennis bracelet when she was here to see the exhibit today. I’m gonna take a look.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be there in about 10 minutes. I’ll see you, if you haven’t left by then.”
Felix’s heart is suddenly in his throat. Gathering up his tools and bag, he looks around for some place to hide. He was prepared to conceal himself beneath an exhibit table skirt were a guard on rounds come by. But the guard coming now is looking for a dropped bracelet, and will likely turn on the lights, and look under and behind things.
Across the room, he spots a small ring in the cream-colored wall. He walks to the wall as quickly as he can without rattling his tools, and pulls gently on the ring. The entire panel of the wall swings inward heavily, and Felix slips behind it, pulling the panel closed behind him. Before he touches the switch to turn off his headlamp, he sees that he’s in some sort of storage area. He moves behind a tall case and turns off the light.
He gently sets the bag on the floor at his feet, and leans around the cabinet in time to see a line of light appear beneath the wall panel. From beyond it and through his ear bud, the guard can be heard whistling softly as he searches for the missing bracelet. Felix’s heart is pounding so loudly, he’s surprised the guard can’t hear it through the wall panel.
Come on, come on, he thinks.
Several minutes later, the concert is interrupted. “Hey, you’re still here. Find anything?”
“Nah. If it was here before, it’s long gone now. Ha, imagine finding a diamond bracelet in this room. It’d be wonder that anyone would see it at all, what with the glare.”
The two guards laugh, and their voices fade as they leave the exhibit room. After the light strip beneath the panel disappears, Felix waits a good ten minutes and three tones from the key stations before he dares to move. He turns on his light, picks up the gear, and goes back to the panel. Slowly easing the panel open an inch, he listens carefully. Nothing. It’s totally quiet. When he pushes the wall out far enough to shine the light through, he’s satisfied that he’s alone. Time to get out of here.
Felix quickly returns to Windsor Castle and liberates a jewel-encrusted scepter. He wraps it and sets it in a case that looks as though it should hold a clarinet. Before lowering the castle, he lays the paste scepter in the display. He stows the long box in the bag along with his now-disassembled brace, gives the case a quick polish, and hurries to the door. A quick scan of the exhibit assures him that everything looks exactly as it did before he began. As he turns to leave the Tower of London exhibit hall, his light catches a diorama depicting an axe at Anne Boleyn’s neck, her head in the bucket standing in front of her kneeling form. Ugh, grisly.
Shuddering, Felix leaves the hall and retraces his steps downstairs to the alley door. He slips out of the building, repeating the procedure with the remote as he goes, this time hitting the green button twice as instructed.
He presses the number that will call Greene, says “ten minutes,” and then drops the phone back in his pocket. Before heading down the alley to the street, though, he applies his lock picks to the door again. When he leaves, everything is exactly the way it was before he got there.
It’s dawn when I hear the key in the lock, and I almost collapse with relief.
“Hey, Babe.” When he walks into the living room, Felix is smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
I launch myself at him, nearly knocking him to the floor. “Are you OK?”
“That’s the closest I’ve come to getting hurt all night. You ever consider a career in football?”
I don’t know when I’ve seen him happier. I’m guessing everything went according to plan. “It was OK?”
“OK? OK, you ask? It was fucking perfection.”
For the next hour, we sit in the kitchen drinking coffee while Felix gives me a play-by-play recap of the last five hours, complete with color commentary. I’m amazed that he’s telling me anything at all, to be honest. I know it goes against the grain, especially since I’m a crime reporter. But I’ve promised him that when the story breaks, I will be just another cop shop groupie scrounging for details. And that’s a promise I will keep.
“What about the jewels? You don’t still have them?” I suddenly form a mental image of cops bursting in and finding stolen goods – and not just any stolen goods, the crown fucking jewels for Pete’s sake! – in our hall closet.
Felix chuckles. “No, Charlie, I don’t still have them. They’re safely in Leewes’ hands. You know, the gem guy from Amsterdam. Before I left the car at the bus station in Ft. Lee, I delivered them to him at the Doubletree. Broke my heart to hand them over, I’ll tell you.”
“So what happens next?” I say a little prayer that there isn’t any more cloak-and-dagger derring-do involved. I don’t think my heart could take it.
“He’s going to break the pieces down and…”
I can’t help myself. I give a little gasp. “Break them down? Break the queen’s crown down? What does that even mean?”
“Yeah, I know. Seems a shame, doesn’t it? But they have lots of other crowns and scepters. And it’s only two pieces. We clearly can’t sell them as is. You know that. And I’m not in the business of building a private collection in my basement like that guy in the Eiger Sanction. Hey, any of those croissants left?”
