Emily And Dreyfus – Fiction – 12

Candlestick

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.”

“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.”

Emily And Dreyfus – 1

Emily And Dreyfus – Fiction – 11

Candlestick

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?”

“I fell.”

“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.

“OWW!”

“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.

“What?”

“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 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 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.

Emily And Dreyfus -1

Emily And Dreyfus – Fiction – 10

Candlestick

That evening, the dinner was a disaster.  Simon LaMonta 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?’

Dreyfus didn’t.

“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.  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 snap.  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, 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 rubbed her knee.

“Alright, Madame.  One minute,’ the security guard said, holding his hands in the air.  “I will call the police.  One minute.”

“No, please.  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 was calmer now, “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.  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.”

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?”

Emily And Dreyfus – 1