by Courtney Webb
(Discovering Art – Part V – Back in the States)
“So, how did you do it? In fact, how did the whole thing go down?” Ellen Jones stared with big eyes at Sam.
“Well, from the beginning?” Sam shifted around in his chair.
“Well, yes.” Ms. Jones glanced at Mr. Smithers, her boss. He was sitting in a chair close by looking vastly uncomfortable, like he couldn’t figure out what to say to this cowboy.
“Okay,” Sam took a breath, “from the beginning. The woman’s restroom and the old man.”
“Old man?” Smithers seemed to not follow. Ms. Jones waved a hand at him.
“The old man twho supposedly pinched the young girl’s bottom.” Smithers rolled his eyes like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Man, this guy is totally out of the loop, Sam thought.
“I’ll tell you later,” Ms. Jones hissed at Smithers.
“Okay, the old man told me he never pinched the girl and I believed him. Didn’t look like the type. In fact, I thought he was going to have a heart attack on us before they could get him out of there. What that was, was a classic diversion.”
“Diversion?” Smithers blurted out.
“Yes, Sir. A diversion, the girl screamed, the man almost fainted, the women were yelling and the guards (the important point,) got distracted by the whole thing and came running to help.”
“Ah,” replied Ellen, nodding.
“Then, we no more get the girl pinching affair settled, when the flash, bang, the Ninja shows up strapped with dynamite and waving a sword.”
“Sword?” Smithers gasped. Ms. Jones placed a hand on his arm.
“Right, swinging a sword and strapped tight with several sticks of dynamite and a flashing red sign that indicated the time counting down.”
“The point?” Ms. Jones asked.
“The point, my dear Ellen,” she dimpled, “was exactly the same the second time as the first time, a diversion, a distraction.”
“Distraction?” Smithers was at it again.
“The distraction was to get the guards on the second floor to look away from the display long enough for the transfer of the pictures to be made. Perhaps one minute or two at the most.”
“Transfer?” Now, Bill was butting in asking questions. He was along for the debriefing too.
“Right, transfer. One person in the woman’s restroom to do the pinching, another person acting as Ninja and a third person with the fake picture just the right size to fit in a back pack.”
“Back pack.” Smithers was looking redder in the face by the minute.
“Right, back pack. The entire theft was carefully planned, all the way to the size of the picture to be taken. The swap was made with a picture easy in size to bring in and then take out.”
Smithers was looking a little faint.
“So, the Ninja?” asked Bill.
“The Ninja was a complete ruse, 100%.” Sam answered. He looked at Ms. Jones.
“Do you remember how I said there was something about that guy that was familiar, but I couldn’t place it?”
“I thought you said he was like guys in the Army, going up the ropes hand over hand.”
“Yes and no. Seeing him climb that rope reminded me of something, but because it was out of context, I couldn’t place it. Then, later, I remembered.”
She stared at him blankly as did the others.
“Yes, Ellen. When was the last time you went to the circus?”
Ellen Jones stole a look sideways at her boss and smoothed her skirt down.
“Maybe when I was nine or ten.” She had on her proper face now.
“Ah, don’t know what you’re missing. I’ve been to the circus several times as well as Cirque de Soleil.”
“And, the circus employs a ton of these young guys, maybe 22, 23 years old, very fit, very buff, athletic. Many former gymnasts.”
“The point, Mr. Reynolds?” Smithers was trying hard to look severe.
“The point is these guys have a special rope climbing technique that they use all the time.” Sam gestured with his hands. “They pull the rope tight, from the source, wrap it around their legs. Once it’s tight, they then pull themselves up with both arms and keep feeding the ropes through their legs as they move up. I’ve seen them do this trick tons of times. That is what the Ninja was doing; he was climbing the rope just that same way.”
“You think …”
“I think he is or was a circus performer. Yes. Think about it. The costume, the flash and bangs, the scimitar, waving it at people, not saying anything. Very theatrical, the whole bit. Then, rushing upstairs, escaping by helicopter and the dramatic rescue by his crew. What was everyone looking at?”
Bill looked at Sam. “They were looking at him.”
“Exactly, they were looking at him. Just long enough for the real thief to swap the pictures. Put the fake on the wall, the real one in his backpack, and casually stroll out of the building.”
Breathless at this point, Ms. Jones asked “Well, who do you think the real thief was?”
“Probably just some very average looking, nerdy, San Francisco type who absolutely would not stand out in a crowd.”
“But sensors, the gates have sensors.”
“The backpack was specially prepared to foil any sensors once the picture was inside. The thief might have gone out some service entrance or just slowly strolled out the front door with all the other customers. Like I said, the entire operation was very carefully planned.”
Sam sat back and folded his arms.
Ms. Jones and Mr. Smithers both looked at each other with an air of disbelief.
“New security ….” They were both spoke at the same time.
Finally, Ms. Jones turned back to Sam. “What about LaSalle. What happens to him?”
“Well, probably not much. Remember, won’t you, Mr. LaSalle is first and foremost a big deal business guy. He is worth a lot of tax money to the French government. This was just one little painting. And, what the heck, by a French painter anyway. Maybe their sympathies are with him that the French should have French paintings and let the Americans have American paintings. C’est la vie, I think they say.”
“Oh,” Ms. Jones looked deflated.
“However; if I were you, I’d take him off your special VIP invite list.”
She looked up, smiled and winked at him again.
“You know, Sam Reynolds, I just might do that.”
Back at home in Tranquility, California, Sam and Kristie were each enjoying a small glass of wine before going to bed. Kristie’s daughters had both gone back to their homes so, the couple had the place to themselves.
“So, you got the dumb thing back.” She rested her long legs in Sam’s lap.
“I did. Rather, we did. I did have a little help.”
“All this over one little picture so small it fit into a guy’s backpack.”
“Yup.” He patted her thigh.
“Well, I guess that’s Art for you,” she sipped her wine.
“I have a little art in mind, myself.” Kristie smiled.
He raised his eyebrows.
“My garage is sorely in need of some paint.”
Sam grabbed at Kristie and gave her a little kiss.
“I’ll think on it Darlin, I think on it.”
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)
(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
DISCOVERING FINE ART
(Part I – a priceless Renoir has been stolen from the de Young Museum in San Francisco. A museum curator, Dr. Jones, has called Sam Reynolds, PI, to ask for his help.)
“Yes, Police Chief Roscoe told me all about you when I called. He was very chatty actually.” Dr. Jones, museum curator for the de Young Museum, in San Francisco, smiled at Sam.
In turn, he tried to not look too startled. He wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or bad thing. “All about me, huh?”
She laughed. “He was actually very complimentary. Said you’re a good PI and good at finding things.”
“Ah, well ….” Sam Reynolds shrugged.
“So, you’re not sure if it was a woman or a man? In the museum? You were there right?”
Dr. Jones walked over to the coffee bar to get Sam a cup of black. Hitting the button on the top of the black carafe; the dark steaming liquid poured out. She placed the china cup and saucer on a short tray, complete with a tiny mug of crèam and crystals of rock sugar in a petite bowl. The sugar had its own tiny set of silver tongs and a small spoon.
Sam took this all in as he was about to pick up the blue china cup with a gold rim. He paused a moment, picked up the cup carefully and decided it was an old style, but not an old cup. Should be safe. He proceeded to pour a dab of crèam into the coffee and gave up on the sugar tongs. No point in attempting that and looking like a complete country clown.
He sipped the coffee. Hum, good.
Ms. Jones gave him a minute with the coffee things. She had poured herself a cup as well and had re-seated herself, elegantly, in her large black leather swivel chair. She rocked a bit. Her long, slim legs bounced lightly against each other; the only subtle indicator of impatience.
Sam looked up from his cup and saw Ms. Jones appraising him. He might have been sixty-six years old, but Sam still knew when a woman was checking him out. And Ms. Jones was doing just that. He smoothed down his mustache with his free hand.
“To be perfectly honest, I can’t say. Sam took another sip from his cup. “The perp was short enough to be a woman, but with small hips. Since the face and hair were completely covered, it’s hard to say.” He carefully placed the cup back into its saucer and wiped his moustache.
She nodded at him, a gleam in her hazel eyes.
“I would say one thing, though.” He grew thoughtful. “Him or her, whichever, was going up that rope to the helicopter hand over hand.” He made motions with his hands. “And moving fast. Now, I wouldn’t say a woman couldn’t do that, but, it’s just that I have seen more men able to pull that off, like in military training camps.”
“Hum,” was the return comment.
“Also, it reminded me of something, and I can’t remember exactly what.” Sam gazed into middle distance trying to think.
“And who were you with just then?” she asked. Your sister someone said.”
