The Gardner Museum Robbery

VANISHING POINTS a work of fiction about the Gardner Museum Robbery

Chapter One 'An Unexpected Party'

A Japanese hatchback, quickening, travels southeast along a rare straightaway in Boston, on Park Drive. Through a light cold rain, the little car downshifts onto the Riverway and bears the quick right onto Fenway. Then, with an affected steadiness, comports itself past the Gardner Museum.

Circling the block, the hatchback navigates first one fateful right and then another onto Tetlow Street. Along Tetlow, two wrought-iron eagles, their wings extended, perching on the left and right of an apartment building doorway, seem to eye the car, and its two occupants.

"Those gargoyles wouldn't last five minutes in New York," the driver remarks, gesturing with his head toward the building. Gingerly, he makes the turn onto a rain-slicked Palace Road, towards the side entrance of the Gardner Museum.

It is late, very late at night.

Looks are exchanged and police hats donned inside the vehicle as it comes to rest in front of a five-story, yellow-brick apartment building beside the museum. It houses college kids, from Simmons and Emmanuel mostly, and some from Wentworth too. In a minute or two, the hatchback inches forward, eventually coming to rest just a few car-lengths ahead of the Museum's side entrance.

The driver suddenly finds himself aware of his immediate surroundings, the car interior, and of his own breathing. “I'm so glad we cleaned this thing today,” he says, soothing himself with a bit of sarcasm. The stale smell of Marlboros and McDonalds permeates the car’s interior, though only a few hours earlier it had been liberated of its travel trash —a substantial haul— and had even been given several spritzes of Windex. A quick but determined two-bit vacuuming at Haffner's Gasoline leaves behind only a few barely noticeable traces of soil, sand, and grime from exotic ports-of-call such as Paterson and Teterboro in New Jersey and Danbury, Connecticut.

The driver looks futilely upward out his side window, at a rolling cloud-cover, as it passes in front of a half-moon with few takers below. "I liked it better when it was raining,” Driver says.

The guy in the passenger seat is grabbing a pinch of snuff from a squat can of Skoal. “Don’t worry,” he says knowingly. His eyes are serene behind thick gold framed lenses. Gold Frames has switched from Marlboro to ‘chew,’ tonight. It was something he did, when he knew he had work to do and little time to do it in; a trick he learned in the Army, although not from the Army.

Driver turns his head towards Gold Frames just as he is pushing the snuff under his front lip. He quickly looks away to avoid the revolting spectacle, and turns his attention instead to the rearview, where he spies, a six-pack of teenagers heading unsteadily up the road toward them.

“Agh, street trash,” Driver mutters. “It’s because the rain stopped. They'll be even more out on the street soon.” The kids stop a barely comfortable distance away on the sidewalk, occasionally glancing over at them, curious.

Gold Frames rolls his eyes, unconcerned. "The closest bar is Punter’s and that’s a mile. off. I mapped it," he lies. And anyway, “I don't give a flying fu--,” he startles, though, as his walkie-talkie interrupts:

"Cotton Mouth, this is The Red Rider."

“What,” Gold Frames responds annoyed into his handset. It is still too early for radio contact.

“You will never believe who I just saw coming out of a Simmons dorm,” the lookout says over the walkie-talkie.

“Mulder and Scully from the X-Files,” Gold Frames deadpans.

“Nope. It was Cam Neely.”

Driver, something of a know-it-all, is annoyed at drawing a blank. “Who the hell is Cam Neely?” he demands.

“Hockey player,” Gold Frames murmurs, then turning his attention back to the walkie-talkie asks, with mock interest and excitement: “Dja get his autograph?”

“Nah,” Lookout responds, “I’m not into that crap.”

“No? Cuz you sure sound like you are,” replies Gold Frames.

“It's interesting is all. He just walked outta Dix Hall.”

“A woman's dormitory named Dick's Hall?” Driver laughs. “That is perfect.”

Gold Frames ignores Driver and frets to himself. How is Lookout so sure he came out of Dix Hall? You can’t tell that, what dorm if any he was coming from, parked from the street. And Lookout should be on station or closer to it by now. But he is reluctant to discuss these details on his walki-talkie.

“Okay,” Gold Frames says into the walkie-talkie. “Assign him a number, but unless he does something….”

“What number?”

“I dunno. What's his jersey number?”

“Eight”

“Eighteen then,” Gold Frames declares. “Be seeing you!,” then empathically into the walkie-talkie: “Out,” putting a clear end to the conversation.

“Why eighteen? What's wrong with number eight?” the driver asks, “There's an eight?”

Gold Frames ignores Driver’s question. “Listen,” he whispers, “You hear that?”

“What should I be hearing, I don't hear anything.”

“Exactly,” Gold Frames exclaims joyously. “Niner is standing by that Dutch Room window and he has it open, which means... the alarm's off.”

Driver squints. I can't see anything from here," he says and wonders to himself how the four-eyed Gold Frames can.

“It doesn't matter.” “Shit. He closed it. He wasn't supposed to close it right away.” Gold Frames shakes his head. “Dumb ass. For all we know he turned the alarm back on. I still say he looks like the bass player from Bim Skala Bim.”

