Four years ago the Marinski collection was stolen. But exactly who committed the robbery? Who can you trust? Who can you believe?

The Marinski Affair begins as a dull mundane case involving a missing husband. Okay, so apparently he was a rich missing husband, but he was still a missing husband nonetheless. The case quickly develops into one involving robbery, kidnapping, blackmail and murder. But exactly who committed the robbery? Who has been kidnapped? Exactly who is blackmailing who? Who can you trust? Who can you believe? And what connection was there with a jewel robbery four years earlier? All is not as it seems.

Chapter One –
The Bradley Residence – Four Years Ago

The sky was dull, overcast, and thick dark rain clouds were beginning to form, obscuring the moonlight. There was a strong breeze blowing in from the east, and it was beginning to get quite cold. There was no sound, other than the wind rustling through the trees. Down by the river a frog croaked, and splashed into the water. Overhead an owl hooted, and then settled down for the night. A rabbit ran across the lawn, and stopped momentarily. It rose up on to its hind legs and sniffed the air, then quickly scurried back into the woods. A shadowy figure peered out from the trees, silently watching. He was a little over five feet seven tall, and weighed one hundred and sixty pounds. A dark cap, pulled down over his forehead, covered his thick dark brown hair. The man had been there for some little while. Silently he stood watching the house. It was in complete darkness apart from the security floodlights located at each end of the building. He looked at his watch. It was just after two o’clock. He had already been there for a little over an hour. He shook his head, and smiled. He shrugged. Just over an hour, he murmured. He sighed, and took a deep breath. How long had he been waiting for this night to actually come? It seemed like a lifetime. Was it only four months? Four months since he had first met her? He nodded his head. Four months, he murmured. That was correct. Four months, one week and three days to be precise. It seemed just like yesterday.

* * *

He had first seen her that Monday afternoon, as she had strutted down the High Street. She acted as though she owned it. It was a hot sunny day. He had gone into town on business. Business? There was the problem. There was no business. He hadn’t had any work for the past three months. Sure, he had looked, and looked hard, but there was nothing. Nothing suitable that is. Yes he could have got a job in a factory, or working behind a counter somewhere, or perhaps driving a taxi. But that was not for him. He was looking for something better, much better. Something a little, shall we say, more high powered, with a high profile. A business executive, that sounded good, or maybe something in the financial world. Or transportation, he thought. There was money in transportation, real money. Shipping. The railroad. Road haulage. That was more like it, he thought, much more to his persona. Not that he had any real formal training for such a position. But it wasn’t what you knew was it? It was more a case of who you knew. Which was precisely the reason for his being in the town that afternoon. The day before he had received a message. If he was interested in a position that offered real opportunity, then he was to call at 226 Hatfield the following day, to see Martin. That is exactly where he was heading when he saw her. He watched her as she moved quickly along, eyes looking straight ahead, neither turning to the left, nor to the right. She was totally oblivious to anyone, or anything, around her. Anyone foolish enough to be in her pathway, either got out of the way quickly or was struck by the bag that she was continually swinging. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, not that she was bad looking either. There was something about her. Apart from her looks, she had something else. Personality, if you like. Character? Oh she certainly had Character. There was no disputing that. And yes, she was glamorous. But above all, she had, what was it? Style. That was it exactly. She had Style, and she knew it. And she knew that you knew it. And she knew that you knew that she knew it. He was instantly attracted to her and quickly followed, a few paces behind. He wasn’t exactly sure how, but he was determined to meet up with her. He had made up his mind, and that was that. Whatever else happened, he was going to get to know her. What about Martin, and that offer of a position? He smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. If he wants me that badly, he thought, he’ll just have to wait won’t he?

He had actually caught up with her at Jerry’s Bar, at the corner of Sunset and Forest, close to the town square. It was early in the afternoon, and the bar was virtually empty. It was dark inside, and it took a little while for his eyesight to adjust after the bright sunlight. He glanced all around. There were two men talking animatedly at the bar. Two other men were seated in the far corner. Jerry was at the bar. One eye to the baseball game on the television, he was wiping down the counter. There appeared to be no one else. He shook his head. Where was she, he wondered? Then he saw her. She was seated alone in a corner booth. The young waiter was standing at her table, ready to take her order. He watched her for a few minutes as she tried to decide what to have. He took a deep breath and quickly walked over. He shuffled passed the waiter. He looked down at her. ‘A Martini for the lady,’ he said, as he sat down next to her. ‘And a scotch and soda for me.’ He looked at her and smiled. ‘Make that a double.’ He waved his hand at the waiter, dismissively. The waiter nodded and hurriedly walked away.

‘How did you know that I drink Martini?’ she asked, as she looked at him.

He smiled once again, and shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh, you just look the type, that’s all,’ he replied. ‘Sweet, just like a Martini.’ He paused for a moment, still looking at her. ‘I can tell about things like that,’ he continued. ‘Stirred but not shaken, I would say.’

