“What you’re suggesting is that an individual privy to some extremely confidential information is leaking intelligence. Do you realize the implications here? This would be incendiary for the rumor of an impending English revolution.”
“I understand the implications,” said Huxley, selecting a cigar. “Despite them, you know we must consider this the most likely scenario.”
“But who could it be? And why?”
“We must begin by making a list of people who were aware of the existence and locations of all four vaults as well as the schedules of the final gold transports.”
The inspector took out his notepad and pencil as Huxley rolled the cigar, listening carefully before passing it under his beak to smell. “To my knowledge, the only people that know are the governor of the Bank of England Montagu Norman, Maxwell Stein, and me.”
“Not the transport guards?” asked Huxley before puffing his cigar to life with a silver lighter.
“Transport guards were selected only once and at the beginning of shifts for extra precaution. It wasn’t until the time of the transport that the guards themselves were informed.”
“Informed by whom?”
“The overseer of gold, but all he knew was when the gold was departing,” said Inspector Hugo. “Even he didn’t know where they were going.”
“How did the transport know where to deliver the gold?”
“Directions were sealed in an envelope and handed to the transport before departure. Five routes were designated for each vault and alternated so that they couldn’t be predicted.”
“Quite a secure operation,” said Huxley. “It seems there are only three possibilities for the source of the leak, two if we don’t count yourself, Inspector.”
“But you should,” he said fervently. “At this point, everyone is a suspect.”
“Where has the governor been through all of this?” asked Huxley.
“Traveling in France for the past two weeks. To avoid any risk of interception, we haven’t sent him word of the current situation.”
“I can’t imagine a man who supports the gold standard so adamantly would be involved in a plot to destroy the English economy,” said Huxley.
“Imagine if the gold isn’t recovered,” Inspector Hugo said. “We’re talking about a catastrophic effect on Western civilization as we know it. Speaking of which…I haven’t seen a thing in these blueprints that might give a clue as to where the gold is. Have you?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Huxley answered. “But I’m not convinced my hypothesis is incorrect.”
“Oh? And what is that exactly?” he asked sitting up straight. “I presume it has something to do with the chemical you mentioned. What was it… nitrogen?”
“Nitrogen dioxide, yes.”
“How can that make gold disappear?”
“Well, Inspector, there’s an old story, a legend if you will, of a person long ago who was thought to be immortal. Le Comte de Saint Germain, or the Count of Saint Germain. He was a brilliant osprey who graced the courts of Louis XV, Marie Antoinette, and Catherine the Great. He was a virtuoso on the violin and an incredible painter. There was no one more learned about politics and the history of Europe than he, and even Voltaire once called him ‘a bird who knows everything’. According to legend, he casually claimed the age of several hundred years, never ate anything but oatmeal, and even predicted the future. His wealth was one of the greatest mysteries about him because, despite his never seeming to travel with it and never banking anywhere, it was virtually limitless. Have either of you ever heard of the philosophers’ stone?”
Ms. Larkin and Inspector Hugo shook their heads.
Huxley took a moment to relight his cigar. “The philosopher’s stone is a mythical substance that, upon contact with any base metal such as lead, will turn it immediately to gold.”
“Wouldn’t that be lovely,” said the inspector.
“There is no evidence to suggest that such a substance exists at all, but it was believed that the Count of Saint Germain, who was also an alchemist, had discovered it and was actively using it. This is pure fantasy, of course. There is no possible way of doing such a thing. It is possible, however…” Huxley paused for his cigar. “It is possible to dissolve gold.”
“Dissolve it?” the inspector repeated in shock. “Why would anybody want to do that?”
“The solution is called aqua regia, and it doesn’t destroy the gold,” Huxley explained. “It’s a combination of hydrogen chloride and nitrogen oxide that breaks it down into a clear liquid. In this state, gold is impossible to recognize. You could store it in glass jars on a shelf for later extraction, and no one would be the wiser. If he used this method, the count may very well have been hiding his wealth in plain sight.” Huxley continued puffing his cigar as the inspector tried to decipher his meaning.
“You think someone dissolved the gold?” Inspector Hugo clarified.
“Purely conjecture. However, it wouldn’t be entirely impossible. The only questions that need answered are, how was this carried out, and—if as we theorized, the gold is still somewhere at the vaults—where was the dissolved gold hidden?” Huxley sighed. “Which is exactly what I was hoping to—”
Huxley paused in the moment of a new thought, and Inspector Hugo stared closely at him. “What? What is it?”
“Ms. Larkin, do you have the materials ledger?”
“May I see it, please?” The mouse handed him a notebook and referred him to the correct page. “Aha! An entry for glass.”
“Why wouldn’t there be?” asked the inspector. “There are glass panes in the vault doors.”
“Look here at the amount of glass purchased.”
The two of them hunched over the book on the desk, Inspector Hugo squinting down at the page. Upon reading the line, his eyes widened. “Almost 3,700 kilograms. That’s an astounding amount of glass, but what does that prove?”
“Aqua regia and any dissolved gold must be kept in glass containers. To store that much gold would require a container of mammoth proportions, constructed with as much as, oh, 3,700 kilograms of glass.”
“So, it is there!” The inspector smiled.
“And all we’ve to do is inspect these blueprints. The diagram of the vault door likely holds the best—”
Looking around the office, Huxley and Inspector Hugo found themselves alone, the blueprints missing. Without hesitation, the two dashed out of the office, but it was already too late, as Ms. Larkin had disappeared into the street.
“We forgot about the fourth person who knew,” said Huxley. “The bloody secretary.”
Copyright © 2019 by Stephen Daniel Ruiz