Well it’s been a very long and sleepless couple week. It took a whole lotta work, but I think I’m close. Yet I don’t like what I’ve discovered.
I spent the day after my meeting with the Lanky Man chewing over everything we’d discussed. Inside, I was a wreck. Forces of equal strength writhed around as they fought. I had to fish any coherent thought out of the turmoil. I was curious, dead curious, to learn more about the Lanky Man and his “organization”. Doing what he wanted seemed a good way to get close to him. I knew the man was a ghost: only a little digging told me that. I’d have an easier time flying to the moon than figuring out who my mysterious sponsor was.
At the same time, a voice inside me screamed in warning. None of this was right. I knew that of course. None of this was normal. If the Lanky Man was a decent guy, he would’ve told me more. Criminals and the like have things to hide, and he was hiding a lot.
Eventually I’d sat around long enough and simply decided to do something—anything. So I did what the Lanky Man had told me to do.
I went to Ed Slezawski.
Ed was busy tracing neat strokes with his pen on an article draft when I walked in. He looked up; his face fell.
“Ah, Madsen, it’s you. What do you want?”
I sat down opposite from him without being invited.
“I want the Wicker Man story.”
Ed blinked once, twice, then said, “You can’t have it. I’ve already given it to Katie.”
“Well, take it away from her. She can’t be too far in writing it, the theft is too recent.”
Ed set the stack of papers he had been editing on the table. I read the title upside down.
“Ah,” I said, not sure what else I could say. I pushed my brain into full-gear, “Well … Send it back to her and give the story to me.”
Ed leaned back in his chair and looked at me for a long time through his glasses, “No, I’m not going to do that,” he held up a hand to cut of what I was about to say. “She has the story, the draft has been written, and it’s good. There is no plausible reason I’d throw her story out and give it to you instead. Now if that’s what you barged in to say, please leave.”
“I don’t think I will,” I said, crossing one leg over the other and leaning back into the chair.
“Sit there then,” Ed said and went back to his editing.
Several minutes passed. I never took my eyes from Ed. I reached out and began rearranging Ed’s pens. When he told me to stop, I switched to tapping my fingers loudly on the arms of the chair.
Finally Ed slapped the papers on the desk and stared at me with his cold gaze.
I thought of something and blurted it out, “How about I write an article and you see which one you like better. The winner gets published.”
Ed inclined his head so he could look at me over the rims of his glasses, “You really must love missing art pieces. You want the story this badly?”
I nodded my head.
“Even though I’m almost certainly going to publish Katie’s, you still want to write your own article?” He picked up and shook the stack of papers.
I nodded again.
Ed let out a long sigh, “Alright, Ray, go on and do it. It’s a waste of time though: I’ll pick Katie’s. But please, by all means waste your time. See if I care.”
That was all fine by me. I didn’t need my article to get published, I just needed a cover to talk with the police and get inside the museum. After making some calls, I went next to the Gordon and Mariam Chesterfield Museum. The detective working the case met me outside.
He was smoking a cigarette and when he spoke, he had that characteristically coarse South Boston accent.
“You the newspapah guy that cawlled?” He asked.
“I am,” I showed him my journalists’s ID. “Raymond Madsen, Boston Crier. I—”
“Yeah, yeah, Detective Flaherty. Come inside, pal. I’ll show you the place.”
Detective Flaherty flung his cigarette into the bushes and led me inside.Even though the museum was closed to the public, inside it was a-buzz with activity. The museum was installing all new, high-tech security systems after the theft. Flaherty led me up to the third floor. It was quieter up there. We ducked under the yellow tape and came to the spot.
Flaherty pointed unnecessarily at the dark rectangle of wallpaper where the painting clearly had hung, “That’s whe’ it used to be, you know.”
“Thanks,” I said as I snapped some pictures. The Wicker Man‘s plaque was still there.
Detective Flaherty then ran me through everything he knew, which wasn’t much. That shocked me a little. I mean, yeah I know, it’s a caper and all. still, this quickly appeared to be no ordinary theft.
“You haven’t found any fingerprints?” I asked in disbelief.
“None, pal. No prints, no hehs, no bits o’ clothing. Nu’ittn. None of the windows we’ opened, eithe’. All the doors we’ locked too.”
I paused in my note-taking, “You mean the building was locked tight the night of the robbery?”
“Dat’s what I said, pal. No one knows who done it o’ how. You know what I says? Houdini done it,” Flaherty chuckled, then continued. “The’ ain’t much moah we can do. We spent days lookin’ ove’ the place, but found nu’ittn.”
“But there were cameras in here. Surely they saw something?”
Flaherty shook his head, “Naw, cameras crapped out for five seconds,” Flaherty held up as many fingers, “One minute painting the’, then some static, and boom! it’s gawn. Security gawds saw nu’ittn either.”
After exhausting what little information Flaherty knew, I thanked him and asked him to keep me apprised of the investigation. He promised he would and led me back outside.
I have to say, this isn’t what I expected. Either the Wicker Man was stolen by legendary art thieves—in which case, Boston’s finest may be a little outclassed—or there is something very strange going on. And all over a silly painting—I mean, yeah, it’s alright. I’ve seen it before. But it’s not exactly the Mona Lisa we’re talking about.
I spent the last week investigating. But as Flaherty said, there ain’t much. I talked with the museum management, the watchmen the night of the theft, and I spoke with half a dozen experts on the painting and on art thievery. I called Flaherty two times asking for updates. He had none, and was a little more terse each time.
I was going nowhere fast and I knew it. But just last night, after pouring over all my notes and photos for the hundredth time and pouring myself several drinks, I dozed off. It must have only been for a few minutes, but that’s all it took.
I had a dream—or it might have been a flashback. I saw that familiar, dusty corridor. It felt real though, too real to be a dream this time. I was carrying something. Something fragile, delicate. I walked to the end of the corridor and opened the door. That’s when my vision got blurry, but hovering before my eyes was the Wicker Man painting, as I had seen it five years ago.
When I woke up I knew what I had to do, I just didn’t want to do it.
The painting was at the address 341 Newcastle Street. The only problem was that a fear—a nameless, sourceless yet biting fear—told me not to go there.
But what could I do? I had to go and look.