This story was first published as “The Dancing Child” in the anthology CRIME SCENE: New Jersey, Clued In Press, 2005.
I am very grateful to the editor, Elaine Togneri, a Past President of Sisters in Crime, Central Jersey, for an electronic copy of the story without which I would have had to type the whole thing in again, as my computer setup has been upgraded several times since then, and the file had disappeared.
If I recall correctly, I had to beg Elaine for 1500 extra words to tell the story, to accommodate a main cast of eight characters. The mystery is set on the campus of Princeton University during a Reunions weekend, and was plotted with Dramatica and written in Word. In 2012, I think it is only slightly dated; I have decided not to change a word except in the title.
Copyright © 2004
Princeton’s Dancing Child
By Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
“Sorry to drop this on you the busiest weekend of the year,” Dean Kelsey had said at lunch at Prospect, “but it’s found money, and they need to know by Monday.” I’d find time somewhere––is there a museum director in the world who wouldn’t perk up when offered an extra million? The Faculty Club at Princeton is in Prospect House, a mere two-minute walk from the Art Museum, but I wore a long serge skirt, loafers, and stockings, and the walk left me perspiring. Now I know why Princeton doesn’t have a summer term.
It was my first Reunions weekend since I took over as director the previous October, and this last Friday in May was the hottest, muggiest day I’d experienced. Not that it seemed to bother anyone. Festive groups festooned with Tiger orange and black––alumni, students, families––dotted the walks, all sweltering in the first heat wave of the season. I longed for California for all of ten seconds: the job was the one I’d always wanted––I fell in love with Princeton the instant I saw it. Fortunately, the Art Museum expansion in 1966 included air conditioning. I hoped it could handle the extra load: prospective students and their proud parents found our treasures attractive––Princeton alumni are particularly generous, and our collection, though small, boasts Renoirs, a Degas, and Picassos––and there were the usual visitors to Princeton’s beautiful campus as a stop on their East Coast tours. We pride ourselves on our accessibility.
My thoughts were on how to spend the windfall as I stepped into the atrium the Art Museum shares with McCormick Hall and the Art and Archaeology departments. I’m not enough yet not to admire the extravagance of 3000-year-old Greek mosaics embedded in the wall across from the restrooms on my right and the richness of the polished herring-bone pattern of the foyer floor in the Art Museum proper before me. I turned left toward my office, passing the museum’s gift shop behind the information desk where one of the volunteer docents, Megan Reilly, was stuffing educational materials into a cloth bag for carrying. Good idea. The other docents should do the same.
Docent-led tours were going to be a problem with the visitor load: they were all volunteers, and several were on vacation. Dean Kelsey had also given me––oh by the way––the news that a large group of Japanese academics from Princeton’s sister university would be on campus, and of course they would drop by the museum. Of course.
Opposite the gift shop my secretary, Carlo Manelli, pecked two-fingered on the computer in his little office. His degree in Art History from Yale was more important to the hiring committee than accurate typing––even Mrs. Reilly was better on the computer than he was––but we managed. He has aspirations––he refers to himself as my Executive Assistant when he thinks I can’t hear him––but he still has a lot to learn.
The plaque on the door––”Dr. Phillipa Barnes, Director”––still gives me a warm glow. I stowed my purse in my bottom drawer. The metallic sound of the drawer closing masked the smaller sound of my door opening, and when I straightened up I found Manelli, clipboard in hand, standing before my desk. “Yes?” I said, sure he could tell he had startled me. And since when did a three-day stubble comprise suitable office attire?
“Updated schedule, letters, Dr. Barnes.”
“Thank you, Carlo.” The unconscious way he used his dark eyes and darker lashes might have the girls bamboozled, but we directors are made of sterner stuff. I stifled a smile, checked the three letters as he spoke. “What do we have?” I signed two, and corrected the third.
“The film crew’s here this afternoon, and Franklin Hartmann is coming for his annual visit to his Degas,” said Manelli. “I suggested we wouldn’t be so crowded Monday since we’re open for Reunions. I can show him around if you like.”
“Drat! I forgot the film crew.” The memo from Administration came weeks ago, and I hadn’t made the connection––it was probably the reason for the ‘no other weekend would do’ comment that had puzzled me. “Was Monday acceptable to Mr. Hartmann?”
