The first time Dom had ever seen the Madonna of the Pinks was in a textbook during an art history survey course in college. He'd been bored almost literally out of his mind, and spent most of the semester trying to stay awake in a far back corner, listening to the professor — who had to, absolutely had to be stoned — drone on about materials and symbolism in ancient art, in Attic art, in Greek art, in Roman art, in medieval art, in early Renaissance art, mid-Renaissance art, mid-late-Jesus-Christ-Shut-The-Fuck-Up-About-The-Renaissance-Already art. He remembers seeing her in the book in a section about Raphael and thinking she wasn't exactly photorealistic, or even interestingly jacked up like the Cubists, or dreamy like Renoir, and found her completely wanting before moving on.
The next time, it was in the news, newly verified as a genuine Raphael, and not simply the product of someone in his studio. Dom still doesn't think there's anything much to her, frowning at the color photo in the newspaper. In fact, on second glance, the painting is kind of cloying.
The third time he sees the Madonna of the Pinks, it's in person, and considerably older:
Perched in the museum shortly after she'd been transferred from a private collection and given as a loan to the National Gallery in London, with soft lights deflected from the surface, streaked with brush strokes, the image as luminously alive as it had been in 1506, years sapping some of the pink out of her skin but not all. It's one thing to know intellectually the painting has a price above rubies, but another altogether to be in the presence of a genuine Raphael, to know she'd been revered and beloved at her inception in the 1500s and slandered as a fraud until 1990s. Mary is smiling, beatific, at Jesus, perched on a cushion in her lap, all the lines of fabric and the slope of her shoulder infinitely delicate, the tracery of the veil whispering across her nape, and Dom had thought about Raphael selecting just the perfect panel of yew, scraping the gesso across it carefully, sealing in the wood, smoothing over and over again for every imperfection of surface before he'd run his brush over it the first time — and that 500 years later, she would be as rapturously beautiful as she'd been to him, then.
The next time Dom sees the Madonna of the Pinks, it's on the fucking news again, only this time in an ugly over-the-shoulder graphic on some 24 hour cable network, talking about how Thomas FitzAlen Eames III, the Earl of Surrey, had generously lent the painting to the National Gallery to put on permanent display, and how now it had been brazenly stolen.
Given what Dom knows about Eames's poor decision making skills and bad impulse control, he's barely in the air before he's running his Interpol credit card through the machine and dialing on a clumsy jet airliner phone, trying to ignore the painfully curious look Ariadne isn't even trying to hide.
"What?" is Arthur's customary salutation.
It's slightly less offensive now that everybody has a cell phone and caller ID, but it's not really an excuse for Arthur's behavior because he's been doing it since 1982, when Dom had been stuck babysitting the neighborhood kids for cash because he'd been considered "too delicate" for manual labor in their cosseted upstate New York upbringings. Arthur had been the most pointless waste of babysitting money in the world, since even at six he'd been more autonomous than most people three times his age and treated Dom initially with benign suspicion, which had — over the period of months — softened into benign disinterest. Mostly, they'd sat around playing video games, by which Dom meant Arthur had sat around kicking his ass six ways from Sunday at Super Mario Brothers, an intensely humbling thing for someone a full ten years older than his charge.
"Have you seen the news?" Dom asks him, trying to curl his body away from Ariadne's gleaming, invasive eyes. He tries to pantomime that he wants a diet Coke and cyanide to the flight attendant when she points at the drinks cart. She ends up just giving him the diet Coke, which he only gets two sips of before Ariadne finishes chugging her own and appropriates the rest of his can for herself. The entire process takes fourteen seconds. He'd be impressed if he wasn't so horrified. On the line, Arthur is saying:
"What, the shitshow in front of the National Gallery involving the head of Scotland Yard swearing up and down Interpol was going to be there any minute now, that news?"
In the background on Arthur's end of the call, Dom can hear the quiet shuffle of obvious white noise. Arthur, because he's terrifying, usually has four telephones ringing in his office, or a running soundtrack of cable TV and music overlapping each other when he's at home, which mean's he's en route somewhere. Somewhere like London. Shit,, Dom thinks.
"So I think you can guess what I have to ask you now," Dom says, shooting for gentling.
Ariadne resorts to writing, SERIOUSLY WHO IS IT? THIS ISN'T PARTNERLY on her Delta napkin.
"Die screaming," Arthur retorts, and hangs up.
"Okay," Dom says to the muffled noise of nothingness on the line now. "That went about as well as I thought it would go, basically."
"Well?" Ariadne demands.
Dom covers his face. "That was the insurance guy," he mumbles into his palms.
He hears Ariadne making a sympathetic noise. "Oh — is he — ?"
"He's the meanest person I've ever met," Dom tells her, preemptively.
Once they land in London, everywhere they looks, it's that fucking painting.
It's on all the LCD monitors showing SKY and BBC and ITV news in the airport. It's playing on the radio, half volume, when he gets into the sedan driving by his Met escort, and then the guy says, "So, what's the success rate like? On cases like these?" and Dom is forced to admit, "Shitty," which means the rest of the trip is fucking lousy with questions he doesn't have any inclination to answer. They drive past massive LCD screens on the way toward Trafalgar Square, the ominous sky overhead losing patience and unleashing a prodigious summer storm somewhere on the Strand, everything going gray in sheets of water outside the car windows and windshield. PRICELESS RAPHAEL STOLEN; MADONNA OF THE PINKS SNATCHED FROM NATIONAL GALLERY, Sky news is reporting, the letters pixilated and running a little through the water. By the time they wend through the various roadblocks and side streets, Dom's flashed his Interpol credentials no fewer than fifteen times.
"You look like you're going to puke," Ariadne says, and offers him a mint.
Dom squints at it. "Where did you get that from?"
Ariadne raises her eyebrows and takes it back. During the months he's been working with her, Dom's learned the following: (1) don't ask your probie if she's wearing makeup, and (2) Ariadne has personal habits like a college freshman. Once, he saw her eating a hot pocket straight out of the fridge.
"There was a dish of them at the restaurant," she says. "Why?"
Dom debates whether or not to tell her about broad studies showing the amount of fecal bacteria and trace urine from patrons scientists have found in dishes of restaurant mints, but then he gets distracted when the car stops and the officer twists around to say:
"We're here — good luck. DI Martens is waiting for you at the Getty entrance."
Art theft, on this scale, rarely happens. Everyone knows the stories of someone walking out of the Louvre with an old master, or the Gardner theft, but hundreds of thousands of pieces live peacefully in museums and collections the world over, protected by fame and a steady migration of tourists and a number of tasers. The months, sometimes years of planning it takes to rob an institution like the National Gallery is daunting, and there're maybe a handful of known entities with the skill, technology, and drive to pull the job — motivation meaning everything in cases like these.
Dom glances at the cop: red face, bad skin, sweet nose and a smirk. He adds PC Davidson to his mental filodex, tagged reliable, easygoing, hardworking, unextraordinary, and opens the car door, scooting out as he calls over his shoulder to Ariadne, "This your first case?"
"First live one," she calls out, over the din of the police radios at the clatter of the press corps, who are better trained than snipers and bolt toward Dom and Ariadne as soon as they see movement out of the corner of their eyes. They make it under the police cordon just before someone sticks a fucking CNN microphone under his chin, and Dom stands in the rain for a beat, staring at the gleaming ground and the phalanx of detectives gathered around the Getty entrance and feeling dread like a marble ball at the base of his spine.
"What's up with you?" Ariadne asks, scraping soaked-through hair away from her face with a total absence of vanity, dripping right along with Dom in the lights of the gallery. "You're acting crazier than usual."
That's unfortunate, since even before this, Ariadne had asked Dom if he wasn't some sort of hazing ritual Interpol puts all of their new agents through, and Dom can't even argue the point. Ever since they'd picked up the call, he's felt crazier than usual.
Slick wet, every neon glimmer and seizure-inducing array of lights is magnified and reflected a dozen times over, the streets almost cleared except for the rapidly gathering herds of media camping out in no-parking areas deep in London's congestion zone.
Even setting aside the fact that's Eames's painting, the thing about a crime like this — so showy and ludicrously risky — is that the motivations for it become paramount. If it's a greedy private collector, then he's hired a pro, and that's a bloodless transaction of money for the painting and it's gone, just like that, smoke, because someone who bought the grab at such an astronomical price won't be doing it to fence the painting. It'll vanish into a private collection somewhere, a personal boudoir, and she'll be loved, but she's lost to Dom and everyone else forever. If it's an ambitious thief, and one good enough to have actually made the snatch, then they know the painting will be too hot to move for years and by then Dom will be dead from ulcers and Ariadne will be running Interpol and will be too busy applying her more irritating social skills to "actual crimes," from which she excluded art theft. Or hell, maybe the culprit had stolen the fucking painting for himself. The worst option being that maybe the painting's not stolen at all, Dom thinks grimly.
"It's just," Dom starts, and thinks, oh, hell, she's going to have to find out eventually, and says, "It's just that I know some of the people involved here."
She stares at him, eyelashes dripping. "You know the people involved?"
"Well, know of them," Dom elaborates. "None of them are talking to me anymore."
Ariadne grabs his elbow. "I can't pay attention if I'm thinking about rain dripping into my underwear," she shouts over the storm, and drags him indoors, waving her credentials as they cross a secondary line of police and drip enthusiastically all over the polished floors, past the donation box — half empty — and come to a stop at the information desk near the stairs toward the Sainsbury wing.
"When you say none of them are talking to you anymore," Ariadne asks, probably trying to shoot for innocent and missing by a country mile. Obviously Interpol recruits for the curious-minded, but it's one of those major flaws in the system that new agents get to sharpen their teeth on older, more feeble ones, Dom thinks bitterly.
"I mean none of them are talking to me anymore," Dom clarifies, and before Ariadne can regroup for a second attack, he makes a beeline for the museum director.
The museum director is in fits, on the verge of complete meltdown, and in the five minutes Dom's been trying to talk to the guy, Dr. Bosch has already taken on and taken off and cleaned his glasses a half-dozen times. If the man wasn't such an obvious weasel Dom might actually think he had something to do with the theft.
"The security system is state of the art, yes," Bosch says, slurring and tripping over his own words from his distress. "But more than that, we have thousands, Agent Cobb, thousands of guests every day, and docents in the doorways at every room — how could this have possibly happened?"
The CCTV footage from that afternoon was pretty remarkable. Toward closing time, with the surge of visitors during the rainstorm, it's a crush in every room, people skimming past the Madonna of the Rocks and Saint Francis of Assisi with Angels, Winter Landscape with vague appreciation. All this time, the Madonna of the Pinks is safe and sound on the wall, wreathed in by schoolgirls in maroon-colored jackets and boys in gray sweater vests, their ties loose in the summer heat and failing air conditioning.
Then at 16:53, a flash, two seconds of snow on the tape and when the image cuts in again, same schoolgirls, same maroon jackets, some schoolboys with the same gray sweaters, and no painting on the wall.
The shouting had started immediately.
At 16:53:45, one of the girls had pointed at the wall, shouting, mouth wordless in the surveillance film.
At 16:55:45, the alarm was sounded throughout the gallery, beginning lockdown procedures established, security from the central hub dispatched to all corners, all exits sealed, and all attempting to flee detained. They'd netted three kids playing hooky, a pair of second year financial analysts doing the same, and some guy late for a meeting who thought the rules didn't apply to him.
By 17:10:15 a survey's been done of the museum and visitors are being freed in a steady trickle after a thorough search by first museum security and then the Metropolitan police, who'd roared up with SWAT and experts and someone already on the phone to Interpol — fucking eager to kick this shitshow onto someone else's doorstep.
The basic impossibility of the grab is impressive, Dom has to admit. The speed they managed to get it out of the overfull museum even more astonishing, and before he gets a chance to ask it, Ariadne's doing it for him:
"Are we even sure the painting's no longer in the gallery?" she says to Bosch. "That's less than two minutes to get it off the wall and out of the building. That's fast, even if whoever took it wasn't battling crowds."
