© Dan Schuler
Click Here To Buy This Book
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
Tyler Brooks, III, reclined on one of the worn oak benches encircling the ornamental fountain as he scanned the morning’s headlines in the Chicago Tribune. The fountain, depicting a marlin caught in mid-leap, stood in the center of the mezzanine. Archways gave way to the Hall of Dinosaurs and Discoveries of the Deep. Both were outstanding exhibits which Tyler had visited earlier in the day, on this his forty-third visit to Chicago’s Natural History Museum.
Tyler’S lips parted in a mischievous grin as he fantasized the headlines in tomorrow’s edition. His father had pontificated for years on the Brooks family’s responsibility to perform great and noble acts. He considered his father’s vision a burden rather than a legacy. Tyler Brooks, Junior, “Ty” to his close friends and associates, industrialist, philanthropist, leader of men. The press lauded dear Ty, and he, in turn, bore their inane compliments like the finest royal vestments.
In the eyes of his only son and heir to the Brooks’ considerable family fortune, however, the only opinions on the subject that counted for anything were his own. His views of Ty Brooks, expressed with vehemence at every opportunity, were far less complimentary: obnoxious, egocentric, aloof, a genuine pompous ass. Tyler felt justified in offering these opinions, for who knew the true measure of a man better than the son who had been groomed since birth to take his place.
Tyler consulted his watch. It was an inexpensive Swiss Army watch that he much preferred to the ostentatious Rolex timepiece he received from his father on his seventeenth birthday. Philanthropist, hell. Ty could have fed a third world nation for weeks on what he’d spent on the bauble. 4:28. The museum would be closing soon. Time to put his plan into action.
He rose from the bench, folded the newspaper in thirds, and tucked it beneath his arm. He meandered across the high gloss, checkerboard marble floor until he stood before a kiosk displaying a map of the museum. It was a stalling tactic only, as Tyler knew every inch of the space better than the confines of his own meager, sparsely furnished, apartment. He caught himself scratching his upper lip and slipped his hand deep into the pocket of his chinos to suppress the urge to do it again. The damn faux mustache itched furiously, but it was necessary to complete his disguise. Another furtive glance at his wrist confirmed that he’d managed to expend two minutes at the kiosk. Fearing that any longer delay might raise suspicions, he turned and strode into the Hall of Dinosaurs.
The exhibit was organized by era, each with a collection of fossilized skeletons representing the creatures that had populated that period in history. Tyler had been fascinated with the beasts as a child, but his father discouraged his emerging enthusiasm toward palentological pursuits. To Ty Brooks’ way of thinking, dinosaurs were a lost cause, and money would be better employed in the search for oil and natural gas deposits. The American dollar was the Holy Grail to Ty, the reason for existence, and his son’s choices would always be measured by the amount of profit involved. Tyler, though never concerned with personal wealth, nevertheless recognized the irony in the fact that he’d come to the museum that day to steal one of the world’s most precious gemstones.
Tyler drifted into the realm of the Cretaceous period, taking up a position beside the Struthiomimus display. It wasn’t so much the fossilized remains that occupied his interest as the unobstructed view of the museum restrooms tucked discreetly behind a shallow wall at the rear of the exhibit. On his previous visits to the museum he had keenly observed that one particular security guard, Anderson, chose this setting for his afternoon constitutional each day between 4:30 and 4:40. The pattern never varied. Tyler was a great believer in a system of patterns that shaped and drove each individual’s life. By recognizing these patterns, an astute person could use them to his advantage. The squeak of polished shoes on the marble tiles alerted him to Anderson’s approach and validated his hypothesis.
Anderson headed straight for the restroom, a well-thumbed magazine tucked under his arm. Tyler had never seen the cover, but he was willing to lay odds that it wasn’t the recent edition of Popular Mechanics.
Anderson stood a few inches taller than Tyler, but their build and complexion were uncannily similar. That is why he had chosen the man after all. Tyler pretended to study the plaque at the base of the Struthiomimus display as Anderson disappeared into the lavatory.
His mind wandered for a moment, perhaps a memory from his childhood breaking through the still waters of his mind, and he found himself reading the details of the creature before him, frozen in time. He discovered another pattern. An opportunistic carnivore, the Struthiomimus snuck into the nests of other dinosaurs and made off with their eggs. If Tyler had been born during the Cretaceous period, he knew the sort of dinosaur he would have been.
Tyler approached the restroom door, slipping a laminated sheet of paper from the folds of his Chicago Tribune. It read OUT OF ORDER in bold, black font. He affixed the sign to the men’s room door with a length of double-sided tape, and slipped quietly inside.