“Thanks for the offer, but I should be available by Monday.” I dismissed him, wondering at my meanness in begrudging him the opportunity to network with the alumni. After all, I had the job I wanted, didn’t I?
When I succeeded Dr. Fenway, he warned donors were proprietary about their gifts. At sixteen by twenty centimeters the exquisite Degas was too large to be called a miniature: a study of an elfin ballerina, luminous skin almost translucent over her fragile bones, white tutu stiff, hair confined in a severe chignon, standing between a mirror and a window, inspecting her grande battement. I couldn’t blame Hartmann.
My office overlooks Prospect Gardens and the museum’s Picasso totem Head of a Woman, but not the entrance. Manelli had left the door ajar, and I came out of my preoccupation with the budget bonanza to sounds more evocative of a construction site. I emerged to find the movie crew unloading gear.
“They can’t film in here!” said Mrs. Reilly. “Did you see those clunky workboots? Trampling the floors and knocking over display cases––” Petite Mrs. Reilly looked every inch the Princeton matron in a gray silk shirtwaist with a gray opal on her right hand. In the cubbyholes outside my office, I had seen the anachronism of white gloves under Mrs. Reilly’s purse. By comparison, I felt like Sarah Plain and Tall.
“The University granted permission,” I said. “They’ll be careful.” I kept irritation out of my voice––after all, volunteers were volunteers, and Mrs. Reilly was a docent since before her husband, Princeton ’60, died.
“But it’s Reunions weekend… There will be alumni everywhere. . . ”
“We want the museum used and appreciated.” I made myself smile encouragingly. “And I need to ask a favor. Would it be possible for you to conduct an extra tour?” Dr. Fenway’s legendary absentmindedness had counted on a loyal staff, but I, who made an effort, got grudging cooperation. Possibly when I’d been here as long as he had?
Mrs. Reilly said, “Don’t blame me when something goes wrong.”
The first alarm clang startled me; when it was silenced I returned to struggling with the budget in my unaccountably hot and sticky office. Three interruptions later I threw my pen down and issued forth to take matters in firm hand.
The film crew had propped the heavy glass doors open to keep from crushing the snaking black cables of the power cords for their powerful lights. I identified the person in charge gesticulating at my Security officer. I joined them. “What seems to be the problem, Sergeant?” I said, nodding to the movie person, but directing myself to my own staff.
“As far as we can tell, Dr. Barnes, the humidity is setting off the alarms.” He jerked his head towards the shorter man. “They keep opening the doors.”
“I’m terribly sorry,
a’m,” said the man, a wrinkled hippie in a gray ponytail wearing a Hawaiian shirt of painful hue. “Your lighting is a little, uh, inadequate for our purposes.” He shrugged with an open-handed gesture. “We’re trying to work around the tours…”
“And you are?”
“Tommie Jeffries, your liaison.”
“How can we help, Mr. Jeffries? The University asked us to facilitate your work.”
“It’s the alarms. They keep going off in the middle of a take…” Jeffries shrugged.
“Sgt. Long, would you arrange to have the alarms turned off temporarily?” To Jeffries I said, “Will you let Sgt. Long know when your filming is over?”
I worked on the budget in blessed peace. There were certain items that would round out our collections…
I paused to take a comprehensive tour through the display rooms when the museum closed at five; everything seemed in place, and the air conditioning, finally, was making inroads.
The East coast heat wave did not abate: Saturday dawned, if anything, muggier than Friday.
Manelli popped his head into my office after the first alarm went off. “Mr. Jeffries wants to know if they can turn the alarms off again.”
“Whatever it take.” I was curious; I’d drop by some time, but it wasn’t dignified to stand and gape; possibly after lunch, budget willing.
Contrary to popular opinion, a million dollars is a lot of money. The hours dribbled by––I kept Manelli hopping––and two o’clock came with no opportunity for lunch, much less for unnecessary movie watching. Except for the film crew, the museum had emptied out as most visitors went out to watch the parade of alumni, starting with the oldest living alumn on a golf cart, and ending with the graduating class. “I’m going to watch the P-rade,” I told Manelli, interpreting his look as a commentary on my abuse of executive privilege. Well, he’d have to lump it; there are some perks. Besides, it’s important for me to absorb the University culture. Truth is, the University had made me welcome, and I was determined to become a proper Princetonian.