Clawing at his thinning hair, Bosch says, "We're doing an inch by inch canvas of the building, but so far nothing — there're a few wings left, and some employee-only areas, but nobody's optimistic."
"Optimism generally has very little to do with actual recovery," Ariadne tells Bosch in a way she probably thinks is reassuring. It's best she's entered law enforcement versus something where her cheerfully demoralizing tendencies would have actual consequences — like nursing, or hospice care. "Can someone walk me through the security system?"
Dom only gets two seconds to be impressed by her handling of the situation, her prudent confidence, and to allow himself a little flash of pride before it all immediately plunges into misery.
"Excuse me," a voice says from over his shoulder, "can someone please explain to me the hell's going on?"
Eames is drenched, clearly fresh off of a plane and dripping ceaselessly onto the floor of the museum, turning to look in intermittent periods — between Bosch making pleading noises and empty reassurances that of course the painting will be recovered, undamaged, even! in time for the insurance inspection next week! — at the empty patch on the wall where she'd been located before this afternoon.
"What happened?" he asks, seemingly shocked.
Dom can't tell if Eames seems genuinely surprised or if he's faking it, if he suspects anything or if he's crushed, or if he's missed his life's calling by going into his family's real estate business instead of pursuing a career in pretending he didn't arrange to have his own painting stolen.
"The painting is gone," Dom says, carefully, and in the too-long blank of silence that follows, he waits until Eames gets annoyed with the quiet and asks:
"What? That's it?"
Before Dom says, point-blank, "Did you take it?"
Eames stares at him for seemingly forever. "Did I — why would I steal my own fucking painting?"
"You tell me," Dom invites, trying to find any flicker of reaction, anything to hang onto for analysis.
But Eames is still that perfect, flawless shocked, with just an artful touch of growing, insulted fury as he snarls, "Have you lost your fucking mind?"
"Mal took it in the divorce," Dom answers, reflexive in a way that surprises him.
In the eight months he's been working with Ariadne now, she's been wholly unsuccessful at squirreling any details about his personal life from him — it was helpful that he didn't have one, Dom would admit — but this just rolls off his tongue, like he's been waiting ages to say it, let it explode at someone. He wants to say, I have full custody of the kids; Mal lives in France. Our kids miss her like crazy. He wants to say, I hate it, I miss her like crazy, too, but I don't want them near her; it's too dangerous.
Eames's anger tempers. "That's — that's bloody awful. I'm still furious you'd fucking ask, but nevertheless, that's really fucking awful."
"Thoroughly unconvincing, but good try," Dom says, because he doesn't feel like getting into the mechanics behind that split right now, all the uncomfortable roiling guilt he feels when he thinks about Arthur and Eames and Mal and the parallel lines of their mutual separations. Dom's keeping secrets that are ruining all of their lives, but he's endlessly willing to sacrifice other people if he has to.
Dom wishes, stupidly, that Arthur was there to translate. Eames is the definition of opacity, every reaction and smile and affectation so heavily lacquered over by years of pre-prep and Harrow and Cambridge — all before Eames ever began indolently squandering his money on art, went to Basel, and apparently became infatuated with a scowling Arthur. Dom knows about the scowling because Arthur has never once cracked a smile at Basel, which he views as the asshole of all space and time, and its annual masturbatory festival a compelling argument for the eradication of the human race. Arthur had always been able to read Eames, could glance over his shoulder at Eames's seemingly charmed laughter and say, "He's bored out of his fucking mind."
The last time Dom had seen Eames, he'd been boozy with happiness, sitting in a rattan chair in his endless gardens, watching Mal try to teach Arthur how to hold a baby, and laughing every time he caught a glimpse of Arthur's expression: a rictus of tense fearfulness. For a man forever blandly carrying priceless and irreplaceable works of art, Arthur had zero faith in his ability to handle children. Dom thought probably Mal's constant reassurance that if Arthur did drop Philippa, she would bounce, had the reverse effect of providing him any comfort.
"This is a good look on you," Dom had told Arthur later.
And Arthur had actually gone a little pink at that, although Dom graciously pretended it was the sun.
In the background, Eames had been engaged in a spirited argument about whether Eliot was property of the American or English literary canon, thereby proving he was an irredeemable douchebag. But Arthur looked happy and as far as Dom was concerned, that was the litmus test, so he and Mal had gone back to their "two-bedroom" in New York and Eames had kept on living in London and Arthur had kept on living wherever the hell he wanted.
But that's a lifetime ago, Dom thinks ruefully, and says, "Yeah, well." He clears his throat. "Do over?"
Raising an eyebrow, Eames nods, acquiescing, and Dom says, "Eames — long time."
"Cobb," Eames returns, arching a brow. "So. Should I be comforted or more concerned by your presence?"
"Both," Cobb admits.
"Excellent," Eames mutters, scraping wet hair out of his face in irritation. "Fucking fantastic."
"We're figuring it out, Eames," Dom says
"Aren't there cameras blanketing every fucking inch of this place?" Eames snaps back, sharp suddenly again, a glimmer of something beneath his composure. "Shouldn't you have all the airports and fucking trains stations shut?"
"The Met has set up checks on major roadways, beefed up presence in the international train stations, customs knows about the theft, and there's a countrywide alert," Dom tells him dutifully, but something must give him away because Eames just stares at his face and asks, flat:
"That's not going to do shit, is it?"
Dom thinks about standard protocol for these cases, and after a beat, he says, "No — probably not."
You don't plan a beautifully flawless heist of this caliber and neglect to figure in the business of sneaking it out of the country, to wherever you're keeping it, or into the hands of your buyer. Some of the greatest works of art in the world have been stolen and never recovered. Dom hopes this isn't another one of them, but that's mostly hope.
Eames suddenly slumps over, like a wind-up toy after all his gears have been exhausted, and Dom thinks Eames looks old and tired and rough — it could just be the red eye flight or the lost Madonna, but Dom thinks it's probably the same reason that when he looks in a mirror, he sees someone old and tired and rough.
"Great, fucking — just fucking great," Eames says. "This is fantastic."
Dom puts a hand on his shoulder. He's never been particularly good at comforting, but if he leaves this, then Ariadne will probably swoop in and next thing he knows Eames will be drunk in the gift shop sobbing and attempting to end it all with a letter opener shaped like a medieval sword.
"Look, we're going to do our best here. This is the worst case scenario, but we're trained for it," Dom tells him, almost striking that balance between firm and sympathetic when Ariadne peers around a corner, looking absolutely gleeful and saying:
"Hey, Dom? That insurance guy is here — and he's pissed."
Exactly no one had been surprised when Arthur had gone from being an incredibly irritated kid to an incredibly irritated teenager to an incredibly irritated college student to working in insurance. It still makes sense in a just and strangely cosmic way that Arthur, who was efficient in all things, had managed to marry his love of detail, inability to tolerate deviation from a plan, paranoia, and delight in scarring people into a highly math-oriented career that also involved traveling 23 weeks of the year. Dom worked for Interpol and Arthur had still gotten an international satellite phone before him, that fucker.
At some point, Arthur had made a subtle — but important — transition from actuary to something a lot more nebulous that fell under the balance sheet near "recoveries, authentication," which explained why he was standing at the Getty entrance, bone dry despite the water still sleeting down outside and ferociously annoyed.
"Dom," Ariadne says, rapturous, with something that looks uncomfortably like lust, "this is Arthur. He's from the inland marine division of Beauchamp-Hollister Guaranty."
"We've met," Dom says, the same time Arthur says, "What the fuck happened here?"
"The National Gallery seems to have misplaced the Madonna of the Pinks," Dom says, because if Arthur is going to be an asshole, then Dom can rise to the occasion with the best of them.
Ariadne continues, ignoring the mulishly annoyed look on Arthur's face and Dom's probably deepening scowl. She says, "Apparently he's personally seeing to the recovery of the painting."
She's smiling so hard it's nearly bisecting her face, and it speaks to an ugly, rubbernecking quality Dom has always suspected of her. With every passing day he's more and more convinced that Ariadne is a punishment for the unspeakable six months immediately after his separation from Mal, during which he made at least four admins cry, threw a plant out the window, and drank after hours in his office.
"Personally," Dom says, wishing he was dead. "Great."
Arthur just levels him a deeply unamused look, right past anger, disappointment, and into the planning stages. Dom used to admire that about Arthur, how he rarely wasted time on recrimination, regret, or grieving, instead volleying himself and his always considerable stores of anger toward his next set of goals, the next thing that needed to be done. Post-divorce, Dom's affectionate paternalism on this subject has worn away, and now it just makes him want to punch Arthur's emotional efficiency in the balls and shred his maturity into confetti.
"It's a bit earlier than Beauchamp-Hollister had thought they'd be dispatching a representative, but strangely, my employers are reluctant to cut a $50 million check without exhausting all other options," Arthur says, artificially light, and peers around Dom's shoulder toward the belly of the museum, washed out from the additional lights forensics have hauled in to examine the scene, and ghostly from the cloths museum staff have draped over nearby work to protect it. "I'm assuming the more mobile pieces are being relocated for their safety."
"We're not amateurs," Dom says, even though he has no fucking idea if the more mobile pieces are being relocated for their safety, which must be pretty obvious because Arthur ignores him in favor of asking Ariadne:
She grins. "It's slow going. Nothing in the gallery is particularly mobile, even when it is. And there's apparently there's a significant damp situation in some of the storage areas," she says, and the second half of her disclosure coincides with the arrival of the museum director, who takes one look at Arthur, processes what Ariadne has said, and turns the color of wallpaper paste.
"That — that's simply not true," Bosch insists, somehow deteriorating even further in appearance. Any minute now, he's going to vaporize in a huff of misery and all that's going to be left his is paisley-lined bespoke suit. "Beauchamp-Hollister inspected our storage themselves."
"Two decades ago," Arthur replies, smooth and non-confrontational, although Dom can already see the mental scribble going into Arthur's notebook for later tonight: call another inspection, reprice coverage on individual policies. "Either way, I'm sure you and the rest of the museum management have it well in hand. I'm here regarding the Madonna."
Mopping at his brow with a handkerchief that has suddenly appeared in his fist, Bosch says, "Of course," and Arthur detaches himself from his spot on in the lobby, past the clear plastic donations box, up the stairs, into the labyrinth of rooms, the slender lines of him surprising and familiar at once. Dom thinks maybe he owes it to Arthur on long acquaintance to warn him that Eames is already here, but then Ariadne is clattering off after Bosch and Arthur, saying, "So, tell me, what's your cut? For a recovered painting?" and Arthur is saying, "That's confidential," which gets just about the level of respect from Ariadne as Dom ever has, and it's too late.
The weirdest thing about Arthur and Eames — and there is a lot of weird stuff about Arthur and Eames — is that Dom actually has no fucking clue whether or not they were ever in an actual relationship. Dom has a nauseating suspicion that sex might have been involved but it's actually hard to tell if it was, if they ever did anything beyond jetting off to exotic locales in opposite directions from one another pretending not to give a shit about the other person, and then drilling anybody who came near them for information about the opposite party. For about a month in the middle Dom had thought maybe it was all one elaborate spy versus spy game, where the summary occupation of Arthur and Eames's time together was looking fashionable in expensive suits and making clever, sniping remarks about each other.
"You're an idiot," Mal had told him. "That's clearly how Arthur expresses affection."
"What about Eames?" Dom had asked, because he'd known of Eames, of course, through Mal's business, but not known him.
And anyway, on the subject of Arthur, Mal was not to be trusted. Since she'd met him at Art Basel she'd been desperately trying to win Arthur's affection with the fervor of someone who's always automatically been the most popular person in the room. To her enormous distress and Dom's cruel delight, Arthur has done as he'd always done and mostly ignored her efforts — so of course she'd think Arthur was making a good decision by fostering some sort of weird tendre for Eames. At that point, she probably would have helped Arthur freebase heroin if he would have told her a secret.
Mal had looked thoughtful. "A more complex case. But I guess we'll know for sure if he starts acting out for Arthur's attention. You know, burn down a gazebo or something," she'd said, which had prompted Dom to get up and head for Arthur the same way he'd trailed the kid around the neighborhood bike paths, terrified he'd crack his head open on a stray log.