""Who's arguing?" Driver replies. "Oh now look," Driver says, gesturing with his thumb. The small group of teens has stopped and congregated directly to the hatchback's left. "It's a fucking field trip."

“So what,” Gold Frames says dismissively. We have time and anyway, we're law enforcement professionals. It's not a big deal.

“Jug ears over there has no sense,” Driver says, nodding towards one of the teenagers, who separates from the group, and starts to approach the car. “There's always one.”

“You oughta know,” Gold Frames says, pretending to turn his attention to the second floor of the museum instead of the group on the street.

Just then, a white van veers around the corner onto Palace Road. With determined unsteadiness, it hesitates then blusters its way past, with a belch from the exhaust pipe, and keeps right on going.

“Asshole," one of the kids mutters loudly, as the small band is brushed back a bit.

"I love that guy," Gold Frame says. They smile at each other and relax a bit for about half a second.

“Damn. He keeps heading this way and then away again,” Driver complains about one of the teenagers to Gold Frames. “Look now he’s giving his girlfriend a piggy-back ride.”

“That's great. We've become a whole goddamn country full of at risk-youth, Gold Frames laments. This is why we're going to hell in a handbasket. There's no respect for authority anymore." Gold Frams orders up "a Clint Eastwood squint,” using a most officious tone. Though he is cracking wise, the street clot, is starting to agitate him also, and not just Driver now.

"I’ll give 'em Fistful of Dollars" Driver says.

I’d like to give them just the fistful at this point," Gold Frames sighs. His jaw muscles are getting a good workout from the tension and the chew, which has migrated more into his cheek from his lower lip.

There’s a pause as Driver gives one of his very best intimidating looks, the performance of a lifetime, but “still looking over here,” he says dejectedly, out of the side of his mouth.

"Oh come on," Gold Frames exclaims, spitting tobacco juice into an empty can of Coke. "He's some punk high school kid and we are duly deputized officers of the fucking law. I have a good mind to run his ass in. Give 'em the Dirty Harry squint this time. "Escalate!" Gold Frames shouts.

“They're moving on,” Driver says with a heavy sigh. “Close call.”

Gold Frames is getting jumpy. He’s losing his cool over the unexpected activity on the street. And Driver’s penchant for pointing out potential problems and dangers out loud is the exact opposite of Gold Frame’s way of dealing with things. I'm the one who is supposed to be in charge here, he thinks to himself. At least at this stage.

“That was NOT close," Gold Frames then declares. "What is that you're listening to, anyway?" Gold Frames fiddles momentarily with the tuner knob on the radio before restoring it to a fat swath of real estate occupied on the AM band by WBZ, "Radio 103."

“It's "Norm Nathan."

Gold Frames looks up skeptically, “What the hell is Norm Nathan?”

“It relaxes me,” Driver says, “that's what YOU need to do, relax a bit.”

“Carol in Winchester's cat won't eat. That relaxes you?" Gold Frames asks skeptically.

“He's an old jazz DJ,” Driver explains. “My Dad used to listen to him back in the day when I was a kid.”

“In New York?”

“Yeah. It was a different station, I think, but yeah.”

Killing some time, Gold Frames steers the conversation into what they mostly had in common, sharing a luxury apartment in Boston's Charles River Park, with a bunch of other college students, including Lookout, a decade ago. It had been a crazy time in everybody's life, except Gold Frames. For him, that was the most normal part. Still, the shared experience was one of the very few things they still had in common. At least that's what Driver likes to tell himself.

"I think Lookout used to do an imitation of him, he says to Driver."

“No, that was Norm Crosby.”

“Ah, Norm Crosby,” Gold Frames nods, a faraway look in his eyes. “You and that guy we both knew, used to crack up over one of his routines. I thought you were both headcases,” shaking his head, “I still think that.”

“If you ever gave his act half a chance, you especially, would be cracking up,” Driver insists.

The Borscht Belt Bostonian, Norm Crosby, was the master of the sexual innuendo by way of the malapropism. A more innocent America ate it up.

“We had one of his records.” Driver continued, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, and laughing to himself. “Lookout's father knows him, I think, or he did. They're both from right in Boston."

Gold Frames, who had always been more than a little fascinated with Driver’s and even Lookout's wealthy yet not entirely respectable upbringings, keeps this conversation going. “Didn't your father know the Devil and Miss Jones?”

“He knew the Devil pretty well,” Driver confirms. “I think he met Miss Jones a couple times.”

“Hah,” Gold Fames laughs. “My Dad doesn't know anybody, most especially me.”

“He could know you, and still not give a shit,” Driver points out.

Gold Frames looking out the window high up at the museum, turns back slightly toward Driver. “Is that supposed to be a dig at me?”

“No,” Driver says. “Somebody else.”

“Good," Gold Frames says flatly, finding the aside noteworthy only if it were directed at him. He then grows excited. “Hah. Just got the signal. Our boy Fifty-Four is sheltering in place on the top floor.”

The guy Gold Frames calls Fifty-Four is a guard at the Museum. He was on the schedule but called in sick this night. He has still shown up, however, to keep watch tonight, only for a different, a criminal paymaster, one offering a lot more money.

“He said he would coming in to pick up his paycheck at 11:30 and would just never leave.”

"Didn't the second shift see him?" Driver inquires. Gold Frames ignores him. Taking out a pocket sized, accordion-fold notebook, he reviews his schematic of the events that are now unfolding.

