Framed in the Museum
Detective Collins knocked snow from her shoes before entering the museum’s hardwood lobby. A middle-aged man in a suit paced anxiously near the admission desk.
Collins walked toward him. “I’m Detective Tara Collins. I’m looking for the museum’s curator, Ashton Walters,” she said.
“I’m Mr. Walters.” The curator reached out a hand and Collins shook it.
“So tell me what happened,” she said as he led her through the galleries. The museum was open for business but not many people had come out on this wintry Saturday morning.
“Frank Lambert, one of our security guards, was knocked unconscious last night while he was doing his rounds. I found him this morning when I opened up. He’s been taken to Mercy for observation. I think one of the officers got his statement, though.”
They came to a doorway with crime scene tape blocking the way. Collins and the curator carefully bypassed the tape and entered the largest gallery yet.
The place where the artwork was missing was obvious, a square patch of wall with a just-slightly-different color than the surrounding paint and a small lonely placard which identified the stolen Renaissance painting.
“It’s not the worst loss we could have suffered,” Walters said. “It wasn’t his best painting, but it’s still a blow to lose a Master’s work.”
A crime scene technician photographed the area. On the floor were chunks of the painting’s frame, broken into pieces. Beside them, a small white circular piece of plastic. Identifying markers for the photographs sat by these items.
Collins pointed to the plastic. “Was that part of your display, Mr. Walters?”
“No, I believe it’s the endcap to a poster tube. I do hope that whoever took the painting hasn’t let it get damaged by this weather.” He frowned and shook his head.
“What about your surveillance cameras?”
Walters sighed. “Normally, I’d provide you detailed video of all the galleries but our computers crashed yesterday afternoon and the firm which services them couldn’t come in until today.”
“Seems an odd coincidence.”
“The thought occurred to me, too, Detective. But it’s hard for me to believe any of my staff could do such a thing.”
“Well, we can see about neighboring buildings’ cameras and such. Hopefully we can get a picture circulating.”
The curator nodded. “I hope so, Detective.”
Collins radioed one of her fellow officers to get started on canvassing nearby businesses for their surveillance videos.
“The information I have,” she said to Walters, “indicates there was no sign of forced exit or entry. Who would have checked the doors at closing time last night?”
Walters gnawed his lip. “Frank would’ve done that at the start of his shift.”
“Uh huh. Has Mr. Lambert been having financial difficulties, Mr. Walters?”
The curator let out a short, harsh laugh. “Who hasn’t lately?” He took a breath, composed himself. “But to answer your question, nothing specific that I know of.”
Walters glanced at his wristwatch. “If you could excuse me briefly, my daughter has a piece in our Young Artists Competition and the winners are about to be announced.”
Collins nodded. “I’ll follow up with you shortly. Good luck to your daughter.”
She went back to the front desk and spoke to the man working there, asking him if he knew about any concerns with Frank Lambert’s trustworthiness. She also confirmed with the on-duty security guard, a copper-haired lady with a nametag reading “Block,” that surveillance videos were indeed unavailable.
Before Collins could ask about Block’s co-worker, the redhead volunteered he was a “heck of a guy.” She shook her head. “That man loved the museum. He woulda never let someone take our art without a fight!”
Not that Lambert would have necessarily had a chance to fight. According to the medical report, the blow he’d taken was on the back of his head. He had no other wounds, defensive or otherwise.
The detective returned to the lobby. As she did so, the curator was passing through, a pre-teen blonde girl carrying a framed picture, way too large for her short arms, with a first-prize ribbon attached to it.
Collins smiled at her. “I take it you’re the curator’s daughter?”
The child nodded seriously. ” Emily,” she said.
“Congratulations on your award.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I was afraid I’d lose when I saw they’d hung it upside down.”
Collins looked at the picture, a collection of geometric shapes and lines, in the style of Mondrian, and wondered how even Emily would have noticed.
The girl’s grip on her picture slipped. With a gasp, her father grabbed on to the frame and took it from her. The plain wooden square fit much more comfortably in his arms. The detective and the curator met eyes for a moment before Walters glanced quickly away.
An officer walked into the lobby just as a thought passed through Collins’ mind.
“Good news, Detective Collins,” the officer said. “We got video from several neighboring businesses. We can get someone right on reviewing it.”
“Thanks,” Collins replied. “Could you take young Emily here to get a soda so I can speak with her father for a moment? Oh, and take her painting with you, if you would.”
Walters looked pained, but surrendered his daughter’s ribbon-bestowed painting to the officer.
Once Emily was out of sight, Collins reached toward her back pocket for her handcuffs.
“Thank you,” Walters murmured. “I’m glad she didn’t have to see this.”
* * *
“Good work, Collins,” her boss, Captain Preminger, said that evening. “Always nice to close a case out same day you catch it.”
“Thanks,” she replied. “I saw how Walters reacted when his daughter almost dropped her painting and realized the missing painting was just about the same size.” She shook her head. “It was a clever try on his part.”
“Well, fortunately, you were cleverer.” Preminger opened the door to her office and began to turn away.
“Did someone let Lambert know?” Collins asked her superior officer.
“Yes,” Preminger replied. “He knows now that the paintings weren’t the only things that were framed in the museum last night.”
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Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. His website is http://michaelhaynes.info/.