The skies threatened rain––it would have been a welcome relief––but decided to forgo the pleasure of soaking the University President.
When I returned the movie people had finished for the day. Sgt. Long reported the alarms were back on. Again the AC was valiantly attempting to dehumidify the building; I was grateful for even the relative coolness after the sweltering afternoon. I ran into Mrs. Reilly by the gift shop, helping a straggler with a choice of books. “Everything okay?”
“No problems.” Mrs. Reilly smiled. She looked remarkably cheerful for such a hectic day.
Manelli emerged. “I’ll be in Monday,” he said. “Don’t forget Franklin Hartmann in the afternoon.”
“What is he coming for?” said Mrs. Reilly sharply.
Manelli glanced at me before answering. “To visit the Dancing Child; he donated it.”
“I knew that,” said Mrs. Reilly.
“Apparently he likes his little bit of ceremony,” Manelli said. “By the way, Admin called. The rest of the Japanese group wants to see the museum tomorrow. They’re not expecting a tour on such short notice, but they thought we should know.”
I nodded. “They can do the self-guided tour. We have plenty of handouts, don’t we?”
“Lots,” said Mrs. Reilly. “Though if you like, I could come in and do another docent’s tour for them.”
I shook my head. “The Administration knows we need three days’ warning.” I smiled at Mrs. Reilly, acknowledged Manelli’s wave, and headed for my desk, where the budget was coming very nicely indeed.
Mrs. Reilly entered unannounced. “I’ve thought it over, and I insist––it won’t be any trouble. The other group was charming, and so attentive. They’ll take back a much better impression if I guide them around.”
“All right,” I said, surprised, “but it isn’t really necessary.”
The weather broke Saturday night. Princetonians woke to clear skies, a ten–degree temperature drop, and humidity more suitable for humans. I struggled with the budget throughout the day––everything tempted me. I ignored the sounds in the hallway, and, with Manelli gone and the phones quiet, managed to finish a decent first draft by the time I emerged mid-afternoon to filch some forms from Manelli’s office.
Mrs. Reilly joined me. “What happened to the film crew?” she demanded.
“I don’t think they work Sundays,” I said, taken aback. “Why?”
“It’s just that the Japanese were looking forward to watching, and I didn’t know what to tell them.”
“Not interested in our collections?” I said. Had they only come to rubberneck? Poor Mrs. Reilly.
“No. That wasn’t it,” the docent said abruptly. “But they asked so many questions I’m sure they were looking forward to it.”
“Maybe we should do an exhibit on movies filmed in Princeton––IQ, A Beautiful Mind,. . . ”
“Definitely––it would attract visitors to the other exhibits,” said Reilly. “Good night.”
I thought you didn’t want them in here.
“Good morning, Mr. Hartmann,” I said, summoned at eleven by Manelli with the comforting news that the tycoon had changed his plans. A minor stab of annoyance crossed my mind: the budget was almost ready for the dean. Ah, well, I could work uninterrupted all afternoon.
“Good morning, Dr. Barnes. Sorry to disrupt your schedule, but I’m leaving by noon to make a meeting in Boston later today. May I introduce my son, Jonathan?”
The senior Hartmann’s craggy looks and iron gray hair were reflected in his tall son, softened by the age discrepancy. The Degas had been donated “In loving memory of Gwendolyn Sayers Hartmann”. I thought I discerned the traces of a fine-boned mother, one of those stunning young women who marry rich ugly men and give them classically beautiful children. But she must not have been very sturdy––Hartmann was a widower. “My pleasure,” I said.
Jonathan Hartmann nodded, and shook my hand.
Mrs. Reilly hovered in the museum’s ample foyer with the Hartmanns, still carrying her handouts bag from her tour. “Thank you for waiting with Mr. Hartmann,” I dismissed her.
“But I promised Megan I’d show her my painting,” said Hartmann.
I wish he wouldn’t refer to it as “his” painting. “You know Mrs. Reilly?”
“Her husband and I were in the same class. We’ve been reminiscing.”
Did you remember her, or did she mention it? Uncharitable thought. Mrs. Reilly’s face held no easily–read expression. “Shall we then?” I said.