She started to laugh. ‘I hadn’t realised it showed that much,’ she replied. She looked at him, her head tilted to one side. Then she shook her head. ‘You don’t look much like the scotch and soda type to me,’ she continued.

He smiled. ‘You’re right, absolutely right. I’m not,’ he replied. He turned around and called out to the waiter. ‘Waiter, forget the soda.’ She started to laugh once again.

They had hit it off straight away, and were surprised to find that they had so much in common. Their taste in music was very similar. They shared the same favourite films. They liked to travel. They both liked the theatre. They both hated the opera. They started going out together. It was about a month later when he had found out where she actually lived. ‘Rutland Hall,’ she said casually in answer to his question. ‘Do you know it?’ He nodded. He knew it. Who didn’t know it? It was a local landmark wasn’t it? It was then that she had first mentioned the ruby. ‘The Marinski Ruby,’ she said in a hushed voice. ‘Do you know of it?’ He nodded. He knew that too. But it wasn’t just a ruby was it. It was a complete collection of jewellery, including a ring, a bracelet, necklace, earrings, and, of course, the ruby itself, all twenty-eight carats of it. It was rumoured that the collection had once belonged to a Russian Empress, or Countess, or something, a hundred years ago. Or maybe it was two hundred years. He shook his head. Or was it a German Princess? Or maybe she had been Austrian. He wasn’t too sure of the fine details. He wasn’t really that interested. Not in the detail anyway. One thing he did know, however, was that the collection had been missing for a great many years. It had eventually been found in a derelict castle, or a monastery, or somewhere. He wasn’t absolutely sure about that either. He shook his head. It wasn’t that important anyway. What really mattered was the jewellery itself. What would it be worth, he wondered? He shook his head once again. He had no idea, but it would certainly be a huge sum. He suddenly looked up. She was looking at him slowly shaking her head. ‘Sorry, that was stupid of me,’ she said. ‘It was a silly slip of the tongue. Not thinking straight I suppose. Not really concentrating. A momentary lapse.’ She shook her head again, and gave a deep sigh. ‘See the affect you have on me.’ He smiled, but said nothing. ‘I should never have mentioned it,’ she protested. ‘Please, please, forget all about it,’ she begged. ‘Pretend that it never happened will you?’

He nodded his head, and quickly agreed to forget all about it. ‘Don’t worry, it never happened,’ he had said, patting her arm with one hand, and placing a finger of the other hand across his lips. ‘My lips are sealed. Your secret is safe with me. I won’t say a word.’ He smiled. ‘It’s completely forgotten.’ But he hadn’t forgotten. From that day on he had thought about it constantly. He just could not get the thought of it out of his mind. He instinctively knew that it hadn’t been a mistake. She wasn’t the type to make mistakes. It wasn’t merely a slip of the tongue, or a momentary lapse of concentration. Oh no. It had been said quite deliberately. She knew exactly what she was doing. It had all been planned, of that there was no doubt. She had wanted him to know. That much was certain. ‘But why?’ he wondered. ‘Why would she tell me?’ It was another two weeks before he received his answer, an answer that was surprising, although not entirely unexpected. She had been planning on stealing the jewels for some while, but she knew that she could not do it alone. She needed outside help. He would be the help that she needed. Help that he was only too happy to provide. And so the planning commenced. ‘What about security?’ he had asked. ‘I mean there must be closed circuit cameras, and security lights everywhere. Not forgetting the alarm system.’ He looked at her, and took a deep breath. ‘I mean a place like that it would be a bit like Fort Knox.’

She smiled and shook her head. ‘Don’t worry about it. You can leave all of that to me. I’ll handle it,’ she had said. ‘The security lights, and the cameras, would be dealt with when the times comes.’ He was still unsure, hesitant. He sighed deeply, and shook his head. She smiled, and placed her hand on his shoulder. ‘It will be all right, you’ll see,’ she said. He simply nodded his head. She squeezed his shoulder. He was still uncertain, but he started to smile. ‘The alarm will be disabled,’ she continued. ‘Oh, and the front door will be left unlocked,’ she added. ‘So you see security won’t be a problem.’

He nodded, still not entirely convinced. He thought for a few moments. The guards, he suddenly thought. ‘What about the guards, and their patrols?’ he asked. ‘I mean they do patrol the grounds I imagine.’

She shook her head once again. ‘Yes they do, but that won’t be a problem either,’ she said. ‘I’ll let you have the full details of the times. I’ll tell you exactly when you should enter the house.’ She looked at him. ‘I’ll get you the combination to the safe as well.’ She started to smile, and put her arms around him. ‘It will be so easy,’ she said. ‘You won’t have a thing to worry about.’ She leant forward and kissed him. ‘All you have to do is open the safe, remove the jewels, and get out. As simple as that. And afterwards we’ll go away together. Mexico perhaps. I’ve always fancied Acapulco. Or perhaps you would prefer South America. How would you like Rio? Or Buenos Aires?’ He wasn’t absolutely convinced, but he nodded and smiled too.