His senses were assaulted by the reek of industrial cleaning solvents. The concentration of ammonia in the air burned his eyes and he blinked them furiously, allowing his tear ducts to soothe his irritated retinas.
He turned back to the door and engaged the stainless steel bolt attached to the doorframe. Tyler heard the crinkle of pages being turned somewhere off to his left, the sound pronounced in the otherwise silent space.
Moving to a row of sinks beneath the harsh incandescent glare of the overhead lights, he chose one at random, and turned the spigots away from one another. Lukewarm water flowed into the basin. He dampened a cotton cloth removed from the pocket of his slacks and worked the material along the edges of the mustache, the warm water dissolving the adhesive. Tyler tugged the mustache from his upper lip and tossed it in the trash can. As he replaced the cloth in his pocket, he heard the clink of a belt buckle being fastened followed a moment later by the flush of a commode.
Tyler smiled at his reflection in the mirror above the sink, noticing the slight color above his lip where the mustache had rested a moment before. He rinsed his hands in the warm water as the sound of a latch disengaging drifted from the far stall. Anderson appeared, whistling as he approached.
The security guard carried no gun, the museum’s board of directors being content to arm their minions with a can of pepper spray and a Maglite flashlight. Anderson dropped the magazine he’d been carrying into the trash receptacle then sidled up to the sink next to Tyler’s.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the guard remarked as he ran his fingers through his spiky, graying hair. He checked his watch, brow furrowing before declaring, “I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit today, sir, but it’s nearly closing time.”
Tyler smiled. “Yes, I understand. It seems that I can never get enough of the dinosaur exhibit. I’ve enjoyed them since I was a young boy.”
Anderson lathered his hands in the sink, rinsed them, and reached his hand out to the paper towel dispenser. Tyler knew his time was short. He could not allow Anderson to reach the locked restroom door.
Turning off the taps, Tyler asked, “Sir, would you be kind enough to hand me a paper towel?”
“Sure.” As Anderson turned toward the dispenser, Tyler made his move, groping in his pocket for the bearing-filled, leather sap. “I’ve always been partial to the Tyrannosaurus mys—“
Anderson’s response was cut short as the leather sap found the slight depression at the base of his skull. The guard crumpled to the floor without a sound. Tyler bent and placed two fingers on the man’s carotid artery, his efforts rewarded by a shallow, yet steady, pulse.
Satisfied, Tyler straightened, returned to the sinks, and began undressing. He removed his white, pinpoint Oxford, revealing a pouch, secured to his abdomen with long, Velcro straps. The pouch provided a mild paunch while offering a repository for his tools. From it he removed a roll of duct tape, a penlight, a pair of infrared goggles and several small dental mirrors on collapsible, titanium frames.
Tearing a length of tape from the roll, he bent and sealed the guard’s mouth. Based on the size of the lump rising on Anderson’s head, Tyler felt confident the man would remain unconscious for several hours, but there was no sense in becoming careless at this late stage.
Tyler removed his pants and shoes, and swapped clothing with the prone security guard. He buckled the utility belt at his waist, arranged the flashlight, walkie-talkie and pepper spray canister, and placed the man’s cap on his head at a jaunty angle. He found his reflection in the cloudy mirror humorous. If only his father could see him now.
“Look, Ty, I’ve joined the ranks of law enforcement,” he whispered.
Tyler dragged the unconscious security man to the last stall and hefted his body onto the toilet seat. Crossing the man’s legs, he bound him securely to the seat with a generous amount of tape. Leaving nothing to chance, he placed his palm under the man’s nostrils to assure himself that the guard’s breathing was unobstructed. His anxiety assuaged, Tyler stepped back to regard his handiwork. Old Anderson looked like Sitting Bull about to light the ceremonial peace pipe.
Tyler gathered his tools, tucking them away in the various zippered pockets of the guard’s navy blue cargo pants. The pouch he stowed deep in the trash can, concealed from view by the guard’s tattered copy of Gent magazine. He’d fashioned the pouch himself, so he had little concern the bag could be traced. Just another skill he’d picked up in the Polymers lab while attending Princeton. He’d come within six credits of graduation before forsaking higher education for the adrenaline rush of a cross country journey of discovery in a candy apple red 1969 Super Sport Camaro. He pondered again how Ty had managed to explain away that little disappointment. It was all about appearances, after all.
