A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
The late afternoon was wet and chilly and Emily, tucked into her bulk-knit sweater and fat hygge socks, was half asleep when the telephone rang. At first, she didn’t understand: no one had ever called the land line before. But then she recognized the sound and swung her legs off the sofa. She put her book down and slip stepped across the smooth hardwood floor to the kitchen wall. The mid ring stopped when she picked up the receiver.
“We need to talk. Tonight at eight.”
There was an electric hum.
And an audible click.
Emily looked at the telephone as if it was its fault.
“Shit!” she said, and placed the receiver back on the wall. She stood there for a moment. This was the problem with Dreyfus Sinclair: you couldn’t ever plan anything. Her night of lamb kebab takeaway and naughty Greek wine by the fire had suddenly disappeared. She went to the counter and filled the kettle. (Never mind, my darling. Have a nice cup of tea.)
For a second, she contemplated just going back to her own apartment, but it was rainy and grey and eventually Sinclair would come home, so …. But, the evening was ruined. She knew Sinclair well enough to know he wasn’t going to dump the voice on the phone to curl up on the sofa with her, no matter how attractive she made it. Oddly enough, that was one of the many things she loved about the guy. He came when he was called – every time, without fail. This was important to her, and she wasn’t about to abuse it for a one night stand of kebabs and wine. Besides, Emily appreciated the clear lines between the two of them. She had a life and she liked it, and she expected Sinclair to respect that, so it was only fair that she do the same. Still, it made the two of them together difficult at times. As the water heated, she went back to the sofa and picked up her phone. Normally, they didn’t trade texts but Emily wasn’t interested in Sinclair coming home, hanging around for an hour or two and leaving again. That was not enough time to do anything (certainly not what she had in mind) but too much time to do nothing. She tapped the message, sent it and went back to the kettle. She made tea, put the pot, a cup and a big bag of ginger snaps on a tray and took it back to the sofa. Her phone buzzed and she read, “thanks see you later.” She picked up her book, a twisting trail of dead Scandinavians. The interesting thing was Emily had been around Dreyfus Sinclair long enough that a cryptic telephone call in the late afternoon was not the least bit unusual.
Despite what spy novels and bad movies will tell you, lonely park benches and deserted warehouses are not the best places for secret meetings. Professionals prefer busy places. Actually, most clandestine business is conducted in plain sight, under the floating cloak of a shifting crowd. Universities are good, or large office buildings but one of the best places for covert conversations is a hospital. It’s very close to the perfect cover. The assumption is anyone who is at a hospital is supposed to be there, and the people who are there are almost completely focused on themselves. That’s why no one noticed a very ordinary, somewhat rumpled Dreyfus Sinclair come through the main entrance at St. Thomas Hospital off Westminster Bridge. He looked like a college professor uncomfortable outside the classroom, and when he walked up to the information kiosk, the volunteers were eager to help. He asked for directions to the cafeteria, followed the pointed fingers to the elevator and left without anybody really seeing him. In the basement, he stood at the cafeteria entrance until he saw who he was looking for. Then he bought a coffee in a paper cup from the long serve-yourself line. He walked around several open spaces and sat down opposite a very old man at an out of the way, round, made-for-four, table.
“You’re looking good, Simon,” he said, tearing open the paper sugar envelope.
“You finally got a girlfriend.”
Dreyfus smiled and stirred the sugar into his coffee. “You in London now?” he asked.
“No, I came down to see you.”
“Okay,” Dreyfus answered, content to let the old man play it out his way.
“I need your help.”
Dreyfus tilted his head and opened his palm in a helpless gesture.
“They arrested Marta.”
Dreyfus straightened in his chair. “When?”
“A week ago, in Paris.”
“She and Jenna went shopping, and she got caught at some shop with a bunch of makeup. Saffron or something. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Jenna ran and security called the cops.”
“Why was she stealing makeup?” It was an accusation.
“Hell, I don’t know. Old habits, I guess.” Simon raised his shoulders in frustration, “But they took her in, ran her prints and …”
Dreyfus stared into the distance over the old man’s shoulder, trying to out-manoeuver the French justice system.
“That’s not it,” Simon said, reading Sinclair’s mind. “When they ran her prints, the boys back home got a hit — and they were in there like ugly on an ape. They’re squeezing the gendarmes to make a trade — her for me.”
“Don’t trust them,” Dreyfus said, reaching for his coffee.
“You’re singing to the choir. But the bait is if I don’t come in, they’re going to extradite her back to Egypt on the old Zamalek conviction.”
“She had nothing to do with any of that.”
“I know — but she was named, and if they send her back to Cairo, they’ll hang her.”
“Lawyer up. You can twist them into knots for years.”
“Not this time. It’s a closed hearing. And besides, even if I could get the legals to do something, how many years do Marta and I have left? She’s got enough paper on her to throw away the key.”
“The Hague, Human Rights?”
“That’s where I’m at now, but it’s only a stall. I need some time.”
Dreyfus took another sip of his coffee and thought about it.
“You’re going to break her out of prison? A French prison?”
“No, but I have a plan and I need your help.”
Later that night, the misty, spring drizzle turned into a storm, driving needles of rain against the tall windows of the loft over the river. Emily and Dreyfus sat on the floor, close to the fire — like superstitious tribesmen afraid of the angry gods. Dreyfus had come home too late for kebabs, so they settled on bread and cheese and several trips to the kitchen for whatever else they could find. It was their second bottle of wine, and they were tired from talking around a conversation that had started with:
“I have to go to Paris for a week or two.”
Normally, Emily would have shrugged it off. Dreyfus was always going somewhere for some reason. But there was something wrong. There were too many details. Dreyfus didn’t talk a lot about his job – to anyone. In fact, he usually said nothing, and his standard response to even the most casual inquiry was “Insurance is boring.” But for the last couple of hours, he’d been rattling on with way too much information. Finally, Emily had had enough.
“This is bullshit. Are you lying to me?”
Dreyfus thought about it. “Not really,” he said, and then considered his answer. “Well, sort of.”