It sounded good, he thought, but could it really be that simple. He looked at her and shrugged. Maybe, he murmured, maybe. All that was needed now was an actual date, the day the theft was to be carried out. Everything else seemed to be pretty much covered. Or was it, he suddenly thought. ‘One more thing,’ he said, suddenly. She looked at him, and waited. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘How do I actually get inside the grounds?’ he asked. ‘I mean I can hardly just walk past the gate can I?’

She nodded her head. ‘No you can’t can you.’ She started to laugh. ‘You can leave that to me also. It won’t be a problem, I assure you.’

He looked at her, and took a deep breath. ‘You appear to have covered everything,’ he said. She smiled and nodded. He took another breath, and shook his head. ‘How do I get out again,’ he asked.

She started grinning. ‘Stop worrying,’ she said. ‘It will all be taken care of. Every last detail.’ She paused. ‘Don’t forget I was planning for this long before I met you.’ He nodded. She seemed to have thought of everything, he thought. Maybe she was right. But it was all beginning to sound a little bit too easy. Was she being just a little too complacent, he thought. He shook his head, and said nothing.

* * *

It was a little before midnight when she had left the house. At that time the party was in full swing. She wouldn’t be missed for a little while, she thought. She drove up to the security barrier and stopped. The security guard looked up from the computer screen, and smiled at her. He walked out of the gatehouse and over to her car. As he did so she slowly wound down the car window. ‘Hi Dave,’ she called out.

Dave nodded in acknowledgement. ‘Going out, then?‘ he asked. ‘Where to this time?’ As though he didn’t already know.

She nodded. ‘I won’t be too long Dave,’ she replied, ignoring his direct question. ‘I have someone to see,’ she explained. Dave already knew that much. He also knew who the someone was. ‘You understand,’ she said and winked her eye. She smiled at him. ‘Don’t tell anyone will you?’ she said. ‘Not even Charlie, it will be our little secret all right.’

The guard said nothing. He smiled at her, and opened the gate. He understood all right. This wasn’t the first time. And it wouldn’t be the last. In fact it was beginning to be quite a regular occurrence. Her secret was safe with him though. He winked back as he opened the barrier, and waved her through. He knew what was going on. You didn’t have to draw him a diagram. He didn’t need to be told. It wasn’t rocket science was it? ‘Have a good time,’ he said as she drove past. He watched the car until it was out of sight. He slowly lowered the barrier and walked back inside the gatehouse. He turned to the open page in the logbook that was lying on the counter. He took up his pen ready to enter the details. He checked his watch. ‘Eleven fifty-two,’ he murmured. His instructions were to enter everything in the log, no matter how trivial, no matter how small and insignificant. Everything was to go down. He hesitated, and shook his head. He started to smile. This didn’t count though, he reasoned. He didn’t need to enter any details, not for her. Why she was family wasn’t she? ‘It will be our little secret,’ he murmured. He lay the pen down, and closed the book. He looked at the clock once again. ‘Another twenty minutes, and Charlie will be back,’ he murmured. He went over to the kitchen area and poured himself a coffee. He carried it back to his desk and sat down. He looked across at the security camera monitors. They were all on, and working. Not that anything was happening, he noticed. There were no signs of any activity, apart from the camera showing the marquee area. He continued to watch for a few minutes. There they were swigging their champagne, and their fancy wines. Eating their caviar, or some other fancy food. He shook his head. There’s no justice in this world, he murmured. He reached across the desk and grabbed a small brown paper bag. He reached inside and took out the remains of a cheese sandwich that he had started thirty minutes ago. He shook his head sadly. He looked back at the monitor screen. He could use a drink, he murmured, and he didn’t mean lukewarm coffee either. He licked his lips, and nodded. A scotch and American would certainly go down a treat, he thought. He shook his head once again, and shrugged his shoulders. Later, he murmured sadly. Later.

* * *

The Square was almost deserted. Over on the far side he could see a few late night revellers leaving Jerry’s Bar. Thirty yards further down the road, was a solitary figure looking the worse for wear, as he staggered from side to side. A few yards beyond there were two people hurrying across the road to catch a taxi. Close by there came the sound of a police siren, then there was silence once again. He stood waiting at the corner. He checked his watch. Ten minutes after twelve, he murmured. He had been there for a little over ten minutes. It was cold, and threatening to rain. He shivered suddenly. Whether it was due to the cold, or was connected with what he was to do in the next few hours, is uncertain. He drew back into the shop front where he was sheltering. It was just as the Town Hall clock was striking the quarter past when her car turned the corner. He had actually heard the car some few seconds before he had seen it. You could not mistake that rattling sound, he thought. He would know it anywhere. He checked his watch once again, and smiled. ‘Dead on time,’ he murmured. ‘So far so good.’ As she saw him she flashed the car headlights twice, and slowly drove to the corner where he was waiting. He ran out from the doorway. She wound down the window. ‘Quickly, get in the back,’ she said. He got in. ‘Lay down on the floor and cover yourself with this blanket,’ she continued. She took the blanket from the front passenger seat, and passed it over to him. Without saying a word, he did as he had been instructed. She looked down at him. Satisfied that he could not be seen she put the car into gear, checked her mirrors, and slowly pulled away.

