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12: The Place where the Loot was Stored

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Author Topic: 12: The Place where the Loot was Stored  (Read 38 times)
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« on: April 11, 2023, 08:52:52 am »

“WILL the Hatton Garden intruder communicate with the man who lay on the floor, and arrange a meeting. The man on the floor has a proposition to make, and promises no harm to intruder.”

Gilbert Standerton read the advertisement when he was taking his breakfast, and a little smile gathered at the corners of his lips.

Edith saw the smile.

“What is amusing you, Gilbert?” she asked.

“A thought,” he said. “I think these advertisements are so funny.”

She had seen the direction of his eyes, carefully noted the page of the paper, and waited for an opportunity to examine for herself the cause of his amusement.

“By the way,” he said carelessly, “I am putting some money to your credit at the bank to-day.”

“Mine?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Yes, I have been rather fortunate on the Stock Exchange lately---I made twelve thousand pounds out of American rails.”

She looked at him steadily.

“Do you mean that?” she asked.

“What else could I mean?” he demanded. “You see, American rails have been rather jumpy of late, and so have I.” He smiled again. “I jumped in when they were low and jumped out when they were high. Here is the broker’s statement.” He drew it from his pocket and passed it across the table to her.

“I feel,” he said, with a pretence of humour, “that you should know I do not secure my entire income from my nefarious profession.”

She made no response to this. She knew who the fourth man had been. Why had he gone there? What had been his object?

If he had been a detective, or if he had been in the employ of the Government, he would have confessed it. Her heart had sunk when she had read the interesting theory which had been put forward by the journal.

He was the second burglar.

She thought all this with the paper he had passed to her on the table before her.

The broker’s statement was clear enough. Here were the amounts, all columns ruled and carried forward.

“You will observe that I have not put it all to your credit,” he bantered, “some of it has gone to mine.”

“Gilbert,” she asked, “why do you keep things from me?”

“What do I keep from you?” he asked.

“Why do you keep from me the fact that you were in the bank the night before last when this horrible tragedy occurred?”

He did not answer immediately.

“I have not kept it from you,” he said. “I have practically admitted it---in an unguarded moment, I confess, but I did admit it.”

“What were you doing there?” she demanded.

“Making my fortune,” he said solemnly.

But she was not to be put off by his flippancy.

“What were you doing there?” she asked again.

“I was watching three interesting burglars at work,” he said, “as I have watched them not once but many times. You see, I am specially gifted in one respect. Nature intended me to be a burglar, but education and breed and a certain lawfulness of character prohibited that course. I am a dilettante: I do not commit crime, but I am monstrously interested in it. I seek,” he said slowly, “to discover what fascination crime has over the normal mind; also I have an especial reason for checking the amount these men collect.”

Her puzzled frown hurt him; he did not want to bother her, but she knew so much now that he must tell her more.

He had thought it would have been possible to have hidden everything from her, but people cannot live together in the same house and be interested in one another’s comings and goings without some of their cherished secrets being revealed.

“What I cannot understand----” she said slowly and was at a loss for an introduction to this delicate subject.

“What cannot you understand?” he asked.

“I cannot understand why you suddenly dropped all your normal pleasures, why you left the Foreign Office, why you gave up music, and why, above all things, that this change in your life should have come about immediately after the playing of the ‘Melody in F.’ ”

He was silent for a moment, and when he spoke his voice was low and troubled.

“You are not exactly right,” he said. “I had begun my observations into the ways of the criminal before that tune was played.” He paused. “I admit that I had some fear in my mind that sooner or later the ‘Melody in F’ would be played under my window, and I was making a half-hearted preparation against the evil day. That is all I can tell you,” he said.

“Tell me this,” she asked as he rose, “if I had loved you, and had been all that you desired, would you have adopted this course?”

He thought awhile. “I cannot tell you,” he said at length; “possibly I should, perhaps I should not. Yes,” he said, nodding his head, “I should have done what I am doing now, only it would have been harder to do if you had loved me. As it is----” he shrugged his shoulders.

He went out soon after, and she found the paper he had been reading, and without difficulty discovered the advertisement.

Then he was the Hatton Garden intruder, and what he had said was true. He had observed these people, and they had known they were being observed.

