Escape from the Room:
The Challenge Chamber
Bernie knew his brain was being starved of oxygen, and he was fully aware of the effects the deprivation was having on his mental capacity. He briefly remembered his appearance on the BBC documentary “So you think you can be an astronaut!”, the tests they put him through in the high altitude simulator and the training that he was given for the show. In a moment of high concentration, Bernie channelled all his cerebral processing to the final riddle.
Although the celebrity sleuth sat almost lifeless against the heavy metal door, there was still one spark of light, a twinkle in his eye. With a sudden surge of movement Bernie pulled himself up and took a large stumbled step towards Lilly’s portrait. “Twist......” the words crawled out of his mouth, “both......” another cumbersome step, “...... candelabras!”
Reaching out and almost falling face first against the painting of Lilly Clayborn, Bernie grabbed tightly hold of both candelabras and twisted them both away from each other. There was an instant grinding clunk, the sound of the piston-like poles recoiling before a sudden rush of fresh air. Bernie dropped to the floor and into an inevitable state of unconsciousness but not before muttering two familiar words “Bingo Bango!”
“Mr Angel, Mr Angel” Rumbold’s friendly but frantic voice repeated in Bernie’s head. The darkness was being replaced by a blurred light and like an old computer being switched on for the first time in years, Bernie’s mind began to reboot. He could feel the cold fresh air filling his lungs a feeling that no-one would ever expect to miss. “Mr Angel, Mr Angel, are you okay?” That same familiar voice continued.
As his eyes began to refocus, Bernie looked up at the large man that towered above. Seeing Rumbold’s face was like a bucket of cold water, and with a start Bernie found himself sitting bolt upright. “Rumbold?” The confused investigator looked around the room, he was no longer in the chamber but now sat in one of the comfy leather chairs in the study. “What happened?”
Cuthbert Rumbold laughed, “You did it, that’s what happened!”
“But.......where did you go?”
“I didn’t go anywhere Old Bean!” Rumbold shrugged his shoulders, “Blooming batteries on the walkie-talkie failed! I waited a few minutes, then got a bit panicky and then decided to try and open the door. It wouldn’t budge!”
Bernie just stared at the other, his mind was trying to process this new information and remove the treacherous thoughts of his colleague’s behaviour.
Rumbold continued, “I made a dash for upstairs and grabbed one of the workmen and a selection of hefty looking, but actually ineffective, tools to try and open the door!”
Bernie remembered what he thought were scratching sounds on the other side of the metal door giving credence to the new disclosure. Grabbing hold of both arms of the chair, Bernie launched himself to his feet, “My dear companion, the only tool needed was the sharpest of minds!” He puffed out his chest with a renewed arrogant cockiness. He brushed Rumbold aside and took two large strides into the centre of the room before spinning on his heels.
Rumbold chuckled, “Oh Bravo!”
Bernie lifted a pointed finger in the air, “Not only did I use my most powerful of tools on escaping an unescapable room, but to also solve a one hundred and fifty year old riddle and discover the identity of the rotted corpse found trapped inside the chamber!”
Rumbold’s mouth went suddenly dry as he now dropped into the seat that Bernie once sat. He started to speak but did not finish, “was it ....”
“No my friend,” Bernie placed a hand on his shoulder, “no my dear friend, it was not your distant relative, although I fear that his fate was similar, as was the fate of many men before and after him. No, the body was indeed that of Charles Clayborn himself.....”
Rumbold looked startled as Bernie continued to tell him of George Feckett’s secret escape and subsequent revenge plans.
The resurgent celebrity quizzer continued to pace energetically around the room sharing his deductive discoveries until he came to the only unsolved mystery. Bernie almost stopped in his tracks, the Gemini Stones had not been found. Failure flashed through his mind, shadowing over any light of success. He perched on the corner of the large mahogany desk and stared at the administrator.
Rumbold couldn’t also help feeling a little disappointed. It was never his main motivation, but he would be lying to say that finding the ring would not have trumped the rest of the achievements, certainly from a financial perspective. “Perhaps I should instruct the builders to deconstruct the chamber metal panel by metal panel?” He offered.
Bernie frowned, “No my friend, destroying such a historic work of mechanical genius and Feckett’s finest lifetime achievement would be a crime. And besides, if the ring was in the chamber, I would have found it!”
Rumbold looked down at his feet with a sudden feeling of guilt, “No, you are quite right, but if not in the chamber, then where?”
Bernie shook his head, and stared at the tall man as he sat back in the leather chair, “ Where did Charles hide the treasures of Clayborn Manor?” He said paraphrasing one of the early puzzles that he had come across in the chamber.
If it was inspiration that Bernie searched for as his eyes looked around the study, then that’s what he found. His eyes fixed on the portrait of Charles Clayborn, the one that was a replica to the one from the Chamber. The solution to the puzzle sprung back in his mind and the words whispered from his lips, “keep in sight!”
“Ah ha! That’s it, Rumbold!” He jumped to his feet, “A safe place he kept in sight?” he skipped over to the portrait and turned his back it. He fixed his gaze in the same direction as the Earl’s image was appearing to look.
Rumbold stood back up, he could feel a sudden rush of excitement, “Oh my goodness, I think you are on to something!”
But Bernie was not listening, instead he was slowly walking towards the book case, his eyes fixed on straight ahead. “Could it be.......” He stopped, the end of his almost exaggerated nose was barely six inches from the nearest book. Pulling up a finger to help direct his focus, Bernie quickly scanned the titles of the books before stopping on the odd one out, and Charles Clayborn’s last laugh, a green leather bound book curiously titled “Escape Fake Pithing Lies”. The exact same anagram that he had come across earlier “a safe place I keep in sight”.
Rumbold was now standing looking over the shoulder of the shorter man, whose hand was now firmly sliding the book out from the others. Even the slightly less intellectual administrator had already came to the same conclusion as his companion, and the same expectation of what would be found inside the book.
“The moment of truth, Rumbold!” Bernie opened the book, a motionless silence followed.
The hollowed out book was empty all bar a scrap of paper. Another wave of disappointment, and a pulse of anger filled his body. Casting the book aside, Bernie now turned his attention to the message written on the paper.
“What does it say, Mr Angel?” Rumbold’s voice still had a glint of optimism. Bernie read from the note.
“Sorry Father, setting up a new life in America is an expensive task and I must take my inheritance as an insurance, we will keep it safe and only sell it in an emergency. By the time you read this note we will be long gone, but I hope that one day you understand and accept my love for George and come and find us. In the meantime, here is your first clue to the ring’s location 3,5,1 7,2,6,4”
Bernie stood silent.
Rumbold stared at his newly sullen friend, “You know what that sounds like?”
Bernie’s mind was momentarily preoccupied with further flashes of failure, before realising what Rumbold was alluding to. Bernie went to stop Rumbold from continuing, but it was too late. In Cuthbert Rumbold’s now all too familiar enthusiastic tone, “It sounds like another riddle!”
Enjoyed reading The Challenge Chamber? If you haven't already, take a look at the rest of the series.