THE AMETHYST CAT CAPER
Cairo, Egypt 1934
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
It would have been nearly effortless, were it not for his dwindling patience.
Strolling along with the flock of gibbering tourists in their inane pith hats — as if they were partially responsible for excavating the “bizarre” objects they found themselves salivating over, the Gentleman Thief reserved his disdain to gaze over the shoulder of one particularly boney-cheeked matron who could have easily passed for one of the embalmed mummies upstairs. The unforgiving heat of the sun had certainly not helped her complexion any.
“Can you imagine? Praying to a cow?” she scoffed toward the ebony statue before her, causing a titter amongst her cohorts whom he often referred to as “the culturally opaque”.
The tour guide did not express so much as a sigh. However, the glazed look in his eyes said plenty.
“I suppose it would depend on which cow one is referring to,” the Gentleman Thief replied pointedly, receiving a mixture of gasps from the females and snickers from the males — no doubt many of who had been secretly harboring similar thoughts regarding the old bat.
The woman’s eyes bulged and her bird-like head twitched in all directions as she searched for her supporters. “Did you hear what he said?” she sputtered, fanning herself and feigning such delicate sensibilities, the Gentleman expected her to swoon at any moment while someone produced smelling salts from a reticule. For heaven’s sake, it was as if the age of radio and flight had never occurred. Then again, he supposed to some of his countrymen, it hadn’t. Stubborn lot, they were.
Throwing his head back and laughing in the face of such absurdity, he headed for the next room, leaving the womenfolk to calm the old crow while the men fidgeted awkwardly and contrived to look aghast.
The Gentleman took great pleasure in his visits to the museum and its guests — those who were worthy of his company and the majesty around them. Narrow-minded little twits, he had no time for. Unfortunately, it was a necessary inconvenience on this occasion.
This was hardly his first time to Cairo and its museums. In fact, he knew this particular museum quite well. After all, he had been employed here for a short period not long ago. Well, Pierre Larue — the French security officer had worked here for a short period before leaving to take a post in America.
The Gentleman smiled as he stopped to gaze appreciatively at the exceptionally preserved statue of Amenirdis in all her alabaster glory. He had spent the morning marveling at the extensive collection of papyrus and coins from the ancient world, the multitude of sarcophagi, and his favorite, Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb collection. It was terribly cliché, he knew, but it was indeed glorious. The gold funeral mask, the gilded boxes, the stunning gold throne with its clawed feet, lion heads, and exquisitely detailed backrest, the gleaming jewelry that beckoned him from inside feebly-enclosed glass casing. He could imagine all these treasures reflecting magnificently in the unyielding sun, the mixture of sand and pebbles broiling from the heat underneath one’s feet, the mysteries yet unsolved in lost tombs beneath the desert.
Speaking of treasures beneath the desert…
He checked his pocket watch and casually made his way through the remaining rooms on the east side of the ground floor until he reached the colossal statue of King Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Discreetly, he waited in its shadows, counting the seconds. The excitement bubbled up inside him as it always did. His body and mind prepared for the task ahead.
Five… four… three… two…
Glass shattered, screams and alarm bells echoed through the cavernous halls. Perplexed and panicked visitors shuffled about aimlessly, uncertain of the threat and whether they should be fleeing or not. Security officers blew whistles and materialized as if by magic from doorways and behind pillars, scurrying to Room 50 where their quarry would soon lead them in a fierce chase upstairs, through the New Kingdom.
The Gentleman Thief’s moment had arrived.
Nonchalantly, he walked straight for the conservation lab, and as he had been ensured, found it vacant. He wasted no time in executing his plan — a plan which had taken many, many months to prepare but would be complete in the brief amount of time it took for the guards to capture their quarry upstairs — and capture him they would. The Gentleman Thief felt no remorse for the man some would deem his “brother in trade”. As if some petty, common, street thug could possibly compare to the great and noble gentleman thieves from whom he had respectfully acquired his moniker. What gall, to put a ruffian in the same league as one so graceful and sophisticated. The brute deserved what he got for such insolence.
