Friday, October 29

Steampunk Writing Competition : Jewelry Heist 2nd



Steampunk Writing Competition : Jewelry Heist
2nd place winner
The Case of the Stolen Rings
E.A. Rouet

They had been waiting for a little more than five hours.

However, the case itself had taken almost a decade.

Abednego Hawkes, private investigator was sitting in the centre of an elaborately furnished personal library. Despite being in the room with nine night vision masked, armored officers- each of them carrying top of the line short-barreled automatic guns he was serene and thoughtful.

He was thinking of the morning’s headlines: another assassination attempt on their queen, the eighth to be precise. He had been pondering for some time now why people thought they could get away with it and he believed finally that he had the answer. Some people didn’t expect to get away with it.

He sighed and looked around the room again. The newspapers had reported that the would be assassin was probably going to be let off for being insane but the line between sanity and insanity seemed to be very thin right about now for him, the officers and Inspector Angela Blevins who was standing nearby smoking with pent up vehemence. After all, sanity did not usually involve waiting for a phantom madman to come crashing in while using the potential victim as bait.

It had all started with a simple theft nine years ago. At first it was presumed to be an inside job. The item in question was a strange ring with a shining opal as its centre. At first its owner, Lord James Ignatius Rodale had thought it had been misplaced. When this was revealed not to be the case he then accused his own servants of theft and when that failed to produce results he reluctantly inquired around to his friends and then, grudgingly, to the police.

Nothing else had been taken that night. Just the ring. And it was never found.

The next year, on the same day at around midnight, another ring was stolen this one made of a dark copper. Count Pendergast had been in his parlor in the same room where he kept the ring and had fallen asleep. When he woke, the ring was gone and his quicker attempt to contact the police led to the discovery that a sedative had been put into the Count’s wine, rendering him unconscious at around the time of the theft.

For the next few years, the strange pattern continued. The same day of the year, always at midnight, always a ring. As the robberies continued, the thefts themselves grew more impressive. Duchess Adelade Marksberry: from her locked jewelry box. Doctor Gilbert Riddington: from a safe. Several other prominent men of society such as Lord Rossin, Sir Heinrich Ulmschneider, and Admiral Cutler – they too had all mysteriously lost rings over the years.

Hawkes had quickly seen the pattern. When discovering that the rings all had a common source he attempted to track down the original maker of the rings but the man had disappeared. As for the robbed victims, they were all incredibly wealthy members of society. More importantly, however, they had all at one time or another donated substantial money to the Lumley Corporation and had received the rings from Spenser Lumley himself.

Spenser Lumley was a shrewd businessman with a glamorous smile that dazzled even as he bullied his family’s company to the top. The corporation was known for wrapping their fingers around the most talented craftsman of the day and using their skills to create the best products. The corporation then took control of the quantity using warehouses and assembly lines to generate mass production at cheap prices and even cheaper labor. Their machine of a commercial empire cracked, groaned and bent under its own weight but never broke down. Preachers frequently would shout about corruption within the corporation from the safety of the pulpit while politicians would deliver furious tirades about how regulations must be changed in the world of business. Reporters ran contradictory statistics alongside the ‘innocent’ statements from the company’s heads. But nothing was ever done to check the corporation’s notorious malfeasance.

And as much as Hawkes privately wished that the force now gathered inside of Spenser Lumley’s apartment complex was there to arrest him for embezzlement or some other financial fraud, their duty was to protect Lumley from theft. The last ring that had been made by the jeweler so long ago was in Lumley’s possession and it was on this night, at midnight, that the last theft would almost certainly occur.

There was a noise at the doorway and the men in the room, including Inspector Blevins and Hawkes himself all diverted their attention to the entrance.

“Come in.” barked Blevins.

The door opened and Spenser Lumley entered, followed by his escorts. Lumley was not allowed to go anywhere this evening unprotected. He was to spend the night in this library guarded by the watchmen while the rest of his building was patrolled by other officers.

Hawkes privately felt it was a waste of manpower, especially for the likes of Lumley who lived in an apartment complex that could easily house several families now cramped in the East End slums of the city.

The young Spenser Lumley was fashionably dressed in a mercury coloured waistcoat and dark navy trousers. His hair was neatly slicked back and he strode forward with a fixed, dazzling white smile.

“Inspector Hawkes! Good to see you again.”

The last time they had seen one another had been a few months ago in a case concerning a minor bank robbery. Hawkes was not impressed with the man before him now any more than he had been then. Reluctantly he shook Lumley’s offered hand and noted his curious glance at their handshake. Hawkes’s mechanical arm still attracted stares even in this day and age.

“Glad you’re here.” said Lumley, hastily pulling away when he saw that Hawkes was watching him. “You and Inspector Blevins. I want the very best protection this city has to offer for its most important citizens.”

“We will try to keep you safe, sir.”

“Try?” Lumley laughed, but he quickly sobered when he saw Hawkes’s expression.

“The ring, where is it?” asked Blevins

Lumley held out a pale, slender hand. On his finger was the elegant ring. Coils made up its delicate sides. Small carefully constructed details could be seen on all sides and around the glittering amber stone that made up the centre piece. It truly was beautiful. A real masterpiece, carefully designed. Hawkes had never seen anything like it.

Blevins appeared dumbfounded. “You’re going to wear it?”

“Raising the stakes.” said Lumley with a fox-like smile. “It’s what I do after all.”

“But you can’t!” she cried furiously. “What if this maniac comes in demanding the ring?”

“What of it?” asked Lumley with a coolly raised eyebrow. “I’m sure we could strike a bargain. Some men do see common sense when presented with money.”

Blevins was all but spluttering with rage. Hawkes stared at Lumley for a moment longer and then slowly nodded.

“We will wait until midnight then, sir.”

Lumley smiled and settled down in a high backed leather chair by the fire.

Blevins all but dragged Hawkes to the corner before hissing, “He’s gambling with a deck of cards that we don’t have!”

“Let him do as he will. We will do our job and he will do what he feels is best.”

Blevins let out an exasperated snort and turned away furiously.

The next hour passed by incredibly slowly. Hawkes would check his old pocket watch from time to time but it seemed as if its hands were stuck. The positioned, masked officers around them continued to wait patiently as they had for hours before. Lumley seemed strangely cheerful, attempting to talk to them all before reading a book. When he grew tired of that he attempted to go over some paperwork and even flirt with Blevins for a half moment before she gave him such a look that he went over to the bookshelf and absentmindedly started to rearrange some books.

Finally- five minutes to midnight.

Hawkes caught Blevins’s expression- she looked just as tense as he felt. What would happen? They supposedly had covered everything. Where would the maniac strike next? And how?

And what was his motive? Throughout the entire case this was one thing Hawkes could not understand. Why steal random rings that Lumley had given to his investors years ago? There were other far more valuable things to steal in some of these houses. Why the ring? Perhaps he was insane? Perhaps the rings served some sort of diabolical purpose?

He almost laughed out loud. A ring? Evil? Hardly likely.

But then why all the effort to steal them?

Three minutes to midnight.

Maybe he wouldn’t show. It seemed unlikely but if the man or woman, (Hawkes was an equal opportunist when it came to crime) saw the amount of forces waiting for him at the house, perhaps some long absent sense would finally prevail and he would stop or even give himself up.

Two minutes to midnight…

No. A man who had spent almost a decade years collecting various rings would not be about to give it all up when his final target had just happened to prepare himself in advance.

A minute to go…no sign of him. No noise in the hallway. Nothing. Lumley was standing by the mantle place looking into the dying fire with slightly weary eyes.

Hawkes looked about the room at all the masked men. There was no chance of a bomb going off, they had already checked the entire premises out earlier. Besides, it wasn’t the thief’s style. He seemed to avoid killing…

…and yet- it all came back to Lumley. And Lumley was wearing the ring. What would the thief do to get the ring?

Seconds from midnight as his eyes passed over the room and its occupants, he realized something that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He got up slowly from the chair he had been sitting in and made a point of stretching his limbs before walking over to Blevins.

“Inspector,” he said quietly although his heart had started up a furious tattoo in his breast. “Other than us, how many men do we have guarding this room?”

“Nine.” she said with a frown. “Why?”

He looked at the small statue on the table before them with deliberate calm. “Count them.”

Her eyes darted over the room and watching her from the corner of his eye he saw her dark eyes widen and her face grow pale. “Oh my god.” she said in an anguished whisper.

“Don’t panic.”

“There’s ten! Ten of them! How did this happen?” she hissed. “Why didn’t we notice?”

But already his mind was forming a plan. It had happened, that was all that mattered.

“How can we tell who it is? They’re all wearing masks!”

He considered their options. Remove their masks? No. Ah- got it!

“Watchmen!” he called out loudly. “Surrender arms!”

At the sound of the command every trained officer dropped to one knee, their weapons held above their head as they had been trained to do. But as nine men knelt, a dark blur leapt forward and wrapped an arm around Lumley’s neck from behind, pointing his gun to the millionaire’s head.

“Hold your fire!” Blevins shouted as the officers- who had leapt up in confusion and with their weapons pointing uneasily at Lumley who was attempting in vain pull away, making frantic gestures and small choking noises.

“The ring.” The night vision mask made the thief’s voice sound oddly echoed and eerie.

Hawkes could see that there was no chance of shooting the man without hitting Lumley as well, so with trepidation, he stepped forward.

“Sir,” he said calmly. “If you could loosen your grip on Mr. Lumley, perhaps we could talk.”

But the man merely tightened his grip causing Lumley to gag and flail worse than ever.

“He can’t breathe sir.” said Hawkes calmly.

“You say that as if it were unfortunate,” the thief said while taking a step backwards, dragging Lumley with him.

Hawkes took another cautious step. “Let’s not do anything rash. Can’t we talk about this?”

From behind the mask came a hollow laugh. “There is nothing to talk about. Mr. Lumley!” he added sharply. “The ring!”

“It’s… mine!” Lumley spluttered.

Hawkes could not understand why a man like Spenser Lumley who could afford at least five dozen rings like the one he was wearing, would be so stubborn and foolish.

“Wrong.” the thief spat. He adjusted his gun with a terrible click that made the men behind Hawkes raise their own weapons. But the thief didn’t seem to notice or care, taking another step backwards with Lumley still being held hostage.

“Perhaps we could discuss an exchange or even consider a bargain?”

“Bargain!” the man laughed. “We are beyond business transactions! Give me the ring, sir! Now!”

Lumley shook his head and Hawkes watched in mixed amazement and confusion as the thief wrenched Lumley over to a book case and hissed, “Open it! Open it or I’ll send you to Highgate right now!”

Lumley fumbled with a free hand and hit a spot on the bookshelf. It rapidly swung around and Lumley and the thief disappeared from view.

Hawkes swore and raced forward as Blevins and the others came up from behind. Hawkes began patting the shelves frantically. A revolving bookcase. How could they have overlooked it?

Blevins was shouting but Hawkes ignored this because he was no closer to finding the slot that turned the bookcase around. Over Blevins’s loud expletives he could hear a heated conversation on the other side of the shelf.

Before he could offer a suggestion of how to break down the bookshelf he heard an unmistakable gunshot and a scream. He felt his stomach drop and Blevins suddenly pulled him behind a high-backed chair. The other officers had scattered. He saw her throw the explosive at the shelf and then-

BOOM. There was a flash of light and a shower of splintered wood and books. Burning pages floated through the dust and haze and Hawkes coughing heavily made his way through the gaping hole in the wall to find Lumley lying on the floor his hand held against his chest as he screamed, scarlet blood covering the silk waistcoat and quickly flowing onto the floor.

One of the officers bent down immediately and tore off his mask. Hawkes recognized the man and remembered that he had had some previous medical training before joining the force.

The thief was gone. The small room was deserted save for a small door in the corner that exposed a dark shaft.

Blevins swore before shouting instructions- “You four- down this shaft! You three get to the stairs- sound the alert! Find out where this exit leads- and you over there, help Todd here! What happened to him, Lieutenant?”

“It’s his hand, miss.” said Todd, grappling with the bleeding limb as Lumley continued to writhe on the floor, still shrieking in pain. “His finger’s gone. Shot clean off.”

“He shot his finger?”

“Yes. And it seems to be gone sir. The finger and the ring.”

A madman indeed.

Hawkes left Lumley and the remaining officers in the house, going outside to help the others search the perimeters of the building and the nearby streets. Massive confusion ensued. An officer had found a bloody finger by an open gutter. The thief seemed to have vanished. Officers split up in pairs to cover ground and Hawkes, despite the chaos unfolding around him, tried to think of where the thief would run.

And then, all at once, he knew where to go. It was a desperate attempt, but there were few options at this point.

“Tell Blevins to send a squad after me if I’m not back within the next half hour!” he shouted at one of the nearby men.

“Where to sir?”

“Highgate!”

He ran down a dark side street before flagging down a passing coach. Lumley’s house to the cemetery was not a long drive and it wasn’t long before Hawkes saw the slightly sinister outline of the main entranceway which led to the countless graves beyond.

He left some change for the driver and leapt out of the coach- running up to the gates which had been pried open. He squeezed between them and raced among the mossy, ivy covered stones looking in all directions.

It was towards the end of his desperate, fruitless chase when he stumbled over something in the darkness. In the dim moonlight he could just barely make out an officer’s helmet that had been cast aside. Looking around he could only see elaborate tombs; some of the cemetery’s finest. But from one of them there was a faint flickering glow between a small crack in the doors.

Quietly he moved towards it, just barely noticing the name ‘Dupin’ carved above the entranceway. He cautiously tried one of the doors and found, not entirely surprised, that it was already open.

He peered inside. The room was shaped like a small amphitheatre and was made of white marble. A large sarcophagus lay in the middle of the room surrounded by tall dripping candles and on the lid of the tomb were ten shining rings.

A dark shape was lying at the base of the sarcophagus. The thief’s arms were outstretched and his head was bent over his heaving shoulders. A choked sob echoed around the bare walls.

Hawkes stepped forward and the movement caused the thief’s head to snap up. His gaunt face was wet with tears and his eyes were shining wildly. He looked pale and sickly.

“Who’s there?” he cried.

As Hawkes stepped closer into the light the thief seemed to grow paler still.

“Ah,” he said, in a voice soft as a whisper. “I’ve been caught at last I see.”

“You are under arrest,” said Hawkes firmly. “For the theft of these rings and the attack on Spenser Lumley that took place earlier this evening.”

The man merely wiped his wet face with spiderlike hands and then turned back to the marble sarcophagus muttering under his breath.

Hawkes took another step forward, seeing that the man had no weapon. “Why bring the rings here?”

“For Celestine.”

“For whom?”

The thief let out a shaky breath. “My wife. Celestine.”

Hawkes looked at the sarcophagus again with the various rings lying on the lid and asked, “Why these specific rings? Why these particular ones?”

“I had to get them back. They were the moments. The lost moments.”

It was as he had feared. The man was mad. Yet the shrewd expression on his face suggested that this was not entirely so.

“Why the Lumley corporation, then?”

“Not the corporation. Lumley,” The man hissed. The look of hatred on his face was alarming. “He took them. He took all the moments. I had to get them back. He had offered me money, payment beyond my wildest dreams to make the rings but he took more than my masterworks. He took the memories that could have been.”

