Halloween, 2104 Hours
On Capitol Hill in the District of Columbia, on the 200 block of East Capitol Street, SE, adjacent to the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson buildings of the Library of Congress, near the United States Supreme Court, and one block up from the United States Capitol, stands industrialist Henry Clay Folger’s and his beloved wife Emily’s gift to the American people, the neoclassical Folger Shakespeare Library, majestic and mysterious.
Clad in Georgia white marble, the Folger is often misidentified by tourists and other passersby as one of the Library of Congress’ buildings. Indeed, the Art Deco masterpiece is in perfect harmony with the architecture of the federal buildings that surround it. However, the treasure trove of rare and priceless English Renaissance books, manuscripts and objects d’art, which includes the largest collection of Shakespeare First Folios and Shakespeareana in the world, is not a public building, but a private research library.
No one knew the building better than disgruntled employee Special Police Officer (SPO) Lt. Norman Blalock; he’d been guarding the library for 25 years. That’s what made him the perfect candidate to pull off an inside job and heist a priceless artifact from the venerable institution’s underground bank vault.
Passed over for promotion again, most recently six weeks earlier when he’d been informed that the position of captain, second in command, was being given to new hire Nathan Rockford, a retired DC police officer; and further disheartened when Chief Malcolm Leonard had also suggested in the same breath that it was time Norm started thinking about retirement, had been hard for Norman to swallow. To make the prospect of retirement more palatable, Norman had decided to accept a generous counteroffer:
He was going to steal a priceless artifact from the library’s vault that night and retire a very wealthy man shortly thereafter. In fact, he was in close proximity to the treasure now…
Lt. Blalock, clean-shaven, tall, dark, and trim, wearing a fresh uniform with blue, yellow and white colored circular Folger Shakespeare Library Police shoulder patches bearing Shakespeare’s family crest on each sleeve of his navy blue commando sweater, struggled to control his rapid breathing as he hid in the storage/elevator service room on the Gamma Deck of Folger’s underground complex, evading detection by a fellow officer with a K-9 conducting a random interior security sweep. Norman fretted. He’d had to do some finagling to execute his scheme, to come this far, and it would be a crying shame if he failed after all the work he’d put into this caper…
Norman had volunteered not only to cover Sergeant Thomas’s 1400 – 2200 hours shift when Thomas took annual leave that day, but to be Fire Watch Officer as well. During the run of the Folger’s current production of Othello, the Folger’s fire alarm system had to be disarmed during each performance due to the play’s smoke special effect using haze. Haze registers as smoke to the system’s smoke detectors, causing a false fire alarm. Therefore, the system had to be deactivated and a guard had to be assigned to Fire Watch, to visually inspect every part of the building at regular intervals, giving him license to wander the building at will. The Fire Watch Officer would also be on Water Watch in the art vault…
A scant few minutes before he’d had to hide from the K-9 officer, he’d advised SPO Cary, who was manning the Guard’s Desk aka Central located in the west lobby, that he was going to conduct a fire watch, so Cary could log it in the Activity Log. SPO Cary then had reminded him to check the art vault for leaks, unwittingly giving the heist his Good-Seal-of-Approval.
“Sure thing, Luther,” Norman had told him.
Norman had casually said hello to Kavitha Netram, his co-conspirator, who was sitting at the Gift Shop Desk, and she’d casually said hi. He then had ran up the three steps leading to an Authorized Personnel Only zone of the Folger and proceeded down the hall to the elevator on his left. He’d pressed the call button and the doors opened immediately. He’d walked into the elevator and pressed 3. If the elevator records were pulled, they would confirm that someone, that he, had used the elevator to go to the top floor at that time. Also, Luther would assume he had, as usual, started his Fire Watch on the top floor of the west wing.
On the third floor, he’d gotten off, turned right, and ran down the stairs to the basement.
Stealthily, making sure not to make the wooden stairs creak, he’d silently made his way up the stairs as quickly as possible. On the first floor, he’d taken a peek to make sure no one was watching, turned left and tiptoed to the door to the Old Reading Room. Quietly, he opened the door, entered, and silently closed the door behind him.