In the quiet back gallery a wall in palest coral serves as backdrop to the Dancing Child, picking up and emphasizing the coral of the tutu’s satin waistband and the toe shoe’s ribbon ties. I felt a proprietary stake in the Child: Hartmann donated it to the Art Museum, and the University was its legal owner, but in point of fact it was mine to look at, to show whenever I chose.
What was it about the wall? It didn’t seem as true to the color of the Degas as it should be. Had sunlight, scant as it was through the skylights and the north window, yellowed the pigment?
“May I examine it up close?” asked Jonathan.
Hartmann chuckled. “Would have been yours if it hadn’t come to the ol’ Alma Mater. If I’d known you liked it so much, I would have saved it for you. But you were away at Columbia.”
I bit my tongue to refrain from asking why Jonathan had not attended Princeton. His eyes and his father’s tone spoke the missing story: Princeton hadn’t made room for the alumn‘
son, and it was a sore point. Instead, I said, “Certainly. Just don’t touch the frame––the alarms make quite a racket.”
“But I would like to see it out of the frame.”
“That is quite impossible, Franklin,” Mrs. Reilly broke in. “We have it in subdued lighting and behind glass to protect it.”
“Nonsense,” I said. Really. You’d think these docents owned the museum. “It won’t harm the painting at all to see the light occasionally.” I motioned Sgt. Long over from the doorway. “Is the alarm on?”
“Yes, Dr. Barnes. They haven’t been ringing today.”
“Turn it off for a few minutes,
ergeant, so we can look at the Degas.”
While we waited, Jonathan peered through the glass. “It’s awfully flat,” he said.
“It shouldn’t come out,” protested Mrs. Reilly. “The humidity will…”
The woman was being annoying. At a nod from the guard, I settled the matter. “Here, let me get it out for you,” I said. The elaborate gilt frame came easily off its pegs. Turning it over, I used my fingernail to slit the brown paper tape seal, ran it around the four sides of the groove, and extracted the canvas. I propped it on the deep .
“That isn’t my painting,” said Hartmann with a puzzled frown. He turned to me. “Do you have mine out for cleaning or something?”
“That’s impossible,” I said.
But it was not. The canvas lay on the table in my office. And it was obvious that the image––I refuse to call it a painting––had been imprinted on the cloth by mechanical means.
“You really shouldn’t touch it,” said Mrs. Reilly. “I warned you something would happen. With all those people through here, there’s no telling who took the painting.”
I gave her a sharp glance, but the woman was impervious.
“The police will want to dust it for fingerprints and they won’t be happy that you moved it,” Mrs. Reilly said.
Franklin Hartmann had been quietly perusing the counterfeit Degas. “The police?”
“Of course,” said Mrs. Reilly. “The original has been stolen. It must have been that film crew. They took equipment carts in and out dozens of times.”
“I’d appreciate if you’d let me handle this,” I said, more acidly than I wished. After all, the woman was only stating the obvious. Oh God––the police. Visions of a crime scene, yellow tape, sirens on police cars, burly officers in uniform searching for a criminal… Dean Kelsey will never forgive me, even if we find the painting, even if we find the thief…
“Dr. Barnes,” said Hartmann, “surely there must be something you can do.”
“If they can’t take care of it here, maybe we should take it back,” said Jonathan.
Overlooking the fact that there is nothing to take back? Snap out of it, Phillipa. Take charge. They are looking to you for direction. My stomach wished the elevator ride would stop.
“Would you like me to call the Security Office?” offered Mrs. Reilly. “My things are in the way. I’ll call as I go out.”
“Thank you,” I said, gritting my teeth. “That won’t be necessary.” I took a deep breath. “Please take a seat.” The woman was impossible. Mrs. Reilly had the nerve to look put upon as
dropped into the seat nearest the door, plunking her bag awkwardly on the table.
There will be no doubt who is in control here. I strode to the door, letting crisp thought lead to brisk motion. “Here. I’ll put it in your cubby for you,” I said, taking Mrs. Reilly’s bag off the table as I passed. There was no reason why I shouldn’t survive this, as I had prevailed against the myriad challenges to being selected as Director. I jammed the bag into the partition marked “Megan Reilly” as I passed.
I caught Manelli’s eye. “We have a problem,” I said. “Call Security and have Chief Black come immediately.”
“They will insist on knowing why,” he said.