With a whirling brain she sat down to piece together the threads of mystery. She was no nearer a solution when she had finished, from sheer exhaustion, than when she had begun.

---

Gilbert had not intended spending the night away from his house. He realised that his wife would worry, and that she would have a genuine grievance; apart from which he was, in a sense, domesticated, and if the life he was living was an unusual one, it had its charm and its attraction.

The knowledge that he would meet her every morning, speak to her during the day, and that he had in her a growing friend was particularly pleasing to him.

He had gone to a little office that he rented over a shop in Cheapside, an office which his work in the City had made necessary.

He unlocked the door of the tiny room, which was situated on the third floor, and entered, closing the door behind him. There were one or two letters which had come to him in the capacity in which he appeared as the tenant of the office. They were mainly business communications, and required little or no attention.

He sat down at his desk to write a note; he thought he might be late that night, and wanted to explain his absence. His wife occupied a definite place in his life, and though she exercised no rights over his movements, yet could quite reasonably expect to be informed of his immediate plans.

He had scarcely put pen to paper when a knock came to the door.

“Come in,” said Gilbert in some surprise.

It was not customary for people to call upon him here. He expected to see a wandering canvasser in search of an order, but the man that came in was nothing so commonplace. Gilbert knew him as a Mr. Wallis, an affable and a pleasant man.

“Sit down, will you?” he said, without a muscle of his face wrong.

“I want to see you, Mr. Standerton,” said Wallis, and made no attempt to seat himself. “Would you care to come to my office?”

“I can see you here, I think,” said Gilbert calmly.

“I prefer to see you in my office,” said the man, “we are less liable to interruption. You are not afraid to come, I suppose?” he said with the hint of a smile.

“I am not to be piqued into coming, at any rate,” smiled Gilbert; “but since this is not a very expansive office, nor conducive to expansive thought, I will go with you. I presume you intend taking me into your confidence?”

He looked at the other man strangely and Wallis nodded.

The two men left the office together, and Gilbert wondered exactly what proposition the other would put to him.

Ten minutes later they were in the St. Bride Street store, that excellent Safe Agency whose business apparently was increasing by leaps and bounds.

Gilbert Standerton looked round. The manager was there, a model of respectability. He bowed politely to Wallis, and was somewhat surprised to see him perhaps, for the proprietor of the St. Bride’s Safe Agency was a rare visitor.

“My office, I think?” suggested Wallis.

He closed the door behind them.

“Now exactly what do you want?” asked Gilbert.

“Will you have a cigar?” Mr. Wallis pushed the box towards him.

Gilbert smiled.

“You need not be scared of them,” said Wallis with a twinkle in his eye. “There is nothing dopey or wrong with these, they are my own special brand.”

“I do not smoke cigars,” said Gilbert.

“Lie number one,” replied Wallis cheerfully. “This is a promising beginning to an exchange of confidences. Now, Mr. Standerton, we are going to be very frank with one another, at least I am going to be very frank with you. I hope you will reciprocate, because I think I deserve something. You know so much about me, and I know so little about you, that it would be fair if we evened matters up.”

“I take you,” said Gilbert, “and if I can see any advantage in doing so you may be sure I shall act on your suggestion.”

“A few months ago,” said Mr. Wallis, puffing slowly at his cigar, and regarding the ceiling with an attentive eye, “I and one of my friends were engaged in a scientific work.”

Gilbert nodded.

“In the midst of that work we were interrupted by a gentleman, who for a reason best known to himself modestly hid his features behind a mask.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I deplore the melodrama, but I applaud the discretion. Since then,” he went on, “the efforts of my friends in their scientific pursuit of wealth have been hampered and hindered by that same gentleman. Sometimes we have seen him, and sometimes we have only discovered his presence after we have retired from the scene of our labour. Now, Mr. Standerton, this young man may have excellent reasons for all he is doing, but he is considerably jeopardising our safety.”

“Who is the young man?” asked Gilbert Standerton.

“The young man,” said Mr. Wallis, without taking his eyes from the ceiling, “is yourself.”

“How do you know?” asked Gilbert quietly.