Seeing them in the same room again doesn't clear up anything.
He comes into the middle of a conversation in progress, so he only hears Eames say, "…should have known they'd send their favorite hellhound," with such fondness that Ariadne's head swivels around like she's an animatronic leftover from the Exorcist, wearing an appropriately wide-eyed, revolted look.
Dom nods and mouths, I know, because he knows, and clears his throat. "Arthur, I see you've found that Mr. Eames has arrived."
"I have," Arthur allows. The you fucker how did you not tell me he was already here? is unspoken. Arthur's compulsive need to appear omniscient at all times on full display.
"Not that I'm not thrilled Interpol is on the case, Cobb, but I must admit that I'm well pleased Arthur has turned up," Eames says, faking a purr and trying to sound like this is just an everyday opportunity to leer at one of his many dark-haired distractions. It's directly contradicted by how he's maintaining his distance, the way his hands are in fists in his pockets, how he doesn't manage to look away from Arthur the entire time he's speaking, the practiced, affected casualness of his words.
"Your attempts to use comprehensive school slang, as always, horrify me," Arthur tells Eames, sounding nearly fond, and deftly turns his attention back to Ariadne to ask, "May I ask to know which suspects you've identified?"
Before Ariadne can cheerfully admit they've only been here 20 minutes and know exactly fuckall, Dom clears his throat to say, "I haven't actually ruled out Eames as a suspect here, Arthur," just to see what happens.
Ariadne looks fascinated. Eames just glares. "Excuse me?" he growls.
"I didn't say I'd abandoned that line of pursuit," Dom rejoins.
"A ridiculous one," Eames snaps. "I already own the painting. What on Earth would be the point of stealing it?"
"Boredom," Dom suggests, but he looks over to Arthur, who has transformed himself with a studiously blank-faced expression: disinterested and at once the unspoken motivation. Dom has no doubt Eames today is no different, really, from Eames a lifetime ago, who was embarrassingly in love, who would have burned down a gazebo for just a touch of Arthur's attention. Ariadne tracks the line of Dom's sight, and gives Arthur a thoughtful once-over before glancing back at Dom. They know each other well enough to be annoyed with one another now, but not well enough that Dom knows exactly what the question in her eyes is, and he shakes his head tightly, later, before he adds, "And the short list of suspects includes a number of your known associates."
Eames rolls his eyes elaborately. "Oh, well, then half the registrants at the last Christie's renaissance auction are suspects then, Cobb — it's a very small community of interested parties."
"It's a small community of interested parties with the means and connections to pull something like this off, you mean," Ariadne corrects, sweeping closer to Dom's side with an intrigued look on her face now, her mind spinning out calculations. Ariadne is new and disdainful of the unit because she'd watched too many action movies and thought all of Interpol would be shooting terrorists in the face, but she's very good at what she does.
Here, Eames engages an expression of abject, calculating condescension and says, "Darling — honestly, you must understand that nearly everyone who's anyone in the art world — "
"Eames, that tone of voice is bullshit and so is the point you were trying to make in a revoltingly patronizing way," Arthur interrupts, flatly irate.
Eames doesn't bother to hide that he's overjoyed. "Why, Arthur, are you saying you think I had something to do with this theft?"
Ariadne has the instincts of an A+ student trapped in a roomful of idiots, Dom thinks, because she goes perfectly still and grabs Dom's wrist, like she knows something is about to happen and that he should pay attention — that without pointing it out he wouldn't notice.
"No," Arthur says, something bloodlessly resigned underneath it, "why would you?"
Dom stares and Eames stares and the only person who doesn't is Ariadne, who is rapidly going from intrigued to impatient, scanning the room beyond its occupants at the museum workers making space for Scotland Yard, the crime scene workers' flashbulbs going nuclear and crime scene technicians brushing for prints. But there's a gaping silence here, something telling in the not-telling, and Dom thinks he's missed a clue, except there are multiple and parallel mysteries here, and he's not sure which one it ties to, and before he can break the moment to ask, Eames chokes, "I — "
Arthur clears his throat, interrupting, gone from resigned to amused, the way people are about things that aren't so terrible you can't survive them, but that are terrible and terribly unchangeable nonetheless, and he says to Ariadne, "Would it be all right to get an overview on whatever you guys have already turned up? I promise I won't be in your way."
Ariadne grins at him. "Sure, maybe you'll even be helpful," she allows, and gestures deeper into the museum. "Follow me."
That leaves Dom and Eames awkward in one another's spaces, broken-up ex-circles in an ex-Venn Diagram, and everything that springs to mind is uncomfortable. Small talk would be bullshit in this context, inquiries about Eames's family would be overly familiar. Continuing a pursuit of whether or not Eames stole his own painting would be useless at this juncture, and better served in an official capacity rather than held dripping-wet in the National Gallery.
All that leaves Dom with is the sinking sense that Eames is going to ask something like:
"So what happened? With you and Mal?"
"Right," Dom says, because he can't say, you probably know better than anybody else, and clears his throat, waves over a few of the Met officers standing around looking bored. "Could you guys escort this gentleman out?"
Eames's eyes narrow. "I beg your pardon, that is my painting!"
"And we'll contact you about it as soon as we have further questions or any information," Dom promises Eames, stock standard Interpol lines they tattoo into your frontal lobe. "Until then, trust us to do our jobs."
Eames goes, but unhappily, and before he vanishes out of view, he pauses and looks back at Dom.
But the look on his face can't possibly be meant for Dom, or anyone, and Dom followed the line of Eames's gaze back through the Matroshka doll doorways of the museum, past the plum walls and the treasures lining them, drinking in the silhouette of Arthur — slender and stark against the medieval masterpieces and improbable Renaissance tempera-and-board paintings — and Dom thinks it's so obvious, so poorly hidden, that the Madonna isn't what Eames is upset about having lost at all.
They end up in matching shoebox-sized hotel rooms on St. Martin's Street, near Trafalgar Square and the never-diminishing, ever-changing confluence of reporters of all stripes and police officers that are gathered around the National Gallery. Dom figures he and Ariadne have another day, maybe two, before everybody is done being horrified by the theft and bored and irate enough to start lobbying for tourists to have the right to wander through the rooms unhindered again, to whisper loudly to one another about the blank spot on the wall.
Ariadne's read-in of Arthur had been just as sad as Dom had anticipated, and Arthur's response had been just as judgmental, but at least both parties had agreed to reserve verbal jousting for after sleep, and made arrangements to regroup at the museum at 8 a.m. the next morning. In the meantime, Dom had compiled a list of their top 20 suspects in international art crime in perpetuity and sent them off to headquarters to request updated financial records; it was standard operating procedure but for a reason.
At 7:15, Ariadne starts banging on Dom's door.
"Jesus Christ," Dom says instead of good morning, because he just doesn't have it in him. "I seriously fucking hate you."
She blows into his room, arms overflowing. "So I couldn't sleep until like, 3 a.m., and then it felt ridiculous to sleep since I'd only get to sleep for four hours before I would have to get up so I wandered around until I found some coffee and I did some research."
"You're my punishment," Dom tells her, slumping down on the corner of his bed while Ariadne throws his duvet flat over the rumpled sheets nearby, spreading out her papers. "You are definitely a penalty for being such an asshole to everybody while I was splitting up with my wife."
Ignoring that, too, Ariadne says, "The black market for the Madonna is intimidatingly huge. It's an old master and beloved and it's small enough that it's easy to transport. It's also hot enough that it's probably going to be years before we see it pop up to be fenced."
"I know all of this," Dom tells her, and reaches for the room service menu.
"So obviously, that's going to be more or less a dead end, although I have set some desk jockeys to beating the bushes on it," Ariadne barrels on, pointing seemingly at random at pieces of paper on his bed, scribbled in thick with her handwriting. "So I started to think about who we know that could take the painting and who might want it."
Dom squints at his room phone. It takes three tries to dial the concierge number, but he manages to say, "Yeah, can I get a giant pot of coffee, and some breakfast here? Just whatever, number three," he says, waving his hand for Ariadne to keep going in the background.
"Get me pancakes," she says.
"They'll only disappoint you," Dom tells her, and orders her some French toast instead. If she stays in this line of work, the horrific truth of English pancakes will strike her eventually, but Dom can protect her for now.
Ariadne makes a hand gesture that makes Dom miss Philippa with a sudden intensity that feels like a boot in the sternum, a breathless shock: and he thinks about that hazy summer afternoon in California when he'd come in from rolling around in the yard with his kids to hear Mal shouting at Eames about a van Scorel and the world falling apart. Back in the real world, in the early morning gloom of Dom's closet-like hotel room, Ariadne says, "Ignoring for now the possibility that whoever stole the painting stole it for themselves — "
"Yes," he agrees, because the prospect is so hellaciously depressing he doesn't even know where to put it.
" — that leaves us with the potential buyers. The amount of money it would take to hire someone of a calibre to pull this off, or to buy it off of someone who had are both tremendous," she goes on, kicking off her sensible and shockingly ugly brown shoes to climb onto the bed, cross-legged among the sheets. In another life, Dom might have felt strange about it, a flicker of concern about the appropriateness of an objectively pretty and much younger female coworker alone with him in a hotel room, sitting on his bed; these days, he just feels old and cantankerous and like he should preemptively tell her to button another button on her shirt and stop dating assholes named Josh.
"There are a lot of rich people," Dom points out.
Ariadne nods. "Yes, but fewer rich people who have a history of interest in renaissance art." She shuffles rapidly through another stack of papers, documents and folders and photocopies making whipping noises. "I mean, obviously anybody can change their predilections at any time, but if we go off of the art-buying profiles of the movers and shakers in the international market that we already know about, pare down the list of people that have no previous or apparent interest in the period, then winnow for relative wealth, and then cut it down for this who have a particular interest in Raphael…"
The list she gives him is handwritten and five people long. Eames isn't even on the list, which goes to show how out of date Interpol's information is.
"We should add Eames," Dom says.
"He had a point when he said he already owned the painting, Cobb," Ariadne says, the way you are kind to people who are infirm or suffer dementia or have developmental disabilities that are nonetheless wearing on your patience.
Dom stares at her. "I have a gut feeling," he says finally, because he can't say, Eames was once extremely good friends with my ex-wife, who turned out to be the primary fence for the majority of the stolen art that got trafficked through Western Europe. "Plus," he adds, conviction stronger on this one, "he's given to flamboyant gestures."
Ariadne arches a brow. "Toward that insurance guy?"
"Especially toward insurance guy," Dom says, thinking of the weekend Eames and Mal had spent giggling at Cartier and spending truckloads of Eames's money on cufflinks and tie clips and other cunning platinum objects to mail to Arthur's severe, neutral-colored 54th floor office in Midtown. "He took out the policy on the Madonna, he knew Arthur would be dispatched before any checks would be written — I wouldn't put it past him."
"Counseling and or begging would both be cheaper," Ariadne says, meditatively.
"My brain protests violently at the idea of Arthur engaged in any sort of voluntary counseling, almost as much as it protests at the idea of Eames lowering himself to any sort of begging," Dom mutters.
For a minute, Ariadne looks like she's edging toward the courage to ask a question she shouldn't, but thankfully room service intervenes and then they're both busy drinking shitty coffee for a few minutes and she seems to lose the threads of the thought.
Outside Dom's window, the light over St. Martin's Street is going from dirty water to that impossibly golden sheen of perfect autumn days, when the sky overhead is the crisp blue of hospital corners and the air smells wide-open of possibilities. It makes Dom think about Philippa's first day of school, Halloween and trick or treating with the kids in the meandering 1960s streets of their neighborhood in the suburbs of LA, when that was still the life he had. From one of the windows in this cupboard-cum-hotel room, Dom can see the edifice of the National Gallery, looming across the London sky, tourists already wandering around the city, sleepless and searching for espresso and frappes and lattes, weighted down with cameras and maps. He wonders what Eames is doing right now, if he's in his Notting Hill house. He wonders where Arthur is right now, which terrifying hotel work's put him up in. He wonders what Mal is doing in Paris, if she's all right, if she misses the kids, if she was the person who didn't leave any fingerprints here, didn't leave a trace.