At least you could try to conceal your curiosity a bit better. I cleared my throat. “Tell them that…”––why is the word sticking in my throat? It isn’t my fault––”. . . that one of our paintings, that . . . ” I cleared my throat again. “Tell them a very valuable painting, a Degas, is missing,” I watched the young man’s eyebrows rise into supercilious carets. “Tell them it has been stolen.” I broke eye contact. He had no reason to know more. “Then get Dean Kelsey on the phone for me.”
“Security, not the police?” said Jonathan from my office doorway.
“Chief Black will decide if it’s necessary to call the police.”
“Are you worried about the University’s reputation?” said Jonathan with a twisted one-sided smile.
His tone and look got under my skin, but I ignored them. “We have our protocols,” I said.
“Dean Kelsey,” interrupted Manelli.
“…Yes, Dean Kelsey. No. Yes, I’ll keep you informed immediately…” When I cradled the receiver my arms and face were covered by a fine, almost electric coating of perspiration. The dean expected decisive action–“Handle it with care. I know I can trust you. Give my best to Franklin,”––and would also remove me the instant I showed weakness.
“Bring Chief Black in when he arrives,” I told Manelli. “And come take notes.” I gave him no opening for questions by returning briskly to my office.
I grabbed a notebook. My mind was in a state of panic: if I once let go of command Hartmann would take over, followed by Chief Black and Dean Kelsey, and it would be all over. I clutched the notebook as I might a lifesaver, and it gave me the idea I needed.
“Now,” I said resolutely, “Mrs. Reilly. You were here Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”
Megan Reilly looked surprised, then belligerent. “I came in to help with the additional tours…” she began.
“And we are very grateful, of course.” I opened the notebook. “Let’s confirm the order of events for Chief Black.” Did the events of the weekend have any relevance to the disappearance of the Dancing Child? My stomach cramped. Cut it out, Phillipa. “You had tours on Friday, and at eleven on Saturday…?”
“It was those horrid movie people.”
“Having the times will prove that,” I soothed. “Eleven…?” I smiled in a friendly way, concealing both panic and irritation.
Mrs. Reilly glanced at Hartmann, found encouragement. “The tour ended at twelve,” she conceded. “I went home for lunch, and came back around two. Before John died, we would march, and now I watch with his class if I can,” she smiled at Hartmann, “but you had me scheduled for a tour at three for the Japanese academics.”
“Dean Kelsey appreciated your help, Mrs. Reilly,” I mollified. I started a timeline. “Understandably, he couldn’t be here during the P–rade. The tour was over when?”
“Four. Those movie people were here the whole time, and we had to work around them. They had the nerve to ask us to be quiet.”
And I imagine they asked you not to barge through where they were filming. “Did the Japanese mind?” On my quick trip through the foyer to the ladies’ room, I had seen them standing agog, leaning on their furled umbrellas.
“Not them. I think they liked being near the center of a movie.” Mrs. Reilly sniffed. “They asked all kinds of inappropriate questions.”
Which you couldn’t answer? “And you left when we closed at five?”
“No. I actually left as soon as I had bowed our guests out,” said Mrs. Reilly. “You had scheduled me for tours all Sunday.”
“We couldn’t have managed without you this weekend,” I pacified. “There were no incidents of any kind Sunday?”
“If by incidents you mean the movie nonsense, no. Although there were a great many alumni,” Mrs. Reilly inclined her head towards Hartmann with a smile, “and visitors.”
She continued unprompted: “I did the tour at ten this morning, and was saying good-bye when Franklin came in.” She smiled again at Hartmann, who nodded and returned a warm grin.
I was shocked: Megan Reilly was flirting with the financier. Had probably made sure she met him and got herself included in the group to view the painting. And silly old fool Hartmann was lapping it up.
“Dr. Barnes,” said Manelli, poking his head in, “Mr. Jeffries is here.” He oozed aside, and let Tommie Jeffries enter.
When this is over I’m going to have a talk with that young man about how to announce visitors. I bit my tongue. “Good morning, Mr. Jeffries. What can I do for you?”
“Letting you know we’ll be finished early this afternoon. You’ll be glad to see us out of your hair, won’t you now?” He giggled. “We’ll be setting up in a few minutes. Sorry to bother you,” he glanced around, “in a meeting.”