Sam took a fortifying sip. “Ah, with my girlfriend, yes, Kristie Nichols and her two daughters.”
The slightest shadow of disappointment passed over Ms. Jones’s face and then disappeared.
Might as well get it out, better sooner than later, Sam thought to himself.
There was a pause in the conversation, each in their own thoughts.
“So,” Ms. Jones put her cup down and pressed her fingers together, “I understand you don’t know a lot about art but you are good at finding people.”
“Well,” Sam blushed a little, “a time or two.”
Dr. Jones flipped open a thin file. “A boy in Indonesia, who got in with the wrong people, a young man in Vegas, who likewise picked the wrong playmates. Also, you gave assistance in the capture of an alleged killer, who was on the loose in Yosemite Park. Let’s not be too modest, Mr. Reynolds.”
She smiled at him and little dimples appeared at the corners of her mouth. He was flustered a moment. For a museum curator, she was pretty good looking.
He shook himself. “So, how can I be of help?”
“I think I may know who took the painting.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because I met him.”
“Right here in this building, three weeks ago.”
Sam stared at her.
Dr. Jones leaned over to her intercom and pushed a button. “Jules, we’ll be heading out for a bit. Could you hold my calls?”
“Oh, yes, Dr. Jones!” The young man nearly jumped through the wire in his enthusiasm.
She abruptly pushed herself up from her desk. Her thin gray jacket fell forward across a pale blue silk blouse. “Let’s take a walk.”
Sam got up, and she lead the way out of her sixth story corner office, with its spectacular view and plush navy carpet. She guided him through the outer chamber, where her assistant, scrubbed to within an inch of his life, dazzled them both with a huge smile.
“Need anything, Dr. Jones?”
“I’m good, Jules. We’ll be about forty minutes.” The man looked like he was just about to salute but stopped himself.
Sam almost laughed. The merest smile flickered across the curator’s mouth, as she held the door for him.
Once in the hall Dr. Jones paused and pushed a lock of deep auburn hair aside.
“I know, it’s a bit much, huh?”
“Hey, I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Yeah, I bet,” she said and grimaced. “Anyway, back to art. We’re going to take a little tour and I’ll be your guide.”
They reached the elevator and she hit the button to the second floor. They entered the elevator which glided silently down. The doors opened with a soft whoosh to a large poster advertising The Impressionist Exhibit Is Here! She looped a slim arm around the crook of his elbow and they strolled through the exhibit.
She paused at a grouping of paintings. “What do you think?”
He peered at one, got close and then backed away. The little gold plaque read Degas.
“I don’t know. They look a little dauby. Like, well, like daubs of paint were just kind of stuck on there. I don’t know. Sort of unfinished.”
“Yes,” she replied smoothly, “but back away from it a little and look again. See if it doesn’t look more clear, more uniform.” He did as she asked and stared at the painting.
“You know, I think you’re right. You almost need a little distance from the thing to really see it.”
She clapped her hands and laughed. “Oh, Mr. Reynolds, what a good student you are!” Taking his arm, they made the circuit and she suggested they go to the coffee shop. “They have some great rolls down there, you’ll have to try one.”
At eleven o’clock it was still a little early for lunch, but Sam could always fit in a snack. They made their way to the same coffee shop he had been to before, a week earlier with Kristie and the girls.
They both got rolls, he got a plain bottle of water and she ordered a tea. When he pulled out money, she waved it away and showed the cashier a plastic card she wore on a loop around her neck.
Dr. Jones steered them to a corner away from the other customers. “This way we can talk without … interruptions.”
Sam was all ears. He had to admit, when you got past the façade, Dr. Jones was intriguing.
“Have you ever heard the name Rene Auguste La Salle?”
He shook his head.
“No, well you wouldn’t. French, industrialist, into natural gas, oil, petroleum products. You know, all those things that make people a lot of money.”
Sam bit into his roll, nodded.
“Right, well money. He has a lot of money.” She nibbled on her roll. “The scuttlebutt around the art world is that he may be the long lost illegitimate great-grandson of Rene Auguste Renoir.”
When Sam gave her a questioning look, she laughed. “I am originally from Missouri, Mr. Reynolds. The bible belt. Father was a farmer, my mother was the high school art teacher. Dad, ex-military, like you.” She gave him a little wink which caught him off-guard. “Always had the dream to come and live in the big city, and, here I am.” She waved expansively at the café.
“Well …” Sam didn’t know quite what to say.
She grinned at him. She is enjoying this a little too much, he thought ruefully.
“Anyway, back to La Salle. Industrialist but fanatical art collector, of all things French. And, by the by, no price is too high.”
“Which gets us to your collection …”
“Which get us to this collection. Three weeks ago, we had the gala opening of the collection and always have a private viewing before the public gets to come tromping in.”
“Ah … and …”
“And,” the words started to come out more slowly, “the guest list was comprised of individuals who had made donations to the museum.”
“Yes, and for the most part, mostly the largest donations got on the list.”
The pieces were starting to fit together. “And Mr. La Salle of course …”
“Had made an extremely generous donation to the museum this year.” She wrinkled up her nose a little like there was a bad smell.
“Ah … large donation.”
“Very large donation. Which, of course, guaranteed him a ticket into the pre-screening gala which he accepted.”
“And came all the way from France?”
“Yup, all the way just to see our little show.” Dr. Jones frowned.
“Let me guess,” Sam picked at the last little crumbs of his roll. “He liked the exhibit but he really liked the Renoir painting.”
Dr. Jones squirmed a little in her chair and for a moment looked a lot younger.
Kind of reminds me of my daughter when she was in trouble, Sam mused.
“Ah, yes. That is about it. Liked the collection but really did like the Renoir. Even asked me if it was for sale.”
“What did you tell him?”
More squirming. “Well, first I laughed at the idea. Then, I realized he wasn’t kidding and had to tell him it is a priceless piece of art and not for sale at any price.”
“What was his response to that?”
There was a pause. “Well, he just smiled this big smile and said “Naturally.”
Very, sort of French, you know how they are. Ah, maybe you don’t but, he didn’t seem mad or upset or anything. Just smiled and drifted away. I went to talk to other guests. I thought that was that until last week and the theft …” She gazed out to the gardens.
“Hum …” Sam could tell how upset she was. “So, now what?”
Dr. Jones seemed to gather herself together and looked at him. “There is insurance to cover the theft. But, what I said is true. It is a priceless piece of art, it should belong to the public and stay in a museum where people who know what they are doing can care for it properly.”
“Who actually owns it?”
“Harvard Art Museum,” she looked down.
“So, to be a little blunt, Dr. Jones, what happens to you if it is not recovered?”
She sighed. “Oh, it’s not like I am going to lose my job or anything like that. I am not in charge of security. But, it was my responsibility getting the art here for the exhibit and it doesn’t look good for me or the de Young.”
“Ah …” Sam tapped his finger against the table.
“And you want me to …?” He raised his eyebrows at her.
There was a deep intake of breath. “La Salle is a French citizen and lives on a luxury estate in the South of France. We have absolutely no proof that he was involved in any of this and no jurisdiction over him.”
Some of the elegance that Dr. Jones exuded slipped away and a note of desperation edged into her voice. “There is an insurance adjuster already assigned to the case by Lloyds and he is supposed to be pretty good. But …” She paused.
“But, I don’t know. The guy seems like a lot of bluff and bluster to me and I don’t have much confidence.”
“Have you shared your theory/feelings with anyone?”
“I told all this to my boss and he told me I am grasping at straws because I’m desperate.”
“Desperate? Yes. Grasping at straws? I don’t think so.”
She turned and looked intently into Sam’s eyes. “Did you ever just have a feeling, a really strong feeling about someone? Something about them that was creepy or not right, or something, and you couldn’t put your finger on it. But, was there?”
Sam grinned and nodded.
“Well, it’s the same thing here, Mr. Reynolds. If you could have seen him look at that painting. It was a little weird, he almost tried to touch it but stopped himself. That look on his face, like he was hungry.” She shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I absolutely hate the phrase women’s intuition it is so cliché. But, the feeling I got was so strong. What do you think? Give it a stab?”
“Well,” Sam responded slowly. He recognized the helplessness in her voice and the sheer nature of the dilemma. He also knew that people didn’t get corner offices anywhere without a tremendous amount of work. “I don’t work for free.”
“The museum has given me a budget.”
“I might have to get some help.”
“We’ll pay. It will be worth it.”
“No guarantee of results and you still have to pay the fees.”
“Okay then, Dr. Jones. I guess we got us a deal.”
To Sam’s immense surprise, Dr. Jones leaned over and gave him a big hug. He thought he saw a little tear in the corner of her eye when they got up.