“Okay.” Emily took a drink, “You should have told me that in the first place.”
Dreyfus stopped his glass in mid-air and tilted his head like a question. “Do you hear yourself?”
Emily looked back, a little angry. And then her face softened. “Fair play, Sinclair. But that doesn’t excuse you from wasting the entire evening talking to me like we’re on a blind date.”
Dreyfus cut a piece of bread and dipped it in honey. He shrugged and took a bite.
“Okay, give me one good reason why. Just one good reason and I’ll shut up about it.”
“Alright.” Dreyfus exhaled, “I’ve got something to do, and I’m not sure about the laws in this country, but I’m pretty sure if you don’t know what it is, you can’t be arrested for it. How’s that?”
“See what I mean?”
“Good reason,” Emily said. “Now we’ve got that out of the way. I still want to know, so … What’s going on?”
Before Dreyfus could answer, Emily turned her head and pointedly looked at him. “You’re not going to murder somebody, are you?”
“No,” Dreyfus cut another piece of bread, “I’m going to steal a painting.”
“What painting? You don’t know anything about art!”
There was a pause.
“Oh. So that’s what the guy on the telephone wanted, a nice landscape for the sitting room?”
“Simon’s an old friend, and I owe him a lot.”
“Twenty years in prison is a lot.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time,” Emily said and pointed to the wine.
Dreyfus poured both glasses.
Emily loved Paris. She’d studied here as a girl and had returned a few years later as a woman who fell in love with the wrong man, lost her virginity to a better one and spent the rest of the sunny summer in a Gallic mood, carefree and morose. She was finally called home (when the sidewalk cafes turned cold) by an uncompromising mother and a father who was gravely ill. Death and responsibility followed and summers and winters and …. These days, Paris was just a weekend or less — too short to be enjoyed properly. So she should have been happy with two weeks or more on the Seine, but …
The long story from last night had lasted most of the night, and they’d been busy all morning. So waiting at the airport, they were both suddenly very tired – content to spend the rest of the trip silently contemplating the middle distance. Dreyfus trying to figure out how Emily had talked him into letting her tag along and Emily smoldering, furious with Simon DeMonta, who she blamed for this insanity. She’d heard a lot of the why of this ridiculous adventure but none of the how— and it worried her.
There was a car waiting at Charles De Gaulle, which oddly enough, already had a matching suitcase in the trunk. Less than four hours out of London, they were checking into a boutique hotel just off Boulevard du Montparnasse.
The driver brought the luggage into the lobby and handed Dreyfus a telephone. “Pour vous, monsieur.”
Dreyfus nodded, put the phone in his jacket pocket and turned to reception, but before he could speak:
“Lady Weldon. Excusez-moi! We had no idea.” It was a voice from far behind the counter.
A man stepped forward and shuffled the other staff away with his fingers.
“Your usual suite, of course.” He looked down at the arranged papers, trying to decipher them as quickly as possible. “Perhaps a drink while we make the arrangements.”
“That would be fine, Lucien. It’s nice to see you again.”
“And you, Madame.”
Emily took their passports out of Sinclair’s hand, gave him a “you’re-in-my-town-now” look and placed them on the counter. She reached under his arm and directed him across the lobby.
“So that’s why you wanted to stay here.”
But before Emily could answer:
“Please, one minute.” It was Lucien. “Monsieur Sinclair, your friend Monsieur DeMonta has already arrived. He is waiting across the street at Chez Marcel. Just there.”
There was a perceptible pause.
“Shall I move him to the sixth floor?”
Emily turned her head only slightly. “No, he’s just fine where he is.”
She stepped Dreyfus towards the door.
“Could you send someone when the rooms are ready?”
Chez Marcel was far enough away from the tourist routes that it was old-style Paris – mostly empty at that time of day. There were a couple of late shoppers, a book reader, a satcheled student, tapping a phone, and what looked like a bony bag of clothes thrown on a chair against the wall.
Emily hesitated. “Oh, my God! That can’t be him!”
Simon was completely beyond anything Emily had been imagining. She had to consciously close her mouth. This man wasn’t just old — he was crisp, practically brittle. He looked like a forgotten banquet of dead flowers — afraid of the wind that could blow him into a thousand pieces. There was no possibility he was going to steal a Picasso. It looked as if he couldn’t even lift one. What the hell had Sinclair got himself into?
Dreyfus maneuvered through the tables and Emily, horrified, followed. A couple of steps later:
“Hey, good to see you. Emily,” Dreyfus put his hand on the back of Emily’s waist and moved her forward, “this is Simon. Simon, this is Emily.”
Simon smiled and his face brightened.
“At least he’s not dead!” Emily thought.
But as he got up from the chair, he leaned heavily on a cane.
“We’re so screwed!”
But all Emily heard herself say was, “Pleased to meet you. Have you been waiting long?”
The next morning, 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 then 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 everything he was going to. But she wanted to know, so she sat still, smiled and added a little mischief to her mouth. Simon relaxed back into 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. Okay. 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 couple of million dollars worth of priceless art for a hundred dollar misdemeanor.”
“Fair trade, I’d say.”
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 might just 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 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.
It was early, but the morning light was strong when Emily woke up. She had slept deeply, and it took her a few seconds to realize where she was. “Paris? Paris!” She rolled over. Sinclair was gone. Quelle surprise! She got dressed, combed her hair with her fingers, thought about make-up, said “to hell with it” and went down for the hotel breakfast. Sinclair would find her when he wanted to, but until then it was her Paris, too. Breakfast was coffee, an egg, a croissant and Le Figaro, while she figured out what kind of a day she would have. Unfortunately, her choices were limited because, the truth was, Emily Perry-Turner, the Duchess of Weldon was broke. Of course, she had walking-around money, but anything beyond that was committed to an inherited pit of debt and the insane expenses of keeping a crumbling estate off the auction block. Shopping in Paris had always been dear to Emily’s heart, but, in recent history, it was a luxury she simply could not afford. So, it was either a book in the park – Luxembourg, probably – or a couple of galleries. Galleries won the toss. Emily laughed to herself. At least she’d get to see some art before Sinclair stole it all. She drank her coffee and idly wondered what he was doing.