“Shall I give them a hand?” offered Mrs. Reilly. “If you’re finished with me?” She pushed her chair back.
What did she think she was doing? Going to supervise the movie crew so they couldn’t take anything else? “It’s very kind of you, Mrs. Reilly,” I said. And why do I feel awkward calling her Mrs. Reilly in front of Hartmann? “But I’m sure Chief Black will want to talk to you, and Mr. Jeffries probably has all he needs…?”
Jeffries nodded. “No need to bother anyone.” He glanced curiously at the faux Degas without any signs of recognition.
“Thank you.” I was conscious of Hartmann’s glance. I cleared my throat. “Mr. Jeffries,” I said.
In for a penny, in for a pound. “You will be careful with the floors?”
“The floors? Oh, sure. Don’t worry. We put down cardboard runners like before.”
“Did you put any of your equipment in the back rooms?”
Franklin Hartmann gave me a measured look, but said nothing.
“We did not,” said Jeffries. “We stayed entirely in the main gallery. I especially instructed the crew not to step off the paper. Your guards watched us like eagles the whole time.”
“Oh. Thank you. I was going to offer the mats we use for rainy days, but I see that won’t be necessary.”
Jeffries waved a cheerful farewell and vanished.
“Shouldn’t you question him?” said Jonathan, cocking his head at me.
“It’ll take more than a few questions to determine whether they had anything to do with it. I’d better leave that to Chief Black.” Unless you want to take over the investigation?
But Jonathan merely raised both his hands in a calming motion.
And if what Jeffries says is true, the movie crew will be the least likely of our suspects. My heart sank.
It sank further when Manelli, holding steno pad and pen, announced Chief Black. I shook the chief’s hand, thanked him for coming so promptly, and introduced him. I saw Hartmann’s quick gaze grant his approval. It vexed me again, this male sizing up of first impressions. Both men instantly assumed roles in a drama based on a look and a handshake.
“When are you positive the painting was in its place?” asked Black.
The Japanese?––my mind showed me a host of glossy black heads leaning over silk umbrellas––why hadn’t they left them in the stands? Could the small rolled canvas have been concealed in an umbrella? No one would have questioned a dignified academic, separated from his group, gazing at a painting.
Or a student backpack?––but they were supposed to leave backpacks behind the information desk. My head spun.
“Positive?” My mouth made its own crooked smile. When I took the job, and Dr. Fenway handed over each treasure with a pointed lecture. “I showed it myself Thursday.” To a Board member––had I been too blind to spot a fake? My temples throbbed. “Today I thought something was wrong with the wall.”
“The wall?” said Black.
“This spring I had the wall painted to exactly match the bright coral at the Child’s waist and insteps. In a lighter shade, of course, but I pride myself on my eye for color, and the hue was identical.” I blinked seemed filled with grit. “This morning it seemed oddly faded. But of course it was the, the”––I gestured at the offending canvas––”painting which was off.”
Chief Black examined the rectangle before him, poking it with the end of his pen. “There’s something familiar about this,” he said, frowning. “I know,” he said suddenly. “My wife printed a picture of our grandkids onto these special canvas sheets for our computer’s printer. For Father’s Day. She ironed it on a sweatshirt and stitched around the edges.” He met my horrified gaze. “It would account for the color being slightly off. Pity the original was so small––it fit on a single sheet. Would someone be able to find a reproduction of this painting to scan?”
If Hartmann hadn’t insisted on taking it out it might have been ages before someone examined it closely. With a sense of doom I said, “We sell them in the gift shop.”
Chief Black’s sympathy was worse than disapproval.
“Made it easy for the thief,” said Manelli, sotto voce.
I glanced at him. A wolf waiting for the pack leader to fall? I should have stolen the painting, and left him the job.
Hartmann checked his watch.
I sent Manelli for Sgt. Long, a retired army man like Chief Black, who would be here after I was replaced.
“Assuming that Dr. Barnes is correct, and the painting was here Thursday, it disappeared over the long weekend.” Chief Black gestured towards my timeline. “Let me get this clear, Sergeant,” he said. “There were times Friday and Saturday when the alarm system was turned off?”
I answered. “The University requested we give the movie people our cooperation, and the alarms kept going off, so I instructed they should be turned off until the filming was over,” I said. In retrospect it seemed so foolish. What was I thinking?
