A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Dreyfus poured himself another cup of coffee. They’d booked a meeting room in the hotel, and he was alone at the big table. He opened the third suitcase that had magically appeared at the airport. Everything was neatly arranged in individual packages, sealed in shrink-wrap plastic. He sorted through and found the maps. He put them on the table and carefully replaced everything else. Now, there was nothing for him to do until Simon got there. He took his coffee and pulled a chair up to the big window. He sat down, looked out at the early spring morning and waited.
Last night had been better than he’d expected – Simon DeMonta was an acquired taste, and Emily could be acid when she felt like it. But they both had behaved themselves. Simon, full of the old-fashioned chivalry hard men reserve for respected women, and Emily listening attentively to his rambling stories and laughing in all the right places. And neither of them asked any questions. They’d stayed for an early dinner, and over coffee and cognac, Simon reached across and touched Emily’s hand.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here. And I don’t know what Dreyfus told you.” Without looking away from Emily’s face, he slowly raised his index finger at Dreyfus.
“But it doesn’t matter ‘cause you strike me as smart enough to figure out something’s going on.”
There was a second of silence. “So, do you want to know or not?”
Emily left her hand where it was. This was uncharted territory. Normally, she left Sinclair to Sinclair, and he’d already told her anything she wanted to know, but this was too bizarre to walk away from. She smiled and added a little mischief to her mouth. Simon sat back in his chair.
“Okay,” he said with a short laugh, “I’m going to steal some paintings.”
Emily heard the plural, but her expression didn’t change.
“They’re not for me. Truth is I don’t even want them. And if everything goes according to plan, at some point, I’m gonna give them back. So, I’m not the bad guy here. But for right now, I need those paintings.”
Simon sipped his cognac. “They’re leverage. I and my wife …” Simon looked at Emily expectantly.
“Marta,” Emily offered.
Simon nodded. “Marta. Yeah. Let me tell you about Marta. We been together for over 60 years. We grew up together. Little kids. High school sweethearts. The whole deal. I don’t even remember a time when she wasn’t there. And in all those years, not a sour word. Not once. Hand to God. Never. Now, she’s been arrested here in Paris and the French are bending over so the FBI can f-f – uh – hmm …. Long story, short: the FBI want these Paris boys to give her up so they can trade her for me. Extortion. That’s what it is. And, believe me, I know about extortion.”
Simon lifted his glass and took another sip.
So, it’s her or me. But I’m not goin’ anywhere, and I’m not going to let Marta go to prison, either. No way. Not gonna happen. She put up with me all these years — jeez it’s the least, right? So. Anyway. Everybody’s always talking about French culture? Well, I’m gonna lift some of that culture, and me and the French are gonna do a deal. They put Marta on a plane for parts unknown, and they get their culture back. It’s that simple. A hundred dollar misdemeanor for a couple of million in priceless art.”
Emily thought about it. It was too romantic, too improbable, too impossible, and she knew that some of it was dead tired and some of it was wine and a lot of it was silly schoolgirl adventure, but, at that moment, it certainly sounded as if it just might work. She picked up her cognac to pause and gather a little reality.
“Don’t get caught,” she said, with a touch of menace, suddenly remembering why she was there.
Simon smiled and Dreyfus looked around for the waiter.
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell you something, Emily: I’m a criminal, okay? I admit it. But I’m old. Who cares? I’m outta the business 10 years, more. Nobody remembers me except the Fed. ‘Cause in all those years, I never spent one day in jail. Overnight, maybe. But never anything more. And that pisses them off — excuse my language. Yeah, they got warrants, but so what? I’m still not behind bars. And I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause I plan, I perfect and I don’t take risks. I don’t take risks and I don’t get caught. And your boy won’t either. As long as he’s with me. I guarantee it. Now, forget about it and let’s get another brandy and hey, you want some more of that cheesy stuff? That stuff’s good.”
Later, when they left the restaurant, Emily offered Simon her arm as they went back across the street.