Actually, Dreyfus was upstairs in the fifth floor meeting room, unfolding a transparent map of the Paris sewer system and trying to orient it to the street map underneath. In Paris, the sewers are not only used for waste water; the tunnels also carry all the power, data and telephone lines. This makes them some of the most accessible in the world, and there are even tourist tours. However, Dreyfus and Simon DeMonta’s interest was purely business. They were looking for the vertical shaft on the Rue de Thorigny – and they found it.
“Okay, we’ll use a four man team,” Simon said. “Here,” he pointed.
“They set up — construction barriers, tape, the whole deal — and dig down. Probably take them a day, but they need to be there for at least five. People have to be used to seeing them. Part of the landscape. No problem. Then, day five, they cut the power, switch with the second team and disappear. Team Two goes into the building. We need to scope that out. All the what, wheres and whyfores, so they’re in and out. How about your girl? She knows this stuff.”
“No, I’ll do it. I don’t want her involved.”
“Okay. Anyway, they grab the paintings, back on the street and into a car. Van probably. They disappear. Our guy in the van – uh – where’s the other map? He takes them and gone – uh — somewhere. All we have to do is work out a drop for us to pick them up.”
“No, my people will take care of that. We’re never going near. They’ll keep them and handle the negotiations. We hang around like it’s a holiday.”
Simon looked sceptical. “You’re sure about these guys? I don’t want anybody getting greedy.”
“No, hundred percent. I use these people all the time. They’re not cowboys. We need to work out the details to the minute and just tell them what to do.”
“Okay,” Simon said and sat down. “First we need a timetable.”
Emily stepped out into the street. The whole city was in the full gush of spring, dancing with a hundred shades of Monet green. It was beautiful, but for Emily, Paris was always a city in black and white, like a Truffaut film. She preferred the grey stone streets to the sparkling boulevards, the sidewalks to the parks and vin de maison to Dom Perignon. That’s why she decided to bypass the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay and make her way to the Paris Museum of Modern Art.
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! Somebody’s going to make a phone call. And even if they don’t — Team Two needs that extra minute. It’s gotta feel normal when they go into the gallery. If it doesn’t, people 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. “And that’s 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 have 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.
That evening spread out for them like sand slowly leaking out of an hourglass – time out of time. As usual, they were alone in the crowded restaurant, content to let the world swirl around them. It was long after Vespers, so there weren’t any bells from Notre Dame, but even across the river, the floodlights on the cathedral shone through the trees and cast shivering shadows on their faces and over their table. It was a dinner made for lovers – several lazy courses, small bites, wine and conversation.
They had arrived nearly together from separate directions. Dreyfus by taxi directly from their hotel and Emily a two train transfer and a walk from St. Michel Metro station. Without reservations, it took a few minutes and some well-placed Euros to get an outside table. But with generosity established, all good waiters instinctively know when to be at your elbow and when to stay away.
Dreyfus had spent the day shaping, reshaping and finally perfecting each detail of DeMonta’s plan until both men were satisfied. Now, DeMonta was probably asleep, and everything else was etched in stone. Dreyfus had made all the necessary telephone calls and the on-the-ground timetable was set to start the day after tomorrow. He was confident but still wary of the variables. Meanwhile, after her inadvertent discovery, Emily had spent the entire day in and around the Musee d’Art Moderne. After walking through the rooms again, she left and had lunch at Antoine, watching the traffic on Avenue de New York. After lunch, she bought a guide book and strolled around the museum several times; then, when the tourists thinned, bought a ticket and went back inside. She spent the last hour or so wandering and sitting, making certain she hadn’t made a mistake, until a friendly security guard told her the museum was closing and she had to leave.
“Of course. I’m sorry,” Emily said in more than acceptable French. “I’m keeping you from your dinner.”
“No, Madame,” the guard shrugged, “I’m here until eleven.”
Emily gave him a sad smile and tilted her head in sympathy. She gathered her purse and book, and they chatted as they walked to the entrance together. The guard was more than pleased that a beautiful woman was interested in the hard work he did. As she walked to the Metro, she wondered how or even if she’d tell Sinclair what she’d found.
At the restaurant, after the fish they decided on gateau au chocolate facon grand-mere with two forks for dessert and, breaking tradition, red wine with their coffee.
While they waited: “Are you really going to go through with this?” Emily asked. “Do you really think you and that old man can rob a gallery?”
Dreyfus lifted his glass. He wasn’t sure he wanted this conversation, but he knew Emily well enough to know he was going to have it anyway.
“I told you I owe him — a lot. And Marta too. Especially Marta. We go way back. They were very good to me. When I was a kid, I got into a bunch of trouble…”
“I don’t think I want to hear this!” Emily interrupted.
“And they straightened it out. They vouched for me when they didn’t have to, and they treated me right. Without them … I don’t know. Now, they’re old and sick and what am I going to do — walk away? She could be in prison for the rest of her life. And Simon? He’s lost without her. You heard him last night.”
“He’s a sweet old guy, but …” Emily shook her head, “I swear to God if you go to jail, Sinclair …”
“I’m not going to jail. I’m not even going to be anywhere near.”
Emily thought about it. “Are you lying to me again?”
“I’m not.” There was a pause. “Well, maybe a little bit, but I’m not going to go to jail.”
Emily turned her eyes to the shining cathedral. Then she leaned over to the next table. “Excusez-moi, monsieur. Une cigarette, s’il vous plait?”
Emily opened her purse. The man waved his hand and handed her the package. She opened it, took a cigarette and lit it with his lighter. “Merci.”
“Pas de quoi,” the man said, without looking.
Emily turned back to Dreyfus with a serious look-what-you-made-me-do glance.
Dreyfus exhaled, hoping the cake would show up soon.
“C’mon, Sinclair. You don’t know anything about this. You’re an insurance adjuster, not an art thief.”
Dreyfus raised his eyebrows, pulled his head back slightly in disbelief and gave her a thin-lipped smile.