It's a cool day in London, which means dark wool coats for all, and Arthur cuts an intriguing profile against the steps of the museum, dark hair whipping in the wind, cheeks pink from the cold, sipping coffee from a venti Starbucks cup and typing one-handed on a BlackBerry. He doesn't bother to look up when he calls down the steps, "You're late."
"I didn't know it was a date," Dom parries.
That look on Arthur's face when he looks up is achingly familiar, and suddenly Dom is 17 again, trying to convince Arthur to eat boiled peas and potatoes: unamused, too busy for this bullshit.
"Really?" Arthur asks, and when Dom shrugs, Arthur slants his gaze to Ariadne. "You know Beauchamp-Hollister is always searching for smart people — you don't have to keep working with him."
"Hey," Dom protests, and Ariadne gives him a playfully painful punch in the shoulder before saying to Arthur, "I'm flattered, but I like holding onto my eternal soul."
Shrugging, Arthur takes another drag off his coffee. "Your loss," he says, mild, and jerks his chin toward the museum doors, flanked either side by Met officers with grimly disinterested expressions on their faces. They turn friendly when they spot Arthur, who favors them with one of his grudgingly given smiles; Dom's known Arthur for about forever, but he still feels like he's managed to pull a fast one every time Arthur flashes that stupid fucking look — he's not surprised they've fallen for it: hook, line, and abject loyalty. "Come on. I'm expecting some forensics to have come back."
Setting aside the bullshit and continuous thorn-in-his-side issue of Arthur having access to more expedient forensics than Dom does with evidence he actually shouldn't even have access to — unsurprisingly, Arthur has better inroads with Scotland Yard than Dom — Interpol has fostered a long and off-the-record relationship with insurers now in this sort of crime. They're similarly motivated to retrieve something, and if they do it by ethically dubious means and through morally questionable methods, as long as the art is returned to its rightful owners and the report of theft is withdrawn, frankly Dom doesn't really give a fuck. Ariadne's right that a lot of times, art theft is watching rich white people complain about ugly weird stuff in frames.
"Before you ask," Ariadne volunteers, clearly already under Arthur's spell, "we're running down the financial records of our top 20 most wanted."
"And Eames," Dom cuts in. "Also Eames."
"Even though he's not on the list, at all," Ariadne elaborates.
"Well, I'm sure Eames's in-house counsel and auditors will be thrilled for the gamesmanship," Arthur returns, unperturbed, and then Dom says, "We also have Gregory White on the list," which catches Arthur's interest enough that a discussion of actual merit is sparked for the first time since everybody landed in London.
It's obvious that losing a painting is like bereavement accelerated. The immediate shock and crippling grief of the Madonna's disappearance has already dissipated into anger and rapidly into a form of bargaining, really, with Bosch there but not really, constantly ducking away on his mobile phone — presumably to negotiate the rehanging of another painting, as soon as forensics is done scouring the scene. Dom's mainly being petty about it at this point, they've gotten all they're going to get from the museum, but Bosch gets on his nerves with his persnickety affectations and irritatingly fatuous behavior. At some point later tomorrow they'll hit acceptance, and everybody will have a flicker of regret every time the National Geographic channel airs a special about the painting and famous art thefts, and nobody will think anything of it except for Dom and Dom's ulcer and Dom's boss, who will probably use this as further leverage to force him to train more probies. He's really got to find this fucking painting, and not just because to deprive the world of it would be an enormous injustice and a tragedy.
And also there's that urgent fear, in the base of his brain, that nagging animal worry, that he'll unravel this or Ariadne will figure it out and he'll find —
"Someone must have left that here," Arthur is saying, after Ariadne coos, "Aw, it's cute."
Dom looks to where Arthur is looking, to —
Ariadne squats down, unladylike, in Room 9, and reaches down with a gloved hand to the wooden floor beneath one of the Four Allegories of Love by Paolo Veronese — Scorn, with Cupid about to pistol whip a man on his back with his bow, a woman offside watching the progression of violence with only the slightest concern. And underneath the painting, Ariadne is holding a train, mass-produced Thomas the Tank, unremarkable and beat up, well-loved.
She tosses it to one of the museum security guards, saying, "For the lost and found," and Dom bites the inside of his mouth hard enough to crush the words, "Wait, that belongs to James." Because it does, it's his son's favorite toy, missing since Mal left with two suitcases in hand, before Dom had hired movers to ship his wife's things an ocean away — desperate to sever the ties between them, keep what he could safe — he would recognize it anywhere after having pulled it out of his kid's mouth and rescuing it from public toilets and digging it out of garbage cans for years.
Arthur and Ariadne are talking again, their voices bubbling up in the echo of an empty museum, but Dom isn't hearing any of it, all the blood rushing his head and making him dizzy and scared. He waits, as long as he dares, but it can't be more than a minute or two, before mumbling something about the bathroom and going after the security guard.
"Hey, can I see that?" he says, when he intercepts the man in the hall, lined with a number of profoundly ugly horse paintings. He points at the train in the guard's hand. "That thing."
The man raises his eyebrow. "Technically, lost and found's not a take-what-interests-you box, you know."
"It might be relevant to the case after all," Dom blurts out, both because his dignity forbids him from robbing the National Gallery's lost and found later and his paranoid fear is screaming that if he lets this guy go, if that train vanishes, it vanishes forever. "We're just adding it to evidence."
The look on the guard's face makes it clear he thinks Dom's reasoning is plainly shit, but can't be bothered to put up much a fuss before handing the thing over, setting it in Dom's palm as he smirks and says, "What, no gloves for the 'evidence'?"
Dom glares. "Thank you," he grits out.
"Cheers," the guard says, and heads off, leaving Dom and the horse paintings and the train alone.
The chips are the same, the same scratches of paint, one of Thomas's eyes more or less a lost cause. There're no moving parts, and it's an altogether stupid toy, bought in the supermarket check-out line at Safeway years ago for $5.99 to get James to shut up. And on the bottom, along the cheaply molded plastic, are fading pale scratches spelling out JAMES COBB. And next to it, in more delicate black Sharpie:
Hayward Gallery, 4 p.m.
"Really?" Dom asks. "Tracey Emin?"
It's a weekday afternoon so the crowd at the Hayward is thin, just the odd and skeletal handful of androgynous hipsters in ironical hats, standing in slouched contemplation. The crowd around the letter from her father dwarfs the number of people actually looking at its derivative art: the creaky house on stilts with a half-destroyed walkway, held together with spindly stray beams, cutting across the high ceiling of the gallery a handful of quilts. And Dom had wound through the ground floor systematically, past Emin's wall of abortion and her too-candid emotional purges in fabric and back up the ramp to an installation of neons, and he should have known as soon as he'd agreed to give over his VAT for gift aid on the gallery ticket that Mal would be there: gilded in blue and pink lights in front of a piece that reads PEOPLE LIKE YOU NEED TO FUCK PEOPLE LIKE ME.
She tilts her head back, practiced and coy, to smile at him over her shoulder. "It's dark here, very secretive."
"You're in one of the most popular contemporary art galleries in the world," Dom mutters, but he sidles closer, reflexive, from a decade spent falling into step with her searching for produce at the grocery store and sitting with her handbag in his lap at the doctor's office and down the aisles of churches. He doesn't know when his body will ever forget to make room for hers. "Christ, Mal, what are you — ?"
"I needed to get your attention," she cuts him off, turning back to the neons, gleaming green and yellow, too, against the lines of her face.
Dom finds himself looking left and right, ants crawling under his skin as he thinks about Ariadne popping up out of nowhere, half-frozen Hot Pocket in her mouth asking who the hell this woman is, or Arthur appearing like a phantom already sending a BBM to headquarters that Mal Cobb's done it, throw her in a Kazakh jail.
"If you wanted my attention, there were other ways to do it, Mal — ways that didn't involve — "
"You've made it abundantly clear that you only want to speak with me through your lawyer," Mal retorts, and the bitter undercurrent of her voice is threaded through with hurt that Dom thinks is pretty fucking presumptuous for a woman who'd strung him along for 11 years and had moved at least six pieces of stolen work from the Gardiner heist with the last eight months.
Emin's among the most famous female artists Britain has ever produced, and hers is confessional art. It's not visually beautiful, nor do any of her pieces require any particular level of skill for execution — but it is arresting. The Hayward right now is like the contents of a woman's purse spilled outward, gutted: diary pages and lipsticks and a half-finished pack of birth control, wadded up tissues and objects nearly magical with guilt and sex and female mysticism. Dom's always hated her work and Mal's always adored it, the splayed open legs and fucked-out vaginas, the embroidery of flowers growing out of an anonymous pussy, gushing forth in orgasm. Mal had told him once that to look at Tracey Emin's work is to be coerced into group therapy, to listen with increasing discomfort as she babbled details you hadn't solicited, but to be unable to look away.
Dom feels trapped, the same way he had the first time Mal had dragged him to see a series of hideous and sexually provocative Emin pieces, more than a decade ago, although there's a strange comfort in knowing that Emin will never get over her own bullshit long enough to change tactics.
"I can't be tied to you any more than we already are," Dom says, because it's the truth, it's the only truth. Maybe if they were younger. Maybe if they hadn't already had Philippa and James. It would have been easier and romantic to say, fuck Interpol, but Dom can't rewrite the passage of time and he'll never regret his kids. "The people you work with are dangerous."
Mal makes an exasperated noise. "They're not dangerous."
"You're clearing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art," Dom whispers, feeling fierce and angry now and off center. He hasn't seen Mal since they'd met over the long table at his lawyer's office, Mal crying silent, furious tears and knuckling under on the custody agreement, the unspoken threats obvious between them, the ombudsman looking uncomfortable as hell the entire time. "You think people don't kill each other over hundreds of millions of dollars? People kill each over cars and video games, Mal."
"My people don't," she hisses in return, and collecting herself, she presses a palm across her chest, fingers in the dip between her collar bones, engagement and wedding rings still sparkling on her hand, and she lets out a shivery breath. "Dom, I did not come here to fight with you."
Dom knows he's making an unattractive face, that he's squinting at her in a way she'd make fun of him for if it hadn't all come to this: surreptitious meetings in the neon gallery at the Hayward, in London, neutral territory between the L.A. and Paris, a Raphael in play.
"What did you come here for, Mal?" he asks, tired down to the bones. He doesn't want to do this or be here.
"I miss you," Mal says in a hush, and her eyes are like city streets after the rain, glowing. "I miss the children — I want to come home. I want this to be over."
Eleven years ago, Dom was new to Interpol and effusive with enthusiasm, and in the thrall of his own cleverness he'd met Mal during one of Arthur's ruthlessly thorough crash-course weekends. They'd been standing with their Metropolitan Museum of Art pins in one of the late-medieval wings and Arthur had been talking about International Gothic and suffering some sort of intellectual rapture about Gossart when Mal had cut in neatly, like a dance partner interrupting, and carried on as Arthur had looked on with surprisingly benign amusement.
"Mallorie Miles," Arthur had said, when she'd finished saying a lot about a lot of stuff that Dom hadn't heard at all, over the smooth contralto of her voice and particular curve of her lower lip playing havoc like a teenage drummer on his heart rate. "It's been ages — may I introduce you to Dominic Cobb? He's joining Interpol's art theft division. Mal works in art sales."
And Mal had turned to Dom full-on for the first time then, looking equal-parts charmed and wary, and what had then seemed like a sweetly shy turn was pretty obviously warranted paranoia in hindsight, Dom realizes.
"Hello," she'd said to him. "I didn't know Arthur had friends — he's certainly never warmed to my overtures."
"For fuck's sake," Arthur had said, charming as ever.
"Oh," Dom had blurted out. "I wasn't, originally. I mean, I was his babysitter when we were kids."