Driver persists. “Come on, they had to see him.”

“I honestly don't know how he worked it exactly. It doesn't matter.”

Driver stirs in his seat and starts tapping on the steering wheel. “Doesn't matter. I’m in tatters,” he croons, with a half-hearted Mick Jagger impression.

“Hah,” Gold Frames laughs. “More like: 'U Can't Touch This,' by MC Hammer.”

“No?” Driver teases, giving him a light shove on the shoulder. The lighter mood evaporates.

“Hands off!” Gold Frames says sternly to Driver. “THEY can't touch this,: he says with a sweeping hand gesture as if he is lord and master of all: The Museum, Palace Road and the little hatchback, "so you sure as hell can't.”

An awkward silence hangs heavy in the damp and stagnant air over the persistent crackle of a walkie-talkie.

Finally, Gold Frames, looking at his watch, breaks the silence. "Niner should be heading out in exactly four minutes with our fresh Tortellini," Gold Frames says, wriggling his fingers in front of himself theatrically. Fresh Tortellini was a nickname he'd given Manet's Chez Tortoni. The stale joke never failed to brighten his mood, like a magic spell.

"Is the camera ready?"

"Sure," Driver says. "I don't know how good a pic we're going to get from the street and the flash might be a problem."

"What?" Gold Frames praises, the camera, the lighting, the relative humidity. and most of all his skill as a reconnaissance photographer, rolling down the passenger side window half way.

The quality of the photo was a low priority, Gold Frames explains: "I want to make sure Niner sees the camera flash. That's the main thing. He has to know we're taking his picture, Gold frames continues, that we got him, it, that it's on film," he says, as if Driver hadn't heard this a dozen times. "He'll probably have that Village People hat on and if he doesn't, we'll still get that crazy hair."

Driver's chest tightens as he views the white van approaching again. It passes on the left and then parks on the same side, the museum side, of Palace Road.

“It’s starting,” Driver thinks to himself and his chest tightens as the white van passes them on the left and then parks on the same side, the museum side, on Palace Road. Neither man speaks of the van’s arrival, but Gold Frames slowly presses the PTT (Push To Talk) button on his walki-talkie several times, without saying anything, as a signal.

"Good luck, you're gonna need it" Driver utters grimly. He is really talking more to himself than to Gold Frames, as he attempts to capture a photo of a guard, the theft in progress of a ten million dollar Manet oil painintg, and an open museum door.

“Christ, it's not for over the mantel,” Gold Frames says, “It's just so anyone, who saw it would know that it's definitely him.”

“If it's that good we'll be lucky,” Driver points out. "If it's not that good, it will be our little secret," Gold Frames says.

“The rain's starting up again.” The two men watch pelting fat rain drops land unstealthily on the windshield.

“Ya think Lookout can handle this high performance vee-hicle in the rain?” Gold Frames asks Driver, ignoring his continued pessimism.

Driver thinks back to some crazy good times with Lookout: making doughnuts in the parking lot of the Blue Hills Reservation, tearing down Brush Hill Road in Milton, a case or more of Michelob empties jingling in the trunk, and go-carts down the Cape.

"Oh yeah, he's the best at high speeds," Driver assures him, even though Gold Frames is the only one of the two of them who has seen and depended upon Lookout's driving skills under actual field (criminal) conditions.

"And he knows the roads and backroads around here better than anybody," Driver adds, "he's Steve McQueen in 'Bullitt.'"

Gold Frames could barely conceal his delight at the Bullitt comparison. "He's 'Bullitt' for real.

The getaway was the part of this job Driver felt most confident about, although Driver himself would not be the one doing the driving at that stage.

"This is a uniquely suited high-performance rally car. On road, off road, it screams," he says tapping the steering wheel confidently.

It's Gold Frames turn to be the sarcastic one now. "Unique, that's great. Who doesn't want a unique getaway car?"

"Come on. It looks like a million other cars. That's the beauty of it. She's a sleeper. They didn't start importing the turbo here until '86. This is an '85. It was a lease but the guy converted it into a turbo himself with a kit. Then he didn't make his payments so it was repo-ed and Marco bought it at an auction. He knows I'm putting it to work, somehow, but he's cool."

"It's not going to matter anyway," Gold Frames shrugs.

"This shit matters, stop saying that shit!"

Gold Frames glances over at Driver's long pale fingers hanging off the top of the steering wheel now like albino fruit bats in the dark, and narrows his eyes at him. "I know some shit matters, it's just a question of knowing which shit matters, and which doesn't," he insists. "And what some guy you know thinks, or knows, or thinks he knows about some shit we do or may have to do, by this time tomorrow or next week does not fucking matter."

"We're not all in the same spot you are," Driver says voice rising. "This isn't a suicide mission for me."

"You think this is a suicide mission for me?" Gold Frames asks. He punches the glove box with the back of a fist. "A suicide mission? Fuck you. You're a little closer to the edge than you think you are."

"Is that some kind of threat?" Driver asks glaring.

"Of course not," Gold Frames replies, without even the slightest hint of backing down. "You don't think you're close to the edge too, even without this?"

"Compared with you, I'm nowhere fucking near it."

"That's only because I'm living right on fucking top of it!"