“Okay,” she said, pointing, “But you know what I mean.”
“Look, Simon is one of the best planners in the business. And Sydney …
Dreyfus put both hands up. “Not Sydney himself. His crew. Or something. His people. You know Sydney. Don’t ask any questions. They’re doing the heavy lifting. And those boys don’t make mistakes. You know that.”
Emily had to agree, but all she said was, “God! Sydney? And where are you going to be while all this is going on?”
“I’m just there to make sure nothing goes wrong. That’s all.”
Before Emily could answer, the cake arrived and the coffee and the wine. The waiter showed Dreyfus the bottle. With two fingers, Dreyfus directed him to Emily. He turned, uncorked it and poured. Emily drank.
The waiter poured both glasses, put the bottle on the table and left. Emily dropped the cigarette on the sidewalk.
“Alright. Let’s have some cake.”
Emily knew the tone. “You’re crazy,” she said, suddenly making up her mind. It was a way out if she could make it work, but either way, Sinclair didn’t really need to know right now. It would only complicate things.
Dreyfus lifted his wine glass: “To crazy!”
Emily smiled. She lifted her glass: “To crazy,” she said, thinking just how crazy it had all become.
They drank. And in the beautiful half-light night, they ate cake.
The next morning over a hotel breakfast, they did a post mortem of the night before. The food, the wine — too much wine – they’d slyly taken the last bottle with them when they left the restaurant. They’d shared it in the plaza, watching the midnight fire dancers in front of Notre Dame and finished it on the slow stroll through the half-deserted streets, looking for a taxi. They never found one and ended up walking and talking and, a couple of times, waltzing all the way back to the hotel. It had been fun; it was what they did. But now it was time to finish their coffee and go to work, and they both knew it.
Emily looked across the table with an unasked question in her eyes. Dreyfus put his tongue on his top teeth and slightly opened his palms. Emily thought about it for less than a second. She knew she’d already made up her mind, but it was worth a try.
“So what are you doing today?’ he asked.
“I don’t know. I’m in Paris; I think I’ll go shopping,” Emily answered casually. “Are you going to be around?”
“Oh, yeah. Just not during the day.”
“Here for dinner?”
“Find us a place,” Dreyfus said, getting up. Emily looked up with another question.
“Whatever you like.”
He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
“Be careful,” she said into his ear.
Dreyfus stood up and smiled down at her. It was his highwayman smile, and Emily slowly shook her head.
“And don’t let that crazy old man talk you into anything stupid.”
“He’s still sleeping,” Dreyfus said. “See you tonight.” And then he walked away.
Emily poured another cup of coffee and reached for her newspaper. She needed to think.
Dreyfus went to the lobby, ordered a taxi and went out into the street. He took the telephone the driver had given him on the first day and dialed the only number available. He arranged two meetings for that afternoon. He made them three hours apart, in two different places. Then he took out his own telephone, found Sydney’s name and tapped the number.
“Hello, sir. How are you?”
“Very well, Sydney. And you?”
“Top form. Is everything all right?”
“Perfect, so far. No problems. But I need a gun.”
“Certainly.” There was a pause. “Didn’t they give you a telephone, sir?” Sydney’s voice betrayed his concern.
“Yeah, it’s good. No problem. I just want this to be separate. If that’s possible?”
“Something big and noisy.”
“How big, sir?” Sydney was interested.
“No, Sydney. Just a handgun. Any time in the next few days.” Dreyfus gave him the name of the hotel.
“Anything else, sir?”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll see you in a week or so.”
“Of course. Goodbye, sir.”
Dreyfus took the taxi down to the river, told the driver to wait and jumped out at a tourist kiosk. He bought an “I ‘HEART’ Paris” baseball cap and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Then he told the driver to take him to an address in Le Marais. He put the sunglasses on top of the cap and bent the arms so they were tight. Then he put the cap on. He was going shopping for Picasso: the bill of the hat would obscure his face from above, and CCTV cameras don’t like the glare off reflective sunglasses. To the high-tech watchdogs, he was now practically invisible.
Emily was half-reading, mostly thinking and didn’t see Simon DeMonta until he sat down.
“Do you mind?” Simon asked, leaning his cane on the table.
Emily gestured and folded her newspaper. “How are you this morning?”
“Never get old,” Simon said, and smiled.
Despite her best efforts, Emily actually liked Simon DeMonta. She knew she didn’t know the whole story, but the one she knew made sense to her and it satisfied her romantic spirit. She wasn’t at all keen that DeMonta had pulled Sinclair into the plot, but she also knew that Sinclair was quite capable of tilting at windmills all by himself. It wasn’t DeMonta’s fault there was a damsel in distress — especially one Sinclair felt so protective towards.
One of the kitchen staff came to the table with a pot of coffee and two eggs with toast.
“Good morning, Lottie,” Simon said. “Thank you so much. It’s been a long time since a pretty girl remembered what I like.”
Lottie brightened and Emily slowly shook her head. “You know you’re a hopeless flirt,” she said, when the girl had gone.
“A man’s a man. My wife’s in prison. What can I do?”
Emily’s face lost the smirk.
“No, don’t worry. Between you and me, Marta’s been in jail before. And I’ve got her out before. So. . .” Simon shrugged and took a piece of toast. “This’ll work. Believe me. I and Dreyfus are good at this. Back in the day …”
“I don’t think I want to hear this.”
“What? You’re already an accessory.”
“Yes, and thanks for that.”
“No. Relax. Nothing’s goin’ happen. This time next week, it’ll all be over.”
“And nothing. You go back to real life, and Marta and I slide back under the radar.”
“You’re not going to keep in touch?”
Simon laughed. “You don’t understand this, do you? Marta and I are on the run. Have been for 5 years. She’s got convictions; I got warrants. That’s why we’re here. When this is done, we have to close up shop and move on. Disappear.”
“So you and Sinclair …?”
Simon shook his head.
“That’s too bad. You two … and I really wanted to meet Marta.”
“She’d like to meet you, too. You’re good for Dreyfus. She’d like that.”
