Chapter 1 – The House
Bob Smith’s life had taken a turn for the good. Not that it was ever really bad. It’s just that with all of the adventures that had befallen him in the past few months, he was not always clear of the direction and it all seemed so complicated. Now he was beginning to see a path ahead of him, one that he could follow without too many other complications and hopefully, pitfalls. After all, what else could go wrong. He had been attacked by a bear, had seen a young kid die, his Mother had been murdered, and the woman he thought he was falling in love with was in jail awaiting trial for that murder and the manslaughter of her accomplice. All in all, a very interesting period of his life.
It was a month after the incident in my house and I was trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I was back at work and even though the commute took a lot of time out of my life, I was prepared to do that so that I could spend time with Evelyn. On the weekends, I had hired a couple of high school kids to come over and help move the furniture in the house out to the Stable/Garage stacking it up so that there would be enough room to get the house cleared. I didn’t want it to be in the way of the upcoming big projects. I had decided that I would finish the work before I moved in even though living “on the job” would be simpler in some ways. I didn’t want to feel guilty if I chose not to work at any given time and I knew that if I could see the work that still needed to be done, I would want to do it. Besides, it would be simpler for the contractors to not have anyone living in the house and in the way. In the meantime, I was still living in my apartment.
Thinking about the past events, I decided that I would visit both my brother and sister so that we could talk of all that had happened. As two of us lived at the same end of New York State, my brother offered to come over and spend a weekend with us. We arranged to meet at my Sisters house in Schnectady and she had enough room to put us up. I met my brother at the airport in Albany and it was good to see him again. It had been a while. We had never been a really close family and tended to do our own thing rather than a family thing. Even so, I was pleased to see him. We drove to my sister’s house which was a large one in the better area of town. She led a very opulent life being married to a wealthy lawyer. She had done alright for herself as compared to my brother and I. We were all different, she liked the lavish life style while my brother was very happy with his wife in Oneida where he was a Professor of something. I was never quite sure what it was that he specialized in but whatever it was, it made him very happy and he was good at it. Or maybe it was his wife and kids that made him happy. Then there was me, as different as both of those two living a carefree batchelors life working for a company that took me all over the country.
I had contacted them so that we could talk about the new developments in our Mothers death. That afternoon, the three of us went to a small quiet bar so that we could talk undisturbed. I filled them in on the discovery of the diamonds and how Mother had amassed her fortune and then the events leading up to the arrest of Angela. I didn’t bother with any of the personal details but I warned them that we may be compelled to give back some of the money we had been left. I suggested that we keep quiet about it all and not even tell those close to us so as not to complicate the situation. We discussed all of the aspects of it and decided that we would wait and see how things were working out and if we felt we had to have a different plan, would meet again and make a new one at that time. I also told them that I wanted to buy out their share of the house as I was planning on renovating it and then moving in and “could we settle on a price” so I could get the Lawyers working on the deed transfer. They both had no problems with my owning all of the house and we agreed on a fair sum that I would pay each of them.
Being so closely involved with the murders, seemed to bring us a little closer together and we agreed to try to get together three times a year in the future spending time at each of our houses. It was very pleasant visiting with them. That night the three of us and my sisters husband all went out to dinner at his Country Club. It was a very exclusive place and as our sister had given us warning, at least we were somewhat prepared and had dressed accordingly with decent suits. My brother and I even wore ties and I am not sure who felt the most uncomfortable, him or me. It was a very pleasant evening and even with my sisters husbands show of wealth, he was a very interesting man and good company.
The next day, I drove my brother to the airport after saying goodbye to our sister and her family. I waited until he boarded his plane and it was nice to sit and talk with him. It made me wish that we were closer and I think he felt the same way. I drove home with a head full of thoughts some of which included Evelyn.
The next day, I spent a lot of time at the house planning on all of the things that sooner or later, I wanted to get done.
The house was over one hundred years old and although it had been kept in pretty good condition by its previous owners including my Mother, it needed to be brought up to date in some areas. The heating unit was old and the house was not air-conditioned, relying on the tall ceilings and windows for cross ventilation and although Upper New York State was not noted for extremely hot summers, there were many days when the humidity would push the temperature to the uncomfortable mark.
There were a lot of things I wanted get done, many of which I would do myself. I was not planning on doing the re-wiring or the A/C and was contracting them out along with the kitchen remodelling as well as the two and a half baths as they all needed to be brought up to date. My plan was to modernize all that I could without changing any of the basic structure of the house leaving it as close as possible to its original design. It was not going to be easy re-wiring or installing the A/C especially as it required new ductwork. Working in old houses was always a challenge as there was sometimes not too much uniformity in stud placement and it was not at all unusual to find cross members blocking what normally would be a clear run from one area to another. This particular house had interior boards covered with either wall paper or in some cases, wooden laths and old horsehair plaster. I expected to pay a hefty price for the work just because of the difficulty involved.
It was Friday evening and I stopped at the Coffee Shop to meet Evelyn who was taking a quick break between customers. She had changed her hours at the Salon to stay open late to make it convenient for her customers at least a couple of nights a week along with setting up two more chairs and hiring two more stylists. Even though she had only had the business for a month, it was booming. She was working on a deal through Angela’s lawyers, for a settlement in which she would buy out Angela’s share of the Salon. To give Angela credit, she was willingly working with Evelyn to get the deal done. Whether it was because of a guilty conscience or remorse, we shall never know or because it was money which Angela needed for her defence.
Evelyn walked in looking very nice even though she had been working all day.”Hi” I said “How are things”?
She leaned over and kissed me. “Things are going well. People are being so nice and understanding and the two new stylists are working out just fine. I have a couple more clients this evening. What are your plans for tomorrow”?
“Well, I have to meet a couple of contractors to show them what I need done and then I will probably finish moving the furniture” I said. “What time are you off this evening. Would you like to grab something to eat”?
“I am through at 8:00 and by the time I clean up, it will be about 8:30. Is that too late”? she asked.
“No, that is perfect. I will meet you at your house” I replied
She left to return to her work and I finished my latte. It was about 6:30 so I decided to head to the house to do more work while I was waiting.
Chapter 2 – The Bookshelves
I had never really paid much attention to the house when my Mother was alive. I know and she mentioned several times, that I could have stayed there on my visits every six months or so but I preferred to have my own place, not just because of the difficulties of living with my aggressive Mother but also for somewhere to get away by myself. I liked the stability and privacy that having the apartment gave to me.
Apart from being very old, it was in good condition at least from the constructional point of view. It had no rotting wood and the brickwork was tight and in good condition. As I said, it was just a matter of the mechanical things which wear out anyway over time. And this was their time. When you walked in the front door, the foyer was bigger than a large-sized room and had doors leading into different parts of the ground floor. There was a wide staircase opposite the front door that split into two going in each direction half way up. One door led to the basement where the oil-fired heating unit sat. I was thinking that we would take that out completely and maybe finish the basement off as a storage and laundry area. The new A/C units would sit outside and would be electric and I would replace the oil fired heater with a natural gas unit. I was also thinking that I might invest in a solar unit but the New York climate, was not the best for green power. I knew that I was going to add solar for the hot water unit as I figured that with only me in the house, at least for now, I would not be using too much water. The big thing would be hiding the units or at least making not quite so visible.
I was thinking of all of these things when I let myself into the front door that evening. I wondered what I should start on as I only had a little over an hour and decided to go down to the basement and check on the boxes of “stuff” down there. I planned on calling in an Antique dealer to get a price on some of the, for want of a better word, junk that there seemed to be an excess of. What is the saying? “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. I sure had lots of “treasure”.
I went down the cellar steps and checked over the basement lights. All were working and the place was dry. There didn’t appear to be any water seepage of any kind anywhere which was very good news. There was already hook ups for a washer and dryer and the units sitting there were not in bad shape so I figured that if they were working, I might be able to leave them in place.
The basement interior walls were finished with modern sheetrock. The outside walls were of the original stone basement.. Being as dry and watertight as it was, it certainly made sense to clean it up and use the entire basement.
