Two Views of a Fabergé Egg
by Carl Perrin
Personally, I wouldn’t give you 25 cents for a Fabergé Egg, but Viktor Oblovsky told Klaus and me that he would give us a hundred thousand dollars each if we stole one for him. Of course a real Fabergé Egg is worth several million and is heavily guarded, but if we could pull it off, we would be set for a couple of years. Seven years ago we had stolen a pencil sketch by Picasso for Oblovsky. And he had paid us enough to keep us in good liquor for several years.
The Hammerstein Museum was having a display of artifacts from imperial Russia, including silverware, clothes, furniture, and paintings. The highlight of the display, however, was the Cockerel, a Fabergé Egg. If you pressed the mechanism on top, a bird would come out and move.
Klaus and I went several times to look at the Egg, but never together. Each time we wore different clothes and tried to alter our appearance so we wouldn’t look familiar to the guards, two of them, one posted at a desk each end of the room. The museum called them guides, but we knew their real purpose was to guard the Egg.
And get this: They were both robots, a male and a female. They could answer questions about parts of the exhibit in other places in the museum and tell about the Fabergé Egg. But we knew their real purpose was to keep an eye on the people.
After Klaus saw the female robot, he said there was something funny about her. Her movements seemed really jerky, and her voice was monotonous, but I figured that is how you expect a robot to move and act. The male robot, on the other hand, seemed smooth and natural. You could hardly tell it was not a real human. I knew that Klaus tended to worry about everything, so I said to him, “It’s probably just an older model of robot. They weren’t always as smooth as they are today.”
We went back to the Hammerstein a couple of more times and took a couple of more peeks at the robot, Joanna, according to her name tag.
“I don’t feel good about this,” Klaus said again.
“You worry too much. Leave her to me. I’ll distract her while you do the snatch. We can get Pinky to distract the male robot.”
We didn’t tell Pinky what we were going to do. We would give him a thousand, which would keep him in cheap wine for over a month. Klaus would use a glass cutter to get into the case, substitute a fake Egg for the real one, and we would be on our way.
When we were ready to do the switch, I saw Pinky walk up to the male robot, and I got in between Joanna and the Fabergé Egg.
I smiled at and asked her, “So what was the occasion for this creation? Did the Czar have it made for a special birthday for his wife or something?”
Then I noticed a scar on the back of her hand. For a moment I thought, Wow! That’s a bit excessive to make the robot seem realistic. Then I noticed a pimple on her chin. Then I could see her top move as she breathed in and out.
I was about to yell to warn Klaus when the alarm went off. I could see Klaus walking casually toward the other guard. I didn’t know whether he had made the switch or not.
In moments, the room was full of security, and no one could leave. However, they could see the Egg was still in its case, so they let everyone go.
When we met outside, I said to Klaus, “So you didn’t get it?”
He laughed. “I removed a pane of glass and replaced the real Fabergé with the fake one. It looked okay.”
“So, where is it?”
He laughed again. “After the alarm went off, I didn’t want to have it with me. I wrapped it in a piece of paper and threw it in the trash. They’ll take the trash out tonight, and we will go through it as soon as they bring it out.”
“Robin, move your right arm like a robot,” Marshall said.
Marshall is a funny guy, but he’s my boss, so I moved my arm in a slow, jerky movement.
“Okay now tell us the way to the stairs the way a robot would do it.”
With precise diction but no inflection, I said, “Go out that door.” I pointed. “And turn left. Go to the end of the hallway. The stairs will be on your right.”
“That’s great,” Marshall said. “If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was a robot.”
The guys laughed, but Marshall went on, “It’s not a joke. There’s a serious purpose behind it. The Hammerstein is having an exhibit of imperial Russian artifacts. The key attraction is a Fabergé Egg, a piece called the Cockerel.”
Marshall did one of his dramatic pauses. “The Cockerel is worth millions of dollars, and our company is insuring it. We want to make damned sure that no one steals it.” Another pause.
“The Hammerstein has its own security system.” He held up air quotation marks around the last two words. “But it’s a joke. They have two advanced robots in the room with the Egg. The devices are little more than chatbots. They can answer questions about the exhibit, and they’re supposed to keep an eye on the Fabergé Egg. Word on the street is that someone is going to try to grab the Egg, and our job is to make sure they don’t succeed.
“Robin and Jonesy are going to take turns replacing one of the robots so they can really keep an eye on that ultra-expensive Egg. We are all grateful for their acting ability as well as their strong bladders.” He laughed.
He turned to Jonesy and me and said, “Remember to keep your breathing shallow if anyone is looking directly at you. Don’t move any more than you have to. Most people aren’t going to look that carefully at a robot anyway. If anyone who intends to steal the Egg recognizes you, that’s okay. We want them to know that we have an eye on everything.”
It was the most boring thing I had ever done. I had to sit there without moving for four hours unless someone asked me a question and try not to scratch my nose or sneeze or yawn. The Fabergé Egg was in a room by itself. Most people ignored me and just looked at the Egg, but one man wanted to chat with me. He wanted to know about the Cockerel. I had memorized a ninety-second speech. I had to say it exactly the same way each time. I thought of the guy as “Slick Willy.” He seemed to think he could charm his way into any woman’s heart. He was dressed in casual but neatly ironed clothes. I noticed the bright shine on his loafers.
“Slick Willy” asked me about the Cockerel again. I told him word for word what I had told him before.
He smiled and thanked me and left without looking at the Egg.
He was back the next day, but he looked different. He was wearing jeans with the knees worn out, a dirty sweatshirt, and a baseball cap on backwards. However, he still had the brightly shined loafers. He walked past me and spent about twenty minutes looking at the Egg. Then he stopped to ask me about the Egg. He spoke in a phony accent I don’t think would even have fooled a real robot.
When the team met that night after the Hammerstein closed, I told them about “Slick Willy.” Jonesy had seem him, too, but he hadn’t talked to Jonesy. However, Jonesy had seen a short, thin man wearing a worn suit a couple of times. When he described the thin man, I remembered seeing him. He hadn’t tried to speak to either of us, but he had spent a lot of time looking at the Cockerel.
“Okay, let’s keep our eyes out for these two guys. The exhibit is going for just two more days,” Marshall said.
That night the hours seem to drag. Of course I couldn’t wear a watch, so I didn’t know what time it was. Finally “Slick Willy” arrived. He was wearing a suit and a fedora this time. He looked at my name tag and said, “So, Joanna, how long have you been a guide at the Hammerstein?”
I recited my piece about the Cockerel.
Then he started staring at my left hand. I realized he was looking at the scar from an accident years ago. “What is it with you?” I wanted to ask. “Haven’t you ever seen a scar before?” Then I realized, Robots don’t have scars. Only people have scars. Then he was looking at my boobs, not that my boobs are that much to look at. But he wasn’t looking at my boobs. He was looking at my chest. He was watching me breathe!
He looked past me to the Cockerel. He was about to yell or do something. I pressed the button to sound the alarm, and soon the room was full of security people, Marshall among them. He took a look at the Egg and said, “Well, the Egg is still there, so everything is all right.”
When we met back in the insurance office that night, Jonesy said, “It’s a good thing Robin got wise to them and sounded the alarm before they could snatch the Egg.”
Marshall laughed and said, “Oh, no. They got the Egg and put a fake one in its place.”
“You seem to be taking that pretty lightly,” I said.
Marshal laughed again. “We knew there was going to be an attempt to snatch the Fabergé Egg. We didn’t want to take a chance, so we never put the real Egg on display. The Egg that everyone was oohing and aahing about was a fake.”
Copyright © 2017 by Carl Perrin