“You are. You didn’t know him before. I’ve known him since he was a teenager. Believe me, you’re good for him. And, hey, what do I know? But I’m thinking he’s good for you, too.”
Emily thought about it. Yes, he was. She’d known that from the beginning. She looked across at Simon. No, she didn’t know the whole story, but at that moment, she didn’t care. She liked Simon. She liked him and Sinclair together. She would probably like Marta as well, but that didn’t matter because Sinclair did. She didn’t want this to end badly. She knew she knew how to fix it. She’d decided that last night. She just wasn’t sure how — yet.
“Enjoy your breakfast,” Emily said, getting up. “Are you coming for dinner?”
“I’d love to. What are we having?”
Emily walked through the lobby out into the street. The first thing she needed was transportation. She took her telephone out of her pocket, found Sydney’s name and tapped the number.
“Hello, ma’am. How are you?”
“I’m fine Sydney. And you?”
“Top form, ma’am.”
There was a pause.
“Can you keep a secret, Sydney?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“I need a – um – a scooter, uh … a motorcycle. No, not a motorcycle … something smaller, something I can handle. Do you know what I mean?”
“Exactly, ma’am. The sort of thing a courier might use. Lightweight and just powerful enough for traffic. Something like that?”
“Perfect. I know this is short notice, but could you have it here tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” There was a couple of seconds delay. “And where is here, ma’am?”
Emily gave him the name of the hotel. “Just leave the keys with reception.”
“Is that everything?”
“Yes, thank you, Sydney. Good bye.”
“Good bye, ma’am.”
Emily walked back into the hotel to get ready for her shopping trip. In London, Sydney rolled his eyes and decided he wasn’t even going to speculate about what Lady Weldon was up to.
It took Emily nearly three hours to take a deep breath and finally do something. She spent most of the morning wandering in the sun-sparkled Jardin du Luxembourg. It wasn’t that she was worried about the plan. She knew there was nothing wrong with it. Planning was what she did. After all, she’d been keeping Pyaridge Hall and the Weldon estate one step ahead of the banks and bankruptcy since she was twenty. However, it’s one thing to organize something in your head, fix a timetable and figure out the details — but it’s quite another to set the wheels in motion. So she hesitated. Sat on a park bench. Walked. Sat down again. Waited. Watched children with their mothers and young girls with their lovers and thought about a time when she played and teased and flirted and life was a simple thing.
But she knew life wasn’t a simple thing, and Sinclair was trapped by the past and a love-struck old man. And no beautiful spring morning was going to change that. She liked Simon DeMonta, but she had no confidence in him. And she loved Sinclair beyond her ability to trust his judgement. He was going to rescue his people no matter what the risk, and that frightened her. She didn’t want to contemplate a time without Sinclair close at hand, and that made her finally leave the garden and walk to the art shop on Rue Soufflot without looking back.
She had shopped at La Plume Ancienne many times when she was a student, and she knew exactly what she was looking for. She found all four items quickly, paid cash and left. At the stand outside, she got a taxi to Tati, the mecca of shabby/chic in Paris. The store was huge, so it took her some time to find what she wanted — black sweater and slacks, a too-short, too-tight party dress, two pairs of shoes, gloves, a black backpack and an oversized purse. She paid cash, stuffed everything into a one-on-every-corner Tati bag and found another taxi that took her back across town. This was the hard part. She wasn’t exactly sure what she needed and couldn’t really explain what she needed it for — so she flipped her hair a lot at the DIY store. She told the clerk she was recently divorced — with a crumbling apartment that seriously needed a man’s hand — and explained her immediate problem. She followed his eyes as he answered and asked if he could possibly just show her how to actually use the tools. He did, and she leaned very close as he guided her hand, then laughed at her own success. She thanked him very much and asked if there was anything else that might help her. He volunteered a spray can of strong solvent. She paid cash, thanked everyone again, said she’d probably be back, and left. From there, she went to BNP Paribas bank, paid cash for a prepaid credit card and immediately used it to buy a glass of wine. The card worked, and she wandered off to find a public telephone.
Unaware that Emily was organizing an adventure, Dreyfus was putting the finishing touches on his own. After leaving the Picasso gallery, he walked several streets before casually setting the cap and sunglasses on an empty café table. Then, a few streets further, he found a taxi and gave the driver an address in the very south of Paris near the Montrouge cemetery. From there, he walked to another café where the driver from the airport was sitting waiting for him. Around the corner, in a locked up garage, they met with the first team who would handle the street work. Dreyfus inspected the truck, the uniforms and the equipment, explained what each man was responsible for and set a time and place for them to pick him up in the morning. None of this was necessary: Dreyfus trusted Sydney’s people, and he knew they’d already been given detailed instructions from the original plan. But now that he was on the ground, he wanted everyone to be clear that he was in charge.
A couple of hours later and much closer to the gallery, Dreyfus and the driver met the second team – the ones who were actually going into the gallery. Once again, he inspected the truck, the uniforms and the equipment, but this time he unfolded a paper layout of the gallery and marked the location of each painting – numbered one through four.
“Walk in casually. When four gets to his painting, here,” Dreyfus pointed and made a small circle with his finger, “You can all see each other. Lift the painting up and out. The power’s been cut, but they might have backup alarms. Don’t worry. Just get the painting and walk out like you own the place. I’ll be here at the door. Ninety seconds after you lift the paintings, I’m going for the van. All of you should be ahead of me. At the van, get in and I’ll close the door. Any questions? Okay, study the layout and make sure you know where you’re supposed to be. We’ll go over this again in real time the night before.”
Outside the garage, the driver, who hadn’t spoken, turned to Dreyfus. “I’ll give you the destination when we have the paintings,” he said.
Dreyfus looked back and shrugged. “No need. I’m done once we have them.”
“Those are my instructions. The destination and the access code.”
“Okay,” Dreyfus said and walked away.
