If you stroll through the 16th Arrondissement in Paris, you’ll see lovely, low villas surrounded by lush foliage. The architectural beauty of these homes testifies to their design by the finest European designers and to wealth – lots of it. Paving the courtyard with twenty-dollar bills would have saved them money.
Monsieur G resided in one of these mansions. An esteemed businessman, he owned entire neighborhoods in the wealthy parts of Paris. A number of offices throughout the country belonged to him as well.
Monsieur G planned his annual vacation in Marseilles very carefully. He was to be gone for a week, during which he would relax from his international business affairs and give his attention to his wife, his children, and himself.
Unfortunately, Monsieur G was unaware that a gang of first-rate thieves had their eye on him. Rumors of his fantastic wealth had spread far and wide and his home – at least from the outside – seemed to be easy prey. The thieves staked out his house and listened in on his conversations. These thieves were not going to fall like ripe fruit into the hands of the police. They preferred to take their time planning everything to a tee and waiting patiently until the right moment to carry out their heist – netting them enough money to support a family in good style for decades.
Eavesdropping on Monsieur G’s conversations, the thieves learned a startling piece of information: the family was planning to leave the house for an entire week. They couldn’t have hoped for better news!
True, the gatekeeper would remain on guard in his little booth in the courtyard. He’d keep a sharp lookout and could be counted on to report any suspicious activity to the police. But the gatekeeper was a minor problem… he was outside. He couldn’t see what wasn’t directly in front of him or hear what was out of his range of hearing. If it proved necessary, it wouldn’t prove to difficult to silence him – temporarily or permanently.
Monsieur G, blissfully unaware of the thieves’ plans, prepared eagerly for his vacation, making lists, helping his wife as much as possible and thanking Hashem for the financial stability He had blessed him with that made such a dream vacation possible.
Just as the G family was leaving, Monsieur G’s eyes fell upon the small table in the front entrance to his house. There was an envelope in the “Outgoing Mail” box. It was a Kupat Ha’ir envelope and it contained a check for a handsome sum he wanted to contribute. He just hadn’t gotten around to actually mailing it.
It’s not good to delay when it comes to giving tzedakah, he thought to himself, sticking the envelope in his pocket. He’d have plenty of spare time in Marseilles; he’d mail it from there. It made no difference to Kupat Ha’ir from which city the check was mailed.
Monsieur G and his family left for Marseilles to enjoy the annual vacation they had been looking forward to for a long time. In their Parisian home, the drapes were drawn, most of the lights were out, the gatekeeper was in the courtyard – and all was still.
Three days passed. The thieves were wasting no time. The plan was worked out to the tiniest details. Their mission was surprisingly simple: the house was empty and its occupants would not be back before the following week! Their information network reported that the family was in Marseilles and seemed completely unperturbed. Zero hour was fast approaching.
Quietly, quietly, a small and highly skilled group of thieves prepared to penetrate the G family’s house from the back. They expertly neutralized the alarm system and made sure there was no backup. Then they sawed the bars on the bathroom windows with a blowtorch fitted with a silencer. Another minute and they’d be in.
They move quickly through the house; all is quiet and calm. The safe, they knew, ought to be located in Monsieur G’s office. The thieves’ lookout was on guard. The gatekeeper was busy with his newspaper. There was not a sound to be heard.
The large desk was carefully lifted and moved aside. The wallpaper was skillfully stripped from the walls in the hope that the safe might be hidden underneath. One of the thieves moved a metal detector carefully over the floor tiles (the carpet had been stripped away) to see if the safe might be fixed to the layer of concrete under the floor. The gang worked thoroughly and methodically. There was no real reason to hurry, but it was best not to spend extra time in a strange house under such incriminating circumstances.
After twenty minutes of intense searching, the thieves found the safe. It was huge and of superior quality, with three locking mechanisms and an advanced installation system. It was an expensive safe – fireproof and large enough to hold a weapon, files, video cameras, silver and gold, and most importantly of all – money.
Frm this point on, the gang split into two. One group worked on cracking the safe while the other prowled through the house to collect items of value. It was stupid to leave the treasures in the house to others! Sneaking a bulging suitcase out of the house was no easy feat, but the difficulty was worthwhile – the house was full of items worth a lot of money. In the worst case, the gatekeeper would lose his life – no skin off their backs. A man had to earn a living, and every job had some unpleasant aspects.
The gang in charge of the case made satisfactory progress. It was silly to waste time trying to remove the safe; they preferred to force it open and empty its contents. There was no rush.
The heavy door of the safe began to move. The hinges were giving way. Finally…
Bitter disappointment. The safe was empty.
The thieves consulted in low voices. “It must be a dummy safe,” the gang leader declared. “It can’t be that in a house like this they don’t use a safe on a steady basis. Let’s go. I think the real safe must be in the master bedroom.”
The thieves abandon Monsieur G’s office and the two groups join to tear apart the master bedroom. Once again, precious time ticks by, but their efforts bear fruit: they find an old but remarkably strong safe in a place no one would have thought to look.
“If he invested in such an expensive dummy safe, this one must be really loaded,” one of the thieves whispered to his buddy as they worked. Once again, they split up. No more than two men were necessary to work on the safe.
