Phillip – Part Three
I pretend as though I’m alarmed, but I keep my cool. I yank at my wrists as if to break the cuffs. Then I look at the slender man and cry, “You can’t do this! I know my rights!” He lunges forward and punches me in the mouth. He hits like a girl, but I decide to pretend it hurts. I grunt as my head swings about. I pretend to be momentarily stunned by the force of his punch.
He shouts at me, “Shut up, Phillip!”
My face must have shown my disappointment at his astute identification. He stands upright and looks cocky. A smirk creeps onto his face. He turns around and walks the room as he talks.
“Didn’t think we’d identify you, huh? How could we forget?” He turns back and leans across the table at me. “Don’t you think it strange that just when the trail on the San Marco case goes cold, you, of all people walk right in and declare you have some ‘new’ knowledge about the case we need to hear?”
I eye him coldly in reply.
“All quiet now, eh? Listen Phillip, I know you just got out of prison this morning, but I’ll be all too happy to throw you back in as an accomplice if you don’t start talking!”
I cock my head to one side and look at him with curiosity. “Well that’s interesting,” I say.
“What’s that, Phillip?”
I just stare at him for a moment. “Are you an idiot?”
He shouts and punches me again. I grunt and reel from the blow. I bring my head back to face him. I take a breath and recompose myself.
“I was just asking because you’re holding me here on suspicion of being an accomplice to a crime with which you know it’s entirely impossible for me to have been involved.”
He gives me a curious stare.
“What, do I have to spell it out for you?” I ask, exasperated. I continue, “I was in jail the whole time! I’ve been there the last ten years! Ask the warden! Ask any of the guards! I was there every day! I couldn’t have done it!”
The slender man drops his cocky attitude. Defeated, the slender man takes a breath.
“You’re right, but I still need what you know for my investigation.” He sits down at the table across from me, “Maybe it’s strange that you’re here, but it’s fortuitous for me. It could be for you too. Let’s talk.” He smiles.
I smile back. “Yeah, I’m really not sure you understand how this works. Like I said before, I’m not in the habit of telling sensitive information to people I don’t know and unfortunately, I don’t know you. Why don’t you bring the chief in here. I know him.”
My smile stays consistent. The slender man drops his.
“Fine,” he acquiesces, “but I’ll be in the room with him!”
I can feel blood from my lips and the inside of my mouth on my teeth, but I give him my best grin anyway. “I’ll be waiting right here.” He closes the door and I hear him walk away.
It only takes a few minutes before the door swings open again. The chief stands in the doorway with the slender man close behind. He’s removed his decorated jacket and is wearing only a button up shirt. He looks tired, but his mustache remains alert as ever. The chief says nothing, but calmly sits down across the table from me. The slender man closes the door behind him and leans up agains the wall, arms folded. No one says anything for a moment. We just look at each other.
“It’s been a while, Phillip,” the chief begins. I smile at him. “My associate here tells me you’ve got some information on the San Marco heist. Well? What have you got for me?”
I lean forward, “Well chief, I know how they did it and I think I may know who.”
The chief raises an eyebrow, but keeps his eyes fixed on mine. “Is that so? Well, I can’t suppose there would be any harm in hearing you out.”
I look at the slender man. “Would you be so kind as to unlock these?”
Hesitantly, the slender man walks over, unlocks my cuffs, and leans up against the wall again.
I look back at the chief. “Let me show you something chief,” I reach in my pocket. As I do, the slender man leaps from the wall as if intercepting an assassination attempt and grabs my arm with one hand, winding up to strike me again with the other.
“Relax!” The chief shouts. The slender man freezes and slowly loosens his grip and lets his arms fall. Still standing beside me, “Pull it out of your pocket. Slowly.”
Very slowly, I remove the newspaper clipping I cut in the old woman’s tearoom and slide it across the table to the chief. The slender man relaxes and goes back to leaning against the wall.
“This paper ran this morning,” the chief says, “Everyone saw it, much to my chagrin. Why are you showing me this, Phillip?”
“Because this picture tells us exactly how they did it! It might also tell us who!”
The chief tries not to smile. “I’ll be honest, Phillip, I never thought you and I would have a conversation like this. How am I supposed to believe anything you tell me?”
“You don’t really have a lot of options, chief. Between you and me, I could tell from the press conference that the trail on the case has gone cold.
Silence hits the room. After a moment, the chief gestures for me to continue. I begin explaining the picture to him.
“First of all, lets see where the San Marco Casino actually placed the safe. Where is it, chief?”
“Set in the wall behind a false panel, locked by a hidden combination lock and release lever.”
“Interesting. How many people do you think knew the safe was behind that wall?”
“Oh, I don’t Phillip. Maybe a handful?”
“And how many of those people do you think knew the combination to the lock or knew how to crack it?”
The chief looked at me. “Phillip, we already pursued that trail and it was a dead end. Are you saying it was, in fact, an inside job?”
“I’m not sure yet, but let’s come back to that. Now, what else do you notice?”
“Other than the fact that it’s empty?”
“Look at the wall around the edges of the safe.”
The chief leans in and squints at the photograph.
“They’re blackened. Is that . . . charring?”
“Good, chief! That’s exactly what it is!”
The chief gives me a blank look. “I don’t understand. Why is the wall charred only around the edges of the safe?”
“Whoever our thief is used small, concentrated explosives focused backward into the wall to blast the safe out of the wall. That charring you see around the edges is what’s left.”
“So they blast around the edges of safe and then . . . what?”
“Well, they stole it, chief.”
“The – the safe? The entire safe?!” the chief looks surprised.
