Boston, Massachusetts - March 2015
Joe had been in a lot of galleries over the years and in time he’d picked up a sense of what the places could tell you about their owners. The Westing-Anderson Gallery screamed ‘more money than sense’ with all its extravagant architecture —it was purpose built with high ceilings, wide windows, ornate curlicues— and the complete lack of taste that had clearly gone into the design. That wasn’t really a surprise though, given what he was there for.
The Van Meyer portraits.
Jacqueline Van Meyer was one of the art world’s current darlings. She could spit into a tissue and have collectors bidding before she had time to toss the thing in the direction of a trash can. Individually her portraits went for six figure sums, the triptych she’d produced over the summer of 2011 had been split up at purchase because no buyer was willing to pay for all three, but her renown had only grown since then and late last spring art gossipers had started whispering about the Westing-Anderson’s attempts to purchase all three panels and reunite them. The negotiations had taken months, but in the end the Westing-Anderson’s had got their paintings for an undisclosed sum that was rumoured to number in the millions for each individual painting. Likely a sound investment, because the portraits value would likely increase by being together again.
And the art world was currently in love with the Westing-Andersons because instead of keeping the portraits for their own viewing pleasure, they’d agreed to display them temporarily in their gallery first, where they could be viewed by any curious comer — for a moderate fee, of course.
Joe had seen photos of the paintings and in his view they were frankly hideous and Van Meyer was a fad whose work would be worthless twenty years on, but it wasn’t his business to judge the target’s taste or common sense. What mattered to Joe was that there were other collectors who were willing to pay extravagantly to have the paintings for themselves and since the Westing-Andersons aren’t interested in selling, that meant paying an acquisitions expert.
That meant paying Joe and so Joe had made a habit of never letting his work by affected by the poor taste of his clients, as long as that taste was expensive. Rich men with tacky art preferences were how the jobs he liked doing got funded.
It had taken three months to get to his present point. He’d started planning as soon as the rumours starting consistently pointing to the Westing-Andersons as the future owners of the Van Meyer triptych. He hadn’t had a buyer then but he’d known he’d able to find one and it was better to infiltrate early. The gallery wouldn’t be taking on any new staff too close to the arrival of a high-value addition to their collection and anyone who seemed to eager to join would be viewed with suspicion. Whereas, Joseph Gordon, a quiet guy who’d been on the janitorial staff since before the Westing-Andersons had finalised purchase of the Van Meyers, was a reliable and trustworthy employee with a key-card that would get him into the all of the visitor access areas and most of the backrooms. Plus he was a good buddy who’d never rat the guards out for watching basketball instead of the security monitors while on the night shift.
The patience didn't come naturally to him, Joe preferred speed and stealth to long infiltrations, but a payout like this was worth the work.
The Joseph Gordon identity was a little like a vacation. A shit vacation staying in a crappy apartment and working ten hour shifts at barely above minimum wage, but it was an interesting change to stay in one place for months at a time and form routines without having to worry about attracting the wrong sort of attention. Joseph Gordon was too boring to attract any sort of attention, just as a good fake I.D should be. That said, for what then Westing-Anderson gallery paid it's staff Joe was astounded that they weren’t getting robbed every second Tuesday. He never felt guilty about his work, but there was a certain sort of asshole that it was a pleasure to steal from.
Joe had only met the owners twice, he mostly dealt with the gallery manager for business purposes, and he was happy to keep it that way. He might be working a false name, but there was no need to flaunt his face about unnecessarily, and anyway if he spent too long in their company Joe knew he’d never be able to maintain the facade of meek low-ranked employee when what he wanted was to tell them where they could shove their opinions of anybody who had to work for a living.
With a week to go before he could finally take advantage of the clamour of preparations for the paintings' unveiling and make the grab, the goal was to keep as low of a profile as possible. This meant not attracting the attention of the owners or bitching out the manager for messing with his shifts on a moments notice, no matter how tempting it was. At least Joe had the consolation of knowing he was getting out of there and going back to the good life once he was done - he was never sure why more people hadn't turned to crime when putting up with shit-work for shit bosses like this was the alternative.