“That was when?” Chief Black asked Long.
“Friday, two p.
“During the P–rade, then?”
“Yes, sir. They were filming only in the museum today. They said it was better, since it meant there were fewer people wandering through.” Long straightened his spine even further. “We supervised them the whole time they were here, sir.”
“I’m sure you did. That’ll be all for now, Long.”
“Nothing like that ever happened here before, sir.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. I’ll come out and look around with you in a moment.”
“Yes, sir.” Long didn’t salute, but his distress was clear as he turned abruptly and left the room.
My heart went out to the guard. It wasn’t his fault, but it would be on his record. And there was nothing I could do about it.
“Who knew the alarms were off?” said Chief Black.
“Besides us?” I gestured around the room. “I suppose someone could have noticed when the alarms stopped going off every few minutes.”
Hartmann’s wristwatch beeped. “This is fascinating, but I have a plane to catch,” he said. “When are you going to call in the police?”
“The movie people are leaving soon––and they will be impossible to trace,” said Jonathan.
“There will be a scandal,” said Manelli.
“There is nothing you can do,” said Mrs. Reilly. “They could have removed it Saturday. Or it could be in Japan. Hundreds of people were here this weekend.”
“If I recall correctly, the artwork is easy to remove,” Black said.
“Dr. Barnes took it down in a minute,” said Jonathan Hartmann, his eyes acquiring a speculative look.
“The paintings are hung on special pegs wired in a circuit that senses changes in current. We must be able to remove them quickly in the event of a fire,” I said.
“Seems we’re overly dependent on the alarm system,” said Manelli.
I gritted my teeth. I had deliberately kept the details of the system from him. He was pushy, always asking questions about every part of the museum’s operation. How much had he figured out himself? “It has been perfectly adequate so far,” I said.
“Because no one tried to steal anything?” said Manelli.
Jonathan rose and opened the door. “I’ll get the car,
ad. Ten minutes?” In the background someone yelled “Cut!” Jonathan nodded to me and Mrs. Reilly, shook Chief Black’s hand.
“I really have to be going,” said Hartmann. He closed the PDA he had been consulting, slipped it into his inner jacket pocket, stood.
“It has been lovely seeing you again, Franklin,” said Mrs. Reilly, getting up and joining him at the door. “I’ll walk you out.”
It seemed wrong––but of course there was no need for either of the Hartmanns to stay. As I rose I thought incongruously how easily men carried their lives around in a pocket, where women needed a whole purse.
Suddenly I saw how the robbery had been planned and executed, by a cool hand with an eye for the perfect opportunity, and the nerve to act. Could I avert the scandal? I grabbed the back of a chair for support.
“You look as if you’d seen a ghost,” said Chief Black.
I sensed I must be the proverbial white. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing,” I said, fighting for time. The important thing was to get the Degas back. “I don’t feel very well. Mrs. Reilly, would you mind accompanying me to the ladies’ room? I’m a little unsteady.”
Megan Reilly gave me a baleful glance, as if convinced I was purposely interfering with her last chance to have a word with the financier. “Certainly, Dr. Barnes,” she said with ill grace. She turned to Hartmann with a smile. “I’m sure this will just take a minute, but if I miss you, do look me up next time you’re in town.”
I allowed myself to be guided to the ladies’ room. Mrs. Reilly held the door open for me, and followed me in.
“Quick,” I said, “there isn’t much time. I know how you took the painting.” The trouble the woman had caused! Anger began to overcome shock.
“We may still be able to keep the police out of it. Tell me where it is.”
“I don’t have it,” Reilly said sullenly.
Not didn’t take it. Or can’t get to it. Or anything indicating righteous indignation. I sighed. “Why?”
“Do you have to ask?”
A vision of the Child’s ethereal face framed itself in my mind. “No.” If I’d known she was going to be stolen, I would have taken her myself. The realization shocked me. “But you couldn’t possibly expect to remain undetected.”
“I almost did.” She shrugged. “You would never notice.”
“Until you were long gone and I happened to examine the painting closely.” Or, horrible thought, until I handed over the University’s treasures to my successor. “You would have ruined me.” One glance told me Megan Reilly didn’t care. “Where is she?”
“At home. Hidden.” Reilly gave me a crafty look.