At a public telephone on Rue Saint-Jacques, Emily called a very expensive caterer, ordered an extravagant box lunch for three, complete with dessert and a bottle of wine, to be delivered the next night at 2:00 a.m. She gave the delivery address and specified which entrance. She made the woman repeat the instructions, and then she paid for it with her prepaid credit card. Twenty minutes later, she was back at the hotel, taking a nap.
That evening, the dinner was a disaster. Simon DeMonta was clearly tired, too many activities for an old man; Dreyfus had already put on his work face, and Emily was too nervous to notice she was playing with her Inner Duchess. Finally, they quit trying and struggled along in silence, each one slightly angry with the other two. After the fish, Emily decided to end it early.
“I met some friends today. Antony and Beth. You remember?’
“They’ve brought a crowd over for the Steeplechase. We’re going to Le Meurice for drinks. Do you want to come?”
This was lover’s code for ‘you weren’t invited,’ and that was fine with Dreyfus. Generally, he liked Emily’s friends and might have ignored the escape hatch, but tonight was not the night.
“No, I’ll pass. I’ve got things to do tomorrow.”
“Alright, then. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave you two to your coffee and dessert.” Emily stood up, “I shouldn’t be too late.”
She touched Dreyfus on the shoulder and raised her fingers to Simon.
“Night,” she said, turning.
Dreyfus tilted his head to look up, but she was already walking away.
At the hotel, Emily changed into the too-short, too-tight party dress and the shoes she’d bought that afternoon. She loaded the oversized handbag with the other things she needed, turned her telephone off and kicked her purse under the bed. She took the stairs to get used to the high heels, wondering what she was going to do for the next five hours, dressed like this. But, as she crossed the lobby:
“Excusez? Lady Weldon? An envelope for you.”
Emily took the envelope. It was keys.
“Problem solved,” she thought, “Thank you, Sydney.”
Outside, the motor bike was exactly what she needed. “Thank you, Sydney.” Unfortunately, her dress was far too short to ride it with any dignity. “Oh, well!” Emily pushed it halfway down the street, pulled her dress up to the point of indecency, climbed on and drove off into the night.
Somewhere around 3 in the morning, Emily left the motorcycle in the trees on Avenue de New York. She casually walked up the wide stairs and along the balustrade of the gallery to the red line of graffiti she’d marked two days before. She stopped. She could hear the white noise of distant traffic, but the gray electric light night was deserted. On that exact spot, she knew she was hidden from everything — including the security cameras. She was invisible, and it made her feel very alone. This was the last point when she could turn around and go back to the hotel, tell Sinclair what she’d discovered and, if he was so damned determined, let him do it. She turned around and looked out at the river. It would be easy: just get on the motorbike and ride across the bridge; she could be home in twenty minutes. And then what? Wait for the axe to fall? She trusted Sinclair, and any other time, she would probably just shut up and get out of the way, but … A car drove by. Emily instinctively twitched. It didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. If this was going to work, she had to do it now. She turned back to the gallery, slipped her shoes off, knelt down and smashed one against the curb. The heel snapped off cleanly. She put her hand on the pieces, leaned forward, and balanced, scraped her knee sideways across the rough concrete. Goddamn it hurt! She tightened the muscles in her leg and clenched her eyes against the pain. She crouched there until the moment passed, stood up and, barefoot, walked the eight steps to the gallery window in a precise straight line. She dropped the broken heel on the ground and put on her other shoe. Then she reached into her handbag and, by feel, found the solvent from the DIY store. There were six screws in the window, and she carefully sprayed each one. According to clerk, this would dissolve the accumulated paint on the screw heads – but it would take time to work. She put the can back into her bag and turned to face the street. This was the hard part, waiting, listening, feeling the pulse in her stomach, rehearsing her broken heel story, willing the world not to interfere. In the soundless night, she heard every sound — tried to distinguish them, identify them, find them in the darkness. She flexed her fingers against the tension in her hands; then she put on her gloves and took the electric screwdriver from her bag. She fitted it to the first screw and pressed the button. Even with her gloves, the noise seemed to cut into the night like a jet engine. But it worked perfectly, just like the clerk showed her. The first screw twisted out almost instantly. It wobbled. Emily caught it just before it fell, and tightened it back into the hole just a bit. The rest were easier to gauge and, in less than a minute, all the screws were loose. Emily jiggled the window open until it rested on the ends of the screws. She reached behind the window to the lock on the wire grate and, with her other hand, took the bolt cutter from her bag. She lined everything up and pushed … nothing happened. She pushed again — and again. Still nothing. She pushed again. No matter what she did, she just wasn’t strong enough to break the lock. She could feel the panic rising. Any second now, some drunk would stagger by, the guards would hear her, a car would stop. “For God sake, c’mon!” She lined the cutters up with the wall and pushed with both hands. Still nothing. Finally, almost overwhelmed with terror, she adjusted the angle, pulled up her dress and kicked the handle with the flat of her foot. It gave. There was a resounding snap that echoed into the empty night as if a bomb had gone off. The lock broke and the bolt cutters fell rattling onto the sidewalk. In a mad rush, Emily pushed the window back into place. She tightened all six screws, threw everything back into her bag, grabbed her broken shoe and scrabbled back to the concrete balustrade. She was invisible again. She leaned down heavily, breathing through her mouth. As soon as she could, she took off her gloves, put them in her bag, took off her shoes again and walked around the corner. Under the street light, she stopped and looked at her watch. It was 3:15. She made sure her bag was closed, ripped her dress just a bit at the hemline, then ran up the street to the gallery’s service entrance.
“Hello! Excusez? Hello!” She shouted, pounding her fist against the door, “Hello! Can you help me? Please! Hello!” She pounded again.
The door opened.
“Thank God! Uh – Jesus! – S’il vous plait – uh – um …”
“I speak English.”
“Oh, fantastic. I was robbed. I was phoning for a taxi, and a kid on a bike just came out of nowhere and stole my wallet and my phone. I was there. Here. I don’t know where I was. I’m … My boyfriend left me here. I – uh – the kid just came out of nowhere. I chased him, but I fell.” Emily lifted her knee a little too high and ran her hand down her leg.