A six am start time on a weekend meant two things - neither of which Joe was happy about. Firstly, getting to the gallery by that hour from the shitty neighbourhood that was all Joseph Gordon could afford on his meagre pay meant Joe had to get up by 5am and even that allowed him only fifteen minutes to get ready (Joe liked sleep, and it suited the cover to have Joseph Gordon not care much about his appearance) before taking a bus full of other exhausted people being exploited by their employers, plus a unpleasant scattering of drunks who hadn't yet made it home from the night before. Secondly, a sudden demand for extra early morning cleaning and repairs meant important visitors, and while Joe had known the Westing-Andersons would likely be overseeing the final prep for their big event he hadn't expected them for a few more days.
Joe would never have made it as far as he had in life if he were prone to panicking, but rich people messing up his plans by doing unexpected shit was never good for his stress levels. Hopefully it would just be a sign of the Westing-Andersons control freak tendencies and not because they were changing up some aspect of their plans on a whim, but Joe was going to have to be extra cautious and also extra attentive in order to avoid any nasty surprises.
It was easy enough to take a peak at the managers schedule, the guy never locked his office door, and see that the Westing-Andersons would be coming in at nine. It was a little harder to find enough work to do that he could justify hanging around for their arrival —he’d been called in so early for the express purpose of having him gone before they arrived, the manager firmly of their belief that the rich should never have to lay eyes on the people who made their decadent lifestyles possible— but Joseph Gordon was kind of a klutz and an overturned mop-bucket as well as noticing a ‘broken’ shelf bought him the time he needed.
His tactical stalling meant that he was diligently and conveniently oiling a door hinge that wasn’t squeaky but might get that way soon if left untended, when the cause of all the manager’s fussing arrived.
Anna Westing-Anderson, statuesque and severe; Heather Westing-Anderson, the real art enthusiast of the pair, surveying the gallery with the eagle eye for faults that had all the staff a little terrified of her; and a man Joe had never seen before.
Joe hated unknown elements.
The stranger might be insignificant but this close to the end of the job Joe wasn’t leaving anything to chance. He needed to know more about the newcomer.
He was younger than the women he accompanied, one of Heather’s students? No, he didn’t have the look of an artist. He was dressed in a suit —mid-range, no visible indicator of a designer and certainly not tailored to fit (it hung off his frame like a child playing dress up) but decent quality fabric— rumpled like it had been slept in and left him looking more than a little shabby standing next to the couture clad women. Badly dressed and he had his dark hair was slicked back in a way that suggested some effort had been made with his appearance, but he’d prioritised groomed over attractive and the overly liberal application of whatever product he used made his hair look stiff and greasy. But he had the Westing-Anderson’s attention which meant there had to be something important about him.
“Do you really think we’re likely to be a target?” Anna asked, sounding like she wasn’t particularly convinced of whatever she’d been told before the group entered Joe’s hearing.
“I’m afraid that my office has received credible threats,” the stranger said.
Office? Threats? Definitely not a student, and that pretty much foiled Joe’s hopeful theory that he was just a particularly unfashionable relative.
“But why us?” Heather said. “While I’m certainly proud of our collection, Agent Webster, we don’t have any truly valuable works. Why, even if they cleared out the entire gallery, the insurers only valued it at fifteen million!”
Years of experience meant that Joe didn’t curse aloud.
Agent. Of course, who else would wear a suit that bad? Law enforcement sniffing around was the last thing Joe needed. He was hardly top of the most wanted list, that was for people who got caught, but he didn’t need the scrutiny this close to the day of the heist. He shifted, making a show of checking the upper hinge so that he can get a better look at the trio. The payout offered for the Van Meyer portraits was big and Joe wasn’t afraid of taking risks but he needed to know what he’d be dealing with.
“The Van Meyer portraits have drawn the particular interest of certain organised crime elements in Europe,” Agent Webster explained. “Over the past year, five have been taken from private collections in Spain, France, and Italy, as well as an attempt in Vancouver that was fortunately interrupted by local law enforcement. Interpol’s sources believe that the triptych is likely to be targeted during the installation, while it’s at it’s most vulnerable.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Interpol?