Blalock then had proceeded through a set of double wood and glass doors, through the Old Reading Room, through the half-door next to the Librarian’s Desk, and through a wooden door leading to a stairwell. Keys in hand, he ran down three flights of carpeted stairs to Gamma Deck, unlocked a metal door, and slowly opened it. He’d looked around the space on the other side of the door to make sure that he was alone and then entered, closing the door after him. Then he ran past the biometric security entrance to the vault on his left over to a wooden door directly ahead of him, unlocked it, and went through. He ran down the hallway to another wooden door, unlocked it, and went through. He ran down another hallway to a metal door on his left, but then stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the keys jingling on the Sam Browne belt of a member of the Armed Response Team on a random roving patrol somewhere in the books stacks of the immense Gamma Deck. And then he’d heard a voice communication between Central and Adam-13 crackle from the rover’s radio, closer still. The rover was headed his way. He didn’t want anyone to be able to say later that they had seen him anywhere near this area or what time they had seen him there, so Blalock had quickly tiptoe-ran to the door leading to a storage/elevator service room, opened the door, and closed it quietly behind him.
Gasping for air, he struggled to control his rapid breathing. What was that sound? Was the K-9 officer coming Blalock’s way?
Norman’s life from the day Kavitha approached him with the offer flashed before his eyes.
One night the month before, right after the people he’d come with had left, new Folger employee Kavitha Netram, dressed in a form-fitting tailor-made short black dress, sat down at his table in a corner of one of the crowded rooms at the going-out-of-business Hawk & Dove restaurant on Capitol Hill. She set her drink in front of her and what he was having in front of him.
Kavitha sipped through a cocktail straw what appeared to be an Appletini and looked him over.
With a lyrical British accent, she thanked him for the tour of the Folger he’d taken her on the week before. She itemized the highlights of the tour and what he had taught her and then brought up the fact that the Folgers’ urns are entombed in a columbarium niche behind a memorial plaque in the back wall of the Old Reading Room. “Their library is actually their tomb,” she marveled. “Who knew? Incredible.” She raised her glass. “Thank you.”
Perplexed why a young looker like Kavitha was sitting there talking with an old-timer like him, Norman simply nodded. The fact of the matter is that he was blown away: rarely had an object of his desire presented itself so miraculously. He was always suspicious of miracles.
Kavitha told him where she was born and where she grew up, and that she had a doctorate in Art History from Oxford where she had a crush on her history professor and how she was just working at the Folger Gift Shop until something in her field came through.
When Blalock grew weary of her yakking, he interrupted her and asked what this encounter was really about and before she could answer told her, “If it’s a Sugar Daddy you’re looking for, you’ve got the wrong man. I’m a Splenda Daddy: sweet, but not the real thing.”
When she stopped laughing, she leaned in and finally came to the point. “My employer will make you a rich man if you acquire something for him from the Folger’s vault, something that will never be missed.”
Norman raised an eyebrow and slowly nodded. He gulped his cognac, frowned, and then stared at her.
“The vault?” Norm snorted. “The Folger has impeccable security, Dr. Netram. It can’t be done.”
Kavitha sighed and said, “Norm, my employer knows it can be done. All he needs is an inside man. You won’t get caught and you will be very well paid.”
He sipped his cognac as he glared at her.
“Something extremely valuable that won’t be missed?” Norm asked.
Norman said, “Stolen valuables will always be missed…especially at the Folger.”
Kavitha smirked, and then slowly flashed him a sly smile.
“Not if no one knows the valuable item was ever there,” she said.
He tilted his head and said, “Huh?”
Kavitha smiled and then got deadly serious. “I’ll arrange a meeting with my employer. You should at least hear him out before you turn him down. What have you got to lose?”
The day after their meeting at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, Kavitha arranged for a limousine to pick him up at 8:00 pm alongside of Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, near where he lived. Kavitha, wearing a form-fitting short gray dress with black silk stockings and three-inch gray pumps; and smelling, as always, of expensive shampoo, lotion, and perfume, was waiting for him inside the black Lincoln limo. She was smirking and holding a Martini in each of her exquisite, manicured hands. When he’d gotten comfortable in his seat, she handed him one of them.
“Nice suit,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said. “Nice dress.”
“Thank you,” Kavitha smiled.
Norman raised his drink and Kavitha tapped her Martini glass against his.
They were driven to an estate with manicured grounds located on Linnean Avenue in Northwest Washington, DC. The driver parked the limo in the circular driveway, which was a quarter acre from the public street, and then hopped out and opened their door. He stood there until they climbed out and then closed the door.
Holding one of the enormous double doors of the pristine mansion open for them, standing just inside of the doorway, was a rickety, old white butler. Jeeves, Norman mused.
