Collage art blog(& some photography)by Russell C. Smith

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Late Watch

I've got a ring of keys, a flashlight, and a walkie-talkie. I'm a night dick. The museum is my hunting grounds. The big one up on Fifth Avenue. Metropolitan. One of the biggest. in the world, that is.

It was a usual night. That is grimey, dark, rainy outside, dry inside. We liked it that way. I was on one of my usual runs through European Paintings, eyeing the Del Sarto, Rubens, Velasquez. Damn, I thought, those old paint pushers sure had it in 'em. Then my train of thought was rudely derailed. Someone flashed by in a funny-looking raincoat. Hmm, I mused, one of my own men fooling around, or some poor thieving slob who's about to find a shortcut to the pearly gates. I had to act quickly. In my business you can't take chances.

Trying to anticipate the route he was taking, I made a beeline for the Rembrandts to head him off. But no go. He'd headed into early Renaissance. A real art lover this one. I still held the cards though. The joker was on my turf, and I had every nook and crannie in this art thief's wet dream memorized.

Quickly, I backtracked to the entrance of Italian paintings to set a big trap for this fly, one that would cool his buzzing for quite a while. Remembering the sliding door up ahead, I decided it was the perfect hiding place. The door was open just a crack, but I could take in the whole gallery. Didn't have to wait too long before my pigeon walked into the trap. You could've knocked me over with a plastic spoon.

The person who stepped into that gallery was no low-life criminal. It was either the most high-class hooker I'd ever seen or the Virgin Mary herself, in person.

I stepped out from behind the sliding door. "Pardon me, Mary," I said. "Going my way?"

She caught her breath. "Oh! You startled me."

"You aren't doing too much for my high blood pressure either, babe."

"I can explain everything," was her quick reply.

"I'm listening," I said.

"One of these paintings belongs to me."

"So you just thought you'd sneak into the museum after hours and borrow it back. I see."

"No," she said. "You don't get it."

"Wipe the dust from my eyes, sweetheart."

"Actually, what I meant to say is that I belong to one of these paintings."

"Ah, now we're getting somewhere. But if we don't start getting there a lot faster, as in pronto, I'm going to make a phone call from that wall phone you see over there, and the people on the other end are going to want the same answers I want, only they'll want them yesterday. Understand?"

"Alright," she said, "if you really want to be that way about."

What happened next was a little flashy but effective. She turned on her heel, made a sideways movement, and whirled through the air and into a painting, leaving only a thin trail of stardust in her wake. A Madonna and Child by Bellini, to be precise. Just as pretty as you please. Just as pretty as a picture. Just as if I'd somehow dreamed her up. I blinked. I spun around in a circle. I walked right up to the painting. Looked at it closely. For an instant there could have been a crooked grin on those beautiful lips, but only an instant.

I turned and left her there, on the wall. I walked out of the gallery. It had been a long night. There were many more long nights to come. I lifted my walkie-talkie and held it near my mouth. I said, "European Paintings, all secure."


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