The next morning, the old priest was bursting with curiosity about what unsolved mystery Mozes might have left behind in Hebburn, and he had arranged for Stan to come back to the presbytery at noon. Stan was there on the dot.
“Hello Stan, thank you for making the time to come back at such short notice,” said the priest, standing in the middle of the room holding out a hand, “I know that you’re a busy man.”
Soon, the two men were sitting in their usual seats, near the window. Stan gladly accepted the hot beverage waiting on the table beside him, and went straight into his dialogue.
“After a while living in Holland, Mozes’ collection had become under scrutiny, as word trickled out that it contained not only rare oddities, but valuable documents, of great importance to certain people in high places – especially the military.
One time, while Mozes was away on a fact-finding mission in France, his private residence – along with all of his rare artefacts and papers, was burnt to the ground.
Out of all his collections, it was said that Mozes’ was most proud of his Hebburn history. It wasn’t long after the fire, that Mozes contacted George Edmunds, asking if he would allow him to come over to England, to visit him, so that he could have a copy of the Hebburn history made – George agreed,
Once in Hebburn, Mozes realised that that he had been followed by spies from the continent; he knew who they were, as he had avoided people like that many a time during his years of collecting jealously-guarded artefacts.
Mozes wondered what these spies might be after; he thought that it might be the last remaining copy of the Hebburn history, and that it might contain some information of worth to them that he had overlooked… he wracked his mind, but couldn’t think what it might be. He just knew that it must be of great importance if the spies went so far as to burn his private residence to be rid of it.
At George’s residence, in Hebburn, Mozes told George how grave the situation was, and advised him to hide his copy of the Hebburn history, as there were signs that the spies were closing in, and they could be ruthless people if anyone stood in their way.
‘It’s not the history that they’re after’, said George, opening a bureau and handing Mozes a sealed envelope… ’it’s that.’
Mozes delicately opened the envelope and slowly read the contents; after doing so, he then looked up at George with a most serious countenance… ‘Do you know what this is, and do you realise what it could mean if these spies recover it?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said George, breathing out his anxiety. ‘If the papers are found, even now they could cause an international incident! That’s why I never showed them to you before, as they could have put your life in extreme danger.’
‘Of course, I see now… the spies somehow knew that you had acquired these papers from your old friend, General Sir Havelock Allan, on his death bed, and thought that as a collector I had bought them from you some years ago, which is why they burnt down my property in their efforts to destroy them. You can see the seriousness behind all this, and that it’s imperative that we hide this document, as the safety of Europe depends on it!’
‘I agree,’ said George, ‘but where can we hide it from these professional spies?’
‘Don’t worry about that my friend. Leave it with me. I know the perfect, most secure place to hide the document… somewhere that the gentlemen on our trail will never find it.
The priest sat forward in his seat, leaning towards Stan, “Where is it? Did you find it?”
“Not yet,” said Stan, “but I’ve worked out from the clue Mozes left us, where it is! Though, getting to it is another problem... and I’ll need help.”
“What’s the clue?” Said the priest, his hand now stroking his face in anticipation, “and what does it unlock?”
“The code unlocks a mechanical device with 4 barrels, each with numbers and letters. The clue left for us, says, ‘The 1st is first initially, followed by a tithe of the dawning of the holy establishment; this will unlock the mystery’, but I can’t work it out!”
The priest relaxed back into his chair. “Hmmm… it’s beyond me; I’ve never been one for codes, but surely 4 barrels shouldn’t take any school boy more than a few minutes to open I’d dare say. “
“This isn’t any ordinary lock - it has 4 barrels with both numbers and letters and I haven’t yet worked out the permutations of those combinations. When I was at school, we worked out that a 4-digit barrel lock, with numbers 0-9, on each barrel, would give a choice of 10, 000 numbers. So, say it takes about 3 seconds to check a number, it would take me 30,000 seconds to check all the numbers. Which is 8 hours 20 minutes. Obviously, it’s very unlikely to be the last number I choose, so on average, just going through the possibilities one at a time it would take me about 4 hours to find the right code… that’s assuming no tea-breaks and my fingers don’t fall off!”
The priest grinned and nodded. “Yes, as I say, it’s beyond me, as I’ve never been one for codes… how do we crack this enigma?”