Mal has spent almost 20 years making a suspiciously good living for a dealer who can't seem to maintain permanent gallery space, who has no set client list, who seems to traffic primarily in nickel-and-dime deals she snatches at country auctions to sell in New York and Paris and Buenos Aires. Dom had always thought that Mal was a bit too dreamy and flighty, maybe, to establish any sort of permanence in the business, but she'd loved her work and they were comfortable enough, and he'd been too blinded by bullshit condescension to notice anything was wrong, to see the truth. They'd had two children and a mortgage and a life together and underneath all of it, they were rotting at the foundations.
"Mal," Dom says, and his voice sounds alien, scratchy and long-unused. The hope already grabbing for his throat hurts like a third-degree burn. "If you're fucking around with me — "
She grabs his hand. "I'm not — I wouldn't. Not about this."
He manages not to lace their fingers together, but it's like fighting the reflex of a hammer to his knee. "How?"
And now, in the same light, her face is urgent and fearful and achingly near. It's like the first night they spent together in Basel and the last night they fought each other in L.A.: blown open, everything laid out, not an inch of protected skin. She looks like she's been split from end to end and she's standing here in front of a buzzing, neon pink heart, sloppy and encompassing and fencing in the words LOVE IS WHAT YOU WANT and all Dom can think is yes, yes, please.
"The painting," she whispers to him. "The Madonna — "
"That you stole," he can't help but snipe in return.
" — it's not real, Dom," she finishes, cutting him off at the knees. "It never was."
He stares at her. "You're — what?"
And now Mal is whispering again, drawing him closer, erasing the space between them, her voice getting softer and softer until Dom feels like they're murmuring about the kids again in the early morning, sharing the space between their pillows, with the sky pearl-gray outside the windows of their house. She's saying, soft like the shadows in their bedroom, "The Madonna of the Pinks in the National Gallery — it wasn't real."
Dom's jittery with kept secrets by the time he gets back to the National Gallery, and the first thing he does is find Bosch and tell him he can open as per usual tomorrow, that there isn't anything left for forensics to find on the scene, sweating through his wrinkled shirt the entire time and feeling Ariadne's eyes boring into the back of his skull.
"So where'd you go?" she asks him.
"Strip club," Dom tells her.
She narrows her eyes at him. "Arthur says you threw up the only time you went to a strip club."
"That is not accurate," Dom retorts, because he hadn't puked until he'd gotten outside. Fuck Arthur, anyway.
Ariadne looks about as convinced as she'd been when he'd tried to get her to start taking a multivitamin. She glances over his shoulder, to where Bosch is hollering at everybody within hearing range, hustling docents and curators and museum assistants and a half-dozen horrified-looking conservation specialists like a nervous, over-educated army. The Madonna had shared a room with two unfinished Michaelangelos and a handful of Bronzinos that have to be prepared for showing again, inspected meticulously for the possibility of damage.
"So why the sudden change of heart?" Ariadne asks, pointed. "This morning you said you'd release the museum back for visitors three hours after you were damn well ready."
"I'm damn well ready now," Dom lies, and he can hear how badly he's doing it, so he's not surprised when Ariadne says:
"You're a fucking awful liar. What's going on?"
He looks away from her, to where Arthur has appeared to watch two museum workers unveil the Allegory with Venus and Cupid. The canvas dropcloth shrugs off of the frame like a silk dress off a woman's shoulder, skimming down the marble white skin of Venus and down the angry muscles of Father Time, dragging back the lapis cloth hiding Forgetfulness and Despair. And down in front, Venus bent into an extraordinary angle, holding one of Cupid's arrows and embracing her son, impetuous Mirth about to shower them with petals. Dom wonders what Arthur sees in the painting, which of the thousand hidden messages in the masks and thorns and roses he's reading.
"I told you: strip club," Dom murmurs, and when he looks back down to Ariadne's face, she's frankly disbelieving. "You have this?"
She makes a cut-off noise. "I — yeah, Dom," she says. "I've got this."
He flashes her a smile, checks his watch: 7 p.m. "Good. Good. Look, I need to run and do some stuff — "
"Escalating from strippers to hustlers, I assume," she snipes at him.
" — and I'm going to be late," Dom grinds on. He puts his hands on Ariadne's shoulders and levels her a look he thinks is probably equal parts placating and affectionate. "I trust you."
She stomps on his foot, and he's busy shouting, "Jesus fuck, Ariadne!" and hopping around as she tells him, "Well I don't fucking trust you. You're acting sketchy as hell. Wait here, I'm having Arthur oversee this shit and I'm personally delivering you back to your hotel room."
She stays mad at him in the brisk walk from the gallery to St. Martin's Street, extorts a coffee out of him, and shoves him toward his hotel room and watches him open the door and scowls at him until he goes inside, shutting her out and standing frozen in the dark for half a beat before there's a creak from his bed, and Eames, saying:
"Honestly, Cobb — Tracey Emin? I nearly threw up from the hackneyed obviousness."
"Shit," Dom says, still staring at his hotel room door, the poorly photocopied map on how to get to the fire escape, the ground floor, out of here entirely. He grits his teeth, feeling his heart going like a rabbit in his chest: shuddery and fragile. "How did you get in?"
Eames makes an impatient noise. "I really don't have time for your pretend indignation — what I do need to know is how badly you're going to fuck me over."
When Dom finally wills himself to turn around, Eames looks dangerous in the half-dark of the room, silvery light from outside drifting into the room through half-closed curtains, perched on the corner of his unmade bed and wrinkling top secret Interpol documents Dom has no doubt Eames has already pawed through. He points at Eames's hip. "You're sitting on my files."
"You and your ex-wife are plotting against me," Eames returns mildly. "Fuck your files."
"We're not plotting against you," Dom says, because they aren't, exactly, but in a weighing of intrinsic value, Dom will always choose Mal: over himself, over Interpol, over doing the right thing. Obviously, over Eames.
"Perhaps not maliciously," Eames continues, philosophical. "But I have no doubt I'm being blamed."
Dom arches a brow. "Mal says you have plenty to be blamed for."
Eames makes a rueful noise. "She's become so bitter since you two split, you know," he says, that same wending nostalgia in his tone, like they aren't suspended here in that dangerous, precipice moment before something happens to change everything, to set everything into motion again. He gets up, hands slipping into and out of his pockets, like he doesn't know what to do with them for the first time in his life, then settles for reaching into his suit jacket pocket. "She's always loved you more than the art."
"Don't you fucking dare," Dom says, when he sees Eames pulling out a pack of cigarettes, and then the rest of it catches up just in time for him to spit out, reflexive, "And she didn't love me enough to tell me. To stop."
"She was never in a position where she had to," Eames answers, dismissive, and politely repocketing the cigarettes. "But enough of about your tragically boring marital woes — come, Dom, the nature of your thirty pieces of silver are clear enough, if not means."
Dom wonders if Eames is going to stop him, if this is going to get violent. He's not licensed to carry a weapon in the U.K., and the lamp is just out of reach. He's never exactly been in a physical altercation with Eames, but he's been bullied into so-called friendly rugby matches before and remembered — inhaling turf and swearing up a storm, bleeding sluggishly from the noise — that Eames is built like a brick shithouse with a tendency to show off when Arthur is watching, laughing like an asshole in the background.
"Funny, because the way Mal tells the story, you fucked her over first," Dom points out.
There's a long silence here. Dom thinks that if silences could sound delicate, this one would: layered over with nervous worry, the possibility of discovery, and it makes Dom think about the gallery at the Hayward again, dark and filled up with whispers, everybody press-ganged into Emin's emotional logorrhea.
Eames says, finally, "I'm sure she won't believe it, but this was never about her. Paranoia aside, the likelihood of anyone putting any blame on her is minimal to the extreme." He sighs. "Maybe I was bored."
Dom thinks, Or maybe Mal was right, and you were desperate, and lonely, and sick with regret. Out loud, he asks, "What's your endgame here?"
It's not an unreasonable question, he thinks, because he's an Interpol agent with a sworn duty and Eames is a rich asshole who forges old masters to donate to museums, hoards the originals, and then knowingly invites his insurance company to reprice his paintings. He's like one of those serial killers who send letters to the newspaper.
"Too embarrassing to say out loud, but no worse, objectively, than Mal's, so I refuse to be shamed," Eames says, and ends up slipping his hands into his pocket again, in the end, and all Dom hears in between the lines is, I was desperate. I was lonely. I was sick with regret. "So? Your plan?"
It's debatable if Arthur had ever needed a babysitter, but maybe promises you make when you're a snot-nosed teenager swearing to Arthur's mom you know kiddie CPR and that you will — if necessary — fight Swabian mercenaries if they try anything with her precious only child are promises you can't shake out of your bones ever. It's the only explanation for why Dom finds himself asking:
"So what about you? Did you love him more than you loved the art?"
Eames hesitates a full four times, and Dom is thinking that this explains the break-up, the glacial silence, the way Arthur had removed himself with surgical precision, when Eames says finally, halting, "I didn't think I did."
"Yeah, you two deserve each other," Dom tells Eames, but he means it. He really does.
The laugh Eames laughs at that isn't polished at all, unlike any other laugh Dom's ever heard from him: it's scratchy and rueful and a bit off-balance, nervous, and Dom thinks that this is what Eames sounds like when he's being honest — awkward, endearing, a bit scared.
"Well then?" Eames asks. "Have I earned disclosure?"
Dom clearly doesn't actually have it in him to be much of a successful criminal, and the next 48 hours are an exercise in exquisite torture, circling the edge of a panic attack and waiting to get caught.
He catches Ariadne trying to grind up over-the-counter antihistamines into his coffee, which is only slightly more upsetting than when Arthur glances up from his laptop in the corner of the City of London police station they're bogarting to say, "Clearly that hustler Ariadne says you were meeting had the reverse intended effect."
Dom fires Ariadne three times, but she ignores him in favor of continuing to winnow down their list of possible suspects, and they give up waiting on their own forensics in favor of piggybacking off of Arthur's — which arrive with gorgeous computer modeling and what seems like minutes after he sent off the samples via overnight courier. There's nothing obvious — no one had thought there would be — and the surveillance video work is going to take longer and be more obnoxiously difficult. The National Gallery hasn't upgraded their systems in nearly a decade, and the analog tapes are a marvel of bad quality and aggressive uselessness.
"So are you going to have to cut Eames the check?" Ariadne asks Arthur, huddled at a corner booth in Chinatown.
She'd forced them all down Charing Cross Road until they'd reached Gerard Street because she said if they made her eat at Pret a Manger one more time she was going to punch everybody in the face. So now they're in a suspect alleyway next to a Chinese acupuncturist, ignoring a glowering line of Asian students huddled outside the door. It's probably one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city, which is pretty unfortunate because the ulcer churning in Dom's gut birthed out of paranoia and grim anticipation of discovery is ruining his appetite and probably enough to give him an aversion and wreck Sichuan food forever.
Arthur pokes at his rice. "I would rather set my hair on fire than cut Eames a check."
"Do you say that about all your clients or is Eames special?" Ariadne teases.
"While I do say that about all my clients, Eames especially I do not want to cut a check," Arthur replies, easily, and it's irrepressible reflex that has Dom saying:
"I mean, it also doesn't help that he probably had something to do with the stolen painting."
"Your baseless paranoia is now boring, Dom," Ariadne informs him, pointing her chopsticks in his face.
"That is — " Dom starts, and stops to smack them out of his face. "That is incredibly rude."
"Boring," Ariadne repeats.
"And more than that," Arthur chimes in, even, "baseless."
Dom slants him a look. "It's the furthest thing from baseless."
"Oh, God, please don't encourage him," Ariadne says to Arthur. "You missed it, but the minute that guy showed up Dom was in his face saying he probably stole the painting himself."
Arthur rolls his eyes, absolutely dismissive.
"Okay, fine, Ariadne doesn't know what a psychopath Eames is," Dom starts.
"Eames isn't a psychopath," Arthur interrupts, reflexive.
"Ariadne doesn't know what a psychopath Eames is, but you know him," Dom repeats, because that's a flagrant lie if he's ever heard one, and he ignores the way Ariadne says in the background, "Ooh — do you know him biblically? I'm guessing you know him biblically," to continue, "you know that this is just the sort of shit he would pull to get your attention."
"That presumes he wants my attention," Arthur says, so briskly unaffected it must be costing him.