“I know,” said the other with a smile, “and there is an end to it. I can prove it curiously enough without having actually spotted your face.” He pulled an inkpad from the end of the desk. “Will you make a little finger-mark upon that sheet of paper?” he asked, and offered a sheet of paper.

Gilbert shook his head with a smile.

“I see no reason why I should,” he said coolly.

“Exactly. If you did we should find a very interesting finger-mark to compare with it. In the office here,” Mr. Wallis went on, “we have a large safe which has been on our hands for some months.”

Gilbert nodded.

“Owned by a client who has the keys,” he said.

“Exactly,” said Wallis. “You remember my lie about it. There are three sets of keys to that safe and a combination word. I said three”---he corrected himself carefully---“there are really four. By an act of gross carelessness on my part, I left the keys of the safe in my pocket in this very office three weeks ago.

“I must confess,” he said with a smile, “that I did not suspect you of having so complete a knowledge of my doings or of my many secrets. I remembered my folly at eleven o’clock that night, and came back for what I had left behind. I found them exactly where I had left them, but somebody else had found them, too, and that somebody else had taken a wax impression of them. Moreover,” he leant forward towards Gilbert, lowering his voice, “that somebody else has since formed the habit of coming to this place nightly for reasons of his own. Do you know what those reasons are, Mr. Standerton?”

“To choose a safe?” suggested Gilbert ironically.

“He comes to rob us of the fruits of our labour,” said Wallis.

He smiled as he said the words because he had a sense of humour.

“Some individual who has a conscience or a sense of rectitude which prevents him from becoming an official burglar is engaged in the fascinating pursuit of robbing the robber. In other words, some twenty thousand pounds in solid cash has been taken from my safe.”

“Borrowed, I do not doubt,” said Gilbert Standerton, and leant back in his chair, his hands stuffed into his pockets, and a hard look upon his face.

“What do you mean---borrowed?” asked Wallis in surprise.

“Borrowed by somebody who is desperately in need of money; somebody who understands the Stock Exchange much better than many of the men who make a special study of it; somebody with such knowledge as would enable him to gamble heavily with a minimum chance of loss, and yet, despite this, fearing to injure some unfortunate broker by the accident of failure.”

He leant towards Wallis, his elbow upon the desk, his face half averted from the other. He had heard the outer door close with a bang, and knew they were alone now, and that Wallis had designed it so.

“I wanted money badly,” he said. “I could have stolen it easily. I intended stealing it. I watched you for a month. I have watched criminals for years. I know as many tricks of the trade as you. Remember that I was in the Foreign Office, in that department which had to do mainly with foreign crooks, and that I was virtually a police officer, though I had none of the authority.”

“I know all about that,” said Wallis.

He was curious, he desired information for his own immediate use, he desired it, too, that his sum of knowledge concerning humanity should be enlarged.

“I am a thief---in effect. The reason does not concern you.”

“Had the ‘Melody in F’ anything to do with it?” asked the other dryly.

Gilbert Standerton sprang to his feet.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Just what I say,” said the other, watching him keenly. “I understand that you had an eccentric desire to hear that melody played. Why? I must confess I am curious.”

“Reserve your curiosity for something which concerns you,” said the other roughly. “Where did you learn?” he added the question, and Wallis laughed.

“We have sources of information----” he began magniloquently.

“Oh, yes,” Gilbert nodded, “of course, your friend Smith lodges with the Wings. I had forgotten that.”

“My friend Smith---you refer to my chauffeur, I suppose?”

“I refer to your confederate, the fourth member of your gang, the man who never appears in any of your exploits, and who in various guises is laying down the foundation for robberies of the future. Oh, I know all about this place,” he said. He waved his hand around the shop. “I know this scheme of a Safe Agency; it is ingenious, but it is not original. I think it was done some years ago in Italy. You tout safes round to country mansions, offer them at ridiculous prices, and the rest is simple. You have the keys, and at any moment you can go into a house into which such a safe has been sold with the certain knowledge that all the valuables and all the portable property will be assembled in the one spot and accessible to you.”

Wallis nodded.

“Quite right, friend,” he said. “I need no information concerning myself. Will you kindly explain exactly what part you are taking? Are you under the impression that you are numbered amongst the honest?”

