“The Rebel Gold Heist – A Tale of the Broken”

“The Rebel Gold Heist” was originally given away on Amazon as a free e-story to promote the release of “Devlin”.  The story involves characters found in “Devlin” and can be read before or after reading that novel (time being what it is in The Books of the Broken series).  I have decided to post the story here for anyone who wants to read it.  If you enjoy the world I created, be sure to check out the first two Books of the Broken, “Nighthawks” and “Devlin”.

August 14, 1920

Detective Van der Waal stepped on the cigarette butt he had just dropped, grinding it into the pavement.  He squinted as he scanned the façade of the large Museum of Natural History.  He shook his head and jogged up the flight of concrete steps to the oversized front entrance.

He was met at the entrance by a young uniformed Metropolitan Police officer.  The young man held the door open for the grizzled detective.

“Good morning, detective,” the officer said.

Detective Van der Waal made eye-contact and grunted as he passed through the door.  It was going to be one of those days, he could already tell.

The detective approached a grouping of four officers standing in a close circle in the massive lobby.  He caught the punchline to an off-color joke as he approached.  The officers’ bodies tensed once they noticed the detective approaching.

“Where is that no good partner of mine?” the Detective asked, skipping the pleasantries.

“He is in one of the artifact storerooms,” one of the officers answered.

The detective waited for a moment, then let out a loud sigh.  “Where the hell is that?”

“Oh, right.  It’d be easier for me to take you,” the same officer said.

The detective waited again before speaking.  “Jesus Christ, take me now.”

“Yes, sir,” the officer responded and sped off at a brisk pace.

The detective heard some mumbling under the breath of the remaining three officers.  He didn’t care what they were saying about him.  He had bigger fish to fry.

The young officer led the detective through a maze of tight tunnels in the basement of the enormous museum.  The detective was glad he hadn’t sent the officer on his way and tried to find the room on his own.  They would have had to send out a search party for him.  After several twists and turns the pair found the room they wanted.

Van der Waal’s partner, Stanley Winslop was jawing with a thin, elderly man.  His suit was nice, but not extravagant and the worried look on the man’s haggard face told Van der Waal there was more to this call than he had been told.

“Van!” Winslop yelled a little too loud for the confined room they found themselves in.  “Have I got a whopper for you this time.”

Van der Waal smirked but said nothing.  He hated nicknames, but he didn’t particularly care for his given name either – Franklyn.  He would never have allowed uniformed men to call him Van, but he tolerated it from his partner.  The fat man was twenty years his senior, but that had nothing to do with it.  When you have been on the job for as long as Winslop had, you garnered an instant respect among the newer men.

“There was a break-in last night.  Quite a set-up they had.  Nothing beats a good heist case,” the older detective said in an inappropriately giddy manner.

A look of horror and disgust washed over the museum curator’s face.  Van der Waal had been watching the man with a keen interest since he had entered the room.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about the man unsettled the Detective.  If he had learned only one thing since becoming a detective three years ago, it was to trust your gut.

“Just a matter of time,” Van der Waal suggested.

Winslop’s brow furrowed in confusion.  “How d’ya figure?”

Van der Waal shrugged.  “Valuable stuff, lower security than a bank or jewelry store.  If I was going to pull off a heist, this is what I’d hit.”

Winslop nodded.

The color drained from the curator’s face.  “Stuff?” he said, part in question and part in indignant anger.  The detective had struck a nerve.  “I’ll have you know, this ‘stuff’ is priceless.  The historical and natural value of our artifacts can’t be matched anywhere else in the city.  This was accomplished by a group of cultureless thugs.”

“And who exactly are you?” Van der Waal asked the ashen-faced academic.

Winslop tried to stifle a laugh but failed.

“I am Alfred Carrington, the director and head curator of the museum.”

“Don’t go anywhere, I’ll have some questions for you,” Van der Waal ordered and then turned his attention to his partner.

The curator huffed under his breath.

“So?” Van der Waal asked his partner.

“It’s like this, the thieves broke in sometime pretty late last night.  After midnight, if the log of the guard’s rounds can be trusted.  They came down here and broke into the vault you see behind me and made off with a small fortune in Confederate gold bars and coins.”

“So, they were smart enough to bypass all the showier artifacts on display upstairs, because they would have tripped an alarm.  Somehow, they knew exactly what was in the vault and exactly where it was.  Inside job?” he said and tossed a sideways glance toward the curator.

“Well, I never…” the curator huffed and crossed his arms in defiance.

“The guard in on it?  Anyway, this is all well and good Stan, but why are we here?  This shouldn’t be our case.”

Winslop smiled, crooked a finger signaling his partner to follow him. The two men entered the vault.  On the floor in the center of the vault was the night watchman.  His hands and feet were tied together behind his back and he was gagged.  A small caliber bullet hole was centered in his forehead.  His skin was white, and the pooling blood had started to dry on the floor.

“That’s why were here.  If the guard was in on the job, he got the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” Winslop offered.

