Somewhere in the dark, a pair of voices spoke to each other, their words indiscernible. The concern was audible, however, and the breath of a warm light became visible. Ambient noises of fragile glass clinking, of coughing and conversations became louder, and the two voices became clear.
“We’re lucky it hit him where it did, or he might not have survived,” a woman said. “It’s a miracle all he did was go unconscious.”
“Yes, but what of his wing?” Inspector Hugo asked. “Do you know if…”
“It’s impossible to say,” she answered. “Only time will tell.”
“Only time will tell what?” asked Huxley, opening his eyes then winced at the bright stage lights. “Bloody hell, those things are blinding.”
“Mr. Huxley,” said the inspector with a smile. “You’re awake.”
“Did we get them?”
“Ms. Larkin is still at large, but we got those other bastards. They’re all members of an organization I’d never heard of called The Free Party.” Inspector Hugo took a leaflet from his jacket pocket and extended it to Huxley. “They had a printing press down in the cellar and made nearly a thousand of these. We’re fortunate they didn’t get the chance to disseminate them, or the strike might have turned into a full-on revolt.”
On the paper was an image of the Three Lions crest, a sword plunged down the middle of all three, and an inscription in the hilt.
“Unitatis, pudicitiam, libertas. Unity, purity, freedom.”
“That appears to be a motto of some kind.” Inspector Hugo leaned against the cot Huxley was lying in. “We shall not be oppressed,” Huxley read aloud. “Well, isn’t that ominous.”
“We also found about fifty steel barrels holding enormous glass containers. They were all empty though.”
“You say empty?” Huxley asked.
“They don’t have the gold yet,” Huxley laughed. “The gold is still at the vault just as we thought.”
“That’s what I suspected,” Inspector Hugo nodded. “I’ve already spoken to Mr. Stein. He’s got a crew to dismantle the vault immediately. They should be getting started in the next couple of hours. My guess is that the gold is in the foundation somewhere, and once those panels are gone, we can find it.”
“Ms. Larkin said it wouldn’t be able to hold up the walls if that were the case.”
“She’s the enemy. Of course, she’d say that.”
“You don’t think any of the prisoners might tell you?” asked Huxley.
“The prisoners aren’t talking. Sure, we have ways of making them talk, but who knows how long that could take or if the information would be reliable. Badgers can take quite the beating.”
“Huxley!” Franklin Doggart called. “Huxley, are you all right? I heard you’d been shot.”
“Nothing mortal, Doggart. I promise,” Huxley smiled.
“This place is a mad house. I’m not questionin’ your philanthropy, but you know we got a show tonight, right? It’s less than an hour until curtain.”
“Yes, I remember,” Huxley sighed. “It appears that my gamble will cost me dearly. Though, if it means the saving of lives, I can’t think of a better way to lose. My father would have understood.”
“How long do you think all these people will need to stay here?” asked the inspector.
“However long they must.”
“Tis a shame no one will get to see the show,” said Doggart, shaking his head.
Huxley looked out across the theatre, a dull pain thudding through his wing. “No.”
“No?” Doggart repeated confused.
“We have an audience. This is a theatre. We will have our show. If this theatre is to close the day after it’s opened, it will at least have one performance.”
“And what a performance! I’ll inform the troupe!”
Inspector Hugo watched the squirrel run off towards backstage.
“Where did you meet him?” he asked.
“The same place we met everyone. The war.”
At eight o’clock, the lights dimmed in the theatre as the hospital patients settled into their seats, their eyes fireworks of anticipation and excitement. Huxley took a place center stage, a microphone waiting for him on a stand. The audience clapped, and he smiled.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am Theodore Huxley, and I’d like to welcome you all to the Amble Theatre. My father was forced to close these doors over thirty years ago, and it’s my privilege to open them again for you tonight. I know he’d be proud.” Huxley cleared his throat. “Today has been difficult for all of us. There was a question of whether or not I should continue tonight’s show as planned. However, seeing you all here, there is no question in my mind that this is what we need, and this is what you deserve. Therefore, without further ado, I present to you the Amble Theatre Extravaganza!”