During the return trip, not a word was spoken. There was no need for any conversation. They had gone over the plan so many times. Every detail, and every eventuality had been covered. Both knew exactly what they had to do. Both were ready to proceed.

* * *

Thirty minutes later she arrived back at the Hall. The guard looked up as he heard her car approaching. He walked out to greet her. He casually glanced through the car window, and over to the back seat. There appeared to be no one in the car with her, not that he really had expected there would be. Although one day, he thought, she will bring him back with her. Her famous friend, then everyone could see what he looked like. He shook his head. Not tonight though, he thought. She was quite alone. The security guard was surprised to see her back so early, but he knew it best not to mention anything. He winked at her once again as he opened the gate to let her drive back in. ‘Welcome back,’ he said smiling. He tapped his nose with his finger. ‘Not to worry,’ he whispered. ‘It’s our little secret.’

‘Our little secret,’ she repeated as she drove slowly past. ‘Thank you Dave, I knew I could rely on you.’

He watched as she went by. He then looked over towards the marquee. He could hear the sound of the music, and people laughing. He checked the clock on the wall. It was sixteen minutes to one. It had been a long day, and it was far from over. He and Charlie were on duty until three-thirty, and then the other team would take over. He couldn’t wait. He walked back inside the gatehouse, and back to his coffee, which was getting cold. He drank it quickly. It tasted bitter. If there was one thing he hated, it was cold coffee. He checked the clock once again. He wondered if there was time to make a fresh one. He shook his head. Sadly there wasn’t. ‘Another fifteen minutes,’ he murmured. ‘Then I’m on patrol again.’ He shivered at the thought. It was getting quite cold out there, and it was threatening to rain. It was just what he needed. He shivered once again, and moved over to the radiator. He sat down, and placed his hands close to the grating. ‘I’ll just get a little bit of a heat,’ he murmured to no one in particular. ‘Just for a moment or two.’

Charlie looked up and smiled. ‘Don’t you get too comfortable over there,’ he said. ‘You’re out soon, remember.’

Dave nodded. He remembered. ‘Just a minute or two,’ he said. ‘That’s all.’ Charlie nodded and smiled once again, and went back to writing his report. Neither of them saw her car suddenly come to a stop close to the wooded area. Neither of them saw the rear door of the car slowly open. Neither of them saw a shadowy figure get out of the car and run silently into the forest. Nobody saw the blanket fall on to the ground.

* * *

‘Four months,’ he repeated. Four months, one week, and three days, and here he was. In the woods a short distance from the house. For the past hour he had listened to the band, and the laughter from the party down by the river. He had listened as sometimes voices were raised in a sudden argument, or someone was trying to sing along with the music. He had watched as the party eventually drew to a close, and the guests had started to leave. Firstly, they had left in ones and twos, and then later in larger groups. Almost twenty minutes ago the last of them had gone. He watched as Bradley and his wife returned to the house. He saw them go in and the front door close behind them. A short time after he saw the ground floor lights go out. Ten minutes later the first floor lights went out. The house was now in complete darkness. Not much longer, he thought. ‘Another twenty minutes,’ he murmured. That was when the security guards were due to make their patrol. By then everyone would have gone and the area would be completely deserted, she had told him. She was right. ‘At two-thirty.’ That’s what she had said. ‘Two-thirty. Not a minute before, nor a minute after.’

* * *

‘The guards patrol once every ninety minutes,’ she had said. ‘Ninety minutes exactly, no more, and no less. Just like clockwork. They never vary.’ She paused watching his face. ‘Eleven thirty, one o’clock, two thirty, and so on, they pass by the front entrance.’ He had listened intensely. ‘One guard stays in the gatehouse, and one guard goes on patrol,’ she continued. ‘One guard and one dog usually, sometimes two.’ If it came to it he thought that he could handle a lone guard. He did not, however, like the idea of the dogs, but he simply nodded and said nothing. ‘A complete patrol takes a little bit short of one hour. They then spend thirty minutes in the office. Writing their reports, getting a quick coffee, perhaps a bite to eat, and then they are ready to go out once more.’ He still said nothing. She hoped that he was paying attention, and taking everything in. ‘Did you hear what I said,’ she said. He smiled and nodded. He heard. She took a deep breath. ‘You must be in position no sooner than one thirty,’ she continued. ‘That way you can be sure that the guard has made his rounds, and has gone on.’ He nodded. It sounded sensible enough, he thought. She should know anyway. ‘Enter the house no sooner than three o’clock,’ she continued. ‘By then the alarm would have been deactivated. The security floodlights will be switched off, and the entrance door will be unlocked.’