There is silence. And the two plotters again remember the kids lingering on Palace Road. But the young revelers are no longer near them. They are now twenty yards or more further down the road, unsteadily heading toward the Public Gardens. The potential threat had gone unnoticed by them in the heat of their discussion, though not however, by a museum guard monitoring activity on the street from a gallery window on the Museum's second floor

"Look, I'm the one who has to keep all of this crap straight, Gold Frames continues. You're the specialist, the technician. I'm the crew chief. I have to boil it all down to what's really important, the essentials. So if you want to worry about the guy you got the rod from fine, but..." Movement outside his open car window catching his eye, interrupts him.

"Oh…... that's Niner now coming out. "Pull up." Driver moves up about ten yards forward past the employee entrance, just ahead of a street lamp. Gimme the camera. Gimme the goddamned camera!"

A camera flash lights up the car. "I need the goddamnnable..." The heavy wood door of the museum's service entrance lingers halfway open, then the guard steps outside, lumbering like a miniature Bigfoot, his back is turned to the street, while he keeps his right hand against the open museum door.

"I can't tell if he has it," Driver whispers.

"Oh he has it." Gold Frames says excitedly.

The guard can be seen reaching under his untucked, unbuttoned Oxford-style, uniform shirt, then appears to be pulling something out of his ass.

Like boostin' vinyl at Disc Diggers," Gold Frames says gleefully.

"I hope he had it facing out so he didn't stink it up."

"Hah. He's careful about some stuff when he wants to be." Gold Frames says over his shoulder as he positions the camera.

"Annnd got it. Took it right when he was laying out that fresh Tortellini. Presentation," he says jokingly to an unappreciative audience of one.

"There's a big question if that picture's even going to come out," Driver grumbles.

"It doesn't matter," says to Driver, this time unchallenged. "He saw the flash," Gold Frames proclaims victoriously, "as long as he thinks we have the photo, we're good. Now think of something real menacing I can say to him about red eye reduction."

"Ha ha, Driver chuckles, "eh... maybe later," he says pulling the car out onto Palace Road. The hatchback proceeds slowly down the street, past the white van, where Lookout is sitting in the driver's seat. The occupants of both vehicles eye each other confidently, though without any sign of acknowledgement.

At the end of the street, the hatchback, wheeling, takes a right onto The Fenway, past the museum main entrance again. They watchfully scan the terrain, for any potential threat. Gold Frames nervously signals with his walkie-talkie to The Diversion, positioned in shadow, across from the museum, on the other side of The Fenway, at where a park called "the Back Bay Fens," meets the road.

Designed by landscape architect, and anti-slavery social critic Frederick Law Olmstead, The Fens is a rough-cut jewel in Olmstead's, famed "Emerald Necklace," of connected parks and parkland scattered around the map of Boston. As they approach the Evans Way turn on their right, The Diversion, steps out from the underbrush momentarily and is gone again as soon as they pass.

Slogging along down Evans Way, Gold Frames scans the exterior eastern face of the Gardner at night, not for a prearranged signal, but any warning signs of trouble, an omen perhaps, but there is nothing.

On Tetlow, the wrought iron eagles on the apartment building remain on station, this being Boston, not New York, facing each other as if to exchange significant glances, when the hatchback passes by for the second time. Turning right, the deep throat little hatchback goes a short distance and returns to spot a short distance ahead of the museum side entrance.

An eternally long and silent minute passes before the two observe Lookout exiting the van. He then purposefully walks in a direct line toward a windowless slab of the museum's exterior and vanishes. Invisible in the gloomy shadow of the palace wall, he creeps along toward the side entrance.

"Man, this is like an episode of Night Gallery, Gold Frames whispers.

"Sssh" Driver whispers.

"Lighten up," Gold Frames replies back.

Lookout stealthily approaches the museum side door, stopping short of where the guard just left the Manet, pulled from its frame, shoved in a bag, and abandoned, half hidden, behind a bush in the rain.

Driver and Gold Frames can't quite make him out in the dark however, until Lookout is heading back toward the street. Bathed in streetlight now, and holding the Manet close to his side, he takes a diagonal more direct return trip to the van, with his back to the museum's outdoor security camera.

Lookout then slowly opens the van's sliding side door and lingers a bit, casually gazing inside the van, before lackadaisically tossing the bag inside. He then slowly slides the door shut again and heads around the front of the vehicle, to the driver's side, never once taking in the street or his surroundings.

"Poetry. Sheer poetry." Gold Frames exclaims softly. That's exactly how I told him to do it. If everyone can just have faith and follow simple instructions to the letter like Lookout just did, everything is guaranteed to be fine.

The adrenaline of conquest combined with an admixture of anticipation speeds its way through the veins of both men, like during that minute between rounds one and two of a prize fight,

But time turns glacial then, like in the middle of rounds five and six inside the ring.

Breaking his own established protocol, Gold Frames checks in with Lookout on his walkie-talkie . "Everything cool?" he asks him.

"Oh yeah," Lookout, says, "Monsieur is right here with me having some french fried puhdaydiz. We're getting better acquainted."

"Funny. Is he in good shape?" Gold Frames wants to know.

"Well the bag was a little wet from the bushes and the rain but he seems fine."