Kavitha and Norman stepped by the tuxedoed Crypt Keeper into a vast foyer with a vaulted ceiling accented by a crystal chandelier and the butler closed the door after them. Before them, a grand double staircase rose to a second-story landing high above them. Priceless oil paintings by some of the great masters graced the walls.
The shuffling antique butler showed them to a…drawing room and offered them drinks. They asked for Vodka Martinis and Blalock ordered that they be shaken, not stirred.
A distinguished-looking, well-dressed Englishman entered the room carrying with both hands a sizeable wooden chest. He crossed to a large antique desk and placed the wooden box on top of it, walked over to Blalock, and extended a manicured hand. Blalock took it and the English gentleman shook his hand vigorously.
“Mr. Blalock,” he grinned. “I’m Rupert Whyte. It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Please,” Whyte said, gesturing, directing Norman and Kavitha to massive overstuffed red leather covered antique chairs, “Have a seat.”
They sat and were devoured by the plush chairs just as the shaky old butler rattled their drinks over to them on a silver serving tray. They rescued their drinks quickly before they shook off the tray Jeeves was holding and shattered on the parquet floor.
“Thank you,” Norman and Kavitha said.
Kavitha and Norman sipped their drinks.
“Good,” Norman complimented the old butler. “Shaken…”
“Not stirred,” Kavitha added.
Norman flashed Kavitha a quick glance and their eyes smiled.
Mr. Whyte leaned back against the front of the massive desk and told the butler, “That will be all.”
Jeeves bowed and backed away, a hitch in his step. He placed the serving tray back on the bar before exiting the room and closing the heavy wooden double doors after him.
“So, Mr. Blalock,” Whyte said, “Kavitha tells me that no one knows the Folger Library better than you.”
“Not alive, anyway,” Blalock admitted.
Whyte said, “I am prepared to offer you one million dollars for an item you can take away from the library in your shirt pocket.”
“What is it?” Blalock wanted to know.
“Shakespeare’s BlackBerry,” Whyte told him.
“In the 16th Century,” Whyte explained, “every Renaissance businessman carried a writing table, a notebook about the size of a BlackBerry, with pages covered in glue and gesso that could be written on with a metal stylus and then wiped clean with a sponge. Even Hamlet had a set. In the first act of the play, when the Danish prince learns of his father’s horrible murder, the first thing he goes for are his writing tables. ‘My tables,’ Hamlet screams, ‘meet it is I set it down!’ Ergo, writer William Powers has dubbed the writing table, ‘Hamlet’s BlackBerry.’”
Blalock nodded. “I see.” He sipped his drink and then continued, “So, you’re saying an undiscovered writing table owned by Shakespeare is inside the Folger’s vault?”
Mr. Whyte grinned and nodded. “Let me show you.”
Whyte walked around the other side of the desk and motioned to Blalock to join him. Blalock stood and walked over to the desk.
Whyte unlatched the wooden case, opened it, and removed an ornate jewelry casket. He slid the wooden box out of the way with the back of one hand and placed the jewelry box on the desk. To Blalock, the antique was reminiscent of a small scale Ark of the Covenant. It was an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship, a work of art.
Blalock fixated on it. Constructed of bronze, gilt, and silver, with a mulberry wood base, the design appeared to be the Cinquecento style of 16th Century Italy. The handle atop the casket was a golden bust of Shakespeare and the box was adorned with eight extremely detailed bronze figures of what had to be characters from the Bard’s plays, and four different coats of arms rendered in gold and silver. Blalock recognized only one of the family crests: Shakespeare’s.
“Magnificent,” Blalock declared.
“Seven years after Shakespeare’s death,” Whyte continued, “in 1623, the Herbert Brothers published Henry Condell’s and John Heminge’s Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. The profits from the First Folio and their shares in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres made Heminges and Condell wealthy men.
“In the mid 1600s, Condell and Heminge commissioned a jewelry casket…a unique jewelry box with a hidden compartment. Finally, several years ago, I located and acquired it. I detected the false bottom, but soon discovered that my search must continue.
“You see, in 1616, William Shakespeare willed to Henry Condell and John Heminge two honors each, which is roughly one pound apiece, to purchase mourning rings, a common practice in Victorian times. Mourning rings were worn in memory of a dead person, and bore the name, date of death, and in many instances, an image of them in any black stone, usually Jet stone. I found out I needed Condell’s and Heminge’s mourning rings to open the secret compartment beneath the false bottom.”