“I am not,” said the other shortly. “The morality of my actions has nothing whatever to do with the matter. I have no illusion.”

“You are a fortunate man,” said George Wallis approvingly. “But will you please tell me what part you are playing, and how you justify your action in removing from time to time large sums of money from our possession to some secret depository of your own?”

“I do not justify it,” said Gilbert.

He got up and paced the little office, the other watching him narrowly.

“I tell you I know that I am in intent a thief, but I am working to a plan.”

He turned to the other.

“Do you know that there is not a robbery you have committed of which I do not know the absolute effect? There is not a piece of jewellery you have taken of which I do not know the owner and the exact value? Yes,” he nodded, “I am aware that you have not ‘fenced’---that is the term, isn’t it?---a single article, and that in your safe place you have them all stored. I hope by good fortune not only to compensate you for what I have taken from you, but to return every penny that you have stolen.”

Wallis started.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“To its rightful owner,” continued Gilbert calmly “I have striven to be in a position to say to you: ‘Here is a necklace belonging to Lady Dynshird, it is worth four thousand pounds, I will give you a fair price for it, let us say a thousand---it is rather more than you could sell it for---and we will restore it to its owner.’ I want to say to you: ‘I have taken ten thousand sovereigns in bullion and in French banknotes from your store, here is that amount for yourself, here is a similar amount which is to be restored to the people from whom it was taken.’ I have kept a careful count of every penny you have taken since I joined your gang as an unofficial member.”

He smiled grimly.

“My dear Quixote,” drawled George Wallis protestingly, “you are setting yourself an impossible task.”

Gilbert Standerton shook his head.

“Indeed I am not,” he said. “I have made much more money on the Stock Exchange than ever I thought I should possess in my life.”

“Will you tell me this?” asked the other. “What is the explanation of this sudden desire of yours for wealth---for sudden desire I gather it was?”

“That I cannot explain,” said Gilbert, and his tone was uncompromising.

There was a little pause, then George Wallis rose.

“I think we had better understand one another now,” he said. “You have taken from us nearly twenty thousand pounds---twenty thousand pounds of our money swept out of existence.”

Gilbert shook his head.

“No, there is not a penny of it gone. I tell you I used it as a reserve in case I should want it. As a matter of fact, I shall not want it now,” he smiled, “I could restore it to you to-night.”

“You will greatly oblige me if you do,” said the other.

Gilbert looked at him.

“I rather like you, Wallis,” he said, “there is something admirable about you, rascal that you are.”

“Rascals as we are,” corrected Wallis. “You who have no illusions do not create one now.”

“I suppose that is so,” said the other moodily.

“How is this going to end?” asked Wallis. “Where do we share out, and are you prepared to carry on this high-soul arrangement as long as my firm is in existence?”

Standerton shook his head.

“No,” he said, “your business ends to-night.”

“My business?” asked the startled Wallis.

“Your business,” said the other. “You have made enough money to retire on. Get out. I have made sufficient money to take over all your stock at valuation”---he smiled again---“and to restore every penny that has been stolen by you. I was coming to you in a few days with that proposition.”

“And so we end to-night, do we?” mused Wallis. “My dear good man,” he said cheerfully, “to-night---why I am going out after the most wonderful coup of all! You would laugh if you knew who was my intended victim.”

“I am not easily amused in these days,” said Gilbert. “Who is it?”

“I will tell you another time,” said Wallis.

He walked to the office door, his hands in his pockets. He stood for a moment admiring a huge safe and whistling a little tune.

“Don’t you think it an excellent idea of mine,” he asked with the casual air of the suburban householder showing off a new cucumber frame, “this safe?”

“I think it is most excellent.”

“Business is good,” said Wallis regretfully. “It is a pity to give it up after we have taken so much trouble. You see, we may not sell half a dozen safes a year to the right kind of people, but if we only sell one---why we pay expenses! It is so simple,” he said.

“By the way, have you missed a necklace of sorts which has been restored to the police? Do not apologise!”

He raised his hand.

“I understand this is a family matter. I am sorry to have caused you any inconvenience.”

His ironical politeness amused the other.

