I know it’s a gamble to buy a book off the internet. How do you know if you’ll like it? Well, I’ve decided to offer the first two chapters of The Case of The Purloined Picasso here, so you can see if you’ll like it.
The Crime Discovered
It was gone! How was that possible? Robert Brookside, restaurateur and art collector stood in the doorway of his private gallery, staring slack-jawed at the empty frame hanging over the ornate mantel. The empty frame stared back unseeing.
Robert stumbled into the room, looking left and right, as if the painting had taken a walk around the gallery and failed to get back to its home.
He stopped and took a deep breath. He had to get a grip.
Was anything else missing?
Robert slowly scanned the room, turning right, noting each painting in it’s frame, each sculpture on its pedestal. Nothing else was gone. The Miros, the Kandinskys, the Calders, the local artists, they were all still there. Only his newest acquisition, a small Picasso painting from the painter’s early Cubist explorations, was gone.
There were still empty glasses and overflowing trash cans from last night’s party. The party had been an “unveiling” party, so he could show off the Picasso, his newest acquisition, to his friends and fellow collectors. He’d barely had possession of the thing for a month!
It was gone.
He took a deep breath and looked around the room again. He shivered as a cold draft swept past his feet.
That wasn’t right.
Robert looked, checking the big windows that looked out onto the street. Dawn was just breaking. They were closed and none were broken. He turned around and walked toward the back of the Victorian ballroom which he had converted into his own private art gallery. At the back of the room there was a single door in the center of the wall, with a serving hatch to the right.
He went through the door and could see in the dim morning light that the door at the end of the short hall was open. Fumbling for the light switch, he turned on the light and saw that one of the window panes in the door was broken. There was glass on the floor. Some of it was pushed up against the baseboard behind the door.
That’s how they’d gotten in.
Robert cursed himself for not getting the new security system installed yet.
He was shocked by the audacity of the crime. Whoever it was had broken into an occupied house, cut the painting from the frame and left again, using a door that opened out onto the back yard of the house to come and go.
Who breaks into a house when there are kids there?
Robert rushed out of the room, and dashed up the stairs past his bedroom and up another flight to his kids’ bedrooms on the top floor. He burst into his daughter Elaine’s, room.
She was curled up in her bed, fast asleep.
Robert let out a sigh of relief.
He turned and checked his son Robby’s room. The young boy was sprawled on top of the bed with bedsheets scattered.
Robert let out another sigh of relief. At least the kids were safe.
He was glad to have the kids since he and Kate had separated. He loved Kate. She loved him. But they couldn’t live together. Their lives had grown in different directions. They weren’t sure if they were going to end their marriage or not. But she’d moved out into a studio apartment a few blocks away. They had decided together that the kids should stay here with him, not wanting to disrupt their lives any more than was necessary – especially if he and Kate ultimately decided to stay together.
He walked down one flight to the master bedroom. Sitting on the edge of the bed he reached over to his phone, that was charging on the bedside table.
Who to call first? The police? His insurance carrier? Kate?
His mind swirled, overwhelmed with emotions, thoughts, questions.
Robert took a deep breath and called the San Francisco Police Department and reported the burglary.
After spending what felt like an hour on the phone with the police, but which was probably 15 minutes, he was frustrated and angry. A thought popped into his head. He called his estranged wife, Kate.
“Kate. It’s gone.”
“What? Robert? What are you talking about?”
“The Picasso. It’s gone. Did you take it?”
“It’s too early for jokes, Robert…”
“It is not a joke! The Picasso is gone! Cut out of the frame. Did you do it? Out of spite?”
“Are you crazy? What would I do with your painting?”
“You didn’t want me to buy it, to spend the money on it. Did you take it? Tell me the truth, Kate.”
“No. I did not take your bloody painting!” She paused a second, “Are the kids okay?”
“Yes, the kids are fine. They aren’t even awake yet.” Robert wasn’t sure he believed her. “They broke in through the door from the gallery out to the back yard. I can’t believe it’s gone.”
“What would I do with that damn painting? It’s true I think you are wasting our money on it, but why would I take it?”
Robert was quiet for a minute. His anger faded. “Kate, what am I going to do?”
“Robert, did you call the police? You have to call the police.”
“Yes, I called them already. Do you think the Gallery’s insurance will cover this? Can you ask Norton and Nick?”
“You need to call our insurance company next. We have homeowners insurance and there is a rider for your art collection. Call them. The painting should be covered. Any damage should be covered.”
“You’re right. That’s right. We have insurance. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Kate.”
“Of course I’m right. Now get yourself together. Double check that the kids are okay, then call the insurance company. I’ll come by the house after work to see the kids, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll see you this afternoon. Thanks, Kate.”
She was probably right. He would call the insurance company.
He went down one flight and walked through the ballroom to get to his office. Stepping carefully around the broken glass, he opened the door to his office. He paused on the threshold and carefully scanned the room to see if anything was missing or moved. He was relieved to find that the room looked completely unmolested. The drawings and small sculptures were all in their correct locations.
He crossed the room to his desk and looked for the insurance company’s phone number. His first call went to an automated answering system. After punching various numbers, he finally was able to speak with a human.
It was not a happy conversation. The insurance company couldn’t do much until they had a police report. Also, given the value of the stolen painting, he should have updated his policy to cover the additional value. There was some reluctance on the part of the representative to state definitively that the loss would be covered. And was there an alarm system in place?
Robert hung up, and leaned back in his chair to wait for the police to arrive.