Whyte opened the jewelry box, removed and set aside two red velvet covered jewelry trays one after the other, and tilted the box over onto its back. On the bottom of the box, he worked sliding wood slats, like those of a Chinese puzzle box. Subsequently, he righted the box and used a letter opener to lift the back edge of a false bottom and then with his fingers lifted it out to reveal two small cutouts of Shakespeare’s profile at the bottom of the box, one on the left side and one on the right. Afterward, he removed two rings from a pocket of his suit jacket and said, “I needed these rings…”
Mr. Whyte fitted the Shakespeare cameo on one ring into one of the cutouts and the cameo on the other ring into the other cutout. He turned the rings simultaneously, one clockwise, the other counterclockwise. He reached under the box, slid out a small drawer, removed a small object wrapped in cheesecloth, and peeled back the cloth to reveal an ornate writing table.
“This is only for dramatic effect, I’m afraid,” said Mr. Whyte. “When I opened the secret compartment, it was empty. This box is a decoy. I learned much later that Condell and Heminge commissioned two identical jewelry boxes. The other one containing Shakespeare’s BlackBerry was recently acquired by the Folger.”
“The folks at the Folger could have found it by now,” Blalock argued. “The Shakespeare Library is filled with some of the best and brightest experts on the planet.”
“We will see,” said Mr. Whyte. “Well? What do you say, Mr. Blalock? Are you willing to give it a go?”
Blalock frowned and asked, “What do you hope to get out of having it? Fame or fortune?”
Whyte shrugged. “Both. You know, there are those who don’t believe old Will wrote those plays and poems, who say he was actually illiterate. Imagine how important a find it would be to have absolute proof of Shakespeare’s literacy.”
The first thought that crossed Blalock’s mind was why Condell and Heminge would so elaborately conceal their friend’s BlackBerry, but instead of raising the question, he simply said, “Ingenious.”
Whyte nodded. “Imagine,” he beamed, “what this tremendous discovery will mean to the world of English Literature…”
“That’s supposed to sway me?” Blalock asked. “Really? My freedom and my good name are at stake. I’d have to be a fool to go along with this.”
A smile played at the right corner of Whyte’s mouth. “Surely not, Dr. Blalock. Or would you prefer Professor Blalock? You’re not a fool; you’re an historian. You got your doctorate in American History from Georgetown University at the age of 25.”
Norman flushed and looked over at Kavitha, who was looking directly at him. He was startled and outraged that Whyte had invaded his privacy. He looked directly into the Englishman’s icy blue eyes.
“I used to be,” Blalock countered.
“You didn’t make tenure at Howard University,” Whyte argued, “and was asked to leave some 25 years ago following that scandal involving you and one of your students, the teenage daughter of one of the University’s Trustees and chief supporters. But you’re still an historian and a scholar. And a collector, like Henry Clay Folger…”
“And you too it would seem,” Blalock interjected. “So I’m a collector, so what? A collector is merely an organized hoarder.”
“What do you owe the Folger?” Mr. Whyte snapped “You’ve worked there for 25 years, been passed over for promotion thrice, and now they’re handing you your hat. Your pension can’t hold a candle to what I’m offering.”
“As I said,” Whyte reminded Blalock, “one million dollars.”
Blalock snorted. “Make it two.”
Whyte replied, “Let’s make it three.”
Blalock raised an eyebrow.
“I know all about you, Dr. Blalock,” Whyte assured him. “You live in that Victorian row house on Capitol Hill near Lincoln Park, worth roughly $1.9 million, and drive that priceless, mint-condition 1968 Jaguar XJ6, both willed to you by your father when he passed away two years ago come this November. I know you collect and restore antiques of all kinds. And I know you do volunteer work at a soup kitchen and never turn down the less fortunate when they ask for a handout on the street. You can do an awful lot of good with the money I’ll pay you.
“I know too that you love to travel. Over the years, you’ve vacationed in all kinds of exotic places. You’re always searching for objects of rare beauty to hold, to possess. You can go on an awful lot of expeditions with that money, Dr. Blalock…and collect to your heart’s content.”
Blalock paused while he considered the offer. “How would payment be made?”
“We’ll set up a numbered Swiss Bank account,” Whyte said. “Call me from inside the Folger when you have Shakespeare’s BlackBerry. You can confirm online that the payment has been deposited before you leave work and then rendezvous with me to make delivery.”
“What if,” Blalock said, “I open the secret compartment of the jewelry box and it’s empty. What then? ”
Mr. Whyte nodded. “What do you have in mind?”
