When I came to, I was tied to a chair. It was the kind of chair you see on Antique Roadshow with some smarmy guy from Skinner Ltd. in Philadelphia hovering over it saying:
“This is a wonderful specimen, it was built at the blah factory by master craftsman blah in the late 18blah’s and is a perfect example of the blah style. It would fetch at auction, conservatively, blah thousand. Now, unfortunately this item has a hostage tied to it, but without the hostage it could bring in as much as blah BLAH thousand!”
I must have giggled, because the strange man standing over me frowned. This time I had seen him before, but he was still strange. Damn! I had forgotten about him. Had he been hiding on the third floor for days now, like an extremely unadventurous stowaway? None of that mattered compared to the throbbing in my head. I had hoped for a Big Lebowski-like knock out hallucination, but no. Just black and now pain. Behind the thug I saw Mr. and Mrs. Hobfield. and the cop from the other day, but he was in plainclothes now.
“The gang’s all here,” I mumbled. Sorry, I know that’s not very good, but it’s all I could come up with. Cut me some slack for Christ’s sake, I had just been knocked out!
“I knew we kept this one around too long, the nosy prick,” Mrs. Hobfield’s voice echoed a little in my cloudy head.
“What the fuck are we going to do with him?” Mr. Hobfield asked. Now it was just bad cop/bad cop. Then the real bad cop spoke up.
“You’ve got to get rid of him. He’s seen us all.”
“Well how are we going to do that?” Whined Mr. Hobfield.
“I don’t know, dump some whiskey on him, throw him in the Charles River, say you last saw him drunk. I don’t care, he’s your problem.” Sarge wasn’t very nice.
“So they weren’t dressed as cops, they really were cops!” I half gurgled.
“You’re pretty smart for a dead guy.” Did he ad-lib that?! Not bad for a cop who probably didn’t have any professional improv training.
“You didn’t take a Sargent while you were in the museum, Sergeant?” (Sargent was a great portrait artist….personal friend of Gardner’s…beautiful selection of….it’s another clever joke, trust me).
All four of them moved into the other room to speak in the obligatory “hushed tones.”
This was going to be my one chance. The ropes weren’t tied very tightly as they were probably worried about scratching the chair. I wasn’t, as I hurriedly worked them loose. This was another instance when duct tape would have been the better choice for them to have used (isn’t it always). Once free, I slowly lifted the plexiglass lid and gently rolled the paintings up and wrapped them in the cloth that had been covering the case. I wasn’t about to leave them behind. I gathered myself behind the back of the bookshelf and prepared for a charge. The window over the courtyard was my best bet. I took a deep, but quiet, breath, and bolted.