“Alright, Madame. One minute,’ the security guard said, holding his hands in the air. “I will call the police. One minute.”
“No, no, please.” Emily leaned her neckline forward. “All I want is to go back to the hotel. Can you call me a taxi? The police will take all night. I just want to go home. Could you …”
“Yes. Alright. One minute.” The guard took his telephone out of his pocket, tapped a number and spoke.
“Thank you so much.” Emily adjusted her hemline, “Could I ask you to wait with me ‘til he gets here?”
“Of course. Are you hurt? Come in and sit down for a minute.”
“No. Thank you. I’m fine. I just … I’ll report it in the morning. I just want to go home.”
“We have a medical kit. For your knee?”
“Oh, no! It’s nothing.” Emily ran her hand down her leg again. “You’ve done enough, really, just waiting with me. Thank you so much. Can I offer you … oh, I don’t have any money.”
“No, Madame. It’s good.”
“Are you here all the time? Do you work here?”
“Yes. We are the night guards for the museum.”
Emily looked vague.
“Do you have a cigarette? Mine must have fallen …”
“Certainement.” The guard reached into his pocket.
Emily took a cigarette from the pack, put it in her mouth and stood there expectantly. The guard snapped a plastic lighter and cupped his hands. Emily reached forward and, with both hands, directed his hands up to her face. She held on just a little too long.
“Merci. That’s about all the French I know … and hello and … I don’t even know …” Emily looked directly up into the security guard’s face, “He just left me here.”
The guard agreed that the boyfriend was not worthy of the name but Paris was a wonderful city full of other men who would appreciate a beautiful woman. That seemed to cheer Emily up, and for a few minutes, they talked about the qualities of French men.
The taxi came.
“Thank you again. Will you be here tomorrow night?” Emily smiled.
“Yes, every night.”
“I’ll see what I can do for you. I’m Sandy, by the way.”
Emily got into the taxi and loudly gave the name of a hotel. After a couple of streets, she pulled 20 Euros out of her bra and told the driver to let her out. She walked back to her motorbike, and twenty minutes later, she was at her hotel — barefoot, dirty, with a ripped dress and a bloody knee.
“Good morning,” she said at the reception desk, “Any chance I could get a drink at the bar?”
Dreyfus was half awake, sitting on the side of the bed, when Emily came into the room.
“Who won?” he said, rubbing one finger in his eye.
“What?” Emily shot back, more than a little irritated.
“You look like you were in a fight. What happened?”
“Out of a building?”
“For God sake, Sinclair! I’m tired: leave me alone.”
Emily was tired and still stomach sick from the adrenaline rush. And what the hell was Sinclair doing awake at this time of the morning, anyway?
“Okay, okay,” Dreyfus stood up and went into the bathroom. He turned the cold water on in the sink and threw in a towel. When it was soaking wet, he grabbed another dry one and went back to Emily.
“Sit down, and let me see.”
Emily was pulling her dress over her head, so Dreyfus didn’t hear the “I’m fine.”
“Come here. Sit down.” Dreyfus offered his hand.
Emily took it, sat down on the bed and Dreyfus knelt in front of her. He reached his hand to her calf and brought her leg forward. Then he put the cold, wet towel on Emily’s knee and squeezed. It was an icy shock and it stung. Emily instinctively flinched.
“This might hurt.’
“Thanks for the warning.”
“Seriously, what happened?”
“Oh-h-h, that’s cold!” Emily shivered. “I just fell. My heel broke and I fell.”
Dreyfus lifted the towel to look. The water had washed most of the dirt away. He carefully used the towel to sponge away the last bits. Emily’s knee was numb by then, so she didn’t really feel it; and after a few touches, Dreyfus was satisfied.
“Okay, let me see your hands,” he said, folding the towel.
“Let me see your hands. People fall; they land on their hands. Let me see your hands. Clean them up.”
Emily took her hands off the edge of the bed and turned them, palms up.
Dreyfus tilted his head and shifted his eyes to look at Emily.
“What was it? A suicide attempt?” he said sarcastically.
Emily crinkled her nose.
“No defensive wounds?”
“My God, Sinclair, I’m not a murder victim. I fell. No big investigation. I fell.” Emily stood up.
“Okay, okay. You want the shower first?” Dreyfus said, standing.
“No, I’m tired. I just want to go to bed.” Emily leaned up and kissed Dreyfus on the cheek, “Sorry I’m grouchy; I had a wretched night. Thanks for the Florence Nightingale. It feels a lot better.”
Emily stepped back and reached behind her to undo her bra. Dreyfus collected both towels and went into the bathroom to shower.
When Dreyfus got out of the shower, he could hear Emily’s deep sleep breathing. He dressed as quietly as possible, turned the Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle and put his boots on in the hall. Then he went off to find an early morning coffee somewhere and meet the first team on Boulevard Raspail.
Emily slept for eight hours and woke up worried that she’d forgotten something – and she had. On the other hand, Dreyfus’s day was going better than expected. The manager at the gallery hadn’t questioned anything: he’d signed the work orders, notified the staff and even offered the lunch room. The three-man team knew exactly what to do. They’d set up the barriers, opened the grates, and by noon, the vertical shaft was connected to the sewer. Two hours later, they’d found the junction box, identified the various wires and installed the splices. Now, there was nothing left to do but hang around and look conspicuous.
Emily spent the afternoon shopping. She bought a sports bra that was uncomfortably tight and a package of black hair nets. She found a public telephone and called the caterers she’d talked to the day before.
“I have a delivery at 2 a.m. tonight. Yes, that’s correct. Could you add a note, please? Yes. ‘Merci beaucoup! Sandy.’ Could you make that big enough so they don’t miss it, please? Thank you.”
Then she went back to the hotel, put the things she needed in the black backpack, left a note for Sinclair at the reception desk and went off to have a very early meal and see a movie.
At the end of the day, Dreyfus came back to the hotel.
“Excusez, monsieur. You have a package, and Lady Weldon has left you a note.”
Dreyfus took the package, heavy enough to be a large calibre item and put it under his arm.
