Updated: Apr 6
The Captain stood in the darkest shade of a very large chimney stack, the full moon shining and hiding behind the drifting cloud. He had been waiting here each night for the past ten days, and he would go on waiting because he knew that, eventually, his young adversary would turn up.
He had seen him about a month earlier and then a week after that, circumspect in the extreme, agile, quick, and shy of any hint that the authorities might be onto him. He hadn’t noticed the Captain, secreted as he was. He was well out of sight, now as then, because he knew that there would be an atempt on the Boehmer and Bassange workshop sooner or later. The prize was too great. A necklace made for a King to admire, as it sat round the throat of his mistress. A piece designed with utmost care and constructed with the finest delicacy. The most valuable jewel in Christendom. It was only a matter of waiting.
The lightest of scrapes. The Captain’s head snapped round, his eyes scanning the rooftops where they met the sky. The moon hid once more and in the grey, a slight movement. His grin was not as bright as the moon shine, but it was a lot bolder.
The figure was, as he remembered in the glimpses he caught of him, running lightly along the tight Parisian rooftops, taking care not to stray from the brick where his footsteps would not be amplified in the roof void. The Captain squinted, trying to see what he wore on his feet. He couldn’t be barefoot, but his passing was virtually silent, the flapping pigeon’s wings made more noise.
The lad stopped at the edge of the workshop rooftop, and stepped onto it. The moon came out and he ducked and froze. The Captain saw him turn to look up at the sky, no doubt to see how long an interval before the next cloud. The boy’s face was enveloped in a light black knitted cloth and the rest of him was similarly enmeshed, reminding the Captain of something he had seen before. Then, as the moon was covered again he remembered; acrobats, tumblers and acrobats. They wore similar clothes, and they had light slippers, perfect if you wanted to slip across a surface silently. He frowned trying to recall if he had seen a troupe advertised recently, it didn’t matter, he was certain of it now.
The lad slipped to the roof light, and crouched. The Captain knew he’d have to jemmy the catch, as he himself had checked it about a week earlier, and he waited for the sound of the wood giving way. Nothing came. To his amazement, and if he was honest his admiration, the roof light rose quietly and was laid on the tiles before the lad’s slight figure slipped inside and disappeared.
Now was the moment. The Captain stirred himself, stretched his arms and legs, stiff from waiting in the cold, and closed the twenty yard distance to the roof light. He got to the edge and crouched down before carefully taking a look over the lip and into the space beneath. Catching movement below he jerked back out of view. Removing his hat he bent closer to the opening, risking one eye. There he was. Moving lightly through the display cases, the would be thief was heading like an arrow for the door, behind which, the Captain knew, was the vault that held the necklace. Watching as the figure crouched and busied himself about the lock, he thought again of the ease with which the light had been opened and he risked a look at the catch. Clean as a whistle. The mechanism had been bored through with something. Puzzled, he leaned closer just as the moon came out from behind a cloud and threw his shadow across the shop floor. The Captain eased back out of the way. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he was in time to be clear had the lad looked up.
Several minutes passed before he dared to peep again, as the latest cloud cloaked once more nature’s lantern. Inch by inch he lifted his head above the rim. The dark figure was nowhere to be seen, but the door to the vault-room was open. He levered himself over the edge and, discovering the thoughtful thief had left a rope, he slipped down into the shop.
Once on the floor he took a moment to orientate himself and before he crept over to the door of the vault-room. He stopped and listened. A pause of several seconds, but then he caught it, the sound of a drawer being either pushed or pulled from its place. In his head he tried to imagine the scene; the necklace appeared; a moment to admire it, to savour it, to remove it from the tray and into, whatever he had to transport it, probably a bag, but maybe a small case... stop, too much imagining... Then, return the drawer, turn and head for home. The Captain pulled out his pistol and eased back the door ready to step in for the surprise. But it was he that was caught.
About an inch from is face he was looking at the muzzle of a small pistol. The hand that held it was steady, the voice light. “Move sir, and I will fire.”
The Captain grinned, “That toy?”
“At ten feet, you’re right, sir. At ten inches, quite enough.”
“Your pistol, butt first, slowly.”
The Captain considered his options, decided he had none and raised the weapon hanging on his finger, butt first. He admired that the pistol in his face never budged an inch and that the lad hadn’t flinched, in spite of the sudden move against instructions.
A shrug in response.
The noise from behind him though, produced a different reaction. The lad’s eyes shifted to across the Captain’s shoulder. In spite of the shiver that had run down his own spine, the Captain flipped the pistol round, raised and cocked it all in one movement. The figure in front of him closed the distance, to now less than an inch from his eye, almost as quickly.
“What now?” the Captain asked.