Part 5: Ars Gratia Artis
Blair felt like he’d only just closed his eyes in sleep when Jim’s loud voice boomed throughout the loft.
“Come on, Chief! Shake a leg! We have a few hours to get some work done without Interpol looking over our shoulders. Simon wants us to talk to the director of the University Museum about their security. Did you hear me? Come on!”
Sandburg stumbled out of bed and dragged himself to the bathroom for a quick shower. Darn it! Jim had used up all the hot water again. When Blair came out, he had goosebumps from the cold.
They were greeted at the museum by the put-upon director. He was a small, hawkish man with a high-pitched voice that made Jim wince. He dialed his hearing down a notch to take the edge off.
The director looked around at all the officers and specialists checking out the museum and sniffed with disapproval. “I don’t know why the University insisted on asking for police assistance. We have our own specially trained guards and the latest, most ingenious security systems. No thief would be able to steal from one of our exhibits.”
“Nevertheless, Mr. Calloway, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We’ve been told by Interpol that this man is extremely clever. He’s stolen from several supposedly ‘secure’ facilities and seems to be especially interested in works by French artists. Your exhibit does have several paintings that fit that criteria.”
Calloway barely contained his disdain. “I don’t know what the Board of Directors thinks the police department can do, then.”
While the director spoke to Jim about the museum security, Blair snuck away to take a look at the exhibit. He got out the list he’d made of the paintings Jack still needed. When Blair came to a particular Impressionist piece on display, he almost laughed out loud. It was one of Jack’s. A good apprentice always recognized the master’s work. He looked over at the snooty director who was giving Jim a hard time. Should he tell him? Naaaah.
Blair took his time examining all the rest of the paintings. After a half an hour or so of looking, he was sure. Not a one on the list. The museum had nothing to worry about. Blair sighed. Moment of truth. Where did his loyalty lie? He took a deep breath and went back to where Jim was still talking to the director. “Jim?”
Jim walked over to Sandburg, glad to get away from Calloway. “Yeah, Chief?”
“We need to talk.”
About time! “Ok. So start talking.”
“Not here. At the station. I need to talk to Simon, too.”
Jim briefly made their excuses to the director and the two of them got in the truck and headed back to the station. Blair knew this was the right thing to do, but why did it make him feel so bad?
Simon was surprised to see them back already. “I was just about to send the two Interpol agents out to the museum to meet up with you—they got in early. They’re almost positive it’s the next target because of the French paintings on display and the sheer challenge of robbing such a well-guarded museum. They say this thief is a bit conceited and likes to rub their noses in the fact that he can get into anyplace.”
Well they got that much right. Jack could get into almost any building and he did like to show off, but Blair knew he wasn’t as arrogant as they thought he was. He wouldn’t break into a place just to prove he could. It had to be worth his while. “Simon? Could we talk in your office? Just the three of us?”
“Is it about the case?”
“Then I’ll have to ask the agents in, too, Sandburg. They’ve been chasing this guy for years. The sooner they catch him…”
Blair nodded reluctantly.
Simon ushered the two agents into his office. “Inspector Gerard, Inspector Javert, this is Detective Ellison and Blair Sandburg.”
The two of them eyed Sandburg. Gerard shook his hand diffidently. “Are you a detective in Major Crimes, as well, or are you on loan from another department?”
“Uh, neither. I’m an observer riding along with Detective Ellison here.”
“Yes, well. That’s interesting.”
Blair could tell from the change in his voice that he’d just been closed out of their personal circle. No small loss there. Blair reached into his pocket and pulled out the list. He handed it to Simon with slightly shaking fingers. “These are the paintings The Prince is looking for. The University Museum of Art doesn’t have any of these. He won’t strike there.”
Javert snorted. “And how would you know this? You’re not even an officer. We’ve been following this man for years now. I think that gives us more insight into his methods and motivations than an observer.”
Blair didn’t back down. “Yes, I’ve read your sketchy reports. And believe me, I’ve written enough of them hanging around here to know what should be in one. You haven’t really got a clue as to what he’ll steal next. Your profiler’s statement is fairly accurate—an older man trying to recapture something from his youth, someone who thinks the world owes him these paintings. But you still can’t predict what he’ll take, so you don’t know where he’ll be. He seems to take works by French artists, but that’s not always the case. How do you explain that? I can. He’s not going to hit the Museum. There’s nothing there he wants.”
Gerard was taken aback. “Captain Banks! Do you always let civilians get involved with your cases like this? If his interference causes us difficulties…”
Simon stood up from his desk, daggers in his eyes. “Sandburg is my concern, gentlemen. And if…IF…he becomes a problem, I take care of him. But he’s been known to have some good ideas that actually helped us solve a few cases.”