I was curious if the basement covered all of the house under which it sat and began to check on the layout comparing it to the floor above. It appeared that it was almost the same area as the house with the exception of one area off to one side that did not to match the floor above. I knew from the house’s history, that one wing had been added at a later date so maybe they did not include a basement with that section.
The question was, how to find out if in fact, the basement did extend under that area of the house. I could knock holes in the stonework and look that way but if it showed there still to be a wall behind it, then I would be no further ahead.
I went back upstairs and took a look at the three rooms in question. All had wood floors and all had large carpets in the room centers. I rolled up each carpet and checked the flooring beneath but all appeared tight. I then checked the dimensions of the rooms and discovered that one room was smaller inside than outside. I checked again and where the fireplace extended into the room, the wall on either side had been built across to square off the area so the fireplace no longer was into the room but rather sat flush to the wall with just the stone facing sticking out. Then it occured to me that instead of being on the outside wall as most fireplaces and chimneys are, this one was on the inside wall. Both walls had floor to ceiling bookshelves with many books that my Mother, an avid reader had collected over the years. I had no way of knowing how far into the room the original fireplace had extended but the shelves were twelve inches deep and the stonework stood out another twelve inches. This meant that the wall on either side containing the bookshelves might be hollow behind .
I thought about some of the old movies I had seen where either the hero or the villain pressed a book or something and the wall swiveled around leading into whatever space was behind. Feeling a bit like a bloodhound on the scent of who knows what, I began to carefully check to see it there were any outwardly visible signs. I should explain that my Mother had lived in the house for more than twenty years and I had grown up in it. Back then, I had no thoughts of hidden staircases and the bookshelves were a part of the house. I can remember that money was tight growing up so I could safely assume that my Mother did not yet discover the diamonds until after we had all left.
I was engrossed in my search and then I remembered that I was supposed to pick Evelyn up and take her to dinner. I weighed things up and decided that I would leave my discovery and get back to it early in the morning. I wanted to keep it to myself until I had taken a look. Maybe it was nothing and just old stuff stored there. But, just in case, I chose to stay quiet about it until I knew more
I drove to Evelyn’s house and took her to one of our favorite dinner places. The place had atmosphere and usually had a good crowd and besides, the food was good. We spent a very convivial evening together but a part of me was impatient to continue the search. I think that Evelyn suspected that my mind was not altogether focusing on her and did not invite me in when I took her home. I told her I would call her in the morning and we kissed goodnight, several times…
Saturday morning, I was up early and ate breakfast at the local Diner and perused the local newspaper looking for anything of interest. This got me thinking if they had records and how far back they might go so I added that to my list of things to do. I paid my bill and drove over to my house. I had set up an early appointment for one of the contractors to talk things over and right on cue, he arrived. This one was a guy by the name of Joe Banbury who I knew from previous work he had done for some of my friends . He had a good reputation for the quality of his work as well as an individual. He had been in business in this town even when I was growing up. I wanted him have the job as long as his price was not too high and I did have some idea of what it should cost.
Joe was a General Contractor and as such would bid on the job to perform all of the work. I could probably save money by contracting with the individual A/C, Electric and Plumbing Contractors but really didn’t have the time to manage them while still working in Albany. So for me, Joe’s company, Banbury Construction, would manage the project for me.
We went over the whole house with Joe taking copious notes. I showed him the extent of the work and we discussed how was he going to run the ductwork considering the age of the house. The wiring also would be problematic but I told Joe that he did not have to remove the old three-way wiring where it wasn’t visible or a hazard as long as he disconnected all of it. None of it showed so it wouldn’t be an eyesore. I left Joe to his work and went back to the bookshelves to continue my inspection. Joe popped in from time to time asking questions for which I had most of the answers.
I removed one book at a time and before replacing it, felt in the space behind and did this through both sets of shelves. On the end of one of the shelves, the book would not come out by normal methods until I lifted it up and then took it out. The book was old and when I opened it up, the pages were well-worn. The title of the book was “The History of the Time”. I glanced at it and saw many references to my little town. I put the book to one side so that I could read it later. I felt in the space where the book had sat, there was a very small knob. I gave it a turn in one direction and nothing happened. I turned it in the opposite direction and still nothing happened. I gave it a yank outwards and a section of the bookshelves swiveled inwards revealing the space behind. I pushed the knob back in again and the bookshelves slipped back into place. I operated it several times just to make sure that I had not broken it in my clumsiness.
Joe was still walking the house and I did not want anyone to know of my discovery so I replaced all of the books until Joe was gone. Then I could really check out what, if anything, lay behind the opening. Joe came back an hour or so later to say that he had enough information to work up a price and would get back to me mid-week. I thanked him for his time and said I would be looking forward to receiving the estimate. I saw him out the door, shook hands and he was on his way.
I could barely contain my excitement as I went back to the bookshelves
Chapter 3 – The Opening
I pulled the knob and the bookshelves slid open effortlessly as though the mechanism had just been greased. I knew that wasn’t possible and wondered at the ease of which it moved.
Remembering the films that I had seen, whoever rushed through the opening invariably ended up trapped inside as the door closed behind them. I wanted to be smarter than that and placed a chair between the door and wall so that in the case of the door closing, I would not be shut inside. I took a step through the door into the space behind. There was enough room for an opening with wooden steps leading down to the space below. Just to be on the safe side, I had an battery-powered lantern that threw off a lot of light and a couple of back up flashlights in case of emergency.
I took a deep breath and walked down the stairs which were not in the best of shape. I made sure to walk close to the sides and not put too much weight on the center of the treads for fear they would break. Halfway down, I crouched down and shone the lantern around the area. I don’t know what I expected to see but I was not prepared for the sight that greeted my eyes.
The basement had been set up as living quarters and contained four beds besides a kitchen area with a kerosene stove. There were oil lanterns hung around the room which also contained wooden boxes, stacked one on the other and a lot of other miscellaneous items of various descriptions. Stepping carefully into the room, there was overturned furniture and books and papers all over the place as though there must have been a disturbance or a fight. Picking my way very carefully into the room, I could make out three bodies in contorted positions on the floor. One was under an overturned table and the other two were up against the wall. One of them still held a pistol and there were other guns on the floor. The fourth body was sprawled on one of the beds which had stains on it presumably from his blood. By his side was a Thompson Machine Gun. The mens clothing was from the early 20th century. Surveying the scene, it was easy to imagine that these might have been the guys who robbed the jewels in the first place. It looks like they were holed up in this room and then had a falling out which ended up in a shoot out in which all four were killed. The question that needed to be answered was this a shoot out between themselves or was there another person involved?
Turning my attention to the boxes, I started to methodically go through them one by one. Most had old paper bills, some had books and still others had household goods and the proverbial junk. All of it was very old and none of this had been disturbed in years. I went through the paper invoices and other stuff very carefully as I was still was very curious how my Mother found the diamonds in the first place. One box contained a couple of old Colt handguns both loaded and some .45 shells. Neither had been fired in years but I took them out and laid them to one side. I took special note of the remaining contents but did not find anything that would help me in my search.
I turned my attention to the mess on the floor and amongst the newspapers was one dated around January, 1908. It carried the headlines, “Jewelry Store Robbed In New York City” and sub-titled “Thieves Get Away with Over $4,000,000 dollars Worth of Gems”. I thought that at least was a start but it didn’t bring me any closer to knowing how my Mother located the jewels. I read the article and searched all of the other papers and found a couple more with references to the robbery.
Two of the boxes contained Winchester rifles, six in all and another box was full of ammunition. If it had come to a fight that these men might have expected with law officers, these men would have given a good showing of themselves.
I was left with two mysteries. The first and most obvious was why were the bodies still here. Three of the skulls had holes probably caused by bullet and I could only surmise how the fourth had died. The way I figured it out was that these guys knew the owner of the house at that time and for a share of the loot, he let them hole up in this secret room. Then they either got into a fight amongst themselves or the owner killed them and sealed up the room and it had not been opened since. It certainly gave the appearance of a room that had been closed up for nearly one hundred years Of course, all of this was conjecture on my part but it made a lot of sense.