Tyler brushed the memories from his mind, strode to the door, shot the bolt, and glanced into the Hall of Dinosaurs. All was quiet. He consulted his watch. 4:47. Good. But for a few stragglers, the museum would be empty. He peeled the OUT OF ORDER sign from the door, stepped back into the lavatory, and reattached the laminated sheet to the door of the stall now occupied by Anderson.
Tyler retraced his steps to the mezzanine. He knew that it was Anderson’s responsibility to secure the second floor of the west wing. Having observed the process many times, he was confident he could complete the circuit easily within five minutes. He could then clock out and lose himself among the exhibits until his path to the Freedom Star was clear.
As if drawn to the marquee by invisible filaments, Tyler found himself standing before the lighted sign announcing the museum’s current attraction. He felt compelled to read the narrative again.
The Freedom Star
The Freedom Star, though lacking the size of the Hope Diamond, exceeds the more recognizable gem in both color and clarity.
Discovered in a mine on the African continent in 1893, it became part of the Russian monarchy’s crown jewels when it was given as a gift to Nicholas II in 1909. The Czar’s advisors believed the owner of the diamond would experience prosperity and good luck. The Russian Revolution proved that belief unfounded with the execution of the royal family.
The Freedom Star, feared lost forever, reappeared years later in Nazi archives as a spoil of war recovered during the invasion of Stalingrad. It was reported by Nazi officers after the fall of Berlin that the Fuhrer himself kept the gem with his personal papers and believed that the it possessed great powers that would assure his victory over the Allies. Once again, the Freedom Star failed its master.
After the war, the Allies disputed the ownership of the jewel. The Communists believed the jewel should be returned to Mother Russia, while the Americans recognized the significance of using the Freedom Star as a bargaining chip for war reparations as the Cold War heated up. With the aid of Great Britain, the Americans won a concession. The diamond would be placed on permanent display in Moscow, but for two months each year, the Freedom Star would travel the globe for the public’s viewing pleasure.
The diamond will remain on display through August 11.
The final line of the marquee was what mattered most to Tyler, however. There, in slightly smaller letters were the words, “The museum would like to thank the Brooks family for its generous sponsorship of this exhibit.”
Tyler’s reverie was broken by a thin, snuffling sound. Was that sobbing? He followed the noise to its source: a small, blond, pig-tailed girl of maybe five or six sitting on one of the mezzanine benches. She wore a simple pink dress with matching pink bows in her golden hair. Her head was buried in her hands, and tears were leaking from her chin. She looked desolate sitting there, all alone. Just his luck. Tyler had a soft spot for kids, probably because his own childhood had been lonely and depressing, spent with a succession of tutors and nannies while his parents traveled extensively. Though he realized the risks involved, he was unable to turn his back on the child.
Tyler walked over to her and sat on his haunches. “Excuse me miss, but I seem to have lost my way. Can you help me?”
The blond head rose slowly and the girl’s eyes met his tentatively. She was scared. She glanced at his nametag. “Are you a policeman?”
Tyler winked. “I sure am. I’m with the museum police. Why are you crying, honey?”
The little girl responded with a hitch in her voice, “I lost my momma.” A new wave of tears flooded down her cheeks.
Tyler slipped the cotton cloth from his hip pocket and dried the girl’s tears. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Hannah. Hannah Wilson.” Bolder now, her initial fears replaced by her natural curiosity. “Do you have a gun?” she asked, wide-eyed.
Slipping the walkie-talkie from his belt, Tyler said, “Do you like lollipops?”
Hannah smiled and nodded.
“I know where there’s a big basket of lollipops.” Tyler felt guilty using this device, a staple of predators everywhere. Hannah’s parents must not have warned her about taking candy from strangers.
Into the walkie-talkie Tyler said, “Lobby, this is Anderson. I’ve got a young lady here by the name of Ms. Hannah Wilson. She says her mother’s gone missing.” He winked at the child again. Hannah giggled.
With a crackle and a hiss, a voice sputtered from the walkie-talkie. “Niedermeyer here. Thank God for small favors. Her mom’s frantic and she’s raising hell down here.”
“Assure her that her daughter is fine, and that I will deliver her to the front desk momentarily.”
More static, and then, “Thanks, Anderson. You got a cold or something? You sound funny.”
Ignoring the guard’s question, Tyler offered Hannah his hand and they proceeded to the bank of elevators and then to the lobby.
As they approached the front desk, Tyler saw an overweight guard perched on a stool talking to a disheveled woman in a plum turtleneck and designer jeans. The woman’s dirty blond hair was askew and her right foot was nervously tapping the tiles. That must be Mom. He was concerned that the guard might recognize something un-Andersonlike in his appearance. An idea struck him. Still forty yards from the security desk, Tyler bent and whispered into Hannah’s ear, “Why don’t you run over and surprise your mom?”