Joe had known other people were interested in the triptych but he hadn’t realised the whole damn collection was hot. He’d that heard one had vanished in Spain, but the other thefts must not have been reported because Joe’s research hadn’t turned up so much as a rumour. As for a European crime gang… no, there was no way. Joe would not notice somebody else moving in on his mark. More likely it was a case of Interpol taking a guess at what a pattern like that meant, then if somebody did make a play while the security around the painting was low, they’d look clever for figuring out what was coming even if they’d failed to stop it, and could pretend they actually knew shit and hadn’t just turned up to the previous crime scenes to scratch their heads after the party was over.
Joe looked the agent over again, now with the knowledge that the guy was with Interpol taken into consideration, and to his surprise what he saw reassured him.
Agent Webster looked young for an Interpol agent, like a rookie that had been stuck with the grunt work of pointing out to stupid rich people that flashing around their valuables would make them a target of crime, and he was letting Anna and Heather lead them around the room instead of taking charge. Good. An inexperienced kid still finding his feet as an agent probably wouldn’t give Joe any more trouble that the usual rent-a-cop guards, presuming that his inexperience didn’t lead to the Westing-Andersons trying to go over his head and bring a superior or more private security into the mix.
With six days to go all Joe needed to do was keep his head down and let the plan play out.
It wasn’t going to be easy.
Agent Webster might have been a rookie who kept stuttering nervously at the Westing-Andersons but he wasn’t a total moron either. He’d pointed out several holes in the gallery’s security and while none of them were essential to Joe’s plan, the gaps being closed were going to make matters more inconvenient. Joe had resisted the temptation to tail Webster, the guy hadn’t made any checks on the staff yet —an error even a rookie should know better than to make— and Joe had no interest in inadvertently prompting him to take a closer look, but he had been eavesdropping as comprehensively as he could and picking up all the gossip he could get from the other staff. He had learnt that all of Agent Webster’s suits were as terrible as the first, that he was staying in a crappy hotel that presumably didn’t come with an iron because he was consistently the shabbiest looking person in any room he’s in, he was driving a cheap rental car, and it seemed the state of his hair upon arrival wasn’t the result of an unfortunate accident because he had the same dipped headfirst in slime look every day. Heather wrinkled her nose every time she looked at him and Joe kept having to fight the urge to laugh and draw attention to himself.
Not stalking Webster didn’t mean he couldn’t get information though. Joe might work alone but that didn’t mean he didn’t have contacts. He didn’t like doing things that could tie back to his regular life while he was operating under a cover I.D, but from the relatively safe position of his crappy apartment he was willing to risk a call to somebody he mostly trusted.
Well, a text first. Joe had excellent timezone etiquette, or at least he did when he needed people in a good enough mood to do him favours.
Once his request was out there he set to making dinner, a microwave tray that had lost it’s cardboard label in the depths of his ice-box but looked like it might contain chicken, and was eating when his phone finally rang with a callback.
“Hey,” Skinny said. “Been a while since I’ve heard from you. You got a job?”
Had it been so long? Skinny was one of the people Joe talked to most often but it was hard to keep in touch with anybody while constantly hopping countries and changing numbers. “I’ve got something going,” he admitted. “But I don’t need work from you, just a bit of information digging up.”
“Mid-job?” The judgement was obvious in Skinny’s tone. As if Joe was some sort of idiot who hadn’t done his research first.
“Things have changed. There’s a guy sniffing around,” Joe said. “Some wet behind the ears kid checking up on my target. I overheard him saying a few of the other Van Meyer’s had been targets, that it might be a gang job.”
“Aw fuck, Joe,” Skinny said. “Thought you had more sense that to get mixed up in that shit.”
“That’s why I want you to check it out,” Joe answered. If there really was a gang closing in then he’d have to weigh up if he wanted to deal with the extra risk, and that was a decision he couldn’t made without more information.
“What am I looking up?”
“Van Meyers, he mentioned them getting taken in France, Italy, Spain, but no details,” Joe said. “But I didn’t find anything like that when I was doing my research.”
“So you want me to dig in…” Skinny sighed. “How deep?”
Joe bit his lip. On one hand, having Skinny trawl every possible avenue would give him certainty, but that would also take way too long. He’d worked with Skinny enough times to know that hacking wasn’t like on TV and there was no magical database Skinny could slip into that could get all the information in one go. “I don’t have a lot of time,” he admitted. “I just wanna make sure I’m not about to accidentally get tangled up with a mob job or some shit like that.”