“A nonrefundable deposit,” Blalock said. “However this turns out, I want five hundred thousand dollars, four hundred thousand deposited in that Swiss bank you were talking about, but I want one hundred thousand dollars delivered to me personally. Fifty thousand in negotiable bearer bonds and fifty thousand in cash; five hundred one hundred dollar bills.”
“Done,” Whyte said. “The cash and the bearer bonds will be delivered to you tomorrow.” He reached into his shirt pocket, removed a business card, and handed it to Blalock. “Open a numbered account at this Swiss bank and I’ll deposit the four hundred thousand as soon as you give me the account number.”
Blalock looked at the card and put it into his shirt pocket. He looked Whyte in the eye, extended his hand, and said, “Okay. Deal.”
They shook hands firmly and smiled.
Whyte was as excited as a school boy. “Describe the security.”
Blalock breathed in deeply and then exhaled before he spoke.
“The library has three floors above ground and five floors underground, Alpha Deck, Beta Deck, Gamma Deck, Delta Deck, and Omega Deck. On the Delta Deck are the infirmary, a gymnasium, showers, a pistol range, an arsenal, and barracks and offices of the Armed Response Team (ART). ART also has a satellite office on the third floor down the hall from the Gundersheimer Conservation Laboratory. The office door reads, ‘ART DEPT.’
“Most of the members of ART are former Navy SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces and the like.
“To present a kinder, gentler image to the public, none of the officers are armed during business hours, except for plainclothes members of ART who mingle with the visitors to exhibitions in the Great Hall. But after hours, the uniformed guards retrieve their Glock 19’s from their gun lockboxes in the Security Office and strap them on. Also, uniformed members of ART are armed with MP5 submachine guns and Glock sidearms and conduct random roving patrols of the entire facility. Oh, and hidden at Central, there are two guns accessible to security personnel during business hours. Just in case. And we’ve got MPD and Capitol Police for back-up.
“As for the physical and technological security measures, the vault was manufactured by the Mosler Safe Company out of Cincinnati, which was founded in the mid 1860’s. Prior to WWII, Mosler installed several vaults in Hiroshima's Mitsui Bank building. The vaults survived ‘Little Boy,’ one of the atom bombs America dropped on Japan to end World War II. Later, the company also manufactured doors for U.S. nuclear missile silos.
“There is a time lock on the vault, and to gain access to the vault door on the Beta Deck through a sliding bullet-resistant glass door rated to withstand multiple impacts from .50 caliber rounds, biometric verification of persons authorized to access the vault via facial and voice recognition software, and palm and retinal scanners, all supplied and maintained by BioSec Systems, Inc. Monday – Saturday, a guard has to be present at 8:45 am when the time lock disengages and the curator inputs the combination and opens the vault door and a guard has to be present when the vault door is closed and locked at 4:45 pm and the time lock is set.
“Digital cameras supplied and maintained by Horus Security, Inc., are all over the building, their recorded images stored forever offsite, time and date stamped, always retrievable for review. One of them is aimed at the vault door 24/7. Monitors are at Central, which is the Guard’s Desk in the west lobby, in the offices of ART, and in the Security Office, where images cannot only be monitored, but retrieved and reviewed onsite via a Horus Wadjit EX 9000 Series Digital Video Recorder.
“The Folger has a water fire suppression system only in the theater since water presents as much of a danger as fire to the books, manuscripts and artwork. Therefore, Halon Fire Extinguishing Systems are in place to protect the collection. Since Halon is deadly to humans, plans are in place to replace the Halon Systems with an alternative fire extinguishing system, possibly with DuPont’s FE-13 gaseous extinguishing agent.
“The most valuable books are chipped, like clothing and shoes in department stores. Take them out through either the Visitors’ Entrance or the Research Entrance and an alarm in the vestibule of that entrance sounds. There are also body scanners in the vestibules, like airports use. Bring in a gun or a knife and the alarm sounds.”
Whyte whistled. He paused and then asked, “When do you think you can get at the box?”
Blalock rubbed his chin. “It’s difficult to say. I’m pretty sure I can circumvent the security measures so I can pull the job, but beforehand I have to do recon in the vault to find out exactly where the jewelry box is. The less time in the vault, the greater my chances of pulling it off. Give me…a couple of weeks to get the lay of the land.”
“Fine,” Whyte said. “Keep me posted.”
Blalock nodded and then stared at the ornate jewelry casket. Without looking at Mr. Whyte, he said, “I’ll need an iPhone with your phone number preprogrammed into it; I don’t want records of phone calls to either of you on my personal cell phone. If I need anything else, I’ll let you know.”