In the meantime, Monsieur G was relaxing in Marseilles. He reveled in the lovely view, listened to music and enjoyed delicious meals. During the hustle-bustle of his daily life, he had very little time for such pleasures. His children delighted in his company.
Monsieur G had placed the Kupat Ha’ir envelope on the night table near his bed and forgotten about it, of course. When you’re on vacation, time takes on an altogether different proportion.
On the third day of his vacation, Monsieur G felt new life begin to penetrate his tired bones. He felt calmer, more at ease, happier. What a few days’ rest could do for a man!
For some reason, a vague sense of unrest began plaguing him during the early evening hours. He tried to brush his concerns away but found himself pacing nervously up and down. He stretched, yawned, scratched an itch… but the gnawing sensation would not leave him.
He went to his room to rest for a while and spotted the Kupat Ha’ir envelope on his dresser. You’re not supposed to delay transmitting tzedakah money! he said to himself, upset at his forgetfulness. Why is this envelope lying around for three weeks already? The poor could have been using the money in all this time.
On a sudden whim, he withdrew the check from the envelope and tore it in two. Then he dialed Kupat Ha’ir’s phone number in France and arranged the payment via credit card, to be withdrawn immediately.
At the very same moment, two thieves were working on the safe in the bedroom of his home in Paris. They blowtorched the internal locks, pried off the hinges and found themselves facing a large and clumsy lock. It appeared to be a cheap lock, at first, but it proved to be very difficult to crack. They were careful not to utter a sound because the bedroom was located directly over the bored gatekeeper’s booth in the courtyard below. They had been inside the house for more than two hours now, and the gatekeeper might suddenly get the feeling the house wasn’t as empty as it should be.
The blowtorch sawed away millimeter after millimeter of metal. They had approximately half a centimeter to go before they finally achieved their goal. They could already see bundles and bundles of bills through the crack between the door and the wall. There was nothing in the safe but cash! The thieves’ eyes glinted with greed as they tried to figure out how much was in there. Another half a centimeter!
Suddenly, with no warning, the lock gave way with a boom and flew from their hands onto the floor, landing with a loud thud. The gatekeeper leapt up in fear. The thieves’ lookout pressed a button and the thieves’ communication devices began beeping like crazy. The gatekeeper pressed the panic button and the security headquarters activated a loud, wailing alarm. Police cars came tearing down the road within minutes, their tires squealing.
The gang of thieves abandoned everything, carried out a distraction technique planned for just such emergencies – and fled in abject disappointment.
Back in Marseilles, Monsieur G rose from his brief nap. He didn’t need to rest; the worrying sensation he’d felt before had passed. He returned to the living room of the lovely hotel suite and joined his children in their evening activity.
In Paris, the gatekeeper did his best to restore the house to its previous condition. He didn’t want to disturb his boss on vacation – nothing had been taken, after all. He covered the case with a dark cloth in the meantime, and did the best he could to fix up the office. A 24-hour security firm was hired to guard the house and the gatekeeper returned to his small booth. The boss would be shocked when he returned, but no matter. He had been spared a tremendous loss.
The G family returned home at the beginning of the following week, laden with photographs and beautiful memories. The gatekeeper greeted them with a smile and took Monsieur G aside to prepare him for what he was about to see.
“There was an attempted break-in,” he whispered, “but don’t worry. We caught them in time. Nothing was taken.”
Monsieur G took a deep breath. He felt his knees buckling. The safe! The safe in his bedroom… he had left a fortune there.
He left his family downstairs and entered the house alone. A brief tour of the house indicated that a number of valuable items were not in place – but he found them all on the dining room table. His office was ripped apart. He approached the safe and was shocked to find it sawed open. The company that had installed it had assured him it was break-proof!
And then, with trembling knees, he went to the master bedroom. He had to force himself to walk inside. What if…? What if the thieves had found the safe and managed to empty it before fleeing?
The large lock lay on the dresser. Monsieur G’s heart fluttered with fear. He removed the cloth from the sage and found the door open… but the bundles of money were lying there untouched. Not a single dollar was missing.
He replaced the cloth over the safe and straightened up. The stone that had pressed on his heart for the past few minutes rolled off.
“When did the burglary take place?” he asked the gatekeeper now that he could talk and think coherently once again.
“Tuesday night,” the gatekeeper replied.
“Tuesday night?” Monsieur G wrinkled his brow. A light went off in his head. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” the gatekeeper replied, looking hurt. “I alerted the security headquarters shortly after eight o’clock on Tuesday evening.” He scratched the nape of his neck, reliving the excitement oft hose moments. “I brewed myself a cup of coffee at eight and this was a short while later. Fifteen, twenty minutes later…something like that.”
“Tuesday evening,” murmured Monsieur G. “What time did you say it was?”
He left the surprised gatekeeper and called the French branch of Kupat Ha’ir.
“Can you please check the exact time of the contribution I made via credit card last Tuesday night?” he requested.
“Certainly,” the secretary replied, ready to help. People had strange requests, sometimes, but the system was computerized and it was no problem at all to verify a small detail like that.
“Eight twenty-two p.m. and forty seconds,” she replied.
A phone call to Kupat Ha’ir and a half-sawed lock clangs to the floor, alerting the gatekeeper…
And the rest is history.