I turned my thinking to the diamonds. The original owner who might have been involved in the shootings that killed the criminals must have hidden the diamonds somewhere in the house. The question is where and then how did my Mother find them. So, now I was looking for a different hiding place and who knows where that might be.
What was I going to do about my discovery. Obviously, I had not committed any crimes with my detective work but there still was the problem that we might lose the money left us by our Mother although, as far as I could tell, there were no inquiries in that direction. On the other hand, if in fact we did have to give back our share of Mother’s ill-gotten gains, there would probably still be a pretty handsome reward, which considering the jewels worth back then to now, would probably be pretty substantive.
I decided that my next move would be to visit both the local paper and the Library to see what, if anything, I could glean from those sources. I was interested in the person that owned the house at the time of the robbery and who had let the gang members hole up in his basement. I closed the opening and made sure that everything looked the way I had found it and locked up the house and made my way to the local Library.
I was on first name terms with the older Librarian, Mary Maxwell, and she was more than happy to show me how to research the history that they had stored in a microfiche machine. I was surprised that this particular library had this sort of modern equipment but at the same time, very glad. I spent the next couple of hours researching everything I could find all the way back to the beginning of the 1900’s. Some of the data was about the older houses in my town including my own. It was very interesting reading and I asked the Librarian to print me off copies (for a fee). There was no mention of jewels or jewel thieves that I could find. It did give the names of the property owners at the time that I was interested so I switched the search to discover what happened to him.
As far as I could tell, as the details were a little sketchy, the owner was a guy by the name of Thomas Cook who did not appear to have a wife or family. He owned the property from 1904 through 1908 and was reported to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at which point, the house was sold to the new tenants, Jack Brown and his family who lived in the house for the next twenty or so years. There was no mention of any of them locating any diamonds or suddenly becoming wealthy. In fact, according to the records, both Cook and Brown were penniless when they died.
I took a quick glance at the history of the owners that followed and I could not see anything that led me to believe they had any knowledge of the hidden cellar or of any jewels. By then, I had used up most of the afternoon I was so engrossed in my discoveries until my friend Mary, the Librarian had to remind me they were “closing in ten minutes and that I could come back tomorrow”.
I reluctantly closed off the microfiche machine and went back to the house where starting from the top, I searched the rooms, one by one until I reached the basement for any clue of a secret hiding place. I knew there had to be one as my Mother had found it and had retrieved the diamonds from it. I figured that as smart as my Mother was, I had to be equally as smart and that what I was looking for had to be something comparatively simple. I turned to the book that contained the History of the Times and began to read it.
Chapter 4 – The Discovery
I became engrossed in the reading as it was very interesting and well written. It was very descriptive and I learnt a lot about that early time period both from a historical point of view and also from descriptions of the different people who were famous at the time in this little village and close by. The title actually referred to a period of time from 1900 through 1914 and ended with the start of the 1914-1918 Great War in Europe so it covered the period that I was interested in.
The book had obviously been well used by whoever owned it and there were lot’s of pencilled in notes and comments. Some referred to the history within the pages, others to particular items of interest and yet more that referred to places and some of the older homes by name. Apparently, my house was known as the Gunnerson House, named after the original owners of the property when it was built back in 1894. Over the years, the name had dropped off the records and was now known by its street address. There was a brief account of the time period when Thomas Cook owned it and of the mystery of his death. According to the book, he died of a gunshot wound that was said to have happened as he was cleaning a gun and it went off. The poor chap lingered for a month before passing on and died in his own bed. He was buried at the local cemetery and apparently, the words on his tombstone are, “Do not fail to push my rail”. I made a mental note to make a visit to his grave and see for myself the next day. That sure was an odd thing to have on your tombstone.
I continued to read the rest of the book and came across another pencilled in note that read,”Push my rail-staircase”? I read it again to make sure that I had read it correctly and then headed for the main staircase in the foyer. Starting at the bottom, I carefully checked and then tried to push every rail and knob on that staircase. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I moved over to the stars leading down to the cellar and went through the same routine but again came up empty-handed. I headed for the attic and started to work on those stair rails and again came up empty-handed. By then, my frustration was getting the better of me so just as I was about to call it quits, I remembered that the bookshelves had small pieces of decorative railings. I headed back to the room containing the bookshelves and started to work my way across all of the decorative stuff testing each piece as I went.
Then I hit pay dirt. The rail at the bottom closest to the fireplace of the opposite bookshelf that opened into the secret room, moved as I touched it. I carefully gave it a push and a portion of the fireplace slid open revealing a hidden opening behind. I shone my flashlight into the opening and saw several small packages inside along with a box. I carefully took out all of the items one by one and laid them on the floor in front of me. Four packages wrapped in newspaper and one wooden decorative box inlaid with Mother of Pearl.
Barely able to contain my excitement, I very carefully opened the first of the packages. Inside was a small bag of the sort that jewelers use to carry gem stones. Opening the bag, I poured out a handful of diamonds. I made a little pile on the floor and opened the rest of the packages one by one. Each contained 40-50 diamonds just like the first one. In all, I counted 283 diamonds of all shapes and size and obviously worth a lot of money on today’s market. I put them all back into their respective bags and back into the secret hiding place and turned my attention to the box.
The box wouldn’t open when I tried to lift the lid so I examined it very carefully until I found a small depression that when I pushed on it, opened the lid. The box was about twelve inches square and six or so inches deep and inside it were a stack of official looking papers. Taking out the first one, I noticed that it said US Treasury Bond and an amount, in this case $1,000. Altogether, I took out 1000 of these bonds and all for the same amount for a total of $1,000,000. I noticed that the date on these bonds was much more recent so I guessed that my Mother had procured these probably from the sale of more of the diamonds.
I sat back and looked at what was in front of me. I had never seen so much wealth in one place before and didn’t quite know how I was going to handle it. I thought about the first lot of jewels that I found taped under the carpet and surmised that probably, my Mother was fencing them off very gradually so as not to arouse suspicion and was buying the paper in order to cover her tracks and that is the reason they were not with the others in the secret compartment.
The detective on Angela’s murder case had indicated that there was a good possibility that either all of the jewels or at least a percentage of their worth would probably come back to me for finding them. I had no idea what jewels were worth but from the newspaper that I found, the original heist was estimated to be worth $5,000,000 which was probably exaggerated to make news but even so, at 1905 prices, the jewels must be worth a hell of a lot more in todays worth.
The next day being Sunday, the newspaper offices weren’t open so I figured that I could afford to take the Monday off and visit their offices then. I still wanted to find out as much as I could as for one thing, it was interesting reading, for another it was going to make me rich and lastly, I was really getting into this Sherlock Holmes thing especially when they were leading to these discoveries.
Evelyn had called me and asked if I wanted to go to the next town over to visit one of the garden nurseries to buy plants for her garden. I was pretty wound up with all that was going on so I figured that I needed to go just to get back to some semblance of normality. Anyway, I enjoyed Evelyn’s company and wanted like hell to tell her of all of my discoveries but something in the back of my head kept saying “Keep it to yourself. Don’t tell anyone until you are ready to disclose the whole story”.
I picked her up and she seemed real happy to see me. She was full of chatter and suggested that we could stop for dinner after we had visited the nursery. I too enjoyed gardening but living in an apartment as I had for the last few years, had not had a lot of opportunity to do so. We spent a very happy couple of hours enjoying the wonders of nature at her prettiest and made several purchases which we loaded into the back of my SUV. On the way back, we stopped at this really nice restaurant and sat out on the deck enjoying the Spring sun. The company was sublime, the food was very good along with the bottle of wine and was finished off with a cappuccino. What more could a man ask for? We took a slow and leisurely drive back to her home where we unloaded the plants and placed them on her patio.
“You want to stay for a bit”? Evelyn asked. “We could sit on the patio and finish off the wine”.
“Yes, I would like that very much” I replied.