“Of course! Steal the entire safe and then you have all the time you need to crack it open safely. The safe in the picture is a fake.”
The chief leans back in disbelief. “No, Phillip, that can’t be right. Our investigators at the scene said they drilled through the front of the safe. You should know the technique: drill a hole in the right spot and the safe acts like an amplifier for the sound of the tumblers. Add a doctor’s stethoscope or something and you’re in business. Makes it easy to hear them fall into place as they release the lock. Look, you can see the hole they drilled in the picture.”
“That’s not what the thief did, chief. That’s what they did to this fake safe to make you think that’s what they did. It’s a red herring. With how tight the security at this place is, this had to be a quick heist. That type of reinforced plate would take almost an hour to drill through. I’m also familiar with this style of safe and the tumblers are silent. They have extra housing around the tumblers to dampen their sound, but that sound-absorbing housing produces slight vibrations in the combination dial which can be felt with a careful hand. We used to call this kind of safe a ‘feeler.’ Anyway, drilling a hole, no matter how strategic, wouldn’t help you crack this safe.”
The chief stared at the picture for a moment. “So, you’re saying that they didn’t crack the safe, they just stole it completely and replaced it with a fake?”
“Yes, but not just a fake, chief! A perfect copy! Imagine how many times someone must have seen and studied this safe to fabricate a perfect copy like that! Good enough to fool even the casino’s owner! It’s a perfect duplicate with a perfect red herring to throw you guys off and it’s left in plain sight.” I pick up the newspaper clipping and look at romantically for a moment. “I don’t know who this thief is, but I almost admire his work. He’s certainly a master of his craft.”
“Let’s talk about that, Phillip. Now who stole the safe?”
“Right!” I smack the table with enthusiasm. “Let’s talk about who stole the safe! Now, at first, I thought it had to be an inside job. Given the overall secrecy surrounding the location of the safe and its security measures, I figured that the only person who could’ve done something like this had to be someone who worked at the casino.”
The chief responded, “You said, ‘at first.’ You don’t think that’s the case anymore?”
“No. I think this was done by a highly organized professional. Like me.” I give the chief a winning smile. He isn’t amused so I move on. “Initially, it was the explosives that got me. I couldn’t figure it out. They used some pretty powerful hardware, the sort of hardware that you can’t get just anywhere and that doesn’t come cheap. Their resources were too vast, their pockets, too deep for this to be some schmuck trying to rip off his boss.”
“So who do you think it is?”
“I’m not done yet, chief.” We lock eyes for a moment. “There’s also the expertise with which the explosives were applied and the blast was focused. Whoever they were, in addition to their vast resources, they also had to be a master demolitions man.”
“Okay, so who was it?” The chief is getting a bit annoyed.
“Still not done, chief.” I continue, “Finally, there’s the perfectly fabricated copy of the safe that was left behind. He had to know how this safe looked, how it worked, inside and out to make a copy this good. So, in addition to his deep pockets, mastery of explosives, he also had to be a master safecracker.”
“Phillip! Just tell me who did it!”
I hold up a finger, “Whoever he is, he’s a talented person . . . or talented group of people . . . .”
The chief gives me a puzzled look. I lean forward.
“Here’s what I think chief. At first, I thought it was a single guy who had worked at the San Marco for years on casino security who got fed up with taking orders from his boss and decided to rip off the whole casino. However, when I started looking at the crime scene, just from this photograph, mind you, I started to realize how improbable it actually is to that a single person pulled off this whole thing, and so well, I might add! And, perhaps most importantly, that they got away with it. Far more likely that a team, each with their own specialties, pulled the heist. That’s the only way something like this works, chief.”
The chief looks at me. “So who do you think did it?”
“There’s only one group I know of with that kind of power operating in the city.”
The chief leans back in his chair. “You’re talking about your old syndicate, aren’t you? You think this is a job they pulled?”
“Just trust me, chief. From the inside out, this looks just like something they would’ve pulled off! Like something I would’ve pulled off. Each step is exactly their style. There’s no one else with the resources, the manpower, or the expertise to pull off something like this.”
“Phillip, I don’t have enough evidence to go after someone like that! I don’t know a thing about them! Do you expect me to just walk up and tell them I know they did it and ask for a confession?”
“No, but I do know where they’re keeping the safe.”
“How could you possibly know that, Phillip? You’ve been locked away for 10 years.”
“I’m confident they haven’t changed it. It would be in one of three places, neither of them heavily defended or guarded so as not to draw attention to them. What I’ve just told you should give you plenty of reason to be able to go in and snoop around.”
“How do I know they haven’t already cracked it and destoryed all the evidence?”
“Because they don’t have anyone good enough to crack that safe.”
“You mean they don’t have anyone as good as you.”
I look down at my dirty shoes for a moment, then back at the chief. “Yeah. 10 years and they still haven’t been able to replace me.”
“This is crazy, Phillip.”
“Well, it’s a lot better than what you have on the case now.”
“That’s true,” the chief grumbled. “Okay, Phillip. I’ll play. Where can I find the safe?”
I describe the three possible locations to the chief, who writes them down and hands them off to the slender man. He dashes out, presumably to begin putting teams together to search each location. The chief and I each stand up and he leads me out of the station.
Outside on the stoop, the chief turns to me, “Thanks for your help, Phillip. I don’t think I could’ve wrapped this up without you.”
Just like the warden at the prison this morning, he smiles at me. I feign a smile back. He extends his hand, still smiling. I reach out shake his hand. I walk out from the stoop and hear the door to the station whine to a thud as it closed.
And that was it.
. . . except for one thing. There was just one small detail I left out of my story.
I pulled the heist at the San Marco.