Case of the Duplicitous Palette - 1
In Dublin, the day dawned quickly and brightly for so early in Spring, and Frank Sullivan delighted in the smell of dew on the first mow of grass as he walked along searching for a taxi. Frank reluctantly gives up a stroll through Dublin’s Phoenix Park and enters the National Police building on this beautiful day. He works there as an Interpol Inspector, National Central Bureau, and closely with the Irish National Police. The telephone rings as he approaches the door with his name prominent in gold leaf.
“Sullivan here. May I assist you?”
“This is Lieutenant Anthony Marcus of the New York FBI Art Recovery Team. I understand you are looking for a Cezanne painting; View of Auvers-sur-Oise.”
“Yes, Mister Marcus, it was stolen from the Duke Charles Museum at Oxford University. All Interpol is looking for View of Auvers-sur-Oise, and the other paintings stolen, and naturally the thieves. Do you have information concerning its whereabouts?”
“Possibly, Inspector. A copy was offered to a high-end New York gallery as a certified copy commissioned by the Cezanne Society International, including a framed and signed certificate. The gallery owner says the painting is a fine, almost an undetectable copy except for some leaves on one tree where the brush strokes do not match those on other trees. Unfortunately, the gallery will not tell us who offered the piece. They’re afraid of possible gang connection and a negative press should the newspapers learn of the offer.”
“What makes the gallery feel that way? Have they received threats? Has anyone other than the salesman visited them about the copy?”
“No, but as of today, we believe there is no Cezanne Society International. However, we are looking at so many Cezanne groups across the globe that It’s impossible to say. It is a mammoth undertaking.
“Then all you know is that an offer has been made. But by someone unknown, and the painting is near perfect. Most likely a copy of the missing original.”
“You could say that, Inspector. However, we are looking at the larger picture. We believe a collection of stolen paintings from Oxford is still intact and being copied by experts. We are trying to determine if other suspected copies have been offered in Europe and precisely where. All ports of entry in the US are closely watched by the FBI and the police. We hope to track any copies to the seller. Any information Interpol can give the FBI concerning the sale or attempted sale of copies could conceivably be helpful in the recovery of the originals. Believe me, when I say the seller will reveal all when he is apprehended,” Lieutenant Marcus stressed.
“I’ll do my best. I’ll save you time and massive red tape. Usually, I would refer you to headquarters, but I have many friends in the US and understand your law enforcement.” Sullivan replied.
“That’s precisely why we are calling you, Inspector. You are well known here for your undercover work and action against the Provisional IRA in that case about illegal guns. We’ll be awaiting your communication. And, If we discover anything further, I’ll be in touch,” Marcus said.
In Boston, Scott Wadsworth exited the front gate of his home on Beacon Hill’s Walnut Street, stopped to light his pipe, and headed to the rear entrance to the Massachusetts Statehouse.
For three years, Scott has been heading up the Special Investigation Office under the State Attorney while maintaining a lucrative law practice with several efficient lawers in his employ.
Since cleaning up the Riverville murder case and the South Boston and Ellensvile gangs, all connected to illegal guns destined for Ireland, Scott’s life as Special Investigator has been slow. Considering the low number of severe and complex cases handed to him, his work for the Commonwealth has been tedious.
This particular morning, Scott planned on talking to his boss, Matthew Hart, about updating equipment for his men, but after reading the Cablegram from Frank Sullivan, which he found lying on his desk, changed his plans. He picked up the telephone and called to make sure Matt was in before going to his office. On the way to Hart’s office, Sgt. Allan Rockford, Scott’s driver, walks along a side corridor. Scott sees him and waits to join Allan.
“What’s up, Boss?” Allan asked in his perpetually cheerful voice.
“Pretty heavy stuff, Allan. Come with me and listen to what I have for Matt.”
Matt Hart held up his hand to indicate stop when Scott and Allan opened the door to his office. Hart proceeded to take the cover off a paper cup of coffee and took two large swallows, then motioned the two men into his office.
“You guys know me and my morning coffee, and I trust you will forgive my rudeness. Please have a seat and tell me what this is all about.”
