Tuesday 7 – Wednesday 8 July 2015
Two paintings wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine were delivered to Albert Monroe’s office. Richards had propped them against his employer’s desk, off to the side of Darcy Entwhistle’s knees. Monroe’s smug smile nauseated Phillipa. There wasn’t a single, redeemable thing about the man.
‘Your paintings.’ Monroe gestured with an open palm to the packages. ‘And now I’d like to count my money.’
Phillipa clutched her briefcase tighter, pulling it closer to her chest. She returned Monroe’s smile.
‘There’s just one tiny problem as I see it, Albert. How do we know that you wrapped the correct artwork? It’s not like it was done in front of us. For my peace of mind, we’re going to have to unwrap these and make sure we’re getting what we’re paying for.’
Her demand irked Monroe. Nobody told him what to do. He hadn’t created a lucrative business by being told what to do. No, he was the one doing the telling and demanding. Who was this little upstart anyway? The trouble was, he liked her. She had spunk.
‘It’s not that I don’t trust you, Albert, I simply . . . well, it is that I don’t trust you. I have no reason to trust you. We’ve never conducted business before, and in those circumstances, I never trust anyone until they prove that they are trustworthy. You understand, right?’
Monroe nodded. He did understand. It was exactly how he conducted business with unknowns.
Phillipa yanked the brown paper away from one painting whilst Darcy ripped into the other. The art looked genuine enough, but both Darcy and Phillipa knew better than to rely on looks. An intense course on distinguishing fakes from real art prior to going undercover had taken as much preparation time as researching Albert Monroe. Still, Phillipa wasn’t entirely sure that the six-week course would hold up under the pressure she felt now.
‘You know, Albert,’ Darcy saved her from making another move. ‘Albert, I’m a little concerned about the fact that this corner of this painting, right here, isn’t quite Monet-ish.’
‘Monet-ish?’ Monroe asked.
‘What are you trying to say, Mr. Entwhistle?’
‘This isn’t really a Monet, is it, Mr. Monroe?’ Darcy replied.
‘Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s a Monet.’
Phillipa pulled at the wrapping a little more, exposing a greater portion of the painting. From her handbag she retrieved a small illuminated jeweller’s eye loupe, and examined the artwork more closely. Taking her time, she pored over the canvas in her hands, examining every inch of the work, every brush stroke, every choice of paint colour. Monroe watch Darcy and Phillipa as intently as they were examining the paintings. He began to sweat. He was so close to closing this deal, and walking away with in excess of fifty five million dollars.
‘Let me assure you, these paintings are the real thing. I don’t deal in anything other than genuine.’ Sweat beaded profusely along his top lip. He hadn’t been this nervous in a business transaction since the very first deal he made at nineteen years of age. It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. ‘Why would you suggest that my paintings aren’t genuine, Mr. Entwhistle?’
Darcy snickered. ‘I was just playing with you. Just wanted to see what you’d do, and how you’d react to someone suggesting they were fakes. I’m just playing. I’m a playful kinda guy is all.’
Phillipa shot him a look that could have killed him on the spot. ‘Sometimes my husband behaves like an absolute idiot, Albert. Please, excuse his need to be moronic.’
Back in the surveillance van, Duncan Stirling shook his head.
‘I knew that guy was the wrong choice. Darcy Holmes has an inability to take any undercover operation seriously. Jesus, I hope he hasn’t screwed this one up. John, when Phillipa and Darcy get back, remind me to tear Darcy a new one.’
* * * * *
‘Hineman, I want you and Moore to get ready to bring Monroe in. I can’t wait any longer, and I think Stirling’s buffoons are going to kill this for us.’ Carlton Barlow missed the days of landline phones. Pressing the ‘end’ button of a cell phone didn’t punctuate the end of a phone conversation quite as well as slamming a phone receiver back into its cradle, especially when you were as pissed off as Barlow. An entire operation, thousands of man-hours invested in research and surveillance, all of it currently hanging on two undercover operatives from a rival department in the agency. Barlow said a silent prayer to a deity he wasn’t sure if he still had any faith in, made the sign of the cross, swallowed four paracetamol tablets, and chased them with the remains of a chocolate thickshake heavy on the malt. If nothing else, Barlow had enough sugar in his body to get him through the next couple of hours, and with a little bit of luck, Hineman and Moore would have Monroe in cuffs and sitting in an interrogation room waiting for him.
* * * * *
Phillipa relinquished her briefcase to Monroe, and watched as he opened the case, and quickly counted the cash.
‘I’m happy to say that you are now the owner of a very expensive and sought after painting, Mrs. Entwhistle. Mr. Entwhistle, are you really interested in purchasing the painting that you’re holding?’ He slipped the briefcase under his desk, never taking his eyes off of Darcy’s face.
‘Well, Mr. Monroe, that’s where we sort of hit a snag,’ replied Darcy.
‘And what might that be?’ Monroe leaned forward on the desk.
‘You’re going to need to remove my wife’s case and all of the money that she gave you from under your desk. Once you’ve done that, you’re going to give it all back to her, and you’re going to do it right now.’
Monroe sneered. ‘And what if I don’t? What are you going to do?’
Darcy bent forward, flipped open his briefcase, and pulled out a handgun, levelling it at Monroe’s head. ‘Bang! Right between your eyes. Now pass my wife her case full of cash. Please.’
. . . To be continued . . .