“Alright,” Skinny said. “Give me an hour.”
Joe passed the time eating his microwave dinner (actually fish, but all those meals tasted like cardboard anyway) and surfing the few channels his TV got, looking for anything that wasn’t reality TV or one of the million barely-veiled-propaganda cop dramas networks seemed obliged to put out.
Fifty minutes later, Skinny called back.
“I can’t find shit about Van Meyers being stolen,” he said.
“Either your agent has bad information or there’s been one hell of a cover-up,” he said. “There’s something hinky about this, maybe you should move on.”
Joe scowled. He’d put too many months into this cover I.D to just give up. “Maybe it’s just make-work to keep a useless agent out of the way,” Joe speculated. “Or he’s working off a personal theory and trying to score some glory. Did you see anything that actually implied there were gangs after the Van Meyers?”
“Nothing at all,” Skinny said. “Some vague mummers about security risks but nothing more that comes with any high value pieces.”
There was no way he was calling off a job he’d already put months of his life into over some rumours. “Thanks Skinny,” he said. “You’ve taken a weight off.”
It was time to move onto his final preparations.
Getting into the gallery wasn’t going to be a problem, he'd spent three months making sure of that, and he had the moment of the take planned down to the last millisecond, had spent weeks pouring over every detail of the security system and the plans for the paintings transfer out secure storage the Westing-Anderson’s had kept in in while they prepared for the display and Joe had figured out the perfect point to get his hands on them. After that, all he had to do was make his getaway. He’d lose the security deposit on his apartment of course, but he wasn’t worried about six hundred bucks when he was about to come into a seven-figure payment upon delivery of the paintings. After a long time playing a fake identity there was always going to be a bit of temptation to try and take a part of that life with him when the job was done, the plant he'd been tending for months, the library book he was only halfway through, but Joe had to ensure a clean break while not doing anything that would give away the fact he was planning on leaving. They key to success was all in those details, little things like not giving into the temptation to acquire a car or book his bus ticket ahead of time that might draw the wrong sort of attention because Joseph Gordon had no reason to be going anywhere.
It was also in the bigger things like not panicking when Joe got to work three days before the plan was due to go off and found Agent Webster poking about in the storage closet Joe kept his equipment in. A deep breath or a defencive demand to know what Webster was playing out would Joe look like he was hiding something to any investigator worth their salt. And Joe had nothing to hide, he wouldn’t take a risk like keeping anything incriminating on the premises he was planning to rob unless he was entirely out of other options. But three months on the job made the storage closed his space and he didn’t want anybody else in it. Joseph Gordon wasn’t a confrontational guy though, so Joe just cleared his throat.
Fate smiled on him. Agent Webster jumped at the sound and hit his head on the shelf above him with a satisfying thud.
“Are you okay?” Joe said, and if a hint of amusement slipped through, well who could resist a slapstick moment like that, even if they didn’t have his secret reasons to dislike law enforcement prying.
“Fine,” Agent Webster said shortly, and oh, he wasn’t so timid and awkward around the service staff, was he? Typical.
“Mind if I ask what you’re looking for in here,” Joe said. “Doesn’t seem like there’d be much in a storage closet to interest you fancy F.B.I types or whatever it is you are.”
“I’m checking for any potential insecurities, entry and exit points, service corridors, vents,” Webster said, gesturing. It was a little unnecessary. The closet wasn’t a very big place to search and just poking his head around the door should have made clear there was nothing to see.
“Unless your crime gang is comprised entirely of pre-schoolers I don’t think the vents here are going to be an issue, Agent Webster.”
Webster scowled. “Not just human entry. There’s a lot of high-tech criminals operating now,” he huffed.
Well, Joe supposed the guy couldn’t have got into Interpol if he didn’t know at least a few things about stopping criminals. “You got a first name, Agent?” he asked. It was a bold move but he was pretty sure it would slip under Webster’s radar as Joe’s persona just being a friendly kind of guy. Actually it was because if Webster was going to continue hanging around and making a nuisance of himself, Joe might get Skinny to dig deeper and try and find a a few more details about exactly who he was dealing with and two names would get him a lot higher odds of a useful result that one.
