ClockworkIt was a small window with narrow pieces of paper pasted across it to prevent its breaking during the heavy air raids. In the small space at the center that remained, a little man with eyeglasses was carefully setting out his display of clocks and watches. He paid no attention to many Londoners hurrying by to begin another day.
When he finished placing his merchandise, the little man came out of the shop and stared in the window. He had placed the clocks and watches with great care – the clocks in a row at the back, and in front of them lying flat, a semicircle of watches. All the clocks had their faces neatly divided in the middle by hands that pointed to six o’clock; all the watches, thin or fat, had their hands pointing straight at three o’clock.
“Yes,” said the jeweler with a satisfied look. “Very nice.”
About an hour later a passenger got out of the bus at the corner. He was a tall man with a blonde mustache, and he wore a heavy overcoat and black hat. He was slightly lame and carried a cane. He smiled when the policeman at the corner said “Good morning” to him. The lame man’s name was Gebhardt, and the policeman’s superior officers would have been very glad to know that.
Gebhardt walked slowly, leaning heavily on his cane. The meeting with the policeman never failed to amuse him., and he smiled to himself at the stupidity of the English. Gebhardt looked into the jewelry shop window.
There was no expression on his face as he looked from the clocks that said six to the watches that said three. He had passed the shop faithfully every day for two weeks, but had never gone in. Gebhardt set his wristwatch and pushed open the door.
A salesman was talking to the jeweler at the far end of the counter, but they turned as the door shut. The jeweler walked toward Gebhardt and stared at him. “Yes?” asked the little man.
“My watch,” said Gebhardt. “It seems to have stopped. An hour or so ago.” He took off his watch and laid it on the counter.
The watch’s hands indicated nine o’clock. “I see,” said the jeweler, “Stopped.”
Gebhardt looked toward the salesman but salesman was busy examining a catalogue. The jeweler picked up the watch.
Gebhardt said: “And you might change the strap. That one is about worn up.
He leaned against the counter and waited. Once he looked into the back room where the jeweler had taken his watch. He could see the old man, bent over a desk, examining his watch. Gebhardt lit a cigarette and waited.
It was less then five minutes when the little man came back. He held out the watch with its new strap and Gebhardt put it on. “You should be careful,” said the jeweler. “That is a fine watch.”
“Yes, I know,” said Gebhardt casually. “And I’m sure it will work perfectly now.” He paid the jeweler and left the shop.
All the way back to his room Gebhardt was conscious of the strap on his wrist, but he did not look at the watch even once. After all, in his business you couldn’t be too careful.
Once inside the small room where he had lived since he first came to London, Gebhardt put aside all appearance of lameness and moved about the room with quick sureness, locking the door, pulling down the curtains. Finally, he lit the light over his desk and took of his wristwatch.
Working rapidly, he removed the straps from both ends of the watch. Then with a knife he opened the end of the straps and, finally, from one hand took out of a small piece of very thin paper. He spread the paper out on his desk and with a glass began to study the message, which was written in code.
The message was short and to the point. It read: “Trucks from King Charles Square will transport Regiment 55 tomorrow A.M. Act at once.”
“So,” said Gebhardt softly. He burned the paper in the ashtray. For a moment he sat thinking. He previously knew that a large number of trucks in King Charles Square would be used to carry soldiers from London to the coast. And somewhere along the route trucks and soldiers would be blown to pieces with explosives.
Gebhardt drew his suitcase from under the bed and opened it on the desk. From its nest of cotton he picked up one of the bombs. It was wide and flat, quite different in form from the usual, old-fashioned type of bomb. Attached with wire to the bottom of an automobile engine the bomb was deadly when the motor heated.
He decided to take with him in a small package about fourteen of the bombs. That was about all he could take care of in two hours. He had detailed information on King Charles Square. By midnight all the soldiers and mechanics were gone; at two o’clock a policeman looked in to check up. Gebhardt was very much pleased with himself. Thanks to British’s inefficiency, he would have the place to himself between twelve o’clock and two o’clock.
Thinking of the importance of time suddenly reminded him, and he put a new strap on his watch and then put the watch on his wrist then he sat very still, looking into space, mentally checking every detail of the plan.
Gebhardt smiled. Of course! Outside the jeweler shop he had set his watch back sixty-four minutes for the signal to the jeweler. He smiled again as he now moved the minute hand of his watch exactly sixty-for minutes ahead. Never forgetting these small details made him a good secret agent, and he knew it.
When the time came, Gebhardt moved carefully through the darkness of the blacked-out streets.
In the alley behind King Charles Square he stopped and looked at his watch. Twelve o’clock exactly. Gebhardt smiled. The whole thing was going like clockwork. He waited another ten minutes just to be on the safe side.
Gebhardt climbed a fence, moved carefully along a narrow space between two buildings, and came out in King Charles Square. He stood a moment, counting the black forms of the trucks.
Gebhardt moved over to the nearest truck. He set down his package, took some wire and a wire cutter from a pocket. He slid under the truck and felt along the bottom of the engine. Lying flat on his back, working in the dark, he began to wire the bomb to the exact place he wanted it.
Somebody stepped on his ankle.
Pain shot up Gebhardt’s leg, and he bit his lip, not breathing. No, he thought, there can’t be anyone here. There is never anyone at this hour. I have checked it many times. But that weight kept pressing into his ankle.
“All right, mister,” said a voice. “Come out of there.”
The wire cutter fell down from his fingers. Hands grabbed at Gebhardt’s legs, pulled. In a panic, he kicked himself loose, got up, and run wildly.
A man shouted. Someone blew a whistle. A form jumped from nowhere and knocked him to the ground. Gebhardt drove his fist into a face, twice, pulled away free, ran on. He ran into a wall, turned the wrong way. A flashlight focused on him. He turned back but too late.
“There! Get him!”
Gebhardt drew his revolver. As he ran, he heard them shout as they came closer to him.
There was the noise of rapid gunfire behind him, and something struck him in the back. No, thought Gebhardt, the plan was perfect. There was a sharp pain. He said weakly: “No.” He was dead when the soldiers reached him. He lay with his one arm stretched out in front of him, his wristwatch showing the hour
“Imagine the nerve of the guy!” said a young soldier. “He walked in here as though we didn’t even exist. That’s a nice watch he has on. But it broke when he fell.”
“It’s an hour fast,” said a second soldier. “How did that happen?”
the little jeweler was even more surprised when he read the newspaper report the next day about Gebhardt. “I can’t understand it,” he thought. “The man must have been careless. Nothing went wrong on my part. Why, I even set his watch correctly before I gave it back to him.”