Sandburg wasn’t sure whether he should feel insulted or complimented. “Thanks, Simon…I think.”
Simon looked at the list. “Where did you get this?”
“I wrote it out last night.”
Javert was practically foaming at the mouth. “And what makes you think you know what The Prince is after when Interpol with all its resources hasn’t been able to figure it out?”
Blair sat down, not able to look at the others. His voice was barely a whisper. “Because I know who he is.”
Four voices shouted at once. “WHAT!!”
“His name’s John Seward—Jack to his friends. My mom and I stayed with him years ago when he lived in Paris. Knowing him, he’s still in France, but he left Paris and we lost touch. I don’t know where he is now.”
Javert stepped towards him in a threatening manner. “And how long have you known about his activities? Maybe you’ve been helping him.”
Blair didn’t say a word, but Jim heard his pulse race. Ah, Chief. Jim didn’t want to believe Blair had been helping The Prince.
“I haven’t seen him in over twelve years and haven’t even heard from in about eight.”
“Then how did you know all these robberies were his?” Javert grabbed his shirt. “How long have the two of you been working together?”
Jim grabbed Javert’s arm in a crushing grip. “Let go of my partner.”
Javert was about to say something smart, but Gerard shook his head at him. He’d seen that deadly cold look in the detective’s eyes. Javert let go of Blair’s shirt.
Simon tried to ease the tension in the room. “I think we all need to cool off here. Could you two step out for a few minutes while I talk to Sandburg and Ellison alone?”
Gerard was trying to get his partner to leave quietly. Javert had to have one last shot. “I want him off this case. I don’t want the friend, possibly accomplice, of the suspect working with us!” They went into the lobby where Javert paced angrily as Gerard tried to calm him down.
Simon shut the blinds. “Ok, Sandburg. What’s going on here? How do you explain this?” He waved the list in the air.
“It was something Jack talked about a lot. The paintings he’s been stealing…they all belonged in his mother’s family at one time or another. He’s trying to recapture his family’s glory days by getting them back. For him it’s a matter of personal pride and justice.”
Jim shook his head. So that’s what the hypothetical questions had been about. Had Sandburg really considered not saying anything? How could he trust Blair if he was going to be overly sympathetic to the criminals?
Blair saw the look of disappointment on Jim’s face. He wanted to explain, but he wasn’t sure how. “When I was a kid, Jack used to show me a list he made up of all the paintings he was going to get back someday. But I never actually saw any of the paintings. If Interpol’s timetable is right, he didn’t start stealing these things until almost five years after Naomi and I left France.” Blair was starting to get angry at the way Simon and Jim were looking at him. “You had me checked out thoroughly before I got my observer’s status. I’m sure you can verify my whereabouts during the times of the thefts from the last ten years.” When the other two said nothing, Blair got up in a huff. Why couldn’t they just trust him? “I’m going to get some air.”
Blair stormed out of the building. He had no idea where he wanted to go. He stopped at the fountain and sat down on the edge, deflated. He realized he really had no right to get angry at them for being suspicious. After all, he may not have helped Jack with his personal art thefts, but he had helped him make forgeries when he was a kid. Blair was guilty of something, just not what they thought. He’d better go back in and try again. He got up and turned around. Jim. “Do you always have to be so quiet, man? You scared the life out of me! It must be those super-secret Ranger stealth techniques.”
“Nope. It’s the shoes.”
“You sound like a commercial.”
“Maybe I should do endorsements. Air Sentinels?”
“I hate to tell you this, Jim, but you’re not charismatic enough to sell shoes.”
“Just for that you get clean-up duty tonight, too.”
Blair was glad they were at a place where they could banter, but he still didn’t like the look in Jim’s eyes. It was more distant. Like he’d put up a wall between himself and Blair. The two of them went back inside.
Gerard had managed to calm Javert down. He still didn’t want to work with Blair, but he at least wanted to get as much information as he could from him. The four of them went into Simon’s office. Blair explained Jack’s obsession, describing his plans to steal back what he thought was rightfully his. He told them about how he figured out it was Jack from the items stolen plus the coin Jim found. Gerard took notes furiously. When Blair finished, everyone was silent for a few moments.
Jim cleared his throat. “Well, now we know what he wants. Unfortunately, we were the last stop on his U.S. tour. The rest of the items on Sandburg’s list are in museums or private collections overseas. It looks like he’ll try to leave Cascade within the next few days.”
“Not unless we can trick him into staying, Jim. We just need the perfect bait. For the right painting, he’ll stay—even if he thinks it’s a set-up.”