Scott handed Hart the Cablegram, and he read it twice before asking, “Do you think we can help at all? How is your schedule?”
“To the first, I have no idea. I’d have to talk to Harry Malison. To the second, there is nothing on my schedule that one of my investigators can’t handle,” Scott answered.
“OK, then, you run with it, but if you decide we can’t help Inspector Sullivan, don’t waste a lot of time. Personally, I hope we can. Sullivan sure helped us when we, the FBI, and the ATF were after the guns and the gangs.”
“Oh boy,” Allan said when he and Scott returned to Scott’s office. “Something we can get our teeth into again. I was getting bored with the way things have been going lately.”
“Well, don’t get too excited, Sergeant. Wait until we hear what Harry has to say. He might tell me to stay out of it, that it’s the Art Theft Team’s business. I’ll set up lunch with him today. Where would you like to have lunch?” Scott asked Allan.
“I wouldn’t mind a small Pizza at Angelo’s, or Jake Wirths is fine too,” Allan offered with a smile.
Scott dialed up the FBI and heard, “Well, Dear Husband, I’m surprised to hear your voice so early. Are we being invaded or something?”
“Don’t get smart with me this early in the day, or you’ll get yours tonight, Scott warned.”
“Oh My, I’ll have to be snippy with you more often,” Nancy said, prodding Scott further with a chuckle. “Hold on, the Regional Director just walked in.”
“What now, Wadsworth? I haven’t heard from you since the party at Angelo’s to conclude that hair pulling Riverville case. So you must want something from me.” Harry ranted.
“Calm down, Harry. I have one straightforward question that you won’t even have to think about.”
“OK, Gumshoe, hit me.”
“Do you have a department under your command called an Art Recovery Team?”
“No, this FBI office doesn’t warrant one, even though we are a regional office. They are limited to the larger area offices, but New York City has one of their very own.”
“Thank you, Harry, and thank the FBI for its support of the individual citizen. Let’s lunch sometime.”
“That husband of yours will put me in the booby-hatch someday,” Harry advised Nancy. He asks me a question about an Art Recovery Team. I give him a straightforward answer; he thanks me and abruptly drops the subject leaving me to wonder what it’s all about.”
“Sorry. I can’t help you, Harry. Try to forget about it, why don’t you. He’s probably asking for a client. Scott hasn’t mentioned anything to me about art, FBI, recovery, or team,” Nancy said with a sympathetic tone.
“I’m sorry, Allan, but that lunch with Harry is off for now,” Scott said. “Please go to the conference room, or the Squad Room, as it’s called by our associates, and bring back Qualter, Guatino, and Simmons. I have to see Matt Hart again but will be right back.”
“Matt, I heard you mention security problems at the Annabelle Garson Museum. Can you expand on that a bit for me?”
“Oh, Lord! You’ve gone and let that cable from Sullivan get to you. Let’s not go looking for trouble where there isn’t any. Simply put, a member of the board at the museum has some concerns. The rest of the board closed their minds to these perceived problems, holding to the idea that “no one will dare defile the sanctity of this great institution,” Those are the words of the board member who approached me, so please don’t go ruffling any feathers at the museum.”
“I, or my men, will not speak one word to any board member, Matt. I just want to look at the security measures employed there and find any flaws. Poor security, hinted at in Sullivan’s cable, is one thing Interpol is apprehensive about in Europe’s older museums. If I can help Frank along those lines, I feel this office is obligated.”
“Perhaps so,” Matt grudgingly replied. “One day and only one, then back off and send your cable to Sullivan.”
“Thanks, Matt. Tomorrow is the day and the end of it.”
Guatino and Simmons were waiting when Scott returned to his office, and Simmons explained that Buck Qualter was on a stamp collection theft in the town of Acton, worth a couple of million dollars.
“Yes, I remember that. It’s been a couple of weeks, hasn’t it?” Scott asked.
“Two and a half weeks, Sir. Qualter will be giving you a report later today or tomorrow morning.”
“Then this is for you, Guatino. Simmons, I need you here for a while, but your day will come,” Scott promised.