"It's a plastic bag, anyway, isn't it?

"No, it's a paper, Gardner gift-shop bag."

"Huh? Well, which way was it facing? Was it leaning against the wall with the front facing the wall, or the back facing the wall?"

"Front facing out." There is a pause as Lookout waits for a reply, then he adds, "ya know, I'm not really sure. I think it was out, but I couldn't swear to it."

"Well you're not ever going to have to SWEAR to it." Out," Gold Frames adds fuming. Ending the conversation on the walkie-talkie with Lookout, he turns to Driver beside him.

"Did I say a plastic shopping bag? Did I say painted side facing in?"

"At least he got it behind the bush," Driver says peering down the street. He then spies the same young gang of St. Patrick's Day revelers again, or imagines he does. "They're back," He shakes his head. "They walk. They stop. They laugh. Get the fuck outta here."

"They're wasted." Somebody will decide they are too cold, or too wet or that they'll have to take a piss soon," Gold Frames assures him. Again, silence descends in the car, for more interminable waiting.

Gold Frames drums his fingers on the dashboard. "Hey, remember Todd?" he asks keeping the chatter up, "the first time he smoked weed and we had to walk him down the street to the emergency room at Mass. General"?

"I need to talk to a doctor NOW!," they both shout at once, laughing. Then Norm Nathan on the radio inquires: "Have you spoken with an attorney, Tanya?" and they both start laughing even louder.

"Ssh shh ssshh," Gold Frames whispers. "Look they're definitely gone by now."

Driver shifts nervously. He continues to look down the street.

"Look, when we get the signal, we go in no matter what," Gold Frames says frimly, leaving no room for discussion. "We'll let The Diversion handle anything that might crop up. Anyway, they turned the corner already."

"Fine," Driver shrugs. "I'm ready to bust a move. The legroom in this car sucks."

They sit wordless, until "all set," soft and ghost like, interrupts the static churning out of Gold Frame's walkie-talkie .

"Let's go." Gold Frames says opening the car door, then forgetting himself, he slams it shut behind him. Driver catches up and they walk side by side towards the museum entrance door.

At the door, Gold Frames looks down at the stunted shrub to his left and scoffs. He presses the buzzer hard with his thumb, and the Gardner security guard, the one they call Niner, the one who failed to meet the standard when he left Manet's Chez Tortoni behind the bush, replies:

"Can I help you?"

Chapter Two 'The Security Station'

The two thieves now stand in the security station foyer, known by the museum security staff as the "the mantrap." From inside, they have a clear view of the security station through the plexiglass, as they wait to be buzzed in through the second door inside.

Likewise, the guard at the desk, Niner, has a good look at them, which is really the intended purpose. The mantrap allows the guards to size up any visitors before granting them admittance to the museum.

Almost immediately, Gold Frames tries opening the locked door, but without success. He knows the procedure, having been let in by Niner, only the night before around one in the morning. But the door stays locked, and he grows more agitated with each passing nanosecond. Driver turns and looks back towards the exit. For both men now, the man trap feels a little bit like a rat trap.

“What the fuck?” Gold Frames whispers loudly. “Over.” Finally, the buzzer sounds and the two men pass through the second door.

“Hey man,” the security guard, Niner, greets them, “everything cool?

“Get outta here. Is everything cool,” Gold Frames snarls, as he rushes behind the security desk and gets in Niner’s face.

Taken aback, Niner raises his hands, like it’s a holdup or something. “What’s the deal,” he asks, looking over at Driver and back at Gold Frames. Gold Frames never takes his eyes off of Niner, and without putting his hands on him, the taller man maneuvers Niner down the length of the security desk.

“Did you hit the alarm?”

“Of course not, no!”

“Are you sure you didn’t hit the alarm?”

“Am I sure? “Yeah man, I'm fucking positive I didn't hit the alarm. Christ.”

Gold Frames draws a bead on Niner. “Cuz you took a lonnng freakin' time to hit the buzzer for the second door just now, and giving me the dead eye.”

“That how we do it!” Niner insists. “There's a recording, there's a record of it.”

While Gold Frames continues to keep the guard in his sights, Driver never looks at him at all, but walks around studying every detail of the security station, like he's in one of the galleries of an art museum.

Gold Frames continues his interrogation of the security guard.

“Well why didn’t you move away from the alarm button then, like we planned it?”

“You didn’t give me a chance. I had to hit the other button to let you in and then you rushed me.”

“Do you really think he hit it?” Driver says to Gold Frames, ignoring Niner.

“I don’t know. Maybe.

We could go with a hostage scenario,” Driver offers.

“You think we could trade THIS," pointing at Niner "for some priceless art?” Driver says shaking his head.

“Well, maybe the other guy's better.”

“Look I didn’t hit the alarm,” Niner exclaims. “Can’t you figure that out? I thought you were professionals.”

“He is, but I’m not” Driver says, pointing at Gold Frames.

Niner shakes his head. “I thought you said you BOTH were professionals.”

“Let me explain something to you,” Gold frames says: “There are no professionals at this. We are professional people, who do things in a smart, professional way. But we’re not professional art thieves. Our associate here is smart, he follows directions, he is amazingly good with his hands, and he’s here. But most importantly he’s the only thing keeping me from right here right now killing you. That's how very fucking professional he is.”

