A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Mid-morning in Paris is cluttered with tourists – early tour buses unloading at their first attraction (“Follow the red umbrella, and remember the number of your bus.”) and “smart” two-a-day sightseers, crowding in to beat the crowds. Emily sidestepped the ticket line at the Museum of Modern Art and used her association card to get in through the staff entrance. As a student, she had spent hundreds of hours here, mapping the displays, calculating traffic patterns, studying the effects of light and shadow. Although she’d done her first internship at Le Petit Palais, it was here she learned the nuts and bolts of display and design. She knew this gallery as well as any of the people who worked here. She walked through the familiar rooms, pausing to sit in front of a few old favourites, avoiding the famous works obscured by herds of cellphone cameras. Some things had changed, but it was mostly the same — a small stroll down memory lane. Except – and this was odd — she had a feeling that something wasn’t right. Something didn’t fit. She’d set up enough gallery exhibitions to trust her instincts, but she couldn’t put her finger on it – and it bothered her. She walked through a few more rooms. She stopped, sat down and watched the people – and the paintings – and the people again. And then she saw it. She waited, but nothing changed. She got up and walked through several more rooms. They were all the same. She considered the options and decided she needed to think about it. She went down to the café and bought coffee and a pastry. Her mind immediately went to Sinclair.
In the conference room, back at the hotel, Sinclair and DeMonta were done with the details. Like all good plans, it was simple, with very few moving parts and no unnecessary transitions. On day one, Team One arrives at the gallery with equipment, uniforms, credentials and official papers. They find the middle managers and explain they will be working in the street near the entrance, upgrading data and telephone lines. This shouldn’t cause any problems, but there might be an occasional disruption — probably just to the Internet or maybe telephone services. They won’t last more than a few seconds, certainly less than a minute. They get a couple of signatures on formal-looking work orders, apologize for the inconvenience and thank everybody very much. Then they go back to the street, set up a construction site and open the vertical shaft to the junction box in the sewer system. For the next few days, they make themselves conspicuous – part of the landscape — laughing, saying good morning, eating lunch and, every once in a while, pulling a plug and replacing it. More apologies, a few complaints but mostly workmen regularly seen inside the gallery to “fix” the problem. On day five, twenty minutes before closing time, a well-recognized brown delivery van drives up to the entrance. Team One goes down the excavation shaft, cuts all the trunk lines at the junction box (telephone, Internet, alarm system, power) then disappears into the sewers. Team Two gets out of the van and goes into the gallery. They each go directly to their designated painting, lift it off the wall and take it back to the van. The van drives away – one of many in a busy city.
“It’s as close to perfect as possible,” Simon said, hobbling away from the big conference table to the sideboard.
Dreyfus knew that tone. “But?” he said.
Simon poured water into a glass.
“But. . . ” Simon leaned on his cane and drank. “Look, I trust your guys. If you say they’re 100%, okay, good enough for me. They do the thing, no problem, but …” Simon slowly shook his head, “They gotta sell it. They don’t sell it …? Puhh! Team Two needs that extra minute. It’s gotta feel normal when they go into the gallery. If it doesn’t, somebody’s going to get excited. Too much time and our boys are flatfooted. Those paintings might get off the wall, but they’re never gettin’ out the door — and we’re dead as disco. They gotta sell it right from the get-go, and that’s a lotta trust with guys we don’t know.”
Simon put the glass down.
“And … we haven’t taken care of the concerned citizen. Some taxpayer decides he’s going to be a hero? Even on the street? That screws everything. We need muscle. Something loud and scary to make sure everybody thinks twice about goin’ ‘Vive La France’ on our ass.”
Dreyfus picked a long plastic line of ID badges out of the suitcase. He’d seen the holes too and had already decided to fix them.
“We’ve already got all the material.” Dreyfus lifted the badges in the air, “That’s done. We can’t add anybody now without throwing the timetable off. Besides, you and I both know muscle’s a whole different ballgame. My people don’t do that. We’d have to farm it out.”
Dreyfus shook his head. “Too much risk. I’ll do it. I’ll go in with the first team, sell the hell out of it, stay for the transition and I’m the muscle. Nothing else changes. I’ll do it.”
“You don’t speak French,” Simon said, reaching across the sideboard for a wine bottle.
“I got enough to get by. Besides, city workers? We’re Romanians or something.” Dreyfus shrugged, “The people at the gallery aren’t going to know the difference.”
“What about your girl?”
Dreyfus looked across at Simon. “Corkscrew’s by the glasses,” he said.