She sat next to me on the patio couch and made no attempt to hide her need to be close to me. It felt good for me and I made every effort not to spoil it. I put my arm around her and she cuddled into my shoulder. We sat there quiet, not talking and enjoying the moment. She lifted her face to mine and kissed me long and very, very gently and we were absorbed into the moment.
Chapter 5 – The Disclosure
The next day, I called my Office in Albany and made some lame excuse about having to take today off. With that out-of-the-way, I was able to concentrate on visiting the local paper and see what I could find out, if anything. The newspaper in my small town had a bit of a history as it had been around for over a hundred years and had be in the same family all of that time. This, by itself made it unique. The current owner had inherited it from his Father who was a well-known man about town and also sat on the City Council. I knew the Father and had spoken to him many times in the past. His name was Victor Haagerson and his family had been some of the first settlers around these parts. The son’s name was Henry Haagerson who greeted me warmly when I opened the door to his office. We chatted for a bit and he took me into the back room where all of the microfiche files were stored, pointed me in the right direction and left me to my research.
I had told him that I was researching what I could find out about my house and its previous tenants and owners as I was going to renovate it and was trying to keep it as original as possible all of which was true. I didn’t tell him the real purpose of my visit which of course, was to find out anything about the gang and possibly, the diamonds.
I found reference to the diamond robbery but it was only reporting what was in the daily papers. I was not able to find anything about the gang of thieves and I really didn’t expect to. I found an article about Thomas Cook being found in the foyer of his home wounded and with a rifle in still in his hands. The local police had described the extent of his wounds as having been compared to someone who had accidentally discharged his gun and shot himself. As he never regained consciousness, nobody ever got the real story. I found a follow-up piece briefly stating that he had died about a month later. Apparently, according to the article, he had no relatives and the house was auctioned off to Thomas Brown.
I decided to take my research to when my Mother had purchased the property around 1980. The details were a bit sketchy and the only thing I could find was a small paragraph stating that the house had been sold to my Mother “who had moved in with her 5-year-old son and his brother and sister”. I couldn’t find very much about my Mother especially in the early years but did find an interesting piece on the local Women’s Guild who had raised and donated something like $25,000 for some local notable cause. Among the list of donors was my Mother, who had contributed $5,000. It gave the date as eight years ago which would have put me at just starting work with my company. That from a woman who could barely pay the mortgage when I was growing up and certainly did not have $5,000 to give to someone else. So, her change of fortune was probably about 10-12 years ago which also made sense with the dates on the Bonds.
I closed off the microfiche machine after putting all of the slides away and thanked Henry for letting me use his material for my research and made my way to the Coffee Shop. I made a quick call and managed to catch Evelyn between customers so she came over and we spent fifteen minutes together. Nowadays, she always seems so pleased and happy to see me so our time together is really good. I had told her the night before that I was taking today off as I had some business to attend to.
I made the way back to my house and unlocked the door.Everything was how I had left it, as it should be because as far as I knew, I was the only person who knew my secret. I sat down in one of the chairs in the room that contained the bookshelves and their secrets and looked around. You could never tell that beneath my feet had been a gunfight resulting in the deaths of four people, five if you count the number one suspect, Thomas Cook and that not six feet away from where I was sitting was a fortune in Bonds and jewels. I decided that I would take pictures of the stones and the bonds to try to get an accounting of the find. I didn’t want any of it disappearing especially if it might come back to me. I had my video camera with me and shot pictures of me counting all four bags and the paper Bonds until I was safisfied that no one could steal any of it withou it being accounted for.
It would seem to me that I had a couple of choices. The first and most obvious was to call my detective friend and fill him in with the whole story. This would involve him knowing about the hidden room and also the secret storage area. The outcome of that was to give up the jewels and Bonds and throw it to the Powers that Be to decide just how much I would be rewarded for the discovery. The Bonds I felt fairly secure in knowing that they would be returned to me as they were the property of the person that had them.
I had no way of knowing just how many jewels were actually stolen. If the four bags plus the ones already in police custody were the sum extent, were there any records of the actual number stolen at the time of the robbery? Even if I just declared the Bonds and kept the jewels, there is still the problem of turning them into real money. Who did I know on the dark side who could fence the jewels for me.? My Mother managed to find somebody so I suppose it’s possible. But then, I would not be able to show any of my wealth as my Mother had been unable to do and it would have to reside as Bonds or something similiar.
My other problem is that basically, I am an honest guy and had never knowingly done anything wrong as long as you don’t count speeding tickest and crashing cars as a youth. Hell, I had never even smoked pot for fear of ruining my health. The other problem with making the disclosure was how to keep the news hounds away. I did not want a horde of reporters tromping all over my house and yard. In my heart, I knew what course I had to take.
Reluctantly, I picked up my phone and dialed my detective friend whose name was Tom Jackson and asked him to come over as I had some very interesting stuff to show him. He promsed he would be there within the hour. He drove in the driveway and pulled up outside the front door where I met him and we walked inside.
“Sit down, why don’t you” I suggested “This may take while”.
He sat in one of the easy chars and looked at me. “Go on” he said
“Finding the jewels got me thinking as to why they were even here in the first place so I started to do some detective work of my own” I said “It was sheer luck coming across them as I did but it just didn’t add up. I got to thinking that there had to be another hiding place of some sort and the first thing I did was to compare the cellar size to the floor size above which lead me to discovery number one. The area over there” I said, pointing to the fireplace “that has a space behind the bookshelves on both sides”.
I stood up and walked over to the small knob after taking out the book in front of it. I pulled the knob and the bookshelves slid silently open showing the space behind.
“Damn, would you look at that” Tom said “Just like in the movies”. He stood up as though to enter the opening.
“Wait” I said “We need some light before we go down there and I warn you, it’s not a pleasnat sight”.
I fetched the big portable light and a couple of flashlights and put the chair in the hole just in case and said “Ready”?
Tom nodded and followed me down the stairs. I stood back to let him take in the full effect of what was in the cellar. He moved from body to body and wanted to know if I had moved anything. Telling him that I had sorted through the boxes in the hope of getting some clues but had not touched the bodies, he continued to take in the scene. He picked up the Thompson Machine gun and looked at it. “Quite the weapon,” he remarked
“Yeah, but it didn’t help these poor guys” I said
“I found this” and showed him the 1908 newspaper with the jewel heist on the front page.
“The best is yet to come” I said “Come on, we need to go back upstairs”
He followed me out and with one last glance around the room closed it behind him.
I told Tom about my research at both the Library and the Newspaper and what I had come up with. I had even visited the grave marker and seen the words inscribed for myself and I explained to him what was on that stone.
“I tried every rail I could find in the entire house both inside and out before I came across the right one” I said and led him over to the fireplace. I bent down and adjusted the small rail and the secret compartment slid open.
“Damn” he said “Your full of surprises”.
“Wait until you see whats in there” I said
He reached in and took out the four packages and opened one of them. The light flashed on the jewels in his hand and he whistled under his breath. He opened the other three packaages and saw the same thing.
“There are 283 diamonds” I said “I know, I counted them”.
He replaced everything back in the bags and wrapped them in paper and tyrned his attention to the box. Lifting it out, he tried to open the lid and struggled until I showed him the right button to push. When he saw the Bonds inside he remarked “This is like having dollar bills. This is real money. How much is here, did you count”.
“Yes” I said “There are exactly 1000 of them making that pile worth more than a million dollars with the interest”.
He sat down and looked at the money and the diamonds. “Thats a hell of a lot of money” he said.
“I took the liberty of filming all of this stuff with me counting both the diamonds and the Bonds” I said. “That way, we will always know how much is here so it doesn’t fall into wrong hands”.
“Are you suggesting that someone on the Police force would steal this” He said
“Not really” I said “But the temptation is there and it’s a lot of money”.
“Yeah, your right” he said “Good idea on your part”.
Chapter 6 – The Reckoning
“I need to make the call” Tom said “We need to get the right people here to take care of this”.
I heard him talking into his phone trying to get the person the other end to understand just how serious a situation he had here and he wanted the highest ranking police officer to be there. He must have said the right things and twenty minutes later, the place was swarming with other detectives and the guys ready to pick up the bodies. While most of them spent their time in the secret room. the Police Captain who had come out was handling the transportation of the jewels and bonds. They too filmed and counted every stone and bond in front of me and then gave me a receipt for the property before it was whisked away as evidence. They too had no idea of the true value but it was in excess of ten million dollars by their best guess.
I had already outlined my theory to Tom and he passed it on his Superiors. They never said one way or the other but “would get back to him”. Four hours later, the place was quiet and tidy again as they had completed their work. With it being a 100 year old case, it was long closed and would only be opened back up to declare a verdict on the unfortunate gang members who would then be buried for good this time.
For me, I was beat. This was as much excitement that I wanted in one day and as it was already late, I decided to head straight home and go to bed. I had given Tom a set of keys in case they needed to get back into my house so bright and early,the next morning I headed into Albany to work on my day job which was almost therapeutic in its simplicity. At least that is how it seemed things had been so hectic.
The week passed and the next and it was nice to get back into a routine. I got a call back from Detective Tom on Friday who wanted me to stop by on my way home to answer some more questions. Promptly at five o’clock, I left Albany and an hour and a half later was waiting in Tom’s office.
“Hello,” he said “How was your day. Mine was full of surprises”
“Mine was good” I said “I was dealing with something I know a lot about. The normality of it all is quite refreshing”.
“I understand” he said “It has been quite a couple of weeks. I asked you to stop by to help us out with a couple of things and to let you know that the Bonds are legally yours. You found them on your property and they are just like money in the bank. We will be returning them to you after the judge signs the papers probably next week”.
My heart jumped as I understood what he was saying. Even with paying off my brother and sister for their share of the house, there would be plenty to pay for the renovations that I was planning with a lot left over.
He had a few questions that I was able to answer as we shook hands and I went on my way. I wanted to know how quickly I could start the renovations and he didn’t see any reason they couldn’t begin immediately as long as there was none planned for the secret room. As we had made our plans not knowing that room existed, it was not a part of any of the work.
I had some serious thinking to do about my future. I only had a couple of months to go before I was supposed to start the project in Los Angeles. With this decided turn for the best, did I really want to live the life on the road again. If things panned out, I would not need to work for money to earn a living and surely I could find something that would let me live in my house and be close to Evelyn and give me someting to do to occupy my time.
I contacted Joe Banbury and we made arrangements for him to get started. We both figured that he had at least a months worth of work and I was already thinking of a couple of other things that I would have him do. The cops had done a marvelous job of keeping the information about the jewels and the dead bodies out of the news and I had only been bothered by a couple of reporters who could not find a story of interest and let it drop. Little did they know the story it could have been.
Then it dawned on me just what I could do in my free time if I gave up working for a living. I could write. I had always been good at it and I had the perfect story just waiting to be written.
I spent a couple more weeks on my regular job but the trip was becoming longer and longer with the knowledge that I was probably going to quit anyway always in the back of my mind. I got a summons from some Judge to appear in his Chambers the Tuesday of next week for the formal sign off of the Bonds. From there, I was going directly to my bank and deposit them as I did not want that sort of loose change laying around.
I still had not told Evelyn anything of the events and even though she knew that something was bothering me, she was very patient about the whole affair. For some reason and I was not sure why, I had a niggly feeling about the whole episode. Maybe it was because of the way Angela had turned out that was holding me back.
Promptly at 10:00 am on Tuesday, the time set by the Judge, I was at the door to his Chambers. His Legal Secretary showed me in and already seated was Detective Tom and the Police Chief who had overseen the pick up of the Bonds from my house. The Judge talked to us all and then we all signed an aggreement transfering the Bonds to me as the legal owner. The Judge pushed the package towards me and asked me to check it over. I opened the package to reveal the box with the inlaid Mother of Pearl. I found and pressed the catch and the lid popped open. Inside were the bonds that I was asked to count. I counted them out in batches of a hundred with a hundred batches in all. Who would have thought that those piles of paper were worth more than a milllion dollars. I collected them all up and very carefully placed them back n the box and closed the lid that shut with a very satisfying click.
We shook hands all around and just as I was leaving the Judge called me back. “I want to commend you Mr Smith on how you have handled this entire business. Not many men in your position would have taken the honest steps that you have. It would have been easy to hide the entire affair. Thank you”.
I tuned back to the Judge and said, “The thought did cross my mind but the bottom line was I had to live with myself and I didn’t want that sort of shadow hanging over me. Thank you Judge”.
With that, I turned on my heel and walked out clutching my parcel of money and headed straight for my bank. I wanted it deposited as quickly as possible in a safe place as money on a bank card or a check rather than money as a Bond. I could see why the Judge had me sign a release form as the Bank teller ushered me into her Supervisors office when I tried to deposit the money. Her name tag had her as Mrs Violet Fitzsimmons and she introduced herself as such. I showed her the release which she photo copied and had me fill out a couple of forms. As the bonds were from all different years, she could not tell me the exact amount that would get deposited due to having to work out the interest accrued on each one. We agreed to deposit the face value of a million dollars and that I would trust her and the Bank to figure out the interest and she would personally call me to tell how much that would add up to. I thanked her and walked back to my car, a much much richer man.
Chapter 7 – The Future
Needless to say, the following day, I gave in my notice. I was honest with my Boss and told him that I had inhereted a large house and an even larger sum of money. I offered to work out the entire month but he said that it wasn’t really necessary as I was marking time before the next job. He thanked me and me him and we parted with a cordial handshake. I said goodbye to all of my work mates and the Office staff and drove home hopefully never having to make that trip to work, ever again. On the way home, I was mulling over just what I was going to tell Evelyn who now had to know that I had given up my job. I could no longer make a pretense of this entire episode. I resolved that I would tell her about the Bonds but not the diamonds at least until the ownership was cleared up.
The contractor, Joe Banbury was making very good progress with the renovation. Things were moving right along and all of the wiring and A/C ducts were installed with the minimum of challenges. Joe and his men did not know of the secret room which had been sealed pending the outcome of the upcoming hearing. I met Joe at the house and walked through this long list of other items that I wanted him to do. He said he would do his best to work up a price but had to make allowances for the difficulty of some of the work. I told him that I understood perfectly and for him to get back to me. I figured that by the time I was finished, I would have renovated the entire house from top to bottom including repainting and repairing the exterior.
I called Evelyn and asked if she would go to dinner with me this evening. I would pick her up around 7:00 pm if that was OK with her. Promptly at 7:00 pm, I drove up in front of her house and knocked on the door. She opened it and looked especially beautiful dressed in a low cut dress that showed off her figure and legs to perfection. She kissed me and said “Hello”
“You look absolutely stunning: I said “You grow more beautiful every day and I am the luckiest guy”.
She laughed and kissed me again, this time with a lot more passion than the previous welcome kiss. Blondie came bounding to the door all tail wags and sloppy dog kisses acting as though she was pleased to see me. I made a big fuss of her and she looked really down in the mouth when Evelyn told her to get in her basket as she was not included.
We headed for our favorite restaurant where we were greeted as old friends and ushered to a table. I ordered a bottle of wine and we made our selection from the menu and then sat back to talk enjoying both the moment and the company.
“Evelyn” I said “I have something to tell you that you may find a little hard to believe. Just hear me out and then I will do my best to answer your questions. Let me start at the beginning. You know that Angela had been involved in trying to get her hands on those diamonds but didn’t succeed. What nobody knows except the police and a Judge is that I also found a whole bunch of Treasury Bonds worth over a million dollars. Yesterday, those bonds were transferred back to me as the rightful owner and have since been deposited in my Bank. Today, I quit my job and I plan on living here in this town and moving back into my house as soon as the renovations are complete. I want to take up writing and this is an ideal time for me to start”.
Evelyn looked at me with her mouth wide open. She started and then recovered her composure and said “That’s wonderful. I am so pleased for you. Does that mean you will no longer be travelling to Albany”?
She must have not heard me when I said that I quit my job or maybe the information was a lot to absorb but I said “No, I am all through working for other people. From here on out, I do things for me and those that I care about”.
“What about the diamonds that you found. Has anything happened on that”? she said
“Not yet” I said “but there’s no rush now that I have this other money. When they figure it out, they will tell me”. I was a bit surprised that she asked the question but put it down to her familiarity with me and the fact that we were discussing this subject. Even so, I thought it an odd question for her to ask.
“Does that mean that I am now going out with a wealthy millionaire boyfriend” she said laughingly.
“I guess so. Sounds strange doesn’t it” I said.
“Here’s to you and congratulations” she said raising her glass.
I took a sip of wine and acknowledged her toast. “This is not general news and I want you to treat it with confidenec”. I said
She looked at me with a hurt look on her face. “Who do you think I am that I should go blabbing this around town” she exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, I should have not said that, I do trust you implicitly” I said. But the doubt still lingered in my mind.
We spent the rest of the evening discussing the work that I was having done at the house and I enthusiasticly told her of the additional work I was having Joe do “so that I would not have to worry about after I move in”. The evening was a bit subdued after my slip up and I could tell that Evelyn was hurt by it.
I drove her back to her house and she kissed me goodnight. She didn’t offer to have me come in and I didn’t ask. I figured that I needed to let things die down a bit after my slip of not trusting her. Stupid of me, I thought. I should have known better. But, did I trust her is what was bothering me. I knew that sooner, rather than later, I would need to get that question answered if our relationship was going to develop.
The next day, being a creature of habit, I woke up early and went for a 2 mile jog before coming back to my apartment. I made a leisurerly breakfast and read the paper as I ate it. On the front page, there was an article about Angela’s upcoming trial. There was a big write up about the jewels and the mystery surrounding them. There was even a picture of my house.
The phone rang and I picked it up. “Hello, this is Bob, how can I help you”?
“Hi Bob, this is your sister just calling to see how you are holding up after all of this action you seem to be in”. We chatted and I filled her in on some of the details. She was very comfortably off having married a wealthy Lawyer and money was the furthermost thing from her thoughts but even so, I thought it prudent not to mention the Bonds. I did tell her that I had decided to completly renovate the house and had quit my job with the intentions of turning to my writing to make a living. My sister laughed and wished me luck and hung up.
I no sooner put the phone down when it rang again. This time it was Joe Banbury asking if I could come to the house to discuss some problems that needed to be resolved. I told him that I would be fifteen minutes and jumped in my car and headed for my house. Joe met me at the door and led me inside. There were obvious signs that someone had broke in through one of the kitchen windows and had made a thorough search of the place. What little furniture left in the house had been moved and the boxes of “junk” were strewn around all over the floor. I went up to the attic and the same thing was true with the boxes emptied and littered everywhere. The basement boxes were in the same condition. All of the drawers in the furniture had been pulled out and the contents strewn all over the floor. I called the police and my detective friend Tom came over with a crew of forensic people to check out the place. Joe, in the meantime, had moved his painting crew outside so as not to be in the way of the Police as they looked over the house. It didn’t look like anything was stolen but who could tell. I had already checked the secret opening in the fireplace and no one had discovered that. I knew where the seals were on the hidden basement opening and they were still intact. Joe already had his men repairing the broken window and I resolved to contact an Alarm Company and have them come and talk to me about alarming the entire house. The police were very thorough and a couple of hours later, Joe’s crew were all back to work inside the house.
My job, one that I had been putting off, was now hurried up by the need to pay attention to the many boxes of stored items and sort them out for the Antique buyer to come and look them over. I started in the basement and sorted the stuff into three or four different piles. Out and out junk and trash was put into a couple of dustbins and then emptied into the dumpster in the yard, newspapers were sorted separately and any of old age put into one pile. The rest were put in a stack to be recycled. Items of interest at least to the Antique collectors were placed in another pile and finally, any books were put off to one side for me to read at a later date. I thumbed through a couple of them in the hope of reading something interesting but it didn’t happen. In theory, anything left was probably worthless trash and would end up in the dumpster but I wanted to save it in case the Antique people found it interesting.
I was happily involved in my task before I realized that I was the only person left in the house. The Contractors had all left for the day. I didn’t think that the people that broke in would be back as it looked like they had been very thorough in their search the first time around but to be on the safe side, I drove back to my apartment and collected a few things so that I could spend the night. I packed my sleeping bag and my Glock 17 pistol along with a thermos of coffee and a couple of sandwiches and headed back to the house. I put my car in the garage that had been converted from a stable of bygone years and locked the door and went inside the house. I thought about calling Evelyn to let her know where I was but decided against it as my suspicious mind thill thought of her as a suspect.
I spent a very uneventful night and apart from the scurrying of a few rodents slept very soundly. Just like camping in the woods, I thought. I got up early and wandered down to the Coffee Shop to grab breakfast and the lifesaving latte.
When I got back, the house was a hive of activity with Joe’s men working on every aspect of what needed to be done. The electrical and A/C work was finished and most of the major remodelling to the bathrooms and kitchen was in the completion stages. Work was progressing on patching the holes left by the A/C installation and many of the rooms were almost finished with the painting and decorating.
I met the Alarm Company Rep and we discussed what we could do to safeguard the property. I opted for a high end system where all of the upper and lower floor windows and doors would be alarmed plus there was a set of cameras that operated through a central room with in house screens to survey all of the exterior and all of the interior at any given time. I also had Joe have his electricians instal a floodlight system all operated from one room especially designated as the Control Room. It actually was much bigger than a closet being a 12 ft by 12 ft room.
We agreed on a price and the Rep said that he could get started within the next couple of days. Joe said that he could get the power to the Control Room in about that time along with wiring the floodlights to the yard.
Detective Tom called me to discuss the latest break in. They had managed to tie some prints back to a “person of interest” and were actively looking for him. Tom thought that all of these things, my Mothers murder, the diamonds, Angela and her accomplice and the latest break in were all connected and was trying to find the link. I wondered if I should tell him about my suspicions with Evelyn but decided not to at this time. Tom hung up and I turned my thoughts back to Evelyn. I wondered how I could find out about her background without arousing her suspicion. The only thing I knew of her is what I had learned from Angela. I did know she had been married before to Tom Jackson and still carried his last name. This was the guy who showed up as Angela’s accomplice and who she is up on a charge of manslaughter but other than that, nothing. Evelyn had lived here in this small town for about 8 years and had been friends with Angela pretty much all of this time.
I called Detective Tom back and asked him what had a background check on Angela produced. He said that she had lived in this small village for about 10 years and before that, had lived in New York City. She had no previous criminal history. I asked him to run a similiar check on Evelyn and specifically to see of any prior association she may have had with Angela or Tom Jackson. He said he would get back to me if he found anything.
I spent the rest of the day with my chore of sorting the boxes. I figured I would have at least three days or maybe more of doing this, there was so much of it. Some of the stuff was new from my mothers time in the house and may help shed more light on the mystery. I had to pay special attention to the details so that nothing slipped by.
The workers all left for the day and the house became quiet again. It was a very peaceful place if you don’t count all the murders and killings, that is. I drove back to my apartment and took a long shower before equiping myself for the night ahead which I again was going to spend in my house.
Chapter 8 – The Work is Complete
The night proved to be quiet and devoid of any disturbaces except for the rodents. I made a mental note to buy some traps or get a cat or something but decided that for now, the traps were a quick and easy way to catch the rodents. If only it were that easy to catch the burglars and other crooks that were interested in my house. I drove down to the Diner and grabbed breakfast and chatted to a few of the locals who all wanted to know how the work was progressing. I was glad of their conversation and spent longer than I intended. Then I thought, what the hell, its my time to do as a want to do with. Its hard to adjust to not being as governed by a clock as before.
By the time I got back to the house with rat traps in hand, the place was a hive of activity. The Alarm Company had two trucks and four technicians working and Joe’s electricians were wiring up the floodlights. I was also having them install a back up power system that would give battery control the alarms for about 12 hours in the event of the main power going out. I thought to myself how easy it was to make decisions on what and what not to include now that paying for it was no longer a problem.
I met Joe in the hallway and he and I discussed the progress to date. The remodelling of the kitchen and the two and a half baths was complete except for the finishing the walls and floors. The floors were all hardwood flooring and I was having them resanded and then refinished and would be the very last project of all on both floors. I had decided to finish out the attic and to get more insulation in the free roof area behind the walls which meant that I needed to finish up clearing the boxes in those areas. I had finished the boxes in the cellar and the remodelling was complete already. All of the stuff that I had sorted was now in the garage or old stable whichever I decided to call it and I hadn’t yet made up my mind.
I wandered into the hidden cellar room and checked the seals. All were still intact as they should be so I went back to the attic to continue my work with the boxes and the junk. I was happily engrossed and was learning a lot about the times gone by from the many newpapers I was reading. Not too much sorting but a lot of reading, I have to say. I opened yet another box, this one made of wood. In it were books and papers just like the rest. The lid seemed extra thick and sounded noisy when I tapped on it. I gave it a thorough inspection and deemed it to be hollow or at least a part of it was.. I inspected the outside but could not concieve how to get it open. I turned my attention to the inside of the lid and found a small hole just large enough for a hairpin or the modern equivalent, a paper clip. I found one and straightened it out and then pushed it into the small hole. I heard a click and the inside of the lid dropped open. Inside this space were a bunch of hand written letters tied together. I glanced at a couple of them feeling a bit like an intruder poking my nose into someones private lives but the subject matter caught my attention. There were several letters and they were very old with a date of 1908.They were written in bold handwriting and addressed to Thomas Cook Esquire. I remembered that Thomas Cook was the owner of the house at the time of the jewel heist. I opened the first and turned it to the last page to see who had signed it. It was someone by the name of Josef Jackson which didn’t ring any bells with me. I turned back to the begining and read that Josef and his gang were planning on robbing the New York Jewel Company and wanted to know if Thomas Cook would hide them until the dust had settled for a share of the loot. There followed some details of the robbery and how they were planning on making it happen. The second and third letters just contained more details and a date when Thomas could expect them to show and and to have everything ready. One of the letters listed off the other members of the gang by name but they didn’t mean anything to me and it also made reference to the fact that they had all served time together including Tom Cook.
I sat there thinking about what I had found. It was no chance that the gang members ended up in this house following the robbery. According to this, it was all pre-planned. It would also explain why the diamonds had been bagged up separately and the ones that I found in this attic were Thomas’s share of the loot and the other four bags in the hidden safe area each belonged to one of the robbers. I thought about the current events and noted that the Jackson in the letter had the same last name as Evelyn’s ex husband. If they were related in some way, maybe Josef had left something in writing to his family about the heist and the plans after which it had been handed down through generations until today when the current day Tom Jackson has set the wheels in motion 90 years later.
But, Tom was dead and Angela had become his accomplice after Tom and Evelyn moved to this small town which now seemed no longer a coincidence. Where was Evelyn in all of this? Was she just an innocent bystander and not caught up in this in any way, shape or form? She had divorced Tom for assaulting her which would hardly be the action of someone looking to have a share of a fortune of jewels. Tom and Angela were having an affair a couple of years before the divorce which is probably when Angela would have found out about the diamonds. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that Evelyn was not in on the plot. I concluded that she didn’t know that her husband and best friend were having an affair.
I looked at the remaining letters. A couple were of the legal variety from a lawyer noting the sale of the house with an address in New York City. The one that I found very interesting was from a Jewelry Store in Albany noting that “they were looking forward to doing business with Thomas Cook and when did he think he would have the goods ready for inspection”. The second letter was short and to the point and simply stated that “we are looking forward to doing business with you” and it gave a date in 1908.
I sat back to think about this and had to conclude that Thomas Cook was making arrangements to fence off the jewels but the question still remained if it was just his share or all of the haul. From my earlier research it was clear that by the date on the letter when he was supposed to make the deal, he was dead as were the other members of the gang.
I turned back to the sorting and discarding in an effort to get the work done. I had put the letters back in the box for safe keeping and put that box off to one side. I slowly made my way through the remaining boxes but didn’t find anything with a glimmer of interest. There were some nice trinkets and china which I put in the Antique pile. There were also many newspapers and I took a long time to go through each one to see if there was anything in any of them. The older ones I put to one side and the rest were going into the recycling pile. There were also several more books a couple of which contained more on the history of this village. I found it odd that I kept finding reference and historical books about this village. Why, I wondered out loud. Maybe that was how my Mother had located the diamonds, by tracing the history. But, what put her up to it in the first place. Questions, nothing but questions.
It was getting late and I was feeling hungry. I called Evelyn and asked her if she wanted to meet me for a late supper. She gladly accepted and seemed very pleased to see me when we met at the Diner. We chatted about our respective days and she filled me in on the local gossip. It turns out that a small town hairdressers shop is a virtual hive of gossip. Most of it was women’s stuff but she did mention that there was a lot of interest in the work going on in my house and that some of her clients were already getting Evelyn married off to me. We both shared a laugh over this and I’m not sure, whose was the more nervous, hers or mine.
I told her about some of the stuff I had found and offered her a pick of any of it if she was into Antiques, which I knew she was. She said she would stop by the next evening as she closed early (for her). She knew that I was sleeping in the house as a safeguard until the alarm systems were complete. We chatted for a while and I walked her to her car. She turned and kissed me goodnight and maybe it was just my imagination but she put a lot of herself into that kiss. I stepped back and said “Wow”. She smiled and got into her car and with a wave of her hand, drove off. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity but in fact was probably only seconds before getting into my car and driving home to my apartment. I needed to take a shower and get rid of the days efforts before collecting more things and making my way back to the house.
The night passed without incident and I heard a couple of the traps go off and thought sleepily that I would check them in the morning. Sure enough, a couple of rats had committed suicide in their greed to eat the cheese that I had baited them with. I collected up the traps so as not to endanger the workers and put them away until the evening when I would bait them up all over again. By the end of the week, the alarm system would be complete as would all of the rest of the work except the sanding and re-finishing the floors which would take all of the following week. The exterior painting was moving right along and it too should be finished by the end of next week.
I could actually think in terms of moving in and giving up my apartment. As it was now mid month, it was going to work out perfectly and even if things were not quite finished by the end of the month, I could rough it for a few days if I had to. I made a note to contact my landlord and give in my notice. Even though I had lived there for more than four years, I did not have much in the way of wordly posessions except for the furniture most of which had seen better days when I got it. Some of it was nice stuff but as for the rest, it would probably work very well in someones huntng camp.
My Mother had invested wisely as soon as she had come into some money. Long gone was the furniture that I and my siblings grew up with. In it’s place, she had furnished the house with very good quality antiques all fitting in very tastefully with the decor of the old house. Although, I had brightened the place up with a new coat of paint, I had not changed any of the structure and finish of the house so it still gave the appearance of a 100 year old house. I was going to invest in new kichen implements and kitchenware. My Mother had already found a good quality silverware cutlery set and antique china serving set. I would take my stuff from the apartment for the every day use as I didn’t trust myself using the “Good Stuff”. I had already had them install a new dishwasher, stove and refrigerator along with a built in microwave for my frozen dinners which makes up a big part of my home diet. Not because I am lazy or don’t like to cook but to ensure that I could control my weight and still eat the right stuff. The problem that I found when I cooked that there was always more than I could eat and consequently, would eat more of it so as not to waste it. Even if I ate it over several day’s or froze it and ate it later, I was still eating too much at one time. You can’t win.
I had finished sorting out the boxes of stuff and had separated it out into different piles. The books I kept to one side as I would be keeping them. I had lots of shelf space throughout the house and after dusting them off would disperse them around. After Evelyn stopped by this evening, I would call an Antique friend of mine and he could give me what he thought it was worth to take what was left. Everything that I had deemed to be junk was already in the dumpster. The old newspapers, I has read from front to back and had not found anything additional of interest.