"You're kidding me," Dom blurts out, ignoring the voice in the back of his head yelling for him to shut the hell up.
Arthur slaps his chopsticks flat on the table. "Dom, leave it."
"This is Eames, of course he wants your attention," Dom retorts, because he thinks about Eames's rough little laugh and his hands hidden in his pockets and how hilariously tragic it is that Arthur can have no idea, none at all, how many gazebos Eames would burn down to get Arthur's eyes back on him. "Mal used to say that Eames would commit arson for your attention."
"Firstly, invoking your ex-wife in an argument about someone's emotional devotion is a fraught issue anyway," Arthur snaps, suddenly angry where he'd been flat before.
Ariadne's eyes go wide. "Oh, my God," she says. "You married a woman named Mal? That wasn't some sort of warning sign to you?"
"It's short for Mallorie, all right?" Dom bites out at her.
"And secondly," Arthur goes on. "I am going to make your life a living hell for forcing me into a situation where I'm going to have to admit in front of a near-stranger that Eames dumped me, in a classic bored dilettante move and with extreme prejudice. And nobody, least of all me, was surprised when it came."
Dom's first thought is that he's going to kick Eames in the face for neglecting to divulge this vital piece of information, his second thought is that he should kick Eames in the face anyway for being an asshole and dumping Arthur. His third thought is, unfortunately, spoken out loud:
"Maybe he regrets it?"
"Right," Arthur says, getting up and nodding at Ariadne, "Ariadne, it's been mortifying — "
She holds up one hand in a nonjudgmental wave.
" — and you — " Arthur nods at Dom this time " — you can go fuck yourself. I have some calls to make."
They watch him vanish out the door, under a cloud-gathering sky, and Ariadne turns back to Dom in the sudden silence after Arthur's departure.
"He's probably phoning some mafia contacts to have you killed, you know," she comments mildly.
It's not unlikely, but they'll probably have to get in line after Eames or Mal, who despite being independent sources of misery that Dom in no way invited, seem to think he's the font of all irritation in the fucking universe, and shower abuses upon him. Eames about how bad he is at being a criminal and Mal about how could he have outed her to Eames and etcetera and so forth from both of them. They spend some time going T-Rex versus Godzilla at each other, Mal screaming, "Fuck you, Eames, you knew the edges didn't match the slides on file with insurance and you called for the inspection, anyway — you set me up, you piece of shit," while Eames yells back, "Yes, and you were going to throw me under the bus for the vaguest possibility that they would have tied the crime back to you instead of thinking you were some flighty side-victim, here! I don't even see why you have anything to do with this!" and on and on for a few hours.
"Fucking embarrassing, Cobb," Eames says to him, going through a bag that contains at least three single-shot plastic guns, a couple-dozen zip ties, and a handful of meaningless promises that Eames doesn't enjoy shooting people. Dom has no idea why any of that shit is needed if their plan is to quietly return the real Madonna of the Pinks to the National Gallery, but frankly he's worried that if he asks they'll tell him.
"Were you watching me?" Dom demands, trying to think of where the hell they could have been hiding all day while Dom had been going through crushingly boring financial records with Ariadne all day. Arthur had swept in twice, windblown and pink-cheeked from the autumn, bangs in his eyes, and hung around just long enough to make Ariadne starry-eyed at the insinuations of travel and danger inherent in his job before fucking off again.
"I had to, clearly you can't be trusted to avoid being suspicious on your own," Mal explains.
"I'm afraid to ask what you were going to do if you thought I was blowing our cover," Dom mutters.
Mal murmurs, "For the best," as she's poring over frame after gilded frame, turned out of walls and hidden panels from underneath beds in Eames's Notting Hill townhouse, four stories of stolen art scattered across the hand-jointed hardwood floors. There's a Gossart Eames supposedly sold at auction two years ago, its detail mind-blowing, the corded embroidery on every gown catching the light, and a Joshua Reynolds, "William Brummell and George Bryan Brummell," the boys' cheeks sweetly pink as they crawl all over each other, restless and misbehaved even in portraiture.
Dom points at it. "Really, Eames? Didn't you sell this to an old lady?"
"Mal sold it to an old lady," Eames contradicts primly.
"Which you paid me to do, and then you paid me to steal it back from her and replace it with your substandard forgery," Mal interjects.
"And she was a hateful old crone and wouldn't have loved them the way they deserve," Eames says. "And that forgery was in no way substandard."
Dom decides not to keep looking, at the Gainsborough, the Cassatt, the other ones that he's just going to ignore because they look like Degas sketches and some half-finished cartoons for epic-scale Raphaels that Dom remembers were sold at a Bonham's old masters sale five years ago with much fanfare and rumor about the financial state of the Eames estate.
He clears his throat. "So what's the plan?"
Mal clearly still loves him, because all she does is smile indulgently at him as Eames says, "No way in hell are we telling you."
And the strange lightheartedness of the affair carries him back to his hotel, off to sleep, and Dom's feeling stupidly optimistic about everything when he wakes up — shockingly yellow sunlight strewn across his bed — until he blinks twice and realizes Ariadne is sitting at the foot of it, holding a thin file and wearing a determined expression.
"Ariadne, what the fuck," Dom croaks.
She puts the file on his chest. "Actually, I should be asking you that."
Perhaps unreasonably, Dom's been dismissive of Mal and Eames's constant disparaging comments on his ability to be a successful criminal. He's managed to keep Mal's secrets this long, keep Eames's secrets by proxy, and no one has ever suspected him of anything other than being tragic and broken from his divorce.
"I know what you're thinking," Ariadne tells him, sounding sympathetic. Not sympathetic enough for him to overlook the fact that she's handcuffed him to his headboard, but still. "To clarify: you're about as subtle as a trainwreck."
"I really have no idea what you're talking about," Dom lies, and if someone had said it to him like he's just said it, Dom would roll his eyes and tell Ariadne later that some people are just fucking awful liars, nothing they can do about it. Right now, Ariadne wouldn't see Dom rolling his eyes because she's sitting across his shins in the most painful fucking manner possible, cutting off any possibility for motion or kicking her off of him, and pulling his ankles together with a zip tie that cuts into his skin. "Ariadne, this is crazy. I'm one of the good guys."
She gives him a rueful look over her shoulder. "I know you think that, Dom, but 'good guy' kind of went out the window when you began conspiring with known fencers and forgers."
"That is just ridiculous," Dom says, which feels degrees of magnitude dumber for the way he has to tilt his head up at an awkward angle to say it to her instead of the ceiling, but at least Ariadne gets off of his shins to settle, cross-legged, on the bed next to him. Her hair's coming loose from her ponytail and the sleeves of her button-up shirt are rolled up, all business, the tails not tucked in, and Dom thinks that all of her ludicrous youth, her shitty eating habits and wide eyes are all a fucking cover for being an evil mastermind.
Ariadne sighs. "You know the weirdest thing about your divorce, Cobb?"
Dom stares at her. "Seriously?" he chokes out.
"The weirdest thing about your divorce was how bloodless it was," she tells him, instead of untying him, and Dom's heart feels like it's going to thrash out of his chest.
There's nowhere to run and no way to call anybody, and eventually Mal is going to get curious or Eames is going to get impatient and they'll show up here and Ariadne is going to either arrest the mother of Dom's children or Arthur's ex and it's like waiting for the Death Star to explode in his face.
"There was bleeding," Dom promises. "There was a lot of bleeding."
"Nobody cares about your feelings, Cobb, I'm talking about money," Ariadne shoots back. "By all accounts your ex-wife had a fleeting and unpredictable income stream and she dabbled in semi-ugly contemporary art and you're pretty stable, or whatever. At no point did she demand alimony. She just picked up and moved to Paris." Ariadne holds up the folder she put on Dom's chest. "Do you want to see pictures of her apartment in Paris? Because it's gorgeous. My entire apartment could fit into her bathroom."
"So Mal has money, so what?" Dom says through gritted teeth. He's actually not sure why he's lying anymore.
"So it's funny because you said you knew the people involved in this," Ariadne continues. "But you won't say how. And then I find out the guy who owns the painting has a long financial relationship with said should-be-impoverished ex-wife, buying ugly, shitty canvases from her that aren't anywhere in his insurance inventory."
Dom opens his mouth.
Ariadne points at the folder again and cuts him off with, "Arthur's a good sport and information-sharing is a two-way street, Dom. Now, it's possible that this stuff is so ugly and derivative he doesn't think it's worth insuring. Arthur definitely doesn't think it's worth insuring, but Arthur hates almost all art, so clearly something else is going on."
"Did you ever consider that Eames is just paying my ex-wife for sex, and that this is a really painful subject that I don't want to talk about because she's the mother of my children and he's an asshole?" Dom asks out of what is mostly morbid curiosity at this point.
Ariadne grins at him. "Yeah, I did. But then you were the one who made Arthur spill the beans about how he got dumped. Which, believe me, I agree with you that Eames is an asshole, by the way." She makes a huffing noise. "Who breaks up with you by sending you all your shit via DHL to your office?"
Momentarily, Dom is distracted by visions of how much prison he's going to. "He didn't."
"Oh yeah he did," Ariadne contradicts. "Total jackass."
"I can't fucking believe it," Dom marvels.
"You know what, neither could I," she says, that particular gleam in her eyes going totally manic. "Especially with all that repressed longing and staring, and the fact that Eames keeps calling Arthur even though Arthur just hangs up on him every time, so I absolutely had to call bullshit. And it turns out, Eames decided to send Arthur all of his stuff no more than three days after one of the appraisers broke the news that a van Scorel painting he was putting up for auction was a fake."
Dom stares at the ceiling. "Maybe he just took out his pain and feelings on Arthur."
"Maybe Eames is a fucking art forger and he panicked because Arthur was going to figure it out," Ariadne growls. "I'm actually getting insulted here — just tell me what the hell is going on."
There's a water stain on the ceiling, a faint brown mark that looks like the one over his bed in L.A. He thinks about his kids at home with the nanny and the life he'd cobbled together: a hack job of duct tape and desperate cheerfulness that nobody was buying. James was six and he always made Dom be Eeyore when they played Winnie the Pooh. Before London, before Mal and the Tracey Emin gallery and hope burning his eyes, he would have been okay with going back to the water stain and letting his kids always know him as mildly paranoid and deeply sad somehow, but now that he's 48 hours shy of getting back everything he wants it feels like the gape of a chest wound to know that it's slipping away. Now the dishwater hours he would be going back to — even if Ariadne lets him go, even if he manages to bullshit his way out of this — feel like the slow burn of an infection that's going to eat him inside out and desperation hits him like a the compressing walls of ever-shrinking opportunity.
Okay, Dom thinks, caution to the wind.
"What do you think matters more here?" he asks, looking straight up, his throat sore with fearfulness.
Ariadne's quiet for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"What matters more here?" Dom asks again. "Is the art more important, or getting the guilty parties?"
"They stole a painting," Ariadne says. "They stole a Raphael."
"What if they fixed all that?" Dom presses. "What if they just…zeroed out all of it?"
This time, Ariadne's quiet for longer than a minute. "That's — not possible."
"What if it was?" Dom asks. "If it was possible?"
There's a shifting on the bed, and a shadow as Ariadne looms over him, a frown marring her face, stray bangs and escaped tendrils of brown hair around her cheeks. She says, "How?"
Dom swallows. "If it could be done, would you pursue this anymore?"
She hesitates, a little catch of breath. And Dom can hear her thought process, that voice arguing that this is wrong and that the guilty parties need to be tried and the other one saying who the fuck gives a shit? If the art goes back where it belongs? If this is all minor bruising to a millionaire's balance sheet, why should she waste her time? If the need for an investigation dies, why should she keep pushing?
"If I don't stop, will the art get returned anyway?" Ariadne asks, wisely.
"No," Dom lies, he hopes more convincingly than he was doing it earlier. His job for the duration of the reverse heist was to stay as far away from it as possible, for all those "bad at being a criminal" reasons that Mal and Eames had cited earlier, but Ariadne really doesn't need to know about that — but today he's supposed to be at the National Gallery. "And it means you have to let me go — I may or may not be helping with the returns."