She grabbed a paper napkin and dabbed at her face.
“Come on back to my office and I’ll have Jules do the paperwork. Oh, and geese!” She stared at her watch. “I have got to get to a meeting! Can you find your way back upstairs?”
He told her he could. She grabbed his hand and shook it. “Thank you so much, Mr. Reynolds. So much!”
“You’re welcome young lady and you can start your thanks by calling me Sam.”
“Okay, Sam. Talk to you soon!” She started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. “Yes, and I’m Ellen!” With a spin, Ellen, turned on her heel and was out of the café in a flash.
“Whew,” was all Sam could say. “Okay, Jules, let’s get this horse on the road.” He went to track down the obsequious Jules.
Continued on in Part III
Part II – by Courtney Webb
Mouth open, she took his food and Sam turned to go back in the main foyer. There were several loud bangs! Accompanied by flashes of light. Out of the wing housing the Degas Exhibit, a short, black clad figure emerged. He was dressed in all black and red and looked like a Ninja complete with a drawn scimitar. A black mask covered the face and hair.
Sam’s heart stopped when he looked at the walking figure more closely and realized that dynamite was strapped to the assailant’s chest. A large red, digital screen was above the tapped sticks and the numbers were counting down. People were screaming and running.
The masked figure kept swinging the curved sword at anyone that got close but was eerily silent. It seemed to Sam that time slowed down. He wasn’t sure how long he stood here, frozen. Suddenly, there was a crackling sound like a radio and the figure stopped, paused, seemed to listen, then ran through the foyer and around a corner.
“Stop him,” a guard shouted. The guards couldn’t seem to decide whether to advance or retreat. Sam followed at a distance.
He poked his head around the corner that way the Ninja had gone and realized it was a pair of elevators. A large sign read Observation – 9th Floor.
Weird, he’s going to blow us up and then takes the elevator?
Sam could swear that he heard a helicopter.
I’ll take the stairs. What the hell, only nine floors.
Huffing and puffing he got up to the ninth floor and saw a group of people huddled in a corner. Large pane glass windows framed awe inspiring views of the San Francisco Bay. He didn’t see the Ninja. He looked at the people. One man looked up and pointed to a door on the far side of the room. It was marked Emergency Exit Only – Keep Out, in large red letters.
Sam ran to the door and saw it wasn’t shut. Cautiously, he peeked out. There was a loud Whoosh! Sound and furious air knocked him back. A Black-hawk helicopter swished upwards; the figure of the black Ninja dangled from a rope cord below the chopper.
Sam could see that the bay door was open and two men were busily pulling the Ninja into the open door. The chopper did a left swoop and headed out to sea. He shielded his eyes against the sun but could see no identifying marks on the bird. He didn’t have a camera on his phone so he couldn’t get a picture. He closed the door. By this time, the guards had gotten over their fright and were spilling into the observation room like ants.
Sam went back down the way he had come. He could hear the sound of sirens in the background as he made his way back to the coffee shop.
Man, could I use that sandwich now! That and maybe a beer, too.
An hour later, sandwich eaten, coffee drunk and an endless series of high pitched blabbing questions from his girls, Sam separated himself. SF police had questions and he gave them the short bits of information he had.
“To wrap up,” Sam mashed the paper coffee cup in his hands,”the whole thing started with a girl getting pinched in the restroom. Then,an old man got slapped so hard it knocked his false teeth loose so that he started to choke. As soon as that was over, a Ninja suicide bomber showed up, who, it seems, wasn’t a bomber at all.” He stopped for them to catch up.
The two beefy officers both had out little black notebooks and short pens and hastily made notes, shaking their heads. In the end, the shorter one, Vasquez, his badge read, said, “So, that’s it?” He closed his notebook and was tapping it with the little pen.
“Pretty much, I guess.” Sam ran a hand through his tousled hair.
Vasquez looked at his partner, Wilson.
“Ah, no more questions at this point,” Wilson added with a slight shrug.
“So, Mr. Reynolds,” Vasquez turned back to Sam, “you got a business card where we can reach you if needed?”
“Sure.” Sam pulled his wallet out of a back pocket and pulled out a little card, somewhat curved with wear and handed it over.
Vasquez examined the card and stuck it into his notebook.
“We may be in touch.” The two men departed.
The museum employees and curators closed the museum for the day. Sam could see frantic employees running back and forth with clipboards and pens, scratching notes. They spoke to each other in hushed notes. It looked to Sam like they were looking for something.
Just as they were about to leave, a Miss Jones, PhD, of the museum staff tracked him down.
“Oh, Mr. Reynolds is it?” he heard behind him and stopped.
A tall, pretty young woman in a business suit approached. She held out a hand and Sam gave her a shake.
“I am Ms. Jones, curator for the museum. Here is my card,” she handed Sam a crisp, white square with her name. “I understand you saw some of what happened.”
“Maybe we can talk about it sometime?” she looked over toward Sam’s little group.
“Sure.” Once again, Sam dug out his wallet and pulled out another beleagered business card and gave it to her.
“Ah, Sam Reynolds, PI. Hum,” she gave a faint smile and finished with “Well, another time then.”
Ever the nosy one, Sam waved at the beleaguered employees. “So, what’s all that now?” he asked.
“Oh,” she smiled. “They are re-cataloging the collection.”
Sam arched an eyebrow.
“Trying to figure out what, if anything had been taken. We’re still not sure.”
“Ah,” Sam replied. “Well, be seeing ‘ya.”
Ms. Jones smiled again and giving them a little wave, turned and retreated back to the museum.
Sam ushered the girls back to his truck.
“Well, can you believe all that?” a stunned Chelsea commented as they worked their way back to the car. “Wow, and I though LA was bad. Whew!”
“Yeah, but it was kind of fun, wasn’t it?” Angela added. She turned to Sam. “Somehow these things always seem to happen when you’re around. No wonder Mom likes you so much.”
“No, your mother likes me because she has good taste. Isn’t that right Kristie?”
Kristie tossed her dark blond curls. “That and he makes a good fried egg sandwich.”
Sam shrugged with a ‘what can I say? look. They laughed.
Later, they were back home in Tranquility, California, in Kristie’s kitchen. The girls had disappeared to their respective rooms and Sam and Kristie were alone. Standing at her granite topped island, she poured them both mugs of coffee.
“You know you really scared the shit out of me chasing after that guy.”
“I know sweet. But, I really didn’t think he was going to blow anything up if he was also running for an elevator. Didn’t make sense.”
“Still, wish you wouldn’t play hero all the time.”
“I know, I know. I’m okay though. We’re all back home. Give me a hug.” He pulled her close and she reluctantly let him. At that very moment, Sam’s phone rang.
“Shit.” He looked down. “415 area code. Maybe I should get this.”
Kristie grimaced and went back to her coffee.
“Sam Reynolds. Yes. Yes, Ms. Jones. How are things? It was a what? Let me get a piece of paper.” He gestured to Kristie and she handed him a notepad and pen.
“Let me spell that. R e n o i r. Renoir, French, right? Yeah, got that part. At the Milliners, 13” by 9”. Is that worth a lot of money?” There was a pause. “Well, yes, I would say that’s a lot. Sure. Well, it’s kind of late now. Tomorrow? Yup, will call you first thing. Thanks, no problem. Talk to you then.”
He hung up the phone and looked at the note. “It was a painting by this Renoir guy. It was switched during all the commotion with a fake one. Very close to the original. That’s why they didn’t know right away what was gone.”
Kristie gaped. “Renoir, unbelievable.”
“Guess so,” Sam replied. “Like I always say, what I don’t know about art …”
“Would fill several volumes, right, I remember. Wow, this is big.” She looked at him. “What does Ms. Jones want from you?” She eyed him cautiously.
“Well, since I did see the Ninja guy and I did see the getaway chopper, and since I do a little PI work …”
“She wants you to help them get the paining back,” Kristie finished.
“Well, something like that,” Sam replied with a smile.
“Oh, Sam Reynolds, I can never take you anywhere!” Kristie shook her head and they both laughed.
(Sam’s adventure continues in Discovering Fine Art.)
By Courtney Webb
“Oh, Mom. Come over here. Get a picture with this one.”
Chelsea, Kristie’s youngest daughter, waved at her. She was standing in front of a ‘Make Love Not War’ circular poster on the glass wall entrance to the de Young Museum, San Francisco.
Kristie obliged and went over and stood by her daughter while Angela snapped a picture on her cell-phone. “That one!” Angela pointed to a “Reality is a Trip” poster in acid green. Her sister and mom scuttled over to that poster next as the camera clicked.