“Right,” Van der Waal said more to himself than his partner.  Once he saw the corpse, his mind flew into overdrive and he began trying to play out the robbery in his mind.  Winslop stepped back to let Van der Waal work.  He had seen that look in Frank’s eyes before and knew to stay out of the way.

*

May 4th, 1920

Ambrose Wentworth stood on the street corner, briefcase in hand.  He paid no attention to the passersby, instead focusing on the old King’s Head Tavern in front of him.  He smiled and shook his head.  Only in this city could a tavern filled with criminals and scum operate a mere two blocks from a Municipal Police Station.  The coppers were as crooked as the criminals.

He did not consider himself the type of man to frequent an establishment such as the King’s Head.  He was a lawyer, wealthy beyond measure.  Sure, he broke the law almost every day, but he did it better than the filth he was likely to find once he walked through the door.

He took a few deep breaths, working up the fortitude he would need in the dim tavern.  The things he did for his clients.  Make that, client.  He had only one client and he paid exceedingly well for Wentworth’s services.

Ambrose put aside his reservations and entered the tavern.  It was shortly past noon, but the dimness of the tavern made it seem later.  It was dark inside and the lawyer had difficulty seeing while his eyes adjusted.  He felt foolish standing in the doorway, waiting to see what awaited him.

His eyes slowly adjusted from the bright sunlight outside to the dark, smoke-filled haze of the bar.  He made his way to a table in the back, making note of the customers as he went.  He had trained himself to be observant once he had accepted his sole client.  He wasn’t sure if accepted was the correct term.  No one turned down the man who had approached him.  He had no choice, but at least it was nice to pretend like he did.  The obscene amount of money he was offered made it easier to believe the lie.

He picked out a well-dressed man toward the back of the tavern.  This had to be his man.  Italian handmade suits could not be the norm in a place such as this.  He approached the man and took note of the racing form on the table with several horses circled.

“Mr. Chandler?” Wentworth asked.

The man looked up, his crystal blue eyes catching Wentworth off-guard.  “You the middle-man?”

Wentworth seated himself across from the man, setting his briefcase on the floor, between his feet.  He knew every single patron in the tavern would abscond with it if given half the chance.  “Yes.  I have instructions for you.”

“What happened to the other guy?” the man asked.

The question threw Wentworth off.  Surely there must have been a lawyer before him, but what had happened to him?  Why hadn’t that concept ever run across the lawyer’s mind?  Greed had clouded his judgement.

“I don’t know,” he honestly answered.

Chandler shrugged.  “Too bad, I liked that one.”

“Can we move on?” Wentworth asked, his hypervigilance betraying him.

Chandler smiled.  “You nervous?”

“Can we just get on with it, Mr. Chandler?”

“Dell.  If you are hiring me for a job, you have to call me Dell.  What’s your name?”

Wentworth rubbed his forehead.  “Ambrose Wentworth, esquire.”

“Seriously? You came in here with a name like that?” Chandler said as he shook his head.

“My friends call me Abe,” Wentworth added, not really knowing why.  His face reddened with embarrassment.

Chandler laughed.  “That ain’t any better.  I’ll just call you Bo.”

“Fine, whatever.  Can we please get on with it?” Ambrose asked, his nerves fraying.

Dell acted offended.  “Of course, we can.  Now that we’re friends, you can lay it all out for me.”

A sigh of relief escaped Wentworth’s lips.  “My employer would like to contract you for a job of a delicate nature.”

“You mean, the Augur wants to hire me for a smash and grab,” Chandler corrected in a booming voice.

Wentworth took a quick look around the tavern as Chandler spoke.  “Shhh…this is of a sensitive nature.”

“Relax, Bo.  No one here cares.  The only interest they have is the small hope of me bringing them onboard as part of the crew.  No one here has the balls to sell-out the Augur.  And if one of these crums took the notion to do so, they’d probably spill to a copper owned by the Augur,” Dell explained.  “What is this delicate job?” he asked.

Wentworth’s body relaxed ever so slightly.  “The Museum of Natural History.”

Chandler leaned forward, his interest piqued.  “Why?”

“My employer wants something out of one of the basement storage vaults,” Wentworth answered.

Chandler pursed his lips and sat back in his seat.  “Not impossible.  Difficult, but not impossible.  I need a skilled crew and that costs money, unless our pay is whatever we want in the museum.”

Wentworth shook his head.  “The money is beyond anything you have ever seen or imagined.  It’s yours to split with your team as you see fit.  The sum is all yours on the condition nothing in the museum is touched except for what my employer requires.  Do you understand?”

“Hmmm…I can imagine a whole lotta of money.  How much are we talking, exactly?”  Chandler asked.

The lawyer produced the briefcase from under the table and placed it in front of the criminal.  “Details and payment are inside.”

Chandler rubbed his chin with the long fingers of his right hand.  He opened the case – his eyes went wide, and he whistled.  He looked around the tavern to make sure no one had seen what was in the case and snapped it shut.

“Payment upfront?” he asked in astonishment.

“A sign of respect.  Based on your past jobs done for my employer, he has developed an admiration for your skills.  Besides, if you welsh on the deal, do you honestly think there is anywhere in this city you can hide from him?”