Inside the conservation lab — which all but resembled a tomb itself, he swiftly counted his way past the tables containing numerous artifacts in various stages of preservation, past dusty chisels, brushes, and tarps. Some items would join current exhibits. Others would remain hidden from the world. The object he sought had been a well-guarded secret since its discovery centuries ago due to its questionable procurement, but as history will attest, nothing remains buried indefinitely.
Finding the table he sought, he pulled out a dusty canvas sack from beneath it and, in a matter of moments, had the specially created satchel strapped around his arms and torso. Tucked far back, beneath the very same table, sat a medium sized box, and inside, his prize. Hiding in plain sight, they called it. He’d call it something else. Securing it in his satchel — and promising himself adequate time to appreciate it later, he emptied the rest of the sack, skillfully donned his disguise, and transformed himself into a new man. Discarding his previous identity, he slipped out of the conservation room and mingled with a group of anxious tourists being herded toward the exit as the museum was evacuated. He knew exactly what would come next. After all, he had initiated a similar scenario during his employment.
When the Gentleman Thief failed to rescue the hapless conspirator as promised, the man sang like a canary, and the search quickly spread beyond the museum walls. Everywhere, guards stopped male tourists of above-average height, looking for their blond, Swiss culprit. As a guard approached the group of puzzled tourists around the Gentleman Thief, the Gentleman smiled through his wiry black beard and mustache at a child before him. He crouched down in his long, rough, cotton gallabiyya, mindful of his newly-acquired, large belly, and straightened the red tarboosh on his black hair before placing three overturned tin cups on the floor. Showing the little boy the three small red balls in his hand, he placed them under the cups, and shuffled them about.
“Mummy, look, look! A Gully Gully man!” the little boy squealed, pulling at his mother’s skirt.
“It’s Gali Gali, darling,” his mother replied, waving a hand dismissively at the boy as the guard began questioning the adults. The Gentleman Thief captivated the little boy with his tricks, producing one of the red balls from behind the boy’s ear before the guard starting yelling and shooing the Gentleman away from the tourists. With a wink, the Gentleman allowed the boy to keep that particular little red ball. If the guard chose to look close enough, he too would find himself captivated.
With several bows of apology, the Gentleman Thief backed away and went to catch his taxi. By the time his clue made it into the right hands and anyone could guess as to what had gone missing and how, both he and the artifact would be out of the country.
In Port Said, a bustling international port with a population numbering well over a hundred thousand, the Gentleman Thief became merely another man amongst a host of Jewish, French, Egyptian, Swiss, German, English, and Scottish entrepreneurs. There, on the waterfront, he met with his man on the S.S. Mebsuta, who took the heavily padded canvas bag from him without question and swiftly added it to the cargo of antiquities already aboard, waiting to be exported. Now all that remained for the Gentleman Thief to do was to catch the next steamer home and wait for his prize to be delivered to his door.
As he strolled to the Casino Palace Hotel, he stopped in a small shop, disposed of his disguise, purchased a copy of The Daily Telegraph, a cigar, and several mundane little souvenirs to titillate the fellows back home. Shame he could not share his latest souvenir with his Cambridge chums, but alas, they would hardly know how to appreciate it.
He took his time, losing himself in the hustle and boisterous nature of the saturated marketplace around him, weaving in and out through tourist and merchant alike. There had been a time when he had contemplated showing his true self, before he realized he had no notion of who his true self was. He had spent so long hiding behind masks, at times he wondered if he removed them, if there would be anything left behind at all.
A merchant waved a hand in his face and he snapped out of it, horrified that he had allowed himself to get so lost in thought. That was why he had done what he had.
Looking down, he smiled wistfully at the delicate, purple rose tie pins displayed before him. It would do no good to have regrets now. He’d had a choice to make and he had made it. Nothing could be done about it. Still, he purchased two pins and tucked them lovingly into his front breast pocket. Tipping his hat to the merchant, he headed back to his hotel, telling himself things were better this way. Perhaps one day, his heart might believe it.
Copyright © 2012 Charlie Cochet. All Rights Reserved.