“My turn!” Angela cried and stuck the camera phone into Sam’s folded arms and ran to join the others. “Come on Sam. Just hit the white button.”
Sam stared hard at the screen a minute, figured out where the button was and hit it. Their picture instantly popped up on the screen. “Whoa, that was fast.” He held the camera/phone up to look at the picture. Got to admit, these gadgets get the best of me, he mused to himself.
The girls were giggling together and looking at their shots. “Gosh, Sam, you must remember all this stuff!” Angela burst out.
“Well, let’s say, some of this stuff.” Sam replied simply, not wanting to get sucked into a rehash of the good old days. He was more of a ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ kind of kind of guy.
Thankfully, the young women and Kristie were all eager to get inside to the Degas exhibit and he didn’t have to pull out war stories. They shuffled in with the crowd and were handed pamphlets for the exhibits.
“Tickets for Degas are to your left. The line forms
to the right for the Degas Millinery Exhibit,” a young woman shouted at the crowd, arms waving. “Please line up to buy your tickets.” The female guard was stuffed into a gray and white uniform complete with her name embroidered in red.
Kristie and group split off to the right to stand in a lengthy line.
“How much are the tickets?” Sam asked Kristie. She peered around.
“I don’t see a sign.”
“I’ll check on my phone. They have Wi-Fi in here,” Chelsea replied. She and her sister got busy with their phones. Their heads bent over, Sam thought again how much these twenty somethings looked like their mom.
“Looks like $28 dollars.”
“Each?” Sam looked astonished.
“Gosh, Sam. That’s really not bad,” Angela told him. “This is San Francisco after all, and these are pretty famous artists.” She arched a delicate eyebrow at him.
“Okay, okay.” He waved his hands in submission. Sam would be the very first to admit he was no art expert, modern or otherwise. He stood watching the queue move slowly to the ticket counter. He consulted the glossy brochure.
“Hum. Look Kristie, they have a bunch of other exhibits too. And these are free.” He glanced at her from under bushy eyebrows. His thrifty nature was kicking in.
“Oh, Sam,” Kristie turned to him. “This is what the girls came for. They really want to see the Expressionist paintings.” She pouted a little. “Me too.”
“Oh,” was Sam’s cautious reply. He continued to peruse the brochure. “African art, Indonesian … interesting.”
Kristie pulled Sam a little out of the line. “Look, I know how much you hate lines and this really wasn’t your idea. Would you rather go look at some of the other stuff and then meet us later?”
Sam kept his head down; still examining the pamphlet said “Well, maybe that would work.” He knew how much this little family get together meant to Kristie.
“Okay, settled then.” Kristie glanced at the primitive art photos. “We’ll go through the line and meet you in the coffee shop. How’s that?”
“Well, that would be okay, Darlin. Any idea how long this thing is going to take?” He looked at her now. His brilliant blue eyes met her lighter blue and she smiled, as always. When he smiled with perfect white teeth, his dimples would show. Kristie sighed. She ruffled his white/blond hair.
“You are such a kid.” She turned, “Guard,” Kristie waved at one of the many uniformed young people standing around. A young man sauntered over. “About how long does it take to get through the exhibit?”
The lanky guard, a teen with bad skin, considered a moment, looked at the line and his watch. “Should take you about forty-five minutes, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” Kristie nodded and the kid ambled off.
“Okay, so, forty-five minutes. Can you keep yourself entertained that long?”
“Yeah, yeah. I kin do that.” By this time Sam had the brochure rolled up into a little tube and patted her on the shoulder. “Looks like you are about to lose your girls there.” He pointed to the daughters who had continued to move up with the line, shooting their mother exasperated looks.
“Right!” Kristie gave Sam a little peck. “Coffee shop.” She turned and hurried to catch up with them.
Tapping the tube in the palm of his hand, Sam wandered across the floor of the museum, staring up. The enormous modern structure was a series of tall glass walls, chrome and steel structures that gave it a light airy feel. The grounds were covered with lush green beds, lending a feeling of privacy and repose to the place, even in the center of the city.
Sam wasn’t much for all this modern stuff, but still, he had to admit the place was pretty impressive. He worked his way through the historical art exhibit of the Americas. They went from the Northern Eskimos and their carved walrus tusks to the Central and South Americans with endless examples of pottery and baskets.
He paused at some carved tusks to wonder at the artistry that created the tiny figures. One work was a carved cribbage game. What rich man had that on his mantel a year or two? he wondered. Eventually, he worked through these exhibits and decided to try upstairs.
One floor up, Sam was mesmerized by the statutes and masks from New Guinea. Unreal; these things scare me, he admitted to himself. He stopped to stare for a long while at a face above a shaman costume.
That is a real human head, he finally concluded. It’s not carved at all. Creepy. He shook himself. His phone buzzed.
“Almost done, K.” He decided to get a little exercise and took the stairs back down to meet the girls. Back on the first floor, he looked around for a restroom.
Better go now, then eat.
Spotting the Restrooms sign he followed it. He rounded the corner and was momentarily confused. There were clearly two restrooms, but the Men/Women signs had been covered over with plain sheets of paper. A new Gender-Neutral sign was in their place on both doors.
He could see what looked to be an extensive line with a lot of women and a much shorter line with a few men. Looks like people have figured this nonsense out for themselves, he thought and followed the short line.
As expected, there were stand-up urinals in this restroom, one of which he used. He paused to wash his hands and dry them with the latest blower. As he came out, he heard the scream. The scream was promptly followed by a resounding ‘slap!’ and then a gurgling/choking sound. Sam whipped his head around and realized the sounds all emanated from the Not Women’s restroom.
There was still a line of women in the queue when he heard a shout. “He’s choking!”
In a quick flash-black, Sam remembered that going into the Not Men’s room, there was an old geezer shuffling into the other facility with the line of women. Oh no, he started to work his way into the crowd of women who were now yelling as a group.
Pushing his way through, he found the elderly man on his knees in the restroom with his hands around his own throat, turning red. Sam instantly realized the problem, grabbed the man around the back and slapped him as hard as he could. A set of false teeth flew out of the man’s mouth and landed on the foot of a chubby matron. The matron saw the teeth on her foot, screamed, reflexively tossed her foot up where the teeth flew forward striking a young woman on the forehead before falling again to the floor. This young woman also screamed and ran for the door where several patrons were already fighting to get out.
At the same time, several museum guards, of both sexes, were fighting to get in. Sam had laid the old man on the tile floor on his side and was checking him for pulse and breathing. He had to block women from stepping on the old guy in their panic to leave.
Two guards finally managed to work their way in and over to the old man. The old guy kept gesturing for his teeth that were now sitting under a sink. Sam retrieved the choppers and washed them off before giving them back. The man was now sitting up and one guard was administering a bottle of water to him by mouth.
“She said I pinched her. I never, I never. I would never …” The old man looked like he was about to cry. Sam got up and worked his way out of what was now a gawking crowd.
He found Kristie and the girls in the middle of the main floor gaping at the commotion. No less than five or six guards were milling around the area.
“Sam, what is going on?” Kristie demanded as he came up to them.
“Let’s go eat and I’ll tell you.” He shooed them to the corner of the building and through the café door. They got in line and paid for their food. Angela wanted to sit outside and Sam had an exterior door open for them when they all heard a “Boom!” sound.
“What …” Sam looked over his shoulder. “Kristie, take my coffee and sandwich. I’ll be back.”
Sam Does Meditation – Part IV
On the way to San Francisco, Sam broke all speed laws and all laws against talking on the phone while driving. He got hold of Phillips, his contact at the Bureau and gave him a very abbreviated version of the facts. They would meet at Bio-Tech. It usually took an hour and a half to get to the big city; Sam did it in less than 60 minutes.
They screeched up in front of Bio-Tech. The Bureau guy was there in an un-marked and a couple of SFPD were there, sirens off. They pushed Chan out of the truck and into the foyer. His crying had subsided to low moans interlaced with hiccups. Brother Huang kept patting his hand, consoling him.
The entire contingent sped into the building. Chan presented his ID to the two guards at the desk who were, by this time, ogling at the cops. Phillips presented his FBI gold shield.
A fat middle-aged security guy with the name Stanley embroidered on his shirt answered their questions.
“Well, yes, Dr. Chan. Dr. Lee was in here about, when?” he looked at the other guard. “About an hour or so ago. Said he left his briefcase and had to get it. Going to catch a red-eye flight at the airport. Didn’t he say that?” The other guy nodded silently. “But he had his proper badge, Dr. Chan, he did have access to that little office. And we had seen the brief case before, didn’t we?” The other guy, younger, nodded still staring down at his computer screen, not looking too happy.
