The Redhanded Grasp

Summary: Occult thief Simon Thorne seeks artifacts of metaphysical significance, often thwarting malevolent forces in the process.

The Miskatonic Security Audit

Mercifully, few on campus were aware of last night's commotion in Miskatonic University's Henry Armitage Library. Such nescience is a beneficiation for the fragile minds of student and faculty, for the responsible parties were scarcely comprehensible themselves. At the very least, I am assured the petty vandalism upon the Gilman and Elwood manuscripts has ended as abruptly as it started. As a sometime confidante of the culprit, I feel it is my duty to rely the tale as it occurred, directly from the mouth of Simon Thorne.

My late husband and I had known Simon Thorne for years, and by many other names. He was a lean and lithe figure, an acrobat with reflexes like an excited primate. I still recall his curly brown hair and hard brown eyes, a legacy of his Polynesian grandmother. Like the social chameleon he was, he could blend into any crowd or adopt any accent with the casual ease of a secret agent. His deft hands and guileful grin conceal far more than the arsenal of gadgets and skills he's amassed across the years.

Simon's mind is as keen as the rune-encrusted Norse axe that adorns his apartment's wall, and he has an uncanny knack for identifying sorcerous relics and curios. He excels at the larcenous arts, especially reveling in liberating such items from those the neglectful or abusive owners. While I have been tempted to compare him to a sort of Robin Hood, I believe a reckless thrill-seeker is a far more accurate profile.

Due to my responsibilities as a research librarian, I am charged with ensuring the sensitive and valuable items in the Library's collection are secure from such dubious characters. It was precisely his skillset I consulted in order to gage the effectiveness of our new security system. Given the infamous (and greatly sensationalized) break-in attempts by a certain Wilbur Whateley at the start of the previous century, there was a decades-old drive to protect the priceless collection of antique tomes and historical manuscripts in the Rare Book Vault. Having been thrust into the responsibility of auditing the existing security systems, I turned to peerless expert to probe its vulnerabilities.

The terms we arranged were simple. I would not tell Simon any specifics of the security system nor its implementation, leaving him to discover the defenses on his own. Should he succeed in exploiting any security vulnerabilities he came across, he would leave a cheap paperback of translated Arsene Lupin stories in the Rare Book Vault. He claimed he could breach it in a week. While skeptical, I nevertheless agreed to his terms. I observed his movements on archival security footage recently, lending credence to his account.

Simon Thorne adopted the appearance of an American university student with his typical efficiency, dressing in a hoodie and black backpack generic enough to be carried by the studious (or somnolent) multitudes in the university library. I saw him vanish into the Pabodie Engineering Collection, where he sat beside a group of engineering students with calculators as complex as our old indexing system. That portion of the building bore the chill innate in poorly insulated older structures, as it was once part of the old Orne library building. As such, the students retained coats, hoods, and gloves to stay warm over the longer durations. With a slight grin, I noted Thorne's choice of red gloves. He always was one to appreciate an occasional visual pun.

His first few sojourns into the library were identical to the routes used by students, but I knew Simon well enough to see he was casing the place. With a disconcerting ease, he located the mirrors, security cameras, locked doors, and even the motion detectors. He did not try to hide from these during the day, but instead walked with the cowed gait of an exam-wracked student. He vanished between the shelves and study rooms, easily mapping his new terrain over the following days. He made small talk with other students, with librarians, and even the janitor. He sometimes shifted position when he grabbed lunch in the café in the front of the library, positioning himself in front of the Rare Book Vault's primary entrance. He undoubtedly observed the protocols for entry and exit.

That was not all. I saw him "innocently" chatting with Susan Lee, the on-duty librarian, about what I presumed was access to the Rare Book Vault. Her warm, smiling face swallowed his expertly-told sob story about an overdue assignment and forgetting his student ID. She handed over the keys without question (an issue I would later bring up with her). He descended into the RBV and appeared on the higher-fidelity security cameras.

At first, I thought Simon simply intended to slip the book into the case containing the Gaspard du Nord translation of the Book of Eibon. Considering the RBV had its own resident caretaker and temperature-controlled environment, I realized he was simply cased the place, like a prize fighter sizing up an opponent. I could tell from his body language that Simon was unprepared for the other person in the basement.

Simon momentarily met the gaze of the RBV's bookkeeper. The curator of those dank archives, Dr. Ethan Sanderson of the Antiquities and Classical Studies Department, cast his eye on the newcomer like a father eying his daughter's prom date. Sanderson's glare did not escape Simon's attention as he paced restlessly amongst those subterrene stacks. Knowing Simon, he responded to the perceived challenge.

Simon walked up to Dr. Sanderson and asked if he could have a copy of the first page of Chapter 3 of the Necronomicon itself. I did not hear the exchange, but I could see the reluctant nod of Sanderson's head as he pulled the curator's master key from his desk. He slipped on a pair of latex gloves, and unlocked a door of translucent Plexiglas beyond him. The would-be thief impatiently tapped his foot as he stole a peak behind Sanderson's desk.

Beyond the door was a sight that made Simon's heart sink. The crestfallen burglar beheld a vault door worthy of a bank standing between him and his target. Sanderson swiped his badge in front of the vault entrance to provide him access, and Simon's head flitted about the stacks like a wary finch. He undoubtedly was adjusting his strategy, having to compensate for the unforeseen complications in what he had assumed would be a simple heist. When Sanderson remerged with a photocopy in hand, Simon checked his phone, took the document, and departed. He stared at the rune-covered athame protruding from Sanderson's pocket, but knew better than to ask.