"Wait what?" Driver says. "I don’t mind if you kill him.”

“You don’t mind if I kill him?”

“Well, if he hit the alarm, I think you should. I mean, if you're sure and you feel that strongly about it.”

Niner can't decide is this is a bluff of some kind or not. And in fact this was a somewhat planned and rehearsed bit of hazing. Gold Frames can not get it out of his head, that Niner is going to double-cross them sooner or later. Either that or fuck things up because of his casual, laid back attitude about everything.

Looking at Driver, Gold Frames cocks his head towards the security guard, “Niner here is afraid he'll lose his job, when he says he gave his two weeks notice already.”

“I did give my notice,” he insists, looking at Driver, hoping to win the calmer man over. “I’m following the plan."

“Let’s just keep him close at hand until we’re sure,” Gold Frames says, with patronizing compassion. He smiles softly at Niner and pats his cheek. "Let's just keep him close at hand until we're sure," Gold Frames says, with patronizing compassion. He smiles softly at Niner and pats his cheek. This had always been the what they were going to do anyway: Before getting to work, they would wait a bit, in case somebody had hit the silent alarm, and to make sure the authorities had not been alerted in some other way. That was how Niner and everyone had come to understand it, but he says nothing.

Gold Fames turns away and starts barking into the walkie-talkie.

"Fify-Four, do you copy?" The words "This is Fifty-Four, over" is heard from out of the white noise crackling from a walkie-talkie. "Report to station Alpha," Gold Frames orders.

"Roger," Fifty-Four says.

Gold Frames holsters his walkie-talkie, his eyes sweep the entire security station, before turning back to Niner. Gold Frames puts away his walkie-talkie, his eyes sweep the entire security station before he turns back to Niner.

“Anything unusual, anything we should know about,” he asks.

Niner shakes his head, kind of mumbling, “Kids in the street. And you're a little later than I expected, but beside that, no.”

"That was an unwelcome, but not unexpected delay."

But that meant I had to delay the time before I took over at the security station, but I worked it out.

"Good man," Driver chimes in.

Abath loosens up a bit at this compliment, telling them, "I heard they asked this woman guard, Margo, to work the overnight, but she had plans. Man, that would have been a trip."

“That's a trip we're not taking,” Gold Frames replies grimly, then a little impatiently. “How much longer before you tell your compadre to come down?”

Niner looks up at a large clock on the wall near the door. "He should be hitting the stairs and heading down in one minute actually," he advises.

"Do you mean exactly one minute?"

Niner rolls his eyes. “Well I could check on his progress more exactly, from the motion sensor readout again, but then I would have to go back over by the alarm. Or you could just trust me that I know what I’m talking about.”

"Right. Okay," Gold Frames says laughing, "We'll trust you, it's just that so far you've been a little bit of what's called an FFI. Do you know what that stands for in the Army, an FFI?"

Niner smirks. “Something about smoking a bunch of weed I hope.”

"Nope-puh," Gold Frames' replies shaking his head. "It's a failure at following instructions." He leans in sideways into Niner and lowers his voice. "We weren't the ones who took that Manet out of the museum, and it's probably halfway to Vegas by now, and in a crappy thin paper bag, of a kind which I asked you not to use."

"At my grocery store they say 'paper or plastic?' and so far, in my experience, they have gotten it right every time. Why couldn't you get it right?

"Vegas," Niner says emptily. "Look I'm sorry I meant to bring a plastic bag from home."

“It's like the great American smuggler and patriot John Hancock said, we hang together or we will surely hang separately.' You follow me?”

Niner mumbling some more, repeats the "hang separately" part in unison and nods. Every time Gold Frames said this, which was at every opportunity, Niner felt like he was in some kind of malevolent summer camp where the bad kids learned to be even worse. There’s no “I” in team, when it comes to pummeling the nearsighted kid in a friendly game of dodge ball, and that kind of shit. Gold Frames could be such a ball busting, corporate asshole at times, it was a mystery why he had even bothered turning to a life of crime in the first place, Niner thought.

Gold Frames searches Niner’s face for any signs of insubordination. “Quit screwing around,” he warns. “Lives are at stake. Mine, and especially yours, this is no time to play dumb.” Just then, the guard who called in sick, Fifty-Four ducks his head in. “I'm here.”

“Courtyard southwest corner,” Gold Frames barks, without taking his eyes off Niner, as he listens to Fifty-Four’s retreating footsteps.

“It's very important that you follow instructions exactly,” Gold Frames continues, kindlier.“ The plan is simple. You just have to adhere exactly to it for one stinking hour. Can you handle that?”

“Sure” Niner says, keeping eye contact. “Just take it easy.”

“Like being on stage with your band,” Gold Frames offers. “Timing." "It’s timing and doing the exactly right simple thing at the exact right time, he said amiably.”

Niner wanted to explain to him that it is not always the right simple thing when performing on stage with his band, but decides that keeping silent on this point is the wisest course, and besides, just then he hears the other guard coming down the staircase.

“There he is,” Niner says reaching for his walkie-talkie. “Randy, can you come back to the security station." “Sure. On the way, the other guard replies,” his voice coming through so clearly, it's unnerving to Driver.