Scott explained the copy and theft to the two men and Frank Sullivan’s veiled cry for help while Al Guatino took notes.
“To be clear, you want me to unobtrusively wander through the museum, like an art lover, and note fundamental break-in and room security problems. Right?” Guatino asked.
“Precisely. I also want you to look the part, so hop over there today and watch people going in and out. Pick a look and copy it even if you have to rent some clothing.”
“One more thing, Al. Do not ask any questions about the security and avoid talking to anyone. People who know art would tag you as a phony right away.”
“OK, Boss. I’m on my way.”
The following morning, Al Guatino showed up in a belted Irish Tweed jacket and cap with tan corduroy trousers and pebble-grained brown leather shoes. His green on white pin-dot open-necked shirt topped it all off.
“Don’t laugh at me, Boss. I saw several guys looking close to this, with variations, of course. I couldn’t bring myself to tie a silk neckerchief around my neck.”
“You look fine, Al, and right at home for this part of the country. You’ll blend right in. Where did you get the clothes?”
“I bought them. To tell the truth, I sort of like the look, so I’ll pay for the clothes.”
“OK, but if you change your mind within a couple of months, submit a bill with the receipts.”
“Thanks for the option, Boss. The museum doesn’t open until ten o’clock, so I’ll hang around here for a while longer.”
“You know,” Scott commented, “An Irish Slouch Hat would look great with that jacket, but only in the fall or winter. You should look into it. There are plenty of Irish Product specialty stores around.”
Guatino left Scott’s office with a smile and went to the Squad Room to show his outfit to Simmons before leaving for the Annabelle Garson Museum.
Later that morning, Simmons came to Wadsworth’s office with two paper cups of coffee just as Scott was lighting his second pipe of the day.
“Glad you stopped by, Mark, and with coffee. I have a job for you. Do some research and try to determine the number of Cezanne groups, clubs, societies, or the like, located in significant world countries. I’m specifically looking for a Cezanne Society International, but all of it will be helpful.”
“I don’t think we will find stuff like that in our library, Sir. I’ll have to go to the main branch of Boston Public Library.”
“Go wherever you think you have to. I’ll be OK with the Steno Pool if I have a need. And please stop calling me Sir. It’s Scott, Boss, or Wadsworth, got it?” Scott sternly added.
“Yes, Boss. How long do I have for this assignment?”
“I’m not sure. Keep at it until you find a Cezanne Society International, or I tell you to stop.”
Allan sat in a chair tilted back against a wall looking out a window. He quietly let all four legs of the chair down to the floor and turned to Scott.
“Boss, I’d like to point out something that I don’t think you’re aware of.”
Scott looked up from whatever he was writing, placed his pen in its holder, leaned back, and said, “Go ahead then, Oh Sage of mine.”
“Please remember that you rescued Simmons from the BPD hit-men and spent a tremendous amount of time and energy keeping him safe after he was shot. You even staged an entire fake funeral to throw off his assassins. In his mind, he owes you his life. His family has to feel the same. Ten-to-one, he is under orders from his dad to always use Sir when addressing you. They’re that kind of family. Please don’t get so aggravated at his show of respect.”
“Right again, Allan. Thank you. I don’t know how you do it. For me, that whole episode is ancient history. I should realize it won’t be old to the Simmons family for a long time.”
Before leaving for the day, Scott said, “Allan, do you think that job I gave Simmons is too much for one man?”
“Not for that man. I think he would search his entire life for you. It would be completed faster with more resources, though,” Allan replied.
“I’ll call Frank Gray tomorrow and see if he can put Consolidated News Service on the search. I hope he doesn’t get as upset as Harry Malison.”
“Why should he?” Allan responded. You three go back to the first world war and beyond. How many guys can say that! As long as I’ve been around, you three have used your wartime intelligence training for good causes and, together, have put down Nazi and gangster activities in this state and across the country. I’d think the three of you should feel proud to help one another.”
“OK, message understood. I’ll proceed tomorrow, undaunted by my conscience and guilt. Now, let’s go to my place and wait for Nancy. I feel like having a great meal at Parker’s. How about you, Allan?”