Simon departed that basement vault with his head hung low, but his back held high. He returned the key to Susan without a word, but not before running his smart-phone over it to take a high-resolution 3D scan of it. He departed the library with a sly wink, vanishing out the front door to the apartment he resided in.

I do not have any records of what transpired that night, save Simon's statement. Using the scanned key from his cell phone, he was able to 3D print a copy. Having used his phone to clone the RFID chip in Sanderson's badge, he now had the ingredients to breach the vault. I could only imagine the sly grin on his face extend to a childish excitement as he finished both key copies for his work. He gathered other supplies, as I can only suspect he noticed something peculiar about Sanderson's ritual dagger.

I have gone over the archival footage from yesterday with some trepidation, as I feared the casual ease in which a prepared intruder could trespass amongst the University's greatest treasures. Like the days before, Simon took position like a trained bird, perched near that basement door. He remained there the entire day, but only moved at the end of the day. As the day wound down, he repositioned himself in the men's bathroom to avoid being removed by security.

It is after that point Simon vanishes from the cameras and security system. Having mapped out the security system to an inhumanly precise degree, he was able to make it to the first floor without being detected. He pointed out the security system was disarmed prematurely, but he was loathe to let me in on the details (as he promised a more in-depth written report at a later date). He descended into the RBV thanks to his copied keys, bypassing Sanderson's desk with a contemptuous ease.

While I had known Simon to be a pugilist of some skill, I was unsurprised to learn he had brought a few less-lethal methods of self-defense into the RBV. He bore a shortened shillelagh, formerly owned by an arch-druid. Up his sleeve was a compact tranquilizer gun in a quick draw holster. He nevertheless kept these weapons in reserve until the final night, assuming that perhaps a canine guardian might be lurking in the deepest parts of the Vault.

The bank vault door of the lowest level yielded without complaint to Simon's wiles. Locks have always yielded to his gentle touch, just as countless of his dates. Upon entering the lowest level of the library, he displayed an instinctive caution towards anything and everything. The contemporary Armitage Library was built atop the old Orne Library's foundations, which became the basis for the RBV. In that moldering brick chamber, the only concessions to modernity were sparse: vents for controlling temperature and humidity, dim electric lights for sparse illumination, and locked plastic cases for containing the rarest of archaic texts.

Oh, I would have loved to be Simon at that moment. I have only been down in the RBV a few times in my academic career, and each time, I was accompanied by at least one other person knowledgeable about the esoteric arts. Horrors remained amongst those dead pages, waiting like a landmine to be primed by an unwary reader. He said he could see shadows out of the corners of his eyes, shapes flitting at the edge of his vision.

The mind is a fickle thing when frightened. Fear alone is sufficient to kill. Terror interrupts cardiac rhythms. Adrenaline harms heart cells. Against phantasms conjured by internal and external stimuli, only steely resolve or a foolhardy sense of security could drive the unprepared onwards. Among those forsaken stacks, Sanderson had a decades-honed sense of caution and wariness against the waiting snares, with protection conferred by the enchanted weapon. Simon had only a foolhardy daring-do.

Simon swore he first heard something shifting among the stacks that sounded like wind rustling the pages of a book. When he checked behind him for the first and second times, he saw nothing but shadows. He would have shrugged as a phantasm off the third time, if not for the scampering sensation of verminous gait behind him. Suspecting himself to find a rat, he turned to see if he had stumbled onto some infestation of rodents.

Instead, Simon saw only a statue-like figure perched atop a case. In the darkness, the burglar thought he saw a rat silhouetted against a dying light. The electric bulb, suspended as if by an unseen cable, swayed in an unnatural breeze. As the light fell upon the rat, it stood atop its hind legs and met the thief's gaze.

Simon saw the small, horrid thing bore the face of a man. The rat-like creature perched atop a compilation of notes from Gilman and Elwood, and gnawed at the hinges of the plastic frame. As the thief stepped back, it leapt through the air towards his throat. It was only due to reflex that he drew the Irish cudgel and smashed it into the beast. The inhuman creature crumpled against a bookcase, but still lived.

Simon's heel crushed the thing where it laid, reducing it to a blood stain upon the stone floor. He stomped again, reducing the carcass into a thin, red paste upon the floor. Despite witnessing such strangeness, I have to give the burglar credit. He deposited his paperback into the Nord translation of the Book of Eibon, and left the library as silently as a wraith gliding from oblivion.

Simon has just handed me the final report of his security audit. It contained exactly what I hoped it would, suggestions for improving the access to the RBV and our mundane security measures. In addition, he attached an excerpt of text I had not seen in a long time, a description of the familiar from the infamous Dreams in the Witch-House. He surmised that the vandalism that had afflicted the library had been the repulsive creature described within, Brown Jenkin.

The exact goals of the creature revolved around acquiring those texts for reasons we may never know, which were quickly moved to a more secure environment. While he did not know what conjured forth the creature, it left me to audit our staff. While I have no doubt Simon would be effective at it, I understand he may be keen to raise his rates. The price he initially proposed was outright burglary, especially with my insufficient funds. Nevertheless, I understand he has more lucrative leads that he will pursue, but I rest assured that my library is silent once more.