"You are absolutely fucking with me," Ariadne snaps. "I can't let you go."
"Then none of it's going back," Dom retorts, brazen.
Then Arthur says, "What the actual fuck is happening here?"
It takes about 20 minutes for Ariadne to convince Arthur she wasn't trying to take Dom against his will, which is both beautiful and a touch humiliating, but mostly, beautiful, especially since it means Arthur pulls out the concealed weapon Dom's not really sure he's allowed to be carrying in England and waves Ariadne to the most distant wall while he cuts the zip tie around Dom's ankles and gets him unshackled from the headboard.
"Jesus Christ, Arthur, chill the fuck out, that wasn't sexual — would I have left the door unlocked if I was going to pull something?" she asks, taking back her cuffs and glowering at Dom, but he doesn't care because she hasn't said anything about the plan, about the art, about Eames or Mal, and that must mean she's thinking about it, which is the greater benefit to society: justice or restitution.
"You had him tied to the bed and you were on top of him," Arthur parries, holstering his weapon but retaining an air of deadliness with aplomb. Dom's so glad he learned baby CPR for this kid. "And I've seen the way you look at him."
"Oh, God," Ariadne squeaks the same time Dom says flatly, "What?"
"So if you weren't about to sexually abuse him, what the hell was that about?" Arthur asks, but he asks Dom instead of Ariadne, making a hand gesture that clearly means, 'hovering over Dom while he's tied provocatively to a bed.'
This time, it's Dom that squeaks, "It was a professional misunderstanding," the same time Ariadne says flatly, "Nothing."
Arthur favors them both with an unimpressed look. "That? That right there is why neither of you can work in the private sector," he informs them, and retains his position in the narrow doorway of the hotel room, blocking the only exit. Dom would make a run for it, try to find Mal and tell her to book it, he'll take the consequences, they'll dump it all on Eames or something, but he doesn't like his chances if he had to take on Arthur and all of Arthur's extremely pressurized anger in a hand-to-hand altercation.
"I recognize this looks suspicious," Ariadne says, collecting herself with as much dignity as one can muster in the aftermath of this sort of thing, "but this is, believe it or not, Interpol business, and…"
And Dom doesn't hear much else of it, because all he can do is stare at her and think you're keeping my secret, with a nearly painful, breathless hope.
"You're just as bad a liar as Dom is," Arthur interrupts her, and keeping his gun perfectly still and directed at Ariadne in the corner, he reaches for his cell phone just as Dom's — abandoned on his nightstand — begins to ring.
Dom reaches for it. "I'll just — "
Which prompts Ariadne to snap, "Don't you fucking touch it — " glance over at Arthur " — you can shoot me if you want but I'm getting that phone," which is vehement enough to spark something like surprise and slow-dawning suspicion on Arthur's face, and the gun hand falters just a touch, before he lowers it, engages the safety.
"Are you sure you want to add gross breach of privacy to assault and everything else, Ariadne?" Dom tries.
"You bet I do," she retorts and hits the speakerphone button.
"Where the fuck are you?" Eames says, voice crackling in the hotel room air.
The minute Eames had started talking, Arthur's gun had come back up — at Dom this time. It matches the smug fury on Ariadne's face, too, and points at the phone, mouthing, say something.
"In my hotel room," Dom says, and the awkward suspiciousness of his tone is positively searing. He'd make a terrible criminal. Really really awful.
There's a suspicious pause. "Why do you sound so far away? Am I on speakerphone?"
Ariadne's glare intensifies, and Dom keeps darting glances over at Arthur's gun. "It's an iPhone. They're actually shitty phones, Eames," he says. "What do you want?"
"Me? Your arse was supposed to be down at the gallery closing up shop with the director." Eames sounds inconvenienced, which is about as perturbed as he ever sounds when he's talking to anybody about anything other than Arthur, in Dom's experience. In the background, there's a thud, and he says, "Mallorie, will you be careful with that? The frame is original 14th century," which triggers a musical sing-song reply of, "Fuck off," from some distance.
"I overslept, Arthur got me drunk in the hotel bar last night," Dom invents rapidly. At the foot of the bed, Arthur gives him a dirty look. "Sorry — I can get over there now?"
"Don't worry about it," Eames dismisses, amusement creeping in now, and Dom assumes the visual of Arthur loose-limbed and warmed through from booze is enough to have won him instant forgiveness. "We've decided we can work around it. I was calling to tell you to just stay at the hotel."
Ariadne looks manic with discovery. Say goodbye, she mouths. Dom says, "All right then. I'll talk to you guys later. Bye," and hears Eames hanging up.
Arthur puts the gun away, but the irritation that had been writ large on his face has faded away into the same flatly patient look he uses whenever he's feeling something he'd rather keep under wraps — never a good sign.
Dom tries to say, "I told you he was sleeping with my wife," but Ariadne cuts him off with, "You are in so much trouble," and Dom swallows hard and believes it absolutely because Ariadne doesn't have enough backstory to piece it all together, but Arthur does — Arthur probably knew everything the minute Eames opened his mouth on the phone, and all Dom's leverage has promptly gone out the window.
Arthur holsters his gun. "What are they doing, Dom?"
The desire to say fornicating is on the tip of his tongue, but Ariadne might think he's cute or roll her eyes but Arthur is armed and has been dangerous since he somehow scammed his parents into putting him in a judo class when he was eight. As if Arthur has ever needed encouragement to take people out at the knees.
"I don't know all the details," Dom ends up prevaricating, because it's both accurate and the least obviously guilty thing he can think to say.
"The details of what?" Arthur says, and he makes it sound like he's repeating himself and pissed about it.
"Dom's implied if he's not released, the National Gallery will never get their stolen painting back," Ariadne interjects here, holding her handcuffs at the ready.
Dom glares at her, but he's still huddled on his hotel bed with red marks on his wrists so he knows he fails to paint a compellingly reproachful image when he says to her, "If you think you're going to win points off of Arthur by highlighting my alleged moral failings you are completely off your rocker."
"I think that you've been sneaking around and suspiciously confident of my abilities to run a major investigation in the past few days given that you're constantly trying to give me hand sanitizer when we're just sitting around in the office doing paperwork," Ariadne retorts. "I think that your ex and Eames are going to pull something and that you're just stupid enough to think that I'm just going to let you get away with it. I think that — "
Arthur cuts in here, sounding strange. "It was a fake, wasn't it?"
Dom freezes. Ariadne chokes out, "What?"
"The Madonna in the National Gallery, the Raphael, it was a fake, wasn't it?" Arthur presses. "It was only been added to insurance policy a few years ago — after it was verified as genuine — and there was no reason to reappraise its value now. He's not changing the cover. He just said he wanted to get it done. The market hasn't been particularly active since, there's no reason. It's a forgery, isn't it?"
Ariadne says, "That's fucking it, I'm handcuffing you again," and Dom's too busy trying to decide if begging or violence is going to get him out of this while the voice screaming in his head keeps shouting, shut up! shut up! think about the kids! you knew this was an idiot move from the start! to fight it.
It turns out that (a) Arthur can drive on the left-hand side of the road and that (b) he would have come to central London for work and promptly secured a sedate black luxury vehicle that he's apparently been parking all over the place without any indication of getting clamped by meter maids. It's lucky, since Dom would have really hated having to be frogmarched, shackled, into the back of a black cab and suffering the leers he'd invariably field from the driver, since Ariadne is impervious to shame and nobody ever has the balls to give Arthur that kind of guff.
"Where are we going?" Ariadne asks from beside him in the backseat, eyes darting out the windows at the unfamiliar street levels of London: thousands of WH Smiths and Boots stores and Sainsbury Locals flying past. "Dom hasn't actually said anything that directly implicates him of wrongdoing."
Dom can see in the rearview mirror that Arthur never looks away from the road. "Seriously, Ariadne. This is the mother of all hopeless crushes you're fostering there."
"I do not — " Ariadne sputters, and Dom decides to cut in before this can get any more humiliating and she decides to take it out on him by zip-tying his ankles again.
"Arthur, where are we going?"
This time, Arthur glares at them both in the mirror. "Eames's."
"I'm sure you remember the way to his house vividly from all of those professional check-ins he's been doing with you," Ariadne says, catty.
"When the fuck has all of this been happening?" Dom wants to know, because yes, all right, he did get distracted a little bit in the middle but that was like three days. Apparently, while he'd been getting information for Mal's batshit-but-maybe-it-could-work plan, Ariadne and Arthur have bonded and Arthur's capitulated to his baser judgment. This is like 2001 all over again.
Instead of answering, Arthur does something violent that jerks them across a lane of traffic, neatly cutting off a black cab, nearly murdering three cyclists, and sending a double-decker bus into a panicked abrupt stop.
"It doesn't make sense," is all Arthur says, which is sufficiently obscure that Ariadne and Dom share a pained look before lapsing into tense silence, braced for impact any minute.
It's a Friday, so Notting Hill is a fucking nightmare for driving, hundreds of people streaming in from the Tube carrying dSLRs and reusable shopping bags. Even though it's only a market day there're buskers and tourists overflowing the streets, and Arthur swears in a low-toned, continuous stream of profanity as they weave around strollers and families and seeming thousands of near vehicular homicide victims until he ends up banking the Audi half onto a sidewalk, terrifying a pair of builders clutching the rafters outside a terrace house mid-remodel, and throws himself out of the car after slamming it into park.
"You are fucking kidding me," Ariadne mumbles, and scrambles out of the car after him, which leaves Dom sighing and worming his way out of the back without his hands, which he's sure that Eames's neighbors on Lansdowne Crescent — average home price, £10 million — really fucking appreciate.
He also gets some great looks running up the steps to the house with his hands still cuffed: neighborhood kids, stroller mafia moms, the idle rich, that sort of thing. Probably they will all run home and report it to the Tatler immediately. At the door, Ariadne is saying, "Wait, you know the passcode to the house? Did you steal it? Did you always know the passcode to the house? Oh my God did you live here before? He never changed it?" and Arthur is stabbing at the keypad for the security system at the front door like it's Eames's left eye.
"Arthur, what the fuck are you doing?" Dom shouts, out of breath by the time he catches up with Ariadne and Arthur — who only casts Dom a hurt look over his shoulder before he pushes the front door open and bursts inside, shouting:
"Eames, you motherfucker!"
From somewhere in the house, there's the telling thud of something expensive falling, and a man's voice shouting, "Shit!" muffled through walls and carpet and floor.
"Well," Ariadne says to Dom. "He's home."
All Dom can think is, Where's Mal? Dom doesn't care if Eames spends the rest of his life rotting in an upscale prison drinking over-sweet champagne and reading secondhand copies of vaguely homoerotic novels, but Mal's always been smart, and good at covering her tracks, and she better be getting the fuck out of the house right now.
Then Arthur's unstuck himself from his spot in the foyer and headed up the stairs, shoes clattering against the wooden floors, the dark wool of his coat flying out behind him, and Ariadne groans when she takes off after him — but not as loudly as Dom does when he goes after both of them.
Eames's house in London is a maze of seven bedrooms and a hundred nooks and cozies and studies and libraries, something he refers to offhandedly as a "solar" and a music room that's entirely separate from the piano gallery, all stacked together over four sprawling stories. Dom follows Ariadne who's following the trails of Arthur's coat, the sound of his steps, and they wind up three floors and down a hallway, through a series of rooms until Arthur turns into one that looks like a linen closet that opens again, into a narrow and poorly lit corridor that disappears into seemingly nowhere.
Ariadne gasps, "Fuck," and for a minute, Dom thinks they've lost Arthur, that even if he doesn't go to jail for this he's going to get fired by Interpol for losing track of someone inside of a house, and then he hears Arthur's voice echoing, close enough to track:
"You miserable fuck."
The room at the end of the hallway that doesn't exist is the size of Dom's living room, stripped bare of decoration but meticulously sealed, the air a touch drier than anywhere else in the house. It's not the room that Eames had allowed Dom to visit earlier in the week — that was the "solar" — this one is messy with easels, microscopes, is redolent with linseed oils and paints, turpentine permeating the air.