Chandler swallowed hard.  “Point taken.”

*

August 14, 1920

Detective Van der Waal stooped to examine the large torch hole in the safe’s exterior.  He collected some of the metal shavings on the floor and rubbed them between his fingers as he thought.  Winslop was bent over the body of the dead guard looking for anything that might provide a clue to the thieves’ identities.

Van der Waal began speaking out loud as he examined the vault door.  “This took time and skill.  A lot of time…”

Winslop glanced over his shoulder at his partner.  “The equipment ain’t cheap either.  That’s a state-of-the-art twenty-four bolt Diebold.  They had to know this was here.”

Van der Waal didn’t follow the older detective’s train of thought.  “How so?”

“Well, they brought an acetylene cutting torch with them.  Did they just happen to have one?”

Van der Waal shrugged.

Winslop ignored this and continued with his explanation.  “They brought one because they knew they’d need it.  There is no picking the lock on this beast or cracking the combination.  It has a four-movement time lock, which wasn’t due to open until this morning.  They knew they couldn’t outsmart the vault, so they had to torch the son of a bitch.  That is fine, except for the three-foot thickness of it.  It would take hours and a lot of fuel to do this job.”

“Not a smash and grab, then?” Van der Waal said with dripping sarcasm.  “How many on the team, do you figure?”

Winslop counted using his figures as he thought the scenario through in his head.

Van der Waal shook his head and a slight smile crossed his lips.  “I figure four to do this right.  Any less and there’s too much pressure; anymore and someone notices.”

Winslop listened and thought some more before answering.  “A safe-cracker, some muscle, and a wheel-man.  I got three…the fourth more muscle?”

“They’d need a distraction.  The guard never hit the silent alarm, never called in anything out of the ordinary.  How would they have gotten in without making a peep?  Someone had to let them in.”

“The guard could have been in on it and then his partners double-crossed him,” Winslop pointed out.

Van der Waal nodded.  “True.  For the moment, let’s pretend he was not in on the heist.  My gut says he was just a sucker.”

“Why are you so sure, Van?” Winslop asked.

“See that faint red mark on his cheek.  It looks like someone tried to wipe something off him and did a sloppy job in the rush.”

Winslop looked down at the dead man and sighed.  “Dames…”

*

August 12, 1920

The two figures occupied the back seat of the Model T, out of view of nosey passersby.  Dellwood Chandler had put together a nearly ideal crew to pull off the museum heist, and he had devised a fool-proof plan, so long as the crew stuck to it.

“That’s him, at the diner counter,” Dell Chandler said, pointing.

A beautiful young woman leaned over Dell to get a better view of the mark.  The smell of lavender invaded Dell’s nostrils.  From his position in the automobile and the woman’s lean to see her mark, Dell managed to steal a glance of the woman’s ample bosom.  He knew he had made the right choice.

“Should be apple pie,” the woman muttered in soft, husky voice.  “Got any cigarettes?”

“Nah, doll.  Didn’t think you smoked,” Chandler said.

“When the job calls for it.  What about you Leo?” she asked the driver of the car.

Leo ‘Wheels’ Grady was young, but he was the best wheel-man Dell had ever seen.  The kid had the reflexes and instincts of a cat.  If a job came down to evading a dragnet or flat outrunning a precinct of coppers, Dell wanted Wheels behind the wheel.

The kid pulled a crumpled pack from his pocket and offered one to the woman.  “Yes, ma’am.”

The woman took the whole pack, shoved them into her purse and exited the Model T.  “I got it from here — you two blow.”

Dell smiled.  He trusted Stella Ralston as much as one could trust a grifter.  She had talents and put them to use like no one Dell had ever met before.  She turned and started the slow walk across the street to the diner.  Her walk was all hips and Dell found himself staring inappropriately as the woman made her way across the street, stopping traffic as she went.

“Okay kid, let’s go,” he ordered.

Leo hesitated.  “In a second, I’m enjoying the view.”

 

Stella saw the Model T pull away from the curb across the street as she entered the corner diner.  She waltzed over to the counter, next to the man Dell had pointed out to her.  She took a seat on the stool and ordered a coffee when the waitress approached.  She took out one of Leo’s cigarettes and rifled through her purse as if looking for something.

“Shoot,” she said in mock frustration.  She turned to the mark and asked a question.  “I’m sorry, but can I trouble you for a match?  I seem to have misplaced my cigarette lighter.”

The man, who had been lost in his newspaper looked up and lost his train of thought.  “Excuse me?” he asked.

She shook her cigarette to draw attention to it.  “A light?”

“Sorry, of course,” the man muttered and frantically searched for his lighter, nerves showing.

Ralston smiled.  She had him hooked already.  This was too easy.

The man recovered somewhat and lit her cigarette.

“Thank you.  You are my hero, Mr. —”

“Reinsdorf,” the man answered.  “Phil Reinsdorf.”

“It is nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Reinsdorf.  I’m Barbara Hendricks,” the woman lied with a natural fluidity.