“I hear him coming,” Driver murmers. Niner nods. “He’s right down the hall.” In fact the other guard arrives, almost instantaneously, perplexed by the presence of what appear to be two police officers.

“What's going on?” he asks.

“Yeah I do know you. There's a warrant out for your arrest,” he hears Gold Frames tell Niner.

“What?” The other guard says, shocked. “What did he do?”

Gold Frames extends his arm out like a traffic cop to silence the newly arrived guard.

“A warrant?” Niner asks, voice intoning great surprise.

“Yes a warrant,” Gold Frames says. “Just turn around.” “You're kidding, right?” the other guard asks. “What did he do?”

“There's been a very serious breach. We are placing him under arrest. In fact both of you...” Driver, tall and broad shouldered, gets behind Randy and quickly establishes his control of him.

“Man,” Niner laments. “I have tickets to a concert in Hartford tomorrow night. There's a Dead show.”

"Wait. Why are we being arrested?" the other guard demands. Repeating the question a few times, while escalating from indignant to bordering on the frantic, he begins to hyperventilate.

There is a distinctive click sound and the sound of duct tape pulled from a roll. "Gentleman," Gold Frames declares, he pauses for dramatic effect, "this is a robbery."

“Oh” Randy exclaims, sounding almost. relieved momentarily, at not being arrested.

“All right,” Gold Frames says. “Now just do what you're told and you won't get hurt.”

“They don't pay us enough to get hurt,” Niner offers, trying to encourage compliance from his fellow guard. “Just go easy on the handcuffs, we're musicians. We need our hands.”

“And your ears too,” Gold Frames says coolly. “So listen up really good and nothing, NOTHING is going to happen to you, your hands, or any other part, if you just do exactly what we tell you. Not TRY to do what we say but DO IT.” He gives Niner a hard look, that’s only partly for show, and says leaning into him: “Focus."

"Okay," Niner mutters with a kind of defensive familiarity that Randy finds difficult to comprehend.

Gold Frames next turns more kindly to the other guard. “You got all that?"

“Yes, definitely,” Randy nods. “Um, I've got it, sure.” He startles at the sound of duct tape pulling, right beside his head this time. “Hold still,” Gold Frames commands, his voice stern. As handcuffs and duct tape are applied to Randy, the handcuff on Abath's left wrist, the only wrist that was ever cuffed in the first place is removed, as well the small bit of duct tape that had actually been applied to his head.

"OK," he continues. "We're all taking a short walk down to the basement now, so watch your step.

Unencumbered by duct tape, handcuffs or anything else, Niner peels off, doing an about-face back to the security station desk behind Gold Frames, as Randy is led toward the stairs of the Gardner Museum basement.

Chapter Three 'Pep Talks'

After leading him a short distance out of the security station, Randy is spun around a couple of times, like he's "it" in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. The duct-tape the two thieves had wrapped around his head has left him completely sightless, save a small horizontal sliver of light, he spies over his right eye. He tenses up when Gold Frames informs him that they are standing right at the top of the stairs to the basement. It was one more not so subtle reminder to Randy of his vulnerability and the power they had over him.

"You have to watch your step going down," Driver, the nice guy, says to the blindfolded guard as they begin their descent into the cavernous basement of this 100-year-old replica of a Venetian Palace.

Driver, at Randy's left side, and slightly ahead, firmly guides the blindfolded guard down the stairs step-by-step, like he would his own white haired meemaw.

Randy's thoughts turn to Fortunato, a character in 'The Cask of Amontillado,' by Edgar Allen Poe, who was led to his doom in the palace cellar of the Montresors.

A work by Mozart, The Requiem in D minor, plays in his head too. Not the somber version you might hear on a classical radio station, but a more upbeat brass version, like he had played once in the Texas All-State orchestra back in high school . With a Carnevale touch of Venice to it, this version was a perfect soundtrack to The Cask of Amontillado he decided. Unlike Fortunato in Poe's story, Randy at least knows the grave danger he is in and grimly appreciative of possessing that knowledge. He is not exactly sure how you prepare for death, but he is trying his utmost.

At the bottom of the stairs, Driver steers Randy left about ten yards, turns him around, then they go some distance more. They turnaround again and stop in front an ancient limestone sink, not far from the bottom of the stairway where they started in the first place. There is a brief hissing sound followed by an authoritative thud from somewhere far off in the basement ceiling. Somewhere, the boiler was firing up, he decided.

"Sorry man, but I need you to sit down, right next to this sink here," Driver tells him. Randy is determined not to do anything foolish or to appear threatening in any way, like the way he would act if he suddenly encountered a rattlesnake inside of a tent. Randy slowly descends to the floor, with his left side facing the front of the sink in a kind of upright fetal position.

"That's good, but I need you to sit with your back facing the front of the sink, ok? Randy shimmies himself around on his butt on the cold hard floor. "How's this?" Rand asks tersely.

"Perfect, Driver declares brightly. "Listen, I can control that other guy no problem. Just do exactly what we say and you don't have anything to worry about."

On alert for any hint of danger, Randy sniffs out the implied threat in what Driver has just said. He tenses again, but maintains his resolve not to do anything foolish. It's his best shot of getting out of this alive. "Go limp," he tells himself - easier said than done, however.

In a show of empathy Driver ask: "How are those handcuffs? Are they too tight?" Randy nods.