“Ken, huh?” Joe said. “Does that mean Secret Agent Barbie is on her way too?”
The furrows of Webster’s brow deepened. He was going to get premature lines pulling faces like that and it was a shame because with that hair and that dress sense, his decent facial structure was about the only thing he had going for him looks-wise and if he ruined that by scowling he’d have nothing left.
“It’s just a storage cupboard, nothing to see here,” Joe dismissed. “Unless you think somebody is going to do something nefarious with a mop.”
“Overconfidence kills,” Webster said snootily.
Joe blinked. “I thought you were after thieves not murderers,” he said. Of course, there was sometimes overlap between the two, especially with people who had an excessively violent approach to dealing with security, but surely if Webster was anticipating that he’d have warned Westing-Andersons of the severity of the situation.
“Criminals,” Webster scoffed. “They’re all the same.”
Oh, Joe was going to enjoy getting one over on this guy.
The crux of Joe's plan was simple.
The Westing-Andersons might have hired the best movers in the business and Agent Webster might be lurking around claiming he was going to bring down the crime gang he thought was after the paintings, but as far as Joe was concerned the paintings were going to all but be placed in his hands. Because Webster had left one gaping hole in the security.
An armoured van would be bringing the paintings from the Westing-Anderson's vault and they would be highly supervised as they were unloaded and hung in the room which had been cleared specially for their display. The transition meant that a dozen people would all be hanging around the painting room —guards, the movers, the gallery manager, the Westing-Andersons, and Agent Webster himself— and that meant the motion detector alarms would be turned off for a full thirty minutes while the paintings were put in place. The security control room that was on the other side of the gallery to the room in which the Van Meyer portraits would be hanging, the smart move would be to have somebody waiting in the control room and radio them to reactive the alarms as soon as the portrait gallery was cleared but Webster had naively promised the Westing-Andersons that he was personally go over to the security control room and ensure all the alarms were reset correctly. Even at a jog it would take two and a half minutes to get from the portrait room to the control room and Joe highly doubted that Webster was going to jog, which meant for least three minutes the portraits room would be empty and un-alarmed. And three minutes was two more than Joe really needed.
He wasn't scheduled to be working at the delivery time, after hours when the gallery was long shut and the streets were quiet of traffic, but his key card would get him in everywhere he needed to be and the rest of the staff were far too focused on preparing for the paintings to notice that he'd clocked in at his shift but never clocked back out of the building. The storage closet Webster had been sticking his nose in might not be a good entry or exit point, but it was the perfect place to wait for the painting room to clear out and then walk right in without being seen.
The worst part of it was the waiting.
Joe’s shift had ended six hours before the scheduled delivery time, which was a lot of time to spend sitting on a concrete floor in pitch darkness. If he'd brought a phone, he could have played games or browsed the internet, but there was always the chance that somebody would notice the glow of the screen leaking out from under the door. It was a slim chance, but Joe would rather be alone with his thoughts for a while than risk fucking up a multi-million-dollar job just because he couldn't handle being bored for a few hours. The cold was the worst of it. The main gallery was heated and that seeped through to the staff areas, but there was only so much that could be done against March in Boston and by the time the very faint light of Joe’s watch display showed 22:45 his ass had gone completely numb. But it was no time to worry about that.
This was the riskiest part. Joe had done his best to estimate how long it would take from the delivery time to get the paintings unloaded and hung, but there was no way of knowing for sure how long it would take and how long the participants would hang around afterwards. He had to rely on listening at the door to gauge the progress, carefully working out when the room was cleared. If he messed up this part, thought he'd heard the place empty out when in fact somebody lagged behind the group, the whole plan fell apart.