Mr. Whyte nodded. “Done.”
The evening following his meeting with Mr. Whyte, Norman’s doorbell rang. He opened the door and found Kavitha Netram wearing a form-fitting short red dress with matching three-inch stilettos, a big black leather hand bag hanging from a strap over her left shoulder, long raven hair draped down her back. As always, she smelled of expensive shampoo, lotion, and perfume…and of something sweeter still: youth.
“Nice house,” Kavitha said.
“Thanks,” said Norman. “I don’t remember giving you my address.”
She gave him a you-should-know-better look and ignored his statement.
“You weren’t at work today,” Kavitha protested. “Having second thoughts?”
Blalock shook his head. “I had a doctor’s appointment.”
“You didn’t tell me,” she pouted.
Of course not. Norman wasn’t about to tell her or anyone else that he had been diagnosed with heart disease.
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” said Norman. “You’re not my girlfriend, Kavitha.”
She leaned her supple young body against him, placed her right hand lightly on his chest, then looked doe-eyed up at him and whispered, “I could be.”
Kavitha laid a wet kiss on his chin, then purred, “Let me in, Splenda Daddy. I’ve got your booty. You know, your loot, here in my bag.”
Norman pulled her inside and slammed the door.
Later that night, Blalock wearing his black Nautica robe sat at his antique dining table with Kavitha, who sat across from him wearing his souvenir Hawk ‘n’ Dove Last Call tee shirt and nothing more. The shirt had never looked better…and never would again, Blalock was sure. She emptied her big, black leather handbag onto the table and negotiable bearer bonds, stacks of $100 bills, and a cell phone and its accessories (wall and car chargers and USB cable) tumbled out. She picked up the cell phone and handed it to him.
“The iPhone you asked for, preprogrammed per your request.”
He took it, never taking his eyes from the stacks of cold, hard cash.
A gleam in his eye, his lower lip subtly trembling, Norman Blalock began to count his money.
Kavitha asked how he’d ended up at the Folger. Distracted by her, he gave up trying to count his loot.
Norman confessed that he had used his high school diploma to get the security gig. He hadn’t wanted them to contact Howard U, of course. No sterling recommendations to be found there.
Kavitha said, “That’s why you were passed over for promotion. You needed at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify for the positions, but they think you’re just a high school graduate.”
Norman nodded. “Better that than them learning the truth.”
They both fell silent for a time and then Kavitha abruptly changed the subject. She talked about the ghost stories his co-workers had told her that day and then asked him if he had any ghost stories. He told her a couple.
They laughed for a time and then sat there silently for awhile to catch their breath. Finally, Kavitha asked him if he believed in ghosts.
Norman took a deep breath and considered the question before he answered. “I don’t know, Kavitha. Sometimes, maybe. How about you?”
Kavitha smiled. “I don’t know. Sometimes, maybe. But I figured you’d have more insight; you have been working in a tomb for twenty-five years, Dr. Blalock.”
Norman denied he had special insight. He told her that the dead didn’t concern him anyway. “It’s the living I’m worried about,” he told her. “Dead people can’t do me any harm.”
Kavitha kept smiling and said, “Uh huh. You know you’re afraid of the Folgers.”
Kavitha got up and sauntered over to him. She took his face in her hands and looked into him with her soul-piercing jet black eyes. “It’s me you’d better be afraid of, Dr. Blalock.”
“I am afraid of you, Dr. Netram.”
Kavitha giggled, sat in his lap, and sweetly kissed him on the lips.
Norman’s break came on the afternoon of Friday, October 28th. Safety Team members and security personnel were called to the Babette Craven Art Vault, where an overhead pipe had sprung a leak and the spraying water was putting priceless objects d’art at immediate risk.
Lt. Blalock ran to the art vault to find water spraying from the ruptured overhead pipe and Chief Leonard and Captain Rockford, along with staff members who worked in the vault, frantically moving heavy cardboard boxes, paintings, and objects d’art out of harm’s way, while building services technicians supervised by Facilities Manager David Conine worked to cut off the water. Building Services Specialist Berhane Fessehaye was the front man, working directly on the hole in the pipe. Blalock sprang into action, grabbing items and moving them to safety and, like the rest of the team, turned back immediately to grab and move more items.
Finally, the shower subsided, after everything was safely out of the way. Soaking wet and tired, the team caught its breath.