“You say about an hour ago?” Sam took over.
“Bill, look that up on the log for the man, will you?” Stanley asked the younger man.
Sam grabbed Chan by the elbow. “Let’s get upstairs and see what’s missing.” The FBI agent followed.Huang and the cops remained in the lobby. Sam ran to the elevators, pulling Chan. The scientist pointed out the proper buttons.
“I got to let you in. Just a minute.” Stanley yelled at them.
Sam patted his foot. The elevator door slowly opened, and they got in. Chan pushed the button for the sixth floor.
Getting off the elevator, Chan seemed more in his element and raced down the hall. The hazy fog he had been in for the last hour seemed to have lifted. He punched in a code at the security portal and pressed his right hand against the tiny flickering screen. There were a series of beeps! And Sam could hear clicks and the big, heavy white door opened. The three men hurried inside.
Chan began racing around the lab doing checks, muttering to himself. Phillips and Sam stood awkwardly waiting for him to finish. Phillips was checking something on his cell phone. He showed the phone to Sam.
“Red-eye to Beijing, 11:00 pm,” the agent said quietly. Sam nodded.
“Not here, not here.” They could hear Chan talking to himself, moving deeper in to the lab. “That’s okay, that’s okay.” Then there was a pregnant pause and “Oh, shit!”
Phillips and Sam looked at each other.
Chan walked slowly back to them, shoulders slumped. “He has taken the cryo-center with the baby embryo. The latest one.” His face was ashen.
Phillips started making phone calls immediately as they all ran down the stairs this time, not waiting for the elevator. On the lobby floor, they gathered up the rest of the crew. Phillips gave quick instructions to the cops who peeled off to their pandas. Lights on and sirens blaring, they all headed for San Francisco International Airport.
“Let’s take mine, it’s faster,” Phillips told them with a wave of his hand. Sam and Chan piled into the unmarked and Phillips hit the accelerator. The car sprang forward.
Chan was mute with shock; Sam pulled a small silver flash from his back pocket. He made the young man take a swig. Chan coughed but got some color back in his face. Phillips was yelling non-stop on his phone, giving orders.
Screeching up to the airport in record time, the agent parked illegally in the red zone in front of Departures. Hustling out of the car, Sam somewhat dragged and somewhat pushed a limp Chan in front of him. Two cops stayed behind to see that Airport Security didn’t tow the vehicle.
Phillips located the gate number and pointed. Two men that he seemed to recognize came running up to him.
“This the guy?” They both asked. Phillips nodded. “He has to give a positive ID for us to stop him.”
They practically ran to the gate, Chan virtually lifted off his feet and hurried along by the beefy agents. They got to gate 21; there was a line of people boarding.
The agents stopped, placing Chan on his feet. The young man looked around wildly. Then, “Him, that’s him!” he screamed, pointing.
Dr. Lee saw Chan and the cops and tried to run but the agents were fast on their feet. They grabbed the man and his precious cargo. One agent immediately relieved Lee of his old brown briefcase and brought it over.
He put it down at Chan’s feet and opened the bag. “This it?” Chan poked his nose inside the bag.
“That’s it.” He sagged so much, Sam had to grab him. He thought for a minute the kid was going to faint.
The two agents had a tight grip on Dr. Lee and were walking him out. The man jerked to a stop in front of Chan.
“You Americans are all the same, always thinking you can save the world. Single-handed.” He spat. “Aoman de pigu,”(you arrogant ass.)
The agents pulled him away and Chen stared after him.
Phillips dropped Sam and Chan at Bio-Tech and waited in the lot. Brother Huang was still waiting patiently in the foyer, causually chatting with the security guards. He waved as they came in. Sam gave him a thumbs up and he smiled and went back to his chit-chat.
Sam and Chan went back upstairs to the lab with the stolen ‘merchandise.’ Gingerly, Chan resettled the cryo-canister back into its cradle. He checked that everything was back where it was supposed to be in the lab.
He patted the canister. “She’s okay.”
“She?” asked an incredulous Sam.
“Yes, she. I peeked.” Sam felt his head spinning again.
Chan turned off the lights and closed the security door.
Sam checked with Phillips and they agreed to meet at an all-night coffee shop. Once there, Huang ordered bacon, eggs, and coffee.
“What?” he asked Sam.
“Oh, nothing, I just thought. . ..” Sam didn’t finish his sentence.
Huang held a butter knife to his temple. “Can’t be good all the time, Sam-Shi. Not good for you. Not the way.”
Sam had to laugh and sipped on his very black coffee and nibbled on a sweet roll.
“So,” Agent Phillips said to Chan, “tell us when it started.”
Chan sighed and sipped his hot herbal tea. He paused to pour a glob of honey into the cup.
“It started when I took a trip to China. I met this girl…” Sam and Phillips shifted and smiled at each other. “I’ve always been kind of a bookworm,” they nodded, “and she was so friendly and pretty and . . .”
“And….” Sam prompted.
“And she took me to an orphanage and showed me these kids. Those poor kids. They had so many things wrong with them and no one wanted them. They were just throwaways in that society. It was terrible.” He sighed again and sipped his tea, remembering.
“Then. . ..” Sam nudged.
“Then, well, she told me I could help. How can I help? I told her. I am just one guy. I can’t adopt all those kids. No way. I’m not married. . ..” he paused. “She told me there was another way I could help, with my research. My genetics research.”
Sam took over for a little while. “What the wiz kid here does is cutting-edge research on embryos. That is where the embryo is genetically altered to eliminate ‘bad genes’ or genes known to cause chronic illnesses and diseases. Am I right?” He looked at Chan who nodded.
“But it’s in a very experimental stage,” Chan continued. “There is no way the US Government will allow us to do that with a full-term baby unless and until there is a lot more research done. We don’t want to have. . . mistakes.” He sighed.
“And, create a monster when all we are trying to do is help, etc.,” Sam added.
Chan nodded and stared at his tea, both hands wrapped around the mug.
“But, the Chinese government is not so cautious and would like to start those experiments as soon as possible,” Phillips continued.
“She told me she was with the orphanage,” pleaded Chan.
“Dr. Chan, I am not positive,” Phillips added, “but it is likely this entire operation was funded by the Chinese military. Who,” he looked at Sam, “are desirous of creating a super-army.”
“But the girl. . .” Chan continued.
“Part and parcel, sir. Part and parcel.”
Chan seemed unsettled.
“Dr. Chan,” Phillips said softly, “did it never occur to you how odd it was that someone you only met, in a foreign country would know about your research?”
“Well, she was so interested in what I said. I talked and talked. I just assumed I must have mentioned it.” Chan carefully studied the table.
Over his head, Sam and Phillips shook theirs.
Phillips picked up the bill. It was 3 am. Sam said he and Huang would drive the scientist home.
“Am I going to be charged?” asked a tremulous Chan.
“Well, Dr. Chan, since we got everything back, it looks like nothing was actually stolen. And, since Dr. Lee has diplomatic immunity, he will go home very soon. As for your employer, well. That’s up to them.” Phillips gave a knowing look to Sam. “Someone will have to tell them something. You have about 4 hours to figure out what to say to your boss.” Phillips saluted to Sam.
“Thanks for your help, Mr. Sam Reynolds.”
“Anytime, Phillips, anytime.”
Phillips turned to leave.
“Oh, last thing Dr. Chan.”
Chan looked at him.
“I wouldn’t advise more trips to China anytime soon.” He got into his unmarked and drove away.
“Let’s get you home, bub.” Sam gathered them up and back into the truck. Chan gave directions and Sam drove to his apartment.
“Thanks, Sam.” Dr. Chan told him ruefully. “And thanks to you too, Brother Huang. I don’t know if I’ll have a job Monday. But, I have been a complete fool. I guess it could have been worse. He could have gotten on that plane.”
“Yup,” Sam answered. “It could have been worse. Night, Dr. Chan.”
Sam rolled up the window and pulled into the street. He looked at Huang.
“So true, Sam-Shi. Glad you brought that up.” Huang responded to the unspoken remark. “It could have been worse. He could have been killed by Lee, not just hit on the head.”
“Exactly, Huang. Exactly what I was thinking.” They both laughed and headed into the new dawn of a new day, going back to the Green Veil.
Sam slept very late the next day and awoke to the sound of his phone pinging at him.
“Hello, hello,” he was groggy.
“Sam, it’s Kristie!”
“Hello, darling, what gets you up so early?”
“Sam, it’s after 11 am, what are you talking about?”
“Oh, yeah. Late night. What’s up?”
“Well, the thing fell through with the kids. The boyfriend got sick and Chelsea sprained her ankle.”
