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Our Library => Edgar Wallace - The Melody of Death (1927) => Topic started by: Admin on April 10, 2023, 07:09:55 am

Title: 1: The Amateur Safe-Smasher
Post by: Admin on April 10, 2023, 07:09:55 am
ON the night of May 27th, 1925, the office of Gilderheim, Pascoe and Company, diamond merchants, of Little Hatton Garden, presented no unusual appearance to the patrolling constable who examined the lock and tried the door in the ordinary course of his duty. Until nine o’clock in the evening the office had been occupied by Mr. Gilderheim and his head clerk, and a plain-clothes officer, whose duty it was to inquire into unusual happenings, had deemed that the light in the window on the first floor fell within his scope, and had gone up to discover the reason for its appearance. The 27th was a Saturday, and it is usual for the offices in Hatton Garden to be clear of clerks and their principals by three at the latest.

Mr. Gilderheim, a pleasant gentleman, had been relieved to discover that the knock which brought him to the door, gripping a revolver in his pocket in case of accidents, produced no more startling adventure than a chat with a police officer who was known to him. He explained that he had to-day received a parcel of diamonds from an Amsterdam house, and was classifying the stones before leaving for the night, and with a few jocular remarks on the temptation which sixty thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds offered to the unscrupulous “night of darkness,” the officer left.

At nine-forty Mr. Gilderheim locked up the jewels in his big safe, before which an electric light burnt day and night, and accompanied by his clerk, left No. 93 Little Hatton Garden and walked in the direction of Holborn.

The constable on point duty bade them good-night, and the plain clothes officer, who was then at the Holborn end of the thoroughfare, exchanged a word or two.

“You will be on duty all night?” asked Mr. Gilderheim as his clerk hailed a cab.

“Yes, sir,” said the officer.

“Good!” said the merchant. “I’d like you to keep a special eye upon my place. I am rather nervous about leaving so large a sum in the safe.”

The officer smiled.

“I don’t think you need worry, sir,” he said, and after the cab containing Mr. Gilderheim had driven off he walked back to No. 93.

But in that brief space of time between the diamond merchant leaving and the return of the detective many things had happened. Scarcely had Gilderheim reached the detective than two men walked briskly along the thoroughfare from the other end. Without hesitation the first turned into No. 93, opened the door with a key, and passed in. The second man followed. There was no hesitation, nothing furtive in their movements. They might have been life-long tenants of the house, so confident were they in every action.

Not half a minute after the second man had entered a third came from the same direction, turned into the building, unlocked the door with that calm confidence which had distinguished the action of the first comer, and went in.

Three minutes later two of the three were upstairs.

With extraordinary expedition one had produced two small iron bottles from his pockets and had deftly fixed the rubber tubes and adjusted the little blow-pipe of his lamp, and the second had spread out on the floor a small kit of tools of delicate temper and beautiful finish.

Neither man spoke. They lay flat on the ground, making no attempt to extinguish the light which shone before the safe. They worked in silence for some little while, then the stouter of the two remarked, looking up at the reflector fixed at an angle to the ceiling and affording a view of the upper part of the safe to the passer-by in the street below—

“Even the mirrors do not give us away, I suppose?”

The second burglar was a slight, young-looking man with a shock of hair that suggested the musician.

He shook his head.

“Unless all the rules of optics have been specially reversed for the occasion,” he said with just a trace of a foreign accent, “we cannot possibly be seen.”

“I am relieved,” said the first.

He half whistled, half hummed a little tune to himself as he plied the hissing flame to the steel door.

He was carefully burning out the lock, and had no doubt in his mind that he would succeed, for the safe was an old-fashioned one.

No further word was exchanged for half an hour. The man with the blow-pipe continued in his work, the other watching with silent interest, ready to play his part when the operation was sufficiently advanced.

At the end of half an hour the elder of the two wiped his streaming forehead with the back of his hand, for the heat which the flame gave back from the steel door was fairly trying.

“Why did you make such a row closing the door?” he asked. “You are not usually so careless, Calli.”

The other looked down at him in mild astonishment.

“I made no noise whatever, my dear George,” he said. “If you had been standing in the passage you could not have heard it; in fact, I closed the door as noiselessly as I opened it.”

The perspiring man on the ground smiled.

“That would be fairly noiseless,” he said.

“Why?” asked the other.

“Because I did not close it. You walked in after me.”

Something in the silence which greeted his words made him look up. There was a puzzled look upon his companion’s face.

“I opened the door with my own key,” said the younger man slowly.

“You opened----” The man called George frowned. “I do not understand you, Callidino. I left the door open, and you walked in after me; I went straight up the stairs, and you followed.”

Callidino looked at the other and shook his head.

“I opened the door myself with the key,” he said quietly. “If anybody came in after you---why, it is up to us, George, to see who it is.”