“Whatever you say, Boss. I haven’t seen Nancy for weeks, and I can already taste Parker’s Own Single Malt.”
“I have a bottle at home,” Scott announced. “That will give us something to do while we wait.”
Nancy decided she wanted to walk to the Parker House for the exercise. “I spent a solid eight hours in my chair today. Toward the end, I had the jitters and wanted to walk home but knew you were waiting, so I took a cab. If you wish to see any civility from me this evening, we will walk.”
“The Beef Stroginof I had at Parkers last night was amazing,” Allan said when Scott entered the car the following morning, “Where to, Boss?”
“State Street South via a coffee shop somewhere. I need a good boost this morning.”
“I didn’t think Scotch and Champaign would set well together, but I know you drank it for Nancy’s sake.”
After two cups of coffee and sorting out his phone messages, Scott called Consolidated News Service and held for seven minutes before Frank Gray came on the line.
“Scott! Good to hear from you. How’s Nancy? Do you have anything interesting going on? Can I help you with something?” Frank excitedly rambled.
“Fine, yes, and yes,” Scott answered with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “You can help me by looking up the Cezanne Society International. I’m not sure it exists, but I’d like to see anything you come up with.”
“That’s Cezanne, the painter, I presume. Can you tell me what’s going on with that, Scott?”
“Not presently. However, I’ll tell you that Frank Sullivan is involved. As is the New York FBI’s Art Recovery Team. Also, as usual, you will have the first chance at anything newsworthy developing from this activity.”
“I’m on it, buddy, and will get inquiries out today. And many thanks for the first chance promise.”
“You really didn’t expect anything less after what we’ve been through, did you? I’ll be waiting to hear from you soon,” Scott answered.
Annie entered the outer office, noticed Scott’s suit jacked on the rack, and went directly to his office.
“Morning, Boss. Didn’t know you would be in today. Anything I can do for you?”
“Yes, there is. Please call these three people and set up appointments for next Tuesday afternoon,” Scott said as he handed her the phone messages. Return the rest of the calls and politely tell them we are at capacity and unable to help them.”
As Annie went to the outer office, Scott lifted a pipe from the rack behind his desk, filled it from his draw-string Suede pouch, lit the tobacco, and sat back in his old wood chair, rubbing his forehead.
Allan moved to the corner of Scott’s desk, saying, “What’s going on, Boss? Are you ill or something? You look worried and have been barking at folks this morning.”
“I’m fine, Allan. I’m concerned that I’m overstepping my authority with this copied art thing. Matt told me to take one day and then send a Cablegram to Sullivan. My gut tells me this is a massive international operation we’re looking at. Actually, it’s not a swindle. By all reports, the copies are nearly perfect. They are, however, copies of stolen art. I think the one the New York FBI is looking into is just the beginning of a worldwide effort to sell many copies of various ripped-off artworks. I will eventually have to tell Matt what I’m doing. Either I’m correct, or I’m fired.”
“You’ve never been wrong since I’ve known you,” Allan said. “If you don’t trust your judgment on this one, drop it now and send the cable. If Frank Gray feeds you anything to substantiate your intuition, you can always pick it up again. If I were you, I’d keep it to myself for a while longer. At least until Frank contacts you.”
“I’ll have to think on that one, but you might be right. There’s no point in dropping the ax on myself before it’s necessary.
Annie came in with the phone message slips and dropped them on Scott’s desk. “Thought you might want to refer to these later. If not, I’m through with them. I’ll remind you of your appointments next Tuesday.”
“Good, Thanks, Annie. Anything else I’m needed for today?” Receiving a negative answer, Scott continued, “Then I’ll be going to the statehouse. Tell Adam that I’ll want to see that distribution contract before submitting it to the client. There is some specific language to be used if the contract is solidly unbreakable. I want to know that it’s there.”
Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired. Oh, and in case you didn't notice.... he's a pipe smoker too.
Copyright Ernest N. Whitenack © 2022
All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Historical research, thanks to Wikipedia, FBI cases, and miscellaneous reading.This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, andincidents are the products of the author’s imagination or fictitious. Real places and names are used in a fictional manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is purely coincidental.