A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Paris may be called the City of Light, but it’s also a city full of shadows. There are many dark places lurking in the Parisian night, and Emily was sitting comfortably with her back to a tree in one of them. Dressed in the black sweater, slacks, gloves and crepe-soled shoes she’d bought at Tati’s the day before, and with her hair neatly tucked into a black hair net, she was virtually invisible. She was waiting, and despite the nagging itch in the back of her mind that she’d forgotten something, was quite calm and confident. In fact, this was the most relaxed she’d felt since Simon DeMonta had telephoned the loft over the river … what seemed like a month ago.
She knew the Musee d’Art Moderne. She’d been through it a hundred times. She’d worked there. She knew which paintings were where. She knew there were dim floor lights to show her the way. She knew the control room and the staff room were two different places. She knew there were only three night guards. She knew how she was going to get in and how she was going to get out. But, most of all, she knew the alarm system was broken. She’d discovered that the first day when the motion detectors on the walls, in the doorways and on the paintings didn’t change from green to red when people walked by. And without an alarm, she knew that, as long as no one was watching the CCTV monitors, no one would ever know that Emily Perry-Turner, Duchess of Weldon, had walked away with 100 million Euros worth of irreplaceable art. And that was what she was waiting for.
A few minutes later, at almost exactly 2 A.M., she heard the sound of a single vehicle rise out of the white noise of the deserted city. She watched it pull up to the door she’d knocked on the night before, saw the driver get out with a basket and ring the bell. Less than a minute later, a bold shaft of light cut through the darkness when the door opened. There was talk that Emily couldn’t hear. The driver opened the basket, closed it and handed it to the security guard. Then he turned around and got back in his van. The door closed and the light was gone. A long minute later, the van drove away and Emily moved. She picked up her black backpack, walked calmly across the street, up the wide stairs and along the concrete balustrade to the red line of graffiti where she was invisible again. She stopped, playing the scene inside the gallery in her head. The question, the note, the retold story of the damsel in distress falling out of her dress, a couple more rude jokes, the decision, and fingers crossed/fingers crossed, all three guards leaving the control room to eat their very expensive lunch.
Emily walked in a straight line to the window from the night before. She took the electric screwdriver out of her backpack and, once again, unscrewed all six screws top to bottom — but this time she just let them fall. She took the weight of the window in her hands and on her knees, moved it sideways, then slid it down the wall. She twisted the lock she’d broken the night before, off its hasp and pushed the metal grate open. She put the screwdriver back, picked a wooden wedge out of the backpack and stepped neatly through the open window. She knew there was no CCTV in the service hall, so it wasn’t until she opened a door to the actual gallery that she put a second black hair net over her face. She wedged the door open and, without hesitation, stepped into camera range. She stood there, ready to run. Out the door, down the hall, through the window and gone. Out the door, down the hall, through the window and gone. She rehearsed it in her head. Out the door, down the hall, through the window and gone. Two minutes. Three minutes. Out the door, down the hall, through the window and gone. Five minutes. Nobody came. Eight minutes. They weren’t coming. Now, it didn’t matter. The cameras would record her but with the hair net over her face and the sports bra and sweater flattening her silhouette, all they would see was a grainy, faceless, smallish man – because women don’t rob art galleries.
Emily worked easily and didn’t hurry. She knew she had at least twenty minutes, maybe more. First, she took all four paintings off the wall. Then she took two of them out the door, down the hall and through the open window to the red mark on the concrete balustrade. She went back into the galley and got the next two — out the door, down the hall and through the open window. She set them down with the others. She exhaled. She was clear of the cameras, out of range, halfway home free. She opened her backpack for the tools to remove the paintings from the frames. In a couple of minutes she’s be on her motorbike and gone. But … but … She stopped. She wanted the Modigliani. It wasn’t part of the bargain she’d made with herself. It wasn’t part of DeMonta’s deal. It wasn’t anything, really. But she wanted it.
“No, don’t be stupid. It’s in a different room. It’s too late.”
“It’s not that far.”
“No, leave it. Don’t push your luck.”
“You’ll never get the chance again.”
Without another thought, Emily stood up and ran back to the gallery — in the window, down the hall, through the door and across the gallery. She grabbed the Modigliani off the wall. She could feel the electronic eyes on her, but she was either caught or not, so she just kept moving. At the door, she pushed it with her shoulder and picked up the wedge. It glided shut. She ran down the hall and out through the window. She stopped to close the grate and carefully walked the straight line to the balustrade – just in case the security guards were back in the control room. She set the Modigliani down with the others and stood there to catch her breath. She pulled the hair net off her face and looked around. The night was dark and deserted — empty — and it calmed her again. She knelt down, and with the tools she bought at the art shop, she removed the paintings from the frames. She’d done this kind of work a thousand times, so even in the dark, it didn’t take her very long. Less than 10 minutes later, she had a stack of empty frames and five priceless canvases at her feet. It wasn’t even 3 A.M., yet and she was ….
“Son of a bitch!”
Emily suddenly realized what she’d forgotten. She had no way to carry the paintings. They weren’t that heavy, but they were all different sizes — awkward and unwieldy – certainly impossible on a motorbike. Even if she rolled them, she’d never be able to hold them – her hands were too small. She needed a wrapper — something strong enough to keep them together. A five Euro cardboard mailing tube would work if she’d thought to buy one. Shit! Shit! Shit! She thought about stashing them somewhere. Maybe come back later. Not a good plan! The minute the security guards did their rounds – any minute now — the whole place would be knee-deep in policemen. She thought about leaving the big ones and taking the smaller ones — maybe sticking them up the back of her sweater. Maybe? Sweater? Emily pulled her sweater over her head. She took the framing tool and cut the neckline straight across. She carefully rolled each painting, one inside the other, and pulled her sweater over all five. They expanded, but the material held them in place. She picked them up by the sleeves. Nothing showed. Nothing fell out. It would work. Emily put everything back in her backpack, grabbed the sweater full of art and ran down the wide steps to the trees on Boulevard de New York. She got on her motorbike, put her sweater in front of her and kept the sleeves in her hands on the handlebars. Twenty minutes later, she was back at the hotel. She walked through the lobby.
“Good morning, Madame.” As if every guest walked in in their underwear, carrying their clothes.
At the room Emily switched on the light.
“Wake up, Sinclair! I’ve got something to show you.”