“So. . .?”
“So, the weekend is off. You still want me to come up? I can go shopping at Nordstrom’s!”
Sam paused. Shopping.
“Then there’s the pool at the Clairmont Hotel, wine in the jacuzzi. Couples massages, Chateaubriand for dinner.”
“Hmm, sounding better all the time.”
“Super, I’ll make the reservations and pack. I should be up in three maybe four hours. Oh, I love you, Sam. You’re so dependable. Such a quiet weekend. Just the two of us. Kiss, kiss.” She was gone and off the phone.
Sam rolled over in bed and held the phone to his chest. “Just the two of us. Quiet weekend. Wonder if Brother Huang has some eggs and bacon hidden somewhere, that old rascal. Maybe some coffee too.” The thought occurred he hadn’t thought about a cigarette once since he got to the Green Veil.
“I guess meditation does work. Ha!”
Sam rolled out of bed and pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. Wearing his favorite pair of boots once agin, he was ready for the day.
(Previously, Sam Reynolds, PI, decide to accept an invitation to a three-day retreat to learn meditation. While there, he starts to have some misgivings about a co-student.)
Sam came out of his room and remembering the almost argument next door, looked to see if the people were still around. Scanning the hall, he could see all the doors to the dorm rooms were firmly closed.
Probably already there, shit. And first day too. Gritting his teeth, he yanked the loose drawstring to the tunic pants tighter. He then scooted promptly out of the building and over to meditation.
The last one in, he silently tugged off his sneakers and tiptoed over to a line in the back. The white cotton socks he had been given glided smoothly over the hard-wood floor. He sat down and assumed the cross-legged position as much as his stiff legs would allow.
“Let us all breath in and breath out,” he heard the leader saying in a still calm voice. He felt his shoulders start to relax.
Later that day they were finished, and it was time for dinner. This time he sat right next to Brother Huang who had, somehow, managed to sit some distance from Lydia and her friend.
“So, Sam, how did you like it today?” Huang asked Sam.
“I liked it. The hardest part is getting up and down and crossing my legs. Stiff, you know.”
Huang nodded knowingly. “We will do a few yoga movements too, while you are here, and that might help.”
“Gosh, I hope something does. I feel like the Tin Man.” He helped himself to more fish and rice.
“Try the green stuff,” Huang held out a dish to Sam. “It is a lot like your spinach.”
Sam was wary, but put a little on his plate anyway. He nibbled on a piece.
“It is just like spinach,” he said and put some more on his plate.
Huang was speaking to the different people sitting around them and Sam listened. People had a variety of jobs, several were teachers looking to ‘expand their horizons.’
One young Asian man sat across from Sam and didn’t say very much.
Sam wasn’t very good at telling the difference between the different Asian groups. So, trying to not be offensive, he asked: “So, are you Korean too?”
The young man made a slight grimace before replying, “No, I am Chinese. Chinese-American.”
“Ah,” Sam replied.
“I am actually fifth generation here in California.”
“Really.” Sam was interested.
“Yes, my great-great grandfather was what was known as a coolie and came from China to work on the Trans-Atlantic Railroad.”
“Wow, some history.”
“Yes, it has been a long road for my family, but worth it in the end, I guess. I was able to graduate from Stanford, so probably.”
Sam nodded. “And what do you do?”
There was a slight pause. At first, Sam thought the young man was going to refuse to answer. He detected a faint struggle on his face.
“Ah. . .I do research. Medical research.”
“Oh, interesting. Who. . .?”
“It’s Sam, isn’t it?” The young man broke in. “I am Chan, nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand, American style.
“Oh, you too.” Sam countered.
“However, I am here on a short rest-vacation and would really like to leave all that behind. Just for a few days.” He gave Sam a faint smile.
Sam stared a moment then, looked down at his food. “Sure, sure, no problem. Think nothing of it. Are these peanuts?”
They all continued eating and Sam kept his thoughts to himself. What young man, that age,he mused, doesn’t like to talk about his work? Incessantly,in fact. Whatever. Not my business.
After dinner, Sam was back in his room and tried to read the magazine he brought but threw it down. Feeling restless, he pulled on a jacket and slipped into some shoes and went outside. Late spring, the air was still nippy.
God,I could use a cigarette right now.
He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans to keep warm and started to stroll around the grounds. The grounds of Green Veil were lush with vegetation and beautiful even at night. The facility, Huang had told him, had been the property of a wealthy dowager who, having gotten into the meditation thing, donated the entire place to Brother Huang and his school.
Chewing on a toothpick, Sam worked his way around the campus. He was starting to get familiar with where things were. Having walked some of the kinks out, he started on the path back to his room.
Maybe a hot bath. He scratched his neck. That rough cotton must be irritating…
It was then he noticed something to his right, movement. Mice? Rats? No, it’s hopping like. Looks like. . .oh, it’s a bunny. Ha. Not too much to worry about there. Probably no foxes or racoons for miles.
He was turning back when something else caught his attention. He rubbed his eyes.
Was that rabbit glowing? A light green color? Couldn’t be.
He started to walk slowly after it and was about to catch it with two hands, when the thing darted into some undergrowth.
“Bah!” he said out loud. “Sam Reynolds, it’s really time for bed.”
The next morning, after washing up, Sam remembered the rabbit.
Was I seeing things? Was it really glowing or am I on some kind of new mediation enhanced high? What’s in that tea they serve?
Dismissing it from his mind, he went to breakfast and was able to get down on the floor a little more easily this time. He noticed, with a sense of aggravation, that husband-hunting Lydia and her silent companion, Sylvia, were both able to seamlessly glide up and down from the floor.
Geeze, Sam thought to himself, looks like all those hours in the gym are not really doing the trick. He felt discouraged.
He quickly got in with Brother Huang’s crowd for lunch although Lydia waved gayly at him from the other end of the table. He gave a little wave back and grabbed for food. The mysterious young Chinese man, Chan, was a few spots down. Head down, he continued a constant low conversation with his fellow Asian.
Older, thought Sam. Maybe in his 50’s, steel rim glasses, really bad haircut.
There was a dark, brooding intensity about the man Sam found unsettling. He could not help having his usual PI observations about people. The man kept stabbing at his food with his chopsticks.
Like he’s angry, Sam mused. Somehow, I get the feeling he’s not from around here.
Sam turned from the two men and tried to focus on what the people were talking about on his right. He had to fight that old prickly feeling coming from the hairs at the back of his neck.
Meditation class was easier the second day and Sam felt like he was getting into the groove of the thing. He was able to control his thoughts a little more and focus better. However, after a few minutes, he could not help thinking back to the young man Chan and his odd companion.
Something. . . something.
“Breath in and out, focus your attention. I will play a little music to help.” Brother Huang was leading today.
Sam liked hearing him. What a calming voice he had!
After lunch he went to have a little lie down before afternoon class began. Once again, he had dozed off when he heard the voices. They were murmuring again, but louder this time.
Always the nosy one, Sam got up quietly from the bed. Still in his thick cotton socks, he moved over to the side wall and put his ear against it.
“They need your help!” came the terse words. “They are dying, every day! They can’t afford the help like these rich American shits!”
“I know that, you think I don’t know that.” Sam recognized the voice of Chan. He realized the other voice had to be that of the older man who sat with him at meals.
“If I get caught, I’ll be ruined. I’ll get fired and never work in this town again.”
Chan sounded almost in tears.
There was a pause. “We won’t get caught. The plan is fool proof. No one will ever know.”
“But the lab is so careful, they monitor everything, constantly. What if they find out?” Chan pleaded.
“Listen to me, Chan, you can always come home. We need people like you. You know how much.”
“Yes, Lee, I do know. But, Lee, I am home. You have to realize that. I am home.”
Sam heard a sound like ‘Bah,’ and eased away from the wall. His mind whirled.
What the heck were these two up to? It didn’t sound good, whatever it was. Not good at all.
He could hear the bedroom door open and close next to him. Footsteps in the hall. Sleep impossible now, he pulled out the little I-Pad that Kristie had gotten him for Christmas. He looked up Chan, Ron, Stanford.
Bingo, found him! Got to love this Internet stuff, huh? Right there, ‘Ronald Chan, PH D., graduated summa cum laude, Stanford University. Biochemistry and genetics research. Currently working at Bio-Tech, Industries, San Francisco, CA. Articles by Dr. Chan include. . .’
Sam stopped reading. Biochemistry, genetics research. Glowing rabbits?
His head hurt. He popped in some more words into the Internet and read how scientists had learned to take the florescent glow DNA from jellyfish and transfer that DNA gene into small animals like rats and mice.
And rabbits? Sam thought warily to himself. What the Hell is going on here?