“Nice to meet you Miss Hendricks.  Please, call me Phil,” the man said, still nervous.

“Only if you call me Barb,” Stella offered, laying it on pretty thick.

They ordered lunch and Stella suggested they move to a booth with more privacy to talk more.  Phil agreed, not believing his luck.  Once seated, and eating their meal, Stella skillfully directed the conversation where she needed it to go.

“So, Phil, what do you do for a living?” she asked.

“I’m a night watchman, not very glamorous, but I like it,” he said.

“Sounds difficult.  Is it dangerous?” she asked, leaning forward as if interested in the man’s story.

“Not too dangerous.  I just walk my rounds and make sure no one tries to break into the place.”

“What is this place?” she prodded.

“The Museum of Natural History,” he admitted.  He was afraid she would be disappointed it wasn’t something like the City Art Galleria or major banking headquarters.

Her face lit up at the mention of the museum. “Seriously?  That is my favorite place in the whole city, the history is so romantic,” she said, her fake enthusiasm played perfectly.  “I bet there is all kinds of fascinating things the public doesn’t get to see.”

Phil saw his opportunity to impress the young woman.  “Actually, the majority of the museum’s artifacts are in storage rooms and vaults in the basement.”

“You don’t say,” she said in feigned shock.  “I wish I could see something like that,” she said, her enthusiasm fading to disappointment.

“Maybe you can see it,” Phil added, knowing what he was about to propose could cost him his job.

Stella feigned ignorance.  “You mean they have tours of that stuff?”

Phil smiled.  “No, but I can take you some night.”

“Isn’t that against the rules?” Stella asked.

“It’ll be alright.  I’m the only one there at night.  I can let you in after the janitors have left and I can show you around.  No one will ever know,” he suggested.

“Oh, Phil that sounds wonderful.  When can we do it?  I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself!” she said.

“We can go tomorrow night, if that’s not too soon,” Phil suggested.

“That’s perfect.  When should I be there?” she asked.

Phil thought for a moment and Stella thought he was second-guessing the whole thing.  She had to keep him on the hook.  She leaned over the table and kissed the man on the cheek.  “I am so lucky to have met you today.”

Butterflies formed in Phil’s stomach at the kiss.  “Be at the loading dock door at midnight.”

She smiled.  “It’s a date.”

She stood and walked away.  When she got to the door, she turned to find Phil still seated, but watching her.  She blew him a kiss and disappeared through the door.

*

August 14, 1920

Detectives Van der Waal and Winslop continued their examination of the vault and the museum looking for clues.  They determined the thieves had entered through the loading dock, but the locks had not been tampered with and the alarm had been disarmed.  Someone had let them in.  They both believed it to be a woman who Reinsdorf had voluntarily allowed into the museum.

“Detectives!” yelled the excitable little curator as he walked toward the duo in all swiftness.

“What is it?” Van der Waal asked the winded man.

“I was mistaken.  There is something else missing from that vault,” the man said.

“What is it?” Winslop asked.

“A small Mayan figure, circa 250 A.D.,” the man explained, wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief.

“Is it valuable?” Winslop asked.

Van der Waal rolled his eyes.

“Valuable?  It is culturally priceless, but in terms a man like you can understand, it is six inches of solid gold with jade inlays.”

Winslop whistled.

“If you’ll excuse me, I will continue with the inventory of the rest of the museum’s possessions,” he added and disappeared down the corridor.

“Hey!” Winslop said, raising his voice.  “What exactly did he mean ‘a man like me’?”

Van der Waal shook his head.  “Let it go, Stan.”

“What was the real target?  The gold or the statue?” Stan asked.

“I’d say the gold.  The gold is much more valuable than the statue.  The statue is rare, but they have several that seem to be just like it on display in the Mesoamerica Room.  Why spend hours breaking into a vault to steal something they could have simply smashed a glass case and ran like hell.  It has to be the rebel gold,” Van der Waal hypothesized.

Winslop nodded in agreement.  “One of the thieves got sticky fingers and pocketed a little extra for himself.  Is there no honesty among thieves?”

“Let’s hope that’s how this went down.  If somebody is looking for a fence to dump the statue off on, we may have gotten lucky.  This was a professional job, for the most part.  My gut tells me we’ll never see that Confederate gold again, but we may just find that statue.  A thief trying to keep a secret score from his partners has few options and will get sloppy.”

“Where would you go to fence a sixteen-hundred-year-old gold relic in this city?” Winslop asked.

“I don’t know, but I know someone who may,” Van der Waal said with a huge smile forming on his lips.

“Oh, no.  Not her,” Winslop said.

“Come on, she likes you,” Van der Waal said, adding fuel to the fire.

Winslop shook his head.  “Fine, I’ll go…and wipe that smile offa your face before someone knocks it off.”

*

June 2, 1920

“Are you sure about this?” Stella Ralston asked.

Dell Chandler remained silent, lost in thought as they sat in the automobile.

“I’ve heard stories about this bloke.  Bad stories,” Leo Grady said from behind the wheel.