He’d estimated five minutes to bring the painting in from the loading bay. The outside wall of the closet he was hiding in was directly opposite the loading bay, so he heard as the moving truck pulled away. That was one group of people down. Then the paintings would have to be hung. This was the most unpredictable part of the night. Between Anna's exacting standards and Heather’s very specific tastes Joe suspected that rather than the paintings simply being hung and everybody going home in time to catch the late show the hanging was likely to be an ordeal involving spirit levels to make sure the art was exactly straight and lots of stopping for minute lighting adjustments in order to get the best possible effect from the artwork. It was Joe's view that any art that couldn't impress while propped up against the wall of a warehouse or temporary hide-out post-job was hardly impressive at all, but he'd spent months despairing of the Westing-Andersons' tastes and he wasn't inclined to dwell on what he was so close to being free of. So an unknown amount of time, but he could listen for the sounds of people leaving. That part dragged on for what seemed like an age but finally he heard the click of high-heeled shoes passing by. The Westing-Andersons. Now things got really difficult. Joe had a good ear but there was no way he could distinguish between Agent Webster, the guards, and the manager based on footsteps alone. He could do his best to estimate numbers, but unless they came out talking there was no way to be sure. The guards he knew were chatty and sure enough he heard all four of them coming down the hall, bitching indiscreetly about the basketball game they were missing just to watch their bosses hang a painting on the wall. The left Webster and the manager.
Joe’s worst case scenario was that one or both of them would leave silently at the same time as the guards, utterly fucking up all of Joe’s best options for assessing their progress, but the guards open complaints about their work meant that the manager couldn’t be with them, and Agent Webster’s plan gave Joe the guarantee that the agent would be the last person out of the room.
The minutes dragged on. Had Joe miscalculated? Had Agent Webster deviated from the plans Joe had overheard and slipped past Joe before the guards? Then he heard the obsequious voice of the manager. “You really can’t believe how grateful we are for your assistance with this. For Interpol overseeing our security personally, it’s an honour and a privilege.”
Joe grinned in the darkness. Almost there.
Two sets of footsteps moved passed his hiding place as Webster said, “It’s all in a day’s work,” in a tone that might have been trying for humble but couldn’t quite hide the fact that he was enjoying being the recipient of such flattery.
Joe listened as the steps moved down the corridor and fell away out of earshot.
It was go time.
He slid open the closet door as quietly as he could and slipped out into the darkened corridor. One of the first things he’d noticed during his initial reconnaissance of the building was the lack of automatic lights, ideal for anybody who wanted to sneak about unnoticed and exactly the sort of omen he hoped for on a job like this.
Joe had spent years mastering moving silently and the darkness didn’t phase him as he slipped into the portrait room. He lifted the first frame down from the wall and carried it over to the delivery bay exit. His key-card would let him carry the paintings onto the loading dock and into a camera blind-spot where he’d have the time he needed to strip the canvases from their frames for travel.
He was moving towards the second painting when the light turned on.
The one factor that could never be guaranteed in this business was luck. He could plan and manipulate as much as he liked but no situation was one hundred percent predictable. He prepared his story in his mind as he turned: the security guards trusted him and would be easily distracted with talks of just wanting to see what all the fuss was about, the manager didn’t trust him at all but could probably at least be stalled enough to allow Joe to escape cleanly even if he couldn’t take the paintings, the Westing-Anderson’s might be harder to trick, but when he finally turned, standing in the doorway was Agent Webster.
Maybe Agent Webster had dropped his pen, maybe he just wanted one last smug look at the paintings he thought he'd protected, maybe he'd had a gut feeling and decided to make one final security sweep of the room. The reason didn't matter. All that mattered was that he’d come back.
There was nowhere for Joe to go.
He could make a break for the door, but even if he could outrun Agent Webster, he’d have to leave the paintings behind and Joe's smooth getaway plan, to slip away inconspicuously into the night and onto a bus out of town, fell apart if he was being pursued by five feet ten of badly dressed Interpol agent.
Agent Webster looked as surprised to see Joe as Joe was to see him and it turned Joe’s stomach. Getting caught was a risk of the business but it was just embarrassing to be walked in on mid-heist because an incompetent wannabe agent wasn’t in the place the guy’s own plan said he'd be.
“Shouldn’t you be going to turn the alarms back on right now?” Joe quipped. “What if somebody broke in?”
Agent Webster moved fast.
Joe barely had time to make it two steps towards the door before he was being tackled to the ground hard. Clearly Interpol had recruited the guy for his arresting skills not his investigative ones. Joe kicked, once, twice, but then he heard the snap and felt the cuffs seal around his wrists. Webster stood and Joe tried to make a move only to be stopped short by the cuffs digging into his skin. A glance over his shoulder revealed that Webster had wrapped the cuffs around the railing that discouraged the viewing public from getting to close to the art so that it now held Joe in place. Bastard.
