By Courtney Webb
(Discovering Art – Part III – Sam and Bill visit the Lloyds Insurance office to work out plans.)
The next morning, bright and early, the two men were back in the lobby of Lloyds. The same pert little receptionist was there again. This time she gave them both a warm smile as she asked again about coffee. This time they declined and as expected, it took a lot less time for Blintner to come downstairs than before.
“Ah, we’ll be going to a different office today.” He led them to the elevator. “Top brass,” as he struck the button. Blimey was wearing a soft pink shirt today, with the same suspenders and Pokka-dot red bow tie.
They went up to a higher floor this time and were ushered into a large office. A number of gray suited men were already seated around a big wood table, hands folded, waiting.
They rose when the group came in and introductions were made all around.
“Mr. Honeywell, Senior VP,” Blimey introduced. They shook hands and sat.
“Alright, Mr. Reynolds, you are now going to tell us how you plan to save us several million dollars,” Mr. Honeywell intoned in a deep, gravelly voice.
Sam proceeded to go through the plan. He asked questions to Blimey now and then about the availability of men and materials.
“Yes, yes. That can all be arranged.” Mr. Honeywell, waved a dismissive hand. “We have connections with the military. Don’t worry about that. Just give us the outline. What will you be doing?”
Sam pulled his briefcase up and opened it and pulled out plans for the villa belonging to Rene La Salle.
“How did you get…”
Sam waved a dismissive hand in turn. “We have our sources,” he glanced at Bill who gave a small nod.
“The villa faces a small cove which then opens up on the Mediterranean Sea. Our plan is to create a diversion from the cove side and while that is occupying La Salle’s security guards, to then approach the house from this angle,” he pointed to the side of the villa. “Gain access to the second floor where the office is located and seek to get photos of the inside of the office.”
“Wild,” commented one of the older gentlemen.
“Sir,” Sam turned to the man, “what we seek to do is exactly what he did to our client when the picture was originally taken. He created some very large diversions to keep the guards distracted and occupied while the switch was made.”
There was a sort of collective “Hum…” from the group.
“Once the photographic evidence is secured, we will send that to you,” he added with a wink at Bill, “posthaste. You review it and if you feel that it is good enough to convey to the French police, you send it to them. They use it to get a warrant and they go in and confiscate the painting.”
“But he will expect people to come after him. He will know something is up. The painting must be carefully hidden. How are you going to find it?”
“Mr. La Salle will show us.” Sam replied with confidence.
A week later, Sam and Bill were on their way to France via train with large bags of equipment stored in the train cubbies. It was agreed this was best, as International Flight security was so much on the increase it would delay them having to answer endless questions about their ‘gear’.
Sam kept the night goggles and special night camera with him. Without the pictures, the trip would be useless. He kept pulling it out and playing with it.
“Why do you keep doing that?” Bill asked. “Afraid you won’t be able to press the right button?” He laughed.
“Doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” Sam countered a little defensively. “I know how to use one of these, it’s just, well, I’m pretty good. But, a lot rides on this and we’ll only have one chance.”
Bill nodded. “Well, no pressure, boss. Better you than me.” He turned to stare out the train window at the beautiful passing landscape.
The unmarked British Coast Guard cutter was slowly making its way to a certain cove on the coast of France. Sam had spoken briefly to Captain McGowan.
“Some deep charges to make a show, some fireworks up top with flare guns,” McGowan said. “ A little rat-tat-tat into the water. Nothing that would hurt anyone. Just a lot of show. It that what yea be wanting?” The Scottish brogue slipped out along with a slight chuckle. “Americans!”
Sam confirmed that that was exactly and precisely what he did want. They confirmed date and time.
Bill was manned with the satellite phone that would be used to signal the captain of their in-place position time. Everything had to be timed just right.
“I just hope you know what yer doing,” the Captain added. Sam hoped so too.
Sam and Bill got a room at a local tavern that was found for them by Blimey.
“It’s run by an English couple. They know us, won’t ask any questions.”
“What …” Sam started.
“And you don’t ask a lot of question, eh, mate?”
Sam shut up.
An old, serviceable jeep was at their service when they got to the pub. The publican handed Sam the keys with a nod.
“Map is in the front seat, gassed up for you.” A dour man, he turned and went back to the pub with no further comments.
Sam and Bill spend the next few days touring the countryside and snapping pictures. Just two Americans on holiday.