“Well, I know a team of folks that is very good at solving this kind of puzzle… and I have the fullest confidence that they will! But, how do I ask without revealing my intentions? They’re clever folk, and someone is bound to realise what’s going on, and we’re so close to solving the mystery.”
Later that day, Stan posted a piece on the Hebburn message board.
“Does anyone know who the first Chairman of the Hebburn Local Board was?”
Michael Lynch, a former Hebburn councillor, replied to Stan’s post.
“Hello Stan, the first Chairman of that Local Board in Hebburn, was a Mr. Forster. The Hebburn Local Board was established in 1873, and became an Urban District Council in 1894 under the Local Government Act of that year. In 1974, it became part of the new South Tyneside Metropolitan District.”
Stan took this information, from Michael Lynch, and tried to unlock the code, but without success, so he decided to go public on the Hebburn message board…
“Can anyone solve the following puzzle? ‘The 1st is first initially, followed by a tithe of the dawning of the holy establishment; this will unlock the mystery’”
Mac Cummings, an administrator on the Hebburn message board replied to Stan’s post.
“Hello Stan, what is this in relation to? Can you give us any further clues?”
Stan had been waiting patiently at his computer, and when Mac’s post came in, he read it, then paused, while he thought of the best way to respond. “Hello Mac, it’s in relation to St Aloysius church and a code. There are 4 barrels on a lock that need to be cracked before it can be opened, and somehow, the clues hold the answers to which letter (A-Z) or number (0-9) belong to each of the 4 barrels; but remember, the combinations could be astronomical… good luck!”
Stan was now desperate for an answer to the puzzle, and had his hopes on someone on the board coming up with the solution.
Later that evening, Mac Cummings replied.
“Hello Stan, I’ve solved your puzzle, but I’d like to give someone else a chance, so I’ll reply with my answer tomorrow.”
Stan scratched his head in frustration, then rubbed his hand over his eyes in desperation. “Oh! Mac! How could you do this to me? I need your answer now.” He thought.
Stan placed another message on the board.
“Hello Mac, as you’re the only one to answer, could we please see your solution to the code?”
Mac cummings replied within minutes.
“Okay, Stan, here’s my solution to your puzzle, ‘The 1st is first initially, followed by a tithe of the dawning of the holy establishment; this will unlock the mystery’:
Well, ‘The 1st is first initially’, I take to mean, the initials of the first priest of St Aloysius; and ‘followed by a tithe of the dawning of the holy establishment’, I take to mean, followed by ‘a tenth of the date St Aloysius was established’.”
While Stan was absorbing this fantastic information, another message came in on the board… it was posted by administrator and photographer, James Goring.
“Hello Stan, St Aloysius opened in 1888, and the first priest was Matthew Toner.”
Sitting, looking at his monitor screen, Stan shouted out with excitement whilst rubbed his hands together with glee, “Thank you friends! I knew I could rely on you! The Hebburn message board is the best! Mac, I don’t know how you worked this puzzle out, but you’re a flamin’ genius, mate!!!”
After Stan had settled a little, he quickly worked out that the initial ‘M’ equalled the first barrel, and that a tenth of 1888, was 188, which was the next 3 barrels, so the whole code equalled: ‘M188’.”
There was yet a further complication to retrieving the secret papers; Stan learned that once the hurdle of unlocking the code was achieved, that the lid would then slowly descend, eventually closing on the adventurer if he wasn’t quick enough to remove his arm from the recess. And it wasn’t a light lid… this thing must have weighed several tons!
Stan had an idea, which required posting another message on the board:
“Hello Alan, La Ruste, do you have a portable jack capable of lifting several tons? If you have, can you get back to me, please?”
Norman, Dunn replied:
“Hello Stan, if you mean one of those portable jacks similar to what the fire service use, then my son has one at his garage at Pelaw - the former Pelaw MOT Centre; if you need to borrow it, I’ll have a word with him on your behalf.”
Stan immediately replied to Norman:
“Hello Norman, thank you for the offer… if you can arrange it, I’ll borrow it, mate. Thanks. Just let me know how much your son charges.”
A few minutes later, Norman replied:
“Stan, my son said that as it’s you, you can borrow it for free, but you’ll have to pick it up and you’d need a truck, as the portable compressor, has to go with it.”
