“So…” said Croesus. “When you say you’ll take me to Carlo…”
Yes, yes. I mean I will guide you to him, the bust assured him. Show you the way. Obviously I cannot take you anywhere. I am entirely reliant on you to take me places. You know, I realise you are a criminal, Croesus De Vere, but you possess a distinctly cruel streak. When a man has lost his legs, not to mention most of the rest of his body, it is really best not to taunt him over semantics about taking you anywhere. I may have been turned to stone, but I still have feelings.
“Sorry. Touched a nerve there.” Croesus grimaced and held his hands up in apology. “I’m an ex-criminal though. It’s an important distinction and one that puts me in a unique position to help you out of here.”
So you will do it?
Croesus pondered. It might be difficult, smuggling something the size of a bust out past the guards. Then again, maybe it didn’t have to be too complicated.
“All right. Come on. Let’s do this. Before I change my mind.”
Croesus grabbed the bust and whipped it off the pedestal, tucking it under his arm, inside his coat. It had some weight to it and he had to support it, cradling it with his other arm. No hands free for anything else.
This is your great plan for smuggling me out?
“Shut up and play along. Actually just shut up. This’ll work. And as long as you’re under my coat you can’t go hypnotising anyone else.” He shouted to the guards outside: “Open the door would you? Coming out!”
There was a pause. Probably the guards wondering why he couldn’t open the door for himself. Eventually they obliged and the doors parted. The guards peered in – with Chancellor Seedgrape standing between them.
“Well now,” he said. And the Chancellor didn’t only mince words, but served them up in a dry, gravyless shepherd’s pie of his own making. “Croesus. What are you up to now?”
“Pursuing my investigations.”
“Indeed? And what is it you are attempting to smuggle out under your coat?”
“Really? Honestly, Seedgrape, I get that you’re convinced I haven’t changed my stripes. That I’m still a criminal at heart. But when I was a criminal I was a master thief. Give me some credit. If I wanted to steal this, I’d devise some sort of master plan. Not just walk out with it under my coat. As for what it is – well, I’ll give you one guess. Seeing as a thief – the thief I’m hunting – walked off with everything else in the vault, there’s only one thing it can be, isn’t there?”
“The bust of Montgomery Prye. Why on earth would you want that?”
“I don’t. Not even the thief wanted it.” Seedgrape had to be in on the state secret. He had to know it was no ordinary bust. That it was the remains of the petrified remains of the King’s brother. But if the King had no notion Monty was still alive and scheming within the stone, then Seedgrape was certainly also clueless. Croesus had to keep that in mind while crafting his story. “There’s some reason he left it here. To make some point that I don’t quite understand yet. So if I remove it now and our thief gets to hear about it, his point goes unmade. And if he’s anything like the thief I used to be, that’ll sting his pride.”
“You mean to bait him with the bust then?”
Croesus nodded. “Oh yes. I’ll take it to one of the established fences. Get word out it’s on the market. He’ll want it and he’ll come for it. Try to put it back in the vault if he can.”
“He would go so far?” Seedgrape clearly boggled at the audacity of the idea.
Croesus nodded all the more eagerly. Playing a touch of the audacious himself. “Oh yes. Vanity, see. It’s the one major weakness of master thieves. I should know.”
To Seedgrape, whose mind was so firmly made up about Croesus, this would sound like an admission of weakness in Croesus himself. And believable because the notion of Croesus as a deeply flawed individual appealed greatly to the Chancellor.
“It sounds a desperate plan,” said Seedgrape. “But if you believe it will catch our thief, I wish you luck.”
Plainly, Seedgrape wished Croesus nothing of the sort. He stood aside, wearing a smile he would be happy to don again if Croesus returned in failure.
Hugging the bust, Croesus marched past and made the long walk from the palace and its grounds. The guards were uniformly helpful, opening gates and doors when they saw he had his hands full. Before long, he was out in the streets.
Croesus patted Montgomery’s head. “There. What’d I tell you? Cunning is wasted on the simple. Sometimes it’s best to just go with the most straightforward solution.”
Point taken. And I quite agree.
“Well good.” A few pedestrians eyed Croesus oddly as he talked aloud to the lump under his coat. “Now you can keep your side of the bargain. Direct me to Carlo.”
Nothing could be simpler.
[To Be Concluded…]