But that's all secondary to the treasure trove on the walls, laid out on tables, leaning against easels. It's all the paintings Dom had helped them categorize, the other day, still waiting to go into their crates and into safekeeping, spread out carelessly. Dom recognizes the Reynolds and the Lucian Freud, a pair of early David Hockneys and the Madonna of the fucking Pinks, lounging on a single, threadbare chaise in the corner of the room, away from the acidic touch of the sun.
In the middle of all of it, Eames is standing, caught, in faded jeans and a dark blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up, clutching a just-started painting: just pencil lines and underpaint on naked canvas, and Dom can see it already, the rough lines of oil scraping across the cheap fabric in the lines of a ballerina's gown — Degas, experimental, provocative.
"Arthur," he says, wide-eyed. "And…Interpol."
Dom looks around the room: no Mal anywhere, thank fucking God.
Ariadne points past Eames, toward the Madonna. "Holy shit. Is that the real one?"
"You asshole," Arthur says before Eames can answer, and this time, he's gone from murderous to something rougher, something cracking on the consonants and hissing through the second syllable.
Eames actually looks off center enough to glance at Dom and Ariadne for clarification — Interpol or not — but Dom figures holding up his handcuffed wrists is all the answer Eames deserves.
"I'm genuinely puzzled," Eames says finally, sounding like he's ceding England to the French.
Arthur makes an awful noise at that, one of those laughs that hurts like a sucking chest wound. "You piece of shit. You — I'm not lying again."
Eames stares. Ariadne stares. Dom keeps searching the corners of the studio, looking for a large enough tarp, anything that looks like a door, somewhere Mal could be hiding. But it's all just bleached out wood and corners stacked high with canvases, a few shipping crates, pulled apart, boxes and stray brushes and industrial-sized plastic cans of gesso.
Opening and closing his mouth several times, Eames sets down the painting, finally, lays it aside on a table fairly spilling over with mutilated tubes of oil paint. "Arthur, what are you — ?"
Which is enough to trigger Arthur into exploding with, "God, and what kills me is just how arrogant you have to be to think that after everything I would just keep my mouth shut! Like what kind of complete asshole are you?"
"Right, look here," Eames says, composure beginning to fray, "I'm not going to argue that I haven't been a proper shit to you in the past, Arthur, but I can't think of one thing that I've done since you've been back in London to warrant this."
That was the wrong thing to say, because that's it, that's the thing that pushes Arthur from being furious to crazy, and he yells, "You asked for me. You asked for me to come manage the re-appraisal and authentication and you knew the painting was a fake — "
All the color drains out of Eames's face.
" — and fucking congratulations, Eames," Arthur continues, all the words coming out like they're being strip-mined from his chest now. "Because I'm still stupid enough for you that I want to, that it would be really easy just to cover up for you some more, to keep doing it because it's you and I don't — "
"Jesus, Arthur," Eames says, shuddery.
Dom thinks how crazy it is, that he's in a room with a thousand incriminating canvases in various stages of completion, Eames's hands stained the color of a Degas, and Arthur melting down, completely coming apart at the seams. Three impossible things, he'd thought, before today, before right now.
" — think it's ever even crossed your mind to feel shitty about it," Arthur gasps, hoarse now, gone quiet like a toy winding down. He rubs his face with his hands, hair in his eyes and making him look lost and 17 again, on the cusp. Arthur's quiet for a long time, hiding his face, and just when Dom thinks that he and Ariadne are going to have to say something, anything, and Jesus, fast to break the crushing discomfort of the moment, Arthur drops his hands and says, voice flat and cracking, "That's it. I'm done. You're — I'm done," and turns on his heel.
"Uh," Ariadne mumbles at Dom, "we can't let him just leave, can we?"
And for a minute Arthur's coming at them where they're standing in the doorway, and Dom thinks that Eames is just going to stand there in his room of forged art with his thumbs up his ass, until Eames hisses something under his breath and rockets into action.
Arthur's two steps shy of shoving past both of them when Eames reaches him, clamps a hand on Arthur's wrist, and drags him backward with the violence of desperation, until they're standing in a shaft of dusty sunlight and Eames's face is a picture: stricken.
"You knew?" he asks, and he sounds thunderstruck, off-kilter. "All this time?"
Arthur looks too tired to be angry, but the shades are there. "I — of course I knew. I lived here."
Eames has a hamstrung look on his face. "I was very discreet."
"You weren't," Arthur contradicts, and tries to tug his arm back. "Let me go."
"You knew," Eames repeats, knuckles tightening on Arthur's wrist, and Dom can almost feel the bruises forming underneath Arthur's French cuffs, peeping out from the sleeves of the coat. "You knew and you — what? What did you lie about? Who did you lie to?"
Arthur keeps pulling on his arm. "Who didn't I lie to? My bosses, art historians. The fucking head appraiser at Christies. I've spent half my professional life since meeting you covering your ass. Eames, if you don't let go of my arm, I swear to fucking God, I am going to break all of your toes — "
"Why?" Eames says. Dom can't see his face but he can imagine it, how maybe Eames looks like Dom had felt in that gallery, lit up under Tracey Emin's platitudes, hope unfurling in his chest. "Why would you do that?"
Arthur says, "I wasn't joking about breaking your toes, Eames," but it comes out sounding like, "I love you, you miserable bastard," and Eames must hear it, too, because he just keeps staring at Arthur like he's discovered another lost Raphael he's had all along.
"Dominic," Eames says suddenly, out of nowhere, the smile loud in his voice, "Ariadne, I have a confession to make."
"What," Arthur says, flat with disbelief. "Eames, what are you doing?"
"What I would have done instead of shipping you your things like a twat if I hadn't been an idiot and known you'd run away with me," Eames replies, cavalier, and goes on, too lighthearted, "I'd like to admit to stealing the Madonna of the Pinks — "
Arthur's eyes widen. "You — "
" — and also, very brilliantly forging a half-dozen things hidden here and there. I'd go through the list, but clearly you can see this is my den of iniquity and I'm sure you can catalog them yourselves," Eames declares merrily. "The art theft, the copying, the fraud, I confess to all of it."
"What the hell are you doing?" Arthur hisses.
"Oh God," Ariadne says, frantic, and digs around the pockets of her jacket, tumbles out a jangling pair of handcuff keys and reaching for Dom. "Hands, hands, give me your fucking hands, Cobb!"
"You are absolutely joking, right?" Arthur barks at Eames. "You — you just confessed to international crime. What the hell do you think is going to happen here?"
Eames just tugs Arthur closer, hand sliding down to lace their fingers together — Dom can't believe (a) how rough Ariadne's hands are and (b) that Arthur is letting Eames get away with this shit — until he's near enough that Eames can tilt in toward him, his face in profile a manic smile now. "Well, clearly I'm going to have to run, and I owe you decades of apologies for my past behavior, I understand now."
Dom's pretty sure that Ariadne is going to accidentally slash his wrists at the rate she's going, and he's chanting, "Ow, ow, ow," while she rips at the cuffs.
"How? You're going to jail, Eames," Arthur snaps at him.
"Cover for me," Eames croons, knitting Arthur in close, murmuring it into the millimeters between their mouths, sweet and pleading like Dom's never heard out of him before, all the layers stripped down to the bare bones of it, "one more time — so I can grovel at you for the rest of our lives."
Dom's wrists are finally freed, in time to say, "There is no way Arthur is going to fall for that, Eames," and Ariadne to whoop in triumph, before Arthur sighs, long-suffering.
He says, "I can't believe I'm falling for that, either," and pulls out his BlackBerry.
The last thing Dom remembers before he wakes up to the paramedics shining a penlight in his eyes is Arthur saying, "I'll send you a postcard," and hurling the phone at his face.
Out of what's mostly marital cruelty and a little bit of excessive paranoia, Mal insists that they stay in France, where extradition to the U.S. is monstrous, on the off chance that Ariadne ever gets sick of being considered an Interpol prodigy for locating the stolen Raphael as well as discovering two-dozen original masterpieces that had ostensibly been sold at auction or donated to museum permanent collections by Eames in the last 25 years. She'd been the second person Dom had seen once he'd revived, shoving the penlight and paramedic out of his face as she'd grinned like a crazy person and whispered, "I choose the art, relax." Then Mal had burst forth into Eames's townhouse playing the part of terrified ex-wife who still secretly loved him with aplomb and the next three days were mostly occupied giving depositions, being interviewed by smirking agents who kept saying, "Seriously, a BlackBerry?" and making plans.
"By the way, just to clarify," Ariadne had said after, in the lobby of UCL Hospital at Euston, "you're quitting your job."
Dom had stared at her. "Is that a question?"
"No, that's really more of a 'you really need to quit your job, because you're compromised and you can't do this anymore,'" Ariadne had told him kindly, and given him another emesis basin. "Here, you look like you're going to throw up."
He'd scowled at her. "Why are you always telling me that?" he'd said, but kind of eroded his point by throwing up messily in the emesis basin and all over his own shoes.
Dom figures that compared to the trauma of living without their mother and stuck with Eeyore for a Dad for ages, a little uprooting won't do the kids any excessive harm. And anyway, when they land at Charles de Gaulle, Mal echolocates them in the arrivals terminal by the sound of Philippa's panther screams of sheer delight.
They stay divorced, which Dom blames on their being in Europe where that kind of godlessness is encouraged, and Mal blames on Dom's punishing nature and unforgiving personality. Their attempts at going to marriage counseling are sort of half-assed at best. Dom's problems were never with if he loved Mal, if he were willing to do stupid things for her, take risks for them; but there's a chasm between the costs to himself and the levels of acceptable danger toward their children, and he's not sure he'll ever be all right with that, how cavalier and selfish she'd been and for how long. But he knows, too, that his life seems two-dimensional without her.
If nothing else, Dom wants to make this work so he can figure out how the fuck she got the real Madonna back on the wall of the National Gallery while Arthur was concussing him with a smartphone.
"Everyone is entitled to one or two secrets in a marriage," she tells him.
"Really?" Dom asks her, trying to tackle James into clothes. He's way too old to let this nudist streak continue any further. "You're really going to try and pull that one."
She smiles at Dom, and it feels like sun on his face. "You'll let me get away with it."
Arthur and Eames are ghosts, vanished completely.
There're a few initial reports of people who match their descriptions at City Airport, but they're completely untraceable after that: no hits on any of their financials, no known associates or people in contact and admitting it, and every eyewitness sighting that comes through to Interpol runs into a brick wall or grounds out into a dead end. Not that there was ever much chance of their being found: Arthur was impossible to pin down even before he was on the lam, and Eames is probably enjoying the notoriety of being a peer on the run entirely too much to ever come back. He's wanted for like a hundred counts of forgery, fraud, and theft in most of Europe, all of North America, and Hong Kong, which Ariadne assures him in an email she shouldn't have been sending via her work address would probably have him "rolling in pussy" if he were into that sort of thing, since "ladies are crazy about that sort of high-end danger."
"I'm pretty sure Arthur would shut that down," Dom replies.
"I've transferred my fruitless crush on you to him, so I've got my fingers crossed that he comes to his senses and carries me off," Ariadne answers, about half a second later, and Dom finds himself scowling at his laptop for an hour for no discernible reason.
Dom checks the mailbox every day without fail, and Mal allows it with fond but pitying smiles. Dom's more impatient than doubting, though, because Mal might have wanted Arthur's friendship but she'd never endured really knowing him — Dom knows there's going to be a postcard, sooner or later.
It comes later, two years after Eames's exceedingly rakish picture stops being headline news on even a weekly basis and the trail on his disappearance goes completely cold. There's been a half-dozen documentaries; the guys who make Doctor Who what to make a TV show.
On the front of the card is a picture of the National Gallery. On the back, Arthur's written:
You were always a shitty babysitter. Stop worrying. I'm fine.
Eames, in post-script, has added: He's not even a little sorry about the BlackBerry, is the best part.
Dom waits a week and writes back to the return address. It's a postcard of a horse's ass, and he writes in obnoxious, huge letters, EAT YOUR PEAS.