“You mean----?”

“I mean,” said the little Italian, “that it would be extremely awkward if there is a third gentleman present on this inconvenient occasion.”

“It would, indeed,” said the other.


Both men turned with a start, for the voice that asked the question without any trace of emotion was the voice of a third man, and he stood in the doorway screened from all possibility of observation from the window by the angle of the room.

He was dressed in an evening suit, and he carried a light overcoat across his arm.

What manner of man he was, and how he looked, they had no means of judging, for from his chin to his forehead his face was covered by a black mask.

“Please do not move,” he said, “and do not regard the revolver I am holding in the light of a menace. I merely carry it for self-defence, and you will admit that under the circumstances, and knowing the extreme delicacy of my position, I am fairly well justified in taking this precaution.”

George Wallis laughed a little under his breath.

“Sir,” he said, without shifting his position, “you may be a man after my own heart, but I shall know better when you have told me exactly what you want.”

“I want to learn,” said the stranger.

He stood there regarding the pair with obvious interest. The eyes which shone through the holes of the mask were alive and keen.

“Go on with your work, please,” he said. “I should hate to interrupt you.”

George Wallis picked up the blow-pipe and addressed himself again to the safe door. He was a most adaptable man, and the situation in which he found himself nonplussed had yet to occur.

“Since,” he said, “it makes absolutely no difference as to whether I leave off or whether I go on, if you are a representative of law and order, I may as well go on, because if you are not a representative of those two admirable, excellent and necessary qualities I might at least save half the swag with you.”

“You may save the lot,” said the man sharply. “I do not wish to share the proceeds of your robbery, but I want to know how you do it---that is all.”

“You shall learn,” said George Wallis, that most notorious of burglars, “and at the hands of an expert, I beg you to believe.”

“That I know,” said the other calmly.

Wallis went on with his task apparently undisturbed by this extraordinary interruption. The little Italian’s hands had twitched nervously, and here might have been trouble, but the strength of the other man, who was evidently the leader of the two, and his self-possession had heartened his companion to accept whatever consequences the presence of this man might threaten. It was the masked stranger who broke the silence.

“Isn’t it an extraordinary thing,” he said, “that whilst technical schools exist for teaching every kind of trade, art and craft, there is none which engage in teaching the art of destruction. Believe me, I am very grateful that I have had this opportunity of sitting at the feet of a master.”

His voice was not unpleasant, but there was a certain hardness which was not in harmony with the flippant tone he adopted.

The man on the floor went on with his work for a little while, then he said without turning his head----

“I am anxious to know exactly how you got in.”

“I followed close behind you,” said the masked man. “I knew there would be a reasonable interval between the two of you. You see,” he went on, “you have been watching this office for the greater part of a week; one of you has been on duty practically every night. You rented a small office higher up this street which offered a view of these premises. I gathered that you had chosen to-night because you brought your gas with you this morning. You were waiting in the dark hall-way of the building in which your office is situated, one of you watching for the light to go out and Mr. Gilderheim depart. When he had gone, you, sir”---he addressed the man on the floor---“came out immediately, your companion did not follow so soon. Moreover, he stopped to pick up a small bundle of letters which had apparently been dropped by some careless person, and since these letters included two sealed packets such as the merchants of Hatton Garden send to their clients. I was able to escape the observation of the second man and keep reasonably close to you.”

Callidino laughed softly.

“That is true,” he said, with a nod to the man on the floor. “It was very clever. I suppose you dropped the packet?”

The masked man inclined his head.

“Please go on,” he said, “do not let me interrupt you.”

“What is going to happen when I have finished?” asked George, still keeping his face to the safe.

“As far as I am concerned, nothing. Just as soon as you have got through your work, and have extracted whatever booty there is to be extracted, I shall retire.”

“You want your share, I suppose?”

“Not at all,” said the other calmly. “I do not want my share by any means. I am not entitled to it. My position in society prevents me from going farther down the slippery path than to connive at your larceny.”

“Felony,” corrected the man on the floor.

“Felony,” agreed the other.

He waited until without a sound the heavy door of the safe swung open and George had put his hand inside to extract the contents, and then, without a word, he passed through the door, closing it behind him.

The two men sat up tensely and listened. They heard nothing more until the soft thud of the outer door told them that their remarkable visitor had departed.

They exchanged glances---interest on the one face, amusement on the other.

“That is a remarkable man,” said Callidino.

The other nodded.

“Most remarkable,” he said, “and more remarkable will it be if we get out of Hatton Garden to-night with the loot.”

It would seem that the “more than most” remarkable happening of all actually occurred, for none saw the jewel thieves go, and the smashing of Gilderheim’s jewel safe provided an excellent alternative topic for conversation to the prospect of Sunstar for the Derby.