Felix get up and pulls open the empty breadbox. “Damn.”
“Well, I couldn’t help it. I always eat when I’m nervous. Have an English muffin.”
Felix looks downcast and sits back down. “That’s so not the same thing.” I feel a little guilty, but not much.
“Anyway,” he goes on, “by ‘breaking down,’ I mean Leewes is going to remove all the gems. Normally, I’d have the gold melted down, but it’s too risky to do that here. Leewes will pack up the empty crown and scepter, along with the biggest stones – there are about twenty, I think – and ship them back to Amsterdam. The rest of the stones, he’ll send to me. I should get them in a few days. They’re beautiful, but there’s nothing about them that screams ‘crown jewels.’ I can fence them much sooner. Those twenty stones are what it was all about.”
“What’s going to happen to them?”
“He’ll hang on to them, for years probably. Eventually, he’ll cut them down into smaller stones, set some in necklaces and such, and sell them. The guy’s a real artist.”
“Sorry I can’t see any of his work.”
“Well…” Felix gets to his feet. “I’ll be right back.
I pour us both more coffee, then sit down just as he return to the kitchen, a broad smile on his face. He drops to one knee in front of me, makes my hand and says, “Charlie, I never thought I’d ever be on my knees at anyone’s feet, but then, I never thought I’d meet someone like you. Will you marry me?”
My eyes fill with tears and I throw all thoughts of caution to the wind. To be honest, what passes through my mind as I say “Yes, oh yes!” is that Ma will be so happy. Yeah, I know. But I promise you, she won’t be as happy as I am right now. Close, though.
Felix takes my left hand and slips the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen on my finger. I’m about to hold it out in front of me, you know, like they do in the movies, when it hits me.
“Felix. I’m not wearing stolen goods, am I?”
Laughing, he stands and pulls me to my feet, where he wraps his arms around me. “No, sweetheart. This one is all yours. I had Leewes make it for me. He gave it to me this morning. Do you like it?”
“Oh, Felix, I love it.” I hold my hand out behind Felix’s back so I can admire the ring. I do love it. The setting is unlike any I’ve ever seen. That guy really is an artist.
Felix tightens his arms around me, and says in my ear, “Charlie, there’s more.”
More? I pull back and search his face, which looks serious now. “What more? You’re scaring me a little, Felix.”
His eyes never leaving mine, he says, “The last time, Charlie. This was the last time. No more jobs.”
Just then his cell phone, left on the hall table, rings. Giving me a quick kiss, he steps into the hall to take the call, leaving me to think about his last words.
Well, it’s a nice thought, but I’m not sure I believe it. I know Felix thinks that, with the theft of the crown jewels, he’s reached the pinnacle, that point in the game where the music plays as the screen says “Congratulations, you won!” But I’m not so sure.
Felix is feeling on top of the world as he answers his cell phone. Charlie has agreed to marry him. Wow.
And he meant it when he told her that this was his last job. As hard as he’s tried, he can’t get the image of her face as he left last night out of his mind. It has haunted his thoughts ever since.
And besides, this was the one. He’s stolen the fucking Imperial State Crown from the crown jewel collection, and the crime was perfect. Anything else can only be an anticlimax.
He’s surprised to hear Leewes’ voice coming from the phone at his ear. They weren’t supposed to talk until next week.
“Felix. It wasn’t apples and oranges. It was apples and apples.” Then as quickly as Leewes was there, he is gone.
Felix pushes the end button and looks at the tiny screen for a moment, which says “call from unknown ended; 6 seconds.” What the…
And then it hits him.
The break-in and theft from the Athenaeum are never reported. After the collection had returned to London, and been reinstalled in the Tower of London, Felix gives old Nige a call.
Nigel is in good cheer. “Hello, there. How’s my favorite yank? What’s this stuff I hear about you tying the knot? Until I hear it for myself from the horse’s mouth, I’m not having a bit of it.”
Felix laughs. “Believe it, Nigel. This old bachelor has met his match. Can’t wait for you to meet her. The wedding’s in June. You’re coming, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it, old chap,” Nigel says. “I haven’t been across The Pond in too long.”
“So, what’s this stuff I hear about the ‘royals’ in the Tower of London exhibit being total posers?” Felix can’t help coloring his words with a light coating of sarcasm.
There’s a pause that lasts just a beat too long before Nigel responds.
“Well, bloody hell, you didn’t think we were going to let the real ones leave the country, did you?”