We Meet Our Sleuths
Kate Brookside arrived at the Callas Gallery at 10 o’clock sharp to open the gallery. She was not surprised, however, to find that the gallery lights were already on, the smell of fresh coffee wafting through the lobby. That meant that either Norton or Nick, or both, were already there. It was not uncommon, as both her brother and his husband were active owners of the gallery.
She unlocked the frameless glass door and walked to the reception desk.
“Hello!” Kate hollered toward the back office. “Have I got news for you!”
Nick Callas, her brother’s husband poked his nose around the door. Impeccably dressed in a soft grey pin stripe suit, Kate could see why her brother was so enamored with the man. Tall and dapper, hair greying at the temples, Nick was a movie star handsome man.
“What news? Let me just finish up the espresso. Do you want a cup?”
“Oh, yes please,” Kate replied. “I had to get up early after Robert called me this morning.”
Nick emerged from the break room with a tiny cup in each hand. Handing one to Kate he asked, “All okay at the manse? Kids good?”
“Kids are fine. Robert’s a wreck. Somebody broke in last night and stole the Picasso!”
“What!” The exclamation came from her brother, Norton, who was just coming out of the back room with his own cup of coffee, a latte. Shorter than Nick, Norton was powerfully built, dressed in creased khakis and an wrinkled linen shirt. The slogan on his mug said “We aren’t in Kansas anymore”.
“My goodness. When? How’d they get in? Anything else stolen?” Nick peppered Kate with questions.
“Hey, let the lady speak, Nick,” Norton broke in. He nodded to his sister.
“It’s okay, Norton. Well, it seems that whoever it was broke into the house last night after the party by breaking one of the glass panes in the door that leads from the ballroom to the back yard. Robert says there was glass all over the floor back there.
“Apparently, as near as he could tell at 6:30 in the morning when he called me, the Picasso was the only thing stolen.”
“Didn’t he have an alarm system,” Nick asked.
“Not yet. He was planning on it, but hadn’t scheduled the installation,” Norton said. “I talked to him at the party about it. He was so excited about his new pet.”
Nick shook his head in disbelief.
“I told him when he started collecting, he should get a security system installed. But he always put it off. He can be so oblivious sometimes. Anyway, he wanted me to let you know what happened and to ask if the gallery’s insurance would cover the loss.”
Nick and Norton exchanged a look.
With a deep breath, Nick replied, “I don’t believe so. Our policy covers all the pieces in our collection, and pieces procured for our clients as long as the piece is in our possession. As soon as Robert accepted delivery, it was no longer covered by our policy. Sorry.”
Kate nodded, understanding.
“Oh, well. I hope he updated his policy. That painting was worth almost as much his entire collection. How are my niece and nephew?” Norton asked.
“I was telling Nick that the kids slept through the whole thing. They are fine. I will see them this afternoon after we close.”
Norton may have been Kate’s younger brother, but he was always trying to protect her. He doted on his niece and nephew. He could tell when something was bothering his sister.
“What else, Kate?”
“Well, Robert was pretty upset. He actually accused me of stealing it.”
“What? That’s ridiculous! I’ll go knock some sense into him.” Norton stood up.
“Sit down, Norton. He was just upset. No need to beat anybody up,” Nick said, taking his partner’s hand in his own, he gently pulled Norton back down to the sofa. “Now, what would have given him this idea?”
“We’ve been trying to figure out our marriage, if we can make it work or not. His collecting has been a major obstacle in our relationship. He spent so much money building that collection! It annoys me that he spent so much money, our money, on this painting. I know it’s your business and all, but dammit, that painting cost a ton of money. Now that he’s put the money into the painting, the cash is gone. The painting is part of his collection. He has less for his business. He has less to save. He has less to put toward the kids’ educations. It pisses me off.”
Nick said, “Kate, I am not a lawyer, but I don’t think you need to worry about losing the money that’s invested in the collection. The collection, I think, would be treated as community property in California. If you divorce, you would get half the value of the total estate, including the value of the painting.”
“I suppose. But what about the kids? What about paying for college? Why does he have to put so much money into a painting. I know we are not poor, but it just doesn’t seem reasonable.”
“It isn’t reasonable, sis. He’s a collector. You know that. And, lord knows, Robert is not poor. You don’t need to worry about the kids’ college funds. Any you don’t need to worry about divorce terms if you are still working on the relationship. Besides, you have a good lawyer and Robert still cares for you. If you guys do split, you aren’t going to be destitute.”
“I think we have visitors,” Nick interrupted, nodding toward the trio of people entering the gallery.
The electronic chime sounded as a dark, barrel of a man in a cheap suit, accompanied by two police officers, one male and one female, entered the gallery.
The man in the cheap suit flashed a badge. Nodding at Kate, he asked “You Katherine Brookside?”
“Care to come along with me? We have some questions to ask you.”
Norton stood up and placed himself between Kate and the police detective.
“Why take her downtown? You can talk to her here.”
The detective looked at Norton for a few seconds before answering.
Norton nodded, edging forward.
“Don’t. Just don’t. You won’t help your sister by making a scene.”
Norton, edged back a little bit, looking down at his sister.
Kate stood up and turned to her brother.
“Norton, sit down. It’s okay. I can go with them. Just make sure to let Casper know.”
Casper, the family lawyer, had been working for the Lathrops for decades.
Norton looked at his sister, his brow furrowed.
“Okay. I’ll call Casper. Don’t say anything until he gets there.”
Kate collected her things and was escorted out the door by the detective.
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