The lady Carolyn Dunnington of Durham re-entered the exhibition hall after the tour. The other guests had gone to their champagne and hor’dourves in the reception hall at the Louvre. It was time to work.
She could not believe her luck or the stupidity of Louvre for inviting her here. She thought it was known that her title was just a cover. Her real name was Penelope Wilton, aka “Penny Whistler” the notorious art and jewel thief.
Penelope Wilton is about to make the score of her life. What she doesn’t realize is that some things are best left as they are. Penelope is about to find out that her plan is taking her to… The Event Horizon.
She wondered if her name or file was expunged by the Nazis while they occupied Paris. Maybe it was randomly burned in the war. Yet for the last seven years, she and the Louvre had effectively ignored one another. She wondered if the Rubens’ she switched before the war still hung there. She kept the original hidden behind a Cézanne that she legitimately purchased at an auction in New York.
Still, checking out her work before retiring is not why she came. Tonight was an incredible opportunity. Not seen since the mid-20’s, the Louvre had a special showing of the rarest of all gems, the Orb of Souls.
The Orb of Souls was found in ancient Persia by the trader know only as “Nevets” between the time of Christ’s birth and death. It was said to have placed his soul in thrall and cast him in eternal slavery. Rumors always persisted that this Nevets still lived as a slave to this day. Certainly the Nevets’ stores were found just about anywhere. Penelope thought that this was just Arab traders cashing in on an old myth. Perhaps this myth was invented by some conglomeration.
Still, the Orb of Souls had value. Incalculable value! Enough value for an aging jewel thief to come out of retirement. She approached the entrance to the gallery.
“Pardon me,” she asked the guard in a perfect Oxford accent. “Is this where they keep ‘The Village Fête’ by Rubens?”
“Oui, Madame. It is near the special exhibition.”
“May I go see it?”
“But of course. You do not wish to be at the reception?”
Penelope laughed. “When you get to be a bit older, all that seems much too frivolous. I am here just for the art. But then you work here. Tell me, do the paintings really talk?”
The guard laughed. “Go, listen to them. If you need assistance I will be here, Henri will be at the other end.”
Fools! She thought. You joke when the one of the world’s biggest treasures is about to disappear.
She walked around the first display. The gem was in a case between the fourth and fifth. Neither guard could see it from their stations. Idiots!
Between the second and third displays she knelt down. She placed her purse on the floor, out of sight of the guards. She removed her everyday items and placed them as if they were tossed about. She was careful not to make a sound. She continued walking making sure the sound of her heels resounded of the marble floor.
She reached the fourth display. Her rendition of the Rubens work hung with pride. She bent down to take a closer look. She smiled, the fourth villager from the left played a penny whistle, her trademark. She wanted to laugh at the ineptness. But now was not the time.
With the greatest of care, she removed her shoes. She laid them both on their sides. She then approached the Orb of Souls.
The glass case was not sealed. There were no alarms anywhere. The Orb lay on a small pad. It seemed smaller that the pictures for the last exhibition. Looking back at the Rubens, she had an odd feeling. This is too easy and too perfect!
She again looked at the gem. The Orb of Souls was dazzling; colors swirled and danced. It seemed to look like an opal with the fire of the finest diamond. She decided she had to have it no matter the risk.
Still wearing her long silk evening gloves she tried the glass case. It moved easily with no alarm. She bent over the glass top to slide her other hand in. she lifted the gem, still no alarm. She held it in front of her, mesmerized by the display.
Looking to make sure all was clear; she lifted to her mouth and swallowed it. She had to gulp several times to get it down.
When it was down, she pushed the glass over, slow enough to by herself a few microseconds. She threw herself down next to her shoes and screamed, “Help! Help!” the exact second the glass shattered.
The guards came running. “Madame! Are you all right?”
Penelope made a big show of trying to get off the ground. She stared at the display.
“My God! They stole the Orb of Souls!”
Henri ran to seal off the gallery. The friendly guard help Penelope sit up. She looked around. “He stole my purse!”
“Who?” the guard asked.
Penelope acted as if she were panicking. “Someone just flashed by. I heard something at the Orb of Souls display; by the time I looked he stole my purse and knocked me over.”