"All right, First, I'm going to take another other set of handcuffs and cuff you to this sink, but if you're not comfortable when I'm finished, I'll adjust them. I'm sorry about this."

Randy starts hearing Mozart's Requiem in his head again, only this time it is a more traditional and somber strings version. He thinks about Fortunato chained to that wall, his pleas ignored, waiting to be told at last it was all just a very bad joke.

The trombone playing guard, with a Master's Degree from the New England Conservatory thinks about death, his death, and imagines and reimagines a bullet striking him behind the ear from a pistol with a silencer on it, a sleek one, with a silvery shine, like he had seen on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV Show, past his bedtime ages ago. But if they meant to kill him they would have done it by now. They would not have gone through all of this trouble, right? Over and over Randy reassures himself that he will survive this, and reminds himself, not to do anything foolish.

After cuffing Randy to the sink with an additional set of handcuffs, Driver sets to work with impressive dispatch. He tapes his legs together like he was in a calf roping competition back home, Randy thinks. At least the calf could see what was happening to it. Anger and panic began to overtake Randy, at this humiliation, but he keeps it in check. His 28th birthday is in just a few days. He is both young enough to know how he has so much more to do, and mature enough to keep a cool head.

At this precise moment what he most wants is to split Driver's head wide open. Being a trombone player is not the worst life preparation in the world for an unexpected go round of hand-to-hand combat, but if that had ever been an option it was far too late for that now. Requiem.

Next Driver wraps more duct tape around Randy's wrists and handcuffs, as he continues to reassure him that everything was going to be just fine. Driver even makes a couple more adjustments to the cuffs apologizing all the while. The final adjustment to Randy's right handcuff was almost as bad as it had been at the start, but he said it was okay just to get rid of the guy.

The introverted guard desperately wants to work out what is unfolding around him, by himself, alone, someplace far away from this amiable fiend, his jailer. "Leave," he shouts involuntarily.

With an understanding laugh, Driver assure him he is heading upstairs. He apologizes once more and reminds Randy that the safest course is to stay calm and just wait until morning for people to come and release him. Without thinking, Randy lowers his chin almost to his chest and tries to look at Driver through the tiny gap in the duct tape above his right eye. Seeing this, Driver, squats down again and smooths down the tape on Randy's forehead where some light was indeed getting through.

"Sorry," Driver says rising, and heads upstairs, leaving Randy on the concrete floor, blindfolded and chained to a limestone sink, alone to his thoughts, and the troubling sounds above him.

Once upstairs, Driver joins Gold Frames and Niner at the inside the doorway to the security station. They wait momentarily while the guard who called in sick, "Fifty-Four," turns the surveillance camera on the ceiling towards the wall. He grasps it in his giant hand, turning it toward the wall without even fully extending his arm. At over 6'3" there is no need. "All clear," he says with a smirk, clearing his throat and heading to around center court of the security station, on the visitor side of the security desk.

"Lookie what he can do, and he doesn't even need a step ladder," Niner says theatrically, drawing a "fuck you peewee" and a scowl from Fifty Four and a deadly glare from Gold Frames.

Niner slinks back to the seat behind the security station desk, where only ten minutes earlier he had buzzed in two of the thieves, when they had first announced themselves at the museum's side entrance.

While Gold Frames goes over some details of the plan with Niner, self-importantly licking his index finger, as he turns the pages in a pocket-sized notebook, Driver keeps a close eye on the security cameras.

Agitated and only half listening, Fifty-Four, pacing, spots an early edition of the Boston Globe sports section and sees the headline:

KINGS DUMP BRUINS 5-4

What? Fifty-Four thinks to himself. They were up 4-1 when he shut the game off for an afternoon nap. While Fifty-Four slept, however, the momentum of the game had shifted.

"The Bruins were looking like they'd need all the luck of the Irish they could get, this St. Patrick's Day," the paper states, "when Gretzky was left alone between the circles for a perfect Tomas Sandstrom feed."

Fuck, Fifty-Four thinks to himself, this guy Gretsky will punish you every time for a mistake like that.

"Then came the mad scramble," the article continues, "with the Bruins playing the parts of Keystone Kops on ice," Fifty Four laughs chuckles to himself at the comparison, and reads on, "Granato came cruising down the left side-with Gretzky trailing, but rather than dish it off to Agent 99, he sent a softy past the unprepared goalie Lemelin-just back from serving a one-game suspension, and the Boston lead was an unstable 4-3 with 4:49 to____"

"For Crissakes Joe," Gold Frames bellyaches, using Fifty-Four's real name. "Are you actually reading the sports page, NOW? Could you maybe read the funny papers instead, and give us the high points? We're pressed for time here, but it might help lighten the mood," he says, sneering sarcastically.

"Wow, I never thought I'd see you reading the Boston Globe," Niner says.

"Really?" Fifty-Four replies, "well I never thought a cheap bastard like you would shell out your own money for any newspaper."

"I didn't," Niner assures him. "It must have been Randy who brought it in."

"Can you knock off the shop talk?" Gold Frames shouts. "This is not a humdrum minimum wage freaking job tonight. Snap out of it.

"Well let's get to it then," Fifty-Four says.

 

by Kerry Joyce

 

 

Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved