Daniel looked inquisitively at Handsome Dave and waited for an answer. Handsome Dave looked back, and didn’t say a word. The silence between them grew.
The spell was broken by the sudden sound of an alarm.
Flippy started, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.
“Time’s up, we need to move to a new location.”
Bats shook his head, and tapped his gun on the table.
“I don’t think I’m in the mood to get ripped off as we move,” Bats said. “No one leaves this room until we figure out who the traitor is.”
“Yea? What about the cops?” Flippy insisted. He shook his phone in Bats’s face. “I’d rather be broke than in jail.”
“And I’d rather be rich than broke,” Bats snapped. “Don’t make me shoot you first Flippy. I like you, but I like forty mil a lot more.”
He looked at Handsome Dave, and then at Sunny. “It seems to me like we got two guys here who’ve run into Proteus before. How about you give us some clues to work with?”
Handsome Dave and Sunny looked at each other for a brief moment. Sunny shrugged.
“I didn’t see his face,” Handsome Dave said in frustration. “I don’t know what he looks like.”
“Yea yea, we get it. Just tell us what you know.”
Handsome Dave fingered his beer, idly swirling it around in the bottle. He took a long sip, then nodded and began.
“A few years ago, I got word of a guy throwing his money around. He was new money, buying everything, cars, watches, the works. Did some casing, found out he was the real deal. So I broke into his house and stole a painting. It was an easy job, I mean what kind of moron keeps an original Manet on his wall? Old money folk never…”
“Don’t you mean Monet?” Flippy interrupted.
Handsome Dave’s face betrayed his confusion. “What?”
“Monet, like Claude Monet,” Flippy responded. “That’s his name. With an O, not an A.”
Handsome Dave gave him a blank stare, waiting for the rest of the joke. When it was clear Flippy was done speaking, his face broke into a smile.
“Look at this jackass, pretending to be an art expert,” he said, poking Flippy in the shoulder. “No, it wasn’t a Mow-Nay, it was a Mah-Nay. An Edouard Manet, father of Modernism. If they were measuring cock size, he’d be Monet’s daddy.”
The rest of the men chuckled at that, and even Flippy gave a laugh.
“Can I finish my fucking story now?” Handsome Dave said. Flippy opened his hands and gestured for him to continue.
“So I steal a MA-NAY, and it’s worth at least ten mil. I get a replica made, and I’m not talking a cheap-shit replica, I mean a high-quality replica made. I get in, get the painting, put up the copy, and get out. No one’s the wiser. Chances are Mr Fancy will never even notice the change. And if he ever does, I’m long gone.”
“Smart.” Bats nodded his approval, as Handsome
“Damn right it’s smart, I’m a fucking pro aren’t I? Anyway, I make it back to homebase, kick back, have a beer and relax.” He punctuates his story by taking another swig of his beer. “I’m two beers in, happy with the score, when there’s a click and a gun to my head. I slowly turn, and it’s an asshole in a mask. He tells me he’s taking the painting to add to his private collection.”
Handsome Dave was quiet for a moment, as the events replayed themselves in his mind. “Now, I’d heard of this before, so I know it’s Proteus in front of me. I’d also heard he does things clean, doesn’t leave bodies behind. I figure his gun’s a bluff. So I take a long sip of my beer.”
He picked up his bottle and finished it, then without warning, swung it at Daniel, who reflexively put his hands up. He stopped before it connected, and tapped Daniel on the head with the butt end. “… and I swing the bottle at him. He knocks the bottle away, then I tackle him to the ground. But as we’re going down, he shoves the gun into my face and shoots.”
He pointed his thumb and forefinger, making a gun shape with his hand. He placed his index finger under his lip and pulled the makeshift trigger.
“There’s blood everywhere, and my ears are pounding from the gunshot. By the time my brain stops shaking, he’s gone with the painting. Two days later, it’s all over the Internet. “Proteus Steals Priceless Art From Tech Millionaire’s Home”.
His eyes were like ice as he locked his gaze on Daniel, who swallowed nervously.
“I did the work. I took the risks. I funded the job. And all I got out of it was an ugly scar and a handsome name.”
It’s always been easy for me to steal. I acquired my first illicit goods when I was a mere six years old.
I remember it quite clearly. My father was applying for a job at our local toy shop. While he and the owner chatted, I wandered around, amazed at the sheer variety around me. Little figurines, colorful cars, small hand fans. I was surrounded by more baubles and trinkets than a young a boy could ever hope to possess.
My father would never buy me anything when I accompanied him on his job search. We didn’t have the money, and I knew better than to ask, even for something small. I had made that mistake once before, pleading with him to buy me a multicolored pen. “It will make my drawings so beautiful dad, please.”
Rather than convince him, the gift’s low price only increased his shame that he couldn’t afford it. He shook his head no, and gave me a wan smile, before taking me home. Looking back, I can’t imagine how humiliating it must have felt, being unable to buy your only son the cheapest thing, in a shop filled with cheap things.
A girl around my age picked up a robot from a shelf nearby, and showed it to her mother, who nodded with a smile. She paid for it and they left, the robot clutched in her hand. I was filled with a terrible envy then.
I ensured my father and the manager were busy. Then, heart pounding, I went down an aisle where no one was watching, and snatched the first robot I could find off the shelf. I quickly tucked it into the sleeve of my jacket, nestling it against my forearm, and walked out as if nothing had happened.
I played with that toy in secret for weeks, thrilled by my newest acquisition. Eventually it lost its luster, and my desire for something new grew too big to contain. I stole again, and again, each time getting better and bolder at it.
I stole until I could do it without any shred of nervousness, any internal or external reaction that would give it away.
I stole until stealing became as easy as breathing.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Oh man, another multi-part serial that’s a bit longer than expected! Don’t worry, we’re close to wrapping up the mystery and letting you know who the thief is.
Tune in tomorrow for the next bit!