Stan sat at his PC, wondering how he might get the gear from Simon’s garage down to the church, when another message came in, this time from Alan La Ruste, one of the regulars and well-known local vehicle restorer:
“Hello Stan, if you’re stuck for a lift, I’ll pick the jack and compressor up from Simon, in my lorry, if you like – if so, where would you like it delivered?”
Stan replied to Alan La Ruste:
“Hello Alan, thank you for the offer of help, mate; if you can pick the jack up and bring it down to Hebburn, I’ll meet you at the corner of Bell Street, near the old County Hotel… and please bring a tow rope if you have one.”
Stan was all set: he had the code and also the jack to keep the lid of the secret compartment open… he was feeling confident and quite pleased with himself… it was all systems go!
Alan La Ruste soon arrived in one of his beautifully restored pickups with a young lad sitting beside him, and the compressor and jack on show in the back. He saw Stan, and pulled alongside him near the kerb. “Hello Stan.”
“Hello Alan, who’s that?”
“Oh, it’s my mate’s son, Mel; I brought him along to help carry the equipment for you.”, Alan threw his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the compressor, “where’s it going, Stan?”
Stan was too near to the conclusion to be bothered by this small hiccup to his plan, and besides, some extra manpower might come in handy, he thought. “A change of plan, Alan, can you please drive into the church carpark?”
No problem, Stan.” When Alan had parked his truck in the carpark, he looked around and saw what he gathered to be Stan’s car standing alone; he nodded towards it. “Has your car broken down, Stan?”
“The tow rope.” Alan added.
“Oh, no, no, no, sorry, it’s for something else.”
Alan and Mel affixed the ramp to the back of the pickup and together wheeled the generator down the ramp and onto the carpark. “Where now, Stan?”
“Follow me, lads… this way… oh, by the way, if either of you has a mobile, can you please switch them off?”
As they headed towards the church entrance, Stan carried a bag over one shoulder and the tow rope over the other, Mel carried the jack and Alan wheeled the compressor.
“Mel, do you get on the Hebburn message board?” Said Stan.
“Yeah, I never post, but I read the messages… my favourite is Jo King, that one that puts hilarious jokes on every day! What a laugh! Oh, what’s that one he said the other day? Oh, yes… ‘Geordie phones the vet and says, ‘Listen, Doc, the morra ah’ll send me wife along with me auld dog. Give hor a powerful poison so she dissn’t suffer ower much.‘ The vet says, ‘Okay, but will the dog find it’s way back home by itself?’ Bum-bum! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
“Yeah, I remember that one,” said Stan, laughing.
“Me too,” said Alan with a chuckle. Brilliant jokes!
Two minutes later, they men were inside the room standing around the open trapdoor, Stan pulled out a few torches from his overcoat pocket. “Right, we have to get the compressor down these steps… do you think we can do that lads?”
“No problem, Stan. Alan is a big man in every way, and made lowering the compressor on the end of the tow rope down the steps to Mel, look like child’s play.
Stan’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Goodness! Alan, did you use a block-and-tackle to take the engines out of your vehicles or did you just lift them out with your hands! Let me guess… it depended on how many Shredded wheat you had for breakfast, eh?”
Alan, smiled. “It helps when you’re used to doing this kind of thing every day.”
The trio made their way to the metal door, turned the key and entered. Stan immediately placed his bag on the floor beside the door to keep it wedged open.
“What’s all this about, Stan,” said Alan, looking at the barrel lock that was now lit up by Stan’s torch.
Stan explained about the code, what the jack was for, how it should be used and why. Then, he opened two hinged, cabinet-like decorative wall panels and swung them back, one left and one right, flat onto the wall. This exposed an open recess, a bit like a long, wide letterbox, or a drawer without a front, about 6 inches high that went back into the wall about 2 feet.
“Right, let’s get started,” Said Stan. Then the jack was set in place, the compressor switched on, with the exhaust pointing towards the air vent at the top of the wall near the ceiling.
Stan rubbed his hands, then took a piece of card from the top pocket of his jacket, looked at Alan, then said, Right, Mac, let’s see if your code works.” code He entered the code that Mac had cleverly worked out… Stan still couldn’t understand how he solved it.