I looked at my watch. Had Black made the call? Men. They had no patience. “You will have to tell the chief. Let’s hope Franklin Hartmann is long gone.”
“Everything okay?” asked Chief Black.
I sighed. Hartmann’s presence made things more awkward. “I’m fine. But Mrs. Reilly has something to tell you.” I turned to Reilly with an encouraging nod.
I should have been forewarned by her sly glance at Hartmann.
“Dr. Barnes confessed to me in the ladies’ room that she took the painting,” Reilly said. “She wouldn’t tell me where she put it, but I’m sure she’ll tell you.”
Ack! “She’s lying, Chief!” I said. “She confessed to me when I told her I knew how she took the painting!”
“I think we had better go back to your office,” said Chief Black.
“Dr. Barnes was the only one who could give the instruction to turn off the alarms,” insisted Reilly. “And she knew exactly how to get the painting out. When she realized she couldn’t blame the movie crew, she picked me as her scapegoat.”
“That is absolutely untrue,” I said, fighting for composure. “She said she had it hidden at home.”
Mrs. Reilly shrugged. “You have my permission to search my apartment.”
I fought panic again, trying to think clearly. Why was the woman here today if she had stolen a valuable Degas on Saturday? Of course. I found my voice. “Just a minute. I think I know where the Dancing Child is.”
“And that is?” said Hartmann.
“Chief Black, will you go into the hall and check Mrs. Reilly’s cloth carryall in her cubbyhole?” And to think I actually had it in my hands. I gave Reilly credit for acting ability and for quick thinking.
The chief returned with the bag, and carefully extracted the stiff canvas from an inner pocket. “I have to tell you, Mrs. Reilly, that the evidence is against you,” said Chief Black as he placed the small Degas next to the imitation.
Reilly acted stunned. “You all saw Dr. Barnes take the bag out and put it in my cubby,” she said. “She must have placed it in the bag then.”
Chief Black looked worried. “I have to call the police now––this is getting beyond my capabilities.”
“You’ll need the police to take Mrs. Reilly into custody,” I said, “but there is no confusion. She’s been carrying that bag around hoping to switch the painting back since closing Saturday, when I told her Mr. Hartmann was coming. Failing that, she wanted to be in a position to distract him from looking too closely.
“But the alarms were on all day Sunday because there was no filming, and, with the humidity down, it wasn’t necessary to turn them off today.” I shrugged. “If I wanted to take the painting, I could have done it any time, and replaced it almost as easily. She, however, had to wait until the guards were watching the moviemaking, and everyone else was at the P–rade. I wondered why she volunteered to do so many extra tours.”
“If Megan took it,” Hartmann said, “her fingerprints will be on it.”
“You won’t find any prints of mine,” Reilly retorted, “but her fingerprints will be all over it. She made sure you watched her remove the painting from the frame to account for hers.”
Chief Black looked uncertain again.
Resourceful. Funny how her clever attack had made me angry enough to start thinking clearly again. “I wondered about it at the time––who in the world still wears white gloves in this day and age?” I shook my head. “Check the bag.”
Chief Black dumped the contents of the carryall, including a pair of white gloves, on the table.
“She put them there to frame me,” screamed Megan Reilly. “She must have used them!”
“Nice try.” I turned to Chief Black. “See?” I placed my hand next to the diminutive white handgear. “For once in my life I don’t mind being tall and awkward and big-boned.” I sighed, pulled a chair out and collapsed.
I looked up as Manelli stuck his head in the door. “Your son’s here for you, Mr. Hartmann,” he said.
“I’ll be right there,” Hartmann glanced thoughtfully at Mrs. Reilly, gave me a look of admiration, nodded to Chief Black, and followed a puzzled Manelli out the door.
Exhausted, I heard the arrival of the police, heard someone read Megan Reilly her rights, heard Reilly insist on calling her lawyer. If she had just let me be kind we could have avoided the complications––call it kleptomania, or a sudden irresistible impulse. I couldn’t get my mind back on Dean Kelsey’s million, even gazing out my window at the Picasso.
Chief Black’s message that all was taken care of was brought by Manelli, his attitude respectful. Good. Maybe he can change after all. What did they say about New Jersey? If you don’t like the weather, wait two hours? Outside an errant breeze moved the spring leaves. Inside, the air conditioning hummed. As