There was a peculiar rumbling sound as I walked up the steps to the door of the hotel, and after a few seconds I realised it was my stomach. I’d hardly eaten all day other than some peanuts on the flight. I’d had a danish when I stopped in at the Cup ‘O’ Joe first thing to ask Nancy to feed Lady Ella for me until I got back, but that seemed like a lifetime ago.
As the doorman saluted and opened the door for me, I asked him what the options were for food around here.
“The hotel has a fine restaurant and brasserie, sir, plus the bar serves snacks from 5pm.”
I slipped him a five spot.
“And where do normal folks go if they just want a burger?”
He lowered his voice slightly.
“Keep walking west and take a left on Hamilton. Look for ‘Gina’s’. Best burgers for twenty blocks.”
I thanked him and followed my nose ‘til I found Gina’s. He wasn’t wrong about the burgers.
By 7.00pm I was fed, watered and quite frankly, ready for a snooze, but I had things to do. I left a tip and headed back towards the Grand. It was starting to get dark, and I stuck to the shadows as I came up the other side of the street. Across the way I could see guests leaving on their way out for the evening - theatre, dinner, parties. I just hoped that the Lillywhite clan were doing the same thing.
There was a lull in the people coming out, and I hightailed it across the street and up the steps. Fortunately, the woman that had checked me in earlier was still on the reception desk. She looked up and, after remembering who I was, or at least who she thought I might be, she smiled.
“Mr Marlowe, yes. What can I do for you?”
I put on my best ‘dumb’ face.
“I think I might have dropped my pen somewhere around here earlier. Maybe the lobby, maybe the elevator. It’s a green fountain pen with a silver clip. I’d hate to lose it, it was a present from my Mother, Ella. I don’t suppose anybody might have handed it in, have they?”
“I’ll just go and check with the office, Mr Marlowe. I shan’t be a moment”
As she disappeared into the door behind her I had a quick glance round to make sure that I wasn’t being watched, and then spun the register round. Whipping out my pocketbook, I scanned down today’s arrivals. I found the room numbers of Chastity, Lily, Hayden (separate rooms, I noted) and Jezebel. I also scribbled down the names and numbers of the entries before and after the group. I had to figure that there’d be someone else here as well, but I didn’t know who.
I just managed to get the register back straight when the woman reappeared.
“I’m so sorry, Mr Marlowe, but we don’t appear to have it. I shall ask the cleaning staff to keep a sharp lookout though. I’m sorry we couldn’t be more help.”
“Don’t worry, Ms...” I looked at her badge. “Ms. Simmons. You’ve been very helpful.”
Back in my room, I looked over the list. Chastity Lillywhite was on sixteen. Lily and Hayden had got adjacent rooms on the same floor, while Jezebel had splashed out and taken a suite on the top floor. Just before them on the list were a Mr & Mrs Sutterworth-Green, and a Mr & Mrs Hill.
After the names I recognised, there was a Mr. Barclay and a Mr & Mrs Templeton. I circled Barclay’s name. Chastity hadn’t mentioned anyone else coming to the reading of the will, but that wasn’t to say it was impossible. So there was a good chance that none of the couples were involved, but I wondered who Mr Barclay might be. Could it be Smith? Would whoever was behind this have wanted him on-site in case some last minute ‘problems’ showed up, poking their nose in? He was on the eighteenth, almost directly above me, but six floors up.
I fished my new set of picks out of my coat and looked them over. There’s no substitute for having your own set. You get used to them, the way they feel in your hand. You get to feel the tiniest movement from inside the lock through them. However, if they’re four thousand miles away, you have do make do with what you can get.
I knelt down and practised for a while on the bathroom door lock. Once I was confident that I could both open and close it, I moved to my room door and repeated the process. By 8.00pm I was as happy as I was going to get.
I took the stairs up to eighteen and glanced around. The corridor seemed quiet enough at the moment. Barclay was staying in 1860, so I started off at a fair pace, rapped twice on his door and kept walking, rounding the corner after a couple of seconds. I peered back round the corner at his door, through the cover of a convenient potted palm. After two minutes, I repeated the process. Didn’t want to bust in just to find that he was in the can.