Hannah, excited by the idea, streaked across the lobby into her mother’s waiting arms. Tyler turned on his heel, heading back to the elevators. He was just stepping into the cab when Niedermeyer shouted “Hey, Anderson. Hold on a second.”
Damn. What did he want? If things went south now, he was finished. Turning back, scratching his brow to help conceal his features, he said “Yeah?”
Niedermeyer, a jowly man with at least fifty extra pounds on his compact frame, hitched up his pants and eyed Tyler suspiciously. “I’ve got bad news for you, partner.” Niedermeyer’s eyes were hard. Had he discovered the truth? Were Tyler’s well laid plans unraveling?
A drop of cold sweat left an icy trail as it slipped between his shoulder blades. But then the security man grinned, saying “Walters called in sick, so you’ve got to pull a double shift. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.”
He didn’t look sorry, Tyler thought as he turned back toward the elevators. A thin smile played on Tyler’s lips. He had planned to hide until the time was right. That was no longer necessary. No one would question his presence in the museum tonight. Heck, he was supposed to be here. As he boarded the elevator and punched the button for the second floor, Tyler decided that the curse of the Freedom Star was about to be lifted. What could possibly go wrong now?
At precisely 8:45 P.M., Tyler proceeded with phase two of his plan. If all went according to schedule, he would be exiting the museum through the delivery doors in the basement by 9:25.
In preparation for the heist, Tyler had spent several afternoons in the City Planning Office perusing the architectural drawings for the museum. His ruse of being an architecture student at the University of Chicago had succeeded in gaining him access to the plans. It wasn’t much of a stretch, as Chicago is home to some of the most stunning architectural wonders in the nation, and such requests are routinely made and granted.
Through diligent study of the plans, Tyler memorized not only the most likely escape routes, but also the electrical engineer’s rendering of the wiring for the entire building. He discovered that when Livingston Hall, which held the Freedom Star, was initially wired, the power to that section was routed through an electrical box just down the corridor from the hall itself. The plans called for the room to be re-wired to the central control area prior to final inspection, but a thorough examination of the documents showed that the plan was never implemented.
Tyler located the electrical box with little difficulty. The panels were built flush with the walls to help conceal their location. Tyler pressed the lower right hand corner of the cover, and the panel popped open.
Using the penlight, Tyler identified the circuit breakers wired to the three video cameras in Livingston Hall. Each was wired independently of the others. He snapped back two of the breakers, allowing the third camera, which faced the opposite entrance from the one he would be using, to continue transmitting. Closing the panel, he jogged to the south entrance of the hall.
The exhibit had been laid out in a diamond pattern. Gems of lesser value were displayed in cases along the sides of the diamond, while the Freedom Star, the crown jewel of the collection, was prominently displayed in the center. The Freedom Star sat atop a cushion of crushed velvet, and even the meager light thrown off by the museum’s low wattage track lighting caused it to shine with an inner fire.
Tyler retrieved the goggles from his hip pocket, doused the lights, and slipped the goggles over his head. Brilliant crimson beams appeared, crisscrossing the hall at intervals. This was the tricky part, and though Tyler knew he had to hurry, he realized that caution outweighed speed at this point. He groped in the pockets of his cargo pants for the mirrors hidden there.
Tyler knelt and placed a mirror within an inch of the first infrared beam. Ever so gently, he maneuvered the mirror, at a slight angle, toward the glowing thread. The theory was simple. The beams, if broken, would emit a silent alarm alerting the guard in the control center who would in turn trip the alarm hard-wired to the Chicago Police Department substation eight blocks east of the museum. Tyler’s response to the security measures was equally simplistic. He would use a series of highly polished dental mirrors to reroute the beams allowing him to pass unmolested. The key was to position the mirrors at the precise angles that would allow for refraction of the infrared light. The beams would be bent, but not broken.
Tyler slid the mirror forward a fraction of an inch, then adjusted the angle to make it a bit more oblique. Sweat gathered on his forehead, which concerned him because a single drop of perspiration passing through the beam would be enough to trigger the alarm. Tyler pulled back, wiped his brow with the cotton cloth, and then with one final movement, passed the mirror into the beam. The light struck the glass and the beam turned back toward the west wall of the hall clearing the first obstacle. Tyler released the breath he’d been holding and scooted forward several feet to the next ghostly red filament.