He wasn’t too keen on hanging around from one thirty until three, but that’s what she said, and that was what she meant. ‘What about the security cameras?’ he had then asked. ‘Wouldn’t the security guards notice the cameras suddenly switching off? Their monitors would go blank. Wouldn’t that arouse suspicion?’

She shook her head. ‘You’ve no need to worry,’ she said. ‘There have been problems with the camera at the front entrance for some weeks now. It has been very erratic. It will suddenly go off, and then sometime later it would just switch back on,’ she explained. ‘It has been reported and the service engineers have been out on a number of occasions.’ She stopped and smiled. ‘Naturally it worked perfectly well for the engineers.’ She shook her head. ‘It was no trouble at all, very strange. They are completely baffled. It was probably nothing more than a loose connection somewhere, they said, even though they could never find it,’ she had continued. ‘So the guards won’t think anything of it.’ She smiled once again. ‘Besides new equipment has been ordered. And is due to be installed quite soon now.’

He was far from convinced, and was not entirely happy about the situation, but she ought to know, he reasoned. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘You seem to have covered everything.’ He looked at her for a moment or two. ‘Everything, that is, except how do I get away afterwards?’ he continued. ‘I mean you are going to drive me in, that part is clear and understood.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘But how do I get out again?’

She started to laugh. ‘That’s easy,’ she replied. ‘You just walk out, as simple as that. Just walk out.’ He said nothing but looked puzzled. She shook her head, and smiled. ‘The day after the party the place will be swarming with workers clearing up,’ she explained. ‘There will be people removing the sound system, removing the temporary lighting, dismantling the marquee.’ He still said nothing. ‘There will be people cleaning up the debris, the empty bottles, the unused food. You name it. They will be clearing it away. You will just be one of those workers,’ she continued. ‘As they start to leave, when they have finished, you simply go with them. You won’t even be noticed. People will assume that you are with one of the other groups. You won’t be questioned.’ He was not convinced. But once again he realised that he was completely in her hands. He was totally under her control. He hated being in this position where he was obliged to follow her instructions. Where she was in charge. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit, but he knew that he had no choice. No choice whatsoever.

She looked at him closely. Could she trust him, she wondered. Really trust him. She knew that she was taking a big risk. She shook her head. She had to trust him she knew that. There was no turning back. Not now. They had to go ahead. They had been planning this for several months now. They had decided to put the plan into action on the night of the anniversary party, and that was that. The party was the one golden opportunity. They could not leave it any later. She could not back out, he knew too much. No, she shook her head. She had no choice. ‘Three o’clock,’ she repeated. ‘Three.’ He said nothing, but merely nodded his head. ‘Understand,’ she said firmly, placing her hand tightly on his arm. ‘It is most important. The timing is crucial.’

He smiled and nodded once again. He patted her hand. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I understand perfectly. Three o’clock on the dot. I’ll be there. No problem. It’ll be a piece of cake. Like falling off a log. I won’t let you down. You can count on me.’ He looked at her for a few moments. The smile had left his face. ‘You don’t have to worry about me,’ he said slowly. ‘You just do your bit, and everything will be just fine.’

She smiled back, relieved. She sighed deeply. ‘Okay,’ she replied. ‘Once inside, you will then have no more than forty-five minutes to get the jewels and make your way back into the woods.’ He nodded once again. It was cutting things close, he thought, but it should be enough time. It had to be enough time. The security guards would be back at four, so there was very little leeway, if any.

* * *

He shrugged, and took a deep breath. It was certainly going to be tight, but that was the plan that they had agreed upon. That was the way it had to be. He had to wait until three o’clock. Then, and only then, could the plan proceed. Then, and only then would the alarm be out of action, and the security lights switched off. Then, and only then would the front entrance door be unlocked. As long as she kept her part of the bargain, it should be all right. He clicked his thumb and forefinger together. ‘Just like that,’ he murmured. He shook his head. He was far from convinced. He wondered if he could actually trust her. After all it was him who was taking all the risks. If things went wrong he would be the one caught. He would be the one actually charged. He would be the one going to prison. Naturally he could implicate her he knew that. But he also knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove her involvement. He shook his head. He knew that if it came to it, he would say nothing. Deep down he knew that there was nothing that he could say. She would get away with it absolutely Scott free. He suddenly began to shake. It wasn’t just because of the cold. He was beginning to feel nervous, suddenly un-certain, unsure. He was beginning to feel somehow at risk. Vulnerable. He realised that he was totally reliant on her. His fate was completely in her hands. He didn’t like the feeling. He didn’t like a situation over which he had no control. If she were wrong in any detail, the slightest error, then he would be in trouble. If she did not carry out her part there was no chance of success. He would be caught red-handed. And there would be nothing that he could do about it. And yet they had gone over the plan time after time, and he had accepted it without question. So why was he having doubts now? Why all the questions? It made no sense. He shook his head, and shrugged. ‘Fine time to start worrying,’ he murmured. Besides she wouldn’t let him down would she? Why would she let him down? If she said she would do something she would do it, wouldn’t she? If she said that something would happen then it most assuredly would happen, wouldn’t it? What could possibly go wrong? Nothing would go wrong. He nodded, and shrugged his shoulders. He was still far from convinced.

He looked over at the house, then over to the garage block. There was no one around. The place was completely deserted. The guard was not due for another twenty-five minutes. He shrugged his shoulders, and gave a deep sigh. Another twenty-five minutes, he murmured. He had already been there for almost one and a half hours. He was getting cold, and he could feel a cramp in his right leg. He bent down and rubbed his calf muscle. Slowly the feeling subsided, and the tightness eased. He gave another sigh. The wind suddenly got stronger, rattling the tree branches. He looked up at the mass of dark clouds that had formed. There was a flash of sheet lightning, which lit up the sky for miles around. Then there was a loud crash of thunder, and the rain started. He pulled his coat tightly around him, and ducked back into the trees seeking whatever shelter he could find. The shelter was totally inadequate. He was getting soaked. The rain became heavier and heavier. Another twenty-five minutes, he repeated. Standing here, in the dark, and the rain. Once more he peered towards the house. It was still completely dark, and nothing was stirring. He looked towards the right, to the garage block. To one side was the staircase leading to the storerooms on the first floor. The landing area projected outwards. That would afford some shelter he judged. He looked up at the sky once again. There was no sign of any let up. He looked back towards the house. Then he returned his gaze towards the garage. He would certainly be better protected over there, than being stuck out here, he reasoned. He checked his watch once more. There was still twenty-three minutes to go before the guard was due. More than enough time to get across, he thought. He decided to take a chance.

The figure emerged from the trees and quickly ran across the lawn towards the garage block. The shadow suddenly stopped and looked up at the security camera located on the corner of the building. The figure noticed that the red light was shining brightly. The camera was still working. For a brief moment he wondered if he had been caught on the camera. Had he been seen? If he had it would all be over, and very soon. He shook his head. Had he been seen? He didn’t think so. He was sure that he had stopped in time. He hadn’t actually got that close had he? He shook his head. Whether he had been seen, or not, there was no point in staying where he was. Must get to the garages, he murmured. Then wait to see what happens. If no one came well then he was in the clear, he thought. If, on the other hand, he had been seen someone would be there within the next few minutes. Time to hide, he decided, and then wait. He moved quickly to his right, out of the camera’s range and view, and continued towards the garage. He reached the edge of the lawn, and stopped at the gravelled driveway. He looked back towards the house. It was still in darkness. He looked up at the sky again. There was another loud rumble of thunder. The rain continued to fall. He crossed over the gravelled driveway, and turned towards the rear of the garage. Five minutes later he was standing underneath the overhanging landing. He checked his watch. There was still fifteen minutes to wait, before the guard appeared. He looked over at the house. Once again he checked his watch. He shook his head. Still twelve minutes to go. The house was in darkness, and there was no one around. Everyone was asleep. So why shouldn’t he just go, now. He was beginning to get impatient, edgy. He wanted to get on with it, to get hold of the stuff and to get out. He shook his head. They had agreed the time, and that was that. He shook his head again. He had no choice. No choice whatsoever. He had to wait, whether he liked it or not. He turned away from the corner and walked around to the side of the garage. He stumbled and fell forward. He reached out to stop his fall, and caught his sleeve on a rusty nail in the wall. He pulled himself free. He never noticed his jacket button tear off and fall to the ground. He never noticed the nasty cut on his left wrist either.

* * *

He heard the dogs first, panting loudly, and yapping excitedly. Maybe they had seen a rabbit, he thought, or a fox perhaps. Then he saw the beam of the flashlight as it came around the corner. Slowly it moved from side to side. Firstly over in the trees on the far side, then sweeping across the lawn, then back, hitting the garage wall. It then swept back across the lawn, and into the trees. Then he saw the guard come into view. The guard slowly walked along the front of the house, towards the garages. A few moments later and he had reached the garage block. When he was only a few feet away, he stopped and glanced towards the end of the garage. As he did so the figure quickly ducked back into the shadows cast by the staircase. Had he been seen the figure wondered? Would the guard come his way? He began to wish that he had stayed over in the trees. Out here by the garage wall he felt strangely vulnerable, and exposed. He pressed back further against the wall, and as far in to the shadows as he could. The guard moved towards the corner of the garage, and stopped. The dogs began barking once more, and pulling him towards the end of the garage. Had the dogs picked up his scent, the figure wondered? Had the dogs seen him? The guard tugged hard on the leads, pulling the dogs back. He shone the torch up the staircase and along the adjacent landing, and then down, the light causing strange shadows through the balustrade on to the wall behind. Satisfied that the area was clear, the guard quickly moved on, the beam from his torch dancing from side to side, as he went. At the far corner of the house he turned and disappeared from view. The figure in the shadows gave a sigh of relief, and took a deep breath, as he watched the guard turn the corner. A few minutes later the two floodlights suddenly went out. The man looked at his watch, and smiled. The lights had gone out exactly on time, as they had planned. He looked up at the windows to her room, and smiled. Another twenty minutes, or thereabouts, he thought, and the alarm would be switched off, and the front door would be unlocked.

* * *

He checked his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. ‘Three o’clock, at last,’ he murmured. ‘Time to go.’ He slowly moved forward towards the main entrance. A few moments later, the shadow had reached the main door and stopped once again. There high up on the right hand side was the alarm box. On the opposite side was another security camera. The camera was aimed directly at his position. There was no red light showing to indicate that the camera was operating. He was not surprised. In fact he knew that the camera would be out of action. He smiled. The alarm would also be out of action. He clicked his finger and thumb together. ‘Just like clockwork,’ he murmured. He removed a rucksack from his shoulder, and took out a pair of soft white gloves. He quickly put them on, glancing around as he did so. There was no one in sight. He slowly approached the front door. He placed his hand on the doorknob and turned it. He then gently pushed against the door. As expected the door was unlocked, and it slowly swung open. He waited for a few moments. As expected the alarm did not go off. Quickly he entered the hall, and silently closed the door behind him. In front of him was a large winding staircase leading up to the first floor. In the centre of the hallway was a large circular table. On the top was a large crystal vase, containing an elaborate floral display. Above, was a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. To his right was an arched entrance into a large lounge. To his left a pair of double doors, which led into another reception area. To the side of the staircase there were two further doors. The hallway was in darkness, apart from faint shafts of moonlight coming in from the lounge. He reached into the rucksack, and took out a small torch. Shading it with his hand he switched it on, directing the light downwards. He slowly made his way across the marble floor. As he did so he suddenly thought that he heard something or someone on the landing. ‘It’s probably her,’ he murmured. He stopped for a few moments and listened. He heard nothing. He moved slowly forward and glanced up the stairs. For a split second he thought that he saw a shadow move, and then it was gone. He stood perfectly still for a few moments. He heard nothing more. He saw nothing. Satisfied he moved to the back of the staircase, and over to the doorway to the left. He careful bent forward, and placed his ear against the door. He remained there for a few moments. He then stretched out his gloved hand and grasped the door handle. Slowly he turned the handle, and opened the door slightly. He peered through the crack that opened up between the door and the frame. As far as he could see the room was empty. He silently entered the room, quietly closing the door behind him. It was the library. He directed the torchlight slowly around the room. All around there were shelves full of books extending from the floor to the ceiling. Over on the far wall was a large painting. A Renoir. It was of a young girl sitting in a rowing boat. Although he had never seen it before, he knew what it was instantly. He also knew that behind that painting he would find the safe.