In the evening, they got out the night scopes and got close to the villa. Sam got pictures from several different angles to see if they could see into the second floor. The second night they found a slightly raised hillock that had a pretty good view of the villa and allowed them to see over the six foot piked iron fencing.
Dogs and guards patrolled the area at night and they found a copse of trees that they could climb and get yet a better view.
“I think I got it boss.” Bill said proudly and pointed through the trees and handed Sam the camera. Sam looked.
“Yep, good. I can see right into the second-floor office. Good, good. I can see all his very expensive paintings, right there where I can see them. Let’s take some practice shots and see if they’ll be clear enough for Blimey.
Bill did that and uploaded the pictures online to the London office.
An email came back later. “God, this guy must work all night,” Bill said to him.
“Sam, I can see the pictures alright but they are a little small and a blurry. You might have to find some way to get a little closer. B”.
“Shit,” was all Sam could say. “We may have to have a plan B,” he looked at Bill who looked back and shrugged.
“And why are you so sure the picture will be in that room? The office?” Bill asked.
“Something tells me La Salle is going to want to keep it very close. So he can look at it often. Assure himself that it’s still there.”
“Ah,” said Bill. “Another feeling.”
The next night they were back with a stop watch this time and a notebook. Sam timed the guards and Bill wrote notes in his notebook.
“It is every fifteen minutes pretty much by the clock,” Sam was a little aggravated. “And they have those damned Dobermans. God, I hate those dogs.”
Bill was thoughtful.
“Boss, didn’t you say, that in the museum heist that the distractions worked just long enough to pull the guards away from the display so the switch could be made?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Right, so we have the Coast Guard going in from the coast, so let’s say we create another diversion, closer, up front. Long enough to pull the guards away, we get over the fence. Climb those trees close to the second-floor window and get our pictures.”
“It’s cutting it close Bill. And, knowing this guy, if we get caught, those guards probably have orders to shoot to kill.”
Bill grinned. “Ah, where’s the challenge of there’s no danger?”
Sam shook his head. “So, who’s going to be our upfront diversion? You and I are too busy with the night googles and cameras.”
Bill pointed his finger down. “Limey, downstairs. Don’t tell me that guy’s not ex-British military. Did you see him walking with a limp?”
Sam had to admit, that was probably true.
“Method?” he asked.
“Tear gas and grenades. Limey will love it!”
Limey did and brought out an old motorcycle, that despite its years, looked fast.
“Mother won’t let me ride it anymore a cause of me leg.”
Sam and Bill nodded solemnly.
“Just throw in a couple of whizzes, get the Frogs dancing around?” The old man let go of a rare smile. “Would be me pleasure. Me pleasure.” The old guy grinned widely.
They were about to leave the garage area where he stowed the bike.
“But, sirs. You don’t be telling Mother, yes? She worries something awful.”
They both promised.
The big night came. Blimey confirmed and Sam confirmed via satellite phone the cutter was coming into port and would be there at 22:00 hours. Limey was in the garage tuning and polishing the bike.
Sam and Bill checked and double checked that their gear was properly stored in their bags. It included mini-motorized haul lines in case they need help over the fence in either direction or the trees close to the house.
The countdown began and Bill and Sam were in place at the fence, glancing at their watches. The guards were on patrol around the perimeter fence.
Night goggles on, Sam whispered into the phone. “Go!”
Suddenly, the sky lit up from the cove and the sounds of whizzing and fizzing began followed by the popping of gunfire. The guard on patrol stopped, turned but stayed in place.
“Come on, come on,” Sam whispered.
Almost on cue, a huge bang! was heard on the front lawn followed by another and another; tear gas could be seen floated upwards. The guard who had paused, at this point began to run toward the front. Almost immediately, Sam and Bill scampered forward, threw the pull lines over the fence, clambered up and ran as fast as they could to the side of the villa where they knew La Salle’s office to be.
They climbed up the trees to the side of the building and both yanked cameras out. Sam decided to err on the side of caution and that they should both take shots just in case.
There was a bunch of shouting inside the villa and banging doors. Sam could hear running. The office door burst open and there was Rene La Salle. He was recognizable from his many celebrity photos.
With little pause, he went to his desk, stubbed out a cigarette. He looked behind him then strode over to the wall where an unimpressive painting was hung on the wall. Looking around again, he returned to the door, made sure it was closed, came back and then lovingly taking the picture in both hands turned it around. Sam’s heart stopped a moment. There was the Renoir in a frame behind the frame.