“It was not a question of family,” he said. “I had no idea as to its ownership, only some person had been very careless---I found the necklace outside the safe. Some property had evidently been hidden in a hurry, and had fallen down.”

“I am greatly obliged to you,” said Wallis. “You removed what might possibly have been a great temptation for the honest Mr. Timmings.”

He took a key from his pocket, switched round the combination lock, and opened the safe. There was nothing in the first view to suggest that it was the storehouse of the most notorious thief in London. Every article therein had been most carefully wrapped and packed. He closed the door again.

“That is only half the treasure,” he said.

“Only half---what do you mean?”

Gilbert was genuinely surprised, and a little mocking smile played about the mouth of the other.

“I thought that would upset you,” Wallis said. “That is only half. I will show you something. Since you know so much, why shouldn’t you know all?”

He walked back into the office. A door led into another room. He unlocked this, and opening it passed through, Gilbert following. Inside was a small room lit by a skylight. The centre of the room was occupied by what appeared to be a large cage. It was in reality a steel grill, which is sometimes sold by French firms to surround a safe.

“A pretty cage,” said Mr. Wallis admiringly.

He unlocked the tiny steel gate and stepped through, and Gilbert stepped after him.

“How did you get it in?” asked Gilbert curiously.

“It was brought in in pieces, and has just been set up in order to show a customer. It is very easily taken apart, and two or three mechanics can clear it away in a day.”

“Is this your other department?” asked Gilbert dryly.

“In a sense it is,” said Wallis, “and I will show you why. If you go to the corner and pull down the first bar you will see something which perhaps you have never seen before.”

Gilbert was half-way to the corner, when the transparency of the trick struck him. He turned quickly, but a revolver was pointed straight at his heart.

“Put up your hands, Mr. Gilbert Standerton,” said George. “You may be perfectly bona fide in your intentions to share out, but I was thinking that I would rather finish to-night’s job before I relinquish business. You see, it will be poetic justice. Your uncle----”

“My uncle!” said Gilbert.

“Your uncle,” bowed the other, “an admirable but testy old gentleman, who in one of our best safes has deposited nearly a quarter of a million pounds’ worth of jewellery, the famous Standerton diamonds, which I suppose you will one day inherit.”

“Is it not poetic justice,” he asked as he backed his way out, still covering his prisoner with his revolver, “to rob you just a little? Possibly,” he went on, with grim humour, “I also may have a conscience, and may attempt to restore to you the property which to-night I shall steal.”

He clanged the gate to, doubly locked it, and walked to the door which led to the office.

“You will stay here for forty-eight hours,” he said, “at the end of which time you will be released---on my word. It may be inconvenient for you, but there are many inconvenient happenings in this life which we must endure. I commend you to Providence.”

He went out, and was gone for a quarter of an hour.

Gilbert thought he had left, but he returned carrying a large jug of coffee, two brand new quart vacuum flasks, and two packages of what proved to be sandwiches.

“I cannot starve you,” he said. “You had better keep your coffee hot. You will have a long wait, and as you may be cold I have brought this.”

He went back to the office and carried out two heavy overcoats and thrust them through the bars.

“That is very decent of you,” said Gilbert.

“Not at all,” said the polite Mr. Wallis.

Gilbert was unarmed, and had he possessed a weapon it would have been of no service to him.

The pistol had not left Wallis’s hand, and even as he handed the food through the grill the butt of the automatic Colt was still gripped in his palm.

“I wish you a very good evening. If you would like to send a perfectly non-committal note to your wife, saying that you were too busy to come back, I should be delighted to see it delivered.”

He passed through the bars a sheet of paper and a stylograph pen. It was a thoughtful thing to do, and Gilbert appreciated it.

This man, scoundrel as he was, had nicer instincts than many who had never brought themselves within the pale of the law.

He scribbled a note excusing himself, folded up the sheet and placed it in the envelope, sealing it down before he realised that his captor would want to read it.

“I am very sorry,” he said, “but you can open it, the gum is still wet.”

Wallis shook his head.

“If you will tell me that there is nothing more than I asked you to write, or than I expected you to write, that is sufficient,” he said.

So he left Gilbert alone and with much to think about.

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