As the experts discussed the procedure for transporting the wet objets d’art upstairs to the Conservation Lab for damage assessment and restoration, something on a far shelf caught Blalock’s eye, something gleaming, elaborate, and magnificent. And it hadn’t gotten wet. It must have already been out of harm’s way when the pipe sprang a leak.
Now he knew the location of the twin jewelry casket. Now all he had to do was get inside the vault after hours, crack open the casket, and pluck out Shakespeare’s BlackBerry. That’s all he had to do.
Blalock had arranged another meeting at Whyte’s mansion the night of the same day the water pipe ruptured in the art vault and apprised Whyte of the golden opportunity this incident afforded them.
“For now,” Blalock said, “I can get into the vault on the pretense that I’m checking for leaks from that busted pipe, but I’ve got to work fast. In the after action meeting immediately following the incident, Captain Rockford pointed out that the Vault Emergency Entrance Protocol is flawed. His plan to retrofit the door locks with biometric systems and install additional cameras in the vault area was approved on the spot. Once these upgrades are made and the damaged pipe is permanently repaired in a few days, it will be impossible for me to enter the vault without authorization and without there being a record of it.
“SPO Thomas will be on leave on Monday and I’ve taken his evening shift, 1400 – 2200 hours. I’ll get the BlackBerry then.”
Whyte smiled and said, “Excellent.”
“Now,” said Norman, “teach me how to work the…Chinese puzzle on the bottom of the box and then hand over the rings.”
Mr. Whyte laid the jewelry box on its back and said, “Watch carefully…”
After what seemed like an eternity, Blalock cracked open the door of the storage/elevator service room he hid behind on Gamma Deck and listened for awhile. He heard nothing.
Lt. Blalock exited the storage/elevator service room, sprinted to a metal door on his right, unlocked it, and went through into another long hallway. On his left, he unlocked another metal door and went through, to Door 44. He unlocked Door 44 and walked into a small room and then unlocked and walked through another metal door on the other side of that room. At that point, he was behind the locked Mosler vault door on the front side of Gamma Deck; he had entered the vault area via the back way for the use of authorized personnel in case of an emergency.
Blalock moved past the Halon Closet, past the elevator to the Omega Deck, unlocked the metal door to the Babette Craven Art Vault, and walked through the door. He was in.
Perspiring and breathing heavily, his back against the door, he stood in the dark for a few moments to catch his breath and then flicked the light switch. He pulled blue latex gloves from a pants pocket, snapped them on, and then pushed off the door and walked briskly to the ornate jewelry casket. He marveled at it for a few moments and then removed and set aside two red velvet covered jewelry trays one after the other, and tilted the box over onto its back. He took the two mourning rings from a pants pocket, laid them on the shelf next to the jewelry box, and then started moving the Chinese puzzle pieces on the bottom of the box.
Whyte was sitting in the back of his black Lincoln limo when his cell phone rang. The caller ID told him it was Blalock. He answered it, speaking into his Bluetooth. “Yes?”
“Shakespeare’s BlackBerry, huh?” Blalock said. “You do think I’m a fool. This writing table didn’t belong to Shakespeare.”
“Dr. Blalock,” said Whyte, “Does it really matter whose BlackBerry it is? Really? Three million dollars, Doctor. Give me the BlackBerry and it’s yours.”
“Does it matter if Shakespeare was Shakespeare?” Blalock countered.
“Of course,” Whyte yelled. “Of course it matters!”
Blalock said, “You don’t want to prove Shakespeare was Shakespeare, you want to prove that he wasn’t. I knew that a few days after you told me that bullshit story. Condell and Heminge had no reason to hide Shakespeare’s BlackBerry, no reason to keep it a secret. So I researched the family crests on the jewelry box, the three other than Shakespeare’s, to look for clues to what you were really after.”
Rupert Whyte swallowed hard.
“I was sure that two of the three must be Condell’s and Heminge’s,” Blalock continued, “but I was wrong. I discovered that the other family crests belonged to Ben Jonson, the Herbert Brothers, and Edward de Vere. I knew then that this had to be a conspiracy to conceal the author’s identity until a later date, sometime in the 17th Century perhaps. I suspect something went wrong and the secret got mislaid until you and your Oxfordian friends got wind of it.
“Even if I hadn’t suspected your deception and had not done some sleuthing, my knowing how to read Old English would have given you away.”
“Then you have the proof?” Whyte exclaimed. “The BlackBerry contains the signed confession of Heminge and Condell regarding the First Folio and the identity of the true author of the collected works, in their own hand?”