Hawkes felt a wave of shock. “You made the rings?”

The man gave a wry smile. “I made them, yes. I’m a jeweler. And I was the best. I made every one of them. Lumley came to my shop wanting the best for his followers. Trinkets. Toys. Gifts for his most devoted crowd. I was honoured. I could have refused of course, but I was proud. I accepted his commissions.”

“And you made the rings that Lumley asked you to.”

“Yes. He would come by my shop with a new request and I would put aside all my other work to put my best efforts into them. I put…I put…Celestine aside. My wife. She would come in, smiling and offer a kiss. I would give her harsh words instead. She would offer a walk outside and I would show her the door. She offered me warmth and I returned her love with coldness.”

His face seemed to crumble and he abruptly clung to the sarcophagus as if it were moving away. “She saw my work in a way that I myself did not see it! She knew it was taking me away from her and the moments we might have had together. She became sick and told me to turn down Lumley’s commissions, but I dismissed her pleas every time.”

“She became sicker and sicker but on the night she died I was working on Lumley’s ring. The final commission. The one he wanted to surpass all others. He wanted the best and I worked all through the night without stopping. Celestine wanted to see me. I told myself she could wait. I had to finish my work. And I did. I finished it in the early hours of dawn and set down my tools. And I went upstairs to find that my beautiful, patient bride was dead. Her skin was already cold.”

His face contorted at the memory and he clutched his hair as if ready to tear it out. “It was my work that killed her! Me and these accursed rings!” he shrieked, “They took the life from her! Took away our happiness! The times I could have been with her- and I- ignorant wretch, chose instead these cold glittering things! I was blinded by them! I used all the money from them to build her this tomb. But it wasn’t enough. I had to get back the lost moments for my bride. I planned all the robberies and I got the rings back, every one of them- each one on the anniversary of her death and my downfall. I saved Lumley for last. And I have them all now.”

The man, exhausted from his rant, hung his head, gasping. Hawkes watched him for a moment before asking one final question. “And was it worth it?”

There was a prolonged silence and then the man fell forward at the tomb’s base with a shuddering cry, weeping heavily. The painful sounds he made were heartrending, as if he were dying of grief. Hawkes hesitated, feeling as though he were intruding upon the man’s sorrow and he drew back to stand by the entrance of the tomb, the echoes of the terrible sobs behind him. With his last glance of the weeping man he caught sight of the rings lying on the surface of the tomb. Perhaps it was merely the flickering candlelight or his imagination, but they did seem to pulse with some strange hidden energy. He stared a moment longer and then shook his head at the thought before finally heading outside.

Poor man. Such a grief-stricken creature would only go through the rest of his life in a senseless daze.

The rest of the officers would be here soon. And when they did arrive, no greedy robber would they find but instead a man who had gone mad trying to restore lost moments, trying to bring warmth and happiness out of cold stone and metal. His mind went back to the man who had only recently failed to assassinate their queen. Was the world full of these men who turned to such drastic actions when their minds could no longer bear their own reality?

As for the rings, perhaps he would privately speak to the Commissioner and they could arrange something. Most of the theft victims were dead now anyway or had forgotten about their lost accessories. Lumley would be harder to persuade but maybe he didn’t need to know…

They could send the rings away to an obscure dealer, pull out some old connections. Overseas perhaps.

He looked around the graveyard, his eyes falling on a marble angel that stood nearby, its raised hand pointing at the sky while a secret smile lingered on its stone face.



3 comments:

simonekendrick said...

Just wanted to say I greatly enjoyed your story and congratulations!

Griselda said...

I looooooooooooooooooove your work!!

Trevor Schmidt said...

I love all the rings, even reviewed the Seraphinite Ring on my blog :) Good luck in the future!

Trevor Schmidt
http://thesteamreview.blogspot.com/