The streets of London had erupted into chaos as the toxic red clouds were carried by the breeze into thousands of peaceful protesters. It took Huxley and the sergeants twice as long to navigate through the city as they dashed through alleyways and in between rushing carriages and motor cars, always keeping sight of the steadily growing cloud. Screams of panic became louder with each step until they’d come upon it, covering their beaks with their hats. At least a hundred protesters were lying on the ground, others helping each other away from the scene. In the center of the field was a compound similar to the one in Finsbury Square, the gate wide open, pandemonium within, upon seeing this, they had a startling realization.
“Did you know there were three more vaults like the one at Finsbury?” Huxley demanded to know.
Over the course of three hours, the clouds had lifted, and the area had been cordoned off. They had assembled at the edge of Lincoln’s Inn Square, where the last several ambulances were leaving with coughing and crying victims. Surrounding them, parcels and articles of clothing were strewn about the field, trampled in the melee.
Inspector Hugo let out a reluctant gasp of air. “Of course, I knew, but you have to understand, Mr. Huxley. The information was confidential. We’re talking about the security of Britain’s entire wealth. We doubled the guards in all three locations, but somehow, it just wasn’t enough.”
“Several of the protestors got hurt in the panic,” said Sergeant Helman.
“Any fatalities that we know of?” Huxley asked.
“None so far,” Inspector Hugo replied. “But we won’t know for sure until tomorrow, I imagine.”
“Excuse me.” A reporter who’d been attempting to interview people around the square had finally made his way to the group. “Could I get a statement for the London Herald?”
“All we can say at this moment is that the London Police are working in conjunction with Scotland Yard and with the assistance of Mr. Theodore Huxley to—”
“Mr. Huxley!” another reporter interrupted. “How do you think this will impact the grand opening of your theatre tonight?”
“I don’t,” he answered, waving him off.
“Inspector Hugo, is there any truth to the rumors that the so-called peaceful protests were behind the attack?”
“Who said this was an attack?” Inspector Hugo challenged angrily.
“Do you think it was the IRA? Or perhaps the Bolsheviks?”
“I heard the government may be behind this,” said another reporter.
“The government had nothing to do with this,” said Moss. “There are both civilian and official victims of this attack.”
“So, it was an attack?”
“No!” yelled the inspector.
“Gentlemen!” Huxley silenced them. “What happened here today injured hundreds if not thousands of innocent people, including constables and members of the royal guard. Now is not the time to injure each other further by throwing unfounded accusations at each other. For this reason, I am offering my theatre for the housing of any injured citizens, should the hospitals find themselves at capacity.”
“So, the official statement is that it was an attack?”
“I cannot speak for the government. I can only speak for common sense.”
Following a long pause, a couple camera flashes caught the four of them before they managed to break away.
“We need them gone from the square,” Inspector Hugo growled to the sergeants. “Make it happen!”
“My dear inspector,” said Huxley as they walked on alone, “though I understand the peskiness of their position, removing the press altogether will only cause greater alarm, and perhaps fuel the idea that the government is, in fact, behind this.”
“They’re talking nonsense.”
“Yes. And we must not leave them to print it.”
The forty guards stationed at the vault were still pouring water into their eyes when Huxley and the inspector approached.
“Where’s Captain Stillard?” asked Inspector Hugo. A ragged sergeant pointed his wing toward the rear wall of the vault.
“Captain!” the inspector called.
An owl turned to them, his eyes bloodshot and watery. “Inspector Hugo, I don’t know what happened. This vault was guarded like a fortress. All my men were stationed around. There’s no way anyone could have gotten into the vault.” His words were quick and desperate. “I don’t know how, Inspector. I just don’t know how!”
“I believe you, Captain, but let’s not assume the gold is missing,” assured Inspector Hugo. “Nobody doubts your efforts. Now, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Theodore Huxley. He’s assisting with the investigation.” Huxley tipped his hat. “You say you had this place surrounded?”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Did anything occur before the incident?” asked Huxley. “Any noises or distractions?”
“Captain Stillard,” a sergeant said approaching, “the crane has arrived.”
It was nearly thirty minutes until everything was in position and ready to hoist the vault door from its hinges. Huxley, Inspector Hugo, and the two sergeants stood back as the crew began to work the machine. The vault door tembled, then after a few seconds, began to rise. Remnants of the gas leaked out into the open like a red fog, though it quickly disappeared. Beyond the entrance, the platform rose slightly above the main floor like the other vault, and like the other vault, the gold was gone.
“How in the bloody hell…” Inspector Hugo muttered. “I suspect the other two vaults will look the same.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I believe the poisonous gas is directly related to the disappearance of the gold, a byproduct, so to speak. There’s a popular stage trick of shooting fog up to make someone or something appear to vanish, often through a hatch in the floor.”
“This is far from some stage trick,” said Helman. “The gold actually has vanished, and that platform is solid concrete.”
“So it appears, Sergeant,” Huxley said. “Appearances can be deceptive, however. The stage trick relies on your mind to tell you that all there is to see has been seen.”
“We know this isn’t true, though,” said Inspector Hugo, connecting with Huxley’s thoughts. “Even though it appears the fog caused the disappearance, in reality, it only concealed it.”
“Okay then,” Moss said. “Supposing the poison gas was just a way to hide what really happened to the gold, that still doesn’t tell us where it is.”
“That’s just it,” said Huxley in a moment of revelation. “It’s still here.”
Inspector Hugo shook his head. “But where?”
Copyright © 2019 by Stephen Daniel Ruiz