“Do you require medical assistance?” the guard asked.
“I don’t think so.” Penelope tried to stand. “I think I may have twisted my ankle. Do you have a place to sit?”
“There is a bench here,” the friendly guard helped her sit.
“There is no one here,” Henri said. “He must have gotten away.”
“I am sorry, I must have distracted you. I’m sure he must be in the building. Find my purse and maybe he will be there.” Penelope suggested.
“Monsieur Girard, will be here soon, Madame. He will need to ask questions.”
“Of course. It happened so fast, I didn’t get a good look.”
The wait seemed just a few seconds. There was a rattling at one of the gates. “Henri, Claude!”
“Ah, here he is now,” the guard she knew now as Claude said.
She heard the rattling of the metal gate and then approaching footsteps.
A large, sweating man in a rumpled suit came and stood in front of Penelope.
“Madame, I am Jacques Girard, head of security here at the Louvre. I am sorry that you were caught in this situation. But as prudent, I will need to ask some questions.”
“Please, Monsieur Girard. I will try to help as best as possible.”
Girard took a pad from his coat pocket, he motioned to the bench. “May I join you?”
Penelope smiled, “Certainly.”
“First I must ask is you are all right?”
“Yes, I think my ankle may have twisted, but otherwise I’m fine.”
“May I have your full name?”
“I am the Lady Carolyn Dunnington of Durham.”
“Ah,” Girard said.
“That name is familiar to you, Monsieur Girard?”
“Yes, I must say it is. Monsieur Nevets insisted you be invited.”
“There really is a Nevets?”
“Yes, I have met him myself. He will be picking up his gem later this week.”
“You sound confident you can find it.”
“He will not escape. As soon as the alarm sounded, all exits were sealed. It is just a matter of time. I know all the hiding places here, my lady.”
A commotion disturbed the conversation.
“Monsieur Girard, we have found the lady’s purse,” Claude announced. “It was dumped over near the exit.”
“Do not touch anything Claude; the police might want to check for fingerprints.”
I feel bad for the valet at the entrance, Penelope thought. I dropped my purse, just so his prints will be all over it. It doesn’t pay to be a gentleman.
“Is there anything you need from it now, my lady?” Girard asked.
Penelope shook her head.
“Tell me about the thief.”
Penelope stood and hobbled over to her shoes. She put them on and held out her arm. “He’s about this tall. He was dressed in black. That’s about all I know.”
Girard wrote in his pad. “I think he was about 5’9” by your description. Was it a black sweater, black shirt?”
Penelope sat next to Girard. She felt hot. She shook a little.
“My lady, are you all right?” Girard asked.
“I’m feeling a little strange.”
“You are coming off a traumatic event. Do you smoke? Perhaps that will calm your nerves.”
“I don’t often. Perhaps a cigarette will calm me down.”
Girard reached into his coat. “If you don’t mind, I have a Turkish blend.”
Penelope reached for one of the cigarettes. Her hand shook as she placed it between her lips. Girard lit a match and held it to her.
Why am I shaking so much? I have been in this situation before. I have no problem lying to the police.
Girard joined her in smoking. They sat on the bench is silence.
Penelope’s shaking became stronger. She felt very sweaty. Her breathy became almost gasping.
“Do you need some water?” Girard asked.
Penelope could only nod.
“Claude, could you get Lady Carolyn some water?”
“Of course, Monsieur Girard.”
Penelope watched as Claude opened the gate. She saw Girard give Henri a look that sent him to the other gate. When they were alone, Girard moved closer to Penelope.
“I am sorry, Penelope. But rest assured that it all will be over soon.”
The gate clattered open once again. Claude returned with the glass of water. He stopped at the bench, where only Girard sat. Next to him were the clothes that the Lady Carolyn was wearing.
Girard reached into the pile. He pulled out the Orb of Souls. It was twice as big.
“I think Nevets will be quite delighted to see that his plan worked,” Girard said.
“It’s a shame,” Claude replied. “She seemed nice.”
Penelope Wilton wanted to make the ultimate score. Little did she know, she was the score. Be careful what you wish for, it may get you, especially on…The Event Horizon.