Getting up, he pulled the grey tunic over his T-shirt and pulled the drawstring tight on his pants. Pushing some shoes on his feet, he slipped into the hall and rapped on Chan’s door.
“Chan, you in there? It’s Sam. I heard you and it sounded like you. . . were sick or something.”
He was greeted with silence. He looked right and left. The hallway was empty.
Probably either still asleep in their rooms or had already left for mediation.
For a moment, he tamped his mustache. Then, cautiously, he tried the door handle. It was locked. Turning, he made his way to the end of the dorm corridor and out the exit to the grounds. Walking alongside the building, he found the window to his room, checked for his stuff and counted over one room. Chan’s room was behind a large bush. He peeked inside. No one there. The window was open a little.
Glancing around, he saw that the only people were yards away, busy getting to the next class. Sam got behind the bush and put both hands under the wooden window casing and pushed up. It made a creaking noise. Sam winced but felt sure no one was around to hear it.
Pushing the window more, he was able to stick a leg through and then pull his body in. He tried to ignore the twinges. Doing a quick reconnoiter, he confirmed he was the only one in the room. It was slightly larger than his, with room for two twin beds; although, still sparsely furnished and no bath. The beds were made, and he could see suitcases hurriedly shoved under the beds.
On tiptoe, he checked at the door, leaned his ear against the wood and heard nothing. He locked the top lock from the inside.
If one of them comes back, he smiled, they’d have to fumble with the key and lock. That will give me time to get out the window again.
He pulled the first case out from under the bed. It was a modern, hard-clam shell design. Kristie’s daughters both had this type. He popped it open and confirmed quickly this belonged to Ronald Chan. A California Driver’s license was in a leather wallet stuck under some clothes.
“Nothing much there we didn’t know,” he whispered.
On his knees, he inched over to the other bed and pulled out the second suitcase. It was old and worn with an old-fashioned boxy shape and travel stickers stuck to the outside.
“Geese, looks like one my grandma had.”
He had to jimmy the locks to get them open. There had been an attempt to lock them, but they were so old, it was easy to get them undone.
Sam rummaged through worn underwear and found what he was looking for. A dark red Chinese passport issued to one Dr. Yang Lee, Ph. D., Department of the Interior. The rest was in Chinese and Sam couldn’t read a word. He did see that the last port in China had been Beijing.
About one month before, so…
Sam heard voices coming down the hall. He jammed the passport back into the suitcase, carefully closed the lid and pushed the locks back in place. Shoving it back under the bed he scampered back to the window. His foot banged against something and he almost cursed. Looking down he saw an empty metal cage with a little food bowl with pellets and another bowl for water. It was empty but looked just big enough to hold a rabbit.
He slid through the window and then scraped along behind the bush to his window. Repeating the same action, he pushed the window up and climbed back into his room. He tiptoed over to the wall again and could hear curses from outside the next door.
“Why doesn’t this damn lock open?” Rattling.
“Let me try my key.” Shuffling sounds. “There, it was just stuck.” The door opened, then closed.
“No, I told you I have to have more time to think. Plus, there’s Fluffy. I need to get him back before we leave. We can’t just leave him here for someone to find.” Chan’s voice.
“I told you not to bring that animal. Now he’s evidence. If I get my hands on him, I’ll. . .”
“No, you won’t! He’s my rabbit. I’ll find him.”
“See that you do. Now at least one of us has to go to that damn class or we’ll be missed.”
“I’ll look for Fluffy.”
The door banged open then shut. Sam was still listening. He thought he heard soft crying. He decided to get to class if, for no other reason, then to see what Lee was up to.
Sam entered the big hall from the rear and sat in the very back row. He moved so he could keep his eye on Lee. Unfortunately, the man simply followed along with the group and did nothing unusual.
Sam tried hard to focus but found it impossible. His eyes kept popping open and searching the room for Chan. Lee stayed in place and Chan never showed. By the end of mediation, Sam felt more aggravated than ever.
Why didn’t that asshole, Lee, just do something already?
Exasperated, he got up and followed the group out. Most people sprinkled out on the grounds for an hour or so before dinner. Sam followed Lee back to the dorm and let himself into his own room. He sat silently on his bed listening. He could hear the creaking of bedsprings, but no more conversation.
Where was Chan?
Sam set the alarm on his phone and dozed off. Ninety minutes later the alarm rang off and his eyes opened. He lay still and listened. There were voices drifting in from the grounds, but the room next door was quiet. He waited a few moments, got up and listened at the wall. Nothing.
Washing his face, he combed his blond/white hair and scowled at his own reflection. Blue eyes looked back at him. He hated inaction and he was overwhelmed with a feeling of nameless dread. That something bad was about to happen or had already happened. Leaving his door, he paused again outside Chan’s room. It was silent. He knocked and there was no answer. A frisson of fear washed over him.
He scurried to the dining hall. Ignoring the waves and calls from Lydia, he planted himself heavily next to Huang. Straining his neck around, he looked to see if the kid was here. No Chan. Sam swallowed some bites of food. Washing it down with some tea, he leaned over to Huang.
“Can I talk to you, after dinner?”
Huang turned slightly toward Sam. A look of surprise was rapidly followed by one of concern.
When dinner was over, the usual contingent of people crowded around the master, but he was able to gracefully wave them away. He looked over at Sam.
“Needs to be in your office,” Sam told him.
Huang nodded and headed back to the main building. Settled in the sanctum-sanctorum, Sam closed the door. Huang raised an eyebrow but sat back in his chair.
Finally, “Yes?” was all Huang asked.
Sam hardly knew where to start. It was all so fantastic. Red Chinese, glowing bunnies, disappearing scientists. Was he crazy?
“It’s like this,” he started. Pretty soon it was all tumbling out before Sam even knew it. Huang nodded, his face serious.
“So, what now, Sam-Shi?”
Sam pause and took a deep breath. He thought.
“We need to find Chan. We need to find him now.”
Huang nodded. He picked up a little brass bell and rang it. His major-domo appeared and there was some rapid-fire conversation between the two. The language, which Sam now knew to be Korean, was a complete word salad to him. He understood nothing. The conversation stopped abruptly, and the Domo bowed, turned and left. Sam could hear him calling out to other staffers giving what sounded like commands.
“What now?” Sam asked.
“We wait.” Huang replied.
Sam shifted uncomfortably. Huang responded. “They will find him. If he is here.”
They sat in silence. Huang poured out some of the golden tea he always kept simmering in a side pot. Sam savored the taste and light flower aroma of the tea. A long twenty minutes passed. Suddenly, there was a commotion at the front door. It was the Domo, he was back, waving rapidly.
“Come, come!” he shouted.
Huang and Sam hurried out of the building and were herded over to the laundry facility. The door was open, the light on. Sam could see people inside the room, bending over something. He rushed inside to see Chan slumped against the wall, legs stuck straight out in front of him and bleeding from the forehead. He ran to the young man’s side, terrified he was dead.
“Chan, Chan.” The eyelids fluttered; a huge red shiner rising on his forehead.
“Oh, thank God,” Sam said holding Chan’s cold hand. “Can you hear me?”
Chan’s eyes fluttered open. “Sam,” the eyes closed. Someone had called 911 and Sam could hear an ambulance siren wailing in the distance. Soon, paramedics arrived and took over.
An hour later, Chan was on his bed with a bandage around his head. He had been cleaned up and given a pain killer.
“He’ll have a slight concussion,” the medic told Sam, “but he’ll be okay. Don’t let him drive.”
Sam and Huang both nodded and waved goodbye as the ambulance left.
They were now both in Chan’s room sitting on chairs next to him. He was coming around. Sam could see that Fluffy was back in his cage and that Lee’s suitcase was gone.
“Tell us what happened, my son,” Huang prodded gently.
Chan started to cry. “I’m going to get fired. I’ll never work in this state again. I’m going to jail.” He leaned forward and held his head in his hands.
Huang looked at Sam and back at Chan. “Breathe, my son, breathe. In and out. In and out.”
Chan finally started to slow his breathing and calm down a little. He opened his mouth several times but nothing came out.
“One step at a time, Chan. One step.” Sam said slowly.
There was a little gasp. “He took my card.” Chan pointed to the lump on his head.
“Your card?” Sam raised his eyebrows.
“My, my ID card for Bio-tech. He’s got my card to get into the lab.”
“Okay, okay.” Sam tried to stay calm himself. “That’s not a problem is it? Certainly, there are other levels of security there?”
Chan started to cry again and began rocking back and forth.
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand.” He sobbed incoherently.
Huang put a hand on his arm. “Tell us Chan, so we will understand.”