After three passes and the best part of ten minutes, I’d convinced myself the room was empty. I made my way back to his door, knelt down and untied my shoelace. If anybody appeared, I could pretend I’d just stopped for a second to fix it.
I pulled out the picks and got to work. After what seemed like an age, I felt a satisfying click as the lock clicked, and, pocketing my tools, I pushed down quietly on the door handle.
I slipped into the room and closed the door behind me, then tied my lace back up. Didn’t need any comedy head-over-heels nonsense if I ended up having to make a run for it. Then before I went any further, I knelt down and spent a few moments locking the door again. Just in case.
I waited for my eyes to get accustomed to the gloom. Some light came in through the window, but not enough to be useful, so I switched on a small desk lamp and hoped that it didn’t show up in the corridor. The room was almost identical to mine. Checking the wardrobe, there were some white shirts, a couple of ties and some socks and underwear in the drawer. A pair of black shoes were in the bottom. A small suitcase was on a stand but there was nothing in it to identify the owner.
I moved over to the bedside cabinet. A pair of cufflinks sat on a folded piece of paper. Opening it up, I saw the check-in slip. It was made out to William Barclay. At least I knew I was in the right room. I just didn’t know whether he had anthing to do with this whole business. I kept looking. Nothing in the bathroom but some fancy toiletries, so I went back to the bedroom.
I looked around for a minute, then, because I’m nothing if not thorough, I got down on my hands and knees and had a look under the bed.
I pulled it out and tried the catches. They popped and I had a look inside. It was remarkably empty. There was, however, enough in their to figure out that our Mr Barclay was a lawyer, from back in NYC. Made sense. If he was the family lawyer, then he was probably out here to do the actual reading of the will. Seemed a bit pointless to bring a briefcase all this way, with hardly anything in it. And why would you leave it unlocked? Unless...
...unless what you’d brought with you, you’d removed from the case and put somewhere more secure.
Each room in the hotel was provided with a small safe. It was in the bottom of the wardrobe, and securely bolted to the floor. I scooted over to take a look. The gods weren’t exactly smiling on me - if they were, the safe door would have been open, but they certainly weren’t spitting on me either. Like the door locks, someone at the Grand liked to keep things traditional. No digital lock on these safes - it was old fashioned tumblers.
Years ago, someone had given me a book about this crazy physicist, scientist guy called Feynman who’d worked on the Manhattan Project in the 1940’s. He was a genius, but he was also a total whacko. He did all this science stuff, but he also played bongos, and made up codes and stuff. But the bit that had really caught my attention was that he taught himself how to crack safes.
Turned out that once you’d learned some basic stuff, and put in some practice, you could open plenty of safes without too much trouble. But, he’d said, half the time you didn’t even need to work that hard. Turned out that almost all domestic safes came from one of four manufacturers, and each one shipped the safes with a standard combination.
And here’s the thing. Plenty of people never bothered changing it. He reckoned that half the safes he tried opened first time, after he’d memorised the standard combinations.
What can I say. Times change, but people stay stupid. It had taken a bit of effort, but a while back, I’d managed to find out what the codes were that most safes today shipped with. I looked at the safe, thought for a minute while I dug through the memory banks, and then came up with a set of numbers.
I blew on my fingers for luck, and started twirling.
I turned the dial back for the final time, whispered a short prayer to the Patron Saint of Gumshoe’s, and pulled the handle.
Sometimes I’m so good it scares me.
I pulled the file out and rifled through it. I was definitely in the right room.
I was looking at the last will and testament of Norm Lillywhite Snr.
Suddenly I heard voices outside the door! I shoved the file back, spun the tumbler and closed the wardrobe door. Holding my breath, I tried to hear whether it was just people walking past or...
Damn! The key was in the door! I span round looking for somewhere to hide. Bathroom? Too risky. Balcony? Door was probably locked.
Then the lock clicked. I dived for the floor and rolled under the bed.
As the door opened, I could hear a man and a woman speaking. I strained, but they were keeping their voices low. They finished their discussion and the woman left. I kept myself over the far side, furthest from the door and hoped that he hadn’t come back for his briefcase.
Then suddenly I remembered.
I'd left the light on!