“We’ve all heard the stories,” Chuck Faber, the newest member of the crew said back.

Chandler had heard enough.  They were getting paid to do a job, not complain.  “He ain’t my first choice, but no one can torch a vault like Cracker.”

Henry ‘Cracker’ Farmer was a whiz with a torch, drill, or just straight up cracking a safe combination.  There was no one better.  The problem with Cracker was that he was insane.  Not just a little off, but a certified lunatic.  Certified by the doctors at Goldridge Sanitarium – a facility he had escaped from four times.  The last time, he wasn’t there but two hours before he was free.  The coppers finally stopped bringing him back.

“I’ll be back, wait here,” Chandler said as he opened the door to the Model T to make his exit.

“You going without any muscle?” Chuck Faber asked.

“It’d be better if I go alone.  We don’t want to agitate Cracker.  If he wants the job, he’ll come out willing.  If not, it was nice knowing you,” Chandler joked and walked toward the ramshackle building Farmer called home.

Chandler made his way up the porch and knocked on the rickety door.  The others watched from their positions in the Model T as Dell disappeared into the house.  No one spoke, the air was thick with tension as they waited.

“If he ain’t out in five minutes, I’m going in rod blazing,” Faber said.

Leo’s jaw dropped, “You heard the boss.  We wait here until he comes out.”

A look of concern was plastered on Stella’s face.  “What if he doesn’t come out?”

“Damn,” Leo muttered.

“That’s it.  I’m going in there,” Faber said, and exited the automobile.

“Damn,” Leo repeated and joined the big man.

Just as they exited the car, Dell appeared with a frail, sickly looking man carrying a large duffel.  The three thieves breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Everyone, this is Henry Farmer and he will be joining our crew.  They remained silent and Farmer nodded, holding his duffel close to his chest.

No one said a word on the way back to the warehouse they were using as a base, except for Farmer.  He spent the ride muttering incoherently under his breath.

Dell didn’t say anything to the others, but he wasn’t so sure they were going to pull this job off anymore.  Farmer was a wildcard and Chandler hated wildcards.  There was no one else in the city who could torch that vault in the window they were being given.  His entire plan rested on the reliability of Cracker Farmer.  This wasn’t going to end well.

*

August 14, 1920

After a long day at the museum, the detectives had gathered all the information they could and decided it was time to leave.  They had developed some theories but had little concrete evidence.  They were dealing with professionals, which did not bode well for the detectives.

“Detectives!” a voice yelled as the two men made their way down the steps of the museum.

“Damn, it’s that Cooper fella from the City Star.  Ignore him and keep walking,” Winslop suggested.

Van der Waal knew better than to let Stan talk to the press.  “You go ahead, I’ll handle him.”

Winslop continued toward their automobile, while Van der Waal stopped to wait for the reporter.

“Detective, I’m Jackson Cooper with the City Star.  Has the museum been robbed?” the reporter asked.

“I can’t comment on an open investigation,” Van der Waal said and walked away from the reporter.

“So, it has been robbed…” Cooper said.

Van der Waal shrugged his shoulder as he walked away.

The detective got in the automobile where his partner was waiting for him.

“Did you give him anything?” Winslop asked.

Van der Waal kept an eye on the reporter who was scribbling something in a small notebook, oblivious to his surroundings.  “Nah, No one wants this story in the paper more than us, except…”  he said.

He drifted off into thought making Winslop curious.  “Except?”

Van der Waal exited the car.  “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

“What is it?” his partner asked as Van der Waal walked back toward the reporter.

Van der Waal approached the reporter.  “Mr. Cooper, I have something for you after all.”

Jackson Cooper perked up.  “It was robbed, wasn’t it?”

“You didn’t get this from me.  Keep my name out of it.  The night watchman was murdered, and a massive amount of Confederate gold was stolen, along with a Mayan gold statue.”

“Got it,” Cooper muttered as he wrote.

“Make sure you leave in the part about the Mayan statue,” Van der Waal said and walked back toward the waiting automobile.

“Thanks, detective,” Cooper yelled and headed toward the museum entrance.

Van der Waal climbed into the automobile with a smug look on his face.

“What was that all about?” Winslop asked.

“Who would want to read about that missing Mayan statue in the morning edition less than us?”

“The crum that double-crossed his partners.  That’s who,” Winslop said with a satisfied look.

Van der Waal nodded.  “Odds are the thief will slip up and we’ll catch him trying to unload the stature, or his partners will get to him first and we’ll find his body floating in the river.”

“Either way, I call it a win for us,” Winslop put his foot to the gas and the two detectives pulled away from the museum.

*

July 13, 1920

Dell Chandler stood before his assembled crew.  It was a good crew, despite the unstable safe-cracker.  He had his appealing distraction in Stella Ralston.  He had the best getaway driver in the city with Leo Grady.  He had formidable muscle with experience and grit in Chucky Faber.  Then he had his safe-cracker in Henry Farmer.  All-in-all a good group.  He couldn’t remember having assembled a better crew for a job.  They all looked to him from their seats.  It was time to fill the crew in on his plan.

“Right, if you follow my plan to the letter, we’ll all come out the other side of this with a lot of scratch.  Deviate at all and we all go to the clink or get fished out of the river.  Everyone get me?” he asked, trying to emphasis the importance of sticking to the plan.

They all nodded in silence, except Farmer who muttered something under his breath.  Chandler chose to ignore the eccentric man.

“First, Stella befriends our very lonely night watchman and finagles an invitation to a private after-hours tour.  Can you swing that?”

“Easiest thing I’ve had to do for some time,” she answered with a wink.

Next, Stella saps the guard, but leaves him breathing.  We don’t need any blood on this job.  Wheels will back the truck with the others and gear up to the loading dock.  Stella turn off the alarm and open the loading door.  Wheels stays in the truck keeping an eye out for any lookie-loos.

Once inside, Farmer will get to torching the vault door.  Chucky will tie-up the unconscious guard and keep an eye on him.  Make sure to blind-fold him…we don’t need him waking up in the middle of all this and getting an eyeful of everybody’s face.

After Farmer has the vault open, he and Chucky will get the gold to the truck.  We take nothing else, just the gold.  Nothing else.  Got it?” Chandler asked trying to drive the point home.

They all nodded in understanding.

“Chucky will then tie Stella up and blindfold her as well.  There is no way in hell the guard will forget a kisser like yours Stella so we gotta make it look like you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You’ll have to stay tied-up all night and give the coppers a statement.  You got the stones for it?”

“Just stay outta my way and let me work.  I’ll have those coppers hanging on my every word.  What line do you want me to give them?” she asked.

“Don’t get creative.  Just tell them someone hit you from behind and you didn’t see anything.  It’s simple and will fit in with what the guard will say,” Chandler said.

“Then, Leo drives the rest of you back here.  Stella, you come here when the coppers are done with you.  They’ll have you down as Barbara Hendricks, so no one will come looking for Stella Ralston.  Our contact picks up the gold, and I pay you all more money than you have ever seen for a single job.  Then we all go our separate ways,” Chandler finished.

“What about you?  What do you do while we are doing all the grunt work?” Wheels asked.

Stella stifled a giggle.

“I will be as far away from the museum and in the most public place I can find,” Dell admitted.  “I am going to the opera.”

*

August 16, 1920

The two detectives entered the seedy pawnshop on the edge of Chinatown.  Everyone in the city knew Gerta was fence for all manner of stolen goods, but the coppers could never pin anything on her.  She was good at what she did.  She once managed to unload a shipment of exotic parrots without the coppers ever getting an inkling they were even illegally imported from South America – hell, even the mayor ended up with one of the noisy birds.

“You do the talking,” Stanley Winslop murmured.

Franklyn Van der Waal smiled and shook his head.  “Stanley, does Big Gerta intimidate you?  Are you scared of a dame?”

Winslop huffed, feathers ruffled.  “She ain’t no dame.  She’s just grabby.  She pinched my ass and winked at me last time we were here.”

“She likes you.  I think she’d make a wonderful Mrs. Winslop,” Van der Waal joked.

They approached the service counter at the back of the store.  No one was attending the counter, but there was a little bell with a note, ‘Ring for Service’.

Van der Waal rang the bell and was rewarded with the appearance of Big Gerta from the back of the store.

She smiled upon recognizing the detectives, but her eyes told them she was not pleased to see them.  “Detectives Frank and Stanley!  What can I do for Metro’s best detectives?”

Van der Waal smirked.  “You can nix the pleasantries.  We are looking for someone trying to unload a gold statue.”

Gerta feigned offense.  “I run an honest business.  I never allow anything illegally obtained to enter that door.  You coppers hound me over my business, but never can make anything stick.”

“Just because we haven’t made anything stick, doesn’t mean you are on the straight and narrow.  You are a slippery one, Gerta.  I guess you’re just a little smarter than us,” Van der Waal explained, playing to her vanity.

“Don’t be so hard on yourselves.  Still, I have no information on anything you are looking for,” she said and winked at Stan Winslop.

Winslop blushed and looked away.

“We need something.  This one is different.  This job has a body attached to it,” Van der Waal said, tone turning somber.

Gerta pursed her lips as she thought.  “Damn fool bastard,” she muttered.

“Who?” Winslop asked from behind Van der Waal.

“When I tell you this, remember I turned him away.  I ain’t got the statue and I ain’t involved in this mess in no way,” Gerta said, worry on her face.

Van der Waal had never seen Big Gerta worried or nervous before.

“Why would you walk away from a score like this?  The thing is worth a fortune and your cut seems like it would’ve been worth the heat,” Van der Waal asked.

“A man came in late last night…” she said realizing she would have to explain why she was in her shop on a Sunday night.  “I tend to do paperwork and inventory on Sunday nights, so I just happened to be here when he came by.”

“Sure,” Winslop said.

She ignored him and continued with her story.  “This fella comes in with a gold statue trying to unload it right then and there.  He wanted me to straight up buy the thing, like I have that kinda dough lying around here.  He didn’t want no buyer lined up, just give him whatever I had.”

