(Part I – a priceless Renoir has been stolen from the de Young Museum in San Francisco. A museum curator, Ms. Jones, has called Sam Reynolds to ask for his help.)
(Discovering Art – Part II – Sam plans to go to London)
“Of course you’ll get paid, you Asshole. Don’t I always come through?”
“No, I don’t know exactly how many days. Until it gets done.”
“You always have a little business on the side. Let your brother take over for a while. He could stand to do some work.”
“Kidding? I love him like he was my brother. Yes, we will need gear. London, no I think it has to be London.”
“Yeah, same place, like before. Hey, remember that roast beef and the beer? Worth the trip just for that.”
“Of course, you know a girl. You always know a girl. One week and we’ll work out the fees. Okay, brother, see you then.”
Sam got off the phone and wiped his brow. “That guy is such an animal!” but he was smiling.
Kristie was at the kitchen counter listening and wiping the same spot on the counter again and again.
Sam got up from the desk and went over to her.
“What’s the matter darling? Is it the trip?”
“Oh, Sam,” she let out a sniffle and turned into his shoulder. He gave her a hug.
She pulled back. “It’s not just the trip. It’s the place and this guy you are going after. He’s not just some little two-bit thug in some back water ….”
“Kristie.” He pulled her close and put a little peck on her nose. “It’s me, Sam Reynolds. I have been through this kind of stuff before. Bill will be with me and you know what a giant he is.”
She sniffed again. He held her chin.
“We are going to have a lot of backup. We are not going in alone. Not going to try anything stupid.”
“No hero stuff, believe me. They are paying us to get back a painting, not to get killed.”
Another sniffle. “A little,” in a quiet voice.
“I love you and I plan to come back.”
Kristie held on and put her head on his shoulder staring out into the garden.
“We’re here to see Mr. Blintner.” Sam handed the receptionist a fresh card. “We have an appointment.”
The girl took the card and studied it a moment and then gave a questioning look at the 6’4” of Bill Bass. There was an intake of breath. She recovered herself.
“Won’t you gentlemen have a seat, please?” She gestured at the bank of chairs against the wall. “I’ll give him a ring.”
Sam and Bill went and sat down. There was a soft conversation as the young lady rang Blintner. “No, sir, they are downstairs.” Pause. “Yes, sir, I will.”
Sam stared around the large foyer of Lloyds of London while Bill thumbed through a magazine. Impressive, he thought, so this is what British insurance looks like.
“Mr. Blintner will be with you momentarily. Would you care for coffee or tea?” This said with crisp English intonation. There was a little question in her voice. Sam glanced at her pert little face under a spikey modern do.
She’s trying, Sam thought.
“A coffee, I think, black.”
The young lady got her slim but curvy figure up. “You, sir?” she looked toward Bill.
“You have plain water?”
She nodded and went to fulfill their requests.
An A for manners, Sam thought to himself. You got the give that to the English. They usually have pretty good manners. He looked down and rubbed some dust off a Frye boot.
In a few minutes, the girl was back with a little tray complete with coffee and a tall bottle of water. She set it down on the small side table between the two men.
“Mr. Blintner will be down soon.”
“Thank you, Miss,” Sam replied and picked up his cup.
“Nice digs,” Bill commented.
“I’d say so.”
They both absorbed ambience in thoughtful silence for a few minutes. There was a silent, swoosh, and an elevator off to the side opened quietly.
A little overweight man of about fifty in a canary yellow shirt, sus
penders, and a red bow tie approached them.
“Ah, Mr. Reynolds,” he had his hand out. “And Mr. …?”
“Bass, Bill Bass,” as he folded the little man’s man in his oversized paw.
With a slight wince, their host continued, “Right, Archie Blintner here. Come on up with me.” He gave a short wave and they followed him to the elevator.
Mr. Blintner got them settled into chairs in his modestly decorated office. They had passed a series of modules filled with the hushed voices of insurance people busy doing their work. A soft ‘ping-ping’ that Sam realized were the new sounds of telephones ringing filled the almost church-like atmosphere.
“So, you’re here about the Renoir painting,” Blintner started.
“Yes, Ms. Jones ….”
“Ah, Ms. Jones…” Mr. Blintner straightened some items on his desk that were already straight. “Got a bee in her bonnet, has she?”
“Well, Mr. Blintner,” Sam answered. “I don’t know as I would exactly call it a bee …”
“Call me Blimey, everyone does.”
“Ah, well, you can call me Sam, everyone does.”
Bill waved a finger, “Bill.”
“And, I assume you both have licenses to work at PI’s, do you?”
Sam flipped his out and Bill followed.
Blimey examined them for a moment. “Yes, yes, very good, thank you. Can I offer you gentlemen a spot of good Scottish whiskey, a beer?” He raised an eyebrow in question.
“Ah, maybe another time,” Sam replied and Bill looked disappointed. Blimey closed the drawer he was in the process of opening. He looked a little disappointed too.
“So, Ms. Jones …”
“Ah, yes, our Ms. Jones. Has some idea about this Frenchman and the painting, I take it?”
“Yes, she does.”
“Rene La Salle, French businessman, millionaire, villa on the coast, philanthropist to many charities, picture in the newspapers all the time. That La Salle, right?”