Applause was not dim as the music began to play. A great trumpeting from the orchestra pit rang out through the auditorium. Several minutes later, Huxley sat alone on the third level, staring at his wing. As much as he wasn’t allowed to move it, he couldn’t if he tried. The bullet had hit his radius, and from that point upward, everything was numb.
He looked down at the dancers, watched the singers perform jaunty tunes that got the audience clapping along, and even chuckled at the comedians falling over each other in their routine. His mind, however, was preoccupied with the vaults, trying to imagine how they might conceal so much gold.
After the intermission, Franklin Doggart’s glass box took center stage, and he appeared in a wool swimsuit. The audience began murmuring to each other after he explained the amazing feat of daring he was about to undertake. After lowering himself in, he shackled his feet and tossed the key out onto the stage floor.
At his signal, a line of assistants began shuttling back and forth with large buckets of water, one by one dumping into the tank. The audience’s excitement rose with the waterline until the last bucket fully submerged Doggart’s head, then two more were added for effect. An assistant stood at the ready with an axe, should the worst happen, and Doggart remained still, staring back at the audience with cheeks full of air.
He opened his mouth, appearing to take magnificent gulps of water, and as he had explained, the water level appeared to lower. Time felt as though it were lagging, and the crowd began to buzz with worry as Doggart’s drinking appeared to become more frantic. The axe man held up the axe even higher. The water level continued to lower. Finally, Doggart’s nose pointed up above his head, breached the surface, and death was no longer imminent. The audience cheered for the magician dripping as he released himself from his restraints and climbed out with a smile and a wave. Huxley was impressed, marveling at the concept of sucking the water up into the wall of the tank.
“Into the wall… Into the—” Huxley jumped up in epiphanical triumph and rushed outside to his motor car.
The engine roared as he sped through London, zipping around corners, disregarding the new traffic light in Piccadilly. Finally, he arrived at Finsbury Square where a crane was removing the first few panels of the vault walls.
“Inspector Hugo!” shouted Huxley.
“Mr. Huxley, what are you doing here?” asked the inspector becoming worried.
“The walls!” He stumbled to him out of breath.
“The gold. It’s in the walls.”
At No. 2 Chesterfield Street, Huxley was sitting in his office, puffing a cigar, contemplating the fate of the Amble Theatre. There was no doubt about it. As soon as the injured were all gone, the doors would have to be closed, perhaps for good. He was fortunate to have paid the performers in advance, or else he might have had to sell the building itself, and that was something he could never bare.
Engle knocked on the door. “Master Huxley, Barron Montagu Norman is here to see you.”
“Is that so?” Huxley frowned, wondering what had taken so long. “Send him in.”
“Mr. Huxley,” greeted the barron, an elderly hare with a pleasant disposition. “I do apologize for the delay in my visiting you.”
“You’ve already done more than I could ever ask of anyone, Mr. Huxley, and I was surprised to hear that you declined the honor of a knighthood. You truly are a humble servant to the Crown.”
“I won’t take up your time,” he smiled. “I’m simply here to inform you that, for your services to the Empire and to the Bank of England, five hundred thousand pounds in being awarded to you, deposited into your personal accounts this afternoon.”
“Five hundred…” Huxley began to say but fell speechless.
“Correct, sir.” The banker smiled. “And that is a reward you cannot decline.” He turned to go then stopped. “And be sure to rest that wing.”
“I will.” Huxley watched Barron Norman leave, then returned to his cigar. The paper lay on his desk, his photograph in the center of the page.
“Master Huxley,” said Engel. “This was just left for you, sir.” The old pigeon placed a leaflet down before Huxley, the image of the Three Lions Crest being run through. The word ‘vindicta’ was scrawled beneath it.
“Lovely,” said Huxley. “Would you be so kind as to add this to my collection?”
“Certainly, sir,” Engle said, taking the paper with a bow, then paused. “You’re not concerned?”
“Concerned?” Huxley leaned back with a satisfied smile. “On the contrary, my dear Engle. With so many enemies, one can only conclude that I must be doing something right.”
“But,” Huxley continued, stopping Engle as he stepped away. “It would behoove one to remain cautious.”
“Fetch my pistols, Engle. I get the feeling we’re going to need them.”
Theodore Huxley will return…
Copyright © 2019 by Stephen Daniel Ruiz