* * *

He walked over to the far side, and carefully lifted the painting from the wall. He placed it on to the floor, propped up against a large armchair. Satisfied that it was properly supported, he went back to the safe. It looked complicated. He smiled. If he had not already got the combination he would never be able to open it. He stifled a laugh. But he did know the combination, he murmured. He moved closer to the safe, and raised his hands taking hold of the dial. ‘All right, here goes,’ he murmured. ‘Twenty two right.’ He placed his ear close to the door, and slowly he started to turn the silver dial in a clockwise direction. After a few moments there was a soft click as the first tumbler fell into place. He gave a sigh, and smiled. ‘Next, fourteen left,’ he continued, as he turned the dial anti-clockwise. There was another soft click. Tumbler number two was now in position. He released the dial and rubbed his hands together. ‘Two down, and two more to go.’ He gave another sigh, and took a deep breath. He was sweating, and his heart was thumping. ‘Too fast,’ he murmured. ‘The heart is beating too fast.’ Nerves, he thought. That’s all, just nerves. He took two more deep breaths. The heartbeat began to slow down. He took two more deep breaths, slowly inhaling, and then holding for a few seconds before exhaling. The heartbeat slowed further. He rubbed his glove across his forehead. He suddenly stopped, and looked behind him. What was that, he wondered? Was it his imagination, or had he heard something, or someone outside the room, perhaps. He switched off the torch, and looked towards the door. He waited, listening, not daring to breath. He slowly walked towards the door. He placed his ear to the panelling and listened. There was nothing. Carefully he opened the door slightly and peered into the hallway. There was no one there, and no further sound. He shook his head. Imagination, that’s all, he whispered. He quietly closed the door, and switched the torch back on. He walked back to the safe. He took a deep breath, and took hold of the dial once again. ‘All right, next we have thirty-three right,’ he whispered, as he began turning clockwise once again. ‘Thirty,’ he started to count. ‘Thirty one, thirty two, thirty three.’ There was a third click as tumbler number three dropped down. One more, he told himself. ‘Eighteen left, and we’re home and dry.’ Carefully he pushed the dial round anti-clockwise once again. ‘Sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen,’ he said triumphantly. There was no click. The safe did not open. He pulled hard on the handle, but nothing happened. He twisted the handle, first one way, and then the other. Still nothing. He pushed the handle up, and pushed it down. The door remained stubbornly closed. He started to panic. He began to hyperventilate. His breathing became shallow, and he started to sweat again. Time was passing. He tried the door once again. Still it would not budge. Had they changed the combination, he wondered? Perhaps he had been told the wrong information. Perhaps there had been a mistake somewhere. ‘Stop, stop,’ he murmured. ‘Don’t panic. Calm down. Must think.’ He took a deep breath. He held up one finger. ‘Twenty two right,’ he whispered. He then held up a second finger. ‘Then its fourteen left, followed by thirty-three right,’ he raised a third finger. Then he paused for a few moments, thinking hard. He nodded his head, and raised the fourth finger. ‘Then it’s nineteen left.’ He cursed. ‘Nineteen left,’ he repeated. ‘Not eighteen.’ He started to smile. There had been a mistake all right, and he had made it. He gave a sigh of relief, and wiped his face with his gloved hand. He started to turn the dial once again. Slowly. ‘Seventeen. Eighteen.’ He took another deep breath. ‘Nineteen.’ There was that fourth muffled click. The last tumbler had opened. He smiled and stood back. He spun the wheel, and pressed the lever down. The door slowly, silently, swung open.

He reached inside and withdrew a large oval leather case. He pressed the catch and opened it. Inside was a necklace, a bracelet, a set of earrings, and in the centre there was a large perfect ruby. He let out a low whistle. He carefully removed the ruby and held it up in front of the torch. So this was the Marinski Collection, and that was the Ruby. The intruder then replaced the ruby into the case, carefully closed the case, and wrapped a thick cloth around it. He then placed the case inside the canvas rucksack. He closed the safe, and re-placed the painting on to the wall. Pulling the rucksack onto his shoulder, he quietly left the room, and went back across the hall floor, and out of the main door. As he did so he suddenly heard a loud crash. It was the painting, he murmured. He had not re-hung it securely enough, and it had crashed on to the floor. He started to quickly make his way across the lawn back into the trees. As he did so, he turned around. He could hear the sound of voices calling out loudly. Lights had come on in the upstairs rooms. As he reached the trees he noticed that lights had now come on downstairs. Suddenly the front door opened. Standing in the open doorway was a young girl, perhaps in her mid twenties. She was no beauty queen but nonetheless she was still good looking in a classic sort of way. She looked over in his direction, peering into the darkness. She looked behind her, and then returned her gaze towards the trees. She gave a small wave, barely noticeable, but he saw it clearly, and waved back. Whether or not she saw the wave is not known. Probably not, but she didn’t need to actually see. She knew that he was there. That was all that mattered. She then quickly returned into the house, closing the door quietly behind her. As the door closed, the security guard ran from the side of the house, two Dobermans pulling tightly on their leads, and barking loudly.

* * *

The painting was discovered lying on the floor, one corner of the frame had cracked, and broken away. Mr Bradley then moved over to the safe. He looked at the dial. It was clear that the safe had been tampered with. Had they actually managed to open it, he wondered, as he turned the dial first one way, then the other. A few minutes later there was a muffled thud, the door clicked, and slowly opened. He peered inside, and then reached in. His worst fears were realised. The ruby had gone. The Marinski collection had been stolen.

* * *

Thirty minutes later the police arrived. The forensic team checked for fingerprints, but found nothing. There were some muddy footprints in the hallway, and the library, but they were too indistinct to be of use. There were however no end of possible suspects. It could have been anyone of the guests, the police officer had pointed out. Or, of course, it could have been any of the temporary staff that had been in the area that evening. There had been dozens of them. He shook his head. And of course there were also the members of the band. Had they been probably screened, and checked in, he asked himself. Oh yes there were no end of suspects. The investigating officer made a note in his pad. He would need all of their names, and addresses. He would check with the agency first thing in the morning. He shook his head. Of course, whoever it was, must have had inside help. Of that he was absolutely certain. Somebody in the house switched off the alarm, and the floodlights. Somebody inside arranged for the door to be open. He nodded. Somebody, yes, he murmured, but who?

* * *