“Thank you, Sydney,” he thought and opened the note.
“Gone night shooting with Antony and Beth. See you in the morning.”
Dreyfus was used to Emily’s erratic comings and goings, but he decided he was going to look into this Antony and Beth at the first opportunity.
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. (The helpful security man had told her that the first day.) She knew they weren’t very professional. (They’d opened the door to her the night before.) 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 during her original visit 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 broken lock 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.”
Kevin and Jennifer, a nice couple from Ohio, were angry. This trip to Europe was a 15th wedding anniversary present to themselves, and they had spent extra to stay in a better hotel. So there was no excuse for the people next door crashing around and laughing like maniacs at four in the morning. Finally, Kevin, a no-nonsense HR manager, had had enough and took his fist and banged on the wall. Startled by the sudden thumping, the people next door, Emily and Dreyfus, desperately swallowed their euphoric “we-did-it” laughter and got up off the floor. Clenching his teeth, Dreyfus put his finger to his lips and Emily, both hands over her mouth, nodded her head. They stopped — tightening the muscles in their neck to fend off the giggles — took a couple of laboured big breaths and looked down at the bed.
Even in the grey hotel light, the paintings rose solemnly into the room. They were beyond magnificent. They were lost moments, forever captured on canvas, the immortality of genius — and Emily and Dreyfus were completely overawed in their presence. They just stood there like inarticulate animals.
Finally, Emily took a step back. “So what happens now?” she whispered.
Hypnotized by the power of the paintings, Dreyfus wasn’t actually able to string together a coherent thought. He sat down on the floor again to put them out of his sight. Emily sat down beside him, and like two campfire conspirators, they looked into the middle distance for possibilities.
“I need to call off Sydney’s people. And the driver.” Dreyfus turned his head, “How did you get them in here?”
“Like I showed you, in my sweater. I just walked in.”
“They saw you?”
“Just the night manager — and he’s probably seen worse than a Duchess in her underwear. He won’t make any connections. But we need to get rid of my clothes. I may have left fibers or something.”
“Of course, but I have a motor scooter. Sydney got it for me.”
“Sydney? You used Sydney?”
“You did, too!”
Dreyfus thought for a minute. It was time to go to work. “Alright, call Sydney. He’ll get rid of everything. Just tell him it all has to disappear.”
“Soon. What time does the gallery open?”
“Nine, I think, but the security guards change at seven.”
Dreyfus looked at his watch. It was nearly 4:30. He closed his eyes and calculated.
“Now,” he said.
Emily crawled over to the bed and did a long reach under it to get her purse. She took out her telephone and tapped Sydney’s number. Dreyfus stood up and pulled the telephone he’d been given out of his jacket pocket. He went into the bathroom.
“Good morning, ma’am.”
“Good morning, Sydney. Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Certainly, ma’am. More than my share,” Sydney said — and waited.
“I know it’s early, but I need you to come and get the motorbike you got for me, and I have a bag of clothes. I’d like them both to disappear?”
“Where is the scooter?” Sydney’s tone changed just slightly.
“On the north corner, by the hotel. Across from the church.”
“Go set the bag by the scooter, and leave the keys under the tire. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Sydney. You’re a gem.”
“Yes, ma’am. Anything else?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ll see you back in London.”
“Certainly. Good-bye then.”
A couple of minutes later, Dreyfus came out of the bathroom.
“Alright, I’ve got someone coming for the paintings. He’ll be here right away.”
Emily stepped back to the bed.
“Not this one. The Modigliani’s mine.”
“I stole it, fair and square. It’s mine.”
“No, that’s not part of the deal. We’re giving these back when they let Marta out of prison. We’re not thieves.”
Emily gestured at the bed, smiled sarcastically and nodded her head. “I think we are. At least, I am.”
“Oh, no! Don’t try and twist the …. Nobody asked you to get involved.”
“That’s my painting, Sinclair. You want a painting — go steal your own.”
“I was going to, but somebody beat me to it.”
“Miss your chance; lose your turn. Besides, I’ve already given you four. Why do you need mine, too, you greedy bastard?”
“Shhh,” Emily said, with her finger to her lips, “You’ll wake the neighbours … again.”
Emily started to collect the things she’d bought over the last few days. “I’m going to go and leave this stuff for Sydney,” Emily said, pulling down her black slacks and stepping out of them. She took off the sports bra. She rolled them together and put them — with everything else — into the one-on-every-corner Tati bag. Then she put on jeans and a t-shirt. She picked up the bag. It was bulgy big but not heavy.
“And my painting better be here when I get back,” she said, opening the door.
Later that morning, the police were called to the Musee d’Art Moderne. Before the end of the day, fifty officers and support staff were assigned to the robbery.
Across town, at the Picasso Gallery, the staff wondered why no one had showed up to continue working on the upgrades they’d been promised.
In the afternoon, several French government departments were given videotapes of a group of stolen paintings with a ransom demand that Marta DeMonta be released from prison before the paintings were returned.
That evening, in the Clichy-sous-Bois district of Paris, there was a street fire. A mattress, a chair, a motorbike and a Tati’s bag of clothes and tools were burned. Nobody called the fire department because there are always street fires in the banlieue.
Further south, in the Marais, several hard looking men were in a basement bar, toasting their good fortune. They had been paid in full for work they were told was no longer necessary.
In a more affluent part of the city, a tall South Asian man and two tailored clerks locked a large leather portfolio in a safety deposit vault at a private insurance building. The man declined the usual retina and hand print security scans and simply asked for an access number.
In London, Sajinder (“Sydney”) Khatri Singh received the number on his telephone, wrote it down in a small notebook and went back to his video game. He was working on Level 36.
Back in Paris, on a bridge over the Seine, a young man dropped a small, gun-heavy package into the river.
Further downstream, on a cruise boat, Kevin and Jennifer Becker were enjoying one of their tour’s Add-On dining experiences.
And at a Montparnasse restaurant, Dreyfus, Emily and Simon DeMonta opened a second bottle of wine. They were celebrating.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or a real robbery on May 20th 2010 is purely coincidental.