“Stan, so you’re going to put your arm in there, to try to retrieve some paperwork? And you say that the top of this drawer thingy might slam down on you at any second if you accidentally touch it? What if your arm gets stuck in the recess?”
“Don’t worry, Alan, it won’t… I’ll be very quick. Besides, the jack can hold many, many tons. Right-o, Alan, will you please hold this torch steady for me?”
“Certainly, Stan. Hey, I can see some paperwork or something at the back. Why didn’t you bring one of those hand-held extending grabber thingies and put that in to grab it? – it would save your arm getting crushed, wouldn’t it?”
“Alan, I thought of that, but it might accidentally hit the side of the wall and set the trap off… besides, my arm is much quicker and nimbler than a grabber.
Goodness! ‘It might set a trap off?’… It reminds me of that film, ‘Land of the Pharaohs’, where they make the tomb robber-proof, and during funeral of Cheops, his wife - who is by his side - bravely orders the release of a large stone in a lower chamber, triggering the mechanism to seal the tomb and she and the slaves, etcetera are all buried alive with him forever and many of them were screaming and going into hysterics.”
“Whooooaaaa!” Said Mel, “That better not happen in here! Are we safe? It’s a bit dark isn’t it? I’m claustrophobic! I’d feel hemmed in on a football pitch I would!”
“It’s okay, son,” said Stan, “Lok at that big air vent above the door, and the air vents around the top of the walls. If it’s a bit dark for you, there’s a few torches in the bag lying against the door, but don’t flash them about or you might ruin my concentration. Right Alan, the compressor is now up to full pressure… I’m ready… I’ll now attempt to grab the papers from the back of the recess.”
“Be very careful, Stan… now, take your time.”
Stan paused and breathed slowly in and out as if to calm his nerves, then slowly began to entered his arm, hand-first into the recess, being very careful not to touch anything except the papers.
“I can feel the papers.” Stan whispered. “I’ve got them in my hand now… now I’m lifting them up… that’s it, they’re off the bottom.”
Just at that moment, Mel quietly went to the bag lying against the door and picked it up to rummage through it for a torch. After finding a torch, he placed the bag against the wall near the door, switched the torch on, pointed a beam of light up to the ceiling and walked over to watch Stan at work.
“Right, I’m going to start pulling my arm out now.” The air was tense, as Alan and Mel watched with open mouths, as Stan started to retrieve his arm.
Just then, the automatic metal door, which Mel had removed the heavy bag from, unexpectedly slammed shut!
The three men jumped with surprise! Stan’s arm shuddered, so he decided to try to whip it out in a single quick jerk… but it was jammed in and he couldn’t move it! “I believe my jacket is caught on something!”
Alan quickly stooped down and shone his torch into the recess. “Yeah, Stan, your jacket button is caught on something… what if I hold your arm and we both pull at the same time?”
“Nooooo! Shouted Stan, don’t do that! You’re too strong… I’ve got an awful feeling that you’d probably pull my arm off!”
A strange noise came from the compressor, then it stopped and the room became deadly silent.
“What’s going on?” Mel ran towards the door and tried to yank it open. “How do I open this door? Quick, I need it opened! HOW DO I OPEN IT!” Due to the closeness of bodied and the realization that he was locked in a small room, Mel began to panic… big time! “HOW DO I OPEN THE DOOR! PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO OPEN THE DOOR!”
“It’s okay, lad, I’ll be with you in a moment. Quick… Alan, try to switch the compressor back on! The jack is failing, and the inside of the recess is starting to come down on my arm, and it’s getting tired and I don’t know how long I can hold it up!”
“HOW DO I OPEN THE DOOR! PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO OPEN THE DOOR!”
“It’s okay, Mel, we’ll open it soon.” Said Stan, becoming flustered.
“Oh, my goodness! I don’t believe it,” said Alan, “’it’s asking me for a code!”
“A code?” Said Stan, taking in a large, slow, calming breath. “What do we do now?”
“LISTEN! I’M CLAUSTROPHOBIC! MY MAM SAID THAT I’D FEEL HEMMED IN IN THE MIDDLE OF A FOOTBALL PITCH, I WOULD! IT’S TOO CLOSE IN HERE! GET ME OUT, NOW! GET ME OUT, NOW! I’M WARNING YOU! I’LL KICK OFF!”
