The Double Eagle
By James Twining
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 James Twining
All right reserved. ISBN: 0060762098
Fifth Avenue, New York City
16 July -- 11:30 p.m.
Gracefully he fell, his body arcing in one smooth movement out from the side of the building and then back in, like a spider caught in a sudden gust of wind as it dropped on its thread, until with a final fizz of the rope through his gloved hand he landed on the balcony of the seventeenth floor.
Crouching, he unclipped the rope from his harness and flattened his back to the wall, his dark, lithe shape blending into the stained stone. He didn't move, his chest barely rising, the thin material of his black ski mask slick against his lips. He had to be sure. He had to be certain that no one had seen him on the way down. So he waited, listening to the shallow breaths of the city slumbering fitfully below him, watching the Met's familiar bulk retreating into shadow as its floodlights were extinguished.
And all the while, Central Park's dark lung, studded with the occasional lights of taxis making their way between East and West Eighty-sixth Street, breathed a chilled, oxygenated air up the side of the building that made him shiver despite the heat. Air heavy with New York's distinctive scent, an intoxicating cocktail of fear, sweat, and greed that bubbled up from subway tunnels and steam vents.
And although a lone NYPD chopper, spotlight primed, circled ever closer and the muffled scream of sirens echoed up from distant streets through the warm air, he could tell they were not for him. They never were. Tom Kirk had never been caught.
Keeping below the level of the carved stone balustrade, he padded over to the large semicircular window that opened onto the balcony, its armored panes glinting like sheet steel. Inside, he could see that the room was dark and empty, as he knew it would be. As it was every weekend during the summer.
A few taps on each of the hinges that ran down the side of the right-hand window and the bolts popped out into his hand. Then carefully, so as not to break the alarmed central magnetic contact, he levered the edge of the window away from the frame until there was a gap big enough for him to slip through.
Once inside, Tom swung his pack down off his shoulder. From the main compartment he took out what looked like a metal detector -- a thin black plate attached to an aluminium rod. He flicked a switch on the top of the plate and a small green light on its smooth surface glowed into life. Keeping completely still, he gripped the rod in his right hand and began to sweep the plate over the arid emptiness of the floor in front of him. Almost immediately the light on the back of the plate flashed red and he paused.
Pressure pads. As predicted.
Moving the plate slowly over the spot where the light had changed color, he quickly identified an area that he circled with white chalk. Repeating this procedure, he worked his way methodically across the room, moving in controlled, precise movements. Five minutes later and he had reached the far wall, a trail of small white circles in his wake.
The room was exactly as the photos had shown it and had the distinctive smell of new money and old furniture. A large Victorian partners' desk dominated, a masculine marriage of polished English oak and Italian leather that reminded him of the interior of a 1920s Rolls-Royce. Behind the desk, the wall was lined with what looked like the remnants of a once substantial private library, now presumably scattered across the world according to auction lots.
The two sidewalls that ran up to the window were painted a sandy gray and symmetrically hung with a series of drawings and paintings, four down each wall. He did not have to look closely to recognize them -- Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klimt. But Tom was not there for the paintings, nor for the decoy safe he knew lay behind the third picture on the left. He had learned not to be greedy.
Instead, he picked his way back through the chalk circles to the edge of the silk rug that filled the floor between the desk and the window, its colors shimmering in the pale moonlight. With his back to the window, he gripped one corner of the rug and threw it back. Underneath, the wood was slightly darker where it had been shielded from the bleaching sun.
Kneeling, he placed his gloved hands flat on the floor and slid them slowly across the dry wooden surface. About two feet in front of him, the tips of his fingers sensed a slight ridge in the wood. He moved his hands apart along the ridge, until he reached what felt like a corner on both sides. Placing his knuckles on these corners, he leaned forward with all his weight.
With a faint click, a two-foot square panel sank down and then sprang up about half an inch higher than the rest of the floor. It was hinged at the far end and he folded the panel back on itself so that it lay flat revealing a gleaming floor safe.
The safe manufacturing and insurance industries cooperate on the security ratings of safes. Manufacturers regularly submit their products to independent testing by the Underwriters Laboratory, or UL, who in return issue the safe with a Residential Security Container Label that allows the insurers to accurately determine the relevant insurance premium.
The safe that Tom had revealed had, according to its freshly affixed label, been rated TXTL 60. In other words, it had been found to successfully resist entry for a net assault time of 60 minutes. It was one of the highest ratings that UL could give.
Even so, it took Tom just eight and a half seconds to open it ...
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