This week’s blog concludes The Silk Print Caper featuring my four-item-prompt detectives White and Wong. The prompts were: a set of Japanese silk prints; fourteen yards of wet canvas; an antique pocket watch; and a map of Chernobyl. I left the P.I. duo in their office with Wong narrating and perusing the latest copy of True Detective, and White wrapped in his mother’s old chenille bathrobe, suffering the aftermath of a serious all-nighter. Then the phone rang. Thomas Cornwallazinski, the janitor from the art museum, called to inform White that his priceless Japanese silk prints––on loan to the museum––had been stolen. Because of White’s condition, Wong took the call. White was returning Cornwally’s phone call…
“What’s going on at the museum, Cornwally?”
“Yeah, that’s right. What happened to my silk prints?”
“Sorry, Barn, somebody broke in last night. Seemed like they knew exactly what they were lookin’ for, too.”
“What’d they heist?”
“A Da Vinci, a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Picasso, and…your prints.”
White sighed and sunk into his chair.
I intervened. “Quite the variety.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. From what the curator was bellowing this morning, all of ’em were priceless.”
White returned to the conversation. “He call the police?”
“Uh, I guess…maybe. I dunno.”
“If he expects an insurance settlement he’d better. So why didn’t the curator call me? Why am I hearing about this from you?”
“I dunno, Barn, somethin’ you’ll have to ask him. I appreciate fine art and’ all, but I’m just the janitor.”
I offered White a raised-brow expression.
He acknowledged me with a frustrated nod, then rejoined his conversation. “So I repeat. You called me because…”
“Because I knew the silk prints were yours. You’re a friend. Wanted to make sure you knew.”
White sighed again. “Who made the discovery?”
“Me––first thing this morning before the museum opened…when I was making my rounds.”
White rubbed his head.
My turn. “Hey, Thomas, it’s, Peter Wong again. Any signs of forced entry when you opened up?”
“Nope. I come in the back door. When I started my rounds and noticed a painting missing, I checked all the doors and display halls. That’s when I found more items were gone.”
“But no signs of B&E?”
“B an’ what?”
“Breaking and entering,” White said.
Cornwally chuckled. “Oh. Yeah, I get it. Nope, Barn, everything looked normal. Say, how’s your head? When I left you an’ Samuelson last evening, you two were feelin’ pretty danged happy. I’d a hung around, but I gotta get up with the sun, ya know.”
White groaned. “Yeah, I know. Suffice it to say, I don’t remember much after you took off.” He squinted and rubbed his noggin once more. “Apparently, we had a bang-up time.”
Cornwally snickered. “I’ll just bet you did. You two always were–– Whoa. Here come the cops. Prob’ly want me to make a statement. Have to talk to ya later, Barn.”
White and I hung up in unison.
I cocked my head and arched my left brow. “S-o-o-o, who’s Samuelson?”
White snugged his robe, closed his eyes, and leaned forward. “Another army pal. He, Cornwally, and I were in the same outfit in Korea. We had a reunion last night…kinda relived the good times we had together while on R&R in Japan.”
“That where you acquired the silk prints?”
White smirked. “Yeah. Samuelson heard about ’em, said he found out they’d originally belonged to the emperor of Japan.”
“Really? Then how––”
“Supposedly an Okinawa art collector paid somebody big bucks to steal ’em, then hid the entire collection in his gallery behind a map of Chernobyl.”
“What I said. Sam, Cornwally, and I visited the place and, sure enough, there it was––a gaudy, abstract map of Chernobyl, framed and hung where everybody could see it but never comprehend its real value.”
“Okay, but how did you acquire the prints?”
“We were pretty looped on Asahi and sake one night––again––when Samuelson bet that I couldn’t sneak into the gallery and––”
“Steal the prints?”
White straightened. “Well, yeah. Sam even put up his grandfather’s antique pocket watch for collateral.”
I shook my head. “So how’d you get away with it?”
White closed his eyes and drew his mother’s robe tighter. “We waited till after midnight. Sam and Cornwally kept watch in the alley behind the gallery. I clambered onto the roof with a crowbar. Took me ten minutes to find a skylight––damned near fell through the cussed thing. Took me even longer to pry it open.”
“So, then you shinnied down a rope?”
White shook his head––slowly. “No, couldn’t find a rope. Sam stumbled upon fourteen yards of wet canvas, though. He tied off one end below, then tossed the rest up to me.” White paused and stared with his face scrunched up. “Ya know…wet canvas is some sloppy crap when you’re drunk.”
“Probably most times, too. So then what?”
He grinned. “Then I slid down the canvas, cut out the map, and there they were. Used the map to roll up the silk prints, then bugged out.”
“You climbed out?”
“Actually––’cause I was still too drunk––Sam and Cornwally hoisted me out. Then that bastard Sam didn’t have enough cash to honor his bet, so I kept his antique watch.” He paused. His face contorted into a human question mark. “Think I gave it back to him last night.”
The phone rang again. White picked up. “White and W–– Hey, Sam. I was just talking about you… Yeah, been a long morning for me, too. Why?”
From my partner’s more alert appearance, I gathered the St. Joseph’s aspirin had finally achieved a successful offensive.
While listening to the one-sided conversation, I reviewed White’s tale of drunken thievery, certain that I’d discovered he had a third eccentricity. Then my partner’s face slackened.
“Huh?… We did?… I did?… You did?… Through a skylight?… Oh, ca-rap. Where’d you say they are?… Oh, ca-rap.” He dropped the receiver into its cradle.
Based upon what I’d learned and just overheard, coupled with White’s blank expression, I began to put two and two together. I glared at him. “You didn’t do what I think you did, did you?”
He stared straight ahead. “Not me. Samuelson. Said I bet him he couldn’t duplicate the burgling I’d done in Japan. Apparently, he won.”
“Oh, geez. What about all those paintings?”
White deeply inhaled, then slowly released the air. “And my silk prints. Sam said he left everything in an abandoned warehouse outside the city limits––except for my prints. Said he’d take good care of those till we met again sometime.”
My partner shook his head, then sagged backward, spread-eagle. The chenille robe parted and revealed his complete nakedness.
I blocked the view with my hand. “Geez Louise! What happened to your clothes?”
White looked down. “Part of the bet. Sam took my clothes, my prints, and his grandfather’s pocket watch. I had to walk back here in the nude. At least he let me keep my shoes.”
“And your hat. Good thing you were drunk…and that it was cloudy and late.”
Next evening, the newspaper headlines read: Private Detectives Recover Priceless Art. Our photographs were plastered on the front page. We’d finally made the big time. My image displayed a toothy smile. White still looked hungover––or guilty. Either way, his countenance made it easy to distinguish the difference between White and Wong.
Eat your heart out True Detective.
Hope you enjoyed this adventure. Thanks for stopping by.