“That’s it,” he cried softly and he and Sam began frantically clicking as fast as they could. La Salle gazed at the painting and even stroked it once before turning it around back to the wall. In a moment, he strode back to the office door and went out.
“Go, go!” Sam hissed at Bill and they both clambered out of the tree and ran for the fence. In the background, they could hear the savage barking of dogs. They both grabbed the pull lines and practically vaulted over the spikes. As they were running to the jeep, they could hear the dogs flinging themselves at the metal fence. They men didn’t look back, they just kept running.
Breathless, and in the jeep, Bill gunned it and took off down the road. He had the lights off and hit 60 mph in about 10 seconds. They could hear the sounds of motors gunning on the property and knew La Salle’s men were in pursuit. Bill was already on the back road to the pub.
They came screeching up to the garage. Old Limey was there waiting with the garage door open. They pulled the jeep in and Limey closed the roll gate behind them. They were breathless but noticed the motorcycle leaned up against the wall, the motor still ticking quietly.
The got back into the pub and raced upstairs and locked the door. Fingers fumbling, they yanked out the cameras and started to download images to the Lloyd’s email.
There was a soft rap on the door. Bill went to the door, a Glock stuck in his back-waist band.
“Thought yea might be wanted a little grub,” the elated visage of the publican greeted them.
“That might be a good idea,” replied Bill. “Roast beef, beer?”
“The same,” the old man replied. “With you in a jiff.”
Bill closed the door. “I think we just made his night.”
“Probably his night, year, and decade,” was Sam’s reply. He chuckled. These Brits.
The pictures downloaded one after another to Blimey in London. They waited a few minutes for a reply. They knew he was still up.
“It’s the goods,” came a very short reply.
“Will have to confirm tomorrow with the experts. Hate to say it, but good job, Yanks! B.”
The next day, Sam and Bill were notified that the experts confirmed the painting was the real thing. French police were contacted they had probably cause; got a specific search warrant and went to the villa.
A very smooth and unruffled Rene La Salle greeted the police chief himself as though nothing at all had happened the previous night to disturb his evening.
“I really hope, Monsieur, that you have very valid cause for disturbing me this way.”
The police chief apologized all over the place but insisted they did and needed to inspect the La Salle’s office, ‘S’il vous plait, Monsieur.’
La Salle still did not seem disturbed, according to the constable who told the tale later. It was only when the police chief entered the room, went directly over to the still life of fruit, and gently turned the picture around, did La Salle evidence the slightist emotion.
“You can’t take it!” he cried trying to almost clutch at the painting.
The chief held out a stopping hand. “Bien sure, Monsieur. Je Regret, c’est dommage. But I must.”
The chief carefully removed the painting from the wall, snapped his fingers and a young gendarme ran forth with a padded, zipped bag and the painting was carefully placed inside.
“Of course, Monsieur, we will return that part of the property which is yours. The picture of the fruit. Naturally when it is properly removed from the Renoir.”
As the constable told the story, La Salle virtually collapsed at his desk and merely waved them out of the room.
The entire contingent removed to the police station where the British Embassy man was on hand to take possession of the goods and thence on to London for expert confirmation.
“Once that is done, the painting goes back to Harvard Art,” Blimey added with a sigh rolling a pen around on his desk.
“What’s the problem Blimey?” Sam queried. “You don’t seem happy. You just saved your company a mint.” Sam and Bill were back in the insurance office, prior to flying home.
“I told you that you Yanks would cause an International incident.”
“You said that, yes. And?”
Another sigh. “The French government wants the painting back. Says it’s the property, in rights, of the French people. Kind of ‘the stinking Americans have no right to it,’ etc., etc., etc.”
Sam had to laugh at Blimey’s comical face. He got up and slapped the guy on the back.
“Blimey, that’s one for the politicians, isn’t it? Above our pay grade and all that?”
“I guess,” was the gloomy reply. “Hey, the higher ups were so impressed by my work,” he adjusted a little plaque on his desk that wasn’t there before. They may let me take a little extra vacation, take the missus.”
“Ah,” intoned Sam.
“Was thinking about San Francisco,” Blimey cocked a little bird eye at Sam.
Sam laughed. “The door is always open Blimey, always open. Might even buy you a beer.”
Blimey smiled as he led the two men downstairs. “I also love all Dashiell Hammetts works and I understand you can take a tour there. Dashiell slept here, Dashiell wrote that kind of thing…” They chattered all the way to the front door.
(Discovering Art – Part IV – Back in the States)