Book Excerpt – The Devil’s Shadow
Copyright © 2001 Macmillan Publishers/Hugh Holton No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
December 3, 2004
The Metropolitan Bank of Chicago was located on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison streets. It was a commercial financial institution that offered a wide range of services to its patrons. Among these services were safety-deposit boxes secured in an impregnable steel vault on the lower level. During the bank’s hours of operation there was always a pair of armed security guards on duty at the vault entrance. When the bank was closed, the vault was on a time lock. It was considered as secure as was humanly possible. That made the challenge all the more intriguing.
Julianna Saint was an exceptionally beautiful woman. She had flawless ebony skin, thick, black, shoulder-length hair, long lashes, and exotic dark brown eyes that many believed to be hypnotic. She had a thin nose above full, sensuous lips and a stunning figure. By nationality she was French, as she had been born on Saint Martin in the Leeward Islands east of the British Virgin Islands. Besides being beautiful, she was intelligent and well educated, having earned advanced degrees in mathematics from the Sorbonne. She was also a thief.
Actually, applying such a crude term to Julianna was an understatement. In fact, she did steal things that belonged to others, but only very special things. Now she was in Chicago to seal something from the impregnable vault of the Metropolitan Bank.
The black Mercedes was driven north on Michigan Avenue and cruised slowly past the bank. Julianna was seated in the backseat. Her assistants, Christophe La Croix and Hubert (pronounced Hu-Ber) Metayer, were in the front seat. Christophe—a tall, muscular, handsome man of thirty—was driving. Hubert, who was as tall and broad as Christophe, was fifty, of mixed African/French ancestry, and exuded an aura of menace. He had dark features and had once been a member of an organized criminal faction in France. He had been a bank robber, a pickpocket, a cat burglar, and a safecracker. During his criminal career he had killed seven men.
Christophe and Hubert were above-average criminals and could have made a decent living on their own. But they realized that the were not in the same league professionally as the woman seated behind them. In her particular criminal specialty, she had no peer anywhere in the world. She was known as the Devil’s Shadow, or L’Ombre Du Diable in French, because she seemed to be capable of moving with such stealth as to be invisible, and there was nothing in the world that she couldn’t steal, no matter how well it was guarded.
The Mercedes was driven around the block to arrive a few minutes later on Washington between Michigan and Wabush. Julianna and Hubert exited the car and walked around the corner to the Metropolitan Bank Building. Christophe backed the car into a loading zone in front of the Pittsfield Building and settled in to wait. If a police car showed up and displayed any interest in him, he was prepared to provide a halfway plausible lie to explain his presence. If the lie wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the officers, then the Frenchman was prepared to take more drastic measures, although he had never killed anyone in his life and didn’t plan to start now. After all, he was a thief and a lover, and not necessarily in that order.
Julianna Saint and Hubert Metayer walked side by side toward the Metropolitan Bank. She was dressed in a black wool turtleneck sweater, tight black slacks, a waist-length black leather jacket and black soft-soled shoes. She carried a large carryall canvas bag draped over her shoulder. Her male companion was dressed in similar dark garb, and he also carried a black canvas bag.
There was an alley beside the bank building. Despite this early hour of the morning and cold, dry air hovering just above the freezing mark, there was some sparse traffic on the avenue. Most of it was vehicular, but there were a couple of people on foot within sight of the pair in black. Julianna and Hubert were aware of their presence and scrutinized them carefully.
One of them was a well-dressed man whose back was to the thieves as he walked rapidly toward the entrance to the Grant Park underground garage. In a moment he had vanished down the steps. The other pedestrian was a homeless person, who was carrying a pair of shopping bags and approached with a slow shuffle from the far end of the block. He didn’t appear to notice Julianna and Hubert.
They kept walking at the same pace. At the mouth of the alley, without breaking stride, they stepped into the darkness.
Julianna went to the door set in the north wall of the bank building. There was a garbage dumpster beside this door. Hubert walked a short distance past her to a utility pole. With the canvas bag slung over his shoulder, displaying formidable athletic prowess, he climbed the pole. Julianna paid more attention to the mouth of the alley than to her accomplice’s progress.
At the transformer atop the pole, Hubert went to work. He had practiced what he was about to do so many times he could literally do it with his eyes closed or… in the dark. With the box open, the thief located the main lead, which he did not touch as direct contact with it would instantly kill him and send such a high amperage through his corpse that it would become a blazing bonfire within seconds. But he was extremely careful and managed to attach the black box in the right place. Then he flipped a switch on the face of the box. Nothing occurred, or at least nothing of a noticeable nature; however, something was indeed taking place.
The black box was bleeding off electrical power being supplied by Commonwealth Edison to the Metropolitan Bank of Chicago. A power drain that had succeeded in temporarily incapacitating the burglar alarm system serving the bank. His task completed, Hubert turned and motioned silently to the woman on the ground.
Julianna Saint began moving very quickly. With the alarm disabled, she used an electronic lockpick to gain access to the bank through the alley entrance. This led her into a maintenance room. The area was in pitch blackness, which was quickly rectified by a pair of night goggles she retrieved from the canvas bag. Then Hubert was there beside her, wearing a pair of goggles identical to hers. She looked back to make sure that he had closed the door behind him. Once in Monte Carlo, during the burglary of a casino, he had failed to do this, which had nearly led to their capture. Satisfied that the integrity of the mission was being maintained, she started forward with him following.
The bank was equipped with every state-of-the-art antitheft device available, from the motion detectors to infrared light beams, which were randomly operated by computer. There were also two guards on the premises, who were in contact by radio with a mobile unit outside the bank. The guards also possessed a direct hookup to the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Communications, which if activated would result in a squadron of police cars being dispatched to surround the building in seconds. But Julianna Saint understood antitheft alarm systems, computers, and police communication networks like few people alive in this world. In fact, she could have taught the security experts a thing or two about the sophisticated systems they were so proud of. Particularly how to defeat those systems.
As they made their way toward the vault, defeating obstacle after obstacle, they failed to encounter the guards, although they noticed three surveillance cameras. Surveillance cameras whose lenses they managed to avoid by hugging the darkness, becoming the embodiment of the Devil’s Shadow. Finally they reached the vault.
Standing in the blackness outside the massive steel door, Julianna studied it through her night goggles. This huge safe was a tribute to mankind’s ingenuity in constructing a theft-proof, virtually impregnable fortress in which to store material wealth. But long before they arrived at this place, Julianna had come up with the means of getting inside.
She removed two items from her bag. One was a vial of acid, the other a timed, minimal-charge, plastic explosive. As she went to work on the vault door, Hubert Metayer went in search of the guards A frown of annoyance crossed his hard features. He was under strict orders not to kill the guards, but to merely incapacitate them. This was a requirement that was not explained to him. However, Hubert had been an associate of Julianna Saint long enough to realize that all he had to do was what she told him.
Out on Washington Street, Christophe looked up in the rearview mirror of the Mercedes and saw a marked police car cruising slowly across Wabash toward him. The Frenchman willed himself to relax and be prepared for questioning. The police car slowed as it pulled beside him.
The guards were in the security complex on the second floor of the building. This was the hub of all the security functions of the metropolitan Bank of Chicago. It resembled a Pentagon war room and was just as sophisticated. The male and female on duty tonight had no law enforcement experience prior to being hired by the Stewart Private Detective and Security Agency. They had received forty hours of classroom training and spent ten hours on the pistol range before their first assignment. Their uniforms and weapons were issued by the agency. They made $7.25 an hour and worked a minimum of twenty, but no more than forty, hours a week. This gave them an income below minimal subsistence level, so they had day jobs. The man was a city garbage collector, and the woman was a public school teacher. As it was three weeks before Christmas and they had families with small children, both guards were trying to get in all of the overtime that they could. A security agency supervisor had obliged and the guards were working ten-hour shifts through the New Year. Although they were looking forward to substantial paychecks, they were both currently exhausted.
The male guard, who was sixtyish, overweight, and diabetic, had begun dozing an hour after his ten-o’clock arrival at the back. This left the teacher to do all the work, which she did without protest. She was a meticulous, thorough person by nature, so she tried to do the best job possible. She had made her hourly rounds on time, monitored the closed-circuit screens for a while, and had even become mildly alarmed when she detected a slight power surge, which caused the lights to briefly dim to candle power before brightening back to normal. She started to wake her partner, but he had been exhausted when he walked in, and she didn’t think there was really any problem with the power failure. After all, this was a bank located in downtown Chicago.
She poured herself a cup of coffee from a thermos jug, took a sip, and grimaced at the bitter taste. Her eyes strayed to one of the monitors, which revealed a portion of the lower level of the bank. For a moment she thought she was something on the screen. She figured that the night shift was making her jumpy.
She was taking another sip of coffee when she became suddenly light-headed. She managed to place the cup down on the closed-circuit monitor console before she lost consciousness and slumped back in her chair. The small, broken plastic vial of knockout gas that Hubert Metayer had tossed onto the floor of the bank’s security center had done its job well. With a filter mask over his face, the assistant of L’Ombre Du Diable stepped from the exterior corridor into the security center. After retrieving the empty plastic vial from the floor, he examined the unconscious guards. Beneath the filter mask, he smiled. They would be asleep for an hour and awake with a slight headache that would pass before dawn. They would never admit to their employer that they had been asleep during the burglary. It wouldn’t save their jobs, but at least their personal integrity would remain intact.
Hubert Metayer left the security center and returned to the vault.
Out on Washington Street the police car drove past Christophe La Croix. Neither of the two cops inside even glanced in his direction. Breathing a sigh of relief, he continued to wait.
Julianna Saint pulled open the heavy door and entered the vault. She realized that there was a fortune in cash, jewelry, and other valuables here, but she had only taken this hazardous assignment to remove the contents of one saftey-deposit box from the vault. That box was number 8697.
Through her night goggles, she was able to locate it quickly. Using her lockpick device, she opened the box and peered inside. There was a six-inch-barrel .44 caliber magnum Smith & Wesson revolver in a sealed plastic envelope along with a videocassette tape. This was what the Devil’s Shadow had come to steal.
Removing the gun and the cassette from the box, she placed them in her canvas bag before returning the container to its rightful place inside the vault. At that moment Hubert returned and they began retracing their steps to leave the bank.
Less than a minute later they were about to exit the alley onto Michigan Avenue when the homeless man they had seen earlier stepped from the side of the bank building to confront them.
"You folks got any spare change?"
Before she could stop him, Hubert stepped forward, grabbed the man, spun him around, and utilizing his formidable strength, broke his neck.
"You fool," she said angrily. "I told you, no violence!"
"But he saw us, Julianna," the big man argued. "What else could I do?"
She realized that this was not the time to debate the issue. "Place his body down there beside the garbage dumpster," she said pointing back down the alley. "And hurry."
Quickly he did as she instructed. By the time he returned to the mouth of the alley, Christophe was there with the Mercedes. They sped away from the scene of the crime.