“The works speak for themselves,” Blalock argued. “Who cares who wrote them?”
“The world must know the truth,” Whyte screamed. “The Shakespeare hoax is a literary deception that has gone on for far too long and must be exposed. When this happens, speculations about the sources and meanings of the canon of work falsely attributed to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon will be a sick joke, and analyses of plays and poems will have to be rewritten, the history of Elizabethan drama and poetry will have to be drastically revised. The revelation will rock the very foundation of English Literature and your precious library’s mission to advance knowledge and the arts will halt until it is renamed the Folger de Vere Library…”
“Okay,” Blalock acquiesced. “Whatever. Listen, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t give a shit who the author was. But my price for the BlackBerry is now five million. Because you mistook me for a fool. You’ve got five minutes to deposit the money or I’ll wipe every page clean.”
“No!” Whyte yelled. “You wouldn’t.”
“Try me,” said Blalock.
“Five million, yes,” Whyte agreed.
“When I see the money has been deposited, the BlackBerry’s yours,” Blalock said.
“I’m transferring the funds now,” said Whyte.
Blalock disconnected the phone call.
Lt. Norman Blalock, perspiring and breathing heavily, was in the Old Reading Room, not far from the back wall with the columbarium niche containing the Folgers’ urns, when his left arm went numb and he felt excruciating pain in his chest, as though his heart were being gripped in a vise. He took his radio from his Sam Browne belt, keyed it, but could not speak. He dropped his radio and collapsed to the carpeted floor.
Not now, Norman thought.
Kavitha was sitting at the Gift Shop desk, checking her watch, when the message came over the radio: “Adam-69 to Central, have someone respond to the Old Reading Room with the AED and call an ambulance. Blalock is down and I’m starting CPR.”
Kavitha told Officer Cary, “I’m CPR trained, I’ll go. Call 9-1-1.”
She ran to the door of the Old Reading Room, opened it and rushed inside.
“Get the AED,” she told Adam-69. “I’m CPR trained.”
Adam-69, a big, beefy platinum blonde with a crew-cut wearing Armed Response Team navy blue BDUs, ran from the room, an MP5 submachine gun dangling from a strap slung over his right shoulder.
Before Kavitha started CPR, she quickly checked Blalock’s shirt and pants pockets, but did not find the BlackBerry, only the mourning rings and his personal keys in his pants pockets. She hid the rings in her bra and then went to work on Blalock.
When Adam-69 returned with the AED, SPO Donnell Curtis on his heels, she continued CPR until Adam-69 was ready to use the AED. Adam-69 removed the AED from its case and turned it on.
The AED spoke: “Begin by removing all clothing from the patient’s chest...”
SPO Curtis told Kavitha to back away and then quickly pulled Blalock’s sweater over his head and off his arms and tossed it. He then ripped open Blalock’s shirt, sending buttons flying in all directions, and used scissors to cut Blalock’s tee shirt up the middle. Adam-69 applied the electrodes to Blalock’s chest, making certain that the adhesive backed pads were securely affixed.
AED: “Stand clear. No one should touch the patient. Analyzing heart rhythm. Shock advised…”
“Clear!” Adam-69 yelled.
Kavitha was dismayed, yet her mind was reeling as she considered what she was going to tell Mr. Whyte about this fiasco.
The writing table was not on Blalock, but Whyte would believe there were only two possibilities: either Blalock had hidden the table somewhere in the building or she had stolen it from Blalock as he lay dying on the Old Reading Room floor in order to broker her own deal for its sale to one of his competitors behind his back. Therefore, she would forever be under his scrutiny.
Maybe in the end he had not trusted them…her, after all; maybe he’d decided not to give the artifact to them until he could be sure of his safety and had in fact hidden it somewhere. But she didn’t believe so. She was certain that she had had Norman wrapped around her little finger, that he had had no idea that part of her contract was to kill him once Shakespeare’s BlackBerry was in hand…at which time Whyte, with the help of the president of the Swiss bank he’d referred Norman to, would withdraw the funds from Norm’s account and redeposit the money in his own. SOP.
Regardless, she would never reveal to Whyte that she believed the Folgers somehow had orchestrated Blalock’s demise from beyond the grave and had taken the writing table. Furthermore, she would never divulge that she was certain the Folger Shakespeare Library had the best security anywhere and any attempt to defile this institution would prove futile.
Intuition informed her that security personnel there are not the only ones guarding Shakespeare.