“Seems like a good deal,” Van der Waal said.

“When something is too good to be true – it is.  This fella was all squirrely and muttering to himself.  He made my skin crawl and that’s sayin’ somethin’ in my line of work.  I said no and showed him the door.”

“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” Winslop asked.

“Don’t need to see him again.  He goes by the name Farmer…Henry or Hank,” she said.

“Thanks, Gerta.  As long as we don’t find out later that you have that statue stashed back there, you don’t have to worry about us coming down on you…on this case,” Van der Waal said and turned to leave.

“Detective Stanley?” Gerta asked as the detectives walked away.

Stanly sighed and turned back to face the large woman.

“When are you going to take me out on the town?” She asked and blew him a kiss.

Stanley’s face reddened again.  He shook his head and turned away, leaving the pawn shop without answering her question.

Once they were outside, they could hear Gerta’s booming laugh emanating from inside.

*

August 13, 1920

Stella Ralston, dressed in a simple, but stunning cream-colored Butterick dress approached the loading dock of the museum.  It was 11:45 — she was alone and the alley behind the museum was dark.  She waited on the loading dock for Phil to let her in for their private tour of the museum.  She carried a small hard rubber blackjack in her handbag.  It would do the job, but not do too much damage to the back of the night watchman’s skull.

The whole job relied on her ability to knock a man senseless.  She had lied to Dell and the others.  She wasn’t sure she could physically attack another human being.  She had played it off like it was nothing when Dell had asked if she had it in her.  She had led on, lied to, robbed, and even seduced many men to get what she wanted from them, but she had never physically harmed any of them.

She heard the door’s massive steel bolt draw back and then the door creaked open, revealing Phil Reinsdorf.  “Barb, I’m glad you made it.  Were you waiting long?”

Stella smiled, and her reservations evaporated.  “Not long.  Thank you so much for doing this for me.  I know you are breaking the rules,” she said, leaned in and planed a kiss on his cheek.

He smiled, and she giggled.  She took a handkerchief from her bag and made a feeble attempt to wipe the lipstick off Phil’s cheek.

He allowed Stella in and turned back to lock the massive door.  When he turned his back, Stella struck.  She had retrieved the sap when she put away the handkerchief.

The blow struck hard.  Phil grunted and slumped to the floor.  He was out, but still breathing.

She stepped over the limp body and out onto the dock.  At the end of the alley she saw Leo and the truck.  She waved, catching Leo’s attention.  Leo started the truck’s ignition and then drove the small box truck to the loading dock.

Chucky leapt out of the truck and made for Phil’s motionless body.  He examined the night watchman.  “Good work, Stella.  I’ll take it from here.”  He knelt, blindfolded the guard and began tying his wrists.

Cracker began unloading his gear to torch the vault.  It was 11:52 – they were seven minutes ahead of Dell’s schedule.

Chucky carried the night watchman over his shoulder while Farmer and Stella carried the rest of the gear to the vault marked on the map provided to Dell by Ambrose Wentworth.

Upon arrival at the correct vault, Farmer got to work.  Chucky kept an eye on the guard and Stella returned to the truck to keep Leo company.  She would need to prepare herself for her next part in the plan.  She would have to steady her nerves.  She had to deal with being bound, in the dark for much of the night, until they were discovered and then she would have to put on a hell of a performance for the detectives in the morning.  She had to be convincing enough in her role that the coppers would let her go after her statement.  She could not let them take her to the hospital or the police station.  She had to walk away from the museum above suspicion.

*

September 13, 1920

Detective Van der Waal waited outside the office of the District Attorney.  He maintained a calm demeanor, but he seethed with rage.  He had caught wind of a plea deal for the museum thieves.  He waited to confront the assistant district attorney assigned to the case.  If the rumors were true, it would take everything he had not to punch out the young attorney.

Soon, the well-dressed assistant district attorney exited the building.  He looked younger than Van der Waal expected.  It made no difference to the detective.  He approached the attorney as he walked.

“Is it true?  Did you cut a deal with them?” he asked without introducing himself.

The man stopped.  “You must be Detective Van der Waal.  I’m Jim Hornsby.  I heard I may be hearing from you.”

“You didn’t answer my question,”

“Faber, Grady, and Farmer get three years for cooperating,” he explained.

“And the woman?” the detective asked.

“She walks.  I can’t put her on the stand.  She’d have the men of the jury eating out of her hand.  She’d score an acquittal faster than I could deliver my closing arguments.”

“What cooperation?  We caught the entire crew.  What is there to cooperate with?” the detective asked, his exasperation growing.

“They are giving me the man behind the whole thing.  They are willing to testify against Dellwood Chandler,” the lawyer explained.

“You’re going after Chandler?” Van der Waal said in shock.

“I have been since I joined the D.A.’s office and this is the closest I’ve come yet.  I can get him this time…” Hornsby said.

“I didn’t think anyone in this city had the balls to try to take down Chandler.  He’s too well connected.  I must apologize, Mr. Hornsby.  I thought you were cutting the thieves a deal to avoid the work of a trial.  You certainly have earned my respect,” Van der Waal admitted.

