Detectives Nala Kiwi and Paul Puckett arrived at Charles Gatwick’s gothic style mansion on the hill in a driving storm that changed from rain to sleet faster than Kiwi could wipe the mess from the squad car’s windshield.
“Come quickly,” said a flustered woman who answered the doorbell’s thunderous gongs. “I’m Francesca Soiree. I called you a few minutes ago.” Soiree was about 30, wore cat glasses and had wavy brown hair that spilled down her back and a jet black skirt that reached to her ankles. Soiree had worked for Gatwick, a renowned Italian art collector, for eight years. She was a connoisseur of fine art and a painter of fine baroque-style replicas (as Mr. Gatwick liked to tell anyone who toured his fine mansion on the weekend).
Today was Tuesday and Gatwick lived alone, so the mansion was eerily quiet and dark.
The officers followed Ms. Soiree into one of the mansion’s fine salons. Gatwick, an octogenarian with a bad hip, sat crumpled in a red velvet chair, quietly sobbing next to his walker. “I’m ruined,” he sobbed, his eyes rimmed red and his nose running like a drippy old faucet. “It’s missing,” Gatwick said, almost whispering. “My baby is gone. I have nothing.”
Det. Kiwi was confused and turned to the old man. Soiree had reported a break in. Could Gatwick have a baby? At his age?
Soiree quickly responded. “He’s talking about his painting. The Carraviglio. It’s called “Child with Lute” and you probably know it. Christian’s recently valued the painting at $140 million and now it’s gone, poof, just like that, despite what we thought was a top flight Web-based security system.” Soiree shook her head and pointed to the empty space on the gold- embossed wall.
Kiwi and Puckett, whose smile revealed a gapped tooth that made him look silly when he was, in fact, the smartest cop on the force, knew the famous painting from their high school textbooks. They couldn’t believe someone had broken into the mansion and just walked away with it.
“So what do we know?” Kiwi asked, her strong voice a stark contrast to her kid-like stature. She pulled out a small notebook and pencil.
Soiree did the talking for her distraught boss. “Mr. Gatwick’s driver, John Muldoon, was perhaps the only witness because I was in my studio painting with my music on when the theft occurred. Mr. Muldoon was pulling into the garage shortly after afternoon tea. He said he saw three men wearing ski masks racing from the mansion. He said two of them together were carrying a large black sack. They jumped into a white van with a battered back fender and sped off. Muldoon assumed, judging by the sheer size and squareness of the package, that it could only be a painting. When we checked the salon, the Carraviglio was gone.”
Gatwick shook his head. Kiwi had read recently in the local paper about Gatwick’s financial problems. He’d lost quite a bit of money in the stock market, she’d read. But still, he had all of these glorious paintings. She rubbed her chin.
“Anything else?” Puckett asked.
“One of the men waved an ax at poor Muldoon,” she continued. “Muldoon said he could not make out the license plate. But he’s quite blind - wears very thick glasses.”
“Where is Mr. Muldoon now?” Puckett asked.
“That’s a good question,” Soiree replied with a frown, shaking her long mane. “He was here earlier when he told me exactly what he saw. Then I called for help. But after I hung up he left the room. I thought he had gone to see to Mr. Gatwick, who was taking his afternoon nap. But he didn’t. He seems to have left the estate. And Mr. Gatwick’s Mercedes is gone.”