Stan dared not move his gaze from the recess, as he was concentrating so much on keeping his hand motionless.
Mel was beginning to get frantic, now. He was walking quickly around the small room, going up to Alan and Stan in turn and shouting into their faces to be released: IT’S TOO CLOSE IN HERE! HELP! GET ME OUT! GET ME OUT, NOW, I SAID! I’M WARNING YOU! I’LL KICK OFF!”
“Alan, can you please get Mel away from me?”
Alan took Mel over near to the door, and told him to stay there while he fixed the compressor. Mel went quiet, and seemed to calm down.
“Stan, it’s still asking for a code!”
“Alan, use your mobile and see if you can get help… in fact, better still, call Simon and ask what the code is… my arm feels like lead, now.”
“Simon gave me a business card, earlier, I’ll call him now... it’s just ringing!”
“Try again, Alan.”
Alan tried umpteen times but couldn’t get through.
“Alan, gently take my mobile out of my pocket … that’s it… now look at my contacts and read them out to me.”
“No, just keep going.”
“Paul? John? Sarah? Norman?”
“Yeah, that’s Norman Dunn! Call him”
“Nothing! It’s just ringing! I wonder if being underground is causing bad reception.”
“Yeah, I never thought of that! Our mobiles are very modern… does Mel have a mobile?”
“Yeah, it’s one of those basic ones that doesn’t receive images or e-mails… do you think I should try it?”
“Yeah, my life might depend on it.”
Alan gently and calmly walked over to Mel, put his hand into Mel’s pocket and pulled out a mobile…and all the while, Mel didn’t murmur.
“Here it is, Stan, what now?”
“Well, I know that Allan Campbell is in town, as I saw him on his bike, earlier, and I have his number on my i-phone. “
“Oh, did he have a cam-helmet on his head?”
“Oh, then I saw him earlier too.”
“Right, Alan, can you please bring the number up on my i-phone and type it into Mel’s mobile, to see if you can get in touch with Allan Campbell?”
“Aaargh! Oooh! Quick, Alan, my arm’s getting squashed now!”
“It’s ringing… Hello? It’s me, Alan La Ruste, from the Hebburn message board… I’m using Stan Wears’ i-phone to contact you… it’s an emergency! What’s that? No, you’re cracking up! Please stay on the line! Allan, listen carefully, can you please rush up to Norman Dunn’s son’s garage, at Pelaw… yeah, that’s it, the old Pelaw MOT Centre. Please ask him what the code is for the compressor, and then call us back immediately!... bye!”
Allan Campbell is a message board regular and a cycling enthusiast, and even though he’s getting on a bit, he could give some of the younger lads a run for their money. If Stan had any chance of being saved by anyone today, Allan was the man.
The jack was deflating badly now and Stan’s arm was being slowly crushed.
“Aaargh! I can’t stand it! I hope Allan hurry’s up.”
Alan, on seeing and hearing Stan’s agony, felt deep compassion. He walked over to the recess, made a huge, strong fist, and jammed it into the recess, slowing the falling weight considerably and taking a bit pressure from Stan’s arm.
“Stan was becoming tired and weak. Thank you, Alan, I’ll never forget what you’ve done here. If we get out of here in one piece, I’ll buy you a pint, mate.”
Mel’s mobile came to life, “That can’t be Allan, already! No-one could get to Pelaw that quickly!” Alan used his spare hand to take the mobile from his waistcoat pocket and answer it.
Just at that moment, Mel came back to life. “LISTEN! I’M CLAUSTROPHOBIC! MY MAM SAID THAT I’D FEEL HEMMED IN IN THE MIDDLE OF A FOOTBALL PITCH, I WOULD! IT’S TOO CLOSE IN HERE! GET ME OUT, NOW! GET ME OUT, NOW! I’M WARNING YOU! I’LL KICK OFF!”
“Hello, Allan, what’s that?”
IT’S TOO CLOSE IN HERE! GET ME OUT, NOW! GET ME OUT, NOW! I’M WARNING YOU! I’LL KICK OFF!”
“I’m sorry, Allan, I’m having trouble hearing you!” Alan put his hand over the mobile and pressed it to his chest, then shouted over to Mel… “Mel, please be quiet! I’m trying to listen!”