Starting in the newly remodelled attic, I slowly checked everything over as I worked my way down the house going from room to room. I made notes of all of the areas that I thought still needed a little work but they were few and far between. I reached the basement and carefully checked it over and then went outside and did the same with the work that had been going on out there. My list was very small and consisted mostly of a little touch up work.
The Alarm engineer stopped by and wanted me to check over the work that he and his company had done. It took the better part of an hour with me taking copius notes on how the system operated. We tested the back up system and the exterior floodlights and all seemed to be working. It was pretty fascinating to sit in the Control Room and check out the screens and watch the activity going on in different parts of the house.
We set the following Monday for the crew to come in and sand and finish the floors. It was the sort of work that no one else really wanted to be around when it was going on. When the sanders were running, they were noisy and even though they were attached to a collection system, some of the fine dust still escaped and would make your nose sting unless you were wearing a face mask. Then the lacquer that was used to finish the floor was evil smelling and not good to be around until it was dry. I has collected up all of the carpets and was storing them in the Stable/Garage along with most of the furniture and had called the local carpet cleaner to stop by and clean them and the drapes before I put them back in the house. He stopped by that afternoon and started work on the cleaning.
The day flew by and one by one, the workers left for their respective homes. Evelyn said she would come up straight from her work and sure enough, about fifteen minutes after five, she came driving in. She greeted me with a kiss and took my arm and said “OK, show me your new house”.
Feeling very proud of what we had accomplished so far, I took her on a tour starting with the outside. I pointed out the different things we had done, showed her the new cameras and paint job which was almost finished. I led her inside and we started down in the basement with the remodelling and then walked from floor to floor as I pointed out the special things. We finished up in the attic which was barely recognizeable with the work we had done.
“It’s beautiful” she said “You should feel so proud”.
“I do. Joe and the rest of the crews have done a first class job” I said.
We were standing in the kitchen and she came around the new island and put her arms around me. She looked up at me and I kissed her. She melted into my arms and we stood for a long while just glad of each other’s closeness.
She pulled out and said “Where are these antiques you said I could have”.
With thoughts swayed by her nearness and the yearning that I had for her, it was with a loud thud that I was jerked back to reality.
“What, Oh yes” I mumbled trying hard not to show how flustered I was.
I led her to the Stable/Garage and showed her the considerable pile that I had collected. She carefully went through it all piece by piece and picked out several things that she really liked and put them to one side. Several pieces we discussed because neither of us could recognize what they were. I had kept a few pieces for myself which included several nice vases a couple of which could stand on the floor they were that big. I helped her load her selections into her car aand followed her down the road to the Diner where we ate a slow and leisurely late meal. I really liked her company and always felt good around her. Whether that meant I had fallen in love with her, I didn’t know and didn’t care. I was living for the moment and was not prepared to look into the future.
Chapter 9 – Moving Time
The following week came and slipped by. The floor finishing crew came in and took over the inside of the house and everyone was glad to not be around the noise and smell. They worked quickly and efficiently with the guys applying the floor sealer right behind them. By Thursday, they were all through and on the Friday, Joe brought in his paint crew to finish touching up any damage the floor crew may have created.
Saturday morning, Joe stopped over and he and I walked the entire job. There were a couple of small things that needed a little work but other than that, the project was complete. I took Joe outside and asked him to give me a price to paint the entire wrought iron railing that totally surrounded the property. We shook hands and he promised me both an estimate and a final bill for all of the work he had done. I complimented him on his crew and how efficient, hard working and good tradesmen they were. We shook hands again and Joe left knowing that he had performed yet another good job and had another truly satisfied customer.
Now it was my turn to work. I had made arrangements for the local moving company to move all of the furniture and carpets back into the house which they did quickly and efficiently. I had made a plan of how my Mother had the furniture arranged before we had moved it all out and I instructed the men where each piece went. I also contacted the local drapery store and they sent someone out to re-install all of the drapes and curtains. It took all day but by five o’clock, they left leaving me to tidy the rooms and make the beds so that at least, I would sleep in a bed this evening instead of my sleeping bag.
That night was the first that I spent in my new/old home. New because it was mine and had been renovated the way I wanted it and old because I spent several of my child hood years growing up in this house. I didn’t even hear the rodents and even though I put out a few traps, I did not catch any. Whether they were gone or just laying low, I would find out in time. When I awoke the next morning, I was refeshed and ready to go. I decided to go for an early morning run around the neighbourhood but seeing as how it was Sunday, I only met one person walking their dog, I gave them a hearty “Good Morning” as I ran by.
After a shower, I sat and ate a leisurely breakfast cooked in my new kitchen along with my own brand of latte and read the Sunday newspaper. I felt very happy and content with how things had turned out so far and my thoughts turned to the future. Somewhere down the line Angela would go on trial for the murder of my Mother and her boyfriend. That would be a bit trying as I would have to give evidence which invariably would result in media attention, something I was not very interested in. Then, there was still the matter of the diamonds and what would be the outcome. Lastly, I still had not solved the mystery of what led my Mother to the diamonds that she had found.
And then there was Evelyn. Beautiful Evelyn who was warming to me more and more and was inveigling her way into my affections even though she may not have been trying to do so. I did like her.. a lot but whether that constituted falling in love, I was not so sure. There was no hurry as there were no other suitors that I knew about so I had a lot of time. How far and how close our relationship would go remains to be seen.
I still had things to do as it was a big house and there was still a lot of small stuff in the Stable/Garage that needed to be set out in different parts of the house to add a more personal look to the place but again, I had a lot of time to do it in. I called Evelyn and asked her if she wanted to take a drive just to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. We had not driven up into the mountains for several months and she suggested that might be a nice place to go. An hour later, I picked her up from her cottage. Blondie came bounding out with her and jumped in the car as though expecting to go for a ride. I looked at Evelyn who was laughing about it and said, “Oh, what the hell. You have her leash?
“Yes” said Evelyn “Right here in my pocket”
“Damn” I said “You and Blondie planned this all along”.
Blondie never said anything, just looked at me with her big brown eyes with her tail wagging so madly, it looked like her whole back end was shaking. I burst out laughing and thought that maybe it was time for me to get a dog or a cat or maybe both.
We went in a different direction to that where we had encountered the bear. It seemed like a good idea as those memories were still very fresh. Not that the scenary changes much as it is so beautiful up in the mountains and looks pretty much the same. We could have been where we had our first adventure and the only thing different was the name of the little village that we found ourselves walking around. We found a small cafe with outside tables and sat there enjoying the view and drinking our inevitable lattes with Blondie asleep under Evelyn’s feet.
It was very peaceful even with the hustle and bustle of the tourists walking by as this village like many of the others in this part of the country, relied on tourism to make a summertime living. If the village happened to have a ski slope, then they also got wintertime customers otherwise, the wintertime is usually pretty quiet.
We drove on to the next little village and did the same thing walking around and looking in the little shops that sold all kinds of trinkets and mementoes of life in the mountains. The village was busy as people like us, were enjoying the nice weather. The urge to get out and about was pretty strong in most people.
We took a long, slow drive back stopping at yet another mountain top restaurant. This one was called The Look Out and it was very easy to see why. The main windows overlooked the valley and gave a breathtaking view. The waiter had a few suggestions for both food and wine and we were not disappointed. The food was excellent.
Our drive back for the rest of the way was in a comfortable silence, Evelyn sat with her hand on my shoulder and looked at me from time to time smiling in the sheer pleasure of having each other for company. Her hand dropped off as she drifted off to sleep with the comfort of the moment. I pulled up outside of her house and kissed her on the cheek to wake her up. She came to and put her arms around my neck and kissed me on the lips in a slow and sensuous way. I became a part of that moment and my world was complete.
Blondie stuck her cold, wet nose between us as though to say, enough already and very reluctantly, Evelyn got out of the car. I walked her to the door and kissed her again. She turned the key and was gone. I got back in the car and drove back to my new/old home.
I can hardly wait to see what Evelyn’s criminal record shows!