Chan sucked in a big breath. “He got my finger prints.”
“Your fingerprints,” Sam asked, “how?”
Chan’s eyes got wide. “He had these soft plastic gloves.” He stuck out his hand to demonstrate. “You put your hand in the glove and press down. It molds to your fingertips and leaves an impression of the prints.” He pointed to his own fingertips. “When it dries and hardens, it’s a permanent glove with a set of your prints.”
Sam and Huang looked at each other blankly.
“Don’t you understand?” Chan’s voice started to rise. “He can get past the second layer of security and into the lab with my prints.”
There was a long pause. “What does he want?” Sam asked.
“The embryo,” Chan answered simply. “He wants the embryo.”
Sam felt fear wash over him. “We got to go,” he told both men. “Get him up, Huang!” he ran for his room to get his phone and car keys. He hustled the two men out and into his truck, starting the engine and hitting the speed dial for the FBI.
Sam Does Meditation – Part II – Courtney Webb
(Previously, Sam Reynold, PI, gets very bored with life and needs a change. He gets an invitation from Green Veil Monastery to come for a weekend retreat and decides to go.) Part II
Later that week: Green Veil Monastery
Sam checked in at the office and confirmed his payment. Going out the door, he was greeted effusively by Brother Huang.
“Sam- shi! So, good to have you back!” Huang made a low bow and then put his hand out for a shake, American style.
Sam extended his hand and the brother pulled him into a hug and clapped his back.
“Nice to be back, Brother Huang.” Sam said somewhat uncertainly. He was still not convinced this was a totally sane idea.
“Yes, yes. You unpack your things and we have lunch, yes?”
Sam was a fit sixty-six years and worked when he felt like it. He had met Brother Huang a few months before when he had tracked a missing woman to the Green Veil. Brother Huang had helped Sam with the woman and then offered a invitation to come back and learn meditation ‘sometime’.
Sam nodded and was led to his tiny dorm room by the silent major-domo of Huang. A tall, skinny young man, he waved Sam into the room and promptly left.
At first, Sam felt like the young man was being rude. Then, as he unpacked his bag he thought to himself, He’s neither friendly nor unfriendly. He’s just neutral. That’s different. Oh well, time for lunch.
Sam took his shoes off at the door and was lead to some low tables. With an uncomfortable grunt, he lowered himself to the floor. Immediately, one of the servers handed him a big pillow to sit upon. He schooted his butt onto the fluffy square with relief.
Getting up will be fun, he grimaced, thinking about the arthritis in his hips.
However, he forget his aches as he was soon chatting with Brother Huang and other guests. The servers ran back and forth with big aluminum trays covered with an array of dishes.
The table was soon covered; a female server brought him a fork wrapped in a napkin and bowed. He thanked her. He realized, looking around, other people at the table were eating with chopsticks.
Hum, he told himself, one step at a time, maybe tomorrow.
His senses were entranced by smells coming from the mix of little separate bowls. Many of the items he did not recognize. He started with fish and rice, two things he knew. He began to eat. Ah, surprisingly good! He wolfed down some more of what looked like trout and started to gingerly pick at a couple of other offerings.
There was an assortment of guests at the table. A couple of middle-aged female school teachers were to one side. They babbled incessantly at Huang about the benefits of meditation. On another side, were a couple of millennials on short holiday from the IT tech business. They mostly talked and laughed with each other about people and events only they knew. An assortment of other types were scattered down the row. The staffers were also having lunch. Sam could hear them practicing their English with the Americans. They would frequently lapse back into their native tongue. Sam, not a language expert, thought maybe it sounded like Korean.
“So, you new here?” The little woman to his left peered up at him with enormous blue eyes. She smiled brilliantly. For a moment, he was taken aback by her silver jewelry. Trinkets occupied every spot on her neck, ears and fingers. They tinkled when she moved, and various stones winked at him.
“Ah. . .” He mentally shook himself. “Yes, first time, very first time.”
“Oh, you’ll love it!” She gushed. “We just love it. Don’t we, Silvia?” she turned to her companion. Silvia sat bent over her food. She had drab, straight brown hair cut in a plain bob. Steel rim glasses adorned her nose and she wore what looked like a dark green painters frock.
Silvia nodded dumbly and kept eating.
“I’m Lydia. Lydia Glass. And you are. . .?” She extended a tiny hand.
Sam managed to put down his fork a moment to shake her hand.
“Sam, Sam Reynolds, ma’am.” He grabbed his fork up.
“Oh, Silvia, he called me ma’am! Isn’t that just adorable?” Lydia gushed some more.
The younger woman nodded slightly.
“Silvia’s my daughter,” Lydia explained with a wave.
She turned back to Sam. “So, what are you in for?” She beamed.
“In for. . .?” Sam stared a moment. “Oh, you mean, why am I here?” he tamped down his mustache.
“Drugs, alcohol, broken heart. . .?” The little lady gestured expansively around the room. Sam noticed her thick, hot pink fingernails.
Acrylic? He thought. Aw, Kristie would know.
Lydia leaned toward Sam and batted extremely long eyelashes at him. They reminded him a little of black spiders.
“We came for weight loss, didn’t we, Sylvie?” Sylvia kept eating.
“You. . .?” she dazzled Sam with the whiteness of her teeth as she smiled again.
“Ah. . . smoking.” He managed to get out. “Stopped smoking on my own, but still keep having cravings and I don’t want to go back to it.”
“Ah, smoking! The Devil’s own handmaiden. I know, I know.” Lydia inched closer to Sam. “I never smoked, of course. My dead husband would have never stood for it. But, I understand from all my friends who are ex-smokers that it is the very worst thing to quit!”
Sam started to choke from the intense smell of Lydia’s perfume. It had a musty, cloying aroma he didn’t like. He looked up to see Brother Huang watching him, eyes twinkling.
“Sam-Shi, are you about finished? Would you like a tour?” Brother called out.
Sam stuffed in a last mouthful of rice and nodded. He began the laborious process of uncoiling out from under the table. At 5’11”, Sam wasn’t the tallest American going. Still, he was having a devil of a time trying to figure out where to put his long legs and an equally tough time retreiving them.
With some more grunting he managed to get up. He immediately felt sharp twinges in his back.
Lydia began to protest that they were almost done and could come too. She began shoveling rice into her mouth.
Huang put out a stopping hand, “No need, no need, ladies. Take your time, please. They will be serving coffee very soon. You can tell some of our newer members about the benefits of your meditation practice.” He bowed low and placed a hand under Sam’s elbow, quickly steered him out of the dining room.
Outside, Sam had to stop, bend over, hands on knees, and take a couple of deep breaths.
“Oh, my. That perfume she was wearing.”
Brother Huang laughed lightly. “Ah, the lady Lydia. She is a widow and is what I think you American’s call ‘husband hunting.’ ”
“Wow, I guess so,” was Sam’s reply. “What a get-up. Why not take a cruise? I hear that’s a great way to meet new people.”
Huang glanced over his shoulder and continued walking. “Between the two of us, that is her very next stop.”
“Does she really do the meditation thing?”
“Oh, yes. I think maybe it is to calm anxiety and get rid of wrinkles.” Huang laughed.
Sam was breathing again and had to chuckle. “Well, I don’t know about wrinkles. But, it is true about the smoking thing. I have been craving cigarettes again and it was dang hard to stop the first time.”
His companion nodded. “Understood, understood. I have heard such a thing many times. Come, we will get you some proper clothes for mediation and we will begin in the big hall at 1 pm.”
Huang led Sam into a little laundry/clothing facility. The girl started to measure Sam for the tunic/pants combo he would be wearing.
“You are very tall, Sam-Shi but I think Yumi will be able to find you something. I will see you at 1:00.”
“Yes, you will and Brother Huang,” Sam was sincere, “thanks for rescuing me back there.”
Huang smiled, did a low bow and disappeared out the door.
Sam got his clothes and went back to his dorm room for a wash-up and a little lie down before the class started.
He lay down on his bed, which was mercifully not on the floor, and texted Kristie.
“I here, the weather is great. XOXO.”
“Oh, good, sweetie. Thanks so much for understanding about the kid thing.” She texted back.
“No problem, have a good time.”
She texted back a row of kissy faces. He turned off his text and closed his eyes.
He dozed for a few minutes when he became aware of the sound of voices. The voices were fairly close. Male? The sound was muffled. It didn’t sound like an argument exactly, but certainly edging toward a disagreement.
“Jesus. Can’t you leave that stuff behind for three days,” he mumbled and turned over pulling the pillow over his head.
The alarm on his phone went off and he sat up. Damn, the class starts in five minutes. Got to hustle.
End of Part II