GET ME OUT, NOW, I SAID! GET ME OUT!
Alan’s hand was being crushed, and was in serious pain, and blood was pouring from his nails.
“Dear God, please stop this man from tormenting me!”
At that exact moment, Mel collapsed onto the floor in a deep sleep, as safe and calm as a baby.
“Hello, Allan, what’s that?1066… thank you… okay, okay, bye!”
“Oh, Good old Allan Campbell!” Said Stan, trying to keep his eyes open, now slightly delirious. “He must have peddled like the wind! Maybe he flew… maybe he’s an angel… yes, that’s it… he’s an angel. Let’s see if we can get the compressor going again, Alan.” Alan leaned over towards the compressor, but could not reach the buttons to type in the numbers, even using the torch as an extension. “Blast!”
Suddenly, Alan had the strangest idea… using his left hand, he took off the elastic braces holding up his trousers, and used them as a catapult… firstly, he held one end of the braces in his left hand, and the other end in his teeth; he aimed carefully and let the metal piece in his mouth go… it shot forward and pinged directly off the number one button on the compressor… “Yes! I can’t believe it!” Then, again, ping! A perfect shot, hitting the zero right on the button! Alan knew he’d have to be careful, because if he missed, he might have to start again. He aimed for the number six… bingo!
“Aaargh! I can’t stand it! Oh, the pain!” Said Stan, worse than ever, and he was now beginning to slouch dangerously.
“Hold on, Stan, I’m nearly there.”
Alan, stretched the elastic back, closed his eyes, said, “Please God, let this work”, opened his eyes and let the elastic go… the metal piece shot from his mouth and hit the number six right in the centre, which caused the compressor to immediately come to life.
“Stan, we did it!”
The jack quickly began to re-inflate, and Stan started to recover slightly, but was wobbly on his feet. Alan’s hand was all bloodied, so he pulled it out from the recess, and stretched his fingers until the life came back into them. He then, looked at Stan, wobbling, and knew that he was about to faint, so Alan shouted ‘all or nothing’, and yanked Stan’s hand from the recess, without any incident, and amazingly, Stan still had the papers clutched in his hand! Alan pushed the papers into Stan’s bag, and then sat Stan on the floor propped up against a wall.
Alan turned the compressor off, and a few minutes later, Stan had come around, and was talking clearly, though his arm was pretty sore. Alan sat down beside him.
“We had better get that door open before your friend wakes up.” Said Stan.
“Yes,” said Alan, looking from the door to the compressor, another thought forming in his mind.
“We could try ringing our good friend Allan Campbell.”
“Yes, Stan, there’s also that.” Said Alan, with a smile.
Just them, there was a sound of footfall outside the metal door, and the clink of the key turning in the lock. Stan and Alan looked at each other quizzically, then back to the door,
The door swung open. “How, lads!” It was Allan Campbell, standing there, in the doorway as large as life, with a cam-helmet on his head.
“Allan, our dear friend, we’ve never been happier to see you.”
“I’m not alone.”
“Who you with?” Said Stan, leaning forward trying to get a better view of the passageway.
“See for yourself.” Said Allan, moving to one side while holding the door open. He was soon accompanied by six regulars from the Hebburn message board, all eager to help. They soon had the equipment and the lads safely out of the church and out in the sunshine.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” said Stan, to Allan, “how did you know we were trapped in a room under the church?”
“Oh, I got your note.”
“But I didn’t send any note… what did it say?”
“It said, ‘Hurry… St Aloysius church… Need rescued from underground room, yi nah like.’”
Mel woke up in the wagon, and thought that he had had a bad dream, so Stan and Alan left it at that. “A nightmare, son, was it?” Said Alan.
“Aye, horrible it was, and it seemed so real!”
Later, at home, after reading the manuscript, Stan realised that it was an extremely sensitive document, that could even now, cause a serious diplomatic incident, if it fell into the wrong hands. Stan burnt the document in his garden, and thus ends the tale of the Hebburn mystery. Another one solved by the board.
It’s amazing what quiet, unassuming Architectural Ecclesiologist get up to some times.
P. S. All the records from the Mozes’ book has been safely copied to the Hebburn Archive.