Hornsby smiled.  “Thanks.  I just need to keep the thieves alive long enough to testify, which is why I fast-tracked this.  I need those three in Millstone Men’s Penitentiary as soon as possible.”

“Solitary confinement seems like the way to go,” Van der Waal agreed.

“Yeah.  They are on the boat to Cloch Island as we speak, and officers should be picking up Chandler right about now,” Hornsby informed the detective.

“Good luck,” Van der Waal said extending his hand.

Jim Hornsby accepted, and they shook hands.

The two parted, but Hornsby called out to the detective.  “Oh, Detective?”

Van der Waal turned back.  “Yeah?”

“If I turn up dead, no matter the apparent circumstances, promise me you’ll get Chandler for me…” Hornsby said and offered a weak smile.

“You have my word.”

*

August 13,1920

Once Farmer had gotten through the vault door, it didn’t take long for the crew to load the gold into the van.  Grady remained with the truck while the others returned to the vault to set the stage for the coppers to find.

Reinsdorf began mumbling something as he regained consciousness.  “What’s going on?  Barb, why did you hit me?” he asked.

The three thieves froze.  He wasn’t supposed to know she had hit him.

Faber grabbed Stella by the elbow and dragged her out of hearing range.  She whimpered in pain as the big man grabbed her.

“How does he know?” Chucky asked.

Stella was stunned and panicky.  “I don’t know.  I did it just like I was told.  As soon as he let me in and turned to lock the door –”

“He was facing the door?” Chucky interrupted.

“Yes.  The opportunity was too good,” she explained.

Chucky shook his head.  “You were supposed to do it when he had his back to you and you were walking in the door, not after you had gotten inside.”

“What’s the difference?” she asked.

“He was facing the door.  There is no way someone could have snuck in behind you and taken you both out.  He knows he was attacked by someone inside the museum…you.”

Farmer had entered the room to see what the new plan was and overheard the conversation.  “Dames,” he said and went back to the vault.

“Oh, God!” Stella muttered.

Then they heard a gunshot from the vault and they rushed to see what had happened.  They arrived to see Farmer packing up the rest of the gear and blood pouring from a bullet hole in Phil’s head.

“Cracker!” Stella screamed.

“After your screw up, it had to be done,” Farmer said in a calm and cool voice.

“Too late now.  Let’s get out of here,” Faber said and ushered the stunned woman toward the truck.

Farmer was the last to leave the vault and paused for a moment.  He picked up the Mayan statue, judged its heft and put it in the duffel with the rest of his gear.

Once Farmer was in the truck, Chucky yelled to Grady.  “Go!”

Grady pulled away from the museum and made for the hideout, driving at a casual speed to avoid any unwanted attention.

*

September 27, 1920

Detective Vander Waal waited on the courthouse steps.  Today was opening arguments in the Dellwood Chandler case and the detective wanted to congratulate Jim Hornsby on bringing Chandler to trial.

The attorney exited the courthouse and Van der Waal approached the man.  “We have to stop meeting like this,” Van der Waal joked.

Hornsby grunted and continued walking.

“Jim, what happened?” Van der Waal asked.

The lawyer stopped.  “The judge dismissed the case.  It’s over.”

“Why?” Van der Waal asked.

“I objected from the outset.  The jury in the courtroom was not the jury we assembled for the case.  I objected and the judge over-ruled and ordered me to deliver my opening arguments.  I refused on the grounds of the illegality of using a substitute jury without notifying the District Attorney Office.  He told me to get on with my arguments or he was going to dismiss the case…” Hornsby explained.

“This city is so corrupt, they don’t even try to hide it anymore,” the detective muttered in stunned shock.

As they contemplated what this meant to each of them, Chandler exited the courthouse.  He walked by the pair on his way to a car waiting for him.  “Tough beat, Mr. Hornsby.  Maybe next time.”

As a chauffer opened the car door for him, he turned and winked at Detective Van der Waal.  He got in the car and pulled away.

“This city needs a change.  Someone has to do something about the rampant corruption,” Hornsby muttered.

“It ain’t going to be me,” Van der Waal admitted.

“What do you mean?” Hornsby asked.

“I’m done.  I can’t do this anymore. This city has chewed me up and spat me out,” Van der Waal said, suddenly looking a lot older than he actually was.

“What else are you going to do, if you aren’t going to be a detective?” Hornsby asked.

Van der Waal shook his head and shrugged.  “Anything.  A detective can’t fix this city.  What this city needs is someone who is above the law.  Good luck, Jim.”

The detective walked away, leaving the young assistant district attorney to ruminate over something the detective had said.  An idea was taking shape in the young man’s head.

*

Chandler was surprised upon entering the car.  He was expecting to find Ambrose Wentworth, but instead found himself face to face with the near-mythic Augur.  His heart raced, and a nervous sweat broke out on his brow.

“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.

Dell swallowed hard.  “Y-yes.”

“Good.  It seems we have a lot to discuss…”

 

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