“Clearly I was right to look in that cupboard of yours,” Agent Webster remarked. Arrogant prick. He wouldn’t have found anything even if he had looked, there was nothing that marked it out as Joe’s hiding place and all of the tools he was going to use to get the paintings from the frames were things that legitimately belonged there.
"Aren't you supposed to read me my rights now?" Joe snapped. He’d had one or two run-ins with the kind of law enforcement that felt that part of the job was negotiable and while nothing about the wet-behind-the-ears agent struck him as the 'looks like the suspect fell down the stairs three times on the way to the cells' type, the deviation from protocol still made him uncomfortable.
Agent Webster raised his eyebrows. "Oh?" he said. "An expert, are you?"
Certainly he was more of one that Webster, since instead of following any sort of protocol Webster stepped over the railing and lifted the next painting off of the wall. “Interesting choice, the Van Meyers,” he remarked. “Are you looking to start a personal collection or do you have a fence?”
Joe bristled. It was one thing to be handcuffed but another to be mocked. Cuffs he could handle. Joe never went anywhere without a pick up his sleeve. If he could just talk Webster into leaving him alone for a few minutes — after all he’d need to call the local PD to bring Joe in and why should he worry about supervising Joe when he was securely handcuffed?
Joe rattled the cuffs in a display of resistance that was more about getting a sense for what he was dealing with. They didn’t feel like standard police issue.
“Honestly, I’m not a fan,” Agent Webster continued, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a pen-knife. “Moving into triptych just seems like a cheap attempt to milk the cash cow of fame.”
Joe blanched. No. No fucking way. His mother had always told him not to judge a book by it’s cover but that was about good manners not a warning that dull looking law enforcement agents might extend their abuses of power as far as being knife wielding psychos.
The blade caught the light as Webster raised it and fuck there wasn’t a job in the world that paid the kind of money for Joe to be dealing with this shit.
The knife came down, slicing the canvas from its frame and Joe gasped, half in relief that Webster didn’t seem interested in turning the knife on him and half in horror that he was cutting a million-dollar painting with a cheap blade.
“What are you doing?!” he asked, once again rattling his cuffs as he strained against them. This couldn’t be part of the Westing-Andersons security arrangement, it made no sense. Webster rolled the canvas up, paint side facing out so he either knew something about moving unframed paintings or he was very lucky. The way he moved across to slide the remaining painting down had Joe suspecting the former.
“Don’t bother trying to break out of the cuffs,” Webster remarked, looking over his shoulder at Joe. “My badge might be a fake, but they’re the real deal.”
Joe stared at him. “You’re not Interpol.”
The smirk Webster threw in his direction made Joe want to punch his teeth in. “Really?” he said, two paintings tucked under his arm as he worked on removing the third. “What gave me away?”
Fuck. Joe wasn’t being arrested, he was having his take stolen right out from under him. “You fucker! You- you-!” There weren’t words for it. If Joe had been hearing the story instead of the victim of it he might have admired Webster’s gall but as it was he just wanted to strangle the bastard with his own cuffs.
“Your plan wasn’t bad,” Webster offered, with a smile that looked conciliatory but was belied by the smug tone he used. “A little unoriginal, going in as the janitor—”
“—maintenance guy,” Joe could help but correct. It involved a lot more skilled labour than just mopping floors but he supposed he could hardly expect somebody like Webster to have enough respect for service workers to know a thing like that.
“—but then, the security here really is terrible. The Westing-Anderson’s were so grateful for my help with that.”
“I’m pretty sure they’ll be less grateful when they realise you walked out with their paintings through the gaping hole you deliberately left.”
Webster shrugged, rolling the final painting. “Well, they should know better than to trust anybody giving away their services for free.”
“You’re a prick,” Joe hissed.
“There’s no need to be rude. This isn’t personal, I’ll even leave the alarms switched off for you on my way out,” Webster replied, all three paintings in his arms as he walked towards the delivery bay exit. “Call it a courtesy, from one professional to another.”
Joe cussed him out as he walked away and then took a few steadying breaths and slipped the picks from his sleeve. Webster might think highly of the quality of his cuffs, but Joe had yet to come across a pair he couldn’t get out of.