The second beam was higher off the floor, but a slight adjustment in the stand brought the mirror up to the proper height. He was just about to place the mirror in the path of the beam when the walkie-talkie at his hip crackled to life.
“Anderson? This is Vinnie in control. We got a problem with the cameras in Livingston Hall. You read me?”
Tyler had anticipated this and was prepared for it. “What’s the problem? I just passed through Livingston Hall and everything looked fine.”
“It’s strange. The hall has three cameras and I just lost two of them. Totally blank screens.”
“I could check the breakers,” Tyler said. “Do you know where they’re located?”
“Shit, no,” the man responded. “I got the plans around here somewhere. Give me a minute, I’ll get back to you.”
Take your time, Tyler thought as he bent back to his task. He placed the next two mirrors without incident and was about to position the fourth when a voice from behind him stopped him cold.
“What are you doing down there Anderson? Testing the system or something?”
Tyler glanced furtively over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of a large, powerfully built man with a blond crew cut several feet inside the entrance to the hall. Damn! He hadn’t planned for this.
“Yeah,” Tyler mumbled. He slid the mirror forward, deflecting the infrared beam away from the central pillar housing the Freedom Star. He rubbed his side, deftly slipping the pepper spray from his belt and palming it near his waist. He could hear the guard moving toward him.
“Where’d you get this equipment?” the man asked. Then his tone changed. “Hey, you’re not Anderson!”
Tyler leapt to his feet and fired an arcing stream of pepper spray as he turned to confront the other man. The spray hit its target squarely. The guard dropped his flashlight and groped at his eyes as tears streamed down his face.
“My eyes! It burns!” the guard screamed.
Before the other man could recover, Tyler was on him, swinging the sap. Once. Twice. Three times. The large man went limp.
Tyler stuffed the cotton cloth in the guard’s mouth and secured it with a length of tape. He bound the man’s wrists and ankles and dragged him into the corner of the room where he wouldn’t be noticed as readily. Just one more beam to go. He had to be gone before Vinnie got suspicious.
He returned to the center of the hall and knelt before the last ruby strand. He adjusted the height of the mirror and eased it forward. Wait! What was that noise? He thought he’d picked up snatches of a muffled conversation. He strained to hear. Nothing. The intrusion of the guard must have left him more shaken than he’d realized. He gave the mirror an infinitesimal nudge and watched as the red ribbon of light twisted away into the gloom. Yes! It was time to claim his prize.
“What is he doing now?” asked the balding, bespectacled man in the white lab coat. The visitor’s pass clipped to his lapel identified him as John Willis, PhD.
His companion, Arthur Stanton, Director of Morningside Hospital for the Criminally Insane, peered through the one way glass at the antics of Tyler Brooks, III. “He’s arranging the mirrors. Quite ingenious actually. He found he could refract the beams without breaking them. The designers of the system still aren’t sure how he accomplished it.”
“His chart reflects superior intelligence. An IQ of 186. He seems to have planned every aspect of the heist meticulously. How did the police manage to capture him?” Willis asked.
“It’s an interesting story. Tyler despised his father. Wouldn’t accept a penny from the man and either destroyed or gave away any gifts his father sent him. Except for one. A white pinpoint Oxford of Egyptian cotton that his father had custom made for him by a tailor on Seville Row. I guess it was too comfortable to part with. Unfortunately for Tyler, this particular tailor sews his initials and a product number inside the collar of each shirt. The number allows him to reference the client’s account for future orders, or some such. Anyway, Tyler was wearing that shirt the day he stole the Freedom Star and left it on the security guard whose uniform he grabbed. Tracking him down was a simple affair. The police caught up with him at the airport about to board a flight for Buenos Aires.”
“Unbelievable!” Willis crowed. “But how did he end up here?”
“A rather odd turn of events,” Stanton said. “The guard he incapacitated with the pepper spray turned out to be allergic to one of the chemicals and suffered an anaphylactic reaction. Poor fellow never had a chance. Tyler now faced a murder charge but he bore it stoically until one of the detectives let slip that he had been tripped up by his father’s gift. It appears that little gem, no pun intended, sent him over the edge. He was declared unfit to stand trial and the State agreed to place him here with us.”
“You say he reenacts the crime every single day?”
“Every day. He’s been with us for just shy of eighteen months now.” Stanton turned from the mirror and continued down the hall. “I hope you choose to join our staff, John. I think you’ll find we have many interesting cases.”
“None so interesting as Tyler Brooks I’d bet.”
Stanton smiled. “You’d be surprised, John. Let me tell you about the next patient.”