Sam could see where this was going. “Well, yes …”
Blimey smiled. Sam smiled back a little uncertainly.
“And all this based on a feeling she had.” Heavy emphasis on the word feeling.
“Ah, well, yes.”
More smiling. “Sure you don’t want a spot of scotch on this?” Blimey inquired again.
Sam shook his head.
Blintner flipped open a thin file that was on his desk. “We got the memorandum from the de Young and I did some research on our ‘suspect.’” He glanced at Sam. “Of course, I already was familiar with the name from the papers, but, what the heck, as you Americans say,” he smiled broadly.
“And,” Blintner continued, “the man is squeaky clean, no record, no priors, gives to the poor, all around regular guy. Just simply has a thing about collecting art. French art. No crime in that is there?”
“Well, no …” Sam had to admit.
“So, he comes to the museum’s gala party, admires some art and three weeks later there is a theft. The connections is …?”
“I will admit the connection is a little thin…”
“Thin! Try there is nothing, nothing at all.” Blintner sat back and crossed his pudgy fingers across his well-tailored and pudgy stomach.
Sam considered this. “So, what activity on this matter is going on over this side of the pond?”
Blintner considered him. “Inquiries are being made in the usual places where this type of art is usually sold. Discrete inquiries,” he added with emphasis.
“And in the meantime …”
“In the meantime, we sit and wait,” was the reply and a chilly smile.
“Hum…” Sam considered. “Well, if the painting is not found, your company stands to be out a considerable amount of money.”
“So, what if she is right? Ms. Jones, I mean. What if her instincts were right-on and he is the ‘collector’ in this case. If he wanted the picture for himself, he’s not going to sell it. It’s for personal use only.”
“We have no proof he even has it.”
“What if we got proof?”
“The man is untouchable.”
“What if we found a way?”
Blintner bent sideways and pulled out the bottle from his bottom drawer with a glass. He gestured to Sam who waved no. Bill nodded yes. Blintner poured two fingers for himself and pulling out another glass, another two fingers for Bill and handed him the glass.
He took a large gulp and put the glass down and ran a hand across his mouth.
“We have a plan.”
“Just hear us out.”
Blintner held up a hand. “Hey, I grew up with John Wayne movies, I know all about it. Let’s see,” he stared off in the distance. “The headline reads something like this.” He framed an imaginary title with his hands. “American cowboy comes to Europe, shoots the place up and starts International incident.”
Putting his hands down. “Am I close?”
“Blimey,” Sam said slowly, “do you want to get the picture back?”
There was a little struggle on Blimey’s features. “Yes, of course, I want the damn thing back.”
“Well, then, just hear us out.”
Blimey frowned, took another sip of scotch. “Let’s hear it.”
Sam leaned forward and outlined the plan.
Three quarters of an hour later, the Scotch was gone and Blimey was contemplating Sam. “We cannot have our names involved in this …. scheme.”
“What exactly is it you want me, us to do?”
“We’ll need some men, some good men. A boat, something bigger than a yacht and smaller than a freighter.”
“Maybe a coast-guard sized cutter?” Blimey asked.
“Right, that’s the idea. Perfect really. And, we will need some cooperation with the French police.”
“Ah, shit,” was Blimey’s reply. “You don’t ask for much.”
“Tell them it is for the greater good, restoring French art to its rightful place and all that.”
“They won’t like it and they won’t want to do it.”
“I know, I know,” Sam waved a hand. “But if I provide proof, real proof, the picture is there, then …?”
“If there is actual proof, even the Frogs may reconsider. As long as no charges are filed and we are not talking any court time, etc.”
“No, no. Nothing like that. The client just wants the thing returned.”
Blimey eyed his drawer again and changed his mind. “Let me think on it and talk to my superiors. They want the damn thing back too, it’s a lot of money….” His voice trailed off. Sam guessed he was trying to think how to best deliver the message without getting shot himself.
Sam stood up. “We’re at the Waldorf-Hilton.” He laid a hotel card down on the desk. “Why don’t you give a call as soon as you have something?”
Blimey nodded dumbly and got up leading them to the door. “Personally, I think you’re both a little crazy.” He eyed them up and down. “But, then again, I always did love John Wayne.” With a little chuckle, he waved them to the elevators and they let themselves out.
Sam and Bill were at a local pub each having a sandwich and beer.
“You think he’ll go for it?” Bill asked.
Sam took a bite and considered. “Hard to say. They are kind of up against it. What with this guy’s reputation and all. But still … it’s a lot of money and they have to weigh that too.”
He took a pull on his beer. “All we are really doing at this point is trying to prove the man has the thing. After that, it is really up to the French police and what they will or won’t do.”
Bill nodded his big head. “Crap shoot.”
“Well yes, more or less.”
They finished their lunch and watched soccer on the telly above the bar.
They got the call at their hotel later that evening. Eight o’clock the phone in their room purred softly and Sam answered it.
“Yes, this is Sam Reynolds.”
“Blimey, how are you?”
“Yes, yes. Good, that can be arranged. Tomorrow, nine a.m., sharp? Fine. We’ll be there.”
He hung up the phone and gave Bill a high-five.
Continued in Part III